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Category: Reviews

Afro-Vegan Goodness

We had found a couple of Bryant Terry’s cookbooks at the Watsonville library and liked them very much, so when I had the chance to review his new book, Afro-Vegan, I jumped right in.
Afro-Vegan cookbook by Bryant Terry

I was not disappointed. I’ve made several of the recipes, trying to cover a variety of dishes – condiments, soups, salads – and they were all terrific.

I started off with Basil Salt, a really simple way to give your dishes a flavor kick. Fresh basil, coarse salt, and a bit of time in the oven, and you have a winner. We are looking forward to trying this on the rim of a margarita.

Next on my list was Hominy and Spinach in Tomato-Garlic Broth.
Afro-Vegan cookbook with Hominy and Spinach in Tomato-Garlic Broth
While Terry asks that you follow his recipes as written the first time you make them – and I totally support that request – I substituted yellow squash for the diced carrot in the broth, because this is California and everyone has gardens and people give you yellow squahes and you must use them. In any case, this too was delicious. The broth was rich and flavorful, and the addition of both boiled and sauteed hominy gave this soup both a nice body and texture. If you make this recipe, I highly recommend using hominy from Rancho Gordo.
Added bonus: I made the whole recipe, which was too much soup for two people, so the next day I turned it into gazpacho by pureeing it with a bit of old bread (soaked in water and squeezed out) and some olive oil. It was pretty darn close to being in Spain. And then, having leftover leftovers, we used the gazpacho to make savory waffles. At this point we had strayed from the vegan, but I loved that we could creatively extend this excellent dish.
Afro-Vegan cookbook by Bryant Terry

Damian inspects our All-Green Spring Slaw, but passes it by since there’s no chicken. Damian is not a vegan.
Damian with All-Green Spring Slaw
This too was excellent. I was particularly fond of the dressing, which uses silken tofu instead of the more usual sour cream or yogurt.

Our favorite dish was Glazed Carrot Salad.
Glazed Carrot Salad
It was so incredibly delicious, and easy to make. This will become one of our regular go-to dishes.

Overall, I would give this cookbook a great big thumbs-up. Bonus points to each recipe including music to accompany the making of the dish, and sometimes a book to read or movie to watch to increase one’s appreciation of the culture or history of the region that inspired Terry to create the recipe. I made a Pandora station from his recommendations, and enjoyed listening to it as I cooked.

My criticisms are small. Some of his dishes get a bit complicated and assume that one has time to spend on great attention to detail. It would be very helpful if, in some of his recipes, Terry noted what steps could be done ahead of time. For instance, the All-Green Spring Slaw asks that you salt the cabbage and let it drain for an hour to remove excess water. On the other hand, Terry does encourage his readers to experiment (after trying the recipe his way), and I can imagine the slaw would still be quite tasty if you skipped this step entirely.

I am looking forward to exploring more of the recipes in Afro-Vegan. This book will have a prime spot on my kitchen bookshelf.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book for review.

Movie Posters: Hit Puree!

While riding on the bus or subway, I often entertain friends (read “drive them crazy”) by critiquing the posters on display, and relating in great detail how I would design them differently. So I was very excited when offered the opportunity to review the new book by Matthew Chojnacki, Alternative Movie Posters from the Art Underground.

After praising early movie posters and their artistic value separate from the quality of the movies they represent, Chojnacki laments the fall of the poster during the 1990s. He writes in the book’s introduction, “The poster was reduced to simply communicating who was in the film, instead of conveying the bigger picture — the spirit of the film.”

This book, then, seeks to present alternative movie posters that are art in and of themselves, and that also capture the spirit of the film, not just the facts. It’s a tall order. Chojnacki describes the posters in the book as “masterpieces from across the globe, created by amazing and eclectic artists that share a common bond — mixing design and film in a blender, with stunning results.”

I’m not sure, in general, that mixing random things in a blender is a good idea, and that principle sometimes applies here as well.

Don’t get me wrong – a lot of these posters are great. I really like Maxime Pecourt’s poster for On the Road, which cleverly combines the single long page on which Kerouac wrote the novel with an image of a car on a winding road.
Poster for 'On the Road'

Chris Thornley’s vision for The Bourne Legacy conveys an unsettling sense of vertigo by setting the point of view from below, looking up through looming buildings, as a small figure jumps across the chasm of sky – which also forms a question mark. This is a compelling synthesis of storyline and emotional content, a definite capture of the spirit of the film.
Poster for 'The Bourne Legacy'

The Eraserhead poster by Adam Maida is appropriately gritty and unsettling.
Poster for 'Eraserhead'

I like this poster for Alien by Godmachine. It highlights the similarities between Ripley and the alien, here presenting them both encased in their carapaces. The comic-book style is well-suited to the science fiction movie.
Poster for Alien

And I am fond of Matthew Esparza’s poster for The Lost Boys, not just because the movie was filmed here in Santa Cruz, but also because the designer playfully uses the dark central area as both sky and ground, an anchor for the key elements and episodes pictured.
Poster for Lost Boys

Each poster in the book is accompanied by the designer’s name, contact information, and his or her answers to a few questions about such things as favorite movies, design influences, and preferred medium.

One disappointment I had in reading this book is that a lot of the posters are derivative. One can talk about one’s design influences, but I would hope a designer would take that as a jumping off point, not as a call to imitation. There are a lot of Mad Magazine influences, and Saul Bass has many, many design progeny.
The Bass-o-Matic

My second criticism is that, in many cases, Chojnacki almost does too good a job of pairing posters. On first read, I thought they were pairs of posters by the same artist. In fact, many are side-by-side examples of posters by different artists but with style and content so similar they seem to have been done by the same designer, and a designer who repeats the same ideas or images over and over at that. I would have preferred it if Chojnacki had chosen a complete hodgepodge of posters, showing the breadth of the alternative movie poster movement, rather than trying to highlight similarities. Or, to further his blender analogy, if he had gone all the way to puree.

Still, these are quibbles. If you are a movie fan, if you are a poster fan, or if you’re a fan of interesting design, and especially if you’re all three, this book is well worth taking a look at. I find it improves with repeated visits, since there is just so much visual information.

Alternative Movie Posters
Alternative Movie Posters: Film Art from the Underground will be published by Schiffer Publishing on October 28, 2013.

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