No rain, no flowers. • In her first book, Kale & Caramel: Recipes for Body, Heart, and Table, thirty-something writer, photographer, and natural wellness blogger Lily Diamond shares recipes for 80 nourishing vegetarian and vegan dishes and DIY beauty products made all the more magical for the moving stories of heartbreak, healing and joy she serves alongside. Chapters are organized by the aromatic herbs and flowers discussed within — in the first section it’s basil, cilantro, fennel, mint, oregano, rosemary, sage, and thyme; in the second section, lavender, jasmine, rose and orange blossom. Tips for sourcing, storing, pairing, and infusing into oils, honey, sugar and salt make for a comprehensive and approachable guide that encourages readers to play. Lily is as down-to-earth as they come, and her voice, her brand of wildness “that tends to manifest in quiet river skinny-dipping, or playing fast and loose in the kitchen, or not wearing pants all day, or singing to Beyoncé at the top of my lungs” charmed me as much as her recipes.
I tried three dishes, each celebrating a different herb. The generous amount of mint in Lily’s Greek Chopped Salad with Cumin-Fried Chickpeas & Tahini Mint Dressing appealed to me, and ‘tho there was scads of it in both the salad and the dressing, I found it perfectly balanced with the other flavours and textures. Lily calls it her Dream Salad — “It’s bold in flavor, it’s missing nothing, and it’s dense with ingredients yet perfectly sexy in its lightness.” She first made it trying to impress a date and found herself more excited about than the salad than she was about him. Ha!
I made the Black Bean Bisque with Cilantro Lime Crema to impress my fella and that it did: a creamy and satisfying concoction packed with all kinds of delicious goodness. “This dish is my favorite comfort food (black beans) soupified and wilded up,” says Lily. “… It’s smoky, it’s sultry, and gosh darn it, it’s totally sexy. Let these beans seduce you with their tangy lime, their spicy chipotle and jalapeño, and yes, their beaniness.”
Lily lost her mother (Living with the Flowers author, Denise Diamond) in her early twenties and the impact of her death, along with Lily’s own journey to healing, features prominently in the book. California-born and Maui-raised, Lily’s own connection to nature began on garden walks at her mother’s hip.
“From that safe nook of mother-warmth, my legs wrapped around her rib cage, her hands showed me a world full of leaves that cured burns, flowers that eased anxiety, and foods that healed systemic imbalances,” Lily writes. “… Every day, my parents gardened together in the abundant grounds my mother designed on our mountainside property … I grew up understanding that food came from the land, and that it was my responsibility to help care for that land.”
As she grieved her mother, writing and experimenting in the kitchen became a solace and eventually led to the 2012 creation of her blog, Kale & Caramel. “It is, undeniably, my happy place,” Lily says, ” —a way for me to nourish myself and others in the way my mother once fed me.”
I read the book cover to cover like a novel and found Lily’s stories every bit as satisfying as her recipes. ‘Tho we are very different people — where she’s a child of the outdoors, I’m much more one of the mall, ha ha — I feel like we would connect in our appreciation for the simplest and most nourishing things: healthy food, hugs from loved ones, close friends and confidants (Lily has met many, many kindred spirits in her travels), and making things with our hands.
Now I was a little heavy handed with the greens for Lily’s Sparkling Cucumber Basil Lemonade and think I might enjoy it more if it were sweeter, but it was refreshing nevertheless. Like she does for most of the tonics in the book, Lily offers suggested alcohol pairings to turn it into a cocktail. (Fun!).
I went through an entire pad of sticky tabs marking all of the other recipes in the book I’d love to try, including:
- Heirloom Tomato, Feta & Corn Panzanella with Pesto Vinaigrette (“A salad for friends, for change, for redefining what you know.”)
- Coconut Mint Salt Scrub (“Fresh mint leaves release their oils as they’re crushed, producing cooling menthol to tone skin and clear a cloudy mind.”)
- White Bean Yogurt Dip with Warm Citrus Olives & Herby Flatbread (“Serve this as an appetizer for a crowd or whip up a batch to give you lunch for a week.”)
- Roasted Tomato Soup with Thyme-Crusted Grilled Cheese (“… the meal that feels, to me, like the safety of someone you love holding your hand.”)
- Honey Lavender Ice Cream with Lemon Curd Swirl (“This is a dessert to snack on, to spoon midmorning, to feast on after dinner in midsummer warmth, to reclaim fussy food as elemental.”)
- Lavender Oat Milk Bath (“… oats and lavender ground into flour become a silky, fragrant bathtime ritual for spirit restoring and skin luxurating.”)
- Jasmine Cucumber Water (“Sip on it after a workout, to feel like you’ve just returned to your exquisitely appointed Grecian villa after an early morning horseback ride on the shores of Santorini.”)
Kale & Caramel: Recipes for Body, Heart, and Table opened my eyes to myriad new ways to use aromatic herbs and flowers and got me excited to discover the nourishing, healing and beautifying properties of each. It’s a beautiful and informative book, rich in stories and inspiration.
Simon and Schuster Canada sent me a copy of Kale & Caramel: Recipes for Body, Heart, and Table to review. All opinions are my own.