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It’s All Good

The first book on the design “chopping block” is It’s All Good: Delicious, Easy Recipes That Will Make You Look Good and Feel Great by Gwyneth Paltrow and Julia Turshen. Published in 2013 by Grand Central Life & Style, this might be one of the few cookbooks I bought for the recipes rather than for the design (more on that shortly). I am a pescatarian with no love for dairy so, with the exception of the meat section, many of the recipes here are in my wheelhouse. 

I don’t have any particular interest in Paltrow, her cleanses, her family’s dietary restrictions or her lifestyle blog, Many people do have strong opinions though and, at the time of this post, there are 760 customer reviews of the book on Amazon. Read them at your leisure. 

It’s All Good is organized by meal type with sections for Breakfast (referred to as Morning Time), Salads and Dressings, Soups, Meat, Vegetables, Drinks and more. There is one section labeled “The Kids’ Menu” which seemed out of place to me. I’m not sure why Veggie Dumplings, Vegan Shepherd’s Pie, Roasted Carrots with Honey and Soy Sauce, and Savory Broiled Tofu qualify as kids’ recipes. There’s nothing inherently child-friendly (or adult-unfriendly) about those particular recipes. I do know my children wouldn’t touch them. Kudos if yours will though!

The book also includes a Pantry section with useful staple recommendations. No plans to use Bragg Liquid Aminos in my cooking yet however. Throughout the book recipes are labeled (with rather generic letterforms) as Vegan, Elimination Diet, Protein Packed. This is helpful for anyone who is following a controlled diet. 

Living in Seattle, I am fortunate to have access to most of the ingredients used in this cookbook. And perhaps because I live in Seattle, where food costs are somewhat higher than other areas, cooking out of It’s All Good didn’t seem prohibitively expensive. All the recipes I tried were easy to follow and didn’t require a lengthy amount of time to prepare. The recipes do rely on the freshest possible ingredients so depending on where you live and what time of year it is, your recipe choices might be a bit more limited.

Here are my thoughts on the recipes I have tried so far:
—Perfectly Cooked Quinoa (Bulletproof. Great to have in the fridge for other recipes; this book includes several with quinoa) 
—Lentil Salad with Mustard + Tomatoes (Also good and easy; the mustard really enhances the overall flavor)
—Beets with Scallions and Avocado (Beautiful color combination makes for a nice presentation, it’s also healthy and delicious.)
—Quinoa with Mushrooms + Arugula (Makes a very tasty side dish, pair with fish or an egg.) 
—Grilled Salmon with Grilled Lemon Vinaigrette (Really delicious and fresh; I wouldn’t think to grill lemons but it certainly enhances the flavor. Worth doing with any grilled fish.)
—Many-Mushroom Soup (As described in the headnote; surprisingly deep flavor for a vegan dish. Be sure to add sautéed mushrooms at the end for a bit of crunch.)
—Sautéed Corn with Chimichurri (Simple and good, especially with fresh corn. Probably a bit basic for someone more seasoned in the kitchen than me.) 
—Fish Roasted in Salt, Thai Style (Yummy although by the time I got the salt off, the fish was a bit on the cold side. I’ll chalk this up to user error since my husband managed to serve this warm recently.)
—Two-Pan Chicken with Harissa, Preserved Lemons + Green Olives (I made this for two different dinner parties. I didn’t eat it (pescatarian), but since there weren’t any leftovers I feel confident this was a hit. I even served it on a large wooden tray like the recipe photo!) 
—Stir-Fried Brown Rice with Nori + Black Sesame (I didn’t think much of this when I was making it, but then I couldn’t stop eating it. Very good with a fried egg on top. A great way to use leftover rice.) 
—Carrot-Ginger Dressing (Delicious. Beware, this makes a lot so be prepared to share or use it many times over.)

So far no duds in the recipes I’ve cooked out of It’s All Good. I get a little pickier when it comes to the design of the book. 

I’ve broken my critique of It’s All Good down into separate categories: imagery, typography + type hierarchy, the overall grid and page composition, production value and cover design. Reference images with captions accompany each category. 

Many notable cookbooks these days rely heavily on photography and/or illustrations to attract readers. This book has imagery in spades. The photographs are beautifully composed and, in my opinion, the main selling point for this book. The finished recipes and ingredients look delicious and inviting. There is an overabundance of images of Gwyneth (see caption below) but that is to be expected in a celebrity cookbook. With regard to image use, I do feel like more photographs could have been placed as full bleeds in the layouts. Varying the margins (some images full bleed, others not) creates more visual interest and keeps the book from getting repetitive. 

More photographs could be full bleed in the layouts. There are only a few at the beginning and then most others are cropped by a half inch margin all the way around.

It’s nice to see images connected within the layouts (with no space between them). This works as long as the edges of the images are clearly defined. I wish there were more instances of this throughout the book.

For many readers, the (over) abundance of images of a fresh-faced Gwyneth in the great outdoors are very appealing. If we live like this won’t we look as fresh and natural as she does? Personally I would have preferred to see more images of GP and Julia Turshen working with the ingredients, rather than riding on a moped, sitting at a table or walking in a field. There are precious few images of her actually working with any ingredients.

The four-up image set for each section opener is a nice way to highlight what’s coming in the chapter. At times, the spacing between the images varies though. I think these could have been more effective touching one another, like the eggs in the previous image.

Typography + Type Hierarchy
The typefaces used in It’s All Good look to be Serifa (a slab serif widely used throughout the book), and Trade Gothic (a sans serif used sparingly, mostly for headers and subheads). These two faces make for a safe, but somewhat bland, combination. Some online reviewers questioned type size. I didn’t find the type sizes too problematic but I can see how the lighter weights of Serifa and the white type knocking out of light blue on chapter openers could be challenging for some readers. 

I would like to see a stronger hierarchy created within the typography. In several instances the main header is bold, all caps and grey (or light blue) while the subheads are bold, lower case and black. This creates a confusing hierarchy between the two lines of text. 

“Three Simple Beet Salads” is the top level header on this page. But printed in light teal and all caps, it appears to be secondary to the recipe title “Frankies-esque Beet Salad” underneath. Perhaps a more distinct type color or type size could better indicate which one should be read first.

As I tell my students: large + light = small + bold. The hierarchy here isn’t clear since the bold grey type doesn’t stand out as much as the black (secondary) text. It would be better to use a stronger color for the main header, or at least change the type size to create more contrast.

The paragraph spacing and indents look like default measurements from InDesign. When in doubt, a paragraph indent can match the point size (10pt type with a 10pt indent for a new paragraph) or some variation on that. Of course, a designer can use any measurement to denote a new paragraph but in this case the indents look a little basic.

The type measure, or the number of words per line, is too wide at times. The Introduction, and some of the other front matter is close to 16 words per line. Optimal length for text is somewhere between 8–12 words per line. Any more than that and the reader can easily lose which line he/she is on. Less than 8–12 and the reading experience starts to feel very jumpy (like a newspaper). Lines that are too long or too short can fatigue the reader over time. The measure on this blog is too long — something I wish I could change myself!

Grid + Page Composition
All books need a grid, or several grids, depending on the complexity of the publication’s material. A grid typically consists of margins (the outer area surrounding the content), the gutter (between columns of text and where the two pages meet in the binding area) and columns for text and image placement. I found the margins in It’s All Good to be uneven at times. The inside gutter is tight so when the book lays open, some text disappears into the binding. (Imagine your hands are sticky and you have to push the page down to read the next recipe step). The margins, which vary unnecessarily in some instances, are the same all the way around. This can make for a rather bland layout.   

The opening pages have a very long type measure and the margins are extremely tight compared to the chapter openers. It might have been better to run this text over two columns instead.

In some of the front matter spreads, the leading and the gutter between the text columns is different. These are either mistakes or poorly conceived layouts.

For spreads with a single photo and corresponding recipe, the image could “bleed” into the gutter. By having content on the two pages “touch” the pages appear more related to one another.

The column gutter between the recipes is too large. The inside column of text looks like it’s falling into the binding and the space between the two columns is so large they look unrelated at times.

The paper stock feels substantial and there isn’t much show through (seeing content from the other side through the paper). The printing could be more consistent though. The photographs look nice throughout but the solid teal used for chapter openers varies widely throughout the book (see caption note). For the openers the designer might consider selecting colors that complement the image/s on the opposite page. The treatment of the type and placement of images for each section creates consistency without trying to match the same teal each time. 

I suspect that the varied teal coloring might be a printing sacrifice in an effort to maintain the quality of the photographs. If the color shift WAS intentional though, there’s not enough contrast between the sections. It would be better to use distinctly different colors for each section opener.

Cover Design
The imagery used on book covers is often chosen by the publishers marketing team. What image/s will best sell this book? Given that It’s All Good is by a celebrity, it makes sense to have the photo of smiling GP on the cover. But the typographic decisions that accompany the cover, spine and flaps are boring and have little to do with the interior of the book. It’s true that in many instances, book covers and book interiors are designed by different people. But it’s a shame that the interior typography, which is more considered than the cover, isn’t referenced. I looked at GP’s first cookbook My Father’s Daughter and since the two covers don’t relate here isn’t an attempt to create a series or typographic system for her books. Whatever the case, it’s unfortunate that the cover couldn’t reference the interior design in some fashion.  

The typefaces and color choices used on the cover, back and flaps have nothing to do with the decisions made in the interior. It’s a shame when this happens. The photography is the main selling point here, whether it is photos of food (too bad they are only on the back!) or GP herself.

It’s All Good contains a lot of delicious, easy to follow recipes and I will continue to cook out of it for years to come. As for the design, I characterize it as competent but uneven at times, and not particularly innovative or distinctive. The photography is the best part of this cookbook. The typography and page composition could be more considered. And since the production value isn’t particularly noteworthy, this is one cookbook I don’t feel too badly about beating up in my kitchen. My verdict: the recipes are “all good” and easy; the design is just okay. 

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