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, Goop.com. 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.