Gwyneth Paltrow on living, loving and children's names

THERE are 37 photos of Gwyneth Paltrow in her hefty recipe book released in 2016, It’s All Easy.

There’s a few more if you count the photos of Paltrow body parts – two hands holding a wooden board with an egg and some green stuff, or a midriff draped in something cottony, beside a shell, a candle or a potted herb, all in muted earthy tones and dreamy lighting. You can almost smell the sandalwood.

There are 81 names on the dedication page, which is about 79 names more than readers would generally see at the front of a book.

It’s All Easy is dedicated to people who answer to Whistler, Eliel, Beckett and Izzy, Loftin, Deven, Fiene, Brewer, Olimpia and Tassilo. And of course Paltrow’s own – Apple and Moses. There wasn’t a John or a Bruce, a Karen or a Sue among them.

If you’re pregnant and looking for a list of unusual names from the Hollywood hills, Gwyneth’s dedication page is the place to go.

There are two pages of kitchen staples that Gwyn recommends you pull together before you even think about a Paltrow special like bagna cauda salad, pissaladiere socca or coconut pudding with kuzu, whatever the hell they are.

I ran my eye down the lists. 

Olive oil? Yes, I have that.

Sriracha? No. Gochujang paste? No. Hemp seeds? No. Za’atar? No. Liquid stevia? No. Sumac? No. Bamboo matcha whisk? No. Harissa powder? No. Kimchi? No. Mirin? No. Dashi? No. Buckwheat groats? No. Ponzu? No. Jalapenos? No.

Canned tomatoes? Hooray, yes.

I was good to go with any recipe that confined itself to olive oil and canned tomatoes. And Vegemite, of course.

In It’s All Easy, Gwyn does her best to inspire cooks like me – who hate cooking – to be more Gwyn-like.

“Have you ever truly known the umami-packed complexity of fish sauce, or what gochujang paste can do to an otherwise average sauce?” she asked.

And I answered the only way a normal person living in the suburbs - occasionally dining on baked beans for dinner because of extreme laziness – could.

No, I haven’t truly known such things. I haven’t even falsely known such things because I don’t even know what she’s talking about. But I did end up feeling a tiny bit….. what’s the word I’m looking for here? Patronised. Actually – and here’s a new word to test on your friends – Paltrowised.

Gwyn’s question – “Have you ever truly known the umami-packed complexity of fish sauce?” – is almost designed for a “No” answer.

I’m sure she means well, and she’s trying to inspire us to aim for “umami-packed complexity” in our lives, but it’s like asking someone if they found the crowds on the upper slopes of Aspen this season “quite intolerable”, when you’re reasonably sure they spent their holidays in a tent at Woy Woy.

In other words the wholesome, holistic, getting-back-to-basics, organic, gluten-free, carb-lite, market-to-plate style of living requires some quite conspicuous consumption, which does seem to defeat the purpose. But I’m a fan of baked beans on toast without umami, so what would I know?

She wants us to aspire to a life that can only be possible if you have the kind of dough a Hollywood actor-turned-lifestyle-blogger makes, and normal people can only aspire to, if they’re so inclined, and fail at.

In other words the wholesome, holistic, getting-back-to-basics, organic, gluten-free, carb-lite, market-to-plate style of living requires some quite conspicuous consumption, which does seem to defeat the purpose. But I’m a fan of baked beans on toast without umami, so what would I know?

I shut It’s All Easy and took it back to the library because it was all a bit too hard, and admired the scented candles littered through my house – which is about as far as a lot of us get when attempting an aspirational kind of life.  

Gwyn has been copping a bit of stick of late for her website GOOP, which is described as “a modern lifestyle brand, offering cutting-edge wellness advice from doctors and experts, vetted travel recommendations, and a curated shop of clean beauty”.

The “cutting-edge wellness advice” is where she’s striking problems. Gwyn has recommended “vagina steaming” (don’t ask, but it doesn’t take too much imagination to get the general idea); resurrected an old chestnut about tight bras causing breast cancer (no, no and no); and my personal favourite, the $120-a-pack Body Vibes stickers.

Gwyn read the Body Vibes blurb – that they’re “smart stickers embedded with a specific combination of bio-frequencies designed to enhance and activate particular targeted systems....like wearing mobile software that communicates with our body's operating system” – and apparently felt the kind of rush she’d only previously known when eating umami.

She bought a pack, her body’s bio-frequencies (and don’t bother looking that up, for obvious reasons), were re-aligned, or turned upside down, or were painted purple, and started spruiking them.

That’s when a former scientist from NASA – the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration – got involved.

Mark Shelhamer rebutted the sticker-maker’s claim to have made the stickers from carbon material used in NASA spacesuits – a claim repeated by Gwyn - and branded the whole exercise as snake oil selling for the 21st century.

I don’t want to pick on Gwyn. She was wonderful in Shakespeare in Love and a movie version of Emma, but in a world of fake news and lying US presidents, we can be forgiven for telling her to hold the medical advice and stick to cooking or candles.

If we’re to survive this post-truth world we seem to have found ourselves in, it’s time to stand up for evidence-based decision-making, critical thought, facts, rational discussion and transparent, open communication. Easy.

This story It’s all not so easy first appeared on Newcastle Herald.