2014: A Year in Review

Wow, 2014 really flew by; it definitely seems like I wrote my 2013 roundup post less than 12 months ago! Let’s take a look at what happened in 2014, and what’s in store for 2015.

First and foremost, thank you to everyone who has read and supported this website over the past year; The Domestic Man had just under three million views in 2014, up from a little over two million in 2013. It’s amazing to think that this little blog started in 2010 as a crazy whim, and it’s now grown to what it is today. None of that would have happened without your readership, and I really appreciate it.

I kind of, sort of released my debut cookbook in February. That was a pretty big moment. It’s funny, but having a blog has never felt that tangible to me, since it just hangs out there in the ether. But having a product in stores is a strange, awesome experience. The idea that people can walk into a bookstore and find it is just surreal. On a similar note, I recently found out that Costco is going to do a test run of The Ancestral Table in select stores starting mid-January. Depending on how well the book does in those stores, it could be pushed to Costco stores nationwide! When I know more info I’ll be sure to share it with you (and coax you into going to the test stores and buying up their stock!).

I experienced my share of other exciting news, too. I signed on with Food & Wine as a contributor, and you’ll start seeing my recipes appear on their site soon. In the meantime, here are some tips I recently shared with them for how to enjoy a Paleo-friendly Thanksgiving and Christmas.

I was also approached by the casting agency behind The Food Network to cast for this upcoming season of Food Network Star. I’m not sure that my personality aligns with the unique style that TV requires, so I don’t think I’ll get a second call; but it was cool to be approached nonetheless!

I also had a great time developing and posting recipes on the blog this year. Some favorites included Tuna Stuffed Potatoes, Chicken Tikka Masala, and Soft-Boiled Scotch Eggs. I also started recording some videos to accompany my recipes, which has been both challenging and fun. Finally, I started a new project: visiting health-minded food producers to see what makes them tick.

Hope you had an awesome 2014, and cheers to an even better 2015. Read on for what I have planned for 2015, including two eBooks and a ton of tasty recipes. Plus I’m going to sneak in a few lists, like my favorite cookbooks, novels, movies, and music of the year.

Last week I spilled the beans on The Safe Starch Cookbook, which comes out on February 1st. It features over 60 starch-focused recipes lovingly compiled by yours truly. It’s an excellent tool for those of you wondering how to judiciously add starch into their dietary lifestyles, or looking to spice up the starchy portion of their plates. The eBook is currently part of the Family Resolution Revolution bundle, which features over $1,000 worth of health-related materials for $39. The bundle ends January 4th, and it’s a great way to get early access to The Safe Starch Cookbook (along with 40 other resources).

I’m really excited to introduce Paleo Take Out, which I’ve been working on for almost a year now. It will feature over 75 recipes (most of them exclusive to this eBook!), showcasing everyone’s favorite Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Southeast Asian recipes. Think of it less as an authentic trip through the Orient and more like healthy recreations of your favorite chain Asian-American restaurants (much like my Sweet and Sour Chicken recipe from earlier this year). I’m still putting the final touches on this eBook but I expect to offer it here on this site starting March 1st. I’ve already set up a landing page for Paleo Take Out, with pictures and a sample recipe, check it out.

I also have a ton of new recipes for this blog in the works, which you’ll see soon enough!

Below you’ll find some of my favorite things from 2014. Aside from the cookbooks, most of these items aren’t Paleo-minded per se, but I thought you’d enjoy seeing a good novel or movie recommendation to help ring in the New Year. Note that the items in these lists are in no particular order.

It was really hard to pick my favorite Paleo cookbooks, because a new one came out nearly every week in 2014. This year I tended to focus on niche Paleo cookbooks – those that fill in the gaps that your standard introductory Paleo cookbooks don’t typically get to.

Mediterranean Paleo Cooking by Caitlin Weeks, Nabil Boumrar, and Diane Sanfilippo. This is exactly the type of book I was hoping would sprout up this year. Truth be told, many Paleo cooking tropes are starting to get old for me – there’s only so many times I read about someone recreating “Paleo” granola or crackers. Instead, what really excites me is seeing traditional flavors from around the world that require little more than staying true to the source material.

There are a few tweaks to be had in Mediterranean Paleo Cooking to ensure it fits a grain-free lifestyle, but otherwise the flavors are perfect – it helps having Algeria-born chef Nabil Boumrar on board to help develop the recipes. The book has over 150 recipes that are tasty and well-balanced. I’m also happy to see a bit of dairy make an appearance (with appropriate substitutions for those avoiding it). I should also mention that this book has kick-ass granola and cracker recipes, but that’s beside the point.

The Autoimmune Paleo Cookbook by Mickey Trescott. In her book, Mickey provides simple but exquisite recipes tailored for those on the Autoimmune Protocol (a subset of Paleo that avoids ingredients damaging to those with an autoimmune condition). The best praise I can give this book is that it doesn’t seem like a diet book, let alone a book tailored to a niche faction of an already niche diet. In reality, this is a book that anyone could cook through and find optimal health, regardless of any specific food allergies. It has everything you’d want from a typical cookbook, from enticing starters to satisfying desserts.

The recipe pages in The Autoimmune Paleo Cookbook are perfectly crafted and explain everything from the tools you’ll need, time invested, difficulty, and amount of servings. The book also comes with meal plans and shopping lists, which I imagine will be very helpful for anyone looking to dive into the Autoimmune Protocol in the most delicious way possible.

Paleo Takes 5 or Fewer by Cindy Sexton. This is the type of simple cooking that the Paleo diet promises, but rarely delivers: easy, foolproof recipes that aren’t a bunch of sweet potato and ground beef mixtures. Inside you’ll find inventive approaches to often mundane dishes: nachos made with thinly-sliced taro, sautéed endive served with shrimp and red grapefruit, and beef stuffed with sausage and mushrooms (that’s the recipe that really won me over). To me, this is a book written for (and by) someone who wants good food without the hassle; you get the best of both worlds here. Some of the recipes are at an intermediate level, but most are as simple to prepare as it is to find the ingredients (I should note that every recipe is headed by a list of what you’ll need from the grocer to make the meal – very handy).

The amount of variety nestled into these 224 pages is staggering. Aside from your expected beef, lamb, pork, and chicken recipes, you’ll find dishes that use venison, cornish hen, duck, bison, and an impressive selection of seafood. Additionally, there are about 10 excellent salad dressings and dips at the end of the book. Other reasons I like this book: excellent nutrition info in the back from Mathieu Lalonde PhD (a nearly complete mineral and vitamin breakdown of each ingredient in the book), really thorough recipe instructions and side notes, and the fact that Cindy uses the words “gobbledygook” to refer to the chemical ingredients found in today’s processed foods.

The Zenbelly Cookbook by Simone Miller. I can’t help but think that if I hadn’t written The Ancestral Table from a strictly traditional perspective, this is exactly the approach I would have taken; building a variety of foolproof recipes written for seasoned and budding home chefs alike. Simone’s book is challenging and encouraging without ever being lofty or unapproachable; it’s a weeknight timesaver and a weekend project maker all in one. No lie, when I’ve had friends ask me for a tried-and-true recipe for certain dishes, and if I can’t point them to something in my book or blog, I usually text them a photo from The Zenbelly Cookbook.

What I like most about this book is that subtly, it’s teaching cookbook. Half its readers will be happy to find a book full of simple, elegant tastes that always turn out right. But the other half – those that excite me the most – will treat it as a template designed for a lifetime of cooking. I’m all for people buying every Paleo cookbook that comes out (it keeps us authors in business, after all), but I’m really looking forward to the day when the community can cook on its own. The Zenbelly Cookbook gets us closer to that moment.

Paleo Grilling by Tony Federico and Jay Phelan. It’s funny that it took over four years for a legit Paleo grilling cookbook to come out – in a community that is based on historically appropriate principles. After all, what is more historically appropriate than cooking over fire? To be fair, of all the types of cookbooks that are already somewhat Paleo-friendly, grilling cookbooks are pretty close. But at the same time, it’s nice to have a thorough, well-conceived grilling cookbook that is free of grains, legumes, dairy, and refined sugars so that you don’t have to intuit a bunch of substitutions.

The book contains recipes that are luscious yet truly Paleo – you’ll find no “Paleo” donuts or muffins here, only clean, honest flavors. And there’s a lot to work with in Paleo Grilling, including four sauces, five condiments, six rubs, four spice blends, and six marinades. For anyone who’s well-versed in grilling, rubs and sauces are vital to specific flavors, and these options give you the freedom to widen your palate significantly. The rest of the book is a collection of vegetable and meat/seafood dishes that are flavorful and impressive – no “just throw it on the grill” mentality here.

Honorable mentions:
The Paleo Approach Cookbook by Sarah Ballantyne
Real Life Paleo by Stacy Toth and Matthew McCarry
The Eat Drink Paleo Cookbook by Irena Macri (came out in 2013 but I didn’t get a copy until this year).

My main way to unwind is to read fiction; for me, it’s a great way to kindle my imagination. In years past, I scoffed at the idea of science fiction or fantasy books and assumed they lacked the same intensity and beauty that great literary works provide. But lately, these genres have been exactly what I’ve been looking for as a means to relax and get away from the hubbub of work and cooking. So I’ve been making up for lost time by reading some classics while also trying to catch up on current trends; as such, some of these books were released before 2014. Here are my favorite novels (or series) from recent memory.

Dark Eden by Chris Beckett. Imagine a small spaceship crash-lands on a strange planet with no hope of returning or being rescued. Then imagine that two of the crew members have children, and those children have children, and so on, for several generations until they create a population of 500+ with a shared ancestry (and shared birth defects), compromised intelligence, and a bastardized language. Finally, imagine if someone of comparably exceptional intelligence is born among these new humans, and starts to question the world around him. That’s the book in a nutshell, but with a lot more to it. I love some of Dark Eden‘s ideas, like how we would react to living on a sunless planet or eating food we weren’t meant to eat (sound familiar?).

The Stormlight Archive by Brandon Sanderson. I had heard some great things about Brandon Sanderson’s novels, most especially his Mistborn trilogy, which I read and enjoyed earlier this year. But the two books in The Stormlight Archive, his most recent fantasy series, feel much more robust and engaging than his previous novels. The cast and setting are enormously epic but still small enough that I was able to keep all of its stories in my brain without having to start writing notes. My only complaint is that I didn’t realize that these two books are part of a planned ten-book series; had I known that I would be waiting a decade (or two) to finish the series, I may have never started, since I’ll invariably have to re-read the previous books every time a new one comes out (see: Game of Thrones). Which isn’t a bad thing necessarily, but I just wanted to put that out there.

The Silo Saga by Hugh Howey. These books are great for two reasons. One, they are an excellent example of how eBooks (and self-publishing) can actually work; Hugh Howey has been wildly successful without the help of a traditional publisher. Two, the episodic nature of these books just begs for a serial TV adaptation, and reminds me a lot of LOST but slightly smaller in scope and not overly burdened with too many characters. The first third of the series carries some excellent (albeit formulaic) pacing that doesn’t quite keep up throughout the series, but overall The Silo Saga kept me engaged and frantically turning pages – and losing a bit more sleep than I should have.

The Hyperion Cantos by Dan Simmons. This science fiction series is uncompromisingly epic. It spans several hundreds of years, and while other authors tend to avoid challenges, Mr. Simmons never shies away from difficult passages or topics. Instead, he jumps right into them head-first, and we’re better off for it. I found it funny that despite being set in distant worlds, the Hyperion Cantos is more human than anything I’ve read in a while. At its core, these books flutter between several different genres, all of them masterfully written; the only science fiction element of this series is that it happens to occur in the future and in strange places.

Intrusion by Ken MacLeod. This novel takes place in the near future, where medical science has created a pill that eradicates common defects in unborn children. While that sounds awesome, the book revolves around one pregnant woman who refuses to take the pill. The seemingly perfect utopia quickly turns into a startling dystopia that’s reminiscent of 1984 but in a much more subtle (and frightening) way.

Apparently my taste in movies mirrors my recent taste in books. I could say that it’s because I’ve been stuck in one genre (I haven’t), but I think the reality is that the quality of science fiction and action films has really improved over the years.

Guardians of the Galaxy. I think this movie topped many lists this year, and for good reason: Marvel has really perfected the whole superhero genre (think about it, superhero movies were the running joke of the film world until a few years ago). After all, the studio took a forgotten comic starring a ragtag bunch of characters and transformed it into this year’s summer blockbuster. Alternatively, look at what Paramount did with a different beloved comic franchise this year. And not only did Guardians of the Galaxy do well in terms of summer ticket sales, it was an actually good movie, too (yeah, I’m looking right at you, Transformers and Pirates of the Caribbean). What makes Guardians of the Galaxy work is that despite being set in far-off galaxies, the film is refreshingly down-to-earth. Plus it has all sorts of deeper layers that tie into the greater Marvel universe, which for a guy like me is always fun.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. I’ve been a huge fan of the Planet of the Apes movies since I was a little kid. For some reason, I’m always drawn to the premise of one society unknowingly living on the ashes of a fallen civilization (think Orwell’s Time Machine, or even our relationship with dinosaurs). So actually seeing the fall of mankind unfold on film has basically been the coolest thing ever for me. It doesn’t hurt that the film is gracefully written and superbly acted. I’m usually bored with prequels because I don’t like knowing what happens next (for example, I had no patience for 300 since I know the Spartan warriors’ fate), but in this case director Matt Reeves did an excellent job in making its audience care about the fate of a few apes and humans, knowing full well how it all plays out in the end.

Lucy. This action movie is based on an amazingly flawed concept: that since we only use 10% of our brains, 90% of our brains will unlock all sorts of awesome powers. This myth has been proven false time and time again. But still, if you’re able to suspend your disbelief for the length of a movie, Lucy is a really, really fun time. Scarlett Johansson has been getting a lot of attention for her performance in Under the Skin, which is also an excellent (and unsettling) film, but in the end I preferred the ridiculousness of Lucy just a bit more.

Live. Die. Repeat. This movie, originally released in theaters under the title Edge of Tomorrow, didn’t fare well with audiences (I blame the title). I was immediately drawn to the movie’s concept: Groundhog Day meets Full Metal Jacket, where the hero relives a battle over and over until he basically memorizes and single-handedly saves the day. Plus, I’m kind of a huge Tom Cruise fan at an unconscious level; I just checked his IMDB profile, and I haven’t missed a movie of his since 1986. I first read the Japanese short novel (All You Need is Kill) the movie is based on in anticipation of watching the movie, and it didn’t disappoint. Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity, Mr. and Mrs. Smith) did an excellent job as director, keeping a humorous streak in an otherwise morbid premise.

Interstellar. Easily my most anticipated movie of the year, what with its premise (space exploration!), acting (Matthew McConaughey!), and direction (Christopher Nolan!). There are elements of this film that I adored, like the fact that it serves as a cautionary tale of our current abusive relationship with Earth, and that it portrays a near future on Earth without resorting to any futuristic gadgetry. Plus it’s breathtakingly beautiful. I know some critics had a hard time with some unscientific science, and had some legitimate concerns about the sound editing (I also had a hard time understanding some of the dialogue). Admittedly, Interstellar wasn’t the masterpiece I hoped it would be, but its premise, cinematography, and acting still kept me thinking about it for months afterwards. In the end, I have to hand it to Mr. Nolan for writing a film that feels both grand and exceptional in a genre that rarely gets it right.

My taste in music is fairly eclectic, but having grown up in Washington state during the alternative and grunge era, I never really got over Nirvana. So I gravitate towards rock music with a simple and emotional twinge to it. Music is a large part of my day, and serves as the soundtrack to my commute and my cooking adventures, and these were my five favorite albums this year.

Rooms of the House by La Dispute. La Dispute has gained a reputation over the years for their intense, personal songs focused on the struggles of everyday folks in Michigan, their home state. They’re easily the most aggressive band on this list, skirting the line between passionate and ferocious. What really keyed me into this album was vocalist Jordan Dreyer’s halting spoken-word delivery, evoking both parts At the Drive-In and Rage Against the Machine in a way that’s honest and tasteful (which means a lot in our world of shallow pop songs and redundant rock music).

Magnolia Electric Co. (10th Anniversary Reissue) by Songs:Ohia. This album first came out in 2003, and I wrote it off at the time as being good, but not great, and maybe a little too twangy for my tastes. But this reissue changes everything, because quietly bundled with it is a collection of singer Jason Molina’s original demos for the album. These nine demos (two of which weren’t on the original album) provide a completely different tone to the collection, shifting from bombast to intimate (and a little harrowing in light of Molina’s death in 2013).

They Want my Soul by Spoon. I’ve become thoroughly convinced that Spoon is a band that just can’t write a bad song. This, their eighth full-length album, feels almost like a best-of collection that hearkens to their previous releases while still moving forward. As expected, singer Britt Daniel’s delivery is impeccable, and the Jim Eno’s drumming is on point. While the fact that Spoon makes consistently excellent albums is a tad boring, their songs never are; in the end, they’ve deservedly come to represent the best of indie rock and haven’t misstepped once over the past 20(!) years.

Benji by Sun Kil Moon. The man behind Sun Kil Moon, Mark Kozelek, has been prominent in the news lately, mostly due to a ridiculous war he started with the band War on Drugs over the fact that their music was spilling over into his set during a festival. But in spite of Kozelek’s rockstar shenanigans, Benji is anything but; it’s a touching, threadbare diary of an album that focuses on both the finer and darker points of humanity. The stories contained within this acoustic album are somehow equal parts mundane and extraordinary, and that’s most of its charm.

Keep You by Pianos Become the Teeth. This album was a complete surprise to me. First of all, when was the last time that a Baltimore band was at the forefront of a genre? Maybe Beach House, if ever? Anyway, Pianos Become the Teeth have been on my radar for a couple years now, but their post-hardcore sound (read: lots of chaotic screaming) was a little much for me, and I couldn’t swallow more than one or two songs at a time. But Keep You is a 180-degree turn in terms of sonic intensity; there’s nary a shout to be found in the whole album. Turns out that vocalist Kyle Durfey can actually sing, and he does it well. The guitars remain scorching, the drums are still crashing, but the new sound suits them perfectly. I can’t remember the last time that a band decided to tone down their music and came out better for it (because it almost never happens). The songs themselves are startlingly intimate, and I highly recommend this for anyone that wants a good amount of emotional heft to accompany their rock music.

19 thoughts on “2014: A Year in Review

  1. Russ, what an awesome year, Book deal; Food & Wine; Food Network Star (I hope you get that second call); your move to the sunny state. I am part of that 3 million as I view your recipes all the time. Best Wishes and Happy New Year 2015, and I miss you, Janey, and Oliver. -Alison P.

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  2. Wow Russ, what an accomplished year. Congratulations on all of your success! You are such a modest person; I can’t believe that this is the first that we’re hearing about the Food & Wine mag gig and the Food Network opportunity, either. That’s very impressive! I don’t know how your 2015 will top your 2014, but I’m certain that it will!

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  3. Hey man! Happy New Year and thanks for the Paleo Grilling shout out! I’m loving the safe starch e-book by the way, really impressed with the recipes, layout and starchy goodness!

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  4. Thanks for your blog and great recipes. The tuna-stuffed potatoes have become a regular, and they are great reheated the next day. Look forward to reading more, and I’d love to see you become the next Food Network star.

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  5. We just came across your blog thanks to a few of your awards the blog has won. We can see why … lots of inspiration here. We’re so happy for your accomplishments and new opportunities and glad we found your inspiring posts. Cant wait to read more.

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  6. If you got a FN show, I’d definitely watch it! Fingers crossed you get that callback, but either way, it has been a great year. Looking forward to everything 2015 brings.

    Also, thanks for the great round-ups. It seems like we have pretty similar book tastes (I read the Silo Saga earlier this year and couldn’t put it down, though the ending was too open-ended for me), and I look forward to checking out some of those other series!

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