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The Missing Ingredient

September 12, 1996|MARGARET SHERIDAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

If you're on the prowl for tidbits about life with Jane and Ted in "Jane Fonda: Cooking for Healthy Living" ($29.95 Turner Publishing, Inc.), forget it.

The cookbook keeps everything, except recipes and nutrition information, close to its chest.

What you get are plenty of color photos, recipes for real food and all sorts of tips--from where to order bison or organic vegetables to where to get exercise videos or help for eating disorders.

There are radiant smiles from the book's triumvirate (Jane, recipe consultant Robin Vitetta and chef Karen Averitt); a photo, circa 1948, of her famous dad, actor Henry Fonda (nicknamed by neighbors the compost king) on a tractor; and 120 close-ups of the kind of food you could actually eat. This is no diet book. Rather, it is a lifestyle book.

Fonda says upfront that she rarely cooks. The 120 recipes are from her personal chef and are the kinds of food served at the Turners' four ranches in Montana.

The book is divided into chapters on breakfast, lunch and dinner. Uncomplicated menus and serving suggestions accompany each recipe. Ingredients aren't fussy; just fresh and easy to find, except for such Turner favorites as pheasant and bison.

Dishes are pared down, fat-wise, for healthier eating. This was the ultimate challenge for chef Averitt, a longtime employee of Fonda's.

The former manager of her now-defunct Workout in Encino, Averitt oversaw the cooking at Fonda's spa (also defunct) in Santa Barbara. When Fonda and Turner married, Averitt and her musician husband agreed to move to Montana and oversee the ranches and related ventures.

The biggest challenge Averitt faced was Ted Turner, with his down-home tastes. She took his fried and rich favorites and gave them an overhaul. The cheese souffle uses egg whites and low-fat cheese. Instead of frying the vegetables in oil for gumbo, she sprays a skillet with a nonfat spray. No-fat or low-fat dairy products are used constantly. So are egg whites, low-fat buttermilk and margarine, which is lower in saturated fat than butter and is cholesterol-free. At the heart of the Fonda cuisine are fresh herbs and spices.

Menus nod to the nutritional guidelines of the USDA food pyramid (translation: plenty of complex carbohydrates and fresh produce; small amounts of protein; fats and oils used sparingly).

An avid reader and occasional user of cookbooks, Fonda stipulated that every recipe gets a photo "because I want to know what it's supposed to look like." Water tumblers are a prop to remind readers to drink more water.

The water fixation evolved from Fonda's New Year's resolution (made in 1994 following Ted's good example) to drink at least eight glasses (8 fluid ounce-size) a day. She say it's great as a moistener for the hair and skin, a natural cleanser and diuretic. She says water reduces fluid retention and bloating.

Want a few ways to put more water in your life? Do as she does: Wear a bottle on a shoulder strap carrier and keep a bottle in the car. At every red light, grab it.

Tips for eating out? Order appetizers instead of a main course. Ask for salad dressing on the side then dip your fork into it before spearing a lettuce leaf. When driving, lock food temptations in the trunk. Don't linger near buffet tables. Pack your own food for airplane trips. At a party, mingle; don't get near the buffet table. And hold a glass of water.

Lovers of complex carbohydrates will get recipes for whole-grain pancakes and waffles, fruit coffeecake, scones, smoothies, quick breads and granola. There's even a recipe for low-fat eggs Benedict. Oatmeal gets a place of honor as Fonda's "brain food," a reference to childhood, when that hug food helped the then-10-year-old get through a tough exam.

There's a guide to resources (fitness tapes, books on eating disorders, information on organic produce, where to order bison).

The book is straight-forward, no nonsense and nothing earth-shattering. It is free of gimmicks and heavy with common sense.

But in testing some recipes in The Times Test Kitchen, tasters had qualms. An overall objection was the lack of salt. One entree, chicken with apricots and snow peas, got thumbs down for being lackluster and "very '60s." Although a great low-fat cheesecake is always welcome, this chocolate cheesecake calls for cocoa. Naturally, it lacked the richness of high-fat chocolate, cream cheese and sour cream. Half of us loved it. So, let your conscience be the judge.

Although the updated versions of Southern favorites are a plus, if you're looking for new insight into diet and complex carbohydrates, fat, exercise and lifestyle changes, there's nothing here that hasn't been said before.

And what should be the main attraction--Fonda's voice, personal experiences and wit--is missing. The voice of reason muffles that of the woman who has come full circle in a fascinating life. More tidbits about life on the ranch would give fans of Jane something gritty or sweet to chew on. Guilt-free, of course.

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