Books I Like: Favorite Cookbooks


1. Salad Samurai

Terry Hope Romero is probably my favorite vegan cookbook writer. My copy of her Vegan Eats World has been used so many times that the whole thing is falling apart. The pages are coming out and the spine is cracked, but the recipes are so good and the flavor combinations are so interesting that I keep taking it off the shelf. I might like Salad Samurai even more. I’m so glad that salads—and bowls—-are trendy now, because I love them, but not the boring, barebones kinds you find in too many restaurants still. The best kinds of salads never leave you hungry. They’re filled with filling proteins and vegetables that are hearty and flavors that you could never find in a bottle of salad dressing from the grocery store.

I wish that restaurants around here served salads like the ones in Salad Samurai. For one thing there are so many different types to pick from. The recipes in the book are separated by season (which I love), starting out light and fresh in spring, and gradually getting heartier and warmer into winter. As in Vegan Eats World, a lot of the recipes are inspired by international cuisine. Mexican, Korean, Thai, Italian, Indian . . . All filling and all good. We’ve cooked most of the recipes already and haven’t found a single one we didn’t like.

Favorites: Vanessa Kabocha Salad (Chinese five-spice!!), Pesto Cauliflower and Potato Salad, Gingery Beets and Lentils with Tahini and Agave Nectar, and Tempeh Reubenesque Salad.


2. A Modern Way to Eat

Anna Jones is a Jamie Oliver protégé who happens to be vegetarian, and that was reason enough for me to want to check out her book. Drew and I were big Jamie Oliver fans before we started eating vegan, and we are again now that he includes so many vegan recipes in his magazine and on his site. Anna Jones has a similar, super laid-back cooking style. Her recipes sometimes call for “handfuls” of ingredients rather than measurements, and they’re the opposite of pretentious. I also just love the Britishness of them. Right now I’m obsessed with The Great British Bake Off (how did I never see it until now?!) so I like seeing things I recognize from the show, like Yorkshire puddings and savory pies.

Favorites: Beetroot Curry, Kale and Black Sesame Sushi Bowl, Cardamom and Star Anise Winter Squash Soup, and Lemony Lentil and Crispy Kale Soup.


3. At Home in the Whole Foods Kitchen

Amy Chaplin had a blog called Coconut & Quinoa that I didn’t know about until her book came out last year. I don’t know how I missed it. Her recipes are just the kind I like. They’re healthy and inventive and they stand on their own as vegetarian/vegan dishes, rather than just being meatless versions of standard meals. No fake meats here. Sometimes I’m wary when bloggers come out with books, but Amy Chaplin has been working as a vegetarian chef for 20 years, and she knows her stuff.

Favorites: Roasted Winter Vegetables and Arugula Salad with Mustard Dressing, Spicy Chickpea Stew, Beet Chickpea Cakes, and Roasted Fall Vegetable Cannellini Bean Stew with Spelt Berries and Kale.


And, upcoming cookbooks that I know will be favorites:

Street Vegan: We’re going to New York next month, and one of the things I was most excited about doing was finally going to the Cinnamon Snail food truck. Now it looks like it might never happen; the owners had trouble getting a permit and are closing up shop at the end of this month. It’s sad news, but it would be much sadder if it weren’t for the Cinnamon Snail cookbook coming out in May. Will my own vanilla bourbon crème brulée donuts or Gochujang burger be as good as the ones sold on the food truck? Probably not, but since we never got to try the real deal who will know?

My New Roots: Sarah Britton’s blog of the same name was one of the very first ones I went to, back when I was baking a ton but didn’t think I would ever learn how to cook. Following her healthy, somewhat hippie (in the best way) recipes helped me ease into vegetarian cooking, and some of her creations are still in regular rotation over here.

The First Mess: Even before Laura Wright announced that she has a cookbook in the works I was going to include her name here, if only because her blog is my very favorite food blog and I knew she’d have a book out sooner than later. She’s too good not to. Most food blog writing is obnoxious filler that needs to be space barred over (they. write. like. this. or like: this. is. the. most. amazing. thing. you. will. eat.) but I always read what Laura has to say. She gardens and she comes up with creative and healthy meals that look restaurant-worthy but aren’t all that hard to make. Pre-order for sure.

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Megan Huntz SS15


I’ve been posting every one of Megan Huntz’ collections as soon as they come out, because the clothes in them are the clothes I want to be wearing right now. I’ve kept quiet on the blog about fashion lately (and, uh, quiet on the blog in general) because collections I really love and am inspired by are getting harder to find, but I can always count on Megan. Her clothes are original and wearable at the same time. Well-thought-out and not trendy.

In this collection I especially love the subtle prints and the skirt/dress/coat lengths. I love how the pants show a bit of ankle, the coat shows a bit of wrist, and how most of the dresses and skirts cinch in at the natural waist. And–as always–the look book photos are perfect. Shot by Jamie Hopper in Atlanta, and making me a little homesick.



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Books I like: Memoirs and Kind-of Biographies


1. Almost Famous Women: Stories by Megan Mayhew Bergman

This one’s a new book, just out, and when I first found out about it and its almost, but not-quite-famous subjects I was excited. I was hoping it would be non-fiction and biographical, something along the lines of Lisa Cohen’s All We Know: Three Lives, another book that resurrects forgotten women in history and tells their stories. Megan Mayhew Bergman’s women are real, but the stories are fictional. Historical fiction isn’t my favorite thing in the world, and when it comes to modern fiction I’m a lot more old-fashioned than I’d like to be, but it didn’t take long for me to get drawn into Bergman’s stories of women who missed fame by a hair. Some were famous enough in their own day but have become gradually less so (Romaine Brooks, Beryl Markham, Butterfly McQueen), while others lived their lives under the shadow of a more famous relative (James Joyce’s daughter Lucia—that’s her, above—-, Oscar Wilde’s niece Dolly, Edna St. Vicent Millay’s sister Norma, Lord Byron’s daughter Allegra).

I knew a little about some of the subjects, but nothing about most of them. If I knew anything about Marlene Dietrich’s one-time lover, heiress Joe Carstairs, I had forgotten. I’d love to read more about her life, but honestly could have done without Bergman’s portrayal of Dietrich: campy and insecure and bitchy for no reason. Bergman’s a lot better when she writes about more obscure figures; her stories about lesser-known entertainers and female daredevils had me searching the internet for anything I could find about them. As with All We Know, my favorite parts in Almost Famous Women happen when stories and lives intersect. Serial womanizer Joe Carstairs makes an appearance (or at least gets a mention) in a few stories, as does Natalie Barney, that other notorious womanizer who isn’t the subject of a story in Almost Famous Women, but maybe should be.


2. Moving Pictures: Memories of a Hollywood Prince by Budd Schulberg

Before we went to LA last fall I tried to read up all the old Hollywood books I could download because I was nervous about going there (it’s overwhelming) and I needed some good vibes. I started with Scandals of Classic Hollywood because I’m a huge fan of Anne Helen Petersen’s internet column of the same name. Online, Petersen is both scholarly and gossipy, writing about old film stars as if they were still walking around today. She dusts off old Hollywood scandals and makes them shocking again, and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on her new book. But I didn’t like it as much as I thought I would. Most of the stories Petersen writes about are ones that classic Hollywood fans already know: Fatty Arbuckle’s downfall; Judy Garland’s tragic life and James Dean’s short one. They were pretty obvious, and, worse, they were missing a lot of Anne Helen Petersen’s online sass.

Fortunately there always seem to be Hollywood memoirs out there that I had no idea even existed. I signed up for a free month of Kindle Unlimited just to be able to read Budd Schulberg’s memoir of growing up in Hollywood. Budd’s father was B.P. Schulberg, a big studio executive during the ’20s and ’30s, who moved his family out to Hollywood just as its orange groves were being bulldozed to make way for movie studios. Budd grew up playing on silent film sets and teasing moving stars. One time he even threw a fig at Greta Garbo. (?!)

Old Hollywood memoirs tend to have plenty of gossip, which is why I like them. They’re also notoriously unreliable, usually written in later life. Anita Loos is one of my favorite of the early Hollywood chronicallers, even though I’ve heard that her facts are all mixed up and her stories are usually embellished and can’t be believed. But I want to believe them. Schulberg is gossipy in his book, too, writing freely (sometimes too freely) about long-dead stars like Clara Bow. Most of his stories are ones I’d never heard before, and reliable or not, they’re definitely not boring.


3. The Naked Civil Servant by Quentin Crisp

Last year I read up every biography I could find of eccentric weirdo contrarians because I spent most of 2014 feeling like one. When my gardening heroine Alys Fowler wrote about having lunch at a restaurant with the British eccentric Quentin Crisp, and how he looked around the room and proclaimed the most stylish people there to be those who were the least trendy, I was inspired. I read a biography on him and then I quickly moved onto his first memoir, and I was hooked.

The Naked Civil Servant might be the best book I read last year. It’s definitely the funniest, though maybe the saddest too. Quentin Crisp was an outcast from the beginning, gay and flamboyant in pre-war London, where homosexuality was illegal. He dressed up like a dandy, wore makeup, and dyed his hair unnatural shades of red and blue, and got beat up on the regular for it, even arrested. But he was too much of an individual to tone down his look; the way he dressed and wore his hair and makeup reflected who he was.

Being an individual and just “being” were the most important things to Quentin Crisp. He claimed never to listen to music or look at art or read books, though that last one is hard to believe considering how well he wrote. He lived in a tiny apartment that he never cleaned—”after the first four years the dirt doesn’t get any worse,” he said—and the clothes he wore were often secondhand and tailored to fit—-”fashion is what you adopt when you don’t know who you are,” he also said. Personal style was such an important form of self-expression to Quentin that the idea of fashion was something he had no patience for. “If you have no personality,” he wrote in a pretty scathing review of a book of Avedon photographs, “you may be able to save your face and, possibly, your entire anatomy by following the current fashion, but all we shall know about you, when we see you coming down the street, is that you had enough money to buy a glossy magazine.”

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Vegan Holidays with Chickpea


When Drew and I first started dating I told him that my family would have cookies for dinner every Christmas Eve, and it wasn’t too far from the truth. My parents would bake cookies weeks in advance, and on the night before Christmas they’d set out plates and plates of them on the table, and it was always my favorite meal of the year since  it was the one time I could get away with eating only chocolate. There were other things on the table too—-meatballs sometimes, and cheese and crackers and chips and vegetables and dip, and fondue when we went to my grandparents’ house—-but I usually just concentrated on the cookies. I still do.

We’ve always had the same cookies, and just about all of them were passed down from some family member or another, mostly from my great-grandma, who seems to have gathered up her recipes from 1950s baking books and Midwestern newspapers. I’ve had those cookies for as long as I can remember, and after first going vegan I figured that I wouldn’t be able to have them anymore. On our first vegan Christmas we made cookies from vegan baking books; they were good, but they had me missing the old ones. Fortunately by the next time the holidays rolled around I knew a lot more about vegan baking and how easy it can be to turn a non-vegan recipe vegan. I made my very favorite family cookie recipes, and even though I had to use some substitutes like Tofutti sour cream (not my favorite) the cookies ended up tasting pretty much like I remembered.

I have an article in the winter issue of Chickpea Magazine for all of you vegans who would rather stick to the classic, familiar family recipes rather than track down all new plant-based ones. Drew took the photos and I came up with some tips for converting old recipes, with an emphasis on the “old,” since family recipes tend to date back to times when weirder (and definitely not vegan) ingredients like condensed milk and lard were used heavily in baking. Included in the article are some of my favorite family cookie recipes, turned not only vegan but gluten-free.

I also made the cookies a bit healthier than the original versions, though you could never really get away with calling them healthy. There’s sugar and plenty of chocolate still, but I did try to eliminate most of the processed ingredients in these. Do you remember when I posted a recipe for Georgia Street Slices years ago, before we went vegan? The original version has vanilla wafers, instant pudding mix, and condensed milk; can’t you tell that the recipe dates back to the 1950s? Here’s an updated version: vegan, gluten-free, and a little bit better for you.

Georgia Street Slices

Makes 16 squares

Ingredients

1.5 cups pitted medjool dates
1 cup chopped walnuts
1/3 cup cocoa powder
2 tbsp almond flour
1/3 cup plus 3 tbsp melted coconut oil, divided
3 tsp vanilla, divided
1/4 tsp salt
2 cups cashews (soaked overnight)
1/4 cup maple syrup
2 tbsp coconut milk
2/3 cup vegan dark or semisweet chocolate chips

Instructions

1. For the bottom layer, put dates, walnuts, cocoa, almond meal, 1 tbsp coconut oil, 1 tsp vanilla, and salt into a large food processor, and pulse until combined. The mixture should hold together when pinched—if not, add another date or more coconut oil. Press the dough into a greased 8 x 8 inch pan and let set in the refrigerator or freezer while you make the middle layer.

2. To make the middle layer, strain and rinse soaked cashews and place into blender along with maple syrup, 1/3 cup coconut oil, 2 tsp vanilla, and a pinch of salt. Spread over bottom layer and chill.

3. In a small saucepan or double boiler, melt 1 cup of semisweet chocolate chips with 2 tbsp coconut oil. Mix well and spread over middle layer. Chill. When chocolate layer has firmed, cut bars into two-inch squares. Keep in refrigerator or freezer.

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