Category Archives: Books

Connecting the Dots with Vegetable Literacy

Eggplant in Bloom

‘Vegetable Literacy’ is centered on 12 plant families and how they meet in the kitchen. It’s also a cookbook (some 300 recipe). Mostly it’s about connecting the dots between botany and the garden and the cook. People ask me what inspired this exploration and I have to say that I don’t recall a single moment in which that intention suddenly leaped to the fore. It was more like the idea of botanical families and the relationship between them and the kitchen had been there for a long time. Maybe it’s in my genes—my father was a botanist and gardener and farmer among other Ray Ban outlet things. And even though it didn’t occur to me plant anything until I was in my mid-thirties, something must have rubbed off.  And it rubbed off from my botanist brother, Michael, my many farmer friends and the gardeners I have known. Most of all, though, it was starting to garden that made plants and their families come into view with increasing clarity. Once I started to grow vegetables, I saw them in different ways: how much space they need, how large and many their leaves, how similar the blossoms within a family, the possibilities of eating more of them then what we see in the store or even the farmers market—hence the many little pointers about eating the whole plant—and more. The garden reveals the big and sometimes gnarly world that lies behind the pretty vegetable.

I’m the last person to write a book about gardening, and this isn’t a garden book. I’m still a beginning gardener; a fumbler in the garden. Here it is March and I haven’t even planted my peas. Expert or not, it’s amazing what a garden can teach one. It gets you to open your eyes and all of the sudden plants connect to one another, to you, and your cooking like never before. It’s a deep thrill that also be a cheap thrill. You don’t need an acre. Grow a pot of cilantro and use those little green balls before they become dried coriander and you have a really special treat. Or try a larger pot of chard, and an even larger container of potatoes. One caveat is that you do have to be there for your garden and this is the one thing I really  had to work to make possible. No traveling in summer. No more teaching or going off here and there. It worked. But ironically, it looks like this summer I’m going to be away from my garden too much to take proper care of it doing what?  Walking around the country with ‘Vegetable Literacy’ in tow.

Presenting a book to the world is always a thrill and something of surprise. Here I am hunkered down in my office or out in the garden, and suddenly ‘Vegetable Literacy’ is out there, no longer my near secret activity of the past two years. As my artist husband says about his paintings, he wants them to “grow up and go to college” – that is, get out there in the world, and it’s the same with a book. Although this first foray into the world Occhiali Da sole Ray Ban outlet feels tender and vulnerable; a bit of shock, really, I’m thrilled to have had the chance to write ‘Vegetable Literacy’. I hope it inspires those who read it as it did me while writing it.

And tell me if you wish, what plant families are you drawn to?  In the garden or in the kitchen.


The Friendly Breakfast Bap

How could this be? I forgot all about baps, once my favorite little roll, until a friend wrote saying how she use to relish the breakfast baps at Café Escalera years ago. Hardly anyone came for breakfast but a few diehards, even though I managed get out warm baps practically before sun-up. I thank her profusely for prodding my memory of those tender, yeasty rolls. They were the perfect breakfast bread and they certainly cheap oakley provided one of the nicest way to greet the day—golden round baps, warm from the oven, tender inside but crusty outside, a saucer of homemade jam along side, maybe some thin slices of a good cheddar, a bowl of coffee. Indeed, a good breakfast. Plus “bap” is such a funny, odd word, and fun to say.

Marion Cunningham told me about baps years ago. She loved them, too, and thought they were indeed the just about perfect for breakfast, although she thought many things were, in fact, perfect for breakfast. She included a recipe in her little masterpiece, The Breakfast Book, saying in her head note, “This is the Scot’s breakfast roll. Crisp-crusted, soft-centered, and well buttered, a friendlier roll you’ll never meet.”

Imagine. A friendly roll. That’s so Marion. And it is true of baps.

And I think a friendly roll might be just what’s needed right now.  January is always a long hard month. It’s too cold to be lured by the seed catalogues (minus-1 yesterday morning!). Our tea-party governor’s address to New Mexico doesn’t cheer, nor does the NRA. I’m tired of food and thinking about food and almost even cooking, except, now that baps have been brought up, maybe, just maybe, I’ll make up a batch. Not today, but maybe tomorrow. I’m out of yeast and they call for a lot.

Baps are not only friendly, but, as Marion pointed out, they’re Scottish—and that’s my heritage, at least in part, and my husband’s in full. No wonder I was once especially keen on baps—it’s genetic. But I don’t believe you have to have a drop of Scottish ancestry to enjoy these little rolls. (Plus I never saw them in Scotland when I went there.)

Here is Marion’s recipe. She calls for lard, for it’s good “barny” taste, so if you use it, do here. Otherwise, sneak in some salty Irish Kerrygold butter. Serve them warm with that special jam you’ve been saving and saving. If you’ve got the winter blues, now just might be the time

1 teaspoon sugar

1/3 cup warm water

3 (yes!) packages dried yeast, but cut back if you want to (I do at 7000 feet altitude)

4 cups all-purpose unbleached flour

1 ½ teaspoons salt

½ cup lard or soft butter

½ cup warm milk

1/ cup warm water

Dissolve the sugar in the water and sprinkled over the yeast. Let stand for 5 minutes.

In a larger bowl mix together the flour and salt and rub in the lard or butter. Add the now bubbling yeast, the milk and water and mix together with your hands to get a soft dough. Cover and let rise until doubled, about an hour.

Turn the dough out onto a floured board and knead until smooth. Divide into l6 pieces and shape into a ball. Put the balls on a greased sheet pan and set them aside to rise for 30 minutes while the oven warms.

Heat the oven to 400’F and bake the baps until golden brown. (I brush mine with a beaten egg, but you don’t have to.) Serve them hot from the oven. The picture is cheap oakley irrelevant, but meant to say that one day summer will be here.

Imaginary flower

Imaginary flower

Winding up a Book During Tomato Time


It’s September and that means that there’s still more gearing up to do before my new book, Vegetable Literacy, goes to press. We’ve just been through the first round of copy edits, always a hard (2-week) moment because I never have any idea how many mistakes it’s  possible to make. It’s been Ray Ban outlet vetted by my ethnobotanist friend, Jay Bost, for glaring errors in the plant department, and I’m hoping I’ve caught them all. I’ve been though the photoshoot with Christopher Hirscheimer and Melissa Hamilton – great grueling fun. I cooked nearly 50 dishes in a short week and of course the weather couldn’t have been hotter or more miserable during that time. Fans were whirling everywhere.  I’m working on the introduction, and thinking about all the people I want to thank, people who helped with their wisdom, experience, encouragement. Then there are references to reveal.  Writing a book is never just writing a book. All of this is a big part of it. And in the meantime, everything else recedes to the back and slips away. Birthdays. Meetings. Taking my pooch to the groomers. I honestly can’t wait to clean my office.

While I love a task, I’m ready to change gears. It’s fall. Leaves are starting to yellow. The buzzards are getting ready to fly back to Texas or wherever they spend the winter, and the garden is starting to falter here and there —one bean plant giving up the ghost, a squash deciding it’s had enough of all this production, the amaranth starting to redden.

But the tomatoes! That’s what’s getting me through these final weeks. It was a hard year for vegetables, especially the tomatoes, but now they’re coming around and they are what I want to eat. Every day. Twice or thrice. Thick slices of beefsteak typse with avocadoes. In BLTs with lean bacon from the farmers’ market, or pasta tossed with an assortment of every kind of tomato, uncooked, chopped and covered with olive oil, capers, olives, garlic, herbs. Or salt roasted little guys over ricotta and grilled eggplant. To be fair, there are plenty of shishito peppers, eggplants, Romano beans and chard, among other good things to eat. But when you have a good tomato, it doesn’t take much more to have a meal.

I know we all know that, now. Everyone’s writing about tomatoes, picking them, buying them up at the farmers market, putting them up, and eating them like there’s no tomorrow, because there isn’t. And the great thing is you don’t have to be in the end stages of writing a book to enjoy them to the point of ray ban da sole outlet having a daily swoon or two, and I hope you’re doing just that, even if all you’ve got are the little ones.

Grilled eggplant with salt-roasted tomatoes and ricotta

Kansha: Appreciation

Elizabeth Andoh has written an exquisite new book. It is called Kansha, a Japanese word that means “appreciation”. In the context of this cookbook, that appreciation or gratitude extends to the efforts of those who produce the plants we eat and the ingenuity of those who transform them into food for our tables. It is a warm and positive word that reaches out and embraces rather than pushes away, say, animal foods. But why does this come up at all?  Because the full title of this book is Kansha: Celebrating Japan’s Vegan and Vegetarian Traditions.

I admit that I have not been positively moved by the overall thrust of veganism in the US. True, it’s become less militant and more gentle in recent years and that is good, but I find the approach still somewhat muscular, where the scolding finger rather than the loving warmth of appreciation rules. Is it Ray Ban outlet really necessary to identify roasted peppers or skillet-seared daikon with yuzu as vegan?  Only if you want to be sure that in eating it you’re going to be avoiding meat, dairy, honey, eggs. In contrast to avoidance, Kansha brings the abundance of possibilities plant foods offer into focus without dwelling on the absence of others, a more delicate, embracing approach. I’ve come away from this book with the feeling that Kansha, both the book and the word, embody a spirit that moves more from the heart and less from the brain. Above all it expresses grace. I was thinking of grace as in gracefulness, but it could also mean grace as in a state of grace, of gratitude, of giving thanks. This approach to vegan and vegetarian food involves a deep and subtle shift away from how we might usually approach dietary limits and choices.

Many of the dishes in Kansha use some vegetables we Americans are familiar with —leeks, kale, kobacha squash—but foods I’ve longed to know more about, or know in different ways, such as Japanese sweet potatoes, daikon, burdock, and different kinds of tofu, are addressed here too. The recipe titles sometimes evoke more of a mood than a description—Rice Friends (referring to two preparations of kelp), Green and Green on Greens, Heaven-and-Earth Tempura Pancakes, Bitter, Sweet, and Fruity Salad, Springtime in a Bowl. But even the more straightforward descriptions have a certain charm as well and the images, which are gorgeous, make visual sense out of any title.

When I first saw Kansha I was drawn to the cover for its good looks, the background so rough in texture, the big chunk of daikon with its leaves, and the three rustic Japanese dishes that caught my eye. But it wasn’t until I looked more attentively that I saw every bit of food on the cover was in fact, daikon —the big chunk with fresh leaves, a pile of dried leaves, julienned strips and the tip of the tail, thick rounds and thinner fans of the giant white radish, then three dishes of daikon prepared to eat. The idea of using the entire plant, something I learned from my Japanese Zen teachers many years ago, is also a quality of kansha. Gourd chips are made from kampyo used first in stock. The by-product of tofu making, okara, is turned into a dish. Kombu used in making stocks into condiments and pot liners. Nothing is wasted. The same idea is expressed today in nose to tail cooking of animals—of using all parts, wasting nothing out of respect for the life taken—and my sense is that Elizabeth Andoh is not taking a fierce stance about veganism or vegetariansm as much as she’s offering an opportunity to experience the wholeness of plants from land and sea that might well be applied to fish and fowl as well.

If you are intrigued by Japanese foods and are more or less clueless about packages of seaweed, sliver-thin noodles, soy in forms other than tofu when you find them in a Japanese grocery, there is an excellent glossary of ingredients that makes sense out of these culinary mysteries, making it entirely possible to cook these straightforward recipes. As their success does rest on having the right ingredients a good guide is necessary, and Elizabeth Andoh is an authority on her subject.

I envision two approaches to using Kansha in the kitchen. The gradual approach is to read through the book, decide on some dishes to make, look up any unfamiliar ingredients in the glossary, then make a shopping list. The alternative approach is to plunge in completely, stock your pantry with all that you can, and explore the whole book dish by dish. Either way, the photographs will tell you a lot about how your finished recipes might look when finished. Elizabeth Andoh’s intelligent writing is clear and helpful throughout. Her explanations of the names for dishes, like “sleet sauce”, or such tidbits as to why tofu is cut in triangles in Kyoto, illuminate the way each dish tells a story and connects to its culture. No recipe is ray ban baratas particularly complicated, unless you want to plunge into making tofu from scratch, which is more of an effort than most. But having done so I can tell you that you will be astounded by the results, and truly appreciative, for the tofu you make is the difference between heaven and earth. And it’s good to have a taste of heaven to remind of us of what the earth and those who work with its offerings can provide for our tables.

Some New Books to Watch For

I love books and I have always been helpless in bookstores, inevitably buying more than I can expect to read in a reasonable amount of time.   In addition to those I pick out myself, publishers send me manuscripts on a regular basis to write those little blurbs you read on the back. Many of these new books I see are exceptionally fresh and exciting, and here are some I want to share with you.

Jam Today, A Diary of Cooking With What You’ve Got by Tod Davies    (Exterminating Angel Press)

This is the kind of book I love and it’s the way I think of food myself —circumstantial.  It’s snowing out, you look in the cupboard, you scour for leftovers, and you come up with some remarkable dinner that you may or may never repeat. But the telling of such adventures is really plain talk about cooking and life, and this is what Tod Davies’ eccentric little book is all about. It’s a delight, it’s inspiring, and Exterminating Angel is her press, too.

Growing Good Tings to Eat in TexasProfiles of Organic Farmers and Ranchers across the State, by Pamela Walker    (Texas A&M)

When I was researching my book Local Flavors, Cooking and Eating from America’s Farmers’ Markets, Texas was the state that stumped me most.  I knew there were good things to eat there, but mostly they were in Austin and the surrounding Hill Country. So-called farmers’ markets I visited were selling produce from the produce terminal and no one seemed to know the difference. Pamela Walker, however, has uncovered a cheap oakley sunglasses host of people growing good food in the Lone Star State from vegetables to shrimp, from cheese to meat, and this book profiles them. It has pictures too, and is an encouraging milepost on the food way.

Cheesemonger, by Gordon Edgar     (Chelsea Green Press) Not out yet, watch for it come February.

I’m just reading this really delightful tale of a cheesemonger in San Francisco. Only sleep forced me to put it down last night, but this morning and resumed with pleasure, nearly missing my yoga class. It’s about time someone from the punk persuasion walked into the food world. And now he’s writing about it!  This is an informative read and an entertaining and refreshing one, to boot.

Deeply Rooted, Unconventional Farmers in the Age of Agribusiness,  by Lisa M. Hamilton   (Counterpoint Press)

After I heard Lisa Hamilton read from her book and I lined up to buy a copy.  In Deeply Rooted she profiles three farmers and looks through them towards the cheap oakley past, the present and the future towards ways of farming that lay outside the agribusiness world.  She’s a fine writer and an intelligent observer and her book moves along at surprising clip. You won’t have heard of the farmers she speaks with—they are not obvious heroes. Yet. Much food for thought here.