I bought two vegetarian cookbooks for my daughter.
Still Life With Menu Cookbook by Mollie Katzen
Back in the day when I was escorting my kids, one of the other mothers at the school bus stop knew Mollie Katzen and the original Moosewood collective people. Apparently allegedly, there was bad blood over that first Moosewood cookbook allegedly and Millie Katzen split away and went out on her own allegedly. [Ed. note - sentence edited to add a enough allegedlys so that there is no basis for litigation. It was just bus stop talk, Mollie's lawyers, I didn't say it I'm only repeating it a few decades later. Is that a crime?]
Anyway, if that was the case, then Mollie was right to strike out on her own vegetarian food enterprise. Her recipes are doable, appealing, non-pretentious and anyone can prepare them. I just picked up the 1994 Still Life With Menu from my favorite used book emporium Abe Books for a dollar. I used to occasionally watch her first cooking show on TV. She developed the recipes, cooked them, hosted the TV series, and played the theme song on the piano. For her cookbooks, she supplies the artwork – her own slightly off-kilter pastels. They’re annoyingly not-quite-right even though she takes the trouble to add shadows. Stand down, Mollie and stick to the food.
I love to buy used cookbooks. Sometimes they have little scraps of paper tucked between the pages that hold hand- written recipes that flutter down into your lap. It’s like a message from the past. OR the notes in the margins done by the former book owners. There were no noted and just a single note in this book. “Terrible!! !” declares the former owner with such passion that she had to come back and add a third exclamation point.
When I first get hold of a used cookbook, I like to let it fall open. That tells me the most viewed recipes of the former owner. This one fell open between Thai Garlic Soup and Pad Thai. Odd choice since there are so many better choices here. The person who was looking for Thai recipes would have been better off with the next book.`
All the the recipes are set out within a menu so that you (novices) never have to wonder what to serve with a recipe that catches your eye. Here’s the Vegetarian Thanksgiving:
- Pesto and Peppercorn Torta
- Raw Vegetables and Crackers
- Cranberry Relish/Salad with Oranges, Apples and Sunchokes
- Corn-bread Stuffed Cabbage with Mushroom Brandy Sauce
- Sweet Potato Surprise*
- Wilted Spinach Salad with Garlic and Hazelnuts
- Chocolate Pecan Pie
* [Ed. note - text from the book with the italicization of the warning words by me] ” Pureed sweet potatoes are combined with fresh ginger and sweet spices, plus several surprises. The effect is delicious but subtle and your guests will have trouble identifying all the ingredients.”
Except for the hard-to-identify ingredients int he Sweet Potato Surprise, that doesn’t sound so bad. The recipes are grouped along with a preparation countdown, serving style suggestions and all the recipe ingredients are laid out against a pink background, separate but next to the recipe itself. This way you can easily run down your shopping checklist to see what you already have and what you need to get.
I do like the overall lay of this recipe collection and I think I’ll hang onto it for a while before I pass it on. It doesn’t look like its going to take too long to cook my way though the “200 plus” recipes here. Some of the recipes are sauces or accompaniments for the main recipe so kind of cheating with the recipe count there folks, but that is a minor point to me.
Before you ask, let me tell you that the Moosewood Collective is “a group of 18 people who rotate through the jobs necessary to make a restaurant work. They plan menus, set long-term goals and wash pots.” Allegedly take that, Mollie.
Right on the back of the book jacket, the theme of the book is laid right out: Sundays are ethnic day at Moosewood. The book itself is hard to handle. It’s a thick stubby thing only 7 1/4” x 9 1/4” compared to Still Life’s 81/2” x 10 3/4” which lays flatter when open for reference during recipe preparation.. There are no pencil marks whatsoever on my copy but some pages are dog-earred. No grease spots or other spatters either. The first place this copy falls open is in the introduction. Evidently, someone found frequent opportunity to refer to Whiskey for Breakfast. (I say “evidently” here because I am trying to break my dependency on using the word “apparently” and also because I heard Tamra Barney unwittingly misuse it when she was trying to display her superior vocabulary skills during a verbal beatdown of another OC housewife. Allegedly.)
The previous owner must have owned this book during cold weather because every other place that it falls open or has a dog-ear is a soup recipe ( plus Transylvanian Eggplant Casserole). Look at this mess of a soup below.
In my professional opinion, even a healthy person with a normally functioning pancreas would have a 2 hour postprandial glucose level of 375 after a bowl of this. I am definitively making this as soon as the weather drops below 70 degrees because challenging my own pancreas is right up my alley.
For some unknown and unexamined reason, I want to complain about this book and criticize it but I can’t. I’m digging it. The reason I looked into this book in the first place was a recipe for spinach polenta on the restaurant website. It is a well-known fact that I am A. Fool. for polenta.
(I would like the record to show here that the WordPress spellchecker did not recognize polenta and suggested that I change it to either tadpole or placenta. This is where we are in America in 2013.)
There are 2 sections here which qualify as “mid-eastern” – “Armenia and the Middle East” and “North Africa” – but I dare not show them to Mr. Sami for fear of head-explosion and a big lecture on how the Lebanese don’t know how to cook for shit and how anything from Morocco should not be allowed in any mid-eastern food discussions. I was mildly excited to see Vegetarian Lahma Bajeen here until I read the tofu-heavy ingredient list. I think I’ll stick to the original meaty version but maybe that’s just me and my personal history with How To Make Your Own Tofu.
There’ s a lot more recipes in this book, more blather but less artwork than Still Life. There’s no question that the Moosewood Collective members are strongly influenced by their proximity to the grad crowd from nearby Cornell University and Ithaca College. I love how they have Southern United States listed as it’s own ethnic group. Bias much?