Cook The Books

I bought two vegetarian cookbooks for my daughter.

Still Life With Menu Cookbook by Mollie Katzen

still-life-with-menuBack 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.


burn!! !

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.


nice job with that artichoke shadow, mollie

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.

samwSundays At Moosewood Restaurant by The Moosewood Collective

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.


talk about your carb-loading!

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?

Famous Ladies From The Past – Part 1

Caroline Kennedy Listen, I’m no fan of Caroline Kennedy. Life’s cruel fates have distilled all that Kennedy drive, all that Bouvier style, all that citizenry love and expectation down into this bag of human disappointment:


How does one say “ya know” in Japanese?

I finished the J.B West memoir and the underlying  message is that the work of the White House staff goes on no matter who lives there and once families change, the transition is total and complete. Plans are made between the incoming First Lady and the chief usher before moving day so that when the new family enters the building for the first time after swearing in, their possession are in place and the private living quarters are all set up and ready for them with no trace of the previous family whatsoever. After the Kennedy assassination, Jackie asked Lady Bird for a favor – to let the nursery school on the third floor continue until after the  Christmas holidays. That way the transition for Caroline and the 19 other children would seem more natural than just stopping things the day the Kennedys moved out. Lady Bird agreed and that brings us to this sad passage:


Except for a few sentimental servants, she was generally ignored. Lynda and Luci were the new Princesses.

That must have been tough for a little kid – her position slightly off-center in the spotlight came to a sudden end along with everything else and the one home she knew was now a lonely place where she was ignored. She was unfriended in RL at age 6.

This is the saddest passage in the entire book.

Famous Ladies From The Past, Part 2 – Barbara Piasecka Johnson
Famous Ladies From The Past, Part 3 – Annette Funicello

The President’s Wife


The players may change but the smothering stench of the nanny state never does.

I didn’t want to do it but I couldn’t stop myself – I read the entire Eisenhower section first. I rarely read a book out of order but oh that Mamie! So now I have to start at the beginning and choke down Eleanor Roosevelt. Summary so far: she was ill at ease, loud, rejected formality and had big teeth.

J.B. West writes of his First Ladies in a kind and considerate way, casting them in the best possible light through carefully chosen wording. In this section, he comes right out and says E and FDR didn’t sleep together, didn’t eat together, didn’t travel together, didn’t like each other’s friends and associates and only spent time together at scheduled times when E was pushing her case for pet projects and the executive might to promote them or for public events to further the administration’s agenda.

Looks like TIME may have portrayed the wrong the wrong Obama  on the cover.

The Comforts of Home

Don’t be jealous but I bought a $20 floor lamp at my favorite junk store and set it up behind the armchair that I usually sit in when I watch TV. Since the arrival of the lamp, my morning routine is this:h

  • get up
  • push button on coffeemaker
  • let dog out
  • morning ablutions
  • empty dishwasher
  • let dog back in
  • pour coffee
  • sit and read for 45 – 60 minutes
  • begin workday

Oh the grand pleasure. My reading really drops off in winter – I do my best and most out on the deck when the weather is warm. But now, that luxurious hour in the morning! I started to reread Lady Bird’s White House Diary.

 Lyndon walked slowly past the President’s body in the East Room…  At one end was a Catholic image, I don’t know quite what it was. It wasn’t just a cross, but more elaborate.  That was the first time in those three days that I was reminded, caught up in the thought, that the Catholic faith has a pattern for everything – a pattern for life, and a pattern for death.

She is quite a charming diarist and her style is reflective of a time when having an education went hand in hand with having a rich vocabulary. She describes an antsy toddler JFK Jr in the funeral limo as being “peripatetic” and in the very early pages uses the phrase “short shrift” in exactly the right way. People don’t say that anymore, do they? I f they do, I suspect they don’t know what it actually means.

We went into her sitting room (or perhaps it should be called a dressing room) – one of the most exquisite rooms I have ever seen, with closet doors covered with bright and beautiful trompe l’oeils – little pictures of Profiles In Courage, Caroline at two, a yacht at Hyannis Port – all the things that mean something to her – a stamp or trademark that will not be repeated by anybody for a long time. For me, so much work will have to come first that I expect the room will be turned into an office rather than a dressing room, and it will get short shrift, at least these first few months.

I would have told you that I read every word that was every written about Jackie BKO but I never saw anything about her remarkable dressing room.  I wonder did someone memorialize the dressing room decor in a photo  before it was painted over? There are details like that unseen elsewhere, just interesting glimpses that caught her eye as she put her pen to paper at the end of a day filled with grand historical events.

UPDATE: Squeeeee! Here it is. 

“Jackie Kennedy once described her White House dressing room as “the only place I can really relax, read and write.” She felt it’s decor truly reflected her personality and aesthetic–elegant, romantic, familiar and soothing–and she filled it with family photos and french antiques, pale blue raw silk fabrics and leopard prints.” Ultimate Jackie

For My Next Trick, I Will Read A Single Book From Beginning to End

It’s 5:15 am and the heat just turned on. I think I’ll go downstairs and pick up one of the books I’m in the midst of reading.

I used to amuse myself by alternately reading two books at a time.  I select my reading material carefully (from and in most cases, I can pick up a book, tune out the world and the rest of  my life until I get to the last page. Sometimes though, my alternating book practice would help me to stay with something that was losing its fizzle in the middle by taking a break from one and going to the other. Not sure how or even when it happened, but now I’m completely out of control.

I’m reading 5 books at once.

And it’s not good. For a  person like me (a Gemini) who is weak on completing things anyway, this sad situation has allowed me to compartmentalize my reading according to where I am at the time rather thean focusing on engaging with the storylines. This is largely dependent upon the physical size of the book. Here’s how it shakes out:

Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri This one is a collection of 8 stories, some interrelated. This is one of my travel books and the format lends itself well to connecting flights. A few weeks ago when I made 4 flights in 36 hours, it was my faithful companion. It’s a paperback octavo so it just barely fits in my purse and its getting banged up.

White Teeth by Zadie Smith I was so intrigued after I watched the BBC mini-series on Hulu that I wanted to get deeper into the characters so I got the book. This one is a hardcover quarto so its even less appropriate to shove into my handbag. I’ve taken to packing it in my suitcase so that I have something to read in my spare time in hotel rooms. p.s. It turns out that I  never have any free time in hotel rooms.

To Absent Friends by Red Smith Just got this one recently. Fascinating! A collection of newspaper columns from this sportswriter written immediately after the passing of sports giants. Now I know who Pop Warner was.  It’s a 1″ thick hardcover and I have enough hardcovers to drag around now so it sits waiting for me on the table next to my TV-watching chair.

I’m starting to see a pattern here. I was so traumatized that my paperback copy of the 1000+ page The Powerbroker from 1974 went to pieces before I finished it that I try to get bound hardcovers whenever I can. I see now that is my problem with the portability of these books when I travel.

Neon Metropolis: How Las Vegas Started the Twenty-First Century by Hal Rothman This is critical research for me since an area near Las Vegas is one of our top contenders for a retirement location. I know, right? Did you know that “Nevada in general and Las Vegas in particular are at or near the bottom in many indicators of public life, environmental, and educational health and wellness. The state has even been referred to as the “Alabama of the West”? Still, the showgirl in me thinks that might be a good place to end my days. I’m packing this for my trip to Vegas next week. Where I wont’ have time in the hotel room to read it.

When She Was Bad: The Story of Bess, Hortense and Sukhreet & Nancy by Shana AlexanderThis reads more like an extended gossip mag article from the NYC in the 80s. What’s wrong with that? The”she” in the title is Bess Myerson, the beautiful manipulative former Miss America/friend of mayor Ed Koch whose habit was to leave bags of poop on the doorstep of her former boyfriends. The real fascination here is Sukhreet Gable. Look her up. I didn’t expect to like her as much as I did. Nevertheless, the twists and turns and interrealtionships between Sukhreet, hired for a minor position by Bess in the Office of Cultural Affairs, her mother the judge who favorably ruled on Bess Myerson’s gangster boyfriend’s alimony decision,  and Nancy the gangster/city contractor  boyfriend’s wife, got to be too weighty about 3/4 of the way through. I started while sitting on the deck last summer – maybe I’ll pick this up and finish it in the summer.

So there we have it: what I’m reading/not reading right now – all at once.