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?

8 thoughts on “Cook The Books”

  1. Whisky for breakfast? As much as I like bourbon, I don’t know that I’ve ever had it for breakfast. Never even thought of it… which just goes to show how uncreative I am. Somehow this makes me sad. Perhaps a wee dram tomorrow morning will cheer me up.

    1. You do have to be in the right frame of mind to have Whisky for breakfast. And it becomes necessary under certain circumstances – like when CBS holds the SEC to its contract and forces us to compress and accelerate our tailgating prior to kickoff at the unconscionable hour of 11:30 a.m.

  2. Sundays at Moosewood is one of my favorite cookbooks. The Baklava is to die for (an Amenian firefighter – an excellent cook himself – said he’d never tasted better. But it is labor intensive and not everyone’s favorite, so I have only made it once. Maybe this Christmas?

    There is also a superb fish recipe involving tomatoes, whole wheat bread crumbs, I think cumin and maybe coriander, and fresh basil. Baked. Lemon juice. It is delish.

    I have always thought that cookbooks with recipes contributed by real human beings with their names attached (have a freat Southern Junior League Cookbook and one from Laguna Beach – both winners) are the best.

    There was an exception. A little fundraiser cookbook put out by an enclave of peole with vacation homes in Northport Point Michigan. People whose families have been going to this place for many decades. Some of the recipes are to laugh (I seem to remember a fruit jello salad with odd ingredients). But the best fun there was cocktail hour(s)….and hour(s)….and hour(s).

    1. Forgive typos. Something is going on with my eyes. New glasses needed…

      And Suzette, I have a new email addie as my email crashed a couple of days ago.

  3. 60 years ago, my Dear Mother gave me a cookbook that was already ragged and missing the back cover.
    If you want to know what my favorite cookie tastes like…just lick the page, it’s all there.
    The recipes were so much simpler back then, no exotic spices or ingredients. Of course, that was before modern science made the tomato have the taste and texture of a soggy tennis ball, but still.

    Back then (the good old days) meatless meals were not a hippy-dippy statement, but the result of frugal housewives stretching the family budget so that a “nice chicken” could be on the Sunday dinner menu. (chicken was more expensive than beef or veal).

  4. “They plan menus, set long-term goals and wash pots.”

    I will now admit to finally being mostly retired and as a refugee from years of small and large businesses may I say there’s too much of the first two and not enough of the last one in this great land of ours.

    But then I am an unabashed meat eater and thus perhaps outside the parameters of this excellent posting.

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