Posts Tagged ‘mollie katzen’

A Culinary Confession

March 23, 2010

I blame Bakesale Betty.  If the blue-haired Aussie-American Alison hadn’t lured me into her store with lamingtons and sticky date pudding I would never have succumbed to the charms of her legendary fried chicken sandwiches, which cause perfectly sane people to line up on Telegraph Avenue in North Oakland. For a sandwich. I kid you not.

It also doesn’t help that Bakesale Betty is on my way home from my editing gig and I’m often ravenous as I drive by, doing a quick scan to see if there’s 1. a line snaking down the street or 2. any parking.

If the parking gods and queue karma are on my side, I’m in and out with one of her sandwiches before you can say hello hypocrite.

Let me explain. I’ve been a vegetarian since I was 17, when I gave up meat in what my mum, a good cook, viewed as just another one of my rebellious teenage acts. Despite growing up in a meat-loving land, where the backyard barbie rules, I became a greens and legumes kinda gal.

For more than a quarter of a century, I lived the veg life. To be precise, I guess I’m technically a pescatarian, as I sometimes eat seafood. Especially in my hometown, Sydney, because — news flash — fabo fish to be had Down Under peeps.

So how to explain the recent chicken sandwich obsession? What can I say? I think I’m having a middle-aged meat crisis. Some 20 years ago I introduced the man who would become the father of my child to the virtues of a vegetarian diet. Hell, I married him at Greens. My 11-year-old kid has never, ever eaten an ounce of animal flesh.  (His choice. I’m no zealot.)  My blog is called — duh — Lettuce Eat Kale. I’ve watched Food, Inc. I frequent farmers’ markets. You get the idea.

I should be a poster girl for a pro-produce life.

And yet…a couple of years ago around a certain time in my cycle I began craving protein. No worries, fish usually did the trick. Then I started to slip a bit when sharing food at ethnic restaurants around town. Chicken raised with love, care, good feed, and bucolic views began to find its way into my mouth. What the heck was happening?

I wasn’t sure, but I suspected hormones played a role. I also knew I wasn’t dealing with this particular omnivore’s dilemma on my own.  My friend Connie was a vegetarian — until she got pregnant with her first kid 16 years ago. Then it was off to the steak house for her and she’s never looked back.  My dance instructor, Amara Tabor-Smith, eschewed animal protein for decades — she didn’t like the texture — and is now tentatively getting reacquainted with meat.

I’d always assumed, along with many others I suspect, that vegetarian cookbook superstars Deborah Madison and Mollie Katzen didn’t eat meat. Not so, I discovered in the past year during chats with both chefs. Mollie describes herself as a “meat nibbler,” and Deborah’s not opposed to the occasional piece of grass-fed, local beef.

Their most recent books, Get Cooking by Mollie, and What We Eat When We Eat Alone by Deborah, include meat recipes. Still, both women favor a diet where greens, grains, and legumes dominate the dinner plate.  Mollie supports the Meatless Monday campaign and both believe most meat eaters would do well to eat less animal and more plant foods.

Eating meat after years — or even a lifetime — of a solely plant-based diet seems to be something of a trend. For people who chose vegetarianism for ethical or environmental reasons, sourcing meat sustainably is now often a viable alternative to factory-farmed animals, and so some have decided to include it sparingly in their diet.

(Bucking this seemingly female shift, is wonder boy writer Jonathan Safran Foer, who dabbled with vegetarianism for years but fully committed after he became a pet owner. He will probably convert masses to the cause with his description of chicken fecal soup and other horrors of industrial animal slaughter in his recent book, Eating Animals.)

In this confusing time, I feel I’ve found a kindred spirit in Tara Austen Weaver, the warm and witty writer who blogs about meat and many other food matters at Tea & Cookies.  I can so relate to the mental tug-of-war that underlies her recent book The Butcher and the Vegetarian: One Woman’s Romp through a World of Men, Meat, and Moral Crisis.  Tara didn’t have a choice in her vegetarian childhood — she was raised that way by a Northern California hippie mama.

Several years ago, she started exploring eating meat for health reasons.  Her descriptions of buying, prepping, and cooking meat resonate with me because I haven’t actually ever gone and purchased a chicken or, um, chicken bits and made dinner. That notion makes me feel nauseous, to be honest. I don’t even like looking at raw meat.

I know, I know, I’m the worst kind of turncoat. I leave the house to get a bit of hot flesh on the side. When my son stopped by home unexpectedly the other afternoon, I found myself hiding aforementioned cluck, cluck sandwich before opening the door. Clearly, I have some conflicted feelings about my dietary changes.

So what to call myself: A lapsed vegetarian?  A vegetarian who cheats?

I thank the funny Adair Seldon of Lentil Breakdown for introducing me to the term flexitarian, which seems to fit for now, loathe as I am to saddle myself or anyone else with a label.

For the record, I seem to have no desire to move on to “harder” meats, like beef, pork, or lamb.  (An aside: Why isn’t it cow, pig, and sheep? I suspect it’s a way for many of us to remain in denial about where meat actually comes from.) Speaking of denial: No pics of meat in this post! The hypocrisy continues.

And I’ve never had any interest in eating creatures I see on hiking trails such as ducks, rabbits, quail, deer, elk, and the like. But since chicken is becoming a somewhat regular fix (once or twice a month), I’ve learned never to say never.

My vegetarianism stemmed in part, from my inability to kill an animal, hence my healthy respect for folks like Novella Carpenter, who don’t flinch at taking responsibility for ending the life of an animal they’ve raised for food. I feel cowardly in the carnivore arena by comparison.

Penning this post has probably blown my chances of ever writing for Vegetarian Times or VegNews (though I do think this topic is one such mags would do well to cover.)

But you won’t find meat recipes on this blog, although I’m sure some veggies will unsubscribe in disgust at my wishy-washy vegetarianism.

That would be a shame. Because I am still the girl who obsesses about eating greens. Nothing makes me happier than a meal packed with produce. I am, to borrow a term Mollie Katzen used in a recent Civil Eats story, very much a pro-vegetable person, a vegetabilist.

And I view healthy eating in much the same way I see sexuality.  In my mind, most humans are basically bisexual, it just depends where on the spectrum you fall in terms of how you define your sexual orientation.

Similarly, we’re probably all on an omnivore continuum, with some of us falling firmly on the carnivorous end and others of us way down on the other end of the line very much in vegetarian or even vegan territory.

In the end, come dinner time, it’s a personal choice what we put on our plate and the justifications we make with ourselves and our sometimes contradictory culinary choices are our own to live with as we figure out our place on the food chain and what our bodies need to stay well.

I welcome your thoughts below.

Mollie Katzen: Get Cooking Author Dishes

March 4, 2010

Mollie Katzen is perhaps best known for her whimsically-illustrated, hand-lettered vegetarian classics Moosewood Cookbook and The Enchanted Broccoli Forest.

The author of a trio of popular children’s cookbooks, Pretend Soup, Honest Pretzels, and Salad People, Mollie played a major role in mainstreaming a plant-based diet in modern American kitchens.

Inducted into the James Beard Cookbook Hall of Fame in 2007, Mollie’s most recent book, Get Cooking, was recently nominated for an International Association of Culinary Professionals Award.

I’ve interviewed Mollie for articles about feeding children, where her trademark warm and wise approach to cooking comes through.

She hopes her latest book will encourage eaters everywhere to fall in love with the fine art of making a home-cooked meal.

To enter the Get Cooking giveaway leave a comment here.

1. What inspired you to write a cookbook for beginners?

Lots of people asked for it and I like to write books people need.  My son, who is 25, had just moved to his own small apartment in New York City and he and his friends wanted to know how to make simple but satisfying dishes.

So I wanted to do a book that would appeal to young adults who are just setting up their own homes and older adults who hadn’t learned to cook but wanted to now. This book has also found an audience with both the newly married and the freshly divorced. Sometimes you fill a need you weren’t expecting to find.

Learning to cook is key to many human needs: nourishment, health, economic and environmental sustainability, and a quality social life.

A lot of people simple can’t afford to eat out but they want to enjoy the pleasures of the table with a delicious home-cooked meal, a good bottle of wine, and great company. I wanted to help make that happen.

2. This is your first solo cookbook with meat dishes. Why that departure for you?

I include beef, chicken, and fish recipes in Get Cooking because people asked how to cook some classic meat recipes. Beginning cooks often want to know how to roast a chicken, make hamburgers, or pan-fry fish.

I’m not an ethical vegetarian or a crusader for a no-meat diet. I have eaten small portions of animal protein for quite some time. I’ve never prescribed a vegetarian-only diet or spoken out against eating animals.

I do eat a mostly vegetarian diet and I do think most Americans need to learn how to eat less meat in their diet. But I’m not dogmatic about it.

3. I’ve noticed you’ve recently embraced social media. What do you think of Twitter?

My book publisher wanted me to tweet, to reach a younger, wider audience. I resisted it for a long time and then I grumpily, reluctantly started to do it.

It took me a while to find my voice but now I tweet about five times a day. I see it as a way to be of service to my readers. I like to offer useful information, cooking encouragement, and share recipes.

I see my role as a kind of cheering squad for home cooks everywhere. I don’t write tweets telling people I just made a cup of coffee.

And I’ve found Twitter a very supportive community. In January I was featured in a Newsweek story about people who betrayed their vegetarian base. But I was never interviewed for the story and there were a lot of mistakes and misconceptions about my beliefs in the piece.

I received a bunch of hate mail following its publication. The Twitter community provided a lot of support and understanding during a very difficult time for me.

4. What’s next?

I’d like to do a Meatless Monday cookbook. Most Americans do need to find ways to reduce the amount of animal protein in their diets.

I’d also like to do another cookbook illustrated with my graphics or drawings.  For me, the visuals are as much a part of the recipe as the words. My son tells me, rather bluntly, that today’s generation of cooks don’t want to see hand-lettering like in the Moosewood Cookbook.

But I think there’s still room for me to express myself in my preferred visual mediums. I’m working on an idea for a book with recipes that have just five ingredients. There are similar books out there, but I’d put my own spin on it. It would feature a lot of vegetables and it might be the perfect forum for my art.

5. What motivates you, after almost 35 years of publishing cookbooks, to keep writing them?

I really care about people being able to cook. It’s so important to have those skills.

That’s why I like the work I do at Harvard University with young students as part of the Food Literacy Project.

Part of the thinking behind the project is that the university wants to turn out bright, well-rounded, citizens who have cooking skills and know how to be at a table.  A lot of what happens in the world happens at the table, whether it’s business, or the sharing of ideas, beliefs, and values, or simple social interaction.

It’s really important to me that we keep the table as part of home life.

Photo: Lisa Keating

Book Giveaway: Get Cooking

February 27, 2010

What vegetarian doesn’t have a dog-eared, food-stained copy of the Moosewood Cookbook in her cookbook stack?

I’m also a fan of best-selling, award-winning author Mollie Katzen‘s  cookbooks for kids: Pretend Soup, Honest Pretzels, and Salad People.

So I was pleased to hear that the warm and whimsical writer has penned a guide to getting started in the kitchen called, aptly enough, Get Cooking: 150 Simple Recipes to Get You Started in the Kitchen.

In her introduction, Mollie notes the irony that interest in cooking is at an all-time high. People everywhere love watching cooking shows and competitions. (Michael Pollan covered this phenomenon in a piece for the New York Times Magazine called “Out of the Kitchen, Onto the Couch.”)

Folks are eating up a steady diet of food blogs and food films. Talk about takeout, new restaurants, street eats, food produce and products permeates everyday conversations.

What’s missing in all this chatter? The art and craft of cooking.

So in her latest book, Mollie, a natural food chef  before the term was even coined, hopes to fill that void with what she calls “150 delicious, doable recipes that even the most inexperienced person can walk into any kitchen right now and make for dinner.”

She’s also moved beyond the produce stand and includes chicken, fish, and meat dishes (though there are oodles of veggie offerings and many recipes can be adapted for vegetarians or vegans.)

So, calling all wannabe cooks: This is the book for you (or the wannabe cook in your life, or perhaps even the person you want to be a wannabe cook). Lots of non-intimidating ideas to get the kitchen newbie — or even a seasoned home cook — going, with sound advice about recipe reading, basic gear, and knife skills.

The author covers simple soups, salads, main meals, sides, and desserts designed to expand a beginner’s repertoire. And her “get creative” sidebars offer loads of options for playing with the basic recipe.

I particularly like the sound of Roasted Butternut Squash and Apple Soup, Wilted Spinach Salad with Hazelnuts, Goat Cheese, and Golden Raisins, Chickpea and Mango Curry, and Cherry Clafoutis.

One quibble: The photos don’t do the food justice; they’re a bit bland and lifeless. They’re not the kind of food shots we’re accustomed to seeing in cookbooks, food sites, or glossy mags. Perhaps the author was going for authenticity over visual excitement. (I attended a food photography session where folks were advised to use fake cream over the real thing ’cause it looks better in a photo. Oh my.) Regardless, Katzen’s enthusiasm and passion for food shines through on the page.

Read a review. Visit the get cooking website. Check out sample recipes, such as Vegetable-Tofu Stir-Fry with Orange-Ginger Glaze.

To win a copy of Get Cooking leave a comment below about what skill, technique, or dish you’d like to learn. Entries must be received by Friday, March 5, PST by 10 pm. Winner chosen at random.

Update: Wow! Mollie Katzen is clearly onto something. It seems like loads of folks want to get cooking, judging by the response to this giveaway, my most popular to date. The copy of Get Cooking, chosen at random, goes to Karen Pochodowicz. But wait — for all you budding chefs who want to learn knife skills, take a look at Mollie’s video tutorial and find sample recipes from the book here. And check back later this month for my March book giveaway.