One of the fun things about this Cookbook Club is when 2 members cook the same recipe. It is always interesting to read how two different cooks approach a recipe. So, itt is my pleasure to share with you Joanne Tracey’s delightful review of the Moosewood Cookbook. Joanne is a talented and amusing writer, and she can be found at: www.https://joannetracey.com.
One of the reasons I write novels is so I can take alternate lifestyles for a spin through the eyes of my characters. Through them, I get to try out careers I’d never have, open businesses I never would, and live in places I never could. In my novels, I’ve even taken up running – and enjoyed it.
One of these alternate lifestyle fantasies is the one where I have a little cottage somewhere in the English countryside with a large potager-style kitchen garden, fruit trees, and maybe a few chooks. I’d swap surplus produce, and make preserves and chutneys and whatever else from the excess to sell at the farmer’s market and bake loaves of bread for the village cafe.
It’s what I call the HFW dream – based on Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage – and, as my daughter says, would last until the first time I ran out of wine on a rainy night.
It’s not a fantasy that dropped fully formed into my head – over the years, it has developed and grown and did, in fact, start life as a type of 1970s sun-bleached Californian hippie commune sort of image where the cyan and magenta had faded and only the yellow remains. In this hippie fantasy, everyone grew and cooked food together, and the sun shone and I drove around in a vintage VW with faded blue paint and daisies on the side. That one lasted until I realized I didn’t like other people enough – and the luxuries of life too much – to be able to successfully live on a multiple occupancy, especially if there was no air-conditioning.
Where am I going with this? To the Moosewood Cookbook, of course – because if ever there was a hippie commune fantasy in a cookbook, it’s this one.
Named for the Moosewood Restaurant, a natural foods farm-to-table restaurant in Ithaca, New York, this book was originally self-published by members of the restaurant in 1974. The first trade edition was published in 1977 and stayed true to the original hand-lettered, hand-illustrated version, and thirty years later, still, in the same format, it won the James Beard Hall of Fame Award.
I didn’t expect to like it – firstly because it’s entirely plant-based, and secondly, because many of the recipes are ones that I have in other books, but mostly because I like a cookbook with a story – I read the introductions to recipes as if they’re scenes in a novel. The thing is, though, there is a story here, and it’s not in the words as much as in the ingredients. Because that’s what this book is at its heart – as well as a dream of a lifestyle, it’s a collection of ingredients.
While plenty of people might be put off by the hand-lettered, simply illustrated, no-photo style of this cookbook, I love how, when you open it, it truly feels as though you’ve come across your mother’s old recipe book in a trunk in the attic. In my opinion, the simple pencil illustrations – a saucepan here, a duck there, a fancy border, and a curly flower around a heading – add rather than detract from the charm of this cookbook.
Does it deserve space on my bookshelf? Given there wasn’t a copy of Moosewood in any public library here or on the shelves of bookshops in my region, I had no choice but to buy a digital copy via iBooks for the purpose of completing this review. It is, however, a book that benefits from being able to turn (and turn down) real pages, to scribble changes and additions and suggestions in the margins. Would I have bought it if I didn’t need to? Probably not, but I’m glad I did. I’m also glad iBooks had it on special for $5.99.
As to what I cooked? I made the Gado Gado and the Rarebit, but have marked the Balkan Cucumber Salad, Wicked Garlic Dip, and (Famous) Cauliflower Curry to try – as well as a few of the sauces and dressings.
In true Moosewood spirit, I served it over a jumble of veg – some blanched green beans, steamed broccolini (sprouting broccoli), raw capsicum – and added a boiled egg, and the turmeric rice the cookbook suggested. You can use any combo of veggies and, perhaps, some tofu. You don’t need a recipe for that, but the sauce is below. This amount will serve 4 people.
- 1 cup peanut butter (I use pure unsalted, unsweetened peanut butter)
- 1 heaped tbsp grated ginger
- 1 heaped tbsp grated garlic
- 3 tbsp brown sugar (I used 2 tbsp and it was way sweet enough)
- 1 ½ cups hot water
- 4 tbsp cider vinegar
- 2 tbsp soy sauce (or more to season if you don’t use salt)
- salt to taste
- a good pinch of chilli flakes (optional, but I find necessary)
Pop it all in the blender and whoosh. Done.
You need this book if:
- You’ve ever had a fantasy of living in a hippie commune or a similar alternative lifestyle
- You don’t need photos to accompany your recipes but rather like a little hand-drawn duck or a shower of stars
- You need ideas for simple, tasty things to do with or go with veggies or for veggies to dip into.
Don’t buy it if:
- You can’t imagine a recipe without a photo or
- You need precise measurements
- You like your cookbooks to look more polished
- you don’t like little hand-drawn ducks or showers of stars.
Joanne Tracey is an Australian author of contemporary women’s fiction and cozy culinary mysteries inspired by her travels, a love of baking and happy endings.
Based on the Sunshine Coast in South-East Queensland, Jo is an unapologetic daydreamer, eternal optimist, and confirmed morning person.
When she isn’t writing or day-jobbing, Jo loves baking, reading, long walks along the beach and posting way too many photos of sunrises on Instagram.
Jo’s life goals (apart from being a world-famous author) are to be an extra on Midsomer Murders and to cook her way through Nigella’s books.
You’ll find her foodie blog at Brookford Kitchen Diaries (BKD).
My website: www.joannetracey.com
Thank you, Jo, for taking the time to share your review. It is written with what I have come to expect from your writing, a wry sense of humor and a great deal of panache.