Happy New Year, friends!
I’ve always looked at News Year’s Resolutions like how some people look at rules – that they’re meant to be broken. Setting a particular “start date” to make life changes won’t actually increase the likelihood of habits sticking, will it? Don’t get me wrong – I fully support self-betterment no matter the time of the year, I’m all for people doing what they want when it comes to their life. But setting specific Resolutions at the beginning of the year wasn’t for me.
Maybe it’s a sign of growing up, but I’ve since softened my stance on Resolutions. Not that I’m going to jump fully on the band wagon, mind you, but the act of changing the calendar on the wall does imbibe a neat sense of renewal. Temporal milestones like New Year’s offer a kind of blank space where you can look back and remember what went well, and then look forward to doing things better.
It’s also a chance to take stock.
Aside from food (making of, consuming of), one of my biggest passions are books (reading of, collecting). Ever since falling in love with the North York Public Library in my hometown, one of the things I always try to do when travelling (other than sampling local foods) is to visit the public library. Public libraries and food markets. These places are where you can get a real pulse of the city – the peoples’ tastes encapsulated by whats on the “New Books” or “Librarian Recommends” shelves, what’s in the produce section and even the canned foods section.
I’ve also worked in two book stores (absolutely loved the experience) and have dreamed of being the most kick-ass librarian. Since the librarian thing wasn’t an option (not considering another 4 years in school when I already have a budding career), the next best option was to be the steward of my very own library. Yes, I am one of those girls whose dream home is really a library and a kitchen smushed together, with a bed and a bathroom somewhere thrown in.
My cookbook collection is currently 35 strong. Out of these 35, most belong solely to me, eight to Mr. Crouton, and five to the both of us. There are only about seven books that are referenced regularly. They are:
- Williams-Sonoma Essentials of Baking (1st edition)
- Mollie Katzen‘s Sunlight Cafe
- Joy of Cooking (75th anniversary edition)
- Patricia and Carolyn: Quinoa Revolution
- Chef Michael Smith‘s Kitchen
- Jamie Oliver‘s Food Escapes
- The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook
I have to say, we were the most surprised by Chef Michael Smith’s Kitchen – on first flip through, it looked very meat oriented. But we’ve found more than the fair share of vegetarian dishes or ones that were easily adapted, deceptively simple yet complexly flavoured.
When I first became vegetarian, I was told that Becoming Vegetarian (Melina, Davis, Harrison) was a must-read. It’s not a cookbook per se, but more of a handbook on nutrition for new vegetarians. I can’t say I enjoyed reading it very much, even though it was a small book of ~250 pages, because at the same time I was already reading about methods of wildland restoration, effects of toxic rain, the Bruntland report… the last thing I wanted to read was another text-book with charts and figures. With that said, it remains a useful reference when I need a refresher on amino-acids and essential proteins.
After I have amassed a small collection of vegetarian cookbooks (seven in total today), I’ve realized that the books that I liked most and found most useful weren’t necessarily purely vegetarian. In fact, after a while, all the vegetarian cookbooks on the market started looking the same. I actually did an informal survey when I worked at the largest Canadian book retailer of vegetarian and vegan cookbooks. It was, on the one hand, encouraging that the number of titles kept growing, but on the other, only a few stood out.
There are a lot of vegetarian and vegan cookbooks out there that churn out variations of the same staples over and over again. You know the ones I’m talking about – the ones that are always on sale after being on the shelf for six months.
The best books out there on vegetarian and vegan cooking are the ones that teach a specific skill set and gives a good foundation for you to be creative in the kitchen. Having a bunch of recipes with pictures isn’t enough – I need to know the story behind the recipe, be it the cultural significance, nutritional benefits, and any other notes that help me mentally take it apart and put it back together again.
What are some of your favourite cookbooks or cooking reference books that you come back to over and over again?
Just for fun, here is a little breakdown of Momo’s library, after the cut.