“Mostly Plants”*: 5 Food Books for Starting the New Year Right

oh-she-glows-cookbookI am obsessed with cookbooks.  When I first started to learn to cook for real (in my early twenties, just after I turned vegetarian), I would entertain myself for whole afternoons by going to the cooking section of a bookstore, sitting down on the floor (this was in the days before bookstores provided comfy reading chairs), and pulling a cookbook off the shelf to read it cover to cover.  Now that I have a regular income, I periodically break my budget (or fill my Christmas wish list) with a stack of cookbooks that I can pile next to me on the coffee table and read one after the other like novels.

Although I’ve been more or less vegetarian for the past 25 years (with exceptions made for fish and seafood because they made my life easier and, I believed, made me healthier), my diet has taken a sharp turn to the left recently.  I stumbled upon a string of documentaries, the most notable of them being Forks Over Knives and Vegucated, that convinced me of something I already half believed: I should try to eliminate all animal products from my diet.

So I’m starting 2015 with this tentative goal.  I’m not yet ready to demand that restaurants make my sag aloo without any ghee, or to carry a vegan bento to dinner parties in case my friends put eggs in their handmade pasta.  However, I’m having fun going through old cookbooks and buying (or demanding) new ones, and learning how to make cashew cream and multigrain chia power bread.  And the smoothies!  So many smoothies.  It’s a good time.

On my path to a whole-foods, plant-based diet, the food books below have been both helpful and enjoyable.  If you love a good cookbook, whether or not you want more plants and fewer animals in your diet, these books will give you hours of reading entertainment, an excuse to spend leisurely afternoons in the health-food store buying buckwheat groats and sorghum, and freezers full of healthy, tasty meals.  Which, when taken all together, is pretty much my definition of bliss.

1. The Oh She Glows Cookbook (photo above): A friend introduced me to Angela Liddon’s blog at around the same time this vegan, allergy-friendly book was released.  It’s where I learned to make overnight oatmeal, and it inspired me to buy a vegetable spiralizer.  It’s also super pretty, especially the Canadian edition with the chia pudding fruit parfait on the cover!
thug-kitchen-cookbook2. Thug Kitchen: Caution: profanity.  Lots and lots of profanity.  My husband sent me the “trailer” for this book/blog because a) he couldn’t stop laughing, and b) he wanted to gauge, by my reaction, whether he should buy me the cookbook for Christmas.  And, because I said, “Holy &%$*,” he did.  It is great, and the blog is too.  Best recipe so far is the citrus tofu marinade, but I’m looking forward to trying the “Warm the F%*# Up Minestrone” next.
YU_Book_Main3. YumUniverse: This book is a wonderful compendium for someone embarking on what Heather Crosby calls a “plant-powerful, whole-food lifestyle.” As a bonus, all recipes are gluten free and most are made without soy.  The first chapter compiles research on why we should eat lots of plants and less of other things.  The second gives lots of good advice on filling your pantry and your kitchen tool cabinet.  The best part, though, is the pages dedicated to making staples like dairy-free milks (I have been avoiding buying these lately because they’re so full of preservatives), soaking and sprouting, storing vegetables, etc.
fok4. The Forks Over Knives Plan: The companion to the documentary mentioned above, this book details the research on the advantages of low-fat, whole-foods, plant-based diets entirely from a health perspective.  It then offers recipes and techniques (like how to saute without oil – it works!)  If you’re interested in the research behind plant-based eating, I would also recommend two books upon which this one is based: The China Study and Whole, both by T. Colin Campbell.  The China Study was a foundational text for the Forks Over Knives documentary, and gives excellent arguments for giving up all animal protein, as well as reducing added fat and salt, in order to ward off or even reverse chronic disease.
SS-b5. Salad Samurai: This was another Christmas gift, and I love it even though I haven’t yet made a thing out of it.  Just reading about Coconut Samosa Potato Salad and Tempeh Rubenesque Salad has made my life better.  Terry Hope Romero is one of the geniuses behind the classic vegan cookbook Veganomicon (with Isa Chandra Moscowitz, a vegan punk icon).  This book is not light on the fat – its subtitle includes the phrases “ultra-hearty” and “you don’t have to be a vegan to love” – but it is heavy on the veggies, legumes and grains, and is a gorgeous little handbook to making every salad a meal.

What food books have improved your year?  Do you have a favourite vegan or vegetarian collection?  Have you made any changes to your diet recently that you feel were for the better?  Let me know your thoughts.

*Note: post title from Michael Pollan’s Food Rules, another great food book not on this list.

 

Montreal Melon

This week’s most exciting garden development: the melon is making melons.

melon

A friend gave me some seeds for Montreal Melon last year; it was too late to start them, so I designated them this year’s project.  I had never considered growing melons.  I grow all my veg in containers, and pack the containers fairly close together to maximize my tiny yard space; I wasn’t sure a melon plant would be happy under such conditions, as they require a lot of room.  I decided to partly address the problem by growing my melon on a tomato cage, so it could grow up instead of out.

melon cage

The plan is to create little hammocks, out of old tights, for the fruit as they get heavier.  Not sure what I’ll do about the raccoons, but so far they haven’t been a major nuisance this year; I will consider constructing a cage as the melons mature, but I might just take my chances.

In the late 19th and early 20th century, the Montreal Melon was a hugely popular garden fruit and considered an exquisite delicacy.  However, it was labourious to grow and did not ship well, and so all but disappeared until recently, when, starting with a few forgotten seeds in an American seed bank, one intrepid gardener managed to grow a plant and harvest the seeds.  Since then, local supporters of the melon have made a project of bringing it back.  You can read a detailed history of the Montreal Melon here.

June 23, 2014: The State of the Garden

Not a lot of dramatic developments in the garden this week; things are just chugging along.  A few highlights:

The first cucumber is almost ready to eat.

cucumber2

We have peas!  We harvested a few on the weekend and made a tiny salad.

peas2

Because I uprooted all the mature basil in a panic about downy mildew, and because the basil seeds I planted in May are growing very slowly, I treated myself to a new basil plant.

newbasil

Otherwise, stuff is just growing.  The zucchinis keep coming, the little green tomatoes are appearing, and – at the risk of jinxing – no major infestations have appeared.  (Frantically knocking wood.)  The weather for the last week has been wonderful.  It’s not too hot, it’s not too wet, and the sun is making its way through our newly pruned trees. My plants seem happy! So I’m happy too.

happygarden

June 16, 2014: The State of the Garden

This week’s most exciting development: the peas are flowering!  I thought I’d planted them too late, but here they are.

peaflower

I had also given the strawberry plant up for dead, but the few sad little sprouts seem to be hanging in there, so maybe I’ll get a few berries out of it after all.

strawbplant

I’m pretty chuffed about the beans.

beans

The raspberries have done flowering and the berries are on their way.

raspberriesafterflowers

The cucumber looks great, but does not seem to be fertilizing itself; the little cukes are not growing up.  I have tried to help it along by hand-pollinating it with cotton swabs, but so far, no luck.

cuke

The little zucchinis are popping up just fine, although I’ve already had to start battling powdery mildew.

zukes

The peppers and tomatoes are flowering nicely, and are looking bushy and beautiful!

pepperstomatoes2

I’ve seen the first slugs, and the standoff with the leaf miners continues – they lay eggs, I remove leaves with eggs, they lay more eggs, nobody’s happy – but I’m loving the way the greenery is filling the yard and the first flowers and fruit are peeking through.

The horrible winter now seems like last night’s dream.  (I almost wrote “a distant dream,” but that would be untrue.  It feels shadowy, but very, very close behind me.)  In Montreal, if we get to experience “late spring,” at all, it usually lasts only a day or two, so I’m trying to enjoy every second of this surprisingly long reprieve: it feels like summer, but you can go for  a run in the morning without risking heat stroke, and you can vacillate about whether it’s time to install the air conditioner.  The garden likes it.  Me too.

garden