The Cookbooks that Made Me
We all have things in our lives that chart our journeys or that we feel define us in some way; sometimes it is cars or nick-knacks picked up at fairs or clothes. The things that say the most about me are my books. Looking at my bookshelves it is possible to read me entirely from the Pre-Raphaelite proclivities of my early adolescence to my obsession with Russian literature through my 20s to my continued love of motorcycles and vegan cooking. It is all there. For a long time I was the only vegan that I knew but I never felt alone in my quest for a kinder life because the books listed below kept me company and helped me share what I know to be a wonderful way of living with the people that I love (and some strangers).
How it all Vegan by Tanya Barnard & Sarah Kramer
This book came in to my life when I was 17, just a few months after I became a vegan, and was the very first indispensable cookbook I ever had. These awesome women spoke directly to my punk rock vegan ethos and had the tats to prove it. They wore 1940s tea dresses and loved food and rock ‘n’roll and there wasn’t a hint of judgemental anarcho more-vegan than thou attitudes. These two women liberated me to become a food enthusiast and to share my love of vegan food with my friends and family, creating a climate that encouraged conversation (and possibly conversion) without alienation. Tanya and Sarah are the reason that I became the jolly vegan that thwarted people’s expectations and they gave me vegan quiche and lemon sponge which I have made for a multitude of friends, family and colleagues.
Juice for Life Cookbook by Ruth Tal Brown
I met Ruth Tal Brown completely by chance when I was 18 in the teeny tiny vegan cookbook section of a huge book shop in the very beige suburbs of Toronto where I worked while finishing high school. After talking for all of four minutes she told me to come down to her restaurant called Juice for Life (now Fresh) on the incredibly trendy Queen St West for a job interview. I did just that and after no time at all found myself working for one of the hippest joints in town making lunch or juice for the likes of Moby and whoever else happened to be filming in Toronto on the day. We were relentlessly busy banging out rice bowls with incredible peanut butter sauce or miso gravy and marinated tempeh and tofu. There were dozens of juices that we made fresh to order and I learned all about how to make delicious, nutritious and delightful food daily. What this woman doesn’t know about nourishing your body and soul with food is not worth knowing and I still draw on her recipes nearly 20 years later!
The Veganomicon by Isa Chandra Moskowitz & Terry Hope Romero
After working at JFL for a year or so I made the big leap across the pond to London and settled in to the steady rock‘n’roll life of bar work, gigs and silly amounts of alcohol and cooking really took a back seat. That is until I came across The Veganomicon… . The name seems grand but once you dive into its pages it isn’t grand enough! Isa Chandra & Terry Hope put together a cookbook that kick-started my love of food all over again and rekindled my enthusiasm for veganism. These two punk rock queens from Brooklyn delivered up flavour combos I had never come across in a light-hearted and often hilarious way that totally captivated my enthusiasm and tastebuds. The Moussaka recipe alone is reason to buy the book, but add the pineapple quinoa, tofu ricotta and the mac’n’cheese and things start to get serious. This book quickly became the cornerstone of my food world and I would recommend it to anyone that loves great food and a wry sense of humour.
Vegan Cupcakes Take over the World by Isa Chandra Moskowitz & Terry Hope Romero
When new to the vegan way baking can seem impossible or at the very least daunting. This book quite simply cured me of that feeling and filled me with confidence as a baker. It pretty much fueled my university degrees as anxiety and procrastination about essays had me often manically baking in the wee hours. I have shared a multitude of cupcakes from this book with colleagues and friends and even sold them at local food fairs and have always been met with delighted amazement that the cakes presented were vegan. One man came over to me after trying one of the Tiramisu cupcakes to tell me that it was the best cake of any kind he had ever had. He wasn’t vegan. He just liked cake.
Vegan Brunch by Isa Chandra Moskowitz
If I was stranded on a desert island with a larder and only one cookbook of my choosing this would be the one. This is the cookbook I cannot do without. This is the cookbook that I am all about. Brunch is the best meal ever. It is hugely underrepresented in these British Isles and I have been on a mission to change that, cooking my way through this book over the years. The pancakes are amazing, the cinnamon rolls are stupendous but what really gets me is tofu Benedict with Hollandaise sauce on homemade English muffins. This book will have you skipping breakfast and lunch and sitting down to a drawn out brunch at every possible opportunity.
Thug Kitchen by Thug Kitchen
Thug Kitchen was a gift from my Mum a couple of years ago and she knew it would be a huge hit because I truly believe that swearing is both big and clever and this cookbook comes fully loaded with expletives as well as totally yum recipes! The recipes are fresh and fun and for anyone starting out as a vegan and hoping to bypass the lentil/nut loaf tedium that we are so often subjected to go straight for this book. The recipes are delicious, affordable and unfussy. The Ceasar salad is f#*$ing delicious, baking tofu is a revelation and their stews and soups will keep your taste buds amused all winter. These guys have totally revolutionised how to talk about food and have captured a whole boatload of new admirers of omnivores and vegans alike!
While there are plenty of other cookbooks that I rely on and would wholeheartedly recommend these are the ones that played the most important role in my veganism, helping me to overcome a lot of the prejudice I encountered by equipping me with the ability to make fun food that everyone could enjoy. There were times when I felt like being a vegan was too hard or not enough to counter all the sadness in the world and these brilliant foodies reminded me that kindness, compassion and commitment can be exercised every single day with every meal and that this alone is enough to change the world.