Vegetarians on campus compelled the food service
to hire a student to cook in the main Clark U. dining hall (the
one with the sign outside which read: "if you've got your
health, you've got just about everything") for a segregated
vegetarian section. We had to arrive early to beat out the meat-eating
marauders poaching on our superior vittles. Between semesters,
when there was no food service, I bought my first cookbook, Anna
Vegetarian Epicure, and tried to finesse pierogi in my
hot pot. Years later I successfully recreated "Nutmeat Paté
in Brioche." A slab of brioche dough encases an incredible
nutmeat paté and cored apples lying sideways end to end
one of the most impressive, exhaustingly prepared yet delicious
tour-de-force extravaganzas you're ever likely to make. Or try
the Welsh Rabbit. This is high-end food that happens to be vegetarian,
not health food per se, but certainly delicious.
My friend Ron wanted to hook me up as part of
the Moosewood- Restaurant commune for the summer. Visions of verdant
Ithaca and a utopian lifestyle danced in my head, unrelated to
the now ubiquitous but not then published Moosewood cookbooks.
But as I was still a minor; my parents dragged me home. I ended
up working at Wetson's, a now-defunct burger chain, eating processed
cheese melts with iceberg lettuce, pale tomato slices, and mayo
on burger buns. A few years ago I bought former Moosewooder Mollie
with Menu part of a cookbook-club deal. The recipes I
tried, a noodle dish with miso and peanut-butter cookies, were
so unpalatable that it's the only cookbook I've ever given away.
Nothing draws the line more clearly between healthy
food and junk food than working in a fast-food restaurant and
visiting the mummified frozen chickens in the meat locker, or
seeing vats of preservatives and food coloring in a food factory.
Surely no lentil burger could be worse than the cardboard-like
"meat" they place inside MacDonald's buns! In an effort
to connect with industrial American workers while making better
than minimum wage, I worked my sophomore summer at Automatic Rolls
of Auburn on the assembly line, keeping a sharp eye out for mutant
hamburger buns destined for MacDonald's throughout the northeast
and quit after a rising basketball star at Cornell crushed his
hand in the machinery.
The next summer, temporarily disowned by my parents
for living with my boyfriend, and just as I was thanking all the
gods for my good fortune to receive food stamps, The Garden of
Delights, a wonderful but now defunct health-food restaurant in
Worcester, lost two cooks and I graduated to the command of bins
of cashews, an electric slicer, an industrial stove, and the urgent
need to convince the owner that I was a cook. I ran immediately
to the one decent bookstore Worcester has ever had (and it's still
there despite the worsening destitution of an always unstable
city) and bought several worthwhile vegetarian cookbooks with
my remaining dollars: The New York Times Natural Foods Cookbook
and Ed Brown's The
Tassajara Bread Book and Tassajara Cooking. These
are all great cookbooks. The Tassajara Bread Book has a
recipe for whole-wheat bread so delicious that you'll devour it
before it gets cold. Tassajara Cooking includes a terrific
cheese quiche which surprisingly includes oats in the filling.
The New York Times Natural Foods Cookbook is the source
for the addictive lentil burgers The Garden of Delights sold by
the dozens. And what an artifact of democracy! All the recipes,
and there are over 700, were mostly collected from home cooks.
At The Garden of Delights I found the most fascinating
vegetarian cookbook of all. Entitled A Good Cook... Ten Talents,
but commonly known as "The
Ten Talents Cookbook," it's an earnest and primarily
vegan book written by Frank and Rosalie Hurd, who I've always
understood to be Seventh Day Adventists. I would love this book
solely based on the refreshingly rotten banana featured in the
bowl of fruit on the back cover, but it has even greater value
in its recipes which replace cream with cashews. The cashew gravy
alone is good enough reason to buy this book. I made it many times
at the restaurant, and you can launch any number of your own successful
variations off it. And cashew ice cream without dairy! Better
than you think; better than you can imagine.
Through vegetarianism I learned to cook, because
once upon a time if you were a vegetarian, you had to know how
to cook. Aside from health-food restaurants, pizza, iceberg-lettuce
salads and Chinese food were the only common choices available
when eating out.
Staying off meat takes dedication. It means learning
to like once unfamiliar or avoided vegetables. American cooking
is so meat-based that going vegetarian means becoming a culinary
expatriate. It takes a lot of effort to make some healthy ingredients
taste good; sometimes their flavors must be creatively buried.
And at home, preparing vegetables and legumes is labor-intensive
compared to the ease of broiling hamburgers. Such dedication requires
meat aversion. Back in the 70s, rumor had it that effects as unpleasant
as those of heroin withdrawal would attack any vegetarian who
lapsed into the world of meat-eaters.
But after seven years of militant vegetarianism
a revelation quickly and insidiously appeared: I missed eating
chicken! I remembered staring into the zombie eyes of cows who
used to look in the kitchen window of the farmhouse where I once
lived. My solidarity with farm animals vaporized. A hot pastrami
sandwich became irresistible. I took the plunge; no ill effects.
It became open season on all foods, and it is wonderful to eat.
DRAWN ON IN THIS ESSAY
Brown, Edward Espe. The Tassajara Bread Book . Shambala 1970.
Paper, 146 pp., out of print.
Brown, Edward Espe. The
Tassajara Bread Book . Shambala 1995. Twenty-fith Anniversary
Editon. Paper, 146 pp., $12.00.
Brown, Edward Espe. Tassajara Cooking.
Shambala 1973. Paper, 256 pp., out of print.
Hewitt, Jean. The New York Times Natural Foods
Cookbook. Avon Books, 1971. 434 pp., out of print.
Hurd, Frank J., D.C. and Hurd, Rosalie, B.S.
Good Cook... Ten Talents.
Chisholm, Minnesota: Dr. and Mrs. Frank J. Hurd, 1968. Paper,
354 pp., $21.95.
Katzen, Mollie. Still-Life
with Menu. Ten Speed Press, 1994. Paper, 350 pp., $19.95.
Thomas, Anna. The
Vegetarian Epicure. Vintage Books, 1972. Paper, 305 pp.,