I am a lifelong vegetarian, raised in Texas, with a fondness for southern comfort food, Tex-Mex, and international foods from around the world. My parents are both vegetarian, and my mother is vegan, and an excellent cook (look for her comments on this blog). I first learned to cook helping my mom make desserts and tofu dishes for the holidays. When I left home, however, I still did not know many cooking basics like how to cook brown rice, how to cook dry beans, or how to roast vegetables.
In college I lived in a vegetarian co-op, and there I broadened my cooking experiences. I served as cook for Friday night dinner, and I had a long stint as “fast food cook” where I made gallons of hummus, salsa, tofu salad, and refried beans. I even served as kitchen manager one semester: my duties included writing the shopping lists, organizing the shoppers, making the bulk grocery orders, approving all dinner menus, and trying to stay on budget while satisfying everyone’s (sometimes contradictory) food requests. Our co-op had 26 residents, as well as about 15 boarders, and we usually tried to cook dinner for 50, so at the co-op I learned some of the challenges in preparing food for a crowd, and a surprisingly picky one at that. (Why do so many vegetarians not like mushrooms or olives?).
The first cookbooks I used were 70’s classics like the Farm Vegetarian Cookbook and Laurel’s Kitchen. Although these cookbooks now seem out of date, and I no longer cook from them, they still hold a special place in my heart. I grew up cooking Tex-Mex, and although I don’t have any Mexican cookbooks that I use regularly, I enjoy improvising with Mexican ingredients and spices. In the co-op I tasted fresh ginger for the first time, and made my first attempts at cooking Chinese, Thai and Indian foods, but failed more often than not. In the years since, with the help of Madhur Jaffrey, and my local Sri Lankan grocery store, my Indian cooking skills have improved tremendously. My ability to cook authentic tasting Thai food took a leap when I found Nancy McDermott’s cookbook Real Vegetarian Thai. I’m trying to learn to cook Ethiopian, but I’m still at the beginner stage, with no cookbook to guide me. My Chinese and Japanese cooking skills are pretty much nonexistent, sadly, as I have not yet found good vegetarian cookbooks for these cuisines either. (Any recommendations?)
Towards the end of college and start of graduate school, I started becoming interested in modifying recipes to make them lower fat, but in the years since I’ve moved away from low-fat cooking and instead strive to cook healthy but tasty and sometimes higher-fat foods. I try to use unprocessed ingredients, whole foods, and lots of healthy vegetables like dark leafy greens. I try to limit the amounts of highly processed fake meat, refined flours, sweeteners, and other less-than-optimal ingredients. Mostly, I’m trying to find recipes that are reasonably healthy, tasty, and satisfying. I’m still very interested in nutrition, however, and often post the nutritional contents of my recipes. I use the free nutrient-tracking website cronometer.com to compute and occasionally post the nutritional stats of my recipes.
Growing up a vegetarian, I’ve always been concerned with the environmental and societal impact of my food choices: I try to buy local, seasonal, and organic, whenever possible. In Pittsburgh I belonged to a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture program, a.k.a. a farm share) for five years, and frequented many of the local farmer’s markets. After 8 years of living in Germany, I just got the opportunity to join our first local, still fledgling CSA. I’m so excited! Of course, I still shop at the local farmer’s market once a week as well.
My husband, Derek, is not a vegetarian, but is very much a foodie. In the past he made a commitment to only eat meat and fish that are the most sustainably and ethically raised. He did pretty well sticking to his commitment when he lived in Chicago, but now that we’re in a small city in Germany, he’s finding it more difficult. At home, however, he eats vegetarian enthusiastically–he loves my cooking, and perhaps more importantly, does not like to cook, so is happy to eat whatever I make. He’s a very adventurous eater, and loves unusual food combinations. Eating with Derek I’ve learned to love exotics desserts made with tomato and basil, olive oil gelato, jalapeno ice cream, and toasted sesame oil as an ice cream topping. (Hmm, those are all desserts…. Telling.)
I’ve lived in Austin, Pittsburgh, and Montreal, and I’ve spent summers in NYC, Chicago, Minneapolis, Baltimore, and New Jersey. I currently live in Saarbrücken, a city of about 175,000 in Western Germany, just 5km from the French border.
In 2015 the birth of our daughter Alma expanded our family of captious eaters. Feeding her is a constant challenge. I’m always looking for recipes that suit her need for familiarity and simplicity, while still satisfying Derek’s and my desire for novelty and complexity. And that can be made in the 30 minutes from when we get home from the park and before ravenous toddler hunger kicks in. Look for her favorites under the category “Alma’s faves” or the tag “toddler-approved.”
Frequently Asked Questions
A few readers have asked why there are no photos on my blog. If you saw my food photos you wouldn’t ask such a question! I have not yet mastered the art of food photography, nor is my food all that beautiful in real life. I’ve been focusing more on taste than presentation. I know, I know, presentation is part of taste, but it’s a part I’ve not gotten to yet. When I’m 50…. In the meantime, be glad there are no photos.
A few readers have asked why there are no recipes for eggplant on my blog. I must confess. I’m generally not a picky eater, but there are a few foods I’ve just never learned to abide: eggplant and blue cheese are the top two. I force myself to try them now and then, but so far they’ve just not for me. There are other foods that—unless perfectly cooked—often make me a bit squeamish: Spargel (the fat white asparagus that’s so beloved here in Germany), turnips, papaya, certain seaweeds, and super bitter greens. I do, however, love other often reviled foods, including okra and brussels sprouts. Derek claims I’m a picky eater, but there are some foods I enjoy that even he doesn’t: most fruits, most olives (even crappy canned California ones), millet, shiitake mushrooms, and burdock.