At first, I didn’t like the cover of Mollie Katzen’s latest cookbook, The Heart of the Plate: Vegetarian Recipes for a New Generation (although I knew I wanted the book, anyway). Mollie Katzen, along with the Moosewood Restaurant collective, popularized vegetarian home cooking for my generation, and I liked the homey, hand-illustrated style of her early books. But, OK. I’m part of the old generation and maybe that hippie-dippy style is a little out-of-date now, too.
(I’m not hurt. Actually, Mollie Katzen is older than me, even though she doesn’t look it.)
So even though this cookbook has photographs (I think it’s her first cookbook to have them.) they are actually kind of homey-looking. The dishes look like real food prepared at home. (Prepared in a spacious, plant-filled California kitchen, maybe, not a dark, cramped, inefficiently laid out kitchen in the middle of a cold New England winter, but all cookbooks should inspire some level of aspirational fantasy, right?)
Just about every recipe in this cookbook sounds delicious. Vegetables are the heart of the plate (Did you guess?) and the recipes seem lighter and more healthful than older-generation vegetarian cooking that relied on cheese, butter, and eggs to disguise the fact that there wasn’t any meat on the plate.
There is enormous variety in The Heart of the Plate, with a focus on using fresh ingredients that are usually going to be easily available, especially in season. The dessert section is very small. There seems to be a ton of vegan recipes and they are designated as such. Gluten-free home cooks will find a large percentage of the recipes are naturally gluten-free, or can be easily adapted, so there are a lot of options.
Check out the recipes on Mollie Katzen’s Web site to get a feel for the kind of recipes in the cookbook. View an excerpt from The Heart of the Plate here. Click on Google Preview to see the layout of the book and some of the illustrations.
What I’ve made so far (If recipes are available online, click on the photos to get them.):
Each recipe in The Heart of the Plate comes with “Optional Enhancements”. Another recipe I’m planning to try soon is Blueberry Rice. The optional enhancements for blueberry rice include “Stuff it into a baked acorn squash half” and refers you to a photo of this gorgeous color and flavor combination. As an example of the serving suggestions that she offers with every recipe, here are the ones that come with the Blueberry Rice recipe, under the heading “Purple Rice, Yellow Beans,” in case you don’t want to use the stuffed squash idea:
Serve Blueberry Rice juxtaposed, in your own inimitable way, with steamed yellow wax beans tossed with brown butter and a little fresh mint or dried thyme. Round out the meal and expand the rainbow theme with a side of Citrusy Beets (page 98). A platter of cheese is also welcome.
Disclosure: I own my own copy of The Heart of the Plate – a gift that I hinted strongly about in the weeks before my birthday and when that didn’t work, hinted about again in the weeks before Christmas.
The Heart of the Plate
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Sept. 2013
In his latest novel, Vatican Waltz, author Roland Merullo toys with ideas about the institution of the Catholic Church, but much less playfully than he speculated on spirituality in Breakfast with Buddha, where Otto Ringling – a staid, Midwestern-born book editor – ends up on a road trip with a New Age-style monk, Volvo Rinpoche (pronounced Rin-po-shay).
Vatican Waltz is the story of the spiritual journey of Cynthia Piantedosi, a devout, motherless, young woman in a close-knit Italian neighborhood of Revere, who grew up in the company of her untalkative, Italian-speaking father and her grandmother, now dead. Spending part of every day praying in various Catholic churches in Boston, Cynthia was known throughout her life to fall into trances that she calls “spells” – sometimes during prayer, sometimes out of the blue – during which she forgets where she is and loses track of time in a kind of spiritual transcendence. These spells bleed into regular life, setting her apart from her peers.
In training to become a nurse after graduating from high school, Cynthia notices she seems to have a healing touch, which she uses unobtrusively to relieve the pain of hospital patients, hiding it from the others on staff, believing it to be related somehow to her powerful and intimate feeling of spiritual connectedness to God.
Eventually, in her early twenties, Cynthia begins to believe that God may be calling her to become a priest. Although worried about the state of the Catholic Church in America and the loss of faith that many started to feel in its leaders, Cynthia counts herself a faithful Catholic, so it is only after lengthy consultations with her beloved parish priest and spiritual advisor, Father Alberto, that she accepts that this is what God is telling her and also that she needs to take it up with men higher up in the hierarchy than Father Alberto, who believes Cynthia will end up going to Rome with her problem.
“The spells and visions were something I’d been living with for so long that they felt as much a part of me as my hair and hands, and it simply wasn’t in my nature to lift my head above the tide of everyday-ness. I was very much like my father in that way: he did his work and came home. He didn’t make any trouble, as if he believed that there were always snipers in the neighborhood and to lift your face above the wall everyone else crouched behind was to invite a bullet. But it was more than that. Most of my young feistiness – most, not all – had, over the years of visions and prayer, been rubbed smooth like a stone’s sharp edges in surf. I was borne along in a near-constant peacefulness…The last thing I wanted was fuss or confrontation.”
Reading Vatican Waltz as I did, so soon after listening to the audiobook edition of Breakfast with Buddha, I’m not sure how accurately the author has created the interior voice of a young woman. There were many passages in Vatican Waltz (such as the above one) that I could clearly hear in my imagination the middle-aged, male narrator of Breakfast with Buddha – Otto Ringling – saying in the exact same words. (I suppose one could argue that spirituality has no gender, so it would make sense that Cynthia and Otto share patterns of thought, although starting from very different places, and that it’s not just the same author’s voice coming through in both narratives.)
Vatican Waltz was long in the making. The Revere setting seemed slightly behind the times to me, with this coming-of-age story supposed to be taking place after the clergy sexual abuse scandal and the move of the Boston archdiocesan office out of the city to the suburban town of Braintree. (In his acknowledgments at the end of the book, the author states that there were a number of major revisions over a period of years.) The novel will probably be controversial if, as a work of literary fiction, it gains much attention at all. (Interestingly, although Vatican Waltz was released by Crown, the author will publish his future books with a new, independent Massachusetts publisher, PFP Publishing – a company that is also reissuing some of the author’s older, out-of-print titles.) Vatican Waltz takes a thoughtful, seemingly reluctant, oppositional stance to some of the basic tenets of the Catholic Church. It reminded me in some ways of Faith by Ann Patchett, and I’m interested to see what reviewers have to say about it.
I am a big fan of Roland Merullo’s writing, so this review may be biased, but Vatican Waltz is a tough one to review without giving away too much of the action of the story. There actually isn’t much action; it’s almost entirely interior monologue. So, watch out for spoilers, even in the publisher’s description.
Dec. 3, 2013
Disclosure: I received an advance reading copy of Vatican Waltz from the publisher through NetGalley, but didn’t finish it before it expired, so I purchased a Nook Book edition for myself.
Much of our old stuff can’t be used because of gluten that lingers in scratches and hard-to-clean spots, but so far I’ve resisted ordering all new gluten-free pans and have been making do with disposable aluminum, especially since there’s no family at home to eat a lot of baked goods, now that the holidays are a distant memory.
So the only new baking things we’ve acquired so far are:
Food processor (The old one needed a screwdriver to make it go, so it was time!)
Hand-held mixer (a cheap one, which I regret choosing whenever I use it)
Stackable cooling racks
Rolling pin & pastry mat
A few new mixing bowls (our old stainless steel ones are OK to use)
Of course, any kitchen adventure requires new cookbooks, and I have acquired several! So far, my favorite one for baking is Nosh on This: Gluten-Free Baking from a Jewish-American Kitchen by Lisa Stander-Horel and Tim Horel. (Lisa graciously reworked our traditional Christmas morning coffee roll recipe so we could eat a delicious, gluten-free version this year. Lisa and Tim blog about baking at Gluten-Free Canteen, where their motto is “No cookie, strudel, brownie, pie, cake, tart, or treat left behind.”)
Most gluten-free baking cookbook authors have developed their own mixes to simplify their recipes, combining different flours and other ingredients into a mix that can be stored and used in their recipes. The mix recipe in Nosh on This called for superfine brown and white rice flours, which had to be special-ordered (not from the authors) so I made up the mix with regular brown and white rice flour, and the recipes I tried turned out great, anyway, but would probably be even better with the exact ingredients.
Nosh on This has recipes for all the traditional Jewish treat recipes you can think of (rugelach, strudel, babka); others that you might not expect to be possible (gluten-free egg noodles, matzo, challah); and many, many standards that don’t require a holiday as an excuse to eat (brownies, cookies, cakes, candies, and tarts of all varieties.) The recipes are extremely clear and the recipe introductions are chatty and informative. The food photography is excellent!
View an excerpt from the Nosh on This here to see the layout, recipe style, and some great photos.
What I’ve made so far (If recipes are available online, click on the photos to get them.):
Now that I have the superfine flours, I have plenty more recipes from Nosh on This that I want to try, such as Marzipany Gooey Brownies, Braided Challah in the Round, Chocolate Nut Two-Bite Tarts, and Lemon Poppy-Seed Cookies. There is also a candy recipe that I thought of trying – Chocolate-Covered Nutella Hearts – but it looked a little too complicated for me at the time, so I made the truffles instead. Maybe next Valentine’s Day!
Disclosure: I own my own copy of Nosh on This – a gift from my daughter M., who is mentioned in the acknowledgments and works for the publisher.
Nosh on This
Stander-Horel, Lisa and
The Experiment, Sept. 2013
At the opening of The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis, Hattie is a new mother in Philadelphia in 1925 – full of hope for her future life with her husband August and the future of their twin babies – before she experiences another tragic loss. Already grieving the recent death of her mother, who had brought Hattie and her sisters to Philadelphia to escape the South’s racist Jim Crow laws after their father was murdered with impunity by white men, Hattie withstands this new blow, essentially alone because her sisters have gone back to Georgia. Steeped in sorrow, Hattie stays in the North and raises her children – eleven in all. It’s a very hard life.
The second chapter jumps forward to 1948, which might bother readers who were expecting to settle into a sad (but ultimately uplifting) ongoing saga about a multi-generational family with a tough but loving mother. (That’s why I’m giving you this heads-up!) The novel is divided into ten separate stories – linked by their connection with Hattie – each story or vignette centering on one or a pair of Hattie’s adult children. The last one is about Hattie’s granddaughter Sala in 1980. Through the thoughts and memories of Hattie’s children, readers learn more about the central figure of Hattie throughout the novel, but each chapter is a full story on its own, encapsulating the siblings’ own scarred and difficult lives, coming out of an impoverished environment.
The Twelve Tribes of Hattie is frequently described in reader reviews as bleak, which may scare some off. The Oprah Book Club selection of the book may scare other readers off. Other readers don’t care for linked stories masquerading as a novel. None of those objections matter. You really must read The Twelve Tribes of Hattie and not put it off, like I did.
When I heard the author Ayana Mathis (Twelve Tribes of Hattie is her first novel.) speak in a panel discussion at last October’s Boston Book Festival along with novelists Kim McLarin and Paul Harding, I immediately added her book to my list of books to read. (The panel was Fiction: Out of Darkness. You can hear the archived audio of it and other events from that day here.) Asked about Hattie, her central character, suffering so much throughout her life, Ayana Mathis said she doesn’t think of the novel as sad or despairing, or Hattie as a hard mother, adding, “Although she loves her children, she raises them to be tough as tough.” She also said that although the novel is often cast as a story of the Great Migration (of African-Americans from southern states to cities in the northern part of the U.S.), she believes it speaks to universal human experience.
If you liked and admired Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout (another book that is often described as “bleak”) because of the characters (not the Maine or the small-town setting), you will want to read The Twelve Tribes of Hattie.
The Twelve Tribes of Hattie
Disclosure: I read this book as an Oprah 2.0 Book Club digital edition – downloaded through my public library’s Overdrive e-book lending service. The 2.0 edition came with significant passages disconcertingly already highlighted in yellow, but I got used to it!
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- TracyK on Thoughts of a Theoretical Physicist & Novelist: The Accidental Universe by Alan Lightman (Audio) @audiobkjkbx
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