I’ve been having troubles and troubles writing this post.
It is about two cookbooks. On one hand, I have a lot of admiration for what the authors are doing. You see, they have been running a feminist bookstore and restaurant (that's a picture of it, to your left; isn't it pretty?) in Connecticut of all places for 30 years which, considering how fast restaurants go under, translates into something like an impressive million people years.
But, on the other hand, the cookbooks are riddled with concerns. Small concerns, but a lot of them.
Okay, this is what I’ll do. I’ll tell you my concerns (as well as the things I think these books do really well) and you can make up your own mind. Then I’ll tell you about the two dishes I made from these cookbooks. Then I’ll give you some recipes so you can try for yourself.
The books are The Best of Bloodroot: Volume One, Vegetarian Recipes and The Best of Bloodroot: Volume Two, Vegan Recipes, by Selma Miriam & Noel Furie with Lagusta Yearwood ($27.50 each).
Waving a red flag
A red flag instantly went up for me when I learned the books were self-published. Self-publishing, or vanity press as it is commonly called, is generally considered the last refuge of those who could not, or would not, get a publisher interested. Think retired soldiers who want to recount their glory days in combat or elderly women who want to see their cherished poetic scribblings in print.
If a publisher doesn't invest time and money in the book — paying for design and editing and production and distribution and paying an advance and royalties and so on — does this mean it is a bad idea? And, does the lack of an invested publisher result in inferior quality?
In this case, I think the idea of two volumes, one for vegetarians and one for vegans, is both an original and helpful idea. But the overall quality of the books could be, well, better.
Let's start with a look at the visuals, starting with the cover.
I like the cover photographs. Quite a lot, actually. Taken from inside the restaurant, looking out, they are warm and inviting. And, of course, the addition of a cat makes them that much nicer.
Unfortunately, the visuals go downhill from there.
The bulk of the remaining photographs are hazy black and white pictures of non-food subjects, such as people I don't know and have never heard of. And, while there are some color photographs of food, they are all clumped in the middle (to save money, I assume) of the book. Personally, I prefer to have photographs next to their recipes so I don’t have to flip back and forth between the two.
As for the layout of the books, it is just not really sharp, professional quality. It’s not a big deal, but it is a shame.
When I flip through these soft-cover books and compare them with a similarly-priced book such as the first book that comes to hand, the glossy, hard-cover Barefoot in Paris (which Amazon is selling new for $23.10), I don't see how the Bloodroot books ($27.50 each) can compete.
Now let's look at the text.
At the front, both of the books start with essays. Sometimes they veer pretty far from food (especially the treatise on pornography), but they come from a philosophical collective and they clearly have well-considered thoughts and values, so there is an argument for having those essays there. Besides, they were interesting.
At the end of the books is a glossary (well, technically, there is also an index, but it is the glossary that is of interest) that is very handy, very helpful. You can see the online version, here.
Now you're cooking
The recipes are, of course, the items of most interest, But it is there, alas, that I found the bulk of the small, but annoying concerns.
First, there are no ingredient lists. Instead, ingredients are highlighted in the instructions. Now, while it is sort of nice not to have the traditional top-heavy recipe, it does make putting together a shopping list a bit of a bore because it is not as simple as just skimming an ingredient list to see what you need. You also have to watch out for the odd ingredient that comes up more than once in a recipe.
And, second, the instructions are fairly vague. For example, in just one recipe I was told to grate a vegetable but not told what kind of grate to use (Fine? Coarse?), I was told to add flour but was not told what type (I have three types in the house), I was told to add 2 1/2 tablespoons of an item and oh dear! there is no such thing as a 1/2 tablespoon measuring spoon (if it helps, 1 tablespoon = 3 teaspoons) making this a bit tricky, and I was not told at what temperature to cook my dish or for how long. Now, in fairness, all turned out well. But I do have a bit of cooking experience. I worry that it might baffle a newer cook.
Yeah, but how does it taste?
That is the question, isn't it? A question I will answer tomorrow as this post is already way too long. But I'll make it worth your while. I'll include not one, but two vegetarian recipes for you to try.
Next week we will launch Gadget Week. And you know what that means, don’t you? No, eh? Well, erm, it means CONTEST!