How it all Vegan (10th Anniversary Ed.) by Tanya Barnard and Sarah Kramer

A review of a vegan recipe book  seems to demand an upfront declaration of the reviewer’s dietary position. So: I’m a vegetarian (never eaten meat or fish or fowl)  who has flirted with but never quite committed to veganism. I don’t do leather or cosmetics tested on animals, and I don’t touch those red M&Ms colored with crushed insects. Avoiding eggs is pretty easy if you read ingredient labels, which I do, ever since a seemingly innocuous tomato juice was revealed to contain anchovies.  But it all goes pear-shaped when it comes to dairy–I find tea spiked with soy or rice milk unbearable. More tellingly, I’ve never been quite convinced of the moral urgency to skip dairy–if the cows aren’t destined for slaughter but live peaceful and healthy lives, it doesn’t seem so bad, really, to take a bit of their organic, cruelty-free milk.

Now that’s out of the way, let’s turn to the book. First off, a 10th anniversary for a vegan recipe book is a victory for herbivores everywhere. It wasn’t so long ago that we were  expected to shut up and eat iceberg lettuce; just who did we think we were, checking that our minestrone didn’t have chicken stock and asking for no bacon bits in our Caesar Salads?  That this book is successful is clearly cause to celebrate, and especially so, because it’s a bloody good book. It makes its ethical case without  being preachy, recognizing that each of us arrives at our moral comfort zones at our personal velocities. The tone is conversational and chatty and filled with fun asides “please lock me up so I can eat my way to freedom, straight through these fantastic chocolate chip bars.”  At its heart, this is a book for anyone who enjoys cooking and eating flavorful food, and it’ll appeal  to omnivores and herbivores alike. And, and, and,  the authors are the last word in cool. I mean, just look at them.

How It All Vegan 10th Anniversary Edition by Sarah Kramer

Kramer writes in the foreword “I have countless fan mail from people telling me that they purchased the book without even looking inside because they saw us on the cover and were excited to see someone like themselves reflected back. I also have a few letters from mothers  who ripped off the cover, or covered the book with paper so we wouldn’t influence their kids with our tattoos and piercings.”

Anyone for Tea? by Sarah Kramer

Yes, I have something of a girl crush on Sarah Kramer, she of the piercings and tattoos and Cleopatra eyeliner.

How it all Vegan is divided into user-friendly  categories such as breakfast, sauces and spreads, entrees etc. etc. The recipes all seem to to demand many many ingredients, but they  are nicely laid out, and the cooking itself is uncomplicated. Best, they are written in a sensible, down-to-earth style suitable for dodgy cooks of my ilk. The mains aren’t a poor man’s meat substitute, but would hold their own at a Thanksgiving table. As might be expected, the desserts are the most substitution-based recipes of the lot.  There’s a handy index of alternatives for commonly used animal products–I used the suggested 3 tbsp applesauce instead of an egg in my brownies, and it worked.

The book ends with tips on making vegan household products, including mouthwash and baby wipes and bug repellent. There’s also an excellent index of ingredients that contain animal products. You may not be convinced about going vegan after reading this book, but you can’t cite a dearth of foods or resources  as a reason anymore.

I wish though, that there were more pictures of the food.  I’m surely not the only one to read recipe books like others read fashion magazines, and eight full-page photographs–two of which feature (the admittedly toothsome) Kramer–just aren’t enough for this book.  The photos are all clumped together in the middle, and you have to go back and forth to match them to the recipes. And I think they could have really selected more interesting recipes to photograph. Two pictures of peppermint patties? One for a generic glop-on-the plate cilantro ginger tempeh toss? The one photo that actually got me moaning was the butter tarts.


Better Than Butter Tarts by Sarah Kramer

I’d never tried these tarts till I came to Canada. Oh, my wasted life.

Better Than Butter Tarts

1 cup raisins
1 tbsp vegan margarine
3/4 cup sugar
2 tbsp ground flax seeds
3 tbsp water
1 tsp vanilla extract
12 unbaked pre-made pastry shells (3 inch)
1/2 cup walnuts, finely chopped

Preheat oven to 400F. Put raisins into a medium bowl and cover with very hot water. Set aside for 10 minutes. Drain hot water off raisins and add margarine, sugar, flax seeds, water, and vanilla. Stir together well. Spoon 1 tbsp of mixture evenly into each tart shell. Sprinkle each tart with finely chopped walnuts. Bake for 15 minutes and serve at room temperature. Makes 12 tarts.


How it all Vegan (10th Anniversary edition) by Tanya Barnard and Sarah Kramer

Arsenal Pulp Press, 2010

Genre: Cookbook


Serving Crazy with Curry by Amulya Malladi

Serving Crazy with Curry has one of those India-for-dummies covers. You know, spices! Dangly tinkly gold jewelry! A veil-draped golden-skinned, luscious-lipped woman! But when it comes to South Asian fiction, judge not a book by its appearance. The average publisher’s Pavlovian response upon hearing “India” and “woman writer” is to slap on this sort of empty exotica on the cover with scant  consideration for what lies beneath;  I usually just  read the book.

Serving Crazy With Curry By Amulya Malladi

Devi Veturi has lost yet another Silicon Valley job, is in debt, and can’t pay the rent.  She’s a serial failure when it comes to relationships, and she’s recently suffered a miscarriage. Devi decides to commit suicide, and she’d have succeeded if not for her mother Saroj walking into her apartment unannounced.

Devi’s family gathers around her in shock, but she refuses to explain her actions or speak a word.  Instead, she moves in with her parents and starts cooking, serving up a series of West-meets-India dishes such as rasam with puff pastry and Cajun prawn biryani. As the family waits for Devi to start talking, they begin to confront their own failures. Matters come to a head with Devi’s parents, who have been distant for years, while her sister’s married life begins to unravel. Even Devi’s grandmother Vasu isn’t spared the self-recrimination. Imagine the fallout when Devi gets around to speaking.

My main issue with Serving Crazy with Curry is that this book didn’t quite seem to know what it was. It’s written in a jaunty,  if occasionally labored, chick lit-ish tone  (“…Saroj watched, in wide-eyed horror, as her fridge and spice cabinet went from neat and tidy to something completely the opposite “), and borrows several elements from the genre. Chick-lit can be appealing–if the characterizations are detailed, if the stereotypes are kept to a minimum, if the predictable happy ending is served with panache, and, most vitally, if the author acknowledges the essential absurdity of the materialistic, self-obsessed heroines  dominating this genre. But Serving Crazy… takes itself seriously, seeking to explore themes such as the pressures of motherhood, the cultural scripts of Indian immigrants in America, and much more.  Malladi writes with sympathy and fluency, but doesn’t offer any new insights, and her prose is just not up to the task of providing the ballast these issues demand. And the mold for the secondary characters was cast a century ago. Melodramatic Indian mom looking to see her daughters happily settled. A distant father. The overachiever with an unhappy personal life. I mean, please.

There is a great story lurking in Serving Crazy…, but it’s not Devi’s. Vasu, Devi’s grandmother, was a doctor in the Indian armed forces;  how I wish Malladi had elaborated on this woman’s experience in a hyper-masculine institution. Vasu divorced her abusive husband at a time when most Indians believed that a divorced woman was the devil’s special friend. Vasu realized a forbidden love, and reckoned the social cost cheap in the process. Devi is just blah in comparison.

Furthermore, I questioned why, exactly, Devi found self-expression in cooking rather than any other medium.

“…There were no arguments here. This was sacred land. Her mind could wander on all sorts of possibilities here and she wouldn’t have to worry about where she ended up. Anything was possible and anything as acceptable, as long as she kept her mind confined to food and cooking.”

Substitute painting for cooking, and all this would still hold. Yes, Devi could have just as easily taken up bungee jumping or gotten a tattoo instead of turning to the kitchen, for there isn’t enough of a backstory to give her new passion enough credibility. Malladi’s explanation– that Devi had always been interested in cooking but Saroj didn’t like her kitchen messed up—sounded glib to me; after all, Devi has an apartment and kitchen of her own, and she hasn’t cared to cook there.

At the end of the book, Malladi includes an imagined conversation she has with the characters.

Amulya: I have to know, why the cooking?

Devi: I’d like to know as well. Since you wrote it in, why don’t you tell me?” [I wanted to kill Devi right here.  Just saying.]

Amulya: … I think you started cooking all that fusion cuisine because you wanted to do something that was different, yet you wanted to hold on to what was. You wouldn’t speak, so you used food as a communicating medium. You expressed your feelings though it, joy, fear, boredom, all of that.

Devi: You mean, since I stopped speaking as a result of my traumatic experience, I had to do something, and cooking was it?

Amulya: …the kitchen had always been Saroj’s domain and your trying to take that domain away from her was a subconscious effort on your part to tell her that you can control your life since you can control her kitchen…

I found the above damning–it’s almost a tacit admission that Malladi didn’t explain her characters’ motivations sufficiently in the text itself. And it still doesn’t tell us why she chose cooking rather than another medium; I’m left to believe that the author picked a hook she knew would be popular and easy-to-market. That said, the recipes (provided for the dishes Devi cooks) are interesting. I’m going to make Malladi’s apricot-ginger-mint chutney,  which I plan to have with baked brie. Sadly, I’m pretty sure the meal will be the best thing about this book.

Serving Crazy with Curry by Amulya Malladi

Random House 2004

Genre: Fiction