LET’S BURN THE MOOSEWOOD COOKBOOK

Original flame photo by Timothy Rose

A few years ago, I had to take a class that was supposed to be about graphic design, but instead focused on the moral superiority of mindful of food preparation.

Ah. Art school.

Fifteen minutes into the first six-hour class, I had heard more yammering about the meditative benefit of chopping each herb leaf thoughtfully than any parent of two should be required to endure.

Almost reflexively, I heard myself joining the conversation, “That sounds lovely, but if my microwave broke, I would cry.”

Silence.

Everyone stared as I shifted uncomfortably in my folding chair.

I wasn’t kidding, though. That was the year of chicken nuggets–the only protein my pre-school kids would consume at the time. Who has time to thaw and bake those suckers for 30 minutes when the kids are already melting down? If I could stop the crying in four minutes flat, I was going to do so. Much as I love food, sometimes life dictates that meals be reduced to emergency fuel injections.

Art school + childrearing = nugget photographs.
Art school + childrearing = nugget photographs. Note: Despite evidence to the contrary, the nugget of choice was Trader Joe’s drummette-shaped breaded chicken patties.

I can guarantee that the people who coined the phrase “slow food movement,” never stopped by my house in the late afternoon. It’s not only my kids who melt down, either. Just ask the college friend who traveled with me for seven weeks one summer. After a few days with me, she started shoveling snacks my way every 40 minutes–no doubt for her own self-preservation. Let’s face it, at 5:30 pm, the only coherent thought I’m capable of forming is: GOOD GOD, LET’S GET SOME FOOD ON THE TABLE, PEOPLE.

Somehow, all of my antagonistic feelings about hippy-dippy, artisanal, homegrown, hand-ground, infinitesimally slow food items have been channeled toward Mollie Katzen and her cavalcade of Moosewood cookbooks.

I blame this on the Enchanted Broccoli Forest, a recipe I tackled once fifteen years ago. Imagine a vegetarian version of Midwestern hot dish with broccoli stems poked in like trees. Bland. Floppy. Nothing forest-y about that hot mess, and no tater tots or Durkee fried onions to offset the disappointment.

I suppose there are many reasons why I should love the Moosewood cookbook, I just can’t think of any at the moment. I do know what I don’t like, however:

There is an ungodly amount of cheese in there. All kinds. Especially cottage cheese, which is foul.

There are no photos, and I know why. Hippie food is ugly.

Stupid, stupid 63 ingredients in every dish. I blame Mollie for the jar of asafetida that sits in my spice cupboard. Does everything need to be so darn complicated? Each recipe takes a million years. Maybe y’all plan your meals a year in advance. Not me. News flash: at 5:30, I will not be soaking anything overnight, nor will I be driving from co-op to co-op looking for dried mint and a half an ounce of tree ears.

What the *()$%! is Noodle Kugel, besides grounds for divorce? Who puts noodles in dessert?

And what about Scheherazade Casserole? Is the cook slain after serving it, or is she saved by reading aloud the long-winded recipes?

Which reminds me, it is exceedingly wordy.

For example, here's how to make fruit salad.
For example, here’s how to make fruit salad.

We played a little game the other night. Whoever was “it” would choose a particularly odd recipe, and everyone else would try to guess the ingredients. FYI: when all else fails, try “cheese” or “seeds” or “more cheese” or “raw bulgur.”

Here’s the main problem, though. It looks like a cookbook for nice people.

Little swirly things nestled between sections, sketchy drawings of seraphim and urns and trellises and lots of leaves that prefer to be carefully, thoughtfully, individually chopped.

And there is that cloying, lovingly handmade font. Given the date of publication, maybe the whole thing was hand-lettered, and I should probably be impressed. But to me, it is the visual equivalent of bad potpourri. A culinary bed and breakfast with stiff, frilly pillowcases…plus an annoying hausfrau who will not stop nattering on.

I’m sure there is lots of useful information and some tasty recipes buried in there somewhere. When my kids go off to college, I’ll take that thing down and read it cover to cover. In the meantime, though…I hear there is a website entitled: WTF should I make for dinner? Now that might fit better with our current lifestyle.

p.s. Sorry, mom. I will admit the shepherd’s pie was fairly tasty.

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Published by

Beret Olsen

Writer, photographer, teacher, and part-time insomniac.

4 thoughts on “LET’S BURN THE MOOSEWOOD COOKBOOK”

  1. Thank you for hearty laugh – and for easing my cooking envy for not owning a copy:) The broccoli forest never worked for me either. I do make the sesame noodles and I swap out ingredients it never really bothered me that I only had 2 of the 46 needed.
    Love you, sis

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  2. Ha! I just picked up a used copy during the end of my whopping 2.5 week summer vacation. Just long enough into my break to have delusions I grandure about how much time I’ll have this semester to cook wholesome food and hallucinating that now that juniper is 4, she’s ready for cabbage rolls an skordalia thessalonike.

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    1. You go, ambitious lady! Clearly I’m only condemning the cookbook itself, not the lovely, over-achieving, artist/tech goddess/mothers of small people who make it work despite all odds.

      Like

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