About a year ago, a colleague asked me what sort of meals I cook, as a vegetarian. I reeled off a list of typical items on the menu: pasta with mushrooms and cream sauce or ratatouille; pumpkin, fetta and pine-nut pastries; home-made pizzas piled with Mediterranean vegies and cheese; Asian stir-fries; omelettes; Caprese salad; tacos and enchiladas with refried beans, rice and salad; and packet lentil burgers with veggies. My specialty is spanakopita (Greek spinach and fetta pie).
She replied, ‘Sounds great.’
I was affronted by her sarcasm, and bemused when the following day she presented me with The Revive Café Cookbook. Was my cooking really that uninspired?
Little did I know. I started reading and was immediately drawn in by the simple recipes of fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains and home-made ‘flavour boosters’ (dressings and sauces). The recipes were sugar-free and mostly free of dairy, eggs and gluten. I had never tried a vegan diet: after interviewing Dr Melanie Joy, I switched to a milk alternative, but I couldn’t cope with the idea of giving up cheese and eggs. In fact, I planned most of my meals around different types of cheese.
We all know that books have the power to change lives. Reading fiction, personal transformation can come from putting ourselves in the character’s shoes. Non-fiction can give us glimpses into worlds that inspire us. Self-help books offer step-by-step guides to achieving personal goals. My own experience showed me that cookbooks can provide a recipe for change.
The Revive Café Cookbook was an easy way for me to trial a vegan diet. I treated the book as a training course and for the first time decided to try to cook every recipe in a cookbook. Could I actually achieve that, I wondered? How many times had I flicked through a cookbook thinking, ‘Oo, I’d love to make that one day,’ but had never got around to it, put off by the daunting ingredients list and preparation time?
I started with the easier recipes. As someone who had never really learned to cook, suddenly I was that colleague who always brings delicious-looking lunches to work! My health improved and my skin became firmer and smoother (this is common when transitioning to veganism).
Cooking became an adventure. I started shopping at the local market and the co-op, favouring organic produce and choosing recipes for the week based on what was in season. My favourites (which have been a hit with friends and family) are the Scrambled Tofu (the ingenious addition of turmeric makes the tofu look like eggs), the Super Nachos (served topped with a generous dollop of home-made hummus) and the Buckwheat Hotcakes with Cashew and Pear Cream.
At Easter this year I watched That Sugar Film and it reinforced the food philosophy this cookbook has taught me: cutting refined and processed foods from your diet will improve your health and vitality. The film prompted me to review my snack foods (a category cookbooks generally don’t cover). Next time there was a ‘bring-a-plate’ morning tea at work, I made date and almond balls that ticked all the boxes (sugar-free, vegan, gluten-free) and didn’t last long.
A year on, I have cooked my way through the whole book. If someone asked, I’d say I’m a healthy vegetarian who has regular vegan days. I still love cheese and eggs, but I’ve come to see them as treats rather than staple foods, and I don’t feel that I’m missing out.
It’s high time I gave my colleague back the cookbook she lent me. I’m graduating to book 2.