So I haven’t always been a) a vegetarian b) health conscious c) a good cook. My Mom keeps telling me that out of all of the things she thought I would be passionate about in life that cooking and nutrition wouldn’t be one of them. I can see what she means – I never really expressed an interest or desire in cooking. I wasn’t around people who talked passionately about cooking either. I did, however, have great role models. My two biggest culinary influences when I was growing up were my mom and grandmother. I grew up in a home where my mother made every meal from scratch because this is what she did. There was no Instagram or fancy social media platforms to encourage home cooks. She was a stay at home mom and cooking was one of the zillion things she did.
Food was always nutritious and pretty delicious (she’s an awesome cook) but it wasn’t something that was actively taught. Maybe I gathered those ideas osmotically until I was ready to use them? My paternal grandmother lived on a farm and always (I mean always) was either in the kitchen or garden. Dishes were fresh (literally from the garden or field) and mainly based around traditional Ukrainian cooking (the photo below is a very bad iPod touch photo of my grandmother’s kutya — a Christmas favourite in her house). She cooked to feed many people – family, hired men, friends who dropped by to visit – no one ever went hungry. Sometimes we would pick raspberries with her and make tarts but we never really cooked with her.
When I was old enough (and responsible enough) I got to make my own toast – this was HUGE. So many safety concerns, but the biggest of which was to unplug the toaster before trying to fish-out lost pieces of bread. When I was okay with the toaster mom taught me how to scramble eggs. I can’t remember how old I was but I’m pretty certain I needed a chair to reach the dials and frying pan. Between learning to make scrambled eggs and now, my mind is a little foggy. Sure there was that eggnog cheesecake I made as a Home Ec project but that was a one off.
So I think becoming a vegetarian is one of the biggest reasons why my passion for cooking grew. I started off eating lots of pasta, bagels, tofu, and block cheese but I knew that this diet did not make me feel good or healthy. Around this time I connected with a girl I went to University with who is the most amazing cook and baker (she would probably say her mom is better) but she really turned me onto cooking in a big way. When she helped me make cookies for my neighbourhood cookie exchange I knew I wanted to have her skills and passion. I don’t think she even knows how big her influence was – she gifted me several cookbooks that became the start of my kitchen journey and she’s always encouraged me. Her energy and positivity is boundless. But I digress; I promise this week’s review is coming!
I can pinpoint with almost 100% accuracy when my cooking style changed – it was Christmas 2013. I had just started following Oh She Glows (Angela Liddon) and I was struggling to come up with a holiday meal plan. You see, both my husband and I are vegetarians but one of his colleagues was joining us and this guy is a real culinary savant and most certainly not a vegetarian. So needless to say I was quiet intimidated but determined to serve this man a vegetarian meal that was satisfying and delicious. This is what I did and he later confided that he was planning to go home afterwards and have mutton but the dinner turned out to be what I planned: satisfying. Mutton was saved that day. To be honest I can’t remember much about that meal (he brought an absolutely incredible eggplant parmigiana though) but I do remember the dessert: Chilled Double Chocolate Torte served with whipped coconut cream and raspberry coulis (recipe here). So delicious. So vegan (you totally couldn’t tell either!) One of my favourite OSG recipes and it was the beginning of my love affair with her website and subsequent cookbook.
This week’s review will focus both on her website and cookbook. I think one of the reasons why Angela Liddon is such a success is because she made vegan cooking so un-threatening. I think that when people like my mom and aunt (who cannot live without her Velvety Pumpkin Pie Smoothie or Out-The-Door Chia Doughnuts) buy a vegan cookbook, you know vegan cooking has come into the mainstream.
I can say, without a doubt, that every single recipe I have ever cooked from OSG has turned out – not a flop yet. This is high praise because there are millions of cooking blogs out there and I have wasted time, money, and food on dud recipes (and this isn’t a case of a shoddy workman blaming their tools either). She tests (and her recipe testers test) her recipes until they are literally perfect. To be honest, I’m not sure why I’m writing this review considering her cookbook is a sure thing. A New York Times Best Seller even. Maybe I’ll lure a few people who have never tried or heard of OSG to give it a try but I doubt those people even exist.
Recipes from Oh She Glows have turned up most often on my Instagram feed – check out the hashtag #ohsheglowsse to see some of the dishes I’ve made. As I look back at some of the photos I am reminded how versatile her recipes are. At a loss for breakfast? Make overnight oats. Want a soul-warming comfort food dish in the dead of winter? Make a Cozy Millet Bowl w/ Mushroom Gravy and Kale. Your bestie is celebrating her birthday? Make Chocolate Layer Cake. Mother Hubbard’s cupboard is bare? Hope to hell you have an avocado so you can make Creamy Avocado Pasta Sauce. The list is endless because she has a recipe for any occasion that might arise whether it is as special as a first birthday or as mundane as breakfast.
Speaking of special occasions I know that smash cakes for first birthdays are a thing – I mean what’s cuter than a baby covered in frosting and cake? (Pictures of puppies and cats probably) When my babe turned one she got one of her favs: Raw Pumpkin-Maple Pie w/ Baked Oat Crust. She had tried it on Thanksgiving and loved it! I also feel like even vegan desserts are so packed with nutrients and good stuff that it might outweigh the sugar factor (yes I’m of the opinion that maple syrup is still sugar) so I’m not too bothered when I occasionally share many of the vegan treats I make with my kid.
I will say this: many of the smoothies and cashew-based desserts will turn out smoother if a high-speed blender is used (like a Vitamix). It’s tough to advocate for a blender that costs almost as much as a stove (and I got mine through Air Miles) but I have to be honest and say that it is one of my favourite kitchen appliances. I know that the Double Chocolate Crispy Frozen Dessert Bars (recipe here) might not be as amazing – and the high speed blenders really help to make restaurant-quality vegan desserts. By the way, these bars fool my guests every time! No one can tell they’re dairy-free!! A true vegan miracle.
I guess this week’s review ended up being more about me than the cookbook. Maybe this is because Oh She Glows can inspire passion in the least passionate cook. I know it did for me.