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Cookbooks to be thankful for, part three. November 22, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, recipes, wit and wisdom.
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For this good food

and joy renewed

we praise your name, O Lord.


     —a French Thanksgiving

 Silence Dogood here with the final installment of my series “Cookbooks to be thankful for.” (Part one reviewed cookbooks that focused on autumn and winter foods, and part two spotlighted books about baking; check them out if you missed them.) Today I’d like to share with you some of the many cookbooks in my collection that have gratitude, praise, and thanksgiving at their hearts. As our Thanksgiving holiday is rapidly approaching (yikes! where does the time go?!), it seems most appropriate to combine our feelings of thankfulness and gratitude for our many blessings and abundance with the act of cooking itself.

Fortunately, this is easy to do thanks to the many cookbook authors who’ve shared my feelings on this topic. Let’s plunge right in, and you can see which of these speak to you. I’ve enjoyed them all!

Brother Victor-Antoine d’Avila-Latourrette. Astute readers will note that this is a person, not a cookbook. But Brother Victor-Antoine is the author of a slew of fabulous, joy-filled, reverent cookbooks that I love to take down and read. One of the many beauties of his books is that recipes are grouped seasonally, so that gardeners (and those trying to eat locally and seasonally) will have an easy time choosing from the many luscious recipes. Like me, once you buy one, you’ll want them all! Brother Victor-Antoine’s cookbook library includes From a Monastery Kitchen, Twelve Months of Monastery Soups, Twelve Months of Monastery Salads, Fresh from a Monastery Garden, This Good Food, and Table Blessings.

The Secrets of Jesuit Breadmaking by Brother Rick Curry, S.J. (Harper Perennial, 1995). Following the sacred seasons from Advent through Easter, Brother Rick shares bread recipes, breadmaking secrets, prayers, and lore from Jesuit bakers around the globe. You’ll find yummy treats like Irish Soda Bread, St. Peter Canisius’s Stollen, Holy Thursday Apple Bread, Spy Wednesday Biscuits, and Brother Bondera’s Italian Easter Bread.

Brother Juniper’s Bread Book by Brother Peter Reinhart (Addison Wesley, 1991). Recipes and reflections from Brother Juniper’s Bakery in Santa Rosa, California, voted the best bakery in Sonoma County. Brother Peter’s subtitle, “Slow Rise as Method and Metaphor,” and chapters with titles like “On Not Cutting into Bread Too Soon,” give a feel for this book on breads made by monks who give their profits to support homeless shelters. Recipes for Struan, Roasted Three-Seed Bread, Wild Rice and Onion Bread, Cajun Three-Pepper Bread, Oreganato, Stout Bread, Tex-Mex Cumin Bread, and many another baked good from pizza and stuffing to brownies and muffins will show you why Brother Juniper’s Bakery won its stars, and incredibly detailed, supportive directions will take all fear out of bread-baking no matter how inexperienced or discouraged you are.

The Spirituality of Bread by Donna Sinclair (Northstone, 2007). Before we leave the subject of bread, I’d like to present a very different kind of book. This simply beautiful, evocative book celebrates the sacredness of bread, bread-baking, and bread-eating worldwide. The photographs are breathtaking. The stories and portraits are enchanting. Yes, there are bread recipes, too—good recipes—but there’s something much more powerful at work here. A few quotes selected from the book will show you better than I can: “To eat bread without hope is still slowly to starve to death.”—Pearl S. Buck. “There are people in the world so hungry that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.”—Mahatma Gandhi. “The danger is not that the soul should doubt whether there is any bread, but lest, by a lie, it should persuade itself that it is not hungry.”—Simone Weil. “Let there be work, bread, water and salt for all.”—Nelson Mandela.

What Would Jesus Eat? by Don Colbert, M.D. (Nelson, 2002). This book and its companion, The What Would Jesus Eat Cookbook, explore the foods Jesus might have eaten and healthful ways to prepare them. A more spiritual take on the Mediterranean Diet, if you follow Jesus’s culinary path, you’ll feel better, look better, and eat better.

A Biblical Feast by Kitty Morse (Ten Speed Press, 1998). This lovely little book celebrates the foods of the Holy Land, with a wealth of authentic dishes from Bitter Herb Salad and Braised Cucumbers and Leeks with Fresh Dill through Lamb and Lentil Stew, Jacob’s Pottage, and Pomegranate Honey-Glazed Fish to Ezekiel’s Bread, Abigail’s Fig Cakes, Barley Cakes, Herb-Coated Yogurt Cheese, and even Homemade Red Wine. Rejoice!

Tomato Blessings and Radish Teachings by Edward Espe Brown (Riverhead Books, 1997). For those who, like me, grew up with The Tassajara Bread Book and Tassajara Cooking, Edward Espe Brown, Zen priest and chef at the Tassajara Zen Monastery and Retreat House, was an icon as well as a cooking inspiration. Lest you picture a minute bowl of unseasoned brown rice and, for variety, a little unseasoned brown rice as typical Zen fare, Ed Brown was also a chef for years at the celebrated Greens restaurant and coauthored The Greens Cookbook with Deborah Madison. He has brought a lifetime of cooking and mindful eating together in Tomato Blessings, and it is a delight. Where else would you find sections devoted to “How to Eat Just One Potato Chip” or “The Sincerity of Battered Teapots”? And then there are the recipes: Corn Timbale with Ancho Chili Sauce, Broccoli with Olives and Lemon, Winter Squash Soup with Apple, Cumin, and Cardamom, Mushroom Filo Pastry with Spinach and Goat Cheese, Beet Salad with Watercress. Oh, yes.

The Zen Monastery Cookbook by the Monks at Zen Monastery Practice Center with Cheri Huber (Keep It Simple Books, 2003). Like the original Moosewood Cookbook, The Zen Monastery Cookbook is adorable, with its hand-written recipes and rustic hand-drawn illustrations. Essays from monks, former monks, and pupils, like “The Pupil and the Black Pot” and “The First Thing That Happens,” remind us that even those who are striving to be holy can burn the granola or mistake baking powder for flour. Fortunately, the delicious recipes will keep you from making any mistakes, and you’ll enjoy Nutty Rice Salad, Curried Spinach Salad,  Red Lentil and Squash Soup, Green Velvet Soup, Apricot Bread, Roasted Beets, and many another yummy dish.

Wake Up and Cook, edited by Carole Tonkinson (Riverhead Books, 1997). This book’s subtitle, “Kitchen Buddhism in Words and Recipes,” and the fact that it was published under the aegis of Tricycle: The Buddhist Review show that it takes itself a bit more seriously, especially when the back cover begins by proclaiming “In the Kitchen with Buddha.” (If the Buddha was ever in a kitchen, it’s news to me.) But the next line, “The preparation and eating of food is a celebration of life and a holy endeavor,” rings true to every cook. There are a lot of essays and poems in this book to inspire you to think of food, and the cooking, eating, and offering of food, in a new and more sacred way. But there are also some amazing recipes. In what other book would you find a recipe by the Dalai Lama himself, for Momos, or filled dumplings in soup? There are also plenty of recipes that would astound folks like yours truly who’d grown up believing that all Buddhists are vegetarians. You’ll find Steak Fajitas, Stewed Fox, and Free-Range Coq au Vin, as well as such seemingly non-Buddhist dishes as Apple Crisp and canned corn with milk.

A Simple Celebration by Ginna Bell Bragg and David Simon, M.D. (Harmony Books, 1997). This book presents the nutritional program from the Chopra Center for Well-Being. As the Center’s founder, Deepak Chopra, says: “This book is about food for the soul. It is the celebration of nourishment at all levels: physical, mental, and spiritual. It is about wholeness and therefore about healing and that which is holy.” You’ll find some Indian recipes, like Cosmic Curry and Cucumber Raita, here, but also a world of other wholesome vegetarian cuisine, from Pasta with Madeira Mushroom Sauce to Vegetable Strudel to Baked Winter Squash with Wild Rice-Cranberry Stuffing, Lemon Bars, and Baklava. Mmmmm!!!!

Speaking of Deepak Chopra brings me to a great void in this list, books like Yamuna Devi’s Lord Krishna’s Cuisine that celebrate the great culinary traditions of India’s Hindu population. Mea culpa! There are so many fabulous books on Indian cuisine, even in my own cookbook collection, that I’ll have to save them for another post.

I Am Grateful by Terces Engelhart with Orchid (North Atlantic Books, 2007). A book by the owner and chef of San Francisco’s Cafe Gratitude surely belongs in this list. A celebration of raw foods cuisine at its most elaborate, this book is an eye-opener for folks like me who tend to think of raw foods in terms of salads, sprouts, and crudites. Mudslide Pie, Key Lime Pie, Pumpkin Pie, Tiramisu, and Vanilla Hazelnut Pie wouldn’t exactly have appeared on my raw-foods radar, yet here they are, along with Cinnamon Rolls, Pad Thai, Chiles Rellenos, Smoky Mole Pizza, Spinach Tortillas, Coconut Curry Soup, Falafels, Nachos, and many another astonishing recipe, all made completely with raw foods and served up with a big, delicious dose of gratitude. The cookbook is beautiful, too.

So many cookbooks, so little time. I’m going to group the next three, all of which take you on culinary travels back to a time when fire was sacred and cooking a ritual act. The most modern, The Sacred Kitchen, by Robin Robertson and Jon Robertson (New World Library, 1999), sums it all up: “In a world that has forgotten the warmth of hearth and home, The Sacred Kitchen provides relevance and meaning for your daily life in the twenty-first century.” Robin Robertson brings her experience as a vegetarian cookbook author to bear in combination with husband Jon’s spiritual insights. The Ancient Cookfire by Carrie L’Esperance (Bear & Company, 1998) is an education in “How to Rejuvenate Body and Spirit Through Seasonal Foods and Fasting.” Serving Fire: Food for Thought, Body, and Soul by Anne Scott (Celestial Arts, 1994) is not a cookbook at all, but a celebration of the central role of cooking throughout human history. 

Last, but by no means least, is a book that might not strike many people as spiritual at all, Renewing America’s Food Traditions: Saving and Savoring the Continent’s Most Endangered Foods, edited by one of my food heroes, Gary Paul Nabhan. Do we as a nation really need the Hutterite Soup Bean, Hidatsa Sunflower, Jack’s Copperclad Jersusalem Artichoke, Guinea Hog, Sonoran Pronghorn Antelope, Chapalote Popcorn, Gillette Fig, Chantecler Chicken, Olympia Oyster, Gloria Mundi Apple, Tennessee Fainting Goat, Narragansett Turkey, Fish Pepper, Zimmerman’s Pawpaw, Cotton Patch Goose, Ossabaw Island Hog, Goliath Grouper, Honey Drip Cane Sorghum, or Waldoboro Green Neck Turnip? Surely we can just grab a Red Delicious at the store or head to the nearest McDonald’s. Renewing America’s Food Traditions presents a beautifully written, gorgeously photographed argument (with recipes) about why these local specialties matter, even if we’ll never see, much less eat, an Arikara Yellow Bean or Eulachon Smelt. And why we should be grateful that we still have this diversity of foods and foodways.

I hope you’re able to find at least one of these cookbooks to savor and enjoy this Thanksgiving. And please, when you’re contemplating making your family’s meals a little more of a sacred occasion, remember to take a minute to give thanks after the meal as well as before. When counting one’s blessings, family members should be sure to thank the cook as well! We have so much to be thankful for.

        ‘Til next time,




1. Joy - November 22, 2008

I have to confess Silence … that I am not a cook. I dodge that bullet as much as possible. Thankfully hubby enjoys cooking and he is quite good at it. We do love curries and that happens easily in the slow cooker. Some how, along with the enjoyment of the actual curry I feel rejuvenated as well ..
Food is such an important part of our lives .. not only the basic nourishment but how, and what we enjoy, and with whom ?
All of your cookbooks make me want to cook .. especially the “I Am Grateful” one .. those deserts hooked me as soon as I read them !
If some how I forget “Happy Thanksgiving!” : )

Thanks, Joy! We love curries, too, though I’ve never tried to make one in a slow cooker. How intriguing! And thanks for the Thanksgiving wishes. We’ll be down in Nashville hoping for a little bit of warmth!

2. Kathryn/plantwhateverbringsyoujoy.com - November 23, 2008

Hi, Silence! So am I to deduct you are one of those amazing women who reads cookbooks and tries lots of new things all the time?? Or do you stick with the tried and true and occasionally add a new dish to your repertoire? Not being a “manual reader” (like, at all), I guess that extends to cookbooks. Sigh. Though I will on occasion follow a baking recipe–but I inevitably never follow directions again because I end up tweaking by the second round. It’s chancey around here I must confess. 🙂 But I admire your curiosity!

I read cookbooks for recreation, Kathryn! I love reading old cookbooks that open up the worlds of, say, Colonial housewives or mediaeval households, or personable cookbooks like Tasha Tudor’s or Helen Nearing’s or Julia Child’s. I love “visiting” Morocco or the Mediterranean or Mexico or Normandy by paging through beautifully photographed cookbooks. And I find them very relaxing to read before bed—no worries about being too overstimulated by whatever I was reading to sleep! (And if some gorgeous Iranian platter or an array of olives and artisanal cheeses floats through my dreams, so much the better!)

3. Steve Parker, M.D. - November 24, 2008

I love Gandhi’s quote about bread.

Is it just a coincidence that Jesus grew up in the Mediterranean region, and the traditional Mediterranean diet is the healthiest one we know?

No other way of eating can legitimately claim to prolong life and reduce rates of type 2 diabetes, cancer (breast, colon, prostate, uterus), cardiovascular disease, dementia, and Parkinsons disease.

I must review “What Would Jesus Eat.”


Thanks, Steve! And yes, by all means see what you think of the two “What Would Jesus Eat?” books. If we all ate that way, the so-called “Western diseases” might soon be history!

4. Becca - November 25, 2008

Oooooh, you have piqued my interest with the last cookbook you mentioned. I shall have to get a copy of that near me. Sounds wonderful

It’s not only wonderful, but beautiful, Becca! (And also expensive. You might check Amazon for used copies or see if your library will get it for you on interlibrary loan—it would definitely be worth the wait!)

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