Books

With Mollie Katzen's Latest, We've Wandered Far From the Enchanted Forest

Author of the seminal Moosewood Cookbook, Mollie Katzen brought vegetarian cuisine—in 1977 still considered weird hippie food—into the mainstream. Now, almost 40 years later, she's written one of most confounding cookbooks I’ve ever encountered.


The Heart of the Plate

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Length: 464 pages
Author: Mollie Katzen
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: 2013-09
Amazon

The New Enchanted Broccoli Forest

Publisher: Ten Speed
Author: Mollie Katzen
Publication date: 2000-02
Amazon

Still Life with Menu Cookbook

Publisher: Ten Speed
Author: Mollie Katzen
Publication date: 1994-01
Amazon

Mollie Katzen's Vegetable Heaven

Publisher: Ten Speed
Author: Mollie Katzen
Amazon

Rarely does a cookbook elicit a passionate response, but Mollie Katzen is a revered American cookbook writer. Author of the seminal Moosewood Cookbook, Katzen brought vegetarian cuisine—in 1977 still considered weird hippie food—into the mainstream. It can be difficult to realize what a feat that was, before farmer’s markets and the internet. Now even those of us living in remote areas can order unusual foodstuffs online, while people living in metropolitan areas take the wealth of produce, grains, and artisanal tofus on offer for granted.

In 1977, Katzen had to explain tamari, mirin, and alfalfa sprouts to readers. Interested cooks had to search ethnic markets and health food stores, then few and far between, to find ingredients like wheat berries or quinoa. But Katzen’s welcoming voice and inviting food drew readers in. So did the books themselves. Unlike many of today’s glossy cookbooks, which seem destined for the coffee table instead of the kitchen, those Ten Speed Press books were well made, their bindings tight: cookbooks meant to sit open on the counter while the cook leaned over them, spoon in hand. And thousands of cooks did just that.

I was one of those cooks. When I was still learning my way around the kitchen, a friend lent me Katzen’sThe Enchanted Broccoli Forest, published in 1982. I am not a vegetarian. The book was a revelation, nonetheless. Here was practical information on stocking a kitchen, handling tofu and ginger, and countless useful recipes. I made Very-Much-Marinated-Potatoes, Swiss Green Beans, and Marinated Pasta Salad. I baked Katzen’s challah, using her excellent “Illustrated Guide to Baking Bread”. I was a novice bread baker, and that loaf turned out perfectly.

I even made an Enchanted Broccoli Forest, a folly involving stalks of broccoli planted in rice. My spouse and I were living in Arcata, California at the time, land of Redwood logging. Alas, my rice-making skills were insufficient: the broccoli stalks toppled. We giggled, called it the Enchanted Broccoli Clearcut, and gobbled it up.

I purchased Still Life With Menu and Vegetable Heaven, continuing my Mollie Katzen apprenticeship. I learned how to roast vegetables, prepare a delicately delicious yellow squash soup, why miso should always be in the fridge, and countless other tricks. I absorbed so much of Katzen’s wisdom into my cooking that it’s impossible to do her justice. I wouldn’t be the cook I am today without her teachings.

Now, almost two decades later, Katzen presents us with The Heart of the Plate, one of most confounding cookbooks I’ve ever encountered. In the introduction, Katzen takes a page from the Bittman/Pollan playbook, claiming vegetables are the mainstay of this latest book, but the recipes belie her. If any food is nudging its way to the center of the plate, it’s fruit. The results are often unappealing, if not bizarre.

Pomegranate is everywhere, as seeds, molasses, and concentrate. Mangoes pop up where you’d least expect them: in a gazpacho with nectarines (no, this is not dessert), in a soup with wild rice and chilis, in a salad with coconut rice noodles, and, most strangely of all, pulped and pooled beneath beet wedges and baby arugula leaves. Katzen calls this “The flag of the plant-food world”.

Meanwhile, strawberries find themselves hanging around with avocados and in a Ruby Gazpacho containing tomatoes and watermelon. Frozen unsweetened blueberries turn up in a pot with basmati rice, wondering where the muffin batter went. Then there’s Celery-Almond-Date Saladita, a condiment calling for lemon juice, honey, blue cheese, and black pepper in addition to the title ingredients. Katzen finds this flavor combination so felicitous she dubs it basheert—Yiddish for “meant to be”. Bagels and lox are basheert. Celery and honey? Not basheert.

In a book that purports to be about vegetables, there are strangely few. Cauliflower and kale, current culinary stars, make several appearances, as do beets, a universally unloved vegetable. The vegetable chapter is surprisingly short—only 12 vegetable recipes; 15 if you count the trio on eggplant, all of them paired with fruit. There are two Brussels sprouts recipes, one calling for sprouts with cranberries, a combination I find difficult to envision. Others are more appealing: twice cooked broccoli, cheese-crusted cauliflower—even if there is scarce little cheese.

The avoidance of fat and carbohydrates verges on paranoia. I realize many people are trying to cut their intake of these foods, but some are necessary for good health, not to mention satiety. When I was a child, eggs were vilified for their cholesterol content; then the tide turned and it was decided eggs were reasonable if consumed in moderation. A commercial from the era showed eggs being released from jail. If the eggs are free, bags of white flour, wearing orange jumpsuits and shackles, are shuffling into maximum security, followed by weeping tubs of sour cream, sticks of butter, white rice, pasta, and potatoes. Meanwhile, Greek yogurt snickers in the fresh air.

This means that although The Heart of the Plate professes to be “Vegetarian Recipes for a New Generation”, I doubt younger people will cook from it. They’d starve. The portions are vegetable heavy, with very little fat or carbohydrate content. This is fine if you are middle-aged or older and lead a sedentary lifestyle. If you are a 20-something male, the half-pound of linguine in the Linguine and Green Beans in Tranpanese Pesto will not feed you and six to eight of your friends, as the recipes suggests. It might feed you. As a starter.

Also strange is Katzen’s aversion to salt and spicing of any kind. The food in this book is downright bland. She doesn’t salt pasta water, which is supposed to be salty as sea water, obviating the need for salting later. Few dishes in The Heart of the Plate are salted at all; if they are, only lightly. Chipotle Cream calls for a half teaspoon of chipotle in adobo sauce to one cup of sour cream. At that ratio, the chipotle will all but disappear. Raita, the traditional Indian yogurt dip, calls for only a quarter teaspoon of salt, an eighth of a teaspoon cayenne, and one teaspoon of cumin to two cups of yogurt—seasonings so sparse they’ll vanish.

Preparation time is another issue; interestingly, prep times are not given for any of these recipes. While few are truly difficult, they do read as time consuming. Stews and accompanying biscuits are not work night specials; nor are the “Lasagna Stacks” intended to save carbohydrates by creating individual layered portions of noodles instead of a whole panful. Lasagna is not fast food; breaking it down into individual “stacks” makes it more complex when the carb-conscisous could simply take a smaller portion.

Expense is another deterrent. Many recipes call for boutique ingredients like Jade Rice, Forbidden Rice, Beluga Lentils and wild mushrooms. My package of Jade Rice cost $6 for 15 ounces. The rice was nice enough, but at six bucks I want more than nice. An online search found Forbidden Rice costing $4.67 for 15 ounces. Cheaper than Jade Rice, but no bargain. Beluga Lentils cost $5.99 for 16 ounces at Amazon.com.

These recipes are even more challenging if you're cooking for a family. Katzen has two children, now grown. The Enchanted Broccoli Forest, Still Life With Menu, and Vegetable Heaven, with their larger servings, more generous allotments of fat and carbohydrates and generally more kid-friendly foods (think pasta dishes and tofu) are more attuned to feeding a family. Many children will balk at Root Vegetable Stew with Ginger and Pears, Curried Cauliflower Stew, or Beet Crush. Kids generally don’t go for foods like Eggplant Slap-Down with Figs and Blue Cheese. Further, numerous recipes contain peanut butter or various nuts, perilous these days to many kids.

The fear of carbohydrates and fat is nowhere better exemplified than the recipe for Mushroom Stroganoff over Cabbage “Noodles”, a vegetarian take on the classic Beef Stroganoff, which calls for strips of steak and mushrooms in a sour cream sauce, served over egg noodles. Here Katzen has mushrooms stand in for the meat, reduces the usual cup of sour cream to a half-cup, and swaps out the egg noodles for a pound of steamed cabbage. The cabbage is treated to a teaspoon of butter—mind you, this is a pound of cabbage—and a half teaspoon of salt. At the end of the recipe, as an “Optional Enhancement”, Katzen writes:

“You can smuggle a modest amount of freshly cooked real noodles onto the cabbage ‘noodles’ for additional heft.”

Yes, this lightens a very rich dish, but we’re asking tofu to be turkey. Okay, you’re vegetarian. Make this with mushrooms, in its full sour cream-noodle glory, then eat moderately the next day. But don’t pretend cabbage is something it’s not, and for heaven’s sake, don’t “smuggle” anything onto your plate. Noodles and sour cream aren’t degenerate comestibles.

The “Sauces, Vinaigrettes, Toppings, and other Meaningful Touches” chapter epitomizes the problems with this book. Here are condiments in all their weirdness. Some are fine; in fact, many, like Cucumber Mayonnaise, have appeared in earlier books. Garlic Mayonnaise and Salsa Verde will be familiar to most readers. Katzen loses me at the “Saladitas”: crosses between salads and salsas. Readers will find these either strange or wonderful: Jicama-Pink Grapefruit Saladita, Strawberry Avocado Saladita, Sweet Corn and Blueberry Saladita. Then there are the impersonators: Tofu “Bacon”, Egg “Noodles”, Tempeh Croutons. For some reason Olive Oil-Bread-Crumb-Coated Fried Eggs are in this chapter, along with Browned Potatoes and Onion, evidently relegated to a parsimonious topping rather than former side dish status. Hell, main dish status.

It’s not all light and airy dishes sure to keep your BMI and glycemic indices low. The Cozy Mashes chapter takes readers beyond potatoes, there are some savory, simple soups that keep the fruit at bay, and a burger chapter with fresh takes on a tired standby. It’s hard to go wrong with macaroni and cheese, and although I would not deconstruct the lasagna into portioned stacks, as Katzen does, the recipes themselves are good.

At the very end of this tightfisted cookbook is a carefully curated dessert chapter. Most—of course—are fruit based. This from the woman who once gave us a dessert chapter entitled “Too Many Desserts” (Vegetable Heaven). Bittersweet Mocha Bundt Cake and Chocolate Cream Pie stand out amidst the healthy indulgences, but there’s “just one cookie, and for me, at least, it’s the one: Pecan Shortbread”.

So much for Mrs. Buerschaper’s Molasses Crinkles, or Chocolate Chip-Mint Cookies, both from 1988’s Still Life With Menu. Of the Molasses Crinkles her neighbor baked, Katzen wrote “I think these cookies were my earliest experience of loving a dessert that had no chocolate in it.” As for the Chocolate Chip-Mint Cookies:

“I tested this recipe midway through working on the book, and I can’t tell you how many of these I consumed while sitting here at my desk writing recipes. Tofu, grains, and vegetables have their place, but Chocolate Chip-Mint Cookies are creative soul food.”

Agreed. What happened to change her mind?

Alas, with The Heart of the Plate we’re a long way from the Enchanted Broccoli Forest. Instead, we’ve wandered into a postmodern pomegranate orchard, where food is to be feared rather than enjoyed. Here food is substituted, smuggled, or faked. Salt and spices are minimal, while fats and carbohydrates are culinary bugaboos. he arugula flag of the plant world flies, implanted in a pool of pureed mango. Despite my tremendous respect for Mollie Katzen, The Heart of the Plate is not a way of living or eating I can recommend. I wish I felt differently.

5

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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