The Green Kitchen

The Green KitchenOne of my greatest gripes about being vegan (or vegetarian—the same rules apply) is also a rather politically incorrect one.

That is, that it’s assumed I thrive on the smell of incense, that I have musty-smelling dreadlocks, and that I wear tie-dyed clothes.

I’m not that kind of vegan, and the mis-lumping irks me no end. I’m an urban-dwelling one who’s conscious of her carbon footprint, but who is also rather conservative.

You wouldn’t at a glance be able to tell me apart from meat eaters, and even if it loses me my leftie badge, I’m actually fairly ok with that (I think it’s easier to change the system from the inside, you catch more flies with honey, or whatever’s the appropriate adage).

It means, though, that I want to be able to eat delicious food in well-designed restaurants; I want to be able to cook healthy, tasty food from aesthetically appealing cookbooks. Both are surprisingly, frustratingly difficult to achieve.

Discovering the Green Kitchen Stories blog (and its just-released cookbook, The Green Kitchen) was a godsend. I don’t wish to generalise all Swedes just as most people generalise all vegans and vegetarians, but hot damn they know and execute good design. The blog and book understand and deliver function and form and, frankly, make me extremely happy.

David Frenkiel (one half of the couple who put this wonderfulness together) is a magazine art director. It shows. The images are utterly, enviably exquisite. And as if the blog and cookbook aren’t enough, I just happily lost a couple of hours in their Instagram feeds. Bliss.

Vegie CurryEven better, Frenkiel’s vegetarian journey largely mirrors my own. We’ve both been unhealthy vegetarians, omitting meat but existing on carbs and sweets.

He fell in love with a health-conscious meat-eater, Luise Vindahl (I know, right, I really do think those two terms are mutually exclusive), and the two started experimenting with cooking healthy vegetarian food.

The organic, honest approach is palpable in the blog and the book. It’s part of what (apart from the incredible images, of course), makes them so enticing. There’s no judgement and certainly no efforts to bamboozle you with terms and ingredients you wouldn’t normally know. Crucially, the recipes are healthy and tasty.

I’ve recently flopped over into the world of veganism—it’s where I’ve always been heading, but have been stymied by my poor cooking skills and the aforementioned, politically incorrect frustration—so the vegetarian-ness of the recipes no longer entirely applies. But Frenkiel and Vindahl offer vegan tweaks, so with a bit of effort, I’m able to make the recipes work.

Early favourites include the pictured vegie curry, which contains yellow split peas and such goodies as the underutilised rhubarb. And I’m keen to road test the pictured pizzas. If those aren’t enough to make you want to go vego, I don’t know what will.

Vegie PizzasI’m still obsessed with the blog and the book, but it’s worth mentioning too that there’s an app.

Yes, these guys really have thought of everything (and when I say everything, I mean largely freely available online tools that cater to their audience’s needs).

Now, if I can just convince them to come into my kitchen and cook for me, I’ll be set.

Going Vegan With A Gammy Knee

Colour Me VeganGoing vegan while hampered by a gammy knee and while trying to conquer a PhD is arguably not one of my smarter moves. The knee injury was unavoidable. (I was mown down by an opposition player.) The veganism is, arguably, unavoidable too.

It’s always where I’ve been heading—some 23 years of vegetarianism were really aspiring veganism except that Australia wasn’t ready. Something’s shifted recently (maybe hipsters are to thank/blame) and veganism is starting to become (shudder) cool. It means there are marginally more options for me when eating out and more places to buy food for when I’m cooking in.

That said, it’s still face-palmingly hard. Rather than a graceful segue into veganism, I’m more akin to a fat man trying to scale a bootcamp wall—red-faced, hopelessly entangled in the netting, trying to haul my wobbly butt up the scaffolding enough to enable me to flop over to the other side.

Suffice to say I’ve spent the past few weeks a lot frustrated and perpetually grumpy. That’s partly because my knee isn’t healing the way it should be. I’m going to take a punt and say that I don’t think it should be getting red and egg-fryingly hot from me walking around my apartment while talking on the phone. I’m also going to issue an aside that all knees generally, and my knees especially, are exceptionally ugly.

Vegan's Daily CompanionThe knee niggles combined with going vegan mean everything’s gotten exponentially and exhaustingly hard. I can directly attribute the latter to the exasperating fact that meat consumption and its related unsustainability and cruelty are entrenched and feel insurmountable.

I can also attribute it to the fact that I’m a rubbish cook and haven’t yet sorted out my menu. I’m getting hungrier sooner but am eating things that, though healthy, aren’t low enough GI to sustain me. Then I’m eating more to fill this grump-inducing, concentration-skewering hunger and ultimately gaining weight. None of this is helped by the fact that I’m not able to exercise (see above re: gammy knee).

Still, there’s hope.

I’ve found a podcast that’s doesn’t require me to go bunk and live off the grid. (I’m a pragmatic vegetarian and vegan and can’t stand the personal hygiene-challenged alternatives I invariably get lumped with.) It’s by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau, an English major who almost pursued a career in academia before deciding instead to pursue a career writing books about veganism. (Parallels much? Except that I will be finishing this PhD if it kills me.)

Patrick-Goudreau has a bunch of books—The Joy of Vegan Baking, The Vegan Table, Colour Me Vegan, Vegan’s Daily Companion—and lots of complementary resources. These include a fantastic podcast, which I’ve been listening to non-stop, back to back, and in which Patrick-Goudreau delivers wise, measured, practical, applicable wisdom. She knows her stuff, mixing information with punchy topics, memorable soundbites, and even literature and etymology.

The Joy of Vegan BakingI’d recommend fast-forwarding the first five minutes of every podcast, though—it’s a very American thing to do to ask for money and to talk up your stuff, but it grates my Australian ethos exponentially. I reckon if you want to support Patrick-Goudreau, buy her books.

That’s what I’m doing, although I’ll confess that her baking cookbook is my number one priority (weight loss here I don’t come). Once I work out my menu and properly adapt, being vegan will be fantastic. No, really. This is my third attempt at making it across the line, but this time I’m certain I’m going to make it. Until then, be warned that I’ll be vaguely hungry and a little bit grumpy.

Vegan Challenge

9781741962451I’ve been vegetarian for more years than I’ve not, but despite my best intentions I’ve never quite made it across the vegan line. That’s largely because I’m an infamously fussy eater and an equally terrible cook—veganism requires a bit more cooking creativity and prowess than I’m currently capable of.

Recently, though, I’ve been heartened to see that there’s been a groundswell of support for veganism—no longer considered the extreme end of the eating stick, veganism is (dare I and my friend and fellow writer and editor Carody, with whom I had this conversation the other night, say it) suddenly cool.

One movement that’s been leading (or perhaps symptomatic of) the shifting attitudes is the 30-day vegan challenge. It is how it sounds: You spend a month sans animal products. They offer a social media- and website-load of encouragement and support. Everybody is happy.

9781921382703Carody and I have gone to take up the challenge a few times now, with the idea that the combination of the challenge and the fact that we’re doing it together would halve the workload and double the motivation, but work and travel have defeated us each time. Until now. It’s looking like February is the month going vegan, and that our friend Tom is going to join us (and before someone argues the semantics, yes, I recognise that February only has 28 days—whatever).

The question, of course, is what to cook? And from which cookbooks? I already own and love cooking from Homestyle Vegetarian, which has a bunch of vegan recipes or ones that can easily be adapted to be so. I also own and love looking at Simon Bryant’s Vegies, although I will admit that I bought it in a fit of it’s-so-pretty pique and got it home to find that, while it’s great gastroporn, it’s much, much too Masterchef for me (as a side note, see book title rant below).

I almost bought Vegan Eats World (also see rant below) in the pre-Christmas I-should-be-buying-presents-for-other-people-but-I’m-really-buying-them-for-myself frenzy. What stopped me is that it doesn’t have pictures for each and every recipe, which is a must in my limited-ability, limited-patience cooking world. But I’m also up for any excuse to buy new books (especially beautifully produced cookbooks). Any recommendations?

9780738214863Rant: While I’m on a rant rampage, a note to chefs and food writers thinking of putting together cookbooks (and to the editors seeing them through to full production): You’re going to want to call it something a little more original and distinct than ‘vegetarian’ or ‘vegetables’ or ‘vegetarian cookbook’.

If you can’t make it something memorable like ‘Vegan Eats World’, at least make it searchable. Nothing is worse than not being able to narrow the search because there’s no extra useful words in the title and you don’t know the author’s name and you can’t search by ‘I think it has an orange cover’. This is especially awful when you’re the hapless bookseller searching for a customer who is simultaneously giving you no information with which to work and getting passive aggressive because you can’t find the cookbook they vaguely remember seeing once, years ago.

Emerging writers get digital in BrizVegas

I’m rubbing my eyes today after waking at 3am to get ready for an early flight home from Brisbane, where a crowd of emerging writers spent a festive weekend discussing all things digital.

Check out #ewfbris on Twitter and the Emerging Writers Festival’s website for a full run down of the action – I’ll be posting some more on it here soon.

Festival organisers Karen Pickering and Lisa Dempster in Brisbane.

As requested by a couple of attendees, here’s my presentation from Saturday’s Working online event (“Our panellists hash out how they make new technologies work in their writing careers, from finding markets, marketing to making money!”).
Hopefully some of the social media tips will be of use.

Self-marketing via social media to build profile and network with your tribe wherever they are (or you are) in the world

18 months ago I had an argument about Facebook and Twitter with a writer friend who worked for a federal minister.

She couldn’t see any business or government application for Social media, believing it would only ever be a tool for communicating with friends and family.

Try telling that to the makers of hazelnut chocolate spread Nutella now. They have 11 million international Facebook fans.

Or in Australia, to Chux. With posts like “who wears the washing up gloves in your house?” they’ve attracted 14,000 fans – all happy to read about dish cloths alongside updates from friends in their Facebook feed.

Facebook has more than 10 million unique Australian visitors per month. YouTube is not far behind with 9.9 million. Blogspot and WordPress combined receive 6.6 million unique visitors, linked in 1.8 million and Twitter 1.6 million.

Social media marketing expert Tom Voirol, of digital agency Reading Room, told me this month that not being present in social media is like cancelling phone lines or email accounts. He also provided a great analogy: if advertising is like archery, social media is like ping pong”.

So it’s not about broadcasting to your followers or fans, but engaging with them, by starting and joining conversations, by sharing compelling, useful, original and relevant content, and by being an authentic online voice.

So, how does an emerging writer get started with social media?

I’d recommend you do some online research. Check out Wikipedia definitions of platforms, and blogs about social media like Mashable, ProBlogger, Digital Buzz and Social Media News Australia.

Looking at how others are using digital communications tools is a vital and ongoing part of the process.

Where are the conversations you’d be interested in taking place? Who are the influencers? What are they talking about? When?

The members of today’s panels would be a great place to start. I’d also recommend you follow Bookseller & Publisher, this very festival and ifBook along with your state writers centre.

Once you’ve sussed it all out, you can join in, either as an individual, or by creating a brand as I did.

Either way, choose a niche you’re passionate about and in which you have some expertise, and build your persona around that. It might be corgis or chick lit or cottage gardens. For me it was vegetarian Italian food and, separately, ebooks, digital publishing and related technology.

Lock that brand in for yourself across the major social media platforms and Register domain names.

I recommend WordPress for blogging, Crazy Domains for registering a domain name and JustHost for web hosting.

Set up a LinkedIn profile for professional networking, Facebook page (not a straight profile – for business purposes you need a page so that you can attract everyone rather than just those who actually know you to like your work), Twitter account (to follow anyone in the world who might be talking about an area of interest), Google + profile (it’s the newest of the major platforms, and allows you to divide your networks into categories called circles) and a YouTube channel for video or slideshow content sharing.

Take lots of photos and videos to share. The iPhone 4 and the DropBox app changed my life on this front.

Get some business cards printed. Include details of your social media accounts (make sure you get vanity URLs first).

Start commenting on your blog on everything that happens in your chosen field.

Attend every relevant launch, conference or jam jar opening and post on it.

Pitch opinion pieces, reviews and features to relevant newspapers, magazines or websites.

Comment on similar blogs and related stories on mainstream media sites.

Retweet links to blog posts or articles by fellow bloggers and writers.

Set up a list of your most useful Twitter contacts and check it religiously.

Make sure you monitor all your channels regularly and respond quickly to direct messages and often to mentions. You’ll need to set aside time to do this just as you would for any other tasks that are essential to a business, like paying bills or responding to emails or phone calls.

Share information and knowledge freely and generously … But advisedly. You want to be recognized as a trusted source.

Be a good digital citizen. Respect the copyright of others. Credit and link back when possible. Don’t vilify or defame anyone (and that includes Andrew Bolt).

Post as often as you can, without setting precedents or creating expectations you can’t live up to.

People will ignore you if you just log on once a month to tweet out a link to a blog post, or tell them where to buy your new ebook.

Consider establishing yourself as an influencer on specialist platforms like social reading site Goodreads.com.

Once you’re established, you can think about campaigns to build follower numbers or promote particular events or publications. Tom Voirol suggests building a campaign around a core idea that is easy to grasp for the public, aligned with your overall goals, measurements and success criteria, and, most importantly, has social interaction at its core.

Speaking of measurement, it is important to track your success. Facebook offers great analytics to users of its pages. There are plenty of standalone free and paid tools you can use to assess the reach of your blog posts. Stats like these can help you decide when to post, and which topics have the most traction.

Will any of this work? Like anything, it’ll depend how much you put into it.

For me, the vegetarian blog, vegeterranean.com.au, fulfilled my desire to write restaurant reviews and cookbook reviews, and led to my recipe creator mother having a meeting at Penguin about a possible cookbook.

I’ve devoted more time and energy to ebookish.com.au, which solved my problem of being a former literary editor and tech writer who would love to be more involved in the book industry but is stuck in Canberra. It’s helped me to make friends and build a network of contacts in the publishing hubs of Sydney and Melbourne and further afield.

It led to a paid blogging gig for online bookseller Booku.com [Yay Booku!] which I love, board membership of the ACT Writers Centre, a series of teaching and training gigs in social media, and an invitation to look at doing a PhD on a related topic.

The biggest surprise for me has been discovering that there are plenty of completely like-minded ebook and social media geek friends in Canberra after all. I just needed to get onto global forums to find them.

The I Can’t Cook Cookbook

The Cook's CompanionI both agreed and disagreed with a friend recently when they marvelled at the sheer volume of cookbooks available and decreed that the market couldn’t possibly support such numbers. Agreed, because I too wonder how there could possibly be so many incarnations of said books, particularly given how expensive the production costs and subsequent shelf prices are. But disagreed—or perhaps despaired—because regardless of how many there are or how sustainable the market may or may not be, I still can’t find a cookbook for me.

My cooking problems are myriad, and I recognise that my needs are less niche than, well, tricky and a little odd. But I’m putting out my cookbook issues and wish list lest anyone know such a book exists.

I can’t cook.

And I really mean that I can’t cook. In fact, I think any cookbook I create could and should be—to paraphrase from the similarly titled one already around—The I Can’t Cook Cookbook.

Jamie OliverI haven’t the time for cooking.

By the time I’m ferreting around in the pantry, there’s only one thing I want to do: find food and get it in me. I’ve neither the patience nor the blood sugar levels to sustain a two-hour food prep time. In actuality, any food prep time is spent snacking on ingredients so: a) there’s not much left for the actual meal I’m attempting to prepare; and b) I’m no longer hungry by the time said food is ready and it goes to waste. And no, I can’t start earlier. I’m busy.

I lose patience with fiddly, time-consuming steps.

In spite of the fact that I can’t cook, I invariably get part of the way through cooking something and decide that some of the steps and/or ingredients are superfluous. So I skip them. Because clearly, in despite my complete lack of culinary training, I know better. If a recipe’s got more than about five steps, it’s all over.

I only like plain food or sweet food.

This one’s self-explanatory. I need a cookbook that skips anything that could be remotely considered a spice or a distant relative of a spice, and that instead hones in on anything plain or sugar-filled. Yes, this means that I lean towards cake cookbooks. Given my penchant for eating while I cook, cake mixture and I are old friends.

Moosewood CookbookI only eat one food at a time, so I need to be able to prepare it in bulk.

There are some things you don’t really want to be famous (read: infamous) for, but it’s well known among friends that I tend only to eat one food at a time, eat it until its death, and then never eat it again. There was the blueberry muffin phase. There was the sushi phase. There was the vegetable cannelloni phase. I can now neither eat nor even stomach the smell of all three. Regardless, when I was eating them, I needed them to be easy and quick to prep and able to be prepped and stored in bulk. I’m currently auditioning new foods to fill their places.

I can’t cook if I can’t see what I’m cooking.

No, I don’t need glasses—my eyesight’s fine. I need glossy, expensive-to-produce, food stylist-created pictures. For every single recipe. Because if I haven’t got something visual and salivation-inspiring to aspire to, I’m not interested.

MasterchefI’m a vegetarian.

Maybe I should have mentioned this earlier, but I tend to forget that this isn’t how everyone operates. I’m reminded of that the hard way when I forget to order myself ‘special’ meals on long-haul flights. Either way, I don’t eat any animals—that includes chicken and fish (don’t get me started on those faux vegetarians); in short, anything with a face—and things like eggs or dairy only in the smallest amounts, and only then if they’re part of the bigger food picture. Think cheese on a pizza or eggs in a cake, but never on their own or as the primary part of the meal.

I’ve found that the problem with most vegetarian cookbooks is that they assume you live on a commune, grow your own vegies, run your own health food store, have limitless time for preparing things like lentils, which take days upon days to cook, and that you have a fully stocked pantry of specialised vegetarian ingredients. Where are the vego cookbooks for time-poor, inner city-dwelling writers, I ask?

I’m after low fat.

Isn’t everyone? After all, our diets are so saturated with artery-clogging, thigh-expanding fat that if we’re not after low fat, we’re probably in health trouble.

I hate capsicum, eggplant, and herbs.

Particularly herbs. Particularly rosemary, the all-powerful, all-tainting herb that recipe books always seem to contain and that restaurants not-so-conveniently forget to include on their list of potential meal selection ingredients. All three are deal breakers for me, at both cafes and in cookbooks. I realise that I could omit them from recipes, but it’s the principle that matters here. Vegetarian cookbooks are always loaded up with eggplant- and capsicum-featuring recipes with serious helpings of herbs to ‘add flavour’. Purchasing such a cookbook would be like giving the publisher a thumbs up for creating such a horror.

Skinny Bitch in the KitchI haven’t the interest or the inclination to chase all over town for quirky ingredients.

The moment you say ‘vegetarian’, recipe books say ‘expensive, almost-impossible-to-find ingredients’ that you’ll spend days trying to source, will only need a pinch of, and that will spend the rest of its shelf life attracting weevils to your cupboard. Case in point, the Skinny Bitch in the Kitch vegan cookbook. Add in the fact that the hard-to-find ingredients have American names and you have to use Google translation to decipher what they’d be called in Australia and where precisely on this continent you might find them, and you can understand why the book ended up gathering dust on my shelf and I ended up eating rice crackers for dinner.

Sigh.

I realise that this is an eclectic and entirely embarrassing list of needs and tastes and that the word ‘fussy’ springs to mind. Either way, it’s incredible how difficult it is for someone with my tastes to find a suitable cookbook.

I say vegetarian. They say impossible, specialist ingredients + herbs.

I say vegetarian. They say bland, cheaply produced cookbook without pictures.

I say low fat. They say spicy to get your metabolism going and bucket loads of protein, i.e. meat…

Nigella LawsonI mean, forget Masterchef cookbooks—they’re too over the top and too meat-filled. Forget The Cook’s Companion—alluring as it is with its new stripy cover, it’s much too large and overwhelmingly intimidating for a newbie to cooking like me. Forget anything Jamie Oliver-ish—he’s cute and his books are beautifully produced, but they include far too much meat replete with pictures about how to kill it [the cute farmyard animal pictured just a few pages before] and carve it. Forget anything Nigella Lawson-themed. We all know that’s just gastroporn. And forget Moosewood Vegetarian Cookbook—it lacks glossy pictures and is chock filled with tricky-to-find ingredients with American names.

The question is, is there a low fat, plain + sweet, herb-, capsicum-, and eggplant-free, quick-and-easy cookbook for people who can’t cook out there in the market? And if so, can you please tell me its name?