Cookbook Author Mollie Katzen Begins a New Chapter
When we talked with cookbook author Mollie Katzen in January, she was deep into book number 12, The Heart of the Plate: Vegetarian Recipes for a New Generation, due out in September. During that conversation, Katzen wondered if this might be her last cookbook.
Lisa Keating Mollie Katzen
"The first time you talked to me, I was actually working on the book. I was in my grumpy author mode. Now I'm in -- 'Whee! I finished the book!' -- mode," Katzen said during a recent phone interview.
It's understandable why she might have experienced a touch of cookbook fatigue, having spent the last three years testing and re-testing dishes. The just-completed book, contains some 300 recipes. At one time, there were even more.
"The book got bigger and bigger and bigger, because I was thinking, if this is my last hurrah, I want to make sure I've said everything I have to say," Katzen told us this week. "Lo and behold, it got too big and unwieldy and unaffordable. So my editor and I took out a handful of recipes, and I thought, 'Oh no! I like these recipes, now what am I going to do with them?'"
The solution is to eventually publish the recipes on her website, which she is redesigning. In addition to creating all the recipes, Katzen did the book's photography and collages. In between, she continued to pursue other interests, such as music, painting and public health projects.
Katzen, 62, grew up in upstate New York, "in the same kind of American cuisine kitchen that a lot of people my age did, where dinner was a piece of meat and some sides. " She started working in restaurants as a teenager and eventually, food became a passion, as well as a way to support her music and art.
She studied oboe and piano at Eastman School of Music (and she still practices piano every day, usually while she waits for something to bake.) Katzen also studied at Cornell University and at the San Francisco Art Institute. Her interest in vegetarian food was awakened by her involvement in international folk music and dancing, where refreshments at parties were ethnic foods of different regions. "It was through that, that I discovered what interesting non-meat options there are," Katzen said.
But Katzen is quick to clarify that she has never been anti-meat. In fact, one of her cookbooks, Get Cooking, includes meat recipes. This book was written for her son when he graduated from college, so he could learn to prepare some of his favorite fast-food meals at home, in a healthy and sustainable way.
Still, there's no question that Katzen is primarily known for her contributions to vegetarian cuisine. She's been credited with changing the way many of us eat.
"It's very flattering, and it's very nice. It makes me feel like I've done something worthwhile. But I stand on other people's shoulders. I was very much influenced by people who came before me. I owe a huge debt to Frances Moore Lappe (Diet for a Small Planet) and Anna Thomas (The Vegetarian Epicure). "
Katzen was one of the founders of the Moosewood Restaurant and Collective in Ithaca, New York in 1973. She sold her shares in that enterprise in the late 1970s; there are now two distinct Moosewood identities. One is the collective and restaurant, and the other is Katzen and her Moosewood Cookbook. She self-published the very first version of that signature cookbook.
"Word got around that I had sold several thousand copies of this homespun, hand-lettered little book out of my station wagon, in a small town, and was getting orders from all over the country. It was one of those word-of-mouth things, before the internet," she recalled. "Ten Speed Press saw that and saw some value in it for them, (which, in retrospect, turned out to be an understatement). They paid me to do a bigger version with the same informal, quirky, hand-done approach. I couldn't believe they wanted to let me do that!"
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