Loving Veggies on the Shoulders of Ed Espe Brown

What an exciting time of change, rife with potential. Make no mistake; the Food Revolution is happening all around us. Daily I receive emails from organizations that mobilize and rally against Monsanto’s powerful undertow, from those that are working to reform our broken food system, and from places like GoodFood World that are helping to create healthier foods and a healthier food economy.

From the humble frontline of my own kitchen, I am 2 weeks into the Spring Session of Meatless Monday dinner/classes, year 2. I am learning a great deal, not least of which is the challenge of donning beginner’s mind over and over again. This has caused me to pause and reflect back with gratitude to the role models that inspired me initially on my own food journey…34 years ago.

Cooking with InaWe’re talkin’ circa 1979. As you can see from the picture, these books are old and worn.

But the one that stands out for me from all the books I read in those early years is Edward Espe Brown’s Tassjara Cooking. It is with great affection that I bow to Ed Brown. He was brought to mind most recently by a comment I received in class this past Monday, “I love your relationship with vegetables.” I’ve heard this before. Not coincidentally, I began the first class, first season of Meatless Mondays by showing everyone my copy of Tassajara Cooking, and recommending it for those new to the world of vegetables and vegetarian cuisine.

What I love about Tassajara Cooking is the tenderness and reverence with which Ed Brown discusses everything relating to food and its preparation. Here is a man who has connection with the process, relationship with the vegetables he is cutting, the grains, seeds and beans he is cooking with love and presence. Back in the day, I was taken with his sincerity and struck by the intimacy with which he understood each vegetable.

Cooking Vegetables

Whatever is done will not make a cucumber
more of a cucumber, or a radish more of a radish.
Cucumber is cucumber, radish is radish.
What is done may make a vegetable more suitable
to some particular taste – that’s the usual way,
to see what taste we want. But why not
ask the cucumber, why not ask the radish?
What is the taste it would like to express?

Thirty years ago I was also a burgeoning organic vegetable gardener. (I read Organic Gardening magazine religiously.) So Tassajara Cooking brought me full circle from seed to plate with knowledge that was tangible, gentle, permissive and authentic. Ed Brown wanted me to develop my way with food, not mimic his. His recipes were not set in stone; they were permission slips for exploration, failure, creative expression, and adventure. They engendered confidence in me rather than inhibiting it.

Year after year I gardened and fell in love with the outrageous beauty and flavors of fresh produce. I think I was doubly lucky to not only grow vegetables, but then fall further in love with them through the discovery of cooking and incorporating what I grew. In my Meatless Monday classes I try to encourage such confidence through humor and creativity, permission to do it their way by adding or subtracting ingredients, taking shortcuts and season food to suit themselves. Failures are another opportunity to learn from and patience for the process is encouraged.

Tassajara CookingI know there are countless good books available today on healthy eating, written from multiple perspectives. Eating has become so much more complex, fraught with all of today’s political, agricultural and environmental problems. Add to that society’s general disconnect from most food preparation. We often don’t like that it takes a little time and effort to make something real.

It took me years to develop the easy relationship to food and eating I now own. It is a wakeful process that comes alive through the engagement of our senses, every time. Smell the uncooked orange flesh of the butternut squash, stop and marvel at the beauty of rainbow chard, taste the peppery tonic in bitter spring greens. The flavor and design of real food in the entire plant kingdom is magnificent. It’s elemental to cook. Enjoy the journey of washing, handling and cutting real food.

With gratitude I stand on the shoulders of all those who illuminated the path before me as I walked. Special thanks to you Ed Brown, for the Tassajara Cooking book. Your light still shines within me as I help to illuminate the path for others. And I still recommend your book.

Get your copy (a much newer reprint) of Tassajara Cooking here. Indie Bound will connect you with an independent bookstore on the street or online where you can buy this book.