Cookbook review: You Won’t Believe It’s Vegan!

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(I am way, way behind in my cookbook reviews and I’ve been getting more and more to review — three just last week! — so this is the first in what I hope will be a frequent series of catch-up reviews.)

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With so many great vegan cookbooks on the market, it’s easy for some to slip under the radar and get overlooked. Lacey Sher and Gail Doherty’s You Won’t Believe It’s Vegan! is one of those books surely due to a poorly chosen title that not only infers inherent poor quality of vegan food but also brings to mind stacks of overstocked, generic $5 cookbooks in a bin in front of Borders.

But guess what? This book is anything but generic. In fact, it’s often downright inspired.

Sher and Doherty may be known to vegans in the Northeast as the owners of New Jersey’s Down to the Earth, an organic vegan restaurant that they ran until 2006. Their 2008 reprint of their 2007 Down to Earth Cookbook falls neatly between an accessible everyday vegan cookbook and a gourmet cookbook like The Artful Vegan. The recipes are all within the reach of most home cooks, but combine to make dishes with an impressive complexity that isn’t always immediately obvious.

Our family’s tried a number of recipes so far. Among them, two soups: a filling Mediterranean Lentil Soup and an amazing Potato-Leek Soup with Lemon and Dill that far surpasses any other Potato-Leek soup we’ve tried. From the salad section, we enjoyed both the easy-but-satisfying Chickpea Untuna Salad and the Quinoa Salad with onion, peppers, and corn. Also, thumbs up for the tasty Tofu Hot Wings with Ranch Dressing. They definitely bring the flavor.

The most interesting dish we’ve encountered is the “Love Bowl,” a giant dish of layered brown rice, black beans, greens, and marinated tempeh, topped with scallions and sesame seeds. The recipe says “serves one,” but it’s huge bowl that is hearty and filling for two people, easy. (My notes for this one indicate it could have also been titled “A Bowl of Things Ryan Would Never Have Eaten Ten Years Ago.”)

The only not-so-great recipe we tried was the falafel, whose texture and flavor were off and not what we were hoping for. Thankfully things like the pizza and easy Raw Cashew Cheese recipes made up for the one subpar recipe.

You Won’t Believe It’s Vegan! features 200 recipes divided into breakfasts, drinks/juices/smoothies, sides, soups, salads, sandwiches/wraps, appetizers, entrees, raw/live foods, desserts, and there’s even a section for kids’ food. Beyond what we’ve tried already, I look forward to trying out their Chickpea Socca, Tortilla Torte with Creamy Pumpkin-Seed Pesto, and of course the entire dessert section.

Sher and Doherty’s book is a pleasant surprise that proves the old adage, don’t judge a book by its title. Or something like that.

You Won’t Believe It’s Vegan!
Lacey Sher and Gail Doherty
Da Capo Press
978-1-60094-070-5

Doin’ the Pigeon

Scientific American‘s 60 Second Science recently featured another interesting animal story titled “Birds Bop to Beat.” Reporter Karen Hopkin describes how some birds, especially parrots, may be able to groove to music, suggesting that “neural circuits for vocal learning may also enable moving to the beat.” Below is the transcript.

Forget “Polly wanna cracker.” Polly wants to boogie. Or so say scientists in a pair of papers in the April 30th issue of the journal Current Biology. They found that some birds, especially parrots, can bob their heads, tap their feet and sway their bodies to a musical beat.

It’s long been thought that dancing is a uniquely human hobby. Chimps don’t move to the groove. And when was the last time you saw Fido or Fluffy shake their furry booties? But Snowball the cockatoo is another story. That bird’s got rhythm. Researchers found that Snowball can adjust the tempo of his dance moves to coincide with the speed of the music. In this study, the tune was “Everybody” by the Backstreet Boys, one of the cockatoo’s faves.

But Snowball’s not the only bird who likes to boogie. In a separate study, researchers searched YouTube for videos of dancing animals. Of the 1,000 they turned up, only 15 critters actually moved in sync with the beat. Fourteen of those were parrots, one was an elephant. Pachyderms, parrots and people are all vocal mimics. So the neural circuits for vocal learning may also enable moving to the beat.

Of course, I always knew that birds could get down.

Also interesting, an article linked below the podcast, “Bird Brains: Are Parrots Smarter Than a Human Two-Year-Old?

New look

I was getting really tired of the old template, so I installed a new one. There’s definitely tweaking to be done, so let me know if anything looks particularly awry.

The Race Report

Sunday marked the sixth annual Poplar Spring Run for the Animals. I’ve run this race each year, the first one just a couple of months after I’d started volunteering at the farm. I look forward to the race, hills and all, every year.

This year, my cheering squad was in Charlottesville for my brother-in-law’s graduation from UVa (congrats, John!), but I had the distant cheers of many generous sponsors in my head. We managed to raise $500 for the farm, so big thanks to Bahar, Barabara, Brandi, Chris, Deb, Katherine, Leeann, Mary, Michelle, Natala, Sunil, and Mom and Dad for the support!

I finished in just under 25 minutes, averaging about 8 minutes a mile (official time was a few seconds more), which for me was a big win. I’m not a hardcore runner and the course itself is really hilly, so I’ll take that time any day of the week. It was more than a minute faster than my previous best for this race, which was good enough to place to me 55th out of 320.

It was another great event for the farm — over 300 runners (plus quite a few walkers), great vegan eats after the race, and it was by far the greenest race I’ve ever run.

Race results are here and a few photos have been posted.