Book Club Tuesday: Now & Again

There are just some people in life that make you want to be a better person — and not through any kind of cajoling, guilt, or other tactics. They lead by example and advocate. I think that Julia Turshen is one of these rare people who looks at the world and doesn’t complain but tries instead to make the world better. I could start my review of her newest book Now & Again by talking about the recipes or the organization of the book but what I will do instead is tell you that (in my opinion) the most important part of the book doesn’t happen until almost the very end. Although I am one of those annoying people who reads the end of every book before the beginning, I promise there’s no spoilers here for in the section Give Back + Do Good she outlines ten ways a person can build a more equitable community through food.

My darling Katie (4 years old) making her first shortcakes

We’re all in this life and this world together, and food is a tangible, wonderful way to connect and share. (288) Sometimes it can be challenging to think outside our situation but after reading through her list I found that there are two way I am already working to support my immediate community of family and friends — “teach” and “show up.” When my daughter climbs up to be beside me at the counter to watch what I’m doing or to help out with making a recipe it’s easy to take for granted the fact that this simple act of teaching her to cook and giving her the opportunity to try things on her own is so empowering for her. While she’s seen me make shortcakes and biscuits before it was with Turshen’s Whole Wheat Berry Shortcakes that she really got to work on the recipe by herself. I helped out with measuring the ingredients but she whisked and then used her hands to incorporate the butter into the dry mix. By the look on her face as she held her plateful of shortcake, whipped cream, and berries I’m sure it’s never tasted as good as when she finally made it. (If you’re new to Julia Turshen and her cookbooks, then try her book Small Victories. This is where she teaches people to become confident home cooks who are able to triumph over the culinary techniques that may hold them back).

Showing up to support someone going through a difficult time is something we’ve all done. A few years ago when my friend had her first baby I filled a box with cookies and granola (food I’d hoped would make it through the mail). It wasn’t until later she told me that the granola really helped her — those late nights that seep into early mornings with a newborn can be excruciating but she said that taking a handful of granola at a time really helped to bolster her spirits. It’s the small things that can mean so much.

Whole Wheat Berry Shortcakes, p. 246

In some ways Julia Turshen is really a maestro of cookbook writers — there are many elements comprising Now & Again — seasonal cooking, menu planning/entertaining, delicious recipes to inspire and make now with the sections following that help to reinvent the leftovers, and most importantly demonstrating that cooking need not be an expensive undertaking. So much information and inspiration  jammed into one cookbook but she manages to harmonize all of these elements to create one of the most universally usable cookbooks. I think she really understands food at it’s core — how we connect to each other and the world around us. But what sounds like an esoteric discussion is really a practical one — what am I going to make tonight and how will I deal with the leftovers?

Open-Faced Meatloaf Melt, p.199

The book is organized into seasons (Autumn, Winter Spring, Summer), with each season having related menus. The sections that follow each menu called “It’s Me Again” are a clever way Turshen reinvents those elements of any particular menu. Take her Just My Type of Dinner menu (salad, meatloaf, and mash) — the Confetti Meatloaf (I made this recipe vegetarian by subbing in lentils and almond meal) one day becomes tomorrow’s Open-Faced Meatloaf Melt (full of tangy Dijon and creamy mayo with a side of pickles — my mouth waters just describing it). If there had been any Creamy Garlic Mashed Cauliflower or Salad leftover to enjoy I would have definitely tried her soup suggestion (putting the two together in a blended soup). She finds uses for the seemingly unsavable and unpalatable — wilty, next-day salad I’m looking at you — and she works to show us how to really see our leftovers and truly manage how to use all of our food without waste.

Just My Type of Dinner Menu, p. 191-199

While there are menus and suggested uses for leftovers I also felt very free to not make an entire menu. If I wanted to make just one element (the Frozen Watermelon Aguas Frescas or Italian Flag Baked Pasta for example) or if her “It’s Me Again” suggestion sounded particularly good (like the Flatbread Pizzas) I just used that idea. Inspiring, accessible, and delicious — this cookbook lacks any pretentiousness and is one that can appeal to many different levels of home cook.

When it comes to sourcing ingredients I don’t think there is anything you couldn’t get at your local farmer’s market or grocery store. Turshen takes humble and even overlooked ingredients and makes them into a dish to celebrate and savour. Take her Iceberg Wedge Salad with Pickled Shallots — is there any vegetable more scorned or overlooked than Iceberg Lettuce?? You can practically hear it screaming “Marsha, Marsha, Marsha!” from its seat in the refrigerated case at the supermarket from constantly being ignored (like a middle child) for more interesting leafy vegetables like Romaine, Spring Mix, or Spinach. I’m here to report that this recipe compelled me to buy the first Iceberg Lettuce I’ve purchased in years (and, having enjoyed this salad so much I’ve made it several times since I got this cookbook). While this book has meaty recipes there’s much to offer vegetarian and even vegan cooks with recipes that kin to these diets or some of the other highly-adaptable recipes (I made the meatloaf “meat”loaf just by subbing in my favourite animal-free ingredients.)

Tushen’s ingredients and recipes are also highly influenced by her wife Grace — the special dishes she makes for her and how those recipes (like her original Happy Wife, Happy Life Cake from her first book) changed when Grace was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Even her recipe for Raspberries and Cocoa Whipped Cream is a way to address the change in their diet after the diagnosis — learning how to be inspired by adversity and adapt. Her love for her wife permeates the book in a very real and touching way. Another example of how food connects us to the people in our lives.

Iceberg Wedge Salad with Pickled Shallots, p. 105

I think for anyone familiar with Turshen’s work Now & Again is full of her stories, passion, and love just like her other books. Whether you discover new go-to recipes or are inspired to see leftovers in an entirely new way I think this cookbook is one to keep handy. It’s like she says at the end of her introduction — Connection and change happen at the table — which is what she’s encouraging us to do. If you’re curious to see what I’ve been cooking up checkout my custom Instagram hashtag #eatworthynowandagain or my dedicated Facebook post. It’s on these links that you’ll see the Crispy Scallion + Sesame Pancakes or the unassuming dish of “comeback” sauce accompanying the sweet potato fries and you might wonder how I was even able to decide which recipes to highlight in my review when they all look so good.

Raspberries and Cocoa Whipped Cream, p. 197

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Raincoast Books and Chronicle Books for providing me with a free, review copy of this book. I did not receive monetary compensation for my post, and all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.

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