A Meat-Eater's Love for Vegetarian Restaurants and Cookbooks
I am not a vegetarian, although I have flirted with it many times over the years, as I have also with veganism. The lifestyle is not for me, but I do love good and varied food, and I do love to cook. So I treasure and use my special (and many) vegetarian cookbooks. Some of my fondest restaurant memories also are of eating at vegetarian establishments. I am a sort of closet vegetarian who likes tofu, miso, and grain burgers as much as I like meat.
The Moosewood Collective of Ithaca, New York has been in operation for over thirty years. I have never been to the restaurant, but am a loyal fan of their cookbooks. My most used and probably favourite cookbook of any I own is the Moosewood Restaurant Low Fat Favorites ( it is torn and falling apart, always a testament to a good cookbook), but I have and use many of the others: Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home; Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant; Moosewood Restaurant Daily Special; and Moosewood Restaurant Celebrates.
One of my favourite restaurants is The Naam in Vancouver, BC. Like the Moosewood, it has been serving wonderful vegetarian food for many, many years - more than forty. The restaurant on Fourth Ave was, when it opened, in the heart of Vancouver's "Hippie" area and drew in crowds of people searching for something different - and The Naam provided. Although the menu and food at The Naam has evolved over the years, the meals are still wonderful and filling, and most things are made right there. Everything is good, but breakfasts are to die for.
Grainy breads, pancakes, made-on-the-premises granola, and choices which include tofu and tempeh, lots of fruit, and wonderful omelettes - all are wonderful.
Probably my most memorable vegetarian dining experience was in Greens Restaurant in San Francisco. Unlike The Naam and Moosewood, both folksy and down to earth, Greens was begun and remains a high-end restaurant. It is in the Fort Mason complex, right on the water, and serves exquiste food. I still remember the delicate squash, green bean, and tomato stew and the wonderful cornbread I had there in 1995!
Greens, opened in 1979, was a project of the San Francisco Zen Center and probably was the first "gourmet" Buddhist restaurant in North America. One of the Zen Center residences for students was the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center, which published its own cookbooks by Edward Espe Brown.
I have owned Tassajara Cooking and The Tassajara Bread Book twice in my life. Initially, I bought the books in the late seventies or early eighties, loved them, and used them frequently. For some strange reason, I gave them away in a purge of (mostly) cookbooks in the early nineties. It wasn't long before I missed them both. I was lucky enough to find both, used, in good condition, and in the early seventies editions (not the editions pictured here).
The Tassajara cookbooks, especially the Cooking one is delightful, but not for the faint of heart. The instructions are more musings about food and the Zen of preparation than they are recipes. Brown sometimes lists the ingredients on hand and suggests several different ways they might work together for a meal.
I will continue to cook and serve vegetarian meals from my favourite cookbooks and will eat at The Naam as often as possible. One day, it would be great fun to go to the Moosewood restaurant. Most of all, though, I would love to go back to Greens and San Francisco - you see, I left my heart...!