health food


Raise your hand if you learned how to cook from Mollie Katzen.

It all started in the late 70’s. I imagine herds of young and hungry people leaving their suburban steak and potatoes homes in search of something new and different for their own first kitchens. They were bell-bottomed, long hair parted in the middle, pre-workout and consumerism of the 80’s, and they found refuge in the little health food stores that popped up here and there. They’d seek them out, breathe in the aroma of nutritional yeast and carob, and feel at home. They stopped eating meat. They started eating brown rice. This was the time before quinoa and spelt, but there were new discoveries behind every heavy door that jingled a bell when you open it. Health food stores were the center of innovation. Spirulina, green and chalky and guaranteed to make you immortal if you could choke it down. Anything with the word “groat” in it. Umeboshi plums to bring “balance”. Vitamins that smelled like health (and health did not smell good).

Maybe I’m just telling my mother’s story again. Or at least how I imagine it, as all the comfort and rebellious choices of those health food stores is in my cells. Maybe it wasn’t as much of a movement as it seems when I want to retell it. Except maybe it is. Because every time I mention Mollie Katzen or the original Moosewood to someone who was born right around then, the reaction is usually the same.

That was the only cookbook my mother had! We ate every single recipe in that book. (and then there is always a line of recipes that spill out in memory, snorted with mixed laughter like milk out of the nose) March Hare. Soy Gevult. Mushroom Moussaka. Rarebit. Gado-Gado. 

And then we nod and laugh about how, when we were kids, we wished our moms made steak and potatoes. We called the crispy part of the egg “bacon,” and we ate vitamin C’s like they were candy. (If you’re out there, you know exactly who you are.)

But then we talk about how the original Moosewood Cookbook has travelled with us since. How although the cover is gone, the binding has miraculously held together. How it is the one book that we return to over and over when we want simple ingredients in our pantry to come together in layered and comforting ways that will make everyone who walks in to the house feel like they’re home. How there is a voice that talks us through it, and that voice belongs to Mollie Katzen even now. How somehow, even though all the health and diet crazes of the last three decades have tried to convince us otherwise, we know that “healthy” food is good, simple food that makes us feel warm and satisfied and so happy we’ve had dinner. She has carried us from childhood up to the way we eat now as adults, and she’s brought us here with kindness, warmth, and recipes that always work.

I have said before that we are divided into two groups: those who stole our mother’s Moosewood when we left home at 18, and those who stole our mother’s Joy of Cooking. It’s oversimplification of course, but there’s some truth to it, don’t you think?

Mollie has written a new book. And it’s for us, especially, as it’s called The Heart of the Plate: Vegetarian Recipes for a New Generation. A new generation! I’ve loved everything I’ve made from it so far, but nothing has topped this perfect chocolate cake, which I’ve made three times in the last two weeks. The page already has chocolate on it, and I assume it will be far more stained when Sadie steals it off my shelf when she moves into her own kitchen. Lucky for me, I’ve got some time with the book before then.

(If you don’t have a copy for your own shelf yet, there’s a great interview with Mollie Katzen over here. They’re giving away 10 copies and last I checked, the odds are definitely in your favor.)




  1. Michael Schneider says

    > “I have said before that we are divided into two groups: those who stole our mother’s Moosewood when we left home at 18, and those who stole our mother’s Joy of Cooking. It’s oversimplification of course, but there’s some truth to it, don’t you think?”



  2. says

    Alana! What a wonderful, generous post – thank you so much!
    And I am your fan, as I think you have figured out by now.
    Mollie K.
    PS – Glad you like the cake.
    PPS – Three times in two weeks? And it’s a big cake….

    • alana says

      Oh, Mollie–thank you for creating another beautiful book! And for stopping in here, too. It’s huge for me. And the cake? Don’t worry too much… I’ve shared every one of them. Even better, the second one I made in a cooking class with middle schoolers, and they each ate warm chunks of cake on the bus ride home. I barely got any of that one. :)

  3. Sophia says

    My mother’s Moosewood cookbook – coverless, stained with beet juice – came with me when I left home and is a beloved companion 10+ years later. She still has her joy of cooking. I think I got the better deal!

    This is a great post (and a great cake! Can’t wait to make it)
    And look at that love from Mollie herself! That’s high praise :)


  4. Dina says

    I did not grow up with molly katsen cookbooks but was introduced when I was working as a nutrition volunteer in Tijuana Mexico. We were 5 American housemates and we cooked elaborate meals from a bunch of the katsen moose wood cookbooks. These cookbooks brought out my love of cooking.
    Thank you Molly Katsen.

  5. Sarah says

    I’m a Joy of Cooking gal when it comes to books on the shelf, but that could be misleading. I grew up on a chair next to the stove, quilted apron and wooden spoon in hand learning how to make savory vegetarian fare. By the time I left home, the Moosewood way of cooking, and many paticular recipes, were part of my DNA. I could make such food by touch, sight, and smell, but I needed recipes to make donuts, beef stew, and cornmeal bacon waffles. Joy of Cooking is on my shelf, but Moosewood is in my blood!

  6. Heather says

    The original Moosewood Cookbook is hard to come by – I was only able to buy the revised edition. Which is still great but people like the original better. It has more fatty, heavy goodness?
    I preordered Molly’s new cookbook, then forgot and one day a few weeks ago it just showed up. Talk about a nice surprise!! It and the few other Molly books I have are sort of a mystery, a little intimidating to me- but yet very simple. I definently was not a child of Molly Katzen cooking and only came by her when someone slipped Salads into a wedding gift 5 years ago.
    I’m totally going to make this cake today, thank you.

  7. says

    That cookb00k-stealing classification system is terrific, and I posit that there’s a third type, a hybrid. (Because I can’t be the only one…)

    These are the type who grew up on Joy of Cooking fare, and then rebelled, going vegetarian at a young age, clutching a tattered thrift-store copy of Moosewood, preaching the Mollie Katzen word.

    (And now? Well, I seem to have tumbled out that earthy hole on the other side of the planet, somewhere in east Asia. In this case that is literally neither here nor there.)

    • alana says

      Ha! Yes, Frances- I’ll take your 3rd type for sure. And somehow the hole to East Asia makes sense, too. Although I haven’t actually made it there physically, it still manages to be my comfort food, too. (Making tofu as we speak!)

  8. Meg says

    When I was 12, I stopped eating meat, and started learning to cook. Mollie Katzen taught me, too. (Although in my case, I bought my own copies––my mother was about Betty Crocker, all the way.) I learned so much from Mollie: how to cook, yes, but also WHAT to cook, how to put together a meal, how to be a host, and even, maybe, a little bit about how to be a mother. Because it wasn’t just about food; it was about loving people by feeding them. Honestly, my path through The Enchanted Broccoli Forest was my path out of a fraught, eating-disorder-riddled family heritage and into my own life. On a rough or uncertain day, its stained pages still comfort and ground me.

    Three cheers for a new book! My cookbook collection is intentionally spare, but this one I probably have to have.

    • alana says

      Agreed, agreed. I might well call Mollie’s recipe for apple honey yogurt custard pie one of my primary parenting documents.

  9. says

    I loved this Alana. My children don’t have to steal my Moosewood Cookbooks, because I’ve already started the tradition of buying them their own copies as they each move out on their own. (Maybe it’s just that I can’t bear to part with any of them!). I’ve just received my copy of Mollie’s new book and I ‘m having a hard time putting it down. It is destined to become a new classic as well. Thanks, as always, for sharing your wonderful perspective. I feel that we’ve all had the chance to connect with Mollie in a personal way!

  10. says

    You guys have No Idea how lucky you were – your Moms HAD cookbooks for you to steal…Mine just had the same 8 recipes (plus holiday extras) on repeat, and then Weight Watchers. I didn’t know the first thing about cooking when I married and moved out!
    Looking through a borrowed copy of Moosewood all those years ago, I was young husband was NOT. 20 years (and one divorce) later, I ‘found’ Mollie again. Can’t wait to get my hands on the new book!

  11. Sara says

    how nice… I was an exchange student in the US, and my American mother gave me the Moosewood cookbook as a gift… I still have it and use it. I love the recipes and the quirky little drawings. And it brings memories of my American family.

  12. says

    I totally stole both of those cookbooks from my mom, but of course Moosewood was a true go-to. I also stole the Vegetarian Epicure (I & II) and Madhur Jaffrey’s World of the East. Eventually I purchased a new and revised version of Moosewood, but had been holding onto my moms because I had colored in the drawings as a child in all of these books.

  13. Laura Cole says

    I grew up eating steak and potatoes but discovered Moosewood at “The Farmacy”,when I went to grad school in Athens, Ohio. The store had the bell just as you described, and I discovered TVP, tofu, and organic products. My copy of Moosewood and Laurel’s Kitchen were both purchased there. Great memories!

  14. Rebecca says

    My mom cooked farm food with no recipes and then went the More-with-Less route in our wheat germ days. (I thought Shaklee carob protein drinks were just like Nestle Quick, heaven help me.) I took my own copy with me when I left home. Mom wouldn’t have let hers out the door. Moosewood says “college” to me. The only couple on our little midwestern campus who got married before graduation gave much-coveted invitations to their house for supper. When I got lucky enough to attend one of their dinner parties, Mollie’s vegetable chowder was on the menu. How delicious and important and, well, married it tasted!

  15. says

    Oh, Alana!

    I love love love this post because:
    1. I adore, on principle, any post titled “health food”, followed immediately by a picture of cake. yes!
    2. yes, mollie katzen WAS my first cookbook! and first teacher in the kitchen. and only, for a long time. still have my first two copies, stained and yellowed and beloved.
    2. we once landed a 25# box of ghiradelli chocolate chips when i was a kid (long story). they sat on our washing machine for years (years!), me pilfering them only to steal away to school, where i would trade them with hipper, hippier kids in my class who got those fantastic huge chewable vitamin c’s from home. their poor parents thought they were getting a good dose of anti-cold meds with lunch each day. instead, they were getting a pile of chocolate … while i scored the “candy”!
    need to track down a copy of this book.

    • alana says

      Ha! I love how the Aceorola Vitamin C’s are making such a star appearance in this discussion. And that you traded chocolate for them! We would have been a good match as kids- I could have kept you in Vitamin C’s every day :)

  16. says

    Hi Alana,
    I grew up in the UK with a mother who cooked from mostly scratch but I don’t recall Moosewood. We had Delia Smith – probably not the same thing at all!
    I do however have your cook book and it’s fantastic! every thing I have tried so far is a winner.
    I’m currently doing the Whole30 and reading the book that goes with it ‘It Starts With Food’. Have you read it? If so I would love to hear your thoughts.
    Popping over to Amazon now to check out this Moosewood thing.

    • alana says

      Hi Emma,
      Delia Smith- I love her cake book! And I’m so glad you’re enjoying The Homemade Pantry, too. I haven’t read ‘It Starts with Food,’ but I know some people really love the Whole30 approach. How has your experience been with it so far?

  17. Michelle B says

    Confession time. I just got the new book myself, and thus far have used it twice. Which is to say I’ve made this cake twice. I promise I’ll try some others, Mollie!

    • alana says

      There’s something about that particular page, right? I keep thinking I should make a soup or “cozy mash,” and then that chocolate cake page opens up again :)

  18. Candy says

    Thank you, Alana, for this post and for linking to the interview and giveaway. I was lucky enough to win one of the copies, and it arrived this morning. Talk about a gorgeous book! I got Betty Crocker from my mom, but thankfully my husband brought Sundays at Moosewood to the marriage.

  19. Heather says

    I made this last weekend despite not having a bundt pan and instead using a round springform pan. I did have to cut the little middle out thanks to not being done – but the rest of the cake was divine! I am procuring for myself a bundt pan so I can make this often! I am also going to try a cupcake version. A big shout out to Mollie (whom I was referring to as “Molly”, in my first post above) for including in the book that the cake could be sliced and frozen for individual serving. Great idea – I wonder if I’ll ever have enough. It’s about the best thing for breakfast ever!!!
    Thanks Alana!

  20. Mary says

    I just made Gypsy Soup last weekend. I’ve learned so much not only from the original Moosewood Cookbook, but from all of the ones that have followed.

  21. Jodie Ross says

    At the risk if repeating a question already asked (I do not usually read the other responses as I feel guilty enough taking time to go through my emails for blog postings) I would like to know if instead of the butter I could use coconut oil. This time of year my kitchen is pretty cold so the coconut oil is very solid but I could soften it a bit by heating water in the microwave and then popping the coconut oil in the warm oven. Would it work as a substitute as I like butter, but I am trying to use coconut oil whenever possible because of the anti-inflammation health benefits. My muffins made with it come out fantastic, and btw, I would use this recipe mixed up for muffins not the cake, Our household is diabetic and so muffins are a more precise measure than a slice of cake, depending on who slices the cake the results could be quite bad. tysm for the great recipe.

    • alana says

      Hi Jodi,
      I think that coconut oil may work, although I haven’t tried it. Olive oil might also be a good substitute here, as olive oil and chocolate go really well together. If you try it, will you let us know how it goes?

  22. says

    I’m laughing… I’m probably close to your mother’s age. (Well – I set up housekeeping in the early 80s, but had started cooking for myself in college in the 70s.)

    I confess, I never had Moosewood (or The Enchanted Broccoli Forest, though I knew them both.)

    The tattered books on my shelf are Laurel’s Kitchen (both editions) and Vegetarian Epicure (both volumes.) I do also have my Mom’s Joy – from the ’40s (long before I was born!) but American Wholefoods was my Big Fat Cookbook.

    I’m amused reading the memories of people growing up with the cooking everyone around me thought was “weird”… I was never actually vegetarian, but what is now called Flexitarian – low meat, lots of beans and vegetables – and never ate spirulina! LOL But I remember having to hunt down Health Food Stores to get tofu (let alone tempeh) or more than a couple of kinds of beans. And whole grains? Who ate them? ( besides me…) Shopping has certainly changed.

    I’m not into chocolate cake, but other recipes in the book look interesting. (Thanks, Mollie, for putting sample pages up on your website so we can see them! I especially like the Stews and Accessories concept.) I’ll have to look for it…

  23. Amy says

    I made so many recipes from the Moosewood cookbook, but use other vegetarian cookbooks now, if you will not take umbrage with my comment, too much butter and cheese in the recipes, disappointed to see so much butter in this recipe when oil could be used, especially in a bundt cake.. I do love your cookbook though, have made so many things in it and keep trying more, going to make the ketchup today.. and maybe try the cake recipe with much less butter.

    • alana says

      Umbrage- never! I’m glad to hear your perspective. This new cookbook of Mollie’s has WAY less butter and cheese- in fact, this cake is a bit of an exception. I think someone mentioned here that they might try it with coconut oil? That would be a neat twist, or something neutral like safflower? And then a gain, olive oil and chocolate are such a good pair…. I think there’s a lot of possibility there. If you try it will oil, I’d love to hear what you did and how it goes.

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