yummy sauce

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Last week, our big bookshelf in the den spit a book out at me. It’s more of a pamphlet than a book really, from that time when self-publishing meant typing up a book and taking it to a printer for stapling. I’m not sure if I’d ever seen it before, although someone must have shoved it in there. But right then, I sat down on the floor and read the entire thing from yellow cover to cover.

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When I was two, my mother and my father split up. My father took off (never to be heard of much again) and my mother and I went to join a New Age spiritual choral group called On Wings of Song. She was 25. (I know I’ve told this story in bits and pieces, and this will just be another bit.) On Wings of Song existed alongside a conference center, Spring Hill, that served as home and work and base camp for the principles of the group, which were, in my toddler memory, to “keep the heart open”, wear lots of purple flowy clothes, and have a guitar ready at all times. My mother worked in the kitchen of the conference center, and she and the women in the kitchen churned out vegetarian meals for the conference goers. They made this cookbook available to people who asked for it, people who, I imagine, had their mind blown by tofu balls and baba ganoush and wanted to bring the culinary wisdom home with them. Krishnabai, another member of the group who I half-thought was Crystal Gale because she had red hair down past her butt, brought the recipes together and wrote the introduction.

Spring Hill cooking is an allegory for all the work we do at Spring Hill. We take known techniques, common ingredients, and create MAGIC! And we all love magic.

…We offer this little book to these of you who have asked so often for it. WE hope this contributes to the nourishment and abundant love which is the birthright of us all.

I’ve been trying to find the words to explain the hunger with which I have devoured this book this week. There are 51 recipes collected from the small group of cooks. The majority of the recipes feature tofu as the main ingredient. There are family recipes, results of happy tofu accidents in the kitchen, and a whole lot of what I’m fairly sure are lifts from the Moosewood Cookbook. Amidst the typed recipes are hand-drawn illustrations of flowers, bursting suns, and little vines in my mother’s recognizable style. Some of the recipes do indeed come from my mother, and she introduces them with a voice inspired by and devoted to Mollie Katzen. Take, for example, my mother’s recipe for “Open Faced Apple-Cheese Sandwiches,” which begins like this: Here is an idea for an unexpected and delicious sandwich. There is also a recipe for her famous marinated baked tofu, in which she gives a list of ingredients and instructs us to “experiment with amounts and come up with a combination that tastes good”. And then there’s a recipe for “Zucchini fruitcake,” which, my mother says, “is passed on from my mother and is a favorite at Spring Hill breakfasts”.

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Of all the recipes in the book, this is the only one that has been written on. And the handwriting? It’s my grandmother’s. It was only when I came to this recipe that I realized that this book came not from my mother, but from my grandmother, who must have picked up a copy on a visit to Spring Hill. My mother had no memory of the book when I showed it to her. It was all blended into the past, just one more piece of history.

There is something specific about a written recipe that’s been tinkered with and scribbled on that flirts with the telling of a story, even the solving of a mystery. I asked my mother about this too– why? why would my grandmother take the little book and change her own recipe? How did she feel about having her recipe in the book? Was she proud of where her daughter had ended up? Was this the book that she pulled out every time she made her zucchini cake?

As to why she had written on the page, my mother had a practical answer. “I guess she just played around with the sugars over the years and reduced them.”

But I want more! I’ve convinced myself that there’s something in that story, and that I have something to learn from it. I am somewhere in these tofu recipes, and, without my grandmother to add her take on it,  I have been struggling to construct my own version. It starts like this:

My mother, looking for community and freedom and a new spirituality, goes off in search of it, finds my strange and charismatic father. My grandparents don’t approve, and- I’ve only found later from my grandfather, his parents don’t so much either. They search for health and spirituality together for a while. They have a baby. The marriage ends, she finds her tribe, learns how to make perfect baked tofu.

At the same time, my grandparents also become vegetarians. They leave suburban New Jersey in search of something else. They refurbish a haunted house, they make zucchini fruitcake, they start a vegetarian bed and breakfast.

I imagine my mother was probably rebelling, but in so many ways, she and her parents were moving and changing in similar directions. Both generations had decided to use food as a tool to navigate through the world, both politically and environmentally. In a parallel way, both my mother and her parents each made a stand. Separately, they stopped eating meat, they discovered food coops and nutritional yeast, and they created communities around that decision. Separately, they made tofu lasagnas and whole-wheat muffins. Separately, they decided to be different than their own parents.

But really, this is all the story I create from here on the floor in den, stained yellow book in my hands.

I heard Mollie Katzen give a talk on the radio show, The Commonwealth Club, last fall. The whole thing is wonderful- she’s a great speaker. But she talks a little bit about her experiences in the earlier years of the natural foods movement, when there just weren’t too many ingredients to work with if you were creating vegetarian food. Scarcity often leads to resourcefulness and creativity, and that’s what created the food in the best natural food kitchens. There’s a sense of freedom and rebellion and wildness in the history of these natural foods restaurants and conference center kitchens, like they were really pioneering a new movement that would change the world. There was nothing so triumphant as sticking it to the man with a brilliant tofu whipped cream.

And where am I in all this? I’m still looking, and I definitely haven’t finished writing this story yet. But I think I keep going back to this period of time because it helps me understand why I feel so deeply that it’s important to make a conscious decision about the food in my life. It helps me see that for me, food has been entwined with politics and religion and forging a path in the world. My way might not involve as much tofu, but, like Krishnabai, I want to “contribute to the nourishment and abundant love with is the birthright of us all”.  I agree. It is.

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There is a recipe towards the end of the book for “yummy sauce.” It combines those few ingredients that were so powerful and revolutionary–nutritional yeast and tamari–with garlic and butter. That’s it. I’ve made it twice in the last week, and it tastes like my childhood, which was many things, but yummy was definitely one of them. It’s especially good on salmon, grains, or steamed or roasted vegetables.

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Comments

  1. Colleen says

    This looks great! So sad that the asparagus I have need to be used today before I have time to go get the yeast! Next time.

  2. Jenn from BC says

    Oh Alanna, it’s so good to see you again! I think I was one of the victims of FB’s “Pick and Choose” game. I haven’t seen a post from you in a long time!

    I will make this sauce tonight. And I would love a copy of that cookbook! It’s home, it’s childhood, it’s memories bound together by paper and staples.

    I’m so happy that canning season is around the corner and with it always comes my renewed relationship with you, my kitchen/family/lovethrufood guru. A sure sign of spring!

    Love from Vancouver Island!

    • Jenn from BC says

      I don’t know where my head is at today!

      I had wanted to say, that I have this very same cook “pamplet” except it’s called “Kilbride Cooks!” and is a compilation of recipes from the neighbourhood that found their way to someone’s typewriter from years of community functions at the social hall. My own mother did not contribute a recipe, she in fact, was the typist and she did it for historical reasons. She saw a significance in the food and it’s preparation as part of the fabric of a community. You remind me of her in that regard with, in my opinion, the permeating effects that your food has with all facets of your life. I’m overwhelmed sometimes when I read your stories and your recipes and your book and your anecdotes by just how important food is to me…it’s creation, it’s expression and it’s place in my (our) personal story.

      In any event, I made it a point in my life to seek out these pamphlets from all of the towns I go into when I travel. I recommend it. Then spend a day getting to know a place right from your own kitchen by cooking it’s food. It will tell you quite a tale! Just like your book does.

  3. says

    Love this. For some reason it reminds me of a conversation I had with my mom, a long time ago, where I was mocking her for always making her own sprouts instead of just buying them at the grocery. She said “Hannah, you have to understand – when I started making sprouts, they were a counter-culture MOVEMENT! You can’t buy that at a grocery store.” :) Can’t wait to try the sauce. xo

    • alana says

      A counter-culture movement! Yes. I love that. And I’ve been trying to pin down whether that’s specific to that particular time, or if there’s are parallels now? I’m not quite sure.

      • says

        I think more than parallels there are maybe roots. Like, in a weird way, we have found out so much more about the food system that is broken than they maybe even realized (or than was maybe broken at that time). They were rebelling against the conformity and corporate backing of those TV dinners, and now we have found out that hey, they’re also really really terrible for you! But when you read, say, Wendell Berry, it doesn’t feel so much like a parallel as a beginning. At least to me. But isn’t it fascinating to find ourselves at the parent point on the continuum … :)

  4. says

    I love these stories. I have a similar pamphlet from Koinonia Farms in Georgia. It’s where I was first introduced to nutritional yeast, hummus, and vegans. I don’t make any recipes from that booklet anymore, but I would never never never get rid of it because of its memories.

    By the way, I’m considering writing a blog post on the addictive qualities of nutritional yeast. We put it on popcorn, mostly, and almost everyone who eats my popcorn comes back to me to get all the details and where do you get that stuff. Most of them are what I would call in my own shorthand “mainstream American eaters.” I think it’s hilarious. Just poured some nutritional yeast in a jar last night to send home with the newest addict. . .

    • alana says

      It’s funny, Margo- I kind of think of nutritional yeast as hippy MSG. It’s that missing magical flavor that just makes everyone eat more! I’ve never met someone who wasn’t seduced by it.

  5. says

    Thank you for the story, and this is our popcorn topping! Well, almost. We use a drizzle of olive oil,a drizzle of tamari, and a sprinkle or two of nutritional yeast. Garlic would be a great addition! Maybe garlic infused olive oil. It also is magic for dipping artichoke leaves into. I always pick up these cooking pamphlets at junk stores and tag sales, they and the half put together quilt squares are the things I find I just can’t resist. In my house, I have a stack that were put together by various naval officer wives clubs my mother was a part of over the years. . .they are priceless for so many reasons including providing my go-to recipe for punch. I make punch about once every 3 and a half years, but, still, it’s good to know you’ve got something tested to rely on when you need it.

    • alana says

      Oh, this would be so good with artichokes- thank you for the idea! We always sprinkle nutritional yeast on popcorn too, but something special happens here when it actually cooks with the butter. I think in this form, it would actually be amazing on popcorn- it’s far more saucy.

  6. Rasheeda says

    Thankyou for sharing your thoughts on you finding the recipe book.You are one of my favourite food blog people,I love to read your blog more than the recipes,though they are good.Keep writing.
    Rasheeda

  7. says

    I love this story here. I do hope you keep writing it.
    My husband’s parents homesteaded a ramshackle piece of land in Canada in the early 70’s called Maplevale Farm. I have a copy of the Maplevale Cookbook, a yellow-covered, stapled together pamphlet with typewritten pages and drawings, created by Dan’s mother. A total treasure, as your mom’s historical cookbook is to you.

    • alana says

      The more I think about all this, Rachel, the more I wonder how many parallel kitchens there were over that decade. Maplevale! One more revolutionary kitchen…

  8. Marsha says

    Hi Alana, I love your blog, recipes and granola. I love this story, you have put into words what I feel about food. Rebelling with food. I rebelled with food as a teen in the 70’s and as an older mother now with a 10 and 14 year old I still am. They hate me because we eat wholesome food. My daughter says “Why can’t we be like everyone else and eat high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oil and dyes”. My answer was “why is it NORMAL and right to eat chemical laden junk food and weird to eat healthy whole food? Is everything in this country reversed?” So as you finally put my thoughts into words I guess we rebel with good food. Hum, this is so wrong. I will keep making them eat and learn about good food and keep rebelling.

    • alana says

      Oh, Marsha- you’ve gotten right to it with this. Sometimes I think food has gotten so heavy, so laden with politics and power, but the truth is- it always has been. We use it as a tool to express how we want to be in the world, right? And when we’re making decisions for our kids (who are, of course, coming into their own natural rebellion) it gets even more complicated.

  9. says

    Are you in Oregon? And if so, for how long? I want to sit down and have a cup of tea with you!

    (Oh yeah, printing off the recipe, we have all the ingredients, of course. wink wink)

  10. Krishnabai says

    Alana, this was an amazing post to stumble upon! A therapy client of mine asked me if I had ever googled myself and I said No. She said – “You should. You’ve had quite a life.” So I did and on page 16 or so, there was my name and a reference to Yummy Sauce! Flashback! Wow! It was weird to be written about, even though you were writing about yourself. In the end, we all circle back to the tribe. Blessings, Krishnabai

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