The only cookbook I’ve used for as long as I've used my 1975 copy of Joy of Cooking, is The Moosewood Cookbook, circa 1977. In case you’re not familiar with the cookbook, it’s the artist-illustrated, not-quite-100%- vegetarian cookbook based on recipes from the eponymous restaurant in Ithaca, NY.
Started in 1972 as a collective, Moosewood Restaurant, and later the cookbook, became a popular brand of eating, defined by healthy and conscious. This was way before there was Whole Foods.
The cookbook is written by Mollie Katzen, one of the original founders of the restaurant. The collective has gone on to publish many other cookbooks,
and Mollie has gone on to write scores of books about cooking.
Like millions, I came of age in the kitchen with Mollie and The Moosewood Cookbook. I loved the pictures she drew to accompany the recipes, and I loved all the cheese--there is cheese in everything. I still consult it now and then when I can't remember the sequence of steps in making lasagna.
Mollie is listed by the New York Times as one of the best-selling cookbook authors of all time, with over 5 million books in print! She is attributed with changing the way we eat. Her citation in Wikipedia states that she is “largely credited with moving healthful gourmet food from the fringe to the center of American dinner plates…”
I had no idea she was that good. (She’s also a consultant to Harvard University dining, and the architect of Harvard’s Food Literacy Initiative, and holds a charter seat at the Harvard School of Public Health Nutrition Roundtable--all of which makes me feel really bad about what I've been doing all these years).
I’ve heard (although I can find no substantiation of it) that Mollie, and not the collective, gets all the credit for “changing the way we eat.” Needless to say, she and the collective parted ways some time back.
The point of all this is to tell you that last week I went there--to The Moosewood Restaurant in Ithaca, New York.
As many times as I've pulled out that cookbook and prepared it's recipes I had never been to the legendary restaurant, this restaurant that launched a movement, mainly because you kind of need a reason to travel to Ithaca, like maybe you're a student at Cornell or at Ithaca College, or you have a child who is.
I had neither excuse.
But I do have a daughter who was in a production of "Dear Friend Amelia" at The Kitchen Theatre,
and for that we journeyed to this outpost.
I was a little disappointed in Moosewood, the restaurant. Maybe after all these years the legend had been built up to an unsustainable level.
It was pleasant enough. It was 5:30 on a Saturday afternoon in February. Outside the snow was falling softly. The interior of the restaurant was warm and sparkling with fairy lights.
But I wanted it to be a little edgier. In 1973 it was edgy. For 2011 it seemed ordinary.
I really can't remember what we had to eat. It was good, don't get me wrong. And it was healthy, for sure.
But I missed Mollie. I realized I was looking for 1977 Mollie Katzen in 21st- century Moosewood; for some remnant of the spirit of that funny, iconoclast of the first cookbook. It was nowhere to be found in the restaurant.
Oh well, a minor disappointment really, in the scheme of things.
After almost 40 years in business, the restaurant must be doing something right.
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