This installment of the Vegetarian Kitchen: Cooking with Creativity & Soul may be my favorite. As always, I will share some of my favorite cookbooks, music, chefs, etc. to help spark new ideas and inspiration for the kitchen but it is my hope that this installment will especially encourage you to explore the history of African American foodways. As promised, this series will not always focus on vegetarian cooks and cookbooks. Instead, those featured in this installment (Michael Twitty and Chef Jeff Henderson) are both inspirational culinary figures who will spark creativity in any type of kitchen. Enjoy!
1. A-Trak– Landline featuring GTA. Warning: The Tuna Melt EP is obviously not vegan friendly (go figure). In fact, the EP’s trailer (watch below) follows the journey of canned tuna as it is prepped for a tuna melt in what appears to be a small, apartment-style kitchen. Tuna aside, Landline is a great song to set the creative juices off in the kitchen. While A-Trak’s music is more electronic/house than it is “soulful”, the upbeat tempo and Woody Woodpecker sample will lift the spirits of any cook in need of a new sound. Listen to the track on Soundcloud or purchase the entire Tuna Melt EP on iTunes.
2. This past summer, I was introduced to the history of the wooden spoon in an online Slate article. According to the piece, “Since the moment of its invention, the wooden spoon has been integral to an impressive variety of cultural traditions.” I was also impressed to learn the importance of the wooden spoon in traditional African American cooking. In fact, African American culinary historian Jessica B. Harris named a book after the popular kitchen tools! Interested in wooden spoons? For the DIYers, check out ‘Carve Your Own Wooden Spoons’ in The Kitchn. Otherwise, Kitchen Kapers, the kitchen tools and appliance store with locations in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware, is a great place to purchase wooden spoons.
3. “Writer, culinary historian, and historical interpreter” Michael Twitty, needs no introduction. Twitty has emerged as a respected expert on African American foodways and history amongst our generation. His projects, Afroculinaria.com and TheCookingGene.com, are both filled with rich collections of photographs, videos, and interviews that illustrate African American culinary culture and history. I’d be remiss not to mention Twitty’s recent experience in the cotton fields at Chippokes Plantation State Park, Surry County, Virginia. In a blog piece entitled ‘The Cotton Kingdom: A Photographic Essay’, Twitty recreates a vivid visual of what life was like for enslaved Africans who worked sunrise to sunset picking “southern snow”. Be sure to check out Twitty’s projects for full accounts on his experiences studying and recreating African/African American culinary experiences and traditions.
4. America I AM Pass It Down Cookbook (Contains animal based recipes): Growing up, Saturday mornings were always the highlight of the week. While my friends were satisfied with ‘One Saturday Morning’, I was more impressed by the large breakfast that my grandmother prepared religiously. At the time, bacon, eggs and grits were the norm, but the standout dish was my grandmother’s Apple-Cinnamon cake. (My mouth is watering just thinking about it!) Sadly, the Apple-Cinnamon cake was laid to rest with my grandmother in 2004 after she lost a long battle with colon cancer. As with many of her “signature dishes”, none of them existed outside the realm of her mind. For families (like mines) who do not keep track of recipes, The America I AM Pass It Down Cookbook plays a large role in recreating our ancestors favorite dishes. Edited by Chef Jeff Henderson with Ramin Ganeshram, America I AM Pass It Down Cookbook includes 130+ recipes submitted by respected actors, teachers, historians, and cooks/chefs (including Michael Twitty). Many dishes are accompanied by short stories and historical commentary to help the reader understand the origins of the recipes. The cookbook is a spin off of the award winning America I AM exhibit sponsored by Tavis Smiley. *Most of the recipes can be altered to fit a plant based diet*