Local resident Red Willow reflects on her ambition to encourage variety in cooking and eating, a seven-year adventure which has led to the publication of her vegetarian cookbook, inspired by the seasons
May I introduce A Year of Veggie Adventures? Four scrumptious seasons of palate-pleasing pleasures. She is peppered with poetry, tall tales, handy hints, elegant scenes, and spans 17 countries of truly delicious dishes.
My intention was simply to encourage variety in cooking and eating. Although the tide is now turning, cookbooks, magazines and TV shows previously put a lot of emphasis on meaty cooking.
Ever since I first began eating out in the mid-90s, I noticed restaurants and pubs always lacked any decent vegetarian food, often offering just one ‘option’, and that was usually mushroom risotto or vegetable penne pasta. Unbelievably, I still sometimes see those on the menu!
Being a chef, and a curious traveller, I knew there were so many more ingredients that were being ignored. In conversation, I found many people were unwilling to widen their food choices due to having no knowledge of how to use grains, beans, vegetables, spices and herbs. I also noted that cookbooks had become more about the photographic styling than the food. The current fashion is bold, bright and blocky, with top-down messy Instagram-style photos. There’s also the puzzling phenomenon of that antique-looking spoon that seems to make its way into every photo, sitting in a strategic smudge of the relevant sauce.
Well, I’ve never been one to follow the crowd. My goal was to craft a work of art, something beautiful and inspirational. I intended to express the energetic quality of the seasons and highlight the intrinsic bond between our lives, our food and Mother Nature’s cycles.
It has certainly been an adventure bringing her to life. I began in 2016 and first compiled four separate e-books to sell online before reformatting them all into one file, creating the cover and getting the whole thing print-ready. The cover is just one of the things that make Veggie Adventures so unique. It is a lovely, hand-painted watercolour, with prints and collage, using items found in our garden. This delicate, circular entwining of nature’s gifts spans both sides of the cover. If you open it out, you can see the full glory of the year.
Unusually, the adventure begins in autumn, nature’s most abundant harvest, and cycles through to summer. Every page is seasonally themed with vibes of nostalgia and good times. Also, there are no photos of the completed dishes in the book itself. Instead, I put photos in a gallery on my website, and saved page space for the all-important recipes, over 150 of them inspired by my global travels.
For now, I’m feeling accomplished, but pretty soon, it’s likely I’ll embark on the next adventure.
A Year of Veggie Adventures by Red Willow is available in hardback (£30). For more information, visit wnstd.com/ayova