To begin with, there are beautiful photos throughout the book, unlike many vegan cookbooks which only have a color section. I work in publishing, so I know exactly why it’s not feasible to have color photos throughout a cookbook for a specialized audience, but I still like to see them as a reader. Another thing that I love about the book design is that each chapter has a table of contents. This makes it so easy to browse through the recipes or find a specific recipe.
The introduction walks you through Christy’s food philosophy, which is largely based on her macrobiotic training at the Natural Epicurean Academy of Culinary Arts here in Austin. I admit, this part of the book wasn’t for me. I’m not looking for my food to make me blissful, and I’m a bit skeptical of some of her health claims. If you’re firmly in the science-based nutrition camp, I would skip to the end of the introduction where Christy included photos and directions of how to make basic knife cuts like chiffonade and julienne. The visual along with the directions is perfect for beginner cooks.
Even though I didn’t care for the nutrition information, this is actually a great cookbook for most people on special diets. The recipes are all low-glycemic index, which is good for us diabetics. Many of them are gluten-free, soy-free, oil-free, or raw, and these recipes are flagged with symbols for easy identification. And there’s an emphasis on nutrient-dense foods. Anyone on a special diet for health reasons should absolutely pick up this book. It’s also a good buy for people interested in a whole foods-style of cooking, since Christy cooks by season, sweetens all her recipes with maple syrup or brown rice syrup, and uses whole grains.
Of course, these same qualities might be a downside for some people. Some recipes use harder-to-find ingredients like barley flour and coconut palm sugar. I’m certain I can find these things here in Austin, but if you only have access to a small grocery store with limited options, you may need to order some ingredients from the Internet or substitute something easier to find in order to make these recipes. This also isn’t a cookbook for picky eaters. Or at least my picky eater. And if you’re on a budget, know that some recipes contain as much as half a cup of maple syrup.
I took the book out for a spin and tried three recipes. First up were Sage-Infused Polenta Fries. This was a bit of a test for me since I’ve never successfully made firm polenta. I eat soft polenta all the time, but for some reason, I can never get it to firm up well. While my polenta fries aren’t as pretty as the ones pictured in the book, I’m enormously pleased with how firm they got. The recipe was really specific about how thick the polenta should be before you let it cool (the spoon needs to be able to stand up in the pot), and I think that made all the difference.
To go with the polenta fries, I also made the Cashew Garlic-Aioli, which contains nuts, coconut milk, lime juice, coconut oil, and a few other things. From the name, I was expecting a garlicky sauce to go with the fries, so I was a bit surprised when I dipped my first fry in the aioli. I liked it a lot, but it just didn’t go with the sage-flavored fries. Between the lime juice and coconut, it tasted very tropical. I ended up saving the aioli for another day, and it went perfectly with sweet potato fries. It was very creamy and held up well in the fridge.
The final recipe I tried was Chewy Trail Mix Bars. This one was a success with even my picky eater. Even though there’s a good deal of sugar in it (in the form of brown rice syrup), the almond butter, puffed brown rice, and oatmeal made this something I was happy to eat for breakfasts and snacks. And it made so much that the two of us weren’t able to finish it off in a week. Next time I make it, I’ll cut the recipe in half.
If you’re in Austin and you’d like to get a signed copy of Blissful Bites, head to Counter Culture on Saturday between 4 and 7 PM for a book release party. There will be samples of recipes from the book, cupcakes from Kristen at Sugar-Skull, and beer available by donation. And 20% of the proceeds from the book and all the beer donations go directly to Sunny Day Farms.