Cookbook challenge

Those of you who know me from my Facebook days may remember my cookbook challenge.

I started it a few years ago, inspired by a friend who did the first one I’d ever heard of. At her New Year’s Eve party one year, chatting with some guests who were admiring her cookbook collection, she realized she wasn’t using them as often as she would like. To remedy the situation, she set herself a resolution to be completed over the next 365 days, and that was to make one recipe from each of her 100 cookbooks. The challenge included posting a photo and description of each dish on Facebook. In spite of obstacles including limited daylight hours (important for a good photo) at the beginning and end of her challenge, she made it, posting the last few recipes in mid-December.

And what began as a simple can-I-do-it personal dare turned out to be a great way to be an ambassador for veganism. A frequent question vegans get from meat-eating folk is “But what do you eat?” and with this challenge, all her Facebook friends got to see real-life examples of what she actually eats. It turned out my friend had a talent for food photo styling too, so the dishes in her photos looked especially beautiful and scrumptious.

As her challenge got into full swing I realized there were several cookbooks in my own growing collection that I still hadn’t tried, and decided to do a challenge of my own. Since I had fewer books (around 40 at the time) I resolved to make five recipes from each one, but over a longer period of time, with no end date. I was ambitious as I started, even making a bold promise not to buy any new cookbooks until the challenge was done—I failed at this part, seduced embarrassingly soon afterwards by a new superfoods book.

My collection was made up mostly of vegan cookbooks—no surprise there since going vegan is what made me get into cooking in the first place—but I also had some vegetarian ones and even an omni one that came with a set of pastry circles I’d ordered online. But they were all to be included in the challenge, with vegan adaptations as necessary. Most of my books were in English but several were in French, one in Catalan and one in Icelandic (!), which of course adds a fun extra dimension (remember, I’m a translator!).

I focused on one book at a time, posting the cover image first and then adding the photos of the recipes as I made them. In some cases I skipped ahead and made a recipe from another book, but then would save that photo until later when covering the book in question.

In the process of this challenge, which is still technically underway, I’ve discovered recipes that have since become some of my very favorites and have gained a firm place in my day-to-day repertoire (the cheese sauce from Vegan Yum Yum, for example, and the Scandinavian tofu balls from Boulettes et galettes végétales, which I later translated and posted here). The challenge has also obliged me to try recipes that I might not have made otherwise, for example if there was no photo for them in the book, and some of these turned out to be excellent.

For one of the books, Vegana i catalana, I found myself translating from Catalan, which I loved. I wouldn’t do that professionally, but for a handful of recipes for personal use, it was a fun challenge and not too hard since I know French and some Spanish. I posted one of them here on the blog too.

Here are some highlights from the books I’ve done so far…

Lentil crêpes with a garlic-parsley yogurt sauce from Curcuma en cuisine and date bars from Délices déshydratés.

Black rice with soybeans from Kansha and Thai seitan curry from Coco.

Crêpes with dulce de leche and sweet plantains from Viva Vegan! and cashew-stuffed capsicums in a coconut-curry leaf sauce from World Food Café 2.

Fideuada from Vegana i catalana (see my version of the recipe here) and crispy millet and peanut butter buckeyes from Thug Kitchen.

Chocolate-banana crêpes with coconut cream and berries from Rawsome Vegan Baking and potato latkes from Mayim’s Vegan Table.

Fiery fruit and quinoa salad from Salad Samurai and chocolate-orange curd tarts from Pies and Tarts with Heart.

Plum knödels from Mes festins végétaliens and spiced carrot and almond soup from The French Market Cookbook.

Millet balls with orange-arugula sauce from Boulettes et galettes végétales and raw apple turnover from Le Bon cru.

And as I mentioned, this challenge is still not finished! When I began this blog in October 2016 and started working on recipes for it, I had less time and energy for other recipes and sort of put this on hold. But I plan to continue it, especially since I got only about half-way through it (24 out of 40-some books). I will post the results on my Instagram and maybe also on the Red Violet Facebook page if people there are interested. In the interest of completeness, I’ll be posting all the photos from the cookbooks previously covered too. To see them on Instagram, just do a search for #redvioletcookbookchallenge which I’ll include among the hashtags for each of them.

When I’m finally done with the books I already have (there are maybe around 50 now), I’ll have made 250 recipes! So one of the benefits is learning a thing or two: techniques, new flavor combinations, shortcuts and so on.

Another of the eventual outcomes of this challenge will be a binder of my favorite recipes from the challenge (and other favorites from before it) that I’ll create to keep in my kitchen for easy access.

The biggest challenge in this challenge, translating and making ICELANDIC recipes, still lies ahead! Will I be able to pull it off? Stay tuned!

In the meantime, why not try a cookbook challenge of your own? You never know what gems you may unearth from your dusty collection!

DIY gift wrapping

Store-bought gift wrapping has often struck me as a senseless waste, given that it’s usually thrown away after just one use. Of course, it sometimes can be reused without too much social disapproval, for example in a family or among sympathetic friends. But another option is to make your own wrapping paper out of things that were going to be recycled anyway. Not only is it more sustainable and cost-effective, but it’s also a lot more fun. You can select specific images for each gift, either to match one of the recipient’s areas of interest or to hint at the package’s contents. Choosing and matching colors and patterns is also something I find quite satisfying.

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This year, as I set out to wrap some Christmas gifts, I looked through my magazine piles and selected some free publications that I wasn’t going to look at again. These included an old Air France magazine, a Palais des Thés tea catalogue, a free cinema magazine from a local theater, and the summer edition of my district’s magazine (yes, in Paris each of the 20 arrondissements has its own free magazine to keep residents in the know—nice, huh?). Other things that can be upcycled into gift wrapping are brochures from art exhibitions, newspaper pages, comics and even old maps. Anything with interesting colors and visuals can work as long as the paper is thick enough.

I put some Christmas music on to create a festive mood, made myself some tea and began selecting pages.

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Magazine pages are especially good for small items. This particular gift was wrapped with a page from the tea catalogue. I then wrapped a smaller accompanying box with a strategically selected section of a page showing a map of Air France destinations.

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Sésame took a break from his busy day to help out by supervising my work from beneath our “tree” (pine branches in a vase). He approved overall, despite the disappointing lack of cat images.

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Pages from a cinema magazine are especially nice when you’re wrapping a gift for a film-loving friend. For bigger items, you will need to tape two or more pages together (taping them on one side is usually enough). Here you can see that I’ve chosen to leave the ripped edge as is, rather than trimming it, partly because cutting it would mean losing part of the image, and partly for an artisanal deckle effect. For this kind of homemade item, precision and perfection are actually not what you want.

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The item I was wrapping was too big for just the two magazine pages to cover it, so I added more to the top, choosing contrasting colors. Keep in mind that the edges will not be visible once the paper is folded around the gift, but with some maneuvering you can probably get the right part to show.

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Finally, add some colorful ribbons and possibly some washi tape, and you’re done!

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