Interview with Joe YonanAugust 26, 2013 by Lindsay
Joe Yonan – a transplanted Texan – is the Food and Travel editor of The Washington Post, where he’s been since 2006 after moving from Boston. At the Post he authors the “Cooking for One” column, which formed the basis for his first cookbook, Serve Yourself: Nightly Adventures in Cooking for One. Since then, he’s found himself becoming almost entirely vegetarian. In his new book, Eat Your Vegetables: Bold Recipes for the Single Cook, he explains the process along with new recipes.
He talks to us below about how the readers from his first book inspired the source material for this book and, we’re pleased to announce, has offered a free copy to EYB members. Just comment on the cookbook giveaway blog to enter.
Just like recipes, cookbook ideas come from all sorts of places. The spark for my latest cookbook, Eat Your Vegetables, came from the questions and reactions I got from readers of my last book, Serve Yourself, while I was promoting it.
The two most asked FAQs? “How easy are these to double?” and “How much of your book is vegetarian?” The first was simple to answer: Very easy, of course — and they also make good side dishes, or can be in many cases be split between a couple with the addition of a salad or the like.
The second one took me a little bit more by surprise. I hadn’t really set out thinking the book should be this much meat, that much seafood, this many vegetables, but instead merely wrote about the way I like to cook, and tried to think about categories of food (sandwiches, soups, pizza, tacos) that I thought would appeal to single cooks. But when I counted, I came up with something around 60 percent vegetarian.
I realized two things. First, my own cooking — even as someone who grew up around chicken-fried steak and barbecue — was more veg-friendly than I had given myself credit for. Second, as I talked to these readers it struck me that so many of them were interested in single-serving recipes even if they weren’t single, because they were the only vegetarian cook in the house. Now, of course plenty of people, thankfully, are in households and relationships in which the carnivores are happy from time to time, or perhaps even regularly, to eat meals where vegetables, rather than meat, star. But others were needing to fend for themselves.
This set off a chain of events that either led to, or at least coincided with, my own move to vegetarianism. When I pitched ideas for a second book project to my editors at Ten Speed Press, they loved the single-vegetarian concept. (Plenty of staffers at TSP, apparently, are in the very situation I describe above.) I, meanwhile, was also mulling a change of pace, wanting a break from my DC job and life after a season of loss: the loss of my community garden, the (even more sudden) loss of my beloved Doberman, and the loss of some work morale in the face of financial cutbacks. So I asked for — and got — a year off to work on Eat Your Vegetables, and to do it in southern Maine on my sister and brother-in-law’s homestead, where they’re trying to grow as much of their own food as possible.
It was an inspiring, exhausting, exhilarating year. I learned the beauty of uni-tasking: spending hours doing one thing over and over until it was completed. That one thing might be hauling manure, or crushing stone, or weeding beds, or collecting Japanese beetles to feed to the chickens, and doing it all without looking at Facebook, Twitter or email for a few hours enabled me to develop a clarity of focus that I found positively meditative and even cleansing.
The work, of course, also involved harvesting and cooking, and here is where Eat Your Vegetables truly came to life. Just as I was feeling my carnivorous cravings fade, my passion for vegetables and how to cook them in interesting ways was exploding, and I couldn’t possibly have had better raw materials to work with. The book reflects that, and I hope it feeds the same passion in readers.
Coincidentally, when I returned to Maine, I picked up the threads of a fledgling relationship, and it has thrived. So now when I hear that other FAQ when promoting Eat Your Vegetables, the one about doubling recipes for a couple, I have even more answers and strategies, born from personal experience. And, naturally, I have some ideas for the next book.
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