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I really wasn't sure what to expect from this book. Was it a cookbook? A memoir? A book about Big Sur? A celebrity tell-all? Fortunately it wasn't the latter, but for the most part it was the other three all rolled into a beautifully illustrated volume. Romney Steele is the granddaughter of the people who made Nepenthe, a magical place in Big Sur that is part restaurant, part sanctuary, part artist's colony. The Fassett family, who started the first restaurant there, were Bohemian souls with social consciences, more talent than any single family should possess and a great love of good food. They created Nepenthe, making it up as they went along, and true to the idea of if-you-build-it-they-will-come, people flocked there. Henry Miller lived there for a time. Burton and Taylor were guests during the filming of The Sandpiper. Nepenthe became more than the sum of its parts.

Steele is one of the people who helped make it what it is, opening her own cafe on Nepenthe grounds. She writes lovingly of her family and the friends who helped them make Nepenthe so alluring. It's a fascinating history of a place that exists almost outside the stream of time. And woven through the narrative and the photos, a whole lot of recipes that date all the way back to the early days of Nepenthe, with a short history of each one. None of them are terribly complex, and most reflect a sense that simplicity is the essence of great eating.

If, like me, you read cookbooks like novels, and cherish the personal and the quirky when you find it, I think you will love this book.
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There are a lot of "vegetarians" out there these days. Some are vegan, which means they eat no animal products at all, including things like honey. Some are lacto-ovo vegetarians, meaning that they will eat dairy products, but no meat of any sort. Some vegetarians eat fish, and some people who call themselves vegetarian actually do eat meat occasionally. Most people are flexitarians which is really just another way of saying that they're omnivores, but trying to eat less meat. Mostly that's the camp I find myself in, and that's why I value good vegetarian cookbooks, which offer a variety of vegan and lacto-ovo choices so that I don't find myself thinking wistfully of a hunk of moo while choking down some rice and bean concoction studded with rubbery tofu.

I like "New Vegetarian" because there is a variety of recipes here. Many are vegan, and in fact all the desserts are since those who eat dairy products are unlikely to have to pass on any dessert. I have yet to see a pork truffle or chicken torte served as the final course of a meal (Though bacon is finding itself into chocolates. I remain skeptical.) Many of the recipes Asbell includes here are Asian-inspired, though that's hardly a surprise since most Asian cultures view meat as a condiment rather than a central focus of a meal. But inspiration comes from all over. The asparagus wrapped in phyllo and baked looks heavenly, as do the spinach empanadas. However I will also remain skeptical about the substitution of tofu for fresh mozzarella in a caprese salad. However as I still eat cheese, it's not an issue for me. And it's good to know that someone has thought of a vegan option. There are appetizers, soups, salads and main courses as well as the aforementioned desserts, giving the vegetarian user a wide variety of dishes to choose from.

Also included is a short primer on how to get protein on a vegetarian diet. (You need a lot less than you think you do.) and where your vitamins will come from. There's also a page of resources, just in case you can't find certain ingredients in your town.

It's not a dazzling but, but a good, solid resource for anyone who wants a bit more variety in their vegan/lacto-ovo diets. And frankly, it couldn't hurt some of you carnivores out there to give some of these recipes a try. You might even find you like eating less meat. Maybe.

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Tracy Rowan

August 2013

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