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An Open Letter

Dear Friends,
In recent days, a few of you have written to me to express your concern over the VegNews debacle. I am, of course, saddened by the situation. It’s good to know that VN has now apologized. Hopefully it will help heal the damage that has been done to the vegan community by all the divisiveness.  On a personal level, I am also disappointed that “stockphoto-gate” has cast a suspicious light on the covers of my two recent vegan cookbooks, Party Vegan and Vegan on the Cheap. I’d like to share some facts about the publishing industry in general, and my books in particular, to help everyone gain some much-needed perspective:

In my experience, it is written into most standard book contracts that the author has no “approval rights” in the final cover design of a book. Sure, I can tell a publisher what I’d like to see, but they are under no obligation to comply with my wishes. On good faith, I generally trust that a publisher will choose vegan photos to illustrate my vegan recipes.

When my two recent books came out, I didn’t go searching for the stock photo images to see if they were labeled as vegan or not.  I assumed they were. At the same time, I knew it was also possible that certain ingredients weren’t even real food of any kind, since it’s well known that professional food photographers don’t always use real food.  For example, they sometimes use shaving cream to represent sour cream and vegetable shortening in place of ice cream. (I actually think the “feta” on my VOTC cover looks more like little Styrofoam pellets than it does feta, vegan or otherwise.) I simply accepted the photos as representations of my recipes. Now that I’m aware of this issue, I will, from now on, insist that vegan-only photography of my recipes accompany my work.

As many of you know, vegan cooking is my activism.  My purpose in life is to provide vegan recipes to as many people as possible through my books, articles, and other media. I do this primarily for the animals and also to help improve everyone’s health.  I stand by the quality of my work, my books, and my recipes.  I encourage all my fans to please continue to enjoy my recipes in Vegan on the Cheap and Party Vegan—the recipes are what really matter, and the content is 100% vegan. 

As the old expression goes, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater” — don’t punish me, (or yourselves, if you like my work) just because a company chose to illustrate my work with a few questionable photos. I promise to be on guard to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Getting veganism into the mainstream has been an uphill battle for those of us who can consider ourselves veterans.  I’ve been writing vegan cookbooks since the mid-nineties (even though back then most publishers wouldn’t even allow “vegan” in the book titles!) I will continue to work hard every day to make veganism a viable force in this world. Because the VN story has been all over mainstream media, it has already done damage to our vegan community that is only now achieving credibility in this omni world of ours. I implore the otherwise well-meaning people out there to please put this issue into perspective and direct your attention and energies to more important matters. Let’s get back to making great vegan food, helping animals, and living healthier, happier lives. I look forward to continuing to develop and share great vegan recipes. If you have any questions about my work, I hope that you will contact me directly.

Most sincerely,

Robin Robertson

UPDATE:  VegNews has issued an apology. My original letter has been updated to reflect this new development. Maybe we can put this behind us now.

Hoppin’ John

I can’t think of a better way to begin the New Year than making a big pot of Hoppin’ John and collards.  I love starting a year off with this omen of good fortune, but I’d probably make Hoppin’ John even if it didn’t come with the promise of good luck and prosperity in the months ahead.  To me, the wholesome combination of brown rice, black-eyed peas, and dark leafy greens, is a wonderful reminder of just how healthy, economical, and delicious vegan food can be. And making this dish on New Year’s Day is a wonderful affirmation of this.

Over the years, I’ve had fun experimenting with different ways to serve Hoppin’ John.  I usually include chopped cooked collards right in with it (rather than on the side as is tradition) because the flavors are so harmonious and the bright flecks of green add some much-needed color.  I always serve it at least once in the traditional way, with lots of Tabasco and vegan sour cream on the side, but I always like to try something new, too — which is why I make lots. Last year, I made these fantastic collard rolls stuffed with Hoppin’ John. They were so good — and pretty too.

I’m also thinking about making a variation of the Collard and Red Bean Fritters from Party Vegan, using the Hoppin’ John instead of the red beans. Or maybe I’ll just reheat the leftovers — it’s even better the next day.

If you’ve never made Hoppin’ John, here’s a recipe.  If you can’t find fresh or frozen collard greens where you live, you can substitute any kind of cooked leafy greens, such as chard, spinach, or kale. 

Hint:  Cook your rice, collards, and beans ahead of time to save time on New Year’s Day.  Sometimes I even make the whole recipe a day ahead and then just reheat it when ready to serve.
Hoppin’ John

Hoppin’ John is a Southern dish that is said to bring good luck in the New Year. Collards or other dark greens (said to bring prosperity) are traditionally served on the side, but I add them right in. Liquid Smoke adds a salty/smoky flavor, but start out with just 1/2 teaspoon (you can add more just before serving) since it’s highly concentrated and a little goes a long way. As a variation, add some minced vegan bacon or sausage when cooking the onion to amplify the smoky flavor.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large sweet yellow onion, chopped
3 cups cooked or canned black-eyed peas
9 to 10 ounces collard greens, cooked and chopped
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika (optional)
1/2 teaspoon Liquid Smoke
3 cups cooked brown rice
Salt and black pepper
Tabasco, to serve
Vegan sour cream, to serve

Heat the oil in a large pot. Add the onion, cover, and cook until soft, stirring occasionally, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in the black-eyed peas, collards, thyme, paprika, if using, 1/2 teaspoon Liquid Smoke, and stir to combine. Add the rice and season with salt and pepper to taste, stirring gently to mix well and heat through. Taste and adjust the seasonings, adding more salt, pepper, or Liquid Smoke, if needed. Serve hot with Tabasco and sour cream at the table to add at will.

Two Contest Winners and the Best Prize of All

This latest contest has turned up an unexpected surprise. In my quest to give away two copies of Vegan on the Cheap, I asked you to leave a comment completing the sentence “Vegan equals ___.”  I was overwhelmed by the amazing response. Not just in terms of numbers (over 150 comments!) but in the depth of feeling in your responses.

It occurred to me while reading through these comments that it reads almost like a beautiful poem or an affirmation about what it means to be vegan. When I read these statements, I feel energized, even empowered, so I thought you might enjoy reading “Vegan equals ___” in the same way so you can see why I say that the responses I received from all of you is the best prize of all!  By the way….contest winners will be announced at the end of this post!

“Vegan equals ____.”
Vegan equals compassion
Vegan equals good food!
Vegan equals kindness
Vegan equals healthy
Vegan equals delicious
Vegan equals freedom
Vegan equals sharing
Vegan equals victory
Vegan equals health and happiness for all
Vegan equals life to the fullest
Vegan equals clear conscience, harmony, and connection to all beings
Vegan equals positive choices
Vegan equals simple
Vegan equals Consciously Humane
Vegan equals Exuberant! With a lust for life – my own and all other creatures!
Vegan equals happy tummy
Vegan equals a whole new way of thinking about the world
Vegan equals LIFE!
Vegan equals expanding your diet not diminishing it.
Vegan equals Yummy Compassion!
Vegan equals tasty
Vegan equals good
Vegan equals happy!!
Vegan equals exciting new foods!
Vegan equals feeling great, both mentally and physically.
Vegan equals peace.
Vegan equals doing something wonderful for my body, mind, and world around me!
Vegan = Power!
Vegan equals awareness
Vegan equals ethical consciousness
Vegan equals best way to live life!
Vegan equals peace of mind
Vegan equals a way of life
Vegan equals kind choices
Vegan = vibrant!
Vegan equals not eating my friends
Vegan equals energy
Vegan equals the future
Vegan equals variety!
Vegan equals simple and healthy.
Vegan = Equality!
Vegan equals living.
Vegan equals yummy!
Vegan equals truth
Vegan equals choices
Vegan equals inspiration and culinary adventure!
Vegan = Compassion + Conscious + Hunger
Vegan is respect, justice, and compassion
Vegan is kindness, peace & LIFE!!
Vegan equals happiness
Vegan equals a better planet
vegan = no harm
Vegan equal compassionate choices
Vegan equals Bliss.
Vegan equals peaceful, happy, healthy yumminess.
Vegan equals confidence.
Vegan = no body gets hurt
Vegan equal the sum of all that is wonderful and inspirational
Vegan equals harmony
Vegan = Living mindfully
Vegan equals compassion and respect. And great food!
Vegan equals my road to recovery.
Vegan equals adventure
Vegan equals saving 100 animals per year!
Vegan equals breathing space
Vegan equals cheap
Vegan equals smart
Vegan equals a healthy, happy world
Vegan equals healthy body, clear conscience!
Vegan equals understanding and clarity
Vegan equals raising your children to be healthy and ethical
Vegan equals recognizing sentient non-human animals as persons
Vegan equals teaching my children ethics
Vegan equals less suffering
Vegan equals peace
Vegan = a Loving Living!
Vegan equals consistent morals.
Vegan equals creative cooking, colorful eats and vibrant health.
Vegan equals balance
Vegan equals love for all beings.
Vegan equals thoughtfulness.
Vegan = Health and well being
Vegan equals creativity!
Vegan equals a healthier planet.
Vegan equals a better me, a better family, a better world.
Vegan=Love for yourself, the environment, the animals and for the future generations.
Vegan equals fun
Vegan equals joy
Vegan equals beautiful life
Vegan equals a whole new world!
Vegan equals feeling good and having energy!
Vegan equals compassion and peace.
Vegan = mercy
Vegan equals peace, love and happiness
Vegan equals Light
Vegan equals love
Vegan = love
Vegan. Equals. Love.

What do you think? Do you like this as much as I do? (Note: I deleted answers that were duplicates –except for those few at the end).

And now, here are the winners of the Vegan on the Cheap “Double Your Luck” Cookbook Giveaway.

As usual, the winners were chosen by the random number generator (I still can’t figure out how to post an image of that).
The first winner is: Sara whose response was “Vegan equals healthy body, clear conscience!” August 14, 2010 11:46 AM.  (a couple “Sara”s entered, so I’m including the time/date stamp.)
The second winner is: Radioactive Vegan whose response was “Vegan equals delicious!” August 13, 2010 10:39 AM.

Congrats to you both! Please e-mail me with your address and I’ll get the books in the mail to you. Thanks again to everyone who entered. Another contest will be coming soon, so stay tuned. And thanks again to everyone who participated in this contest. Your comments were really special!

I don’t want to leave you without a photo, so here’s one of little Mitski. Cute, isn’t she?

Comfort for Wintertime Blues

Sure, the snow was pretty…the first time. It was even quite magical during the second record-breaking storm of the season. But when a third storm — a blizzard no less — let loose in our area, I was no longer enchanted. I mean, Virginia isn’t supposed to have weather like that!

Well, the good news is that at long last, the snow and ice are finally melting, although not without first bringing our rain gutters down with them.

The only comfort has been to keep on cooking, mostly making hearty soups, bread, and desserts. Anything that spells c-o-m-f-o-r-t. Here are a couple examples — some quick herb bread and vegetable soup followed by a stack of peanut butter cookies. Can Spring be far behind?

Today the wind is howling. I think I’ll make a pizza..

Veggie Awards: Vote for Me!

It’s that time of year again: the annual VegNews Veggie Awards — and I’m happy to say that I’ve been nominated in two categories and would appreciate your voting for me:

“Favorite Cookbook Author”


“Favorite Column” (for my Global Vegan column)

As an incentive to cast your vote, you will have a chance to win fabulous prize packages, including a Tropical Vacation Getaway, a His/Her Urban Goodie Bag, a Vegan Ice Cream Starter Kit, and a Chocolate Madness Gift Box.

Here’s a direct link to the survey.

The polls close July 31 at midnight, and winners will be announced in the November+December “Best of Vegetarian” holiday edition of VegNews.

Short Trip – Great Food

After working practically non-stop for months on my upcoming cookbooks, I finally got away to DC last weekend for a little relaxation. The weather was perfect — sunny and warm with a slight breeze. Much better than summer’s oppressive heat and humidity that will settle in soon enough.

Living in a rural area with limited (make that closer to zero) dining-out options, I end up cooking at home all the time. Not a bad thing, of course, but I do enjoy the occasional break from routine. That’s why anytime we go into the city, one of the highlights is going out to eat. This trip we had some terrific veggie sushi and some great Thai food.

The best meal of the weekend, however, was one we enjoyed on the drive home at a little Vietnamese restaurant in Centreville, Virginia. It’s a cute place and the food was great. Best of all, they have an entire vegetarian menu page and are sensitive to using vegan ingredients — I was assured that they use an all-vegetable broth in their vegetarian pho and that they use no egg or dairy in their vegetarian menu items.

The most difficult part for us was restraining ourselves from ordering everything on the menu. As you can see in the photo, we came pretty close to doing just that. We shared an order of super-yummy spring rolls (which we inhaled before remembering to snap the photo!), a wonderful bowl of pho that contained thin slices of seitan, an addictive banh mi sandwich on fresh crisp French bread, and their “special rice dish” that included a slice of delicious shredded tofu loaf served with broken steamed rice. Everything was super-fresh and reasonably priced.

After our fabulous Vietnamese meal, we stopped at Trader Joe’s, which is just down the road from the restaurant, and loaded our car with all the ingredients that I can’t find in my local supermarket. Now that I’m back home and my kitchen is well stocked, it’s back to home cooking. But I’ll save that for another post.

You Heard the Call!

The response to my call for recipe testers has been overwhelming and I thank you all for your enthusiasm and desire to help. With so many talented cooks willing and able to sign on, I definitely now have enough testers lined up for the next few books! Thanks again for your interest and for all the kind words about my work.

Of Sambars and “Dosadillas”

If you haven’t seen the gorgeous photo of my recipe for red lentil sambar taken by Susan at Fat-Free Vegan, be sure to check it out — she posted the recipe, too.
This particular sambar recipe is in Vegan Fire & Spice and is special to me for several reasons. I adapted it from a family recipe given to me by my dear friend, Sangeeta Kumar, who got it from her aunt Anshu. Another reason is that I now live in an area where there are no Indian restaurants and it’s great to have some yummy Indian recipes handy when I need a fix.

All sambars aren’t created equal. Most of the ones I’ve sampled in restaurants are thin and soupy and usually served with idllis or dosas. When I make sambar at home, I sometimes like to serve it as the main event. In that case, I make it a little thicker and cut the vegetables a little larger, so it turns out more like a stew than a soup. I serve it over basmati rice and enjoy it as a main dish. I usually serve a thinner version when I make “dosadillas” — my quick and easy dosa/quesadilla hybrid that I make with leftover cooked potatoes and tortillas. This photo shows one of my curried potato dosadillas with a side of “soupy” sambar. To make the thinner soupier sambar, you can still use the same recipe, just cut the veggies a little smaller, and add more liquid as you simmer the sambar. Here’s my recipe for “dosadillas.”

Potato “Dosadillas”
South India meets Mexico in this dosa-quesadilla hybrid that I created one day with “on-hand” ingredients. It gave me a quick Indian food fix with a minimum of effort. If you have some leftover cooked veggies that you’d like to add instead of the peas, chop them and mix them in with the potatoes. Use hot or mild curry paste or powder, according to taste. Serve with mint or tamarind chutney, raita, or a vegetable sambar. (Recipe from Quick-Fix Vegetarian by Robin Robertson © 2007.)

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons minced scallions or onion
1 1/2 cups cooked potatoes, mashed (see note below)
1/2 cup frozen baby peas, thawed
2 teaspoons curry paste or powder (or to taste)
4 large whole wheat tortillas

Heat the oil in a skillet. Add the scallions and cook until softened. Add the potatoes, peas, and curry paste and cook until well mixed and hot.

Divide the mixture evenly over half of each of the tortillas. Fold the tortillas over and place them, two at a time, in a large non-stick skillet or griddle over medium-heat. Cook until lightly browned on both sides, turning once. Keep them warm while you cook the remaining dosadillas. Serve them whole to be cut with a knife and fork, or cut them into wedges to eat out of hand.

Serves 4

Note: The mashed potatoes can come from a variety of sources: you can plan ahead and make extra baked or mashed potatoes for dinner the night before. If there was ever a reason to make extra potatoes, this is it. If you don’t have cooked potatoes on hand, you can quickly microwave some, and then simply mash them with a potato masher, adding salt and pepper and a little margarine.

Early Valentines

For me, Valentine’s Day came early this year. I’m feeling the love from how word about Vegan Fire and Spice is spreading around the blogosphere. Check out the great review on Soul Veggie. On Eat Air, you can find a photo and comments about my recipe for Tofu & Broccoli with Hoisin Ginger Sauce. Vegalicious gave VF&S a nice shout-out as did Amy at the VegCooking blog. (Links to these sites are in my blogroll.) In her February newsletter, Vegetarian Kitchen Recipes & News, fellow cookbook author Nava Atlas has posted several recipes from Vegan Fire &Spice. Vegan Yum Yum and several other notable bloggers, have added a link to my new blog to their blogroll – and my blog (and new book) have only been around for about a month! Thanks to all for the great feedback and your kind words – better than a box of vegan chocolates!