A few years ago, Michael Pollan famously said
Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.
It’s a concept that is being embraced by more and more people these day. But even though the idea of a plant-based (vegan) diet is appealing, it’s something that many people need a little help getting kick started. It’s why Laura Wright’s blog, The First Mess, is so popular and it’s why her debut cookbook, The First Mess Cookbook will become a “go to” for those seeking an alternative way of eating that doesn’t skimp on flavour or eye-appeal.
Laura grew up picking fruit and selling it at her family’s fruit and vegetable patch and farm market in the Niagara region of southern Ontario, where the “local food movement” was a part of everyday life even before it became a buzzword. She attended culinary school and worked at one of Canada’s original farm-to-table restaurants and launched The First Mess blog after her friends encouraged her to share the delicious, no-fuss, healthy, seasonal food she was preparing. Named for a passage in M.F.K. Fisher’s An Alphabet for Gourmets where she discusses the first planting and “mess” of peas in the spring, the blog features plant-based recipes “that anyone can make and feel good about” and it quickly attracted a large following of like-minded readers. In her own words:
Living simply, cooking, and staying connected to the earth have always been at the heart of fine living for me, celebrating the community and its efforts. A meal is nothing to take for granted, and this blog is a greater reflection of that simple idea.
Laura is a storyteller – both with her words and her beautiful photos. Her blog has received a number of awards and a book was a natural extension of the stories she shares there. In The First Mess Cookbook, Laura presents 125+ produce-forward recipes that showcase the best each season has to offer and demonstrate that plant-based eating and wellness is not only delicious (and beautiful!) but also accessible.
Each recipe is labelled with symbols to help you navigate dietary restrictions (gluten-free, oil-free, nut-free,no added sugar, cane-sugar free) and while the recipes themselves do not specify prep or cook time, there are notes if the recipes require additional time (such as for soaking ingredients) that needs to be taken into account. The book is divided into the following chapters: Mornings and Breakfasts, Soups and Stews, Salads and Dressings, Hearty Mains and Big Plates, Vegetables and a Couple of Grains, Energizing Drinks and Small Bites, Desserts and Small Treats.
There’s a helpful section at the front of the book about pantry staples (Healthy Fats and Oils, Acidity, Natural Sweeteners, Protein, Whole Grains, Baking Necessities and Flavour Savers) which guide you to stocking your pantry for success with these recipes. There’s also a short section on Kitchen Equipment for Eating Well with “Nice to Have” and “Deluxe Commitment” items. Both of these sections (pantry and equipment) are so very useful for someone venturing into these recipes with little knowledge of plant-based eating (me!) and if you’re serious about success with these recipes, and I appreciated Laura’s tip about storing grains and dry goods in attractive containers as this makes them appealing and means you’ll probably cook with them more (yes, I am a sucker for pretty containers!).
What I love about this book is 1. how beautiful all the food looks and 2. how appealing the ingredients sound. I think for many people (me included if I’m being honest), the idea of “vegan” is a little scary. There’s definitely a pre-conceived notion that vegan food must be devoid of taste but Laura’s blog and book defy that stereotype beautifully. For someone like me who does not cook vegan (but who will definitely benefit from and appreciate a more plant-based diet after months and months of testing recipes for my own decidedly non-vegan cookbook!), The First Mess Cookbook is a must have. I’m not familiar enough with cooking in this way to be confident enough to come up with my own recipes, but I do have a number of good friends who eat like this and I am always wishing I had more ideas of dishes to serve them. This book will be a “go-to” for me when I’m cooking for those friends. And hey, a few more plant-based recipes in my own diet certainly can’t hurt. This book will make you re-think veganism.
Plus, there are cookies. For breakfast.
(These cookies have been helping me get through this very long last-teaching-week-before-March-Break-plus-I’m-preparing-for-a-photo-shoot-in-France-next-week)
Cookies for Breakfast
Most mornings I wake up early enough to sit down and enjoy my breakfast at home while I read the news. On those odd days when I find myself flying out the door, these cookies work nicely. They’re just sweet enough to feel like a treat and quite good when dunked into hot coffee. The outer part of the cookie has a nice crispness while the inner cookie is similar to a hearty, whole-grain muffin—specifically the top part of the muffin, which everyone knows is the best part.
- 1 1/4 cups (300 mL) certified gluten-free rolled oats (not quick-cooking)
- 1 teaspoon (5 mL) ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon (2 mL) baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon (2 mL) fine sea salt
- 1/2 cup (125 mL) almond flour
- 1/4 cup (50 mL) brown rice flour
- 1/2 cup (125 mL) mashed ripe banana (about 1 large banana)
- 1/2 cup (125 mL) smooth almond butter, stirred
- 3 tablespoons (45 mL) pure maple syrup
- 2 tablespoons (30 mL) ground flaxseed
- 3 tablespoons (45 mL) liquid virgin coconut oil
- 1 teaspoon (5 mL) pure vanilla extract
- 1 cup (250 mL) add-ins of your choice (I like a mix of dried blueberries, pumpkin seeds and chopped walnuts)
- Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
- In a large bowl, stir together the rolled oats, cinnamon, baking soda, sea salt, almond flour, and brown rice flour until combined.
- In the bowl of a food processor, combine the mashed banana, almond butter, maple syrup, ground flaxseed, coconut oil, and vanilla. Process on high until the mixture is smooth.
- Scrape the almond butter mixture into the large bowl with the oats and flour mixture. Throw your add-ins into the bowl. Stir the mixture with a spatula until you have a unified and very stiff cookie dough.
- Drop 2 tablespoons (30 mL) of dough per cookie onto the prepared baking sheet. Flatten each mound of dough with the palm of your hand. Slide the baking sheet into the oven and bake until lightly golden brown, about 15 to 17 minutes. Cool cookies completely before storing in an airtight container. These will last on the counter for 5 days. You can also wrap each cookie individually with plastic wrap and freeze them. I place all the wrapped cookies in a resealable bag and defrost them as needed.
Canadian readers – win a copy of The First Mess Cookbook thanks to Penguin Canada! Details here.
Please note: This post contains product links from Amazon and The Book Depository which are affiliate links, meaning if you click over and purchase something, I will receive a very small percentage of the purchase price (at no extra cost to you) which goes towards maintaining eat. live. travel. write. Thank you in advance!
Disclosure: I received a copy of The First Mess Cookbook for review purposes and Penguin Canada is providing one copy for a giveaway prize. I was not asked to write about the book, nor am I being compensated for doing so. All opinions 100% my own.