January, 2014

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Since I was very young, I’ve been terrified of snakes.

I remember an instance when I was standing very still, playing hide-and-seek I think, and a small garter snake wrapped itself around my ankle. I think this was the trigger. If you don’t have any phobias, you may be thinking, “But that’s not even scary.” No, it’s really not. Also when I was very small, I fell off a balcony or something and broke my arm, but I’m not afraid of heights or balconies or anything related to that.

You can’t make sense out of a phobia.

There are two different things people tend to say to you when you mention that you suffer from ophidiophobia (or snake-phobia, which is not a real word but is easier to spell).

The first: “They’re not slimy!” True. They’re not. It’s interesting to me that people across the board so quickly arrive at the conclusion that the only potentially upsetting thing about snakes is a misconception about their texture. I’ll happily let frogs and newts, despite sliminess, crawl on me. The difference? THEY’RE NOT SNAKES.

The second thing: “They’re more afraid of you than you are of them.” I dispute this assertion. If you hook a snake up to a heart rate monitor and show it a not-terribly-realistic drawing of me, does that snake have clearly measurable arrhythmia? I have never actually done this study, but I feel pretty confident about the outcome.

As an adult, I didn’t find this phobia that limiting to my existence. I chose to live in urban areas without much in the way of nature around (there are many reasons, but the snakelessness of city sidewalks is right up there on the list) (also I am allergic to grass and trees). ┬áThe biggest risk was TV shows and movies. Or clicking through on nonspecific “Wow, this is amazing!” links online (I feel so validated in my cautiousness on the rare occasions in which the comments make it clear that it actually was a snake).

But then I had a kid. And not just any kid – a boy one. This opened up whole new worlds of grass and dirt and terrifying picture books. I thought surely people who knew me well would check books they were considering as gifts for potential freakout-inducing images. I soon found out that people don’t necessarily check books they’re buying for small children for anything; a picture book about Dizzy Gillespie stands out in my memory – got it as a gift and was reading it to my then-preschooler until I got to the part about how badly his father used to beat him. (If I ever buy your kid a book, I promise I will have read it first.)

So I made a resolution. I couldn’t prevent the uncomfortable physical effects that happened when I saw a picture of a snake, but I could damn sure keep them to myself. My kid wasn’t going to grow up with irrational fears like mine – at least not ones I could prevent. For several years, mostly through the use of deep breathing, I successfully stuck with this plan.

He was just four when, after he’d spent some time with a relative, he came home with many hilarious stories about times Mommy, who was absolutely terrified of snakes, had encountered one – or a drawing of one, or whatever – and wigged out.

Lesson learned: If you plan to fake anything about your personality for the benefit of a small child, you might want to send out a memo to the people who actually know you.

Anyway, I’m slowly making progress. I can look at cartoon snakes without any measurable reaction (well, as long as they’re not moving). The last time I encountered a real snake went less well; we were at a presentation about my kid’s afterschool program and some guy way at the other end of the auditorium had a massive snake wrapped around him and – well, I spent the entire event with my face buried in my mother-in-law’s bosom. Making tiny whimpering sounds. Not real big on dignity. But I used to be pretty sure that if I saw a real live snake I’d have a massive heart attack and die, so I’m still counting that as progress.

Dirt-cheap vegan cookbooks in Kindle format, chapter 2.


Another weekend, another couple of cookbooks by my favorite authors on sale. Since it looks like a bunch of you actually bought the ones I posted last week, I thought it’d be worth letting you know about these as well!

500 Vegan Recipes: An Amazing Variety of Delicious Recipes, From Chilis and Casseroles to Crumbles, Crisps, and Cookies
by Joni Marie Newman and Celine Steen could conceivably be the only vegan cookbook you’d ever need to own. The breakfast chapter, specifically the granola and muffin recipes, is where I’ve spent most of my time – if you don’t count the Butterscotch Pecan Cookies, which are absolutely magical and one of my favorite-ever recipes in any category. I would make a batch every day if I weren’t so confident in my ability to also eat a batch a day. The breads, the soups, the casseroles… there’s a lot to love here, and it’s only $2.99. The only possible negative (could be a problem with the book, or it could be something I’m too chicken to try and it’s perfectly fine) is that a bunch of the cupcake recipes contain neither any sort of fat or any of the things that are sometimes used to substitute for fat (for instance,applesauce, banana, tofu). I read pretty much every review or discussion of the book on the entire internet and couldn’t find anyone who said they’d actually made any of these specific ones. Even if there are a few errors, though, that still leaves you like 495 recipes to work with. $2.99!

bestveggieburgersThe Best Veggie Burgers on the Planet: 101 Globally Inspired Vegan Creations Packed with Fresh Flavors and Exciting New Tastes,
also by Newman, really pushes the boundaries of the definition of “burger.” I checked this out of the library a while back and, while there were a bunch of recipes I really wished someone would cook for me, I didn’t end up making any – mostly due to my having checked out Bryant Terry’s Vegan Soul Kitchen: Fresh, Healthy, and Creative African-American Cuisine that same week and become completely obsessed with it, but also partly because I didn’t have all the ingredients on hand for any of the recipes I was most interested in. I’ve had it on my wish list ever since, but for $2.99, I’m taking the plunge today. Besides, someone titled a review “I will forgive her spelling” and elaborated with “I don’t get why vegetable is one g and veggie has to be two, but this book is such a find, I will forgive her for it,” and frankly, I think she deserves some sales for having to put up with that sort of nonsense.

Great cookbooks on sale for a pittance.


A pittance, I tell you.

At least for today (Jan. 5), Amazon has the Kindle versions of some great cookbooks on sale for $1.99 – $2.99.

I picked up Robin Robertson’s Quick-Fix Vegan: Healthy Homestyle Meals in 30 Minutes or Less. Robertson is pretty much a legend in the vegan/vegetarian world; she has approximately eleventy billion books out, and this one has been at the top of my wish list for a while. Meals in 30 minutes or less! Do you know what that means to me? It means meals in an hour or less, because I’m slow at food prep. But relatively speaking, that’s still exciting. These are good, solid plant-based recipes with a minimum of “weird” vegan ingredients.

Hearty Vegan Meals for Monster Appetites has been on my shelves for a few years, and has gotten a lot of use. Authors Celine Steen and Joni Marie Newman aren’t kidding about the Monster Appetites thing; if you ever wanted to veganize that KFC sandwich that uses fried chicken for bread, this book has got you covered. If your tastes are somewhat less gluttonous than that, there are still dozens of amazing comfort-food and baked-good recipes. If someone ever demands 75% of my cookbook collection, this will be in the 25% that stays.

The Complete Guide to Vegan Food Substitutions is another offering from the dream team of Steen and Newman. It took me a while to check this book out despite my admiration for the authors, as I’ve been vegan for a quarter-century and am pretty familiar with substitutions. I was glad I checked the eBook out of the library; had I looked at it in a store, I’d have been unimpressed by the first chapter (dairy substitutions: instead of milk, soy milk! Instead of butter, vegan butter!) and moved on. I’m so, so glad I didn’t; turns out later chapters offer some completely new-to-me substitutions – not only for animal products, but for things like gluten, soy, alcohol, nuts and sugar. Which is great and all, but it’s also a cookbook that contains some genuinely fabulous recipes (savory artichoke pie! Fruit and cheese Danishes!). So happy I could finally acquire my own copy!

UPDATED: Oh! Also Julie Hasson’s Vegan Pizza is only $1.99. I’m a huge fan of Hasson’s Vegan Diner and I just this minute got Vegan Pizza in the mail; I think I’m OK having paid more for the hard copy, as a quick look through gives me the impression this book may never leave my kitchen counter. Every single recipe sounds great – she offers a ton of soy-free and nut-free alternatives, so I feel like they’ll all be workable no matter which of my food-allergic friends or family members I’m attempting to feed.