Food, food culture, food as culture and the cultures that grow our food

Learning through your Ass: The Return of Laurel’s Kitchen

October 8, 2004

laurel's kitchen front cover

When I became a vegetarian at the tender age of 13, my parents, fearing that I would stunt my own growth, gave me what was considered at the time to be a good introduction to vegetarian nutrition, amino acid chains and global food politics. It was my first cookbook ever and its pictureless recipes for soy-milk, cashew cheese and other ‘technically advanced’ foodstuffs threw me completely for a loop.

laurel and the gang from laurel's kitchen

It was California in the 70’s but my Mom wasn’t about to go foodshopping in a store filled with goat-knitting long-hairs smelling like garbanzo farts, and I didn’t know that you could simply go to an Asian supermarket and BUY a ready-made block of tempeh. So when one of Laurel’s recipes called for say, soy milk and said, (see recipe page 138) I would actually make the soy milk - often with unsavoury results.

Due to a series of intrusive kitchen disasters, my mother decided that I could only do the big preparations for the week’s food on Sunday. (Not the fresh things, just the… legume-rich things.) Considering that I had turned the family kitchen into a soybean laboratory it wasn’t entirely the cruel thing to do. I would prepare my vegetarian food for the week ahead and microwave it warm each day. For an experienced cook, preparing food in advance wouldn’t have posed much of a problem but I had very little PRACTICAL cooking experience. I couldn’t tell beforehand if a recipe was difficult and mistakes I made on Sunday were the grits on the table, all the livelong week. This educational technique is known in some cultures as learning through your ass.

text from inner flap of Laurel's Kitchen

I was cooking outside the repetoire of my family and Laurel wasn’t helping. Laurel’s Kitchen, although an amazing source of 1970’s California anthropology was absolutely a crap book for an inexperienced cook.

But yesterday when I brought home Roxanne Klein and Charlie Trotter’s R A W, the first thing I did was pull Laurel from my shelf for one more read.

No Californian ktichen is complete without an avocado pit sprouting in a jar

This is the text on the inside flap:

“An original and, to me, irresistible presentation, as useful as it is inviting.”
-The New York Times Book Review

Ten years ago, Laurel Robertson, Carol Flinders, and Bronwen Godfrey decided to raise their families on natural foods. They had discovered that good eating habits lead to good health and made people feel stronger, happier, more alert, and more alive.

Laurel and her friends wrote this book because they wanted to share their unique kitchen experiences and pass on a solid collection of tempting, inexpensive vegetarian dishes. But Laurel’s Kitchen is not just a cookbook. It is a handbook of vegetarian nutrition. Filled with practical information on viatmines and minerals, the four food groups for a meatless diet, weight control, and ways to preserve nutrients in your cooking, Laurel’s Kitchen is the book Laurel and her friends wished they’d had when they took their first tentative steps into the world of vegetarian cookery.

debra at 1:09 | | post to


  1. ‘Irresistable presentation’ MY ASS!

    Check out the little avocado pit growing-in-a-glass-of-water block print!
    Growing up in California, I didn’t know one person who DIDN’T have an exactly THIS avocado pit sprouting on their kitchen window sill.

    Comment by debra — October 8, 2004 @ 12:49

  2. upload please

    Comment by deb — October 12, 2004 @ 23:13

  3. I tried to fix your blog. There is still some magicall things with it like all your content appearing on the index template! No clue how you managed that!

    Comment by Kristi — October 15, 2004 @ 10:35

  4. wowwy K!! You did it - well the part that I couldn’t do… Now I’ll just put in the left half. but… wowwy the blog updates again!!!!!!!!!!

    I’ll try to fix the backlog thingy. I wanted (at one time) my entire china thing visible. but … silly moi, that’s not possible always.


    Comment by debra — October 15, 2004 @ 21:58

  5. and now I killed it by accident ARGH!!!!!!!

    Comment by debra — October 15, 2004 @ 23:01

  6. I love that book. I used to have an original paperback edition that I gave away a few years back. I was no longer a vegetarian and I had eaten almost everything in the book over it’s lifetime in my kitchen. It is a great book. I have the newer version and it isn’t as good.

    I was a vegetarian for many years. Until I got married and found that my new hubby wouldn’t eat anything i tried to make. I tried to make him into a vegetarian which I learned couldn’t be done. I am a much smarter person now - 15 years later. Much happier too. No longer vegetarian though. It took awhile to get used to eating meat again.

    Anyway, this is a terrific book. I still go through it once in awhile and pick out a recipe to make for a side dish or a light meal. Still has great recipes.

    Comment by RisaG — December 31, 2004 @ 3:13

  7. I an not a vegetarian or a great cook but I found this book to be very helpful and it has been my main cookbook since 1975.

    Comment by Larry DeKock — December 25, 2005 @ 9:24

  8. I have been a vegetarian since I was little, and my college roommate introduced me to LK. I’ve been using it lovingly ever since. My non-vegetarian hubby enjoys the food I cook from it, too.

    Comment by Stephanie — July 18, 2007 @ 16:26

  9. This book was HUGE for me when I became a vegetarian in junior high. I don’t think I ever successfully cooked anything from it, besides the basic whole wheat loaf, but I read it over and over. I put jars of beans on display in my parent’s kitchen and never cooked them. When I got my own place I pulled it out again and fed my boyfriend bean loaf after bean loaf. Years later I’m not vegetarian anymore, but I just read through LK again, and it doesn’t seem as preposterous as I remember. I wouldn’t dream of adding the copious amounts of powdered milk and ground soybeans to everything, however, I think the bulk of the recipes are solid. The focus is on fresh, unprocessed vegetables and grains, prepared simply.

    Comment by Ginger — January 7, 2008 @ 10:52

  10. Thanks. Here I am, 35 years after finding I was meant to be vegetarian, and teaching a family in Tennessee how we can all be healthier together. My 3 “grandbabies” and I have a ball in the kitchen and cook all kinds of healthy, ethnic meals. All this after teaching for 28 years in CA. before becoming a “hillbilly”!

    Comment by Sharon Vermeulen — March 5, 2008 @ 20:21

  11. debra, I love visiting your site b/c I always end up on a random post from years back. I had the moldy avocado toothpick sputnik at my very non-veg home, but still grew up in California… what fun memories eh?

    Comment by sandy — May 12, 2008 @ 21:46

  12. I just found this book in a used book store and I love it. Granted I have been eating veg for the past 10+ years so I’m not exactly a 13 year old beginner as you were when you first came across it.

    I think the book is wonderful but does go over best with people who have had experience cooking vegetarian, love to cook, and already share some of the mindsets brought forward in this book.
    For me it’s been a great find.

    Comment by K — July 2, 2009 @ 1:06

  13. Taking the shortcut to organizing nutritious vegetarian menus, I visited one dietician after another in Greece, where I live, hoping they would hand me some on a few sheets of paper and I’d just have to prepare it all, however difficult it would be. (I’m off work for a while!) Imagine my surprise when all they came up with was five different vegetable and legume dishes and three different cheeses as options, with fruit in season for snacks. So I’m sitting down now, my 70’s Laurel’s Kitchen in hand, looking to create my own menus so that this time, unlike the one in my twenties thirty years ago, eating vegetarian will be something my friends and students will envy. I don’t expect to be let down.

    Comment by argy skaleri — July 22, 2009 @ 21:37

  14. I’m not a vegetarian now, but I have been (husband and daughter are meat eaters, and it’s too hard.) I still have my original hardback copy of this book, plus a hardback copy of the revised cookbook that I inherited. I still use the baking section recipes all the time. I also have a 20 foot tall avocado tree growing outside my window that was planted by my daughter almost 20 years ago from one of those ubiquitous pits.

    Comment by Margie — September 1, 2009 @ 20:07

  15. My mom had a well-loved copy of this book from my parents’ vegetarian phase (before they had twins). Mom and I still use these recipes all the time. The Oatmeal School Cookies are awesome, delicious and amazingly healthy, and don’t have any strange ingredients. Same with the Oatmeal Pancakes. The best pancakes I’ve ever had by far!

    Comment by Maya — March 28, 2010 @ 0:30

  16. This blog made me laugh. I became a vegetarian in 7th grade after reading Lord of the Flies in a Junior High literature class. Growing up with a southern mom, everything was prepared breaded and fried and I was constantly battling stomach issues because of it.

    I bought Laurel’s Kitchen back then along with my favorite vegetarian cookbook the Moosewood Cookbook. The Laurel’s Kitchen cookbook was just too complicated for me back then but the Moosewood cookbook has been the best and the worn pages are proof of how often I’ve relied on it. I wouldn’t say Moosewood is for “healthy” vegetarians as the recipes are filled with tons of dairy…cheese, butter, sour cream and such.

    Today at 48, I took out Laurel’s Kitchen again…it’ looks brand new as I never adventured into the recipes that were more like discertations.

    Yes, I’m a California born girl and still am here and laughed at the avocado seed with toothpicks on the window sill. No on told us that it takes 7 years to finally get avocados from that seed.

    I’m no longer a vegetarian…was one for 8 1/2 years until I tasted baby back ribs and couldn’t believe what I had been missing for so long.

    I still try and eat healthy and will pull out my vegetarian cookbooks occasionally to make homemade breads and baked items.

    Cheers for walking me down memory lane.

    Comment by Sonny — September 12, 2010 @ 19:38

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