Anna Thomas’ The New Vegetarian Epicure

BY REBEKAH SILVERMAN, editor-in-chief

TheNewVegetarianEpicureIn forty minutes, I’m leaving to go on an epic journey to Indianapolis, where I’ll pay some respects and some USD at Trader Joe’s in order to stock up for the upcoming academic year.  I cleared out my freezer in preparation, and checked out a bunch of cookbooks from the public library to get myself in the mood.

I love reading cookbooks, especially before bed.  Something about it seems very sumptuous, and I don’t usually have to get out of bed to make anything.  Which is why I was so excited to check out The New Vegetarian Epicure, which isn’t really new at all anymore (c. 1996).  It’s by Anna Thomas, and is organized by season and meal: for example, there’s a section called “Little Dinner Parties for Fall and Winter” (and one for Spring/Summer, too) as well as a section for “Celebrations and Feasts” that offers menu plans for “A Gala Dinner for Late Spring,” “A Summer Buffet for a Crowd,” and “A Celebration Dinner,” plus others.

Reading cookbooks is different from planning a meal.  When I read cookbooks for pleasure, I like to read the recipes (especially in older cookbooks, where the directions are sometimes hysterical, sometimes illuminating), but I also like to read the extra bits.  It’s the extra bits that make the cookbook, really: a preface, the few sentences that describe the texture and flavor of a dish before commencing the list of ingredients.  Anna Thomas’ The New Vegetarian Epicure (and her other two Epicure books) writes some of the very best introductions to food that I’ve ever read.  Of her “Spinach ande Feta Cheese Alligator,” she writes, “It’s a long, narrow pastry in which a filling of greens, potatoes and herbs is wrapped in a soft bread crust…I called it an alligator because I made it in the shape of an alligator’s head, but you don’t have to.”  She also suggests, for the tail end of the “Picnic for a Summer Concert,” that you should “fill a thermos with strong, hot coffee, and you will have the perfect ending for a lovely al fresco experience, and also be able to stay awake for the concert.”  It’s almost too cute.

Other reasons to check out Anna Thomas: she’s listed as a screenwriter for the film Frida (2002) and as a writer of Mi Familia (1995).  And, in a 1996 review by Roger Ebert (republished on Thomas’ website from The Chicago Sun-Times ) that esteemed critic wrote “Anna Thomas is exactly the kind of woman Martha Stewart would kill to be.”