my life in franceMy Life in France
Julia Child with Alex Prud’homme
2006, Knopf

If you have ever felt like you will never know what you are supposed to do with your life, read this book. Julia Child was a chef and TV personality who was beloved and famous, and has stayed beloved and famous enough (even after passing away in 2004 at the age of 91) to be played by Meryl Streep in this movie, which begins to tell the story of how Julia, starting in her early 30s, moved to France, learned French, learned to cook in the French tradition, became a teacher of French cooking, wrote a cookbook for Americans about French cooking, became one of the first people in the world to host a cooking show, etc. But what you miss in the film, and what My Life In France is FILLED with, are (potentially life-changing) quotes like this one: “I was 37 years old and still discovering who I was.” The fact that Julia didn’t know exactly who she was for so long is exciting, especially knowing what we do now about what she accomplished, and she kept working at figuring it out for the rest of HER LIFE! She clearly had fun doing so, and she retells it all with so much joy that there were times, while I was reading, that I noticed my face starting to feel sore from smiling so hard. In one of the last pages of the book, which Julia wrote with her grandnephew the year she died, she talks about how lucky she was to learn from chefs who taught her that “good results require that one take time and care.” This book taught me the same thing about being a person. —Lena

ready for dessertReady for Dessert: My Best Recipes
David Lebovitz
2010, Ten Speed Press

If you’re into desserts, why haven’t you read David Lebovitz yet?! He’s kind of a big deal in the culinary world (he was a pastry chef at Alice Waters’s legendary restaurant, Chez Panisse), but you’d never know it from reading his blog or any of the books he’s written about food, including this one. His laid-back style makes me feel like I’m reading a close pal’s emails about tasty adventures abroad (if I were lucky enough to have an adorable grown-up friend who lives in Paris). Ready for Dessert wraps everything I love about Lebovitz the pastry chef, Lebovitz the home baker, and Lebovitz the food writer into one collection of recipes. You get a sense of his swell personality AND his reverence for world-class, master-level bakeries in all of his recipes, which aren’t intimidating at all (they don’t use obscure ingredients or complicated techniques), but which still provide enough challenge and variety to excite the most seasoned sweet tooth. Start off with his Chocolate Orbit Cake, a fail-proof recipe that results in an extraordinarily decadent and delicious dessert. —Dylan

how it all veganHow It All Vegan! Irresistible Recipes for an Animal-Free Diet
Tanya Barnard and Sarah Kramer
1999, Arsenal Pulp Press
The Garden of Vegan: How It All Vegan Again!
Tanya Barnard and Sarah Kramer
2003, Arsenal Pulp Press

Tanya Barnard and Sarah Kramer’s How It All Vegan! was my first vegan cookbook. I’ll admit that I bought it based on the colorful cover and how much fun the authors, Tanya and Sarah, seemed to be having in the kitchen, but it turned out to be a stellar choice that does make cooking fun. It’s still my first recommendation for the brand-new vegan or any beginning cooks who want to make delicious vegetarian food. It opens with an accessible intro to what veganism means, and proceeds through a bunch of easy-to-follow recipes that create delicious dishes. Still among my staple meals are: Classic Pancakes (I’ve tried TONS of vegan pancake recipes and this is the tastiest and simplest), Sesame Noodle Salad (great for potlucks and picnics), and Classic Spinach Lasagna (I felt like such a boss the first time I made this, especially because the “real” lasagna lovers in my life gobbled it down). Tanya and Sarah even throw in some formulas for homemade non-toxic cleaning and beauty products. But wait…there’s more!!! The duo wrote a sequel, Garden of Vegan, which is just as great and contains recipes for my favorite salad ever, the Tantalizing Tofu and Spinach Salad, and my bake-sale go-to, Banana Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Bars, as well as a party planning guide. These aren’t just cookbooks: They are full-on manuals for treating yo’self in cheap, easy, and animal-friendly ways! —Stephanie

cheesemongerCheesemonger: A Life on the Wedge
Gordon Edgar
2009, MacAdam/Cage

My San Francisco neighborhood’s worker-owned natural-food store, Rainbow Grocery, may be the greatest place in the world. The bulk bins alone—aisles of fragrant loose teas, colorful beans, curly pastas, and toothsome granolas—are enough to take my food fantasies to new levels. Rainbow’s resplendent cheese department is particularly crush-worthy, and Gordon Edgar, one of the guys responsible for curating it, wrote this book, which is the best cheese-intro-cum-memoir ever. Edgar was a punk political activist before he was inspired by the rich history of fromage to channel his passion for making the world a better place into helping people buy better CHEESE. In Cheesemonger, he describes the Gruyère that changed his life, why a person should stray from “useful” cheeses like cheddar to dabble in the “moldy, stinky, fragile” types, how cheese is made, and his encounters with intrepid small-scale dairy producers. His realtalk on learning to love cheeses that smell like farts and the importance of sustainably sourced dairy also made me a much better dinner party invitee (now I only bring the good stuff). —Caitlin D.

the self-healing cookbookThe Self-Healing Cookbook: Whole Foods to Balance Body, Mind and Moods
Kristina Turner
1989, Earthstones Press

I came across this cookbook when a copy was lying on the kitchen floor of a friend who reminds me of a flower fairy and read it cover to cover in one sitting. There are sweet doodles and drawings by the author, Kristina Turner, throughout, so it feels like zine while it advocates macrobiotic cooking, which has not been proven to actually “heal” but which is undoubtably healthful and definitely makes me feel good. This book was the first thing that taught me that food doesn’t have to be an enemy. I have had eating disorders throughout my life, and, for me, that shift in consciousness around food was HUGE. —Sonja

jerusalemJerusalem: A Cookbook
Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi
2012, Ten Speed Press

I bought Yotam Ottolenghi’s previous cookbook, Plenty, based on all its delicious-looking pictures of vegetables prepared Mediterrean-style. I had spent the previous, oh, 14 years cooking my way through Deborah Madison’s bible Vegetarian Cooking For Everyone and was craving something a little less general, something that was not as broad but that went deeper into one kind of cuisine. I liked a lot of the recipes in Plenty, but found most of them a little too time-intensive to be weeknight-friendly. Between that book and this new one, cowritten by Sami Tamimi—who, like Ottolenghi, was born in Jerusalem—I’d been to Israel and experienced there the most joyous week of eating in my life (I have literally dreamed about the hummus I ate in Haifa), so I was willing to give Jerusalem a try. I am glad I did. The first half of the book is a lot of starters and salads that you can make really quickly (most take under 30 minutes, some 10 to 20), totally nutritious, BONKERS DELICIOUS, fail-proof, easy to master, and easy to riff on (I like to mix and match the baked cauliflower dish with the tahini-based sauce from the fried cauliflower recipe and add whatever nuts I have on hand, and the results are always tasty). The ingredients aren’t terribly expensive or obscure (and if you can’t find spices like za’atar in your city, you can order them for cheap from my personal heaven, Spice House). A lot of the recipes call for stuff you’ll either have on hand or could buy down the street. The second half features meats and a lot of stuffed vegetables, neither of which is so much my scene, but I could live off the salads in here for the rest of my life and be happy. —Jessica

eating animalsEating Animals
Jonathan Safran Foer
2009, Little, Brown and Company

When his wife was pregnant with his son, Jonathan Safran Foer started examining what it means to eat meat. This book starts with him contemplating the possibility of raising a kid who doesn’t eat any animal products at all, and then dives into a lot of tough questions about the psychology of food: who eats what, how, and why. It’s not what I’d call a fun read (I know steadfast omnivores who gave up eggs after seeing the illustration that shows the actual size of a hen’s cage on a modern poultry farm, and pork after reading the chapter that describes a flesh-eating bacterium that is passed from hog farms to people). Food has always been, and will always be, a class issue, as it’s closely connected to what people can access and afford, but this book forced me to think about the morals and choices involved in everything I eat. —Brodie

the sexual politics of meatThe Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory
Carol J. Adams
1990, Continuum

When I was 16, I met one of my best friends in an online feminist group. She was vegan, and she loaned me The Sexual Politics of Meat, saying that it explained her reasons for being vegetarian. It’s a dense and analytical book that makes connections between feminism, pacifism, and vegetarianism, and I read it over the course of a few months. (I paused to say whoa a lot.) The author, Carol J. Adams, draws parallels between meat and the patriarchy, and between eating meat, violence, and oppression. She argues that making animals into products for human consumption is similar to the way sexism reduces women into products for visual and/or sexual consumption (exhibit A: animals in advertising are sometimes made to LOOK LIKE WOMEN or remind people of sex in order to sell meat—GROSS!). Reading this book was a huge part of my own inspiration to go vegan, but even if you aren’t veg (and I totally respect that personal choice), this is an interesting study in ecofeminism and the roles that symbols and language play in all kinds of oppression. —Stephanie

yum-yum bento boxYum-Yum Bento Box
Crystal Watanabe and Maki Ogawa
2010, Quirk Books

A bento box is a packed lunch, but a thousand percent more fun. It comes, as so many wonderful things do, from Japan, where they know how to make food look pretty, and can transform a boring box lunch into a scene from a movie, a petting zoo, a moonscape, whatever you’re in the mood for. I have a few bento box cookbooks, but I love this one because it’s designed for parents who make lunches for their kids, so the ideas inside are extra-cute and not too complicated. I mean, imagine you’ve just had a typical high school morning (interminable, soul-shattering) and you open your lunchbox to find one of these:

All images from Yum-Yum Bento Box.

Photos from Yum-Yum Bento Box.

When you’ve had a little practice, the real fun begins, because you can start improvising. Why not make your favorite anime character out of lunch meat, vegetables, and rice? Or a series of your favorite emoji? You could re-create the cover of a beloved book, spell out a message to one of your table mates, or use a lot of ketchup to create a blood-spattered horror scene. The possibilities are as endless as they are adorable. —Anaheed

urban pantryUrban Pantry: Tips and Recipes for a Thrifty, Sustainable and Seasonal Kitchen
Amy Pennington
2010, Skipstone

I’m lucky this book came out the same year I moved into my very first apartment and was learning how to stock my kitchen. It’s the ultimate guidebook for people like me who appreciate cooking, crave healthy things, and want to build productive habits—like keeping a pantry filled with quality stuff so that, no matter how crunched your budget is, you can cook well at home. It also has instructions on indispensable basic skills like stewing lentils, making pie dough, preserving fruits, soft-boiling eggs, cooking grains, and making chicken stock from scratch (which I do with the leftovers from the rotisserie chickens I buy on sale at the grocery store—PRO TIP!). Thanks to the pointers and recipes I picked up from Urban Pantry, I don’t ever have to settle on dismal dinners of sauceless pasta or questionable curries. Even when I come home after school or work ravenous and with no real plan for what to cook (which happens basically every day), I’m almost always able to whip something together in no time with all the regular GOOD ingredients I have on hand! There are a lot of great ideas for using basic ingredients that make pantry cooking more exciting, like recipes for white bean and preserved lemon salad (taste the Mediterranean!), peanut soba noodles (so-ba delicious!), and Hippie Hotcakes (for people who pig out at brunch after yoga, I suppose?). I’m a fan of feeling empowered to cook healthfully and mindfully for myself, and this book has been my best resource. Can I get a what-what for self-sufficiency?! —Dylan

the art of phoThe Art of Pho
Julian Hanshaw
2010, Jonathan Cape

Have you ever been reading a book and the characters are eating a meal that the author describes in really vivid detail, and suddenly the only thing you can think about is how you can get your hands on that very specific burger or roast beef or apple pie? (Thanks a lot, adjectives!) In this graphic novel, Julian Hanshaw weaves recipes for pho, the classic Vietnamese soup dish, into his story, so the instructions on how to re-create the dishes you’re reading about and/or looking at are RIGHT THERE. The Art of Pho follows an alien called Little Blue through the streets of Ho Chi Minh City, where he sells soups and snacks. Little Blue uses street food to leave his mark on the city and carve out a small place for himself in the world. Hanshaw drew the story after a trip to Vietnam, and it’s so clear how much the country’s sights, sounds, smells, and, most of all, flavors stuck with him. I can’t even look at this book when it’s on the shelf without craving a bowl of hot broth filled with heaping piles of fresh herbs, noodles, fish sauce, and chilis. —Brodie ♦