the culinary cyclist. a cookbook and companion for the good life. anna brones. illustrated by johanna kindvall.elly blue publishing 94pp illus. $9.95

culinary cyclist

a young friend of mine is carrying out research into the more arcane dietary requirements of the common man. or woman, come to that. and in the process of doing so, i was asked, as a vegetarian of some considerable standing, as to my opinion on the availability of vegetarian food in the average hostelry or food establishment. as one who fails to get out too much, my answer had mostly to be constrained to my experience of those within my immediate locale, which inevitably led to me recounting a true but perhaps over-tired recitation that encapsulates all that is often wrong with the quest for dietary satisfaction.

many years ago, at christmas time, members of my family descended upon washingmachinepost croft with notions of heading out to a local hotel for christmas dinner. as mine host, i felt it my responsibility to book a table at a local hotel (currently no longer in business, as it happens). as my daughter and i are both vegetarian, i dropped this nugget of information into the telephone conversation, at which point i was asked to qualify whether i required vegan meals. in order to remove all doubt as to what and what did not constitute a vegetarian meal, i signified (untruthfully) that vegan would be ideal.

it's worth pointing out that i do likewise on transatlantic flights too.

come the pre-booked meal itself, my daughter and i looked forward to the culinary creations that awaited our approval, apprehension that was totally undermined by the starter and main course served. the former was cream of tomato soup (for the uninitiated, vegans do not consume dairy produce), while the latter consisted of a prawn salad. no matter, apparently, that vegetarians do not eat shellfish, never mind the strictures of a vegan diet.

since then, things have gone from good to worse. in the years when it appears that vegetarianism was fashionable, many a restaurant or hotel would feature several non-meat options on the menu. this has now unfortunately devolved to an often italicised 'a vegetarian option may be available. please ask for details'. well, as a potential paying customer, i would like to have at least two options from which to choose, rather than having to accept whatever it is that the chef may have spent the odd moment throwing together in the kitchen while muttering under his/her breath.

you're right, i am beginning to sound like an episode of grumpy old men, but she did ask.

fortunately, i rarely eat out, partly for the reasons outlined above, and partly because i have other things on which i would rather spend my money. one of which, now that you come to mention it, would be a copy of anna brones' rather excellent book. unfortunately, unless i could persuade mrs washingmachinepost to peruse its illustrated chapters on a frequent basis, i would disappoint not only ms brones and elly blue, but undoubtedly myself. for i have convinced myself that cooking and baking are not factors safe from my incompetence with an oven.

when at art college there were a couple of folks in my year who were confirmed vegans, frequently looking as if they could do with a decent meal, but in retrospect that's a description that could readily have been applied to many of those at art college in the 1970s. since then i have often toyed with thoughts of assuming the vegan mantle, but my intrinsic reticence to accept external dogma, has kept me to the middle way; that of the self-satisfied vegetarian. i like to think that anna brones would heartily approve.

as a basis for this assumption, many of the recipes contained within the culinary cyclist feature options that not only differentiate between vegetarians and vegans, but also cater for those who either desire a gluten-free diet or those who are constrained so to do as confirmed coeliacs. as one without the self-imposition of veganism, or gastric requirement to exclude gluten, the options available with each and every recipe are a positive delight.

let me disavow you of any notion that these are the sort of recipes that chris carmichael would be recommending to his endurance athletes. this is not to suggest that their consumption would in any way harm those undertaking an ironman triathlon, but the primary thrust of peanut butter cookies, chocolate sea salt cake, dutch apple pie with cardamom and quinoa apple spice cake is in satisfying the calorific requirements of the average, about-town cyclist, while taking care of any dietary needs, whether they be vegan or gluten-free. when did chris carmichael ever offer to show you how to make home-made nutella or raw walnut butter?

ms brones is described as a writer, producer and digital communications professional and with good reason. i have a notion that i could have offered a succinct review of the culinary cyclist by simply cherry-picking from a plethora of pithy one-liners. phrases such as 'Here’s to sunny bike rides and early morning French presses, '"I can make that" is just as powerful as "I can ride that."' and 'Food is a celebration. Don't be afraid to indulge once in awhile.' in addition, each chapter commences with a quote or two from the famous, such as t.s. eliot's 'i have measured out my life with coffee spoons.', or v.l. allinaire's 'sugar is a type of bodily fuel, yes, but your body runs about as well on it as a car would.'

the culinary cyclist is more of a book with recipes than a recipe book per se, a relatively slim volume containing excellent advice and thoughts on diet, cooking, ecology, ethical practice, along with the occasional anecdote. add to that the beautiful and delightfully simple line-drawings of johanna kindvall, and this becomes a remarkably inviting set of chapters. it does, however, occasionally betray its portland, oregon roots, where it is hard to turn round of a weekend without tripping over a farmers' market.

the farmers hereabouts, engaged as they are in the practice of rearing cattle and sheep, would scarce give houseroom to a cook book encouraging veganism. and were we to be blessed with a farmers' market, i seriously doubt the stalls would be garnished with kale, pulses, seeds or freshly roasted coffee beans. add to that a single supermarket with no noticeable predilection of catering to odd dietary requirements, and i might just have to put heart and soul into acquiring several of the ingredients required for anna brones' recipes.

if you are more centrally situated, however, on either side of the pond, such strictures may have never raised as much as an eyebrow.

however, this would comprise a review based solely on observation rather than practical consumption had i not attempted at least one of the recipes contained within. though proffered as the ideal breakfast, i confess my experience was rather later in the day, but baked with my own fair hands, despite a total lack of culinary expertise. baked egg in avocado is simplicity itself even for me, but comprises two principal ingredients that i would never have conjoined in a month of sundays. in truth, the end result was little short of stupendous.

guess who's having supper again this evening?

thursday 8th august 2013