At the end of the year, we often look back with a reflective eye, thinking about highs and lows and, perhaps, making resolutions and intentions for the new year. For some of us, merging our values with our work life might be just such a goal, but follow-through on this kind of plan can be challenging.
I thought about this as I spoke with Julia Turshen, author of the recent cookbook Now & Again. She incorporates her ideals into her projects, whether it’s helping people have confidence in the kitchen and avoid food waste, highlighting the stories of marginalized people in the food world, feeding less able people in her community or giving a brief shoutout to nonprofits that could use the publicity.
Turshen is a cookbook author, and a very successful one at that, but she is much more. When we spoke, she described herself as a storyteller and explained that she tells stories in a variety of ways. Her current work includes sharing her own stories as well as shining a light on the stories of people whose stories have not been told in the past.
A longtime food writer, Turshen had co-authored a wide range of cookbooks with chefs and celebrities. The popularity of her own 2016 cookbook Small Victories “opened her eyes to the power of having a platform” she could use to further social causes important to her.
Turshen explained that while she’d always been community driven, in the last three years, her mission crystallized and she began working only on projects meaningful to her. This includes the much-acclaimed new cookbook, Now & Again, which is filled with accessible recipes for home cooks, along with tips and recipes for repurposing the leftovers.
The book is divided into a series of complete menus divided by season, including everything from “Card Night Enchiladas” and “Rosh Hashanah Dinner” in autumn, to “Steak House Dinner for Vegetarians” in winter, “Passover Seder” in spring and “Middle Eastern Dinner Outside” in summer. Each of these menus ends with a page titled “It’s Me Again,” where Turshen provides several additional recipes or methods using possible leftovers from the main menu.
She told me that she always enjoyed transforming the leftover components of one meal into an entirely new dish both to avoid waste and the boredom of eating the same thing over again. In the “Steak House Dinner for Vegetarians,” leftover Stuffed Mushrooms with Walnuts, Garlic and Parsley can become Penne Al Funghi, and leftover Double-Baked Potatoes with Horseradish and Cheddar can be turned into Superrich Potato Soup.
As much as she can, Turshen said she tries to put people at ease about cooking. She wants to create trust with her readers, and help them feel “excited, calm and empowered” in the kitchen. Her recipe choices are also welcoming and not intimidating for newer cooks, while still creative and interesting to the more experienced.
Turshen’s other recent projects include the creation of a database called Equity at the Table (EATT) to help highlight the work of women and gender non-conforming food industry professionals, focusing primarily on people of color and the LGBT community.
She’s also recently started a podcast, Keep Calm and Cook On, in which, through the lens of food, she delves into issues and causes that are important to her. The podcast includes conversations with others—well-known cookbook authors and not; for example, her first guest was nonagenarian Georgine Drewes, whom she met at Angel Food East, where they both volunteer, preparing and packing hot meals for delivery to people living with HIV/AIDS and other housebound people in their Hudson Valley community.
In the podcast, Turshen follows by answering questions sent by listeners about everything from using random pantry items to energizing their communities through cooking. At the end of each episode, Turshen gives a shoutout to a nonprofit whose work she admires. In the second episode, for example, she highlighted Emma’s Torch, a New York restaurant and social enterprise that helps refugees build new lives through the culinary industry.
In Now & Again, Turshen writes, “My mother has always described herself as a ‘gastronomic Jew.’” Turshen told me that she is also comfortable with that description; though not religious, she observes the holidays with cultural and food traditions centered on family.
While Turshen didn’t use this terminology, it became clear that she embodies the Jewish values of tikkun olam and chesed in an organic and holistic way. Her effort to incorporate her core values into her work provides a model for all of us to reflect on as we move into 2019.