Betsy DiJulio, Blooming Platter Cookbook
The author of The Blooming Platter Cookbook: A Harvest of Seasonal Vegan Recipes, Betsy is an artist, journalist, teacher, and innovator in vegan cooking. Her concept of seasonality can be of audience interest for winter cooking, excellent for spring (and summer and fall, too)—topical four times a year as the recipes in her book take the guess work out of using the freshest seasonal produce in her creative and delicious recipes.
Caryn Hartglass: Hello, I’m Caryn Hartglass and you’re listening to It’s All About Food. Because it is; it’s all about food. I bet everything that you think of, I could find a connection to food. And I love talking about it. Okay, so as I mentioned earlier in the show, for the next three weeks we’re going to be talking not only about food, my favorite subject, but about delicious variations on a theme. All kinds of great recipes for any time of the year, but especially for the holiday season people like to start talking about recipes and things so the next one we’re going to be talking about is The Blooming Platter Cookbook, with author Betsy DiJulio. Betsy, welcome to It’s All About Food.
Betsy DiJulio: Thanks so much Caryn. It’s an honor!
Caryn Hartglass: Thank you. Did I pronounce your name correctly?
Betsy DiJulio: It’s actually, it looks exactly like you said it but it’s actually pronounced DiJulio.
Caryn Hartglass: DiJulio! Okay! Well.. noted.
Betsy DiJulio: Well, my husband is Italian on both sides and my father in law changed the spelling; so you pronounced it exactly like it looks.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, was it originally a ‘G’ maybe?
Betsy DiJulio: It was!
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah.
Betsy Dijulio: It was! And everybody pronounced it with a hard ‘G’ sound and so he just thought it was easier to change the spelling.
Caryn Hartglass: And look at that. Here we are in this very Spanish oriented speaking country.
Betsy DiJulio: Exactly!
Caryn Hartglass: So much for that. You may have to make it like, D-I-G-U-I-L-I-O. That’s how I would spell it.
Betsy DiJulio: Yeah. I’m a teacher so I answer to anything and some of my students call me DiJulio so it’s all good.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, how about just ‘Betsy’?
Betsy DiJulio: Yep! That’s great.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay. Well, let’s see. Did I read about you here the author of The Blooming Platter Cookbook, a harvest of seasonal vegan recipes. You’re an artist, journalist, teacher, an innovator in vegan cooking and, according to this little bio that I am reading, your concept of seasonality can be of audience interest for winter cooking, excellent for spring and summer and fall too. Topical four times a year as the recipes in your book take the guesswork out of using the freshest seasonal produce.
Betsy DiJulio: I don’t know, Caryn. It sounds like you’re talking about somebody else.
Caryn Hartglass: Well no, it’s good!
Betsy DiJulio: Yup! That’s it.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, so you’ve got this lovely book out and great title because vegan food is beautiful and full of color.
Betsy DiJulio: Isn’t it? Or it should be. Right?
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. It should be. You know so many of the foods people eat today are white, tan, bland, grey, brown, loaded with salt, sugar and fat.
Betsy DiJulio: You’re absolutely right. I think as an art teacher, we all eat with our eyes, I guess that’s sort of a cliché at this point, but as an art teacher I may be even more attuned to color and that type of thing. And I’ve tried some new things this season just based on how attractive they were to look at like I had no idea you could actually cook and eat a Turk’s turban squash and I had driven past our local farmer’s market and they just had a sea of these pumpkins that were oranges and greens and striped and polka dotted, so I slipped in and one of the people that works there said that an older customer had been in and was telling him how you could roast these Turk’s turbans and of course you can so a whole new world is opened up to me I think just based on color like you said, it’s so enticing.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, I don’t know if you’ve experienced this, I know I have, I’ve been doing this vegan thing for decades and I’m not quiet about it and in the corporate world when I would go to meetings where food was served, I was always making sure that there was something for me to eat and sometimes that meant talking to people in advance.
Betsy DiJulio: Sure.
Caryn Hartglass: Which is helpful, but then I would be served my plate and all the attention was on me because everything I got, it was the simplest, often, because people didn’t know what to do but they would serve me beautiful colors, fresh fruits, and everybody was like, ‘Oh! How did you get that?’
Betsy DiJulio: Right! And probably far more than you could ever eat in one sitting. I know when I get the classic vegetable platter, out like you’re talking about, it’s enough to feed five people. I think they think because the poor child is not eating meat she couldn’t possibly be satisfied.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, that’s true some of the time. Because you could go to a restaurant sometimes and order sides and they are tremendously small. Because they are sides and I don’t know.
Betsy DiJulio: Yeah, it’s more that buffet setting. I mean not buffet the basic setting.
Caryn Hartglass: And the other thing about it is often there’s a lot of raw food, crudités, and you need to chew that stuff. Easy does it, it’s hard to carry on a conversation with your business colleagues. But chewing is very important; all of our food, we need to chew and I like to just mention that from time to time because people forget.
Betsy DiJulio: Well, exactly for the health of our teeth and our digestive system. Absolutely, chew that food up.
Caryn Hartglass: But I’m just looking, just to start with the cover of your book, you have a platter of cucumbers, tomatoes, asparagus, basil and peppers and the simplest of foods and yet beautiful on the plate, beautiful.
Betsy DiJulio: I know it. I think that complimentary colors like that, something in the warm family and something in the cool family, so the oranges and the reds and the greens really pop when you serve them. There’s just no way they can’t. That was my publisher and the good folks at Vegan Heritage Press that styled that and I think it’s gorgeous.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, it definitely pops. And I like the French tile in the background.
Betsy DiJulio: I can’t even. That’s a topic of a whole other radio program. That was also their decision. I didn’t like the original background and we worked and worked to come up with something and John Robertson came up with this white tile idea and I just love it. It looks so clean and still ‘kitcheny’, very modern. And I love food against a white back drop.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, there’s a wide variety of plates out there to choose from and yet I always go with white.
Betsy DiJulio: You know, Caryn, I do too and when I was shooting the photographs for the book we wanted plenty of color in the photographs but I found the best way to showcase the color of the food was always on white but I found that I would put colored liner plates underneath the white plate that was next to the food and that always looks fun and it’s fun to shop that way too just whipping into Pier One or somewhere like that and buying some single tins and bright colors. It’s fun to play with the appearance of the food.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, some of the things I am always talking about, reiterating, being redundant, repeating myself, etc. because I am trying to make a point and people need to hear it over and over to get it is the importance of organic locally grown fresh food.
Betsy DiJulio: Yeah. I totally agree.
Caryn Hartglass: And eating seasonally.
Betsy DiJulio: Yes. And I have to tell you that what my goal for myself is now is to only buy things like my vegan dairy products and paper products at the grocery store so like natural sugar, and baking things, things like that, but to buy everything else from this farmer’s market that’s open year around. We have a lot of them around here but I think you have to factor in how far you have to drive to get to them and how much fuel you are burning. I drive a Prius but you still have to factor that in. There’s one that’s very near us. It’s open year around and I try to just build my meals around whatever they’ve got that’s seasonal, local, etc. so I totally agree with you.
Caryn Hartglass: Well we’re lucky we live in a global society and we have access to everything. I live in New York City and I have access to more than everything. We need to really pay attention and not buy things just because they’re there.
Betsy DiJulio: Or just because you have a craving for them. Yeah, I completely agree.
Caryn Hartglass: I have been talking about tomatoes lately because I was horrified to find out that our winter tomatoes come from Florida and there are slaves that are literally used to grow these vegetables.
Betsy DiJulio: Can I ask you how you found that out, because I think that’s important for people to know too is how to do a little poking around and find out the provencance of their food.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, thanks for asking. Well, I have a new nonprofit called Responsible Eating And Living and if you go to responsibleeatingandliving.com the video that we are showing right now is with the author Barry Estabrook who wrote the book, Tomatoland and he did a lot of research about what’s going on in Florida with tomatoes. But I think every food has a story and how much can we do to investigate? Because when it comes to profiting from a product, there are always going to be people who are going to exploit and abuse. We learned about chocolate a while ago. About what was going on with child slaves in the Ivory Coast and so there are more chocolate friendly suppliers now. That’s why I say I think every food has a story. But the best thing that we can do is know our farmers, buy locally and fresh as much as possible.
Betsy DiJulio: I totally agree. When I made the switch from vegetarianism, which I had been for decades, to being vegan, which is more like five years, it was really based on what you’re talking about. It just had to do with not believing the hype about the happy cows delivering the dairy and that type of thing and just not having the time to do research into where cows were treated as pets and also milk. I just felt that it was more responsible to cut it out of my diet entirely and I have never looked back. It was a great choice for me.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s an interesting point. I remember reading something similar to that when Jonathan Safran Foer came out with his book, Eating Animals several years ago. He talked about, because he was trying to be understanding and compassionate to those who really want to eat animal foods. He was saying it is really easier to be vegan because if you want to eat ‘humanely’ and get your dairy and your meat from humane sources, and I always use that word with quotations marks around it. It’s impossible to eat one hundred percent humanely unless you are growing your own animals and your own food because there’s not a lot of it out there and you can’t find many restaurants that are doing it one hundred percent.
Betsy DiJulio: And like you said when there’s a profit motive there you can’t necessarily trust what you are told because you’re not told so much. Yeah, I completely agree. It is much easier; easier on the conscience that’s for sure.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, but then for those that are considering humane agriculture of animals for the environment, I think what people don’t realize is there’s not enough land mass on the planet for people to eat the quantities of meat and dairy they’re eating today unless we intensify and cram these animals into small spaces. We cannot physically do it and that means people need to eat less and preferably none.
Betsy DiJulio: Right! No I completely agree. I live with my husband who is not a vegan and it’s not a source of huge strife. He’s an adult but he buys his own meat and he prepares his own meat and we just eat completely separate meals. I do wish that he and others would do much more research in the work required to get their food from as you say, ‘humane’ sources.
Caryn Hartglass: Were you vegan before you got married?
Betsy DiJulio: I was not. No, so it is false advertising. If fact, I think I quit eating beef and pork when I was seventeen and it was a dietary decision and then it gradually became about animal rights. Then I gradually cut out chicken and I think it was probably about eighteen years ago that I stopped eating fish but we had gotten married twenty one years ago.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay well it’s challenging because food is so important, especially in social situations.
Yes, it is so personal, but it is so political and I was listening to one of your promotional pieces between your previous guests and me and it was the God Speed Institute I think. But anyway, just the idea that everything at its core is spiritual or ethical and food is so critical to all of this. The idea that you make decisions about it that were not ethically based is just sort of inconceivable to me.
Caryn Hartglass: Did I say It’s All About Food before?
Betsy DiJulio: I don’t remember!
Caryn Hartglass: Yes, it is all about food. Everything.
Betsy DiJulio: Yes, it is all about food, absolutely. I don’t want to sound moralistic or judgmental but for me that is what it boils down to but I don’t always mention that in all settings.
Caryn Hartglass: Anyway, you have a very lovely book.
Betsy DiJulio: Thank you.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s about some very lovely recipes. I am just thumbing through it and I notice you use some instant tea in one of your dressings; a sweet tea dressing.
Betsy DiJulio: Yes! You just steep it.
Caryn Hartglass: I love tea in food.
Betsy DiJulio: I do too. You know now I probably wouldn’t have used the instant version. I probably would have done a steep tea. There’s a frosting for some pear cupcakes in the cookbook and it is a steep tea frosting. It is such a subtle and delicate and yet complex flavor. I just love it.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, I don’t like to use oil very much and so I sauté a lot in water or in tea.
Betsy DiJulio: Oh, what a great idea!
Caryn Hartglass: There’s one tea, it’s very intense. It’s a combination of a lapsang and a Russian tea and it is very unpleasant to drink.
Betsy DiJulio: But is it good for sautéing?
Caryn Hartglass: It’s great for sautéing! It’s a really hefty, meaty, smoky flavor to it.
Betsy DiJulio: Oh, it sounds perfect! Yeah, that’s such a great idea. I don’t do that. I still use olive oil but I think I will experiment with that a bit.
Caryn Hartglas: Oh sure!
Betsy DiJulio: In fact every recipe in the cookbook starts with heating a tablespoon of olive oil in a cast iron skillet. I think just about every single one. There was something I was going to tell you since you have mentioned eating seasonally and locally and of course that’s what the whole book is about, another one of the brilliant strokes by my publisher was to identify the seasons with these icons that are in the corners of each page so when you’re flipping through the appetizer sections you can flip right away to what’s fall, spring, winter, summer by the icon.
Caryn Hartglass: Oh, I see!
Betsy DiJulio: I thought that was just great. We had talked about organizing it by the seasons but then people would have a hard time finding a soup or an appetizer or whatever so this worked out great.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, it really is a good idea because… How do I put this tactfully?
Betsy DiJulio: Oh, why be tactful?
Caryn Hartglass: People don’t want to read, people don’t want to take any time. They want it to be fast and visual and this is a winner.
Betsy DiJulio: It is fast and visual and I think the icons are really cute. In fact, I had a graphic designer friend design some book plates, that I will be happy to send to people who purchase the book, that I can sign and personalize and she used all the icons on the little book plates. They’re really cute.
Caryn Hartglass: One of the big things that people that talk about vegan diets and say that they can’t do it because they’re going to miss cheese and we have lots of different cheese alternatives. I am not a fan of the packaged ones in the store.
Betsy DiJulio: I’m so glad you said that. Me neither!
Caryn Hartglass: I don’t want to knock any of those brands and people.
Betsy DiJulio: No, of course not. I’m glad they offer what they do.
Caryn Hartglass: They’re not good!
Betsy DiJulio: No, I don’t like them texture wise, taste wise; none of the above.
Caryn Hartglass: Get back in the kitchen please folks! There are just so many great cheesy recipes and I am looking at your blue cheese sauce here. That’s good with my favorite, sesame tahini. Tahini on anything.
Betsy DiJulio: Isn’t it good?
Caryn Hartglass: It’s fabulous and it is filled with vitamin E and all kinds of great nutrition. But this is great. It’s got a little beer in it.
Betsy DiJulio: That was my sort of contribution to the world of vegan cheeses I think. I mean I have seen it before and maybe somebody else had done it but in the development process of the cookbook I was desperate to find some ingredient that would give it that deeper fermented taste; a little more aged maybe. I’m racking my brain and needing to test a recipe and remembered that my husband had some beer in the fridge. Now, not all beer is vegan but you can just Google vegan beer and there’s a wonderful article and my blog has something about it as well. But anyway, it has to do with what they process it with for clarifying. Anyway, the beer is a great addition to these cheeses made from nuts. I have one in the book that’s made from white bean, but there are others that are made from cashews. I have since been using macadamias when I want a whiter looking cheese spread. It’s so easy you just dilute them a little more with soy milk or your favorite vegan nondairy milk and or the beer and you can use it more as a sauce and drizzle it or you can break it up and dollop it. It is so flexible and I have so many non-vegan friends that love it. I haven’t had cheese in so long, I don’t know that I exactly remember what it tastes like but side by side comparison you would know the difference but I think what people need to understand about vegan food is that you’ve got to appreciate it for its own specific profile and flavor notes. It is what it is and I like it best when it is not trying to be something else.
Caryn Hartglass: It doesn’t have to taste the same. What people are looking for is fat and salt.
Betsy DiJulio: Right!
Caryn Hartglass: And that’s just one version. I’m thinking macadamia and some other nuts like pine nuts tend to be a little pricey but when you think about a lot of cheeses some are exceptionally expensive.
Betsy DiJulio: Some of the vegan ones too. I agree with you. I find myself just craving them and one of the ingredients I know that I crave besides the oil and the salt is nutritional yeast. I was thinking it’s the golden powder from the gods. I love it!
Caryn Hartglass: Yes, and if you get your red star version it has B12 in it, which we all need.
Betsy DiJulio: Which we all need. That’s a good tip. I would never go anywhere without it. I have a shaker bottle at the bottom of my backpack.
Caryn Hartglass: Don’t leave home without it.
Betsy DiJulio: Yes, fill that baby up and sprinkle it on some ridiculous restaurant meal that’s not very balanced.
Caryn Hartglass: It just has a multidimensional flavor.
Betsy DiJulio: It does, doesn’t it?
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, It’s quite a good thing
Betsy DiJulio: Yeah, I totally agree with you and I love putting it on popcorn at the movies.
Caryn Hartglass: So we just have a few minutes left. Do you have some favorites in here?
Betsy DiJulio: It’s sort of like picking a favorite child or in my case a favorite dog. My husband and I don’t have children but we have a bunch of dogs that are being very good and they’re not barking in the background. I guess for winter, in the appetizer department there’s an Indian sag dip, it’s on page thirty-five, and I used tofu in it to give it a body that’s more like a dip or a spread and of course protein as well and it is just delicious and a little different. You get sag easily at an Indian restaurant, but you don’t often find it as an appetizer on someone’s buffet.
Caryn Hartglass: Right, or vegan.
Betsy DiJulio: Exactly right and I love spinach in anything so if you have the book there on page seventy-two there’s a spanakopita soup and I love spanakopita but it is kind of heavy and it’s got a lot of the filo and it’s real buttery. So just to kind of reduce all of that I use the filo as croutons over the top of it so you get that crunch and that butteryness but you don’t kill yourself in the calorie and fat department.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, we just have a couple minutes left. You’re a teacher. Do you share any of this food art with your students?
Betsy DiJulio: Absolutely! Yeah, our PE teacher who teaches the health unit asked me to come and do a presentation that was filmed by our computer resource teacher and he filmed all of her classes and just great feedback from that and in fact just yesterday I got an email from a student who is now in college, a freshman, and she said the she has been vegetarian for the past three months and she credits me with making the switch.
Caryn Hartglass: That always feels good doesn’t it?
Betsy DiJulio: Yeah, and I share nutritional information with my kids’ parents who are a little bit worried about whether they’ll get the proper nutrients because of course they will. So yeah, it is very much a part of who I am as a teacher as well.
Caryn Hartglass: Well that’s important because especially with the cut backs in schools, you’re lucky that your school has art to begin with.
Betsy DiJulio: Our district is so committed to our art program and yes I am very lucky.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s a crazy thing because we know that art is so important to learning and for children and for growing creativity, it doesn’t make any sense at all that that would be cut. But also, nutrition rarely gets discussed, I mean there are little pockets here and there where there’s more information but it’s so important to talk about.
Betsy DiJulio: I have to tell you, really quickly, one breakthrough in our cafeteria is they are no longer serving French fries and the standard lunch of kids in the lunch line was pizza and French fries and they cannot get French fries anymore so I think that’s a great step forward.
Caryn Hartglass: That is. Especially since we recently heard that the USDA was considering it a vegetable.
Betsy DiJulio: Yeah, and that tomato ketchup is too.
Caryn Hartglass: Well Betsy, it was great talking to you and I am really enjoying your cookbook, The Blooming Platter. You have a wonderful website called thebloomingplatter.com with a few fun puns as headings, The Mad Platter and What’s the Platter, that’s always fun; a little humor.
Betsy DiJulio: Oh yes. Gotta keep it light.
Caryn Hartglass: Thanks for joining me on It’s All About Food.
Betsy DiJulio: Thank you! Happy Holidays.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay you too!
Betsy DiJulio: Okay. Bye-bye.
Caryn Hartglass: Bye-bye. I’m Caryn Hartglass and you’ve been listening to It’s All About Food. Talking about my favorite subject; food. And please visit responsibleeatingandliving.com so many more recipes and good information out there. Have a delicious week and next week we are going to be talking to John Schlimm who wrote the book, The Tipsy Vegan. I think more recipes with beer and other alcoholic beverages and the second part will be Vegan Pie in the Sky with Terry Romero and Isa Moskowitz. We’ll be back next week. Have a delicious one. Until then bye-bye.
Transcribed 12/28/2103 by Brandon Gonzales