Brattleboro author pens cookbook, sans recipes

Friday June 21, 2013

BRATTLEBORO -- Susie Crowther's resume includes stints as a chef, caterer, teacher, massage therapist and herbalist.

So when it came time to finish a book project she had started more than two decades ago, the Brattleboro woman didn't shy away from the challenge.

Never mind that she's not a professional writer. And never mind that Crowther was planning a cookbook without recipes.

"I wouldn't be sitting here talking to you if I had listened only to the rational part if my brain," Crowther said, explaining that she simply trusted her intuition.

Her message: "Shut up and move forward and say ‘yes' to this. It's been great once I just listened to that side of me and stepped away from the fear."

The result is "The No Recipe Cookbook: A Beginner's Guide to the Art of Cooking," published by New York-based Skyhorse Publishing. Crowther is scheduled to discuss and sign copies of her book from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday at Olde & New England Books, 47 West St. in Newfane.

The book features a foreword from Roland Henin, a master chef whom Crowther considers a mentor from her studies at the Culinary Institute of America. It also includes artwork by her mother, her mother-in-law and Brattleboro Senior Center's water-based media group.

And, true to the title's promise, the 208-page book features no recipes. Instead, Crowther wants cooks of all ages and abilities to approach food in the same way she approached writing.

The book's first draft was penned 23 years ago, when Crowther's first son was born.

The inspiration arose from an encounter at a Seattle-area natural-foods store where Crowther was working. A customer asked for an "unusual ingredient" -- mellow white miso -- for use in a cream of cauliflower soup.

"We didn't carry that particular flavor, although we did carry about 30 other varieties. As I showed her all the options, I could sense her growing frustration," Crowther wrote. "She continued shaking her head as we walked down the aisles. Without the mellow white miso, there would be no cream of cauliflower soup. And just like that, she jettisoned her plans of cooking and left discouraged."

Crowther labeled it a "depressing and revolutionary moment."

"I realized how stifled some people feel about cooking. They are confined -- slaves to recipes," Crowther wrote. "Their only way into cooking is through someone else's words, processes and combinations -- in short, someone else's authority."

So she decided to do something about that.

"I thought, I should write a book about recipes," she said. "I had never written anything like this. I just wrote it -- sat down and wrote it without thinking about it much."

The writing took about nine months. Crowther sent the work to agents and publishers, but it didn't go much further than that.

Then, she said, "I put it in the drawer. And life happens."

About three years ago, Crowther resurrected the manuscript and set about revising it. While the first draft had been informed by her knowledge of cooking, this version was infused with her life experiences.

"I'd say the book doubled," Crowther said. "My voice had changed - I was a little more direct. It was a bolder voice."

She committed to self-publishing the book, which led to development of a design concept. And Crowther also sought help with illustrations, which led to collaborations with her mother-in-law, watercolor artist Maisie Crowther; her mother, retired teacher Marcia Fagelson; and the senior center's water-based media group.

That group has been meeting regularly since 1990 and began as a class taught by Maisie Crowther.

"It was a fun group. They're wonderful and humble," Susie Crowther said.

The author believes those illustrations helped her find a publisher for the work. And that, of course, means a much wider audience for her message of empowerment both for aspiring cooks and for those who simply are wondering what to make for dinner tomorrow night.

Crowther tries to impart to her readers the "basic information and tools" that they need in the kitchen, and she espouses "a common-sense and creative approach to cooking that focuses on pragmatics, intuition and integrity."

She wants cooks to embrace mistakes and learn from them; to not worry about substituting ingredients when necessary; to focus on natural and healthy foods; and to think local.

"Eat what's ripe - what's local," she said. "Eat what's in your fridge - eat what you like to eat."

Crowther also is trying to counteract the pervasive influence of pop-culture cooking shows that emphasize celebrity chefs and technical expertise.

Crowther sums up her advice this way in the book's introduction: "May you use what surrounds you, and may you trust what resides within you."

In addition to this weekend's Newfane event, Crowther also is scheduled to appear from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. July 7 at the Putney Co-op and from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. July 12 at Brattleboro Food Co-op.

Mike Faher can be reached at or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.


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