The most empowering book I’ve ever read was a cookbook.

Specifically, Vegan With a Vengeance, by Isa Chandra Moskowitz.

When Jef and I first went vegan, he was a homemaker while I worked during the day and went to school at night. I’d wake up at 5:15, go for a walk, get dressed, make myself breakfast, fix a salad or leftovers for lunch, and wake Jef up just in time so he could find his glasses and drive me to work at 6:40. At 4:00 he’d pick me up, drive me home, and fix a quick dinner while I changed into my scrubs and passed out on the sofa. I’d wake, eat lunch, then take the 45 minute trip north to school in rush-hour traffic. Study from 6:00-10:00, then arrive home around 10:35. Wake up the next morning. Start over.

And this worked, partly because Jef is an amazing cook. We played with all kinds of crazy recipes. He knows how to improvise with spices, makes the best spaghetti sauce known to humankind, and chops vegetables so well you’d think they were bred to fall apart in perfect little cubes.

Then we moved.

And suddenly, I’m the one with time to spare. I’m an okay cook. I can stir-fry with the best of them, and my salad dressings are great. But I’m not a wonderful cook. Not innovative. Not confident. I burned some things. Undercooked others. We found ourselves eating out just a little too often. And it was starting to show, in our bodies and our bank accounts.

Enter Vegan With a Vengeance.

Here was a cookbook that spoke to me. Literally. Isa chatted to me like she was sitting backwards on my kitchen chair, telling me her theories of pizza crust making, the trick to getting flavors to stick to tofu, and laughing about the trans-fatty days of being vegan before Earth Balance was in every grocery store in America.

She didn’t take her recipes too seriously. She gave multiple variants on dozens of dishes (wasabi mashed potatoes, anyone?) and encouraged you to try your own. So when she laid down the law about something (prunes are great in chocolate cake, but not in chocolate chip cookies), you trusted it wasn’t because of some kind of celebrity chef ego trip, but because she really did know best.

We talk a lot about empowerment, getting people from a place of passivity and fear to one of leadership and personal responsibility. But we don’t always look around and identify empowerment when we see it, and learn from what works.

Vegan With a Vengeance turned me from “Oh no, it’s really sizzling a lot, I hope I don’t burn it, why don’t I turn down the heat?” to “I know it’s unconventional, but I really think this sauce could use some maple syrup.” I’m still not the best cook on the planet, not even half as good as my husband, but now I’m in a posture of learning, not paralysis.

Who or what has empowered you?

What can you learn from it?

How can you do the same?

P.S- yes, I have Veganomicon now too. Trying out a new soup this weekend!