Brain/Food: Stefanie’s American garden

Stefanie Hollmichel is an accomplished gardener, voracious reader and all around Nice Person. The first two things I know from being a long-time fan of her So Many Books blog, the third because she wrote me a series of real good, olde timey letters a few years back—and would, perhaps, still be doing so if I had managed to keep up my end of the epistolary bargain.

Stefanie in her beautiful garden

If I ever get down to Minnesota, I’m looking forward to some of that hyper-local, homemade apple sauce (maybe even served on top of apple pie; we ought to dare to dream big, my friends.)


How does growing so much of your own food in your backyard garden affect how you eat? Does it affect how and what you read? Favourite gardening books/books about gardens?

Since I’ve been vegan for over twenty years, knowing about what I am eating, where it comes from and how it was grown has been a constant and continuing education. That education came mostly from magazines like Vegetarian Times. But then Michael Pollan published his eye-opening book The Omnivore’s Dilemma and I started reading about food additives and the terrible things that even organic farms do.

Stefanie's beautiful garden with monarch butterfly

Turning my backyard into a productive food garden is a continuation of that. It combines my concerns about climate change and sustainability with my desire for healthy, locally grown food. You can’t get more local than your own garden! Food from the garden, fresh picked and in season tastes so amazing. I used to hate green beans until I grew them myself. My husband used to hate peas because he had only ever eaten them from a can. I will never buy a tomato in January again. And being able to open a jar of applesauce in the middle of winter made from apples I grew on my own tree is incredibly satisfying.

My current passions are books about permaculture and urban homesteading. Gaia’s Garden by Toby Hemenway, The Vegetable Gardener’s Guide to Permaculture by Christopher Shein, Urban Homesteading by Rachel Kaplan and The Weekend Homesteader by Anna Hess are all excellent.

Who is your literary boyfriend or girlfriend? (They need not still be living, or they can be a character in a book.)

Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird. It probably helped that Gregory Peck plays him in the movie. I also have a crush on Margaret Atwood and I fell in love with her character Toby in the MaddAddam books. Currently I am head-over-heels in love with Ann Leckie and her Emperial Radch books. I also have a deep and abiding love for Virginia Woolf that she will never be able to shake no matter how snobby or bitchy she is. Clearly I have difficulty with literary monogamy.

Has a book ever made you physically ill? If yes, which book was it and why did it affect you this way?

A month ago I would have said disgusted, but not ill. But I recently finished reading A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess and it made me feel so nauseous that if I hadn’t agreed to read it along with a friend I wouldn’t have finished it. The violence was so raw and terrible and the main character so hateful I felt like being sick a number of times.

What was your first cookbook? Do you still have it? How does it reflect who you are?

I don’t remember the very first cookbook I ever had, but I remember the first vegan cookbook, Tofu Cookery by Louise Hagler. Back in the early 90s there were none of the already made vegetarian/vegan foods there are now. My husband is the one who actually does all the cooking in the house and having just gone vegan and not knowing how to cook with tofu, this book saved us.

We had no idea what to eat for Thanksgiving and the enchilada recipe in Tofu Cookery became the starting point for a tradition. The enchiladas are a lot different now than they used to be, but that recipe got us started. Every year turkey-eating friends and family ask us if we are making enchiladas and every year we say yes. We still have the book. Some of the pages have stuck together from sticky fingers touching the pages. Even though we never use it anymore, I don’t think we could ever part with it.

Reading and eating simultaneously, yes or no? Dangers and benefits?

A definite yes! I read on my lunch break at work every day. I read on a Kobo Touch and am always wiping away smudges from my lunch off the screen. At home when I have dinner alone because husband is working late there is always a book. Also on weekends there are few things more wonderful than a sweet treat, a big cup of coffee and a book. And yes, sometimes I leave evidence—chocolate, carroty orange fingerprints, a small blob of hummus. I never feel guilty unless it’s a library book. I try to be careful but accidents happen.

Is it okay to write in cookbooks? What about novels or books of poetry? What’s the difference?

It is definitely okay to write in cookbooks, a necessity really. You need to leave yourself notes for next time like “This was a disaster—never make it again.” Most of the time, it’s my husband changing the recipe to make it better, more of this, less of that or adding an ingredient that wasn’t in the original. As for novels and poetry, definitely okay to write in those too, unless it is a library book, that’s never okay.

I find it easier to write in poetry books though, probably because there is usually so much white space it invites observation and conversation on the page. Novels with tiny margins* are offensive and I sometimes make up for it by using sticky notes. My marginalia is far from brilliant, however, and usually remains at the level of underlining, exclamation points, and witty remarks like “ha!” and “gak!”

*Publishers, take note: Stefanie is not the only one that feels this way. I have not read, and will not even try to read, Infinite Jest, to cite the most painful example, until you sort this. *shakes fist* -CS.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Stefanie says:

    You know Pi Day is coming up and we have a jar of apple pie filling we canned from our apples. Stop by for a piece if you are in the neighborhood. There might even be some homemade vanilla coconut milk ice cream to go along with it 🙂

    1. Colleen says:

      As soon as I have recuperated, I’ll be there. 🙂

  2. Grad says:

    Loved this! That’s our Stefanie. You just gotta love both her and Bookman. Bravo on this splendid piece.

    1. Colleen says:

      Yep, Stefanie and Bookman are the best.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s