Most people think we are sisters, but the truth is we are cousins—our moms are sisters. We grew up spending every possible moment together, going on any crazy adventure we could, and forever trying to match each other, from coordinated socksto matching yellow bikinis.
Our childhood was awesome. We were both very responsible kids and mature for our age, so we were given a lot of liberty. It was a bit crazy! Once, when Tori was sixteen (the ink on her driver’s licence was still wet) and Jillian was fourteen, we went camping by ourselves in Tori’s mom’s mini van. Leaving from a family reunion in northern Alberta, we spent a week camping our way through the Rockies with a tent. Of course, that was long before cell phones, and we were too young for credit cards, so we relied on a bit of cash and a few pay phones to call home here and there to let everyone know we were still alive. We were nearly eaten by a bear in Banff, and Tori saved Jillian from choking on a tomato during a giggling fit (good thing for the Heimlich manoeuvre!), but we had so much fun.
Fast-forward to the present and we are still attached at the hip, living a stone’s throw from each other, both bloggers and moms to our sweet kids (who are nearly identical ages). Our relationship is so special; we are seriously two lucky gals. This book offers a peek into our lives and the recipes that have fed our families through the years.
As with most families, our celebrations revolve around food; it is serious business over here. Our granny is the head honcho and is always the first one on the phone delegating dishes and overcommitting herself to cooking a feast. We grew up in a Ukrainian-dominated culture where fresh, seasonal veggies weren’t exactly the highlight at mealtime. Holiday meals meant cabbage rolls, beet rolls, perogies, creamed mushrooms, turkey, gravy, stuffing, fluffy white buns, and green jellied salad (which clearly doesn’t qualify as a “green,” and don’t worry, it didn’t make the cut for this cookbook). Minutes before everyone sat down at the table, someone would throw a bowl of canned corn and some steamed peas on the table in between the bowl of sour cream and the dish of butter as a somewhat guilt-induced after thought. Sigh.
We would love to say that we raised our own chickens and made our own almond milk in our spare time, but that would be a big fat lie. We were a typical family ofthe ’80s. Processed foods were a routine part of our diet, and we never questioned where our food was from or what was in it.
Fortunately, our Ukrainian granny instilled the love of cooking in us at an early age. But family meals have become a bit trickier since we were kids! Two of our family members have celiac disease and can’t eat gluten, a couple of us have turned to a more plant-based diet and have all but eliminated animal products, at least one person is on a low-carb kick at any given time, and of course we have picky kids in the mix. We swear if someone develops a nut allergy, they’ll be kicked out of the family!
We suspect that our crew is not all that unique. Cooking for a crowd is tough to begin with, but cooking for a crowd with so many different food needs is enough to drive a person crazy! We wanted to find a way to help people create dishes for gatherings big or small, as well as everyday meals that can be easily adapted to fit everyone’s requirements. Family meals are important, and so is your sanity. Let’s face it, there’s only so much wine a person can drink. (We would know, for the record.)
We eat for so many different reasons. The most obvious is to nourish ourselves and our families. But culture also determines what we eat, and it has really shaped this cookbook for us. Meals that speak to the heart, those nostalgic dishes from our childhood: we include a lot of these in the book. Wherever possible we lightened up these dishes to make them healthier and more earth-friendly by adapting them to be gluten-free or vegan (at the risk of getting an earful from our eighty-six-year-old granny and every other baba in the world!), but in a few cases we left them in all of their decadent glory.
We made a conscious effort to make this book as plant-heavy as we could, and focused on providing plant-based substitutions where meat or dairy was used traditionally. There is zero downside to eating more plants and fewer animal products. It is better for the environment (it takes fewer resources to produce plant-based foods versus animal-based foods), kinder to the animals (for obvious reasons), and better for our health—a serious win all round. There is a misconception that plant-based eating is expensive, lacks taste, or is difficult, but we promise it is none of these. If you are new to plant-based eating, please try some of the recipes with the plant-based substitutions. We bet you will be pleasantly surprised!
We wrote this cookbook together, but since we are different people with our own perspectives, here are a few thoughts from each of our desks.
Note from Jillian
I was not always a whiz in the culinary department. My earliest memory of getting creative in the kitchen involves some very pasty blueberry muffins that I made at the ripe age of five while my parents had a meeting with some kind of financial guy. I put on my apron, added some blueberries to some flour, sugar, and milk, mixed it all up, and popped it in the oven. Six minutes later, voila—fresh and soggy blueberry muffins were served. The meeting must not have been a successful one because my parents nicely declined the muffins but urged the financial guy to eat one. Poor guy. I remember tasting one and thinking, These are horrible!
I always loved being in the kitchen and experimenting. At a young age I was the lucky recipient of one of those mini stoves many kids in the ’80s had. They weres toves that you could actually bake in. We kept ours in the basement playroom, sitting right on the carpet—talk about a liability! I recall Tori came around to play one day and she was so excited about giving it a shot. To my horror, I had forgotten about some garlic bread I’d made a few weeks earlier. Inside my little oven it had turned into a petri dish of garlicky mould.
Okay, so I did not always have the magic touch in the kitchen, but I was never afraid to try new things and experiment. I had an odd palate for a kid, starting from when I was four. One of my favourite dishes was mushrooms stuffed with escargots, and I loved onion sandwiches, Marmite, pickled eggs, and pickled herring. I would try anything anyone offered me.
Some of my fondest memories in the kitchen involve Christmases at Tori’s parents’ place. Tori and I helped with Christmas baking and Christmas dinner and wanted to be a part of it from start to finish. I am not sure if we were actually much help or if we just drove our moms crazy, but I remember spending a ton of time in the kitchen. My mom and grandma were my biggest culinary influences. They always encouraged me to be creative, try new things, and tweak recipes just to see what would happen. I still have the recipe for my and Grandma’s Crazy Tomato Soup Cake that we created together.
My journey with food has taken quite a turn over the last few years. My favourite foods growing up may have included bacon, cream, butter, cheese, and sour cream, but over the years I have come to look at food differently and now have a new respect for where food comes from. I also feel strongly that one of the reasons I have a ring on my finger is because of my cooking. My fiancé, Justin, always talks about the love weight he gained in our first year together. He reminisces about the jar of bacon grease I would keep on the kitchen counter for cooking.
Although many of my readers on www.jillianharris.com think I am vegan, I am not, but I would say I am a much more conscious eater than I used to be. Do not get me wrong: a cheese perogy with fried bacon, onions, and sour cream is still one of my favourite dishes of all time, but nowadays I prefer plant-based foods and reduce the amount of animal products I consume. I prefer local and fresh ingredients wherever possible. I limit my consumption of animal products and only consume the absolute best local, small-farm, free-range, grass-fed, massaged, loved, sung-to animal products. (Believe it or not, my no-negotiation item is pork, so no more bacon for this gal!) What about Justin? Well, it took a year or two, but after reading enough articles and watching documentaries, the whole family has adopted the same eating style. Justin is always excited when I make a savoury, hot, comfort meal and tell him it's vegan. He’s up for trying anything new and has been enthusiastic about the change. Our son Leo’s favourites include smoked tofu, baked beans, vegan bolognaise, and of course Tori’s Angel Cakes. Our daughter Annie was born while wrapping up the final stages of our cookbook. We hope she will be an adventurous eater, too!
The focus on food has really changed in our house. We are always planning meals around what is in season, local, healthy, and good for the earth. And, of course, it has to be delicious! I realize this is a polarizing and controversial topic, but this cookbook is not about just me; it is about our family, the way we entertain, our traditions, our grandma and uncle Dougie’s stubborn ways, and feeding the whole damn family. While I wish I could label this cookbook and my diet, there is no black-and-white way to put it. Tori and I have made most of our recipes thoughtful, vegetarian- or vegan-convertible, heavy on the plants, and easier on the environment.
In the end, what matters most to us is that you have fun with this cookbook, that we are all going back to putting down our devices, laughing, talking (not texting), cooking with each other, and creating memories. Because that is what really matters, right?
Note from Tori
Food has always been at the heart of our family, so it seems natural that when it was time for me to gravitate toward a profession, it was in the direction of food. Being in the kitchen has always been my happy place. And since Jillian and I were joined at the hip growing up, we ended up spending a good chunk of our childhood together in the kitchen having the time of our lives creating new things, some edible, some not! Little did we know that this early love of cooking and baking, along with the creative freedom our parents let us have in the kitchen (we made a lot of big messes to go with those sometimes questionable dishes), would set the foundation for our cookbook.
When I was growing up, I assumed that all families were like Jillian’s and mine. We all live within a stone’s throw of each other, have the whole crew on speed dial, and celebrate every single holiday together. It isn’t always fancy (actually, it rarely is) or even totally civil (we’re family, after all), but it’s my kind of perfect. I think it was a bit of a shock for my husband, Charles, when he entered the family without reading the fine print: you sign up for the group deal with our clan! I love them all to bits and am so grateful to have such a tight-knit family that can laugh and joke and tease each other and always know that we have each other’s backs. It has had a profound influence over who I am today, on how I want to raise Max and Charlie now that I’m a mom. Family really means everything to Charles and me, and we want our boys to grow up having that same bond with their cousins, aunts, and uncles. It’s my life goal to give them the same magical Christmas mornings and mind-bending Easter egg hunts that we had growing up.
I have loved baking ever since I was about five years old according to my mom, but if my memory serves me correctly, I have not always been good at it. The first loaf of bread I ever baked easily weighed a solid ten pounds, and our dog would not even touch the first pie I made. Ouch. They say that practice makes perfect, and here I am, still practising away.
I have always been completely obsessed with cookbooks. I used to copy out recipes in perfectly neat handwriting on index cards and file them away in an accordion folder that I still have (I’d like those hours back for the record!). I read cookbooks the way most people read novels. But I never thought I would be lucky enough to write a cookbook of my own, especially with my “sister”—it’s a dream come true!
I took an interest in nutrition at an early age. I think it started in grade five, when we learned about the difference between white bread and brown bread and a million reasons to eat your veggies, and I was hooked. My poor parents! Honestly, I think I turned into their biggest nightmare. I took it a bit far, to be honest, forgetting to recognize that food serves a number of purposes in our lives beyond providing nutrients, and that there was still a place for the food that we grew up with, as rich as it may have been. Now that I have my own family, I want Max and Charlie to grow up with a healthy relationship with food. We talk a lot about “sometimes foods” and “everyday foods,” and how they can both fit in a well-rounded diet. I am not vegan but have always eaten a plant-heavy diet, and I’m always looking for new ways to make plant-based eating, and food in general, more enjoyable.
So here’s the deal. The dietitian in me wants to tell you that some of the recipes in this book are “sometimes foods” that we eat in moderation on special occasions. However, the foodie in me wants to pour you a good glass of wine and tell you that life is short and eating dishes made from quality ingredients, in moderation and in good company, is totally okay. I think both perspectives are right. I grew up with perogies and have zero intention of giving them up the few times a year that I eat them. Food is meant to be nourishing in every sense of the word. Yes, we need to feed our body with the nutrients it needs to be strong and healthy. But I also believe that food, preferably home-cooked with incredible wholesome ingredients (and mostly plants), is meant to be enjoyed with friends and family in all of its nostalgic glory to nourish our souls as well. Because food is love.
We are so honoured to be able to share this labour of love and little piece of our family with you. We wrote this cookbook with the hope that it will help inspire you to eat together more often, cook your own food using beautiful, simple, wholesome ingredients, eat more plants, indulge a little when it counts, and most important, to have fun with those you love.