Award-winning author looks to first date for cookbook inspiration

Ask someone about the best gift to give a girl on a first date, and your list will likely overflow with flowers, chocolate, or other delicacies, but for Saskatchewan cookbook blogger and Saskatoon StarPhoenix columnist Renée Kohlman, it was actually asparagus that did the trick.

Kohlman had just finished writing her first cookbook when she went on a date with her now partner Dixon. When they met for dinner, he handed her a bunch of asparagus, and the rest is history.

“It was tied with a little set of twine, and it was just really fantastic,” Kohlman said during a phone interview from Saskatoon. “We had a three hour date and then we got kicked out of the restaurant because the owner wanted to go home. Then we chatted for another half an hour in the parking lot.

“It was just a really fantastic first date and I just knew we would just be together and we have. It’s been six years, and things are going pretty well.”

That first date not only resulted in a new relationship, it became the inspiration for Kohlman’s next cookbook. ‘Vegetables: a Love Story’ debuted in October, and quickly became a must-have for anyone who likes to spend time in the kitchen. It also nabbed some professional recognition too after the Globe and Mail added it to their list of 100 best books of 2021.

It was one of only six cookbooks on the list.

“To get some national recognition is really wonderful, to be honest, because when you’re in your little kitchen (or) in your little office writing a cookbook, you just hope that people are going to want to cook from it and want to read your stories,” Kohlman said. “You put your heart out there and hope people are going to love it, and so far, people have.”

COVID-19 restrictions prevented Kohlman from having a proper book launch, but she’s still trying to spread the word about her latest contribution. On Tuesday, she’ll be at the John M. Cuelenaere Public Library in Prince Albert to give a reading, and sell and sign copies.

The book contains 92 recipes and the stories behind them, although settling on that final number took some effort.

“I think I initially had about 135,” she said with a laugh. “I sent the list of recipes to my publisher. She said, ‘oh Renée, dear, how about we do 80?’  I said, ‘oh, how about 90?’ We agreed on 90, but I snuck a couple extra in there, but I do have a file on my computer that has extra recipes.”

The recipes focus on a wide variety of vegetables, ranging from popular favourites like carrots and potatoes, to more underrated staples like cabbage. Kohlman said the latter can be a star addition to the kitchen, if more cooks are willing to give it a shot.

“It’s so affordable,” she explained. “You can buy a head of cabbage and honestly get two to three to four meals out of it, depending on how many people you’re feeding. It’s low on calories. It’s high in vitamins, and roasted cabbage is one of my favourite things.

“People love their carrots, tomatoes, potatoes, etc., and so do I, but I think cabbage can be a little bit of a star, especially if you put it into stews, put it into stir fry, that sort of thing.”

Kohlman hopes Tuesday’s author reading will help inspire people to try new things, both in the kitchen and outside of it. Although she’s now a popular cooking blogger, Kohlman said it wasn’t’ until 2011 that she realized how much she loved writing. She’s hoping her story can inspire others to do something similar.

“I’m someone who has always followed my passions, be it with cooking, be it with writing, and I never really fell in love with writing until I started my blog in 2011, so it’s never really too late to find what you do and just go for it.”

As for her partner, Dixon, he still grows vegetables for her, and she still cooks them. Some of the meals they created together even found their way into the book.

While not everyone may find success in giving a prospective partner some vegetables on their first date, there will always be at least one benefit: better health.

“We really should be eating more vegetables anyway,” Kohlman said.

The author’s reading is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the John. M. Cuelenaere Public Library on Tuesday, May 17.

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