Every cookbook ever written has what comic book writers call an “origin story.” There’s always a reason – at least one – to go to all the trouble of cooking one up. Irma Rombauer, who wrote the queen mother of all American cookbooks, The Joy of Cooking, said that her book was born of a desire “to make palatable dishes with simple means and to lift everyday cooking out of the commonplace.” Though the creators (there are seven of them) of the new vegan cookbook For Goodness Sake make no claim to be inheritors of Rombauer’s mantle, they share her aim: to lift and perhaps not only rescue, but even elevate cooking and everything that it entails out of the commonplace.
Certainly, there’s nothing commonplace about the place where the book was born, as indicated by the lavishly illustrated book’s subtitle: Plant-Based Recipes from the Spiral House Kitchen. The Spiral House looms over the land and lives of its creators, artist Tom Gottsleben and his wife Patty, like a lighthouse pulsing in the dark. Their origin story goes like this: They met in the early 1980s, refugees from city life, and have lived on the 35-acre former bluestone quarry in wildest Saugerties since then. The grounds transformed Gottsleben’s artistic practice, moving him from painting to sculpture, and in the process gave birth to a five-story home built on principles of sacred geometry that in turn you can see at work in Gottsleben’s stone sculptures that dot the property and the extensive flower and vegetable gardens managed by head gardener Andrea Barrist Stern, whose 250-plus photographs give the cookbook its unique and welcoming look.
What has all this got to do with the cookbook? For Goodness Sake’s origin story goes way back: to the tale of Gottsleben’s roots. Gottsleben was an Air Force brat who came of age in the California of the 1960s. He was an early devotee in the 1970s of the boy Guru Maharaj Ji. Though he was convinced that his life was meant to be lived as an artist, Gottsleben showed an early talent for the art of managing people and projects – first within the international districts of the Divine Light Mission and later in the corporate world.
Success in that buttoned-down realm eventually gave way to the lure of country living, the discovery of his future wife and the resumption of his need to be creative. Gottsleben returned to painting when he moved to Saugerties, but before long, looking around himself, he realized that the world he was living in, with its boundless supply of stone, was the medium in which he needed to work and the world in which he needed to live. It was – and is – a world that’s inclusive, if only because it requires the skill of others who can cut and help fashion Gottsleben’s pieces: works that are the bedrock, so to speak, of the five-level Spiral House, the surrounding flower and vegetable gardens, various workspaces and now its most recent offspring, the cookbook.
Though Spiral House is one of the region’s stunning constructions, it’s also a private home. Consider the cookbook the best and only way the public can experience the Spiral House as it’s lived by the working community that comprises its day-to-day life.
That life can involve as many as two dozen men and women who work on the property and share their lunch around the daily culinary efforts of chef Diane Hagedorn. The cookbook’s 140 vegan recipes have been selected and painstakingly tested for the qualities and reasons that are familiar to anyone who understands and appreciates what a vegan lifestyle offers: a diet that reduces the toxic by-products of commonplace agribusiness – i.e., methane, carbon dioxide and the bulldozing of vast acreage for animal agriculture.
The cookbook, says Barrist Stern, “is really about the community that lives and works at Spiral House, the deep friendships that have developed. We believe in living consciously.” A plant-based lifestyle, she says, is what allows the consciousness that may come of community to have a larger effect in a world where animals are routinely tortured for the presumable benefit of human consumers.
Gottsleben puts it this way in the cookbook’s introduction: “In these fast-paced and chaotic times, a growing number of people are becoming aware of the importance of social bonds, seeking a way around the isolation they feel. We believe that respect, care and love of all living things and an awareness of our interconnectedness provide a good antidote.”
Spiral House took about five years to complete; the cookbook that reflects the philosophy of the group who gathers for lunch in its graceful confines took two years and the efforts of seven people to come to fruition.
Gottsleben is still in touch with the man who introduced him to the workings of the inner life and the principles that such a life encompasses. The boy known as Guru Maharaj Ji is now a 58-year-old man known as Prem Rawat. Gottsleben smiles in acknowledgement of how not only his former guru’s life has changed, but also how he sees the circuitous path that his own life has taken.
At the table in the Spiral House kitchen where the cookbook was born, Gottsleben said that he’s comfortable being called a teacher, though not in any sort of preachy way. “My way has been demonstrating and living a life that might be instructive: Life isn’t random; it works in patterns of cohesiveness, a wonderful pattern of wholeness.”
He said that he didn’t know anything about building a house when he decided to build Spiral House; didn’t know much about publishing a book, either. But both efforts drew on the skills of the people who have carved out the community that their cookbook celebrates. In evoking the spirit behind those projects, he doesn’t call on the expectable gods of traditional spirituality, but on the ghosts of Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland, whose most famous cry was, “Let’s put on a show!”
And that, he said, was the way that a life could be lived – as well as being the spirit in which a cookbook could be created that reflected that way of life.
For Goodness Sake is available for $29.99 through independent booksellers as well as Amazon.com, Barnesandnoble.com and Indiebound.com. Visit the Spiral House blog, http://4goodness-sake.com, for recipes, organic gardening tips and further information about the vegan lifestyle. The Facebook page for the cookbook is www.facebook.com/forgoodnesssakecookbook.
Enjoy vegan winery/vegan fare at For Goodness Sake publication party at Whitecliff Vineyards in Gardiner
The people who created the For Goodness Sake cookbook will celebrate – in the most rewarding way possible – the book’s publication with a party at Gardiner’s Whitecliff Vineyards.
Whitecliff is the only vegan winery in the mid-Hudson region, which means that it doesn’t use animal-based ingredients such as fish parts, egg whites and gelatin in its clarifying process. The wine-tasting will pair three of the book’s plant-based dishes with six of the winery’s two dozen wines.
A $32 advance ticket includes the food and wine and a copy of the cookbook, which retails for $29.99. Tickets at the door cost $15.
The party starts at 12 noon on Saturday, June 18. Whitecliff Vineyard is located at 331 McKinstry Road in Gardiner. For further information, visit http://4goodness-sake.com.