Writing a cookbook has been a longtime dream for Manitoba-raised, Netherlands-based food blogger Alexandra Daum.
For the woman behind the popular vegetarian blog Occasionally Eggs, the reality of writing a cookbook, however, was decidedly less dreamy.
"You have to test recipes five or six times before you can include them in the book, which was hellish because when I was testing it, we had the hottest summer ever on record in Holland… you’re trying to bake and it’s just like you’re living in a furnace," she says with a laugh during a recent Zoom call. "That was also our first year living in the Netherlands, so we moved here and then I immediately started writing this book."
Occasionally Eggs, the cookbook, hit stores last week with 114 seasonal, vegetarian, dairy-free recipes developed and photographed by Daum. The book is the culmination of her experiences with food as pastime and medicine.
Daum, 29, grew up on an organic farm near Forrest, a small community several minutes north of Brandon. Her parents stopped farming when she was a teenager and the land around their home was rented out to neighbouring farmers, who reverted to traditional practices and pesticides. Watching crop dusters swooping down over the fields behind her house sparked an interest in organic food and prompted Daum to study anthropology, with a focus on farming practices, in university.
She became vegetarian and threw herself into school. At the same time, severe depression and anxiety loomed large over her studies, eventually causing her to drop out of a master’s program and re-evaluate.
Daum turned to blogging as a way to reconnect with her lifelong passion for food — much of her childhood was spent helping her mom in the kitchen and perusing the family’s large cookbook collection.
"I’ve always really loved cooking and baking and just like the study of food in general, but I thought academics was the only way I would be able to do that," she says. "I started a blog for free and… over time it just kind of morphed into my full-time job."
She also started taking antidepressants and paying more attention to how food affected her mental health. Things like dairy and refined sugar became no-gos while vegetables and whole grains took up more real estate on her plate.
"When you go into this lower trough of depression, it gets so much harder to do the things that you know you need to do to feel better," she says. "It really, really makes a difference in how I can manage symptoms."
Daum and her now-husband decided to move to Germany, her mother’s homeland, several years ago and eventually made their way to the Netherlands.
They live in a fixer-upper with a large garden that inspired the seasonality of Daum’s cookbook. While the Dutch seasons are significantly milder than Manitoba’s — herbs, greens and fruits are plentiful in her garden year-round — she thought a lot about Prairie climes while developing recipes.
"Manitoba is home; that has a really big impact on me," she says. "It feels… a bit weird to say that (something) is a winter recipe because it’s a winter recipe for me here, where I live now, but it was not a winter recipe growing up.
The food-blog world has changed a lot since Daum entered it almost a decade ago. Gone are the days of free website hosting and haphazard posting; now, much of her work is focused on things like search-engine optimization.
Plant-based eating has also grown in popularity and even though many of her recipes are vegan (and despite the title of her blog), she still gets the occasional angry comment when a dish includes eggs or honey.
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"There’s this concept now that veganism is the only diet if you’re environmentally aware," Daum says. "For me, you need to eat what makes you feel good — for some people that includes meat and for some people it doesn’t — and try to think about the environment in your food choices."
Moving her work from the internet to a physical cookbook has been gratifying.
"I still much prefer to use a physical book," she says of her own cooking. "You can easily turn the pages to find other recipes and I think a website, no matter how well it’s done, is just not accessible in the same way."
Occasionally Eggs is available anywhere books are sold.
Eva Wasney Arts Reporter
Eva Wasney is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.
Serves four | 10 minutes prep time | 25 minutes cooking time
6 large eggs
60 ml (1/4 cup) non-dairy milk
5 ml (1 tsp) salt
5 ml (1 tsp) freshly ground pepper
10 ml (2 tsp) olive oil
1 leek, thinly sliced, dark greens discarded
1 bunch asparagus, ends trimmed and cut into 5-cm (2-inch) pieces
2 cloves garlic, minced
10 ml (2 tsp) thyme leaves
Preheat the oven to 200 C (400 F). Whisk together the eggs, milk, salt, and pepper. Set aside.
Heat a medium cast-iron pan or oven-safe skillet (about 8 inches / 20 cm; see note) over medium heat.
Add the oil to the frying pan, followed by the leek. Cook, stirring frequently, for 3 to 4 minutes. Add the asparagus, garlic, and thyme, and cook for another minute.
Pour the egg mixture into the pan. Place in the oven and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the centre of the frittata is set. The cooking time may differ slightly depending on the size of your pan. This will keep well, refrigerated in a sealed container, for a couple of days, and reheats well.
Note: If you don’t have an oven-safe skillet, cook the vegetables and then place them in a casserole dish before topping with the egg mixture and baking.