A Kindle in the kitchen

Why my electronic book reader has a home on the counter top.

By Lynda Strahl

Amazon Kindle on the counter-top

Photo © Veg World. All rights reserved.

My husband bought an Amazon Kindle because he's a frequent flyer who loves to read. The 6-ounce electronic book reader is so much easier on his carry-on allowance than the supply of paperbacks he would otherwise tote on a cross-country trip.

I bought an Amazon Kindle because I love to cook - and, especially, to experiment with new recipes. I currently have 18 cookbooks loaded on the device - that's over 3,000 recipes which I can browse, search and annotate with ease. And I'm only using around 2 percent of the reader's capacity. Not surprisingly, my Kindle has a near-permanent home on the kitchen counter top.

Of course, I also own a collection of conventional cookbooks. I get a lot of pleasure from browsing through a printed book, seeking inspiration and getting ideas for imaginative meals. But it's hard to beat the Kindle for sheer convenience. It lets me search for ingredients, bookmark recipes I plan to use again, add my own notes and comments, and even keep a clippings file of my favorite dishes. And, unlike with a bulky printed book, I don't need to pinion it down with a sack of sugar to prevent the page from turning.

What exactly is it?

For those who haven't seen a Kindle, it's essentially a hand-held gadget that can store many hundreds of digital books - much as an MP3 player stores digital music. You read the books on a 6-inch screen which uses a technology called E-Ink. This is much easier on the eye than a computer screen. You could read a full-length novel on the Kindle without undue strain on your eyes. (For more information about the reader, including a video demonstration, see the Kindle page at Amazon.Com.)

Amazon says that the device will hold around 1,500 books, yet it takes up less space than a small dinner plate, and is about as thick as a dozen paper napkins. You can buy books from Amazon and elsewhere, or download free non-copyright titles from a number of sites.

The Kindle connects to Amazon via the cellular phone network. This means I can purchase books and have them delivered directly to the device without leaving the kitchen. I don't need to turn on my computer or have a wi-fi connection. In fact, it's possible to use a Kindle even if you don't own a computer.

Before I bought my Kindle, my other main source of recipes was the Internet (especially Veg World, of course). But I was never happy with having a laptop in the kitchen, and I disliked having to print a recipe to paper, especially if I only used it once. Unfortunately, the Kindle isn't very good at Internet access. It does come with a rudimentary web browser, but it's slower than my laptop and only works properly with certain sites. But that's not such a big problem, given the vast number of recipes that the device can store off line.

Watch for splashes

Like everything else in the kitchen, a Kindle will attract its share of splashes, spills and condensation, especially if you handle it with wet hands or floury fingers. My solution is simple: I keep it in a transparent Ziploc bag. This in no way hinders me from reading the screen or turning the pages, and it helps keep the device in pristine condition. (I use the same trick when I take my Kindle to the beach.)

Not just for Americans

And now there's good news for readers outside the United States: The Kindle is available in over 100 countries, with the same instant wireless access to the Kindle store (although not all books are available in all countries). The latest models offer a choice of wi-fi and 3G (cellular) access, so you can use whichever method works best in your part of the world.

What's more, readers in Britian and Ireland can now buy the Kindle direct from Amazon UK, with no delivery charges, and with prices in British pounds. As far as I can see, all the Kindle vegetarian cookbooks that I can buy in the US are also available in the UK.

So what am I reading?

Amazon currently lists around 1,800 cookbooks for the Kindle, of which about 300 are specifically for vegetarians. You'll probably find some old favorites in the list, as well as many new ones. If you're unsure where to start, here are my own recommendations.

My current top favorite is Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois. Its main focus is on techniques for bread baking that require no kneading and no yeast activation. It explains how to make a batch of dough for storing in the fridge, which you then subdivide and bake over a two-week period. (The five minutes in the title refers to is the actual hands-on time, not the proofing or baking.) The book includes dozens of recipes based on this technique. It describes many unusual and fascinating types of bread, with recipes from France, Scandinavia, North Africa and elsewhere, as well as more conventional loaves, rolls, bagels and the like. I've always enjoyed baking my own bread, but this book has opened up new horizons for me.

My other top recommendation is Totally Vegetarian by Toni Fiore, who is the host of the PBS series Delicious TV's Totally Vegetarian. Its 200 recipes include many unusual dishes as well as a few more familiar ones. I had great success with the spinach and tofu soup and the roasted eggplant caviar. There are appetizers, soups, stews, salads, pasta dishes, burgers, desserts and much more in this excellent book. The recipes are well explained in a friendly style, and are all very tempting.

basil leaves

I've always loved Indian food, but never had a worthwhile collection of Indian vegetarian recipes. So I downloaded Flavors of India: Vegetarian Indian Cuisine, by Shanta Nimbark Sacharoff, and was not disappointed. It's packed with information about spices and other Indian ingredients, including nutritional details, as well as an extremely useful glossary. The recipes include vegetable dishes, dahls, bean dishes, Indian breads, appetizers, sauces and desserts. I've managed to make my own chutney with the help of this book, and have been successful with several other dishes.

Another branch of cooking I'd like to explore further is raw food, also known as living food. I flirted with a raw-food diet a few years ago (see my Veg World article, The End of Cooking), but never found enough recipes to sustain the idea. Since then, I've been reading Raw Food Detox Diet by Natalia Rose, and it's encouraged me to venture further. Not so much a cookbook, it's more an introductory how-to for those interested in a raw-food lifestyle. There's a bit too much emphasis on attaining a beautiful body for my liking (I'm past the age where that matters to me), but it does have a useful collection of raw-food recipes.

My final recommendation is The Complete Vegan Kitchen by Jannequin Bennett. I own both the Kindle and printed versions of this book, and have found an endless source of ideas from its 300 or so recipes. I'd especially recommend the grilled asparagus and leeks, not to mention the chickpea kibbeh and the portobello mushroom burgers. As well as main courses, there are recipes for breakfast dishes, breads and desserts, and also some useful sections on nutritional and ethical issues.


Amazon's Kindle store isn't the only supplier of electronic books. Sites such as Fictionwise and Books on Board sell books that can be read on the Kindle, and Feedbooks offers out-of-copyright titles free of charge. Unfortunately, I've not been able to find any useful recipe books on these sites, although you might have better luck than me. Similarly, there are other electronic readers on the market, but in my view none matches the comfort and convenience of the Kindle.

In fact, the combination of the Kindle reader and the easy access to the Kindle store makes the Amazon product a real winner. My husband has taken his Kindle all over the world. I'm happy to keep mine where I find it most useful - on the counter top.

April 2009 (updated September 2010)

Please note: Neither Veg World nor its contributors are qualified to give medical or nutritional advice. If in doubt, always consult a suitably-qualified professional.

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