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Julia Turshen’s new cookbook gets very personal

NEW YORK (AP) - Best-selling cookbook author Julia Turshen concentrates on the raw material of each recipe - ingredients, utensils and ounces. But behind the food is something else.

“I’ve always been drawn to cookbooks because I think they’re this remarkable way to share stories,” she says. “I think food is just a vehicle for these stories.”

By that measure, her latest offering, “Simply Julia,” is as close to an autobiography as a cookbook can be, from her handwritten recipe titles to the inclusion of old family snapshots, photographs of her at home, essays and a peek into her life with every dish.

“The thing that weaves them all together is that they all really have a very personal story attached to them,” she says by phone from her home in New York’s Hudson Valley.

The book is a compilation of 110 healthy comfort dishes, from turkey shepherd’s pie to Hasselback carrots. There are 87 vegetarian recipes, 42 vegan ones, a chapter on chicken dishes, and egg-free and gluten-free options.

“What concerns me is that I think a lot of people see more difficult, more time-consuming, more expensive ingredient cooking and think that is somehow the goal,” she says. “Food doesn’t have to be difficult or complicated to be good.”

Each dish has a strong tie to the people and places close to Turshen’s heart. There’s a mushroom and barley soup that is her dad’s favorite, a stew from her mother-in-law, cookies from a close friend, and dishes inspired by an aunt and grandparents.

Turshen reveals the muffins she likes after a run, a drink adopted from her childhood babysitter, and sweet and salty peanuts that mimic a taste from her days living in New York City. Readers learn what five spices she considers musts, and the five things always in her fridge.

Many of the dishes celebrate a tie to her wife, Grace; Turshen hears from many gay women about how affirming it is to see such relationships mentioned in print.

“That is part of why I share so much of myself, because I think it’s a way to help just create and sustain representation,” she says. “My hope with getting to show up as my full self is that it makes that possible for lots of other people.”

Turshen started the latest book with the notion of offering 10 chapters - like breakfasts, vegan one pots and weeknight dinners - each with 10 recipes. But soon each chapter grew to 11 dishes.

“I always want to give a little extra,” she says. “It’s kind of how I approach cooking. I always cook a little bit more than I think my wife and I are going to eat so we can always have a little something extra for the next day.”

Along with the dishes are deeply personal essays about body image, fat phobia and anxiety. Turshen said writing them was both scary and liberating.

“They felt incredibly cathartic to write,” she says. “It’s the kind of reflection I hope to see in many cookbooks because I think talking about how we feel when we eat and how we feel about our bodies is obviously incredibly tied to what we cook.”

This cover image released by Harper Wave shows 'Simply Julia: 110 Easy Recipes for Healthy Comfort Food' by Julia Turshen. Each meal has a strong tie to the people and places close to Turshen's heart. (Harper Wave via AP)