I first heard about Kittee Berns and her Papa Tofu zine on the Post Punk Kitchen forums some years ago. I had fallen head over heels in love with Ethiopian food, and I needed to make some at home as soon as humanly possible. I immediately ordered Papa Tofu, chock full of Ethiopian vegan recipes, other savoury recipes, and a whole lots of sweets, all contained in an adorably designed and drawn zine. Kittee’s recipes are the bomb, you guys! That little zine has endured so much use in my kitchen you could probably find ten different foods splattered on any given page of my copy (is that disgusting? I call it love!).
This year, Kittee, along with two other amazing ladies, Allyson Kramer and Jessy Farrell, launched an adorable gluten free and vegan website and community, xgfx, which I wrote about for Vegansaurus. Kittee also works her butt off for Vegan MoFo. Oh hey, I wrote about that here for VegNews. I guess I’m a Kittee fangirl? No shame! I haven’t even met the girl, but I’m sure when I do this summer at Vida Vegan Con, (stay tuned for more on that!), she will be my favourite gluten-free vegan friend of all time.
But, this story has just begun! Kittee has a couple of new zines slated to launch very soon, one filled with all gluten free and vegan Ethiopian recipes, and the other, an unnamed gluten free and vegan tome (at least by zine standards) containing Vietnamese, Indian, Latin and New Orleans recipes, desserts, and other non-categorical delicious things. Insanely exciting, right?! I don’t know how she does it. One thing I really admire about Kittee is that, unlike the increasingly many vegans who have nabbed cookbook deals just from blogging, (no disrespect for them—they are on the move too!), Kittee really seems to enjoy the creative and fun ethos that comes with being a zinester. That said, it is time for someone to give this lady a cookbook deal so she can be rich and famous, and so I can have volumes of Berns-authored books on my shelf!
VOTM: Tell us about your new zines!
Kittee: Boy, I’m really excited about the set two zines. Both will be available to purchase this summer 2011. The first of the two is called Papa Tofu Loves Ethiopian Food and is a “cooklet” dedicated to vegan, gluten-free Ethiopian recipes. It has tons of information, along with hand cut illustrations and, of course, recipes. I included the classics you’d expect to see in any self-respecting Ethiopian restaurant, but have also included some really tasty improvised ideas. I wrote the zine so readers who might not be familiar with this cuisine will understand what’s going on. But, I think those who are already familiar with this food will still benefit from the information, and can just dig right into the recipes. I’m really proud of this guy! The last in the [Papa Tofu] trilogy is yet unnamed, but it include recipes inspired by a several different cultures, including New Orleans. Most of those recipes come from a project several years in the making, and I’ve just decided it’s now or never. I’m planning to start selling the Ethiopian zine in July, and unveil the third zine at the Vida Vegan Bloggers Conference in August.
VOTM: You’ve been blogging and developing recipes for both zines and your website for so long—why not go the route of the multitudes of vegan bloggers and go after a cookbook deal? What do you like about the zine format?
Kittee: You sound like my husband, Dazee! I really love the crafty and DIY aspect of making my own zines, plus I get to work on my own timetable, which is both a blessing and curse. But that’s not to say I would say no to a future book deal, it just hasn’t materialized. Plus, I would miss all the Post Office employees.
VOTM: What made you decide to do the Ethiopian and xgfx zines? Do you have plans for future zines?
Kittee: These zines sorta constructed themselves. A few years ago, while living in New Orleans, I decided to write a vegan cookbook about the city’s famous cuisine. Since most traditional dishes from NOLA are decidedly not vegetarian-friendly, there is a definite need for this type of book, even if it is considered a niche cuisine. Even in the city itself, finding vegan versions of the classic dishes is mostly impossible, save for some veggie red beans and rice here or there. Then, in the middle of the project, I went gluten-free, which put a big wrench not only in the project, but in my cooking in general. Then, we moved from New Orleans to Portland, OR., and that was bumpier still. The hardest for me was trying to develop xgfx dishes that mirrored super-animal-filled dishes I’d never even tasted before, and I had no one to taste things to tell me if I was close, or just swimming in the middle of the ocean. I had to read a million different cookbooks to get an idea for what each dish is supposed to be like, and then just hit the kitchen running. So I tried to do that for awhile, but since it was slow going, (eating super rich New Orleans food all the time is sorta hard all by itself), I sorta hit a wall and shelved the project.
I decided I wanted a new project that would motivate me and maybe not take five years to complete, so I decided to write another zine. The recipes I started making just reflected the kinds of things I love to eat; my favorite dishes. I love Ethiopian food, and so of course I decided to expand on the recipes from Papa Tofu, but I also love the other cuisines I mentioned earlier. I thought it would be nice to focus on dishes that might be new for a lot of people and also the sort of things folks who don’t gluten might enjoy.
When I sat down to compile the zine, I decided to start with the Ethiopian recipes first. As I wrote and got more ideas, the chapter kept getting bigger and bigger, until I realized there was no way I’d be able to even staple the silly thing together (if I ever got it finished). So I decided to split the Ethiopian recipes into their own zine. Papa Tofu Loves Ethiopian Food is 86 pages long!
VOTM: What is the most important lesson you’ve learned from the process of creating zines and following through with DIY projects?
Kittee: One, backup your laptop! That was another big issue I had with my New Orleans project. I dropped our laptop while using it one afternoon and killed the hard-drive. I lost YEARS of notes. It was terrible.
Two, If you can, find a great press to help you out. The first editions of Papa Tofu were just runoff on large copy machines at Kinkos and the quality of the illustrations was compromised, plus it kept my costs high. In Portland, I’ve been working with Eberhardt Press, and it is amazing. They scan everything in first, so the the first zine is as high quality as the last one. They print with vegetable ink on 100% post consumer paper, but are still affordable. I love them. The quality of Papa Tofu Loves Ethiopian Food is infinitely better than it’s predecessor.
Thirdly, buy stamps and keep them at your house so you can just send the zines out with your postal carrier instead of waiting in line at the P.O.
Fourth, after four years of mailing zines out of the country, someone at the P.O. finally told me I didn’t have to fill out a custom’s slip. Someone in NOLA told me I did, so I’ve been doing that for years and it’s a total pain in the ass. So get your facts straight, and don’t be afraid of standing up for yourself.
And five, rubber cement is great.
VOTM: What advice would you give to young or old vegans on the move hoping to write their own zines?
Kittee: Consider all the costs before you begin and keep good records (put your expense receipts in one place). Organize your ideas and keep your recipes safe. Talk to your friends and get their feedback. Have fun and be careful about the fonts you choose. Use the Internet to help you promote your zine—I’m always shocked when I discover new vegan zines on Etsy I’ve never heard about.
VOTM: Do you have any future plans beyond the two upcoming zines?
Kittee: I want to sell collectors’ editions of the three zines! Maybe sew some cool display cases for them like a fabric boxed set? I don’t know! Buy my zines and support Vegan DIY!
This just in! Papa Tofu Loves Ethiopian Food will be available for purchase later this week! Check Kittee’s blog Cake Maker to the Stars for details. Kittee is sold out the original Papa Tofu, but you are in luck, as there are still copies available to order from Herbivore Clothing and Food Fight! Vegan Grocery!