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 Top Austin blogger behind Love & Lemons publishes debut cookbook

In 2011, when chatter in the food blogging community had turned to asking whether the blogging boom was over, Jeanine Donofrio decided it was time to get in the game.

The Austin-based graphic designer was winding down a business she had been running with two other designers and was trying to figure out what to do next.

“I had been burned out of client work, work for other people,” she says. “I was so passionate about food that I found myself procrastinating looking at recipes and reading food blogs.”

She bought the domain,, and got to work. Within the first week of blogging, Glamour’s website posted a photo and link to one of her recipes. “I had a feeling I was onto something,” she says. “I loved cooking and telling little stories around the food.”

By the time Saveur magazine named Love & Lemons one of their top blogs in 2014, Donofrio was already contributing to Food52, Refinery 29 and Camille Styles, another local publication with a national reach. She was also courting requests from publishers who were interested in a cookbook deal, she says, but she and her husband and blogging partner, Jack Mathews, held out until they found the right one that would allow them creative control of the look of the book.

Having worked mostly with print design, Donofrio knew the importance of a book that reflected what her readers were used to experiencing online. So she hired her former business partner, Trina Bently, now of Make & Matter, to design the physical book, using 100 unpublished recipes and photos that she and Mathews took together.

The Love & Lemons Cookbook: An Apple-to-Zucchini Celebration of Impromptu Cooking” ($35, Avery) came out last week, and from 5 to 7 p.m. Saturday, Lenoir will host a happy hour book signing in its wine garden that will include small bites from the book.

Donofrio says that both the book and the blog couldn’t have happened without her husband, a programmer who helps make sure the site — and its popular recipe index — run smoothly. He also helps her set up the signature overhead shots of food on their granite counter that fill the pages of the book and her Instagram channel. Her account, @loveandlemons, has more than 152,000 followers, one of the largest accounts in Austin. By comparison, Camila Alves, the model and wife of Matthew McConaughey who has her own lifestyle website, Women of Today, has about half of that.

Inspired by that recipe index, the book is categorized by ingredient, from apples to zucchini as the title suggests. But Donofrio encourages readers to think about the ways that the recipes can be adapted to whatever’s in season, such as making avocado toast with pea tendrils in early spring and later with lightly steamed green beans or cherry tomatoes as the year goes on.

Donofrio says she hasn’t ever felt very inspired by meal plans, so she lets her shopping or her community-supported agriculture box dictate what she makes for the week. Letting the freshest ingredients inspire the meat-free meals is what Donofrio says she ultimately hopes readers will take away from her blog and book.

If you’re not in the habit of buying seasonal vegetables, she recommends signing up for a CSA box, in which a farm provides a box of whatever’s in season directly to the customer.

“I love how (CSA boxes) force me to get a little creative,” she says. “I often end up making things that I wouldn’t have otherwise thought of, which is really inspiring to me.”

Other sources of inspiration include blogs such as 101 Cookbooks, Cookie and Kate and Green Kitchen Stories, and she has been known to turn to “The Vegetarian Flavor Bible” by Karen A. Page when she’s really feeling in a rut.

The Chicago-born Donofrio and Mathews, who grew up in Florida, have been living in Austin for nine years, but they travel as much as possible. Those flavors find their way into the dishes in the book, such as the miso-braised mustard greens and carrot and tomato tagliatelle from Japan and Italy, respectively, two of their favorite destinations.

Living in Chicago, Donofrio says she never ate like this. That might have had something to do with the short growing cycle, but ever since she moved to Texas, home of year-round farmers markets and community-supported agriculture programs, her diet has fundamentally changed in more ways than one.

“I never imagined I would eat so much salsa in all my life and that I would make it in all these different ways,” she says. “Same with avocados and tacos.”

The title of the blog is inspired, in part, by her own love of lemons — she squeezes lemon juice on just about all of her food — but also by a trip to Italy, where they saw a dog with a lemon in its mouth. “We laughed at the idea that dogs in Italy play with lemons instead of tennis balls,” she says.

“When I started cooking with lemons, that was the game changer. Before, I would make a vegetable and try to make it taste good with salt, and it wasn’t bright. So I just started using lemons,” she says.

And to think, one of those squeezes of lemon was the seed for her next career.

Veggie Ceviche

This vegan spin on traditional seafood ceviche calls for baking slices of plantains for serving, but Donofrio says that you can skip that step and just serve the ceviche with tortilla chips, if you’d like.

1/4 cup finely diced red onion

1 scallion, finely chopped

1 red bell pepper, stem and ribbing removed and finely diced

1/2 to 1 jalapeño pepper, finely diced

1 small Granny Smith apple, finely diced

1 1/2 cups fresh corn kernels, cut from about 2 ears of corn

3 Tbsp. fresh orange juice

3 Tbsp. fresh lime juice

1/2 tsp. lime zest

1/2 cup chopped cilantro

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 ripe plantains (optional)

Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling

Make the ceviche: In a medium bowl, mix all of the ceviche ingredients together. Chill for at least 20 minutes. After chilling, season the ceviche with additional salt to taste.

Heat the oven to 400 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Slice off the ends of the plantains and peel. Cut into thin, 1/4-inch slices on a bias. Arrange the plantain slices on the baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and pinches of salt and pepper. Bake for 20 minutes, then flip the plantains with a spatula and bake for an additional 5 minutes. Serve ceviche with the plantain slices. Serves 6.

— From “The Love & Lemons Cookbook: An Apple-to-Zucchini Celebration of Impromptu Cooking” by Jeanine Donofrio ($35, Avery)

Avocado Pesto Mozzarella Tartines

8 slices whole-grain bread

Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling

16 fresh sage leaves, de-stemmed

1 (8-oz.) ball fresh mozzarella, sliced

1 avocado, sliced

Few leaves of watercress

Few sprigs of fresh thyme

Pesto (recipe follows)

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Drizzle the bread with olive oil, then toast in a toaster oven or on a grill.

In a small skillet over medium heat, drizzle enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan. When the oil shimmers, add the sage leaves and lightly fry until they turn vibrant green without browning, 10 to 15 seconds on each side. Transfer to a paper towel to drain any excess oil.

Top each piece of toasted bread with slices of mozzarella, avocado, watercress, thyme, sage and dollops of pesto. Season with salt and pepper. Serve with the extra pesto on the side. Serves 4.

— From “The Love & Lemons Cookbook: An Apple-to-Zucchini Celebration of Impromptu Cooking” by Jeanine Donofrio ($35, Avery)

Pesto Change-o

This base recipe for pesto can be adapted in many ways, including by using cilantro and pepitas, mint and peas or basil and zucchini.

1/4 cup olive oil

2 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 clove garlic, minced

2 cups herbs (or a mixture of 1 cup herb and 1 cup sliced vegetable, such as zucchini or peas)

1/2 cup nuts, such as walnuts, pine nuts or pecans

1/4 cup Parmesan (optional)

Salt and pepper, to taste

Pulse ingredients together in a food processor or blender. Taste and adjust seasoning. Store any leftover pesto in the fridge for up to a week.

Miso-Braised Mustard Greens

1 tsp. white miso paste

1/4 cup warm water

Several bunches of Asian mustard greens or baby bok choy, about 20 leaves

1 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 tsp. rice vinegar

1/2 tsp. maple syrup or honey

Toasted sesame oil, for drizzling

Sesame seeds, for sprinkling

In a small bowl, whisk together the miso paste and water.

Trim off the rough bottoms of the mustard greens, separate the leaves and rinse under running water. Pat dry.

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the mustard greens and cook about 2 minutes, turning occasionally. Add half the miso water, cover, and let cook until the stems start to soften, about 2 more minutes. If the skillet is getting dry, add more miso water.

Add the rice vinegar and maple syrup and toss. Transfer to a serving plate, drizzle with sesame oil, and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Serves 4 as a side dish.

— From “The Love & Lemons Cookbook: An Apple-to-Zucchini Celebration of Impromptu Cooking” by Jeanine Donofrio ($35, Avery)

CORRECTION: This story originally had the incorrect date for the book signing at Lenoir. That will take place from 5 to 7 p.m. Saturday.

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