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Welcome to This Awful/Awesome Life! My name is Frances Joyce. I am the publisher and editor of this magazine. We'll be exploring different topics each month to inform, entertain and inspire you. Meet new authors, sharpen your brain and pick up a few tips on life, love, entertaining and business. Enjoy and please share!

Almost Everything you've Always Wanted to know about The New Chicago Diner Cookbook - as told to Fran Joyce by Caitlin Cahill

Caitlin Cahill and her husband Jordan Bush

Caitlin Cahill and her husband Jordan Bush

Caitlin Cahill and her husband Jordan Bush transitioned to a plant-based diet almost eight years ago. Unlike her parents, Joe and Linda Cahill, who committed to an all or nothing eating strategy last year when they started a plant-based diet, Caitlin and Jordan’s journey was more gradual.

According to Caitlin, “I had cystic acne in high school and I was a dancer who was often plagued by injuries. I went to doctors and took medications for temporary fixes. I never had weight issues, so my diet was never even considered as a possible culprit.”

When Jordan was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease, his doctors told him not to eat certain foods, but never fully explained what he should be eating to stay healthy. Looking for answers, Jordan began to research nutrition online. As Jordan learned more about some of the trigger foods for his condition , he learned about food sensitivities. Caitlin began the process of eliminating foods from her diet. Limiting or eliminating foods was beneficial for both Caitlin and Jordan, but the question soon became, “ What can we eat?”

Caitlin saw relief from many of her symptoms when she eliminated dairy, eggs and later meats. Jordan has to avoid fatty, greasy foods and foods that are high in fiber. He also has to avoid raw fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, but can handle cooked varieties of many fruits and vegetables. Triggers for people living with Crohn’s Disease can vary, so finding a healthy diet that works requires patience and unfortunately trial and error.


Deciding on a healthy eating plan for your family requires more than a basic knowledge of the five basic food groups. After a lot of research, Caitlin and Jordan decided to follow a plant-based diet. One of their favorite resources is The New Chicago Diner Cookbook which seems to be the cookbook of choice for many people who follow a plant-based diet.

As part of our series on the vegan lifestyle, we decided it would be interesting to review the cookbook for our readers, so I asked the questions and Caitlin provided the answers.

The New Chicago Diner Cookbook (the original Chicago Diner Cookbook is also available)  features recipes from the Chicago Diner, one of the oldest vegan restaurants in the United States. It has “vegan versions” of many of your favorite family recipes.

 1.       How is the book organized?

The cookbook starts with information about the restaurant and some background information about its owners who were vegan before it was widely accepted or considered cool.

It’s organized much like other cookbooks, but instead of listing recipes by food group they are separated into Breakfast and Brunch, Snacks, Soups and Salads, Entrees, Beverages and Cocktails.

The recipes also vary in skill level from novice to expert while helping to educate people about plant-based cooking.

2.       Does it explain food swaps?

Yes, but the terminology is slightly different. The cookbook tells you what to use in place of common recipe items such as dairy products, eggs, and meat. It has a great recipe for seitan, a popular meat substitute made from cooked wheat gluten.The cookbook also talks about panty particulars which are cooking staples that are good to have on hand such as nutritional yeast, different type of grains, and varieties of nuts.

3.       What are the serving sizes like? Do they have recipes for 2, 4, 24 servings?

Since the recipes come from an actual restaurant, the portions are generous. For example, the cinnamon roll recipe says it makes 12 servings, but I always have enough for 18 cinnamon rolls. The  seitan recipe makes two pounds of the meat substitute.

The ingredients in most recipes are in fairly standard quantities such as ¼, ½, ¾ or one cup denominations, so reducing or increasing the recipe is fairly simple and doesn’t involve any tricky math.

 4.       Do the recipes allow you to choose a variety of foods?

The recipes in this book are very diverse and include a  lot of food items commonly found in diners such as comfort foods - Meatless meatloafs,  soups, chili, macaroni and cheese alternatives, etc. The growing number of food allergies and sensitivities have forced chefs to get creative with recipes.

5.       Are there a variety of cooking methods used in the cookbook?

Yes, some recipes call for certain food items to be marinated, stir fried, or browned in a skillet. There are recipes for the grill, oven and stove top.

6.       Are there any budget friendly recipes?

Yes, it’s a common misconception that buying fresh plant-based foods is expensive. Compared to the cost of meats, fruits, vegetables, grains and beans are inexpensive. Meat also spoils more quickly than meat substitutes such as seitan which keeps for up to two weeks in the refrigerator or one month in the freezer. Recipes in the cookbook typically call for ¼ cup of rice, chickpeas or cashews which breaks down to be quite inexpensive.  The cost to make your own vegan pizza is significantly less than ordering a pizza for delivery. Traders Joes has a vegan crust for only $1.19. Fresh tomato sauce, spices spinach, mushrooms, or peppers and some cheese substitute are inexpensive compared to pepperoni, sausage or ham.


7.       Are the ingredients used in the recipes easy to find at the grocery store?

Yes, many items are common household staples. The recipes call don’t call for exotic herbs or spices. Though substitutes are easy to find, typically 80% of the dessert recipes I make don’t need an egg substitute. Because the restaurant is a diner, many of the recipes are classic American dishes with common ingredients.

8.       Is there anything you would change about the cookbook?

Yes, it’s a minor annoyance, but some of the recipes start on the right hand page and you have to flip the page to read the rest of the directions. I understand the need to conserve paper by printing on every page instead of allowing a few blank pages or adding more photos, so the entire recipe is visible, it would make the book easier to use.

9.       Any final thoughts?

I want to try everything! Jordan and I love this cookbook and we take pictures of the meals we prepare. You should definitely give this cookbook a try. Take photos of your favorite creations and have fun with it. Preparing meals should be enjoyable instead of a chore. 

The New Chicago Diner Cookbook and The Chicago Diner Cookbook are both available on and several local bookstores in your area.

Q&A with Patricia Petrusik, Author of The Sober Cat - article by Fran Joyce

October 2018 - What's for Dinner? Ask Linda