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The Forest Feast Gatherings cookbook
I am so happy to welcome Erin Gleeson of The Forest Feast here to the show today. Erin is the author, illustrator and photographer of the New York Times best-selling cookbook The Forest Feast and of course she has her popular blog called The Forest Feast, as well. Earlier this year she released The Forest Feast for Kids which is an adaptation of the first book, for kids to learn to cook from.
Erin’s latest book The Forest Feast Gatherings, which just recently hit store shelves, centers around the art of entertaining.
Erin’s work has been featured in the New York Times, The Kitchen, Food52, Bon Appétit and Saveur, just to mention a few.
On Her Latest Cookbook, The Forest Feast Gatherings:
The whole book is set up in menus. So, it’s like, if you’re having six to eight people over, here are, four or five or six things that you could make that kinda go together. It might be seasonal and that you could make in a few hours before people are coming. That’s the idea.
I think my biggest advice is that you don’t have to do everything yourself and it doesn’t have to be perfect. I try to share as many shortcuts and ideas for making it easier. I think, perhaps, my biggest advice is just to do it. Invite the people and then figure it out. Because it can be overwhelming. You have to clean your house first. You want it to be nice. There’s so much that goes into it. It can be overwhelming to have people come into your house. And then, making the food and everything. So, just try to make it as easy on yourself as possible and you can do that by asking people to bring things.
My book is set up in these menus where you could assign one dish to each person. But also, you don’t have to make everything. Like, say, you were gonna use one of these menus. You could just make the main course. Just make one thing and then buy some salad and stuff to go with it. The Jewish high Holiday just passed. Rosh Hashanah is a big one for us and we had 20 people over for dinner on a weekday a couple weeks ago. And that’s, like, maybe the biggest sit down dinner party we’ve ever had. We hardly have room in our house for that. We have, like, a little cabin. We had to move furniture. But I was working that day. I have a two-year old, I’m seven months pregnant. It’s like I knew that I couldn’t go too overboard with this dinner. And so, I went to Whole Foods and I bought containers from the deli of kale salad and a grain salad and some roasted vegetables and some roasted potatoes. And then, all I had to make was the main course. I had people bring drinks, and I had people bring desserts. And for an appetizer I put out bowls of nuts and olives and got one nice, big block of cheese and a bunch of grapes. So, I think that you can shop more than cook, especially for things like appetizers and desserts. You can really make it easier on yourself that way.
If it seems overwhelming, just choose one thing to make yourself and either buy or delegate the rest.
On Setting the Mood For a Get-Together:
Sometimes it’s fun to have a theme but I definitely don’t think that you need one. Sometimes it can be helpful in planning the menu, if you want a seasonal theme or, of course, like a holiday theme or something like that, it can help you figure out what you want to serve or if you have time to do flowers on the table. Maybe you want them to be fall colored, or something like that. That can be extra fun stuff but you definitely don’t need a theme.
I would just go with music that’s not too loud. I often try to choose music that doesn’t have a lot of words, so that you can talk over it. So, something more instrumental. My husband and I always disagree on what music to play. He wants, like, Beastie Boys and I want Frank Sinatra but we usually settle on something in the middle ground. Lately we’ve been doing some reggae which is really fun and kind of upbeat but also kinda mellow. But bluegrass, I think, is always fun and often instrumental and is sort of chill but a little bit upbeat. I always love old jazz for a dinner party, with candles. Blossom Dearie is one of my favorites. I just stream music, usually, on Amazon Prime.
On Deciding on What to Serve for a Dinner Party:
I always try to go in terms of courses. If it’s a sit-down dinner, I try to do a main course, a salad and a side. And I usually do vegetarian. So, those three things and then I usually buy a dessert. If I have time, I’ll bake it. But buy a dessert, buy a nice loaf of bread and then we usually just offer beer and wine.
If you have like two people over, it’s fun to make a fun cocktail, like a Manhattan or something like that. We have a little bar where we keep booze and bitters and mixing glasses. And if you have just a couple of people you can do that.
If you have a couple more people, I often make things in a pitcher. Like in the Gatherings book, I have a lot of punches and pitcher cocktail ideas that you can make a batch of and people can help themselves. But, in terms of what to serve, seasonal can often play into it.
If it’s fall, like right now, we’re doing a lot of squash and kale. End of summer we do a lot of tomatoes and zucchini. I try to think about what’s in the markets right now. At the Farmer’s Market we get this weekly farm box and I often need to use it up. So, that will dictate what goes in the food. But I don’t think there are any specific rules.
I often think about color. Like, I want to have a variety of color and texture, like something crunchy, something smooth. But I think just a main and a couple of sides plus a loaf of bread is great.
On Bar Style Serving Menus:
I have a couple of different bar ideas. One is a creamy polenta bar. Polenta cooks in less than 10 minutes. So, it’s really easy to make a big pot of it after everyone’s arrived. Just sneak away for a few minutes and make it. And then you can just put it on a table or a bar with lots of toppings that you’ve prepped ahead, like Marinara sauce, Feta cheese, some fresh herbs, some Parmesan cheese. I love cheese. I think you can tell.
Another idea is a rice noodle bar, which is great for people if they have gluten-free, gluten allergy or sensitivity. But also, these kinds of bar styles serving menus offer people with dietary restrictions the option to create their own bowl. Polenta is also gluten-free, so that’s a good one. But, I always do try to ask people in an e-mail ahead of time when I’m inviting them, or after they said they can come, I say, “Okay, do you have any allergies or food sensitivities?” And so, I try to plan my menu around that too.
On What Hosting Means to Her:
But I think the whole point of hosting is really to get people together, and get people talking, and get to know people better. When people come over to your house, rather than meeting you in a restaurant, it’s a totally different view into your world and your family and your space. It helps people understand you in a different way. I know I love going to other people’s houses and it helps me to understand them and build a closer friendship or relationship. People are often scared to do it or hesitant to do it because it does feel overwhelming sometimes but I think as much as you can, just try to have people over, even in small groups. I think it’s important for relationship building and for community building. It’s good.
On What’s Next:
I’m not working on another book currently, but I do have a couple ideas floating in my head so maybe at some point I’ll do another book. But my next project which is actually launching next week, I’m so excited, is an online shop. So, I’m gonna start an e-commerce site as part of theforestfeast.com and I’m going to be selling my own products.
I have these three books plus my publisher has created a whole line of stationery and gift items like a journal, notebooks, and these really beautiful watercolor notecards and some placemats that I created. So, it’s all with a combination of my watercolor and photography, several different products. So, I’m going to start with about 10 items and add items little by little over the coming months.
I really see it as a place to be creative. I’m always making things for my own home with my artwork printed on textiles. I print a lot of my photos on fabric and I’ve upholster some furniture, I made clothing, I made throw pillows, and made artwork for the walls. So, I have a lot of fun making home decor items that are inspired by watercolor and photography. And so, I’m excited to transition out into actual products.
I’m sort of in talks with doing a line of linens that another company would produce, table cloths and fabric napkins with my watercolor designs on them. And I would love to do dishes at some point. So, I’m really brainstorming fun products that you could use for entertaining, or just to make you happy around your home a little bit and bring more art into your home.
On How to Get Our Hands on The Forest Feast Gatherings:
It’s available, almost everywhere books are sold. The easiest place is perhaps my online shop, but it’s also at Anthropology stores and most local bookstores, Barnes&Noble, all the independent bookstores, a lot of them have it. You can also just go to theforestfeast.com/cookbook and I list a bunch of places where you can buy it online.