If it’s true that we eat with our eyes then The Forest Feast, Simple Vegetarian Recipes from my Cabin in the Woods, by Erin Gleeson, will leave you as satisfied as any meal you’ve ever had.
Erin Gleeson was a successful photographer and teacher in New York for eight years. When she wasn’t working at the frantic pace the city demands, she cooked and entertained friends. A job opportunity for her husband triggered a return to California, where they chose a cabin in the woods over suburban life. Gleeson was looking for inspiration to transition her city career to her new home. She began her blog, theforestfeast.com, mostly so she’d have a link to send to editors but was delighted to find that people were reading and cooking from it. The Forest Feast is her first cookbook and is presented in the same style as the blog. There are over 200 pages of beautiful photos covered with illustrations and handwritten notes.
I began by looking for printed recipes and lists of odd vegetarian ingredients. I paged through for a few minutes before it dawned on me — this is it! A picture of some vegetables, a drawing of a bay leaf and a few notes were all I needed to create the beautiful Bay Potatoes dish pictured on the opposite page. All of the recipes are like this: short and simple, using a handful of ingredients you probably already have at home. In the entire book I found perhaps three ingredients I don’t keep in my pantry. I was hooked.
The recipes in The Forest Feast are meatless because Gleeson grew up as a vegetarian and says she mostly cooks that way now. Most recipes will work as main courses but could easily be sides to a non-veggie dish. All are simple, fast and affordable and could be put together for a weeknight dinner or used to impress guests at any get-together.
The book has a casual feel to it that makes you feel completely at ease. It would be great to make everything from scratch but store-bought works too, as in the Asparagus Tart featured here. We’d all love to say we made the puff pastry ourselves but really, who’s going to say no to this just because the pastry came from the freezer? With the time you’ll save, you could be making the Sweet Potato Stuffed Tomatoes. Delicate ripe tomatoes stuffed with hearty sweet potatoes, mashed with cream cheese and garlic, baked and topped with Parmesan cheese. That sounds so much better than rolling out a thousand layers of pastry, doesn’t it?
There are some bold combinations of flavours that might seem unusual at first glance. But if salty feta cheese works with sweet tomatoes, why wouldn’t it work with sweet nectarines as well? (Teaser recipe, check out the book!) Most of the items you’ll need will be familiar. The most exotic ingredients I found were wheat berries and burrata, a mozzarella-like cheese I’m now aching to try.
There’s something wonderful about a cookbook written by an artist. This one is clearly a labour of love from a very creative person rediscovering her passion for her work. It’s an art project that just happens to be about food. I’d buy this book as an inspiring gift for a beginner in the kitchen or for a budding artist. And one for my cookbook shelf. And one for my coffee table. You get the picture.
Tracy Turlin is a freelance writer and dog groomer in London. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
All photos and illustrations © Erin Gleeson.
Recipes courtesy of The Forest Feast by Erin Gleeson, published by Stewart, Tabori and Chang (2014). All rights reserved.