I GREW UP IN AN APPLE ORCHARD IN SONOMA County, California, in the 1980s, next door to a minicommune and some goat farmers. We had no TV, we were vegetarian and we had a huge vegetable garden. Because of the weather, my brother and I were able to spend most of our time outdoors. Our family also spent a lot of time in the kitchen together – in the summers we picked blackberries for pie and in the autumn we made everything imaginable from apples.
I first met my husband Jonathan in 2004 when a friend took me to a party on his roof deck on the Upper West Side in New York. I was instantly smitten, especially when I realised he loved hosting parties as much as I did. Years later when we moved to Brooklyn together, our backyard became a hub for gatherings of family and friends – dinner parties, cocktail parties, costume theme parties, outdoor movie screenings. We hosted constantly, which is where many of my recipes were born. And since I didn’t often have much time to prepare, the recipes were ideally quick, easy, affordable and pretty. Later on, when looking for a place to live in California, we stumbled upon a cabin in the woods just outside town. The view from the cabin is stunning, but I think what really sold me was the light. While Jonathan was busy with his new job as a rabbi, I found myself alone in the woods, unpacking and making art while trying to envision the next stage of my career. It felt daunting to try to recreate a career I’d spent years building in New York. I felt stuck and on top of it, guilty that I wasn’t contributing financially to our household. While I saw the move as an amazing opportunity for reinvention, I had no idea how to get there. I was spending a lot of time on our new deck, looking out into a canyon of ancient redwoods. I think being around all those trees helped to calm and refocus me. There’s something about spending hours of one’s day in nature that can be so grounding. I started a blog called the Forest Feast. I had always painted and cooked but only for friends and family, never considering it part of my professional work. With nothing to lose I let myself create imagery without boundaries. Because I am a self-taught cook, the recipes I set out to make were very simple. We signed up for a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) membership, which meant we got a weekly box full of seasonal local produce. I started experimenting with whatever came each week and began sharing the recipes on my blog. I was so happy to receive emails from people who found my blog online and were actually cooking from it!
Often it doesn’t take much more effort to make food look unique and attractive in addition to tasting good, and my goal is to share some of those simple ideas with you. I want to give you recipes that are easy enough for a weeknight, yet impressive enough for a party. My hope is that you will be inspired to cook, eat, share and enjoy colourful, healthy food together.
Guacamole Deviled Eggs 1. Halve 6 peeled hard-boiled eggs and remove yolks 2. Combine 2 of the yolks (eat others!) with 1 ripe avocado, 1 tablespoon of mayonnaise, 1 teaspoon of spicy mustard, ½ teaspoon garlic powder, salt and pepper. 3. Mash it all together and spoon into egg whites. Garnish with red pepper flakes.
Butternut Capresse 1. Peel, cube (1-inch) & roast 1 medium butternut squash with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Roast at 220ºC or 425ºF for 25-30 minutes. 2. Combine with 150g cherry tomatos, sliced in half, 1 ripe avocado, 120g smoked mozzarella (cubed) and 20g basil (chopped). 3. Dress with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, and pepper.
Apple and Honey Galette 1. Lay out a 400g, 9 inch shop bought pie dough on a baking sheet & top with 120g brie, 1 tablespoon brown sugar, 3 tablespoons sliced almonds, and ½ teaspoon cinnamon. 2. Then cover the cheese layer with 2 thinly sliced apples fanned out (peeling optional). Dot the top with butter, drizzle with honey, then punch the edges to form a crust. 3. Bake at 180ºC or 350ºFfor 20-25 minutes until golden. Garnish with pomegranate seeds.
More recipes from Erin can be found in The Forest Feast (£21.99 Abrams)