An Interview with Erin Gleeson, The Creative Mind Behind The Forest Feast For Kids
Cookbooks can sometimes be overwhelming for kids– terms and techniques, written in terse squares, can feel distant and alienating, far from the warmth and mischief of a real kitchen. Cooking, of course, is an important part of growing up, and one that should be exciting. With a whimsical flare and an ageless sophistication, Erin Gleeson is doing just that.
We fell in love with Gleeson’s The Forest Feast For Kids shortly after it was released this past February. The vegetarian cookbook is a follow-up to Gleeson’s The Forest Feast (an adult version of the same book) and a third companion, The Forest Feast Gathering, which is scheduled to be released in September. Gleeson’s recipes prize simplicity– a sprig of fresh thyme or a handful of almonds to accent a recipe, for example– but nothing so involved as to overwhelm the delicate taste of her ingredients themselves.
The Forest Feast For Kids is a visual feast that playfully and artfully mixes mediums: watercolors are combined with photographs, and handwriting is blended with typed fonts. Each page incorporates a sense of whimsy and discovery, embracing bright colors and friendly textures as the recipes unfold across the page. A brief preface to the book encourages kids to “use common sense (and your taste buds!)” when recreating recipes at home, and to embrace the spontaneity of what kids might find in their kitchen and home garden. In this way, The Forest Feast for Kids is just as much a lesson in confidence as it is in cooking.
Below, we chat with Gleeson about how she fell in love with nature and the culinary arts, and how she’s passing her love on through her work.
GC: What is your first memory of gardening and how did you get into it?
EG: My parents had a huge vegetable garden growing up, in the middle of our apple orchard, and one of my chores was to water it. My mom had my brother and me stand with the hose and count at each bed to make sure we gave each enough water (I vividly remember the counting….ONE one thousand, TWO one thousand, THREE….). I loved sampling as I went. There’s nothing like the robust flavor of a yellow pear tomato popped into your mouth right off the vine. The grocery store variety doesn’t come anywhere close!
GC: Where did your love of cooking come from?
EG: I learned to love being in the kitchen by cooking with my family. Living on an apple orchard, we cooked everything imaginable with apples each fall. I remember my grandmother coming to visit and spending hours picking apples and blackberries for pies and jams. We were vegetarian in the 80’s, and stores didn’t carry the variety of substitutions they do today. So we had to be creative and make things from scratch.
GC: Why do you think it is important for kids to cook?
EG: As the mother of a lively 18-month-old boy, I now understand how hard it is to get kids to eat their vegetables, even when they are exposed to a lot of them at home. I think the more you can get kids involved in the whole process– from growing to picking to shopping to cooking– the better chance you have of getting them to eat [their vegetables].
GC: What has been the biggest influence on your style (cooking, photography, design)? How has your style evolved over the years?
EG: Living in the woods (after many years working as a photographer in NYC) has really changed my work. I now shoot entirely outdoors with natural light and have begun overlaying watercolors on my photos as well.
GC: We love your book’s playful mix of handwritten and printed text– What inspired you to design it in that way?
EG: I wanted to make the recipes visual and approachable– almost like a diagram. My hope is that you can look at the image and have a basic understanding of how to cook it without reading too much.
GC: What do you draw on for inspiration in crafting your recipes?
EG: My local farm box delivers new inspiration weekly! That’s where I start, and I am always drawn to the most colorful items in the box.
GC: What role does nature play in your life?
EG: We live in a very bucolic setting, in a cabin perched in the redwoods, so I have nature around me daily. When we moved here, I started a blog (which became cookbooks) where I shoot the dishes out in the forest, on a mossy log or a fallen tree. I love the colors and textures found in nature– they make beautiful backdrops!
GC: You have an absolutely magnificent home and garden. Do your garden and cooking affect one another?
EG: Thank you! And, definitely– They keep me in season! In California, we are lucky to have a wide variety of produce year-round, but you know it’s the end of summer when you have zucchini from the garden at every meal, and there’s something I really love about that. It encourages creativity in the kitchen.
GC: What is your favorite thing to cook with right now?
EG: I am loving my spiralizer, to make zucchini and carrot salads.