Local author and blogger Erin Gleeson talks Peninsula lifestyle, from bakeries to back-to-school-night booze.
By Charles Russo
Erin Gleeson recently approved the Korean-language edition of her children’s cookbook — The Forest Feast for Kids. It was a bit of a peculiar process, but she just rolled with it. “They asked me how it looked,” Gleeson explains, “and I told them, ‘Ah, so I don’t speak Korean, but…..it all looks pretty good to me.’”
As author of the (mostly) vegetarian-themed Forest Feast blog and cookbooks, Gleeson has transformed an “experimental” approach to her photography into a thriving culinary brand. In fact, more than just Korean, her New York Times bestselling cookbook has now been translated into ten languages (or, as she puts — “about ten” — seeming to have lost count). Over the next few months, she is going to depart her rustic home in the woods and travel with her family around southern Europe to produce a Mediterranean-themed Forest Feast book, expanding not only her recipes, but her uniquely visual approach to presenting them.
Collectively, her brand is a unique and almost unintentional startup story, that is reflective of both the region’s knack for innovation as well as its singularly spectacular landscape.
We caught up with Erin over coffee on her back porch to talk Forest Feast and life on the Peninsula…..
So how has the Forest Feast taken off and then evolved in your time living on the Peninsula?
We moved here in 2011. I had been working as a food photographer in New York, and in a way I was starting my career over out here. By chance on a whirlwind weekend we found this cabin up in the hills [technically in Redwood City], and it was not too far of a commute from San Francisco, where I had thought I would be shooting food at the local restaurants.
I figured that while I had some extra time I would work on my portfolio, and use that work for a new blog. So I started posting photos of our local farm box produce and what I was cooking. I wanted to try to develop a way to display recipes in a visual way, because that made a lot of sense to me. I started posting photos and it soon got picked up by other blogs. I really didn’t even know anything about the blogging world or if people were paying attention. But I was having a lot of fun with it and I was posting a lot, which I think helped create some traction. So I just went with it and about six months in a book agent found my blog online and just cold called to say that I should turn my blog into a cookbook, and that she thought she could help me do that.
We spent six months creating a proposal for my first book, and it came out in 2014. Then they did a kids adaptation of that first book that came out in 2016, and in that same year I put out another Forest Feast book, more of an entertaining book. Now, we’re about to go on this three-month trip traveling around the Mediterranean, and it’s going to be a Forest Feast Mediterranean cookbook, continuing the visual look of the other books.
How has your approach to meals and cooking changed, now that you’ve had two kids?
Well, there’s less time, so I’ve tried to simplify things even more. I always thought I would make just one meal and the family would all eat the same thing, but having a very picky toddler….its just very hard to get him to eat vegetables. And now, I understand that struggle a little more. I do a lot of very simple pastas — cause it’s the one thing that he’ll eat — and sneak the veggies in wherever I can. So I try to break it down to simple ingredients and fewer steps. Even in my first book most recipes have 5 ingredients or fewer but for this next book, I’d like to go even simpler. I also base many of our meals off of what comes in our farm box each week.
Which farm box do you get?
We get Eating With the Seasons. It’s a box that has an accumulation of things from different local farms. Some of it comes from the northern central valley but it’s great because you get a points membership and you can use those points to choose certain items, which change every week.
Do you get out to many restaurants in the area?
Yeah, we are at Alice’s Restaurant weekly. Yesterday we went to their community breakfast, which is the first Wednesday of every month. It’s supposed to be a locals thing, but I think everyone has found out about it — cause there was a really long line out the door to get in. We love Alice’s, and they try to support local farms in the area.
One of my favorite restaurants in Redwood City is Vesta, because they have awesome pizza and a lot of interesting vegetable dishes. Last time we went we ordered a burrata appetizer, which was just burrata and grilled bread. The bread was so good that I asked what kind it was, and they said “Acme,” like what I get at Whole Foods, but they grilled it in olive oil. And it was all so simple, but just so amazing.
Actually, the best restaurants we’ve been to lately were all Italian, like Terun in Palo Alto, which I think is more Neapolitan/Southern Italian style, and just so delicious.
We also really like Martin’s West Gastropub in Redwood City. They have these deep fried brussels sprouts, which are like all I want to eat…I want two orders of those and a glass a wine and I’m good.
Is wine your drink of choice?
I drink rosé in the summer, and I like bourbon in the winter, bourbon with bitters. I don’t get too complicated with the cocktails…same with my husband, he drinks vodka on the rocks in the summer and scotch on the rocks in the winter. For parties I’ll make a punch, maybe like a sangria. Or recently, I did a prosecco punch for a party, which….well, was actually for our pre-school back-to-school night. It was half prosecco, half sparkling cider and pomegranate seeds. So it’s all very festive, and I think the parents were appreciative.
Is there a local coffee spot that you like?
I often make coffee at home. But I just tried the new bakery here, which is super cute and delicious. It used to be the Woodside Bakery, but was closed for a long time, and just re-opened as The Village Bakery. I think it’s owned by the same restaurant group who are tied to the Mayfield Bakery in Palo Alto. And I think they also run the Village Pub. So the Village Bakery has a storefront with breads that they bake and great coffee, and then next door they have a restaurant.
Do you make it out to the coast very often from here?
Yeah, we go a lot. Just last weekend we took the kids to a pumpkin patch and then had lunch at Cameron’s English Pub. We also tried The Barn recently in Half Moon Bay which is kinda new and really good. It’s casual — like order at the counter — but with a farm to table idea. It’s really cute.
Are there places that you like to take the kids to in the area?
We are always at the Portola Valley Playground — I think it’s called the Little People’s Park. It’s the best around. They have a library there which is amazing, with great programming, such as a summer concert series in the park, and the farmers market is there on Thursdays. We also love Hidden Villa, which is like a farm for kids in Los Altos.
Moving into autumn, how do the seasons affect your cooking?
Our farm box informs my cooking as different ingredients start arriving. I love persimmon season, which is any week now. In general, I like cooked vegetables more than I like them raw. So, I’m always drawn to roasted root veggies and squashes, onions and potatoes…which are all favorites; and butternut squash which is one of my favorite foods ever. In that sense, fall cooking is really my jam. And I love the color. In general, I kind of love those sunset hues in life, and those colors come out with the food in the fall.
Follow The Forest Feast as Gleeson travels through Southern Europe (she leaves this week!) compiling her new Mediterranean cookbook:
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