By Regina Connell.
Erin Scott is a Berkeley-based cook, a writer, a photographer, and visual storyteller. What permeates—perhaps drives—these prodigious talents is a seemingly boundless generosity and a genuine desire to help people, delivered with a light, easy-going charm, ready laugh, and this sense of wide-eyed joy she brings to so much of what she does.
Her brand new book, Yummy Supper (Ten Speed Press) is a lushly photographed cook book based on her cult blog. The book is a rollicking good time: it’s about delicious, good food that just happens to be gluten-free. Subtitled 100 Fresh, Luscious, Honest Recipes from a Gluten Free Omnivore it’s a hedonist’s delight: the food is joyful, fun – the antithesis of deprivation (which is roughly how I traditionally feel about the gluten-free moniker). Unlike some of the other sumptuously photographed cook books out there (you know who you are), the food is delight-full to make, the menus and ideas perfectly practical, and the results, utterly delicious.
You can tell Erin absolutely revels in cooking and in food, and that feeling is absolutely infectious. It’s about time we had a book like this.
In our culture, food carries a lot of baggage: where it’s made, how it’s made, “authenticity”, what’s in it, the politics of agriculture and consumption, calories, worries about health. Somewhere in all that, buried deep in all that guilt and heavy analysis and earnestness is how good it tastes, the pleasure it gives. If Erin gets her way, though, she and Yummy Supper will bring the joy back to cooking and eating. Over lunch, we talked about our relationship with food, how to take back our pleasure from it, and how our approach to food is a metaphor for our ability to live richly, live well.
We’ve all heard that instead of scarfing down food quickly, we ought to appreciate it—take the time, etc. – to take it in. Are you one of those mindful eaters? I have to fess up: I eat way too quickly. So don’t follow my lead on that front. That said, I think I scarf down my meals because every time I sit to eat, I find there is so much pleasure to be had that I have a hard time holding back. Whether it’s diving into Egg in A Hole (which is more often than not is the quick meal I make for myself), a big bowl of cozy soup, or a bright, fresh salad – every time I sit at the table I see an opportunity for joy, beauty and healthy indulgence.
I think it’s important to acknowledge that the pleasure can start long before we sit at the table with a finished dish in front of us. When I give myself time at the market to look around at the seasonal produce, I’m awed by the dizzying array of colors and textures available to us for just a couple of bucks.
It makes me want to go through a market with you. You’re such a sensualist! When I let my impulses take hold and pick out the most vibrant goodies at the market and bring those treats home to my kitchen, I don’t look at cooking as a chore but as a fun opportunity to play. The act of cooking itself becomes a sensory delight. When compared with clothing, jewelry or art, I think raw ingredients might just be the most colorful indulgence we have access to.
We can explore the pleasures of food even more deeply in a variety of ways, from getting to know our local farmers at the farmers’ market, to farm visits, or even growing own own food. Six years ago we tore out our backyard lawn and filled our little garden space with edibles: seven little fruit trees, all kinds of herbs, berries and veg. We don’t have the space or sunshine to grow enough food to feed our family, but we have deeply enjoyed having an edible garden.
Being able to snip fresh herbs to add to a dish adds a brightness that is unmatched. Harvesting a big bushel of collards grown just a few feet from our kitchen is a thrill. And simply watching butterflies lay eggs in the fennel blossoms or hummingbirds pay visit to our lavender – these quiet moments are an unmatched luxury. Over the years, I’ve noticed that even taking a few minutes in the garden to do a little weeding can totally change my mood. Reading that there are microbes in the soil act which act as natural antidepressants (see more here in article in the Atlantic) makes perfect sense.
I love the Big Meal because of the planning, because of the indulgence of spending a day and tasting tasting tasting in the kitchen. But cooking every night? Not so much. So interesting to hear what kind of cooking makes you happy—that you revel in the planning and a long day of cooking an elaborate meal. You are reminding me that everyone finds pleasure in the kitchen in different ways. I think my path to joy might be a little different from yours – I’m mostly too impatient to take on cooking elaborate meals as I resist being hemmed in by plans or exacting recipes, but like you I do revel in the luxury of an expansive day in the kitchen.
As I mentioned earlier, for me much of the pleasure in cooking starts with a flexibility and openness to delicious raw ingredients at the market. Is that rainbow chard calling my name? What about those blushing blood oranges? I have the most fun cooking when I let give my impulses freedom to indulge while I’m shopping. When I bring the most alluring veggies and fruit into my kitchen, I have enticing raw materials to play with—maybe like a painter having a gorgeous array of paints to work with—such a palette makes cooking nearly irresistible.
When it comes to weeknights, we keep thing simple and doable. Maybe it’s a roast chicken and a salad with arugula, fennel, and kumquats and toasted pine nuts, or simple grilled pork chops with mashed potatoes and steamed greens with a drizzle of good olive oil. Layers of texture and color come always into play. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the delicious power of smell in the kitchen. A whiff of that roasting chicken as the skin begins to brown, or those pine nuts toasting in the pan… A hungry nose can be met with great satisfaction in a working kitchen.
I think I derive a lot of pleasure from making that big meal for friends. Some people love the idea of them being thought of as a fantastic chef, but I think what gives me immense pleasure is watching how people relate to the food, or better yet, how they relate to each other over the food. Is sharing an intrinsic part of the pleasure of food? Many of us fantasize of being fabulous entertainers who can graciously welcome friends and family to gather at the table any day of the week. Sadly that kind of open-door kitchen dream isn’t a doable for most of us. But I do LOVE sharing the pleasure of food with others through other mediums.
With my blog and now my new cookbook, I’ve found a way to share simple, satisfying recipes not just with my own friends and families, but with home cooks around the world. Being a photographer gives me an added tool to entice people to cook for themselves. Nothing makes me happier than hearing “Erin, I looked at one of your photos and it made me so hungry I had to run to the kitchen to cook.”
Lovely. Time to take back my time in the kitchen and table and make it the pleasure it should be.
Yummy Supper: 100 Fresh, Luscious & Honest Recipes from a Gluten-Free Omnivore