When a cookbook is beautiful, it’s a joy to sit down with it, to take it all in, to devour it. That’s how I feel about Erin Gleeson’s cookbooks. The blogger-turned-author’s four volumes, including her latest, The Forest Feast Mediterranean, are beautiful cookbooks that combine Gleeson’s artwork with her reliable vegetarian recipes.
But her latest book is even more than that. The Forest Feast Mediterranean is a part travelogue, part cookbook that tells the story of her family’s extended Mediterranean vacation to explore the food and culture of the region.
(Let me pause to say I am a huge fan of Erin Gleeson’s work — I have all her cookbooks plus a number of the products featuring her artwork like notebooks and paper placemats. So I was psyched to ask her a few questions and write about it here.)
I recently caught up with Erin Gleeson to talk about her cookbooks, writing, travel and blogging.
What an incredible journey you share in The Forest Feast Mediterranean! In selecting the places you and your family visited, how much did you consider the local cuisine?
Erin Gleeson: Very much! Going into the trip I knew I wanted to learn about Mediterranean cuisine for this book, and I loved the idea of small plates and tapas which is why we chose to have a long stretch in Spain. In all the countries we visited I was drawn to the idea of how cultures with similar coastal agriculture adapted the ingredients differently. A lot of the same things are grown in California, so the shift was a natural one once we returned home.
Traveling with kids is always a challenge — but with an infant and toddler is especially difficult. Which of the places you visited were best suited to parents traveling with young children?
EG: Perhaps one of the hardest things about traveling with little kids is adapting to their sleep schedules. We stayed for a whole month in our first apartment which gave ample time to get used to the time change. After that we had to allow for their naptime in the middle of the day and early bedtimes which prohibited normal dinners out. But small children are very portable and will go anywhere with us!
In cities like Barcelona and Lisbon, we just loaded them into the double stroller and were off. We just had to adjust our expectations to the fact that we wouldn’t be able to visit quite as many places as we would have without them. And we had to occasionally use headphones and iPads on the stroller in museums and restaurants! But we didn’t mind coming home for siesta daily and we made lunches our big, special meals out. We’d often arrive right when they opened for lunch service and try to get a table outside as to not disturb too many people and give the kids more space to play if need be.
Spain was particularly open to dining out with children, we felt they were welcome even at nice restaurants. We did occasionally use a babysitting agency so that we could have a proper late dinner out, and found it fairly easy.
In terms of travel days, we packed quite light, with just 2 carry-on suitcases and 2 backpacks for all of us, but that did require always staying in an Airbnb with laundry. The Barcelona airport is fantastically kid-friendly with a family security line and a playpen for your kids while you take your shoes off — plus playgrounds once you got inside!
We also spent 2 weeks in the Algarve region of southern Portugal which was easy with kids. It was simple to rent a car and drive around, and so many unique beach towns to explore each day.
Your previous cookbooks are all visually stimulating, but this one has some added elements you haven’t incorporated before like headnotes with the recipes, more writing overall and a lot more of yourself. From a writing perspective, how was writing this book different for you?
EG: Thank you! I tried to evolve it a little visually from the previous books to be able to include more contextual travel photos. Previously the recipe page for each dish was a photograph of the ingredients, but this time it is a travel photo or landscape with overlaid watercolor illustrations of the ingredients included in the recipe.
The headnotes and backstory of each dish came pretty naturally as most of the recipes were directly inspired by something we ate while traveling. I’m very visually motivated, so writing the intro to my books is always the hardest part for me, but there was a whole travel story to tell this time, so it was fun.
What do you hope readers get out of The Forest Feast Mediterranean?
EG: My main goal with The Forest Feast is to get more people cooking and eating vegetarian, plant-forward meals. I think this is good not only for our bodies but also for the planet. I try to present the recipes in a very simple and approachable way so that people will actually make them! People have already told me they’ve found recipes that they’ve made over and over.
As you’ve written more cookbooks and launched The Forest Feast line of products as well, how has your blogging strategy changed?
EG: I don’t post as often on my blog as I did in the beginning, but I still love sharing new recipes. But in the last couple years I have definitely been focusing on making books (and babies!). I still add to my blog at least monthly, but the content I tend to put out daily now is on Instagram (@theforestfeast).
Where have your travels taken you and your family since this adventure?
EG: This past summer we spent 3 weeks traveling around California for my next book! It will be a California road trip cookbook, out in 2021. We are staying in unique cabins and homes all over the state, which I’ll be featuring alongside vegetarian recipes inspired by the agriculture and dishes we ate along the way. I’m still shooting this over the course of the next year and it’s fun to explore new parts of my home state.
A big thank you to Erin Gleeson for answering my questions and to her publisher, Abrams, for facilitating this interview. I received a copy of The Forest Feast Mediterranean via my involvement in the Abrams Dinner Party, a marketing program that provides bloggers and social influencers with copies of books in exchange for posting about them. However, all opinions are my own. And this interview was completely my idea.
I mean, when you’re fangirling over a book and have an opportunity to chat with the author … right?
In the course of this, I also made this amazing roasted tomatoes dish from The Forest Feast Mediterranean that surprised me. Although I write about simple, good, easily prepared food all the time, this dish seemed super simple but was so elevated thanks to the lemon zest and capers it’s finished off with. What amazing flavors!
Sarah Walker Caron is a cookbook author, freelance writer and founder of Sarah’s Cucina Bella. She is the author of several cookbooks including The Super Easy 5-Ingredient Cookbook and One-Pot Pasta, both from Rockridge Press. A single mother to two kids in middle school, Sarah loves nightly family dinners, juicy tomatoes plucked fresh from the vine and lazy days on the beach. She also adores reading and traveling.