I think Dave Grohl said it best when he said “If there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s gathering people together to do something fun.” I feel like when I get past the “I’m too busy” mindset then it’s all good! Bringing people together to enjoy “food and fellowship” is what it’s all about. It’s been quite awhile since I’ve entertained — the last time was on Boxing Day for our annual “Boxing Day Ball Hockey” gathering. I made brunch and then everyone piled out into our street to play ball hockey. Originally a tradition started by a dear friend in Ottawa, we decided to keep it alive here now that we’re N.S. bound during the holidays. Sigh. Thinking about this makes me feel pretty wonderful. But isn’t that how we feel about the times we share with our people?
Today I am reviewing a cookbook that’s a little different — it’s vegetarian-based but the main focus is how to create warm gatherings for your friends and family to enjoy without feeling overwhelmed. The Forest Feast Gatherings: Simple Vegetarian Menus for Hosting Friends & Family is the third cookbook written by Erin Gleeson (her blog of the same name can be found here). What I truly appreciate the most about Erin’s work is how she creates whimsy through her beautiful watercolor illustrations and dreamy photography. Just have a quick glance at the photos on her About page — doesn’t her cabin look like the most beautiful and relaxing place? Her pictures really do look so inviting.
For this review I took a bit of a different approach than I’m used to because I decided to host my own gathering by following her suggestions and menu instead of using the book like a traditional cookbook. Since the weather was so balmy here last week a girlfriend and I decided it would be a perfect opportunity to take our kids on an end of the season picnic. She suggested the spot and I was really excited to bring the food. (As an aside, it’s been literally a week since these photos of our picnic were taken and it’s gone from hot and humid to down right frosty. Jokingly I told my husband we’d need to put the scrapers in the cars now and he just groaned.)
Each chapter of the book revolves around a particular type of gathering — cocktail party, brunch, picnic, feasts, buffets — and with each type of gathering she has provided a full menu along with Do Ahead components and Serving Suggestions. What I liked about her menus is that they’re not meant to be too complicated or time consuming because part of the fun of entertaining is getting ready for the party! Am I wrong?? Normally I would have made each dish 100% from scratch but this time I thought I’d try some time-savers (like store-bought lemonade and pesto) to help keep the prep easy.
For this picnic I prepared the Ginger-Mint Lemonade, Orzo-Black Bean Salad, Pesto-Cucumber Wraps, and the 3-Ingredient Brown Sugar Cookies, which ended up being a good amount of food for two adults and three kids. Her recipes are presented in a very unique way as “photographic recipe illustrations that are mostly vegetarian and laid out visually. [she] hope[s] to inspire healthy recipe ideas anyone can make– dishes that are easy enough after a long day at work, yet impressive enough for a party.” (from her website) These photographic recipe illustrations were one of the things I love about her work — it really helps one to keep from feeling too overwhelmed. Any time something becomes fussy or complicated the task becomes less enjoyable. Moreover I think she wants people to feel happy to host and entertain while being successful at it.
Part of being a successful host is through creating mood or ambiance — while not being at home for this gathering I made sure to create an authentic picnic ambiance– my basket (a gift from a dear friend) and blanket (my grans) were perfect for setting the table (so to speak). My friend really appreciated those little touches too!
As I mentioned earlier, I took advantage of time-saving tips in the kitchen. While I did buy lemonade (Santa Cruz makes some that is pretty tasty and has minimal ingredients — not an endorsement I just like ’em) I was able to take mint from my garden and some ginger from the freezer (much easier to grate it this way!) to use in the prep of this drink. I think this was one of the stand-outs for me — since I’m usually a coffee or water kind of person I really enjoyed the spicy-cool flavour of this lemonade. I also used pre-made pesto while making the wraps — I ended up rushing at the last minute so it was nice to be able to get the wraps made in double time! Pictured below, I loved how they looked wrapped up in brown parchment paper. See? All about the mood.
However the hands-down picnic favourites were these 3-Ingredient Brown Sugar Cookies and the deliciously lovely Plum & Poppy Seed Muffins my friend made (from the Smitten Kitchen cookbook). Who knew that three ingredients could create such a wonderful cookie? Even the very last cookie crumbs were coveted — that’s a sign of a well-loved dish.
I was really pleased with the outcome of this gathering — we ate delicious food and enjoyed each other’s company with the promise to do it again. Looking over the other chapters I feel both inspired and inclined to host another event because Erin Gleeson makes it so fun! Also the recipes are pretty adaptable so that you can address any type of dietary concern as well. (The best take-away from her book for me has been her Favorite Salad Dressing! I have a jar of it sitting in the fridge right now!) If you like to entertain or want to give it a try, then this is a great book to have. While using the e-version was okay, I’ll be definitely asking for this book for Christmas!
A little FYI — I know that I’ve slowed my posting down considerably and since joining Net Galley I’ve been able to preview some really great upcoming cookbooks. I know it seems like most of my reviews are pretty positive — to be honest I won’t waste my time reviewing something I’m not interested in and since I’m able to choose what advanced copies I can see I’m picking the best! So I’ve got a great review lined up for October — The Short Stack Editions cookbook and for November I’ll do another cookbook roundup just in time for the holidays. I hope you stick around because it’ll be fun!
Have a wonderful week everyone!
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Net Galley and Abrams Books for providing me with a free advanced e-copy of this book. I did not receive monetary compensation for my post, and all thoughts and opinions are my own.