In 2011, photographer Erin Gleeson and her husband, Jonathan Prosnit, relocated from Brooklyn to her native Bay Area for his work as a rabbi. From their new abode in Woodside, nestled among redwood trees, she launched a culinary blog, The Forest Feast, that drew on the couple’s weekly CSA box. Her charming hand-lettered recipes, watercolor illustrations and vibrantly photographed dishes earned Gleeson scores of followers. Soon after, a book agent came calling.
I first interviewed Gleeson eight years ago — on her deck, amid the Santa Cruz Mountains’ sylvan beauty — when her maiden cookbook, The Forest Feast: Simple Vegetarian Recipes from My Cabin in the Woods, was published. Since then, she has released three more bestselling titles — centered on cooking with kids, gatherings and Mediterranean-inflected fare — and a fifth cookbook that honors her home state comes out this month.
The Forest Feast Road Trip: Simple Vegetarian Recipes Inspired by My Travels Through California provided the perfect excuse for us to catch up.
1 Since we first met, you’ve had three kids — Ezra, Max and Winnie — which prompted you to move to a bigger cabin and get a minivan. Was the new book a bit of a family adventure?
We did one really big road trip — it was 2,500 miles without leaving the state — in the summer of 2019. The bulk of the book was shot before the pandemic, then we did some side trips to cover more ground. Like a weekend in Point Reyes or Tahoe. The earlier books are all about cooking from our cabin in the woods, and I wanted to take that idea on the road and introduce a home design aspect. So we stayed at 10 different places around California. I very carefully chose them and took pictures of the exteriors and interiors. I also shot farms and shops that you could stop at on a road trip.
2 Did you discover any hidden gems during your trip?
I’m from California and I thought I knew it really well, but there’s a lot I hadn’t seen. We needed to break up our drive through the Eastern Sierras with a one-night stay somewhere and we found De La Cour Ranch. It’s run by this woman who grew up near Alice’s Restaurant in Woodside — right near us — and about 20 years ago, she bought this ranch and transformed it into this beautiful farm that has u-pick lavender. It’s in this canyon that has a majestic creek, and she has a few cabins she rents out. She was so amazing. We went into her chicken coop and gathered eggs for breakfast, picked plums off her tree, hung out with her baby goats. The kids loved it; we loved it. It was such a magical stay.
3 Growing up in Sebastopol, you were a vegetarian for the most part — and you still are. What are some dishes from the new book that are crowdpleasers for vegetarians and omnivores alike?
I’ve made the walnut enchiladas for so many dinner parties. I feel like walnuts are very California. You drive through the Central Valley and there are all these groves of nut trees. And I grew up with a walnut tree outside my house. They add a nice crunch and protein that people sometimes miss when they’re having a vegetarian meal. There’s also a vegan taco bar in the book. That’s one of our easy meals for weeknights and entertaining. We do a lot of the imitation meat at our house — they’re a good gateway for anyone really missing a meat course.
4 On Instagram, you shared a video of your blender muffin recipe (@theforestfeast). Has that been a hit with your 42,500 followers?
People have already been making them and tagging me. It’s the recipe I’ve made more than any other in the book. They happen to be gluten-free. You just put everything in a blender, pour it into the muffin tin, and they bake pretty quickly. They’re sweetened with honey or agave. And you can sneak in a handful of greens or raw carrots or leftover cooked vegetables.
5 What else are you working on these days?
I still teach a food photography class at Stanford’s Continuing Studies. I have some merchandise on my site — mugs, art prints, stationery — but I’m developing new products with my artwork on them. Linens like tablecloths and napkins. My favorite thing to do — and what the books have been — is a combination, sort of like a collage, of my watercolor illustrations and photography. It’s a lot of florals and greenery, food and produce. … I’m really interested in helping people find ways to be creative at home through food and hosting, so the other thing I’m working on is pitching a TV show. My goal is to teach more people how to cook with vegetables. I see a TV show as broadening that audience, getting more people to be plantbased. I think it’s good for people and it’s also good for the planet.