In 2011, Erin Gleeson and her husband relocated from Brooklyn to the Bay Area. From their new home, nestled among redwood trees, she launched a culinary blog, The Forest Feast, that was informed by the contents of their weekly CSA box. Her charming hand-lettered recipes, watercolor illustrations and vibrantly photographed dishes earned Gleeson scores of followers.
Photo credit: Erin Gleeson/The Forest Feast
In 2014, her first cookbook, The Forest Feast: Simple Vegetarian Recipes from My Cabin in the Woods, was published. Since then, she has released four more titles—centered on cooking with kids, gatherings, Mediterranean-inflected fare and dishes drawing on her travels throughout California. Recently, she launched an online shop with lifestyle products and watercolor works.
With the weather starting to warm up, we asked Gleeson to share some ideas for outdoor entertaining—along with a few favorite food and drink recipes in her stunning signature style.
Decor & Details
Pre-party set-up: Before guests arrive, I set up a buffet table or bar area with a stack of plates (mine are mismatched vintage plates from rummage sales), a big jar of cutlery, a stack of fabric napkins, a tray with glasses upside down, a pitcher of water, wine and beer. Heat, birds and wind keep me from putting the food on the outdoor table before guests arrive. So I put all prepped food platters on the kitchen counter and ask guests to help carry everything out once they arrive.
Comfort level: We have entertained so much outdoors these last couple of years and the best purchase made is two outdoor restaurant-style heaters. They make it comfortable even when it’s quite cold out! We keep a stack of folding chairs in the basement to add to our dining room table if we need to move indoors due to rain. And when it’s hot, I have clips in place on the deck for a lightweight shade that I can hang if need be.
Natural setting: I love to make a foraged/edible table runner with picked vines and branches from the yard, plus lemons, limes, carnations (they don’t wilt), mini artichokes and other small produce from the grocery store or farmers’ market.
Food & Drink
Egg-cellent appetizers: If I have time, I’ll make deviled eggs. Or I’ll just make a grazing board with my favorite cheese (triple cream brie, Delice de Bourgogne), plus sliced baguette, Castelvetrano olives, salted macadamia nuts and cherry tomatoes.
Make one, buy the rest: I’ll often make my Polenta Lasagna or Gnocchi + Cauliflower Casserole as the main dish, then go to the deli and get a few prepared salads or sides to replate on my own serving dishes. I get a really good loaf of sourdough bread from the bakery, some fresh fruit (grapes and berries are easy!) and ask a guest to bring dessert.
Self-serve sips: For a fun drink, I love doing a DIY Gin & Tonic bar. I write basic instructions on a folded index card (or leave the spread from my book open on the bar) and let guests create their own. This was inspired by our time spent in Barcelona, while shooting The Forest Feast Mediterranean, where G&Ts served in huge, stemmed wine glass-type of goblets were seen everywhere.