This week we've shown you how Leela Cyd threw a fabulous tea party right outside of Santa Barbara. The inspiration for the whole thing (including recipes!) comes from Leela's first cookbook, Food with Friends: The Art of Simple Gatherings. Today we're delving a little bit more into the inspiration behind the book, including a few of Leela's favorite recipes and tips for anyone looking to host a party.
1. There are 85 recipes in your cookbook. What's the recipe you can't get enough of right now?
After testing and retesting the recipes in the book so many times, I had to take a big break from all the food in there. This month, however, I've been cooking from it again. I love having a bunch of pre-made snacks around, so the Spice-Roasted Chickpeas and the Toasted Nuts with Lemon, Thyme, and Chili have been getting a lot of action — both are great for adding to salads or as soup toppers, or just eating out of hand.
2. What did you find most difficult in creating your first cookbook?
Every part of creating my own cookbook was a challenge, but it was such a thrill, too. I quickly fell in love with the entire process and honestly, feel a little lost now that it's out in the world. Each stage came with its own trials.
I'd say the writing of it was pretty daunting — it might not feel like it when flipping through a cookbook at a glance, but there are a lot of words and ideas in my cookbook. To solve the difficulty I had with this — namely the constant distraction life seemed to bring (emails, family members, other jobs, etc.) – I began a ritual of waking up at 4 a.m., lighting a candle or other good-smelling item, putting on Bach, making a strong cup of Assam tea loaded with milk and honey in my favorite cup, and then getting into the writing zone until about 8 a.m. After that I'd quit for the day, do all my other busy work, go to bed early, and do it all again the next day. I loved my quiet, special time that was just for my book writing.
Another difficulty was the photoshoot. I didn't want to have issues with the art director or editors of my book, so I put together a visual dossier explaining all the surfaces, props, and mood of the images I wanted to convey. I made them agree to it before I even started so that while I was shooting I'd have full freedom to do what I set out to do — and it worked for the most part. While shooting the book, my publisher wanted to reign in my elaborate photographs, and this was very difficult for me. In the end, however, we achieved a great balance and I'm very happy with the colorful book I created.
3. What are the 5 pantry staples you can't live without?
I'd say good bread (I keep it in the freezer and toast it up at a moment's notice), a few nubs of interesting cheeses, a nice olive oil, flaky salt, and some sort of fresh vegetable. All of this stuff can become so many different meals: cheese toast with roasted veggies; a bright slaw of shredded veggies, topped with a little cheese and served with a tear of bread; a crudité platter with croutons, olive oil for dipping, salt, and sliced vegetables. You get the idea.
4. What are your favorite online resources for tabletop and dinnerware?
I use Etsy a lot to source vintage tablecloths, linens, and quirky dinnerware I cannot live without. My favorite search terms are "Soviet kitsch" and "Latvia vintage."
5. What entertaining piece could you never live without?
I like to have a slew of imperfect old tablecloths I can layer up for a picnic wherever I go – I keep them bundled in the basket, so outdoor eating is not complicated. It's always better to eat under a canopy of roses at a local garden park or at the beach, rather than indoors. Also, chilled white wine, as it's easy, tasty, inexpensive, and goes with everything.
6. Best dinner party in recent memory?
My husband and I just moved into a new house near the beach and it's a major fixer-upper. Despite the fact that our place felt "undone," my husband invited all our friends over for a BBQ two days after we moved in. I was nervous, but it turns out a barely moved-in house is the perfect place to party and dance. Everything was in boxes and there was no furniture really to speak of, but we had the grill going, lots of yummy cheese and crackers, and a lot of wine. It was grand.
This party really ripped the bandaid off in the best possible way. It pointed to the fact that good friends and some food are all you really need to have fun — not a perfect house or well-decorated scene.
7. Who is your favorite person to cook for?
My husband, David, is my all-time favorite person to cook for. He gets so excited about the little things and really appreciates all my efforts in the kitchen.