-Interview by Mariam Nasrullah
How did TAAWC come about?
I decided to make the book three years ago, when I was busily taking care of my baby boy and toddler girl, and also trying to paint, write, cook, and publish.
I was turning over various book ideas when one day I read about TAAWC from 1961. When I snagged a copy, it felt like all of my creative practices were unexpectedly coming together. The book is so odd and unexpected and big-hearted—I knew right away that I had to make a modern version.
How did you want TAAWC to differ from the original Artists’ and Writers’ Cookbook? What similarities did you want?
Well the title and concept are inspired by and indebted to the original. And the version from ’61 isn’t a traditional cookbook either: It mostly includes real recipes, but also it contains a smattering of imaginary ones. I definitely tried to cultivate whimsy, encouraging contributors to share memories of favorite dishes but also almost-disastrous ones, or to conjure up imaginary foods. The original is also an illustrated cookbook, and I think illustrations help emphasize the stories, as opposed to photographs that would shift the focus onto the physicality of the dishes themselves. My goal was to make this version bolder and brighter and dreamier in every way.
The biggest difference between this book and the original is my emphasis on stories. The original includes some stories, but that doesn’t seem to have been a requirement for contributors. For me, though, that was by far the most fascinating part of that book. When I read it, I didn’t just want to know what Marianne Moore cooked (she shared a pudding recipe), I wanted to know when and why and with whom—I wanted that kind of intimacy and accessibility with every contributor every time.
Natalie’s Chickpea Chocolate Chip Banana Cookies
Preheat the oven to 350, then line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
Measure out your chickpeas. If you’re using canned chickpeas, dry them on paper towels first and peel them if you’ve got the time. (The dough will be slightly smoother if you do, but they’ll be great either way.)
Purée the chickpeas in a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Scrape down the edges, and blend for several minutes until the dough is smooth.
Add all of the remaining ingredients except the dark chocolate chips and extra sea salt and pulse until combined. Add the chocolate chips and mix. The dough will be quite sticky now.
Spoon the dough onto parchment paper, making approximately 16 cookies. Flatten each cookie very slightly with a fork and sprinkle sea salt to taste.
Bake for 11–13 minutes, and let me know what you think.
-Recipe excerpted from The Artists’ and Writers’ Cookbook: A Collection of Stories with Recipes © 2016,edited by Natalie Eve Garrett, published by powerHouse Books.
How did you choose the artists/writers who contributed to TAAWC?
I invited artists and writers whose work I admire, so my selection process was personal. But at the same time, I hoped to include a balance of artists and writers, men and women—amazing people from all over the country with a wide range of backgrounds, perspectives, and dishes to share. There are many cookbooks that hone in on one particular region of the world, or type of food; for me, part of the appeal of this book is that it contains food memories and dishes by way of Bombay, the Bahamas, Ethiopia, and also New Orleans, Alaska, and Kentucky.
What surprised you the most about TAAWC and its creation process?
For the most part, I reached out to complete strangers, and it must have been such a leap of faith for everyone to even open my email, let alone share their personal memories and dishes with me. There were contributors who I wooed for months or even years. But with others, I’d reach out, and a week later (or once, the next day) an essay and recipe would land in my inbox. It was a shock every time, completely thrilling.
Also—and this might sound ridiculous—but I was surprised that The Main Dish ended up being the longest chapter in the book. I expected everyone to share breakfast dishes and sweets, and that I would have to coax meatier dishes. But that’s entirely because I like to make breakfast and sweets. So, the contributor potluck that I am sure we’ll have one day will work out nicely.
What is your favorite recipe? Is there are story to go alongside it?
I have so many favorite recipes and dishes. One of my favorites, though, is a hand-me-down recipe that I have yet to make, but have eaten so many times. My mom recently shared the recipe with me, and it came to her by way of my father’s grandmother, Sperina Gatta, who I always knew of as Nonna.
Nonna and her husband, Ercole Gatta (or Nonno, to me), came over from Casorzo, Italy in the 20s. Initially they settled in New York City, but soon the Depression forced a move upstate, where they bought 80-acre farm that they turned into a small inn called Gatta Farm (the Garretts used to be Gattas). Over the years, the inn became well known, both for the food and for the merry atmosphere. I was only there once, as a baby, so I mostly missed out, except for this: Nonna taught my mother how to cook. She taught her all the classic northern Italian food: antipasti, Piedmontese risotto, gnocci, and her specialty, zabaglione cake. But the dish I always enjoyed the most, and by far the most often, was Nonna’s applesauce cake. It’s become part of our family tradition … perhaps I’ll share the recipe one day.