A few months ago, a blog I love posted a link to COOKING UP TROUBLE, a proposed mini-book by Leela Cyd and Anne Parker, full of “recipes to nourish woman” in these surprisingly (?) dark times, with the proceeds going directly to Planned Parenthood. Cut to this week, the book is here and I got to interview Leela!
A photographer and storyteller based in Santa Barbara, she’s also the author of Food with Friends and a fellow cookbook junkie who reads them in bed at night like novels and has stacks of 20+ books scattered around her house (don't we all?)
She grew up with the basics – The Joy of Cooking, How to Cook Everything, The Silver Palate Cookbook. “My dad was the cook in our house, and he cooked good, homemade, normal food, but if I saw something I liked [in a book] we would try to make it together. The books I grew up with don’t have pictures, which is funny. They’re very instructional.” Her other love is Martha Stewart – “When I was seven years old in the grocery store, I would read the magazine while my mom was shopping, and she really shaped my outlook.”
The genesis of Cooking Up Trouble started after the election. “Women’s reproductive rights and services are under attack…” reads the introduction. “Motivated by the real and unconscionable threat to women’s’ well-being, we have joined forces to stir the pot (literally and figuratively) in the midst of the current chaos.” Cyd and Parker felt like they needed to remind women that we both need to take care of ourselves, and that we have to ability to - and we can do it in a way that provides care for others at the same time.
“I wasn’t able to go to the Women’s March – I was pregnant and needed to be by a bathroom at all times! But I really wanted to get involved, and I feel like this is my tiny thing that I can do. It’s important – because you can’t do everything, but we can do something. Supporting Planned Parenthood is so important. As a new mother, I wanted my family and it’s still so hard to manage everything. I can’t imagine not having that support. The idea of your body being your own is so upfront for me right now.”
So they reached out to friends across the country with a prompt – “give us a nourishing recipe, one that you never write down but your friends love.” Recipes started to come in, and they got to work, shooting for four days in Cyd’s studio. They have collaborated many times before, but never on their own project.
“It was wonderful to work together with no client, art directors, or rules. Our personal goal was to get out of our regular realm of shooting.” They left the Anthropologie aesthetic at the door and sourced props from thrift shops and bodegas. “Not traditionally beautiful, but kooky and fun, things that grab your attention.”
[Before meeting Anne,] “I’ve never really worked better with someone. We come from aesthetically opposite points of view – she’s very neutral, minimalist chic, and I’m a colorful maximalist. Working together is like bringing a second pair of eyeballs, so much more fun than a duplicate of yourself.” The friends that were local cooked their own dishes and brought them to the shoot, and the ones from farther afield were cooked by Parker and a team of volunteers.
I asked Cyd if, as a photographer, she feels more naturally inclined to recipes that shoot well? “I’m naturally drawn to beautiful food – it’s a chicken and egg situation. Food with tons of color, texture, and interest – I love to eat that food, and it photographs really well. But if a recipe is yummy and not necessarily beautiful, that can be an interesting design challenge.”
Getting out of their comfort zones, they used all artificial light to make the images seem a little surreal – not a bad metaphor for our current moment. There’s a retro brightness to the effect that reminded me of movies like A Single Man and Revolutionary Road – just the kind of optimistic takes on society I was thinking about anyway this year. The plastic spiral binding feels like a quiet nod to the Junior League books our grandparents grew up with.
“There’s an intersection between food and feminism – it’s the same issues that our mothers and grandmothers were dealing with. You know, having the responsibility for putting food on the table.” Cyd has a one-month-old son, so “right now I’m thinking about how to raise a feminist boy. Looking at my son…I felt prepared for a girl, I’m in touch with all those issues. Now I’m like, I have to raise you in this other way that’s about equality and sensitivity. Having a mom who worked while my dad stayed home taught me that you have to walk the walk.”
Similar to Anna Brone's Protest Fuel, there's also something exciting about getting a physical object in the mail. “I love that print is not dead! There’s a return of the zine. I grew up with that, these little offbeat publications. I like when people are making it themselves. I love seeing what people do when they're unfiltered." Cyd grew up loving to collage, and “that whole zine world fits into that, and our little book fits into that too. It’s not a tome, it’s just a little slice of our world and that’s beautiful. I‘m very encouraged that we can do a little and help to shift the tide. It’s a time to do something, however you can.”
make this one thing:
Simone Rubi's Everything Toast
1 loaf country sourdough
cream cheese (organic is best)
everything blend (see below)
2 ripe tomatoes
everything blend (makes 1 cup):
4 tbsp poppy seeds
4 tbsp toasted sesame seeds
4 tbsp dried garlic
4 tbsp dried onion
8 tsps maldon salt
Spoon each of the spices into a jar and shake together with lid on until well combined.
Get your hands on some real sourdough. The rustic, country loaf that we all know and love. Cut a slice one-inch thick. Toast. Spread with your fave cream cheese "wall to wall." Make sure the cream cheese is spread to cover the entire toast!
Now sprinkle the "everything blend" over the entire toast. Slice two 1/4 inch slices of good, ripe tomato. Place tomato slices artfully, sprinkle sea salt and a little more everything blend.