Bite of Life on the West Coast

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Photo by Erin Scott
Erin Scott takes inspiration in the kitchen from her backyard food garden.

For Erin Scott, home, family and happiness have always revolved around food. Erin was born in Wisconsin but moved to Seattle as a toddler and has been a true West Coaster ever since. Moving from Seattle to the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, then to Berkeley, California, as a teenager, Erin fell in love with the beauty of nature all around her, and she incorporates that passion into her everyday life. Growing up, Erin says, “Cooking with my family was the anchor of our family life. Our happiness and fun revolved around food, cooking and eating.”

Yummy Supper Recipes

Bolinas Crab Pasta
Buckwheat Zucchini Muffins
Mixed Grains Recipe
Citrus, Fennel & Pistachio Salad

When Erin was diagnosed with celiac disease—a digestive disorder triggered by gluten, a bundle of proteins in wheat, barley and rye—in 2008, her world turned upside down. Worried this would dramatically change her eating habits, Erin thought, “My whole life revolves around food. What am I going to do without [gluten]?” It wasn’t until her husband, Paul, suggested they tear up the backyard and turn it into an edible garden that she found peace with her diagnosis. Looking out into her garden, she says, “I had an epiphany—this is all gluten-free!” While the idea of eating gluten-free seemed daunting at first, very few foods actually contain gluten, Erin says, listing wheat, barley and rye, and, of course, many processed foods (“but those are good to get rid of anyway”). “Just think of how many foods you have left!”

Erin’s successful blog, Yummy Supper, started as a happy accident. After her diagnosis, she wanted to find new food inspiration. “I didn’t know what I was getting into,” she says. “I just thought it would be a good forum for sharing recipes and food experiences with friends.” By surrounding herself with positive food experiences, her own and her friends’, Erin has been able to flourish as a gluten-free cook and food photographer. “I was inspired by my new dietary limitations and just wanted to cook things all my friends were going to want to eat regardless of whether it had gluten.” Forgoing gluten-based foods, Erin says, pushes her to be more creative. “In the end, it turned out to be this crazy gift. I cook for myself, my health and for pleasure.”

Years after being diagnosed with celiac disease, today Erin proudly says, “I have reclaimed my kitchen.”

The Reclaimed Kitchen

Erin describes her cooking style as loose, improvisational and simple. She calls herself an “ingredients-inspired cook”—even the recipes on her blog are organized by ingredient, not just type of meal. “I look out into my garden and say, ‘Oh, what’s sprouting today?’” she says. “Then I figure out what to do with it.”

When you grow a food garden, it’s easy to be inspired by the bounty growing in the yard. But even if you don’t live in California, where it’s always growing season, or don’t have an edible backyard like Erin does, you can rely on fresh, local ingredients to inspire your cooking, too. Erin’s advice to become an ingredients-inspired cook: “Go to the farmers market and buy whatever ingredient is most vibrant and bursting with life. When an ingredient is at its peak, it will naturally call to you at the market: the vibrant green of spring asparagus, the bursting sunshine of summer tomatoes, jewel-toned citrus in winter. When you work with the best seasonal ingredients, it’s hard not to be inspired to cook!”

Because she starts with ever-changing ingredients, Erin’s recipes are always fresh and often overflowing with just-picked vegetables and fruits. Even one of Erin’s favorite recipes, bacon-charred pasta, is chock-full of veggies, despite what the name implies. This family crowd-pleaser has tons of Swiss (or rainbow) chard, along with the cream, parmesan and pasta (it’s a lot easier to find gluten-free pastas now, or even make your own, she says) that add up to “a bowl of total comfort food” sneakily loaded up with greens.

Erin’s recipes feature whatever she found at the local market that day, or something someone in her family harvested in their backyard. She has recipes featuring fuyu persimmons and wild backyard nettles, with dishes ranging from quinoa and kale patties to raspberry tea cakes. Though she’s eating real, whole foods and tons of fresh produce, she also still enjoys her favorite comfort foods, including gluten-free biscuits, Meyer lemon tarts and pastries, and, of course, bacon florets (think perfectly crispy little bacon bites). Simply put, Erin loves to cook and create innovative new recipes or twists on old recipes. While we spoke, she was in the midst of preparing for an evening of pulled pork tacos on homemade tortillas to be shared with friends.

Sharing the Bounty

Although she is a successful cookbook author, Erin isn’t the only cook in her kitchen. Everyone gets involved. Her husband makes a great sous chef (“that guy can chop like you can’t imagine”), and her 14-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter hunt for the perfect herbs to garnish a dish or spice up a dressing. “Seeing my kids in the kitchen makes me so happy,” she says.

Erin’s family is often her cooking inspiration. “When I cook,” she says, “some recipes are for me, but I often have my whole family in mind.” Many recipes were created because her kids really wanted something. For example, Erin perfected a recipe for waffle fries because, when her son was 10, he wanted to host a dinner party for his family and neighbors, and he asked to serve steak and potatoes—not traditional health foods. The meal he made was such a success, Erin added the recipe to her blog.

Erin’s kids help in the garden, too, albeit sometimes reluctantly. “They love to harvest,” she says. “They can pick basil or other herbs for salad dressing, but they don’t care so much for the digging and weeding.” Her daughter treats the overflowing edible garden like an enchanted forest. “She loves to wander out there, making fairy houses, and can get lost in a wonderfully mesmerized way.”

Erin tries to inspire curiosity and spontaneity in her children. “It’s important to believe your kids are capable—to not underestimate their abilities.” That’s one reason she encourages her kids to experiment in the kitchen. A homemade ricotta may or may not turn out as planned, but it’s important, Erin says, that they learn they are resilient. “They can screw up and they’re going to be okay.”

Erin’s family is a tight-knit team. They eat together, laugh together, try—and sometimes fail—together. One adventure that solidified them as a family was a life-changing trip around the world in 2010 and 2011. Together, Erin and her family (the kids were 10 and 7 at the time) packed up and traveled around the globe for 10 months. “We hoped to unplug with our kids and show them the bigger world,” Erin says. They went to Bali, New Zealand, Australia, Fiji, Thailand, Greece and Turkey. Along with uniting the family, the trip gave Erin the opportunity to experience whole new worlds of flavor as she took time to learn how to cook local dishes with the local ingredients—sometimes with ingredients and foods she had never heard of before but had spotted during her strolls through the open-air markets, or had tried at a restaurant and wanted to re-create. One dish was a Bali black rice pudding, which Erin says is traditional and beloved. “It’s on every menu.” Though her first reaction was along the lines of, “What’s up with this black rice?”, now it’s a standard breakfast dish she serves at home in California.

Bringing it Home

For Erin, cooking seamlessly intertwines with the rest of her life. “Cooking can seem like a metaphor for other pleasures in life,” Erin says. “Through cooking, I see how important layers of textures, flavors and colors are. I’m drawn to variety in both my cooking and visual design.”

Erin tries to bring the freshness and variety she loves in her cooking into her home in other ways, as well. Erin’s family lives in a cozy, 100-year-old Craftsman house with lots of windows. Although it’s full of interesting architectural details, the reason they bought the house was for its kitchen. “It’s big, bright, flooded with sunlight, and 10 people can cook in here—we live in this room,” Erin says. “It’s cheesy, but it really is the heart of the home.”

Two big double French doors open onto the wild backyard garden and fill the kitchen with light. The kitchen is painted white, so it always feels fresh and light, making it easy to forget you are indoors. “I like brightness, light and sunshine,” Erin says. “I try to bring the garden inside as much as possible. It makes me happy.” That aesthetic is also practical, as Erin uses the bright kitchen as her photography studio.

As our interview wrapped up (both of our stomachs were rumbling thinking about delicious foods and fresh recipes to try), I asked Erin the big question: What is your life philosophy, your take-away message? She thought and then answered, “The advice I like to give to myself is to slow down and savor simple goodness, whether that means biting into a perfectly ripe juicy peach in August, or snuggling up to read with my kids next to a warm fire on a lazy winter Sunday. Like most of us living in modern America, I too often fall victim to racing around, juggling errands and work, and being glued to my computer screen, but when I stop, take a deep breath and take a moment to enjoy the myriad small joys around me, I find the deepest satisfaction. It’s not a work promotion or new car that makes life rich, it’s small moments around food, family and nature that bring meaning and pleasure to my life.”

A Chat with Erin

Why is your blog called Yummy Supper?
To me, supper can mean a warm and cozy meal shared on a Sunday afternoon, or an omelet for yourself at suppertime. Yummy is a goofy word, but it’s my reaction when I taste something good. It just comes out, and it seems to for other people, too. I want people to have that reaction when they eat. I don’t mean it in a kid way. Food should taste yummy.

What’s your favorite thing about your garden?
Herbs—watching them grow and change throughout the year. Swallowtail butterflies lay eggs on my fennel stalks, and it’s a magical, cyclical thing. It’s so soothing.

What tips would you offer beginner gardeners?
Grow pots of herbs if nothing more. Don’t be afraid of edibles as part of your garden beauty. Edibles are often planted in raised beds, but you can plant them into the ground and make them part of the landscape. I like my garden to be a mix of practical and beautiful, simple and relaxed and cozy.

What’s your favorite thing about spring?
All the green! That baby spring green, yellowy and bright. Peas and asparagus. I love it when the ground is still wet, but the sun is bright and everything is still glinty. The earth feels right in the spring. In the morning I wake up to a cacophony of birds. Spring is my favorite season—it’s that potential and newness.

What is one ingredient you can’t live without?
Lemons. I love the juice, the zest—especially Meyer lemons. We have a Meyer lemon tree in the garden.

What is your favorite way to spend a Sunday afternoon?
Cooking with my family. I love when my husband, Paul, and I ?spend a day together in the kitchen.? We get an easy, great rhythm ?going. More often than not, we cook up beans, a big pot of stew, and maybe some slow-cooked meat so we have food on-hand for easy weeknight dinners and ready-to-eat lunches.

Taylor Nutting, Mother Earth Living editorial assistant and cooking experiment enthusiast, loved chatting with Erin about her harmonious life, including her blog, cooking, photography, travels, home and garden.