Food, fun and friends are, without a doubt, the best ingredients for any kind of gathering, and Leela Cyd’s new book—Food With Friends: The Art of Simple Gatherings—is packed with culinary inspiration, gorgeous photography and mouthwatering recipes.
A former personal chef, Cyd is now an accomplished writer-photographer (and contributor to Seasons) and runs the video production company, David Lee Studios, with her husband, David Kilpatrick, in addition to completing numerous editorial assignments and photographing other people’s cookbooks—but this is the first book of her own.
“It’s been a dream since I was a kid. I was always reading cookbooks before I went to bed and pouring over books,” she enthuses. “Food is the thing I daydream about. When I’m on my bike, I’m like, ‘ooh there’s lavender. I should pick that and then I’ll cook the leaves and then I have lemons and I’ll definitely make a shortbread later with the lavender,’” she laughs. “That’s just the way that I got wired.”
Still, when approached by a book agent, Cyd mulled over the proposal for a long time. “I wanted to do something about how I cook, which is about simple food that has something special. It’s just one yummy little bite, a moment of joy and pleasure, which, fortunately, with food you have to do a few times a day, until I create a moment that’s happy and beautiful, it’s a real treasure. Nothing in the book is hard to make. I don’t know how to cook really fussy food. Everything is imperfect and beautiful that way. It’s about the company you keep.”
She continues, “The way to be communal is to feed people and be fed, and it’s even more important now, at this time when we’re so fractured and so outwardly connected but not always really connecting. …Plus, I love that it’s still a beautiful object in this technological age, a cookbook is still a relevant, beautiful thing. …It just warms my heart to no end that this will live and breathe and hopefully be sloppy with sauce in someone’s kitchen.”
From Food with Friends: The Art of Simple Gatherings by Leela Cyd
SUGAR COOKIES WITH EDIBLE FLOWERS
Makes about 3 dozen 2-inch cookies.
2 tablespoons crème fraîche
2 sticks (½ pound) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg
3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for the work surface and rolling pin
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
3 to 4 dozen organic, untreated, edible blossoms (pansies, dianthus, rose petals, calendula, chrysanthemum, lavender, cosmos, or echinacea are all good options)
1 large pasteurized egg white, lightly beaten
¼ cup turbinado sugar
These flower cookies are one of the charming desserts I hold dearest. They remind me of something Lewis Carroll’s Alice might encounter, long after she falls down the rabbit hole into Wonderland. Pansies, sugar and butter are happy companions—their collective flavor sings and their beauty bewitches. I sometimes make them just for me, to add sparkle and delight to my afternoon tea ritual. When friends come over and these darlings appear, squeals and gasps abound.
PREPARE THE COOKIES: In the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the crème fraîche, butter and powdered sugar until light and fluffy. Mix in the vanilla and egg until combined.
In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add the flour mixture and lemon zest to the butter mixture and beat until evenly incorporated.
On a floured work surface, shape the dough into two 5-inch round disks, wrap tightly in plastic wrap or parchment, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 3 days. (Alternatively, you can freeze the disks, wrapped tightly in plastic wrap and foil, for up to 1 month. Thaw in the fridge for a day before using.)
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and let it rest on the counter for 5 minutes.
Dust a work surface and rolling pin with flour. Give the disks a few whacks with the rolling pin to soften them slightly. Roll out the dough to a ¼-inch thickness. Working quickly so the dough won’t soften too much, use cookie cutters to punch out whatever shapes you like. Transfer the cookies to the prepared sheets, rerolling the dough scraps as you go to cut out more cookies.
Bake the cookies for 9 minutes, until the cookies are set but still pale and underdone. Transfer to a wire rack to cool slightly. Leave the oven on and set the lined baking sheets aside.
CREATE THE CANDIED FLOWERS: Set up a work station. Gather your edible flowers together. Place the egg white in a small bowl and the turbinado sugar in a second small bowl. Set out a small paintbrush. Gently dunk a flower in the egg white, taking care to get egg white in between the petals for an even pressing, then press the flower into the cookie. The delicate petals may curl up, but smooth them down with your finger. When the flower is as flat as possible, use the paintbrush to brush a thin coating of additional egg white over the entire surface of the cookie. Sprinkle with a generous pinch of the turbinado sugar. Transfer the flower-topped cookies back to the baking sheets as you work.
Return the cookies to the oven and bake for 7 to 8 minutes, until the edges of the cookies are golden. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.
Note: Make sure to purchase edible, untreated, organic flowers for this, or grow your own. Keep in mind, the colors of the flowers you select will darken, as you bake them, giving an antique color effect.
This story originally appeared in the Spring 2016 issue of Santa Barbara Seasons Magazine.