With excellent recipes, funny illustrations, moving stories and more, the spiral-bound, unpretentious cookbook "Cook" is a good thing — and all proceeds go to good causes.
The pale-pink cookbook is the opposite of a hardback — the front cover is cardstock, with a calm drawing of a tidy little house, meticulously shaded, by Jeremy Mangan. The binding is shiny black plastic, the kind with wide-spaced teeth to hold the pages together.
The title, “Cook,” could be read as a command, a little bit bossy, maybe from Mom. Or it could be interpreted as a reassuring noun: No one needs to be a fancy chef, here where the little house lives, and everyone can be a cook.
Funny illustrations by more Pacific Northwest artists show up throughout “Cook,” like a chicken rendered in maybe a half-dozen strokes by Matthew Offenbacher on a page that crows an all-caps “GOOD MORNING.” A crab drawn by Tuan Nguyen, shown happily eating soup made of its brethren, goes along with his recipe for bún riêu. Some of the recipes spiral-bound into “Cook” are reproductions of index cards, some are handwritten; the collection is not to be found online anywhere. There are no page numbers. It looks like something put together as a fundraiser by the Twin Peaks PTA.
Ellen Ito, an artist who also works in the curatorial department at the Tacoma Art Museum, made “Cook” this way very much on purpose. “The aesthetic of the book is totally an homage to every community cookbook — every church, Junior League, elementary school cookbook — ever made,” she says. She found an old-school cursive typewriter font to use for some of the recipes. “If I could’ve made it on a ditto machine, I would’ve,” Ito adds.
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The community represented here is a loose-knit one of artists, gallerists, curators, food-industry types, friends. Ito put “Cook” together as a show at the Bremerton gallery known as cogean? (their question mark), located inside the little house depicted on the cover, owned by artists Ben Gannon and Joey Veltkamp. The cookbook “Cook” is making its way into the contributors’ and other hands by way of both events at the gallery and the cogean? website.
Gannon and Veltkamp say that some curious visitors have shown up at “Cook” potlucks at the gallery and been mystified: Where is the art? The walls are blank; holiday lights twinkle on a tree in the customary, cozy way. At the events, Gannon points out with a smile like a devilish elf, “You are the art” — along with dishes from the book, maybe live music and hot buttered rum, and conversations about art or politics or how deep a bathtub should optimally be. And “Cook,” the book, is the art, too, meant to live on, continuing to feed people.
A recent sunny Saturday brunch for “Cook” featured painter Robert Hardgrave’s eggy Breakfast Bake casserole, pastries brought from Bremerton’s Saboteur Bakery, a huge salad, bread baked in-house at cogean? and lots of jelly. “We feed you a weird mixture of surprise food, and you give to charity,” Ito says. Attendees are asked to bring food-bank donations, while all the money from sales of the cookbook will go to nonprofits including Seattle’s FEEST.
Could you, should you make artist Shannon Eakins’ Demoralized Mushroom Spread for a holiday-party snack? It’s easy and funny and forgiving, with directions like “How long do you simmer? It’s different every time … Have the mushrooms given up?” A jar of Red Wine Cherries, from a recipe by Sharon Arnold, who runs Seattle gallery Bridge Productions, would make a welcome gift — and the simple instructions are welcoming, too: “Continue to cook syrup down until, well, syrupy.”
Get the (great) recipe for Demoralized Mushroom Spread
Many recipes in “Cook” carry stories about family. Ito says the contributors, “with very short notice, stepped up and went on little journeys.” Recent Cornish graduate Monyee Chau is “doing a lot of work in her own practice about growing up in a restaurant, and how important food is for her and her identity,” Ito says. Chau’s recipe for Curing Cantonese Pork Belly begins with a vivid prose snapshot: “My grandfather would cure his own pork belly with the wire hangers from the closet of our house, over the register heater in the kitchen.” Chau’s drawing, on the facing page, of a hanging piece of meat, offers more beautiful texture.
Moms are represented throughout “Cook.” Ito especially loves the recipes with mini-narratives contributed by Mary Jane Kerr, a former caterer and private chef whose son, Ben Kerr, is now an attorney who represents local artists. “Her stories are really moving to me,” Ito says — one of Mary Jane’s recipes is called Single Mom’s Pasta Sauce. “Hers are my favorites — I shouldn’t say that, but they are,” Ito admits. Ito’s own recipe in “Cook,” for J.A. Bacon Fried Rice, is bylined “Ellen but mostly Joyce Ito,” and bears the note: “Moms love to make this for adult children who come over to watch their premium cable t.v.”
The roster of “Cook” contributors also includes artists Mary Ann Peters, Dawn Cerny and Clyde Petersen; Seattle restaurateur Linda Derschang and Bremerton restaurateurs Al and Jodi Davis; Wine Enthusiast food editor Nils Bernstein; and many, many more. I cut up one Post-it note to mark recipes, drawings and stories that I especially loved in “Cook,” then had to cut up another one — my copy has 12 little paper flags across the top, plus two bookmarks. Ito says it’s the kind of book you can just write in, preferably with ballpoint pen.
Ito wanted to do a project surrounding her love for fall and winter, seasons in the Pacific Northwest that, she recognizes, can be hard for some. But, she says, “People like sweaters and winter coats, and everybody likes eating in the fall and winter.” Talking to those around her, she found that “Food was one thing that went beyond and overtook these feelings of sadness and darkness and loneliness … making food and sharing food.”
One extraordinary aspect of “Cook” was Ito’s offer to cook a recipe from the book, at a mutually agreed-upon location, for anybody who signed up. “In some ways, it’s to trick people into buying the book,” she offers by way of explanation (the cost of “Cook” is a suggested donation of $20). “It’s not a maid service or catering.” The dates filled up fast, turning into things more like dinner parties, sometimes with children in charge of making (not drinking) cocktails.
The closing party for “Cook” — an art exhibition where the food and the community are the art — will be a cookie exchange at cogean? gallery on the winter solstice, Dec. 21, from 6 to 9 p.m. Copies of the book will be available, food-bank donations will be accepted and everybody’s invited. Probably on the table: Mama Mangan’s Macaroons, cloudlike marvels from Mama and Jeremy Mangan; Jennie Warmouth’s almost alarmingly colorful Confetti Cookies; The Shortbread of Personal Agency, a radical revelation of a recipe from Justyn Hegreberg; and much, much more.
Why give all “Cook” proceeds to charity? “Just because,” Ito says. “Honestly, it’s just easier. It feels good.”