When I began researching the story behind The Immeasuable Cookboook: An Ode to the Dirty Apron (Erny Photo, Co.), the first thing that grabbed my attention was how the authors described the recipes and their overall purpose in writing on their website:
“The immeasurable cookbook is a sensory driven no measuring cups FORGET THE TEASPOONS throw away your timers stress free WORRY FREE remember to have fun turn the music up MAKE A MESS don’t worry about mistakes sample as you go FEED THE PEOPLE YOU LOVE cookbook.”
Like many, I enjoy cooking and I enjoy cooking for the people I love. But, sometimes this can be very stressful when trying to appeal to the uniques tastes of a family very serious about their food. It is especially difficult trying to recreate some of our favorite foods of the past, made with love by friends and relatives who have left us and never seemed to follow written recipes or measurements.
My grandmother was one such cook. I haven’t had one of her biscuits or fried fish and grits in more than a decade; I never learned how to make those things before she passed away, either, but it hasn’t stopped me from trying to bring the fun and whimsy to my own kitchen excursions that she did when I would watch her as a child. That is why I loved The Immeasurable Cookbook. The authors, Heather Erny and Terrence Huie, are a husband and wife creative team – she is a photographer and he is a writer. Together, they have turned their love of food and for one another into a unique culinary experience.
Earlier this week, I caught up with Terrence Huie for a virtual Q&A. We discussed writing with your significant other, pop culture references in their recipes, revamping classic dishes and creating new traditions in the kitchen. Here is what he had to say:
BookTrib: This is a one-of-a-kind cookbook. Essentially, you throw out all the conventional cooking rules and rely on creativity, intuition and sensory perception (sight, smell, taste) to concoct these delicious recipes. Tell us a bit about this approach and how you came to write the book.
Terrence Huie: It all started when Heather’s sister, Mary, asked her to make her a cookbook for Christmas. We knew we wanted the cookbook to be fun and embody the sense of community that goes into preparing a meal because we see the convenience of the food industry in the United States as a war being waged on the traditions in our kitchens.
The creative side of the book organically arose out of Heather’s grandma style of cooking where I would ask her how long she needed to cook something and she would shrug her shoulders and give a sassy response like, “until it’s done.” This obviously posed an obstacle to writing a traditional step-by-step recipe, and it forced me to think about food preparation in terms of the senses; whether it was the look, feel or the smell of a food rather than the exact amount of time it has been in the oven.
BookTrib: Have you always liked to cook or is it something you fell into?
TH: While most of us as kids were busy doing the maze on the back of the Lucky Charms box, Heather was reading the nutritional facts and asking questions about ingredients. She has always enjoyed learning how foods and flavors interact and even took some nutrition classes at Columbia University in New York City. She has taught me everything I know about cooking and every time we enter the kitchen together the product is as delicious as the process is messy and creative.
BookTrib: You say this book is about having fun with your food and enjoying the process of creating recipes. This also a way of creating traditions – something that is closely associated with cooking was that something you had as a child?
TH: Actually none of our parents or grandparents had strong ties to the kitchen, but when Heather and I started cooking together we realized how much fun it could be. Somewhere between Heather’s love of nutrition and my desire to help we slowly began creating a community in our kitchen, hosting friends and family, perhaps filling the void of tradition we felt as children. I’ve never looked at sharing meals as cornerstones of connection but the more people we feed the more I’m convinced that we’re satisfying some primal sense of community that we feel our society is gradually losing.
BookTrib: What was it like to collaborate with someone you are so close to?
TH: Working with your significant othher can be tricky, especially in creative endeavors. Our artistic egos were surprisingly more sensitive and intimate than the emotional centers in our relationship, and it was a matter of treating one another’s creative opinion with respect. There were a few flare-ups along the way, but just like our healthy romantic relationship, we tried to communicate our feelings and ideas to the best of our ability, working together on some parts while taking our respective individual reins on others.
It helped me notice that people often hold the key to their creativity close, tucked into a pocket where they know it will be safe because it can be scary to reveal a part of you that you’ve never shown anyone before. Thus when you work with someone on a creative project, you are not only giving them access to your creative process, but also a piece of your identity that you may have been protecting for a long time.
BookTrib: Let’s talk recipes. You have some great titles like “The Challah Back,” which I presume is the culinary equivalent of “holla back” – like Gwen Stefani’s “Hollaback Girl” – and “The Miso Hungry” for the 90s 2 Live Crew Song, “Me So Horny.” Though, I would have called “The Chessus Christ” just “Cheesus,” like Kanye West’s album, “Yeszus.” What’s the story behind this play on pop culture?
TH: Haha, you’re onto us. Actually, the only true pop culture reference was to “Hollaback Girl,” while “The Miso Hungry” and “The Cheesus Christ” were more borne out of puns rather than derivations of pop culture. Going forward, we will definitely consider more song references, though. Thanks for the inspiration!
BookTrib: Glad to be of assistance! In addition to creative titles and original recipes, you have some new takes on classic favorites like the biscuits and gravy – a southern staple and my daughter’s favorite that we tried (although I admit we cheated a bit with ready made biscuit dough) – the tomato frittata, mac and cheese and spaghetti and meatballs. How do your recipes differ from what people are so accustomed to?
TH: Don’t worry about the ready-made dough, sometimes our hunger supersedes our patience—we get it! Just try to make it from scratch next time!
The inspiration for our recipes began with putting a more homemade twist on staples like spaghetti and meatballs by making the pasta from scratch and really plunging our hands into some flour. But as we progressed we wanted to push the boundaries by fusing two cuisines like “The Italian Samurai” where we put peanut butter into fresh pasta dough and filled the “raviolis” with pad Thai filling to simulate a pad thai dish. Experimenting with different food combinations seemed to go hand-in-hand with the theme of the book because our ultimate aim is to teach the intuition of cooking while creating new traditions along the way.
BookTrib: What has the reception been from people who have bought the book and those who’ve attended the events, book signings and the like? Have you heard from any other authors of cookbooks? Have readers begun sharing their “immeasurable” recipes with you?
TH: The response has been very polarizing—either someone says, “That’s how my mom cooks!” or, “that sounds terrifying! I need my directions!” It’s really wonderful to hear the feedback from some who have taken our recipes as blueprints and used them as a license to go crazy in the kitchen. We realized that experimental scratch cooking isn’t for everyone but the fact that our creative approach has snagged the attention of other cookbook authors as well as some amateur cooks is all we can really hope for. No one has shared their specific secret recipe developments with us yet but we’re happy to have gotten them thinking!
BookTrib: Finally, can you share with us some ideas you may have for a second book?
TH: Our next endeavor is a literal photojournalistic approach to wedding photography called Apollo Fields (www.apollofields.com). Piggybacking on the value of experience in the kitchen from The Immeasurable Cookbook, as a photojournalistic team we will fully capture the scope of our client’s wedding days in words and in photos. As we move forward we hope to own our own wedding venue one day and we will probably write a book about the different ways that we can celebrate love, breaking free from traditional marriages while honoring relationships as partnerships rather than legally binding agreements. The common thread running through all of our projects will be the experience of bringing people together and creating meaningful traditions along the way.
ABOUT HEATHER ERNY
Heather is a photographer who cannot be trusted around garlic. She roasted and ate an entire bulb once… twice… who’s counting? Camera in one hand, a wooden spoon in the other, Heather captures moments and taste buds alike, making memories for those she photographs and meals for those she loves. A trained equestrian, she dreams of feeding her pony through the bay window above her kitchen sink. Type A through and through, she has no problem working hard, getting her hands dirty, and at the end of the day kicking her feet up in front of a crackling fireplace and toasting a scotch cocktail to a hard days work.
ABOUT TERRENCE HUIE
Terrence is a writer searching for the goodness in people’s hearts, never settling for less than the genuine. Very seldom does a line come out of his mouth that is not a movie quote, J. Cole lyric, or excerpt from a book that he has recently buried his nose into. He prides himself way too much on the fact that he has changed his own oil – twice.
He fulfills the Colorado standard in that he re-purposes pallets and meditates. In the end, he gets along with everybody, and does his best to make sure everyone is having a good time.
All photos by Heather Erny