For Carolyn Erb, hosting people is what the most important parts of life are made of – good food with good people.
Erb started off in her humble family home in Kingwood and eventually moved to Calgary. She spent her career working in the food and beverage industry in restaurants, in catering and as an executive chef, not to mention home entertaining.
Last month she came home for the Ontario launch of her cookbook, “For the Love of Food, Family and Friends: Menus for Memorable Meals.”
The book is filled with recipes she developed, some adapted from family recipes, some she developed on her own and at least one that she says came to her in a dream.
The book is inspired by her childhood and upbringing.
“Growing up in the country, we didn’t go to the city for entertainment. We went to the city once every couple of months for staples: flour, sugar, that kind of thing. So our entertainment was socializing. A Sunday afternoon, a Sunday dinner, during the week, Hockey Night in Canada, whatever. We got to play with the other kids, our parents got to visit and it was a large table and lots of fun.”
She wrote the book to help people easily host these kinds of gatherings, so recipes are presented as meals together to help readers decide what to cook.
“For some people, hosting a dinner is nerve-racking,” said Grace Neeb, one of Erb’s sisters and Wellesley resident. “She’s got some meals in there that you can prepare ahead of time. Some shortcuts. A lot of her stuff is stuff you have on hand.”
The book even includes recommendations for alcoholic beverages to serve with the meals. “It’s kind of a little removed from our Mennonite roots, because Mennonites don’t necessarily put wine or beer in a cookbook,” added Neeb. “I personally haven’t seen one like it – it’s certainly different.”
You can find recipes for meals like Burgundy beef on rice with baguette and tomato vinaigrette, or orange ginger chicken, rice noodles and red leaf lettuce. Sections include tips on food safety, breakfast and brunch, soups and salads, light meals, dinner menus, meals for special occasions along with some of Erb’s family photos and memories.
The book was initially launched in Alberta in October, but last month her family hosted a launch party for her in Ontario as more and more people back home wanted to see it, talk to her about it and get a copy.
Erb says her husband practiced photography so he could take the photos, and her older sister edited it for her.
Erb admits it was a long road and she wanted to give up at times, but it was the encouragement of her sister that kept the project going.
“I almost packed it in because it was a lot of work, and making the food and making the food ...,” said Erb.
“It was years and years in the works,” added Neeb. “And we all asked [her], ‘When’s your book coming out?’”
“I was collecting recipes while I was working full-time, and at one point I said to Barb [her sister and editor] ‘is this too much? Is this too much?’ because she did all the layout. I thought, ‘this is a huge project.’”
“And she said, ‘No, it’s not too much, let’s keep going.’ She always pulled my wagon.”
She points to a photo on the final page of Barb next to her in a wagon.
Erb thinks fondly of all the memories as she flips through the pages. Memories of cooking with her mother and growing up with her family. She is thankful for her siblings who support her.
She writes in the introduction, “There was the sweet scent of Mom’s tomato-corn relish, simmering on the little white-ring electric stove for hours. Was it the vinegar and sugar, the onions and celery, the corn, the tomatoes (or the combination), that became part of that scent memory? Six simple ingredients cooked together for the right amount of time (never on a Sunday). This would carry with it a lifetime of dreams and memories, and the love of pairing, simplicity, and good taste for the author.”
The dedication reads, “Dedicated to the generations of strong women in our family. Grandmothers, mother, sisters, daughters, granddaughters.”
This is why Erb wrote the book, to help people maintain close ties with the close family and friends in their lives.
“Enjoy your food, your family and your friends,” she said.
For more information on buying the book, contact Grace Neeb at email@example.com.