Using past travels as inspiration, artist and anthropologist Marcella Kriebel penned a love letter to Latin American kitchens and filled the margins of each page with memories. The result is one of the most unusual, beautiful and satisfying new cookbooks: “Mi Comida Latina” (Burgess Lea Press, $30, 144 pages).
“It definitely was a labor of love,” Kriebel said in a phone interview from her Washington, D.C., home. “I didn’t intend to make a cookbook. My original impetus was to share dishes I learned abroad with family and friends.”
Her trips started during her studies of Latin culture while she also was working on her watercolors; the 30-year-old author has a dual degree in studio art and cultural anthropology from Oregon’s Willamette University. Traveling throughout Mexico, Ecuador, Peru and farther south, Kriebel used food as a way to get people to open up about their lives. She cooked with other women in their own kitchens, learning to make their favorite meals. Then she painted the results.
Originally, her project was purely personal; a diverse collection of Latin recipes that she had practiced in her own American kitchen. The colorful illustrations spiced up the pages. But then she got laid off from her museum job in Washington, D.C. Her hand-lettered and hand-illustrated cookbook became a portal to a possible new career – and an inspiration to anyone interested in home cooking.
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Q: How did you get your cookbook published?
A: I started a Kickstarter campaign in November 2012. I had just been laid off from my full-time job. That’s when the cookbook (in its final form) really started. Obviously, I had a lot of time on my hands. I spent six weeks in Mexico, my self-issued artist retreat to launch the project and really focus on getting it done.
From the beginning, it was an art piece. I was certain I wanted hard cover, but finding a printer at the right price in the U.S. wasn’t easy. I found one in Wisconsin. My original Kickstarter goal was $5,000, the cost to print 150 copies. ... People pledged $55 with the promise I’d send them a book. I made nearly six times that goal in less than 30 days. I had people supporting me way beyond my family and friends.
The project just escalated from there. I self-published 1,000 copies. They sold out right away. Then I did another 1,200 copies. I learned a lot about the publishing industry very quickly.
Q: Now your book is available to a larger audience.
A: Yes, that’s exciting! I thought the project had run its course. I couldn’t maintain (self-publishing). It’s not just the printing, but it’s so hard for an independent publisher to get the book actually distributed. I’m an artist, first and foremost; I was going to let it go. But Burgess Lea Press got hold of the book and then got hold of me. It was very timely. (The Burgess Lea edition debuted last month.)
What’s really nice is that Burgess Lea pledges its profits to help food-related charities (of the author’s choice). Without hesitation, I picked Adelante Mujeres (Onward Women), which provides social services to Latina women in my hometown (of Forest Grove) in Washington County, Oregon. They run all sorts of programs – educational, after-school, organic farming training, workshops to help women start a business and improve their lives. They also run the farmers market in Forest Grove. I feel really thankful I can help them.
Q: Any favorite recipes?
I particularly love llapingacho; it’s actually Ecuadorian street food – potato pancakes stuffed with cheese. It’s served with a fried egg, beet salad, avocado, sometimes with a sausage on the side. For Americans, it’s very satisfying brunch food; it’s very colorful and wonderful food.
I also really like Peruvian causa (a layered and molded potato-avocado-shrimp salad). Some of the recipes are truly unique, such as the shrimp ceviche. You flash-boil the shrimp; they’re not raw. You grind up the shrimp shells in a blender with tomatoes, then strain (the shells) out. It gives a really great seafood flavor. For the most part, the recipes are simple and relatively quick to prepare.
Q: What’s next?
A: After the cookbook, I started focusing my art on food. For my own website (marcellakriebel.com), I’ve done several illustrations of produce plus bacon, cheese, olives, all kinds of food, for prints and note cards. I would like to do a book on farmers markets. I’m not sure of the focus yet, but it will be heavily illustrated.
Author and artist
Her hand-drawn and illustrated cookbook, “Mi Comida Latina” (Burgess Lea Press, $30, 144 pages), is now available for a wider audience.