Our Candle with Natasha!
Bursting with fresh, green, after the rain feelings - Backyard Garden, Brooklyn is made with notes of tomato jam, candied herbs, and frilly greens. Trust us, it's WONDERFUL!
We spent the afternoon with Natasha in her Brooklyn garden, and we chatted about all things green, cultivating community, bake sales, and More Than Cake.
I moved into my little studio apartment in the winter of 2020, when I was spending so much time indoors and was aching for a way to be connected to the outdoors. I had never gardened before in my life; I love cooking and working with beautiful ingredients but never had the space (or time!) to learn how to grow plants. I bought seeds from Crest Hardware and the Union Square Greenmarket; I shopped for heirloom seed online and in boutiques; friends gave me plants and seeds (and advice) of their own. I quickly became obsessed—there's no feeling of accomplishment quite like when you nurse a tomato into ripeness or cut the first cucumber off the vine. It was a pride and joy I had never really experienced before. Of course, there is so much heartbreak that comes with that too—losing plants to invasive bugs, extreme heat, and just bad luck. There's a sense of mystery that I find intoxicating—you can never really know how something will turn out, which makes the changes and discovery that much more thrilling. My book, More Than Cake, came out in mid-April, which is right around the time of year I should be planting and planning for the summer. Because I'll be on tour for the book and traveling quite a bit, I'm going to focus on low-maintenance plants that will thrive without me (and with a little extra help from friends and neighbors)— right now I have bushes of bronze fennel, catnip, lavender, and easy-to-grow flowers like columbine and sweet William. I'll grow less things from seed (when they need more nurturing) and pick sturdy herbs and vegetables that will thrive with waterings every couple of days, like squash, cucumber vines, peppers, eggplant, and tomatoes. And I'll always get to enjoy my annuals (tulips, hydrangea, and daffodils) without any work at all, which amazes me — not to mention the fragrant trees and bushes that line the perimeter of my garden, like lilac, roses, and fig. In the spring, after a long, stuffy winter, I throw open all the windows to my apartment, and the heady scent of the garden drifts right in — it's so romantic and uplifting.
Tips on hosting..
I think we put so much pressure on ourselves to be the perfect host, the perfect woman, the perfect baker. But perfect is so overrated — what makes events at your home feel unforgettable is when you are present as a host — not stuck in the kitchen preparing something complicated or stressing over a complicated dish, but in and among your friends and family, part of the conversation and the energy. When I host dinner parties in my garden, I do as much of my cooking as possible outside, so I can be near everyone instead of in my apartment . I'll bring out a tray of ingredients and prep vinaigrettes or chop salads right out in the open air, or put friends to work making drinks or setting the table. My friends joke that I do everything tableside, but it's true — I'll barbecue on the grill or premake a braise or stew, so I'm not losing even a single second in the company of my loved ones.
I'm in a group chat called "Candle Conference" with three good friends, haha. We are obsessed with luxury candles and are always texting each other good deals, funny product reviews, and the latest in candle innovation. We have funny hangouts where we'll have a "lighting ceremony" and order pizza and drink wine and talk about how good the candle smells. Backyard Garden, Brooklyn is so special because of the way it conveys the sense of being outside, surrounded by growing things and the earth. The scent is enchanting and floral and softly sweet but a little earthy, too—it makes me think of being outside in my garden, running my fingers through the soil, tending to my plants, harvesting tomatoes, and eating a plate of tomatoes and torn basil with too much olive oil and salt. It feels simple and essential and so evocative for this time of year.
More than cake..
Connecting my pastry work with my relationship to essential non-profit organizations in NYC is the cornerstone of my work and why I do pastry to begin with. I'm all about reinforcing connections, strengthening and deepening the way we see and interact with the world around us. I'm a Culinary Council member at God's Love We Deliver, which prepares nutritious, delicious meals to people who are living with chronic and serious illness in NYC. I've been working for years with the Lenox Hill Neighborhood House, a community-based organization that serves people on the East Side of Manhattan — I'll lead cooking classes and birthday parties with their older adults center, develop recipes for their farm-to-institution cooking program the Teaching Kitchen, and fundraise through pastry workshops. I'm on the Junior Board at the Food Education Fund, another terrific non-profit that works with teenagers to empower and prepare them for culinary careers. And through my fundraising bake sales, I've raised over $250,000 between 2017-2023 for organizations that support reproductive access for all, including Planned Parenthood and The Brigid Alliance. I'm deeply grateful that I have a chance to get to know and support the special, vibrant, and joyful people that help the underserved communities of our city.
& Never Ending Taste!
I've just begun a massive tour for my cookbook, and that includes so many bake sales in cities not just in NYC, but also Washington D.C., Ithaca, NY, Seattle, San Diego, Los Angeles, and Montreal. It's been such an honor to collaborate with the chefs in cities outside of my own, and have their incredible assistance in bringing these events to life. I'm hoping that when I have more quiet time this summer I'll be able to host more Never Ending Taste pop-ups right here in Brooklyn, where I live — stay tuned!