The tiny-home movement is now equipped with an official cookbook: The Tiny Mess, a captivating and colorful collection of recipes and profiles of people in trailers, boats, and other compact structures across the West Coast who prepare fancy feasts in the most miniscule kitchens. It was photographed by Trevor Gordon and produced/written by his wife, Maddie Gordon (they live on a boat in the Santa Barbara Harbor), and their friend, Mary Gonzalez, who lives in a trailer on her family farm off Highway 150 near Carpinteria.
I spoke to the latter two last week as they were making simple syrups of elderberry honey and wild fennel–vanilla in Gonzalez’s kitchen as it soared toward 100 degrees.
How did this book start?
Maddie: Well, we both live in tiny places. I’m on a boat, and Mary is in a trailer. We both really like to cook. It’s kind of a pain in the ass, to be honest.
Mary: We would host friends over, and it was easy when Maddie and I were hanging out, because we had the same size kitchens. We started meeting a bunch of other people who live like this as well.
Maddie: People in the same situation had the same struggles, and were just making it work and enjoying it — and that’s what it comes down to.
Is there a network of people who live in tiny places?
Maddie: There’s definitely a network within individual communities.
Mary: In Santa Barbara, working at the farmers’ market, you meet a bunch of people who do live in tiny spaces.
How did you find people from other parts of the world?
Maddie: Through Instagram a bunch. We started the hashtags #tinykitchen and #tinyhouse. We’d contact people who looked interesting, and oftentimes those people would lead us to other people. And people just contacted us, too.
Are there geographic hotbeds for this type of living?
Maddie: It seems like the more rural the area, the more interestingly people live. We really wanted to find more people in the city. We have some actual houses in Santa Barbara and San Francisco, but next time it would be fun to scout people in New York and bigger cities.
Did you learn any special techniques?
Maddie: Food preservation was a really big thing, which is something that Mary and I strive to do, whether it’s fermenting or canning. A lot of the people were doing that really well, even curing meat and fish and pickling eggs. How to deal with protein and make it last was kind of a big deal.
Do you have any favorite recipes?
Mary: I like the abalone meatballs. I just started eating fish like a year and a half ago, and that was a wild recipe that was so delicious.
Maddie: I started dabbling in meat during this project, and really chowed down on those rabbit tacos.
Mary: We both started vegan and came out the other direction! I still haven’t started into meat yet, but maybe the next book.
Maddie: And the avocado mocha chocolate pie is my favorite recipe in the whole book.
If you sell a million books, will you move to a bigger house?
Maddie: Maybe a couple feet bigger on the boat would be nice.
Mary: I have plans for a little house, but it’s definitely going to be small. I’m not interested in anything large. I like being a minimalist still.
Maddie: If we make a million bucks, we’ll just buy better food.
What’s appealing about this tiny kitchen ethos?
Maddie: Letting go is huge, not being so attached to things. It gets really easy to let go of stuff eventually, when you look at something that you thought you needed for the last 10 years and think, “Why do I have that?”
Mary: Less is more, and you can create really good food with simple things. There’s also having a relationship with food that’s more sustainable, including things like wild foraging.
Do you have any plans for another book?
Maddie: We don’t have any plans, but we think it would be fun to take this to Europe or somewhere where people are living in really different places, like caves.
The Tiny Mess will be on sale at numerous pop-ups through the holidays, including the Findings Market event at The Guilded Table on November 11, a market at Tone-Up Santa Barbara on December 2, and the Handmade Makers Market on December 9. See thetinymess.com.