Adventures in Food
Pierogies Are Life
Food writer and illustrator Casey Barber ’00 dishes up a tasty career
by Eveline Chao

ver since college, Casey Barber ’00 has been that friend everyone turns to for cooking advice. “I was probably the only person who came to Bucknell with a MultiPot and tongs, and was actually cooking on those rickety, electric-burner dorm stoves,” she laughs. “And during Thanksgiving I’m like my own Butterball hotline.”

The art history and English major has turned her passion into a career — as a food writer, illustrator and photographer. In recent months, she wrote and illustrated a feature for Better Homes & Gardens about food she ate while road tripping from Chicago to California; wrote a story for the website The Kitchn about getting her carnivore of a husband to eat more vegetarian fare during quarantine; and updated a post on her food website, Good. Food. Stories., about an especially memorable pasta dish she made as an undergrad after moving into off-campus housing and having a proper kitchen for the first time. She’s also authored two cookbooks: Classic Snacks Made from Scratch: 70 Homemade Versions of Your Favorite Brand-Name Treats and Pierogi Love: New Takes on an Old-World Comfort Food. (Barber hails from western Pennsylvania, so naturally, she says, “Pierogies are life.”)

Plate of pierogies with fruit and glaze
Photo: Casey Barber ’00
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Casey Barber ’00 authored a book about one of her most loved foods, pierogies.
In August, Barber found a new way of sharing her culinary love as a flag she designed was unfurled at Rockefeller Center in Manhattan. She was included among 192 artists chosen for an art installation called The Rockefeller Center Flag Project. Other flags included art by such luminaries as Jeff Koons, Faith Ringgold, Jenny Holzer and Laurie Anderson. Barber heard about the project from Jill Sieffert ’01, who works nearby. “They put out an open call for artists to send in drawings about what they love about New York,” Barber recalls. “I was like, ‘Food, obviously.’ ” To that end, her design features classic New York foods such as a pizza slice, a bagel with lox, and Chinese carryout, spelling out the letters “NYC.”
A Family of Foodies
Though Barber grew up in what she calls “a family of great eaters,” she never imagined her career would someday revolve around food. After college, she completed a master’s in journalism at Northwestern University, then was an assistant editor at First for Women magazine. From there, she worked at several PR agencies — including one that focused on arts institutions, another on fashion — before becoming a full-time freelancer in 2009. As it happens, that was right around the time that foodie culture and food-related digital media took off, and before long, Barber was selling stories about recipes she had devised at home, schlepping dishes up and down between her poorly lit kitchen and the sunny upstairs area she uses as a photo studio, and staying up late to create website posts. She also earns some income from ads on her website.
Casey Barber stands at van trunk cooking
Photo: Dan Cichalski
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Casey Barber ’00 cooks lunch at the Hidden Valley trailhead of Joshua Tree National Park during a cross-country trip.
“I never imagined when taking art classes at Bucknell that I would be styling pasta as a job, but here I am,” she jokes.

Barber credits her time at Bucknell with helping her develop the autonomy to “figure out that I was enough of a self-motivator to actually work for myself,” she says. That, and having parents who always encouraged her artistic side growing up — allowing her to draw anytime she wanted, taking her to art museums and exposing her to great children’s books, like Maurice Sendak’s In the Night Kitchen.

COVID Meal Planning
With 11 years of self-employment under her belt, Barber was more prepared than most to deal with the monotony of working from home when New Jersey imposed coronavirus lockdowns in March 2020. But while her work life hasn’t changed much, she does admit the endless meal planning that quarantine has brought can be wearying, now that she and her husband eat every meal together at home and try to minimize the number of trips out of the house. “I used to go to the grocery store almost every single day and comb the aisles looking for inspiration,” she says. “Now it’s more: ‘The meal plan says we have to have shepherd’s pie tonight, so we’re having shepherd’s pie tonight. Because those are the ingredients we have, and we have to wait two weeks until the next trip.’ We’ve lost the spontaneity of, ‘Oh, I feel like summer rolls tonight.’”
Barber credits her time at Bucknell with helping her develop the autonomy to “figure out that I was enough of a self-motivator to actually work for myself.”
For others who are similarly struggling with meal planning, Barber recommends creating a spreadsheet with boxes for every meal. Every family’s dynamic is different, but for her own household, she and her husband have found it most convenient to handle breakfast separately but fill in the boxes for every lunch and dinner.
Self-care Nights
That said, like anyone else, Barber says she also has “those nights when I think, ‘I can’t deal with it; someone please send me some food.’ ” Those are the nights they order carryout. “It’s called Casey Self-care Night,” Barber jokes. “Self-care and supporting local businesses.”

Barber has also viewed the pandemic as an opportunity to wean her husband away from a meat-based diet. “We now have a standing house rule of no more than one burger per week, because I want him to live,” she says with a laugh. “My goal is to get him to love chickpea curry. He’s not totally there yet, but he’s open to trying things at least once.”