What Happened to the Home Cook?: A Conversation with Jeanne Kelley

[This is the third conversation in a series. For the other two, click here.]
When I worked at Heath Ceramics, Jeanne Kelley would come in fairly often to rent out dinnerware for photo shoots for what would eventually become her third cookbook, Salad for Dinner. Usually, I didn’t love doing rentals. It was a lot of work (for not that much money) and the food stylists who typically did the renting weren’t always very nice. But Jeanne was different—she was calm and kind. She also often brought along homemade cookies for the staff. And they weren’t just any cookies. They were special—chewy, nutty, chocolatey, and with just enough salt.

When Salad for Dinner came out, we carried it at the store, but instead of taking photos of the recipes I wanted to make with my phone, like I often did with many of the books we carried at Heath (budget-living!), I happily bought Salad For Dinner. It’s been a favorite of mine ever since—her blue cheese dressing recipe makes regular appearances at our house as does her simple croque-madame on greens. In preparation for this interview, I got my hands on her previous book, Blue Eggs and Yellow Tomatoes and even though it was published nine years ago, the recipes didn’t feel dated. I made the “Easy Banana Cream Pie” right away.

Since Jeanne lives on the east side of Los Angeles like I do, I was able to interview her in person instead of via email. She invited me over for lunch, and though I knew it was going to be delicious, once I got there I was immediately reminded that she is also a food stylist because everything was so beautiful. Just look at this salad, would ya?
I was curious to talk to Kelley as she was a contributing editor at Bon Appétit magazine for 20 years, but also because her books and articles radiate an inspiring depth of knowledge about food, cooking, and gardening too. Her most recent piece for The LA Times focuses on rose geranium. Kelley writes, “If you don’t already have rose geranium in your garden, a friend with a bush could break off a branch for you to nurture in a pot of moist soil in full sunlight.” Of course I left our lunch and conversation well-fed, but I also left with my very own rose geranium branch (and some fresh chicken eggs and a copy of her latest book to boot).

Amelia Morris: In the acknowledgments to Blue Eggs and Yellow Tomatoes (2008), you start by thanking your mom, someone who “cooked healthy and delicious meals for seven nightly.” You were one of five children? Can you talk a little about your mom and how she approached homemaking for such a crowd?

Jeanne Kelley: Oh, I don’t know. I was born in 1963 and I’m the youngest of five, so I think my mom may have been over it a little. [Laughs.]

AM: I can hardly imagine a third kid let alone five!

JK: Yeah, I have three brothers, so she had three boys first [one right after the other]. And then came my sister, who is about 2½ years older than me, and she was probably the perfect girl baby. My mom said she never complained, she never did anything; she was so easy to neglect—in a way. So, I think I must have kind of been a mistake. But you know, she lived on a street where all the women had a ton of kids. It was easier then. They just sent them outside, sent them to other people’s houses. It wasn’t like today. We’re so focused and our kids are involved in so many activities.

AM: And so many parents today have work outside of childcare and housework. Can you talk about raising your own two daughters and working for Bon Appétit magazine?

JK: I had my kids relatively young for people my age; I was 24 when I had my first child.

AM: Oh, wow!

JK: Yeah, I mean, Celeste, my older daughter, is 29 years old.

AM: Wow.

JK: I had some problems with endometriosis, so my doctor recommended that if I wanted to have kids, for me to do it [right away]. And I was actually married already. I really wasn’t ready, but we just decided to go ahead and go for it.

I had a great job at the time too. I was a freelance recipe tester for Bon Appétit magazine. They didn’t have a formal test kitchen. They used to have people who would cook dishes at home and then transport them to the office; you’d reheat it, put it out for everybody and they’d taste it. It was great—it was a part-time job that paid well and I could do it from home.

And then I had my first daughter and when she was about 18 months old, they finally built a real test kitchen and I interviewed to be one of the people who would work there full-time. So, I basically had the luxury of being with my baby until she was 18 months and then I got a full-time job. And the way we structured daycare—god, it was so expensive—we put her in a four-day a week program and my mom, who still lived in Pasadena at the time, took her every Friday. And also, because I used to cook for the morning testing, I would get to the office really early. I would leave before traffic; the baby wasn’t even awake yet, my husband would get her dressed, take her to daycare and then I would pick her up at 3:30pm in the afternoon. Oh, and to deal with traffic back then, they came up with this amazing thing where you got a three-day weekend every other week. So you were supposed to just add maybe 45 minutes to your workday and then you got every other Friday off. And it was just perfect. I don’t know why more people don’t do that because they’re gonna get that 45 minutes out of you.

AM: So when you had your second daughter, what happened?

JK: My girls are four years apart, so when I had my second one, I looked at my salary and then the expense of daycare for two kids, and there would have been no profit. So, after my second daughter was born, I decided to quit. And I started developing content for Bon Appétit Books on a freelance basis. And that was great. And plus I could fill in at the magazine when someone went out on maternity leave or someone was sick or traveling, or etc. I already had the training, so I could work in the test kitchen or the office. I could edit. [This was] all freelance. It was a great job. I loved it. And over the years, I started writing recipes for them. And kept with it. I did food styling and different projects. I basically worked for them up until they moved to New York. And that’s when they fired everybody.

AM: And that’s when Adam Rapoport took over? And your relationship with Bon Appétit ended?

JK: Yes. I mean, I think my agent tried to get them to cover a couple of my books, but I don’t think that was ever going to happen. What did I hear—someone said that the new rule to get any sort of coverage from them—and this is from a publicist—you gotta be hot and under 30. [Laughs.]

AM: Well, they didn’t cover my book either, so now I know why! I’m curious though what you think about the current-day Bon Appétit. As I mentioned, I find it to be, ever since Rapoport took over, a rather soulless, largely trend-focused approach to food and cooking.

JK: Well, I don’t know Adam personally. But he came from GQ. He’s got a very fashion-based point of view. And I think that’s how they feel they can make it survive or appeal to young people maybe, if they’re this food and fashion thing. But for me, I don’t think food and fashion necessarily go together.

AM: And what about Gourmet? Did you like that or read that before it went under?

JK: Yes, Gourmet had this great thing about them because they had really great people that wrote for them. I heard this interview with Ann Patchett and one of the questions was what had inspired her to write [State of Wonder, a book set in the Amazon rainforest] and I was floored by her response, which was, “Oh, there was this wonderful magazine, Gourmet, and I could call the editor, Ruth, and tell her I wanted to go to the Amazon and Ruth would send me—”

AM: I think I heard that one too. And doesn’t Patchett take the blame for Gourmet’s downfall because she said she spent too much money on those trips?
JK: That is one thing I heard—that when Gourmet went under, there were millions of dollars of unused edit… They had so much money that they could produce all of this wonderful content, but they didn’t necessarily have the advertisers [for it].

But that’s an interesting thing when you think about magazines and them going under and you think of Vogue, [it makes me] so frustrated. Bon Appétit is taken over by a young man who wears skinny jeans and it’s all about fashion and New York and it’s all this youth, youth, youth thing. And you look at Vogue, which is so successful and it’s run by older women. So why can’t we have women running these magazines?

AM: I assume Bon Appétit is successful or else they wouldn’t keep doing it?

JK: I guess so? I don’t really know. I know it’s tough in the magazine industry right now. But you do start to wonder why the whole thing is to skew younger; why they feel like they need this young demographic so much. Because they don’t really have any money…

AM: And aren’t they on the Internet anyway?

JK: They’re on the Internet anyway, or they call their mom. So it’s like: why wouldn’t you focus on people who aren’t comfortable with the Internet? I guess geezers aren’t cool.

AM: I don’t think geezers are “cool”! Which reminds me: Have you ever seen The Great British Baking Show?

JK: No. I haven’t and I know I should. People say they love it because the people are really nice.

AM: And they’re old! The first time I watched it, I remember thinking: Oh, there’s an old person on my television.

JK: Imagine that!

AM: Do you watch any food television? (Because I do.)

JK: Not really. Because I find most of it sort of inane. But I’m bad in the sense that I sometimes feel like my whole world is so much about food, work-wise that I don’t necessarily like to watch shows about food or read about food. People will say, “Oh, you’ve got to watch Chef’s Table.” And I’ll say, “OK. I’ll give it a try.” But then I just forget. Maybe if I ever have some time off and I can iron or something, I’ll iron and watch a show.
But sometimes I get a little bored with chefs. They’re great, but I don’t understand the elevation of chefs to this kind of celebrity status and this sort of authority about cooking. Because I think that when you cook for a restaurant it is so different than cooking at home. They’re like two different languages, but people don’t see that. When I worked in the test kitchen, I could see that chefs don’t cook with recipes. They go off the top of their heads. Therefore, they don’t know the difference between a quarter cup and a teaspoon. They’re just cooking by feeling, which is great. Everybody should know how to do that, but not everybody can. But I don’t think that should devalue a recipe. A recipe is a great tool. It makes me feel like: What happened to the home cook? Why doesn’t the home cook have a voice so much in the whole food movement anymore? Why is it so much about chefs? They don’t cook at home. And half of them don’t know how to make something super super simple. They come home from work; they’re so over cooking, it’s the last thing they want to do.

AM: They also work all night, right? So if you had a family, when would you cook for them?

JK: That’s another thing that bothers me about the whole chef-y thing. These people have bought into it! They’re like [takes a faux macho tone]: Yeah, we don’t get paid very much and we don’t have holidays and we’re never with our families, but yeah! We have our knife tats and we’re chefs! [Back to her regular voice] But you can still cook and have some sort of quality of life.

AM: This reminds me of why I really like your cookbooks. They feel written by somebody who likes to eat and nothing is too fussy. I just made your banana cream pie and I love the press-in crust and how you just melt the chocolate right on top of the crust. Those are my kind of recipes.
(They are also clearly Teddy's kind of recipes.)
JK: I feel like you’ve got to make things easy or people aren’t going to do them. And I know that there’s this purist kind of ethos with a lot of cooking and that a lot of people would look at that pie and say, “Oh my gosh. You’re not rolling out the crust and blind-baking it and blah blah blah.” And no, I’m not, but I know that doing that whole process would add a whole other day. And I kind of just feel like: I want to cook something and be able to eat it. [Laughs.] I want it to be delicious and I guess I don’t really care about authenticity [or] if something is technically correct, if it’s good.

AM: Blue Eggs and Yellow Tomatoes comes with a "Chicken Keeper’s Guide" and in it, you say that while you’ve tended to a backyard flock of chickens for fifteen years, you don’t consider yourself a “chicken expert.” You write: “I’m a chicken enthusiast. I ‘muddle through,’ as my Pop would say, and though I may not be doing everything right, my hens seem happy and the eggless months are few.” I love a lot of things here. I kind of wish we had more self-admitting non-experts—self-admitting being a key adjective. I also love the idea of “muddling through.”

JK: There was no Internet when I got chickens. It’s not like you could Google anything that went wrong with your chickens. You’d look at some dumb book and the books were always so involved—they’d be almost written for a vet or someone. So I would just figure it out and there was this funny guy at a pet store in Highland Park and I would go talk to him and ask him questions and he looked at me one day and he said to me, [takes a very serious tone] “Lady, your chickens are making you think.” [Laughs.] It was classic. And I was like, “Oh, right. Your chickens aren’t supposed to make you think. They’re just chickens.” You drive around in Mexico, Africa, Thailand, everywhere, the chickens are just running around.

AM: Under the section, “Roosters?” you write, “I am often surprised at how often I explain that no, you don’t need a rooster to get eggs. Yes, you do need a rooster if you want fertilized eggs that hatch into chicks, but a hen ovulates, just as a female human does, with or without the presence of a male.” I’ve eaten so many chicken eggs in my life and I feel like I never really thought about this before—a fertilized egg vs. an unfertilized one. And it’s just moments like that when I feel really disconnected from my food source and like a modern jackass, basically.

JK: [Laughs.] No, so many smart people have brought this up to me. You know, I did that thing—[talks self-mockingly] I was an exchange student in high school. I lived in the southwest of France out in the country and got to see where they kill the pigs and make the sausages. [Returns to normal voice] But we’re not going to live on farms. I don’t want to move to a farm.

AM: Right, right. I guess I just worry that the more disconnected we get from our food source, it’s easier to lose touch with Mother Nature.

JK: Yeah, my concern is with a lot of diet trends, which I think are so unsustainable. I’m supposed to be doing some recipe development for this German book project and they were telling me how in Munich and Berlin, poke is a big trend. And I’m thinking: "Oh, great. That’s just what we need: people in Central Europe eating raw tuna." Tuna is overfished. And if you’re going to eat poke, it’s supposed to be eaten fresh, so that’s why they eat poke in Hawaii where they’re on an island surrounded by it. The idea that it’s then flown off to all these places just doesn’t make sense. I also don’t think the paleo trend is super sustainable either. I sometimes wish people could think more about: well, what can we eat that’s good for our environment instead of [being] so self-centered with their eating.

AM: Ah, well that kind of brings up this other question I’ve been asking everyone in this series so far, which is about this 30-day detox touted by Goop. Here are the first seven of fifteen guidelines: “1. No alcohol. 2. No caffeine. 3. No dairy. 4. No eggs. 5. No beef, no pork. 6. No shellfish, no raw fish. 7. No gluten.” What are your thoughts on detoxing? Have you ever tried one?

JK: I guess I don’t quite understand the whole thing about detoxing. Am I naïve? What are these people doing? What toxins are they filling their bodies with? Vodka and cocaine? And if you’re somebody who reads Goop, aren’t you already into eating a lot of kale anyway? And all of the medical science says there’s nothing to it.

I get the idea that if you’ve gone on a trip where you feel like you’ve eaten too much meat. Or maybe you got back from Italy and you’ve been eating a lot of pasta and cream, I could totally see you wanting to eat a lot of vegetables. Or if you were on a trip and you’d been drinking a lot. I get that you would want to take a break for a while. But I don’t understand these rigid diets.

AM: Right. My problem is that I feel like my twenty-year-old self would’ve totally taken these kinds of detoxes very seriously. Because my main goal most days was to be pretty and thin.

JK: Oh, yeah. My girls get mad at me all the time. One day I said something like, “Are you sure you want another piece of pie?” And they get so mad. They said: “You can’t body-shame me!” or something like that. But I just feel like: Yes, I cannot help but be a product of my generation, which was: I want to be pretty and thin. I remember being in high school and living off of Tab, cottage cheese, and carrot sticks.

AM: You thought that was healthy?

JK: I thought that was healthy. But this was also pre-Jennifer Lopez. We were all humiliated by our “thunder thighs.” We would tie sweaters around our waists to cover up our butts, but now you see girls and they’re proud of their bodies. And that’s great.

AM: Where do you find your cooking inspiration?

JK: Traveling. Or learning about a new ingredient and then reading up about it. I don’t go out to eat very often. A lot of times it feels like a chore. It’s hard to get in, hard to get reservations. But I look at the papers. And when I do go out to eat, I like to go to restaurants that do interesting things with vegetables. I’d like to go to Destroyer. When I worked at Bon Appétit, I used to have the opportunity to go to a lot of tasting-menu type places and I realized that I don’t like eating that way. I think it leads to palate confusion and I never feel good after those meals and [even though] you’re drinking very little, the next day I would feel like I’d gone on a bender. I don’t think you’re supposed to eat that way.

AM: Where else in LA do you like to go?

JK: I love Baco Mercat downtown. And he [Josef Centeno] has got this new one P.Y.T. that’s a lot of interesting vegetables. I like Everson Royce Bar. I feel like you can really judge a restaurant on their salad and they have a salad on their menu, I think it’s called The Boring French Salad. It is such a nice salad. It’s got really fresh greens, radishes and this really nice herby, buttermilk vinaigrette. The food there is so simple, but it’s done in such a quality way.

[Around this point in the interview, Jeanne starts assembling a dessert for us to eat.]

AM: What is the dessert here?

JK: So, I’m sort of on this rose geranium jag. I had a bunch of lime, so I made lime curd with rose geranium in it. And I had some blackberries that I’m going to sweeten with rose geranium. In my latest book, Portable Feast, I [do something similar]. I make this kind of crumble and layer everything in these jars, so they’re like lemon meringue pie jars. That way you can make the components and you can just have a little bit. Because if you make a whole pie, you gotta eat the whole pie. And if I’m home with a pie, I’ll eat it.

[Which is the perfect segue into this video and recipe for her banana cream pie?]

This interview has been condensed and edited.
Easy Banana Cream Pie from Jeanne Kelley’s Blue Eggs and Yellow Tomatoes
Makes one 9-inch pie

1 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
¼ pound plus 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped

2 1/3 cups whole milk
1 vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise
5 egg yolks
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
¼ cup cornstarch
2 tablespoons dark rum
2 small or 1 ½ large bananas, sliced
1 cup heavy cream, chilled
chocolate shavings, optional
Additional banana slices, optional

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 9-inch pie dish.

Combine the flour, sugar, and salt in a bowl. Add the butter and stir with a fork until moist clumps form. Press the dough evenly onto the bottom and up the sides of the prepared dish.

Bake the crust until golden brown, about 20 minutes.

Remove the crust from the oven and sprinkle it with chocolate. Let it stand until the chocolate melts, about fie minutes. Using the back of a spoon, carefully spread the chocolate over the crust. Chill or freeze the crust until the chocolate is set, about 30 minutes in the refrigerator or 10 minutes in the freezer.

To make the filling:
Bring the milk and vanilla bean to a simmer in a heavy, medium-sized saucepan over medium heat.

Whisk the egg yolks, ½ cup of the sugar, and the cornstarch together in a large bowl. Gradually whisk the hot milk into the egg mixture. Return the mixture to the saucepan and whisk over medium-high heat until the custard thickens and boils, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and whisk in the rum. Cool the custard to room temperature.

Stir the custard until smooth; remove the vanilla bean. Spoon half the custard into the piecrust. Arrange the banana slices over the custard. Top with the remaining custard. Chill until set, about two hours. (Can be prepared to this point up to 1 day ahead. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.)

Whip the cream with the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar to soft peaks. Spread the whipped cream decoratively over the pie. Garnish the pie with chocolate shavings and additional banana slices.
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Video: Pasta with Sardines

So many things I'd like to recount and not enough quiet time to recount them, especially right now since Teddy's on "spring break" and my mom and brother are in town visiting. But here I go anyway...

1. Thank you for your responses/comments on the two interviews I've done so far in the not-yet titled food and politics conversation series. I've got two more in the works, which I hope to share soon. Also, if there's anyone you'd like me (to try) to talk to, please let me know! 

2. Teddy is pretty into Moana. (If you run into him, the chances are high that he will tell you, "I'm Maui! I have a magical hook!") I bought the soundtrack and now we cruise around town listening to it. Though I haven't seen the movie (Matt took him a few months ago.), I think the music is so good. And for some reason (because of the grandma and Moana finally learning to trust her inner voice?), the tenth track, "I am Moana (Song of the Ancestors)" is enough to bring me to tears while driving. A lot of the music was written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, and can I just say: that guy is a national treasure! (Love the music of Hamilton and this Fresh Air interview with him too.) 

3. Sardine pasta! This is a controversial meal in my family; the first time I made it, Matt ate a fairly large portion and then declared that he didn't like it. Hmmm? I chalk these mixed feelings of Matt's up to what I see as his aversion to / wariness of fish in general. For example: he likes smoked salmon and will eat raw salmon in sushi, but he doesn't like salmon in any other format. Either way, according to Matt, the sardine flavor in this pasta was a little too intense for him. In short, the next time I make this, I'll have to make less since I couldn't quite finish a pound of pasta on my own in a timely-ish manner.

Pasta with Sardines slightly adapted from An Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler
serves 4

2-3 tablespoons olive oil
½ onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1 can olive-oil-packed sardines
1 lb. dried spaghetti
1 bunch of parsley, roughly chopped
1 cup toasted breadcrumbs
grated Parmesan
dried chile flakes (optional)

Heat the olive oil in a large pan. Add the onion and garlic and cook until soft, about 5 to 7 minutes. Add the sardines and their olive oil. Fry as you break the sardines up with a wooden spoon. Once the sardines have been broken down, turn the heat off.

Cook the pasta in salted boiling water. While it’s cooking, chop the parsley, removing any pieces of thick stems. Just before pulling the pasta, scoop out about a cup of the pasta water and set aside.

When the pasta is almost al dente, turn the heat back on under the pan of sardines; remove the pasta from its pot with tongs and drop it directly into the pan. Start by adding about ¼ cup of the pasta water and mix the sardines and the onions through the pasta. Add more water if it seems at all dry. When the noodles and sauce are nicely mixed, add half the breadcrumbs and parsley and mix them through.

Serve the pasta in bowls, topped with more breadcrumbs, parsley, Parmesan, and dried chile.
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Feminist, Uncle, Gadfly: A Conversation with Tim Mazurek

[This is the second in a series of conversations. The first one is here.]
If you’re familiar with Tim Mazurek and his site, Lottie + Doof, you likely read “You’re Boring,” a subversive think piece on why food media mostly sucks and how we can do better.

In Tim’s view, part of the problem is that professionals in mainstream food media are too similar-minded and too cozy with one another. In his words, they have “worked together, or might someday work together, so nobody can criticize anyone else. Everyone is too busy congratulating each other or promoting each other’s work (often while talking about how shitty the work is behind their back)… Don’t get me wrong, professional camaraderie and friendships are great. But they shouldn’t exclude formal criticism.”

I completely agree and have spent a fair amount of time calling out my least favorite food and lifestyle magazines for what I perceive to be a kind of trend-focused, overly precious, and largely soul-less approach to food and cooking. That being said, it’s probably a bit easier for me to do so as a food media outsider—I have very little to lose. I also don’t really have friends in the business. I don’t know people who work at Bon Appétit, Martha Stewart Living, etc. (Perhaps ironically, Tim himself is the closest I come to having a good friend in food media.)

What I think makes Tim a national treasure is that he does know these people and isn’t afraid to ask for more out of them. Plus, and probably most importantly, he’s not selling anything. He doesn’t pay the bills via his blog, food-writing, or a Lottie + Doof-branded line of pots and pans. Are there any other major names in food who can say the same? And this isn’t meant as a knock to the people who are selling things, myself included (Uhm, buy my book!). Rather, it’s a nod to the magical power and freedom of distance, the idea that when you’re too close to something, you can’t see it clearly—which brings to mind the words of the late, great Bill Cunningham: “If you don’t take money, they can’t tell you what to do.” (Not that there is a lot of money in food-writing.) (Buy my book?)

This brings me to my first question.

Amelia Morris: At one point, I know you were considering writing a cookbook. Are you still?

Tim Mazurek: Ugh. I don't know. I think I like the idea of having written a cookbook better than actually writing one. There are a few issues. First of all, I honestly do not know how to incorporate it into my life. I work full-time (am I the only 9-5 food blogger?) and I have friends and family I want to spend time with. We're also living in the golden age of television—a new season of Fleabag isn't going to watch itself. Time constraints aside, there are too many cookbooks being published and most of them are so very mediocre. I don't want to produce another boring forgettable cookbook. One of the beautiful things about blogging is that whatever I say goes, Lottie + Doof is this world that I have complete control over. Working with a publisher means that I am giving up control of my work and that would be a struggle for me. Plus writing pays shit, which isn't motivating. So, there are a lot of checks in the cons column, at least right now. All of that said, I am still considering a proposal and have a very rough draft that I look at occasionally. I have this idea that I like and some recipes I would like to share. I like the format of a book in that it is finite and an object that would exist in the world. And theoretically, I do like collaborating and would enjoy working on a project like this with the right people. But I don't know if the weirdo book I would want to produce has a place in contemporary cookbook publishing. And all of this presumes that anyone would want to publish me, which they probably wouldn't. I don't know. I'm conflicted. So promise to never ask me about it again, okay?

AM: We started our food blogs at very similar times and about a year before Condé Nast decided to dump Gourmet (end of 2009). Were you a fan of Gourmet? Why or why not?

TM: I did like Gourmet! It was a different time, I was young and innocent and hadn't consumed much food media. Who knows what I would think of it today. But generally speaking, I liked stuff better back then because nobody thought it was cool. More importantly, it didn't think it was cool. It was earnest and nerdy in a way that doesn't seem possible anymore. So much media today seems like it was created by public relations software, it is all hashtags and cross-promotions and celebrity waffle trends. This was why blogs were cool back then, too. They weren't a thing. It was just a bunch of randos who wanted to write about food, it wasn't part of a business plan or brand strategy. I miss those days. I miss Google Reader.

AM: I want to talk more about formal criticism, but also as it relates to informal criticism. I’m specifically thinking about Twitter and online comments. Have you experienced—like I assume most bloggers have—some hateful commenters on Lottie + Doof? Or Twitter? Also, it appears that you can’t comment on your blog anonymously—was that a conscious decision?

TM: I am both unable to keep my mouth shut and very sensitive, which is a terrible combination. And especially poorly suited to the internet. So I live in constant fear that someone will say something mean to me. They occasionally do, but mostly the people who read my blog have proven themselves to be real gems. I love my regulars so much. And I not only prohibit anonymous comments, I also approve all comments from first-timers before they are posted. Both were conscious decisions. I want the site to be a fun place for myself and anyone who drops by. I am more often attacked on Twitter, which I guess is expected....and sometimes I deserve it. Social media isn't the best place to discuss serious topics.

AM: Via your blog, you introduced me to the poem, “I Woke Up” by Jameson Fitzpatrick. I love it so much. It’s such an entertaining and yet still powerful poem. Where did you first come across it? Do you have a favorite line or moment from it?

TM: I am so glad you like it! I came across it on The Poetry Foundation's website. The Poetry Foundation is one of my favorite Chicago cultural institutions. People should visit it when they are in town. And their website is an incredible resource for finding poets and poems. I really like everything about that poem, but especially: Who I thought was handsome was political—which makes me sad.

AM: I am on an ancient Chinese poetry kick. (We’ve all been there, amiright?) Stephen Mitchell’s translation of the Tao Te Ching has given me a lot of comfort in this post-fact world. Since the election, have you found yourself leaning on any particular book or storyline or piece of art?

TM: YES. More generally, I have found that art suddenly seems vital to me in a way that it never has before (and I have two degrees in art!). I am holding it so close—as an escape and as a reminder that humans can be magical little creatures capable of truly wonderful stuff. In December I read The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton and formed what some (my husband) would call an unhealthy attachment to it. You know when you get the right book at the right time? This was the epitome of that. It is such an escape and felt like the only safe space for me for a while. I never wanted it to end. It is this massive text that is a parody of Victorian novels and also a mystery and also about astrology and also about the New Zealand gold rush and maybe my favorite love story ever. It is bonkers. It is the only book I can remember reading that made me gasp out loud at the cleverness of the author. It is just so fucking cool, Amelia. Stop reading this and go read that.

AM: I recently flipped through People magazine and was rather deflated by their description of Glennon Doyle Melton, who is someone I’ve come to know and appreciate solely through her Instagram feed. People tagged her as a: “Christian mom blogger.” Though I guess she is all of these things, the description feels wrong. If People magazine were reporting on you, what would your ideal three-word description be of yourself—knowing that, of course, the whole three-word limitation is the whole problem. Also, speaking of People, who is your celebrity crush? (Also, sorry?)

TM: "Feminist uncle blogger"? Or maybe "feminist uncle gadfly"? I actually like this exercise.

But what I like even more is talking about celebrity crushes. How have we never discussed this before? I don't know how to narrow this down. A perennial favorite is Michiel Huisman, which hopefully requires no explanation. I am deeply into Andrew Scott's performance of Moriarty in the BBC Sherlock series. His energy is so attractive. That one is perhaps connected to a larger theme in my life where many of my celebrity crushes are actors in British murder mysteries. I started a zine in like 2007 called: "Men of Marple" (as in, Agatha Christie's Miss Marple) that was basically me obsessing over the babes on the ITV series that was airing at the time. It was not a widely read zine.

Also, I have a crush on the entire cast of Riverdale on the CW. Literally the entire cast. That casting director deserves an Emmy.
In case the name doesn't ring a bell, that striped babe on the left is Michiel Huisman
AM: Maybe it’s all this talk of nuclear bombs, but I keep thinking about dishes/recipes that I want to make before dying. It’s weirdly motivating. Some of them are quite simple, like this recipe for Green Chutney in Madhur Jaffrey’s latest cookbook. Do you have any bucket-list dishes like that?

TM: I don't think I can relate to wanting to cook in the face of impending death. I'd rather have someone else cook for me in that situation. But I hope to someday make mole and a proper croissant.

AM: I recently read the rules to a 30-day detox touted by Goop. Here are the first seven of fifteen: “1. No alcohol. 2. No caffeine. 3. No dairy. 4. No eggs. 5. No beef, no pork. 6. No shellfish, no raw fish. 7. No gluten.” What are your thoughts on detoxing? Have you ever tried one?

TM: I hate it. The language around this sort of pseudo-science bullshit is intolerable to me. I am happy for you, as an individual, to do whatever stupid thing you want to do. I am not okay when you start telling other people about it and claiming there is science or truth behind it. Nutritional science is incredibly complicated stuff and not easily applicable to general audiences. "Healthy" to one person may not be "healthy" to another. And fuck anyone who calls dairy a toxin.

As for my own experience, once I didn't drink any Coca Cola for a month and that was pretty terrible. I wouldn't recommend it.

AM: Do you think that in order to run for president, you should have to be able to make one really good meal from scratch? Or maybe be able to fry an egg with a runny yolk?

TM: Not at all. Do you? Why would this be important? I'd rather they be good at crying.

AM: Since you asked... Yes, I DO wish presidential candidates could cook. I'm pretty sure this notion is wrapped up in my perpetual naiveté about the world and people. Basically: I see cooking as a form of nurturing—both for the cook and the ones eating the meal. Just imagining either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton in a kitchen, apron-clad, making a thoughtful meal, relaxes me. The image also reminds me of this line I came across (via Glennon Doyle Melton's Instagram) about peacemaking, which ends with: "[peacemaking] is about a revolution of love that is big enough to set both the oppressed and the oppressors free." I believe that Trump is oppressed by his compulsion to appear hyper-masculine as was Hillary by her need to appear masculine enough. I think they might both benefit by some time in the kitchen. I also believe that caring about making good food leads to caring about where good food comes from which typically leads to caring about mother earth. So yeah, maybe instead of a third debate, there should be a cook-off?

TM: I am less convinced that cooking is always a form of nurturing. I don't think what is happening in restaurants is necessarily nurturing, though sometimes it is. I watched my grandma cook her whole life, more often than not it seemed like a burden. I suspect cooking can be nurturing in the hands of nurturing people, and not in the hands of others. But I think we agree that we would love a nurturing president. Bring her on!

AM: If you could cook for any politician/public servant, who would it be and what do you think you would make?

Is this a trap, Amelia? I refuse to admit to wanting to poison anyone.

I don't have much interest in cooking for a politician. I am skeptical of most of them, especially at the national level. Even the love for Obama that many of my friends seem to feel will always be a bit of a mystery to me. He didn't support marriage equality until it was politically safe for him to do so. I am not naive, I get how politics work, but I don't know how to love a president who spent years telling me he wasn't sure I deserved the same rights he benefited from. Sure, by comparison he was pretty good and I am grateful to have had him as a president. I like leaders who read books and can articulate ideas and appear empathetic. But I don't need to cook for them. They should cook for me.
I would cook this (green chutney grilled cheese) for you, Tim. 
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German Baking and Our Civic Breakdown: A Conversation with Luisa Weiss

Plus, a video of Teddy and me making her Rosinenzopf.
After the election, my friend Kara introduced me to the following words by the ancient Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu: "If there is to be peace in the world, there must be peace in the nations. If there is to be peace in the nations, there must be peace in the cities. If there is to be peace in the cities, there must be peace between neighbors. If there is to be peace between neighbors, there must be peace in the home. If there is to be peace in the home, there must be peace in the heart."

I’ve been holding tightly to this notion ever since. (I also read some more Lao-tzu.) When reading the news becomes too much, I’ve actually closed my browser and said aloud, “Peace in the home.”

Another idea I’ve been holding tightly is one I came across via an episode of On Being titled, “The Inner Life of Rebellion.” In it, activists Courtney Martin and Parker Palmer talk about the various, not necessarily straightforward ways we can rebel against injustices we see. We all have different gifts and can contribute differently. In another interview, one with the late poet and playwright, David Budbill, this idea was reaffirmed: “Not everybody should be out on the streets protesting. I have a Buddhist friend who lives near Charlottesville, Virginia. He says, ‘What I do for peace and justice is split wood.’ I respect that. To do no harm is a great service to humanity.”

Right now, for me, finding peace in my heart involves a lot of cooking. It has also made me think of homemaking differently. It’s made me think of it, to put it bluntly, as an act of rebellion.

That being said, in the wake of the women’s march, I felt invigorated. Like many people I know, I wanted to do something more. I thought of my gifts. I then thought of food and my mother—of how she and I couldn’t talk politics over Christmas but how we could talk about what we were going to eat for dinner. Lots of people talk about how divided we are as a nation, but I don’t think that’s true. At least, it’s not the whole truth.

In this new series of conversations with my fellow food writers and thinkers, I hope to highlight all of these above ideas, but mostly this idea that the truth isn’t so simple. The truth is filled with nuance.

In this first conversation, conducted over email, I’m talking with Luisa Weiss—a Berlin-born, American-Italian food writer. She is the creator of the blog, The Wednesday Chef as well as the author of My Berlin Kitchen, a food memoir, and Classic German Baking, a cookbook published in late 2016.

In My Berlin Kitchen, Weiss has a chapter titled “Eating for Heartbreak,” which immediately follows the chapter where after intense consideration and some truly meddling pigeons, she decides to break off her engagement. She writes: “…as black as your days may be—and black they are, that I’ll say—life does, amazingly, go on. As must you, one foot placed in front of the other; one tedious morning after another. And the thing is, you’ve got to eat. You can’t simply drop out of life.” She then goes on to describe a version of a Greek salad. It shouldn’t be so tantalizing and yet it is.

It’s this kind of practical magic that makes me love food. And I think that bewitches Weiss as well.

Amelia Morris: I recently heard the U.K.-born-and-based Zadie Smith talk about her latest book, the main character of which, like herself, is mixed race. She then discussed how her particular shade of skin allows people to see her how they want to—how people have begun conversations with her in Arabic, or Bengali, etc. Can you relate to this as a self-described Berlin-born, American-Italian?

Luisa Weiss: Oh, so much. On paper, I may be Caucasian, but in the flesh, I have very dark hair and eyes and the kind of skin color (olive) and features that have over the years led Arabs, Turks, Persians, Latinos, and Southeast Asians from various nations to ask me if I'm one of them. (Often in their own language and repeatedly, since they're so confident I'll be able to respond!) My mother thinks that there must be some Saracen blood in my DNA from my maternal (Italian) side and on my paternal side, the swarthiness comes from generations of Eastern European Jewry. The ethnic confusion is compounded by the fact that my parents gave me a first name that is relatively familiar in several cultures, including the German one, and an originally Hungarian last name that means "white" in German. So to Germans, I'm doubly, triply confusing—a dark-skinned polyglot with a German name who was born here and can speak the language almost perfectly, but not completely. Weird! On the inside, my identity used to be more confused than it is now. I'm a "third-culture kid" - a child born to people of a culture different than the one they live in—but I didn't discover this term until I was in my early thirties and just ending a significant romantic relationship in no small part because of our inability to bridge the geographical and cultural divide between us. I had always thought my inner turmoil about my identity and where I belonged was something I had to endure alone, but discovering the concept of being a TCK was very grounding. Today, I feel pretty solid about my mongrel (I say that lovingly) identity as an American in Europe, married to a German, living around the corner from my Italian mother, raising bi- and trilingual children.

AM: That’s not even to mention your identities as a mother, wife, writer, cook, daughter, etc. It’s confusing sometimes, right?

LW: I think it's more confusing when you have to explain yourself to others who want a neat and simple answer, actually. These days, it feels pretty normal to be a working mother, a woman with interests outside of the home, and a multinational family. Or at least it feels more normal to me. Thank goodness!

AM: Your latest book, Classic German Baking, is incredibly ambitious. You essentially tackle an entire culture. (I personally felt like I learned so much about the German day-to-day and also feel like I would love to do a cookie exchange with you next holiday season.) Was the idea always this big in scope? And/or how did you come up with the idea?

LW: The idea was even bigger originally—the subject of German baking is so vast that you could, in theory, pen a "Silver Spoon" style book just on this one subject. In fact, the idea of the book terrified me precisely because of its potential size. How on earth would I ever be able to tackle such an enormous project? Luckily, my publisher gave me the freedom to narrow the selection of recipes down to a manageable number that would still ably represent the variety and scope of German baking, but wouldn't tether me to the test kitchen and my desk for the next five years.

As for how I came up with the idea: Before I moved to Berlin and became a full-time writer, I was a cookbook editor in New York. It was there that I first realized the gap in the market where a German baking book belonged. I looked high and low for the right person to write the book, but always came up empty. Life moved on and I found myself in Berlin. Years later, the publisher of Ten Speed approached me to write the book because he too had seen this gap in the market—I'm sure there were other editors too who were on the hunt!—and thought that I'd be the right person to tackle it. Once I got over my initial fears (see above), I was thrilled to be given the task of explaining German Kaffee-Kuchen culture to American readers. What an honor!

As for a cookie exchange with you: Yes please!

AM: Part of the reason I ask is because I like the idea of an ambitious baking project. It feels both feminine and masculine. (When I think of baking, I think of women and homemaking. But at the same time, the word ambitious is often used pejoratively when describing a woman.) Do you think of baking as historically women’s work? In your research of these traditional recipes, did you rely heavily on women’s knowledge or men’s or was it a mixed bag?

LW: Such an interesting question. When I think of home baking, I do indeed see it as more of a woman's thing. Because historically (and, uh, today, still, especially in Germany), women are still largely the ones at home, doing homemaking work, even if they're also out working and getting a paycheck. They're probably the ones getting the Sunday cakes made, they're the ones decorating the gingerbread houses with the kids, and the ones figure out what birthday cake to make when. (Because baking is such a big part of German culture, men are certainly not excluded from it. Many men I know bake at Christmastime and they all have pretty strong opinions on the subject of homemade cakes and cookies.) But professional bakers are largely still men. At all of the traditional, family-run bakeries that I know well in Berlin, the employees in the "Backstube" or "baking room" are men, including the "Meisterkonditoren." The women are the ones in the front, selling the goods. Going way, way back in time to when bakers were in guilds, they were all male—women simply didn't work. So the question of whether baking is historically more male or female is more complicated than you think! At least seen from the German perspective.

AM: You have a beautiful newborn baby at home right now. In my experience, newborns have an amazing, fascinating, and sometimes frustrating way of telling your ambition to take a chill pill. What has your experience been like?

LW: Oooh, sister, YES. It's such an incredible push-pull. On one hand, I love the crazy fog of the newborn time. I love how reduced your life becomes. How concentrated on one little thing it gets. How the days are, in their nuttiness, still predictable (feed, sleep, change, feed, sleep, change, etc etc). How easy it is to tune out everything and just go inward and focus. And because he's our second and last child, I can appreciate and savor the moments so much better than I could the first time around.

On the other hand, precisely because I spend so many weeks in such a reduced state intellectually, when that urge to create rears its head again, it does so with a vengeance. But you can't suddenly plop your kid aside and go off to write for five hours—he'll probably wake up in 23 minutes! That's when the real challenge, as I see it, begins. Learning to juggle your thirst to work and have an identity outside of being a mother with an infant's myriad and constant needs. As I'm feverishly typing the answers to these questions, my baby has been napping on the sofa. Any minute now he's going to wake up and who knows when I'll find the time to be back at the computer again. So I type, type, type like a banshee in the hopes of finishing a thought coherently before the baby cycle starts anew.

AM: Lots of the recipes in Classic German Baking call for a period of rest—whether it’s a few hours or a few months, like the dough for your Lebkuchen (Old-fashioned German Gingerbread). Do you think this idea applies to progress? To our 24-hour news cycle? Anything else?

LW: Yes! Most things (besides salad) benefit from at least an overnight rest, if not longer. Creative work, for sure. Lover's spats, definitely. In general, being able to take a step away from something to get fresh air and a new way of looking at it will benefit whatever you're dealing with. AS for our news cycle, it's complicated. I definitely think that a lot of the "breaking news" stories out there could have used an overnight rest and I generally think the 24-hours news cycle has contributed to our civic breakdown. On the other hand, as someone who has always been interested in the news and who follows it obsessively now (thanks to midnight feeds, the 24-ness of the news is particularly relevant), I'm also grateful for all those hardworking journalists out there who are toiling like crazy to bring us as much information as they can in this very strange new world.

AM: I recently read the rules to a 30-day detox touted by Goop. Here are the first seven of fifteen: “1. No alcohol. 2. No caffeine. 3. No dairy. 4. No eggs. 5. No beef, no pork. 6. No shellfish, no raw fish. 7. No gluten.” What are your thoughts on detoxing? Is there a place for it in German culture like there seems to be in American culture?

LW: My thoughts on detoxing are, to paraphrase or quote Amy Poehler: "Good for her! Not for me." Everything in American culture eventually trickles down to German culture, so there are definitely detoxes in the ether here. On the whole, Europeans seem to have a slightly more balanced view on diet and nutrition than Americans. But the siren song of fitting into your bathing suit come summertime seems to be one that bewitches people across many cultures.

AM: Do you think that in order to run for president, you should have to be able to make one really good meal from scratch? Or maybe be able to fry an egg with a runny yolk?

LW: Ooh, I don't know! I don't think that cooking well inherently makes you a good or moral person. I think a good politician probably doesn't have a lot of time to hone their cooking chops. They're too busy being good public servants, or they should be in any case? I'm old-school—I think politicians should be the ones running for president, not reality stars or even Oprah (God love her). So I guess my answer is no. I'd rather my presidential hopefuls be smart, well-educated and capable of thinking deep thoughts about economics and history and health care and global poverty and prison reform and police violence. If that means they can't even open a can of baked beans, well, so be it.

AM: If you could cook for any politician/public servant, who would it be and what do you think you would make?

LW: I wish I could make dinner for Barack and Michelle Obama. My warm feelings for them have morphed into something far more desperate now—I adore them with a sort of trembly, feverish, terrified love, enhanced, no doubt, by the intense psychological misery that the current occupant of the White House is inflicting on us. I'd invite them to dinner at my mom's house in Italy and we'd have dinner on the patio outside, on the wood table that's water-damaged after years of being out there and under the big sun umbrella my mother put out there when we got married several years ago. There would be homemade tagliatelle with ragù, which is a specialty of the region, and grilled sausages and breadcrumb-stuffed tomatoes, and a big salad with greens from the garden and then baseball-sized peaches dripping juice all over the place and lots of wine and we'd eat and talk for hours until the sun went down and the fireflies came out and by the end, we'd be BFFs and they'd promise to come back every year.
Rosinenzopf (Sweet Raisin Bread) from Luisa Weiss's Classic German Baking

1 cup/240ml whole milk
4 cups, scooped and leveled/500g all-purpose flour
¼ cup/50g granulated sugar
2 teaspoons instant yeast
1 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon/75g unsalted high-fat, European-style butter, at room temperature
1 egg, at room temperature
½ cup/75g raisins

1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon whole milk
1 ½ tablespoons pearl sugar (optional)
2 tablespoons blanched sliced almonds (optional)

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

To make the dough: First warm the milk slightly. Place the flour, sugar, instant yeast, and salt in a large bowl. Add the milk, butter, and egg and stir to combine. As soon as you have a slightly cohesive dough, dump it out onto a lightly floured work surface and start to knead. Knead for 10 to 15 minutes (set a timer), or until the dough is smooth and elastic. Form into a ball. Place in the mixing bowl, cover with a clean dishcloth, and place in a warm, draft-free spot to rise for 1 hour, or until doubled in size. (For me, this took about an hour and a half.)

When the dough has doubled in size, gently tug it out of the bowl and onto a work surface. Knead the raisins gently into the dough, and then divide the dough into 3 equal pieces. Roll out each piece to a 16-inch strand. Braid the strands together, tuck the ends under the loaf, and place on the prepared baking sheet. Poke any exposed raisins back into the dough or remove and tuck into the bottom of the loaf (this is to keep the raisins from burning in the oven). Cover with the dishcloth and let rise for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350F/180C. After 20 minutes, remove the dishcloth and check for any additional protruding raisins. Remove them or poke them farther into the dough.

To make the topping; Beat together the egg yolk and milk, and brush the egg wash evenly over the loaf. Sprinkle the loaf evenly with the pearl sugar, the sliced almonds, or both. Place the baking sheet in the oven and bake for 30 minutes. The loaf will turn a rich bronze. If your oven runs hot and you are worried about the loaf burning, you may cover it with a piece of foil after 25 minutes of baking.

Remove the baking sheet from the oven and let cool slightly on a rack. Transfer the loaf to the rack to cool further. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature, in thick slices. The bread is best the day it is made, but it will keep wrapped tightly in plastic wrap for another day at room temperature. (Matt and I have been eating it for a few days now.)
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I'm Pretty into My New Wok + Thai Herb Fried Rice

I barely read the news anymore. Not that I ever really did. If I'm being truly honest, I bet you I read 567 headlines (probably via Twitter) and maybe four or five long-form political articles in their entirety in the year leading up to the 2016 election. I still get a lot of news via Matt (and Instagram). I'm bringing this up because Matt just sent me this article, Why Facts Don't Change Our Minds, which I read in full and which, almost certainly because of confirmation bias, has led me to believe that: YES, I AM RIGHT NOT TO BE READING THE NEWS.

Another reason I feel justified in not reading the news is because I read a book about one of my favorite poets Rainer Maria Rilke and learned that when WWI broke out, he essentially had zero idea. He was just traveling around Europe, existentially struggling over his poetry and shirking all parental responsibilities. (And then he got drafted!)

Point being, I've been cooking so much and really enjoying it. I've also been writing and reading a ton. Instead of feeling resentful (a favorite pastime), I've been feeling lucky to be a woman, to be a part of this long-standing culture of taking care of the home. I read this poem last week and nearly cried.

Anyway, here's a video of me (and Teddy) seasoning and then using my new wok! The recipe is pretty time-consuming but a good one for getting rid of herbs and vegetables that are close to dying in your crisper.

Thai Herb Fried Rice with Pork adapted from Lucky Peach
Serves 4

4-5 cups of cooked long-grain rice (Leftover/cold rice works the best.)
8 oz. ground pork
1 large shallot, minced
half a head of cabbage, chopped
8 oz. mushrooms, thickly sliced
2-3 tbsp. fish sauce
2 tsp. sugar
4 tbsp. vegetable oil
4 large eggs, beaten
2 tbsp. garlic, chopped
2 tbsp. ginger, chopped
4 scallions, sliced, white and green parts separated
1 cup, chopped herbs like cilantro, mint, and/or basil
2 limes
Sriracha and salt, to serve

Break up the rice so that it’s not clumpy. Set aside.

Put the shallot and pork in a bowl. Put the cabbage and mushrooms in a bowl. And in another bowl goes the garlic, ginger, and white parts of the scallions.

Mix the fish sauce and sugar together and place in a separate bowl.

Heat about 2 tablespoons of the oil in a wok or a heavy, nonstick skillet. Pour in the eggs and cook. Fold the egg up and over itself, kind of like you’re cooking an omelet. Cook until just set but still glossy—should take about 30 seconds if your pan is hot enough. Remove the eggs to a plate and set aside.

Add 2 more tablespoons of oil to the pan, then a moment later, the garlic, ginger, and scallion whites. Fry for just a few seconds and then add the shallots and pork. Go ahead and also add the cabbage and mushrooms. Stir-fry all of this until the pork is cooked through, about 3-4 minutes.

Dump the rice into the pan and mix. You want to spread the rice out so each granule gets some time on the surface of the pan. Stir and fold once a minute for about 4 minutes. (A sturdy spatula really helps here.)

Pour the fish sauce mixture over the rice and toss to coat.

Keep cooking and tossing until the rice is evenly colored. Return the eggs to the pan, breaking them up as you go. Turn off the heat. Add the chopped herbs and scallion greens, and juice of one lime. Taste for seasoning. It will probably need a few nice pinches of salt.

Serve with additional lime. 

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