“I was a super picky eater as a kid. We’re talking peanut butter sandwiches, no jelly, chicken fingers. I was just really picky and I wasn’t being exposed to a lot of things—being in Oklahoma and my parents not being particularly adventurous eaters either. I didn’t come up from a family that was that big on food or cooking. Fortunately, my mom was pretty health-conscious. Even though she didn’t cook a wide variety of meals, and granted I was super picky, she did always try to push whole wheat bread instead of the Wonder Bread that I wanted to eat, and always had a salad on the table and fresh fruit at dinners.
It was when I went to college that I tried different cuisines. I’d never had Thai food before, and I was like, whoa. I love that. I spent a semester in France, and that’s when I really started cooking more, just out of necessity, because we lived in these really gross dorms for like, four months. We were trying to live as cheaply as possible, so we would go to the grocery store and get as much food as we could carry home. We didn’t even have a refrigerator so there was only so much you could do there. We just had a stove and a sink. That’s when I learned to just play around and improvise, whereas my friends were pretty content to make the same spaghetti or the same spaghetti sauce every night. I’d be like, ‘What if I add some zucchini? What happens?’
Since I got into cooking, I’ve read and cooked from so many cookbooks and other recipes, so in the process, you learn what makes a good recipe. I remember Smitten Kitchen being one of the first food blogs. She’s everyone’s first food blog, and she’s so good at it, I wonder why anyone needs more food blogs…I also like Heidi Swanson’s 101 Cookbooks, because her style of cooking’s a little more like mine, in that it’s vegetarian and whole foods-focused, and that’s it’s totally homemade and awesome too, you know?
I kind of had an awakening right after college—I read a book by Michael Pollan, ‘The Omnivore’s Dilemma’ was the first one I read. It was just like, oh wow, I have a lot of wrong information in my head about what’s healthy. I thought Yoplait yogurt was a really good option, but then it’s full of fake sweetener, like Aspartame. And I drank way too much diet sodas thinking it’s a better option than regular soda, and then I just decided not to drink it at all. Just reading his books, his whole foods philosophy made a ton of sense to me, so I just transitioned to that and it works great for me.
Then I also became a vegetarian for a lot of reasons, but one of the main reasons was after reading his book, it was like, okay, I don’t love meat that much. I never wanted to cook it myself. The process of cooking it always grossed me out. So once I learned how conventionally raised meat is produced, I didn’t want to eat it. I also didn’t want to go to the trouble of procuring the good stuff and cooking it myself. It just seemed like the best option for me was to exclude meat. I do still occasionally eat fish, because I like it and it’s good for you. Part of it is environmental. It’s just like a big cluster of reasons that works well for me. I don’t believe it works for everyone and I don’t try to push it on anyone. If anything, I’m trying to push vegetables and whole grains.
I used to struggle with emotional eating, I’d say. There were times when it would definitely qualify as binge eating. I think that I really had to reprogram myself, just do a lot of self-reflection, to not reach for food as a first source of comfort. I think that so many people struggle with that and I hope that they all get to a better place, because that can be a miserable experience. There is a lot of self-loathing involved, so I just don’t do that so much anymore. Now it’s like, okay, I know I’m in a bad mood, I’m going to eat some chocolate but I’m not going to go overboard, and then I might actually feel a little better. Then, you know, it’ll be okay. But more than that, I’ve learned to use exercise, and take Cookie on walks and just healthier forms of dealing with uncomfortable situations rather than making food the first thought.
COOKIE & KATE
Most food blogs are started because people love to cook, and you know everyone asks for their recipes, and so it just becomes easier to put them in one central location. Mine was different, because I didn’t set out to start a food blog. I…again, this was a massive growth period after college, when I read the books and became a vegetarian and got my first office job and very soon realized I hated it…just early to mid-20s, I think so many people have this experience. I was also dating someone that was so not right.
I just decided I needed a creative project, like an escape. I already had a leg up because I was already interested in photography and I’d learned those basics. I also was kind of a nerd and knew how to build websites, and on top of that I was working in online marketing and learning about search engine optimization and what not, so I really had the foundational skills that you need to write a blog. I thought, ‘Well, I’m not writing, I’m not taking photographs, but I’m reading blogs…why don’t I just start one of my own and then I’ll have more motivation to be creative.’
I did, and since it didn’t really have a focus, I just thought I’d write about a variety of topics that interested me…like interior design, or style, or bicycles, or whatever. And I named it Cookie and Kate—it just came to me and it’s catchy, and Cookie and I are such a unit, so I just thought, that’s kind of a name that people might remember. Once I started the blog and got it going, I had no ambition to turn it into a career, but I did know that I wanted it to be a destination that people wanted to visit. Usually when I set out to do something, I want to do it really well, so I devoted a ton of time and energy to it. But I very quickly ran out of ideas for content, and very quickly realized that I only wanted to publish my own photos.
Out of just lack of other ideas, I came home one day and I photographed this salsa recipe that I’d been making all this time for myself. I kind of realized in a flash, oh, that was fun and it gives me something to photograph, and I can wrap stories around it, and write about it. I just felt so good sharing healthy recipes. Of course everyone’s idea of healthy is different, but I’d say that mine are vastly better than the standard American diet, however you want to slice it. I also felt good sharing something so attainable and real. So much on the Internet is stuff that you can’t have, or you want it or it’s like the perfect room. With recipes, you can just stop at the store on the way home and spend like four bucks and get this giant bowl of healthy black bean salsa. I just thought that was really cool. I got a nice response to it, so I just started publishing more recipes, and then before you know it, it was pretty much all recipes, and then five years later it was my full-time job.
Once I went full time [blogging], I didn’t find nearly as much time as I expected to find. Then I really struggled with my disappointment in that regard. I ended up even seeing a therapist for a while, just to talk it over, because I found myself setting crazy high expectations for what I could get done once I went full time. But the reality was I’d already been working pretty much full time before I left the last job, so it’s like, okay, let me calm down, I’m already doing really well. You have to internalize that you’re not doing everything wrong.
I found that with blogging I had to come up with my own concept of success to live by, because otherwise you can just constantly compare yourself to other people. My goal is not to be like, the most visited blog in the universe, but just to promote healthy, attainable recipes. And for me, the beauty in doing that is that so many of my skills, my favorite things to do, are wrapped up in it. It’s just super rewarding.
Some bloggers manage to make something on the first try and it turns out well and they photograph it, but that pretty much never works for me. I find that there’s always little snags that you want to iron out with at least a second try. Sometimes it’ll take me like, eight muffin batches later to get it right, which is terrible to make eight batches of muffins. When that happens, I’ll freeze some, I give as much away as I can and I’ll just give people random bags of muffins. [Laughs]
I love good whole wheat pasta. I looove long-grain brown rice, beans, I usually just use canned beans because…I don’t know why cooking beans is hard, but it just is. I always have lemons on hand and some sort of fresh herbs, usually the cheap stuff like cilantro, parsley, garlic. You just have to have some aromatics in every dish—like I was working on a kale salad recipe for my cookbook, and it just wasn’t awesome until I added a clove of garlic to the dressing and then I just wanted to inhale it.
I always eat breakfast. I usually have homemade granola in the freezer, it keeps really well in there, so I’ll just grab some of that, a pint of yogurt or good whole grain toast with peanut butter on top, that’s a throwback to my childhood that I’ll never get tired of. Those leftover muffins that I have in the freezer, pretty simple stuff.
TIPS FOR BEGINNERS
Aim to learn how to make an awesome salad, or even just a simple, really good side salad that you’ll be excited about, so you can incorporate more greens into your meals. I think that it helps a lot to prepare vegetables in advance. Especially when the weather’s cold, I would recommend just roasting up a whole lot of vegetables one day, and then you have those on hand for the week. You can throw them in your salads, burritos, all kinds of those vegetable bowls, and then you don’t have to cook nearly as much to get yourself there.
I have the hardest time when people ask me for my favorite recipes because, honestly, every time I publish a new post it’s my current favorite. I will say my Spiced Vegan Lentil Soup is super popular. People love that soup. I’m also really into my Spinach-Artichoke Lasagna, if you want something comforty and cheesy, I would go with that one.”
As told to Stephanie Park, December 2015.
Photos courtesy of CookieandKate.com.