Welcome to THE BACKSTORY KITCHEN.
Okay, so I'm (fashionably?) late to the food blog party.
Food blogs were all the rage in the early 2000's, thanks in part to Julie & Julia author Julie Powell, a gifted writer and blogging pioneer who died far too young. In 2009, after seeing the film version of Powell’s book starring Meryl Streep and Amy Adams, I wanted to write a food blog too, but it seemed more like a "sounds good in theory" kind of thing than anything tangible.
Fast forward fifteen years, and here I am writing my first food blog post! It was my 2024 New Year's Resolution to start a food blog, and now two weeks into the New Year, I’m getting my “life homework” done early. (I actually have a good track record with resolutions. In January 2012, I vowed to get an agent for my debut novel The Butterfly Sister and get it published, and by April of that same year, I signed a contract with Harper Collins/William Morrow).
So why start a food blog now? Well, although I've been in love with food my whole life, I reconnected with it in a very visceral way during the pandemic. Reading food memoirs and cookbooks and trying new recipes became a way of life during Covid and stayed with me even after the return to normal. During the pandemic years, I also developed a career as a professional public speaker on food history, thanks to a fateful trip to Pendarvis in Mineral Point, Wisconsin, where I first learned Duncan Hines was a real person and wrote a restaurant guide called Adventures in Good Eating. Soon, my obsession with food merged with my creative writing. I am currently writing a Women's Fiction novel that is very food-based in theme. Truth is, I simply love food. I live and breathe it. It is my passion. And if that's not a good reason for starting a food blog, then I don't know what is!
The idea for my first blog post came organically. While creating a sidebar column for my revamped website ABOUT page, I started jotting down my favorite things in various food categories as a way for readers to get to know me, food-wise. Halfway through, I realized I was writing the perfect first food blog post.
I can't think of a better way to introduce myself or my blog to readers than through this favorites list. It was inspired by the lightening round featured at the end of Kerry Diamond's podcast interviews on Radio Cherry Bombe (see number 1 below).
This blog is called The Backstory Kitchen because I love to know the whole story when it comes to food (actually about most things!). I want to know where recipes originated, how food traditions started, why something is or isn’t working in a recipe, or what inspired a chef to write a cookbook or a shop owner to open a gourmet food store. I’ll also share my own backstory: memories about food, meaningful meals and the origins of my own family recipes.
So please enjoy a little bit of backstory on me, with my very first post featuring seven of my food favorites…
1. FAVORITE FOOD PODCAST:
Cherry Bombe: I recently discovered this "female-focused food podcast" after researching food anthropologists for my forthcoming novel. My research led me to an interview on Radio Cherry Bombe with chef and culinary anthropologist Casey Corn, of Magnolia Network’s Recipe Lost & Found. I have since listened to over a dozen podcasts, and I can't get enough. Kerry Diamond, creator and owner of Cherry Bombe, is a master interviewer, perfectly balancing professional and personal. She has the most soothing and equally lively voice, I even enjoy listening to her entertaining advertisements for Kerrygold butter and San Pellegrino. There's also a print magazine that is the most gorgeous magazine I've ever held in my hands. It's like a work of art. It's high quality and printed at a family-owned printer in Rhode Island. I ordered a signed copy of the magazine, with Chef Erin French on the cover, from The Lost Kitchen website. A subscription to the print magazine is already on my Mother’s Day gift wish list.
2. FAVORITE GO-TO FOOD BLOGS:
Look at my internet search history, and you'll see I frequent the following sites pretty regularly:
Brown-Eyed Baker: I always make her Peanut Butter-Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies for my kids on the first day of school. It's a tradition that they come home to a plate of these cookies at the start of a new school year. (One year, thinking no one cared, I didn't make the cookies, and the first question they asked was, "Did you make the cookies?") I discovered this recipe doing deep-dive research on soft vs. crispy chocolate chip cookies. I prefer soft and wanted to know how to do it well. (It really comes down to letting the cookies fully cool right on the pan, not on a rack, which allows air underneath them and makes them crispy). These are a soft version of the quintessential chocolate chip cookie with the added flavor of peanut butter and a hint of texture from the oatmeal. I often use whole wheat flour in these and in my opinion, they're even better.
Sally's Baking Addiction: I just made her Crusty Cranberry Walnut No-Knead Bread as a gift for my husband for Christmas. We used to buy a loaf like it from a bakery in Hayward, Wisconsin, where my in-laws had a vacation home for many years. It's an artisan, complex-flavored bread requiring almost no work. Time is your hardest working kitchen tool in this recipe. And it's delicious, especially slathered with Kerrygold butter. It was gone in a day.
Love & Lemons: I seem to revisit the How to Cook Spaghetti Squash post every time I make spaghetti squash, which must not be that often, because I can't seem to remember what I did last time and always need a refresher. The squash comes out perfect using this method. Foolproof.
Cookie + Kate: Her hummus recipe, called The Best Hummus, is my go-to homemade hummus recipe. I spent many a year trying to make homemade hummus that tasted like restaurant versions (.i.e. like the hummus at Pita Inn if you live in the Chicago area). This is it. I use the dried chickpeas version, but she also shares how to use canned chickpeas if you're short on time. Her trick of letting the garlic sit for ten minutes in the lemon juice takes away that bitter, overpowering flavor that sometimes gives fresh garlic a bad name.
Spend with Pennies: In this day of inflation and increasing grocery prices, this website is a godsend. One of my favorite recipes, Braised Red Cabbage, couldn’t be simpler, and it’s perfect alongside a German or Polish style meal (like pierogis and grilled kielbasa). I admit I use brown sugar instead of white sugar, (and a whole lot more than the recipe suggests.)
3. FAVORITE FOOD CELEBRITIES:
Too many to count, but I'll try anyway. The obvious and most common answer is always Ina Garten. But I've also got culinary crushes on (in no particular order): Elizabeth Poett, Erin French, Joanna Gaines, Elizabeth Heiskell, Katie Button, Shauna Sever, Annie Stark, Nadia Hussain, Giada De Laurentiis (future post about my holiday order from her online Italian food store, Giadzy) Casey Corn, Ree Drummond, Ruth Reichl, Zoe Francois, Julia Child, Ann Hood, Dorie Greenspan and Stanley Tucci (oh, I guess there is a man on this list).
I forgot someone. I just know it!
4. FAVORITE FOOD MEMOIR:
Kitchen Yarns: Notes on Love, Life and Food by Ann Hood: I knew Ann Hood from her fiction writing (The Obituary Writer, The Book That Matters Most) but she's also a prolific non-fiction writer and turns out, a total foodie. Her ability to blend a poignant personal narrative with a recipe is next level. I am planning to make the Chicken Marabella she describes in this book (it's based on The Silver Palette recipe), which sounds like the ultimate flavor bomb considering the combination of red wine vinegar, olives, capers, prunes, white wine and overnight refrigeration. Hood's book is a true delight and a love letter to the power of food.
Also, a big shout out to Life from Scratch: A Memoir of Food, Family and Forgiveness by Sasha Martin, which was the catalyst for rediscovering my passion for food. Martin took on the arduous task of making a dish from every country in the world--195 countries to be exact--and in the process, found out that food can heal a broken heart. Interestingly, because of its global perspective, it's published by National Geographic. I read it in the early days of Covid, and it catapulted my obsession with not only reading food memoirs, but trying new, ethnic recipes. Her website Global Table Adventure is an introduction to the literal "world" of food. I especially enjoyed making her Afghan Rice with Chicken & Carrots (Kabeli Palau)
5. FAVORITE COOKBOOK
A Basket by the Door by Sophie Hansen: (Is this my Aunt Sophie? Nope. No relation). This is a truly unique cookbook I picked up at an adorable boutique in Galena, Illinois. The concept is about leaving "a basket by the door" for various reasons like the birth of a baby or illness. It's basically about caring for others through food, and that's me in a nutshell. I find her recipes so fresh and unique, probably because she's Australian and uses flavor combinations and some ingredients I don't normally see in American cooking. This cookbook is gorgeous, from the photos to the layout to the writing. The book is organized by season but there's a twist. Because she lives in New South Wales, Australia (AKA the Southern hemisphere), her seasons are the exact opposite of us Northern hemisphere folks. As in, her "summer menu" includes Christmas baking!
6. FAVORITE SPICE
Smoked paprika: I feel like I put it in everything to boost flavor. I specifically love the one from Trader Joe's. First of all, the Mediterranean style canister is seriously too cute, I would buy it "just for show." But I definitely use it, as it brings a really fresh, layered smoky flavor to dishes without being overpowering. And it's only $2.99 (at least in Chicagoland).
7. FAVORITE PRODUCT I'M WILLING TO PAY EXTRA FOR:
Pasture-raised eggs: I finally learned and understood the difference among the various types of eggs from watching the eggs episode of Katie Button's From the Source (Season 3, Episode 4) and have sworn by pasture-raised eggs ever since. To explain, pasture-raised eggs are the eggs of chickens that live freely on a pasture and feed off the local grass, wildflowers and bugs. This all adds up to more vitamins and minerals (including three times more Omega3 fatty acids). They are definitely more expensive (find them most affordably at Aldi and Trader Joes!) but those deep orange yolks and creamy, rich taste are so worth it!
Well, that’s a wrap! Thank you for reading my first of hopefully many blog posts. If you made it this far, you are a foodie like me, or you’re my mother. (Hi, Mom!)
I'm looking forward to my next post...
Will it be a review of ELIZABETH POETT'S new cookbook THE RANCH TABLE?
Or the backstory of my cherished recipe for ZUCCHINI BREAD?
Or a recipe review of a homemade DANISH KRINGLE from SHAUNA SEVER?
Come back to THE BACKSTORY KITCHEN to find out!
Amy Gail Hansen
is a novelist, professional public speaker and food blogger obsessed with exploring new culinary adventures while preserving kitchen traditions of the past. THE BACKSTORY KITCHEN provides the inside scoop on everything food, featuring reviews, food history anecdotes, original recipes and solutions to common problems in the kitchen.
February 14, 2024 @ 7 pm
Gail Borden Public Library
of the Midwest
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April 10, 2024 @ 1 pm
The East Wing
Glenview Senior Center
More Than Cake Mix
Monday May 6, 2024
Indian Trails Library (Wheeling, IL)
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Oak Park Public Library
Duncan Hines: More Than Cake Mix