Phone-a-friend: Smitten Kitchen’s Deb Perelman

Published March 18, 2016.

Aminatou: Welcome to Call Your Girlfriend.

Ann: A podcast for long-distance besties everywhere.

Aminatou: I'm Aminatou Sow.

Ann: And I'm Ann Friedman.

Aminatou: Every other week we'll be bringing you a special phone-a-friend episode between either Ann or me and one of our rad pals.

Ann: Oh my god, Amina, guess who I talked to this week.

Aminatou: Who did you talk to this week?

Ann: So if you have ever made a recipe from the Internet chances are you have at least perused Smitten Kitchen at some point.

Aminatou: [Gasps]

Ann: I have to say it was kind of awkward for me. Like I interview people for a living a lot and it was kind of weird because it feels strangely intimate. Like I read Deb Perelman's recipes all the time but I was like oh, now I'm talking to the human being who is kind of represented in my kitchen every day.

Aminatou: Did you tell her that we live by that feta salsa recipe from Whole Foods that she adapted?

Ann: Listen, if I had listed every recipe of hers that I live by she would've instantly written me off as a weird fan.

Aminatou: That's some bad-ass salsa, Ann. So important to us.

Ann: I felt it was more important to keep the focus on recipes important to her but maybe we should share with everyone that feta salsa recipe because it is a service to humanity.

Aminatou: Game changer.

Ann: Ugh, yeah.

Aminatou: Also, yeah, you're right. I mean the pressure of that. I feel like usually we do phone-a-friends with people that are like buddies and pals of ours, but you know, you're in like the Martha Stewart territory here.

Ann: I mean we're like pseudo Internet friends. We're not real friends. We're like low-level Internet friends, enough that I could get in touch with her easily but not like oh, I chat with you all the time about what do you do with all the extra food if you test recipes?

Aminatou: Oh my god. Ugh, I can't . . .

Ann: Yeah. So many food blogger secrets revealed.

Aminatou: Oh, I can't wait to hear this! This is going to be amazing.

[Theme Song]

[Interview Starts]

Ann: Thanks so much for being on the podcast. Technically it's phone-a-friend but we have never met in person so I don't know if it really counts.

Deb: Oh, that's awesome.

Ann: I feel like I have a relationship with you already in part because I've been reading your site for so long and you share a lot of yourself on the site but also because cooking is this . . . it's kind of an intimate thing, right? Like I'm in my kitchen with you multiple nights a week. And I wonder if you think about that much, like the way you connect to the people who read your cookbook and your website.


Deb: I think about it all the time. I always kind of have this conversation going in my head with imaginary readers -- I know that probably makes me sound as crazy as I legitimately am -- but I guess all these years of doing it, because Smitten Kitchen's coming up on ten years . . .

Ann: That's crazy.

Deb: It's definitely a big part of the way I cook. And I don't even know that it wasn't there before I had the website. I think it's just I do have this very conversational feel about cooking. I sort of imagine that we're telling each other about recipes, that it's a way of communicating something that you want to do. And I feel like for me the recipes that work the best for me are a little bit conversational.

Ann: What does that mean? It means that it's a food that you feel passionately about, or it's a type of cuisine?

Deb: If you were just doing a recipe that was very straightforward it would be like mix this. Step two, wash that. Pile this in. You know, it would be very straightforward. But in conversation you'd be like "By the way, when you're mixing it it's going to look a little bit lumpy and you're probably going to think that you've done something wrong. You have not." You would have all these interjections that I think are really helpful when everybody's a little bit nervous in the kitchen, especially when they're making something new. So it's a little bit of an unevenness where some steps might have more information just because I'm trying to clarify something that I would've found helpful the first time I was making it.

Ann: Do you think that's like a new style in writing recipes or in cookbooks? Because I feel like some of the old cookbooks, like the church cookbooks that my mom has that when I was growing up she would cook from are definitely just like "Fold in egg whites." Not conversational.


Deb: Yeah, definitely, that was the correct way to write recipes. You're not supposed to go on too long or babble the way I do. But I think I find it very nerve-wracking, even now when I'm making a recipe for the first time, I mean even though it's my job, it's still a lot of time and effort and I have to carve out time in my day and get all the groceries and all this stuff aligns to maybe a two-hour period you have to make something work. And it's like, I don't know, I find it a little bit stressful. So those little tips that warn me about things, it's a lot more helpful whenever I have a recipe that sort of talks to me that way than just says "Mix. Stir. Dump."

Ann: [Laughs]

Deb: Dump is a very common word in recipes these days. I've learned about a whole category of foods called dump-it cakes and dump-it casseroles.

Ann: Yes.

Deb: It's a tough . . .

Ann: Maybe because I'm from the Midwest where we like to dump things in large receptacles I'm familiar.

Deb: It sounds upbeat but it also could really go the wrong way so I don't know. [Laughs]

Ann: Right.

Deb: But I get the idea though. You want to put everything in and just not have different . . . it sounds like a nice, straightforward way to cook.

Ann: Yeah, so I'm curious about your process. Clearly you test these and make all of these things. I'm wondering if you make everything multiple times and then are you taking notes while you're cooking or do you kind of sit down afterwards and say "Okay, what did I do at each step?" Maybe walk me through that a little.

Deb: I tend to cook very, very, very slowly and very deliberately. Just about everything is tested about twice but often it's just that I made it the year before and I took some notes and I wanted to make it again. I only sometimes make something two or three times in one week to get it right for a specific recipe and that's because it's bothering me or I haven't tired of the food. It's terrible but because this is the actual food that we're cooking and not a recipe-testing studio I don't want to eat the same soup three times in a row so I'll make it once and then if I'm not happy with it take some notes and come back to it when I'm craving that soup again.


I absolutely take notes right onto my laptop while I'm cooking. In my old kitchen it was so small that I only had room to . . . I would print up the recipe that I typed sort of notes about. I would pin it to the fridge with a magnet and take notes with pens and then I'd have to get the notes from pen back to the computer. It was not a good process for me at all. My current kitchen has like 25% more space and so I put my computer on one counter, which it's a very small thing but it makes a big difference in how easy it is for me to take notes as I'm cooking. And that's part of the reason that it takes so long is that the smallest step, grating four cups of cheese, I'm taking a weight. I'm taking a volume. I'm making note of how I'm grating it, whether I think it's too much or too little. And that's just cheese.

Ann: [Laughs] Has documenting . . . I know it's been a while now, but documenting the way you're cooking changed who you are as a cook or changed your own process?

Deb: I find it very hard to cook sort of off-the-cuff these days. I always want to write everything down and when I don't I regret it. It never fails that the thing I took obsessively good notes and 100 photos of flops and the thing that I just threw together and didn't write down anything about and didn't take a photo of is the one that I'm like god, that would be so great to share. Now I have to make it again.

Ann: [Laughs] Are you ever like I want to keep that one just for me? Like that was just for me and my family. I'm not going to put it out into the world.


Deb: I actually feel like I have a lot of that and I've been trying to figure out what to do with that because on Smitten Kitchen it's a lot of recipes I want to get excited about or that sort of -- I don't know. I hate the word elevate but I feel like we all know how to scramble eggs, though we also have a post on that too. But we know how to scramble eggs and roast a chicken breast. What most of us are looking for is something that's a little bit more interesting to do. I always think of this as sort of like a conundrum with a lot of magazines where most people's homes are not so fancy. Most of their menus aren't so elaborate. But it's not that interesting just to talk about some Ikea stuff you threw together. So it's sort of like it needs to be a little bit of a value-add I guess, something for me a little bit different that I like about a chicken chili or something.

However, like everybody else, I have my weekly night staples that don't always make it. I wouldn't say staples, but there's definitely things that we just sort of make at home that I haven't really figured out if they're worth packaging up for the site. I went through this phase where we were making pulled chicken sliders a lot and it's just food. It's not the most exciting thing. But one of these days I'll get the recipe up there. So there's definitely a lot of the everyday cooking that doesn't necessarily make the cut.

Ann: There's something that strikes me, at least for me personally, as kind of a recipe sweet spot where it's not like love you Ottolenghi but I don't want to go buy eight million kinds of preserved lemons or whatever. I mean I can appreciate that as a special thing but it's not for a weeknight. And then on the flip side something that is a super, super basic three-ingredient, I can probably make this up myself. So for me, and I think this is one thing I like about a lot of your recipes, is that they fit somewhere in the middle of that spectrum and I don't know quite how to define the range. But do you set parameters for yourself like no more than X ingredients? Or do you try to keep it in that middle range?


Deb: Not at all but thank you because it is exactly what I'm trying to do though which is sort of that . . . I feel like we're all obsessed these days with chef cooking and restaurant cooking and I love it too but it's completely implausible and impractical for at home. I mean I know some chefs manage to write recipes for home cooks that are very doable but it's the exception, not the rule. It's just a different kind of cooking. In a restaurant you're going to do all of this prep all day so you've got your eight prep bowls then you can assemble a dish at the last minute. Nobody cooks like that. Most people don't even want to.

But then you also have on the other end, I remember when I asked once for some slow cooker recipes and the sheer number of people who told me "Oh, you just take some chicken breasts and a jar of salsa and you put it in the slow cooker and when you come home you have chicken tacos." And I mean it sounds really good but I'm not going to write up that recipe, so there's sort of that end of things too. And as I was saying I think what most of us want is just something that's a little bit more inspiring, something that you didn't know could be that good or here's a little extra step but it was worth it, or here's a different way to approach it that made it a little bit better or maybe a little more doable on a weekday night. I'm always looking for exceptions or something that's a value-add or just something that I hadn't considered before that I hadn't seen somewhere else.

Ann: Yeah. I'm always thinking about when does a recipe become yours? When does it become a Smitten Kitchen recipe? Maybe originally you started out cooking something that you found in another cookbook or online but you've made so many modifications and you've written that narrative recipe. At what point is it yours? I know you always credit "Adapted from" or whatever but I'm curious about that, if you think about huh, can I just call this mine at this point? [Laughs]

Deb: It's so hard because people are like "I love Martha Stewart's lasagna." I'm like she didn't invent lasagna. How is that? And I feel like being an untrained chef and a food blogger, kind of a non-professional at this, I feel like the idea of recipe origin is a lot more scrutinized than it would be if you were say Martha Stewart. Nobody says "Martha Stewart, who do you owe that credit to?" But people absolutely expect it from food blogs. That said, I'm completely okay with it.


There are these sort of semi-official ideas that if you change three recipes or put it in your own language it's yours but to me that feels like a really dirty game to play. I know that most people aren't going to do it maliciously but just to change three ingredients and call it your own just seems really off to me. So I go in the opposite direction and I probably credit things that don't even deserve to be blamed for the things that I've done to it because I would just rather not offend anybody and also I like the idea of not . . . it's not a land grab. It doesn't have to be all mine, you know? It's okay. Sarah Jenkins taught me this thing about artichokes and this person taught me this thing about putting corn on their . . . I like the idea that it's like a patchwork of different things that you've learned with some things that you've picked up on your own.

You know, I just think in doubt talk about where the recipe came from. I also think it makes it a lot more interesting, like a backstory. I love the stories behind recipes and if you pretend you created everything in a vacuum there's no story.

Ann: Also you're a liar. [Laughs]

Deb: There's that issue too, and I've definitely been there where you thought it was your idea and you were definitely the first person to have it out there but here's somebody who's taken it and changed one thing and called it theirs and you're trying to determine what level of outrage you should have over it. And for me the answer has always been none, because whatever. You're not going to run out of ideas, right? People can take it but they can't take everything. But then I still have these things where I'm like really? You changed one ingredient and called it your own? [Laughs]

Ann: Yeah. Do you get angry about that stuff?


Deb: Sometimes. Sometimes. It depends on my mood. If you're going through a frustrating professional week or day, yeah, it definitely hits a lot harder. You're looking at a major newspaper or magazine and somebody changed one ingredient and called it their own recipe which as you can see happens. [Laughs] And then there are other times where I'm like this is so stupid. This is such a not good way to spend my time. Move on. Keep creating new things because I'm not out of ideas yet. So yes, I go back-and-forth. I'm human.

Ann: Is there a person in your life or like a tactic that you have for sort of stepping away and being like "Oh my god, I'm too deep in this weird, niche online recipe world and I'm worrying about stuff that no one cares about?"

Deb: Yeah, I would say that's actually most of my life. Most of my friends do not cook. They like when I cook. I joke that when I started the site most of my friends used their ovens for sweater storage. That's changed in the last probably five years because most of them have picked up spouses that cook. [Laughs]

Ann: That helps.

Deb: In most of my friends' relationships it's the guy who cooks, not the girl. So it's not like these traditional gender roles either. But the point is I don't actually have a lot of cooking obsessives in my life and I only have maybe one friend who spends a spectacular amount of time working on the web and it's a totally different format. So the nice thing is that my social life and my real life have very little to do with the website which I think is good. It's a good break because imagine if you were just living and breathing your work every day, every evening, every weekend.

Ann: I mean some people do that. They love it. I'm not one of those either but they're out there.

Deb: For me I'm a big fan of that whole I think Anna Motz calls it refiling the well, like your creative well, this idea that you need to kind of . . . that when you're feeling tapped out and you've run out of stories to tell it's time to refill the well. For me I never refill the well from the web. It has to be like we went away for the weekend or I left the apartment for two hours and looked around. I don't get the well refilled in the kitchen while I'm cooking.

Ann: Yeah, and did you have to learn that the hard way? Was there a time when you were spending more time on the Internet to try to refill it?

Deb: I mean we all do that because . . . I say we all do. I don't actually know that we all do it. I've definitely done it.

Ann: I do it. I do it.


Deb: Well you do it because -- I mean I don't know what your life is like. I've got two kids. I'm at home. I can't just go "Honey, can you take care of the kids tonight? I need to go refill my creative well."

Ann: [Laughs]

Deb: So you start looking around. You read the New Yorker. You read somebody's favorite article. That's actually one of my favorite things is to collect everybody's -- like your favorite article you've ever read. I don't know why. So I look for ways that I can do it from the inside within the reality of my day-to-day life but it's not as effective. Nothing is as effective as an hour walk outside. I should just start doing that. I'm just like "Sorry, kids, no dinner tonight. I have to go take an hour walk outside." [Laughs] I'm learning it. 

And I also think when I started, when I quit my so-called day job in 2008 to start doing the site full-time, I was terrified of failing and so I was just like I'm going to work all day every day. I'm going to work harder than anybody has ever worked, and it's terrible. Because working obsessively is not working better.

Ann: Did you have a breaking point where you were like oh, that actually didn't work?

Deb: No, but I think there's definitely an ebb and flow of things. These days it's more the opposite because I had my first kid in 2009 and then it became this fight to get back to work because there's so much drawing me away. I have full-time childcare. This is a full-time job for me but I work from home so everything's all mixed up. I'm in the room with a closed door right now. [Laughs]

Ann: How do you draw those boundaries? Other than closing the door I guess.

Deb: Well, it depends. Right now my daughter is six months old so she's not like banging down the door and going "Mommy, mommy, mommy," but it really helps if you're at home -- and I have a babysitter that comes during the day -- just to have it setup like "I'm working now. Keep them busy." Or a lot of taking the kids out to the park which is good for them too.

Ann: And so how much of the work day or what you would consider time on the clock involves physically being in the kitchen and cooking versus the sort of writing and revising and emailing and all that other stuff?


Deb: Ugh. You know, wouldn't it be fun if it was most of the day? But it's at best half of a day and it's not every day. I would say in the morning I'm probably at . . . I want to say the sharpest, but it doesn't mean I'm that sharp every morning. But it's sort of my best chance to get good writing, editing, scrutinizing, recipe planning, recipe research done. If I have any emails to answer, which I always do, it would be ideal to get them done in the morning. I feel like by 1 p.m. I'm like sorry, it's after 1 p.m. Not to worry you but my brain starts to get a little mushy and it's a good time for me to stop doing the sort of high-level work and get into the kitchen routine. So I usually start my cooking day around 12 or 1 and then I'll cook right through to dinner time.

Ann: And then do you usually end up eating whatever it was that you made?

Deb: Yeah, ideally. There are times that I'm actually sick of it by 6 p.m. which is a decidedly first world problem, if it's like around 4 or something and I didn't have a choice but to get it right. But quite often if it's savory if it's dinner. If it's dessert we try to hide it from ourselves.

Ann: How does that even work?

Deb: Try to get the babysitter to take some home. Stuff some in the freezer. If things get bad enough you can do the Miranda Sex and the City thing -- I can't believe how old I sound when I reference that -- where you pour dish soap on it in the garbage. [Laughs] But for the most part baked goods, when I'm making something sweet, it's with a specific place that it's intended to go like oh, we have this party this weekend or I thought it would be nice to make this and let me send half home with the babysitter and friends are coming over this weekend. It's not like I just made a three-layer cake because it seemed like a good thing to do on a Thursday.

Ann: Right.

Deb: I mean maybe somebody else's metabolism could do that but not mine.

[Music and Ads]


Ann: It's funny, one of the things that I sort of I guess attune to in a lot of your recipes is that you're a former vegetarian. I feel like you talk about that a lot.

Deb: Are you a current vegetarian?

Ann: Well, you know, I used to be very strict and I sort of -- I've been sliding down the slippery slope steadily for ten years or so.

Deb: Okay.

Ann: And at this point I eat fish and I eat -- if I'm at someone's house and they serve me something with meat I'll just eat it. It feels too divaish to pitch a fit about it.

Deb: You should totally pitch a fit. Throw your fork and storm out. [Laughs]


Ann: I know, right? There's also something about the social moment where -- respect to all my vegan and gluten-free friends -- I'm just like don't lump me in with them. I have a weird . . . I don't know.

Deb: No, I completely understand because I am . . . well, I was vegetarian for a long time. I never wanted anybody to accommodate me. If friends . . . I guess steak houses were maybe more trendy in the early 2000s.

Ann: [Laughs]

Deb: I was like let's go -- I got obsessed with these steak house sides. You know, I loved the roasted buttery mushrooms and the perfectly-steamed asparagus and stuff. I was like this is a pretty good meal for me. I'm not unhappy in any way. So I totally understand the desire to not be divaish. For me though I became a vegetarian when I was 13 and even then I kind of just thought it was going to be a short-lived thing and I figured that if I wanted to eat meat I would eat meat. At the point I didn't want to do this anymore I wasn't going to keep doing it. I wasn't going to be a martyr for it if it wasn't making me happy and surprisingly that took 15 years.

But a lot of it -- 13-year-old logic here -- I just didn't really like meat very much and I didn't like most of the ways I'd had it, and of course I read too much about factory farming with a 13-year-old brain to process it and I just thought all bad, nothing good. Can't do this. And then as I got older I learned ways to . . . you can definitely get good, sustainable meat these days. It doesn't have to be stuff that's terrible for the animal and terrible for the environment. And I also learned how to prepare it in ways that I actually really liked it so those two things were the big changing points to me and I kind of eased back in slowly where I was probably eating meat every couple weeks and now I would say I eat it a few times a week.


Ann: And did you have -- because clearly by that point you were already a home cook, so for me that sort of, I don't know, maybe at some point in my life I will be a full-fledged meat eater but I have zero experience cooking with it. Like I have no idea. I'm terrified that I'm going to kill everyone if I don't prepare something . . .

Deb: Oh, it's really terrifying. Actually I still feel like I'm . . . you know, I've got some things that I do, that I know how to do, but I still don't consider myself a meat expert in any way. I'm only an expert in what I like and what I don't like. But I would say I started the site probably a year later so that was part of, when I started the site, it was just this idea of I'm figuring out how to cook things and I really like some of them and I want to tell people about the things that I like. So some of those times I was making chicken or steak on the site it might've been the first or third time I'd ever made it but I found something I liked and I wanted to tell somebody about it.

Ann: Yeah, so talk more about that. What was the impetus to share what is for a lot of us a private practice or hobby?

Deb: I can't help it. When I find something cool I want to tell you about it right away. Oh, you know, this is a good example of something that hasn't gone up on the site. I found the perfect Korean steak short rib marinade, like I kind of tweaked it a little bit. We started making it like once a month and then once every two weeks and I told a few moms at preschool about it then I had to email them all the recipe, like you have to make this. It's in my DNA somehow, like an overshare of recipes. Is that a thing you can be coded for?

Ann: Sure. [Laughs]

Deb: But I have to tell people. When I find something I like I get really excited about it and I want everyone to know. I feel like most people are just looking around for a good way to make short ribs. I mean when it comes to the kitchen, especially people who don't obsess over these things like I do, you don't really necessarily want to know the whole process; you just want a recipe that works. So if I have one . . . it would actually almost physically pain me if a friend was like "I made this recipe from this website and it was terrible." I'm like why don't you use mine? I have a recipe.

Ann: [Laughs]

Deb: You could've avoided this completely. [Laughs]


Ann: Why don't you search my archive first for everything?

Deb: I mean you just text -- call your girlfriend. I like this.

Ann: Right.

Deb: Call me. I would tell you. I would tell you which butter cream to use, which one not to use, and which ones I like from other websites. I don't know, I just want everybody to have the recipe I know works.

Ann: Well, and I think that there's a lot of stress around . . . I mean the actual process of cooking less so than the process of deciding what to make or how to shop. I mean at least for me, and I think for the people I know, so there's probably some element to that too where you're like I just want to help you with that process on the frontend.

Deb: I want to put something in front of people that they're like I wasn't even thinking about cooking today but I have to make that. I love those gut recipes, those things that spring you to action. The whole idea of deciding maybe I'll cut today, I don't know, maybe I shouldn't, it's like definitely a situation we're lucky enough to have. But I live in New York City. There is almost no reason whatsoever to cook any day of the week, there is so much good food around. Especially in my neighborhood, I can have it delivered. It's often cheaper so why would you cook? You'd cook because there's something you're really excited about or you'd cook because there's something nobody makes as well as you want them to, because you want a better recipe for it. So for me that's where most of the cooking I get excited to share comes from. It's a better chocolate cake or an easier chocolate cake, so easy to make you don't even want to order takeout. Or I wasn't even thinking about cooking but I am now craving this because it was so good.

Ann: I often find myself using it -- I mean I work from home and I often find myself using cooking as a firm break between my workday and my non-online evening where I have to focus on doing something with my hands, do something where I'm not working with words. I mean I guess I'm reading a recipe, but there is something about it too that's like the process is important to me.


Deb: I think so, and also think about it. You probably don't do a lot of painting or ceramic sculpture during the day but you created something. It's sort of fun. It is a creative process to make something from a pile of ingredients and I feel like that can be satisfying, especially when it's not your work. It's exercising a completely different muscle at the end of the day.

Ann: For sure. I'm curious if you have thoughts about the process of cooking and its gender implications, especially in straight relationships.

Deb: [Laughs]

Ann: It has changed quite a bit. I think cooking maybe used to be considered alongside cleaning and other things that we would now call chores, and for some people cooking definitely remains a chore but for a lot of people I think it's sort of moving into this other hobbyist realm where very few people would probably say they're a toilet cleaning hobbyist. You know what I mean? I think there's been a shift.

Deb: [Laughs] To come over once a week . . .

Ann: Right? That's like the final frontier. But I do think it's interesting that you mentioned so many of your friends have male partners who are into doing the cooking and I definitely think there's something about it, that shift and the interest of men in being home cooks, that is somehow related. I don't know if you have thoughts about that.

Deb: Ugh, I have so many, we're going to need like a three-hour podcast for it.

Ann: [Laughs]

Deb: I think it's really interesting. I also think of the way that has changed, it changed our cooking, because if you were obligated to do it due to patriarchy or outside double standards you probably would cook a lot differently than you do when you're cooking purely for pleasure and by choice. So I think about it in that way, and then of course I think I have a lot of readers that cook because they're the girl in the relationship and it's just sort of expected. And I can hear it in the way that it's talking, like "Oh, well my husband didn't like it so I couldn't make it," or something. And I have to bite my tongue because they're not here for a feminist lesson on who you have to cook for, nor do I ever want it to be my place to lecture people.


I think of cooking or teaching your kids to cook as a bit of self-care. I mean I think a lot of people, at least a lot of my female friends especially and guys just by default, grew up -- nobody was like "Okay, honey, it's time for you to learn how to make soup. It's time for you to learn to chop an onion." And it was for good reason because our parents had great ambitions for us and they didn't want us to be limited to a life in the kitchen. But then you become a grownup and you don't even know how to roast a chicken. And I think we could do a real service to our kids, boys and girls equally, to teach them all to make a few things so when you get out on your own you can take care of yourself.

Ann: It's true. I definitely have some friends who -- some of them men, but some of them women for sure -- who will come over for dinner and I will make something that I would consider a weeknight dinner like a pot of rice and lentils with vegetables, nothing fancy. And they have this look on their face like magic you have just created. Like clearly these are quesadilla-only people.

Deb: Yeah, and it's terrifying. And I too -- my mom cooked a lot and she would've taught me anything. My grandmother was a great cook. But most of it I still figured out on my own. I did not get cooking lessons at my mother's or grandmother's knee. So even as an adult I was like I'm going to start eating chicken. I don't even know how to cook chicken. I don't know how to cook steak. I think most of us are learning this stuff as adults. I mean it's great that we're learning it by choice but I feel like a lot of information has been lost and that's why people are turning to the Internet and cookbooks and magazines more than ever to get their cooking because we came of age totally -- many of us totally unable to cook for ourselves.

Ann: Right. I feel really old when I think of the fact that I actually had home ec. classes.

Deb: I think I had one too.

Ann: Yeah.

Deb: But yeah, it was . . . I know, home ec. What is that? Keeping an economic home?


Ann: I mean I think in the best possible iteration it would be like personal finance. I think that we talked about . . . we might've talked about how to balance a checkbook -- LOL, balancing a checkbook.

Deb: That's a life skill I could use a little bit more of.

Ann: I know, right? I'm like wow, the era before you got everything printed out in a statement, like a record of your spending. But we definitely had to take a map through the grocery store and plot out a list that corresponded with the layout of the grocery store. That was an assignment I had.

Deb: Okay, that is a daily job of mine. I got to the checkout line and I was like oh, I put leeks at the bottom, not in the vegetable section, so I don't have them in my cart now. I do that all the time.

Ann: What is your -- how do you keep a shopping list? Do you keep a paper one or an app?

Deb: No, it's like I'm using something that I don't really love. I started using Google Docs when they first started and it's gone downhill. I sort of keep lists on them. I've got my cooking to-do list and my non-cooking to-do list and I just have them open in a tab all day. I need this grocery; I need that. I can't remember anything. The main reason I liked it is because I could have it open on my computer or my phone and it would be the same, but I think there's a lot better things out there today. But this is what I use. It's these very long to-do lists in document format.

Ann: Right. It's funny too because I was like god, just hearing you say that, I was like there must be someone's made a better grocery shopping app. And then I'm like no, it's all pay someone to shop for you apps. It's not . . . [Laughs]

Deb: Yeah. I just don't want my information locked up in some app too if it's inserting ads like "Hey, you can get this on sale from this or order it from this website." Like I guess I kind of like . . . the thing with the document is it's kind of as fully mine as it can be. It's a clean page. There's nothing else on there. And I don't have to deal with, for the most part, app load times or anything like that.


Ann: Are there a handful of recipes that you're like this is a really important recipe to me?

Deb: [Laughs] Yeah, I think there are. Let me think. Because I cook . . . when I say I cook seasonally I don't mean oh, I can't touch a tomato because it's January and things that people in L.A. don't have to deal with. But I cook -- like right now we've made chicken pot pies twice in the last month, mostly for other . . . party-formatted, like made it for a crowd. I was really pleased when I got that recipe right because I'd made them many years ago from another recipe and I was happy with them but they weren't great. And I think it's one of those cool things to be able to make really well. And I also have a really great vegetarian pot pie. So that just came to my mind because I made it twice in the last month. If you asked me in the summer it would be a completely different recipe.

I am very pleased with my one bowl quick frosting chocolate cake that I just feel like it's somebody's birthday? Make this cake. It's so good and it's very simple. Our baby was out . . . she was exactly four weeks old on my husband's birthday this summer and I'm like nobody's expecting me to make a cake. Then I remembered that I have this cake that I can have done completely in an hour and I had a babysitter so I was like I guess I'm going to make chocolate cake. And it was great. We had birthday cake. Then he came home and his office had bought him a birthday cake and I was like come on. [Laughs] Get that out of here.

Ann: No!

Deb: It's a great trick to have up your sleeve. Everybody should have a recipe like that. "Oh, it's your birthday? I can make this. You're coming over for dinner? I want to make this dessert." A couple recipes like that that they're so easy.

Ann: And probably the most important thing is that they're yours, or you're comfortable with them, or you find them easy.

Deb: Yeah, but for me . . . that would be a normal person's most important thing, but my most important thing is that other people have made it and had the same success level that I have because sometimes something gets lost in the gap where I've made it a million times at home and it's perfect. I start getting comments from readers that it didn't work and I want to cry because that's kind of what I do is make things that work for you too. I don't mean actual tears; it's more like frustration and trying to figure out what happened. But yeah, these are definitely recipes that I hear work equally well for everybody which it's a big deal to me.

Ann: Right. Well Deb thank you so much for being on the podcast. This has been awesome.

Deb: Thank you for having me on.

Ann: I'm going to go make chocolate cake. Not immediately, but today.


Deb: It's called the I Want Chocolate Cake cake by the way. It's got a really silly name but it really is just like when you need chocolate cake, this is the one to make. I stand behind this statement.

Ann: We talk a lot about menstrual cramps on the podcast and I feel like this should be a companion recipe.

Deb: Yeah. Also you can put rainbow sprinkles on it so that's going to solve anything that the chocolate does not.

Ann: Ugh, yes. So psychologically important.

[Interview Ends]

Aminatou: You can find us many places on the Internet, on our website, download our show on the Acast app, or on iTunes where we would love it if you left us a review. You can tweet at us at @callyrgf or email us at You can even leave us a short and sweet voicemail at 714-681-2943. That's 714-681-CYGF. This podcast is produced by Gina Delvac.