Susie Landsem interviews Lauren McDuffie from Honey and Harvest:
Lauren McDuffie is the author of the award winning food blog, Harvest and Honey. She is a self-taught chef and recognized for her dramatic photography and food styling. Most recently, Lauren won an award for Narrative Culinary Blog from the 2017 International Association of Culinary Professionals Media Awards. She was also a finalist in the 2016 Saveur Blog Awards as the Reader’s Choice “Best New Voice”. A Sharp Eye wanted to know a little more about this award winning blogger who has a cookbook on the way, while posting mouth-watering recipes and sumptuous pictures on her blog, and traveling with her family. On her ‘About’ page, Lauren explains her blog to be an “open-ended love letter to the world of food – its people, its flavors, and its stories – and like a good story, food is best when shared.”
Hi Lauren, thank you for taking some time out of your day to visit with A Sharp Eye and sharing some of your story with our readers.
Who is your culinary icon, besides your mom and grandmother?
Ina Garten. Hours of watching her cook on TV is what made me want to learn myself. I really love how unfussed her food is – never overdone, never trying too hard. She just consistently puts out delicious, doable recipes that manage to inspire so many people. She also has a wonderful ability to make the simplest of things seem really special, which is something I constantly strive for in my cooking, writing, and photography.
Why do you love to cook?
There are so many reasons! I love food and always have. I love to eat and I so value how food brings people together in a way that few other things can. Creating a memorable experience for people over a shared meal has always been a favorite pastime for me. Cooking is how I like to show people that I care. It is also my favorite way to express creativity. I love the process of trying to figure out the absolute best way to make something – that’s always been really fun to me. Cooking has also led me to other creative passions, that I’m not sure I would have unlocked otherwise. Writing and photography are also big components of my blog, and cooking and food/recipes give me a chance to really explore those outlets as well, in a way that makes it relatable and valuable to people who visit my site.
What is the best part about being a food blogger?
I love being a part of the greater blogging community. It’s my favorite aspect for sure. You’d think it would be very competitive, but that hasn’t been my experience. It’s a hugely supportive digital and social media-driven environment, I think. I really enjoy being connected to other creative spirits who share similar interests as me, but express them in their own unique ways. I’ve made many friends as a result of food blogging and my life is much more interesting and unpredictable as a result, with new and exciting opportunities knocking all the time. As a mother of two young children, I value that aspect of it very much. It gives me a real sense of individuality, inspiration, and self-expression.
What was your first published and recipe and where was it published?
The first recipe I remember publishing was on my blog, and it was for a simple apple pie with basil sugar. I’ve since taken it down, after I did a big sweep of old, outdated material. But it was a good pie, if I recall.
What is your favorite food city?
What meal/snack is your favorite?
My favorite thing to cook for others is my chicken and andouille etouffee over smoky cheese grits. My favorite meal/snack is probably fish tacos.
What is your underappreciated kitchen tool?
A fish spatula! I love being asked this question. I use my fish spatula daily, and it’s fantastic for everything from fish (obviously) and roasted vegetables to sauteeing, grilling, stir frying, deep frying, and frying/scrambling eggs. Thanks to its long sturdy edge, it doubles as a pan scraper and works like a slotted spoon if you need it to. I love mine so much!
What has been the most impactful cookbook/video for your education?
Small Victories, by Julia Turshen. This book is a new release and I’ve completely devoured it. Similar to how and why I love Ina Garten, Julia has a very elegantly comfortable approach to simple, real food and she manages to leave you intrigued and interested in her culinary point of view with each recipe she shares. It’s totally approachable and unpretentious cooking. I received, read and cooked from her book before I landed my own book deal with not only the same publisher (Chronicle), but the exact same editor as well. Pretty cool.
Name three ingredients you consciously avoid or eliminate even when the recipe calls for it.
Margarine. Lard. Heavy cream (I usually swap in half and half).
What are three ingredients you can’t live without?
Flaky sea salt (I’m salt-obsessed). Good vanilla extract. Molasses (it’s my secret ingredient in so many things).
If you could banish any one food from the earth, what would it be?
I honestly don’t think I would! I don’t really dislike anything.
Does your family have a favorite recipe?
What cookbook are you reading right now?
Right now I have a small stack of cookbooks beside my bed (I do that) and I am absolutely loving Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat. It’s one of the most informative and technically interesting cookbooks I’ve ever read, and the illustrations are so great. It’s nice to see that cookbooks are appreciated in so many different shapes and sizes – some with big bold photography, and some with none at all. I’m also reading the Half Baked Harvest Cookbook, by fellow blogger Tieghan Gerard. Her photos make me drool.
What are some of the essential ingredients and tools in your kitchen for creating easy wholesome meals?
I find that if I always have eggs, lean proteins, a few hearty grains and flours (quinoa, rice, pastas, bulgur, farrow) and lots of fresh, seasonal vegetables, I can almost always whip up a quick, easy meal that I can feel good about feeding my family. From stews and chowders to pastas, stir fries, hashes, and fun sandwiches, I find that it doesn’t take a massively stocked pantry to keep great meals coming from your kitchen. A trick that I use though – an essential thing in my kitchen – is the selection of homemade sauces and dressings that I keep on hand all the time. I usually have a garlicky tahini sauce in the fridge that dresses up literally everything, and I almost always have a pesto, vinaigrette, and some manner of creamy salad dressing around too and these things really help ordinary pantry staples become much more interesting (and delicious).
What recipe did you work the hardest to perfect? How long did it take you and what motivated you to make it work?
My chocolate chip cookies. It took me many tries and the motivation came from not only my love of a great cookie, but my family’s as well.
Will you tell us a little of the history behind your amazing photos?
It’s been a totally organic and self-taught process. I started with my phone – just snapping quick shots of the food I made for my blog – and it was more of an after-thought. I started my blog as a writing outlet mostly, and the love for photography really grew from that. I learned very early on that people really want to see the food that you’re talking about, so I got a DSLR camera and just worked at it every day. I think photography is such a fluid process and so much of it is by feel and instinct. I am not very technical when it comes to styling strategy, however I have some go-to tricks and techniques that I tend to employ often. I like to tell stories and give people a glimpse of what it might be like to cook or share a meal together, since that is my favorite thing. It’s not about “food porn” for me. It’s about light and darkness, and love, and beauty, and stories … it’s about finding special in the mundane.
What season inspires your cooking the most, and why?
Fall. It’s my favorite season and I think the cooking and inspiration boost comes from that. There’s such a coziness to it, and a treasure trove of great ingredients. From early-season berries, grapes and mushrooms to all of the squash, apples, figs, greens, and pears – I tend to particularly enjoy cooking in the Fall. But loving to cook has definitely taught me to love and appreciate all of the seasons, for what they bring to the table and how fleeting and special fresh produce really is.
I know that you are a “home-schooled chef,” a moniker you’ve given yourself. What chef would you study with if given the opportunity?
Nancy Silverton. Her obsessive passion for what she does is super intriguing to me, and I’d love to watch her work and learn how she’s translated her passions into a thriving culinary empire. She’s incredibly inspiring to me.
You’ve written a children’s book – what prompted that?
My co-author is a master gardener and approached me about writing a book together, based on her time growing up next to her grandmother’s garden. It was a fun, different project for me that’s for sure!
Are you going to be doing the photography for your coming cookbook?
Yes! I’m really excited about it. It’s much more food-forward than my typical style, with more close-ups and attention paid to the actual textures and elements of the dishes themselves. I’ve loved every bit of shooting this way.
What would you like our readers to know about you?
I take my work much more seriously than I take myself.
Thanks Lauren, for sharing your time with A Sharp Eye, and your passion for inspired food and photography on your blog. All of the photos used for this article are Lauren’s work.
Harvest and Honey was originally reviewed by ASE in this article:
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