I recently had the awesome opportunity to interview Elise Bauer of Simply Recipes. Not only is she a good friend, but an inspiration to home cooks everywhere. Her blog is one of the leading food destinations online, and her dedication to food literacy is admirable to say the least. Read on to learn more…
Happy reading (& cooking),
Mary Egan: I know that Simply Recipes started in 2003 and was one of the very first food blogs ever. How and why did you get into food blogging?
Elise Bauer: It just sort of happened! I had been collecting my family’s recipes for a couple of years, and found myself in my early 40s living at home with my parents trying to recover from an illness that wouldn’t go away. I figured while I was at home recuperating I may as well learn as much as I could from my mom and dad who are both great home cooks. I discovered blogging software about the same time, which made keeping track of the recipes easy, and a great way to share them with others. That was way before blogging became a “thing”. There were so few of us food bloggers back then, we all knew each other and learned from each other.
ME: A lot of food bloggers share some of the broader context of their world in the narrative of their recipes and content… often that includes their town, their children, their garden, their partner, their pets. I’m fascinated by how your blog references and incorporates your parents, who live close by… can you tell us about your working relationship with them, how do you all work together?
EB: After I moved home and started Simply Recipes, I lived with parents for 7 years. My father’s life pretty much revolves around what we are going to eat that day so it was easy to brainstorm with them about new recipes and share in cooking duties. After I got well enough I bought and moved into a house down the street from them. These days I don’t cook with them so much anymore, but we eat together several times a week, and they are the happy recipients of much of the food I make for the site.
ME: What’s it been like to become the leader of an enterprise that involves your parents? Have you always been this close?
EB: I have always had a deep and abiding love for my parents. As much as I truly hated being sick, the silver lining was the gift of being able to spend so much time with them. They’re both in their 80s now so every minute I have with them is a minute I cherish.
ME: Now onto the recipes… One of the things people love about Simply Recipes is there is just one recipe for each thing – and it’s reliably awesome – the definitive recipe for meatloaf, or blueberry muffins, chicken noodle soup, you name it… What’s a recipe that you’ve improved on and re-released recently and why?
EB: Thanks Mary! I’m always working on improving the recipes. Sometimes my improvements just consist of clarifying the steps to make the recipe easier to follow. Sometimes I decide the dish needs less pasta, more salt, less sugar, or more spices.
ME: Is there a WIP recipe that you haven’t yet been able to crack and get just right yet?
EB: The one recipe I just can’t seem to get right is candied citrus peel. Mine always get too tough! Have to work on that one. I’ll get it someday.
ME: Do you have a favorite recipe?
EB: My favorite recipe is my mother’s cheese enchiladas. It’s our comfort food.
ME: How has your perspective on what kinds of recipes to develop and feature evolved?
EB: For the first few years I just wrote about what we were making to eat for ourselves at home which was heavily influenced by my parents background—Mexican food from my mother and German food from my father. Then I sort of branched out to more esoteric recipes (duck confit, anyone?). Now I’m going full circle and developing more recipes that are perfect for busy families looking for wholesome, uncomplicated midweek meals.
ME: Are you leaning towards any particular dietary profiles (GF, low carb, vegetarian) or any other recipe profiles lately?
EB: My mother and I are gluten-sensitive so we’ve always had a lot of gluten-free recipes on the site, and most pastas we make for ourselves we make with gluten-free pasta. I’ve come to appreciate both paleo and vegan diets and have been working on those kinds of recipes too.
ME: We’re curious about your commitment to “food literacy” – what does that mean in your own words?
EB: Have you ever eaten a meal and wondered about all the steps it took for every element of that food to get to your plate? Food Literacy to me means understanding what it is you are eating! What are these vegetables and fruits, what are their health benefits, how are they grown? If you are eating meat and fish, where was it raised or how was it caught? What foods support our health and wellbeing, and what foods don’t? Food literacy is about understanding our food so we can make healthy choices.
ME: What organization(s) are you involved with, and where do you see this going?
EB: I’m a founding board member of a local non-profit—The Food Literacy Center —that delivers after-school programs in food literacy to elementary school kids in low-income schools. It’s been amazing to see how these kids have developed a love of vegetables and healthy foods through this program. Making good food choices is so important to the health of our country I would like to see this kind of basic food literacy a standard in the curriculum of what we teach kids in school.
ME: I’m curious about the community of food bloggers… despite the fact that you all are erstwhile competitors, it seems to be an incredibly supportive, nurturing group. Why do you think that is?
EB: Cooking well is all about nurturing ourselves and our loved ones. It’s almost impossible to be committed to food blogging and to not be passionate about sharing what we know and love with others. Of course we are supportive of each other! We celebrate each other’s success, we encourage and learn from each other. Blogging is mostly a solitary act, but because of the community we never feel lonely.
ME: What do you think other business sectors could learn from the world of food bloggers?
EB: One of the things I learned early on in blogging is that the more I promoted and helped other bloggers, the more they promoted and helped me. It just happens organically when it comes from an authentic place of wanting everyone to thrive. I think of it as karma, or “enlightened self interest”. It’s having the faith that when you do good things, eventually it will come back to you. So the question for any business is, what “random acts of kindness” can you do that will help your customers, your colleagues, and even your competitors who share in your mission to make the world a better place?
ME: What advice would you give to new or aspiring home cooks?
EB: Start small! Master a few recipes, one at a time, to slowly build your repertoire and confidence. The more you make something, the easier and faster it gets. Don’t be afraid to ask your produce manager at the grocery store about what’s in season and how to prepare it. Get a sturdy chef’s knife and keep it relatively sharp. Finally, learn how to cut an onion! It’s not hard, but there is definitely a technique to it that will help you do it quickly and without a lot of tears.
ME: What is one under-appreciated “sleeper” food that you’d like to see become discovered and popularized? (think kale 20 years ago)
EB: Cactus! No kidding. Cactus paddles, or nopalitos, are standard in Mexican cooking, but most Americans have never had them, and they’re so good! They taste sort of like a cross between green beans and green bell peppers. They’re loaded with vitamins, potassium, calcium. They’re low carb, low glycemic, and high in fiber, so they’re great for diets.
ME: Since you started dating your boyfriend have you incorporated more French recipes?
EB: Mais bien sûr! My sweetheart Guy is from Provence and is a great home cook. For the last several years I’ve been adding many recipes inspired by his Mediterranean cooking. (Check out his Provencal new potatoes. They’re great!)
ME: Historically your blog has been mostly recipe focused (as reflected in the name), do you think the future includes branching out beyond recipes?
EB: Yes! I plan on doing more tips, tricks, and how-to guides. My goal is to help home cooks be successful in the kitchen and that includes more than recipes.
We’re delighted to feature Elise as our Blogger of the Month!