Remember how I said I had a few surprises up my sleeve? Well, if you’re anything like me, there are some bloggers you just can’t get enough of and so I’m doing a small series of posts, perhaps twice a month, with an interview and a dish from some who’ll need no introduction and have kindly indulged my curiosity. I hope I asked the right questions – they were the things I always want to know – and that you enjoy them too.
It’s hard to say exactly what it is that makes Luisa so beloved of her readers. It might be her slightly self-deprecating air or her delicate turn of phrase but I suspect her appeal has more than a little to do with how honest she is – she allows just a little melancholy to throw shade on her post if that’s how she’s feeling that day and lets her excitement bubble through when things are going well. It’s no mean feat; blogging is so personal that it’s a fine line to walk between over-sharing and seeming distant but she always manages to hit the high notes while remaining a lady.
I won’t analyse her anymore – no need to look a gift horse in the mouth after all – but she is. A gift, I mean, not a horse. We root for her when she’s down, cheer when she’s up and now that she’s working on her book “My Berlin Kitchen,” which is due to be published by Viking Press in 2012, we’re all there with her.
I trawled her recipe index fairly thoroughly in search of a dish that screamed “The Wednesday Chef” to me and considered several – mostly Italian ones – but returned, not at all reluctantly, to her most recent post: Zucchini Salad. She said it reminded her of a warm, more cold-weather version of this carrot salad and I agree.
Sweet, salty, sour or bitter or a combination, and if so which?
I think I have to go with sour. I was thinking about salty, and I do really love salty, but sour is where my heart quickens.
Did you grow up in a food-centric household or did your interest in food develop independently of your upbringing? If the latter, do you remember why?
Food has always been a big deal for my family. My father loves to cook – he’s going through an extended Indian phase right now. My mother had a home-cooked dinner on the table every night of my years growing up in Berlin. And my family in Italy and my adopted family in Berlin loved food and cooking and baking, so I do think I grew up with it in my blood and water.
What’s your earliest food memory?
Sitting in a high chair in my mother’s kitchen in Berlin, watching her grate a block of dark chocolate into a bowl of plain, sour yogurt for me, little shavings scattering across the counter.
The knife you use most often; brand and type?
It varies; for a long while it was Alton Brown’s santoku knife, which was a gift, but it got a horrible nick in the blade, so now I’m using a combination of this fiercely sharp Japanese knife that someone else gave me (no brand-name) and a small Messermeister paring knife, which I got at IACP a few years back.
Are you a cook or baker? Why?
I’m definitely both. I started out as a baker, I suppose. Baking was something I identified very strongly with my friend Joan, who taught me how to bake when I was a little girl. As a young adult, I figured out that I was actually good at cooking, too, and kept going on both tracks. But these days I do cook more than I bake. I guess it’s mostly practicality: I need to get at least one or two meals cooked every day for the two of us, and baking – well, we’d sit around eating a lot of cookies and cake if I let myself bake as often as I’d like.
Do you get hangry ?
Yes. It’s awful! Someone told me that was a sign of hypoglycemia. But that someone was definitely not a medical doctor so who knows. In any case, I hate being hangry and so I avoid it mostly by always looking forward to my next meal!
Any tips you follow to avoid the dreaded hangrrr or try and stave it off in others?
Snacks. I do believe they are one of the joys of being alive.
Where was your favourite country food-wise to travel to?
Right now, it’d be America or, specifically, New York. The sheer variety of different kinds of cuisine, the incredible assortment of vegetables, the balance of high and low cuisine, the experimentation, the quality – it’s hard to spend one day in New York City without eating well. I just came back from two weeks in the States and I’m still dreaming of the amazing laksa and Hainanese chicken I ate, the green beans with fresh curry leaves, and the roasted Brussels sprouts and hen-of-the-woods mushrooms. Sigh. I’m hungry again.
How many kitchens have you called your own and what was your favourite one like?
Huh, hang on a sec, I need to count. Somewhere between 7 and 8? Good lord, I’ve moved a lot. But my favorite one? That’s tough. They all had room for improvement. I do have a particular soft spot for my kitchen now: it’s full of light, with a gorgeous view. I have a dishwasher and lots of counter space. But it’s cursed with an electric range, even if it’s a fancy modern one, and that sort of cramps my style.
Bedside table – cookbooks, novels or something else?
The New Yorker.
What is one of the best things that has happened to you because of blogging?
My book deal.
Have you had any scary stalker moments?
Not a one.
What was the biggest learning curve for you as you developed as a blogger (ie: using the software, photography, styling, writing etc.)?
Dealing with the design of my blog has something I’ve gotten better and better at, but I’ll admit that Typepad does a pretty great job of making it easy. I think the biggest learning curve was simply having to show up, regularly, consistently, and deliver.
How do you handle people saying “oh, I’m scared to cook for you because you must have such high standards”? Do you have high standards or are you just happy someone wants to cook for you?
It drives me absolutely nuts when people say that to me. I do have high standards, for myself and for places that charge money for their efforts, ie. restaurants. But if a friend wants to cook me dinner? Thank you! I’ll be right over.
What’s one food/kitchen product/utensil you love but can’t get where you are?
I miss the cheap-o Chinese restaurant supply stores in New York where you can find everything your kitchen heart desires. I miss Better than Bouillon stock bases, especially the Vegetable one. AND I miss my trusty old Robot Coupe food processor that I had to leave behind when I left America for Europe. I miss it every day!
When you blog, do you think of yourself primarily as a cook/baker, writer, photographer, stylist, a combination or something else?
I see myself as a cook and a writer. The two things go hand in hand for me now. I can’t really cook anything without thinking of what I could say about it to my readers.
Post squirrel, storing up posts for weeks (months!) to come or living on the edge and banging ‘em out as you go?
Living on the edge! Banging them out as I go – that’s exactly how it is.
Danke vielmals Luisa, Wir wünschen Dir was!
Luisa used ground caraway and less olive oil than in the original recipe and I’ve followed suit. I also replaced a little of the lemon juice with pomegranate syrup because I only had half a lemon, upped the caraway a little, reduced the harissa a little and added some salt because I’m crazy like that.
1/4 teaspoon ground caraway seeds
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 teaspoon pomegranate syrup
1 1/2 tablespoons harissa paste
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 zucchini, sliced into thick rounds
Handful Kalamata olives, pitted
100 grams crumbled feta
Small handful flatleaf parsley leaves, chopped roughly
Shake the ground caraway, lemon juice, pomegranate syrup, harissa, olive oil, salt and garlic in a jar.
Steam the zucchini until tender, about 5 to 7 minutes – I used a Chinese bamboo steamer because that’s what I have but you might have one of those dinky metal spirally things, in which case, I have kitchen envy.
Toss the zucchini with the dressing and top with the cheese, olives and parsley.