I'm so excited to share an interview with Natalie Slater, author of the awesome vegan food blog Bake and Destroy, and cookbook, "Bake and Destroy: Good Food for Bad Vegans." Natalie is a good friend of ours, and fellow Chicago-area dweller. I've partnered up with Natalie before as a prize sponsor for her wrestling-themed baking contest, SugarSlam, and her Mother's Day gift guide and giveaway. You may have also spotted Natalie when we met up at Uncle Fun in the last few days of the store. Below are the pressing questions I had to ask, and Natalie was so kind as to answer for us...
Jen: What was it like writing a cookbook? - I would imagine that it’s a ridiculous amount of work, yet delicious all at the same time…
Natalie: It's so much work, but well worth it every time I see my book on the shelf at a Barnes and Noble or Crate and Barrel, which recently also started carrying it. I basically made a list of dream recipes I wanted to develop - I didn't want to duplicate anything I'd already published on my blog for free. Then I got to work writing recipes and testing each one over and over until it was perfect. Once I was happy with my recipes, I passed them along to my testers. They gave me feedback, which sometimes meant making a simple tweak to clarify a direction and other times meant scrapping a recipe and starting over. Luckily my husband, Tony, took our son camping every weekend for an entire summer so I had a lot of alone time in the kitchen. I made so much food I didn't know what to do with it all - I force fed everyone within a 5 mile radius of my house while I was developing recipes. But I got to showcase illustrations from my friend Betty Turbo, and dinnerware from my friends at Circa Ceramics, so it just felt like a project I got to do with all my friends and that was really great.
Jen: Do you have a favorite recipe in your book?
Natalie: The Taco Lasagna is my favorite. I just love how all the veggies come together with the nacho chee-zee sauce and bake up into a really hearty casserole with just the right amount of kick.
|Nacho Cupcakes from the Bake and Destroy: Good Food for Bad Vegans cookbook|
Jen: Two of us at Betties N Brimstone have little boys at home... Does your son, Teno, bake with you? What advice do you have for getting young kids started in the kitchen?
Natalie: I think kids naturally want to be involved in the kitchen, but when you're in there trying to get dinner on the table you don't always want little hands in the way, so I always try to find something for my son, Teno, to do that keeps him busy. And I don't freak out if he makes a mess - that's another thing about kids in the kitchen. You just have to let go and let them make a mess sometimes. When he was very little I'd sit Teno on the counter and give him his own bowl and spoon. He would dump miscellaneous ingredients in there and stir away while I worked. Now that he's eight he can actually help me - he's in charge of measuring now.
Jen: Any advice for moms of picky eaters?
Natalie: Kids are so much more likely to try new foods when they help you cook them, so let them in the kitchen! It's a great way to get them interested in trying new things. When all else fails, I hide healthy foods in things I know Teno will eat and then I tell him later. "Did you like that cornbread? Did you know it had squash in it?"
Jen: What’s the most annoying vegan-related question to be asked? (You know, so I make sure that I don’t do it…!)
Natalie: I get annoyed when people ask me where I get various nutrients like protein and calcium. Go ask an elephant! Elephants don't eat meat or drink milk and they're bigger and stronger than anyone who has ever asked me those questions. I just want to be like, "You know what? My nutrition is golden, let's talk about whether or not you're getting enough Vitamin K." But instead I'm just like, "Plants, blah blah blah."
Jen: What are your favorite sources for inspiration when it comes to dreaming up new recipes?
Natalie: A lot of my recipes are inspired by things I ate growing up. Half of my family is first-and-second-generation Italian immigrants and the other half is good 'ol Midwestern stock imported from Eastern Europe ages ago. So sometimes I go back to my grandma's carefully-crafted spaghetti sauce and make slow-cooked, ingredient-heavy recipes with rich flavor profiles and other times I reflect on my cousins' love of dessert "salads" that contain whipped cream and bite-sized candy bars - I work a little vegan magic and there you have it! Homecooked, white trash vegan gourmet.
Jen: What is your absolute favorite food?
Natalie: My grandma's spaghetti is just magical. She uses angel hair pasta or thin spaghetti so it's not too heavy, and her sauce, or gravy, is slow-cooked and has all these wonderful flavors. She has a trick where she cuts an onion - but not all the way through - and cooks it whole in the sauce. Then she removes it before serving so you get all the flavor without the chunks. Northern Italian marinara is smooth, as opposed to the chunkier sauces from southern Italy. She used to make it with sweet Italian sausage when I was a kid and I would go nuts for it. I'd have spaghetti for dinner and then beg her for white rice covered in her famous gravy for lunch. Now when she makes it for me she uses seitan sausage. Anything made with love always tastes better and you can taste the love and care my gram puts into everything she makes.
Jen: What are your favorite Chicago restaurant suggestions for visitors to the city?
Natalie: Chicago has so many options, I actually did a whole post about them on Bake and Destroy that I try to keep updated. The Chicago Diner is fantastic, I was married there, but I feel like after 25 years everyone knows about it. I really like Quesadilla La Reina del Sur for something different. It's authentic Mexican food at reasonable prices, but it's all vegan and vegetarian. You can even get vegan "sheep skin" tacos there.
Jen: What (in terms of the food world) are you absolutely sick of seeing?
Natalie: I never thought, three years ago when I was sick of bacon, that I would still be complaining about bacon now. But seriously... enough. Liking bacon doesn't make you a unique flower among humans. Start slapping durian fruit on every dessert and then I'll be impressed by your rebellious palate.
Jen: What goals do you have for Bake and Destroy in the future?
Natalie: I'd like to branch out into some more modern forms of media. After 8 years of blogging I'm shocked anyone still reads my posts. I'd like to create a web series or a podcast.
Jen: On a non-food related note… We love music at Betties N Brimstone, so do you have any music recommendations for us? What are you currently listening to?
Natalie: This is the most assholey thing I've ever said, but I've been listening to a lot of 60's French pop lately. Gillian Hills, France Gall, Sylvie Vartan and stuff like that. I have no idea what they're talking about, but it's just nice. I really like Brody Dalle's new solo album Diploid Love, too.
Jen: Any upcoming events you’d like us to plug?
Natalie: My site just got a makeover, so I'm pretty excited about that. It's totally responsive, now, so it looks great on mobile devices. Other than that, you never know where I'll turn up next! Keep up with me on Facebook at Facebook.com/BakeandDestroyFans
Thanks so much Natalie for taking the time to answer some questions for us! If you haven't checked out Natalie's blog or cookbook yet, go do it now!
Jen @ Hell Razor