Q + A with Melissa Clark

I freakin’ LOVE Melissa Clark! No joke. I first heard about this food writer/cook when I bought her book, The Skinny: How to Fit into Your Little Black Dress Forever, which seriously helped me shed some unwanted pounds the healthy way. Then I purchased her cookbook, In the Kitchen with A Good Appetite, and made about 2/3 of the recipes in there to my fiance’s delight. And now that she agreed to do a Q&A with little me, I love her even more! So thank you, Melissa Clark! Everyone, enjoy this little Q&A…I am truly honored 🙂

Can you tell the readers a little bit about what you do right now and how you became a food writer? Right now I write a weekly column for the NY Times called “A Good Appetite.” I have a book out, In the Kitchen with A Good Appetite, that is sort of an expanded version of my column. I give my all time favorite recipes along with essays that share all the juicy details about how the recipes came about – some were born of a complete whim, others are old family recipes or traditional dishes that I’ve modified to suit my own tastes. My newest book, Cook This Now, focuses on how to eat seasonally, healthfully (while still somewhat decadently!), and easily (as in easy for your family) comes out this October. And I just started writing a weekly recipe column for the website Gilt Taste. So I’m dealing with quite a full plate at the moment!

I started out with a graduate degree from Columbia School of the Arts, an MFA in nonfiction, with an eye toward a career as a writer – not necessarily with a designated specialty. But I was raised in a completely food obsessed family (my parents planned our summer vacations around Michelin-starred restaurants) and I found myself pulled toward food-writing. Plus, on the side while I was at Columbia, I ran a wee catering company out of my tiny kitchen, a one person operation with most of my business coming from catering dinner parties for professors and wine-and-cheese receptions for dissertation defenses, etc. Ever since then cooking and writing have seemed to go hand in hand (not to mention eating.)

Describe a typical day’s worth of eats. Since I’ve had my daughter (Dahlia is now 2 and a half) breakfast is usually the crusts cut off from her whole grain toast with butter and jam, which is a huge step up from my pre-Dahlia days of cookies and a cup of tea (can’t set a bad example right?). Lunch is generally on the lighter side when I can control it (eg when I’m not recipe testing a dozen variations on fried mozzarella): a handful of fresh greens with vinaigrette or a tomato and/or avocado sandwich or an anchovy crostini, or some cheese and crackers eaten standing up at the counter. And dinner could be almost anything. Sometimes if I’ve tested a particularly good recipe that day I’ll force myself to save it for dinner with my husband, Daniel. He loves it when I’m working on any kind of chili or braised meat story. The problem for me can be snacking. I always have food (pretty great food, if I do say so myself) in the house and it can be very tempting to nibble away at the recipes I’m developing. Fortunately I have great neighbors who are only too happy to take leftovers off my hands!

How did you eat when you were pregnant? Did you apply the same rules as you do now? I was so sick for the first 5 months that I just ate white food – noodles, rice, yogurt. Anything green made me sick, which is completely different from the way I currently eat (lots of green please!).  After that passed I ate pretty much what ever I wanted but in very small portions, otherwise I got heartburn. Eating while pregnant was not my favorite activity. Except for fruit, fruit always tasted great to me and made me feel great, so I ate tons of it and still do.

How do you stay in such great and skinny shape for being a foodie?! Please share some of your secrets. For me it’s all about portion control. If I go out to a dinner, I always eat half my meal and get half wrapped up to go. I always order a salad course to fill up on healthy greens so I don’t pig out on my entrée. And I always order a dessert so I don’t feel deprived. And I run two or three times a week in the park, and do a little yoga. Not to mention, running after a toddler.

What’s your go-to outfit and who are some of your favorite designers? Summer go-to outfit, A-line above- the-knee skirt, sleeveless blouse or shirt, gladiator sandals. Winter: skinny black jeans, short jacket over long silky top. Favorite designer is tough, I haven’t bought a lot of designer clothes post-baby. Tracey Reese, Catherine Malandrino, Marc Jacobs…

Please fill in the blanks:

If I wasn’t a food writer, I’d be: I’d be rich! Ha, no, I’d probably be a writer focusing on something else, maybe education or cats.

When you open my handbag, you’ll find: Wallet, phone (with a million pictures of my daughter), laptop (for making last minute changes to my column while on the subway), notebook and pen for ideas. Lots of random receipts that I should file away, paperclips because they always fall off, mints, cookie crumbs, nail file. Flotsam and jetsam.

I never leave my house without: My phone

The first thing I do when I wake up is: Go upstairs and pick up my daughter and hug her! She makes waking up at 5:45 happy (of course if she wasn’t around I wouldn’t be getting up at 5:45 but that’s another story).

If I could go back in time: I’d always finish my dessert.

My fail-proof recipe is: Squid salad! Or maybe mac and cheese…

I never thought that one day I would be: This busy.

For all you aspiring food writers out there, remember this: Really know your subject before you start writing. Everyone appreciates fine, well-turned prose but nothing beats time spent in a professional kitchen to really hone your food writing skills.

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