It’s another edition of the Sabzi Questionnaire! I hope you guys have been enjoying these as much as I have. I love introducing you to my favorite people in the world of food and food writing. Today, I’m excited to present my interview with Jennifer Reese, the author of Make the Bread, Buy the Butter. Jennifer also writes the charming food blog Tipsy Baker. I can’t remember how I first stumbled upon Tipsy Baker. I think it may have been mentioned on a Chowhound forum. Jennifer’s blog is a real treasure and the concept is brilliant: she works her way through cookbooks (one at a time usually) and reports on her results. Now, if it were just that you might not find much reason to stick around, but Jennifer’s writing, her perceptual sharpness, as well as her cooking expertise, make for highly entertaining reading. Her cookbook summations are honest – she’s not a food world suck up. She is very dedicated to her cookbook obsession, even at the cost of annoying her family – all to hilarious ends. You know what the highest form of food blog praise might be? Saving the archives for a rainy day read. That’s what I am doing with Tipsy Baker. Make the Bread, Buy the Butter (pictured below) is a cookbook in its own category. How many cookbooks can we say that about these days? Jennifer examines what is worth making at home versus what is easier/better to purchase. The question of “worth” is figured out in relation to the quality of the final product, the cost, and the hassle. For each recipe, she tells you the price of the item (e.g. cream cheese, bagels) at major grocery stores and ascertains the hassle level (“Can you stir? You can make this.”). Thus while it is always advisable to make your own bread, you may want to purchase goat cheese (and yes, she actually experimented with making her own goat cheese by getting her own goats). Lest you think she’s some kind of self-righteous contemporary urban homesteader, I assure you that nothing could be further from the truth. She’s more like a really honest, smart, and funny friend. I highly recommend both her book and blog. Here’s a fun fact: her cookbook is the only one I’ve brought home that Matt has read cover to cover. Not sure what you will do with that information, but it seems relevant to me. Without further ado, here is my interview with Jennifer Reese.
1) How did you get into cooking?
My mother was a lawyer and hated to cook, but she did have a few little-used cookbooks hanging around the house and when I was about seven I started flipping through them on boring Saturday afternoons. I probably began by looking at the pretty pictures, but by the age of ten I was studying and trying the recipes. If I was ever going to eat lemon meringue pie, coq au vin, spaghetti carbonara or anything else that wasn’t on the very short list of dishes my mother cooked, I was going to have to make it. And so I did.
3) What are your favorite films (not necessarily related to food)?
Oh, this is an impossible question! I see a lot of movies. I’ll just name two good films that spring to mind at this moment, ones that readers might enjoy and haven’t seen: The Secret of the Grain is a wonderful, exuberant film about a boisterous French family and their attempt to open a fish couscous restaurant. It will make you very hungry. The movie was directed by Abdellatif Keciche who went on to direct Blue is The Warmest Color which got twice the attention and wasn’t half as good. For my second movie, I’m going to say Mommy. It’s not my favorite movie of all time, or even 2014, but I saw it a couple of weeks ago at the Mill Valley Film Festival and can’t get it out of my head. It’s a strange, wild Canadian drama about a troubled mother-son relationship. It probably won’t get wide distribution, but if you have the chance, see it.
4) This is a 2 part question: what are a few of your favorite cookbooks and what is the last recipe you made from a cookbook?
I treasure the Time-Life Foods of the World series — I grew up with these beautiful, informative books and they’ve really stood the test of time. As for contemporary books, I think Amanda Hesser’s Essential New York Times Cookbook is pretty stupendous. The recipes are eclectic and generally excellent. I also think she’s really sly and funny and her headnotes are a pleasure to read. As for the last recipe I cooked — the hazelnut chocolate chip cookies from Flour by Joanne Chang. Dangerously good.
5) Can you recommend a restaurant in your town/city?
I live in Mill Valley, a suburb of San Francisco, and the best thing you can eat here is the croissant donut at Beth’s.
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Thank you, Jennifer! Doesn’t she have fantastic taste in film? I loved reading these answers.