Gardenias & Mint is an East Coast lifestyle blog by two best friends on a budget. They share things that they love including style, books, cool stuff online, and of course, food.
I am so happy to have Christa Tubach and Regina Vecchione of Gardenias & Mint here on the show today.
On How They Met:
Regina: We go way back. We’ve been friends for a long time.
Probably third grade, Christa moved here. And I had been living here since I was five.
She was just wearing the coolest velvet shirt with a daisy on it. And I was like, “Hey girl, I like your shirt.” And, being a T and a V in our last names, our lockers were next to each other pretty much from middle school on. So even if we didn’t have classes together, we hung out.
Regina: We always got along really well. We have similar tastes. That’s kind of how the blog started. Since we were kids, we’d go shopping and realized, “We love that. We both love that.”
Christa: We’ve always been very good partners when shopping.
Regina: Yeah. We have a lot of the same clothes. We’ve been known to walk out and have the same thing on.
On the Food Culture in Their Cities:
Regina: Boston, I’ve noticed, is all about the gastro-pub style.
Everyone is very into bar food with a refined edge. So you can always find a really delicious poutine with like cheese curds and duck gravy. And then pair it with a really delicious craft beer.
Christa: Hartford is all about the hidden gem. Like neighborhood area. So, you’ll hear people comparing their restaurants with which neighborhood you’re from. In my neighborhood, in the West End, we have, I think, the best Mexican. But you’ll hear other people say they think theirs is the best. So you’re always finding little places here and there from the neighborhoods.
I think it has a lot to do with the local aspects of it; there’s a lot of things happening. And restaurants really try and make an effort in showing you where the food is coming from.
All these little neighborhood places will have the farm listed, the ingredients listed. And it’s great because, even though Hartford’s a city, the surrounding areas are still pretty rural. So we have a lot of farms. And this urban and city farming is happening too. So Hartford is trying to do that. And I think it’s great.
Regina: Boston is very similar. We tend to branch out a little bit. Just because we’re a city so we can’t always have our own farms. But then the surrounding areas, like Concord Mass, we have a lot of farms over there. So we tend to get the fresh, good stuff.
On Neighborhoods in Their Cities for Tasty Food:
Christa: The South End of Hartford is known for the bakeries and the Italian section. The West End, where Mexican is, that one particular place is fantastic. It’s just kind of the walkable neighborhood area that has some delicious spots. And downtown, there are definitely some pockets which are really great. Because Hartford’s pretty spread out so it’s not really as walkable as Boston. So you’re driving and you’ll find little places here and there.
Regina: I wish there was more Thai food actually. That is something I feel it is a little short of. But there is a Chinatown in Boston. So you can definitely get some good hot pot. I’ve had some really great hot pot or I think some people call it shabu. But I feel like every neighborhood in Boston and the surrounding areas makes a point of having a couple of go-to spots, which is awesome.
We love Delis. I feel like no matter what neighborhood you’re in, you can find good food. I personally live in Brookline which is right outside and kind of near Fenway. And I have a couple go-to spots like this place, Otto Pizza, which originally started in Portland, Maine. And Public House, which again, is all about the gastro food. And they have like, I think, one of the most extensive draft beer lists in New England or something. It’s crazy.
On Local Dishes that Visitors May Not Know About:
Regina: Christa and I, one time, she came to visit and we went to this place called Island Creek Oyster Bar. Which is obviously it serves oysters, hence the name. But we ended up getting the mussels as an appetizer. And we were just completely blown away. We were just looking at each other like, “What is happening in our mouths?”
Christa: And it’s local so it’s another thing that Boston’s by the water. Actually, Hartford right now, our little thing that everyone loves is we have this little doughnut spot called Tastease, that has mini doughnuts. And they’re beautiful. They’re decorated. They’re colorful. They’re absolutely fantastic. And no one knows about them.
It’s just one of those things that you’ll see pictures and then you’ll hear about it. And they sell out by 10:00 in the morning. They have a little sign that says, “Over a million donuts served.” Just a small local business that, when you know about it, people are like, “Oh my god, Tastease! I can’t believe I hadn’t heard about it.”
On Their Blog:
Christa: Well, we’re both creatives. I’m a graphic designer and Regina was a photography major. And so we just found ourselves one day, talking about blogs. We hadn’t discussed it. We were just like, “Wow. I follow a lot of blogs.”
Regina: We were both following a lot of the same ones and constantly texting each other about it.
Christa: When Reg moved, we were both starting out in our careers and trying to figure out what we wanted to do. And those first jobs, they’re fun, they’re interesting but they’re not quite as creative as you want. So it kind of started out with being like, “What else do we want to do?” And we just saw that there are opportunities to collect the information off the Internet that we liked. And then doing DIYs, and cooking food, and doing all these things we like to do anyway.
Reg takes beautiful photographs. We were like, “Why don’t we just start doing that and documenting it?” So we actually just sat down one day and we made it happen.
Regina: It was so funny how quickly it happened. We just sat down. We’re like, “What do we want to call it? Let’s do this test name Gardenias & Mint. We could always change it.” And then we’re like, “Actually, I kind of like it.”
Christa: Then we put some stuff together and then we went out to a really good restaurant, and brought a notebook, and literally were like, “What are some ideas? Let’s do this.” We stuck with it. Which is, you know, the hardest part.
Regina: Christa was really helpful for all this too because she had done an internship for Design Love Fest.
Christa: Blogshop. I don’t know if you know who she is. She’s a major blogger out in California. And I kind of interned for a weekend with her where I gave tips on Photoshop. And so it was all about the blogging world though. Not just how to use Photoshop for yourself. But specifically with blogging. And so I had this inside scoop that I didn’t even realize I had. And so it was fun to share what I learned. And you started picking it up on it really fast.
On How to Decide on What to Make for the Blog:
Regina: We have a very serious sweet tooth, in case you haven’t noticed.
Christa: Pretty much everything is some sort of baked good.
Regina: We just love baking. I find it to be very calming. If I’m like stressed out, I just want to go home and make cookies.
Christa: We always are talking about how we want to do more food and less treats but we just end up making cakes.
Regina: It’s funny because we love savory dishes so much. We’re always just like, “Cheese!”
Christa: I think that what happens is we’ll look at stuff that we like. It has to be something that we want to make. Now as much as blogs are about it being pretty, we want to eat it.
We approach it as what looks good. Is this something I want to make for myself? Make for my roommates? Make for my boyfriend? And then we don’t want to just sit there and copy someone’s recipe straight up most of the times.
So it’s nice to be able to feel comfortable with the ingredients to know that we could change something if we need to. How to make it our own because with there being a million things on the Internet, it’s so easy just to be like, “That looks good. Let’s make it.” Well, it’s ours now. But it’s not.
Regina: It’s so easy to adapt things from other people that we always make sure to give the other blog credit if we happen to find it there.
Christa: Yeah. And so, we want to be able to approach it in a way that we feel comfortable kind of tweaking something.
I wouldn’t know how to look at a recipe and change everything but we want to throw an ingredient here, tweak a little bit of that there. And that usually works best for us.
On a Dish Not Turning Out as Planned:
Christa: Yeah, it happens. Actually this past Valentine’s Day, we wanted to just make a cute little heart-shaped pizza. And then we decided it was just going to be heart-shaped pepperoni. And so, it was last minute. We’re scrambling. And pizza is not hard to make by any means, but I’m sitting there, cutting out heart-shaped pepperoni with a knife which is not a good idea.
It’s angular and you’re trying to make these cute hearts and it’s not happening. And something happened. Reg is half making it and we realized we don’t have cheese. And we’re just having such a struggle.
Regina: We just did not prepare at all.
Christa: So she decides, “Look let’s just make something else. I’ll freeze the pepperonis. We’ll make the pizza another time.” And then I go home and we’re cutting it close on time because we wanted to post it.
Regina: Because it was Valentine’s Day. So it was just a specific date it had to be up by.
Christa: So I’m like, “You know what? I’m just going to make this at home. Don’t worry about it. I’m going to do it in Hartford. I’ll figure it out.” And I go to the store, I buy some more pepperoni, and then I walk into my kitchen and I’m like, “Why did I not use kitchen scissors?” It was the easiest thing in the entire world. Took me two seconds. I did like 15 pepperonis in under a minute.
Regina: Versus like half an hour of slimy labor with a knife.
Christa: So I was just like, “Wow, that was dumb.”
Regina: And dangerous.
The Pressure Cooker:
Which food shows or cooking shows do you watch?
Regina: I really like the Barefoot Contessa. She is all about home cooked meals that just make you feel good. And they’re rich and wonderful.
Christa: I actually don’t watch any cooking shows. I feel so terrible saying that. I have caught a couple fun ones at the gym.
Regina: It’s so weirdly satisfying to watch cooking shows at the gym. You feel terrible but great all at the same time.
What are some food blogs or food websites we have to know about?
Regina: I’m always on The Kitchn. That’s a good one. I think one of my big inspirations for blogging about food is probably Skinny Taste. She recently came out with one or two cookbooks, I think. But she’s again, back to that comfort food stuff.
It’s always with a low-fat quality. She loves using applesauce to replace things when she’s baking. It’s like comfort food without the guilt.
Christa: And I really love Food52. They post so many beautiful pictures. There’s just something that sparks my interest visually. Which then, when I read about it, makes me hungry.
Who do you follow on Pinterest, Instagram, or Facebook that make you happy?
Christa: This is funny. We worked at a pizza place back in high school. And that’s actually where I met my boyfriend. They post their specials on Facebook and Instagram and I love it. All I want to do is go there. When I see every week what they’re doing. I’m so excited.
Regina: Yeah, you heavily monitor it to see if you can go there that weekend for their specials.
Christa: I’m like, “Oh you’re coming home? These are the specials ahead of time. Are you into it?”
Christa: They’re called Flatbread. But there’s American Flatbread and then Flatbread. They’re two different things.
Regina: It’s like The Flatbread Co.
Christa: Yeah, Flatbread Company.
What is the most unusual or treasured item in your kitchen?
Regina: I feel like I always get called out for my butter dish on the counter. I always have room temperature butter at my house. Which is wonderful and apparently it’s a very European thing. I just grew up with it but I feel like room temperature butter just makes my life complete. Because you can just throw it on anything. It’s already ready to go. And then, especially if you’re baking, you already have the room temp butter. So, you’re good to go.
Christa: Our apartment is really old. We have this really cute nook where there definitely used to be an ironing board. But, no ironing board anymore. And we turned it into a spice rack. Were moving soon and I think I’m going to miss it a lot. I didn’t realize how cute it was until we’re not going to have it anymore.
Name one ingredient you used to dislike but now you love.
Regina: I love tomatoes. I put them in absolutely everything. Tomatoes and onion. I don’t know where I would be without them now. But when I was a kid, I wanted nothing to do with them.
Christa: I’m actually the same way about peppers. I don’t know why kids hate peppers. They’re delicious.
Regina: Vegetables in general. Vegetables make me so happy.
Christa: Like brussels sprouts. Oh my god, brussels sprouts are my favorite.
Regina: I don’t understand the stigma associated with them as a child.
What are a few cookbooks that make your life better?
Regina: A couple of years ago for Christmas, my sister got me this really wonderful book at Anthropology that’s called What Katie Ate. And the photography in it is so stunning. It just has this very dramatic, dark backdrops and pretty high contrast. But they’re just beautiful. And it makes you want to cook really badly.
Some of the food that she does is a little labor extensive but it always looks worth it. And I’m like, “Wow, those potatoes look sensational.”
Christa: My mom, she’s got Cook’s Illustrated my whole life. And just seeing those around, it was always fun to look at the illustrations on the back and just get this real breakdown of food that kind of, is so normal.
There’s something about it that was just so friendly for the everyday person. But actually, I did see a beautiful cookbook the other day called, One Pan, Two Plates. Which is great for a couple, like my boyfriend and myself. Which I definitely want to check out.
What song or album just makes you want to cook?
Regina: For me, especially around the holidays, back to baking, but it’s Ella Fitzgerald. And She and Him. They both just put me in that holiday spirit. I’m like, “I need to make gingerbread now.” And then, my coworker introduced me to the most random collection of songs. It’s just like a Nigerian eclectic band that just makes you want to cook so badly. I highly recommend Nigerian music to put you in the mood to cook.
I don’t know the name. It’s not a band name. It was like a collection of various bands on one album. But I think they all have a similar beat to it. And it’s very like, saucy. And you’re just like, “Yeah, I want to make some enchiladas or something.”
Christa: We actually listen to music a lot in the kitchen. It’s just something that gets us excited. But I love Vampire Weekend. They’re just fun and poppy and gets me going. I know all the words so I’m just in my zone. Which is helpful.
On Keeping Posted with Gardenia’s and Mint:
Regina: We are on Instagram.
Regina: And Facebook daily.
Christa: Yep. And gardeniasandmint.com. So we’re social media people for sure. We try to tweet but we’re not very good at it.
Regina: Bad at tweeting. I don’t know why. Yeah, Instagram though, we’re always on that.
Christa: Yes, and Pinterest, you know, the whole deal.
Regina: Our handle is just Gardenias and Mint. Pretty straightforward.