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On her blog, Naturally Ella, Erin shares seasonal vegetarian recipes that are pantry-inspired and favorite recipes that are simple, fresh and exciting for her family. She’s written two cookbooks, The Homemade Flour Cookbook and The Easy Vegetarian Kitchen.
I am so happy to have Erin Alderson of Naturally Ella here on the show today.
(*All photos below are Erin’s.)
On Her Journey From Fast Food to Fresh and Seasonal:
It’s definitely been a long journey, but one I’m glad I took. Through high school and part of college, we were a middle-class family who was always on the go. Had a lot of activities after school, during school and it just seemed like we never really had time to cook. Looking back I think we probably did have time. But like most people it’s just convenient to eat out and grab food as we go.
It wasn’t until in between my freshman and sophomore year of college that my father had a heart attack and had a quadruple bypass. He survived it all but it was definitely a wake-up call for my entire family. After that we changed our diets and we haven’t looked back.
On Getting Started to Eating Healthier:
Baby steps. Definitely baby steps. Instead of eating out every day I’d eat out three times a week. I just stepped back slowly but surely. There were things I didn’t like at first. I didn’t always eat a lot of vegetables as much as I should have. It took time. It took time to really grow and get the process down.
I thought it might have been easier than I expected. I definitely had it built up in my head thinking that, “Oh, I’ll be able to do it. It won’t be that hard.” But it definitely was a day-by-day experience and there were a lot of temptations and challenges around every corner.
I feel like a lot of time people think, “Oh, health food. That must mean salads.” And really I don’t know. I love eating whole grains I do a lot of noodles. Again everything in moderation. You can have a lot of fun with it.
On Some Good Resources for Starting to Eat More Healthy:
I think blogs are awesome. A lot of the healthier food blogs because there’s just so much inspiration. And a lot of times those I feel like are recipes that people can really dig into.
Any of the Michael Pollan books are really a kind of good, swift kick in the rear. Because you read them and think, “Okay. This is why I should be doing this.” Mark Bittman is also a good resource. I think he’s the one that has the cookbook, How to Cook Everything.
I feel like those books can really be go-to references. They don’t have to be something that you read cover to cover. It’s just something that you can say, “Hey. I feel like trying this.” And you can go and dig into it.
On Her Blog:
Originally I started as a healthy baking blog way back in 2007. This was towards the beginning of my healthy eating journey and I wanted to share. For whatever reason I thought blogging sounded like fun even back then.
But I soon realized I didn’t like baking. And I fell in love with cooking. And that really took hold when I joined a CSA. And it was one of the ones where I could go out and pick. Every week I’d go out to the farm and I’d get to pick the produce that was ready. So I was getting my hands dirty.
It just really felt like connecting me to my food more. And forcing me to… instead of making a list of recipes and then going grocery shopping it was forcing me to say, “Okay. This is what I have. What can I make?”
It definitely opened my eyes to different varieties of things. I tried new things. Like kohlrabi was something that I would have never bought at the store but because it was there I tried it. And you learn about it and while sometimes at first you don’t like it. You can try it a different way and prepare it a different way. I think it’s a lot of fun.
In fact in the early days I would come back from the CSA and photograph everything. And I’d say, “This is what I got from the CSA this week.” And then the recipes would be based on that. That’s when my blog really turned seasonal.
On Essential Pantry Items for a Healthier Diet:
I always say that people need a couple, two to three, different kinds of grains. If you’re a grain-eater. Obviously I know there are some diets out there that people don’t eat grains. But for my purpose I’m going to say a few grains. Quinoa’s always a nice one to have because it’s quick-cooking. I love brown rice. That’s a good base for things. I usually have some millet and oats on hand.
And then you need some legumes. I love black beans, chickpeas and lentils. I usually have one of each of those. When I say pantry-inspired, those are really the items that I’m thinking of.
On Her Cookbooks, The Homemade Flour Cookbook and The Easy Vegetarian Kitchen:
The first one the publisher actually reached out to me and said, “Hey, we think that you would be a really good fit for this concept we have. Would it be something you’re interested in?” At first I’m, “Oh my gosh!” I’ve talked about milling flour. I had a lot of grains but I’ve never really put the two together. The more I thought about it, I was like, “No, this is a really good extension of my brand because a lot of times these are the ingredients I have in my house anyway. So what a cool way to show a second use for them.” So that concept was interesting for me.
Then the second book was an idea that I had been playing around with for a while. Because it kind of goes back to that seasonal, “I have these things, what can I do with them?” And so for The Easy Vegetarian Kitchen, it’s 50 base recipes that you can build upon with whatever you have. And so I keep it really open-ended but I do give some examples of what to do per season.
On Being in the Kitchen as a New Parent:
I don’t blog full-time. I have never actually blogged full-time. Naturally Ella has always been my secondary thing that I do and I’ve kept up.
But as of January it’s going to be my full-time because with having Mack around I’ve found that I can’t continue to do about three different jobs. So I’m going to focus solely on the blog. I have been spending quite a bit of time in the kitchen. Primarily during nap times and on weekends when my husband’s home.
But he actually loves being in the kitchen. I put him in the bouncer and I set him up on the kitchen island. And he loves to watch and really enjoys just being there. So that’s nice. It’s been very helpful.
My husband and I’ll even put food up to his nose and say, “Hey, this is mint.” And there was one time that he accidentally got parsley in his mouth and that was a really funny experience. Because he was, “Wait a minute, what is this?” We’re really looking forward to when we can start solid foods and have him experience all of that.
The Pressure Cooker:
Which food shows or cooking shows do you watch?
We don’t have cable. We only have antennae. AI still watch shows like MasterChef. I love Junior MasterChef just because I love seeing the eight-year-olds and the 10-year-olds just get in the kitchen. I think it’s really inspiring for kids to see other kids be in the kitchen. And hopefully grow a generation that’s used to cooking.
What are some food blogs or food websites we have to know about?
I love blogs. I’ve met a lot of friends through blogging. But the blogs I’m loving right now, who are doing some really creative vegetarian cooking, are, The First Mess, With Food + Love, Cookie and Kate, Love and Lemons. I’m sure there’s about a dozen more I could name, but those are the four that I really love.
Who do you follow on Pinterest, Instagram, or Facebook or Snapchat that make you happy?
So on Instagram, I love following The Fauxmartha. She has a two-year-old at home who sometimes you see little hands in her shots. And I just love that.
What is the most unusual or treasured item in your kitchen?
I have a giant stoneware bowl that is made from a company where I used to live. And it’s a pottery place that’s no longer in business. I just love it. Because I feel like you can’t buy bowls like that anymore.
Name one ingredient you used to dislike but now you love.
Oh. So many. I’m going to have to say goat cheese. For the longest time I was scared of any cheese that was white because I thought it was goat cheese. But now I love it.
What are a few cookbooks that make your life better?
First and foremost, The Vegetarian Flavor Bible is pretty much how I develop recipes. It’s so great because you can look up an ingredient and get other ingredients. And I love both of The Sprouted Kitchen’s cookbooks. There’s a new cookbook out called, Rose Water and Orange Blossom. That’s a Mediterranean/Lebanese cookbook and it’s just wonderful.
What song or album just makes you want to cook?
Yo-Yo Ma did a collaboration with a few bluegrass artists. And it’s called, The Goat Rodeo Sessions and it’s my favorite one especially this time of year. It gets me in the mood to get in the kitchen and cook.
On Keeping Posted with Erin:
Instagram. I am all about Instagram these days.