Keys to the Cucina
Alexe is from a large Italian family where food is the center of everything. She’s been a food lover all her life and plans for meals way too far in advance. Alexe is a musician, and on her blog, she integrates music and food because she believes they’re the most important elements to entertaining.
I’m so excited to have Alexandra Lawrence of Keys to the Cucina joining me here today.
(*All photos below are Alexe’s.)
On the Role of Food in Her Family:
“A big role” is definitely an understatement. My immediate family, we grew up in Northern Virginia, and my extended family’s in New Jersey. They’re a little louder and crazier. My mother grew up full Italian, and food was the center of everything that we did.
We ate dinner, my sisters and I, every night. My mom cooked every night except Saturday. She and my dad went on dates every Saturday, but it really was just the main thing that brought us all together at the end of the day. We could chat and catch up with each other. She also made breakfast every morning too, so we ended, began, ended our day with her food.
On Her Curiosity Around Cooking:
I have a lot of memories of my sister Brooke. She’s 14 months older than me, so we’re really close but I have memories of her playing out in the cul-de-sac while I was in at around five or four helping my mom get dinner together. So dad was probably around eight or nine. She would let me snap the green beans, the ends off the green beans, and then I graduated to other things like stirring the risotto and helping season the tomato sauce. It was a very gradual process, but it’s always been in my heart for sure.
I think it was just about getting food day to day with four kids, going in four different directions. Things were definitely hectic so she was helm of that, and I would say in my teenage years, I helped out a little more. I also lived at home through college, so that’s when I really was able to take the reins from her a little bit and actually make things for my mom and dad. That gave me a really good taste of how to prepare things on my own and make full complete meals.
On Her Blog:
It started when I got my first full-time job out of school. I was working at a start-up here in D.C. I was also living on my own for the first time, so I really was in control of my kitchen and what I was making every single day, which was something that I never really had experienced. But my colleagues would tease me. I’d go heat up my lunch. I’d have a full plate of a proper starch and vegetable and a meat, and it looked like I just prepared it. They would joke and also ask, “How did you do that? You love to cook. I didn’t know that.”
So that sparked an interest and made me realize a lot of people don’t know how to really cook healthy balanced meals. Some of them, they didn’t grow up with a mom like me cooking every single night of the week. So that was in 2011, and I got a new job in 2013, and I wasn’t feeling very inspired. I would come home at night and watch the Food Network. I also started to read a lot more food blogs during that time period as well, and I realized I have something to share.
So I worked on it for about two months before I posted my first recipe. I went back and forth with the name. I always knew I wanted to fuse music and cooking, so basically it started out of feeling uninspired at the day job.
On How to Make Cooking Fun:
I try to experiment with different spices. I have a subscription to Hatchery, it’s a monthly box subscription that comes, and it’s artisanal ingredients from people who make seasonings to rubs, to barbecue sauces. So that opens my eyes to ingredients that I never had cooked with before.
I love doing that. I think changing up the spices, changing up the vegetables. Sometimes, I get in a rut with every week at the store getting green beans and broccoli and kale, but I started to buy cauliflower a couple of weeks ago, so I was doing a lot with that. I made a soup. I roasted it. I just think making small tweaks can change things drastically.
On Her Music:
I mainly write on the piano, so that definitely lends itself to more ballad-y, maybe blues-y. I also experiment a little bit with the guitar, and my voice is more soulful than you would think. And I love soul and Motown music. So that’s my style, catchy melodies. I love doing it. It’s a great creative outlet.
I grew up on Elton John and Billy Joel and Bruce Springsteen, a lot of classic rock. When I’m writing though, I definitely get influenced by women singer-songwriters. People as old as Carole King to newer people like Sara Bareilles, really anything. I’m getting really into the indie scene now. Spotify really suggests under the radar artists, and I really will listen to anything, and as long as it’s got grit and soul, then I’m in.
On Music and Food:
I definitely think that they complement each other. For me, the ultimate relaxation is coming home—when I’m not too frazzled—coming home from work, I put on music right away, and I usually opt for something a little more mellow and that matches my relaxed state that I get in in the kitchen.
When it comes to entertaining, we actually just had a dinner party for 10 people here, Saturday night. I let my husband make the playlist. He’s really into music as well. But I definitely think you have to know your audience, like who’s coming over, what you’re serving, what the mood is going to be like. We did more of electronic, indie tracks during the dinner party.
Knowing your audience, I think, helps me determine what kind of music. I know when my parents come over, they hate weird electronic or hip hop or rap, so I definitely don’t play that. So I think that’s the best tip. Know who you’re going to be entertaining.
I love listening to Van Morrison, The Eagles, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. I like the old stuff, and then I’ll put on Pandora sometimes and let it shuffle through like Alabama Shakes and John Legend and those kind of artists.
On Choosing Between Music and Cooking:
At this point in my life, cooking is playing a bigger role. All through middle school and high school and college, I was really pursuing music very strongly. I made a couple of CDs. I was writing all the time, and I had a ball with it. Everybody knows the music industry is very cutthroat and very difficult. And I wasn’t sure if I had the guts to go full-fledged into it and sacrifice a lot of the things that I loved about my life. Not to say that you can’t have both, but there’s definitely a level of sacrifice I wasn’t sure I was willing to make.
So at this point, I would choose cooking, and the food blog has really opened up my eyes to all the opportunities that are out there. As far as I see it, they’re endless. Especially this day and age, my mom is always like, “You guys have so many opportunities at your fingertips these days.” So I felt a lot of momentum. With the blog, I’ve gotten to do great partnerships with brands. So I feel the results from it much quicker than I ever did with my music.
The Pressure Cooker:
Which food shows or cooking shows do you watch?
What are some food blogs or food websites we have to know about?
Okay, so there’s one called Feastly, the website is eatfeastly.com and basically, it brings together home cooks like myself. You can post meals and sell basically a seat at your house for people to buy and come experience a dinner with you.
So if you’re looking to experience D.C. in a different way instead of going out to restaurants, come to my home, and I’ll prepare a fresh cooked meal for a much cheaper rate than you would pay going out to a fancy restaurant. So I love that.
I actually hosted my first meal back in the winter. I’m trying to get ramped up again because I think that’ll help grow a local following here in D.C. versus the blog I’d see as more national stuff. But actually bringing people into my home and feeding them live and seeing their reactions, I think that’s where all the magic happens.
He’s crazy, and I love his no-bs attitude, and he’s very motivating. So he helps me if I’m feeling like I’m in a rut, just to keep pushing and gives great tips on how to become the ultimate entrepreneur.
Who do you follow on Pinterest, Instagram, or Facebook or Snapchat that make you happy?
I would say definitely somebody on Instagram since I spend a lot of my time there. I would say there’s this handle called, A Daily Something. It’s actually a blogger based in Northern Virginia so not too far from here in D.C., and she’d post basically little glimpses of life, and that always makes me feel warm and cozy and happy.
What is the most unusual or treasured item in your kitchen?
It’s like a silver pot that was my great Aunt Connie’s that my mom used to make her sauce in, and she passed it down to me.
A lot of good food was made in that pot.
Name one ingredient you used to dislike but now you love.
I never really cooked a lot of Indian food, so it’s curry. It always smelled weird to me, but I love it now in Thai food and in Indian food.
What are a few cookbooks that make your life better?
Anything with Ina Garten. She has a great one I think it’s 10 or 12 years old. It’s called Make it Ahead, and she just has such a clean simple way of showing you how to entertain and make delicious meals that can feed a lot of people, which is something that I love to do.
What song or album just makes you want to cook?
I would say Tumbleweed Connection by Elton John. Most people my age don’t know it, but it reminds me of my dad and my family and feeling warm and cozy, which are some of the feelings that cooking conjures up for me.
On Keeping Posted with Alexe:
I would say Instagram. I post on that pretty consistently, so my handle is @keystothecucina.