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Autumn Makes and Does
Autumn is a writer and home cook who shares her greenmarket-focused gluten-free food on her blog. She’s also a poet and produced a podcast called Alphabet Soup, a project about food and language from fall 2011 to spring 2014. Autumn’s work has appeared in the New York Times, Serious Eats, and Buzz Feed Food, just to name a few.
I am so thrilled to have Autumn Giles of Autumn Makes and Does here on the show today.
(*All images below are Autumn’s.)
On Her Curiosity Around Food:
I always remember being fascinated with food. I can recall when I was just old enough to be left home by myself with my little sister, we would make up a lot of experiments in the kitchen, and my mom getting home and feeling frustrated with me. Because not all of my experiments were edible at that time. But I did that. I remember always having that interest, wanting to experiment, I guess, and cooking up weird stuff and making my sister eat it.
Then, both my parents, I gardened with them growing up. And my grandmother always gardened, so I think that grew my interest, and cooking came from that as well.
On Her Blog:
It was at a time when I had been out of graduate school for about a year. It was nothing that I had thought about or considered, but it was sort of because of the prodding of my friends and family saying, “You might have something to share. You might have some knowledge that could be useful for other people.” I didn’t go into it with any kind of expectations. It was very casual at the beginning. And my blog is still very casual, you know, crappy camera, crappy pictures, that kind of thing, like, “Here’s what I cooked.” And it just evolved from there.
The writing (is most challenging) but it’s a specific aspect of the writing that was difficult for me and remains difficult because I think I’m a pretty private person. As I moved more toward writing my blog more regularly and writing online more regularly, I never really had that impulse to write about what was going on in my life. I didn’t have that drive. I actually felt like I was resistant to that. Because I was feeling like not really wanting to put all the details out there on the Internet.
I’ve worked on striking a balance. So I can still be a blogger who writes about what’s going on in my life, but also keeps a comfortable level of privacy for me as a person.
On Her Interest in “Black Sheep” Ingredients:
I guess I just mean weird stuff. When I lived in New York, I was a regular greenmarket shopper and was so lucky and privileged to be able to have access to the amazing greenmarkets in New York with such an insane variety of food that’s grown locally there. I would go to the greenmarket week after week and new things would show up.
That’s what I would get most excited about, and just learning about those new ingredients by cooking with them and tasting them.
In the past year, I moved to the southwest and one thing that I tried when I first moved here that completely blew me away was nopales. Nopales, for folks who don’t know, are the flat, teardrop shaped part of a cactus. The cactus have flat paddles. So someone had prepared those smoked and it was so amazing. The texture was very meaty. The flavor was very smoky but also very tart. And I guess as an ingredient in general, cactus pads also just blew me away because they have a tartness that is really surprising for folks who haven’t tried them. I think I expected them to be more bland. Because I’ve heard people compare them to tofu, like, they can take on flavors and textures. But I found them to be very tart and very surprising in that way.
There are different varieties that have varying level of spikes on them. So they have the big long spikes, and then they have tiny spikes called glochids. And one of the ways that people will help remove the glochids is grilling them, and it burns the spikes mostly right off. I did a post on my blog about harvesting the prickly pair of fruit, and also a way that people get the little glochids off the fruit.
On Gluten-Free Foods and Misconceptions:
There’s a lot of reasons that people eat gluten-free. The reason that I eat gluten-free is because I have celiac disease. So I have to be pretty careful.
I think a misconception that I’ve encountered is, “Oh, you can’t eat the bun on this hamburger. Let me just take the bun off for you and here’s the hamburger.” I would be really sick if I ate that hamburger. I think there is just frustration, like, gluten-free people are a pain, that they don’t like to eat. That’s probably the big one, like, “Don’t you want to eat something?” And I love food, I just happen to need to eat gluten-free food all the time.
For someone who needs to eliminate or reduce gluten in their diet, my first tip is to always focus on foods that are naturally gluten free. There are just so, so many. When you really focus on that and really find things within that to get excited about and explore, you definitely don’t feel limited in your diet.
I am writing a preserving book right now, and that’s something that in very rare cases, encounter any gluten in those recipes. So that’s an area that I connected with, got excited about, and I’ve explored a ton. And I didn’t really have to worry about gluten in that arena at all.
I think trying different and sometimes a little more odd or less likely used cuts of meat because they’re usually cheaper, you can buy higher quality meat and explore something that you have not cooked before. Also, without having to worry about gluten.
On Her Podcast:
I started Alphabet Soup on my own. About halfway through, my friend Kelly from Kelly Bakes, joined me.
In grad school, all my poet friends were always getting together to cook, and it just seemed like most of my friends who were writers were also very into food. It was sort of the impetus for me to start a podcast – talking to writers about food and talking to food people about writing. That was how it started.
I started out with just myself doing interviews, and then it went into Kelly and I having conversations along that topic as it continued.
As I probably don’t have to tell you, producing a podcast is a ton of work. It wasn’t like I got tired of doing it; I would still love to maybe explore in the future. But I think at that time, Kelly and I were both ready to shift our energy towards other projects. I felt like it had come to a natural conclusion in a way.
On Her First Cookbook, “Beyond Canning”:
It is about preserving and it focuses on three main techniques, which is preserving with vinegar, fermenting and sweet preserves, like preserving sugar with jam. It’s really trying to focus on unique flavors, different textures, and something new to the conversation around food preservation.
I have no formal culinary training. I most definitely consider myself a home cook. And when I started with preserving and did it more and more, I learned what I liked.
I definitely see it more as a really great tool for home cooks, not something that should be separated to the side, like you cook and then you preserve, that they can really be incorporated together to make people more savvy home cooks. And of course my love for the greenmarket had a big part of it.
Almost all the recipes in the book are quite small batch. So if you are in a CSA or you go to the greenmarket and you find something beautiful but they’re quite expensive, you can buy a few and make something great out of them that you can enjoy later, and incorporate into your cooking and make your cooking better.
The Pressure Cooker:
Which food shows or cooking shows do you watch?
I have to say I’m not a big cooking show person. However, the last cooking show I watched was my friend Dan who has a blog, Renegade Kitchen, who’s also an actor, just joined…I think it’s Home and Family TV. It’s on the Hallmark Network, a whole new family show on Hallmark Network.
He does an awesome job of talking to people. So we were saying like black sheep ingredients… He talked about black garlic. I think he did a DIY corned beef. I have to give him a shout out and say that was the last food show I watched and I really enjoyed it.
What are some food blogs or food websites we have to know about?
There’s so many. It’s so hard to name. But my friend Elizabeth who has the blog, Brooklyn Supper, I think she is consistently making awesome food, seasonal food, and really accessible delicious recipes that are also unique, which is so hard to do.
I love the site, Wayward Spark. It definitely has some food but it isn’t just food. And then Southern Soufflé; Erika is a phenomenal writer and takes gorgeous pictures. As the name suggests, focuses on southern food and really is an incredible storyteller.
Who do you follow on Pinterest, Instagram, or Facebook that make you happy?
The one that I engage with the most and the most naturally that doesn’t feel like work for me is Instagram. The people who make me the happiest on there are ones who are very inspiring home cooks who aren’t just posting about composed pictures but are sharing what they cook every day. I know that bugs some people but I love it when people share what they cook everyday. It really gives me inspiration for what I’m cooking.
Folks on Instagram that really make me happy are Michele who is at Cider and Rye, who makes phenomenal cocktails and posts lovely pictures. Dan, who I mentioned at Renegade Kitchen. The Joy of Cooking, Megan and John, the folks behind The Joy of Cooking are always posting super inspiring stuff and gorgeous photos. Hector, who is at Mexicanity is a phenomenal example of someone who is cooking insane amazing stuff, and it is just super inspiring. My friend Julia Sforza is another person who is just always cooking and is an awesome home cook. And Nicole Taylor, who is at Food Culturist, who is also working on a book.
What is the most unusual or treasured item in your kitchen?
I think the most unusual, it’s not technically an item, but my home is a very old home and it has a cellar which is just literally a cave dug into the hill. A hundred year old cave is definitely the most unusual thing in the kitchen.
I want to track the temperature a little better. Because I’m wondering if I could use it as a cold storage. I do live in Arizona and it’s pretty chilly during the winter months, but I figure it probably wouldn’t be as chilly during the summer.
Name one ingredient you used to dislike but now you love.
As a child, I really hated tomatoes. And I think it was partially a texture thing. And also just the issue of eating tomatoes out of season from somewhere far away, which is still to me not a very pleasant experience.
What are a few cookbooks that make your life better?
Taste of Country Cooking by Edna Lewis is a favorite one of mine.
I’m a huge community cookbook fan, so like the church. I mentioned I was into casseroles. So huge big collection of community cookbooks which really make me happy.
And Saving the Season by Kevin West is one that I really look up to, and I think is a great book.
What song or album just makes you want to cook?
Definitely Beyonce. As I mentioned, I’m finishing up my cookbook right now. I just need to get motivated, get things done, it’s Beyonce.
On Keeping Posted on Autumn:
I’m probably most active on Instagram. I would love if folks joined me there. I am Autumn Makes on Twitter and on Facebook.