Kale & Caramel
On Kale & Caramel, Lily has fun with local, seasonal produce and plays with different flavor combinations in the kitchen while creating body and beauty products that are pure enough to eat. She believes diet is a personal matter and highly recommends eating, cooking, and mixing with our own two hands.
I am so excited to have Lily Diamond of Kale & Caramel joining me on the show today.
(*All images below are Lily’s.)
On Growing Up in Maui:
Growing up on Maui, first of all, I just feel incredibly lucky that I had that background and was able to be immersed in so much natural beauty, and to have such a strong connection to the land instilled in me from a really young age. Both my parents spent a lot of time in the gardens that we had surrounding our house. And my mom was an aromatherapist and an herbologist, and so I learned about working with plants from her. And that informed the way that I approach both self care, definitely, in terms of mixing up crazy potions that I would slather all over myself, but also in the kitchen and really thinking about food, not just one-dimensionally in terms of flavor, but really on a much broader level, hence the tagline “food for all five senses”.
For me there is so much richness in experiencing the other qualities of food, the way that it feels, its scent, all of these things that make it a really multi-dimensional experience to work with in the kitchen and to play with, whether you’re nourishing inside or outside of your body.
I think having that deep immersion in gardening and growing our own food made it really easy for me to want to explore different ingredients. And a lot of that just was very basic. The fruits and vegetables that we grew, not basic now that I’m living here on the mainland in California. Their ingredients are harder to get, and I don’t have the luxury of walking outside and having three different kinds of passion fruit to choose from or being able to pick my own pomegranate. But having a culinary vocabulary in that way really informed, I think, how I eat and how I cook now.
I lived in San Francisco prior to living here, and there is actually a really cool foraging movement growing, definitely, in California. I think, around the nation of urban dwellers who are aware that even potentially within the confines of their city limits, there are oasis that contain a lot of natural life that can be foraged and eaten. I definitely don’t recommend doing any of that on your own, scrounging up things that you think look edible, totally a bad idea. But if you can go with somebody who really knows how to identify plants.
Something that I did was when I lived in San Francisco, I didn’t have a car, and so when I moved down here, I still was into walking around everywhere and exploring my neighborhood, and I really quickly discovered this walled-in secret garden. I would peer through the fence and try and figure out what was going on there. And for a few weeks. I then finally saw a sign, and looked it up online, and ended up just showing up at a community service day for this community garden that is just a few blocks from me.
And it’s huge. It has, I think, over 150 individual plots and then several acres of avocado orchards. And the avocado trees, some of them are over a hundred years old. And it’s just an incredibly special place. So right away I went in and I was like, “Can I help? I would love to just be able to work here and spend some time here.” And they said, “Sure.” And I’ve since developed a really close relationship with them.
So many people who live in L.A. don’t know that this place exists. It’s in the middle of the city, but it’s just kind of hidden, and you do have to look, and you have to explore and I think, be willing to go off the beaten track and just have your eyes open for plant life. I don’t think that’s something that most people do. Most people aren’t really walking around and going like, “I wonder where the next rosemary plant is that I will see.”
But once you have it on your radar, you start noticing like, “Oh my gosh, there’s lavender growing at the end of my block,” or, “There’s a fig tree two blocks from me that is growing over the street and all of those figs are just dropping on the ground.” And that’s technically public property. Just little things that you can attune to that will make it easier to feel like you’re in less of a desert.
On Her Curiosity Around Cooking:
I think I was about 11. I saw an advertisement for a Quaker Oats recipe contest. And I promptly decided that I should make up a recipe and enter it, and so I did. I still remember I can see the printed page, and I remember the font that I used. And I remember what they were called, and I remember what they were. I think that I should try to recreate them now. I called them “Mini Blueberry Munchies”. And they were basically blueberry hand pies, but they had an oat crumble. Instead of being as a topping, it was baked in. So I’m not sure how that would work out now. That was the first time that I really remember making a recipe, was when I was really young.
Even before then, I would go outside, because my mom started a business making body caring spa products actually around the same age when I was around 11. And I spent a lot of time from very young, watching her put together ingredients and use different plants and scents and all different aspects of food to create really beautiful dishes, and also body products. But I would go outside. I remember just running around the yard when I was young, and I would decide I was going to make lipstick or something. And I would go, and I would pick the pink flowers and different things, and mash them all together, and then put it on myself, and go show my mom.
That mentality, just playing with food, has always been really present for me. And I think what that does for me now is informs a joy in the process of cooking that, yes, I am concerned with the final outcome, but it’s also really fun for me to take my time and play with the ingredients, which is lovely for me and means that sometimes I take a long time to make things.
On Creating Beauty Products Pure Enough to Eat:
So I think on a really basic way, if you go into my bathroom, you’ll see on my sink, there’s a jar of honey, which is not usually something that you see in people’s bathrooms. And people would always…they’d come out, they’d say, “Can I use your restroom?” And I’d say, “Sure.” And they’d come out and they would say, “Why do you have a jar of honey sitting on your sink?” And it was a tip that was given to me by an esthetician, maybe five or more years ago, who said, “We use so many harsh ingredients, and we spend so much money on really complex products. And really, for most of our lives, we don’t need those products. What we need is to help preserve and care for and on a super basic level, clean our skin. That’s it.”
And one really easy way to do that is with honey. Honey is a natural preservative. If you think about it Egyptians used to preserve mummies in honey. And it also is antibacterial. It’s a really good cleanser, and if you get raw honey, it has a little bit of a grain to it. And so it’s actually a tad exfoliating, which is super nice.
I also make my own face oil as a moisturizer. It just really started as for me saying, “Our skin is our bodies’ largest organ, what we put on our skin goes directly into our body, and people spend so much money on products to try to deal with their skin issues, whatever they may be. And a lot of them have really harsh chemicals or ingredients in them that aren’t doing them any favors at all. For me, I love being able to say, “Well, my face cleanser cost me $6 at Whole Foods to get a jar of really nice raw, wild flower, wild crafted or wild whatever honey that will last me a month.”
And the face oil that I use, I make from either sweet almond oil or sometimes add apricot kernel oil. These are all ingredients that you can get super easily at a co-op or Whole Foods or a household store. And I add a few different essential oils depending on the level of dryness or moisture that I have in my skin that season, and that’s it. And that gets to be my routine. And it’s so simple, and it feels so good, and it’s really pure.
I sat next to this super sweet high school senior on my way back home on an airplane, and she was going to Maui with her family. I think it was for some holiday vacation. And we were talking about Kale & Caramel and these different products, and she ended up telling me she had a bunch of challenges, acne and red bumps on her skin. I’m not an esthetician or a dermatologist, I would never presume to prescribe anything to anyone. But I just shared with her what I did, and I said, “You could try it and see.” And we had such a nice conversation.
We ended up exchanging information, and a couple of months later, she wrote to me and said, “I’m sorry this email is so long overdue, but I just wanted to let you know that the red bumps that I have on my skin are completely gone. I’ve never seen results like what happened with using the honey and sweet almond oil.” It’s just so simple. But I think as a culture, we’ve been trained to want the thing that’s most expensive and most complex, and yet the ingredients to really care for ourselves and for our skin are close to the earth. That’s what’s also going to keep us feeling the healthiest and the most radiant, I think. Because it’s what’s naturally occurring.
On Good Resources for Learning More About Food for Beauty:
The first thing that comes to mind is actually my mother wrote a book called The Complete Book of Flowers. It’s sort of an encyclopedia of flowers. And it is possibly not available on Amazon right now. But it’s always worth taking a look. That’s called The Complete Book of Flowers. I haven’t found any singular go-to book in that regard, but I may be working on something that could help you in that dimension.
The Pressure Cooker:
Which food shows or cooking shows do you watch?
I actually don’t have a TV. I’ve watched some MasterChef Junior. I’ve watched some of those with a friend’s kid, but that’s it.
What are some food blogs or food websites we have to know about?
Some of my favorite food blogs right now that I go to as just regular sources of inspiration, I would say, are probably, Fix Feast Flair, With Food and Love, Will Frolic For Food, and The First Mess. Those are just some that are off the top of my head. Two Red Bowls, I love. My Name Is Yeh, also. There are so many. I’m really just constantly astounded by the amount of inspiration that is out there and the level of beauty is so extraordinary.
Who do you follow on Pinterest, Instagram, or Facebook or Snapchat that make you happy?
This is someone that comes to mind right away whose blog I just absolutely adore is Dash and Bella, Phyllis Grant. She’s an incredible writer and as a food writer, I think, is doing really exciting things. Instagram, definitely, I’m Laura Miller. She just does hilarious things with fruits and veggies posing with them, putting them on herself in weird ways, which obviously I like doing as well.
Oh, I follow Beyonce, clearly, and some other fashion accounts. I really love fashion, and some travel magazines, Trotter and Cereal Mag. And I think, oh, The Feed Feed is also an incredible aggregate of a lot of what’s happening on Instagram and just in the food sphere today. It’s, I think, a great way to keep up to date. And anything else? The people who I mentioned previously in terms of their blogs, I love following as well. Vegetarian Ventures, Shelly is an amazing photographer. So those are a few that come to mind.
What is the most unusual or treasured item in your kitchen?
I’m going to have to say it’s a weird answer, because it’s so utilitarian, but my Vitamix, it’s so multipurpose, and I use it so often. Most days, I definitely use it at least once and often more than once. And so, I think, for me I would have to go with the Vitamix. Not sentimental, but practical.
Name one ingredient you used to dislike but now you love.
Cilantro. I couldn’t stand cilantro, which I know is something that is common for a lot of people. I really disliked it when I was growing up. I don’t know when it was that that shifted, but it definitely became something that for me, I use it for so many types of cuisine, and I think it adds an incredible dimension of flavor. So I love it now.
What are a few cookbooks that make your life better?
Definitely, Ottolenghi’s Plenty and Plenty More. There’s so much complexity and depth in those recipes, that I’m always astounded when I explore it. There’s a cookbook called The Balanced Plate by Renee Loux, who’s a vegan chef, but she has a lot of great recipes that are super easy. There’s a vegan cupcake recipe that she has that I used to make. I just alter it to become a coffee cake. It has a really nice streusel on top. You would never know that it’s vegan. I don’t like cooking vegan recipes where you’re making a lot of substitutions and using silken tofu, and flax eggs, and complex things. I love vegan recipes where the ingredients just all stand for themselves. That cookbook really does that, which is lovely.
What song or album just makes you want to cook?
I do listen to a lot of Beyonce while I’m cooking, it’s true. I would say that I alternate between listening to really fun, upbeat music like Beyonce and listening to podcasts. That’s something that, for me, I live alone and being able to have that human element in the kitchen with me if I don’t have someone else over visiting, is really nice to be able to keep my brain engaged in that way, even as I’m using the rest of my body.
On Keeping Posted with Lily: