interview with cookbook author: Lisa Howard
In the mad crowded conference space last year, when I did not know a soul, a sweet woman came over and talked to 'me' (when everyone else was milling around with old friends.) This is how I first met Lisa, just a little under a year ago at the IACP conference.
(Left: Lisa and me listening to book publishing advice from Tiffany Hill).
Over the course of this year, I have learned a little more about her, like how she lives in Metro Detroit, and one of her fav. bake shops is Zingermans' in Ann Arbor (as is mine too), but, I never ran into her once in all the years I lived there!
Lisa is fun, talkative, full of inspiring ideas and is always doing something constructive for fellow professionals. I have lost count of how many times I have panic called her about something and she has helped me brainstorm through whatever it was. We have talked often about how people make connections quite by accident, about mentoring, she has shared tips about anxiety attacks and we have often remarked that sometimes we never realize how cool some people really are until we learn a little more about them!
That girl knows how to keep busy, she is like a Pandora’s box – always doing interesting things, in addition to keeping up with her 2 cookbooks and proposals for more, freelance work, research and mentoring.
So, I snagged her time when I had her attention, to do a 10-question-interview, because I really think she has a very cool perspective on many subjects – but most importantly, knows how to CREATE & ENJOY HEALTHY LIFESTYLES!
(Relevant links are at the bottom of the page).
Enjoy the read! You'll know why I think she is cool.
Culinary speaker, cooking instructor, recipe developer, and the author of two cookbooks, Healthier Gluten-Free and The Big Book of Healthy Cooking Oils.
Lisa also serves as the Chair of the Food Writers, Editors & Publishers section of the International Association of Culinary Professionals & is the Vice President of the Ann Arbor chapter of Les Dames d’Escoffier.
Blog: Cultured Cook
Tell the readers a little bit about yourself … anything you would like strangers to know.
I'm really passionate about being the bridge between understanding how to cook a delicious meal and understanding how our daily food choices affect our daily health. Contrary to popular belief, healthy food not only tastes better then processed meals, it also costs less to eat better! :-)
What are some of your fondest memories of food, as a child and which are your most hated ones?
It's kind of funny – when I was a kid, I was pretty picky about food and was not terribly keen on trying new things, but nowadays, I order the weirdest thing on the menu because I want to try everything. And whenever I'm in a foreign country, I make a beeline for the markets to see what kinds of ingredients they have on their shelves. I will say, though, that as a kid I absolutely loved baking and made everything from cookies to cakes to breads, so I guess I have always been an explorer when it comes to the baking world. (This was also a result of my mom not wanting to bake and saying that if I wanted cookies, I would have to make them myself.)
With all the flavors surrounding you: which are more prominent in your life, and which would you like to replace (like something that is not good for you now, but you love to eat it anyway because it is nostalgic?)
In terms of cuisines, my top three favorites are Moroccan, Lebanese, and Ethiopian, primarily because of their unusual ways of blending spices that Western cooks consider to be either sweet or savory. Cardamom, cinnamon, allspice... In the West, the spices would only be used in sweet baked goods, but in North African cuisine, cooks add them to everything from chicken to fish. If anything, rather than replacing an element of my foodstyle, I would like to add to my repertoire by including more of these dishes involving unique spice blends.
What is the one thing you wished you were able to change for your younger self (lifestyle choice), one that has affected your eating habits now? What are you doing to change it?
As I've gotten older and have had a chance to try more foods, I've naturally evolved away from sugar and towards ingredients that are less processed, like meat, eggs, and dairy from pastured animals. The kinds of beverages I used to love, like orange juice and apple cider, are just way too sweet for me now.
What did you learn about healthy oils in the last five years that you did not know before? What was the most shocking discovery?
I've been researching oils for more like a decade (rather than five years), but one development that has become more publicized over the past five years has been the issue of trying to source sustainable palm oil. Another would be the revelation that most all olive oils that are labeled "extra-virgin" are not extra-virgin in the way they are processed and packaged. Tom Mueller really kicked the gates open on that in 2011 with his extremely thorough and well-researched book on the subject ("Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil"). His work was what really inspired me to research the differences between refined and unrefined oils and fats and to educate people about those differences so they can make better choices at the grocery store. The more people who vote with their forks and demand better-quality foods, the better everyone will eat.
In addition to food, I know you also like dancing. What got you into dancing? What is your most favorite style, and your least favorite? What makes it an important part of your lifestyle and why should it be embraced by others?
I've done several styles of dance, from bellydance to Polynesian to Latin, but Latin is my resounding favorite, chiefly because it's a partnered dance and because there are plenty of clubs in metro Detroit that host salsa nights. (I would be more into tango if DJs played tango, but they don't.) Dancing is a great way to meet people and get plenty of great exercise without being conscious of it, plus it's indoors and therefore a year-round sport. I love biking and walking, too, but in Michigan, you can only bike for about half the year. And dancing is also a great way to get better at public speaking/being in front of people in the sense of gaining confidence about people watching you while you do your thing. Bachata is my #1 favorite music to dance to, partly because I can lead as well as follow - then I can dance with everybody! :-)
I understand that you recently did a class with food, dancing and instruction. How did that go? What do you want people to know about a class like that?
I recently taught my first hybrid class that was a combination of cooking and dancing – I called it "Heat Up Your Winter with Latin Dance and Food." The first hour and 15 minutes was cooking, and the last 45 minutes was dancing. It was so much fun to teach! And as one woman told me at the end of it, it was "a wonderfully complete evening." People really enjoyed being able to have a hands-on cooking experience as well as a dancing lesson – I think that resonated better than a typical cooking demo where everyone is seated the entire time. Some people are audio learners; some are visual; some are kinetic. It's safe to say that that hybrid class suited everyone! :-)
Pick your all-time favorite food (or your go-to-food) that represents each of the following tastes. Each can be different. For instance, your fav. sweet food may be donuts and your fav. spicy thing may be Sriracha glazed muffins.
Sweet, Salty, Sour, Astringent, Bitter, Spicy / Pungent
I'm not a big fan of sweet, so if I am going to do sweet stuff, I would rather have fresh fruit. A perfectly ripe pineapple would probably be my favorite version of sweet. I do like salt, though, and I am a huge fan of aged cheese. I once had a six-year sheep's milk Gouda that was unbelievable. (Not surprisingly, I found it at Zingerman's.) I do like to add a hint of sour to dishes and beverages for a refreshing contrast. Probably my favorite example of that is plain sparkling water with a fresh lemon wedge. In terms of astringent, I am not a big fan – for example, I prefer earthy reds over tannic ones. Too much astringency/tannins makes my tongue feel like inside-out leather. Bitter is a fun taste to play with, although a little goes a long way. Recently, I've started to enjoy celery more for its interesting balance of sweet and bitter. And spicy foods are nice in moderation. For whatever reason, I like to kick the heat up a notch in my Mexican dishes, but not as much in my Indian or Southeast Asian dishes. Just a dash of Aleppo pepper provides a gentle and warm heat.
What was your craziest cooking adventure, one that you love to reminisce about but would hate to repeat?
I'm not sure that this would qualify exactly as a crazy cooking adventure, but I once managed to bring samphire home from Germany so that my mom could try it. (It's a lovely sea vegetable that I like to also call a "sea pickle.") When I was filling out the Customs questionnaire about any foods I might have with me, there was not a box for "sea vegetable," so I didn't check it off. To this day, I'm not sure how Customs would look at that, so that might qualify as something I would not do again.
What culinary adventure would you love to embark on, no holds barred.
If I could embark on any culinary adventure, that would probably be to visit an exotic far-flung place and gather and prepare a native meal with the locals. For example, I would love to gather desert truffles with nomadic Bedouin tribes in Morocco. Whenever possible, I love to combine my love of food with my love of travel and cultures and languages. :-)