Julia Turshen on Writing a Very Personal Cookbook

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S1: This ad free podcast is part of your Slate plus membership.

S2: I write recipes for a living there. No, they’re not poems, but I take a poets approach to it, which is I try to be as descriptive as I can and I try to not have that description go on and on and on. I try to keep it really economic, very clear.

S3: Maybe you can tell from answering your question. I tend to go on and on.

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S4: Welcome back to Working. I’m your host. June Thomas.

S5: And I’m your other hosts, Ramona Lum Reman.

S6: The voice we just heard belongs to Julia Turchin. Who is she?

S5: If you care about food, as I do, you probably already know that. Julia is a cookbook author. She’s a podcast host. She’s a food writer whose byline you see kind of all over the place. Julia has written many cookbooks for restaurants, for celebrities, but she’s also written these three that are her own recipes, her own point of view. They’re called small victories now and again and simply Julia, which has just been released.

S6: So I am absolutely not a kitchen or a cooking person, but I have often heard Julia referred to as America’s best home cook. And that seems to be a really important part of her identity as a food writer. So what does that designation mean exactly?

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S5: Yeah, it’s kind of an opaque term and one that I often find a little bit weird. I think that when we hear home cook, we’re using it to distinguish the cook from the chef so that the approach isn’t that pedigreed kind of fussy way of cooking that we associate with schooling. But it’s a little more relaxed. And maybe the implication from the word home is that it’s kind of homespun. At the same time, of course, a home cook can be pretty expert and come up with something as technically difficult as a fancy trained French chef.

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S6: Indeed. Are you someone who regularly refreshes your family eating habits and your your own cooking habits by constantly adding new cookbooks to your kitchen bookshelf?

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S5: You know, I’m actually not a big cookbook person. The fancy ones can feel a little too esoteric. You know, they can require you to make lots of trips to the specialty Indian grocery or something. The encyclopedic ones can feel a little too broad. You know, here’s how to make everything from a loaf of bread to a cassoulet to, you know, fried chicken. But, you know, whose cookbooks I actually do cook from is Julia Tahitians. I think that, Julianne, I maybe share an attitude toward food more generally. So her books sort of naturally match up to my own taste.

S6: Interesting. After your conversation, we have a bit of a special treat for Slate plus members. What’s it going to be?

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S5: Well, it’s been a year of home cooked meals in this house. You know, a bit of cooking fatigue is probably to be expected. So I asked Julia to play therapist and coach me through that.

S6: Wow. I heard Julia on a recent episode of Slate’s Dear Prudence podcast. So I know she is a really great advice giver. So people just a reminder that that exclusive members only content is just one of the many benefits of Slate plus membership. Others include zero ads on any Slate podcast bonus episodes of shows like Sobhan and Dear Prudence. And you’ll be supporting the work we do here on working. It’s only one dollar for the first month. And to sign up, all you have to do is go to Slate dotcom slash working plus. All right, now let’s hear Remans conversation with Julia.

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S5: Julia Turchin, welcome to working.

S7: Thank you so much. I’m so happy to be here.

S5: In simply, Julia, you write directly to your reader, you say I’m a home cook just like you. What does that mean to you, you know, as a home cook, different from being, I don’t know, like a French chef, what’s the difference?

S2: Yeah, I mean, I think some French chefs are home cooks. But for me, when I say very proudly and like, unabashedly, like, hi, I’m a home cook and I’m a home cook who writes for other home cooks. What I mean by that is my work comes from my kitchen, my home kitchen to yours. I’m not a restaurant chef. I’m not a caterer. I’m not a TV chef. I’m not any of these other things that are all fantastic. That’s just not me. So I just want to be very clear about who I am and who I’m writing for. And I think part of what I say when I say I’m a home cook, I just want to establish like we are in the same space here. I am not in some, I don’t know, more authoritative space speaking down to you like I’m on the ground with you. I have cooked at home every day for many, many years, and I’m just really delighted to have the opportunity to share everything I’ve learned so you can kind of skip ahead and just be hopefully as comfortable and as calm as I feel in my kitchen, because it’s the place where I feel the least anxious in my life. I feel plenty anxious in other areas, but I know cooking at home stresses so many people out and I just want to alleviate that as much as I can.

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S5: Speaking of cookbooks like I’ve heard you describe your own childhood sort of poring over the cookbooks in your family kitchen and you didn’t even go to culinary school, so but if you were an 11 year old at home looking at Moosewood or whatever it was you were looking at so accurately, is it that you go. I could just tell. I could just tell from your tie dye shirt the why is it then that you chose a formal academic education at a liberal arts college versus an experience of culinary preparation that has to do with going to school and getting a degree or certificate?

S2: I mean, that choice was I mean, what a privileged, amazing choice I got to make to, you know, just a get a higher education be get to choose what that was. C, get to choose something that is not necessarily all that like quote unquote, career oriented. Like I studied poetry, I studied creative writing. And I think that has laid amazing groundwork for the work I do as a cookbook author. But in terms of making that choice, you know, I have been interested in food forever since I was really, really young, like like younger than your boy is, I think, like always just so interested in the kitchen. It’s always where I wanted to be. And as you know, because we’ve talked about this a bit, I grew up in a house that was a publishing house. My parents both worked in publishing. So I was exposed to books and magazines at such a young age. For another just visual moment, I’m sitting in front of my bookshelf right now. This is one of many, many bookshelves in our house and it’s filled with cookbooks. And this is like a fraction of them. And many of them are the ones I grew up with. And I had that early exposure, which just let me know that there’s more than one road to go on for whatever you’re passionate about. For me, it’s always been food. And yeah, a lot of adults in my life would say, like, are you going to go to culinary school? Do you have a restaurant one day? Because that makes a lot of sense. Like if you’re into food, like that’s the career. I just have never been interested in that. And I’ve always been interested in this intersection of of cooking and writing about cooking and tool giving. You know, I feel very much what I do as a cookbook author is just try and give tools that feels like something I just I don’t know and very connected to and really enjoy doing. And in terms of studying poetry, you know, I write recipes for a living. They’re no, they’re not poems. But I take a very I don’t know, I take a poets approach to it, which is I try to be as descriptive as I can and I try to not have that description go on and on and on. I try to keep it really economic, very clear. You know, like a lot of my favorite poets, like I want someone when they read my recipe to, like, be able to imagine what this, like, smells like, what it looks like.

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S5: So that education was really, really useful because maybe you can tell from home answering your question, I tend to go on and on and studying poetry is helpful when it comes to, like, editing myself, you know, so we’ve articulated that there’s a sort of there’s a couple of ways to be in the space of cookbooks, food, publishing food as a kind of larger part of the media economy. There is the home cook. That is the path that you have chosen. There is the kind of celebrity there are many of those. We all know who I’m talking about when you see a sort of famous person’s visage on the cover of a cookbook. And then there’s the chef, the serious trained chef who’s going to tell you that you have to, you know, by a suicide tool or whatever. And then there’s the kind of restaurant cookbook where it’s like, you know, you love going to Barbeau. Here’s how to replicate that experience at home. Have you found in that economy that there’s a hierarchy in terms of what people’s training is that? Someone who is a credentialed chef, maybe. Feels that a home cook is sort of has less authority inside of that system.

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S2: I see these hierarchies and these mostly perceived hierarchies and, you know, I’ve collaborated on a ton of books in addition to doing my own, so I’ve had that kind of dual or maybe more than dual, but many perspectives about cookbook’s. And I think about them all the time. And the advice that I’ve given to everyone I’ve collaborated with, the advice I’ve given to anyone who’s asked me about cookbooks and getting into them, and the advice I try as best I can to follow myself is to like only write the book, but only you can write, which sounds, I think, easier than it actually is to do. But yeah, for me, when I apply that to myself, I’m you know, I don’t want to be artificial about who I am. Like, I’m not a restaurant person. And if you’re coming to me for restaurant food, like you’ve come to the wrong place, like I’m a daily home cook who believes that that is a valuable thing. And that’s what I try to express. And I hope that that connects with people. And I think it does because I think there are more home cooks than there are restaurant cooks or TV cooks or celebrity. But yeah, it is hard to put out creative work that, you know, you use to pay your mortgage and all that stuff in a world that prioritizes things like celebrity and kind of perceived hierarchy. So, yeah, it’s it’s interesting.

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S5: So you mentioned that you grew up in a household. Your parents are both connected to the worlds of publishing. I happen to know your mother. I worked with her, I should say. I worked under her very briefly on a project. We have a friend in common who just idolizes your mother. And I remember her saying to me, like, you’ve got to meet this woman. She’s such an interesting person. And she so my friend had said to me of your mother. She was one of the first people she had ever met in her career at that point. Who was an actual role model as someone who as a woman had achieved to the degree in her career that she was the boss, that she was the creative director, that was her name. It was her idea. It was her identity that you were getting into that mom that I’m describing, that woman is somebody who would have been born at a time where it was expected that she would get dinner on the table and be a beautiful wife and all of these things that were expected of women, you know, her daughter, her only daughter, I think, have embraced a way of living that is so counter to that that it’s like very connected to the domestic, although you have complicated that by making it your business. So you are. Yeah. You know, you’ve succeeded at having that identity, not as a wife, not as, you know, someone who for whom it’s just sort of unpaid domestic labor. It’s your it’s your job. But is there a way in which that surprised you or that surprised your mom that like you, the daughter of somebody who was liberated to do whatever you wanted, you went to school, you studied poetry that you find yourself now occupying a space that, as you say, this is like a domestic space that has historically been kind of denigrated. And it just sort of been like, oh, that’s women’s work. That’s not important.

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S2: It is interesting and I don’t know, I I want to share a story that’s more my moms to share, but I’m sure she would be OK with it. So my mother’s parents were immigrants. They I mean, I guess essentially they were refugees. They fled the pogroms in Eastern Europe and they eventually very long story made short. They ended up in Brooklyn running a bread bakery. My grandmother was a baker’s daughter. My grandfather was a flour Miller son, like in the old country. They ended up here, here being the state of New York. They opened a bakery on Avenue J. And my mom and her sisters grew up in the bakery. My mother’s mother, my grandmother, who I never met. I never met my maternal grandparents. She was completely illiterate. She didn’t read or write any of the languages that she spoke. And she spoke many of them. She was good with numbers. She ran the the register and my mom as a kid, a story my mom tells a lot about how she got into graphic design and art direction and, you know, eventually being an editor and all these other things she did. It started with the fact that she could read and write and her mother couldn’t. And my mom would draw pictures for her mother of, you know, the bakery or members of the family and then would write the phone numbers of these things next to the pictures. So that is how my mom got started in the world of graphics and design was to make it possible for her mother to communicate with the world. And I just I hope that story very close to me. And I think it’s like incredibly powerful. And this is, you know, before my mom my mom was a kid, this was before she ended up being, you know, the first person in her family to go to college. You know, she had this illustrious career. She continues to be the busiest retired person I’ve ever met. I mean, she’s she’s a really fascinating woman. I’m really lucky to be her daughter. But I think about that kind of origin moment of her career. And it was about kind of translation and explaining something and not making someone feel shameful about something they didn’t know. And I think in many ways I take that with me in my work. And so, yeah, I spend most of my time in the kitchen, a place my mom kind of fought to move away from. But I think in some ways I’m, you know, really attempting to do the same thing. And I also think there is something about sort of first generation people like my mother who work so hard to have a very different life than her parents, who work so hard to give her the freedom to do that. And then second generation people like myself have the privilege and freedom to kind of go back to those original places and to do it with just a lot more comfort.

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S5: You know, that is an incredible that’s an incredible story, especially because whether by destiny or by coincidence, you’ve ended up occupying a sphere not far from that of your grandparents, you know, people you didn’t even get to know as people that it’s like in some ways it was like it’s like your inheritance, you know, but you but you’ve done it in a completely different way where it’s not as though you are married and expected to provide this kind of labor, because that’s just a lot of a woman. You’re doing it as a business. It’s a really fascinating progression through the generations. Yeah, it’s your is this this is your third book that you’ve written just wholly as yourself, just as, you know, Julius version home cook. But you do, as you’ve mentioned, have experience collaborating with celebrities, working with a restaurant cookbook, working on cookbooks related to travel. I get the sense, though, even from looking at simply Julia, in the context of your other work, that this is a different book. Hmm. And it feels different to me. And I wonder if you could describe how it’s different and maybe how this book is representative of your larger perspective about what it is to cook.

S2: This book, simply Julia, is absolutely the most personal book I’ve ever written and really ever made, and by which I mean made, it’s like not just the words, it’s like there’s other details on the book. So, for example, like my handwriting is all over this book, like the title of the book is In My Handwriting, The Spine, every recipe title I wrote, each one multiple times, like we didn’t make like a font or anything like. So, you know, I wanted the book to feel like my grocery list, like the notes I leave for myself all over my desk in my kitchen. Yeah. The book also has a number of really deeply personal essays kind of woven throughout it. So it’s you know, it’s not just recipes. It’s also a bit more context to the recipes and just my thoughts about food and what a healthy food mean. And, you know, there’s stuff about mental health and anxiety and these things that come up for me when I’m cooking and eating. And I just wanted to bring that to the book. There’s old family photos. You know, I’m telling you about my grandmother, my mother’s mother. There’s an amazing photo of her. There’s a picture of me and my mom and my aunts. Like when I’m in high school, there’s, you know, pictures of my friends that I talk about in the recipes. So there’s like a slightly scrapbooking quality to it. But I guess in terms of my, you know, decision to include these things and to really be as vulnerable as I think I have been in this book, it’s not for at least for me. I hope it’s not for like self-centered reasons. It’s not like I am so glorious, like check me out. It is for the fact that I think when we or when I am vulnerable. I think that that helps to create like this safe, sort of nonjudgmental atmosphere. I know I feel that when other people are that way with me, whether it’s in their writing or in person in a conversation, I’ve had moments like that with you. Like we’re we’ve been super honest and I feel safe, you know, like that that is really powerful. And that was really important to me in this book more than any other, because this is a book that is about healthy food, that is not about weight loss. It’s not about diet or restriction. It is about having a really positive relationship with food, which I haven’t always had. You know, I have I had this really positive relationship with cooking, but not really eating. And I just wanted to make that conversation honest. And yeah, I just wanted it to be safe. I want anyone who picks up the book to open it and feel like they are in an OK place here. They’re not going to be judged for their body, for their cooking ability, for, you know, whatever. And I think one way to really do that and like walk the walk of it and not just say that is to is to share and to do that kind of thing. So that was a big part of it. And I also think this book simply Julia is where I am right now. And that is a place where, I don’t know, I’ve done more therapy than ever. I have. You know, I am further I’m more years into my marriage, which is just the most important thing to me. And I also cook at home more than I ever have in my life. And that’s not just because of the pandemic. That’s also because of where Grace and I live. And so I think all those things come out in this book. And I just I think I feel more comfortable with myself. I think I know myself better. So I think I’m willing to share more of that.

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S8: We’ll be back with more of Remans conversation with Julia Torshin after this. So hairlessness a couple of things real quick, first, if you’re enjoying this podcast, please take a moment to subscribe to our feed wherever you get your podcast so you never miss a second of working. And if you happen to be listening on overcast, please recommend this episode by hitting that star icon also. Do you have questions about the creative process, big or small, whether you’re trying to learn to be more concise with your language or figure out what you want to work on? We would love to help. You can drop us a line at working at Slate dot com or give us an old fashioned phone call at three or four nine three three work. That’s three or four nine three three nine six seven five. We really like phone calls.

S1: OK, let’s rejoin Remans conversation with Julia Turchin.

S5: So, Julia, one of the recipes that I have already made out of Simple Julia is for something that you call sticky chicken. My kids love takeout Chinese like any good New Yorker. They love a takeout Chinese. And I saw this recipe and I was like, oh, this is sort of the same idea, but like delicious Chinese sticky chicken. I can try this. I wonder if you can tell me how it is. You take something like that and say, here’s how I’m going to make this. You know how I’m going to think about it through the lens of health and through the lens of ease for someone who is not a chef. Sure.

S2: Typically, I’ve looked up other recipes for this and stuff, and it does very much come from like sort of Chinese American restaurant traditions of like Batur chicken fry it and then toss it in like a sweet sticky sauce. And that is delicious. That is also not something I want to do at home. And I understand why they do it in restaurants. They have deep fryers, battering and frying chicken lets you put more in the container without it seems like there’s more and there’s not actually that much chicken. So it sort of stretches out the expensive part of the recipe. You know, all that. And who doesn’t love fried chicken and sauce? I don’t want to mess up more bowls in my kitchen making batter dipping chicken and then, like, there’s always leftover batter and like, what are you supposed to do with that? And then set up a deep frying thing and then have to deal with oil like. So this recipe has become, quote unquote, healthier, but really it’s just become a lot easier. And to me, that very much falls under this definition of healthy that I subscribe to, which is it should be easy. It should not be stressful to make food that tastes good and makes your body feel good. But it is so good and it’s so satisfying. And I think often healthy food, there’s this image, this I will say like very whitewashed image of like a bowl of brown rice and steamed broccoli and steamed chicken. You know, I don’t feel inspired by that. I mean, I love all those things. Like I mean, I love most things. Like I’m really not very picky, but like, I don’t I don’t know. I’m just not that excited about that. And you can have this sticky chicken, first of all, a fun name. And second of all, like this delicious sauce that just has, like, really normal, like ingredients. And it’s just that little extra something that makes it a lot more exciting. So you put that on your rice or noodles or whatever you want, and it just tastes good. And, you know, you can have some broccoli with it. It can be on the sauce, too, or you can roast the broccoli, you can add more flavor like or you know what you can do, which is what I did.

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S5: Would you please tell me then roast the broccoli and then you can just put the broccoli in the pan because you’re damn lazy and mix it all together. And then the whole thing is gloppy and delicious and you just take one pot to the table with you. So again, you’re talking about like health, but you’re also kind of talking about like just changing your attitude toward the thing itself, which I think is really lovely.

S2: Yeah, I really appreciate that, because that is definitely like those are all the things that are on my mind. And I you know, I don’t include cooking times in my recipes. That’s something some cookbook authors and food magazines do. And I just I never understand what those times mean because, you know, I’ve cooked my whole life. So, like, I chop an onion probably faster than some people and I probably chop it slower than, you know, restaurant chefs who are chopping so many pounds every single day. And I just I don’t know what those times mean.

S7: And I also think the minute you put, like, a calorie count on something or a time count, like anything with that number, there’s like this, at least to me it seems like, OK, now it’s a competition and like, can you get it done? And I also just think those times don’t include the time it takes to get all those ingredients out of your cupboard or the grocery store. It doesn’t include, you know, an ingredient list says for garlic cloves minced. The clock starts once you have all the ingredients, like it doesn’t include like peeling the garlic and rinsing it. And it also doesn’t include cleaning up, which to me, like is a huge part of home cooking. And so I just I’m trying to think about all of these things when I write recipes. And I just I want you in and out of the kitchen as easily and as efficiently as possible. And some recipes take a while, like you put a pork shoulder in the oven for many hours. But like, you don’t have to do anything. Like you put it in the pot, you put it in the oven. You described roasting the broccoli and putting it in the pan with the chicken as lazy. And I say, you’re smart. And I think that sounds great. And I like we’ll be totally making that the next time I make this.

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S5: One of the things that you talk a lot about in this book and it’s come up in this conversation, is your wife and your lives together. And they wondered actually if there was a conscious thought on your part about foregrounding your queerness as a response to a culture. At least the restaurant culture really feels to me like one of masculine bravado, like it feels like you were consciously pushing against that. And you think that’s true?

S2: A thousand percent like very consciously. But I will say and my first solo book, Small Victories, I was doing that then, but it wasn’t so conscious. It was it was mostly like, here are my favorite recipes and a lot of them, because I tell stories with my recipes, like a lot of them are about my wife and so I. You know, there’s a cake recipe in that book that I very lovingly call Happy Wife Happy Life, because it is Grace’s favorite cake and I thought that was like a charming name. But I also realized as I was going through, like revisions of it, you know, I could call that cake. The easiest chocolate cake, because that’s what it is in my opinion, or like, you know, simple chocolate cake, whatever, like I could give it a different name that was actually more descriptive about what you’re baking. And I just had this moment or I was like, no, keep the silly, cute name. Like, it’s important. And I’m so glad I did because I, you know, have had the great experiences and privilege of getting to go on book tours for my books. And, you know, I’m getting to do it virtually now, getting to talk to you. But we’re, you know, in different places. And I have over the years just had like the most amazing conversations with various members of the queer community, especially other women. And I have been told repeatedly like what it means for people to see me. A woman used the word wife over and over in a way that’s not like declarative in a way that’s just this is just my life. And there’s no disclaimer because it doesn’t require one. And it’s also had an effect on people who are not members of the queer community, but maybe who have family members or, you know, friends who are or maybe people who aren’t, you know, all that supportive. But all of a sudden in something I was just familiar as a cookbook, it’s it becomes just very, quote unquote, normal. And I just think cookbooks have this amazing, amazing and I think quite untapped ability to kind of normalize things that have been otherwise. Yeah. You know, I mentioned to you I grew up reading and consuming so many cookbooks. And I think about what would it have meant for me as a kid or as a teenager to read serious look on your mind, just like, you know, normal, like home cooking, like, you know, my recipes are like not complicated, like very welcoming, very warm. And then there’s like a bunch of love letters from the author to her wife. Like that would have meant a lot to me to see that. And it’s something I’m just I’m so grateful to share. I’m grateful for my wife. I’m grateful for the life we have. And I’m grateful to the fact that a lot of people sacrificed a lot for me to get to write about it in this very relaxed way. So, yeah, thanks for that.

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S5: I mean, as you say, like, I you can’t really discount the particular power of what you’re describing because every gay person, every queer person remembers being a lesbian and seeing something that felt like a coded message to them or seeing that thing that was like, oh, wait a minute, because, you know, I was so I was born in 1977. So when I was, you know, a little kid, a little kid like is when AIDS was really ravaging the gay population in this country. And so that was sort of in the news cycle. And I remember. I remember I mean, I must have been nine seeing that and being like, hmm, this like this computes in some way that I can’t even articulate. So there’s a lot of power in these very, very commonplace things. And it is an act of activism. And just to simply exist is an act of activism in a strange way. And it’s also seems connected. I mean, you are somebody who has a kind of other engagement as an activist. So I wonder if you could talk a little bit about what equity at the table.

S2: Sure. Happily, you know, and it’s interesting, too, because, I mean, I so, so appreciate everything you just said, but I just it feels important for me to clarify, like activist is not a word I use to describe myself. And it feels a lot to me, like when someone is like Chef Julia Turchin and I’m like, wait, who are you talking about? Like home cooking. But I, I so appreciate what you said. And I just I definitely think I’m someone who’s active and who’s just engaged in lots of things. And so equity at the table, I guess is one of those things. Segre and Equity at the table is a digital database. It’s a directory that I started almost three years ago. It was April twenty eighteen. And I started it with the amazing support of like a wonderful advisory board and a very skilled web developer, because I thought I was just building this list of people and I didn’t know what that meant on the back end, how complicated that was. So what it is, is this database that is is for and about women and non binary and gender nonconforming individuals and food. And we very much prioritize anyone who identifies basically as not white and or queer. And in doing so, we have provided this resource that’s really useful resource. You know, again, I wrote recipes for a living like I like making tools. And so when you go to the site, which, you know, I encourage everyone to do, I will mention it is free to use, it’s free to join, it always will be. It is not something I’m looking in any way to scale or profit from. Like I get asked a lot like, well, what are you going to turn it into? I’m like, no, it’s the database. Like, that’s what it is. And yeah, you can search by profession, you can search by location and you can search by ID and you can also search any combination of all those things. And it has just been a really powerful thing to just watch evolve because people continue to join it. We have members across the country, pretty much every state. There’s members across the world. And I think it just really pushes against the sentiment when anyone in a position of power says, like, well, I can’t find someone, you know, whether that’s an editor or a conference organizer or whatever it might be. And it’s like, no, we’re all right here. Like, literally, there’s so many of us and you can just keep scrolling and, like, bookmark it. And the other thing that has just been personally for me, incredibly amazing to see is the connection so many of the members have formed with each other and just that power that, you know, undeniable power of representation and visibility. You know, I think about someone who’s maybe considering a career change or a young person who’s into, you know, I don’t know, food photography or wants to be a cookbook author, wants to be a restaurant chef like they have this place. They can go on the Internet where you can see someone who looks like you doing that. You can reach out to them if you want. And that just, yeah, it feels incredibly useful.

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S5: So simply, Julia Begum’s, like so many cookbooks do with a bunch of lists, right, of X in your pantry, you need to have X in your fridge. You need these 11 tools to make most of these recipes. Well, the one that really stuck out to me is five things I count on for good kitchen Vibs, because you’re not talking about how you need to have a microplane grader, how you you absolutely have to have this particular kind of kimchi. None other will. Do, you know, you’re talking about listen to music while you cook. And the thing that really struck me, my favorite part of it was using nice dishes every day. And I wonder if you could talk just briefly about why you think it’s important philosophically to use nice dishes. Sure.

S2: Yeah. I think I’m so happy you brought this up because this list of things, including the dishes, it’s about how we feel in our kitchens. Right. Which is so much of what this book is about. It’s not just what you’re cooking, it’s just how you feel when you’re doing it. So for me, I feel very different when I’m listening to music. When I cook, I feel very different when I eat something off of, you know, a dish that has some meaning to me. It does not have to be like a fancy thing by any means. But, you know, I will also say, like, I eat plenty of pieces of toast on a ripped up paper towel, like that’s like very common for me. But that also allows me to really see the difference I feel when I put something on like my grandmother’s dish or when I put something on, you know, like I drink something out of a mug that, you know, is made by, like a ceramicist. We know because we happen to know a lot of ceramicist. That’s just our life. And so whatever the equivalent is, you know, for you, I just think taking that moment, it doesn’t change the flavor of what you’re eating. It doesn’t change the experience of cooking it by any means, but it changes how you feel when you eat it. And I think it offers that experience just a little bit more consideration and like a little bit more dignity. And if we pay attention to these details, I guess in some ways it goes back to maybe my kind of like poetry background. Like I don’t currently write like many poems every, I don’t know, six months out, like randomly do one. And I’m like, I’m going to do this all the time. And then it’s like, you know, it takes a year. I don’t necessarily know that I consider myself a poet, but I consider myself someone who looks through the world. Like a poet, which is like I’m always looking for details and for moments of connection, and I think that can happen, you know, when you choose what plate to eat your PBJ off of, like it does not need to be something you even cooked. You know, you can put your takeout on a plate. It changes how it feels.

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S5: Julia, this was so fun. It was so, so great to talk to you. Congratulations on your new book. It’s called Simply Julia. I have cooked, I think, for recipes out of it already.

S2: Thank you, Raymond. Thank you for having me.

S6: Woman, what a lovely, warm, inspiring conversation, I feel like I was eavesdropping on a really sweet back and forth and I just felt very lucky to have the opportunity. I want to begin with something that Julia said very casually, but which just struck me as being really a profound insight that would be useful to a lot of our listeners, she said. Only write the book that only you can write. I want to put that up on my wall.

S5: It’s really good. One size fits all advice. Be yourself. Don’t aspire to do what feels unlike you. You know, you are the thing that makes you and that’s ultimately a kind of an incredible asset.

S6: Yeah, I was totally charmed by just how personal this book is. Like in addition to the recipes she’s come up with and the stories of those dishes, it features Julia’s handwriting photos from her life. But I wonder, how did you respond to that? I mean, it’s not your handwriting. They’re not your family photos. Didn’t it feel like you were kind of reading someone else’s looking at someone else’s scrapbook?

S5: You know, it does a little bit, but ultimately, that’s a very winning quality, you know, in a reality that sees most of us staring at screens for hours and hours a day. It’s really a pleasure to turn the pages of a book and especially a book that sort of handsomely made that thoughtfully designed.

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S6: Yeah. Julia did an amazing job for poetry and creative writing programs like what do you take from an education in precision form and the application of emotions? Well, the ability to write precisely and emotively how useful.

S5: You know, it reminds me that that’s sort of the central promise of a liberal arts education, right? That the things you learn from the study of poetry or Greek or painting, those are useful if you work in poetry, Greek or painting, but they’re also useful no matter what you do.

S6: I know we talked about this a few months ago after I spoke with cookbook author and food writer Clancy Miller. But my goodness, is there a more perfect object than the cookbook? It’s practical. It’s aspirational. The best ones are full of great writing and lovely images. And we often talk very grandly of literature being nourishing. But that’s especially true of cookbooks.

S5: Yeah. You know, and there’s this particular pleasure for me in a cookbook that you’ve used a lot. You know, there’s like one page in the center of the book that’s really steamed and waterlogged. And then the book kind of falls open to it naturally. And then you find this recipe that you’ve made so many times and that feels special. I do think that the cookbook can be something very intimate, Julia said. When we spoke, we talked about the difference between, you know, working as a poet or working as a novelist and working as a writer of cookbooks, even a favorite novel that you’ve read more than once. You’re probably only going to turn to a handful of times over the course of your life, but a cookbook that you really love, you might find yourself reaching for it 10 times a year.

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S6: Yeah, at least I was totally fascinated by the story of sticky chicken, why restaurants would make a dish like that one way. But that way isn’t ideal for home cooks because it causes mess and waste. That just isn’t justifiable in that different context. That story truly made me understand why Julia being a home cook matters.

S5: Yeah, absolutely. You know, a home cook isn’t using batter to bulk up portions so that she can sell that chicken for nine dollars instead of eight dollars. Right. A home cook isn’t maybe skipping out on frying a bunch of chicken because she’s worried about calories, but because she’s worried about the mess and because it’s kind of a pain to fry a lot of battered chicken. So I think that sort of attention to thinking about what you really want when you’ve had a long day and you just have to get something on the table, it makes a lot of difference. Totally.

S4: Well, we hope you enjoyed the show, if you have remember to subscribe wherever you get your podcast, then you’ll never miss an episode. And yes, I’m going to give you one less sleepless pitch. Sleepless members get benefits like zero odds on any Slate podcast, bonus episodes of shows like Slow Burn and Dear Prudence. And more important to us, at least, you’ll be supporting the work we do here on working. It’s only one dollar for the first month. To learn more, go to sleep dotcom slash working.

S5: Plus thanks to Julia Turchin and to our amazing producer Cameron Drus. We’ll be back next week with Isaac Butler’s conversation with singer songwriter Julian Baker. Until then, get back to work. Slate plus listeners, thank you, as always, for your support. There’s no way we could do what we do without you. I asked Julia a couple of extra questions just for your ears. Enjoy. OK, Julia, it has been a solid year now of cooking at home, I’ve always been someone who cooks at home, but lunch, dinner, breakfast, I mean, my kids are growing kids. They eat so much. We’re not really ordering takeout. We want to support our local restaurants. It’s very complicated. Everyone is in the same boat, right? I am burnt out and I wonder if you ever feel burnt out about cooking and what happens in that moment when you do how you get yourself reengaged?

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S2: Sure. Yes, I totally feel burnt out about cooking very often. And I also know that if I feel that way as often as I do, I can only imagine for, you know, someone with kids, someone with not a lifelong passion for cooking, someone who doesn’t have a dishwasher. You know, I have a dishwasher, so I know I feel that way. And what do I do in those moments? Just in those exact moments, I will ask my wife to make something. I will go to our freezer, which I think is like the most used appliance in our kitchen. And I will pull out either something I cooked, you know, a few weeks ago or a few months ago and defrost it or I will pull out a box of, you know, chicken fingers and put them in the toaster oven. Like that happens a lot. I will eat cereal or peanut butter and jelly and and I totally, like, embrace that. I feel no, I feel nothing about that, but it feels totally fine and neutral to me. And I just think it’s important to say out loud, because I think a lot of people think like, oh, you’re not about me, but just like food in general, like, oh, it has to be this thing. And like, I don’t know, I just think every meal you eat doesn’t have to be the best meal you’ve ever had. And, you know, I used to work a lot as a private chef, and it was just like another story for another day, like preferably with, like, cocktails. And but I would think about all the time, like, wow, I would never want this. Like, I often just want, like, buttered toast and like, I don’t need to pay someone to make that for me, like, yeah. So if my like, disinterest in cooking lasts more than a day or two, which honestly it doesn’t usually for me, because I just really love to do this like but when that does happen, a few things I do are when I try to remember things I really loved when I was growing up and I make them. I did this recently and that meal for me was boxed macaroni and cheese and cut up hot dogs, cooked in butter in a skillet. And then you put ketchup at the end and it gets like caramelized. And it is it is like the most delicious meal. I haven’t had it in like a decade and I just felt like I needed that. And so I made it and it just totally reminded me of why I love food, because it put me right back at, like the kitchen counter in the house I grew up in with my babysitter, Jenny, who continues to be like one of the most important people in my life. I sent her a picture of it and she was like so upset that she wasn’t there. And she was like, that’s my food. And it just made me really I’m like smiling. As I’m telling you this. It made me really happy. And so I think plugging into that kind of happy, joyous thing that we can have with food, you know, cooking at home, as you know, probably better than most people like it can be monotonous and relentless and endless. And I think we can often forget that it can be fun. So I think plugging into that can be really reinvigorating. I also spend a lot of time on the Internet looking at restaurant menus, like I look up different restaurants, like in different parts of the country, and I just look at their menus online just to kind of especially like during the pandemic, to see what people have pivoted to preparing and stuff. And I find a lot of inspiration in that. So I do that and. Yeah, and just yeah. Being OK with the fact that, like, you’re in a rut, like not trying to force your way out of it.

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S5: Yeah, that’s good advice. I like I said, I’ve really been in a rut, and last week I was like, you know, we have some ground beef, I’ll just make meatloaf. And I was making the meatloaf and I was like, I don’t even want to eat this because it’s so like I’m just so crabby about cooking. And then I went to the store and I bought a bag of frozen tater tots to serve with the meat loaf. And I was like, now I’m super excited about this meal. And my kids were like, losing their mind. They were like, this is so good. And I was like, yeah, sometimes I think you just have to go for the thing that’s indulgent or a little like, you know, not something you would have every day. Totally, totally. You know, life’s too short.

S2: And I will just say, because I think it’s worth saying to me that meal like I mean, you took the time to make meatloaf when you’re in a rut, like, I think that’s a big deal. But that meal of like meatloaf and tater tots and it sounds like it was this wonderful experience that sounds like your sons were really happy. You were happy. Like to me that 1000 percent falls under the definition of healthy, like that feeling. That you had in that moment, that, you know, taking yourself momentarily out of what felt like a rut like that is healthy, that is taking care of oneself, like that’s your mental health, like that’s part of it. So I just want to say that because I think sometimes when we hear the words like indulgent and stuff, we think not healthy, because I think healthy has so dangerously been used as a word to, you know, in place of the word skinny. And I just I just think the meal you just described sounds wonderful. So and now I’m grateful.

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S5: It was it was it was the frozen tater tots are kind of like a chemically perfect invention. So my last question for you is kind of an obvious one. What are you making for dinner time?

S2: What am I making for dinner tonight? Well, so my book came out this week, which means that I am spending a lot of time talking about cooking, but not actually cooking. And Grace has been just such amazing support always, but especially this week. And she was like, I’m taking care of food this week. Like, you don’t have to think about it. And yesterday she went for a walk and she came back and I was in the kitchen and I was cooking and she was like, What are you doing? And I was like, no, I like I’m talking about cooking too much. And I, like, kind of miss it. And I’m also feeling like a little just frayed at my edges. And doing this makes me feel better. So she was like, OK, I’ll get out of your way. And so I cooked a bunch of stuff yesterday. So I think we will have leftovers tonight. And what I cooked yesterday, we had some like chicken breast on the bone and I brown them in a pot, just I put salt on them and I brown them in oil. And then I cut up a bunch of onions and I flip them and I put the onions in the pot. And then I said, Grace doesn’t drink. And I didn’t feel like at 11 a.m. yesterday opening a bottle of wine, even though there’s nothing wrong with that. But we had some vermouth in the fridge like sweet vermouth. And I poured some of that into the pot and then I added some water and I just like turned it down and I let it simmer with the cover on. And I forgot about it for a bit, which is always like when things like that turn out really well. And I was like, oh, shoot. And then I turned it off and it cooled down. And a few hours later I came back and I shredded all the chicken and then I had some cooked spinach in the fridge and I added that. And then I had made there’s a really fun recipe for these like Hasselbeck Carrots in the book, which is just they’re just like kind of silly and fun. They’re roasted carrots. But you just take this extra moment to, like, make them look fun. And I had made them for this, like, demo thing. And so we have those left over. So I just chopped them up and threw them in with this like chicken spinach mixture. And so we had some of that last night with some rice. And I think maybe tonight. Well, I don’t know. I’ve been really craving egg noodles, so maybe we’ll have those with, like, this kind of Stewie chicken vegetable mixture. So, yeah, that’s that.

S5: Oh, you’ve reinspired me.

S3: Thanks again for your Slate plus membership.

S9: So.