switching lives with Valerie Griswold, sort of

Feb
2013
08

posted by on baking, Colorado, Denver, high altitude, homemade, Phoenix, Q&A

2 comments

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This is the first part of a small series I’m starting. I want this to open up conversation with people I’ve met along the way who inspire me, share similar interests (like Valerie below) or just have a great story to tell or recipe to share.  If you know of someone with a great story or want to have a chat with me, let me know! I’d love to do a post with you. Email me, Facebook, Twitter… ya’ll know how to reach me by now, don’t you? Let me know what you think! 

Valerie, I “met” you somehow through Twitter, right?I had just moved to Phoenix from Denver and you had just moved from Phoenix to Denver. We both love to cook and bake and we both love beer!
Although we have yet to meet IRL I can imagine how much fun you and I would have! You are always posting on Instagram photos of your awesome homemade meals fit for a queen now that you’ve moved to Denver. I appreciate you taking some time to chat with me! Tell us a little about yourself.

High Tea at The Brown Palace Hotel & Spa shortly after she moved from Phoenix to Denver.

Valerie enjoying High Tea at The Brown Palace Hotel & Spa shortly after she moved from Phoenix to Denver.

Yes, unfortunately I discovered you on Twitter the month I was moving from Phoenix to Denver, and learned that you had just moved to Phoenix from Denver… crazy! Not unfortunate that I discovered you, just unfortunate timing – because we would have been beer and baking soul mates!

I left the Wasatch mountains (Utah) for desert dwelling about five years ago in January, and after almost five years of cactus and monsoons, I returned back to higher altitude to explore rocky mountain living. As sweltering as the desert was, I really enjoyed my time there and met a lot of interesting people. I did feel that my adventures started becoming one-dimensional, though, and now I’m really thrilled to be living in 4-seasons once again. The thrill of the first week of a new season is one I’d never be able to live without again. The tiny, colorful buds in the spring, my first adult garden this past summer, raking golden leaves in the fall, and now tumbling (very ungracefully) down a giant snow-covered mountain in the winter. These are all the reasons my husband and I are enjoying our new Colorado life. We definitely feel lucky to be here.

For me, being in the kitchen while my mother was baking was something I loved as a kid. I guess it stuck!  When/how did your passion for cooking/baking start for you?
Looks like we have even more in common! I come from a homemade, from-scratch family, and watching my grandmother and mother cook were common occurrences from a young age. I think a lot of people may come from that kind of background in some way or another, but it only resonates with a small number of us – mostly because you have to keep trying despite the kitchen fires, over/undercooked food, and straight up colossal disasters that seem to happen weekly during that first year – and regularly every year after as well!

When I moved to Arizona, I discovered that cooking and baking seemed to equate with meeting new friends, so I jumped on that wagon and never looked back. Food brings people together in a really basic and important way – it’s a method of forging friendships over meals, learning about other people’s cultural backgrounds, and sharing the harvest that is unique to a particular region throughout the year. Sharing my cooking failures/triumphs with others has been, hands down, the easiest way for me to meet new friends, and to go out in the world with confidence – knowing that I have something to share with others. I think once you’re passionate about something, your hobby will take you places you never could have imagined!

Who are some of your culinary inspirations? 
Of course I have a million cookbooks and read a million food blogs, but lately I’ve been thinking a lot about my grandmother and the way she carried herself in the kitchen. She did a lot of preserving – peaches & pears, strawberry jam, etc, and that is now becoming one of my favorite hobbies. Also, she made food that was memorable without being overly complicated. A rustic vegetable stew and homemade chocolate cake are two of her specialties that stand out to me.

I think we get caught up in the newest trends and forget that food is meant to be shared and enjoyed by everyone – you don’t need a degree in molecular gastronomy to create a dish with soul. My grandmother always cooked with soul, and that seems like an emotion I’ve been trying to capture recently in my own dishes.

I used to live in Denver and making the transition from baking in what my dad calls the “high plains” to high altitude was something I talk about on my blog. Many tears have been shed over a recipe I had worked long and hard on to try and get to work in a high altitude atmosphere. Tell me, what’s one cooking/baking experience you wish you could forget?
Oh dear… honestly I’m savory over sweet – so baking is something I do occasionally, and usually only for parties and holidays. I do enjoy breads, though, and I’ve had decent success at altering my recipes for the high altitude.

Every single cake and brownie I’ve attempted since I’ve been here has sunken in, though, and despite my efforts they don’t seem to be getting any prettier. I hosted my cousin’s birthday party this summer and found a gorgeous strawberry shortcake recipe with a delicious strawberry glaze and whipped cream. I did everything according to the recipe and the cake just collapsed.

I scrambled to put it together in a way that actually looked like a cake with candles for the birthday song, but it was mostly a sloppy mess. The one photo I caught that night shows a strawberry shortcake blurred by candle-lit flames, and it actually looked really pretty. So I’m happy with that photo – and it telling a very different story of the strawberry shortcake. I will try that recipe again this summer and I WILL get it right! 🙂 (Val, I address my issues with Angel Food cake and other high altitude problems/recipes in these blog posts )

What’s been the biggest challenge/transition in your kitchen moving from PHX to Denver? 
This question makes me laugh, because it’s been one challenge to the next! I thought the kitchen in our condo at Papago Park in Tempe was pretty damn small. Like really, really small. Then we showed up to Denver and walked into the house we knew would be ours. I turned the corner and saw the kitchen – even smaller than my shoebox from Tempe – and no dishwasher! I couldn’t say no to the house, though, because it was charming and had Griswold written all over it.

For the most part, I really do love cooking in a small kitchen. Everything you need is within arm’s reach, and there’s a real ownership over the methods and the organization that plays into everything you do in that space. I love my kitchen – I love that I’ve discovered myself as a home cook here. I love that I need a step-stool to reach just about everything above the sink, and that I sometimes spend 5 hours a week doing dishes. Actually, I really hate that last part. That’s my attempt at a joke.

Favorite dish right now? Favorite ingredient you can’t live without in your kitchen? 
This is an easy one based on the weather – soup! I made one batch of soup a year while I lived in Phoenix, during that one really rainy week in January or February every year. I got really excited this fall dreaming about all the soups I was going to make on cold winter’s nights in Denver.

Dan and I took a little weekend trip to Winter Park and I found the Ski Town Soups Cookbook. I’ve been making my way through that book and having a lot of fun with it. Soup is not only comforting to eat, it’s comforting to make. Standing over my dutch oven, taking in the aroma of spices, broth, garlic and onions is my happy place.

Do you have a personal recipe you liked to share?
I know I just admitted to being savory over sweet, but there’s only one dish that really completes me and tickles all my taste buds – spice cake. My mom made a flavorful and dense spice cake growing up, and I’m pretty sure I was the only child out of 5 that was even remotely interested in it. Cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger – these are the things that make my heart sing! The hills are alive – with the smell of spice cake! Yes, it turns me into a version of myself that’s rather embarrassing. Sorry.

I’ve made many different recipes, but since my mom never remembers to email me her recipe, I’ve come up with two favorites on my own. America’s Test Kitchen has a nice version that is clean and balanced, and Martha Stewart has a molasses spice cake that is over the top in every way possible, which means you should all put your weekend on hold and make it right away: Martha Stewart’s Molasses Spice Cake

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