Archive for the ‘Food Features’ Category

I finished my last night as a line cook two Thursdays ago. Naturally, the following morning I hopped on the Bolt Bus with Paul up to New York City for the weekend.

I absolutely love this city – as a food and culture mecca for our country, there is so much to see and experience. New York is sensory overload, but I love every moment of it. I think I might have tired Paul out a little with my intense sightseeing, but I ask, how can you stop in a city that is so full of energy and life? So, with that said, yes, we did a lot in a short amount of time, especially in the realm of eating. Here’s my food log for the trip:

Friday Highlights:

City Bakery (Flatiron): My go-to spot for chocolate chip cookies. They are the best I’ve found in the city to date. It’s also a great lunch spot.

City Bakery's chocolate chip cookie.

City Bakery’s chocolate chip cookie.

Chocolate chip cookie: Mostly butter, absolutely divine and full of rich chocolate.

Wasabi green pea-crusted tofu:Incredible texture and seasoning. Wow.

Hot/cold drinking chocolate: These are individually packaged containers of hot or cold drinking chocolate, a speciality of City Bakery. Warm it up or, chill it or enjoy it room temperature.

Saturday Highlights:

Treehaus  (Midtown East): Quick, fresh food that tastes pretty good, too. I liked this spot because there are so many options, whether you’re there for breakfast, lunch and dinner. This was my choice for breakfast both days in the city (it was right next to our hotel).

Blackberries, strawberries and mango: Fresh and perfectly ripe. These were a great topping for the Greek yogurt that I also bought.

Egg White Omelette with Turkey Sausage, Arugula, White Cheddar Cheese and Tomatoes: Tasty and light, but also satisfying.

Iced Coffee: So much better than the Pret-a-Manger lukewarm iced coffee I had earlier that day.

Katz’s Deli (Lower East Side): A famous New York Jewish deli, known for its gangantuan meaty sandwiches. Everyone, even vegetarians, should go at least once.

The pastrami.

Pastrami – A meat monster, but an absolutely delicious one. The meat was moist, well brined and seasoned perfectly. It’s especially great with spicy brown Gulden’s mustard. Be prepared to feel full.

Pastrami, pickles and reuben.

Pastrami, pickles and reuben.

Reuben – Another meat monster, but covered in sauerkraut and melted Swiss cheese. Messy.

Pickle plate – Forget the fries, pickles are all you need. These deliver a much-needed burst of acidity that cuts the fat in Katz’s sandwiches. They also lend a nice crunch.

Buttercup Bake Shop (Midtown East): A cute bakeshop worth a stop (if you’re in the area) for its attractive layer cakes and cupcakes.

This didn't last long.

This didn’t last long.

Carrot cake: The carrot cake really caught my eye. The slice was a generous size and the cake itself was moist and not too sweet. Just the way I like it.

Peking Duck House (Midtown East)

Peking duck with its traditional accompaniments.

Peking duck with its traditional accompaniments.

Peking duck – The duck arrives to your table whole, golden brown and crispy. Like some kind of theatrical performance, a chef butchers the duck right in front of you, presenting the table with a platter of sliced meat. To accompany are scallions, cucumbers, thin pancakes and hoisin sauce. It’s a simple dish to eat – spread hoisin sauce on one of the pancakes, top with a few slices of duck, one or two pieces of scallion, cucumber, wrap it up and enjoy. All in all, a lot of fun, and quite tasty, too.

Sunday Highlights:

Smorgasburg (Williamsburg, Brooklyn)

Apparently, Saturday is the big day for this gigantic, outdoor foodie paradise, also located alongside the Brooklyn Flea. Sunday was more than satisfying, though, as there were dozens of vendors offering everything from porchetta to homemade kim chi. I love this market because it is the perfect embodiment of New York’s innovative and diverse food offerings. Oh, and the postcard city skyline in the background is pretty cool. Here’s a few of the spots we visited:

McClure's Sweet and Spicy Pickles.

McClure’s Sweet and Spicy Pickles.

Big Bao's Pork Bun.

Big Bao’s Pork Bun.

Big BaoPork bun topped with fried pork rinds and hoisin sauce (Just YUM.)

McClure’s Pickles: Sweet and spicy pickle chips (Definitely hot, but tangy and addictive)

S’More BakeryFrozen s’more (A big, frozen marshmallow and two small pieces of chocolate smushed between two gram crackers. An interesting idea ,but a bit of a let down. I kind of just wished it had been an ice cream sandwich instead.)

And last, but not least…The Brooklyn Brewery (Williamsburg, Brooklyn): This craft-brewery is a short walk from Smorgasburg. We hung out in the tasting room for a few hours, sampling the brewery’s beers. The laid-back atmosphere feels like an escape from frantic New York City life across the river in Manhattan. My favorite beer by far was the Brooklyner Weiss Beer, their version of a Hefeweissen. It ‘s everything a Hefeweissen should be, with light tones of banana and clove.

Mmm beer.

Mmm beer.


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You might remember my last baking experiment, where I recreated Ruby Tuesday’s Chocolate Tall Cake. All in all, it was a success, with only a few minor mishaps. (The chocolate mousse cake that I baked  looked like a disfigured burger patty smushed in between two slices of Rye bread, but let’s face it, I’m no pastry master!)

I’ve decided to take on something even closer to my heart: the chocolate chip cookie. After my recent quest to find the best chocolate chip cookie in D.C. for Serious Eats, it only makes sense.

To start, I look to a highly influential article from The New York Times called, “Perfection? Hint: It’s Warm and Has a Secret.”

I remember reading this article when it first ran in 2008. David Leite chronicles his search for the perfect chocolate chip cookie and gives his resulting recipe (adapted from Jacques Torres) at the end. Of course, I gave it a try. At first, the steps seemed tedious. Why couldn’t I just use chocolate chips? Chocolate feves, or disks, were more expensive and difficult to find in the grocery store. Even worse, I had to chill the cookies in the refrigerator for 36 hours before I baked them. How was I going to wait a day and a half until I could finally eat these labor-intensive, high maintenance cookies? Despite my reservations, I followed the recipe exactly. The result? Oh my God. They were, in a word, awesome.

In his article, Leite visits several well-known New York bakeries, including The City Bakery. I stopped here on a recent trip to the city and tried one of their famed chocolate chip cookies. I stand by this statement – it was, and still is, the best chocolate chip cookie I’ve ever had.

So. Good.

So. Good.

In the article, Leite asks The City Bakery’s owner, Maury Rubin, why his cookies are just so damned good. “We bake them in small batches every hour so they’re always fresh…It’s the Warm Rule…Even a bad cookie straight from the oven has its appeal,” said Rubin.

Rubin has another secret. He chills the dough for 36 hours before baking the cookies, a technique that results in a deep, golden brown cookie with a crispy, chewy texture.

There are other qualities for the ideal chocolate chip cookie that Leite discusses, such as using at least 60% cacao chocolate and the importance of salt. Sprinkle a pinch of sea salt (known as Maldon) over your cookies before you bake them to add a new dimension of flavor to your recipe. Leite notes that many bakers consider this interaction of salty and sweet the real secret to the perfect chocolate chip cookie.

I think Leite’s article is an extraordinary piece. If you haven’t already, I encourage you to try his recipe. It will change your perspective on chocolate chip cookies. It certainly did for me.

So, the question remains: Can I make a better chocolate chip cookie than Leite? Maybe not, but it’s worth a try.

Here’s the plan. First, I’ll create my own recipe. Second, I will rest the dough for different amounts of time to see how it impacts the cookies, much like Leite did in his article. The resting times will be one hour (so I don’t have to wait too long to try them!), 12 hours, 24 hours and 36 hours.

Stay tuned for part two: The Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie Experiment!

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Captain Cookie & the Milkman, a mobile bakery.

Captain Cookie & the Milkman, a mobile bakery.

If you read my blog, then you probably know one of my biggest weakness when it comes to sweets: chocolate chip cookies. It’s nearly impossible for me to resist a warm, chocolatey cookie, straight from the oven with a chewy center and crisp edges.

With that said, I’ve embarked on the sweetest mission ever: to find the best chocolate chip cookies in Washington, D.C. Over the past few weeks, I have been working on an article for Serious Eats, a food blog based out of New York City. I chose seven of the best chocolate chip cookies in the District and organized a slideshow with my own photographs as well. Expect the article to run in the next few weeks.

J. Chocolatier, a bakery in Georgetown.

J. Chocolatier, a bakery in Georgetown.

In the meantime, I’ve created a map of my favorite spots for chocolate chip cookies in the city. Use it as a quick guide to see what’s around the area you’re in. And hey, you never know – you might live next door to the best chocolate chip cookie in D.C.

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When I started my freshman year at Hopkins, my upperclassmen friends urged me to do one thing in Baltimore – try the crabs. So, I visited the now-closed Obrycki’s in Fells and naively ordered a crab cake. It was good, but nothing special (this was obviously before I knew about Faidley’s). When I told my friends that I’d finally tried crabs, they shook their heads. No, not crab cakes.

Oh. I felt a little silly. They meant whole crabs: shell, claws, legs, everything. The kind that required a tiny wooden mallet, a picnic table covered with a large sheet of brown paper and a roll of paper towels.

The next time, I did it right: I ventured to L.P. Steamers, a crab house in Locust Point. My dining companion and I ordered a dozen large crabs steamed and seasoned with Old Bay.

Being from the South, I knew this popular seafood seasoning quite well. My mom always kept a container of Old Bay in her kitchen cabinet, and we’d use it mostly for shrimp boils.

Back at L.P. Steamers, our crabs arrived with their shells coated in that familiar dark red seasoning. I broke apart one of the claws and had my first taste of real Baltimore crab meat: mildly sweet, complemented by the addictively salty, spicy flavor of Old Bay. I found myself creating mounds of Old Bay on the table, and then rolling the crab meat in it. Yes, it was just that good.

I don’t know why I didn’t do this sooner, but I recently bought a container of Old Bay, planning to sprinkle it over fried potatoes. Since culinary school, I always like to know the ingredients I’m using, so I did a little research. Interestingly, Old Bay is the result of an unlikely smorgasbord of spices: black pepper, celery seed, mustard seed, paprika, bay leaf, red pepper, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, allspice, cardamom and ginger.

I took a whiff and immediately picked up on paprika, cloves and cinnamon. Actually, it took several “whiffs” to come to this conclusion, after which I began to feel a bit lightheaded. I remembered my mom’s shrimp boil and L.P. Steamer’s crabs and smiled.

Here’s a little history: German immigrant Gustav Brunn first developed Old Bay in Baltimore in the late 1930s. Originally, the seasoning mix was named “Delicious Brand Shrimp and Crab Seasoning.” As you might guess, the name did not fare so well with the public.

photo (11)

Talk about design ingenuity!

In a wise marketing move, the seasoning was renamed “Old Bay” after a steamship that frequented the Chesapeake between Maryland and Virginia. Today, the signature yellow, red and blue Old Bay container has an almost iconic presence on the shelves of many Americans. According to Old Bay’s website, nearly 50 million ounces were sold last year.

Although it is mainly advertised as a seasoning for crab, shrimp and chicken, Old Bay’s possibilities are endless. After living in Old Bay “Mecca,” I’ve seen it in just about every application. I’ve sprinkled Old Bay on potatoes, eggs and popcorn. I’ve even used it as a spice rub for steak. Last week, I seasoned mayo with Old Bay and mixed it with canned tuna for lunch. If I’d had the time, I would have made Old Bay Mayo from scratch.

Old Bay’s versatility makes it a great go-to seasoning. I’ve included two recipes below, but don’t be afraid to use your imagination and experiment. This post from The Washington Post’s former food blog might be a good starting point.  Or, if you’re really feeling ambitious, you can be Bobby Flay and make your Old Bay from scratch: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/bobby-flay/old-bay-grilled-steak-fries-recipe/index.html.

The Original Old Bay Shrimp Boil

Adapted from the back of the Old Bay container – the one my mom used to make! 

  • 2 tablespoon Old Bay
  • 1/2 cup vinegar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 lb. shrimp, in shells
  1. In saucepan, combine Old Bay, vinegar and water and bring to a boil.
  2. Add shrimp, stir gently.
  3. Cover and steam until shrimp are tender, about 3-5 minutes.
  4. Drain liquid and enjoy.

Old Bay Mayo (Yield = 1 cup)

My own, adapted from Mark Bittman’s Homemade Mayonnaise

  • 1 yolk
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons Old Bay (You might need more)
  • 1 cup neutral oil, such as canola
  1. Combine the yolk, Dijon, salt, pepper, Old Bay and lemon juice in a food processor.
  2. Turn on the machine and while it is running, add the oil very slowly in a steady stream (adding it too fast will cause the mayo to break).
  3. Watch for the mayo to thicken. If you like thicker mayo, add more oil, but 1 cup should do it.
  4. Taste your mayo, checking for seasoning. If the Old Bay flavor isn’t strong enough, add another teaspoon and pulse to combine. Keep adding Old Bay in teaspoon increments until desired flavor is reached.
  5. Enjoy as a dipping sauce, spread on sandwiches, in a salad or however you prefer.

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IMG_4006One million people packed together like sardines on the National Mall yesterday to witness the start of Obama’s second term in office. I was lucky enough to be one of those sardines.

It was a bit unnerving at first. I could neither move left nor right. Pressed up against the back of some random guy’s puffy jacket gave me an entirely new outlook on the concept of, “personal space.”

However, despite feelings of claustrophobia, I was there, experiencing history. Hearing Obama give his Inaugural address with the Capitol building in sight was stunning. The diverse crowd around me was reverent and silent, everyone focused on the words that Obama spoke. Afterwards, we raised our flags high and cheered.IMG_4001

It’s unifying moments such as this that make me appreciate being an American. Where else in the world could this kind of peaceful, “quadrennial renewal of democracy” happen? (This article from the Washington Post takes a closer look at my point).

The only part of the day I wished I could have experienced was the Inauguration Luncheon, which took place after the ceremony. I posted the menu in a previous post, but here it is again:

First Course: Steamed lobster with New England clam chowder sauce, served on sauteed spinach with sweet potato hay.

Second Course: Hickory grilled bison with wild huckleberry reduction, strawberry preserve and red cabbage, red potato horseradish cake, baby golden beets and green beans and butternut squash purée.

Third Course: Hudson Valley apple pie with sour cream ice cream and maple caramel sauce. Aged cheeses and honey.

Design Cuisine, the catering company behind the meal, created the menu using ingredients that reflect America’s agricultural history. According to an article from Today.com, South Dakota farmed the bison, Maine caught the lobster and Virginia provided all of the vegetables. I wished I could have been there to taste every dish that was served (although I heard Obama spent more time talking to guests than eating!).

Inspired by the day’s events, I decided to create my own Inauguration-inspired menu:

Bison burger with cheddar cheese, caramelized onions, sautéed mushrooms

Luckily, I had bison burgers in my freezer (a little more in my price range than steaks!). As for the toppings, I’m not sure how “American” cheddar cheese, caramelized onions and sautéed mushrooms are, but they sure do taste good.

Oven-roasted sweet potatoes

The sweet potato “hay” on this year’s menu caught my eye. Native Americans relied on the sweet potato as a staple crop, making it an important part of our country’s agricultural past. I sliced sweet potatoes thinly and tossed them with olive oil, salt and pepper. I laid the sweet potatoes flat on a sheet tray and roasted them at 400 degrees until cooked through. The higher temperature helps them crisp and get a little color, too.

Green beans, toasted almonds, chopped tomatoes

Using what I had in my apartment, I created my own version of the green bean dish on this year’s menu. I blanched the beans first and then sautéed them with chopped tomatoes to add some acid and toasted almonds to add texture. 

And, there you go – a simple, but delicious meal to conclude a memorable day. The only thing missing? A pint of Obama’s White House Honey Ale.




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When I was younger, my family’s options for dining out in my hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina were limited. For a reasonably priced dinner, there just weren’t that many options. Pizza meant Pizza Hut.  Chinese meant Shun Lee Palace, the questionably sanitary take-out place near our house. Classic, all-American food meant Ruby Tuesday.

Charlotte has come a long way in the past ten years. The city has transformed completely, most notably with the opening of many new restaurants. What used to be a city full of chains and casual local joints has now become one of upscale, fine dining spots. And they’re not all outrageously expensive, either.

As a child, Ruby Tuesday was always my favorite spot. My dad liked the rack of ribs, which was enough food to feed a small village. There was a salad bar, which I always avoided (I used to hate vegetables), but my parents would pile their plates high with greens and other healthy looking things.

For me, there was the chocolate tall cake. It’s still so clear in my mind – layers of moist chocolate cake and chocolate mousse, swimming in caramel and chocolate sauce, topped with vanilla ice cream, whipped cream and Oreo cookie crumbles – presented in a gigantic glass goblet. In my tiny four and a half-foot, eight-year-old body, the tall cake towered over me.

I might allow my mom or dad to have a few small bites of the tall cake, but that was it. I could take this monster down nearly every time, pretty easily too. I might have felt sick afterwards, but it was a small price to pay for its deliciousness. It’s amazing that I wasn’t a fat kid, either.

A few years ago, Ruby Tuesday decided to distinguish itself from Applebee’s, T.G.I. Fridays, and Chili’s by upgrading its menu and appearance. Gone was the random crap and paraphernalia that previously filled the walls, traded for a cleaner, more minimalist look to their restaurants. Gone were many of the past menu items as well, including my beloved chocolate tall cake.

Unfortunately, I found this out the hard way. Sometime in 2009, the same year of Ruby Tuesday’s transformation, I tried to find the chocolate tall cake on the menu. I asked my server about this, but was instead offered the double chocolate cake. I didn’t want that. I wanted the chocolate tall cake. Every restaurant has a double chocolate cake for dessert. That’s not very creative at all.

A 2009 article from The New York Times provided an explanation. Ruby Tuesday executive chef Peter Glander commented on taking the tall cake off of the new menu –

“Some things lose luster…like the chocolate tall cake. It’s this cake that is extremely rich, and when I came over a year ago, this was the holy grail of the dessert menu. It was like, there will never be anything happening to this piece.”

With the loss of the tall cake came the New York Cheesecake, the Blondie, Tiramisu, gourmet cupcakes and the double chocolate cake. Really? Gourmet cupcakes? Ruby Tuesday is so trendy now.

Perhaps Chef Glander decided the tall cake was not sophisticated enough for Ruby Tuesday’s new menu. I say, why fix something if it was never broken in the first place?

You probably think I’m starting to sound a little bitter. Well, I am. I really liked the chocolate tall cake.

Sometimes, it’s best to take matters into your own hands. Determined to bring back this dessert masterpiece, I vowed to recreate the chocolate tall cake in my tiny, ill-equipped kitchen.

In my next post is the chocolate tall cake experiment breakdown. Unfortunately, my roommate, my boyfriend and myself ended up eating most of the cake before I finished my experiment. As a result, the tall cake wasn’t so tall anymore. Oh well. Stay tuned for the sweet saga.

(Photo: http://www.foodspotting.com/places/60159-ruby-tuesday-/items/218335-chocolate-tall-cake)

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A few weeks ago, I attended the Association of Food Journalists’ annual conference in D.C. I had the chance to meet food journalists from all over the country and listen to speakers cover hot topics in the food journalism world. I even got to have lunch at the Swedish ambassador’s home and attend a reception at the State Department for the launch of the American Chef Corps (check out this article from Eater.com for more information). For this post, I wanted to share an article I wrote for the October 2012 AFJ newsletter covering a panel led by Ann Hodgman, a well-known humor and food writer. Hodgman discussed her upbringing, her inspirations and addressed the question, “what is humor’s place in food writing?” I’ve always loved using humor in my own food writing, so I found Hodgman’s perspective very informative. If you haven’t read her article, “No Wonder They Call Me a Bitch,” then you’re missing out. Check it out – it really shows Hodgman’s knack for strong voice and vivid descriptions.

“Make ‘Em Laugh, Urges Ann Hodgman”

Ann Hodgman’s Panel at the annual AFJ Conference in Washington, D.C.


 Ann Hodgman grabbed AFJ Conference participants’ attention by starting her panel discussion, “Make Em’ Laugh,” with the first few sentences of a magazine piece she wrote entitled, “No Wonder They Call Me a Bitch.”

“I’ve always wondered about dog food. Is a Gaines-burger really like a hamburger? Can you fry it? Does dog food “cheese” taste like real cheese? Does Gravy Train actually make gravy in a dog’s bowl, or is that brown liquid just dissolved crumbs? And what exactly are by-products?”

In the Spy magazine article (June 1989), Hodgman explained how she bought different varieties of dog food from the grocery store, including canned “Chunky Chicken” from Kal Kan Pedigree and dry “Butcher’s Blend” from Purina. Hodgman sampled these flavors at home and reported her honest opinions about them.

She establishes a genuinely curious voice in the first sentence and carries it throughout the piece. It is entertaining to follow as she gradually comes to the conclusion that dog food does not taste good to humans (especially when we already knew that truth to start!).

When panel moderator Jim Shahin from The Washington Post asked Hodgman if she really was curious, she said, “No, I wasn’t at all curious. I knew it tasted bad. I wanted to write something funny and edgy that fit the magazine.”

Her article caught readers’ attention, and even landed her an appearance on “The Tonight Show” with Jay Leno.

In addition to her memorable piece about dog food, Hodgman has a long list of other accomplishments. While attending Harvard University for her degree in English, she was an editor of The Harvard Lampoon, a humor and parody based student publication. Since then, Hodgman has written children’s books, humor books and humor cookbooks, including Beat This!and its sequel, Beat That!. She has contributed to The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, Atlantic Monthly, Gourmet, Food and Wine and more. She was a humor columnist for Spy magazine and writes regular humor columns for Eating Well magazine.

While discussing the role of humor in her own food writing, Hodgman talked about her past, her inspirations, and how she creates humor.

“It’s definitely more of a challenge to be funny [in food writing],” Hodgman said. The topics of appetite and nutrition can be sensitive topics for some people.

On the same note, Hodgman believes humor is one way to tackle emotional situations. Poking fun at everyday scenarios that regular people go through not only makes writing lighthearted; it also becomes relatable, human writing. Taking a topic that would not normally seem humorous and making it hilarious fascinates Hodgman.

Since childhood, humor and food have played a strong role in Hodgman’s life. She remembers her family’s constant encouragement to see the humor in every situation, including difficult ones. As a teen, Hodgman thought about food often, struggling with her weight and trying various diets. She turned to humor to tackle her troubled relationship with food.

Peg Bracken’s I Hate to Cook Book was also an influence on Hodgman’s writing. She admired how Bracken mocked domestic life, a topic that had previously not been approached with humor. Bracken’s hassle-free recipes were relatable and realistic to busy, working moms in the 1960s, when the cookbook was released. Hodgman also admired Bracken’s conversational writing style and how she worked humor into her recipes.

Hodgman uses a similar style as Bracken, finding many of the jokes she uses by listening to casual, everyday conversations. One place from which Hodgman gets ideas from is in school cafeterias, listening to children’s’ conversations. “Kids sometimes put things in a way that adults can’t,” she explained.

She finds that humor writing is more successful when the language flows like natural conversation. To exemplify her style, Hodgman shared a short piece she wrote for Eating Well called “The E-mail Home” that was nominated for a James Beard Award in humor writing this year. The piece starts like this –


Of course I still “plan to grace you with my presence during the holidays,” as you put it. All I meant was, I’ve changed a LOT since coming to college and I need you to respect that. I’ve totally educated myself about nutrition. I’m learning to make food choices that are right for me. I was NOT criticizing your cooking when I said most of the foods you make are poison.”

Hodgman first took a scenario that most moms have experienced, a daughter writing home from college about what she’s been doing. To make this situation humorous, Hodgman played with the daughter’s character, making her exaggerate her new, overly health-conscious diet. She rambles on about her new gluten-allergy discovery, her new obsession with agave syrup over sugar and detoxing her body with raw foods.

Hodgman explained that she intended the piece to be a commentary on our society’s obsession with “super healthy food.” Exaggerating and joking about health and diet can help readers put into perspective just how seriously they might take these topics.

Lastly, Hodgman encouraged food humor writers to strive for a confident, assured voice. She suggests avoiding phrases that show uncertainty such as “in my opinion.” To Hodgman, believing in one’s humor and writing is more important than worrying about what the reader will think.

“Trust your own voice,” she said. “Trust that what you say is funny and don’t back away from that.”

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