Q&A: Lis Fogt '96
Q: When did you first get into cooking and baking?
A: I have always dabbled in the kitchen. As a kid, I made things like pancakes and Rice Krispie treats and other things that fed my sweet tooth. My husband and I have always done a lot of cooking together, and I have learned a lot about food from him. But my interest really took off when I became a stay-at-home mom and had more time to be in the kitchen. Now, for the first time, I'm the one doing most of the cooking in our home. It's a great learning experience.
Q: What has been the hardest dish to master for you?
A: I was a vegetarian for many years, and though I now eat meat, I still shy away from cooking it. My husband is a great cook, so he will often take the lead on meat dishes. It's something that I'd like to get more comfortable with.
Q: What is your least favorite food item?
A: I have never been a fan of beets. My grandmother used to serve them pickled with hard boiled eggs, the whites all coated in beet juice. I can still picture that dish and how much I hated being made to eat it. They are such a beautiful food, though, that I'm thinking I need to give them another chance. Friends have told me that I might enjoy them roasted. We'll see...
Q: Which ingredients do you use the most, or enjoy using the most, in your cooking?
A: I love baking, so butter and sugar are often on the shopping list. Lately, I have been trying to incorporate more whole grains into my baking, so I might substitute whole wheat flour for some of the all-purpose flour in a recipe. I find that I enjoy the flavor of a whole grain flour, and it doesn't weigh pastry down as long as it is in the right balance with white flour and the other ingredients.
Q: What food and ingredients do you always keep around for cooking and baking?
A: I like to have nuts, chocolate, and lemons on hand at all times. I also find that whole-milk yogurt comes in handy quite often. Sometimes I substitute it for whipped cream on top of a fruit dessert, and many cake and muffin recipes call for it.
Q: What is your favorite restaurant in D.C.?
A: Now that we have small children, my husband and I go out a lot less than we used to. One place we used to patronize a lot is Heritage India in Glover Park. We love their samosas, aloo gobi masala, and dingri mattar. We've moved out of that neighborhood, but every now and then I still get a craving for their food, and we drive over for take-out. Another great, casual place just a few doors down is the bar Bourbon. We spent many a weekend afternoon on their patio enjoying pints and curly fries.
Q: What is your favorite food blog to visit?
A: I enjoy blogs that meditate a little bit on the role food and cooking play in our lives. I'm less interested in ones that simply deliver a recipe with a few photos and a description. If I had to pick just one to visit every day, it would probably be The Tipsy Baker (www.tipsybaker.blogspot.com), which is one woman's quest to cook through her large cookbook collection, one book at a time. Her posts are funny, thought-provoking, and down to earth. Even though she doesn't often post recipes, I love to read her writing.
Q: In your blog, you have written that you are someone who enjoys learning new skills and knowledge at the countertop. What has been the most important thing you've learned about cooking recently?
A: I read a lot of cookbooks and other cooking literature. One practice I'm trying to adopt these days has come up in a several places lately. It's basically about developing a repertoire by cooking the same things over and over again until you've really got them down. I tend to be constantly in search of new recipes--in a quest for novelty, I suppose. But I'm finding that there is a lot to be learned by making one meal or dessert many times. It helps me to develop my palate and to tune in to the details of the process. And it's helpful when I'm invited to someone's house to immediately have in mind a couple of things I can bring that will be certain to please.
Q: Alongside recipes in your blog, you include many references to poetry and recommend books. What is your favorite book?
A: I have never been able to answer this question. There are so many books I love for so many different reasons. That said, I have always been a huge fan of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century fiction. I am fascinated by the worlds created by authors like Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Henry James, Edith Wharton, Sarah Orne Jewett, and E. M. Forster. For my blog, though, I'm particularly interested lately in reading food memoirs and other works about cooking and its role in our lives. This is taking me in an interesting direction, as I learn about new authors but also try to think back on the role food plays in some of my old favorites. The best food memoir I've read so far is called A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg. The one I'm reading right now--Home Cooking by Laurie Colwin--is wonderful, too.
Q: How have some of these books influenced your cooking?
A: I think that reading and cooking are similar in that both provide us with a chance to slow down, tune out distractions, and quiet our minds for a little while. Some of my students used to complain that an author was going into "too much description." I have never felt this way. I appreciate description that is crisp and vivid, like a photograph. Great authors make us notice small details. I find that I do the same thing when I'm cooking. There are so many beautiful fruits and vegetables and other ingredients that we get to transform in interesting ways when we cook. It's fun to observe that process and to write about it. As a reader, I suppose I choose books that provide me with a chance to tune into the small details of life.