Culture Maker: Food Writer Jeanelle Olson
Jeanelle Olson makes food and tells stories about it. She’s got the most beautiful blog, filled with exquisite recipes that read like memoirs and painterly photos to accompany them. I’ve been reading it for a few months now, loving getting to know Jeanelle through her experimentation in the kitchen. Recently, I followed along on her Insta stories for hours while she made... wait for it... chicken stock. And Jeanelle made it seem like the most magical process, describing the smells, the sounds, and sharing bits and pieces of her life along the way. I went ahead and copied the whole thing the very next day in hopes of snagging some of those beautiful broth moments myself.
There’s something so artful about the way Jeanelle approaches cooking. I wanted to know what else was getting her attention.
Here’s Jeannelle on parenting, style, food, music, and more:
1. Tell us a little about yourself.
I'm a mother, food person, recipe developer-tester-fixer-editor, cookbook ghostwriter-editor, daydreaming, loyal, swearing, opinionated goody-two-shoes Leo sun-Taurus rising. That's one sentence but I'm pretty sure it's a run-on. (I'm great with some grammar and I think other grammar rules are dumb and hard to remember!)
2. Describe your work.
Oh boy. This can swing so widely. I write on my blog, Book + Salt, and work on other people's cookbooks. Depending on the project, that can mean simply testing & editing recipes, or formatting chicken-scratch recipe notes into manuscript style/format, working side by side with an author to troubleshoot and polish recipes for a proposal, working with chefs to scale restaurant recipes into yields you'd find in a home kitchen (like, no one needs 600 meatballs), and writing the more editorial bits like forewords and headnotes. The soul of the blog is a lot more centered on practical, real-life home stuff, not just cooking but cooking for a family, including a small child who does not share my full-contact lifetime crush on food and flavor (YET). So the recipes are super-approachable and versatile, and are secretly more about setting up excellent ingredients together in one dish and making them do the work for you. Occasionally I'll also write for food media outlets like The Takeout.
3. What do you do most days? Do you have a routine?
Yes, sort of, thankfully! My son spends Mondays with my parents (they live 10 minutes away), goes to half-day preschool Tu-Wed-Thu, and is at home with me on Fridays. So Mondays are my mega work days, I try to do as much kitchen work as possible. I shoo my son out of the house with my dad around 8:30am and work all the way up until he comes home around 5:00pm. Preschool days are pretty chill, my son and I play, hang out, get groceries or run errands in the mornings, then he takes a quick nap before school. He's there for a couple of hours, at which point I race home and either cook more or do computer/writing work. Fridays are actually kind of great because I'm not trying to cram anything in before nap time/school time. My son is an epic napper if you leave him to it, so Fridays feel like a bit of a treat. In the evenings I do more work or hang out with my husband.
4. Describe something you’ve created that makes you proud.
I'm super proud of this hodgepodge life. It often feels mismatched and always a work in progress, but it’s working. I've wanted to do this, and do it this way, since I was a kid - be a mom and also be someone with a sort of lifelong project that involves food and writing - though I’m sure I didn't know how to articulate it back then. I'm also proud and profoundly grateful that my husband and family have supported me and help make this thing happen every day.
5. Who/What is inspiring you these days?
Honestly, women who cook and write and sometimes raise babies and are just funny, frank, and so smart. Women I know IRL and from the internet. I’m pumped that Tamar Adler is like, active on Instagram because her captions feel like a friend just texted me a quick recipe-idea-move. I want Samantha Irby to start a frittata-only IG account.
6. What books are you reading? What are some of your favorite books?
I just finished The Power for a book club, it was incredible. Now I’m on to Little Fires Everywhere by Celest Ng, which is brilliant so far. About once a year I come back to Women Who Run with the Wolves by Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes. It completely changed my inner life a few years ago. Reading it made me feel seen and heard in a way I’d never experienced. Each chapter resonates differently each time I read it, it’s a real treasure.
7. What music are you listening to? Really feeling a lot of dance-y stuff right now as I'm trying to wrap up recipe testing for one project so I can start another. Sofi Tukker, Disclosure, this incredible song by Vivienne Chi called “Junk” which you must listen to right this second. Also, I'm dying for Your Smith to put out more music. Her track "The Spot" was my personal jam of 2018 and may still be in the running for 2019. Also anything from Noname, she is devastatingly talented.
8. What artists or designers do you like?
Oh wow, this is tough. I've learned about so many talented artists and designers via Instagram. I think my top three at the moment are Laura Berger, Ashley Mary, and Erin Barrett of Sunwoven. Feeling a lot of color right now. Laura Berger has always been a favorite, her designs feel so grounding and eternal. I also have started following a handful of incredible jewelry designers like Salt + Still and Sierra Keylin, who makes incredible silver jewelry in the desert (tbh what I'd do in another life!).
9. What clothes are making you feel good?
Dresses over jeans forever! I'm gravitating a lot toward super-versatile stuff that can take me from elbow-deep in recipe testing to hanging out with my son and running errands, so it's a lot of things that can be layered together. I have a long sleeve gray cotton midi shift from Hackwith Design House that I wear over jeans at least once a week, and another, heavier-weight sweatshirt dress from Universal Standard that I will wear consecutive days in a row. Really leaning on some very high rise Levi’s (that 10-inch rise thoooo!). I also finally invested in some Blundstones and they’re exactly the workhorse I need them to be! OH and these incredible wide-leg brushstroke print pants from Premme, which I wish I had occasion to wear every day, forever. Important to note: I'm a size 2X/20 and love talking and learning about inclusive fashion. I'm proud to say all of these companies/designers offer up to a size 3X or higher.
DONE! Thank you, Jeanelle! I’m an over-achiever and already...
1. Waiting on my copy of Women Who Run..., which should arrive today!
2. Planning on making “3 Ingrediant Tomato Soup” to warm my frigid soul this weekend.
3. Giving some listens to your music recs WHILE I WRITE THIS... AND I”M SUUPER PEPPED!!
4. Trying “dresses over jeans” IRL, just need some guidance... requesting pics please, Jeanelle!
And, YOU! Have a relaxing weekend, you coolest mom, YOU!!
(All photos by Jeannelle Olson)