Picture Perfect: At the Table with Northwest Food Bloggers

Scroll through the blogs of any of the foodies featured here, and you’ll notice there’s one common thread — food that brings people together. Plates of caramelized roasted squash, grilled shrimp in sugary glaze, birthday cakes filled with buttercream frosting — all the centerpieces of beautiful meals. For many of us, eating has become something we do on the fly, sitting at our desks noshing out of Styrofoam containers, or on the couch without conversation. These food bloggers inspire the opposite. They create food that’s beautiful and nourishing, and encourage their followers to take the time to enjoy every bite. Not to mention their recipes are easy on the eyes. We caught up with five bloggers to dish on everything from how they started, why they do it, and what’s most important — pretty food or flavorful food?

 

Deborah Balint

Deborah Balint, food bloggers - 425 Magazine

Photo by Jeff Hobson

rainydaybites

Deborah Balint, also known as rainydaybites on Instagram, started photographing her scrumptious dishes as a way for her and her children to remember their favorite recipes. She ties her simple rustic cooking to her parents’ global influence: Her mother from Lithuania and her father from England. Her parents ran a restaurant in Arizona when she was a child; it served American dishes along with their personal traditional favorites. Food at the center of her childhood memories has shown Balint that meals bring people together. She originally started sharing her dishes on Instagram to fine-tune her photography skills, but 43,000+ followers later, it has turned into much more. Instagram is also the home of #rainydaybitescookbookclub, a virtual online monthly cookbook club of four years. The virtual cookbook club has created 3,200 meals to date. 

rainydaybites pecan cake, food bloggers - 425 Magazine

Photo by Deborah Balint

The sense of community and memories around a meal inspire her to continue crafting mouth-watering dishes using fresh ingredients to encourage followers to get creative in the kitchen. While on the brink of being an empty nester, she plans to launch a blog within the next year to share her recipes in further detail. 

How do aesthetics influence what recipes you choose to create, photograph, or post?

I always try to create interesting photos that highlight the dish and the ingredients. As part of my normal feed, I do not pick recipes based on their potential aesthetics. I select recipes that interest me and that I know we will enjoy eating. Some dishes are inherently more visually appealing than others.

What makes a meal memorable to you?

rainiydaybites soup, food bloggers - 425 Magazine

Photo by Deborah Balint

Memorable meals are a combination of the food, the setting, and the people you share it with. Oftentimes, it may not even be the best meal of your life, and in the end, it comes down to the emotional component. The greatest thing about food is the ability, with one bite, to transport you back to another time and place in your life.

What tips do you have for people who want to take nice photos with their phone, but aren’t sure how to make it look visually pleasing?

My best advice is to only shoot in natural light, turn the flash off, and just start taking a lot of photos. Food looks best when shot in natural light, so you need to find where your house has the best light. As you take more photographs, you will learn what works and what doesn’t work, and you will also create your own style.

 

Shelley Buchanan

Shelley Buchanan, food bloggers - 425 Magazine

Photos by Shelley Buchanan

The Drunken Tomato

We knew we liked Drunken Tomato founder Shelley Buchanan when she described herself as a “vodka-soaked disco ball spreading boozy droplets of bloody mary love to the masses.”

The corporate finance attorney turned bloody mary connoisseur got the idea to launch the blog when she was sipping the classic cocktail in airports while traveling for work. It would be a fun way for her friends and family to keep up with her jet-setting lifestyle, she said. After the blog took off, she left her demanding Manhattan job and turned Drunken Tomato into a full-time gig that takes her all over the world writing city-themed bloody mary books — like The Drunken Tomato: Seattle — and judging bloody mary festivals. For nearly six years, she’s turned day drinking into her specialty and has sampled thousands of bloody marys.

Drunken Tomato bloody mary, food bloggers - 425 MagazineBut why bloody marys? Buchanan said vodka sodas are her go-to, but there’s something special about a really good bloody mary.

“Bloody marys are something you can have any time of day, and it’s always made in a different kind of way. In Canada, they’re called Caesars, and they’re all wild and crazy. It’s different in New York, where it’s simple with lots of horseradish. You can go to a different bar and have a different experience. People love bloody marys. I’ve been doing this almost six years, and I’ve never seen someone with a bloody mary in hand and a frown on their face.”

Drunken Tomato bloody mary, food bloggers - 425 Magazine

And she’s found every region has its own spin on the tomato-based drink. San Francisco prides itself on innovation and trying new things — like using whiskey instead of vodka — and the Midwest makes over-the-top garnishes and serves it with a beer back. Buchanan said she’s found an impressive bloody mary everywhere she’s been.

Buchanan said a good bloody mary is all about balance. The ingredients need to work together and complement each other. One of her favorite places is Percy’s in Ballard.

“They’re so good,” she said. “They do four or five different kinds, and they have different herbs. They have a really good variety. It’s like the total experience. It engages smells and tastes.”

Seattle Pickle Co. makes “hands-down one of the best” bloody mary mixes she’s ever had. The balance is amazing, she said, and it’s mixed with pickle brine, which creates a bright, spicy flavor.

Drunken Tomato bloody mary, food bloggers - 425 MagazineAs for garnishes, Buchanan said anything goes. She doesn’t necessarily have a favorite, but it should definitely include a stick of celery. Most of Seattle would disagree with her, though, she said with a laugh, because few bars garnish with celery.

Aside from getting to drink the best bloody marys nationwide — and dropping an occasional $60 for the drink— the best part of the job is getting to meet incredible people from all walks of life who have a similar passion: a really good bloody mary.

Check out her blog to find all the hottest spots to sip the cocktail, the best bloody mary mixes, recipes, and her books. The newest one, The Drunken Tomato: New York, publishes this month. Want to become an expert? Book a session with her on Airbnb Experience. When she’s in town, she takes a tour group to Seattle bars to taste and rate the bloody marys. 

 

Aran Goyoaga

Aran Goyoaga, food bloggers - 425 Magazine

Photo by Dorothee Brand

Cannelle et Vanille

Cooking has always been a way to heal, said Aran Goyoaga, who launched her Cannelle et Vanille blog in 2008. She suffered from anxiety most of her life, which manifested itself into an eating disorder and depression in her 20s. Cooking became a way to communicate and express herself. Goyoaga, now 43, focuses on the emotional side of food, and that’s clear in her photography. Twice she’s been a James Beard finalist for her blog. Her cookbook, Small Plates & Sweet Treats: My Family’s Journey to Gluten-Free Cooking, was named one of the top six cookbooks in 2012 by Good Morning America. Soon you’ll be able to watch her video series, A Cook’s Remedy, which delves into the emotional side of cooking. She also teaches workshops and organizes food gatherings. The Basque Country-born author, food stylist, and photographer lives in Seattle with her family. 

Canelle et Vanille squash, food bloggers - 425 Magazine

Photos by Aran Goyoaga

Do you think food has become more about visual appeal than taste?

Taste will always prevail, but I think we are at a time that visual appeal is equally important. I don’t mean to sound too precious, but I do think that cooking and eating should be a complete sensorial experience.

What trendy ingredients do you think we’ll be seeing soon?

I hardly ever think of trends, but I do think that vegetables in general are being praised and appreciated much more than ever before in the United States. I grew up in Europe, where we ate mainly vegetables and legumes, and I see that happening here. Also a lot of elemental cooking: with fire, natural fermentation, and textural food.

Canelle et Vanille tart, food bloggers - 425 Magazine

What makes a meal memorable to you?

I love the journey to a place. I think much more than (about) what I am eating — it’s how I got there. What happened earlier in the day? Who I am with? It is a combination of things that put you in a mindset, and that is the magic of the experience. And I love it when a meal is topped off with good, long conversation around the table.

What’s your favorite recipe you’ve blogged or written about?

Probably the pear hazelnut frangipane tart. It’s my most replicated tart.

 

Ashley Rodriguez

Ashley Rodriguez, food bloggers - 425 Magazine

Photo by Boone Rodriguez

Not Without Salt

Not Without Salt blogger Ashley Rodriguez from Seattle has had a full plate lately — pun intended. She’s in the midst of writing her second cookbook and is opening her first brick-and-mortar store, which is painted a crisp white with spicy saffron and dusty cerulean blue stripes to mimic a Pendleton blanket. Inside, she sells a mix of retail items, including cookie mixes — for which she has become famous — and salts. As of late, her blog featured updates of the shop coming together in anticipation of its opening. It’s also chock-full of nourishing and simplistically plated recipes that inspire a homecooked meal. For years, she worked in L.A. restaurants and then moved to Bellingham and worked as a pastry chef. For the last nine years, she’s been writing Not Without Salt. Food is her fulltime gig. She teaches food photography, cooking classes, writes cookbooks, and creates recipes for other brands. What hooked our interest were her chocolate chip cookies.

Not Without Salt salad, food bloggers - 425 Magazine

Photos by Ashley Rodriguez

How do aesthetics influence what recipes you choose to create, photograph, or blog about?

I’m influenced by what I’m craving, which is often dictated by the season more than anything else. My food is generally filled with loads of seasonal produce, and that in and of itself is quite beautiful. Well, that and chocolate. Chocolate is always easy to look at (and eat).

What trendy ingredients do you think we’ll be seeing soon?

I’m not certain I’m the best person to ask here, as I generally tend to ignore the trends and simply eat what I want to eat, but I’ve been excited to see people recognize how incredible celery (seriously, add the tender inner leaves to salads) is and also watch some of the more inhibited diets fall out of fashion and make room for a more balanced approach. I also love seeing more and more people use whole spices in dishes. I had a tomato salad the other day with whole toasted coriander, and it was incredible.

Not Without Salt burgers, food bloggers - 425 Magazine

What makes a meal memorable to you?

A memory around a meal is most often created when a dish completely surprises me. Like a salad I had at Ava Gene’s in Portland with celery (See! It’s a thing!), dates, and Parmesan. Or it’s because of the people I’m sharing the meal with.

What’s your favorite local place to eat/drink? What should our readers order?

Oh, there are just so many to choose from. My favorite place that I return to again and again is Le Pichet. In the winter, do not miss the Raclette. A chilled glass of rosé alongside some frites and their salad verte is quite possibly my favorite meal.

 

Jenny Keller

Jenny Keller, food bloggers - 425 Magazine

Photos by Kelly Clare

Jenny Cookies

Jenny Keller, the woman behind the famed Jenny Cookies Bake Shop in Lake Stevens, became addicted to perfecting sweet treats when her husband gifted her a recipe book that claimed the formula to creating the best sugar cookie. When she wasn’t satisfied with the result, she set out on a mission to make the yummiest sugar cookies with delicate buttercream frosting. Since launching her blog in 2006, she’s become a “baker to the stars,” including Tori Spelling, Lisa Rinna, and Sarah Michelle Gellar — published a cookbook, and opened a bakery in Lake Stevens. It’s been a whirlwind since her career in the bakery and lifestyle industry began more than 10 years ago, and even as she was recounting her story to us, she barely had time to catch her breath.

Jenny Cookies, food bloggers - 425 MagazineBefore building a brand around beautifully made desserts, Keller was a young woman out of college who opened an espresso stand in 2003. Keller grew up in the Seattle area and had worked as a barista throughout high school and college and wanted to do something fun right out of school. For four years, she ran a successful business before having her first child and becoming a stay-at-home mom. During that period, she got hooked on sugar cookies. They evolved from treats for friends and family into consistent requests from strangers who wanted custom cookies. One of Keller’s friends brought personalized cookies to Spelling’s book signing in Los Angeles, and her exposure exploded from there. Keller flew back and forth to L.A., creating lavish dessert tables for parties and styling desserts for Spelling’s party-planning book.

Jenny Cookies cake, food bloggers - 425 Magazine

“I traveled a lot for several years,” Keller said. “It got to the point where it’s a lot of work to fly down there. It brings a lot of attention, but I’ve had to turn down a lot of work. I still keep in touch, though. We got to be good friends during that time. She was and still is wonderful to work with.”

Lately, Keller’s attention is focused a little closer to home. Her Jenny Cookies Bake Shop is slightly off the beaten path — about 20 minutes from the freeway — so she never expected to have the foot traffic that it does. On opening weekend, the line wrapped around the building, and customers stop in from around the country daily. The bakery is unique in that it changes its style every few weeks. During the summer, it had ice cream, farmers market, and Pacific Northwest themes with completely new flavors, designs, and staging, which is partially what keeps people coming in, she said.

Jenny Cookies pies, food bloggers - 425 MagazineAll of her desserts are Instagram-able works of art, but her aim is to create designs that are easily replicable.

“I always tell people to keep decorating simple,” she said. “If you’re going to do pumpkin cookies, don’t try and draw a Jack-o-Lantern face on it. It turns into a hot mess. I like to keep things classic and simple.”

As if she weren’t busy enough, Keller also partners with nationwide brands for seasonal campaigns. If you follow Fresh, a natural cosmetics brand, you might see her cookies in its holiday marketing material. And she’s got her sights set on a second location, and is renovating a 1964 Metro food truck for events.

Her family recently moved to Woodway, a sleepy little community north of Seattle, into a renovated 1915 Dutch Colonial that’s as dreamy as her cookies. Check out her blog for pretty home photos and lots and lots of cookies. @jennycookies

 

Carol Dearth

Carol Dearth, food bloggers - 425 Magazine

Photo by Luci Damas

Sizzleworks

A passion for culinary creations has taken Carol Dearth down a pretty colorful path. For five years, she lived in Europe, training at Le Cordon Bleu in London to learn the art of pastries. For nine years, she co-hosted KCTS9 Cooks — a live cooking show produced in the United States, which aired in the Pacific Northwest and Canada. And 10 years ago, she founded the Bellevue cooking school Sizzleworks, which was rated in 2017 as one of the “Top 20 Cooking Teachers” in the Seattle area, according to expertise.com. Dearth created the Sizzleworks blog as an extension of the website in 2009 to connect with students and subscribers. @sizzleworks

Do you think food has become more about visual appeal than taste?

Sizzleworks scallops, food bloggers - 425 Magazine

Photos courtesy Sizzleworks

No. While the food experience begins with presentation, it then moves to include the aroma of the food, and finally taste. Taste and flavor are still the most important elements. In the end, if the dish does not taste good, it is not successful. Consumers are becoming more aware of how food can look, and the sensual effect of a beautiful plate. We see a growing interest in this across social media platforms, on food TV, and in restaurants. My students frequently work on plating techniques, but the idea should revolve around great-tasting food, properly cooked and seasoned, and appropriately garnished. A beautiful plate elevates the dining experience.

What trendy ingredients do you think we’ll be seeing soon?

Sizzleworks asparagus, food bloggers - 425 Magazine

Dietary issues, like gluten or lactose intolerance, vegetarian or vegan lifestyles, obesity, and diet-related health problems, have become paramount in driving food choices. I think we will see more and more products targeted to these consumers. However, I would like to see consumers be more aware of what good food choices can do for overall health. I (also) am seeing a trend toward more Indian cooking for the home cook, so the fragrant spices and unique ingredients will be in more demand.

What’s the best part about being a food blogger?

My blog is my creative outlet, and if I write about a recipe or food, there will be some cooking and tasting involved. So, writing a food blog at some point engages all five senses, which focuses me on the food — shutting out the other noise around me.

What’s your favorite recipe you’ve blogged or written about?

One of my top favorites would have to be a dish I created to pair specifically with a Treveri Cellars sparkling Chardonnay/Syrah blend rosé wine for a wine-makers dinner — sake raspberry glazed scallops.

 

 

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is a staff writer at 425 magazine. Email her.
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