Posts tagged ‘Interview’

March 29, 2013

Inside the Queens Studio with Melissa Guerra

by Sandy Pollock

I have to admit that I kinda wanna be Melissa Guerra. Melissa is such an inspiration to me for so many reason. First of all, she is a food wiz!  She lives and breathes the stuff and her knowledge in the realm of Latin foods is hard to match. Melissa has been a wonderful sounding board for me through the years and I really appreciate that.  She’s a dear friend of my family and an all around awesome person!

If you are in the San Antonio area you MUST go to her store in the Pearl Brewery. It is fantastic and the area is so super fun! It is not to be missed.


Melissa Guerra is an 8th generation Texan, born and raised on a working cattle ranch in South Texas. She is a self taught culinary expert and food historian, specializing in the food ways of the American continent, especially Texas regional, Mexican, and Latin American cuisine. Her cooking show, “The Texas Provincial Kitchen,” was produced in San Antonio at KLRN, and aired on PBS affiliates across the U.S.


Guerra has worked as a bilingual spokesperson for Kraft, Coca-Cola, Goya and Mazola. In 2005, Melissa Guerra served as a consultant, and was featured as a culinary expert on the PBS reality show “Texas Ranch House.” Guerra also teaches cooking courses and is often a featured public speaker.


Her second cookbook Dishes from the Wild Horse Desert: Norteño Cuisine of South Texas  was published in 2006 by John Wiley and Sons. Dishes from the Wild Horse Desert was a finalist for a James Beard Award in the category of Foods of the Americas, and for an International Association of Culinary Professionals award in the same category.


Since 2000, Melissa Guerra has owned and operated a website and storefront dedicated to providing top quality Latin American kitchenware and ingredients. Guerra’s newest store opened in  November, 2008 at the Pearl Brewery in San Antonio, the location of the new Culinary Institute of America’s Center for Foods of the Americas (focusing on Latin American cuisine)




Where you work:

Owns Melissa Guerra, a Latin American culinary store in San Antonio, Texas. Voted the #2 destination to visit by Lonely Plant Travel Guide in May 2011

How you got started:

Taught cooking lessons in my home

What is your “recipe” for success?

Still working on that…

If you weren’t an amazing Entrepreneur, Chef, Cookbook Author you would be…

A mom, and if that hadn’t worked out either a professional singer or a nun.

If your personality could be described as any casserole what would it be?

Not sure, but cheese would definitely be involved.

Your spouse called and his Aunt Edna is in town and coming over for dinner. Quick – what is your go to meal?

If turning off the porch lights and hiding didn’t work, our second option is that we always have frijoles and tortillas in the fridge, maybe Arroz con Pollo as we always seem to have a frozen chicken on hand as well. I would probably make a pie or cake too, which I would consume by myself after Aunt Edna left.

Name one kitchen disaster you’ve had.

I burned my toast about a month ago and set off the fire alarm. Four policemen showed up. They asked what I did for a living, and got a big kick when I told them I was a food professional. Aside from that, a kitchen  set caught fire once when taping a show. My home kitchen blew up during our remodeling, but technically, that had nothing to do with me cooking. Lost 500 sq ft of my house. My restaurant caught on fire too. Take your pick.

What dish from your childhood brings you the most comfort and why?

I am a potato chip FREAK! I love salty, crunchy stuff. Apparently, these snacks love me back as they permanently take up residence on my ever widening rear end.

If someone wrote a book about you, what would the title be

Head in the Fridge – A Psychoanalytical Case Study of A Low Functioning OCD Food Savant.  Not sure if this would be a book or a doctoral dissertation

March 23, 2012

Inside the Queen’s Studio with Tara Miko Grayless

by Crystal Cook

The Queens periodically interview someone we find interesting and inspiring. In this installment, we are excited to introduce you to Tara Miko Grayless. Sandy and I love meeting fellow entrepreneurs and hearing the personal stories on what motivates them to pursue certain career paths.  It was while we were out promoting our book that we met Tara Miko Grayless, owner of Happy Hemp!  Initially it may have been the name of the product that grabbed our attention, but we were equally intrigued by Tara’s story. After 10 years in the fashion industry, the stressful demands of the job were taking a toll on both Tara’s physical and mental well-being.   She was suffering from insomnia, indigestion and was generally feeling blue. After embarking on mission to put her health first, she was introduced to the benefits of hemp seeds. The passion she demonstrated over her product was infectious, and after months of being out on tour, it didn’t take much to convince us to give Happy Hemp a try!  Life on the go was simply not allowing us to make healthy eating decisions, so this was a perfect solution to balance out the airport junk and last minute grab-and go meals that consumed our diet! Just two tablespoons a day is all it took, and it truly did help with our general sense of well-being. Tara provides tons of inspiration and tasty ways to incorporate hemp seeds into your diet through her website and blog and we encourage you to check it out at: and

 The queens are proud supporters of Happy Hemp and we hope that you get inspired by her story as well.  Enjoy!

The Queens and Tara

Tell us a little about yourself and why you started your business.

After 10 years in the fashion industry, I came to a place where I did not like where my life was headed. Instead of continuing down that same path, I chose to create a passion project. Happy Hemp was born from me starting over and living a life that I choose to live, was proud of, and ultimately creates happiness for myself and others.

Happy Hemp is enlightening thousands of people to hemp seed, an ancient superfood with life-altering benefits. Often touted as “the most nutritionally complete food source in the world,” hemp seeds are vegan and gluten-free, and boast nature’s highest botanical source of essential fatty acid (more than flax or any other nut or seed oil), a perfect 3:1 ratio of Omega-3 and Omega-6  essential fatty acids.

Happy Hemp should be enjoyed as part of a balanced diet either as a satisfying snack on its own, a topping for yogurt or cereal, or incorporated into a healthy recipe.

Behold the power of Hemp Seeds!

What is your “recipe” for success?

I am not afraid to hear the word ‘NO.’ One of my greatest strengths is my persistence, and being a successful business owner means to love your company and believe in your company when NO one else does.

If your personality could be described as any casserole, what would it be?

I would say I am a quiche. You take common ingredients like eggs, ham and cheese and come up with a unique combination.

 If someone wrote a book about you, what would the title be?

Failing to Give Up.

What dish from your childhood brings you the most comfort and why?

Grilled cheese and tomato soup. No matter where I am in the world, this simple dish brings me comfort when I am far away.

Family is in town unexpectedly and coming over for dinner. Quick – what is your go to meal?

When I have an unexpected guest, my go to meal is lasagna, a large salad and garlic bread. And don’t forget beautiful full glasses of red wine. For dessert? Two scoops of laughter.

Tell us about a cooking disaster that you’ve had.

OMG… which one? I am the queen of getting distracted in the kitchen, a professional food burner.

What unique characteristic do you bring to the hemp seed?

Most people are surprised by the way I look. There is a preconceived image of what a hemp seed salesgirl is supposed to look like. Some customers who would have walked past are intrigued to stop, chat and learn about how great Happy Hemp is as a food source.

Tara Miko Grayless

What has been the most interesting dish you have ever tasted with hemp?

Ice cream! Yum. It’s nice to be eating such a rich and tasty dish, knowing that it’s still good for you in some ways.

Let us in on your favorite hemp pairings and how often do you work hemp into an “everyday” dish?
My blog keeps me testing and tasting new dishes weekly. I am personally a fan of simple and easy dishes. I love a fresh fruit smoothie to start my day.

Happy Hemp Takeout Noodles - Yum!

Happy Hemp Sesame Sauce with Kale

May 6, 2011

Inside the Queen’s Studio with Raychel Deppe

by Casserole Queens

The Queens periodically interview someone we find interesting and inspiring. In this installment, we are excited to introduce you to the talented Raychel Deppe As a professional photographer for over 6 years, Raychel has had the opportunity to shoot a wide variety of subjects for an impressive list of clients.  From product shots to headshots, from still life photography to our personal favorite of food and beverage, Raychel creates absolutely stunning work. Maybe it derives from her obvious passion and commitment to her trade.  We were fascinated to learn that she went to culinary school (and risked bodily harm!)  specifically to further educate herself on the food industry for her photographic purposes. Now that is dedication!  

Tell us a little about yourself and why you choose photography as a career.

I’m Raychel: a little extreme but mostly passionate and in love with life. I thrive on inspiration and finding an outlet to transfer and express my creative energy. As a photographer I’m: technically driven, detail oriented, and perhaps a bit obsessive compulsive. I chose photography because it is the most versatile creative profession I found that allows me to work with a variety of people, each with different skill sets and personalities. Working with new clients allows me to remain motivated and creatively challenged on a daily basis!

What is your “recipe” for success?

Find what you love, and make it a career. That way, even the “boring” jobs are enjoyable.

If you weren’t a professional photographer you would be…

A chef and or holistic nutritionist. No questions about it. Food has always been my second passion in life.

Why do you enjoy shooting food? And how it is different than your other gigs (wedding, commercial, etc.)?

I am a commercial photographer who decided to go to cooking school. I moved from New York City to Austin, Texas specifically to go to Texas culinary academy to study the food industry in more depth for photographic purposes. After a tragic experience with a flash fire and 2nd degree burns I decided I had gained all the knowledge I needed from cooking school and it was time for me to apply it to my photography (minus the grease burns of course). I love photographing food because it is a multi-dimensional experience. I love the potential for all 5 senses to participate in the photographic process. The passion for me goes far beyond just the photographs…food is one of those tangible things in life that connects me to every other culture throughout the world.

If a casserole described your personality – what would it be?

Definitely a potpie. Rich pastry exterior, with warm (perhaps a little bit less-refined) traditional gravy center!

Name one photography disaster you’ve had.

Sometimes I think that the photographic disasters are blessings in disguise…. and they usually end up with the best photos. Problems force me to creatively problem solve and that is probably one of the reasons I love photography so much. However, one of my very first official photoshoot as a professional photographer was shot entirely in the wrong format. The feeling I got in the pit of my stomach when I realized this mistake was paralyzing. Luckily, in the end, the images were large enough files that I was able to convert them to the proper format for this publication without a problem. Worst mistake, but this lesson has stayed with me always.

What do you think makes a good food image?

Two key elements make a good food photograph: lighting and styling. Both are essential. You can’t have one without the other.

Are there some foods that you find impossible to photograph?

Foods that have a tendency to melt are the most difficult. Speed is crucial and extra hands are a plus.

Who was your most interesting client?

The most interesting client I have ever worked with thus far is the Quest Syndicate Loft. They are racing pigeon experts that breed, auction, and race pigeons all around the world. Not only is the sport of pigeon racing quite unique, but also the photography that accompanies it is extremely challenging and very specific. How do you pose a pigeon?

If someone wrote a book about you, what would the title be?

lovin’ it: the Raychel Deppe experience

April 11, 2011

Inside the Queen’s Studio with Denise Silverman

by Casserole Queens

The Queens periodically interview someone we find interesting and inspiring. In this installment, we are proud to introduce you to Denise Silverman.  Not only is Denise the CEO of CLINK (a fabulous event production agency that designs and coordinates special events in Texas, across the US and abroad), but she is also a loyal Casserole Queen customer and dear friend! Denise has been planning show-stopping events here in Austin since 2002 and boasts about 75 events/year, many of which have been published and/or featured in various news media outlets.  She is sharp, fearless and has impeccable taste.  And we do mean impeccable.  See for yourself, on the CLINK company blog. Enjoy!

Tell us a little about yourself.

First and foremost, I’m a Mom and a wife.  My family is what motivates me to be successful in everything I do.

What is your “recipe” for success?

Making people happy.  I’m a people-pleaser and I don’t like to disappoint.  So whether it’s my clients, my staff or my family – I am constantly working to keep people happy.  That, and Friday nights at El Chile with my family.  There’s nothing better than making it through a busy week and looking forward to our weekly tradition of margaritas and Tex Mex with my two favorite boys.

If you weren’t the CEO of CLINK you would be…

A swim coach.  I grew up on a swim team and it was probably the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done.  I held my coach in the highest regard and learned from him the value of hard work and how it pays off.  I loved the look of pride on my coach’s face when I would beat my best time or win a race! I would love to be able to teach/motivate that way.

If a casserole described your personality – what would it be?

Gooey apple butter cake . . . sweet and indulgent!

What’s your favorite dish you’ve served at an event?

I would have to go with the make-your-own stuffed avocado bar.  There was so much delicious-ness all on one table.  The caterer was so creative with the fillings and the guests couldn’t get enough.  And I was lucky enough to get the leftovers!

Name one event disaster you’ve had.

I’ve never had a full-on disaster (knock wood!), but Mother Nature has certainly given me a few grey hairs.  Of course, we are always prepared with a fail-proof rain plan, but having to make the call on whether to execute the rain plan tent is both stressful and expensive!  I hate having to advise clients that we really need to execute the rain plan!  Everyone wants to think it’s not going to rain on their wedding day, but I’m paid to think that it will!  And no matter how much planning goes into a good rain plan, there are inevitably little, unexpected glitches.  The key is working through those glitches so that the client and the guests never knew a thing!

What was the most fun/interesting event you’ve worked on?

What makes an event fun is the guests.  If the guests are happy, fun, friendly people, the event is going to be fun.  If the guests are hard-to-please and/or rude, well . . . it’s going to be a long night.

What’s your most favorite part of your job?

Making people happy.  There’s nothing better than receiving a thank you note from a client after the event is over that says, “We couldn’t have done it without you.”  Also – the food! I love trying new things and love when my clients are excited about food!

What was the craziest request you’ve received from a client?

Some day, I will write a tell-all book about all the crazy requests and other madness that has occurred over the years.  Until then, mum’s the word.

If someone wrote a book about you, what would the title be?

People Pleaser.

April 1, 2011

Inside the Queens’ Studio with Cory Ryan

by Casserole Queens

The Queens periodically interview someone we find interesting and inspiring. In this installment, we are super excited to introduce you to Cory Ryan, photographer extraordinaire! Cory was just recently voted one of the Top 10 Best Photographers” in Austin, TX by the Knot Magazine, and won a Golden Boot for her work at the 2009 Austin Fashion Week Awards. In addition to shooting weddings and portraits, she is also mastering the art of food photography. Yum!  Cory’s wit and energy is infectious – and we are sure you will enjoy learning more about her – just like we did!

Tell us a little about yourself and why you chose photography as a career.

I graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill with a degree in film & video production and post graduation, worked as an editor for 3 years. After one particularly long documentary project, I got creatively burned out and was sick of sitting in front of a computer all day. I decided I needed a career that was more social and active. Since I already had lighting, composition and visual storytelling skills, I thought, ” why not photography?”

What is your “recipe” for success?

Be sure that your brand and your photographic identity are truly authentic to who you are as a person. People can tell when you’re trying to be someone you are not. Work at being innovative and 100% yourself in all the work you create!

If you weren’t a professional photographer you would be…

A full-time musician. I currently play bass in Hollywood Gossip and would love it if that could actually pay the bills!

Why do you enjoy shooting food? And how is it different than your other gigs (wedding, commercial, etc.)?

Food doesn’t talk back. Ha.

If a casserole described your personality – what casserole would it be?

Ummmm, a 7-layer dip?

Name one photography disaster you’ve had.

That was probably the windy wedding when my umbrella blew out backwards during formal photos and I sliced my thumb trying to get it fixed. Blood was gushing all over my camera body and I had to try not to freak out in front of the family.

What do you think makes a good food image?

Texture, lighting, dish presentation’s and garnish. I love it when a chef or stylist surprises me with some unexpected garnish or dollop of asymmetrical sauce!

Are there some foods that you find impossible to photograph?

Some foods are naturally impossible to photograph, like ice cream. What’s funny is that they make fake versions that look identical to the real thing, but that don’t melt! There are food styling resources that make almost anything possible these days.

Who was your most fun/interesting client?

That would easily have to be the “Premiere Clothes-Free Travel Agency” that hired me to shoot a 7-day nude cruise to the Caribbean.

If someone wrote a book about you, what would the title be?

This is so hard! How about, “How to be Fearless and Other Fun Tricks from a Pedicure Addict”?

March 18, 2011

Inside the Queens’ Studio with Anthony Caruso

by Casserole Queens

The Queens periodically interview someone we find interesting and inspiring and in this installment, we are thrilled to introduce you to Anthony J. Caruso, host of “Thindulge.” Not only did Anthony win us over with his knack for taking everyday recipes and turning them into delicious healthy dishes, but he also stole our hearts with his natural charisma and warmth. Just look at that smile!

Tell us a little about yourself.

I have always loved food. When I was five years old, I wanted an Easy Bake Oven for Christmas. That love of food showed up on my waistline. Italian home cooking will do that to you. I moved to New York after college to pursue a career in acting and realized that I needed to take to take the weight off. I started exercising and ate the same boring food over and over again because the food I loved was off limits. I was thin, but didn’t enjoy eating. Then, one day, my partner and I were watching Food Network and commenting on how delicious the food looked, but that we would never make it because it was too fattening. I looked at him and said, “I wonder how it would taste if you used some low-fat ingredients?” That’s the moment my concept of recipe manipulation was born. I started trying out all kinds of recipes and they were great. Friends would eat it and swear it wasn’t healthy. People started asking me how I did it. When I saw how many people were stuck in the same rut I was in, I thought it would be a great idea for a show, which has evolved into Thindulge.

What is your recipe for success?

My main ingredient is faith in myself and my dream, because if you don’t believe in you, you can’t expect anyone else to either. I mix that with unwavering determination, because everyone who has done anything great in this world has had people ridicule them and tell them no. Then I fold in gratitude, which keeps you humble and grounded. I top it all off with joy, because if you’re not going to enjoy the ride, why bother?

If you weren’t a chef, you would be…

A massage therapist. It’s actually what I do now, when I’m not cooking.

If a casserole described your personality, what would it be?

Mashed Potato Casserole. I’m cheesy, I’m mushy, I’m comforting and my goal is to put a smile on peoples’ faces when they see me. And like mashed potatoes where you can pair them with many different ingredients and still taste good, I’m versatile and can adapt to different situations very easily.

Name one cooking disaster you’ve had.

I was teaching a cooking class and they had me use a convection oven. I had never used one before, but they gave me a quick demo in how to set the temperature and I figured I would be fine. Well, I didn’t know that a convection oven has a stand to put the food on so the air circulates around the food. It was missing the stand that goes in the oven to elevate the food and I slid the food in like you would a regular oven. When I went to take it out and show the class, it wasn’t done. I put it in longer and still wasn’t done. And again. And again. Meanwhile, I have to ad lib, all while maintaining some authority that I’m qualified to teach the class. After all, here I am, a Next Food Network Star Finalist, and I can’t get my food to come out right. Finally, someone noticed the stand in back and brought it out. What should have been in for 8 minutes was in for 30 minutes. That’s a lot of ad libbing to a group of hungry people!

Why did you decide to “thindulge” recipes as opposed to making them full fat, like most other chefs?

I feel there is a perception that healthy cooking has to be boring – that you have to deprive yourself of the foods you love, in order to stay fit. I look at magazines and their idea of a healthy snack is deli-sliced turkey breast wrapped around sliced tomatoes. My idea of a snack is nachos. As a kid, my mom would offer pears and apples for dessert and I always groaned. I wanted chocolate cake. Besides, anyone can throw a stick of butter in a recipe or cook things in bacon fat and it will taste good. In my opinion, it takes more effort and creativity to create a chocolate layer cake that is 100% whole grain, sugar free and has a fraction of the fat, calories and cholesterol and yet still tastes like it came from a bakery.

If you had to eat the same meal every day for the rest of your life, what would you pick?

Spaghetti and meatballs all the way. As a kid, we had it every Sunday. In my family, we have pasta on Thanksgiving before we eat the traditional turkey dinner. It takes me home every time I eat it.

What is your least favorite ingredient and why?

Tofu. I can’t stomach the taste. I really wanted to find a way to eat it since it’s so heathy, so I tried putting it in a pumpkin soup to mask the taste. There weren’t enough spices in the world to cover up the taste. I threw it all out and ordered pizza.

Who was the most famous person you’ve cooked for?

From what I understand, someone has made my recipes for Whoopi Goldberg.

If someone wrote a book about you, what would the title be?


January 15, 2011

Inside the Queens Studio: Meet Mama Pollock

by Sandy Pollock

Sandy’s biggest influence in her life is her mother Margie aka Marge. She is the strong and smart and funny and supportive and awesome! So it only made sense to make her part of our interview group. Here’s what she had to say…

  • Name, short bio, where they work, how they got into cooking, etc.

My name is Margie Pollock. I recently retired from being the Post Master in Hargill Texas for 44 years. I am super happy to be retired and I use my time gardening and cooking for my family. I have 4 daughters: Yvonne and Yvette (twins), Kellye, and Sandy. I have 7 great grandchildren and 1 great husband of 52 years. I got into cooking because I had a family and they had to eat.

  • What is your “recipe” for success?

Well you’ll need a dash of love and a sprinkle of…oh who am I kidding. It’s very simple. Don’t bother the hubby when it’s hunting season. Success.

  • If you weren’t a ___ you would be…

If I weren’t a retired postmaster of 44 years then I would be a retired something else, because I am NOT going back! I am RETIRED!

  • Your spouse called and his Aunt Edna is in town and coming over for dinner. Quick – what is your go to meal?

Sloppy Tacos is a go to for me when I need food on the table quickly. Seasoned ground beef piles on a bed tortilla chips. The thing that sells this meal is the toppings. You want tons of fresh delicious toppings like: Diced tomatoes, sliced pickled jalapeños, shredded cheese, avocado slices, diced onion, shredded lettuce… Put each topping in a fun bowl and set the table. It’s an almost instant fiesta!

  • Name one kitchen disaster you’ve had.

I have been a member of a Bunco club forever and it was my turn to host at my house. I made spaghetti and meat sauce for my guests. Everything was going so smoothly until I went to drain my pasta. I had my strainer posed and ready to go and just and I started to pour out my perfectly al dente pasta into the strainer the steam fogged up my glasses and I miss the strainer and it fell into a semi sudsy sink! Luckily for me my daughters were standing there ready to…LAUGH! I was so frustrated! I had a gaggle of laughing daughters and a houseful of hungry Bunco players and no extra pasta!! SO I did what any good hostess would do. I rinsed that sudsy pasta off and served it with a smile. I would have gotten away with it if it were for those meddling kids (Scooby doo reference)! Just kidding I totally got away with it! Score one for Marge!

  • What dish from your childhood brings you the most comfort and why?

My mother’s cinnamon rolls. It was one of those pinch of this handful of that and we have yet to be able to replicate it. They were delicious and comforting beyond words.

  • If someone wrote a book about you, what would the title be?

Sunday Lunch with Marge. My family (husband, kids, grandkids, son-in-laws) have a standing invitation to lunch, at my house, after church every Sunday. We’ve been doing this for many years and it is truly the thing I look forward to the most during my week. We all sit around the table and catch up. With technology and busy lives we lead I feel so fortunate that my daughters and their kids come and spend that time with us.

I try out all kinds of stuff on my Sunday lunch guests. Some stuff was good and some stuff was not so great, but I keep trying new stuff and really enjoy myself in the process. Plus a little secret just between us, if you make lots of extra food you won’t need to cook during the week! Hammock here I come!

December 6, 2010

Inside the Queens Studio: Meet Olivia!

by Casserole Queens

Drawing inspiration from James Lipton (or maybe Will Ferrell playing the part of James Lipton on SNL), we periodically interview someone we find interesting and inspiring. In our second installment, we talk to cupcake cutie Olivia Guerra O’Neal.

Tell us a little about yourself.

I am Olivia Guerra O’Neal, owner of Sugar Mama’s Bakeshop.

I have always had a love of baking and as I got older I realized that it was more than a passion, it was something I wanted to pursue as a career. I love creating and baking desserts and watching people’s reaction when they have that first delicious bite of cake. I also love being a part of our customer’s birthdays, weddings, and “just because” celebrations.

What is your “recipe” for success?

My recipe for success is that I truly have a passion for the industry I am in and I work hard to ensure that I have an equally passionate team. All of our staff truly cares about the product we are creating, along with making sure that our customers have a great experience when they come into our shop. We have a very low turnover rate for the restaurant industry and I think it’s because we all love what we do and what Sugar Mama’s stands for.

If you weren’t a pastry chef you would be…

A rockstar! I recorded music back in the day and have always wanted to have a singing career, lalala!

Your spouse called and his Aunt Edna is in town and coming over for dinner. Quick – what is your go to meal?

I can bake a cake, but cooking is a whole other ballgame for me. With that said, we love Taco Night at the O’Neal household, along with an ice cold Margarita and my famous guacamole.

If your personality was described by a casserole – what would it be?

King Ranch casserole for sure! A little bit spicy, a lot cheesy, and everyone would have a strong opinion about me one way or the other.

Name one kitchen disaster you’ve had.

Just one? The one that comes to mind is the day we opened Sugar Mama’s Bakeshop and I realized that I didn’t know how to run a convection oven. There were lines out the door and we were in over our heads! I called a fellow baker in Las Vegas and she gave me some pointers, and Sandy of Casserole Queen fame spent opening day at Sugar Mama’s saving my behind! The Casserole Queens aren’t just amazing cooks, they’re superheros on the side.

What dish from your childhood brings you the most comfort and why?

My dad makes a soup that he named Hobo Stew. You take all the veggies from the kitchen along with some lean sirloin and cook it over a hot stove for about 8 hours. Hobo Stew and a some crusty San Francisco sourdough makes everything right in the world.

Who was the most fun/interesting person you cooked for?

We’ve had celebrities and notable personalities come through our shop, but I get the most pleasure from baking for my three-year old. He is in love with everything I make and when I watched him eat his first piece of chocolate cake his eyes actually rolled back into his head. It was fantastic and he’s a great eater – from Ethiopian food to Sushi it’s so fun exposing him to new cuisines and he loves them all. The other day he told me he wants to be a chef.

What would I find in your refrigerator right now?

Off the top of my head we have roasted red pepper soup, plums, roti, veggie burgers, a bottle of sparkling red and a drawer full of peppers, onions, tomatoes and other yummy veggies.

If someone wrote a book about you, what would the title be?

A Woman and Her Whisk

To learn more about Olivia and Sugar Mama’s Bakeshop, visit her website at

November 13, 2010

Inside the Queens Studio: Meet Miss Abigail!

by Casserole Queens

Drawing inspiration from James Lipton (or maybe Will Ferrell playing the part of James Lipton on SNL), we periodically interview someone we find interesting and inspiring. In our first installment, we talk to author and advice-giver Miss Abigail.

Tell us a little about yourself.

I’m Abigail Grotke, aka Miss Abigail. I began collecting advice books back around 1985, and the collection has grown to over 1,000 books since then. I’ve scoured these books to glean wisdom from advice-givers of yesteryear, and have been doling out advice from classic advice books on the web since 1998. The best-of the website was turned into a book, Miss Abigail’s Guide to Dating, Mating, and Marriage, and the book recently inspired a play, which is opening Off-Broadway on October 24 and is starring Eve Plumb (Jan Brady) as Miss Abigail!

I have an extensive background in print and digital publications and a keen interest in historical materials and pop culture, not to mention a love of crawling around dirty used bookstores to find the perfect book to add to my collection. During the day, I work on digital library projects for the Library of Congress (currently I help archive the Internet), and have previously worked in the publications office of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. In 2004, I was named one of 55 Library Journal “Movers and Shakers,” an annual feature which sets out to identify “emerging leaders in the library world.”

I live in an old house in Takoma Park, Maryland, with my talented musician husband Denis Malloy, and our terrier mutts Felix and Lulu.

What is your “recipe” for success?

Good friends, good wine, good food, good fun!

If you weren’t an expert advice-giver you would be…

Well, since it’s all a hobby, the expert advice-giver actually answers the question “if you weren’t a government employee what would you be”?

If your personality could be described as any casserole, what would it be?

A classic chicken pot pie. Warm, comforting, with a crust that is a bit flaky at times.

What dish from your childhood brings you the most comfort and why?

Grilled cheese. It’s the only thing I ate for years, and I still get a lot of joy from them, particularly with a nice hot cup of tomato soup.

Best piece of advice you would give to a seventeen-year-old girl going on her first date to a fancy restaurant?

I’d have to stick with table etiquette advice, because manners are so important to making a good first impression. And the seventeen-year-old has probably not had much experience in fancy restaurants (she must have found a great date!).

I consulted with Betty Betz’s Your Manners are Showing: The Handbook of Teen-Age Know-How (1946). She says: “It’s not easy to make sparkling small talk if there’s a major conflict starring a knife and a fork whirling around your brain. Basic table strategy is simple, like all good manners. Once you learn the routine, your table manners will come naturally…”. In addition to the usual advice about where your drinking glass is and starting with the outer forks, knives and spoons, the author gives a few specific tips that might be helpful to our seventeen-year-old girl:

“Always remember to raise the food to your mouth — don’t duck your head over your plate like a hungry bird of prey. Don’t play games with your food, and never twiddle with the silverware. Habits like these make you appear ill at ease, so be smooth; remember to keep your hands on your lap when you’re not eating.

Be as attractive as you can at the table — this means not talking with your mouth fill, and avoiding unpleasant or off-color conversations. Don’t sprawl on the table or tilt back on the legs of your chair. Never comb your hair during a meal, and if you feel a sneeze coming on, turn your head away from the table. …

If you happen to make a mistake, brush it off lightly and don’t let it ruin your evening.”

This tip from Sophie C. Hadida, in her 1950’s book Manners for Millions, might also come in handy: “It is discourteous to order at a restaurant any food which through its odor may disturb others at the table. Such foods are strong cheese, onions, chives, garlic.”  Ms. Hadida also provides some advice for the boys – hopefully this girl’s date will pay attention to this one!

“I once heard a young man say, ‘I should care whether my girlfriend likes onions or not. If I want to eat onions, I eat them. If she doesn’t like it, she knows what she can do.’”

Such a person is the personification of selfishness. The poor girl may be helpless. She has no other boyfriend at the present time, and is forced to go out with Jack, who chooses to eat onions that evening. No one wants to be accused of having halitosis. Eating onions is courting a form of halitosis which is really more objectionable than the unavoidable kind, because the implied discourtesy irritates.

Elbows on the table…yes or no?

Oh, most definitely not. In an 1880 book called Decorum: A Practical Treatise on Etiquette and Dress of the Best American Society, written by John A. Ruth, the author advises “Keep your elbows at your side, so that you may not inconvenience your neighbors.”

I’ve also got a book titled “Elbows Off the Table: Manners for Teen-Age Christians.” (1957) I checked that, as it seemed to be the perfect reference on this topic. This author’s advice – oh wait, a surprise!: “Don’t put your elbows on the table, except between courses. Don’t lean. In fact, don’t put your left hand anywhere on the table; put it on your lap.”

We’ve all been on those dates when the check comes and conversation instantly becomes strained…should the girl nicely get out her wallet to pay or is that the man’s responsibility?

While times have changed and sharing the tab is much more common, sensitivity may still be a concern if the boy and girl don’t know each other well (if it is early in the relationship). Back in 1950, Evelyn Milles Duvall in her Facts of Life and Love provided some advice that might still ring true: she mentions that Dutch-dating, “wherein the girl and boy share the cost, is not a common practice in most communities — perhaps because the boy’s pride is involved. A girl must be extremely tactful; boldly buying her own ticket or handing him the cash in public may be offensive and embarrassing to him. It is usually wise to have the arrangement definitely understood in advance and to give the boy the money before leaving the house. In some cities a girl dutch-dating with a boy at a restaurant can simply ask the waitress to give her a separate check.”

Your spouse called and his Aunt Edna is coming into town and coming over for dinner. Quick– what is your go-to meal?

Luckily my spouse does most of the cooking, so I’d help do the dishes! But if I were in charge of cooking, and I had anything in the kitchen, I’d do some steamed artichokes, mashed potatoes, and probably some baked salmon. Then I’d top it off with a flourless chocolate cake!

If someone wrote a book about you, what would the title be?

Romancing the Artichoke

To learn more about Miss Abigail, visit her website at .

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