Our Guest Food & Drink Editor for May is a woman whose talents and story we have long admired. Ashley Rodriguez pens the blog, Not Without Salt and is the author of Date Night In. If you have not already fallen in love with her blog, book or her stunning Instagram feed, you will quickly become a fan after reading her interview today.
Ashley will be here all month sharing some of her favorite recipes for date nights, family nights and feeding a crowd...but first, we sit down with this culinary maven and momma of three to hear more about her career evolution, the inspiration behind her book, and her refreshing and honest approach to work, relationships and motherhood. Enjoy!
You have been blogging since 2006, but before you started writing online you had a culinary career in Beverly Hills. How was that transition professionally and personally?
The transition, in my mind, was obvious but clunky. While working in LA I found out I was pregnant. That moment changed everything for me. Dreams of becoming a pastry chef vanished as my dreams of being a mom were starting. I could have continued to work at the restaurant while raising my children, but that’s not what I saw for myself so my husband and I moved back to Washington state and I started blogging. I say the transition was clunky mostly because I don’t think motherhood came very naturally to me. Maybe it doesn’t for anyone. It’s strange because I always knew I wanted to be a mom, or I guess I should say I knew I wanted to have a baby - I don’t think I had any idea what the “being a mom” part meant. It took years for me to shake off how I thought I wanted or had to mother, and to just be comfortable with who I am as a mom. Once I embraced that and stopped pretending, I felt freed up in my mom role.
Professionally, well, you know I didn’t know what I was getting into when I started blogging. It was so long ago that the opportunities that we see now with blogging were not known yet. It was a gradual and slow transition for me, but the deeper I got into all of this the more I realized this - meaning photography, recipe development, and writing - was the path all along.
The inspiration behind your cookbook, Date Night In, is something many can relate to and also integrate into their own lives. Cooking can be something that can easily become mindless and the means to an end, especially when there are babes underfoot, but we love how this book uses it as the catalyst for connecting. Was that the intention when writing the book? How did you go about deciding which recipes to include? How often do you and your husband cook together?
Absolutely that was the intention. My husband and I felt so disconnected. Our goal somehow morphed from having a loving and active marriage to simply surviving the day. We have three children and when we started "dating at home" our youngest was a baby. I looked at him one evening and it was almost as if I was looking at a stranger. Suddenly I realized that we had been living as if we were roommates not teammates. So we claimed one evening a week as our date night and because money was tight, we dated at home. I used the opportunity to play in the kitchen and make food that felt worthy of a date night: fried chicken and black pepper biscuit sandwiches, melted Raclette cheese with shallot roasted potatoes, chanterelle pot pie, and herb butter chicken with tarragon aioli. That food told us it was date night and the time we spent together - intentional time - helped us find our way again.
The truth is Gabe, my husband, doesn’t love to cook but he does make a mean cocktail. So he puts a drink in my hand then puts the kids to bed while I work on dinner. He also is an amazing dishwasher!
When the kids were going to bed earlier we dated at home once a week. Now they are a bit older so we aren’t dating at home as often but because they are in school we try and go out for breakfast or lunch at least once a week. The seasons of life are always shifting and we have to readjust our routine, but the necessity for connection remains the constant.
You are part of an inspiring community in your current hometown. How important is it to surround yourself with people who do creative work (in any field)?
I’m very introverted and I live in a very full, active house so it’s not until I’m surrounded by other creatives that I’m reminded of the importance of having them in my life. This work is hard. When you mix work and passion it gets confusing, emotional, and exhausting but for me there is no other way. It’s also what gets me out of bed in the morning because I get excited to start working (and have coffee).
It’s so important to have others in your life who you can process things with and who will say “yes, me too”. I need to be reminded that my fears and insecurities are normal and just part of the process; then I can ignore them, put my head down and do the work.
Have you ever experienced a major blunder in the kitchen? Anything worth sharing?
Oh yes, often - but I don’t really think of them as huge blunders because I anticipate them, fix them, quickly throw them out and move on. I shattered the glass on an oven while making bagels for a cookbook shoot. I made a sauce for guests that tasted terrible (which I wound up not serving and pretended there was never suppose to be a sauce). I love to experiment in the kitchen and just play, so mistakes are inevitable but I have a good foundational understanding of the ingredients and can usually fix my blunders. If not then shhhhhh it never happened.
I’m learning to be more like Julia - never apologizing for my mistakes.
At Clementine Daily, we talk a lot about living a simplified, authentic and intentional lifestyle. How does this align with your everyday life?
Ohhhhhhh I love that. Reading those words just made me breathe in a deep, freeing breath. Yes. I think the word that comes most naturally to me is authentic. I’ve never been able to be something other than me. It’s why my blog and my book are both quite vulnerable. I can’t not give something that I’m passionate about all of me.
Simplified. Now that’s something that I’m working on. I feel so much better when life around me is simple. Whether that’s things in my house or my schedule or my desk. My mind is freed up when there is less clutter in my days so I’m striving for simplification and as I get older it’s getting easier but my natural inclination is not for simplification so there are many trips to Goodwill.
Intentional is another one that I love and that I resonate with. It’s probably one of the most common words in Date Night In because the whole point of the book is not the recipes, the menus, or how nice the table looks, but it’s about being intentional with my husband so that our marriage can thrive, not just survive.
With my own life I like to pause, breathe, look at how I’m spending my days and realign them if they don’t fit in with the overarching goal of my life. That feels big and it is - maybe focus on one year at a time. But it’s important to take a step back every now and again and reassess.
What is your favorite meal to make: for your family, for a crowd and with your husband?
Roast chicken, roast chicken, roast chicken.
For a random weekday it’s a simple meal. Salt, pepper, throw some potatoes into the bottom of the pan and boom, done. For a crowd it’s fun to spatchcock (remove the back bone) and grill up a few chickens. When you remove the back bone they cook quicker and more evenly. Serve with a roasted potato salad laced with frilly arugula. For date night there is a recipe in the book for a chicken that I slather with butter, grainy mustard and tons of fresh herbs. I serve it alongside a green salad (again, with a shower of herbs), roasted carrots with coriander and maple, and that tarragon aioli I mentioned earlier.
What are five everyday items you cannot live without?
Salt. Coffee. My notebook. Le pen (my favorite kind of pens). Wine (I mean I’m sure I could live without it but why?)
You own a thriving business, have three children and live in a large city (which can definitely add another layer to the pace of life). There is a lot on your plate (no pun intended); how do you stay centered with life gets hectic and frenzied?
My husband. That sounds rather cheesy and perhaps very unfeminist of me, but honestly he is such a supporter of me and knows me so intensely. He helps navigate the days and reminds me to take the quiet I need. He is also self-employed, so we’ve worked out quite a system with our parenting so it feels very much like we are a team.
I also have a community of friends in the industry and a community of friends out of the industry. They both keep me balanced and sane. And a deep belief that there is more to this world than what we can see, which helps me to see my woes in the day to day from a different perspective.
Who are your culinary icons? Which women do you find most inspiring?
I think Julia Child really blazed a path for women in this industry, and perhaps helped steer it away from womanly duty and towards craft and passion.
Now that I’m thinking about this question I can’t help but just think of the women in my life. My mom who is struggling to find the balance of caring for her ailing parents and brother, while also wanting to be present for her kids and grandkids and not losing her own desires. My dear friends deep in the throes of motherhood who walk through their days with humility and grace. My female friends who are head down doing the work, whether that’s painting, photography, writing, etc. I have a lot of passionate creative friends who are working so hard and doing such a kick ass job at it. They all inspire me deeply.
p.s. Have you met The Dancer?