Deb Perelman is dreaming about a pumpkin cheesecake gingersnap pie.
“I think I just dream [recipes] up most of the time,” Perelman explained. “They just haunt me.”
Perelman, the woman behind the wildly popular Smitten Kitchen food blog, is currently touring the United States with her just-released book, “The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook” (Alfred A. Knopf, cloth, $35).
Perelman spoke to a packed room of salivating fans at the Book Larder and the University Bookstore in Seattle on November 7 and 8 before signing books.
“Smitten Kitchen” details Perelman’s cooking exploits from her 42-square-foot New York City apartment kitchen. Her focus on accessible ingredients and “comfort foods stepped up a bit,” accompanied by professional-grade photographs, have driven her from casual cook to foodie fame.
“I thought it was going to last six months,” Perelman said of Smitten Kitchen when she launched it in 2006. “I wasn’t a cook, I had never been to cooking school…. I get excited about pancakes.”
This year, Smitten Kitchen was listed as one of Forbes’ 100 Top Websites for Women and it won Best Food Weblog at the 12th Annual Bloggies Awards; in 2011, it won Best Cooking Blog by Saveur magazine and was listed as one of the 25 Best Food Blogs of 2011 by Time. It has attracted the attention of Martha Stewart, Gwyneth Paltrow, and dozens of magazines and newspapers. Her Facebook page is just shy of 100,000 likes.
Perelman jokes about her massive fan base. “My mom writes them a check every month,” she said (she has also won accolades for humor). “I’m still really dumbfounded. I don’t know how it happened.”
Perelman started blogging in 2003, just as the phenomenon of documenting personal experience online was going mainstream. Smitten (pre-Kitchen) tracked life in New York, dating and “general early 20s blather,” Perelman said. “I roll my eyes at the thought of how clever I thought I was.”
The Carrie Bradshaw dream quickly ended, though, when Perelman met her husband a few months later. She was cooking a lot and reading food blogs, so she closed down Smitten and opened Smitten Kitchen. And history was made.
Though Perelman scoffs at the idea that she’s famous, she’s a member of the upper echelons of female food-bloggers-gone-viral, women like Julie Powell (Julie and Julia), Molly Wizenberg (Orangette), and Clotilde Dusoulier (Chocolate & Zucchini), who sought a creative escape from ordinary life and laid bare their personal lives through quiche Lorraine and lemon tarts. Their followers enjoy reading about their lives and their foibles as much as they return to the site over and over again for the “food porn.” When Perelman announced the birth of her baby boy, 2,274 of her fans posted heartfelt congratulations in the comments boxes.
“I’m not a cook, I’m not a photographer,” Perelman said. “[Popularity] just happened slowly and gradually.”
Perelman is an omnivore who was raised on her mother’s French cooking, inspired by Julia Child.
“I feel like I missed the part of my childhood where I was supposed to be eating traditional Jewish foods,” she said. “It wasn’t tsimmis, it was boeuf Bourgignon.”
Yet she has strong feelings about Jewish foods.
“There’s a great affection for kugel in my family,” she said. She cites a family legend: When her parents were dating, her mother asked her father’s family for their scrumptious noodle kugel recipe. His aunt told her that if she wants it, she’d have to marry him.
“I guess people have gotten married for worse reasons,” Perelman laughed.
Perelman has mixed feelings about the latter-day foodie trend of reclaiming and modernizing traditional recipes. Traditional dishes have a comfort value — when you go home to visit your parents, and your mother says she’s going to make her potatoes, “you’re hoping your mom is going to make potatoes the way you’ve always had potatoes.”
At the same time, she said, “I’ve been told to behave, and I just can’t.
“There are times you can make adjustments for the better without losing the soul of the dish,” she said. “You can make a new brisket without being rude to the old brisket.”
Perelman says she jots down ideas as they come to her, and she’s got a list of about 1,000 more dishes to try. Of the thousands of recipes she’s created and posted over the past six years, they’re all her baby — in addition, of course, to her own.
“I couldn’t pick a favorite,” she said. “It would be like picking a favorite child.”