Interview with Meg Hourihan / Megnut.com
Meg Hourihan of Megnut.com went All Food All the Time in 2006 and is a self-proclaimed food enthusiast. Her recipes are some of the best I’ve found for Brussels Sprouts and Apple Crisp. My favorite of her recipes is her Grandma Pete’s Stuffing which calls for the secret step of ‘following the directions on the store bought box.’ That, Dear Reader, is a recipe I can follow.
Meg’s insights into sustainability and local organic eating are excellent and she frequently links to all kinds of points of view, not just her own, giving the reader the benefit of the doubt in the brains department. Isn’t that nice?
You can read some of Meg’s less frequent and older updates here and older columns at O’Reilly. Meg was named one of PC Magazine’s People of the Year in 2004 and currently lives in New York with her husband, Jason Kottke.
May 2, 1999 (yikes!)
Why do you blog?
That answer has changed for me over time. Initially it was an outlet for me to get things off my chest, and it grew into something related to work when I was building Blogger. It became almost part of the job, but in a very positive sense, because I believed in the potential of blogging so much.
After I left the company in 2001, my blog grew very silent for a long time because I felt I couldn’t really write about what I was experiencing. As time passed, the site’s audience grew and I felt less comfortable with revelatory writing. By last 2004/early 2005 I wasn’t sure the blog would really make it. I didn’t have anything to say there anymore.
Once I decided towards the end of 2005 that I wanted to change its focus to food, I really found my voice again. I was able to write regularly about something I was passionate about, without having to make it too personal or all about me. Now I’m really enjoying it again.
What do you talk about?
Food, anything and all things slightly related to food in the broadest sense. Whatever catches my eye.
What don’t you talk about? Why?
I don’t talk about my personal life, though small parts of it seep through in the food writing. But Megnut is not a journal.
Best experience regarding something you wrote in your blog or put out on the net?
I’d have to say the best experience was when I wrote about a crush I got on someone at SXSW 2000. I posted on my site about it and as it happens, the object of my crush emailed me about it, wondering who it was. I told him it was him, and well, six years later, we’re married.
Favorite/worst thing about living where you live?
I love living in New York City. I love the variety of people I see everyday on the streets and on the subway, so much diversity and activity. No one is weird in NY because everyone is weird. Strange outfits. Crazy people talking to themselves. And yet, people are so friendly and helpful. I love knowing about secret pockets of the city, hidden little parks, the great unknown burger at my favorite diner. Walking the streets in the spring and seeing wisteria vines four stories high along the front of an old townhouse. Of course, it can be dirty and crowded, and sometimes it’s too much when people are bumping into me and I just want to get something at the store on the way home from work. Sometime the city makes me crazy and I just want to yell at people. You see that a lot, people just yelling at each other. There are certain rules, necessary rules for so many people to get along in such a small space, and when they get broken, people tend to snap. (E.g. stopping in front of the subway entrance and blocking it.) When I feel that way, I know it’s time to take a break and get out of town for a bit.
If you were president of the US:
Oh jeez, that would be tough. I’m not naive enough anymore to say I’d give all defense money to the education department. But I do believe there’s a use for government, and we have a responsibility to take care of those unable to take care of themselves.
What actor would play you in the movie of your life?
Charlize Theron? I don’t know really, maybe someone undiscovered.
What is going on with food/diet/agriculture world that non-foodies should know about?
Right now there’s a big tension between small scale and industrial food production. Consumers in general want to buy humane, sustainably raised food. Organic originally seemed like the way to do that, but now large-scale producers are involved in organic. Wal-Mart recently announced plans to sell organic food. And a lot of that food will likely come from outside the US because it’ll be cheaper to grow in China and elsewhere. That’s really different than getting spinach from your local farmer’s market. The industrial production and centralized distribution, we see outbreaks of food poisoning (like the spinach e. coli outbreak last summer, and a recent salmonella outbreak). But Americans are accustomed to cheap food. Right now there’s trouble.
What can people do about the trouble we are in? How can people help? It seems like such a huge problem….
The first step is education, learn as much as possible about what the different labels actually mean, so that consumers understand what you get when you pay for organic. And how organic doesn’t necessarily mean humanely treated. Understand how the food is produced in this country and distributed. A great entry point is Michael Pollan‘s new book “The Omnivore’s Dilemma.”
And then once you’re more educated, you can get more active in your community. When you’re at the meat counter at the supermarket, ask about how the beef was raised, what it was fed. And express your concern for buying humanely-raised products. Support local farmers markets when they’re in season, and support local restaurants that use local, humane products as much as possible.
I know a lot of people complain about the costs of humanely-raised, and/or organic food. What I’ve done is really cut down on the amount of meat I eat, so I can ensure that when I do, it’s better quality. Rather than cheap battery-raised chicken breasts four or five times a week for dinner, I get one whole chicken at the farmer’s market that was free-range (though even that term doesn’t always mean what you’d think it means) and hormone free.
It takes a bit more work, but it can be done. As more people get educated and involved in food issues, we’ll see changes, and hopefully more pressure on our government to get food safety back in the spotlight.
What do you do to stay sane and healthy?
Workout, mostly jogging. I love to go running and do road races. Running is my alone time, when I work through whatever’s bothering me and on my mind. I feel great when I run.
When did you switch your blog over to food exclusively and why did you do it?
Officially I guess it was in late April, though I’d been mostly writing about food for about six months before that. I realized I loved food and wanted an outlet to explore it further. I’d spent some time working as a cook, but I didn’t want to go to culinary school. I still liked technology and the idea of starting companies. I realized I could convert my site to a food blog and run it as my own little food publishing start-up, just for myself, just for fun. I’ve learned more than I imagined and have met more people than I thought I would so quickly. It’s been wonderful.
What kinds of things are you look for when posting on your blog?
Anything that catches my eye. It can be funny, but often I want it to be informative in some way for my readers. What I don’t want it for it to be something they can find anywhere else, I’d like my site to be the source of new, interesting things.
Who are your food/chef heroes/ines?
Thomas Keller (chef of the French Laundry and Per Se) is probably my biggest, he was certainly the first. I also like restaurateur Danny Meyer here in NYC who prides himself on his hospitality. His restaurants are some of my favorites.
One? Impossible. Right now I’m really into poached eggs, I love potato pancakes with sour cream and homemade applesauce. Fresh bacon, with is basically braised pork belly. A perfect french fry. This list could go on forever!
What are Three Things Every Kitchen Should Have?
1. A decent chef’s knife that’s kept sharp. You can cut pretty much anything with it.
2. Decent pots and pans. You don’t need a lot of them, but good quality ones will heat up faster and distribute heat evenly. They’ll make your life a lot better.
3. A KitchenAid stand mixer. This seems maybe excessive but you can use it for so much, especially if you like to bake. You can get so many attachments too, to roll pasta, to juice, to grind meat. You can make bread, ice cream, whip mashed potatoes. You name it, the KichenAid can do it. No serious kitchen should be without. My mother doesn’t have one and I hate trying to help with Christmas dinner at her house because of it. It makes it so much harder to do things.
When you were 10, what did you want to do when you grew up?
Huh, I don’t remember. Maybe an Olympic gymnast? When I was 12 I wanted to be a pediatric oncologist. I was really interested in discovering a cure for cancer. But I figured that by the time I’d be done with medical school, it would already be cured. If only that were true!
Are you still involved in non-food blogging? If not, do you miss it?
I’m not really. I have a Vox blog, but I don’t do much there. I do miss it occasionally, because I still have stuff I want to talk about and share with the world that’s not food related. My mother pointed out that she misses the old Megnut because she could keep up with me that way. Now she just keeps up with my food thoughts!
What do you hate?
I try not to hate anything. “Anger and hatred are materials from which hell is made,” said Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh.
What do you love?
Oh goodness, everything, from the smell of Christmas trees to a perfect soft-boiled egg. My husband, my friends, my family, my cat. Paris. New York City. The list could stretch forever.
Astounding facts about you:
I’m quite good at the standing broad jump but I have no vertical leap.
Are you Windows or Mac? Why?
Mac, just because.
How would your husband describe you?
Let’s ask him! He said he doesn’t have the mental capacity right now to answer that question, it’s still a little early on a Saturday for him. I think he’d probably say I’m crazy, but he’d mean it in a good way.
What is one of your favorite memories?
Shortly after my now-husband and I met, I invited him to come visit me in San Francisco, where I was living at the time. We drove up the coast to Marin County to go to the beach for the day. I had read about some tide pools, so had done all the calculations about when the tide would be low, and we walked several miles down the beach to find them, exploring along the way and just enjoying the beauty. I got soaked by a wave as I wandered too close to the edge of pool, trying to get a better look at some purple and orange starfish. I think he ended up lending me some clothes even, because I got so cold in my wet ones. But I think of that day often as one of my favorites, somehow it was just perfect.
What is your favorite thing to cook/bake?
Oh anything, I don’t really have a favorite, though I do enjoy making a nice cake from scratch, with layers and thick creamy frosting.
What are you working on right now?
Too much stuff, but one of my favorite things is planning the Buche de Noel I’m going to build for Christmas with meringue mushrooms.
What will you being doing next year?
Probably more of the same as this year, but that’s good because I’m pretty happy with everything I’m up to these days.
Tell me a secret?
I don’t really have any secrets.
What do you wish I had asked you that I didn’t?
If you could time-travel, where would you go? I’d go see rock concerts before people got really famous, like I’d go see the Beatles in Hamburg Germany where they used to play, or even see their 1964 show at the Hollywood Bowl, or travel to the Ed Sullivan Show audience the night of their performance. I’d also time-travel to see great speeches being given, like I’d pop in to hear Lincoln at Gettysburg. Nerdy stuff like that.
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