Why I Write About Food 004: Willow Arlen of Will Cook for Friends

Cooking for people is one of the most effective displays of affection, and that is Willow's philosophy about food."You cannot share a meal with someone without having put something of yourself into it," she tells me. That also rings true for the wholesome recipes and practical kitchen tips she shares. And a visit to her blog is an invitation to chat about, well, life... over a tall glass of passion fruit mojito. 

Tell us about Will Cook For Friends. 
I started Will Cook For Friends back in 2011, as a way to combine three of my favorite things: writing, photography and cooking. I remember sitting down at my computer and doing a google search on how to start a blog, and the next thing I knew I had created my site almost by accident. That turned out to be the happiest accident I've ever made, and five years later I can't imagine my life any other way. My little hobby has grown into a full-fledged passion for cooking from scratch and sharing what I create, both in real life with the people around me, and online. I think foodboth the making and sharing of a mealdoes so much more than simply feed our bodies, it feeds our hearts and minds, too, and I feel blessed to be able to share that with so many people. I like to think of my blog as the little corner of the internet I call home, and everyone is welcome to show up to the table.

Why do you write about food?
When I was first learning to cook, reading food blogs and books was a huge inspiration. Whenever I needed ideas for what to make, or advice on how to use a particular ingredient, I turned to the internet for the answer. Even when I didn't know what I was doing, I was usually able to throw together a really good meal, which gave me the confidence to keep going and keep getting better. Really, there are so many reasons I write about food, but this is number one: to inspire others in the same way I was inspired, to get in the kitchen and get cooking, no matter their skill level. I grew up in a world of easy-access convenience foods, and hearing people say with complete conviction, “Oh, I can't cook!”. It makes me sad to hear that, because I've been there...  but the truth is, you don't have to be a trained chef to make amazing food from scratch. Just the confidence to take a chance and try something new.

What's your advice for beginner cooks?
I'll refer to Julia Child for this one, who said, "This is my invariable advice to people: Learn how to cooktry new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless, and above all have fun!" The first and most important thing, I think, is simply to try new things. Dive in, be fearless, know that there will be failures as well as successes, and don't take either too seriously. Beyond that, I think the best advice I can give is to always use the best ingredients you can. I'm a firm believer that good food doesn't start in the kitchen, it comes from the Earth, first. A dish is only as good as its parts, and no matter your skill level, using fresh, quality ingredients when you can will help make any recipe the best it can be.

What are you currently reading? 
I'm in the middle of several, including MFK Fisher's compilation, The Art Of Eating, Mary Roach's Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal, which is at once incredibly fascinating and entertaining, and Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky, which starts at the very first cultivation of salt in China and spans the centuries and the continents exploring its production and use. In addition to those, I have a handful of cookbooks I pick up from time to time, and too many food blogs to count. I also like fiction, and right now am reading one from Terry Pratchett's Discworld series whenever I need a break from thinking about food (which is rare, but it does happen!). 

What's your favorite recipe on Will Cook For Friends.
My favorite is constantly changing depending on what's in season, and what I'm craving at that moment. Right now I'm pretty obsessed with the Curried Kabocha Squash Soup. The heat of the curry powder is balanced out beautifully by the sweetness of the squash and coconut milk, and it feels really rich and creamy while still being healthy. It's exactly what I want to break up all the heavy winter foods, while still feeling really warm and satisfied.

Question from Vicky of Avocado Pesto: Share one of your kitchen flops. (Click here to read Vicky's interview)
I think one of the worst was a batch of sticky buns a few years back. Everything was going really wellthe dough was soft and springy, the caramel sauce ooey gooey and deliciousand I poured it all into my brand new pyrex baking dish and popped it into the oven. Twenty minutes later, I heard a loud crack. I rushed to the kitchen and threw open the oven door to find that the pyrex dish had shattered, leaving molten sugar and shards of glass all over the bottom of my oven, and a mess of almost-done sticky buns hanging from the rack that, as much as I wanted to eat them, were no doubt full of glass themselves. I literally sat down on my kitchen floor and cried. Then I took a deep breath, picked myself up, cleaned up, and the very next day made another batch. 

The sticky buns I made the next day were delicious, and my husband theorized that there must have been an air bubble or crack in the dish which caused it to shatter, but whatever the cause, the lesson I learned was this: when you're cooking (or baking), you have to learn to roll with the punches. (Oh, and always inspect new glass bakeware carefully!)

Visit Willow's website at www.willcookforfriends.com
Recommended Recipes:

Passion Fruit Mojito
Apple Cinnamon Baked Oatmeal
Curried Kabocha Squash Soup