Happy Women’s History Month.
As the great orator T.D. Jakes often wails in the throes of his sermons, “Get ready, get ready, get ready!”
Stories of amazing, everyday women abound the entire month of March. I frankly bask in their awesomeness, drawn from their strength and courage, and get inspired by their indomitable spirits.
National Women’s History Project
The National Women’s History Project has published this year’s National Women’s History theme. It is: “Nevertheless She Persisted.”
It pays homage to women whose lives “demonstrate the power of voice, of persistent action, and of believing that meaningful and lasting change is possible in our democratic society.” (Click here to learn more about how the actions of Senator Elizabeth Warren, D-MA inspired this year’s theme. Chick here for this year’s Women’s History Month Presidential Proclamation.)
Local writer, local props
As a food writer and native Angeleno, I had to look no further than my own backyard to find a woman in my industry that, despite the changes and shifts in the print and digital media, nevertheless she persisted.
That woman is Katherine Spiers.
Remember her name.
She was the former Food Editor at LA Weekly, one of the largest alternative weekly newspapers in the United States. She’s been writing about the vibrant and often transcendent food culture in Los Angeles for over 13 years.
The “cuisine and culture” maven has some noteworthy chops which include her boots on the ground approach to covering the LA food scene at seriouseats.com, followed by time she spent as Managing Editor of the “Food & Living” digital section at Los Angeles based KCET, the nation’s largest independent public television station.
LA Weekly gave her the opportunity to explore and unearth the obscure and unsung eateries in LA, and cover these stories from a myriad of social, economic and human perspectives.
“A lot of immigrants start restaurants and people were starting to realize that covering the scene food is more than just about the food. We eat the food of immigrants. So when you talk about immigration issues, food is part of that discussion. As Food Editor, I wanted to make sure we were getting the full breath of the City covered,” said Katherine.
She did exactly that during her two year stint at LA Weekly. Late last year, the paper was sold. To the shock and disappointment of many Angelenos, Katherine, along with other beloved editorial staff members were laid off. This was a huge loss because there are very few writers, particularly women, who focus on covering LA’s diverse and vibrant food scene. Nevertheless, she persisted.
Smart Mouth, smart moves
Thank heaven for Smart Mouth Podcast. Katherine and her producer partner Michelle Lanz started the smart and engaging endeavor just over a year ago. They have persisted and elevated their coverage of the food culture which not only includes the voices of the usual culinary suspects, but voices of those outside of the food industry like actors, comedians, and other interesting personalities. As stated on their website which is chalk full of fascinating interviews which you must check out:
“We talk to the most interesting people we know, working in all kinds of industries, about their favorite dishes. It’s a way of finding out what makes them tick.”
The chemistry of Katherine and Michelle is warm, conversational and cozy. The interviews are lively, insightful, revealing and so fresh.
But I am burying the lead here. To borrow a term from the hip-hop vernacular, Katherine “spits” some serious food history knowledge throughout her podcasts. She is a seasoned journalist to be sure. But you can’t help but be struck by how the inner anthropologist comes out as she blends in examples about why the history of food matters and why it’s important to talk about where food comes from.
“People will tell stories of early American food, and President Thomas Jefferson comes up a lot because of his amazing farm. He’s often credited with being the first to introduce certain foods to the states,” said Katherine. But the food historian emphasized that it was his slaves who also brought many plants, vegetables and legumes to the United States from Africa through the Atlantic slave trade; and they tended his farm and prepared his meals often using methods native to their homeland.
“I think it’s really important not give all the credit to white males in history because that just wouldn’t be the truth,” said Katherine. “What happens in the world is much more interesting and involves a lot more people than we think it does. I really try to bring light to the stories that are easily glossed over.”
What’s trending on the LA food scene
Vietnamese and Filipino food are certainly trendy cuisines in Los Angeles, as well as cities across the states. But Katherine says the concept of “pop-ups” or eateries that don’t’ confine themselves to the traditional brick and mortar model, are the most interesting. She believes changes in the economy and an often unfriendly business environment have lead many culinary entrepreneurs to find creative venues and novel ways to reach people who are looking for good food and unique dining experiences.
“Some of my favorite Vietnamese food was being served at a pop-up that was in a break room of the chef’s uncle’s mechanic garage,” said Katherine with a whimsical tone. “The food was really incredible. I love that Angelenos seem to really be down for adventure. It’s part of the City’s culture.”
The popularity of food television shows has yielded a bumper crop of celebrity chefs and food personalities. When Katherine surveys the current landscape of food shows, she notes that there has been a noticeable shift, leaving women noticeably absent.
“When food shows started becoming popular in the early 2000’s, there were a lot female hosts because they were primarily cooking shows. But I think in the last couple of years a lot of the food content has turned into shows that feature hosts who travel around the world and eat various types of foods from that region,” observed Katherine.
“Most of those shows have men as hosts. I’m guessing it’s because no one wants to see women eating. It’s cool that more people are learning about the world through these shows, but women are missing when it comes to these opportunities.”
Katherine is focusing on expanding the reach of her podcast, moderating discussions at food events, and who knows – you may see her pop up as a host of a food travel show. But in the meantime, you can keep up with Ms. Spiers by listening to Smart Mouth Podcast and following her on her various social media platforms. She’s the one to watch in this ever evolving food space.
A recipe postscript
Yup, Katherine Spiers is a smart cookie. But this post wouldn’t be complete without sharing one of her favorite smart cookie recipes. It’s a take on the basic Toll House cookie recipe with a Smart Mouth twist. Katherine explains her approach here:
“I’m generous with the vanilla and salt, and I swap out the walnuts for one cup honey roasted peanuts, slightly smashed, and I use an 8 ounce bag of toffee bits (that’s 1 1/3 cups) and 2/3 cups chocolate chips.”
There you have it. Here’s the recipe.
Smart Mouth Toffee Bits Cookies
A really tasty cookie
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt (Kathrine says be generously here so try 2 teaspoons)
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (Katherine would use more so try 2-3 teaspoons)
2 large eggs
1~8 ounce package (1 1/3 cups) Hershey Heath English Toffee Bits
2/3 cup Nestle Toll House Semi-Sweet Chocolate Morsels
1 cup chopped honey roasted peanuts
- Preheat oven to 375° Fahrenheit.
- Combine flour, baking soda and salt in small bowl.
- Beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar and vanilla extract in large mixer bowl until creamy.
- Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
- Gradually beat in flour mixture.
- Stir in morsels and chopped peanuts.
- Drop by rounded tablespoon onto ungreased baking sheets.
- Bake for 9 to 11 minutes or until golden brown.
- Cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely.