We recently chatted with one of our favorite bloggers (and fellow Seattleite) Ashley Rodriguez, the creative whiz behind Not Without Salt, to pick her brain about cozy comfort food, getting a book deal, being a mom, and just generally doing what you love.
What’s your philosophy for cooking and food?
Oh right off the bat a hard question. I find it difficult to narrow it down so I’ll go with the average — most days my food is simple, real and comfortable. I love a good challenge now and again but the food and process that really gets me is one that is comforting rather than showy.
When did you start cooking?
I’ve always been fascinated with food and love the feelings it evokes when there is something special on the table. But I didn’t really start thinking of food as a career until I spent time in Italy. I was there to study art, but really I learned more about the art of the perfect carbonara and pistachio gelato than about Michelangelo. It was there that I experienced a culture where food is celebrated and used as a way of life rather than a means to survive. I fell in love hard.
After my time in Italy, I was always cooking or baking something in my own kitchen and then in the kitchens of well-known bakeries and restaurants.
How did you make the jump from working at Spago in Beverly Hills to starting your own blog in the Pacific Northwest?
It wasn’t necessarily a “planned” transition; I got pregnant. It’s a long story but let’s just say my husband and I were very surprised. After we settled back home and had our first child, I started the blog as a way of advertising my dessert catering and wedding cake business. After child number two came I changed the blog name and started focusing more on the writing, recipe development and photography. The blog was always for me — a way of keeping my foot in the door and keeping me thinking creatively while I transitioned (not always gracefully) into my new role as “mom.”
Has having a family changed the way you approach food and cooking? What’s different now?
Yes and no. I think I’ve always had the aesthetic for simple food done really well and beautifully. Sure there’s a bit more pasta, most often in the form of macaroni and cheese, and I make far more peanut butter and jelly sandwiches then I used to but, for the most part, they eat the food I love to eat, and I think (and hope) they are loving it too. I know for sure they are huge fans of the cookies; they tolerate the other stuff.
You have a book coming out in December — that’s exciting! Can you talk a little about it?
It’s so exciting! And terrifying. The book, Date Night In, is based on a series I started on the blog called Dating My Husband. Gabe and I used to hit up the latest restaurants every Friday evening on our date nights. We continued this tradition for a few years into our marriage but then careers and three kids entered the picture and suddenly I found myself nursing our third child on the couch longing for those days when my husband felt like my partner and not my roommate. In that moment I committed to one night a week making a special meal that was just for us. The kids go to bed quite early still so while he puts them to bed (after making us a cocktail) I return to the kitchen and cook something that is set apart from our weekday food; there’s fried chicken sandwiches, chilaquiles with citrus-roasted pork, bacon and leek tart with a ricotta custard, and dessert; always dessert.
The blog series turned into a book because of the reaction I’d get from readers who were responding to my honesty in sharing the work it takes to stay committed to one person. That love is more about action than feeling and that this night, these meals are how I was choosing to love my husband and fight for our marriage.
It’s unlike any other cookbook because it is so deeply personal and, because of that, I’m scared and so extremely excited to finally be able to share it with the world and to continue the conversation.
You’re starting to sell a mix for your chocolate chip cookie recipe — how has the response been so far?
The response has been overwhelmingly wonderful. Every time I see a photo someone posts on Instagram showing the cookies and the tube of mix in their kitchen I am over-the-moon excited.
I went retail because I was missing feeding those who I interact with on the internet. I love sharing recipes but there’s something that I truly love about actually having something tangible to give and share with people. And this recipe, oh this recipe. It’s special. It has been made hundreds of times in my own home and is the most popular recipe on my site. The recipe is also in Date Night In, so you know it’s significant in our lives. I’m so excited with how the product has turned out and how well it is doing. I can not wait to unveil more flavors and see where this new venture takes me.
Is your blog today what you imagined it would be when you started?
I didn’t even have where I am today in my wildest dreams. I mean, once I started seeing other bloggers around me getting book deals and amazing opportunities I wanted that too but that stuff didn’t exist when I started blogging. I’m so incredibly grateful to the blog and the path that led me here; I had no idea I wanted to write books and take pictures of food until I started blogging. It hit me hard when I was working on my book proposal. I was sitting at the kitchen table at my parents’ house (because it’s quiet there) and I just started crying over my pages. Never had I felt more sure of what I was doing and that I was doing the very thing I was made to do. I’ll never forget that moment. All the angst I felt along the way suddenly made sense, and the timing, however slow it felt to me initially, seemed just right.
What’s your favorite dish to cook for your family?
I find a roast chicken so satisfying. It’s the perfect comfort food and yet somehow it always feels special.
Favorite thing to have for breakfast?
The avocado benedict from The Fat Hen in Ballard. If that’s not an option, I love a good cream scone with coarse sugar sprinkled on top just before baking along with tart plum or apricot jam. And coffee, always coffee.
If we peek into your pantry, what will we find?
Salt, of course. Lots of grains, dried beans and pasta. Olive oil. Many types of vinegar. Mustard. Loads of fresh spices. Parmesan. Lemons. Heavy cream. Eggs. Butter. Flour. Sugar. Chocolate. With those things and a fridge full of produce I feel as if I can cook anything.
So after the book, what’s next?
More cookies and more books, hopefully. You know you’re in a good place when what you hope for is just more of what you already have.