A Quick Bite with Stacie Billis
Without a doubt, one of the best things about having SPC has been the new world of amazing food and family writers it has introduced me to. Pre-SPC, I read and followed lots of them but now I’m lucky enough to call some of my favourites friends. In my previous life as an editor-in-chief of a fashion magazine I would have been as likely to call up the editor-in-chief of a competing magazine for advice as I am to eat bees for breakfast. So, never. But the women writing about family? I’ve never not received an answer to an email, an encouraging word, a nugget of advice on this crazy micro publisher world. And today’s Quick Bite is a perfect example. I’m sure you already know her, but I’m thrilled to welcome One Hungry Mama‘s Stacie Billis to SPC!
When Laura and I were just trying to figure out if we really wanted to make create food site for parents, we would visit One Hungry Mama and think, it has to be as good as what Stacie’s doing or there’s not point. Her site is smart, useful and best of all for parents, real. Fast forward to our first book and Stacie was helping me find a place to stay in Brooklyn while we were in New York doing press! I couldn’t be happier for her that her own book is launching. Make it Easy is a gem. Of course it’s full of great, easy recipes, like Cold Soba Noodle Salad and Blueberry Almond Polenta but the best thing it delivers is ideas. As a mother, Stacie know it’s not just about what you’re going to cook but how you’re going to pull it off on top of everything else happening in your life. Lists like 10 Totally Acceptable No-Cook Dinner Ideas and 10 Healthy Snack Ideas You Can Make Easy Without a Recipe just make you feel like you’re going to be okay, you know? Honestly, this cook book is next best thing to having Stacie in the kitchen with you.
Sweet Potato Chronicles: What’s your earliest food memory?
Stacie Billis: I grew up in a traditional Greek family (I’m first generation), so most
of my early food memories are amalgams of meals around my grandmother’s
dining room table. One early specific memory, though, was watching my
grandfather pop an eyeball out of a cooked fish head—my grandmother always
served fish whole—and roll it around in his mouth. Talk about head-to- tail eating!
Funny side note: I recently visited where my mother is from in Greece and ate
lots of whole fish. One night I turned to my older son, who was 8 at the time,
and said that I’d pay him $10 to eat the fish eyeball the way that my grandfather
did. I was totally joking, but he did it! I guess anything for a little extra cash—at
least when you’re an adventurous eater, I suppose.
SPC: How did you learn to cook?
SB: By watching my grandmother, having a mom who was never terribly into
cooking, and also while growing up in restaurants. My dad was a restaurateur
and I was always in and out of restaurant kitchens, watching the chefs and cooks
sling food. In fact, I wanted to go to culinary school, but my dad pretty much
forbade me to go into what he thought was a gruelling industry. So, instead, I
went to graduate school for child development and took professional level
cooking classes whenever possible. And my interest in kids, family and cooking
SPC: Do you cook at home? If so, what’s your specialty?
SB: All the time! I can throw together a mean school lunch in 10 minutes flat and,
the busier I’ve gotten with work, the better I’ve become at throwing together really
delicious quick weeknight meals. My book Make It Easy has a bunch of my
favorites, like the Thai Chicken Burgers with Quick Pickled Carrots. I love that
one and it was a recipe born out of an empty fridge and 30 minutes to get
dinner on the table.
SPC: What do you like best about cooking?
SB: Honestly, I love kitchen culture—and eating great food—more than cooking
itself. I’m happiest cooking when people are around, music is on, and I have a
glass of wine in hand. For me, food is all about connection and pleasure. When
I’m stressed and having to get dinner on the table in 15 minutes with no plan and
screaming kids, I hate cooking just like the next mom. Yes, even as a
professional recipe developer! But when all the pieces are in place and a great
meal results, nothing is better.
SPC: Do you like to cook solo or with others?
SB: I love others to be around, but prefer being the only one in the kitchen. Ha!
It’s my workspace and I’m particular. I’m fast, efficient, everything is right where I
put it (and not where someone else randomly put it!) and, most importantly, I
clean as I go. If you can’t hang the same way, well, it can be frustrating. (Not that
I don’t want you to feel welcome in my kitchen. Hahaha!)
SPC: What is your idea of the ultimate comfort food and why?
SB: Bread and butter. There’s honestly nothing more delicious than perfect
crusty bread and fresh, creamy butter with crunchy salt on top. The best.
SPC: Do you have a sweet or salty tooth? What’s your guilty pleasure?
SB: Both! It really depends on my mood. A simple glazed donut or Nutella spread
on crusty bread for something sweet. Salt and vinegar potato chips or just great
bread with too much butter for salty. And when I stress eat? A bowl of sugary
cereal like Cinnamon Toast Crunch comforts me like no other. You know, even
though I don’t let my kids eat such things. (I’ll hide it from them. Bad mom alert!)
SPC: How has parenthood changed the way you cook?
SB: Completely. I used to invite 15 people over for dinner parties to practice
making authentic Mexican moles or Thai curry pastes by hand in a mortar and
pestle. I don’t have even remotely enough time to do such things anymore. But I
still bring my deep interest in and excitement for authentic international cuisines
and seasonal ingredients to my post-children simple, fast way of cooking. As I
say on my site, One Hungry Mama, kids change the way you cook, but they don’t
have to change how well you eat.
SPC: Do your children join you in the kitchen?
SB: They do! In fact, now that they are older, 6 and 9, I let them go into the
kitchen on their own. We’ve started a tradition where they cook dinner for the
family 1x/week. Of course, I end up in there making sure that nobody chops off a
finger or burns a hand, but they plan the menu and do much of the execution.
When kids are little, I feel like bringing them into the kitchen is about helping
instill a love of fresh, healthy foods that they might not otherwise gravitate
towards in the fact of hot dogs and mac and cheese. But now that my kids have
that—they are both good eaters, though one is way less adventurous—I want
them in the kitchen to learn cooking skills, which I consider a vital life skill.
SPC: What do your kids not eat that you wish they would?
SB: My older son eats nearly everything. I wish he liked oysters more, because I
love them so and they are such a pleasure, but oh, well, more for me. At least
he’s tried them. I also wish he’d stop pretending not to like avocado when I serve
it in a salad. So annoying since he’ll refuse that, but gobble guacamole and
avocado toast made a particular way.
The little one started out as a pickier eater and I worked hard to make sure that
he developed a taste for healthy fruits and veggies. Now I can always count on
him to eat a simple salad, green beans, and other simple things that we can find
on almost any menu—but I wish he’d break out of his box a little bit! I mean, no
complaints from me that, if nothing else, I can always make sure he eats
avocado toast and a simple piece of fish any day or night, but there’s so much
more to food! He’ll come around, though, and if not—well, I’m thankful for a
I feel like I need to say that I’m really splitting hairs here. I feel really good about
how my boys eat.
SPC: Are there rules at your table? (Clean your plate? Eat your vegetables or no
SB: Yes, to not act like a jackass. Asking two boys (at least mine), one 6 and the
other 9, to sit still at the table through a family meal is like trying to herd cats. If
they get so silly or wiggly that we can’t hold a conversation, I call dinner over.
Also, we’re a dessert house! The boys eat something sweet—from ice cream to
a piece of toast with Nutella or yogurt with honey—every night, but only if they’ve
eaten all of their vegetables and an overall, reasonable amount of nourishing
SPC: What’s your go-to- late-home- from-work- on-a- weekday dish?
SB: Cold soba salad. I put that one in the cookbook! Soba noodles cook up in no
time and, while they are on the stove, I make the fastest Lime Ginger Vinaigrette
and cut up what I call “school lunch veggies,” which are the vegetables I always
have on hand for school lunches: cucumber, red pepper, and carrots.15-20
minutes max with ingredients I always have on hand.
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