A real-life interview with a real-life food expert!

Nicole, modeling our beloved Bubble Tea drinks!

Tuesdays. For me, I think of Taco Tuesdays at Taco John’s and Double Punch day at the Tea Garden. Food and Tuesdays go together for me. Because I love food.

On one particular Tuesday, a few Tuesdays ago, I met a friend at the Tea Garden on Grand Avenue. I’ve known this friend since we were freshmen in high school. We used to eat unhealthy junk food while studying ASL and chemistry. We used to eat fast food and talk about boys.

Though we no longer study ASL and chemistry and our taste in food has dramatically improved from McDonald’s, we still talk. About boys, work, and food. So, I’ll let you in on this particular conversation from a few Tuesdays ago, because it’s tailored for you.

That Tuesday we were enjoying a beautiful, unusually warm November day in Minnesota. The air was fresh and clear. And my drive to Grand Avenue was uneventful. I parked on a side street and called Nicole. Parallel parking at the time, she said she’d meet me inside the Tea Garden. She did. With her Canon slung around her shoulder, I spotted her immediately. We ordered our drinks – she’s a full-fledged “pearl” consumer, while I’m stuck in the “jellies” phase (this is code for Bubble Tea talk!). Drinks purchased, straws punched through the plastic lids, we sat at a table by the window and we chatted – a formal interview  chat – as formal as two friends can get. Why did I interview my long-time friend? Because she has some insight into the world of food. And I love food.

Me: What is your degree?

Nicole: Nutrition and Dietetics.

I scribbled furiously in my Jonathan Adler notebook. Nicole leaned over the table and watched.

Nicole: Oh you did it with two t’s, too.  No one does that. Everyone spells it d-i-e-t-e-d-i-c-s.

I smiled and made some sarcastic comment on how I must be smarter than everyone else.

Me: What is your job?

Nicole: Food research for a large food manufacturing company

Me: Why did you  choose nutrition?

Nicole: At the time it was an impulse. I’d taken a nutrition course for a pre- requisite for nursing and enjoyed it more than the medical field. I saw that it had a major use in the medical field. There were more opportunities than RN – with RN you’re stuck in that field. No variations.

Me: All right, let’s get into the good stuff! You grew up in MN. What is a traditional MN food that you love?

Nicole: I think of Scandinavian – Pasties. I grew up on those. Otherwise just comfort foods in cold weather like chili, stews – the typical Midwestern hearty meals!

Me: Do you have a favorite holiday meal?

Nicole: Lately we’ve started some new traditions. My mom has. She makes a Swedish Christmas Eve meal. The week before Christmas she goes to Ingebretsen’s Scandinavian Gifts & Foods in Minneapolis to get supplies. There is a butcher shop and bakery there. There is always a line the week before and into the week of Christmas. My mom has met a lot of Swedish immigrants while waiting in line who suggest foods or dishes for us to have, which is where we have gotten some of the unusual ingredients/dishes. Potato Sausage; julekake: the Swedish Christmas bread made with fruit and cardamom; lefse: flat potato tortilla that you can stuff food inside, or serve with butter and sugar; ruhl: thinly slice lamb; frugt suppe (we would say fruit soup): a cold soup made with dried fruit, cinnamon, cloves and sugar; Swedish meatballs with gravy; pickled herring; Krumkake: crispy waffle cookie (similar to what waffle cones are made out of); Lingonberries;        Swedish limpa: rye bread with orange peel, caraway and anise – called wort loaf, because it is made with the leftover wart from brewing beer; Rice pudding: custard with cinnamon and raisins. She [my mom] always makes several meals – kind of a tasting plate – not a traditional ham, potatoes, and green bean casserole Christmas Eve tradition!

Me: So your favorite…?

Nicole: Christmas Day when everyone is there is definitely the best. Last year we went to Wild Mountain on the day after Christmas all of us – even the boys – when I say boys, I mean, nephews. We tubed. It was a blast! We just went up an down the hill all day. And then we had this Christmas picnic – with leftovers and came home and had hot chocolate.

Me: Do you do Christmas baking?

Nicole: Ohmigosh, yes! My family is huge on it! It’s been a tradition every year since childhood. We make the same cookies we had as kids like sugar cookies – we love sugar cookies! None of us can let go of them (the childhood cookies). On Black Friday all of us girls start baking and divide them up (the cookies). We’ll make at least a dozen different kinds of cookies and dozens of each kind!

Me: What’s your favorite cookie?

Nicole: Um, they’re called Candy Cane cookies and it’s an almond cookie and you split the dough half and half – one half is white the other half is red!

Me: I hate those!

Nicole: I know – other people have said that too. My mom makes the best! I don’t know what it is, but they are good! I also love Melting Moments – with frosting! And then Pecan Tassies – they look like mini pecan pies – they have a crust that you bake in these small tins the size of a quarter. Those are my favorites!

Me: What is your favorite childhood baking/cooking memory?

Nicole: Christmas cookie baking  with nieces and nephews is a lot of fun. We’ve done it every year since I remember. It’s a tradition. A lot of fun!

Me: When baking, do you have a favorite holiday album that you play?

Nicole: Ha! Yeah. BeBe and CeCe’s Christmas album – it’s traditional Christmas music – my parents played it. Not something I’d pick, but it was what my parents listened to so I liked it. Kenny G instrumental is a good one. And then I like the really shallow Christmas music! There’s no such thing as shallow Christmas music cause it’s all the traditional stuff, but the musicians are shallow! Like Jessica Simpson, Mariah Carey, NSync!

We took a short “interview” break and listed a few other “shallow” musicians. We laughed and guzzled down our Bubble Tea before continuing.

Me: So, with all the eating and baking of rich foods, how do you stay healthy during the holidays?

Nicole: I think definitely making it (holiday cookie baking) as a family/group and then splitting everything up so we don’t each have hundreds of cookies. I bring some to work – as much as I love them, I can get sick! Giving to others is a good solution. I freeze them, too. The vast majority I freeze and then eat on Christmas Day. I let myself eat as much as I want on Christmas Day. I feel it’s part of the holiday tradition. Don’t restrict yourself because then it’s more tempting. I find even when I bake for myself, I’m not one who can eat a ton without getting sick.

Me: You are all about moderation…?

Nicole: I don’t know if I’d say that. I’m not about restriction because that’s when you moderate the best.

Me: When we read all the women’s health/food magazines this time of year and they give tips on what to eat/not eat – should we throw that out the window?

Nicole: It’s easy to gain pounds during the holiday, but if you treat Christmas like it’s Easter or Valentine’s Day – in that you really only indulge on the one day but stick to your regular eating the rest of the time – you won’t have weight gain. Christmas is just such a drawn out holiday. If you do overindulge, women have to get over the “all or nothing” attitude – look at your next meal, beverage, workout as a way to reset. Once you’ve made a decision and followed a “healthy” lifestyle for long enough, whatever that is for each individual, you’ll always find yourself resorting back to that lifestyle. I always know that even if I binge on cookies, I won’t do it over and over again. Women get to a point where they follow a healthy lifestyle long enough, that it’s something they crave. You’ll get to a point when you constantly crave that good feeling

Me: Basically, don’t beat yourself up around the holidays.

Nicole: No, food for me is so central around the holidays and for a lot of others.

Me: To wrap things up, because I’m hungry and Bubble Tea’s not cutting it, what’s one fruit or vegetable that you love using in the winter?

Nicole: Root vegetables of any kind – sweet potatoes, squash, carrots. I’ve started playing around more with parsnips and beets. You can find variety no matter the time of year – it’s so easy in the summer, but there’s variety in the winter, too.

I’m pretty sure we ended the interview right then and there and I brilliantly said something like, “Sweet. Thanks. Where are we eating?” Nicole made some suggestions, good ones, as always and we slurped down the remaining drops of our Bubble Tea and headed out the door and down the street where we found  authentic Gyros. The evening continued. We talked about life, food, family, and Christmas. Just two friends enjoying our Tuesday evening and food.

*Nicole blogs at The Salted Kitchen. Check her out!


Nicole’s Favorite (Winter) Things:

Fave song: What’s that one song? It’s a duet with Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey. Oh! "Baby It’s Cold Outside"! I love that song!

Fave spice: Cardamom – my grandma makes a cardamom bread that has a ton of cardamom in it and I associate it with winter. That’s when I crave it!

Fave snack: APPLES! The U of M’s new breed – it’s called Sweet Tango – is awesome. And then the U of M’s Honeycrisp!

Fave restaurant: Zumbro Café – it’s local, organic ingredients in Linden Hills (Minneapolis neighborhood).


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