Photo Credit: Chantell Quernemoen
Award-winning food blogger Molly Yeh, famous for her funfetti cake and moving from Brooklyn to Grand Forks, N.D., writes and cooks through her life on her blog, “my name is yeh,”and now in her first cookbook, “Molly On The Range: Recipes And Stories From An Unlikely Life On A Farm,” published earlier this month.
Yeh’s book chronicles her life in snacks, meals and anecdotes, beginning with her suburban childhood north of Chicago, through her college years studying percussion at The Julliard School in New York, her travels abroad to Israel and Europe and her move to North Dakota to her husband’s (then boyfriend’s) family farm. “If you had told me in college that in five years I’d be living on a farm in the upper Midwest, I would have shoved my bodega sandwich in your face,” she writes.
The cast of characters in the cookbook are members of Yeh’s family, Yeh’s husband who she calls “eggboy” (christened from their early days of dating when he was on a high protein diet), her in-laws who she calls “eggmom’ and “eggpop,” her friends from Julliard, the Grand Forks Ladies’ Brunch Club and her chickens, all named Macaroni with the exception of the lone rooster, whose name is Tofu.
The recipes are often rooted in her Chinese-Jewish heritage, sometimes with a New York or Upper Midwest twist. Some of the dishes in the book are: scallion pancake challah, sesame coffee cake, falafel fattoush and chicken pot tot hotdish. Yeh writes about the cultural transition to the Upper Midwest from Brooklyn in the introduction of her cookbook,
Contrary to what growing up in Illinois might suggest, nothing truly prepared me fore the vegetable-less salads and big creamy casseroles that I met when I moved to Grand Forks, but this town is basically the North Pole so I don’t know how I was expecting anything other than creamed soups and limited access to vegetables. This was all slightly jarring, but I quickly found that digging into my mother-in-law’s church cookbooks, re-creating these dishes, and tweaking them to fit my tastes was my favorite way of getting to know my new community,” she writes. “And likewise, I love introducing my new neighbors to the food of my people, and using from-scratch recipes to keep the traditions I grew up with alive and well in this little challahless, babkaless town.”
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Yeh’s wide, toothy smile is the first thing you notice on the cover of her cookbook, posing by her cheery, colorful funfetti cake that is as big as a mixing bowl. Yeh has a quality many star chefs have- you want to be her friend. As you’re cooking, it is hard not to imagine Molly looking over your shoulder, telling you a funny story about whatever you’re making. An hysterical example from the book is Yeh describing how she basically ate an entire order of hummus before her husband (then friend) “smooched” her for the very first time later that night. She describes eating all that hummus as, “the stupidest thing I’ve ever done in the history of ever” she writes, because in the middle of the kiss Yeh set a personal record for loud farts. “I still can’t eat hummus without thinking about it,” she finishes. On the next page is her hummus recipe.
Her style and voice are distinct. Writing in all lowercase, she is a candid, heartfelt storyteller with a slightly crude and goofy sense of humor. Her recipes are accompanied by stunning, still life like photographs of perfectly frosted and sprinkled baked creations. Yeh’s love of sprinkles is apparent in her pictures, and her blog will tell you sprinkles were thrown in place of rice or rose petals at Yeh’s wedding.
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One of the things I deeply admire about Yeh is how she was able to create a life for herself after making such a drastic move, and be able to still have it all, her relationship and her career- in North Dakota. She cooked, baked, wrote and photographed her way into an award-winning food blogger. Such a transition would normally require a professional sacrifice by Yeh, but it was after she moved that her blog began to thrive- with no New York nightlife or other distractions.
It is incredibly difficult to make a living food blogging. The internet teems with food bloggers and people who Instagram everything they eat, forget that Yeh is in a tiny town where fresh ingredients are strictly seasonal and thousands of miles away from any sort of media center. When I asked her how she did it, Yeh became uncharacteristically serious, “I know the answer to this. I remember when this clicked in my mind, and it was inspired by my husband who has this insane work ethic and I think its part of the Midwest culture that values really, really hard work,” she explained. “When we started dating, I witnessed the sacrifices he was making in order to get work done. He would stay in Friday nights, working until 10 p.m. We put in these insane work days together playing music in New York, then when we moved he worked these crazy, 14-16 hour days on the farm. Seeing how much work one person could put into this one thing was revolutionizing for me, because it made me want to care so much about one thing, and put the time and energy and work into it. I thought, ‘OK, well I want that to do that.’ That’s what took my blog to something fun and a personal diary to what it is.”
If you would like to make some of Yeh’s recipes from her blog or cookbook but do not cook often, Yeh recommends owning, “Rubber spatulas, an electric mixer (a hand mixer if there’s no room for a stand mixer), one good knife and…a cork screw.”
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