About the Baklava Queen

Real name Jennifer McMullen | Email me: bakl@yahoo.com
Ethicurean name The Baklava Queen
Why’d you pick that? For nearly 20 years, I’ve made baklava as a part of my Christmas baking. One year, a new friend who was grateful for the gift of honey-drenched baklava after a choir concert gave me the name, and it stuck.
Real job Working with government documents and general media at a college library. I also help a friend on some weekends at her bed and breakfast, cooking for the guests and cleaning rooms once they leave.
Best meal ever I have to limit it to one??? Toss-up between some of the dinner parties I’ve thrown for friends, a lingering lunch at the CIA’s American Bounty Restaurant, or any dinner at the local Bistro.
Favorite fruit Strawberries. No, raspberries. No, apples! No, wait…
Favorite vegetable Broccoli (but only because potatoes are so much more than a vegetable!)
Vegetable I eat only when I have to be polite Lima beans
Favorite dinner growing up Monday-night hash, made with lots of potatoes OR my dad’s chicken paprikash
Processed crap I can’t manage to live without Isn’t there a law against calling chocolate “crap”? Well, the good stuff, anyway…
Most embarrassing cooking experience Trying to make Swiss cheese fondue in someone else’s fondue pot: the whole thing never got hot enough, so the cheese seized up when I tried to add kirschwasser and wine. What a mess!
Most traumatic food experience Arriving in France for a semester, having my luggage lost, and facing my first French meal. My host mother had very kindly asked what I didn’t eat, and all I could think of was “liver” (which, fortunately, she understood from my feeble explanations). Alas, I sat down to dinner facing a salad loaded with tuna, raw tomatoes, and hard-boiled eggs… none of which I liked (I’ve since overcome the raw tomato prejudice). I bravely ate the salad and accepted a second helping… only to discover that it was merely the first course and the overcooked beef was next. Is it any wonder I was in tears when I called my mother later that night?
Attitude about sell-by dates If it’s more than a month or two away, do I really want to eat it? (That’s for processed food, of course; with yogurt or cheese, it’s more a guideline.)

Food background I grew up in the Polyester Years under the keen eye of the Chef Mother, who taught cooking, nutrition, and restaurant management for over two decades. Even though I ate my fair share of sugar-laden cereals, Jell-O parfaits, and mac and cheese from a box, I also learned how to make jam, bake bread from scratch, roll out a decent pie crust, plan menus, and time my cooking prep so that everything arrived at the table in good order.

After college, I moved to Atlanta to work and attend grad school, and in the process, I decided to follow a vegetarian diet (primarily for health and environmental reasons). Leaving behind the easy fixes of hot dogs and chicken for meals, I learned to appreciate different vegetables (eggplant!), try new recipes, and explore various ethnic cuisines. Upon returning home to Ohio, I lucked out in finding work in a smallish town with a good natural-foods store and a farmers market, so I’ve been able to continue my culinary explorations.

From early on, I’ve taken great pleasure in cooking for other people, whether in throwing a lavish dinner party or just baking cookies and sharing them at work and with friends. I’ve found special delight in working with some of the students who have graced my life, because their adventurous palates as well as their enthusiasm for food outside the dining hall have given me ample reason to try new recipes on company and to experiment with old favorites. A couple of them made time regularly to cook with me and to learn some of the old-fashioned techniques I learned way back when, and I’m gratified to see how they’ve incorporated cooking into their own lives (one is a certified pastry chef, one cooks weekly for her co-op, and another dazzles me with some of her preserves and dinners).

In the past few years, my voracious reading has led me into some of the big environmental questions and issues of the day and into making some of the biggest changes in my life: giving up my car, selling my house, downsizing considerably, finding more ways to live in a low-impact way, and living “in place,” feeling like part of my community in a way that I never had before. Those readings also introduced me to the issues involved with local foods, and though I’ve always appreciated being able to buy local fresh produce and preserve it for winter, this growing understanding of how local foods make a positive impact on our world has encouraged me to become an even more committed “locavore.”

My blog, Rolling in the Dough, started simply as a tease to my friends and students about food that I cooked for them, but over time it has expanded to a forum where I sort through some of my thinking on food politics as well as a showcase for the wonderful local foods I find and the delectable dishes and recipes I enjoy making. Sometimes I think I get a little too obsessed about food, but then I think, given how important food is in our lives, isn’t good food worth a little more attention?