Every week, we’re spotlighting a different food blogger who’s shaking up the blogosphere with tempting recipes and knockout photography. Today, we speak with Cara Nicoletti of Yummy Books (and author of the new literature-inspired book of stories and recipes, Voracious). Swing back all week for a new recipe from Nicoletti every day.
Cara Nicoletti. Photo: Angela Pham/BFAnyc.com.
Growing up in a butcher shop has its perks: Squeamish tendencies are quashed pretty quickly. Prime cuts of meat are always on offer (at a discount!). And, if that butcher shop happens to be owned by family, you’re surrounded day in and day out by loved ones. But for Cara Nicoletti — who spent her youth in the Wellesley, Mass., butcher shop run by her grandfather, great grandfather, and great uncle — those benefits did not include getting her hands dirty.
“My grandfather never let us cut anything because he really didn’t want us to do that,” Nicoletti told Yahoo Food, adding that he’d done the same for his own three daughters. “I always assumed that it was because we were women and he was old-fashioned, but the older I get, I realize that it’s an incredibly difficult life and he didn’t want it for any of his kids. When I told him I was butchering five years ago, he said, ‘I worked all my life so you could sit at a desk and have clean hands.’”
Nicoletti’s corn bread, inspired by Where the Red Fern Grows. Photo courtesy of Cara Nicoletti.
That Nicoletti became a butcher — until recently, at modern meat shop The Meat Hook in New York City — is as much a surprise to herself as anyone. A self-described literary nerd, Nicoletti spent her childhood disappearing not into recipes, but books. Her favorites include the Laura Ingalls Wilder Little House on the Prairie series, or anything by Roald Dahl. Then there were the Red Wall books, The Chronicles of Narnia, and anything featuring Ramona Quimby.
“I was much, much shyer than [my siblings], and I think reading can be a shy person’s escape,” Nicoletti explained. She related to the characters in her books, at times more than the people around her. “When I was little, reading was a way that I pulled inward and escaped from things. But when I was older, it became the way that I made my closest fiends and connected with people.”
Nicoletti graduated from New York University in 2008 with degrees in English literature and Latin, but the recession made finding work a tall order. She paid the bills by working in kitchens, having been introduced to the food world through waitressing and barista gigs during college. At first she churned out breads and sweet pastries, but soon found herself gravitating toward the family business: butchering. (Her grandfather came around, and now brags to anyone who’ll listen about his granddaughter’s prowess with a cleaver.)
But in her down time, Nicoletti hosted a supper club for friends, inspired by — what else — literature.
Blueberry and chocolate chip pancakes inspired by The Goldfinch. Photo courtesy of Cara Nicoletti.
“I had a book club with some of my best friends, and whenever we would finish a book, I would cook a dish inspired by the book,” Nicoletti said. “Everyone got really into it, [but] it got to be too much work. I kept it going as a blog.”
In late 2009, Nicoletti’s literature-inspired blog, Yummy Books, was born. There, one finds dishes like her golden skillet of cornbread slathered with honey butter inspired by the tear-jerking children’s novel Where the Red Fern Grows, a savory ratatouille tart that takes its cues from Gone With the Wind, and a rich, wine-soaked braised beef dish like one described so beautifully by Virginia Woolf. The books are new and old, geared toward adults and children. Basically, they are anything that Nicoletti has read and loved.
In each post, Nicoletti writes poignantly about the emotions dredged up by the book or the recipe it inspired. The result is something deeply personal — Nicoletti does not shy away from writing about hardship, rejection, and love — but relatable to anyone who’s ever been similarly moved by a book or the sense memory of a recipe.
A pig’s head terrine inspired by Lord of the Flies. Photo courtesy of Cara Nicoletti.
“I think one of the things I have learned from putting my thoughts out on the Internet is that people appreciate vulnerability, though it took me a long time and a lot of growing up to be comfortable with being vulnerable,” Nicoletti mused. “I think people appreciate honesty about struggle and things being hard and what you do to cope with that. I cope with cooking and reading and eating.”
Yummy Books has certainly resonated with readers. This year, she was a finalist in Saveur’s annual blog awards in the “Best Writing” category, and on Aug. 18, she releases her first book, Voracious, which is filled with personal anecdotes about books and recipes.
“I honestly can’t believe I’m at this point — it doesn’t feel real,” Nicoletti said of her success. “I’m really nervous about how people will receive it. I just don’t know.” Though she’s on a book tour through October — she left the Meat Hook to pursue her book dreams — Nicoletti’s plans after that are uncertain. She might look for another butchering job, or focus on writing instead. For now, she’s at peace with not having an answer.
“I’ve been a planner and a stresser all my life, and I’m trying to take a break from that,” she said with a laugh. “It’s a new thing I’m trying it out.”
Circle back to Yahoo Food for a new recipe from Yummy Books every day this week.
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