While food blogger Molly Yeh loves vegetables, she said she feels she has “more to contribute in the world of cake.” (photo by Chantell Quernemoen)
Blogger Molly Yeh, 28, is the daughter of a Jewish mother and a Chinese father. She grew up in a Chicago suburb in a house with great cooking by her mom and great music by her dad, giving her a lasting love and appreciation for both arts, even though it is food that has become her profession.
An accomplished percussionist, Yeh first pursued her musical passion, enrolling in Juilliard School in New York.
“What I discovered when I got to New York was how amazing the restaurant scene there was,” she told the Independent. “That really inspired me to get into food and tasting new things. I started cooking as well. I’d call my mother and ask her to send recipes … and I started baking a lot.”
When she started her blog, it was somewhat an extension of her diary. “I basically just used it as a scrapbook of adventures around the city and hanging out with friends and stuff,” she explained. “It quickly became clear that I only wanted to blog about food. So, I started doing recipe development and learning about food harvest and such. And then, four years ago, I moved from New York to the border of North Dakota and Minnesota, where my husband grew up. He’s a fifth-generation farmer.
“When we first moved here, I had a lot of time on my hands. I didn’t know that many people, I was working at the bakery in town…. But, other than that, I just worked on my blog a bunch and turned it into something that could become a business.
“It became my full-time job and then I also wrote my book, Molly on the Range, which includes a lot of the recipes from my upbringing in Chicago, to my time spent in New York, and then a lot of the recipes that I learned when I moved to where I live now.”
As a kid, Yeh had a penchant for starchy cuisine like challah and rugelach. At home, they marked both the major Jewish holidays as well as Christmas but, Yeh stressed, “I am Jewish. It’s an important part of my life.”
Her mom cooked Ashkenazi and Chinese food. “When she first married my dad, she took a dumpling- and dim sum-making class,” recalled Yeh. “So, I grew up with a stack of recipes she got from that class. Those sort of became the traditional recipes we’d make. On Christmas, we’d make our own Chinese food, and those were the recipes I grew up with.”
Yeh met her now-husband at Juilliard. He was a trombonist and they shared many of the same school friends. They began dating after they both graduated.
“In school, he was the quiet studious type,” said Yeh. “I was more the loud partier type. But, after we graduated, we started hanging out a bunch and I thought he seemed pretty cool. After a few years of dating and living in the city, we were both kind of ready for a slower pace of life … ready to be closer to family.”
Yeh joked that, when they went to visit the farm on which her husband spent his childhood, she told him, “OK. I’m moving here, whether you’re with me or not. I love it here! Let’s do it.”
Looking back, Yeh said, “It was a pretty easy decision, because we were just kind of ready after five or six years of living in New York City, going out every night, trying new restaurants every night and going to concerts and parties…. I was just ready to cook in a nice, big, sunny kitchen and have a garden, and not have to choose between 100 different pizza places. He grew up on the farm with a good relationship to it, but, because he was also playing trombone, he never saw himself going into farming full-time.
“But, both of us, while we were at Juilliard, separately made the decision that we didn’t want to be in an orchestra full-time,” said Yeh. “When you make that decision, there are still so many options for how you can have music in your life. We both like doing lots of different things, not just music.
“When the opportunity to farm came up, he felt strongly about carrying on the family tradition and keeping the farm in the family. None of his cousins or sister expressed an interest in taking over the family farm, so I think that there was big pull for him to come back and make sure it was carried on through the generations.”
The main crops they grow are sugar beets, wheat, soybeans and navy beans.
Yeh is an avid diary keeper, so when she learned that having a diary online was possible and that it was easy to put photos with it, she jumped at the idea of starting a blog. These days, her blog is primarily about food, but much of it is about travel, too.
“I share a lot of recipes that are influenced by Jewish cuisine, Israeli cuisine, and also cuisine in this area, in the upper midwest,” she said. “I also have recipes influenced by my Chinese heritage. I try to do recipes you wouldn’t really find anywhere else and recipes that tell a story, that are meaningful to me.
“I also just like keeping it in a diary format, so talking about what’s happening on the farm and my life these days.”
Yeh loves baking cakes, mostly because she gets to decorate them and they become edible art. She also likes making food that is celebratory, that people might bring to a party or share with others.
“I don’t think it’s totally a blog for everyday food,” she said. “It’s definitely a blog for recipes you might enjoy on a weekend, at a party, or when you’re splurging. I love making food that’s inspired by food I’ve had in Israel, because it’s so delicious and also healthy. I make a lot of hummus and salads, but I don’t blog that much about salads. I feel like I have more to contribute in the world of cake.”
Most of Yeh’s followers hail from English-speaking countries – from the United States, England, Canada, Australia, Germany and Israel.
“I love keeping the blog,” said Yeh. “Even if it wasn’t my job, I’d still keep it up. I see myself doing the blog forever. But, the landscape is always changing. Right now, people want more video. I can see videos really help people learn recipes, so that’s something I’m starting to get into.
“The book was really a great experience. I’m working on a smaller book right now. As long as it has to do with making food and being creative, then I’ll be excited about it. Who knows what form that will take on in the future?
“I want to give a shout out to the few blog friends in Vancouver. I’ve always wanted to do the cruise that goes from Vancouver up to Alaska. Vancouver just seems like the coolest place ever. One day, I’ll visit.”
To learn more about Yeh and her endeavours, visit mynameisyeh.com.
Rebeca Kuropatwa is a Winnipeg freelance writer.