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Food blogger Lauren McDuffie dishes on her new cookbook, Southern Lights

Food blogger Lauren McDuffie dishes on her new cookbook, Southern Lights
June 2023

Her latest cookbook delivers a modern interpretation of Southern food



CM: How did you learn to cook?
LM:
In the early ’90s, PBS was the only option for cooking shows. I soaked them all in. I was fascinated by the people whipping things up without seeming to need to stare at a recipe all the time. My mom was a lifelong Southern Living subscriber, and I would study the recipes. When I was six or seven, I made hot water corn bread. It was kind of ambitious because it dealt with a little bit of frying, but as I remember, it turned out okay. Or, at least, everyone ate it! 

CM: Why the switch from writing blogs to cookbooks? 
LM:
I got the itch to make a leap into the world of cookbooks in 2016, when I met lots of other food bloggers at an awards ceremony and was inspired by their stories. I attended some workshops on everything from getting an agent to food photography and was fortunate enough to find an agent who understood the kind of book I wanted to make, a book that honored where I was from [the Appalachia native’s first book was Smoke, Roots, Mountain, Harvest (Chronicle Books, 2019)].  
 
CM: Tell us about the clichés of Southern cooking versus what you’ve experienced? 
LM:
Southern cooking is infamous for being heavy, greasy, butter-laden fare. When I set out to write a book that tells the lighter story, I got a funny reaction: “Oh, bless your heart, you’re trying to lighten up Southern food! That’s not a thing.” I have found that it absolutely is! I’ve spent my whole life learning from Southern cooks, many of whom grow their own food and know what to do with it in simple ways. This book shines a light on that side of the Southern table, which doesn’t get as much glory as fried chicken and smothered pork chops. 

CM: What’s your approach to lightening up a dish? 
LM:
I like to pick one aspect of a recipe that is heavy and lighten it. For example, I grew up in Kentucky, so Benedictine was served at a lot of gatherings. It’s this electric-green dip that is basically made with mayonnaise and cream cheese and green food coloring. You can get to a delicious dead ringer by using other creamy ingredients like Greek yogurt and cottage cheese.

CM: Tell us about your philosophy of abundance.
LM:
I’m a lot more interested in what a recipe can do for me than what it can’t. I’m not as interested in how few calories we can get to or whittling off fat grams. That’s based in shame, and it’s not a positive way of looking at cooking. Abundance is about what can we add to these recipes that serves us and is more nourishing. 

CM: What are some “lighten-up” staples that every home cook should keep on hand?
LM:
Keep at least two fresh green herbs in your fridge like dill, chives, or parsley. Citrus: a little bit of fresh juice or zest goes a long way to balance out or finish a recipe. Nuts: I add a lot of toasted nuts to salads, wraps, tacos, and vegetarian dishes. They add bulk and healthy oils.  

WEB EXTRA - What a Peach! Get Lauren’s peaches with whipped basil cotttage cheese recipe.