Julia Knispel is a Cincinnati writer with a not-so-secret addiction: real estate. Her resume includes publishing houses, magazines, marketing and textbooks; what it should say is “Obsessed with dwellings; loves Mad Men retro kitchens; let’s talk about cabinets.” If you are an open-house warrior, Hooked on Houses is for you. Julia examines a place inside out, frugal or fantasy – like Reese Witherspoon’s $6.9 million country house – and takes you along for the ride. She also sneaks in posts on hallway photos, her lovely kids, chatting with deer and making shortcake for Grandma Hazel. You can’t have a blog without baked goods, right?
How often do you think about eating?
When I’m not blogging about houses, I work as a freelance writer and editor. Whenever I’ve got a project that’s giving me grief, I start thinking about food almost constantly. I’ll procrastinate by surfing sites like yours, pulling out my cookbooks and food mags, and reaching for my favorite snack of the moment–chocolate turtle-flavored Chex mix (totally addictive). I become obsessed with food.
On the flip side, when a writing project is flowing along and everything is coming together well, I can completely forget to eat meals altogether. Lunch will come and go and I won’t realize I’m hungry until 4:00. I can’t be bothered to stop working long enough to even snack. So I guess it depends on the day and how my work is going.
Okay. I don’t usually admit this because it makes me sound like a 13-year old girl, but I don’t really care much for coffee. When I want a hot drink, what I crave is hot chocolate. Really rich, calorie-laden hot chocolate. And I’m really picky about how it’s made. It has to be a dark chocolate mix to start with. I always top it with whipped cream and mini-chocolate chips and stir it up with one of those Pirouette cookie sticks from Pepperidge Farm. Yum!
Favorite hometown food?
I’m gonna have to go with Graeter’s Ice Cream, which has been a staple of summery goodness in my hometown of Cincinnati since the late 1800s. They still make their ice cream the way today they did in 1870. This stuff is seriously good.
Most of my girlfriends rave about the Black Raspberry Chip flavor but I–being my predictable chocoholic self–haven’t been able to stop eating the Double Chocolate Chip long enough to give many of the other flavors a chance.
You have never seen chocolate chips like these. Even the word “chip” doesn’t do them justice. They’re the size of miniature candy bars. Whenever we take the kids to the local Graeter’s Ice Cream parlor, we have a contest to see who can find the biggest chocolate chip in their dish.
You know how some people make “Life Lists” of all the things they want to do before they die? And they always come up with goals like “Climb the Matterhorn,” “Retrace the route of Marco Polo,” and “Wrestle an alligator?”
Yeah. Mine would be a little different. Like, at the top of my list would be, “Try every flavor of Graeter’s ice cream on the menu.” Second on the list: “Die happy.”
Ever been served breakfast in bed?
Nope. But that’s probably because I’m not really into breakfast (until I was in my mid-20s I could hardly be bothered to eat it at all), and I cringe at the idea of getting crumbs in the bed. My husband knows me well enough not to bother! He does surprise me with cinnamon rolls on special occasions, but we eat them in the kitchen.
Your absolutely reliable, go-to food for entertaining is:
I buy the ham. I make everyone else bring the sides. Easy! That’s been the basic plan for every Easter Sunday at our house.
For summer gatherings, I make pasta salad with grilled chicken and vegetables that can easily feed a crowd. Add a hot, crusty loaf of bread and a bowl of fruit and everybody’s happy.
My favorite go-to dessert in the summer is chocolate-chip strawberry shortcake. Yes, chocolate-lover that I am, I even add it to my shortcake! It’s always a hit. My grandma Hazel turns 92 this week and she asked me to make it for her party.
Food that makes you gag?
Anything that doesn’t seem like “real” food or is overly processed totally turns me off. Those fake hamburger patties that you buy in a stack in the freezer section of your grocery store, for example. And American cheese. I’ve gone hungry at many a cookout, let me tell you. But I will. Not. Eat them.
Worst kitchen disaster:
I’m wondering where to even begin. I get distracted easily, which means pots always boil over and food frequently sticks and burns in the pan. I’ve never made a grilled cheese without letting one side go completely black. (I’ve gotten good at scraping the charred bits off, though. I’m sure nobody even notices…)
My husband loves to bake and fatten me up with desserts. He always makes me my favorite dark-chocolate cake with cream-cheese icing on my birthday. Last year I decided to return the favor and attempt to bake his favorite cake, but it did not…turn out…well.
I was hoping no one would notice what a lopsided, ugly disaster it was, but when party guests started snapping photos of it while pointing and laughing, I knew I wasn’t fooling anyone. It was the talk of the party, but for all the wrong reasons!
Three things in your refrigerator right now:
1) Pink lemonade. 2) Marinated vegetables headed for the grill. 3) Watermelon. It’s summer in my fridge!
Your idea of a romantic meal is:
Outdoors. Beautiful sunset. View of the ocean. No kids. I could eat a turkey sandwich in that setting and it would seem romantic to me. My husband proposed to me on the beach in Siesta Key after dinner as the sun went down and we’re celebrating our 20th anniversary this month. So clearly, that’s the kind of romantic setting that works for me.
Secret snack of shame?
Cocoa Puffs. It’s simply impossible for me to stop at only one bowl. This is my idea of a late-night snack when the kids are in bed and nobody can see me refilling the bowl again…and again…and again….
That’s right. I admitted it. I’m cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs!
Most ambitious thing you’ve ever done in the kitchen:
My BFF Beth makes a killer sugar cream pie. I decided to attempt it one Christmas for a family gathering. I screwed up several crucial steps and forgot to add at least one ingredient. Then it boiled over in the oven and burned around the edges. It looked truly disgusting by the time I was ready to serve it. As I recall, my husband was the only one brave to try it, and even he couldn’t help making a face.
Best restaurant if you’re not paying:
I’m totally hooked on the show “Top Chef” on Bravo. I’ve been watching since the first season. So if I could eat anywhere in the world, I’d love to visit judge Tom Colicchio’s acclaimed restaurant Craft. And meet Tom Colicchio while I was there! Hey, a girl can dream.
If you were a cocktail, what would you be, and why?
Well, I’m crazy about any drink made with lemon. I’m currently loving Panera’s frozen lemonade, which I’ve been slurping down as I write this. I always have lemonade in my fridge and lemonade popsicles in the freezer. And–get this–my favorite hang-out in college was the Lemon-Drop Drive-In in Anderson, Indiana. There’s a definite pattern here. So I’m going to have to say I’d be a Lemon Drop cocktail. I like a little tart edge to the sweetness of my life.
Extra Credit: Where is the world’s best pizza?
My husband grew up in Chicago, and I love going back to visit his old stomping grounds with him, so I have to vote for it. However, I also have to give a shout-out to our local LaRosa’s pizza, which is what I grew up on. If you’ve ever been to King’s Island Amusement Park (another Cincinnati landmark), you probably enjoyed a slice of LaRosa’s between roller coaster rides, and it’s a happy childhood food memory for a lot of us.