Posts Tagged ‘T. Susan Chang’

“Living and Working with Your Entire Self”: Susie Chang

Monday, October 17th, 2016
Susie Chang (all photos courtesy of T. Susan Chang)

Susie Chang
(all photos courtesy of T. Susan Chang)

The voice coming out of the computer is upbeat, musical, and fun. “If you love to cook, if you love recipes, if you love eating, stick around. Anything could happen,” says Susie Chang near the beginning of the inaugural podcast of “The Level Teaspoon,” her informal and entertaining look at cookbooks and recipes.

Susie (her pen name is “T. Susan Chang”) lives in Leverett, Massachusetts, not too far from me. For many years she has reviewed cookbooks for the Boston Globe and NPR. She is also the author of the frank, charming food memoir A Spoonful of Promises.

Her free podcast debuted on September 14. A new episode will be available every Wednesday on ITunes and other podcast venues (including its own site), where listeners can also hear back episodes. The podcast features cookbook reviews, cookbook highlights, and recipe-testing sessions with enthusiastic home cooks.

I spoke with Susie on the phone recently to talk about the genesis of “The Level Teaspoon.” She explained that she had come to realize that journalism had changed over the past couple of years.

“Cookbook reviews in print are something that people are less interested in,” she told me. “We use cookbooks in different ways. A lot of us will just Google recipes….

“I started thinking about how I would like to find out about cookbooks. I listen to an absolute ton of podcasts.”

She began to investigate the possibility of creating her own podcast. “I love doing radio. I always thought it would be nice to do more voice work, but I never could figure out how to do it,” she said.

“I spent a day looking into how people are managing to do podcasts, and I realized that it is possible to make a living running a podcast.”

The trick, she added, is that the podcaster has to build up thousands of listeners in order to attract a sponsor for his or her work.

She decided to take a chance, to invest her money in a good microphone and her time in creating a podcast she knew people would enjoy.

“I decided to give myself a few months to try and just see how it goes. I’m really, really hoping that I can make this work because I love doing it!” she asserted.

“I still get to write. I love writing. I always have. But there is something about the immediacy of sound to me that really goes with the immediacy of cooking. Cooking is a social activity.”

Susie is very proud of the sound effects she has begun to generate in her podcast. She found her theme music almost by accident.

“It happened the day I got my mike,” she recalled. “I’d been all worried about finding theme music. I had no idea how I was going to do it. I just happened to be working on my laptop across the street at the library and they were having their ‘Music on the Patio’ night. A couple of my neighbors are in the band.

“Anyway, I was just sitting there working and I thought, ‘Hey, that sounds pretty good!’ So I ran back across the street to my house and got the new mike, which I’d NEVER used before. And when they were all done I said, ‘What would it take for you guys to record just like 30 seconds of music for me?’ And they said, ‘Well, you want to call us tomorrow?’ And I said, ‘Well ACTUALLY, I happen to have a mike in my bag!’ And that’s how I got it.

“One take; you can hear talking and crickets and everything. I thought they did an amazing job.”


Susie’s favorite part of the podcast may be the segment in which she interviews “ordinary people,” including friends, about their experiences testing cookbook recipes.

“With cookbooks that’s the thing we never get to hear of, how [a recipe] ends up in somebody’s kitchen,” she told me. “It’s really hard to know from just looking what your experience with a cookbook is going to be like.”

She added that she enjoys being able to use the words of her many friends who love food and are articulate about it. “I just wanted their voices to be heard,” she said.

“Instead of being holed up in my office writing about these cookbooks, now I’m actually getting to see my friends, taste things with them, hear what they think.”

She looks forward to interviewing cookbook authors as well as friends as the podcasts develop. “The trick is that [the authors] can’t test their own recipes. They can talk about their book, but they will test a recipe from [someone else’s new] cookbook,” she explained.

At the moment it is taking Susie a full work week to prepare each podcast. “Thursday I write,” she noted. “By Friday I should be recording. I squeeze in interviews when I can.”

She edits on Monday, prepares online notes for the show on Tuesday, and gets ready to promote it when it hits the internet on Wednesday.

She also has to fit her other work into her week. “Plus I’ve still got kids,” she joked, referring to her 15-year-old son and ten-year-old daughter. “And at some point I have to figure out what I’m testing for the next week.”

She expressed the hope that her husband and daughter will test recipes with her on the podcast soon. She portrayed young Zoe as an enthusiastic recipe tester.

The cookbooks just flood in [here],” said Susie. “I take the ones that are aimed toward kids. [Zoe] goes off with a pile of cookbooks and basically goes for broke. She just starts cooking.”

Susie loves cooking with her daughter, she told me. “I did not get to grow up cooking next to my mom and grandmother. I’m glad Zoe has the willingness and ability to do it.”

I asked Susie how many cookbooks she receives to review per year. “Oh, my God,” she exclaimed. “I usually tell people it’s 400 or 500. It probably is at least that. I try to keep it down to 1000 in the house.

“Luckily, I live across the street from the library. The Leverett library now has an extremely large collection of cookbooks!”

All in all, Susie is happy and hopeful with her life and her podcast, both of which promote the idea of food as a community. “I feel satisfied with work for the first time in a long time, even though there’s no money yet,” she said.

“At least this way, whatever I do, I’m responsible for it. I can reject it. I can accept it. And whatever comes out of it is mine…. It’s fun to be living and working with your entire self. That’s a gift.”


A Spoonful of Promises

Tuesday, January 31st, 2012

T. Susan Chang (courtesy of T. Susan Chang)

I always need a little prod in January. After the novelty of the new year wears off there I am, stuck in winter mode with a craving for comfort food and a slightly fuzzy brain.

I have nothing against comfort food, but it’s not the best thing in the world for the Tinky body, which tends to be … sturdy. (I love euphemisms!) And the fuzzy brain doesn’t do me much good.

Happily, I recently received a review copy of T. Susan Chang’s A Spoonful of Promises: Stories and Recipes from a Well-Tempered Table. It gave me the illusion of consuming comfort food without actually eating—at least until I tried one of its tempting recipes—since it talks about the place of food in the author’s life.

And it reminded me why I love to write about food, thereby removing at least a little of the fuzz from my brain.

Susie Chang lives with her husband and her two children not too far from my western Massachusetts home, in the town of Leverett. She has even heard me sing!

She writes about food a bit more lucratively than I do, contributing cookbook reviews to the Boston Globe and commentary both to NPR’s Kitchen Window and to our local public-radio station, WFCR. (For links to her work, visit Susie’s blog, Cookbooks for Dinner.)

A Spoonful of Promises is her first book. It features a number of recipes—the author is a creative cook—but most of all it shares food memories.

Susie Chang recalls trying to make funnel cake in her family kitchen as a child without much knowledge of frying, with disastrous (although fortunately not injurious!) results.

She talks about learning to love cooking as a young adult in New York, when cooking became her passion.

She discusses her food adventures with family and friends at home in Leverett, where her family raises most of the vegetables it consumes in season.

Her tone is passionate yet humorous; it’s hard not to giggle when reading a chapter titled “Zombie Servants of the Noodle God.” Many of her stories are touching as well.

Having just lost my mother to old age and Alzheimer’s disease, I was particularly moved by an essay in which she talks about trying to grow saffron bulbs, a present from her father, who suffers from dementia.

Her frustration with the delicate saffron is intertwined and infused with her feelings about her father and his illness. Like the saffron, he is a fragile plant that she can’t quite bring all the way to life yet treasures nevertheless.

Reading the book was a tonic and inspiration for me as a writer and a cook. As longtime readers of this blog know, I, too, like to consider food as nourishment for much more than the body.

As T. Susan Chang understands, food connects us to the loved ones in our past, builds relationships for the future, and lets us learn about faraway people and places.

A Spoonful of Promises was published by Lyons Press and sells for $24.95. I interviewed Susie Chang for the Greenfield (Massachusetts) Recorder and will try to link to that article when it is published. Meanwhile, I’m sharing one of her recipes—sort of!

Susie’s book includes a section about her children’s favorite foods—and hers. One of the treasures here is a Swiss chard tart, which her son Noah loves to take to school for lunch. His bewildered classmates all want to know what the heck a “charred tart” is.

When I got ready to make it I couldn’t find my tart pan so I made a chard quiche with a pie crust I had in the freezer instead of Susie’s tart crust. My winter farm share included Swiss chard this week so I did replicate her filling, more or less.

Here is what Susie says of her tart:

[C]hard tart exceeds the sum of its parts. The garlic softens and all but disappears, and the nutmeg is—as nutmeg generally should be—no more than an idea. The eggs and Gruyère fuse around the greens producing spots of cheesy bronzing. For a moment, a dozen ingredients coexist in uneasy harmony in chard tart, contained within the borrowed perfection of its fluted rim. This is what we call le cooking, mes amis!

The quiche my family enjoyed may not quite have equaled Susie’s tart, but it looked lovely and offered a pleasing balance of flavors. And it used up most of our Swiss chard, not to mention some cheese and cream I had leftover in the fridge. This is what we call la frugalité, mes amis!

Chard Quiche (only very slightly adapted from T. Susan Chang’s Chard Tart)

Adapted/reprinted with permission from A Spoonful of Promises, copyright 2011, T. Susan Chang/Lyons Press


2 to 3 shallots or 3 cloves of garlic
1 small bunch Swiss chard (mine was small, at any rate; I imagine one could use more, but my cheese-to-chard balance was perfect)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 chunk (about 4 ounces) Gruyère or Emmenthaler cheese, enough to yield 1 cup when grated [Okay, sue me, but I used a bit more; I’m afraid when I start grating cheese I always get carried away.]
3/4 cup heavy cream
3 egg yolks (I used 3-1/2 because an egg-separation mishap)
1 8-or-9-inch pie crust (Susie uses a 10-inch tart crust)
nutmeg for grating


Susie makes her tart crust by hand and then blind bakes it for a bit before adding the filling, after which she bakes the whole thing together at 350 degrees. I used a more standard pie crust so I just did what I usually do with a quiche—filled the uncooked pie shell and baked it. If you’d like to try her fabulous tart crust, buy her book; you’ll love it!

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Slice the shallots into thin rings or half-rings; if using garlic, slice the cloves thinly pole-to-pole. Strip the green leaves of the chard from the stems. Slice the leaves crosswise into 1/4-inch ribbons (discard the stems or save for soup) and rinse to remove any sand.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When it begins to shimmer, add a pinch of salt and the sliced shallots or garlic. Sauté the vegetables until tender and just beginning to caramelize. Raise the heat to medium-high and add the sliced chard all at once. Cook together, stirring, until the chard has wilted and is once again quite dry. Season to taste and remove from heat.

Coarsely grate the cheese. In a measuring cup, beat the cream, eggs yolks, and a pinch of salt together vigorously with a fork.

Assemble the pie: scatter half the cheese in a scant layer over the dough. Layer the cooked chard mixture over that. Pour the yolk-and-cream mixture over the chard, and scatter the rest of the cheese on top. Grate a small amount of nutmeg over the whole thing and place the pie (on top of a cookie sheet or larger pan in case of spills!) in the oven.

Bake the quiche for 35 to 40 minutes, until the surface is golden brown. Let it sit for 10 minutes to set before eating. (If you’re impatient, you’ll have runny but yummy quiche.)

Serves 4 to 6.