I had the pleasure of chatting with the inspirational Willow Arlen, the woman behind Will Cook For Friends who teaches us how to turn even the most painful moments into fruitful opportunities!
You’re a writer, photographer, and self-professed lover of food, all of which comes together so beautifully in your blog, Will Cook For Friends. Where did this passion for developing and sharing recipes come from?
I’ve enjoyed writing and photography as hobbies for as long as I can remember, and when I started to explore cooking I was constantly guided and inspired by food blogs. I would browse recipes and read blogger’s stories, and I told myself that one day I’d have a blog of my own. When I finally started one it was just another hobby, but the more I honed my skills and found my voice as a writer, the more it grew into the passion it is today. I’ve been blogging for nearly six years now, and it’s hard to imagine life any other way.
What inspired you to take the initial leap and start your website? Have you always been creative and entrepreneurial in spirit?
I have always been entrepreneurial. I was home-schooled for most of my life, and have been self employed since I was old enough to have a job. Starting my blog happened almost accidentally—I knew I wanted to have a blog someday, but I had no idea when I would have the time to devote to one.
Then one year I got horribly sick, and couldn’t work anymore. My husband (then just my boyfriend) gave me an incredible amount of support during that time and encouraged me to stay at home and recover. I found myself with a lot of free time, but not a lot of strength, so one day on a whim I googled how to start a blog. Before I knew it I was typing in a title and writing my first post.
It’s amazing to think that such a big (and wonderful) part of my life grew out of such an awful illness.
Is there any particular hurdle you’ve had to overcome that stands out as a real moment of growth for you?
Early on I got sucked into the idea that I needed to post certain things at certain times of year. (Like Easter recipes a week before Easter, St. Pat’s recipes before St. Patrick’s Day, etc.). That’s what I saw other bloggers doing, and it’s what I thought I needed to do to grow a readership… even though I don’t typically celebrate Easter or St. Patrick’s day personally.
Basically, I was pressuring myself to write for an audience instead of creating recipes I genuinely loved and was passionate about. I also tried to adhere to the advice of posting on a regular and frequent schedule, and I found myself totally drained of creativity. It took me a long time to let go of those things and start sharing what I want, when I want, without worrying about what others think. It sounds cliché, but that was a hard one, and sometimes it still is. I have to remind myself why I started — to share my passion for good food made from scratch — and just focus on that.
What’s your goal with your blog? What’s the main thing you want your readers to take away from Will Cook for Friends?
I hope that I can inspire my readers to get in the kitchen and get cooking, no matter their skill level. When I was a teenager and first learning to cook for myself, it was food blogs that gave me the confidence I needed.
With so many convenient pre-made options, cooking isn’t a skill many people learn these days, but I’m a strong believer that learning to cook for yourself can do more than fill your belly, it can fill your heart and soul, too.
Consistently coming up with new, interesting recipes must be a challenge. When you get blocked, creatively, how do you cope? Where do you look to for inspiration?
Often when I get into a creative slump, I take a break. I step away and do something else. I have several creative outlets, and I find it useful to switch between them and let the ones I’m stuck on recharge a little. So I’ll spend a few days reading, or painting, or doing yoga, and then I can usually come back to it and get past whatever block I’m having. Other times that isn’t enough, and I’ll push myself by reading blogs that inspire me and remind me why I started in the first place.
Who do you look up to (whether in your field or not)?
There are so many bloggers that fall into this category, I can’t even count them all. If I had to name a few, I’d say Christine of Vermilion Roots, Aysegul of Foolproof Living, and Allyson of Reclaiming Yesterday. I also really admire celebrity chef Michael Symon, because despite his tremendous skill and fame, he remains humble, funny, and totally down to earth.
Are there any quotes or mantras you find especially helpful?
I am a huge quote nerd, so the answer is yes! One of my all time favorites is this one, from Alton Brown:
“I cook my daughter breakfast every day… no one will feed you as well as somebody who loves you. I believe that. I believe there’s a tangible, transferable value of love in cooking for people.”
What’s your favourite breakfast to kickstart the day?
My favorite foods change so frequently, this is a tough one to answer. Lately I’ve been really into good ol’ eggs, sauteed spinach, and sweet potato hash. I also love making big batches of this porridge or these steel cut oats and eating them with berries and a splash of kefir.
Most mouthwatering indulgence?
A classic BLT, with backyard tomatoes.
Best dining experience?
At home, with a table full of friends. Any food will do — right now I’d say a large pot of soup or stew (it’s freezing here!), a tossed salad, plenty of bread and butter, and this hazelnut torte for dessert. Perfection.
Top cookbook you recommend?
I’m not as much of a cookbook addict as most food bloggers, but I got David Lebovitz’s “My Paris Kitchen” for Christmas and would definitely recommend it.
If you could only have 1 tool in the kitchen it’d be…
Besides the basics (pots, pans, stove, oven) I would say a really good blender. A powerful blender can take the place of a food processor in most cases, and is a real workhorse for so many things.
Top 3 spices?
Oh, that’s hard! I can’t possibly pick just three. I would say the three most used bottles in my cupboard are cumin, curry powder, and paprika.
Way you love to pass the time that has nothing to do with food?
Reading, yoga, cuddling.
Finally, one tip you’d leave for someone who wants to feel self-fulfilled and passionate about life?
Listen to yourself. If you’re doing something because you feel obligated or because that’s how other people are doing it but it doesn’t make you happy, then stop.
Do it differently, or find something else that works better for you, and if anyone tells you “you can’t”, consult yourself before believing them.