{a day in the life} What’s Cookin’ Chicago?

by Rachel Gurk on May 21, 2013 · 13 comments

in A day in the life

Today’s “a day in the life”  is Joelen of What’s Cookin’ Chicago? I loved learning more about Joelen, I think her culinary journey is fascinating.

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Tell me about yourself and how you started food blogging.


I moved to Chicago from the northern suburbs for work. Shortly after, I got married and I started food blogging in January 2007 to capture the day to day recipes I would make at home. As a former suburbanite turned urban dweller, I loved checking out city restaurants… so naturally, I incorporated restaurant reviews on my blog in addition to daily recipes I’d make. I started to look for social groups that shared my passion in the various aspects of food and culture but didn’t find one that fit my needs. So with that, I created my own through a site called Meetup.com.

My culinary social group grew from 3 members present at the first meeting up to over 6,000 in a matter of 3 years where meetings and events took place as often as 9-12 times a month…. Sometimes twice in one day!

I hosted culinary events from neighborhood food tours/crawls, themed dinner and potlucks, restaurant visits, informal cooking sessions at home, etc. Eventually my culinary social group expanded to creating a group dedicated to wine and spirits. When I had my son, I went on to create a group dedicated to moms and children with a focus of kitchen playdates and encouraging learning in the kitchen. In essence, I wanted to capture the way food really impacts all our lives and how it truly can connect everyone regardless of our age, backgrounds, etc. All these experiences were shared on my blog in addition to the daily recipes I made at home.

It’s no surprise that my culinary perspective grew beyond what I knew as the daughter of retired caterers. I went on to culinary school, was an executive chef for a Chicago ethnic restaurant for a brief period. With a baby, entertaining to foodie strangers in my home wasn’t an option so I moved into teaching informal, yet fun and interactive culinary classes around the city and with private clients.

It’s been such a fun and exciting culinary adventure and although I closed my culinary social groups to focus on my family, my blog still captures the various things I do in and out of the kitchen, around the city and suburbs and with my little sous chef son.

Take me through your day.Headshot (1)

6am – I wake up & begin our morning routine for me and my toddler, Joel.

7am – I’m out the door to drop off Joel at daycare & I head to work .

8am – 4:30pm – I’m working at a large pharmaceutical benefit management firm where where I create and manage formularies (drug lists) for Medicare D clients/patients.

4:45pm – I pick up Joel from daycare & head home.

5:15pm – 5:30pm – We arrive at home & settle in to prepare dinner. I have an amazing boyfriend, Patrick, who helps out a lot by preheating the oven and starts on dinner before I get home. Usually I’ll prepare weekly meals in advance so all I need to do after a long day is to pop things in the oven or cook briefly on the stovetop.

6pm – We all have dinner together & catch up on our day.

6:30pm – We all clean up after dinner/dishes.

7pm – I change my little guy into pajamas and start our bed time routine.

7;30pm – Joel is in bed and I finally get a chance to relax watching tv, a dvd or just relaxing and spending time with Patrick.

9pm – Patrick heads home, I do some light prep for the next night’s dinner, do any domestic chores I can and then start my bedtime routine.

10pm – In bed and hopefully sleeping…. So I can do it all over again the next day

My blogging/schedulingand bulk of my meal prep happens on the weekends when Joel is visiting with his dad, which is every other weekend. I tend to use the weekends for grocery shopping, meal planning, preparing freezer meals/make ahead meals so that dinner only requires minimal effort during the week.

What is your one must-have kitchen tool or gadget?

A sharp knife!

What is the most important part of your day? Why?

Spending quality time with Joel and Patrick in the evenings. I treasure the moments I have with loved ones and I do my best to never take them for granted.

What is your favorite part of your day? Why?

Spending quality time with Joel and Patrick in the evenings. Being able to just talk about our day, sharing our daily experiences, what we learned, etc is so precious to me and gives us all a deeper connection with each other.

What is your LEAST favorite part of the day? Why?

Being apart from Joel while at work. I would much rather be home playing in the kitchen with him!

If you could choose one room in your house to spend the WHOLE day in, which room would it be? 

The kitchen of course!

If you could choose one room in your house to remodel (on an unlimited budget!) which room would it be and why? 

Kitchen / dining room – I live in a small 2 bedroom condo and I barely have enough space for all my kitchen related stuff! It would be great to have a giant island as a work space so everyone that comes over to entertain would have enough room to cook and prep along side of me.

What is your favorite day of the week? Why?

Sundays – it’s the one day of the week we all get together with friends and family to enjoy a homestyle dinner… and I have the time to focus on more complex recipes, as well as catering to all the details of my dinner.

If you had to choose one place to travel to every year over and over, where would it be? Why? Have you been there before?

Hawaii, Oahu – although I would love to visit the other islands too! I’ve been there before and I loved it. The food, the people, the culture – I really fit in and felt so at home.

If you could travel anywhere in the world for free, where would you go and how long would you stay?

I would love to go to the Philippines where my parents reside and visit for a month. In fact, we are planning a family trip to Philippines for December 2014 to spend the holidays together! Maybe even do some island hopping and/or visit other Southeast Asian countries.

What is your favorite quote or verse?

“This is my invariable advice to people: Learn how to cook- try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless, and above all have fun!”
― Julia ChildMy Life in France

What is your favorite cookbook?

Cook’s Country Cookbook is a fave right now… and it often changes with the seasons.

What recipe on your blog are you most proud of? 

It isn’t so much a recipe but a collection of make ahead/freezer meals that I prepared just before my son was born. Just a month before my due date, I spent a weekend preparing and assembling a freezer full of dishes to have on hand once I was home taking care of a newborn. When I was finally done, having been on my feet most of the day in the kitchen, I went to bed. Hours later in the middle of the night, I had to go to the bathroom and to my surprise, my water broke. I was having a baby a month early! I guess one could say my son was born out of my love of cooking since he came after my cooking/preparing/assembling marathon in the kitchen!

Freezer Meals Pic

What recipe on your blog do your readers seem to love most? 

Same as answer to #14 – It isn’t so much a recipe but a collection of make ahead/freezer meals that I prepared just before my son was born. The blog post has helped so many people who wanted to stock their freezer with meals in preparation for a new baby, recovering family/friends, etc.

What is your guilty food pleasure that you’re embarrassed to fess up to?

Olive Garden. I know it’s not exactly the best Italian food out there but I love it anyway lol.

What have you learned since you began blogging?

I learned how food really does connect me with people, places and the world around me. I love how food ties us all in some way, shape or form… and the various things I’ve done and experienced really exemplifies that!

What have you found to be the most challenging part of blogging?

The most challenging part of blogging for me is trying not to compare myself with other fellow food bloggers. With so many out there, I try to remind myself that there will always someone I can aspire to be like and someone who I may have inspired. There’s a place for everyone to share their love of food in so many ways, shapes and forms.

Do you have any advice for someone who is interested in cooking or food blogging?

If you want to blog, do it for yourself because you want to, when you want to, and how you want to. Use your unique voice to tell your story… because no one else can.

Who would you like to see featured here in the future? 

Maybe Nikki Glad of Seeded at the Table, formerly known as Pennies on a Platter.

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Thanks Joelen! What a fantastic resource your freezer meals post is. Love that list of links.  

You can find more of Joelen on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Google+ and Instagram.

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

1 katie May 21, 2013 at 7:51 am

Oh I loved reading about Joelen’s culinary story. Having just met her this past weekend I now can truly say how caring, talented, and smart she is (not just on the blog but in real life)! I’ve been a fan of her blog for a long time now and it was great to finally meet her in real life!

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2 Joelen May 21, 2013 at 5:27 pm

Thank you Katie! So glad we were able to meet in person too… and hopefully it won’t be the last time. I just wished there was more time to hang out & chat! :)

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3 Jamie | Thrifty Veggie Mama May 21, 2013 at 8:22 am

Great post! That stocked freezer is fantastic!

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4 Nikki @Seeded at the Table May 21, 2013 at 12:24 pm

LOVE Joelen! ;) She’s such a sweet gal and I miss living near her in Chicago. I’ve always been super impressed with her ability to handle so many tasks, too.

Jo – I have Rachel’s questions sitting in my inbox waiting to be answered, and listed on my to-do list. So, hopefully you’ll see me featured in the future as you asked! ;)

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5 Joelen May 21, 2013 at 5:26 pm

YAY! Can’t wait to see you featured Nikki… you’re an inspiration to me in and out of the kitchen! :)

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6 Julia May 21, 2013 at 2:57 pm

I live in Chicago and it is great to meet a fellow Chicago food blogger! What a great culinary adventure you have been on. I am very interested in the meetup group you mention and might just have to check that out!

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7 Joelen May 30, 2013 at 2:51 pm

Hi Julia! I would love to meet you! Sadly I closed out the Meetup groups to focus on family but would love to have you visit us in the kitchen sometime! Feel free to check out our events via our Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/whatscookinchicago/events

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8 dixya| Food, Pleasure, and Health May 21, 2013 at 2:58 pm

that freezer looks amazing. I want to start doing more of that so I have time in the evening. Thanks

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9 Amy @Very Culinary May 21, 2013 at 6:42 pm

I’ve actually followed Joelen since 2010 when I found her Spanakopita Rolls! Love the quote she picked – Julia Child is just the best :D

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10 Joelen May 30, 2013 at 2:52 pm

Aww… thank you Aly! :)

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11 Joelen May 30, 2013 at 2:52 pm

Aww… thank you Amy! :)

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12 Aly ~ Cooking In Stilettos May 22, 2013 at 6:11 pm

Joelen is a ROCKSTAR! I met her this weekend at Food Blog Forum and was thrilled to see her featured today :) She really has a heart of gold and goes above and beyond!

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13 Bree {Skinny Mommy} May 23, 2013 at 9:25 am

Great interview-always so interesting to see what people do in addition to blogging!

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