These home cooks remind us to make the most of peak summer produce, green thumb or otherwise.
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Zac Posen and Candice Walker working in their gardens
Credit: Allrecipes Illustration

Many people reap the benefits of growing ingredients at home, from tomatoes to turmeric. This week on Homemade, host Martie Duncan welcomes two guests whose love for gardening and cooking go hand in hand. Chatting about fresh produce and home-cooked meals opens the conversation to our guests' other passions, too.

First up, celebrity clothing designer, former "Project Runway" judge, and cookbook author Zac Posen muses on the similarities between food and fashion, and how cooking has served as a respite from a world of glitz and glamour. He tells Martie about his early food memories, his secret to amazing apple pie crust, and the excitement he feels for simple food.

Then, blogger and Allrecipes Allstar Candice Walker shares how the cuisine of her Middle Eastern heritage informs her cooking, including her love for herbs like sumac and fenugreek as well as garden-fresh produce. She also offers her thoughts on indulging in food without guilt and finding joy in its stead. Listen to this episode of Homemade on Apple PodcastsSpotifyPlayerFM, and everywhere podcasts are available beginning July 28.

About Zac Posen

Zac Posen headshot
Credit: Courtesy of Zac Posen

Award-winning fashion designer Zac Posen traces his knack for designing dresses to his childhood. The New York native studied at the Parsons School of Design as a teenager before earning a degree in womenswear from Central Saint Martins at the University of the Arts London. Zac received a grant through GenArt's Fresh Faces in Fashion New York 2001, and he debuted his first runway show the same year. The former "Project Runway" judge has since dressed numerous A-list celebrities and worked with Delta Air Lines, Brooks Brothers, Target, and David's Bridal. He is the author of Cooking with Zac: Recipes From Rustic to Refined: A Cookbook. Follow Zac on Instagram.

About Candice Walker

Candice Walker holding apple and biting into chocolate
Credit: Courtesy of Candice Walker

Candice Walker develops recipes and writes about overcoming food guilt on her blog, Proportional Plate. Additionally, Candice belongs to the Allrecipes Allstars, a group of home cooks who serve as brand ambassadors and some of the site's most prolific recipe creators, reviewers, and photo submitters. Her recipes have been featured in Shape, Parade, Williams Sonoma Taste, Huffington Post Taste, and more. Follow Proportional Plate on AllrecipesInstagramFacebook, and Twitter.

Episode Transcript

MARTIE: Welcome to Homemade, I'm Martie Duncan. On this show, y'all know I like to talk to my guests about favorite food memories and family traditions. I was lucky enough to grow up with a mother and aunts who put up all summer long after trips to the farmers' market or to the backyard garden. Sitting on the stoop shelling peas or husking corn was a typical summer activity and, as much as I hated it, I sure loved what they cooked with all of those wonderful things. Many of my own favorite food memories are tied to the fresh fruit and vegetables of summer, things like a sliced tomato sandwich on fresh white bread spread with mayo and sprinkled with a little salt and pepper using tomatoes from our garden. Or the homemade peach ice cream I helped my mom make every summer, I'm sure I only helped so I could lick the paddle when it was ready. 

Today both of my guests have summer food traditions that start in the garden, and they're going to share some of their ideas for cooking up summer's bounty with us today. Later on in the show, I'll talk to Allrecipes Allstar Candice Walker, whose popular website Proportional Plate primarily focuses on plant-based diets and cooking what's fresh from the garden. 

My first guest today is fashion designer and Project Runway judge Zac Posen. While we all know Zac best for his astounding red carpet designs we've seen on A-list stars like Sarah Jessica Parker, Rihanna, Katie Holmes, Claire Danes (remember that sparkly Met Gala dress, oh my gosh that was amazing), Oprah, Kate Winslet, Natalie Portman, and others, you might be surprised to learn that Zac is also an accomplished cook, and he's written a cookbook. The garden and cooking have always been Zac's respite from the glitz and glamour of his day job. And his cookbook, Cooking with Zac: Recipes From Rustic to Refined, chronicles the passion he finds in growing vegetables in the garden with his family and the joy he feels when he gets to share that bounty with others. 

Alright, let's get to it, I'm thrilled to welcome Zac Posen to Homemade. Welcome Zac! 

ZAC: Thank you for having me. I'm so honored to be here.

MARTIE: Well, we're thrilled to have you. And I guess right off the bat, I want to say there are some similarities between — I'm a cook myself.

ZAC: Yeah.

MARTIE: I was in the wedding business for many, many years and the fashion industry for many years. But there are some similarities between cooking and fashion, finding just that right thing, trying something again and again and again until you get it right.

ZAC: Creative expression to start with, right? Emotion, technique...

MARTIE: Absolutely. 

ZAC: ...Form, texture.

MARTIE: Yes. All of that. 

ZAC: Flavor. It's all there.

MARTIE: Yeah. It's all there. But let me make sure I understand this. You started your life in the kitchen. Well, you started your life as a designer very, very young, too.

ZAC: Yeah.

MARTIE: You're a prodigy. Very young. But you started cooking when you were just a kid, too.

ZAC: I did. Yeah. Saturday was like baking time with my mom, and my dad cooked every day of the week.

MARTIE: Right.

ZAC: Let's start there. My dad's a painter, he's an artist and I grew up in Soho, New York, and I'm a real, like, downtown loft kid. And, my mom was a professional woman. So she worked. But it was really important to my father and the family that we all ate together, me, my sister, my mom and dad. And growing up in downtown New York, you get to shop in Chinatown. You get to shop in Little Italy.

MARTIE: Right. 

ZAC: And my parents also met in Italy. 

MARTIE: I read that. That's pretty fascinating. In the '60s, right? 

ZAC: Yeah. In the '60s. And I think just their generation was really a generation of like a food culture explosion. You know, it was a really big part of my life. So I watched my dad cook. But weekends were reserved for, like, baking and having time with my mom. 

MARTIE: Now, what would you and your mom make on a Saturday in the kitchen?

ZAC: Oh, on Saturday in the kitchen it would either be something, like, traditional, like something like a family recipe. I had a great aunt, Aunt Jenny, who had a handwritten recipe for butterscotch cookies with like almonds in it. They're like an icebox cookie.

MARTIE: I'll be needing that. I will be needing that.

ZAC: I put it in the cookbook and it's a great recipe. They're delicious. It's like a butterscotchy flavor and you cut them real thin. They're like thin crisp little cookies. They kind of crunch and melt away. And then for, like, special occasions, we would definitely make all the different kinds of cakes and cookies and brownies. I loved brownies. She would make on the weekends, a few more savory dishes. She had kind of an American Chinese dish called Kung Pao shrimp. 

MARTIE: Yum. 

ZAC: That I don't know where she picked that up from. It's also in my cookbook and it's really a good recipe and it's delicious. And that was like her signature dish that she would make. What my dad took care of was like anything that had to do with meat, fish, pasta.

MARTIE: Alright, but I also read somewhere that you would do elaborate desserts... [5.4s] 

ZAC: I would. 

MARTIE: ...For your family. You would do like big things that would take a whole day.

ZAC: Yeah, very elaborate cakes. And I kind of think of them as like my ball gowns now, in process. I started watching this great TV show that was on cable after school when I was, like, in middle school. I didn't have a lot of friends. I kind of felt like an outsider but I would come home and I'd watch this show called Great Chefs. I was just like fascinated by more of the elaborate processes. And I guess I had been introduced to, like, Martha Stewart's first Living book. And, you know, I was always interested in like piping technique. I like clay and molding, and then I got really into chocolate and playing with chocolate like clay and just figuring it out. And then it went into like fondant and almond paste. 

MARTIE: Wow.

ZAC: Sometimes it would be a disaster mess and sometimes it'd be like a two-day affair. But I really had a ball. And I mean, I'll remember, like dipping balloons in chocolate.

MARTIE: Oh, God. Even before that was popular, you did it. 

ZAC: Yeah. 

MARTIE: Oh, my gosh. What do you suppose happened that put you on the path to fashion design rather than culinary school? 

ZAC: I never even thought about culinary school. I mean, I always liked theater and film. And my parents took me to the theater and my dad recorded every film and all the classics. And I was really exposed to a lot of culture. You know, my first love was performing arts. And as a kid, I had little maquette theaters and I would do little figurines and I would dress them in my room. And, you know, that's how it started. I was dressing my dolls.

MARTIE: Oh wow. Do you know, I've had so many designers that I've worked with over the years in the wedding business who said the same thing. They — most of them said though, I was dressing my sister's dolls.

ZAC: You know, it was still kind of taboo for a boy to have a doll. I think, you know, some places it still is. It really shouldn't be because everybody is who they are. But... 

MARTIE: Oh, get what you want.

ZAC: Yeah, exactly. I first sewed at six years old. I took a sewing class where we made an apron in school. 

MARTIE: Could you make some now? Because I don't like any aprons I ever get. They don't fit me right. So could you get back to aprons? 

ZAC: I've made some cool aprons before. You know, I like them where they have like a snap. So it has like a fold over? 

MARTIE: Right.

ZAC: And that's really nice. And I like them real snug. 

MARTIE: Yeah. Well you have a great way of making — I'm just going to say it, mature women's bodies look really wonderful. 

ZAC: Thank you. I really, you know, I respect and have great love and admiration and adore different body types, you know? And all bodies and I love curves, I mean...

MARTIE: Well, you do a great job of making them look amazing, 

ZAC: You can eat your cake and wear your gown, too. 

MARTIE: Yeah, there you go. 

ZAC: And then I got to high school and there was a costume shop at the theater in my high school. It was so cool. And I loved using the sewing machines and the material. And there were really fabulous girlfriends in high school. And I just started making them clothing. And I really used fashion as expression. And it was like my dialog with New York City in, you know, the early, mid-'90s. It was an exciting time for fashion in New York. 

MARTIE: Yes. How in the world, though, did the cookbook come along? Because you were in the middle of a giant fashion career...

ZAC: Yup. 

MARTIE: ...Dressing the most famous women on the planet.

ZAC: Well, I was doing all that, but I would come home and cook. 

MARTIE: You would always just come home and cook?

ZAC: Yeah, I would go to an event in my black tie, come home, jump in the shower, and cook. Like, I wouldn't eat at the event. Yeah there's so much good food in New York and, and that's great. But, also, I think that being so much in the public eye, you know, there was a moment when I was like — had my cookbook, I was on Project Runway, I was the face of Delta Airlines. 

MARTIE: That's right. 

ZAC: I was the creative director of Brooks Brothers. And gosh knows what other things I was doing that were, you know, very large and public. And I really knew that it was important to have my home time and my alone time. And I feel like I'm part of New York City. I feel like I'm a citizen of the world, but especially in my hometown, like, I leave my house and there's a good 99.9 percent chance that, like, I have to be on when I'm at a restaurant. And, you know, I take that with great responsibility. So home time was really something important. It was like my time where I could let down my hair. 

MARTIE: So how in the world did you do a cookbook when you don't write down recipes? 

ZAC: So I posted my food on Instagram. 

MARTIE: OK.

ZAC: I posted a piece of food on Instagram. My fashion friend said, 'you are crazy, like, fashion people don't want to see food.' And I said, 'but I cook and I want to — let's see.' And I did this hashtag #cookingwithZac. There hadn't been, like, a cooking with hashtag yet, I'll say that. And it took off. 

MARTIE: Wow. 

ZAC: And all of a sudden I was being contacted by cooking shows and by publishers. And I would say to be fair, prior to that, because of my love of cooking, I had cooked at the James Beard House.

MARTIE: Oh, wow. 

ZAC: That was kind of a big deal. 

MARTIE: Yeah, I'd say.

ZAC: And I cooked with Giada [De Laurentiis] and I cooked with Marcus [Samuelsson].

MARTIE: Aw, two of my favorites. 

ZAC: They're wonderful.

MARTIE: Wonderful. 

ZAC: I did appearances on Martha's show, all prior to this and prior to me writing a cookbook. But then I found a publisher and I found a collaborator that I love. 

MARTIE: Yes.

ZAC: Raquel.

MARTIE: Raquel. I know her, too. She's wonderful.

ZAC: Yeah. Powerhouse. 

MARTIE: Yeah.

ZAC: And I just liked Raquel. I had no idea really about her background or how accomplished she was. And we just had a blast. And it was, like, two and a half years of development and double checking, triple checking every recipe — because I cook from instinct.

MARTIE: Right. So what would you cook when you would come home on those red carpet nights and you'd come and then you'd post on Instagram the next day. What kind of things would you cook?

ZAC: Oh wow. I would cook ravioli that I had made like the pasta dough the day before or the raviolis. I'd make gnocchi. I mean, people don't realize actually how quick. If you can boil potato and have like forty minutes.

MARTIE: You can make gnocchi.

ZAC: You can make gnocchi and then I got really into traditional Japanese food and I don't mean sushi.

MARTIE: Wow. 

ZAC: Like curries. 

MARTIE: Right.

ZAC: Like Japanese curries and like steamed and stewed vegetables in different dashi broths.

MARTIE: Oh, delicious.

ZAC: And then I started doing like fusion. Then the Italian met the Japanese.

MARTIE: So your cookbook includes all of these things. 

ZAC: Yeah, and it's totally eclectic and very me. 

MARTIE: Yeah. I love the way that you organize it, like a fashion collection.

ZAC: Yeah.

MARTIE: Spring and summer, resort. Fall and winter, holiday. That's just like a fashion collection. And so you — you're a gardener, too.

ZAC: Yeah.

MARTIE: Let's go and get that out there. You love to garden. Your father and your family garden.

ZAC: I love to garden. I'm looking at it on my terrace in this crazy heat of New York, right now. In the summer, I'm thinking, my dahlias need some water. I have like thirteen tomato plants out here. Different varieties. And, you know, my basil and dill...

MARTIE: Right. 

ZAC: ...And cilantro. I have a beautiful crepe myrtle that I call my summer lilac. 

MARTIE: Oh, nice.

ZAC: I love plants and botany. Like plants, fashion, and food, I kind of feel like I'm like an anthropologist and historian through those three things. My parents live on a farm now in Bucks County and they plant a few too many tomato plants because they can. So the tomatoes and the peppers — you know, once it starts, it's like 4th of July cornucopia. 

MARTIE: Right. It is and you got to put up because otherwise youd have to make it last.

ZAC: Either I'm going to open farmers' market or I'm going to bring it into my company. And, it was a really wonderful tradition to be able to share all that and bring the apples and bring the pears in season... 

MARTIE: Right. 

ZAC: ...And the peaches. There's nothing more loving than to be able to give homegrown produce.

MARTIE: Something you grew. Yeah, for sure. What are you going to do with your first homegrown tomatoes?

ZAC: Well, I hope I'm here. Like, if I'm not out of town. I'm watching one, they're, like, getting bigger and bigger before my eyes. I think that what I will do — you know, first, I'll try one raw. Like off the vine. You know, I might lay down on the ground like Lady Godiva and bite it, you know, and think the grapes are coming down...

MARTIE: Oh, fabulous.

ZAC: ...And bite it and feel really decadent and goofy and silly and, and fabulous.

MARTIE: You know what I love the most is the way my hands smell after I pick them.

ZAC: I love the smell of tomato leaves.

MARTIE: Oh, it's so beautiful, isn't it?

ZAC: You know, I've been picking off — my new thing is pruning my tomato plants. I'm taking the suckers off, they call them. 

MARTIE: Yup. Me, too.

ZAC: You know, I'm not necessarily pruning like the fruits of it. So the first thing I'll do then — then what I think I'm going to do is I will quickly par — poach it, peel it, and then let it sit in maybe, like, a Japanese broth or even like a chicken stock just — or a bullion or something, and then let it chill. 

MARTIE: Oh, that sounds beautiful, doesn't it?

ZAC: Just something simple. You know, I don't know what I'd add with that — some dill, some chervil, maybe? Some yogurt. 

MARTIE: Yeah, chervil is not something a lot of people use and I love it. OK, so the book Is Cooking with Zac. What is your number one go to dessert in that book? Because I love the blueberry pie. I grew up here with blueberries on my farm. 

ZAC: Yeah. Lucky you. 

MARTIE: You also have a pie dough, that's your favorite pie dough recipe. 

ZAC: Yeah. Easy pie dough. I mean I love making pies. I will tell you, my pandemic was totally a juxtaposition because I was getting like super fit and super healthy and cooking really healthy. But I was like on a pie craze. I have a very good friend, a supermodel, Irina Shayk, who just had me, like, pumping out pies every day. And it was like, I couldn't make enough pie. It was like pie, pie, pie. 

MARTIE: I did a lot of it, too. What's your favorite one? Your number one go-to?

ZAC: So what I really got into and I don't think it's in my cookbook, but it was really good, is where I started to do like a peach caramel. And I did it in a pan, almost like a tarte Tatin.

MARTIE: Oh, I love...

ZAC: But just in the pan. And then just before it was like too much, I then put it in like a half-baked crust. Where I put the weights on it or beans or, you know, whatever you want to do. Or double pan it. How everybody has their method. And that was amazing. And I also experimented for the first time, because there was such a great organic farm in Long Island where we were, with the 50-50 ratio of butter to lard. 

MARTIE: Oh yeah? 

ZAC: I'd never done it. I mean, I do my butter crust. But I wanted to try it. And, you know, it was interesting. It was definitely flakier. I found the flavor really intense. 

MARTIE: You liked it or? 

ZAC: No, I don't know. I don't know. But I was interesting. It was like a good trial. And, you know, I was trying everything. I also tried — this was actually — here's the best thing I did with apples. This was amazing, actually. I found cinnamon butter and I used it as the butter in my crust and it didn't burn.

MARTIE: Wow. So you found a compound butter that already had the cinnamon worked in?

ZAC: Yeah.

MARTIE: And then you made your pie crust of that that.

ZAC: Here's what I do. I freeze my butter.

MARTIE: I do, too.

ZAC: And I grate it.

MARTIE: Oh.

ZAC: And I take a grater and I grate it. You know, I used to do food processor, and I like doing that, too. But a grater is great. And then you can also even re-freeze the grated butter and just break it up. And that's like a one, two, three. A little splash of like ice water or vodka, or icy tequila even. What else do you put in your pie crust?

MARTIE: Well I do that same technique for my biscuits now. I don't know if you're a biscuit maker, but... 

ZAC: I love, I love biscuits and gravy. 

MARTIE: Ok. So when you make your biscuits, do that same thing.

ZAC: OK.

MARTIE: You know, go ahead and... 

ZAC: Yeah. 

MARTIE: ..Use your your box greater and grate your butter and then put it back in the freezer and get it super cold before you integrate your buttermilk...

ZAC: Yeah.

MARTIE: ...And all that. Now I'll — Dorie Greenspan told me about the vodka and I had not ever tried it but it works. 

ZAC: It works. It's good. 

MARTIE: Yeah, it gives that — I think it's the extra fast evaporation that gives the little layers a chance...

ZAC: Pop. 

MARTIE: To pop up a little bit. 

ZAC: Yeah. 

MARTIE: So listen, people are starting to gather again after quarantine. And what are you looking most forward to making for friends as we all get together this summer? 

ZAC: I like simple. I'm like so excited about simple foods. I mean, I'm excited about having, like, oysters with my friends. 

MARTIE: Yeah.

ZAC: I mean, nothing better, you know, I'll make a great little mignonette. 

MARTIE: Mignonette. Yeah.

ZAC: Yeah. A little mignonette, it's so sweet and cute. You know, that's really fun. I look forward to like pie time.

MARTIE: Me, too. 

ZAC: You know, I've also really been, on this like crazy food-health kick. And that's been fun. Last night I actually — here's an example. I had like a few friends come over and I pre-made farro. 

MARTIE: Nice.

ZAC: I boiled some farro cause that's like a healthy grain. 

MARTIE: Right.

ZAC: And I splashed it with a little olive oil, even just a little bit of like apple cider vinegar tossed it.

MARTIE: To pop.

ZAC: Yeah, just to give it a little pop. A little salt and pepper. And then I chopped up fresh mint from my garden and added some hummus on top of it. And that was delicious. And I accompanied that with, like, I've been doing a lot of roasted whole fish.

MARTIE: I noticed on your Instagram you do a lot of fish, which is my favorite.

ZAC: Yeah, fish is my favorite dish. Um, I have to, you know I'm trying to balance that out with, you know, not fish. You know, my whole thing is about not holding yourself back from eating anything, but all in moderation. Right? Like that's what it should be.

MARTIE: All is possible with moderation. 

ZAC: It's always possible with moderation and balance. So I don't know. You know what I'm really excited about? 

MARTIE: I'm ready.

ZAC: I got it. It's — I can't wait to have my first gazpacho of the summer.

MARTIE: Oh, I love gazpacho. It's one of my favorite things.

ZAC: I cannot wait. 

MARTIE: People love it. And it's just so fun to have as a party starter. You know what I do sometimes? I make little cups out of cucumbers and so I put the gazpacho in...

ZAC: Oh, that's so cute.

MARTIE: Yeah. For big party and I've done it for weddings and stuff and just for friends.

ZAC: That's so cute. I also tried last summer like melon gazpachos.

MARTIE: I love them.

ZAC: Yeah, me, too. It's really good. Yeah. 

MARTIE: I love peach. Peach gazpacho. I live in peach country. So peach gazpacho's brilliant. 

ZAC: I'm jealous. I don't think there's almost anything better than like a beautiful peach.

MARTIE: Summer peach. 

ZAC: A peach when it is like the perfect texture, that perfect bite that — the smoothness of it.

MARTIE: Yeah.

ZAC: I mean, it's really something — it's a delectable treat and, you know, I spent a lot of time also going to Japan and, you know, they give peaches as presents, you know?

MARTIE: I do, too.

ZAC: It's just like the greatest thing in the world. Lucky you.

MARTIE: Oh, yeah. It's just right down the road, too. The world's greatest peaches are in Chilton County, Alabama.

ZAC: Cool. 

MARTIE: And we're just about to start the free stone season here in just a little bit. 

ZAC: Wow. When do they bloom? 

MARTIE: Um, in the late winter, early spring. 

ZAC: Wow.

MARTIE: For us, that can be February. 

ZAC: OK. I spent a little time a few months ago in South Carolina and in North Carolina.

MARTIE: Nice. 

ZAC: Getting close down there. Very beautiful.

MARTIE: It is.

ZAC: I have to say, I started to get really crazy, like more 'Southern garden envy.'

MARTIE: Yeah.

ZAC: Not tropical, not tropical envy because that's it's own thing, but like Southern garden envy, I thought, oh, this soil is beautiful and rich and I started to see what it looked like when we drove through Virginia and all of it. And I was like, wow.

MARTIE: Well, we live in the red clay area but weirdly, blueberries grow really well here and so do peaches. So...

ZAC: Yeah, my parents' in Pennsylvania's red clay too, so I kind of understand and got into it.

MARTIE: I want you to quickly tell me about your gazpacho because I want to try to make it your way. Tell me really quick.

ZAC: Ok. I'll just tell you, like, you know, I — my way? The kitchen sink of vegetables. 

MARTIE: Yes.

ZAC: I mean, my tomatoes, my tomato juice. I add grapes for sweetness.

MARTIE: Oh, I like that.

ZAC: That's a trick. I do cucumber. I do peppers. I do my white sweet onion. A little jalapeño or even like the smallest little sliver of like a Scotch bonnet if you want the heat.

MARTIE: Oh, wow. Yeah. Nice. 

ZAC: Yeah, some vinegar.

MARTIE: Yeah. 

ZAC: Your choice of vinegar, somes grapes, and yeah I don't think...

MARTIE: I like the grape tip. That's a good one. 

ZAC: The grape is nice for sweetness. You know, I used to put in like a little balsamic into it.

MARTIE: Right.

ZAC: And that can work. 

MARTIE: Yeah.

ZAC: But I think the grape adds a nice pop and flavor, especially like if your tomatoes — you know, I like using little tomatoes for a gazpacho. Like really those super sweet ones.

MARTIE: Yeah me too

ZAC: Blend that all together. You know, and I trying to think if I'm missing anything. My onion, my peppers. I mean — oh, cucumbers.

MARTIE: Cucumbers. Yeah. So yeah put it in something and put it in the fridge. 

ZAC: Keep it in an immersion blender. Blend it all up. Zzz.

MARTIE: Yeah. The best, the best.

ZAC: Chill it. Let it sit.

MARTIE: Yes. 

ZAC: That's also the trick. Let all those flavors like come to be.

MARTIE: I can't wait. I'm going start getting my mind around like what kind of grapes are going to go best in my new gazpacho you've just taught me. 

ZAC: Ok. 

MARTIE: So, ya'll, Zac Posen, not just designer to the stars. He's also quite a cook. Cooking with Zac: Recipes From Rustic to Refined. Thank you so much for sharing part of your life... 

ZAC: Oh, anytime.

MARTIE: ...Your mom and dad's background with all your family. 

ZAC: It was such a pleasure. you're a delight and a jewel. Thank you.

MARTIE: Follow Zac on Instagram where he shares all of the pretty things in his life on his feed. You can find Cooking With Zac: Recipes From Rustic to Refined online or at your favorite bookseller. 

Stay tuned and I'll be joined by Allrecipes Allstar Candice Walker, who also spends a lot of time in the garden. She's going to tell me how her travels influence her cooking style, and how we can all feel a little less guilt when it comes to what we eat. My hand's up. We'll be right back after the break. 

Welcome back to Homemade. I'm excited to talk to Allrecipes Allstar Candice Walker, whose popular website, Proportional Plate, is primarily dedicated to plant-based eating and feeling less guilty about our food choices. Most importantly, Candice wants us all to stop believing everything we read on the internet about food and diets. Rather than jump on the latest fad or food trend, Candice feels we should listen to our bodies to determine what food makes us feel sluggish and tired or what food makes us feel energized and balanced. With summer here, we all have greater access to fresh fruit and vegetables, so it's the perfect time to start integrating more of them in our diets and Candice can help us with that. Welcome Candice!

CANDICE: Thank you so much for having me, Martie, it's a pleasure.

MARTIE: Oh, I'm tickled. So your website, your blog, your Instagram handle all that business. It's the Proportional Plate. And I think I know where that is going. Like, keep everything in control, in proportion and you can kind of eat what you want. Is that right?

CANDICE: More or less, yes. So it's about figuring out what kind of proportion works for you. So it's not about thinking I have to be eating this and that. It's about learning to listen to your body and taking those cues to create those proportions that make sense for you as an individual. 

MARTIE: Wow. OK, that makes sense. So like, listen to your body, if you get a headache. Or if you get achy joints or you get maybe like tired after you eat something. That's your body trying to say 'don't eat that.'

CANDICE: Exactly. We have food sensitivities, not just food allergies. So sometimes we're a little bit more sensitive to foods like nightshade vegetables, for example, are inflammatory foods. And they affect some people. Nightshade vegetables. So your tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, potatoes. So it's a classification and these foods tend to be inflammatory foods and they affect certain people who have, maybe, arthritis or psoriasis or other autoimmune diseases. And by avoiding them or reducing them in your diet, you sometimes get rid of some of these symptoms. And that's something I've actually had to do with myself. And I love those vegetables so much that I didn't want to cut them out of my diet. So instead, I learned to listen to when my body is starting to react to them so that I can pull back and maybe take a few days off. 

MARTIE: I see. So you don't have to eliminate it. You can just control it a bit better and then introduce it back in.

CANDICE: All by learning to listen to your body. 

MARTIE: Oh, wow. All right. So it is summer and it is fruit and vegetable season. I'm in heaven here in Alabama, where I live, because, well, my blueberries are in, first of all. A great anti-inflammatory, I know. And I grow five different varieties and I'll be picking all the way through mid-July, I hope. If I can beat the birds to them. That's my biggest job everyday. 

CANDICE: We're having the same problem. 

MARTIE: You're big into the farm-to-table thing at home. We don't just have to eat that way in a restaurant. Can you tell me how you got started? Was that all because you had some dietary issues? 

CANDICE: It's a big part of it. My parents are a mixed heritage and they're both immigrants. And I grew up with a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables around all the time. Dessert was usually fruit and there was always a plate of herbs and vegetables on the table that you enjoyed with the rest of your food from my Middle Eastern, my Iranian side, so there's like this plate of fresh fruits and veggies just always at your disposal, always on a table, always almost being shoved down your throat. Right?

MARTIE: Right. 

CANDICE: So I grew up with that, but then had to learn to listen to the ones that worked and didn't work for me. And then finally, I have access to my own yard. So I, obviously, had to build my own garden. I'm growing my own tomatoes and I have my blueberries and I have all these awesome veggies and I'm supplementing them with fresh produce from local farms as much as I can. It took a lot of learning, my own likes and dislikes even well into adulthood. You know, you never stop learning and your taste buds actually change. So you re-try things that you thought maybe you didn't like. So it's been an ongoing journey, one that I think I'll be on forever.

MARTIE: Well I want to just have a minute into your heritage. This show we love to talk about all of the stories behind the recipes and behind the food. So you said you are of Iranian descent on one side of your family. What would, a recipe that maybe somebody in your family made that you still make today? What does that look like? 

CANDICE: So I think a big one that always comes from my garden is salad-e Shirazi, which is a Persian salad, which is — I mean, the closest thing you could think of is like an Israeli salad or a Greek salad, where it's those chunks of cucumber and tomato and onion.

MARTIE: Tomato, cucumber and onion salad is big in the south. It sure is/

CANDICE: It's so good.

MARTIE: Sure. 

CANDICE: They just — they're meant to be together, aren't they? 

MARTIE: They are. 

CANDICE: So we have one like that and you dice them really fine. 

MARTIE: Okay. 

CANDICE: And put some lime juice and some sumac, um, sumac... 

MARTIE: What is that? 

CANDICE: Sumac? 

MARTIE: Oh, sumac. Yes.

CANDICE: You can buy it ground. So you buy it ground and you just season it like you would season anything just sprinkle it on there and it gets mixed in. And not everyone mixes that in there but that's...

MARTIE: One of your secret recipes? 

CANDICE: Yes. And it's one of my favorite spices because there really isn't anything that tastes quite like it.

MARTIE: What does it taste like?

CANDICE: It's sort of tangy and acidic. It definitely has like a little bit of a citrus note to it.

MARTIE: OK. 

CANDICE: But, I'm going to have to send you some. 

MARTIE: Well, I'm going to have to go just look for some. I got a spice — a really good spice store by me and I will run by there and see if they've got it. And I'm sure they do because they have spices from everywhere. OK, so...

CANDICE: And it's good on everything. It's good on rice. It's good on lamb. It's just — it's fantastic.

MARTIE: Well, OK, so that was something that came for mom, grandma, aunts, that kind of thing. Something that's always on the table? 

CANDICE: It's always on the table, especially in the summer. With Persian cucumbers, some tomatoes, it's always there. 

MARTIE: That sounds wonderful. So you are a gardener, like me. You grow your own fruits and your own vegetables. What have you got in your garden right now? You said blueberries, tomatoes...

CANDICE: Blueberries, tomatoes. I have some squash and watermelon, that's not quite ready. I have a bunch of fresh herbs. Every herb you could probably think of from basil to fenugreek. Oh, which is one that I don't think most people eat fresh.

MARTIE: I don't even know what it is and have never heard of it. Give me that. Tell me about that.

CANDICE: So, it's...

MARTIE: Oh, my gosh, Candice. I'm learning everything today. This is awesome. 

CANDICE: Isn't that the best? So fenugreek, you can usually find it dried. Finding it fresh can be a task. If you don't live in a community that also has Iranian or heavy Middle Eastern population. So it's an herb that I think in Indian cuisine they use the seeds. But in Iranian cuisine, we use the actual herb and the herb leaves and it adds stenchy sort of twist to whatever you're making. I actually have this herb stew. It's called Ghormeh Sabzi, and it has parsley and cilantro and scallions and fenugreek. And imagine taking a giant salad spinner, stuffing it with herbs. All of that goes into one stew for six people.

MARTIE: Oh, wow.

CANDICE: So you basically chop them up superfine, sauté them in some oil, and then you add them to some beef and onions and turmeric and some dried limes, which are also fantastic.

MARTIE: I love — I do love dried limes. Now, it sort of sounds like one of the dishes from the south that is pretty famous called Gumbo Z'Herbes.

CANDICE: Ohh. 

MARTIE: So it's, you know, it's a gumbo, but it's got a — it doesn't look like your regular gumbo. It's got a lot of herbs in it. Similar.

CANDICE: Oh, I would love to try that.

MARTIE: Yeah. Leah Chase, who passed away not that long ago, is very famous for it. So if you Google Leah Chase Gumbo Z'Herbes, you'll find that recipe.

CANDICE: I will need to make that.

MARTIE: Yeah, I think you'll love it. 

CANDICE: Because the one that I make is one of my favorite dishes and it's because of all those herbs. And I think any dish with a ton of herbs in it is just...

MARTIE: Especially in the summer.

CANDICE: It is special, isn't? 

MARTIE: It is. 

CANDICE: Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. 

MARTIE: Even not just a dish, a cocktail. I don't care what it is when you have all those fresh herbs that you can stuff in something, it's just so good. And I make a lot of syrups with my herbs, you know?

CANDICE: Me, too. Me, too. 

MARTIE: Um, that I use and drinks and in food. And, um, that is really so refreshing in the summer to do like a mint lemonade or a mint iced tea or that kind of thing. It's so good.

CANDICE: Or just mixing the syrup with some, you know, sparkling water and it's...

MARTIE: For sure.

CANDICE: ...Fantastic. 

MARTIE: So, Candice, what's your favorite recipe that you make that is just something that is going to be a summer go to for us besides this beautiful cucumber salad you already told us about? 

CANDICE: I actually just stocked my fridge with this salad dressing that has scallions and herbs in it. And it's just stuffed with herbs from the garden and I just keep it in the fridge. It'll last a week and I enjoy it on salads that have fresh herbs in them. I think fresh herbs are my secret to the summer, right? They, they go in everything, especially salads. Everyone always thinks my salads are incredible, but lettuce is lettuce and it's the herbs that I'm putting in there that make it special. So I think always having just that salad mix ready to go in the fridge and the salad makes it so that when I don't know what I'm cooking, that's the thing that's ready that I end up going for?

MARTIE: Well how do you make that dressing? How you make it? Do you use an immersion blender or what do you do?

CANDICE: I actually just throw it in my food processor. But you could use an immersion blender or a blender, anything like that. 

MARTIE: So you make a big quantity in your food processor and then you have it, you keep it in a, like a Mason or something in your... 

CANDICE: A Mason jar, yup.

MARTIE: ...In your fridge. Well, Jacques Pépin does that. So I think, you know, we all take a lesson from him.

CANDICE: Who knew how fancy I was?

MARTIE: Yeah, exactly. He is such a frugal cook. And he says, why would you buy salad dressing when you can just make it like you're talking about with fresh herbs and stuff. 

CANDICE: I can't remember the last time I bought it.

MARTIE: Really? So walk us through it really quick. Is it like olive oil and...

CANDICE: I actually use a vegan mayo.

MARTIE: Vegan Mayo. Okay.

CANDICE: As the base. And I'll put some citrus in there, some fresh scallions. Sometimes if I'm feeling fancy, I'll throw in some ponzu or soy sauce, and really just whatever herbs I have in the garden, usually a ton of basil. It's almost — I'd call it like a comparable to a green goddess dressing.

MARTIE: It's one of my favorites. I love Green Goddess dressing and it went away for a while and I'm so glad it's back in vogue. You know? 

CANDICE: Yeah. And it keeps so well in the fridge. You know, why not make a big batch of something that delicious? And I end up mixing it into avocado and putting that on toast or on sandwiches and it ends up on eggs. It ends up everywhere. 

MARTIE: I think homemade salad dressings are one of those things that everybody can easily do and I don't care what kind you like, even ranch is better if you make it from scratch.

CANDICE: Absolutely. 

MARTIE: You use all those — but you can like use onion powder or whatever, like some of the powdered things you can. But then add all those really fresh, fresh ingredients like you're talking about from the garden and herbs are easy to grow. 

CANDICE: So easy.

MARTIE: Like you can get one little thing and the next thing you know, you've got like a massive — whether it's oregano or basil or mint. Mint grows like crazy. 

CANDICE: And you can bring it back in the house and grow it all year. You know? It's not just a summer thing with herbs. You could put them on the windowsill and enjoy them even through the winter.

MARTIE: A lot of people, you know, for soups and things, they'll freeze them in ice trays, which is a great thing to do. What's another summer favorite? What is one of these fresh things that you cook that everybody wants you to make when they come over in the summertime? 

CANDICE: So my tomatoes, when they produce, they produce. So I'll end up with huge batches of tomatoes, and I just confit them. So put them in some olive oil and throw some garlic in there and some fresh herbs, pop them in the oven at a low temperature, and then I keep it in the fridge. You could use it as a pasta sauce. You know. You know, you could use it...

MARTIE: On bread, like...

CANDICE: On bread. 

MARTIE: Like toasted bread like a crostini...

CANDICE: Yes. 

MARTIE: Or some burrata.

CANDICE: Burrata. 

MARTIE: Oh, that sounds so beautiful.

CANDICE: Well, and that's another thing. I think the caprese salad is huge in the summer. Right?

MARTIE: Right. 

CANDICE: So just layering some tomato with mozzarella and some basil and a nice balsamic or pesto.

MARTIE: And I never get tired of it. 

CANDICE: Right. 

MARTIE: Never get tired of it. 

CANDICE: But try it with other cheese. So goat cheese on tomatoes, for example, is fantastic. Like, I don't know why we get hung up with that mozzarella. Well, mozzarella is awesome.

MARTIE: Oh, it's pretty delicious.

CANDICE: Let's be real. But goat cheese with a tomato confit is fantastic. 

MARTIE: I have never confit tomatoes. I will do it tomorrow.

CANDICE: Please, please. 

MARTIE: I am going to.

CANDICE: Oh. 

MARTIE: I am. Do you do any seasoning besides like salt and pepper at that stage?

CANDICE: Salt and pepper. Sometimes I'll throw in some thyme, if I have that in the garden, which is great, I've done it with rosemary or I've — just any of those heavier herbs are awesome.

MARTIE: But you can always add those. 

CANDICE: Yes. 

MARTIE: Like if you make a big thing of it and put it in, you know, containers to keep, then you can always just add the fresh herbs. 

CANDICE: And then you can add different herbs and it's like you're eating different dishes every time. 

MARTIE: OK, so we've talked a lot about savory foods. What we haven't talked about, like desserts.

CANDICE: Oh, dessert.

MARTIE: What, what do you do? Like because sometimes you just need that sweet thing. 

CANDICE: Oh yeah. I have three kinds of ice cream in my freezer right now. Three kinds of homemade ice cream. Even just making a fruit sauce like a compote or just like a — just some sort of strawberry sauce or syrup is an awesome thing to just put over other fresh fruit if you don't want to go the ice cream route. And fresh fruit, just — your blueberry bushes, I mean come on.

MARTIE: Listen, I posted today on my Instagram a biscuit that had a blueberry compote over it and told them how to make the blueberry compote. 

CANDICE: Oh, yum. 

MARTIE: Yes. I mean, blueberry compote's good pancakes and waffles and...

CANDICE: Oh, everything. 

MARTIE: But it's also just good on a piece of toast.

CANDICE: It is. It is.

MARTIE: And so easy. 

CANDICE: It's, you know, the poor man's jam?

MARTIE: Yeah, yeah. Or quick jam.

CANDICE: Yeah, exactly. 

MARTIE: Like, if you don't really want to take the time to make a jam or jelly then, it doesn't keep very long. 

CANDICE: Right. 

MARTIE: You have to use it up pretty quickly, but you do anyway.

CANDICE: You do anyway.

MARTIE: You can stir it into a smoothie. You can stir into a...

CANDICE: Whipped cream. Make a semifreddo.

MARTIE: Let's make a semifreddo. Tell me how. 

CANDICE: OK, so I like to mix fruit into my semifreddo, but it's basically just whipped cream and meringue that you mix together and freeze. So if you want, you can mix in the fruit when it's either on your sheet pan or before you pop it into your sheet pan, depending on the colors. Because sometimes if you make something green, you don't want to mix in red or it turns brown. So you'll swirl...

MARTIE: Oh yeah. 

CANDICE: ...It in on a sheet pan instead of mixing it all together first. But you can mix it into the whipped cream and the meringue and then I do mine on a baking sheet so that it's thin. And it freezes faster. Cause then you can eat it faster.

MARTIE: OK, and so then you cut it into squares? Or you...

CANDICE: You cut into squares or you could just run an ice cream scoop right through it. And it's like a very light, airy ice cream.

MARTIE: Delish. Delish. 

CANDICE: It's fantastic.

MARTIE: All right, so, as we wrap it up, give us like our mantra for stop feeling guilty about our food. Just this one little nugget, take away nugget that we can tell ourselves so we kind of retrain our brain about feeling bad, about food.

CANDICE: Just pause in the moment. Pause, close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and if it's afterwards, remember the joy that that choice brought you and then maybe decide what you're going to do next time you're in that situation. Or if it's beforehand, just pause in the moment, take those deep breaths, and ask yourself, will this bring me joy right now? And if so, then just let it. And if not.

MARTIE: Oh, I like that. Just let it. Yeah, just let it. 

CANDICE: Just let it bring you joy. I mean, we need more pockets of joy. Right? And if food can bring us that then let it.

MARTIE: I think it absolutely does. I think it does for everybody. 

CANDICE: It really does.

MARTIE: Especially these family recipes and traditional things, especially like in the summertime. Strawberry shortcake, for example, is a big thing at our house. And when I think about that and I probably shouldn't eat it. I probably shouldn't, but it does make you happy. So let it.

CANDICE: Let it make you happy. 

MARTIE: Yeah, I'm going for that. Let it make you happy.

CANDICE: And then maybe if, you know, if you're still feeling a little yucky, just say, 'OK, well, I'm going to go for a walk then', you know?

MARTIE: Oh, get on the bike, Martie. Get on it.

CANDICE: But don't — But don't let it take away the joy from that strawberry shortcake. Don't let it sully that awesome experience you had with that food.

MARTIE: Yeah, I think that's a great idea. Candice, thank you. Candice Walker, The Proportional Plate, one of our Allrecipes, Allstars. You have been so much fun and so great. And I learned a lot. All right. Thank you again, Candice. We loved having you. 

CANDICE: Thank you so much for having me. It was a blast. 

MARTIE: You can find recipes, tips, and more from Candice Walker on her website ProportionalPlate.com and we have some of her best recipes posted on Allrecipes.com. 

Next time on Homemade, I'm joined by Nadiya Hussain, winner of Season 6 of one of my all time favorite shows The Great British Bake-Off!

NADIYA HUSSAIN: Doing Bake Off was, for me, one of the most selfless things, and it was selfish in a good way for me because I got to do something that I really enjoyed doing. As somebody who suffers with anxiety you can't always question your ability to do things, to push yourself, to take risks, to be afraid. And actually I did one of the scariest things I could ever do in my life and I came out the other end and here I am. And so for me it was one of most liberating, most self-affirming things to have ever done as a mom. 

MARTIE: You don't wanna miss it. Be sure to follow Homemade on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you listen. And please, I'd love your feedback. If you could, rate this podcast and leave us a review, I'd really appreciate it. 

Don't forget, you can find thousands of recipes, meal ideas, and cooking how-to's from the world's largest community of cooks at Allrecipes.com. 

This podcast was recorded in Birmingham, edited in Atlanta, and produced by AllRecipes with Digital Content Director Jason Burnett. Thanks to our Pod People production team: Rachael King, Matt Sav, Danielle Roth, Jim Hanke, Maya Kroth, and Erica Wong.

I'm Martie Duncan … and this is Homemade.