This month’s Good Influencer talks about eating your feelings, cooking with THC and her favorite San Diego restaurants
Holly Haines likes to describe herself as a “foodmaker” rather than a chef. “I feel like [chef is] not only a title, but also a rank that is earned working in a restaurant. I worked at Subway in high school, but I don’t think that counts.”
So while she isn’t technically trained, Holly has built a loyal following of fans who love her thoughtful spins on classic recipes, like experimenting with ube (a purple sweet potato from the Philippines) and her preference for using black cocoa powder for her famous “black-ass” desserts. (Psst... here’s a recipe for her black-ass dulche de leche brownies.)
Holly also advocates that people eat their feelings. In fact, she wrote the book on it: How to Eat Your Feelings is a recipe book about how cooking can be a form of meditation. She also has other recipe books like Best of Instagram: Desserts and SIDES, a collection of small bites, sides and dessert recipes (all available for download at itsholly.com).
If you asked me out of high school what I wanted to do with my life, I’d probably just give you a shrug — cooking definitely wasn’t on the agenda.
— Holly Haines
Her original blog, From My Impossibly Tiny Kitchen (fmitk.com), detailed her cooking adventures in her, yes, impossibly tiny University Heights kitchen. She’s now transitioned to a new brand, It’s Holly (itsholly.com), which encompasses her recipes, books and videos. Her cooking videos, which are mesmerizing in their own right, are available at youtube.com/itshollytv, in addition to her Instagram stories.
The full-time web designer fills us in on her favorite recipes and top San Diego restaurants, her journey to becoming a food blogger and influencer and her tips for cooking with THC.
Tell us about your journey so far.
I was born in Philadelphia, but I’ve been in San Diego most of my life. I grew up in Southeast (Paradise Hills, National City) and eventually moved to Oceanside. Now I live in University Heights.
I originally started microblogging on Instagram in 2013 using the hashtag #FromMyImpossiblyTinyKitchen because my kitchen is, indeed, very tiny. I would document things I made for dinner or treats for friends and family. That eventually turned into a full blog at FMITK.com, where I got a little more serious about my food photography and recipe writing. I experimented and cooked all kinds of things, from pretzel bread puddings to lumpia to mini rose apple pies. I slowly transitioned my branding over to It’s Holly because I realized no one could ever remember From My Impossibly Tiny Kitchen (“… what is it again? TIFMK? My Very Small Kitchen?”).
Did you always know you’d become a chef, or a “foodmaker?”
If you asked me out of high school what I wanted to do with my life, I’d probably just give you a shrug — cooking definitely wasn’t on the agenda. I sort of fell into my career in web design because I wanted a blog, so I taught myself HTML and Photoshop when I was 17. That eventually led me to where I am now, a web design and marketing manager with the same company for the last 15 years.
In my 20s, I thought I wanted to be a lifestyle photographer. I purchased the camera equipment and set up shoots with friends, studied every photography book and video tutorial I could get my hands on, and then I realized that I don’t really like people like that. But, food doesn’t blink or move or (most importantly) talk, so I transitioned my knowledge of photographing people to shooting the things I ate. With recipe development and blogging, I get to combine all of my favorite things — web design, photography and cooking. I knew I always loved food and cooking, but I never thought that sharing my recipes online would lead to an episode of Food Fighters on NBC and three cookbooks.
Your Instagram cooking stories are so soothing. How hard has it been to translate your cooking for the social media crowd?
I spent about a year trying to “cater” my content to my followers, based on how they found me and the posts they responded to the most, but I learned in that time that: one, I did not like cooking that food; two, I wasn’t having fun; and three, my audience really appreciates seeing me be authentic in the kitchen, both my successes and my fails. It’s a bit harder to share my fails because my Capricorn moon is a perfectionist, but I think it’s important that people know there’s trial and error that goes into creating the recipes I share. I’ve also heard someone call my Instagram stories “the best cake-based reality show on the Internet” and that really changed my perspective on how people view my stories. I love putting on a good playlist and just getting in the kitchen and seeing what happens with whatever I have in the kitchen — and that’s what you end up seeing on my IG stories most of the time.
Ube bundt cake (Holly Haines)
Dulche de leche bundt cake (Holly Haines)
Bodega bundt cake (Holly Haines)
Where do you find your inspiration?
Food shows on Netflix (Ugly Delicious, The Chef Show, Chef’s Table, The Great British Bake Off), trying whatever the special is at my favorite local restaurants, traveling to new cities and getting the low-down on the best spots from the locals. I also love Bon Appetit’s Test Kitchen and Claire Saffitz’s gourmet versions of junk food. I follow a ton of chefs on Instagram, some of my favorites are @TheKitchenista, @DrewBent of Lola55, @MilkAndCardamom, @ChefAZ and @ChefWonder.
What’s your all-time favorite recipe to make?
I love a good cooking project that takes a couple days to produce, and my favorite thing to make is oxtail tamales. I make the chicken stock from scratch, the masa and oxtail one day and then assemble the tamales the next. Most people gather their friends and family together to speed up the assembly process, but I don’t like other people in my kitchen, so it takes me two days to produce about 30 tamales and I’m OK with that.
I knew I always loved food and cooking, but I never thought that sharing my recipes online would lead to an episode of Food Fighters on NBC and three cookbooks.
— Holly Haines
Since it’s 4/20, tell us about your experiences cooking with cannabis. What do you recommend as a beginner dish?
I highly (see what I did there?) recommend getting your hands on some THC tincture. It’s a great way to medicate literally anything — from cocktails to cakes to shrimp and grits. My favorite tincture is by a company called Proof Wellness (their THC-rich tincture is what I’ve been using to medicate dishes lately). I prefer lab-tested, pre-dosed tinctures to eliminate any guesswork. When adding tinctures to food, knowing the dosing and being aware of your tolerance are the most important things. Start small, maybe 5 to 10mg per serving. Once you’re more comfortable, it’s easy to incorporate it into your favorite dishes. I have some notes on how I dose out THC in baked goods in my latest eBook. I also use the hashtag #highdeas on Instagram where applicable, because sometimes a good sativa can be the source of inspiration for a recipe.
When you don’t feel like cooking, favorite local restaurant?
This is such a tough choice! My top three go-to restaurants are Lola 55 (the chicken taco is my favorite taco in the city), The Friendly (dirty flat top cheeseburgers all day) and Menya Ultra (maybe the most consistently delicious restaurant I’ve been to, also home of my favorite tonkatsu ramen).
Black-ass blueberry brownies (Holly Haines)
Black-ass chocolate strawberry brownies (Holly Haines)
Black-Ass Dulce de Leche Brownies (Holly Haines)
What’s your most popular recipe?
My black-ass dulce de leche brownies are probably my most popular recipe right now. I use black cocoa powder; it’s super dark, has a very intense, almost smoky flavor and sort of gives Oreo vibes. I’ve remixed this recipe to death, but the dulce de leche version is the most popular. It’s an easy recipe, and great for beginner bakers who may be intimidated by a bunch of dirty bowls and a long list of ingredients. It comes together in about 15 minutes and it’s a great base to add in whatever your heart desires. I’ve added fresh blueberries, Girl Scout cookies, random chocolate candies I find at Asian markets … endless black-ass possibilities.
Where can we find you?
I’m all up on these Internets!``