Beacon Authors Feature: "Cork and Knife" by Emily and Matt Clifton


Writers have always been a-plenty in New York, but the ones who live in Beacon just keep being published and putting out amazing books! We are featuring them here in our new series, “Read Local.” Sometimes these pieces will be interview-style, while other times they might simply dive into the book. The writer of this series is Phoebe Zinman, who also pens (types) the Writerly Happenings series. Enjoy!
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By Phoebe Zinman

We are going to do a series of articles on some of the extremely talented authors in Beacon. We have a few lined up but we’re very excited to kick it off with food bloggers Matt Clifton and Emily Clifton ahead of the release of their new cookbook, Cork and Knife, published by Page Street Publishing, available Tuesday, August 6!

For those who don’t know Matt and Emily yet, they are well-known food bloggers over at Nerds With Knives, and they keep an impressive real-life garden. Matt is an IT ninja who is British and has helped many a Beaconite with their computers and other various electronic things, and Emily is a visual artist (and in charge of the garden, I am told).

When I first spoke to Matt about the book, it was by phone and I was walking through the Poughkeepsie Galleria trying desperately to find something appropriate to wear to a big work event. Matt, on the other hand, was preparing to leave for a last-minute lesbian cruise to Alaska. That had come about last-minute because his wife and cookbook co-author Emily would be filming as well as screening her new documentary on lesbian country singers. People are the deepest of wells, no?

The next day he dropped off a cookbook that I could peruse, and peruse I did! I put in about 15 Post-It notes on recipes that I decided would make my life way more complete. So far, I’ve made exactly none of them. Which is what I do with every cookbook I’ve ever had. I adore cooking, and I do it all the time… I’m just more of an “instinctual” type of cook as opposed to a recipe-following type.

So, I thought I’d ask Matt and Emily for some advice and also about the process of writing their very gorgeous cookbook, and about some of their favorite recipes. Our interview is below:

Q: How long have you been blogging at Nerds with Knives?

A: Matt: We started in spring of 2013, the year after we moved to Beacon. I think the most accurate origin story is that we were always looking for the best way to organize our Thanksgiving and holiday recipes every year, many of which had been adapted from family members, and a blog seemed like a good fit for a visual artist and an IT professional! Probably about two years in, once Emily developed a visual style for the photography and I found a writing style that fit (funny but informative), the blog started getting more attention. 

Q: Was a book always the goal?

A: No! I think honestly we were surprised that the blog got as much traction as it has, and for a long time it really was just something that we just enjoyed working on for our own benefit and enjoyment. When we started getting visits from random faraway countries (and not just our mums) we realized we’d got an actual live human audience. 

Q: Were you approached or did you approach a literary agent or publishing house?

A: We were approached last spring by Page Street and asked if we’d be interested in working on a book for their cookbook range. They have a pretty wide range of recipe books and have worked with a lot of people we know in the blogging community, including Katrin Bjork, a writer and food stylist/photographer who lived right down our street until this year.

We had been approached for a book by a different publishing company a few years ago and we put together some samples but never heard from them again, so possibly our sense of humor scared them off.

Q: What recipe do you recommend to someone who can’t follow a recipe? I’m an incorrigible improviser, so which recipe is the most forgiving? I was all set to make the Roasted Radishes With Sake and Brown Butter on page 88… and then it was too hot to put on the oven so I just sliced them up and put them on a baguette with butter and salt.

Photo of the Roasted Radish With Sake and Brown Butter recipe.  Photo Credit: Phoebe Zinman

Photo of the Roasted Radish With Sake and Brown Butter recipe.
Photo Credit: Phoebe Zinman

A: Emily says: I’m an incurable recipe tinkerer too and before we started the blog, I don’t think I had ever cooked a dish the same way twice. Braised dishes, like the Chicken Thighs with White Wine, Meyer Lemon and Fennel are perfect for improvising because the technique works well with many different flavor combinations. Switch out the Meyer lemons for limes, and shallots for the fennel, add a little cumin and the dish becomes Latin-inflected. Add cherry tomatoes and basil in place of the lemon and fennel and it’s Italian.

Also the sauce for the Roasted Tofu and Butternut Squash Curry is the perfect refrigerator empty-er. You could throw just about anything in that spicy red coconut curry and it’s going to taste good. 

Q: Which are your favorite recipes and is there a good story about why?

A: Emily: That’s like asking a parent to pick a favorite child! They’re ALL our favorite (just kidding, we definitely like one kid more). Probably for me it’s the Beet and Gin-Cured Salmon because it reminds me of when my family would bring bagels and lox from Zabar’s to my grandparent’s house in Queens. Also it’s just so damn pretty. Also the Chicken Roasted with Sake, Scallions and Ginger because it was one of the first dishes I made for Matt when we were dating. 

A: Matt: I have to say the Pork Belly: That crackling (that we would make for a family Sunday lunch) might just be the best thing in the world. 

Q: The tone of the introduction and chapter intros is really relatable and I like the balance between the historical info, the scientific info and then your practical/personal take on what tastes good together. Did you write them together?

A: Thank you! We did. We wanted the book to be as useful as possible to people with all sorts of skill levels, whether you’re just starting out cooking with alcohol or have been using some spirits but wanted to experiment with flavors. We’re pretty nerdy in general about researching ingredients and techniques, but we tried to keep the information useful, and not just interesting.

We also sought a lot of input from our friends, with special thanks to Sara Milonovich from Artisan Wines (on Beacon’s Main Street), who helped us sound like we knew what we were talking about in the wine sections. 

Q: How was the process of writing this book as a couple? I’m picturing some lovely sepia-tinted reel of you tasting sauces in a most loving way, but then also maybe someone throws the wooden spoon at the wall and says they quit. But then you make a batch of homemade onion rings and decide to give it another go. Who was in charge of what part of the process?

A: Matt: Once Emily had worked on the recipes, in some ways, actually making the book was easier than the week-to-week blog. That sounds odd to say it, but we knew what our deadlines were, we could figure out how many recipes we needed to make and shoot per week, and we gave ourselves a few “break” days just to keep our sanity. There were, I think, two days where we cooked and shot three recipes a day, and there may have been a little fatigue-related spoon throwing on those evenings. 

Generally, Emily worked out most of the recipes (although I took over for a few of the desserts) and is the principal photographer and food stylist. I did most of the writing and assisted on the shoots, unless I had a strong idea of how the styling should go. We shared cooking duties, although for most of the entrées Em will be executive chef in the kitchen and I’ll do sous duties. The process actually really helped us become better collaborators. We both felt a lot of pressure to both meet our deadline and to make the book as good as it could be, so we really worked well as a team. 

Q: What are some of your favorite things to eat in Beacon? 

  • Fried chicken sandwich at Beacon Daily

  • Coffee and any kind of cheese from Beacon Pantry

  • In the winter, a turkey-corn chowder from Bob’s Mountain Deli

  • The granola french toast at Beacon Falls Café

  • The cherry-cheese danishes from All You Knead

  • Not strictly Beacon, but we love both the bibimbap and bulgogi at Toro in Fishkill

  • Nose-to-tail pork ramen at the Roundhouse

  • Takoyaki (octopus dumplings) from Quinn’s

  • Fried chicken from BJ’s

  • Anything with lamb from Kitchen Sink

  • Warm Brussels sprout salad from Melzingah

Phoebe’s Final Burning Question…

My final burning question was what they like to sip on while they are cooking with alcohol (so meta) and discovered that Emily loves a good gin cocktail but worries that it can turn her “from a fun and loose cook to a sloppy and dangerous one pretty quickly” so she sticks with wine, mostly. Similarly, Matt says he has to “limit the amount of actual danger in the kitchen, so I try to limit my chefs-tastes to wine or beer.” 

Solid advice, we think! Stay safe, aspiring chefs of Beacon. And please go congratulate your neighbors (maybe they’ll invite you to dinner)! You can order the book on the usual online outlets like Target and Amazon, or you can get it through Binnacle Books or your favorite local bookstore. Even walking into Barnes and Noble is fun! But don’t forget that the local bookshops can order for you! And then we get to keep the local bookstores here as neighbors.