Brooklyn baker Melanie Knigge misses Colorado,
but finds solace in red velvet cupcakes and the wonders of Williamsburg.
Where do you live in Brooklyn? What do you love about your neighborhood?
I live in Williamsburg in a lovely apartment with lots of windows. From my bedroom I can see the sun set over the Williamsburg bridge every evening. It's so dreamy! My favorite thing about my neighborhood is how much there is to discover. I never get bored! There are restaurants hidden in alleys, boutiques or bodegas tucked just around the corner...all these little places you have to sort of root out or stumble upon and then fall in love with. That can only happen here.
What do you miss about Colorado?
When I was living in Boulder I used to ride this adorable, cream-colored little scooter all over town and I miss it terribly! It was stolen right before I moved to New York :( I also love-and miss-springtime in Colorado. It's gorgeous! It makes me feel so alive and healthy. I used to run or hike almost every day of the week! I adore New York City, but it's more asphalt than fields of green.
What is your first/clearest childhood memory?
One of my first memories is me, standing on a chair in my grandparents' kitchen in Fremont, Nebraska, "helping" my grandma make a pie on Thanksgiving or Christmas morning. She let me do the crust, so I'm standing there happily smashing it into the tin...but I'd been sick, and as soon as she left the room, I sneezed ALL over my fat little hands and that pie. Needless to say the rest of my family spent the holiday sneezing all over, too. But at least they liked the pie!
What three foods could you not live without?
1) Amy's Gluten-Free Macaroni & Cheese
2) "Nacho Surprise" (basically homemade chilaquiles in a bowl)
How did you get interested in baking and cooking?
I grew up baking cookies with my mom and pouring over old Betty Crocker cookbooks, so it only seemed natural to learn as much as I could and try as many weird concoctions and creations as possible. And I was always a little fascinated by the classic image of the bombshell '50s housewife in an apron and heels...so I guess in some ways it was as much a style fixation as a food one!
Where do you look for food inspiration?
I pour over food blogs constantly. I'm obsessed with SmittenKitchen.com, but I also am addicted to BrokeAssGourmet.com (because I'm a broke ass Brooklynite). I'm gluten-free, so I adapt all my recipes, but when I'm totally over doing that I go to elanaspantry.com. She's from Boulder and has an amazing cookbook called The Gluten-Free Almond Flour Cookbook that is really simple and inspiring. I also have my own baking blog, belle-cakes.blogspot.com, which I started to inspire my friends and share my various gluten-free goodies and recipes.
My roommate Marina is a also total foodie (and a talented chef), so she constantly inspires me to look up new swanky recipes and make tasty treats like homemade oreos or salted caramel rice krispies. Last week we made a giant Sunday brunch together for, like, ten of our friends. We gorged ourselves on waffles, gluten-free pancakes and banana-chocolate-coconut muffins, Applewood smoked bacon and homemade Matcha tea lattes and grapefruit juice then laid around in the sun until about 4 pm. It was heavenly!
Do you have a signature recipe that you make on a regular basis?
It's hard to narrow it down because I'm constantly experimenting! I like to keep it simple, or put an unexpected twist on "classic" recipes. I'm probably most proud of my Red Velvet cupcakes, which I always make with really dark and sweet cocoa and mounds of luscious buttercream; or my Brown sugar-cake Whoopie Pies with bourbon-caramel filling. I like the idea of taking really rich, traditional treats and making them a bit more modern and slightly more healthy/allergy-friendly.
What's the most wonderful thing you've ever baked for a friend?
Coconut-ginger-macadamia-carrot-cake cupcakes with coconut butter cream. They were absolutely sinful.
Why do you love food?
Honestly, I love food because food tastes good. I like the process of making food or taking time for a meal and being really conscious and grateful for what nourishes you, but also, I just really like eating.
I also love making people happy, and food does that in a way that's immediate and totally tangible. I show affection by creating things for people, and I think food is a really special, incredibly personal way to do that. Oh, and it's delicious!
Who is your best friend and what do you love about them?
I feel very lucky because I have a handful of best friends (and fellow Colorado transplants). When we get together we're like a girl gang of fierce babes, each with her own very distinct personal style and talents that balances out and meshes perfectly with the rest. We're basically family!
But, cliche as it might sound, I'm dating my best friend: my boyfriend, Sean. We're a team; we balance each other out and make each other better and more interesting. He's patient and supportive of all my various weird projects and creative endeavors, and I'm there for him when he's writing an album or on the road*. It's constantly an adventure, and I love that. (It doesn't hurt that he's incredibly handsome and is down to eat all my test recipes either!)
*[Sean is half of the music duo 3Oh!3.]
What is your ideal way to spend a Sunday morning?
The ideal Sunday morning would find me nestled in bed with a cup of Lady Grey tea with the sun streaming through the window behind me and a really good comic book in my lap. There's nothing more luxurious than waking up early and reading until you fall asleep again...then going to Five Leaves to sit on the patio, eat the best granola in the world and people-watch or draw pictures into the afternoon!
What is your day job and what do you do there?
I work part time at a vegan coffee shop (even though I'm not vegan and I only drink tea!). Barista by day, freelance baker by night...
Which is your favorite season and why?
Spring is by far my favorite season. It makes me want to dress like a ballerina, make a ton of mango iced tea and just lounge in the sun all day! Everything is bright and growing and so full of promise in the spring. I'm like a cat in the sun - I love being warm.
What is your favorite place that you have ever traveled and why?
I'm enchanted by Vancouver. It was sort of grey and misty the whole time I visited, but I spent a lot of time wandering in and out of cafes and boutiques on the little cobblestone streets lined with white strands of globe lights. I loved being by the water there. All their fish is incredibly fresh so the sushi is mindblowing. I'd love to see Montreal sometime too, but Vancouver was my favorite place I've traveled recently. I'm going to Japan in August, though, so that might take the cake...
Who do you admire?
I've always idolized Audrey Hepburn. She oozed glamour but she was also thoughtful and deep; but she wasn't flashy about it. I think she really knew her style and herself, and as a result exercised a sort of self-control that's really graceful but also so...intelligent. That kind of knowledge/awareness is so admirable. Her work with UNICEF is incredibly inspiring too.
How did you end up in the Never Shout Never video?
The director of the Never Shout video, Isaac Ravishankara, is an old and really good friend of mine from Boulder. He asked me to come audition for the role of the "supercute" female lead, so I came, auditioned (aka nervously did my schtick and smiled a lot), and ended up being right for the part! It was a lot of hard work, but was honestly as fun as going to Disneyland while running around and playing dress-up at the same time. Cool sidenote: all the clothes in the video are my own except for the coat I wear in the sailing scene!
What are the three favorite pieces of clothing you own?
1) A rabbit fur-lined cropped denim jacket from one of my best friends, Eleni
2) A pair of navy draped silk trousers
3) Bright red pinup-style, peep-toe platform wedges
List your three favorite restaurants and give a sentence about each:
1) Fette Sau (Metropolitan Ave & Havemeyer St; South Williamsburg, Brooklyn) -- Meat, meat, and more meat! Delectable!
2) Pho Cafe (West Sunset & Silver Lake Blvd; Los Angeles) -- This is the golden standard to which I hold all other pho restaurants...I'm salivating thinking about it.
3) The Kitchen (Pearl St & 11th St; Boulder, CO) -- Chic, simple and soooo tasty--the menu changes seasonally based on local farmers, so it's good-for-you and green!! (Plus they have the best happy hour ever.)
What are your three favorite bands and a sentence about each:
1) Joanna Newsom -- J. New is a magical, harp-plucking pixie writing some of the most clever, gorgeous stories I've ever heard put to music; "YS" is a masterpiece.
2) Elvis -- (We're talking early Elvis.) He's basically the original rock hunk crooner. Can you imagine him singing "Suspicious Minds" in his prime? I'm swooning.
3) Marina and the Diamonds -- Listening to Marina is like listening to the strange lovechild of Kate Bush, Regina Spekter and Cindy Lauper belt smart, dark and delicious pop lyrics...in space. So good.
Your three favorite movies and a sentence about each:
1) Blue Velvet -- Like a twisted technicolor film noir that all starts with Kyle MacLachlan (total babe) finding a human ear thrown out by the scariest suburban villain I've ever seen on screen...my favorite movie of all time.
2) Wet Hot American Summer -- The greatest eighties-teen-comedy-coming-of-age-love-story (set over the course of one day at a Jewish summer camp) EVER TOLD.
3) The Royal Tenenbaums -- Not only huge for style inspiration, but filled with so much dry wit, dark humor and literary allusions (not to mention a killer soundtrack) that I can barely contain myself. It almost goes without saying I was Margot for Halloween.