Today we're flying with Michelle Lopez, the 26-year-old Portland blogger behind Hummingbird High. Before you get too excited, let me clear this up: Hummingbird High is not a secondary school for tiny birds. Rather, it's an homage to Michelle's learning to bake in Denver, Colorado — the Mile High City, or where she started the blog — and her favorite cookbook, The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook. Now that she's back at sea level, Michelle seems to have mastered the art of baking and then some. Her latest recipe is Samoa Cookie Matzo Crunch. Do you need any more reason to visit her blog? Didn't think so.
Read on to get to know Michelle!
What is your all-time favorite book?
Oh my, this is such a difficult question! There are so many books I love, so my favorite tends to be whichever book I read most recently. In this case, it would be Curtis Sittenfeld's Prep. I first read it when it came out in 2005 and related so much to Lee, the book's main character. She went through very similar experiences that I also went through in high school. I reread it a few weeks ago — almost 10 years later! — and was able to see so many of her flaws and other shortcomings that I hadn't seen before, although much of her experience still rang true and hit close to home. My new observations about Lee made me realize how much time had passed since I first read it, and how much I've changed and grown since then. I love it when I'm able to revisit a book and it's able to teach me new things about myself, like Prep did.
What meal do you love to cook?
I love meals that are easy to cook and clean up afterwards, but are nourishing at the same time. For instance, my favorite breakfast is a soft-boiled egg and a piece of whole wheat seed toast, and my favorite weeknight dinner that I always fall back to is baked salmon with roasted vegetables (preferably ones that are in season). I cook both my salmon and vegetables in the same pan for easy cleanup, ha.
What is your favorite food scene from a book?
I'm a big fan of the Harry Potter series, rereading the books many times as both a kid and an adult. One of my favorite scenes is from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, when Harry arrives at Hogwarts for the first time and is greeted by a feast at the Great Hall before the Sorting Hat Ceremony. You can almost hear the clatter and din of the hall, as well as feel the anticipation and and nervousness of the first years. I like that their nerves are eased by traditional British fare like shepherd's pie and treacle pudding. I remember looking up these dishes when I was younger, and wishing that they served them at my school too!
Coffee or tea
Coffee in the morning, tea in the afternoons.
What is the last book you abandoned?
One of my good friends here is a children's librarian; she's always recommending new young adult books to me since I love both the Harry Potter and The Hunger Games series so much. Under her guidance, I tried books from the Divergent series. I could not make it through the first fifty pages — the whole series is based on the premise of a society filled with one-dimensional characters. Literally! I was bored out of my mind.
Author you'd most like to meet for dinner, and your order?
One of my favorite food writers is Fuchsia Dunlop; she's a British writer with an interest in Chinese cuisine. She was the first Westerner to train as a chef at the Sichuan Institute of Higher Cuisine in Chengdu, China, at a time when Chinese cuisine was considered second rate in England. I find it absolutely fascinating and inspiring that she ignored cultural norms and really helped change and inform England's perspective on Chinese food. In my ideal situation, I'd follow her to all her secret, hole-in-the-wall places in China and elsewhere; she'd order the stuff I can't pronounce and we'd enjoy everything family-style.
Where do you go to find new recipes?
I just wrote a blog post about this! I have three sources — food blogs, cookbooks, and Wikipedia. Often times I'll get an idea for a new recipe or a dish I want to try and turn to those three sources to read about the dish's history, as well as different styles and variations.
Where do you go to find new reads?
Friends, mostly. Several of my friends are pursuing PhDs in literature, and one of my best friends is a librarian. They all know the best stuff.
Tell us about your blog — the inspiration for it, why you blog, and what your favorite aspects are.
I started my blog in 2011, back when I was living in Denver. At the time, I was working a fairly stressful job and just wanted to come home and bake to relieve the stress. I was surprised to find that recipes that had worked in the past just completely failed — I would end up with cakes that would sink in the middle, or rock-hard cookies. It turns out that baking at high altitude is completely different at sea level! There are weird quirks like water boiling at a different temperature, and air pressure being significantly lower — this affects the time in which you need to bake things at, and the amount of leavener you use in the recipe. So I started Hummingbird High as a chronicle to learn more, baking through my favorite cookbook, The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook, in an effort to adapt the recipes to work at high altitude.
I've since moved back to Portland (which is at sea level), but my initial project was like a crash-course in baking school. It taught me a lot about the chemistry of baking and how ingredients work together, and I'm at the point now where I understand the process and chemistry so well that I can come up with my own recipes. What you see on the blog today are mostly recipes I've made up/tweaked/perfected, with inspiration and support from the other cookbooks and blogs that I love. I kept my blog name, however, as an ode to this initial project of baking through The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook — it is, after all, what made me the baker I am today.
What are your favorite blogs, and why?
Oh boy... this is a long, long, long list, so hold on! They are: Adventures in Cooking, Dolly and Oatmeal [ATTW interview], Flourishing Foodie, Local Milk Blog, London Bakes, My Name is Yeh [ATTW interview], The Pancake Princess, The Tart Tart, The Vanilla Bean Blog [ATTW interview], Two Red Bowls [ATTW interview]... and I'm sure there's so many more bloggers that I'm missing. I love these bloggers because they feel like my friends — they encourage and inspire me, and make me laugh and smile.