Dr. Joanne Stekler is Professor of Medicine in the Division of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the University of Washington in Seattle. She is a physician-scientist, providing care and conducting clinical and epidemiologic research in HIV testing and prevention.
However, in addition to her work in HIV prevention, she has been cooking and baking for 40+ years.
In January 2021, she started a food blog called Ugly Duckling Bakery.
We asked her to tell us more about this new side venture. Don’t forget to join our newest interactive space, where this can all be discussed behind “closed doors”! The group is called Doctor Side Ventures. Find it here.
Why did you start a food blog?
As an infectious disease doctor in Seattle, I started posting about COVID-19 right from the beginning of the pandemic. You probably remember the fear and uncertainty in March 2020. So I also posted the following on Facebook, “I feel bad about only posting about coronavirus recently, so here’s an unrelated question. Why do my bean burgers always come out mushy, and how do I minimize that?”
I went through so many different iterations of black bean burgers to prevent the dread mushy bean burger.
All through 2020, I shared photos and recipes of things I cooked for dinner and the baking projects I made on weekends.
Friends encouraged me to continue and, eventually, to transition to a blog.
What’s the story behind the name?
For years, whenever I got frustrated with work or I was worried about my NIH funding, I would tell people my back-up plan was to open a bakery.
One day Mr. Ugly Duckling Bakery and I were out for a drive and brainstorming names for this theoretical bakery.
We landed on the Ugly Duckling because the things I make taste delicious but look homemade.
When I started the blog, I decided to use the name even though my recipes also include cooking and cocktails.
What was it like to start a food blog?
If you had told me in January 2021 all the things I know now, I might not have started the blog. But I’m an overachiever, and once I start something, I want to do it right.
I knew from the beginning that my food photography needed to improve. And I had to learn Search Engine Optimization (SEO) so that people could find me on Google.
It was eye-opening.
You know how they don’t teach you in medical school all the ways you can use your medical degree beyond just being in clinical practice? There’s a similar thing in the food world – and now I see so many possibilities that aren’t just working in a bakery.
What are some skills that have translated from your career in medicine?
There are three, I think.
Writing recipes is very much like writing methods sections for manuscripts. We all want to follow recipes that are straightforward and logical.
Also, understanding my site analytics and data has been easy with my epidemiology training.
Finally, though I don’t do it much, getting on video feels comfortable after years of public speaking.
What do you love about blogging?
I have loved learning everything about it all.
Before blogging, I was someone who needed recipes to cook and bake. Now I can take a keyword or an idea and build a recipe around it for dinner, a treat, or a cocktail. That’s amazing.
Blogging has also given me new ways to connect with people.
I have a new community on social media. And it makes me so happy when someone leaves a comment on my blog to say they loved a recipe.
Before blogging, I was someone who needed recipes to cook and bake. Now I can take a keyword or an idea and build a recipe around it for dinner, a treat, or a cocktail. That’s amazing. Click To Tweet
What’s one thing that surprised you about the food blogging world?
It’s probably the different ethics compared to medicine.
It’s not uncommon for blogs to copy, sometimes even word-for-word, from others.
And there’s quite the business in buying and selling recipes, because for some people it’s only about the bottom line.
Are you making money?
Not right now.
I’ve held off putting ads on my site until I qualify for a major advertising network.
I’ve done a small amount of sponsored work, but, just like with my research, I prefer not to have that feeling of obligation to for-profit industry if possible.
Doctors today are doing SO MANY things on the side. Join an exclusive Facebook community for doctors only (accepting medical docs, dentists, podiatrists) to discuss everything from publishing, to real estate, to other ways to keep other ways we stay busy (& happy).
Has blogging helped with your burnout?
Though since my kiddo returned to in-person school and I returned to the office, it’s been challenging to find time to cook and bake as much as I want to for the blog. I’m trying to find the balance where I’m still having fun doing both!
What does the future look like for you and your blog?
I’m not certain.
Blogging has given me something to look forward to in my retirement years.
I think there will be a cookbook in my future, but I don’t want to commit to anything aside from having fun as I build.
Can you give examples of a few of your favorite food items?
I’m a fan of variety. There aren’t many things that I make in exactly the same way over and over.
There are some days I want a simple grilled chicken breast sliced into a taco salad, and there are nights I want comfort food. But I’ll pretty much never refuse a plate of pasta with a side salad made mostly of butter lettuce.
And if you make a dessert for me with peanut butter and chocolate? Well, I’ll be your best friend forever.
(Psst.. we found a section on Dr. Stekler’s website labeled “My Favorite Recipes” so.. find it here).
What has been the most popular/well received recipe thus far?
There are a variety of recipes that have done well on search or on social media. But the recipe I’m most proud of is my Braised BBQ Chicken Meatballs. Braised in a store-bought or homemade barbecue sauce, they are omg delicious over mashed potatoes and loved by everyone.
If there’s one recipe I send people to on my blog, it’s those meatballs.
(It’s right here, for those of you that are salivating at the mere thought right about now and can’t wait for a quick link to get there!)
Is there a food item, in particular, that you don’t enjoy cooking?
I make the mister work the grill and roast the chicken and turkey, because he’s better at those things than I am. His cooking skills are one of the reasons we’re together! And there are things that are fussy. I don’t do fussy.
I’ve tried to get better at things like macarons and cookie decorating, but I just don’t have the patience to practice the same thing over and over.
“If you make a dessert for me with peanut butter and chocolate? Well, I’ll be your best friend forever.”
Give us the “scoop”! Who’s a chef you really look up to and would love to meet IRL?
Right now I’m a huge fan of Dorie Greenspan (https://doriegreenspan.com).
I think it’s because she tells a great story, she’s so meticulous about her recipe writing, and yet she’s not afraid to admit something like she’s not skilled with a piping bag.
I adore her so much for that.
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