20 Questions Tuesday: 204 - Sally Kuzemchak

It is a rare time indeed when I get to ask someone local that I actually know (other than my wife) 20 Questions.  So this is a super fun event for me.  This week I get to ask Sally Kuzemchak 20 Questions.  A little background… Sally is Little Man’s best friend’s mom… she also happens to be a relatively successful nutritional blogger over at her blog, Real Mom Nutrition.  Honestly, her status as a nutritionist has cause mild angst and anxiety when her little boy is over for a play date…. What snack do you get for a nutritionist’s kid? Is pizza OK? Is this juice good enough…. or just water.

I say all this in jest, while it does cause some less than mild anxiety, we have never been worried and watching her boy is an absolute delight.  All the conversations I have had with her have been great, and I look forward to any of the interactions with she or her spouse.  Wonderful people, just plain wonderful.  Sally has been worried that her 20 Questions will not be interesting, but let’s be clear, I interviewed these losers: Steve, Dave, and Chris, so anything she says will be miles more interesting then them.  Without further ado, 20 Questions with Sally Kuzemchak, Real Mom Nutritionist.

Since you have read my posts here, I am sure you know what is coming.  I was born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.  Moved to Montgomery, Alabama when I was three.  When I was 4 or 4.5 we moved about 2 hours north to just north of Birmingham, Alabama (A little town called Center Point).  I went of to Kent State University in Kent, Ohio for my undergrad degree and then followed my fiancee down to Ohio State University (oops, THE Ohio State University) for my grad school.  We have been living in Columbus, Ohio ever since.  Question 1:  What is your geographic story?

I was born and raised in a small town in Western Pennsylvania called, confusingly, Indiana. At 18, I went two hours away to State College, Pa. to attend Penn State. After graduation, I moved to New York City and lived in three places (Greenwich Village, Park Slope, and the Upper East Side) in 3.5 years. Then I left to be with my then-boyfriend, now-husband in Chicago, where we lived two blocks from Wrigley Field. In 2000, we moved to Columbus, Ohio where we’ve been ever since.

I imagine that many people you grew up with went to IUP for their college education, the most confusing university name ever. That is a pretty fun list of places.

Question 2: Do you consider Columbus your home now in your heart of hearts or is there still a window open to Indiana, PA?

My husband and I are both from the same hometown, so we’ve definitely considered moving back to the area at certain points over the years. I have so much of Western Pennsylvania in me—I’m a coal miner’s daughter, after all. But the region has changed, and I have changed. Columbus reminds me of a bit Western Pennsylvania because it doesn’t put on airs. I like that.

You should mention to my wife that you are a coal miner’s daughter… she will quote that movie till the cows come home.  That might be a fun exercise.

So Question 3: You are a nutritionist, but I imagine you did not start out in college wanting to study nutrition. How did you come into the field of nutrition.

I gained a crapload of weight in college. Well, 15-20 pounds—but I’m just over 5 feet, so that’s like 40 pounds on anyone else. It was the first time I’d been exposed to limitless amounts of bad food, and I had no idea how to navigate it. I was eating pasta with a side of bagels and waffles with soft-serve ice cream for dessert. Then after a night of drinking beer, my roommate and I would run home in time to order a pizza at 2am. So I went to see a dietitian, who taught me about balancing carbs, proteins, and fat. It was a total revelation to me. When I moved to NYC after graduation and got a job at Self magazine, it happened to be in the nutrition department. The more I learned about nutrition, the more I loved it—and it had made such an impact on me personally, So I went back to school (and eventually lost all that weight).

In high school I was around 6’ 1” or 6’ 2” and a huge weight of 165 lbs (that is 1.85 to 1.87 m and 74.8 kg for my metric friends, and 11.78 st for any Brits).  After my first semester in school I weighed a solid 195 lbs (88.45 kg in metric or 13.9 st in imperial units).  Freshman 15 is nothing. I scoff at a freshmen 15.  My mom was overweight and to combat that she never made enough food at dinner, so she wouldn’t over-eat.  The lack of food at meal-times and the shocking amount of exercise that a teenager can do playing sports kept me at a rather thin and maybe a bit sickly 165. The small meals did not stop my mom from eating every snack in the house late at night though which did not combat her weight gain in the least.  She also made and decorated cakes for a side business, which didn’t help matters.  When I got to college, there was food… and I ate it.  Alot of it, so I am happy for you to have lost all that weight… I would love to lose more of mine.

I have been looking forward to asking this question to you since you agreed to do this, because it is such a heated question with many ramifications… Question 4: Cake or pie? Which kind specifically, and why?

Frosting, actually.

I eat the cake too, since that’s what’s socially acceptable for grown-ups to do. But I’d rather do what my 3-year-old does: Lick off the frosting and be done with it.

We always had frosting in the fridge. Always.  I would put frosting on everything… between cookies, between pop-tarts, on top of glazed donuts, on a spoon, sometimes I would even just use my finger.  Everything can be a delivery system for frosting. The best ever was adding frosting to a vanilla cheesecake. I would pants a stranger at the mall to get frosting covered cheesecake again. Frosting is the best, I have a killer recipe for it if you ever want it.

Question 5: So, what is your nutritional weakness… what is the food that you are constantly fighting against eating all the time?

Sugar. Candy corn, Sour Patch Kids, frosting (and yes, I would like that frosting recipe), jelly beans. As a kid, I would eat spoonfuls of powdered sugar from the bag. Whatever’s the quickest way to get the sugar directly into my veins. I recently did a two-week no-added-sugar challenge on my blog. The first day almost killed me, the second day I had a pounding headache, and from the third day on, I was totally and completely fine. It was nice to be liberated from sugar for once in my life. Then came my birthday. And cupcakes. And then the floodgates sort of opened. I think when it comes to sugar, I’m either all or nothing.

The problem with the recipe is just how bad it is for you…. when you know what goes into it, it is appalling, perfectly wonderfully tastily appalling, but here we go… 2 pounds of powdered sugar, 1 cup Crisco, 1/2 cup of HOT water, 1/8th teaspoon lemon extract…. mix them up… done and done.

I have heard that white sugar is crazy addictive… like more than cocaine addictive.  It is just that the side effects and negatives associated with the sugar are not nearly as acute as side effects and negatives for illegal drugs.  The effects are much more subtle and long term, and not necessarily any less worse… that being said, I am addicted to my green mistress… Mountain Dew.  Boatloads of refined sugar and a nice slathering of caffeine on top.  It is the burden I must bear.

Question 6: Kind of the contrapositive for the previous question… so, which healthy foods cannot you not help but eat?

Man, that frosting recipe sounds intense. A cup of Crisco! If you want to up the addictive quotient, substitute almond extract for the lemon extract.

Your double negative is tripping me up. Do you mean “what healthy foods do you like to eat?” or “what healthy foods do you not like”?

As a note… the lemon extract gives the frosting a crispness to cover the heaviness of the Crisco.  Vanilla extract and almond extract seems to make it “too heavy.” A dash of peppermint might work, but the lemon extract seems to work really well.  I think I know too much about frosting…

To clarify the question… Question 6 redux: Which healthy foods, if presented to you, will you always, every time eat?  For example, my wife will put some cherries away, and I have a hard time letting blanched broccoli stay on the table.

In the summertime, I require about a pint of blueberries a day. I also eat a giant salad almost every single night out of either a mixing bowl or 1.5 quart casserole dish.

I need to add more salads to my repertoire. I have them occasionally, I just don’t know how to make it a meal more often. A giant one daily is pretty darn awesome.  

You have 2 younguns at the same age as my two kids, so I know your free time is limited, but…. Question 7: What do you do in your limited or nonexistent free time?

Clean my house or write my blog. How sad is that? If I did have free time, I would finally knit the last arm on the sweater I started making my husband in 1997.

Clean and organize is something I should definitely do more of… sitting is what I definitely do more of.  Sometimes I sit and think, and sometimes I just sit.  I have been finding myself spending more and more of my “freetime” working on this blog.  Currently I have seven (maybe eight) 20 Questions Tuesday interviews going on simultaneously, all at various stages of completion.

Question 8: Part of your professional existence is tied up in your Internet presence and personal branding.  Do you enjoy/how are you enjoying the process of slowly building a niche market Internet presence?

Building an online “brand” has been odd and not something I ever thought I’d do. I’m a bit shy when it comes to this stuff—I’ve spent 15 years as a reporter/writer, so I’ve usually been the one behind the scenes, not the one out in front. But I started cultivating a presence within my niche (nutrition) because I wasn’t finding what *I* wanted to read—which was honest and humorous but helpful stories about what it’s really like to feed kids (and yourself) when you’re a mom. So many nutrition blogs made it sound too easy. I felt the need to pull back the curtain and say, “Even though I have these fancy letters after my name, it’s not perfect at my house either. Sometimes my kids eat boxed macaroni and cheese, and sometimes I have cake for dinner.” And those stories I wrote—like my frustration when my younger son refused to eat dinner for weeks or my insecurity in the presence of the fashionable all-organic-buying mom behind me in line at the grocery store—seemed to really resonate with my readers. Much more than my straight-ahead posts with helpful advice.

But my internet “brand” is also based on my personality and keeping it “real” (as in Real Mom Nutrition), so I have to stay true to that. One day, I was griping in a Facebook post about Pop-Tarts, and a reader (quite fairly) pointed out that I was sounding elitist—and wasn’t I supposed to be all down-to-Earth and realistic when it came to food? That was a good reminder that yes, people are actually reading this stuff and paying attention.

The fact that I even have people reading my stuff who aren’t my friends and family is strange—exciting but strange.

You are totally going to say something about Pop-Tarts, aren’t you?

Most definitely…  Like I said… as a kid, since my mom made cakes as a side business, I would put frosting on almost any food stuff… I really don’t want to think of the calories I ingested with the frosting between 2 pop-tarts sandwiches I used to make… For the record, even non-nutritionists can rail against the atrocity that is the pop tart.  It really is devoid of health, and chock full of convenience.  We have 2 boxes in our pantry right now.  I don’t dislike pop-tarts, I dislike the lack of healthiness on which pop tarts are built.  That is some Real Dad Non-Nutritionist stuff right there… That’s how I bring it… Boom!

The online branding stuff is truly difficult, and the idea of making a vocation out of an online presence that does not have any celebrity attached prior to the whole online thing is daunting to say the least.  I can honestly say, that I would really enjoy making a living at this 20 Questions stuff, but I am also quite aware that it is nigh impossible to do at this stage in the Internet’s developing ecosystem.  In the early wild west years I think there was a better shot, think back to the development of Dooce and that generation of Internet celeb as online forces.  I had pretty good readership on my old blog sryanhart.blogspot.com for a while.  There were moments when I had goodly amounts of people checking into my weekly questions, however those numbers died off when blogs kind of died down in 2008-2009. But enough about me and the sadness that is my online presence.

Question 9: Fill in the blanks… “I find that I am mostly ___________.” “Other people find that I am mostly ___________.”

I find that I am mostly a bit too Type A.

Other people find that I am mostly ___________. I polled a few folks and got answers like “upbeat”, “positive”, and “fun”, so clearly I don’t seem as uptight as I usually feel. Though a friend once said I reminded her of Reese Witherspoon in the movie "Election". She insisted it was a compliment, but I’m not so sure.

Having met you I would say that you are typically positive and I find your conversations quite enjoyable.  I would not say that you remind me of Reese in “Election.”  She was a nut in that movie, I would question your friend’s idea of a compliment.

Question 10: What medium for entertainment do you find yourself partaking the most, Movies, TV shows (via DVD or over the net etc…), Music, Podcasts, or Books… etc…?

That character *was* a nut, but I think my friend meant that she thought I was feisty and determined—and well, very Type A.

Books, primarily. From the library. We cancelled our cable and watch something from Netflix about once a week. Music is reduced to the stuff my kids like, which ranges from Katy Perry (one of my older son’s favorites) to “All About John Deere for Kids” (14 songs, all about tractors) when we’re riding in the car. Alright fine, minivan.

Little Man is not super into popular music as much as he is into talking about Star Wars… incessantly.  Q likes dance music and instrumental surf rock…go figure.  I think it is excellent that you cut the cord on your TV.  If it were not for soccer games that I like to watch, I think we could possibly cut the cord and be cableless… Minivans are waaay too damn convenient. I sadly see one of those in my future.

It is all downhill from here… Question 11: How adventurous are your kids in regards to trying new foods?  When Little Man was allergic to nearly everything, we missed many an opportunity to introduce new foods.  He subsisted on bratwurst and Burger King hamburgers, and now he is incredibly reluctant to try new things.

Our 7-year-old Henry is pretty adventurous. My husband and I are both recovering picky eaters—I pretty much existed on buttered noodles until college—so we are in awe when he barely hesitates before taking a bite of something new at the dinner table. Sometimes he’ll even take a second or third bite before making a judgement. My three-year-old, however, is the opposite.

Since I was such a picky eater, I really understand the impulse to reject new foods, so I think I’m pretty patient with it. I can name a slew of foods I never tried until my 20s and beyond—asparagus, salmon, beans and lentils, onions, raw tomatoes—so I know firsthand that it can take a LONG time. Just because your kid isn’t eating certain foods now doesn’t mean he never will. You just have to keep presenting them at the table (without making a big deal about them or pressuring your child) and keep the faith.

Speaking of your husband… I know that when one gets married one has to integrate 2 sets of traditions.  Most of these traditions don’t rear their ugly heads until holiday times.  Question 12: What culinary traditions did you and your husband have that were different and had to be navigated over the course of years?  For example, it took about 4 or 5 years for the fam to make stuffing that both my wife and I like.

This isn’t a culinary tradition per se, but our families have very different ideas of what “enough” food means. Growing up in my house, you got your one plate of food (that my mom portioned out) and that was it. She didn’t do that in a controlling way—no one in my family ever talked about dieting or portion sizes. But my family is big on not wasting any food, so we didn’t have a lot of leftovers. The first time my husband spent Christmas with my family, he finished his plate of lasagna and was looking around for seconds and…there were no seconds. On other hand, my husband’s family serves a lot of food—so the first time I spent the holidays with his family, I was struck (and of course totally psyched) by the huge buffet of crab dip and shrimp cocktail and prime rib and trays of cookies. Since we’re from the same hometown, we see both families at each holiday and it’s always a funny contrast.

Oh and ps: If she reads this, my mom is going to be totally mortified. So let me state for the record that since that “lasagna episode”, my mom has always made sure to have seconds for Joel. (My parents rarely, if ever, eat seconds…which is probably why they’re both very slim.)

Food was an interesting thing in my household growing up, as I stated before.  The scarcity and then lack of scarceness I think has caused me issues with portion control and creating self imposed limits.  Woe is me… wooooe is meeee.

Question 13: Do you have any superstitions and/or rituals?

Nope. But now you’ve scared me. Should I have some? Do you have any extras?

I really don’t have many superstitions or rituals anymore.  I had a very specific method of getting ready for soccer games that was very ritual-like in nature when I was in high school.  That ritual was mainly to get me in a specific state of mind before the game.  I have never been truly superstitious either.  So far the best answers, by far, that I have gotten for this question are (and I paraphrase) “Never put a hat on the bed,” and “I am a Christian, so all the rituals that are associated with the religion.”

I do think that superstition and ritual seem to be going by the wayside.  Superstition mostly, because many things can be ritualized (how someone washes a car, gets dressed, makes coffee).  I am surprised there have not been more digital superstitions though.  ”Don’t put your phone by the computer because it will corrupt your memory” or some such oddness.

Question 14: What is the central, overarching question that drives you in all that you do?  What is the burning question you are consistently and constantly trying to answer through your thoughts, actions, and intentions?

You have completely stumped me with this. I’ve been thinking about this question for a week now. I must be really shallow or something.

Let me give you an example.  MY overarching question at the moment is, “How can I get my professional existence to line up better with my personal existence?”
BTW’s: You are not shallow, this is just a method of thinking you haven’t had to do yet.  In many ways it is better to live with a question instead of an answer.

My overarching question at the moment is, “How can I explore all of these cool, interesting professional opportunities without my home (and home life) becoming a disgusting mess?” It’s a version of the work-life balance dilemma. Some people have that dilemma but hate their jobs. I love my job…plus the jobs I hear about. And I’m always wanting to do them all. But then I become a stressed-out wreck and have to have those stress cries like Holly Hunter in “Broadcast News”.

oooh, work life balance stuff is a question for the ages, and I think culturally women get the worse end of the stick on that one.  I feel for you on that one.  All we have found with my wife’s consultation practice is that the balance issues really raise their head when it is out of balance.  Adjusting for life/work balance seems to be reactionary instead of proactive… at least in our experience.  It helps to have a partner that you trust wholeheartedly to only tell you to back off when you REALLY need to back off. I hope that I am that partner for my wife.

You just got back from the Mexico for a bit of vacation, Question 15: Where is your favorite vacation spot?

I’m a beach girl. So: on a beach chair with a book or music, looking at the ocean, preferably at 5pm when the beach is at its best. The added bonus of 5pm is that it’s past prime sunburning time. With my history of blistering sunburns—and stage 1 melanoma three years ago—I’m more likely to be under and umbrella and giant sunhat between 10-3.

Sorry, didn’t mean to bring everyone down—but I like to plug sun safety whenever I can.

Oh, we are all down now… so, so down.  No worries.  This blog can be both educational and entertaining.

I am mountains and forest guy, myself.  I just am not super into the whole “sand” thing, but hiking in a nice foggy mountain valley?  You got yourself a deal.

and we are now over 2/3rds done.  I am always surprised when I get to this point.
Question 16: I would consider myself a poor question asker thingy person if I didn’t ask you about being the author of a NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLING BOOK… That is an abso-frikkin-lutely-amazing feat.  How do you not have business cards with that fact as your job title?  I would “casually” drop this little nugget of personal information in nearly every conversation, yet you hardly mention it and slough it off as nothing whenever it comes up… what’s that about?

It is truly not as impressive as it seems. Prevention magazine’s “Flat Belly” book was already a NYTimes Bestseller. I was doing a lot of work for them at the time and was hired to write copy for a spin-off cookbook about families. Not that it wasn’t exciting to see it on the list and be a part of it, because it certainly was. But if I ever have a book on the bestseller list that was my totally my inspiration and creation, then you will see it tattooed on my bicep. Or at least included in my email signature.

I think you may not be giving yourself the credit you deserve, but I am not your therapist.  If you write that book I will hold you to the bicep tattoo…. and the email sig.

Question 17:  You have been freelance and self employed for a good while now… could you ever see yourself solely working for somebody else ever again?

No.  No no no no no no. I will do what it takes to help pay the mortgage, but I hope it doesn’t come to that. I’ve been freelance for 15 years. I’ve had some jobs over the years that required me to work elsewhere—like a hospital or office—and I always feel homesick. There is something magical about your house in the middle of a Wednesday when both of your kids are at school and there is just….silence. Plus my office-drama muscle has completely atrophied, so I wouldn’t know the first thing about handling gossip or a difficult coworker in the next cubicle. When I have to work with someone difficult, they are gone from my life after I hang up the phone or close their email. I love that.

I cannot imagine how difficult it would be to transition from working for yourself for 15 years to going back to a 9 to 5 job with a supervisor and performance review and office politics and commute, etc… I would imagine it would be very akin to going back into a traditional education system for a classes/papers/exams situation.  I could possibly see re-entrance into a more non-traditional degree program, but there is no way I could go back to school right now for something like history (which is a topic I find very interesting).

So, here we are at the pivot point in the 20 Questions.  I have been grilling you for 17 questions, but at 18 I turn the tables.  Question 18: Is there anything you want to ask me?

I have actually really enjoyed this process, and I love the premise of your blog. BUT, do you ever get really sick of people droning on and on and on about themselves? Don’t you wake up some days and think, “I don’t give a shit about whether so-and-so likes cake or pie today?”

Not especially.  These interview 20 Questions tend to be spread out around weeks and weeks and weeks, so I don’t really get over-tired of asking these questions.  Mainly because these questions are spread out over time and the answers are never ever the same.  It really is quite interesting to do.  As to the droning on about themselves, I am not sure if you have seen, but I drone on about myself for most of the posts.  I mean really I “wax eloquent” a bunch… a whole bunch.

Question 19:What are you taking away from this 20 Questions that you did not have when you started it?

A recipe for frosting that I plan to make and spread on Pop-Tarts of course!

So, I have corrupted a nutritionist with tales of frosting and pop-tarts.  I now consider this post a success, and my job here is done!

So, final question. Question 20: What’s next for you?  Be as vague or precise or as philosophical or concrete as you want.

Somehow, *somehow*, slowing down. I’d like to soak up the last gasps of my 7-year-old still thinking I’m cool and wanting to (occasionally) hold my hand. Enjoying my 4-year-old before he dives into the world of kindergarten and I start losing him to the world at large.

And maybe writing a book (I’ve got an idea percolating).

The fact that those two goals are not really compatible in any way, shape, or form  just about sums it up for me.

You are nothing if not dichotomous.  Thanks so much!  This was so great.  Not only was it a fun 20 Questions, it also allowed me to learn a ton about my boy’s best friend’s mom (that was a pretty good string of possession).  Next time I have to make frosting, I am giving some to your kid to take back home.

Sally is a great writer (I mentioned the best seller thing, right?) and whether you are parent/mom or not you should go over to her blog and give it a read.  Definitely follow her on the twitters.

To recap:
On Monday I had an itch on my left shoulder blade area that I couldn’t quite reach
Therefore I scrubbed my back up and down on a doorway at work
Humming “It’s the Bear necessities” while I did it to complete the picture for the co-workers
I do nothing if not complete idiotic picture for coworkers
They do not quite know how to take me
I kind of like it that way
Today I am taking video of holes we put in a road
Rather un-exciting videos
One might call them boring
I hate that “boring” is an appropriate term for much of my work
Everyone I talk to seems to think I am making a pun due to my works’ strong association with boreholes
I cannot think of another word that works quite as appropriately
Have a great weekend everyone!