THE WOMEN BEHIND THE RECIPES
Meet Mary and Julie
By Emily Beck
Photography by Ariel Fried
Mary Oswald and Julie Kolpin are cousins, best friends and food lovers. But they share more than a grandmother and a good arugula pesto recipe. The Omaha and Waterloo natives bear the title of Edible Omaha recipe editors, balancing recipe development and testing with busy lives as mothers and multiple job-jugglers.
“We recipe-edit for free, because we love cooking. We love love it,” Mary said, who has two kids, a side job teaching, and takes photographs for her son’s baseball team in addition to working at First National Bank. Julie, whose life is equally full with two kids and jobs as a seamstress and caterer, as well as a career with Under Armour, added, “We have lots of stuff on our plate, but I will always make time for the magazine.”
Their journey with Edible Omaha began when a friendship sparked between Mary and Amy Brown, copublisher of the magazine. The two became acquainted through careers at First National Bank, connecting food-wise after Mary was drafted to help create an employee cookbook for a United Way fundraiser. “She was my boss for a while,” Mary said. “She submitted some recipes to me, and we got to talking about food.” This was in 2006, before either knew where their friendship and mutual love of food would take them. “When she [Amy] was talking about launching the magazine, she asked me if I would come and be the recipe editor,” Mary recalled, “and I said yes, because who wouldn’t?”
Meanwhile, Julie was working as a caterer in North Carolina, and Mary often sought out her “expertise” when coming up with recipes. Utilizing email, FaceTime and the year-round farmers markets in the south, the two worked together to create fresh and simplistic recipes for the magazine. “We try to make these [recipes] as easy as possible, because if we can do it, anybody could do it,” Julie said.
Despite the differences in climate and produce found at the North Carolina markets, “I could use a lot of the same things that were grown there” for testing out recipes, Julie said. She also utilized friends—specifically fellow bookworms. Before the first issue was released in the Spring of 2012, she hosted a book club for which she made all of the recipes that were going to be submitted. “I said, ‘okay everyone, before we discuss the book, I’ve got some work for you.’ And I gave them a plate of all these different things and kind of like a scorecard,” Julie recalled. The menu included dishes such as a rolled beef tenderloin, roasted asparagus and (Julie’s personal favorite) arugula pesto. The food was such a hit, Julie said, that “we never really talked about the book…we just continually talked about food. And that was really helpful.”
Since then, the cousins have utilized other friends and acquaintances to obtain second opinions about recipes. The two still claim their arugula pesto recipe is one of their best, even though they never submitted it to the magazine. “We might like [a recipe] because it suits our tastes…but not everybody here is going to take that kind of a bold flavor,” Mary reflected, and they make sure to be conscious of Midwestern tastes. Mary said that the two chose not to submit the arugula pesto recipe to Edible Omaha, even though they were passionate about it—they concluded that its strong and peppery flavor might not please the majority of readers.
They draw inspiration from cookbooks and chefs, but most ideas spark from single ingredients. Julie sometimes scours books at public libraries—she said, “I’ll see maybe an ingredient or two in a recipe [but] I don’t look at the recipe, I look at the ingredient.” From there she and Mary imagine different combinations of ingredients, or how one ingredient will pair with another, all while “keeping in mind what’s available here,” Mary said. “We just work really well together. We talk about what’s in season, and what we both like,” and from there (sometimes with a little research) the magic happens.
In 2012, their correspondence switched from FaceTime to face-to-face when Julie’s family moved to Omaha after her husband (who works in safety and sanitation in the food industry) was transferred. She joined Edible Omaha as the recipe coeditor in 2013. With the change came benefits and drawbacks—the two could test recipes with increased ease (and fun), but the convenience of year-round markets was gone. “Going to the year-round farmers market was such a luxury,” Julie said. She never had to deal with the fluorescent lights, grimy tiled floors and monotonous aisles of supermarkets if she didn’t want to. “My husband works in the food industry and so I would try to support the cause, because I know that’s where he makes his living that helps provide for our family,” Julie said, but in North Carolina she usually opted to drive past massive grocery stores on the way to the real markets.
Both Julie and Mary have benefitted greatly from their relationship with Edible Omaha and Amy Brown. “I taught myself a little bit [about local food] in North Carolina,” Julie said, but her knowledge vastly grew after working on recipes with Mary and getting to know the local food scene. “I knew nothing,” Mary admitted. “I had been to farmers markets. You know what the average consumer knows. But I wasn’t as into local as I am now, as a result of working with Amy.” Julie agreed. “It’s so much more economical. I feel like we’re eating much healthier ingredients than we ever were before…I started making those healthier choices [in North Carolina] and it just kind of trickled into my life here in Omaha,” she said.
Now that the cousins can both call Omaha home, their recipe development method has evolved. After tossing ideas back and forth, they settle on a few of their favorite ideas. “First we develop it,” Mary explained, and from there the two designate a day to spend cooking and perfecting together, afterward photographing the results. Once several recipes are settled on, they are sent out to fellow recipe testers which the two have drafted. The testers provide Julie and Mary with feedback, and some even photograph their results and submit them to the magazine. “Two of our testers are really good food photographers, and they submit their photos also,” Mary shared, who also takes shots. “I’m going to step up my game and get my photos…in there.” Julie announced, to which Mary responded, “It’s on.”
Luckily the cousins aren’t actually competitive—instead, they work well together and have been able to connect on an even deeper level from their shared passion. Some recipes have come straight from their own mothers and family members, and going back to those basic recipes helps them to connect with their roots—especially with their grandmother, who was known for her cooking. With every recipe comes a memory, and the two never grow tired of reminiscing.
The recipe they consider to be their most successful is perhaps the simplest: roasted radishes. Yet, despite its simplicity, Julie described the dish as “life-changing.” She had made a vow to “enjoy a radish in some way,” after her father, who had a love for them, passed away. So she and Mary tried out a recipe, which simply called for one to “wash and trim the radishes, toss them with olive oil, kosher salt and black pepper, and roast them.”
Since then, Julie and Mary have made radishes the same way many times, often incorporating them into other dishes (once Julie snuck them into a Spanish tortilla in place of potatoes, and never told anyone—the trick went unnoticed). And each time they are able to reminisce about Julie’s father, and laugh about the near-explosion they caused when making the recipe for the first time after squeezing lemon into a too-hot pan filled with butter.
“We’re not masters,” Mary said. “We’re just normal people. We’re moms.” She doesn’t think eating locally and responsibly is impossible or even difficult, and through the recipes that she and Julie bring to the magazine, she hopes to communicate that to the community. The two aim for simplistic recipes that anyone can mimic and make into their own.
Their work with Edible Omaha has also affected how they’re raising their kids. “I want them to make choices that are good for them and everyone around them,” Julie said. “It’s not impossible to eat healthy. Not just healthy—local. Seasonal.”
For now, Julie and Mary are content with the work they are doing with Edible Omaha. “We love it,” Mary said. “Right now we’re just getting experience…we’re busy.” They have talked about several projects, but all are dormant as of right now (Julie is still looking forward to the day her kids can stay home by themselves). They plan to continue coming up with new exciting recipes for readers of Edible Omaha to enjoy while improving their own lives. “[This has helped] us to seek out opportunities to eat local and better,” Mary said.
At the top: Recipe editors Mary Oswald and Julie Kolpin aim for simplistic recipes that anyone can mimic and make into their own. Above right: Mary and Julie share a grandmother, Clara Birks, who was known for her cooking. Going back to those basic family recipes helps them to connect with their roots, and with every recipe comes a memory. Near right: Dressup: Cousins, best friends and food lovers, Mary Oswald and Julie Kolpin are recipe editors for Edible Omaha and balance recipe development and testing with busy lives as mothers and multiple job-jugglers.
Emily Beck is a graduate of Central High School and a soon-to-be journalism major at Indiana University. Edible Omaha’s first editorial intern, Emily is looking forward to exploring the local food scene in Bloomington, Indiana and continuing to contribute to Edible Omaha.