March 22nd, 2011

Spotlight: Alejandra Ramos from Always Order Dessert

Alejandra Ramos

This month we sat down with Alejandra Ramos, your hostess at Always Order Dessert where you can find recipes, entertainment tips and much more. But, Alejandra also comes from a strong background of new media, and believes passionately in media literacy and our work here at The LAMP. Last year, she co-produced our first benefit, Best Desserts, and we’ll be working together again this year (date coming soon). Read on for the link between media literacy and food, upcoming changes on her site and what to expect from this year’s benefit.

What is Always Order Dessert, and how did it get started?

Always Order Dessert is my home cooking and entertaining blog where I share original recipes, cooking tips, do-it-yourself tutorials, entertaining ideas, and lots of personal anecdotes.

I started Always Order Dessert in January 2008 when I realized that what I really wanted to be writing about was food. I loved to cook and entertain, and had been to culinary school; it really was my passion, but for some reason I’d never really written about it on any of my other blogs up to that point. I didn’t think recipes fit within the structure of Sent From My Dell Desktop (where I was writing at the time) so I decided to start a new site devoted entirely to food. It was a time when I was feeling quite a bit of creative frustration at my day job, and launching Always Order Dessert became a way to work through that. Through my food blog I found that I was suddenly able to share my two passions–cooking and writing–with a like-minded community on the web.

You’ve been working with new media for a long time through your
work facilitating LAMP workshops, teaching librarians with Americans for Libraries, editing with Hearst Magazines International and writing your first blog, Sent From My Dell Desktop. Over the years, how have you seen new media influence the culture around food and cooking?

The proliferation of new media food content has really had an incredible effect on the way we cook and eat. From the hundreds of thousands of food bloggers sharing their recipes, photos, product and restaurant reviews, we’re are all getting an inside look at the way that the world eats. We’re learning about new ingredients and techniques, and encouraging and teaching each other. If I ever have a question about something, all I have to do is post it on Facebook or Twitter and within seconds, I’ll have responses and advice from fellow cooks around the planet. Some people think of cooking as a solitary activity, but it really doesn’t have to be. Cooks are no longer stuck standing in their kitchen alone wondering “what’s to make for dinner”; inspiration and guidance is available at the touch of a button.

We’ve also seen a number of new culinary stars rise out of this world–you no longer need a television show or fancy restaurant to make a name for yourself in the world of food. Anyone with talent and drive can get online and start sharing–there is room for all of us.

And on the flip-side of that, new media has afforded all of us access to celebrities and high-profile chefs that we would never have been able to chat with in this way. I think it’s pretty cool that I can have a great meal at Landmarc and then chat with Marc Murphy via Twitter about how good it was. Or that I can ask Dorie Greenspan or Amanda Hesser or the Real Simple magazine editors for a clarification on a recipe, and have them reply within seconds.

With your recent decision to work full-time on Always Order Dessert, what changes can we expect on the site?
So much! As of April 4th I’m going to be posting daily on the site–a big change from the current schedule of updating 1-3 times a week so it opens up a lot of doors in terms of new content. The number one change will be the increase in the number of new recipes I post. I’m going to be spending my days developing and testing recipes so that I have more to share and can keep the site updated daily with fresh content.

There will also be more quick kitchen tips and tutorials, DIY ideas, etc. I’m hoping to now add more video content to the site (something which I loved doing, but which was always too time-consuming to produce on a regular basis), and I am going to be including more longer, informative articles on topics like menu planning, building and stocking a pantry, and designing and executing parties.

Being able to work during the day on the site will make a big difference in terms of photography as I’ll be able to take advantage of gorgeous natural light (until now I’ve been using external flashes and lighting equipment to take shots at night or cramming multiple dishes into the weekend). I’m also going to partnering with other creative (and self-employed!) friends to create editorial styled stories and shoots.

What are you most looking forward to about co-producing this year’s Best Desserts?
I am really excited about this year’s local and seasonal angle, which I think is going to inspire some incredible entries, especially in June which is such a great month for local produce here in New York.

In terms of the actual production and coordination side of it, I think that coming into it with the experience of the first year under our belts has given us the knowledge and contacts to create an even more successful event.

Just a taste from Always Order Dessert...

How do you think media literacy relates to your work with Always Order Dessert?
Whether we’re talking media or food, it’s all about consumption and developing an awareness and understanding of what we’re allowing into our bodies. When I shop for food and ingredients, I make a point of knowing what it is that I am buying–I read ingredients, I look up names that sound unfamiliar, I compare brand name and generic products to determine the better value for my home and my body. It’s important to understand that there are tons of messages on and around food that influence the way we eat and buy. Keywords like “enriched” “whole grain” “natural” “fresh” are used very deliberately by manufacturers to confuse us into thinking something is good for us when it may not necessarily be so. Even restaurant menus at both fast food and high-end Michelin starred establishments are written in a way to make us want to buy, eat, and consume.

There is a lot of advertising about food that we often accept without thinking. Slogans like “The Other White Meat,” “The Incredible, Edible Egg,” and “Got Milk,” have effortlessly become part of the national lexicon. Deliberately folksy advertising campaigns, like Ocean Spray with their cranberry bog “growers,” (two very charming actors that I actually met at a recent industry event) or Betty Crocker (who is redesigned every so often to appeal to that year’s average woman). The Corn Refiner’s Association is currently in the process of a blatant re-branding campaign in favor of high-fructose corn syrup (renaming it “corn sugar” and running constant commercials with kids talking around the breakfast table about how “natural” it is) that is so appalling it’s almost difficult to believe it’s not a spoof SNL ad.

I’m not saying that everything we read or hear is automatically bad or wrong or a lie (Lord knows I love bacon and dairy products, and Ocean Spray, which is one of the largest agricultural co-ops in the country, is actually a company that I really admire), but it’s about recognizing that we are all constantly being subjected to messages about food in all forms of media and educating ourselves as much as possible so that we can make the best choices for ourselves and our families.

One of the reasons I strongly believe in the importance of media literacy is because it provides people of all ages with the tools to identify and process these messages all across the spectrum, whether it relates to food, world events, consumer products, medicine, etc. Media literacy is a life skill that we all need to become better consumers and humans.

If you were submitting one of your desserts to compete in Best Desserts, which would you pick and why?
I’m presently deep in the throes of a year-long love affair with bundt cakes so I’d probably go with some kind of bundt cake highlighting some of that great summer produce. Known as “plain cakes,” I actually love those simple cakes that can be made in about an hour on an average weeknight and then left in a cake dome all week long for slicing as a craving hits. There is nothing better in my book!

What is the best way for people to keep up with news from Always Order Dessert?
Facebook and Twitter are great ways to keep in touch and find out what’s happening. Readers can “like” my page on Facebook where I post multiple times daily, updating about new recipes, projects I’m working on, photos, and snippets from my daily life. I’m also very active on Twitter: http://twitter.com/nandita. Feel free to connect and say hi so that I can follow you back! Readers can also sign up for my free newsletter, which goes out once a week with an update on what’s new on the site, plus invitations to events (like Best Desserts!)

1 Comment

  1. Rachel says:

    Bravo! I love the Always Order Dessert site.

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