#41 | Upscale Downhome
By Rachel Hollis
Suzy Chase: Welcome to the Cookery By the Book Podcast, with me, Suzy Chase.
Rachel Hollis: Hi, I'm Rachel Hollis from TheChicSite.com, and my new cookbook is Upscale Downhome.
Suzy Chase: You stumbled across the word "chic" in an old dictionary, and chic was defined as a fashionable lifestyle, ideology, or pursuit. Tell us a little bit about TheChicSite.com.
Rachel Hollis: It originally started ... I found that word when I was trying to name an event planning company that I wanted to start. I just really fell in love with the idea that chic was the pursuit of something. It wasn't necessarily a place that you were in right now, because at the time, gosh, I definitely wasn't chic. But I loved the idea that just trying something, pursuing something, made you chic, because you were seeking a better version of yourself.
That became the name of my events company. Then the blog that came out of it was The Chic Site. It eventually grew to become larger than the events business and has been my full-time company for the last four and a half years.
Suzy Chase: Speaking of pursuits, at 27, Inc. Magazine named you as one of the top 30 entrepreneurs under 30. What is it that led you to a hugely successful lifestyle website, massive fan base, and book deals?
Rachel Hollis: Gosh, I think the website itself was something I really did fall into. I had this event company in Los Angeles, and I, at the time, this was years ago, let's say it was maybe eight, nine years ago, everyone was starting a blog. I didn't know what it was. Everyone just said start a blog, it's free marketing.
I started a blog, and it was so terrible, and only my mom read it. The pictures were just the worst thing you've ever seen. I basically wrote about what I ate for dinner last night. Nobody read it, but over time, I started to figure myself out. I found my voice, and I realized that there was an audience of people who were interested in the kind of recipes and my style that I had grown up enjoying.
I come from very humble beginnings. I grew up on a street called Weedpatch Highway. The recipes that I grew up were casseroles, and slow cookers, and deep fried, and covered in gravy. When I started to talk about those recipes is when I really found a community online that was interested in it. It just kept growing and getting bigger.
I think the reason that we've had success is because there were people in this field who, the Martha Stuarts of the world, who do really beautiful, perfect things that are hard to achieve, at least for me. They're very hard to achieve.
Suzy Chase: Yes, me too.
Rachel Hollis: Then there's even more really simple, really basic, maybe not as pretty, and I think I found a way to be in the middle. I describe it as Martha Stewart is Macy's, and then someone else might be the Dollar Store, and I found a way to be Target. I found a way to marry affordable and on a budget, but do it beautifully.
Suzy Chase: What resonates with me is that you're kind, uplifting, encouraging, and real. I feel like the lifestyle that you talk about is similar to my own, being a mom, finding the perfect chambray shirt at J.Crew, and making dinner. I feel like you cracked that lifestyle website code.
Rachel Hollis: Gosh, if I cracked it, it wasn't in terms of slipping into the core. I think I cracked it, and then I just didn't quite do it right. When I really started pursuing this full time, what existed in lifestyle media was only what was perfect, beautiful, airbrushed, the whole thing. I could try all day, and I just would never be that woman.
I just was true to myself, I suppose, and just talked about who I really am, which are ... Some days, gosh, my hair looks great, and I manage to get the kids dressed and off to school on time. And some days I feel like I'm barely keeping up, and I haven't showered, and I feel like I'm failing as a mom. I realized that, especially with women, there was this need to really be honest about our lives and what we're struggling with, because when we are the first person to stand up and say we're struggling with something, it gives other women permission to do the same.
The very first time that I talked about something hard, and this was years ago, when my blog, when 10 people read it, was I talked about post-partum depression. The results from that, so many emails and so many notes of women saying, "Gosh, I struggled with this, too, and thank you for talking about it, because I don't feel so alone." That made me realize that there was a need for this. I really do put it all out there. I don't think there's anything that I haven't discussed, and I don't do it in a way that's complaining, or gosh, I hope it doesn't sound like that.
Suzy Chase: No, not at all.
Rachel Hollis: But just like, "Hey guys, this is what we've gone through as a family, or what I've gone through as mom, and I wonder if you all can relate."
Suzy Chase: Yeah, we all can, by the way.
Rachel Hollis: Thank you.
Suzy Chase: This cookbook inspires us to entertain.
Rachel Hollis: I hope.
Suzy Chase: Your annual holiday party is coming up. How do you celebrate the season?
Rachel Hollis: That is such a good question. The Hollis holiday party is a big deal. We legitimately think about it for months, what is our theme going to be, and we change it up every year. We actually just picked our theme yesterday. I sound like a committee. It's me, and my husband, and the people in my office. I'm like, what should it be?
This year, we're doing ... We sort of have fun with the theme. Last year, we did apres-ski, so it was like a ski lodge. The year before, we did hipster coffee shop. This year, we're doing easy like Christmas morning, instead of easy like Sunday morning. The whole theme this year is that it should feel like Christmas morning. We're doing a breakfast menu, and it's going to be super fun. I tried to convince my husband that we should have everyone wear pajamas, and he was absolutely not okay with that, so never mind. I thought it would be fun. I love a theme.
Suzy Chase: It's cute.
Rachel Hollis: But he was like, "Rachel, these are ..." He works for Disney, so he's like, "These are Disney executives. I don't know that they're going to wear pajamas to our house." Okay, fine.
Suzy Chase: Good try.
Rachel Hollis: I did try. We are serving breakfast food, though, so that seems at least like we're having a little fun.
Suzy Chase: You have a chapter called The List: 25 Items Every Host or Hostess Should Have on Hand. My favorite is number 25, a chilled bottle of champagne. Describe the cute way we can spiff up a bottle of champagne with a little tag.
Rachel Hollis: I started doing this, gosh, I don't remember when it was, but I liked the idea that A) you should just always be ready to celebrate at a moment's notice, I personally believe, for anything. But I liked the idea that you would use the champagne to call your shot, like Babe Ruth. You would set a goal for yourself, or a big dream that you have, and you would write it on a tag that said whatever your hope was.
For the longest time, back when we first started, I had 100,000 fans on Facebook, was a bottle of champagne that we kept in the fridge here at the office for years before we finally hit that number. When we did, we celebrated like, I don't even know, rock stars, because we had all been looking at that champagne. Every time we saw it, it was a reminder of the thing that we had always wanted to achieve.
I have some champagne bottles at my house. I had one when I was training for the marathon for the first time, and when I finished, I wanted to have it to celebrate. I have books in there that I want to finish, but it's just this reminder of what I'm working towards.
Suzy Chase: According to you, the greatest idea you'll ever come up with in your adult life is, drum roll, a leftover chapter.
Rachel Hollis: The leftover chapter, I am so proud of this chapter, because I feel like ... First of all, my mom was and is the queen of ... When we were little, we didn't have much money. She had four kids to feed. We'd look in the fridge and go, "There's nothing to eat." My mom could somehow make an incredible dinner with mustard and a jar of pickles. This chapter's definitely in homage to her. She could do incredible things with leftovers, and I feel like this is something that generationally, we're losing. We're losing, I think, the ability to cook dinners for our family, but also to know what to do to drag those out and make sure that they can continue feeding us, that we don't just waste the leftover food.
There's a chapter in Upscale Downhome that is leftovers you can make, delicious leftovers, using other recipes from the book. Let's say you make the balsamic pot roast on Sunday, here are the pot roast hand pies you can turn that into on Tuesday. Or maybe you made the tamale pie in the middle of the week, and then this weekend, you're going to turn that into fried burritos. I think the key with all of these leftovers is that you are changing the flavor palette enough, so it doesn't feel like you're just reheating the food.
I am super excited to say that there is another cookbook. We just found out last week that we're doing another one, and that one also has a leftover chapter-
Suzy Chase: Great.
Rachel Hollis: Because that's a different chapter. I might start putting it in fictions books, just because.
Suzy Chase: You'll have to have the leftover chapter in every book you do.
Rachel Hollis: Yes, every book, from now on.
Suzy Chase: The other night, I made your recipe for chicken and dumplings on page 98.
Rachel Hollis: Awesome.
Suzy Chase: This was so easy. What's better than a crock pot dish?
Rachel Hollis: I don't know. If there is something, I'm not sure what it is. I haven't discovered it yet.
Suzy Chase: It's the perfect mom thing.
Rachel Hollis: Totally.
Suzy Chase: The thyme in this dish gave it a different flavor.
Rachel Hollis: Absolutely. I think that's what you'll find, if you look through the book. If you grew up like I did, for sure, you're going to see recipes that you recognize. Maybe there's a handful of stuff, where you're like, "Spicy corn dip, what's going on there?" But for the most part, these are recipes that you probably are familiar with or have grown up with, but I'm just going to spin them a little bit.
Maybe we're going to add a fresh herb, like thyme. Or maybe we're going to wrap it in bacon. Or maybe just the way that we're presenting it, using parfait glasses, versus a big bowl. Maybe it's just the presentation, but there's a subtle spin on this thing that you grew up loving.
Suzy Chase: This was your mom's recipe?
Rachel Hollis: Yes, yeah, the chicken and dumplings is my mom's. We had it my whole life, but every time, something like if I'm sick, when I had my kids and came home from the hospital, this was the heart-warming thing that she would always make for me. It's comforting. Now that you've had it, you understand. It's like let's have this soup, but that also has giant dough balls in it.
Suzy Chase: The only thing was, my dough balls sank to the bottom.
Rachel Hollis: That's interesting.
Suzy Chase: I think I made them too big.
Rachel Hollis: Yeah, maybe you-
Suzy Chase: Yeah, I did use Bisquick.
Rachel Hollis: Yeah, maybe too big, because if they are [inaudible 00:11:44], they'll float across the entire top of your pot, like, don't get the soup unless you get us first. Maybe next time, try and do half the size.
Suzy Chase: I posted it on Instagram.
Rachel Hollis: Oooohh I'll go spy.
Suzy Chase: What's up next for you, and where can we find you on the web?
Rachel Hollis: On social, I'm Ms. Rachel Hollis, and that's Rachel Hollis everywhere you would want to be. And what's next for me, gosh, so many things are coming down the road in '17. Definitely some more books are on the way. Like I said, we found out we got the offer for the next cookbook, which is so flattering, thank goodness this one sold well enough. That one actually will come out in spring of '18, which means that I will spend a lot of this year writing that, taking the photos, doing design, all that jazz, and some other books that I have that are due, as well. I am on Home & Family, on Hallmark Channel, a few days a week, if you ever want to see me on TV. You can find me on social media 24 hours a day.
Suzy Chase: This is the kind of food we all like to eat, served up with a chic twist. Thank you so much, Rachel, for coming on Cookery By the Book Podcast.
Rachel Hollis: Thank you so much for having me.