Jennifer Yu learned to bake for stress relief, first when she was in graduate school for geology at Cornell University, and then at Cal Tech. "I took cookies into work all the time," she remembers. "People would ask, 'How do you make your cookies?' I'd tell them, 'You use real butter.'"
But talk about stress - when Yu and her husband moved from sea level up to 8500 feet in the Colorado Rockies, suddenly all of her efforts fell flat. None of the tips she found for high-altitude baking helped, and she had to learn how to cook again through "a lot of trial and error," she reports. "But at least there's a lot less error these days."
You can read about many of those efforts on Yu's blog, www.userealbutter.com. Or you can hear about them from Yu in person: The former NASA programmer turned photographer and blogger will be one of the panelists on "Three Food Blogs, Three Cuisines, Infinite Inspiration," set for 7 p.m. Thursday, October 20, at the Denver Botanic Gardens. Yu was surprised when the DBG wanted her to speak. "I can get pretty bitchy on my blog at times," she confesses. "And in the past I've railed about the fact that there's not a lot of ethnic cuisine out there. So I asked, why don't we turn it into an ethnic thing?"
(Yu's not alone in thinking the area lacks ethnic options; last week Travel + Leisure ranked Denver 34th out of 35 metro areas for ethnic food - and that's according to local residents!)
And so the DBG panel also includes Diane Cu and Todd Porter, professional photographers/filmmakers/travelers/gardeners in Los Angeles and the authors of www.whiteonricecouple.com. Yu met them through food blogging, and "they are phenomenal people," she reports. "Diane was the one who really taught me about Vietnamese food." The other panelist is Manisha Pandit, the author of www.indianfoodrocks.com who lives in Louisville and "cooks the best Indian food...ever," Yu promises.
At a cooking demo that runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Friday, the bloggers will all teach "one or two recipes from each of our backgrounds," says Yu. "Fairly simply, fairly straightforward, just to get you familiar with Chinese, Indian and Vietnamese cooking."
But first, she has to finish putting her talk together. Yu taught in graduate school, so she's not worried about that....but there's that photograph of those unidentified yellow flowers. "I'm a nature photographer, and I want to include the slide, but what are they? I'm freaking out," she says. "These are plant people."
Plant people who are reaching out to the community with their programming these days. "We are not just a show garden," points out Will Jones, spokesman for the DBG. "We are a working garden." When Brian Vogt took over as CEO, he outlined four areas that the Gardens would focus on: diversity, relevance, sustainability and transportation. "Brian has been leading us using those four core values," Jones adds, "wanting the Gardens to be the most they can be for the community."
And that means cooking up this week's blogging panel and cooking demonstration. To reach the plant people at the Denver Botanic Gardens and sign up for the programs ($10 members/$20 non-members for the lecture; $50 members/$60 non for the demo), go to www.denverbotanicgardens.org. A version of this story originally appeared in Cafe Bites, our weekly e-mail newsletter; sign up for it here.