Melanie Bauer still seems humbly in shock at the attention she's garnering from behind the computer screen in her Shaker Heights home. Since creating her blog, Melanie Makes (melaniemakes.com), Bauer has racked up praise from the likes of Better Homes and Gardens and her original recipes have appeared everywhere from Cosmopolitan to Huffington Post to Buzzfeed. Her site welcomes approximately 1,000 visitors per day.
"Buzzfeed is still an enigma; no one knows how you end up on there," she laughs. Her 15-minute rosemary, citrus, and shrimp tacos might have a thing or two to do with it.
Five years ago, while living in Wisconsin, Bauer began documenting the sort of domestic adventures in cooking and home renovations that are par for the course of family bloggers. But it was the recipes, especially her weekly meal plans, that really took off.
Recipe scribes are in no short supply, but Bauer's goal was to be "interesting yet attainable" when spicing up ordinary dishes like grilled cheese sandwiches with cranberries and the flavor of citrus chardonnay. In June 2013, just before moving to Cleveland, she began boosting the output of her creative comfort food.
Within a month in the city, she landed on the radar of Robert Rothschild Farms, which offered to send her products monthly. This holiday, she spun their dark chocolate peppermint sauce into an Oreo no-bake cheesecake and their cherry pomegranate preserves into a chocolate eggnog dessert. It was the first of many opportunities to introduce local food to her growing national audience.
Putting her own twist on products that have been handed to her is one way Bauer finds ingenuity in restraints.
"Rothschild really lit the fire under me to be a bit more intentional about what I was doing," she recounts. "It's so fun to think when I get a product, 'what can I make that's a little out of the ordinary that someone might not think of?'"
She's since had the opportunity to work with the Ohio Poultry Association, crafting eggy dishes on their behalf like a banana-chocolate chip fluffernutter French toast casserole. Last April, the partnership immersed her in the farm-to-table chef's seat when she was invited to Weaver Brothers egg farm.
"It was an amazing experience to see where the chickens laid the eggs and where food comes from," Bauer says of touring Weaver.
Her collaborative reach has stayed as near to home as the Midwest American Dairy Association and as far afield as touring Campbell's processing plant in California. But for one of her most beloved fusions, she moved to the right place.
"I really love cooking with beer and wine," she smiles, citing ginger cookie sandwiches filled with butter cream made with Great Lakes Brewing Company's Christmas Ale and meatballs skewered with moscato wine among her favorites.
No matter the ingredient, it all starts in the pantry. And as you can imagine, a shopping trip with a food blogger diverts from the traditional path. The method to her madness involves multiple grocery lists using the Cozi app, a color-coded calendar that can be accessed by multiple users through a joint account.
While technology might play an ever-present role in her blogger lifestyle, when it comes to stocking up, Bauer falls back on the basics.
"I swear I buy a bag of flour and a bag of sugar for baking whether I know I need it or not," she says. "It's a sense of relief to know I can make anything I want because I have the essential staples."
By the time shopping trips are complete, inspiration hits, recipes are tested, photos are shot, and blog posts are written, Bauer jokes she's often down to wire with deadlines. But after new concoctions are sent out into the world, what happens to the recipes next is completely out of her hands.
"You cannot predict it. It's part of the fun."