Cara Greenstein celebrates intentional and exceptional cuisine in her award-winning food and lifestyle blog, Caramelized, which offers recipes and restaurant reviews, a food-focused travel journal and even entertaining tips. At the heart of it all is Cara’s promise to design and deliver “sweet touches to everyday experiences.” But Cara’s sweet touches are something other than sugar and syrup – they’re the touches of precise and artistic planning, they’re the touches that magnify a plate’s flavor. The sweet touches that Cara packs into her blog are those that make food taste abundant, purposeful and authentic. The Memphis born-and-bred Cara attended the University of Texas in Austin, and she returned to her hometown in 2014 with, she says, “a newfound sense of identity and intentionality.” Meet Cara, today’s fascinating FACE of Memphis!
Tell us about your family.
My father, Micah, is the senior rabbi of Temple Israel. His charisma and thought is invaluable to my family and the greater Memphis community. My mother, Sheril, is the creative genius behind her event planning company, Shindigs by Sheril. Both of their skillsets are immensely appreciated, especially when currently planning my March Memphis wedding to my sweet fiancé, Alex.
Describe your early career. Where did you work, and what were your jobs?
Upon working for a national lifestyle blog and tech startup in Austin, I knew that public relations would be the proper complement to my communications and food blogging background. I have now worked at DCA, a creative communications consulting firm in Memphis, for two years as their PR and Social Media Manager.
Tell us everything we should know about Caramelized.
Caramelized began about four years ago as a food blog platform and creative outlet with only two accountable ingredients: writing skills and a Kitchen Aid. Founded on the notion of “sweet touches to everyday experiences,” the play-on-word act of “caramelizing” has become a frame of day, if not always a frame of mind.
At age 21, I was named fifth top food blog by the Austin Chronicle; and soon after, I moved back to Memphis to begin my public relations career and refocus Caramelized. I grew the lifestyle brand to more than recipes and restaurant reviews, but also visual and written inspiration for the kitchen and home, as well as food-related travels. Caramelized was named the Best Blog by Commercial Appeal’s Memphis Most awards in 2015 and 2016.
Through my recipes and tablescapes on Caramelized and third-party publications, I always strive to create touch-points with my readers. I do not dictate a reader’s expectations, but rather help her answer the question, “What can I do on a Thursday night besides takeout?” or “How do I make my Saturday morning more fulfilling?” It’s a constant creative challenge that makes the late nights and early mornings worthwhile.
Your blog says you’ve loved being in the kitchen since you were 12 years old. How have your favorite foods, both to eat and to cook, changed throughout the years?
My palate has absolutely evolved since those pre-teen attempts with a food processor. I credit the evolution mostly to my travels during and after college. I am known for organizing vacations around food. The restaurant experiences inspire my kitchen, whether in the form of plate presentation styling or a new preparation of fish. I pay attention to #caramelizedtravels details and adapt them to my everyday cooking techniques.
Specifically related to favorite foods, my fondness for cheese and charcuterie has reached new heights since my summer abroad in Paris and more recent introductions to local butcher shops like Porcellino’s and Pigasus meats. I had never known the taste of prosciutto as a teen, and now I will never know a true gathering without it!
What kitchen-creation of your own are you most proud of and why? On the other hand – have you ever had a really wild food disaster while working in the kitchen?
I am most proud of an egg-yolk ricotta raviolo recipe my girlfriends and I mastered earlier in the year. I had seen an inspirational Instagram image and thought, “Why not serve for brunch?” We spent our morning in pajamas, carefully shaping and boiling the raviolis while I whipped up a tomato bacon chutney. Brunch had never felt so rewarding.
On the other hand, the broiler got the best of my last crostini recipe, with which I was too impatient to grill properly. One minute later, I discovered the dozen slices in flames. I blew out the fire, flipped over the crostini, topped each appropriately and photographed away. That can be our secret!
What are your hobbies, and how do you unwind?
Cooking and writing truly are my greatest hobbies and tools to unwind from non-stop work days. I find the routine of preparing, plating, photographing and writing recipes to be such a therapeutic practice. I especially love cooking for others; nothing beats a glass of wine over a slow-cooked supper for neighbors, family or just me and my fiancé, Alex.
Where’s the first place you take an out-of-towner when they come to visit you in Memphis?
Loflin Yard. Rarely do we find the ultimate culmination of quality food, thoughtful cocktails and a serene backyard environment, yet Loflin seems to define the harmony. The acre of live music, libations and lounging is also admittedly only a block away from my townhome, so the convenience attracts.
What’s your favorite Memphis attraction, and why?
The Levitt Shell. A free and well-appreciated venue that calls for community, the musical lawn fulfills my frequent summertime craving for a good ol’ gathering. I’ll never deny my love for an impromptu picnic basket with chilled wine and appetizers.
Finish this sentence: If I had a superpower, it would be____________.
… to be able to eat whatever I wish and stay a size 4, forever.
What one word describes you?
Driven. I vow to never stop learning, writing, trying and defying.
What inspires you?
Memphis. The city’s unmatched roots have yielded a grounded perspective in all we perform and accomplish. I’m lucky to witness and fuel the advancements daily, whether through DCA projects like Big River Crossing and Explore Bike Share, or through Caramelized conversations with chefs and diners.
What’s your best piece of advice for others?
Unplug from the wired world whenever you can — there is no substitute for face-to-face interaction. Flood your schedule with people, not with emails and text messages.
What are three lighthearted things you can’t live without, excluding faith, family and friends?
My early morning coffee routine, iPhone 6 camera and cowboy boots.
Thanks to Micki Martin for her fantastic photos of Cara!