After her husband’s tragic death, Karen kept his talent agency business going, but her heart was not in it. She followed her passion and launched a blog where she tests and recommends plant-based recipes.
Tell us a little about your background…
I was lucky enough to be able to spend time growing up on the West Coast, East Coast, and finally in the Midwest. My mother was born and raised in Los Angeles. Her mother, my grandmother was a good, basic cook. During the 1950s, when convenience foods were the rage, my grandmother always made fresh, homemade meals. She never used frozen, canned, or boxed foods. Grandma always served a balanced meal with fresh fruit or salad, protein, starch, and vegetable. I do remember that she used a lot of paprika, maybe as a result of her Russian heritage, and we teased her about that!
While growing up, my mother was always cooking, taking cooking classes, and being creative in the kitchen. I remember when we lived in Connecticut, my mother went into the city (Manhattan) to take Chinese cooking classes. She bought a wok and taught us how to use chopsticks. Another time, she bought a pasta maker and we made fresh pasta at home. I also remember working with filo dough between damp towels so the dough wouldn’t dry out.
I was always in the kitchen helping out. I can recall making homemade cheese sauce by making a roux with flour and butter then adding in the grated cheese. I also made Béarnaise sauce when I was a young teen. It wasn’t until later, when I was in my 20s and went to a pro chef training class, that I learned that I was making the basic “mother” sauces that are the cornerstones of French cooking.
We moved to Glencoe, Illinois, when I was a junior in high school. I was fortunate enough to attend New Trier West, a state-of-the-art public high school. There, I began to take photography courses. I was able to learn how to develop my own film and make prints, spending much of my spare time in the darkroom there.
I went on to the University of Illinois, where I became a liberal arts major. I was able to continue my study of photography and learned how to develop and print in color and use a large format camera.
After college graduation, I moved to New York City and spent two years working in the special events department at Seventeen Magazine. It was great to live in such an exciting city. There were so many food opportunities; I always loved going to all the gourmet markets.
I always wanted to work in the film business and I got that opportunity and moved to Los Angeles, where my grandmother still resided. After a few years, I switched careers and went to work for one of the best-known catering companies in Los Angeles, on events spanning the range—from small parties of four at exclusive homes in Malibu to large-scale film premieres for more than 1,000 people. I also completed a professional chef-training course at Epicurean School in West Hollywood, CA (it has since closed).
Eventually I became a freelance event planner. I did this for several years until I became pregnant with twins and decided to retire! I now live in Los Angeles with my son and daughter, 13 years old, as well as my fiancé.
When did you start to think about making a change?
Seven years ago, when I was 48, my husband Jon committed suicide. He suffered from severe anxiety and eventually, depression. In reality, he was one of the best below-the-line agents in his field. The film/TV industry was hit hard during the writer’s strike of 2008 and Jon’s clients were deeply impacted. He felt personally responsible for over 300 clients to get them work and ensure they were able to feed their families. Unfortunately, he was not able to separate himself from his work and never felt he was doing enough or helping enough people, which was so far from the truth. He was beloved and over 700 people came to his funeral service—a true measure of his success.
Jon left behind a talent agency that found jobs for technical talent who worked in film and television. The agency represented cinematographers, costume designers, set designers, and others who worked on the physical production of film and television.
I kept the business going for about five years, but it was difficult without Jon there as the clients and buyers were doing business with the agency because they wanted to interact with him. The agents and staff that remained did a great job keeping the company going, but eventually they wanted to move to a bigger company that could pay higher wages and offer more opportunities to their clients.
I was not planning on starting any type of business or career at that point. Both my kids and I had a really hard struggle emotionally dealing with Jon’s loss. I felt that my first priority was to heal myself and be there for the kids.
With the love and support of family, friends, and great therapists, we were able to overcome—and I have met a great man, now my fiancé, who has been with us for the past five years. I would tell others experiencing the death of a loved one that they should allow everyone to show up for them. Don’t send people away thinking you can do it all yourself. I also went to a grief support group at a facility in Los Angeles called Our House. They were immensely helpful in my healing process.
Two years ago, after things with Jon’s agency began to wind down, I was introduced to the Vitamix—a high-powered blender—by my Pilates teacher and dear friend. Another Pilates friend told me about Kimberly Snyder, a fabulous nutritionist, who had written a book, The Beauty Detox Solution: Eat Your Way to Radiant Skin, Renewed Energy and the Body You’ve Always Wanted, with great recipes. From there I joined Kimberly’s Facebook group, where people were posting all kinds of recipes from vegan/plant-based websites; I was eager to try them out.
Menopause was coming on with terrible side effects, especially hot flashes and sweats that I was determined to get rid of. I decided to try to cut out animal products as they were loaded with hormones, which I thought might be contributing to my symptoms.
I’m not sure if I was right—the hot flashes did decrease and I learned which foods and conditions triggered them—but experimenting in the kitchen reminded me of how much fun it was. It opened up a new world; I’d had such a limited repertoire of vegetable dishes before, and now the possibilities were endless. I kept discovering new sites with beautiful photos and started following about a dozen of them. The recipes were piling up! I kept the ones that I liked in a binder, which grew and grew into a 3-inch size binder. Every day, I printed out a few recipes to try and still couldn’t keep up with all of the ones that looked good to me.
For holiday presents two years ago, I decided to make vegan chocolates. They were so pretty and delicious. I used top-notch ingredients, all raw and organic. I decided that I would like to make and sell these and began the process of pricing out the ingredients, coming up with a name, etc. Through my research, I found that it was too expensive to purchase the ingredients at retail. The chocolates needed to be kept cold or even frozen and I needed to get my kitchen certified or rent another space to make the products. For these reasons, I scrapped that idea; it was too much effort for too little return.
I kept trying new vegan dishes and shared my creations with friends, neighbors, and Pilates workout buddies. Some asked for me to share the recipes. When I asked one of my friends if she made the dish from the recipe I shared, she said she did make it several times and even passed along the recipe to another friend. Here’s where I had my “aha” moment: What if I created a website where I posted my photos of the dishes I created, reviewed, and recommended, all from recipes I found on the Internet? I would, in essence, be putting my 3-inch binder on the web to share with others. The cost would be minimal (compared to the chocolate business), I could work from home, it would not cut into the time I needed to be a mom and be there for my kids.
What is your next act?
I launched Foolproof Kitchen, a recipe blog, in January 2016, at age 54. I test and recommend vegan/plant-based recipes I find on the Internet and have had good results with.
I find recipes from great foodie sites—I have listed my recommended sites on my blog. I also follow quite a few on Facebook. I make the recipe as written. I taste it, have my family taste it. I bring it to friends or have friends and neighbors come over to taste too.
If it doesn’t turn out well and it is something I want to like, I might change an ingredient and make it again, and if it turns out well, I’ll note my modifications when I post. If I don’t like the recipe, even with changes, I don’t write about it. I decided early on that I did not want to put out anything negative. There is so much trash talk and cruelty that can be conveyed in words over the Internet. I want to be positive, share things that are beautiful and that I love. I want my site to be uplifting and inspiring so there is no place for negativity there!
So far, my most popular recipes have been the mixed berry crisp and fresh beet detox smoothie. I’m still finding my way through to see what people respond to the most. I love that I can work from home. I love to be in the kitchen as much as possible. I love to take photos of beautiful things!
The other thing that I am doing is a plant-based cooking class called “Lunch Never Tasted So Good.” I have led four of these as school fundraisers and it was just terrific. My kids’ elementary school had a fundraiser project called Party Book where parents host parties and people can purchase a spot in the party of their choice. I decided to donate an interactive, plant-based cooking class that would end with the attendees eating the lunch that we made together. It was a great success.
I offered this class to a friend of mine as a fundraiser for her daughter’s school. I donate my time, the host pays for the food, and the guest fees are donated to the school. I put together a menu that is plant based or, for one friend, gluten free. I print out all the recipes and make a packet the guests can take home so they can cook these dishes for their families. One of the guests hired me to make gluten free desserts for a party she threw at her home. Most of the women had cooking experience but had never made cream sauce from cashews, or noodles from spiralized zucchini. Guests really loved the tastes and creating new dishes.
How hard was it to take the plunge?
Since I already had plenty of recipes tested and organized in a binder, that part was done. Next, I had to photograph everything I wanted to post. I decided that it was important for me to use my own, original photos to avoid any copyright issues. Plus I love taking the photos so that was fun for me.
The hardest part was diving into the world of cyberspace. I knew NOTHING about setting up a website, making posts, tying in social media, Instagram, etc.. Luckily, I have a niece, Alexandra Furie, who does website design so she set up the site and taught me how to post.
How supportive were your family and friends?
Everyone was very supportive. They really liked the dishes I was making. I didn’t divulge too much until the site was finished, but since I launched I have received great positive responses. Everyone has been gracious about sharing my info on their Facebook pages to help me get more exposure!
My kids do taste the foods, but being that they are 13 years old, they have limited palates and don’t want to try some of the vegetables I’m making. They eat whatever they want—I don’t impose my choice to cut out animal products on them—however I do insist on healthy and organic eating as much as possible. My fiancé is very discerning so if he likes something, that is a huge success!
What challenges did you encounter?
Before I found out that my niece was doing website design, I started on my own. I used a different service than her, found it too overwhelming, and impossible to do on my own.
The second biggest challenge occurred when I was about to launch the site. I wrote to each author/site whose recipe I was recommending, about 17 in all. I heard back from five; one of them gave me the news that recipes are copyrighted material and that I could not legally retype and post anyone else’s recipe on my site without permission. On her advice, I decided to revamp my entire format and provide links to the original recipes so I would be compliant with the law. I did consult a lawyer, and although I have heard conflicting information on Internet copyright laws, I decided to be respectful and conservative in my approach.
Were there times when you thought about giving up?
When copyright issues required me to revamp each and every blog entry—there were about 30 to revise at that point—I wondered if this was something I could do.
Then, when I launched and kept checking the “likes” and “follows,” I was discouraged.
There were two things that kept me going. One was the most fabulous woman I was working with as a social media consultant, Maleesa Xiong. She kept me grounded, encouraged me, and praised my work.
The second was reminding myself why I was doing this. It wasn’t for the following, likes, or popularity. It was to share great recipes that I discovered, cooked, and loved. The follows, likes, and audience will take time to develop and the site will find its way to the proper audience over time.
What did you learn about yourself through this process?
That it is a joy to share something you love. I have to set realistic expectations and not get caught up in the competition of being popular and just focus on the journey.
I also learned that I can be goal oriented but also relish the work along the path to that goal. I enjoy learning and mastering new things.
Looking back, is there anything you’d have done differently?
I wouldn’t have waited to hire a website designer. I would have consulted with a legal advisor before creating all of my posts. But, at the same time, everything unfolds for a reason and I was able to use these opportunities to create a site that I’m proud of.
What advice do you have for women seeking reinvention in midlife?
Go for it! If you have a passion, just let that motivate you to share that with the world. We are not done with our lives, creating or learning new things, so don’t let your age deter you. Don’t be afraid to try or learn new things. I didn’t know so many things and now I can create blog posts, create links, and so much more that would have seemed impossible to me before.
What advice do you have for those interested in launching a food blog?
Make sure you have the patience, time, and resources if you are starting something new. I learned so much about technology; people around me are amazed that I do all my own photography and all my own postings onto my site.
If you are overwhelmed or intimidated, get help. There are so many people out there who can guide you through, don’t hesitate to seek others. Don’t hesitate to mention what you are doing to family and friends. I found my website designer because I told my sister-in-law what I was doing and she suggested I contact her daughter, my niece. I found my social media/tech advisor because I told my sister I needed to hire someone and she insisted I meet Maleesa. I’m sure that there are some great supportive online sites/groups and I would encourage people to seek them out.
Study what others have done. Look at each page of their site. Really notice the format, what you like, and what you would change if it were your own site.
What resources do you recommend for new food bloggers?
I have listed my favorite chefs on my site under the Recommended Sites. My top picks are:
Angela Liddon of Oh She Glows
Megan Gilmore of Detoxinista
Dana Shultz of Minimalist Baker
Tess Masters of The Blender Girl
Molly Patrick of Clean Food, Dirty Girl
Dreena Burton of Plant-Powered Kitchen
Los Angeles has so many wonderful restaurants. Here are a few that inspire me: Crossroads, Veggie Grill, Scratch, Shojin, Sun Cafe
What’s next for you?
Next for me is growing Foolproof Kitchen, marketing it and really expanding its reach. I hope to monetize this business, but am waiting to build a following. Once I am able to realize some revenue, I plan on donating (not sure what percent yet) to food-related charities; my nephew has a rare digestive disorder—eosinophilic esophagitis—and I would like to donate to their fundraising organization, CURED Foundation.
I would also love to host more plant-based cooking classes and perhaps start a page on my blog where I have recipe packets so others can use the format and teach their own classes as fundraisers.
Contact Karen Furie at firstname.lastname@example.org