Deliciously Entertaining: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at How Catalog Living Came to BeBrooke McLay
With the end of the year looming large, I sat down sometime in September to prepare the recipes and articles I’d be covering for the holiday season. Here on Babble we are constantly planning ahead, hoping to catch the food, party, and gift giving trends well in advance to ensure we’ve offered the best 2010 Holiday Guide you can find online.
So, there I was, being a good girl. Organizing, writing down, recording a slew of divine cooking plans when suddenly, I felt ridiculously tired. There was so much work to do, so many recipes to make, so many photo’s to take to prove how perfect my pumpkin pie tastes. All this and the holiday’s were still a month away.
I realized if I was feeling this way, you probably were too. Hectic, stressed, overwhelmed at the idea of meeting perfection. Tired toes. Tired hands. Dirty kitchen. If that was indeed the case, it seemed to me a holiday offering for our overworked souls was most definitely in order. Something that didn’t require me to make nine batches of cinnamon rolls in varying flavors. Something that didn’t make you feel as though your homemade treats could never live up to the food photos published with glossy perfection.
And so I contacted Molly Erdman, author of the wildly successful–and hysterically delectable–blog, Catalog Living. I wondered if she’d be willing to prepare a holiday foodie gift for her reader’s and ours. A high-end soiree as thrown by the her fictionally perfect catalog couple, Gary and Elaine. She agreed. I rejoiced. And thus was born “Season’s Eatings: Gary & Elaine’s Holiday Party Menu,“ an exclusive holiday treat for Babble readers and Catalog Living fans. A recipe for hilarity that requires no frosting, baking, or keeping up with the Jones-ing.
Tell us the story behind Catalog Living.
Late one night before going to bed I was leafing through a West Elm catalog and saw a picture of a plate of figs under a table. I imagined what scenario could possibly lead to such an odd set-up. I asked my boyfriend Joe if he thought it would be funny to put up pictures from catalogs and then write short captions for it. We’re both actors and comedians and many of our conversations start with “Would it be funny if…,” so he mumbled “Sure” or something like that and I decided to sleep on it. The next morning, lacking anything better to do, I started a new Tumblr blog, scanned three pictures from that West Elm catalog and wrote captions. I linked to it on facebook and twitter just hoping to amuse some of my friends.
Where did the idea for Gary & Elaine begin?
I didn’t initially set out to have set characters for the whole blog. I think I used Gary for the first post, and then Elaine at some point, and then I it occurred to me that it might add to the comedy of the whole thing if every single image was of this couple’s incredible, massive estate.
Why do you think CL has become such a success?
We’re constantly bombarded with catalogs and HGTV shows that make us feel like our homes are sub-par because we don’t have stacks of books on our radiators or a perfectly distressed nightstand with a decanter of water at the ready. Catalog Living points out how ridiculous, and often un-livable, those images are, but I think more importantly it’s done in a quick, inoffensive manner. It takes about 20 second to look at the daily post, and people feel safe passing it on to their kids or their grandmother.
What does preparing a CL post look like?
Once a week or so I’ll look for images. When new catalogs arrive in the mail I go through those and then try to find the same photos online since it’s easier and looks better to copy the images from the website than to scan them from the catalog, but I do that too if need be. At any given time I usually have 15-25 images at the ready, waiting for captions. Usually I try to churn out a week’s worth of captions at once so they’re ready to go and I’m not left scrambling late at night for an idea.
Your captions are so hysterical. How long does it take you to come up with each one?
It varies. Some come to me right away as soon as I see an image, but a lot of times I know there’s something there but I’m not sure what it is right away. I have a few pictures that have been sitting around for months because they’re bizarre and I know I need to use them (like the ever-popular “Unicorn in the Living Room” from Pier 1), but every time I try to tackle it I hate what I come up with. I try not to force anything, so if it’s not happening I move on.
How has your acting/drama/comedy training made Catalog Living a success?
Well, it’s probably been most helpful in that there’s no stability in my career choice so I’m constantly embarking on new projects, such as this one. But aside from that, I think I’ve learned a lot about efficiency of words, and I think the brevity of the posts is part of its success. I also think that as a creative person it’s important to say Yes to your own ideas and not second guess them, and if I’d gotten up that morning and said “Nah, why bother” to this idea then this interview would be a lot less interesting.
Three things no one knows about Catalog Living?
1. I read every comment that comes in. I don’t respond to them on the blog because I like keeping it to just posts, but I read and save all of them.
2. It took me roughly 5 hours to figure out how to put a Facebook link on the blog. Technical issues are not my strong suit. In fact, I once had to hang up on a support call because I was about to cry.
3. I’ve received fan mail from an HGTV host.
Gary & Elaine’s Top 3 Tips for Hosting Holiday Parties
1. Never be afraid to buy massive amounts holiday-specific decorations, even if you’re only going to have them out for one day. Consider it an investment in merriment.
2. Having monogrammed bathroom hand towels personalized for every guest at your holiday bash is a special way to show you care. After the party, stow them away for next year or find new acquaintances with the same initials if a friendship doesn’t last.
3. Think you have to put away your decorative Starfish just because it’s winter? Think again! A little silver glitter will turn it into a Star-of-Wonder-Fish! For Hannukah, consider creating a sixth leg out of papier-mache to create a Jewish Star-fish.
What other projects are you working on right now?
I’m doing quite a bit of writing these days and am currently in the midst of a sitcom pilot and a screenplay. I also still do improv shows here in LA, and of course, lots of auditions.
Are you a foodie? How does food work with you?
I’m uncomfortable with the term Foodie, but yes, yes I am. In fact, my boyfriend and I have a food-related blog at http://tableforyou.tumblr.com. We’re pretty sure we’re the poorest people who eat as well as we do. Dining is sort of like a mini-vacation for us and we take it pretty seriously. I’ve also been doing a lot more cooking in the past year, and it’s getting serious. Like I-just-bought-a-set-of-ramekins serious.
Your favorite holiday recipe?
I love making ice cream. Last Christmas I made a pretty incredible chocolate bread pudding served with your choice of egg nog or candy cane ice cream. Or my choice, which is both.
What else should our reader’s know about you or Catalog Living?
I just really appreciate all the positive feedback and I’m pretty thrilled that I can make people laugh with it. Thanks for reading!
Click HERE to see how Gary & Elaine are preparing for the holiday’s in “Season’s Eatings: Gary & Elaine’s Holiday Party Menu.”
Molly Erdman is an actor and writer based in Los Angeles. She is an alumna of The Second City in Chicago, where she wrote and performed in three original revues on the Mainstage. For four years, she was the frustrated “Wife in the Minivan” in commercials for Sonic Drive-In, and has appeared on According to Jim and in the movie The Goods. She has served as a contributing writer for The Rotten Tomatoes Show and Infomania on Current TV and currently can be seen improvising with Sweetness and The Armando Show at iO West in Hollywood.