Lady and Pups is not your typical food blog. It’s a rebel, an anarchist in a world dominated by even-toned, optimistic writing and light-drenched photography. The voice behind this self-professed “angry food blog” blog (and Instagram feed) is Mandy Lee, an expat living in Hong Kong.
The blog started as a place where Lee could vent her frustrations at a time when life was kicking her ass, and has since morphed into a renowned online destination for foodies of all ilks. Lee’s raw honesty, acerbic wit and lack of fear when it comes to sharing kitchen flops make her writing and her blog wholly human and completely relatable. Her scrumptious no-holds-barred recipes and seductively moody, mouthwatering photographs don’t hurt either…
We caught up with Mandy during a break from writing her upcoming book.
What is a typical day like for you?
Every morning I aim to wake up at the last possible minute still deemed socially acceptable, typically around noon, but it can depend based on my mental fragility that day. I then attempt to jumpstart my productivity with caffeine because I still believe in miracles, but usually that backfires resulting in two hours of hopeless scrolling on Instagram and Pinterest. I cuddle with my dogs, who love it but don't know it yet, and that takes time and devotion as well. So my "work day" really starts around three in the afternoon, whether that's testing recipes, making silly Instagram posts, writing, or simply sucking my thumb in the fetal position. Strangely enough, regardless of how early or late I start actually "working", my functionality lasts until l 7 pm and then shuts down , deciding that "Mandy needs a bubble bath". So that's what I do, spending the next 45 minutes grooming myself like monkeys do in their downtime. If my husband is not home by then, I assault him on all fronts simultaneously: with chain-emails, WhatsApp, WeChat and Instagram DM until he comes home. We then have dinner and I reject his proposal to walk the dogs together, instead opting to watch him play with them while I sip tea. Finally, we retreat to bed where he'll go to sleep around 1 am, while I cyber window-shop on my iPad until 3 am in the pitch blackness. I will go blind by the age of 50.
All this may sound like I'm joking but I'm so not.
How did things get started for you?
2012, two years after we moved to Beijing (and where we lived for the next 6 years). I started a food blog as an obituary for the official death of my career aspirations. I was 32 years old, jobless, and stuck in a place where I could only find violent disagreements with my own self, let alone the will to step a foot outside my front door. A food blog - at the time a concept that I found less legitimate than unemployment - seemed like a brutally public—and thus honest and cynically appropriate—way to go. But somehow, it took on a life of its own.
What has Instagram added to your process?
I have a love/hate relationship with Instagram. I think it's a mutually abusive yet exhilarating exchange, a sick argument that most young dumb lovers make to justify their poor dating decisions, and should be judged immediately as a sign of characteristic weakness. Yet, here I am. I think, from both a personal and business standpoint, it's important to remind and position Instagram as a vehicle that I drive, not the other way around. Different from a typically weekly or bi-weekly blog, it significantly helps and accelerates the process of fine-tuning a "style" or "brand". A process that could take years with a blog, can now happen in months. That can be a good thing, as long as I don't let it eat me alive.
You have lived in Taiwan, Vancouver, New York, Beijing, and now Hong Kong, how has that influenced your recipe development?
Where I am, or more often where I’ve travelled to, has a constant imprint on how I cook. It constantly reaffirms that I know nothing about food. New and unfathomable applications,tastes and textures, in sort of a relief, liberates any of my pre-existing rules, boundaries, or absolute definitions on how or what foods should be. As a result, I don't believe in authenticity anymore. Food is a timeline. And you can't stop time.
What is the one kitchen tool you simply cannot live without?
Biggest recipe flop?
I hate baking. Or baking hates me. Ask it, it knows what it has done.
If you were a food, what food would you be and why?
I want to be an undying sourdough starter. I'll live forever like a vampire.
What are your greatest sources of inspiration for your photography?
I used to say that my photos are minimalism with lots of insecurity, but with further investigation and self-reflection, I've come to the sense that it's more insecurity with a lot of laziness. Whatever saves me the trouble of gathering and returning a mind-load of props seems to be the way I operate nowadays. But the insecurity kicks in and I'll start bringing in completely unnecessary gimmicks here and there. It's a constant battle between the two life-driving forces.
A friend is visiting Hong Kong for just one day. Where do you take them to eat?
I'm really not an informed source for Hong Kong food scene to be honest. I don't really eat out that much in Hong Kong, and in my opinion, 90% of the time the cost does not justify the means (like it's good, but not $100 USD good). Which is why I would stick to a few classic, local staples that are representative and reasonably priced. I would go to Sister Wah Beef Brisket for Cantonese-style braised beef in clear but beefy broth, and Kam's Roast Goose for stand-alone roast goose (not over rice or noodles) and braised pig's blood.