I’m Claire Lower, Editor of Lifehacker Food, and This Is How I Work
Every week, we share shortcuts, workspaces, and productivity tips from our favorite experts. This week we take a look behind the scenes at Lifehacker. I’m Claire Lower, and that’s how I work.
Location: Portland, Oregon. Current job: Food editor for Lifehacker (I’m using Skillet). Current mobile device: iPhone 7 Current computer: MacBook Pro. One word that best describes how you work: anxious.
First of all, tell us a little about your past and how you got where you are now.
I had no experience in cooking or writing. I studied chemistry at the University of Florida and did an internship at Dupont where I worked on organic light-emitting diodes before moving full-time to the Honeywell lab, where the same spectrometer works all day. I did not like it.
I started blogging as a hobby and then coldly wrote on xoJane asking them if I could write about food because I love food. Most of their food-related content was about either diet or food-related mental health issues, so I asked if I could write about it in terms of “food is good!” Much to my surprise, they said yes. My first article was about peanut butter and pickled cucumber sandwiches.
I freelanced with them for several years, wrote for several other outlets here and there, then I started freelancing at Lifehacker, taking over Skillet. XoJane eventually ceased to exist, and luckily for me, the then editor-in-chief of Lifehacker ( Alan Henry ) was able to give me more work. I started working as a full-time writer in February 2017 and to be honest, this was my dream job.
Tell us about a recent work day.
My working days are actually very similar, but the main difference is what I cook. Last Monday (Aug 27) was quite fun because I got up and immediately cooked and ate (and photographed) the peach caprese salad which was delicious. I wrote this, posted it on the site and wrote my early article for Tuesday. Then I went to the store and bought the ingredients for the shrimp cocktail, made the shrimp cocktail, photographed the shrimp cocktail, and ate the shrimp cocktail . Then I washed the dishes I had prepared that day — and there were many — and wiped off the kitchen.
What apps, gadgets or tools, besides your phone, can’t you live without?
I couldn’t do my job without a camera ( Canon Rebel SL1 ), but most of the time I use kitchen gadgets – these are my two sous vide circulation pumps – I have one Joule and one Anova , my Instant Pot and my immersion blender .
I really don’t like apps very much. I use common social media crap like Twitter and Instagram, and I have casting apps for Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, and Spotify. I would like to recommend a cool app that revolutionized my workflow, but I don’t. I’m probably the least tech-savvy person at Lifehacker.
How is your workplace arranged?
I live in a studio, so my whole apartment sometimes feels like my office, which can create an interesting work-life balance. Fortunately, I really like my apartment; it has a lot of natural light, it is decorated to my taste, and there is my cat. I think my kitchen is set up like a regular kitchen. Immersion thermostats, Instant Pot and vacuum sealer are all in one corner. My kitchen table is now basically just a photo station – I eat most of my food at the coffee table. I also write most of my letter at the coffee table on an uncomfortable vintage couch.
What’s your best shortcut or life hack?
Always prepare your salad dressing in a glass jar. There are tons of expensive “emulsifier bottles” out there, but it’s much easier to just drop everything in the can, close the can, and shake the can to emulsify the dressing. If you’re not using all of the dressing, just close the can and refrigerate.
Tell us about an interesting, unusual, or challenging process you have at work.
If I’m at home, I need complete silence to write. I can edit photos and cook with music on, but it’s nearly impossible for me to write without noise. I used to be able to listen to this playlist , which is full of songs I’ve heard a million times, but now I can’t even do it.
The strange thing is that I can work in a bar without any problems , no matter what kind of music is playing. This may be because there is enough noise in a public place, and it all kind of merges into one big white noise. My brain is a mystery even to me.
Who are the people who help you achieve results, and how do you rely on them?
I work from home, but I rely heavily on all of my editors to get feedback on ideas. Virginia (our editor-in-chief) helps me with my scheduling, which is very helpful because planning ahead is not something I’m particularly good at. When I shoot a video, my video producer Joel is very good at keeping me focused and calm while complimenting me and helping me with the cooking and cleaning.
I also have a few bartender friends, especially Dan from Double Dragon, who help me a lot with 3 Ingredient Happy Hour with ideas and cocktail recipes. Sometimes Dan hands me a cocktail and then tosses a stand with a recipe in his beautiful handwriting.
Plus, my boyfriend and my friend Ryan come and eat most of the food I cook, which is healthier than it sounds. Working alone means that sometimes I’m the only one who can taste what I do, so it’s good when other people confirm that what I’m cooking is really delicious, and it’s not all in my head.
How do you keep track of what you need to do?
I write it down on paper. I have an Uncalendar planner that I like because it has a lot of fields and spaces to compose many lists, and nothing calms me down like a list. I also have a notepad on my clipboard, which I use to take notes during meetings, as well as when developing recipes. Then I have a smaller notebook for making my daily to-do lists.
I also slack myself with random article ideas when they come to my mind, as well as articles and recipes that interest me.
How to recharge or relax?
My boyfriend and I love to read in the park or by the river, but we also spend a lot of time in Powell’s and various comic shops looking for things to read in the park or by the river. We also watched a lot of murder documentaries and listened to The Last Podcast on the Left .
I take a lot of bath. I recently bought this awesome bathtub tray which had a very extra candlestick in it. If I have a night out on my own, I like to have one or two cocktails alone in a posh bar. There is something very reassuring about putting on a dress and some lipstick and only sitting at the bar with the bartender to chat with from time to time (they work, so this is just the right thing to talk about). I also took up embroidery and am currently working on a Daniel Johnston-themed towel .
What’s your favorite side project?
I have an abandoned book and I really need to come back to it again. Writing used to be a side project of mine, but now that it’s a full-time job, I don’t have it. Actually it suits me.
What are you reading now or what do you recommend?
I just finished reading Fascism, What It Is and How to Fight It and The Communist Manifesto (both very short), and I’m in the middle of The Satanic Bible , mainly because I was listening to The Last Podcast on the Left … and I want to get their satanic references. I’m still working on I’ll Sleep When I Die – I had to take a break because it was a bummer – and the second volume of Sex Criminals . The two most recent fiction books I’ve read and which I really enjoyed are Donna Tart ‘s The Secret Story and Love in Cholera .
In terms of food and cocktail-focused things, I am currently really at Robert Simonson’s 3-Ingredient Cocktails , Sasha Petraske at Relatively Cocktails and Stella Parks Bravetart . I would also recommend Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking to everyone – cookbooks are great, but once you understand the science behind cooking it will be much easier for you to come up with your own recipes.
Who else would you like to see to answer these questions?
Mick Jagger, Stephen Merritt and Noel Fielding
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
“2018 is for everyone,” with the year changing as needed. It took me a little longer than most to finish college, which made me panic a little and my dad said, “2010 is for everyone. Are you okay “. And I was fine. No timetable or five-year plan I set for myself has gone as planned – which I really love – and all you can do is react to the present.
What problem are you still trying to solve?
I would like to streamline the times when I work on my recipes a little. I always end up eating very heavy things for breakfast like a stew or steak (although today they were mushrooms), or snacking on some gravy when I’m too full for a real meal. This is not a real problem, it just makes it difficult to come up with a meal plan. I also hate my stupid tiny refrigerator. I cook a lot of casual food, and because of the small European-style refrigerator, I don’t see it most of the time. I would say my dumb refrigerator is my biggest problem. Everything else in my life is pretty enjoyable.