About Me

Why would a doctor start a food blog?

joanne stekler wearing a toque with a spoon in her mouth.

The Ugly Duckling Bakery isn’t a brick and mortar bakery. It’s a source of recipes to inspire your weeknight dinners, weekend baking, and cocktails using fresh, seasonal ingredients.

I’ve been baking for over 40 years, but it wasn’t until 2020, when I was stuck at home with my elementary school kiddo, that I began baking and cooking with purpose. I started the Ugly Duckling Bakery blog in 2021 to share recipes I make for my family, ranging from 30 minute weeknight meals to more complicated weekend cooking, baking projects made from scratch, and classic cocktail variations.

About me

I’m an older blogger and mom who’s pretty no-nonsense. I like 80’s music, word games and etymology, and Venn diagrams. No, I love Venn diagrams.

I try keep incredibly active despite my age and aging knees. I’ve done an Ironman triathlon, a few 50 kilometer trail races (including one at Burning Man), cross country ski all winter, and swim in the fast lane.

These are the things I believe:

  • Love is love. You’ll see all sorts of rainbows every Pride including my rainbow salad, rainbow sugar cookies, rainbow bread, or a looks fancier than it is rainbow fruit tart.
  • Harm reduction is better than pushing abstinence. This is true of everything from sex education to substance use to making cauliflower mac and cheese. I have spent the last decade trying to expand access to HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) to populations who have been disproportionately impacted by HIV infection. You can see me talk about my work as a doctor if you like.
  • Climate change is real, deforestation is a problem, and sometimes you should put other nuts in your pesto recipe instead of pine nuts.
  • Cultural appropriation in food blogging is a problem on the continuum that includes cultural appreciation. If I make something like ube crinkle cookies, I’ll link to other creators with the lived experience I don’t share.
  • I am not always, no never, perfect, and I am always learning and trying to be better and lift up others who don’t share my privilege.

About the Ugly Duckling Bakery blog

I was recently listening to a podcast about the loss of biodiversity in the foods we eat, and I realized that I identify with heirloom tomatoes. My goal isn’t to write recipes that are the equivalent of artificially ripened but tasteless tomatoes we get year-round. We’ll get along if you’d rather eat a tomato bursting with summertime flavor that’s misshapen and imperfect. This tiramisu cake doesn’t look like it came from a commercial bakery, but you won’t complain about how it tastes.

I don’t use mixes or other things easily made from scratch, but I also recognize that not everyone wants to make homemade puff pastry. Some times call for convenience, like a can of beans in a weeknight garbanzo bean soup. When you have more time, I’ll still encourage you to make those beans, hummus, or homemade barbecue sauce from scratch.

One of the things that I love about my day job as a public health-focused physician is that I get to teach and mentor future doctors and public health nerds. And that’s one thing I’m loving about being a doctor food blogger. My hope is to bring you some of the science and history, tips and tricks to understand how and why recipes work, and enough foundation so that you can start to create your own recipes. You can see an example in these posts about baking ratios and classic cocktail recipes.

My hope is to bring you some of the science and history, tips and tricks to understand how and why recipes work, and enough foundation so that you can start to create your own recipes.

This blog and my story have been featured in the Doc Working podcast and the Eat Blog Talk podcast, in the University of Washington Medicine Faculty spotlight, and the SoMeDocs online magazine. My recipes have appeared and been showcased on Foodgawker, Trivet recipes, msn.com, Kansas Living Magazine, and many others.

I try to post new recipes about once a week. And lots of things on the site are a work in progress, especially my food photography, so I’m always updating.

You can sign up for my newsletter using the form below. You’ll get a short digest once or twice weekly that’ll include some meal planning, ways to use seasonal produce, and other tips and tricks in the kitchen.

Ugly Duckling Bakery FAQs

What is your background?

I’m an infectious disease physician who specializes in HIV testing and pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). I have been cooking and baking all of my life, and I’ve always dreamed about culinary training. Over my 50 plus years, I’ve taken lots of cooking classes in Seattle, WA, where I’ve lived since 1997. And I love to do vacation cooking classes.

The photo above was taken during the Pie and Pastry Bootcamp at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park. I’ve also done a week of Northern Thai cooking in Chiang Mai during a year of around-the-world travel, a week with Estela at the Mexican Home Cooking school in Tlaxcala, a few days of one on one lessons with Diane Seed in Rome, and focaccia in Treviso.

I love wine tasting and cocktails and am always learning. We recently did a Prosecco wine tour in Northeast Italy, and I have a Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) Level 1 Certification in Spirits.

Does this blog provide medical or nutritional advice?

That’s a big no. This blog is for entertainment purposes only. Calories and other nutritional information are provided as estimates only and cannot be guaranteed 100% accurate. Please consult your health team for personal medical and nutritional advice.

What’s the story behind your name?

Whenever I was frustrated with work or worried about funding, I always said I’d open a bakery. One day I was driving in the car with Mr. Ugly Duckling Bakery, and we were brainstorming names for this theoretical bakery. We decided on the Ugly Duckling because things I make taste delicious but definitely look homemade.

What’s up with the duck jokes?

I started off sprinkling cooking tips throughout the blog and felt strange about calling them “pro tips” since I’m a doctor, not a culinary professional. So, as a lover of puns, I renamed them “Tips from the wise quacker.”

Who designed your logo?

It’s a Brit “Brick” Mendel design. You can reach them here on Instagram.

What recipe should I try?

You can’t go wrong with any of the recipes on My Favorites page. I’m especially proud of these BBQ chicken meatballs. Or click here to see a random recipe from the archives.

I’m looking for a recipe you don’t have. Will you make it for me?

Maybe! Send me an email or message me on Instagram and we can chat.

So, my dear reader, I hope you find something at the Ugly Duckling Bakery that makes your own life a little more delicious.

Are you an adventurous home cook looking for inspiration in your weeknight meals and weekend baking? Get inspiration here: