Christy Denney didn’t start cooking until her college years when she married a 6-foot-5, 255-pound future NFL player and realized he had an appetite.
At that point, there was nothing especially impressive about their diet or meal planning, and certainly nothing that foreshadowed Christy’s bright culinary future, said John Denney, who played collegiately at BYU before moving on to the Miami Dolphins.
They were poor college students who ate what they could afford.
“No, nobody’s a big cook in college. You’re scrounging,” John said. “Taco Bell, fast food, Top Ramen, frozen pizza.”
“I remember we made spaghetti for you, though,” Christy said. “And we bought so much meat that it blew my budget for the whole month.”
“That’s true,” John said with a smile. “We had made spaghetti before without meat. I didn’t think it was a meal. If a meal doesn’t have meat ... the inner caveman in me realizes something is missing.”
While pursuing a degree in computer science, Christy started experimenting with recipes and found she loved it.
About 20 years later, the Latter-day Saint wife and mother of five is known in the food blogging world as “The Girl Who Ate Everything,” with hundreds of thousands of followers across multiple social media platforms. Her work has been featured by a long list of national media organizations, cooking shows and websites. She published her first cookbook in 2014 and is coming out with a new book on Nov. 2 with the tasty title of “Scrumptious.”
“Thirteen years ago I started out by only sharing family recipes,” Christy said. “Over time and with a lot of mistakes, I learned to create my own recipes. Cooking is just practice and the more you do it the more you know what flavors complement each other and how to know when things are done by sight, touch and smell.”
With the upcoming release of her cookbook, Christy and John Denney sat down with the Deseret News in their Highland home on a rainy fall morning to discuss her journey into blogging and publishing, how she developed an online audience, fun family traditions involving food and the story behind “Scrumptious.”
A sister, a pie and happy memories
How Christy started her food blog is one of her most commonly asked questions.
After playing three seasons at BYU, John Denney signed as an undrafted free agent with the Miami Dolphins in 2005. The rookie won the starting long snapper job and managed to hold on to it for the next 14 seasons, which allowed the young Denney family to make a home in Florida.
In 2008, Christy’s sister died suddenly from a blood clot in her lungs. While her family grieved in Arizona, she was mourning thousands of miles away on the East Coast.
“I was in Florida, just feeling lost, and nothing really made me feel better,” she said. “So I made a cherry cheese pie that my sisters and I all used to make. At Thanksgiving, we would take this pie, go in a corner with forks and eat it. And so I made that pie and I felt this sense of comfort.”
Making the cherry cheese pie inspired Christy to want to start sharing recipes that families could associate with traditions and happy memories, hopefully finding similar comfort and peace in the process.
While brainstorming a name for her blog, she stumbled across a book called “The Man Who Ate Everything,” by Jeffrey Steingarten. She toyed with the idea of being the “woman” or “lady” who ate everything, but her husband said no.
“John said to just do ‘The Girl’ and the domain was available, so I said, “OK,’” said Christy, who added that the name fit her. “That’s how it started.”
How a food blogger finds an audience
After launching her blog in 2008, Christy had fun gathering and posting family recipes on her website. She viewed it as a hobby, even as she gradually gained a following by sharing her content on Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter and other forms of social media.
“She started to get a little traffic and I was like, ‘You stick some ads on there and you can make a couple bucks,’ but she wasn’t a huge fan of that idea at first,” John said. “All of the sudden it was more than a little hobby ... it turned into a business.”
A few years later, Christy began working as a recipe developer/writer for General Mills and food stylist for Betty Crocker. She turned down other opportunities, such as a show on the Food Network, because she didn’t want to neglect her family.
“I worked in the margins — when the kids were asleep,” she said. “All the food bloggers say if you work in the margins, you are going to have marginal success, but I knew I was in it for the long haul, for the marathon, not the sprint. For me, that’s what worked.”
Perhaps the best part was that Christy felt no pressure to be the family breadwinner.
“I had that freedom to experiment,” she said.
Four keys have helped Christy to develop her online audience, which now includes 1.4 million people across all platforms.
- “Be yourself,” she said.
- Be willing to go where the people are (across multiple social media platforms).
- Consistently post something new every day, even if it’s a simple recipe.
- Respond when a person sends you a message; don’t be afraid to interact with fans.
Food blogging experts say it’s taboo to mix religion or politics into your brand, but that hasn’t stopped Christy from occasionally sharing her faith as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“I’ve never listened to that rule because I have to live my life,” she said. “If I’m going to the temple or watching general conference, I’m going to post about that. Then I get questions. ... So I think just being authentic to yourself and your life, it’s naturally going to come through.”
Denney family food traditions
The Denney children essentially grew up in a football stadium as their father played for the Dolphins. Rain or shine, Christy says, the Denney family was there, and the kids often took naps during the fourth quarter.
“After the game, we always went home to eat a spread of our favorite game-day foods,” Christy wrote in “Scrumptious.” “To say that football has a special place in our hearts is an understatement. All my football memories are intertwined with the food we ate.”
Those football food traditions have continued. Christy dedicated a whole chapter of her book to finger foods, delicious dips and grab-and-go appetizers — no utensils required — for families in need of “game-day eats.”
“We are all about the dips,” she said. “I have an artichoke dip that is to die for.”
Like many families, the Denneys have nightly dinner and holiday food traditions. One weekly tradition started in 2014 with the release of “The Lego Movie” — “Taco Tuesday.”
“They do count on Taco Tuesday,” John said of their children. “If we don’t have tacos on Tuesday night, it throws the kids off. It’s actually the easiest night of the week.”
“(If we don’t have Taco Tuesday), it’s a mutiny,” Christy said.
Christy says John and the Denney children — Austin, Brock, Weston, Grace and Bailey — have “adventurous palates” and serve as her greatest taste testers. She will often experiment with different recipes while the children are at school. Whatever she creates becomes the after-school snack.
What are some of the Denney’s favorite treats?
For Christy, it’s a warm chocolate chip cookie.
“I am a cookie monster,” she said. “I’ll eat any cookie. ... Everyone has their vice. Mine is definitely cookies.”
John prefers desserts involving apples — crisp, pie, cobbler — although he’s mostly focused on following a low-carb keto diet.
“I’m the employee, she’s the boss,” he said. “I get ideas from her whatever she’s cooking. I’m thinking like, ‘How can I get rid of the processed carbohydrate and replace it with something else?’ It’s usually a few ingredients and you can tweak them. Some things are hard to do, so I piggyback off her and try to provide low-carb content.”
John was a big contributor to the low-carb chapter in “Scrumptious,” his wife said.
“It was all him,” Christy said. “Some of his recipes are the top recipes on my site. As soon as I post those they explode.”
Why Christy Denney wrote ‘Scrumptious’
Christy published her first book, “The Girl Who Are Everything: Easy Family Recipes from A Girl Who Has Tried Them All,” in 2014.
As she completed the book, John was in the middle of another NFL season and she had just delivered their fifth baby. All the children were younger than age 8. Christy made her husband promise her something.
“She’s like, ‘Don’t ever let me do that again,’” John said. “She liked the idea of doing a cookbook, but the timing and deadline were high stress.”
Compiling “Scrumptious” was a more pleasant experience. Life was more calm and Christy had the benefit of experience. She could also ask her audience what they wanted to see in a cookbook. She wanted to provide her fans with a helpful resource.
“Over the years I have found the pulse of my audience. I ask them all the time, ‘What are you guys looking for?’” she said. “It’s always, ‘I just need to get dinner on the table, something quick, easy and semi-healthy. ... With this book I felt I could just give them what they want.”
“Scrumptious” provides 101 recipes for quick-prep dinners, ideas for entertaining a crowd and food options for a variety of settings. The book also features her own photography.
“I feel like I covered it all,” she said with a smile.