Jessenia Ziennker is a self-taught cook, baker, and photographer who will dazzle you with her Foodstagram (that’s a food-focused Instagram). Raised in New York as an only child by Cuban parents, Jessenia refuses to “regift” this gift of life by having children. Instead, her impact will be left in her future Jazz Kitchen cookbook and in the lessons she models. Because, as she’ll tell you, “you could learn something from literally anybody.”
In this interview with host Paulette Erato, Jessenia paints the story in her own words. Moved by her childhood dynamic featuring Mommy No Money, she instead leans into her mantra asking, “why am I struggling when there’s an easier way to do something?” Listen for more tidbits on creating a series of moments, and how important passion is as an ingredient to your art.
Follow Jessenia on Instagram @joxersinsta_jazzkitchen.
This post may contain affiliate links. For more information, please see my Disclosure Policy.*
In this episode
- 7:00 – Instagram highlight about parents or Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6
- 10:30 – Buffy Summers from Buffy The Vampire Slayer
- 10:27 – Episode 1: the thought model
- 16:36 – Episode 2: get to be bad at stuff first
- 16:46 – Episode 10: baking vs cooking
- 17:39 – Episode 4: baby steps
- 21:28 – Episode 6: lying to myself
- 25:35 – Episode 4 again: celebrating little victories
- 25:35 – Episode 12: recognizing progress/small improvements
[00:00] Paulette: Buen día y welcome to The Maker Muse Podcast, the place where childfree Spanglish speaking mujeres fuertes are inspired to find their confidence through creativity. I’m Paulette Erato the Maker Muse.
[00:14] Today I have Jessenia Ziennker on the podcast, a Cubana from New York who is a self-taught cook, baker, and photographer. And I gotta warn you. Today’s episode might sound a little rough. We had major tech difficulties like a storm knocking the internet out in New York during our call. So we tried a bunch of workarounds and finally, we just had to do zoom over the iPhone. So as you can imagine, it’s not gonna sound like we’re in a studio. Jessenia’s actually gonna make a reference to this later in the episode, as an example of how she handles stress.
[00:45] So we laughed a lot, but I tried to keep those portions to a minimum, cuz the subject matter is still, you know, serious. That doesn’t mean we couldn’t have fun. Oh. And a heads up. I didn’t know that Jessenia was like a super fan of the podcast before she came on, which is amazing. But she does make a lot of references to older podcast episodes and I’ll leave links in a list of all of them in the show notes.
[01:06] I guess I just wanted to give you a heads up that there might be some inside jokes that come out of it, that if you’ve listened to the podcast before you’ll probably get them too.
[01:13] Today, I’m here with Jessenia Ziennker. We are friends through a childfree foodies group on Facebook, which is one of my favorite places on the internet. Cuz all we do is talk food
[01:24] Jessenia: And that is the best part about my day is food. I’m not gonna lie.
[01:32] Paulette: You’re so well known for your Instagram, your foodstagram. I think we can call it, right?
[01:38] Jessenia: That’s actually what I always call it, my foodstagram, and then I feel the need to explain, cuz I’m like, well, what if they don’t know what a foodstagram is? It’s a food Instagram.
[01:47] Paulette: There we go. That was easy. So Jessenia, you are in public health, but you do the food photography as an outlet. Tell us your story. Tell us your background and tell us how, and if, being childfree has played any part in that.
[02:04] Jessenia: Absolutely being childfree has played a part. There isn’t a single moment in my life, I don’t think there is a single day that goes by that I don’t give thanks for being a childfree woman. And I know that that sounds a little extra, but it’s really not. Something happens every day that I’m like, gee, I’m so glad that I didn’t have to deal with this with a child or that I didn’t have to spend my money on a child.
[02:31] Instead of being able to spend my money on X, Y, or Z. Or my car just broke down and now I need an emergency maintenance and I can afford it because I’m not having to buy, you know, booties.
[02:43] Paulette: Or diapers.
[02:44] Jessenia: Yeah, I, I don’t think there’s a single day that goes by that I don’t give thanks for being childfree because what childfree means is exactly that: it is the freedom to live life without dependents, without any remorse for living that life.
[03:03] Everybody says that life is a gift. My opinion of that is having a child is like re-gifting your gift. I don’t wanna regift my gift. I wanna enjoy my gift. I, I wanna be able to get all the add-ons to my gift. You know, I wanna be able to explore my gift. I wanna be able to live this life. I told my dad the other day that you gave me this life. Now I’m just trying to do my damn to live it.
[03:32] Paulette: That is such an anomaly among our people. You’re Cuban. I’m Puerto Rican. We’re both from the Caribbean. Well, our culture is from the Caribbean. Right? How does that play out for you?
[03:43] Jessenia: My parents. I grew up in a dynamic where my father was the breadwinner. My mother was a stay at home mom for a good portion of my childhood. She got her first job after having me, I think when I was in middle school and she got a job at the middle school. So that just shows how sheltered of a life I grew up in. And I was an only child.
[04:06] Paulette: Oh, oh, this will be an interesting conversation. I wanna know how your parents feel about you being childfree.
[04:11] Jessenia: Yes, it it’s kind of a bittersweet thing. And by bittersweet, I mean, for them it’s entirely bitter
[04:18] Paulette: mm-hmm
[04:18] Jessenia: and for me, it’s really sweet. It’s something that every GRA, well, not every grandparent, they’re not grandparents. They’re never gonna be. Unfortunately for them. I’m sorry, mom and dad.
[04:28] Paulette: Are you sorry?
[04:30] Jessenia: I am sorry in the sense that they’re not going to be able to experience that part of life.
[04:38] Paulette: Okay.
[04:38] Jessenia: You know, it’s something that they’d looked forward to. It’s something that they wanted and it’s not something they’re gonna be able to do with me. And so for that, I apologize, but for nothing else. Because at the end of the day, if I were to have a baby. And it would really only just be for them and they’re gonna see the baby maybe like once a week.
[04:55] And then I have to deal with it the other six days outta the week, plus the other hours of that seventh day. So. It’s hard for them, but my dad is much more supportive about it. He’s really come to terms with it. He knows that I’m gonna do what I’m gonna do. And I am who I am. And I think in some ways he’s proud of me for having that independence.
[05:16] All he’s ever wanted was for me to live a life that was free of having to depend on anybody else. He didn’t want me to be the person who would depend on her husband for everything. Like I said before my grew up in a dynamic where my dad was the breadwinner and my mom was a stay at home mom and I have a funny anecdote.
[05:39] One time that I was out with my mom, I, I was young. I was maybe preschool age. And I think that this happened at preschool to be honest, because the teacher had asked me what my mom’s name is. And I came back with Mommy No Money, because that’s what my mom always told me. She said, no, no, I’m Mommy No Money. I don’t have any money.
[06:00] So she never was able to buy anything for me outside because she didn’t, she didn’t make her own money. We always had to ask my dad for the money. And the money always went to the bills for food, for my clothes, for my back to school for, um, basically all the child needs. And if they had eliminated that… say for you know, say I’m not here right now.
[06:23] Say I wasn’t born. Imagine the life my parents could have had. Bitch, that’s the life I have right now.
[06:30] Paulette: Honey I’m on your side.
[06:32] Jessenia: They could have had my life if they didn’t have me, but then I wouldn’t have my life. So there’s the existential crisis. I just solved it.
[06:42] Paulette: I mean, yes. And on, on one hand, we really appreciate these lives that we were given. On the other hand, if our parents had made the same decisions, they would be enjoying this kind of. But, but we’re not here to denigrate their choices they’ve led to ours. Right? So it is what it is.
[07:00] Let me jump in here real quick and talk about the parent slash childfree kid dynamic. If you’re a childfree person, who’s also found themselves in this situation, I have some good news for you. I’m gonna have an episode later this season on this very issue and some ideas on how to handle it. I’ve actually spoken to my own mom about it for advice. And in the meantime, I’ve also made a post on Instagram about it that I’ll link to you in the show notes. But what we have to remember is that even though we are bucking the trend and saying that the life script is bullshit, is that our parents never made the realization that there was a choice.
[07:33] They themselves may never even have been given a choice. And part of them digging in their heels and their potential disappointment in our choices is that they’re so deeply convinced of the idea that happiness is only possible by having children. And while that’s a limited worldview, you know it doesn’t have to be your reality.
[07:52] Changing gears in this next section, Jessenia’s gonna touch on imposter syndrome and some drastic life changes that she’s undergone. And you have to realize that we record these with our cameras on so I can see them talking. They can see me. I mean, you know how zoom works. But if you haven’t seen what Jessenia looks like, know that she’s a very tiny person. So what she reveals was shocking, you can hear the disbelief in my voice.
[08:17] Jessenia: When I was listening to your podcast about imposter syndrome, it wasn’t a podcast. It was actually just on the Instagram.
[08:25] Paulette: I do tend to go off on my stories and reels.
[08:28] Jessenia: So I keep up on those and watch them. And I’ve been rooting you’re deadlifting I, I have no idea how, how strong you were. That’s amazing.
[08:40] Paulette: I know it’s hard to see coming, right.
[08:43] Jessenia: I’m a tiny little weakening. My bird arms. You think that you’d be able to snap me in half. I’m actually starting a routine now going to the, well, I don’t wanna, I don’t wanna. I don’t wanna talk about things before they’re finished. I don’t know if you’ve heard that audio.
[09:00] Paulette: No, because I celebrate every damn step along the way. So if you’ve just made the decision to start going to the gym, I applaud that and I can’t wait to see your progress.
[09:09] Jessenia: Oh, thank you. I mean, Progress has already been made. We started to talk and connect when the pandemic hit. That was probably 2020 that I joined the group
[09:18] Paulette: mm-hmm .
[09:19] Jessenia: But two years prior to that, I had begun a weight loss journey. I actually used to be close to 270 pounds.
[09:27] Paulette: Are you kidding?
[09:29] Jessenia: Nope. At one point I was approaching 270. This was years ago after college. I, I had been in a relationship with a guy for about seven years and that didn’t work out. It wasn’t a good fit. He and I were not right for each other. It took years to figure it out too. It’s like after the seven years, once I had that moment of clarity and I got out of the situation, I said to myself, oye como mierde soy.
[09:56] Because like, it’s all of a sudden, your eyes brighten up and you see things clearly hindsight really is 2020. Like why did I waste my time with that motherfucker? But now I’m in such a better place. I’ve I’ve lost over a hundred pounds from 2018 to now, do need to hit the gym. I need to build up muscle now.
[10:19] I used to have, I used to have ass and titties and now I ain’t got none of those. Although I don’t miss I don’t miss the boobs at all. I don’t miss that back pain. I prefer to be a member of the itty bitty titty committee, but then I can go braless and not have to, I can, I can Buffy Summers that bitch all day. And I’m fine.
[10:43] Paulette: I love the way you put things.
[10:44] If you don’t know who Buffy Summers was, that’s okay. Just know that the nineties were a magical time and I’ll leave a link in the show notes and then maybe you’ll fall down the rabbit hole of nineties vampire lore. Anyway in this next section, Jessenia is gonna give her personal take on mental health and talk therapy.
[11:03] Please note that she’s adamant that this is how it works for her. So just keep that in mind, if you find yourself about to don your armchair psychologist hat.
[11:13] Jessenia: And so my mental health clearly goes from one side to the other and there’s no in between I’m maybe ADHD. I I’ve never been diagnosed. My approach to mental health.
[11:24] I’ve been to see a therapist in the past. Therapy, I believe it works for people. But. My opinion of it is that therapy is meant to teach you how to identify your emotions, how to identify the root causes of why you feel how you feel, and to develop coping mechanisms to combat those emotions and those things that you feel you can’t control, but you can control them.
[11:55] It’s, it’s a matter of, of changing how you react to things. And that’s what therapy really is meant to do. Therapy is meant to provide those tools so that you can fix yourself. A therapist doesn’t do it for you. You do it. With the proper guidance. And being a psych and social major really prepared me to doing all that shit for myself.
[12:21] So I am very self-aware in the sense that I know why I feel the way I feel. I’m able to analyze my emotions and thoughts and come up with a plan of action that brings me to the next step towards whether it be healing or whether it be just establishing new routines.
[12:43] Paulette: Yeah. I like your take.
[12:46] Jessenia: Thank you. Thanks. I, I, I don’t feel that I need to sit in therapy with somebody else to help me do all of these things. I do it for myself while I’m cooking or, or while I’m in the shower. I find that a shower, 99.9% of the time can make me feel better if I’m feeling like shit.
[13:08] Paulette: Yeah, it’s that change of state and change of environment that short circuits the brain. But also let’s not discount the fact that warm water is soothing.
[13:18] Jessenia: Mm-hmm.
[13:19] Paulette: And that isn’t to say a shower is going to solve your mental health problems, but it sure as hell feels nice.
[13:27] If that segment on showers sounded familiar it’s because it’s in reference to episode three, which is linked in the show notes. Like I mentioned at the top Jessenia’s gonna refer to a lot of different lessons she’s learned from past episodes. I’ll time stamp them in the show notes so you know which ones are which. She starts by describing the thought model that I introduced to you in the very first episode.
[13:48] Jessenia: It does. And it provides you the space and the time, because really what people need is the time to think about what’s going on. When you immediately react to something and not think about how you could make it better before you instantly become angry, you’re really hurting yourself by doing that. You take a step back and you analyze the situation, you think, oh, well, I could do it this way.
[14:17] I have a mantra that I, that I say all the time and it’s, why am I struggling when there’s an easier way to do something? I love my husband so much. He has helped me develop this strategy and it’s helped me so much, but I’ll be in the middle of doing something.
[14:33] I could use, uh, this morning as an example, although I did get big mad at this internet. But I did come up with several different alternatives. Okay. The internet wasn’t working. Let me restart the router. Let me see if that works. All right. It didn’t work. Let me pull out my other laptop. Okay. That didn’t work. Let me see if I can open up a hotspot. And then we created this other method and you and I are having a great conversation and I’ll make a great mood now.
[15:00] Paulette: You’re about to hear me say it, but repetition’s good for. Everyone is creative. Here’s Jessenia’s take on her own creativity and how she’s had to overcome her own fears around it.
[15:12] So on this podcast, we believe that everyone is creative. So tell us Jessenia, what are you making these days?
[15:19] Jessenia: I have a couple of different hobbies, and right now with the baking, which is what my foodstagram is really all about is the food.
[15:27] Paulette: By the way, we will link that in the show notes because it’s good stuff and it, I’m not gonna look at it right now because I’m hungry, but it’s really good stuff.
[15:35] Jessenia: I’m actually teaching myself how to bake bread, but thank you also, thank you for, for the promotion. It, it really does mean a lot. And even though I’m not professional, I’m not a blogger. I’m not a, you know…
[15:48] Paulette: I’m gonna stop you right there because you’ve listened to this podcast. You know, that all of the things you’ve just said are like unnecessary. You know you don’t need the tools, you know you don’t need to validate any of that. You are a food photographer. You’re working on your baking. You are an artist. End of story.
[16:08] Jessenia: You know, I love you for stopping me there. Cause I think I do discount myself a lot. I’m not a professional, but I am passionate. And I think that passion is about 50% of your art. If not more than 50% of your art. Because I mean, yes, you need, you need the tools and, and you need practice and you need time and you need, you need the mediums. You need, you need a lot of things to create art, but passion is one of the most important ingredients.
[16:36] Paulette: I, that was a really great way to put it. Hello, food person. It’s one of the main ingredients and you don’t get to be good at something without being bad at it first.
[16:46] Jessenia: No, it is so freaking true because, um, like you had mentioned in another podcast episode, it was, it was about being bad at baking, but being great at cooking.
[16:57] Because I will say I’m an excellent cook. I’ve never been classically trained, but I have been trained at home. I am self taught. I am YouTube taught, um, growing up with a Cuban mom. I mean, she taught me a lot of great Latin recipes, learning how to make rice and beans. I mean, that was a staple growing up, rice and beans.
[17:15] I learned a lot of things from my mom in terms of how it is to cook in the Cuban way. But then, you know, after I went to college, my first job in college was working in the dining hall. And I love that job. I learned how to do food prep. I learned a lot of basics that I, I, I never would be able to do some of the things that I do in the kitchen had I not learned those basics.
[17:39] And it’s exactly what you had said in your, what was it? The, the, the second episode, the baby steps. I don’t know if it was the second episode. But you were talking about baby steps and that’s exactly what I learned. I took baby steps to becoming the cook that I. Because in the future, my goals are to make this a career.
[17:59] This, the job that I have right now, it’s paying the bills. It’s a state job. So it’s got great benefits and I’m not leaving it anytime soon, but I can retire at 55. And at 55, I could do whatever the fuck I want. I could become a blogger. I could develop a cookbook over the next 10 years if I wanted to, which is actually what I’m doing little by little, it’s just writing down all of my recipes.
[18:22] Paulette: We heard it here first.
[18:25] Jessenia: I have this adorable little Google document that I have for my recipes that I call my Jazz Kitchen. I don’t have it, uh, trademarked yet, so please don’t steal it. But , every time I’m working on a recipe, I’ll just keep it open and be adjusting things. I’ll, I’ll write in parenthesis next to it that it’s in progress so that I know last time it got fucked up.
[18:45] But this is I’m gonna fix it next time. And I’ve just been, you know, working on them little by little like that. So I am a good cook. I know the basics of cooking I’m able to, without measuring I can eyeball stuff. And I’m actually, that’s a hidden talent that I have. I will 100% toot my own horn on that one. I can measure things without a measuring cup.
[19:05] Paulette: The same thing happened in our home growing up. My father just pulls ingredients together. And when I ask him for a recipe of whatever delicious thing he created that time, he’s like, I don’t know I did this and that. He’s like quantities unknown.
[19:18] Jessenia: Yep. That is literally me before my husband was urging me to write things down. He’s like, honey, this was so delicious. Write it down. I’m like, okay, fine. I’ll start writing it down. And that’s how I actually discovered that my measurements are pretty spot on. Cuz I’d be like, ah, I don’t know. That was about, I don’t know, a teaspoon and then I’ll measure out a teaspoon and be like, shit. That was how much I used.
[19:39] Now, going back to what we were originally stating of the difference between cooking and baking is in cooking, you, you can be imprecise . It’s okay. You can sprinkle a little bit here. Sprinkle a little bit. There. You want more garlic than what the recipe says. You measure that with your heart, but with baking. No, no, no, no. You can’t do that. Not with baking.
[19:59] Paulette: My husband’s much better at baking, but he’s an engineer. They like very precise things.
[20:05] Jessenia: My husband is also, he has a, an engineer brain. I am creative in the sense that I can plan it out and I can, for the most part, execute it. I can do the baking, but when it comes to say the photography, my husband helps me out tremendously because his engineering brain helps me to set up the camera, helps me to adjust the lighting.
[20:30] You should see the setups because if I ever take behind the scene pictures of how the rig looks, because I don’t have a professional kitchen, I don’t have a lot of space.
[20:44] Paulette: Oh honey. I feel you because, uh, you know, way back in the day I was a food blogger and I was a professional photographer and it still looked, you know, I’m sure it was very similar. The tools don’t matter. The end result matters. Ansel Adams was shooting photography that is world famous now with a lot less technological advancement than is in our iPhone. So the tools don’t matter. The artist matters.
[21:10] Jessenia: I think it was you actually, who asked me one day how I take my pictures and I’m just like, you wanna hear something funny? I use my phone.
[21:19] Paulette: It probably was me. Cause I’m as creatively inclined that I am, I’m also like, I like the technical stuff. Yeah. How do you recreate that?
[21:28] Jessenia: So my most recent project and something that I have been avoiding for a very long time, because I was lying to myself. The lies that I was telling myself were that I didn’t have the time for it or that it would be too hard or that I didn’t have the skill. I didn’t have the right tools.
[21:46] I, I would tell myself a bunch of lies and this was all about baking bread. I’d seen a bunch of YouTube videos. I’ve been doing research for months now on just the mechanics of bread, the chemistry behind it even. I, I watched the video this morning that taught me a lot of technical things.
[22:06] Like the Baker’s formula. There is a formula, a, a literal math formula, which is probably why I’ve been waiting so long to really dive into the baking because there is a lot of math and chemistry involved. That people don’t wanna talk about.
[22:21] Paulette: It’s not the sexy part.
[22:24] Jessenia: No, it’s, it’s really not. I mean, the, the beauty of a well baked bread, the crust, the way that it just… it’s art. A thousand percent it’s art. The finished product, it just the smell, the beauty of it, the sound that’s, what’s beautiful about cooking and baking.
[22:44] Paulette: Yeah. You get to use all your senses.
[22:46] Jessenia: Yes. Yes. You can feel the dough as you knead it. You smell it as it’s baking, you see the lovely golden color as it finishes its final bake. When you reach those final few minutes in the oven, you really start to see it get golden and just puffed up and beautiful. And Ugh,
[23:06] Paulette: You sound like you were about to have an orgasm.
[23:08] Jessenia: I mean, I do have foodgasms on occasion. Foodgasms are a thing.
[23:13] Foodgasms are a thing.
[23:15] Jessenia: Yeah, I, I will talk about food and legit sound like I am in a porn because I just love food. I do.
[23:23] Paulette: Food porn is my favorite kind of porn.
[23:26] Jessenia: It’s mine too. And I, I like to create food porn. I think that’s one of the biggest reasons why I got into baking because the pictures, the food photography of baked goods are just so evocative. I wanna be the person that can create that for somebody else. I wanna create that moment. I want somebody to look at my picture and say, damn, wanna eat that.
[23:51] Paulette: So now that we’ve covered just how creative you are with your porn and whatnot. Have you given a thought to legacy? Because one of the bingos we get is, well, you’re not having kids. What’s your legacy?
[24:05] Jessenia: I think that if I’m gonna have any type of a legacy, it’s really just gonna be the impact that I’ve made on others.
[24:13] Just because I’m not having children doesn’t mean that I can’t make a friend that’s younger than me and teach them the things that I want to put out in the world. I can take on a protege, you know, 10 years from now I’m gonna be so much better than I am right now. I know I’m only going to improve. So in a decade, Maybe I’ll have a, a 25 year old friend who just got her first apartment and doesn’t know how to cook anything and needs somebody to teach her.
[24:42] Guess what? I could be, that person I could deal with a 25 year old.
[24:47] Paulette: Jessenia, it sounds like you’re living your best life.
[24:51] Jessenia: Thank you. I really do feel that I am. I in the last five years I have made massive improvements to this life from just moving up in my career. My husband and I met, got engaged, got married. And now this year we’re in November, we’re gonna celebrate our third anniversary and in our house that we just bought last year.
[25:17] Paulette: Congratulations.
[25:18] Jessenia: And I think that that’s really all that life is, is creating a series of moments that are meaningful. You don’t have to have an overall life meaning. You just have to have moments that are meaningful.
[25:32] Paulette: I love that. Moments that are meaningful.
[25:35] Jessenia: I think that if you really take the time to analyze the small things like you’ve talked about in your podcast: celebrating your little victories, recognizing small improvements, recognizing that some people have positive advice to give to you.
[25:54] Or they could have the opposite. I mean, you could learn something from literally anybody, even if it’s how not to act.
[26:02] Paulette: Yeah. There’s a lot of examples of that in the media today, both in our culture and outside of our culture.
[26:09] Jessenia: Exactly. If you really open your eyes and you really look around, everybody has something to teach you. And so that’s really what keeping an open mind is. And that’s how you become more educated. Becoming educated doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to school. It means you have your eyes open and you’re thinking critically.
[26:28] Paulette: Yeah. School only lasts for so long, but life will keep teaching you lessons until you learn them.
[26:34] Jessenia: Mm-hmm , that’s how I feel about that.
[26:36] Paulette: Well, I want to thank you so much for your time today, for making me hungry, for sharing all of this wonderful stuff with us today. And you’ve listened to the show. You’ve made references to the show throughout this interview, which I did not ask for, but am very, very grateful for. So would you please do the honors?
[26:55] Jessenia: Absolutely. I’ve been waiting for this. I didn’t want it to be over, but that’s a burrito.
[27:01] Paulette: Wanna talk about this week’s episode? Feel free to DM me on Instagram. My info is always in the show notes and if you’re looking to be a guest in the future for The Maker Muse Podcast, check out the guest form on my website at the maker muse.co.
[27:14] Yes, the maker muse.co. It’s also linked in the show. And hey muchisimas gracias for listening to another episode of The Maker Muse Podcast. Are you subscribed? If not now would be a great time to do that. New episodes come out every Tuesday. I’m on Apple, on Spotify, wherever you listen. And then can I ask you a favor?
[27:36] Could you please tell all of your friends and family about it tus amigues, su familia? Because if you love it, they probably will too. And I’d really appreciate it. If you could great and review it wherever you’re listening right now. ¡Hasta la proxima!