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Joanne Stekler, MD, a physician at the Madison Clinic at Harborview and professor of Medicine and Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the UW School of Medicine, is extraordinary in more than one way — she provides care and preventive services for patients living with and at risk for HIV and also runs a food blog, Ugly Duckling Bakery.

Read on to find out what inspired her to become an infectious disease specialist, what motivated her to start baking and what she’s cooking up this summer. 

What motivated you to work in infectious disease?

When I was a medical student at Duke in the early 1990s, I worked with one of the most caring infectious disease doctors I’ve ever met John Bartlett. I looked up to him not only because he was so smart, but also because he knew things like his patient’s favorite flavor of Ensure. It was strawberry. I love being an HIV doctor because it allows you to be a specialist and get to be part of your patients’ lives. 

How long have you been with UW Medicine?

I came to Seattle in 1997 for residency in Internal Medicine. I’ve been in the Division of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 2000. 

What does a typical day look like for you?

Right now, I wake up pretty early to do some work on my blog before I have to get my kid ready for camp. Then it’s meetings or writing papers all day long, except for a midday run or swim. The only clinical care I’m doing these days is providing HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) in the community clinic I started in 2013. We were the first in the country to provide PrEP via telemedicine way back in 2015. Then it’s pick up the kid, make dinner and get her to bed, and a few more hours of work or blogging. 

What has been the most rewarding part of specializing in infectious disease?

As a doctor whose career has focused on caring for people living with HIV, I’m lucky to have finished medical school in the mid-1990s, just as antiretroviral therapy was becoming available. I’ve been able to share in the lives of people who thought they’d never grow old. I’ve seen the medicines become so effective that helping people living with HIV get on treatment can prevent the transmission of HIV to anyone else. And these medicines are so safe that we now give them to HIV-negative people to prevent them from becoming infected in the first place. That’s what PrEP is. 

At what point did you decide you wanted to run a food blog while still practicing medicine?

I don’t know when it started, but for the last 20 years it’s been my joke fallback plan whenever I wasn’t certain about my grant funding. One of my colleagues has always said she would be a dog walker. I said I’d open a bakery. 

An image of brownies on a countertop

Cherry Bakewell Blondies from Ugly Duckling Bakery

Is there a story behind the name of your food blog, Ugly Duckling Bakery?

One day I was driving in the car with my husband Tom — Mr. Uglyducklingbakery— and we were brainstorming names for this theoretical bakery. We decided on the Ugly Duckling because the things I make taste delicious, but they definitely look homemade. When I started this blog, I wanted to use the name. Maybe there’s a brick-and-mortar bakery still in my future? I don’t know.

What has been the most rewarding part of being a food blogger?

When I started the Ugly Duckling Bakery food blog in January 2021, I didn’t know all the things I would need to learn. As a lifelong learner, I’ve had tons of fun learning food photography and how to write for Google. But probably most of all, blogging has made me become a better cook, baker and cocktail maker because I’m actively working to understand why recipes work or not. Before blogging, I was 99.9% tied to cookbooks. Now, anything goes. 

Finally, blogging has given me new ways to connect with people. I get to teach people things they may not know about cooking and baking. And, just like with medicine, I’ve been both mentor and mentee to other food bloggers. Who knows? There may be someone reading this who is now inspired to manifest their own bakery dreams!

Various ingredients shown on a countertop to make a pesto salad

Ingredients for Orzo Pesto Salad from Ugly Duckling Bakery

What is your favorite thing to eat right now?

Oh, that’s like choosing your favorite child. This time of year, I’m all about the cherries and peaches and basil for pesto. For the blog, I’ve been working on a Nutella banana bread and more meatball recipes like my braised BBQ meatballs, since meatballs are easy to put together for workday dinners. You’ll just have to follow along to see. 

BBQ chicken meatballs shown in a pan

Braised BBQ Chicken Meatballs from Ugly Duckling Bakery