PGN: So you’re from the ’hood?
JS: I am, I grew up in South Philly. My sister April and I joke that we saw everything before we were 12 years old, so it takes a lot to shock me. We were one of the last holdouts on the block as it deteriorated. I used to run home from school because I was afraid of the shady characters that moved into our area — which was not an unreasonable fear, especially after our crossing guard got shot. I have a sister who’s 13 years younger than me. Surprise! They thought she was the flu. When my parents found out they were going to have another child, they decided to move to give her the childhood that April and I didn’t have ... one free from fear. They got a house in the suburbs with a pool and yard. [Laughs.] Rachel’s so different than us, she’s calm and serene and we’re both always stressed out.
PGN: Other than stressed, how did growing up affect you?
JS: There was so much violence around us that I always tried to focus on the positive. I always find the joke in every situation. I used to put on little shows and dance and sing to cheer everyone up because what was happening just outside of our house was so scary. Then when I was 13 we moved to Jersey, so I started high school with zero friends. It was rough, being 13 years old and gay in a new school.
PGN: Were you out in school?
JS: Not officially, but it was pretty hard to miss it.
PGN: What did you like to do for fun?
JS: I was obsessed with anything having to do with singing and dancing. In Philadelphia, the school didn’t have any funds for extracurricular stuff so we didn’t have any athletic programs. None in the whole school ... zero. And forget any arts programs. So, my sister April and I would memorize dance routines from TV and perform them for my grandmom. At first, I thought she’d give us a hard time, but she would tap along and snap her fingers and say, “You need to be louder!” Being gay in my family was always something that was accepted. They were like, “You too? Fine, we don’t care.” They let me be myself, which was a great gift from them.
PGN: You said, “You too.” That implies there were others ...
JS: Yeah, I have a couple of gay family members. My aunt, my cousin [laughs] and a couple of questionables. I have one eyebrow raised at a few of them like, “Really? You’re not gay or lesbian? Come on, we all know, give it up already.”
PGN: Any formal activities at school?
JS: Not anything formal, but I had a pop group in my mind. It was called Invisible X and it was my two cousins, my sister and me. We’d make posters and practice choreography and put on shows for everyone. When we moved to Jersey, I studied my brain out and focused on academics and got involved in student council.
PGN: Favorite teacher?
JS: Mrs. Conn, my kindergarten teacher. I’ll never forget my first day at school. My dad walked me to school and held my hand. He told me, “As soon as you feel comfortable, wink at me.” I sat down on the carpet as Mrs. Conn was reading a story. She was so warm and nice that I looked up and winked at my dad. He looked up and thought, He doesn’t need me anymore, and started crying. My parents still stay in touch with Mrs. Conn, she’s become a family friend. She’s the greatest. She looks just like Barbra Streisand.
PGN: And what did your dad and mom do?
JS: My mom ran a daycare. She loves kids, and it was a way that she could stay home with us. My dad is an electrician supervisor or chief, something manly like that. A blue-collar manly job.
PGN: The manly electrician who’s not afraid to cry?
JS: Yes, my parents are great. I call them the original fag hags. They have gay friends and have always been really cool.
PGN: Did you go to college?
JS: Yes, I went to Temple for communications, but at 22, I decided I wanted a job and went to an agency and ended up seven years later working in finance. It was complete happiness. Though I was like, Whoa, how did this happen?
PGN: Are you still doing that?
JS: No, I loved it but wanted a break to explore other things. So now I write my blog and also wait tables while I figure out my next step.
PGN: Any thought of what you might be when you grow up?
JS: [Laughs] I’d love to expand my blog, “Josh Can’t Cook.” Not sure how yet, but I just know how much I love writing and entertaining people and anything having to do with food. I also have a Web series.
PGN: So can Josh really cook?
JS: No, I cannot cook. Growing up with an Italian mom, she had strong thoughts about men in the kitchen. Her motto was, “The only thing a man is in the kitchen, is in the way.” So I went to college not having ever used even a toaster. I’m starting to learn a little through the blog, but I’m still not good at it. I think that part of my brain is missing.
PGN: I never learned to cook either, but I think it was the baby feminist in me not wanting to learn “girl stuff.”
JS: And I was always trying to get in the kitchen to learn because I knew I didn’t want to have to have a wife some day. But they always shooed me away.
PGN: You have some great recipes on your website, which is probably what throws people off, thinking that you cook.
JS: Yes, people send me recipes all the time and I post them. I’ll also try to make them but it’s usually with disastrous results. I have a passion for restaurants and food and cooking; I just am not skilled. But people seem to enjoy my exploits and the things I post.
PGN: How and when did you get started?
JS: Two years ago I was swimming in my parents’ pool with my friend Jason and he said, “Wouldn’t it be funny if you wrote a blog about learning how to cook?” It was like a light bulb went off over my head. I was still working in finance then and didn’t have anything fun going on so I thought, Why not? I wrote the first installment and a few months later I got nominated for an award. Then I got nominated for another writing award. Now, two years later, I have readers from all across the world. It’s crazy; a few weeks ago I was in New York with my mom and a woman stopped me and said, “Hey, you’re Josh Can’t Cook!” When I hear from people who tell me they enjoy it or have used the recipes I post, it really inspires me to keep writing.
PGN: Yes, I just read that you came in second place for the phl17 Hot List Award.
JS: I’m the Susan Lucci of the blogging awards. I’ve been nominated for eight awards and I have not won one of them. I’m not bitter. It’s always some mom-centric website that beats me out and that’s OK.
PGN: Your blogs are really funny. I loved your advice about broccoli: “Chop off the stems because you’ll die if you eat them probably.” What’s your favorite thing to write about?
JS: Well, I love anything Philly-centric. I think we have an amazing food scene here. You can go to the Italian Market and get the best cheese you’ll ever have in your life or go to Mifflin Street and get the best coffee you’ll ever have. The city does a great job catering to the foodies of the world.
PGN: I understand that there’s something happening in the world right now that has you scared.
JS: Yes, the Aporkalypse! According to one of the industry trade groups, there’s going to be a worldwide shortage of pork and bacon next year. I like bacon on anything, so it hurt more than finding out there was no Santa to imagine a world without bacon.
PGN: And you’re obsessed with the Long Island Medium. Ever have any paranormal experiences?
JS: I’ve been to a couple of psychics and I’m going to see Jimmie Bay, the South Philly psychic. I’ve had two friends go to him and they said he was spot-on. I like knowing things. I’m one of those kids that shook their Christmas present because I wanted to know what was inside. I hate not knowing the future.
PGN: Tell me about some of your charity work.
JS: I’ve been lucky enough to have thousands of people follow my blog, and I wanted to do something positive with it. So this past summer I did an event for the Ali Forney Center in New York. It was called Josh’s Dinner Party. It was a great success, we had tons of gifts for raffle prizes that local people and businesses donated, blog readers from as far away as upstate New York came to support the cause and we had amazing entertainers who put on a great show. We raised more money than expected. It lit up my life and really changed the way I look at the world. People really do care. So much so, that we’re going to do another fundraiser Dec. 9, 8 p.m. It’s going to be called Josh’s Drag Ball. This time, all proceeds will go to The Attic Youth Center. I’ve rented out ICandy, and we have 15 drag performers who are participating. Satine Harlow is hosting it and Milan from “RuPaul’s Drag Race” will be there too. The Attic kids are also going to be doing a number in drag. It’s going to be great fun. Tickets are $25 and 100 percent of the profits go to The Attic.
PGN: So is Josh single or partnered?
JS: I’m very single. I like being single.
PGN: Me too.
JS: Yeah? I love it. If someone comes along, then great, but it’s not something I worry about.
PGN: Random questions. What was the worst smell you have ever smelled?
JS: Oh my God, the worst was actually a pizza I made. I was at my friend Jason’s house and I made this giant pear pizza with Gorgonzola cheese. It’s really strong and stinky and his poor house smelled like Satan’s basement. He couldn’t get rid of the smell for weeks. I wish I had scratch and sniff to show you how bad it was. We ended up ordering take-out that night.
PGN: Favorite fabric?
JS: I love this time of year when you can put on a great soft sweater. There’s something sexy about cashmere. Who needs a lover when you have cashmere?
PGN: What was the worst trouble you got into growing up?
JS: Oh, I had a club I called the Dingleberries, I thought the name was cute. Anyway, all my friends were black and one of my friend’s moms heard that I called him a dingleberry and thought it was some kind of racist thing. She confronted my mom about it, who assured her that it was just a friend thing, that it was the name of our group. Other than that misunderstanding, I never really got into trouble. I was a goody-two-shoes.
PGN: I wish everyone would ...
JS: Stop being lazy and get involved helping people. People will say they don’t have the time but you can always make time. You can do anything if you try hard enough.
PGN: If Josh could cook ... three people he’d like to make dinner for?
JS: Paula Deen — I have a little obsession with her; I love anyone who loves butter that much — Sarah Jessica Parker and Oprah. I’ll probably change my mind before we finish talking.
PGN: What is your favorite weird food combination?
JS: Oh my God, this is so embarrassing. People are going to think I’m a pig, but if you melt ice cream and put broken-up chips in it and then refreeze it, you have the greatest snack ever.
PGN: Ever run away from home?
JS: No, I ran to home. I love my family; each one is funnier than the next, so going home for the holidays is never a daunting experience like for some people. I, like, love it.
PGN: Favorite holiday?
JS: Halloween! This year I went as Liberace and I got to judge the contest at Stir. Another year I went as Frieda Kalho, unibrow and all. I always make my own costumes. I got that from my mother, who made everything for us. She’d say kids’ parents who bought them store-bought costumes didn’t care about them. She made me Oscar the Grouch, Hulk Hogan, you name it. I would have been a wrestler every year if they let me. I was obsessed with wrestling.
PGN: We must have been separated at birth: I’ve never had a store-bought costume either.
JS: Are you Italian?
PGN: No. [Laughs] Pretty much everything else but.
JS: That’s funny. Well, no one ever thinks I’m Italian. Especially with my last name, which means “beautiful wolf” in German, and my blue eyes.
PGN: A sentimental item you wouldn’t sell if someone offered you $1,000?
JS: Any boy that wants to be with me has to accept my pink blanket. My grandmom gave it to me as a kid. We’d lay under it and watch “Jeopardy” and “Wheel of Fortune” together. I still sleep with it to this day. My ex used to roll it up and put it in a closet. [Laughs] It was really comfy, so I don’t know what his problem was.
PGN: If you had to describe your personality as an animal, which one would it be?
JS: Probably a laughing hyena. I’m always laughing and trying to make people laugh. I’m a goof ball. I like to entertain people.
PGN: Well, I’ve seen you at karaoke and you bring the house down.
JS: Oh yes, Free your miiiiiiind! I love doing En Vogue and Aretha Franklin’s “Natural Woman.” Life is too short not to have fun.
To suggest a community
member for “Family Portrait,” write to firstname.lastname@example.org.