Here's What I Ate Today. Does Anyone Care?

Jul 192009
 

Like you, I’m obsessed with food. My favorite kind of day is when I  meet a friend over a meal, we talk about food,  visit a cool food market or street, I cook something that tastes great, and maybe later, I read about food. But most of the time, my days are not that exciting. Does a normal day around food, in and of itself, constitute a good blog?

Usually, no. The topic is too broad. It’s based on chronology, as in “here’s what I did with food today.” It does not qualify as a theme or a focus. And that is why so many food blogs fail. I just don’t care enough about where you went for lunch, or what you made for dinner.

imagesI’ve been thinking about what makes me want to read a food blog. The first blogger I read with any regularity was Grist’s Tom Philpott, because  I enjoy and appreciate his well-researched take on food politics. (In this link he skewered the notion that eating farm-raised salmon in a chain restaurant is defensible just because it tastes good.)  He rarely writes about himself or his life, and I always learn something. He’s more like a traditional newspaper columnist, and maybe that’s why I started with him. I felt comfortable.

imagesNow, to contradict myself, I love checking in with David Lebovitz, who writes about his day. Yes, in the hands of a skilled writer and photographer, the most ordinary events can become worthwhile. First, there’s the anticipation of a gorgeous photo. Today’s post about sardine pate leads with, instead of an obvious photo of pate on a slice of baguette,  a more mysterious snap of a flipper sticking out of a stainless steel bowl in hues of cobalt. Next, he writes as though he’s my best friend: intimate, funny, charming and sweet. He covers food in Paris, a focus that’s more exotic than daily life in the US.  Lastly, I always learn something about cooking or baking techniques. So even though it’s a guilty pleasure, I get lots out of his posts.

Tell me if I’m off base here. Maybe you’re a food blogger who thinks it’s perfectly fine to have “food” as the focus of your blog. Or  if you  read general food blogs, which are the most worthwhile and why?

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  14 Responses to “Here's What I Ate Today. Does Anyone Care?”

  1. Love Lebovitz. I’ve never read a boring post. And the tail always gets me too.

  2. I think you’re right on here. I think the notion is some people are just trying too hard to be a ‘foodie’. As a chef, I decided for my blog I didn’t want to do just food, I do food all day as a job while most do it as a recreation and sustenance. I’ve incorporated the atmosphere of food into my website as most of my day is spent the same way.

    If I get to someplace I really enjoyed, I’ll let the reader know about it. Once in a while I’ll put a recipe up because I’m actually working on photographing what I’m cooking, but mostly my site is more about the stuff that comes up in conversations with other chefs, I think on some level that would appeal to a broader group of people.

    Enjoyed the post,

    C-
    @ccina

  3. I am not a food blogger myself, nor am I contemplating becoming one. I have decided that if I am to write about food, I shall get paid for doing so.

    I am thinking of developing a career as a food writer. Therefore I have bought your book, which I am currently reading. So far it has been truly excellent and helpful. Since I am from Norway, a country with a population of 4.8 million, it goes without saying that I will be facing a lot less competition than English speakers, of which there are hundreds of millions. In my opinion, Norway has only two very good food writers, the others being more average or mediocre, or even straight out bad. In the English speaking world on the other hand, there are hundreds of brilliant food writers! So I consider myself lucky in this respect. I don’t think I’d have the courage to try to do this if I was an English speaker.

    Back to food blogs: There is only one that I follow regularly, namely David Lebovitz’ one. There are four reasons why I love his blog and prefer it to all the other quality blogs out there.

    1) The recipes are usually very interesting, inventive and creative, without being silly. I don’t particularly want to read recipes for cupcakes, for boeuf bourguignon or steak with Béarnaise sauce. If I am to make dishes like the two latter, I’ll rather look them up in classic, well-established cookbooks. I’m also not keen on recipes of dishes that are of the kind that I throw together myself on a weekday, based on what’s in the fridge (e.g. pasta with vegetables plus possibly bacon, ham, etc, or ditto omelettes, quiches or salads).

    Also, besides being interesting, DL’s recipes have the added bonus of coming from a professional, and so the instructions are always excellent. They often include very useful tips, too. I have discovered many new things through his blog, as well as learned quite a bit about cooking. That’s part of why I keep coming back!

    2) The stories leading up to the recipes are always hilarious, and very well written. I like the blog format in that entries are less “polished” and “structured” than texts that have been through an editor. I think that this particularly suits DL – sometimes (for instance with this carnitas recipe) he just goes on and on, so that you get the impression that he is an old friend who is chatting and talking to you (as you also mentioned in your post). Such a text would never have been printed as it is in a magazine or newspaper, but it is just perfect as a blog entry.

    3) I like the person! I like his observations, his comments, his sense of humour, and his opinions about food and cooking. I have tried to follow some of the other blogs in DL’s league, but the people behind them just don’t interest me that much, even though all of them seem to be very nice. Perhaps this isn’t fair. It could be the case that I haven’t got to “know” them well enough yet, and that if I got dragged into their lives and their universes, I would find them to be interesting as well.

    4) The photos are gorgeous, scrumptious, just top-notch!

    I did previously also follow another blog (lastnightsdinner.net) because of all the gorgeous produce she gets all the time, something which makes me dead jealous. I also like her take on describing her cooking. She never writes down recipes, she just tells what she did and how she came to do it that way. She doesn’t write all that much anymore, but she still adds great photos to her blog.

    Sorry that this comment is rather long!

  4. I think it depends on what the blogger has to say. I want to read about cooking, not just eating, and I’m looking for ideas that might inspire me in the kitchen. On my blog, I try to do the same sorts of things I did for the newspaper when I worked in daily journalism. The difference is I put a little more of myself into it now but it’s not all about me.

    I agree that David Lebovitz’s blog is wonderful. He’s amusing and appealing, plus his recipes are great. Of course, he lives and cooks in Paris, which gives him a head start.

  5. I think I know what you are getting at, but I am not sure what you mean by “general food blog” as opposed to one with a theme or focus.
    For example, Deb at Smitten Kitchen talks a lot about herself and life (as does the tremendously popular Orangette) and what she makes for dinner on “ordinary days,” and her site is hugely successful. She basically weaves together this content, but rarely does so without including a full recipe (usually with a couple photos of the recipe in progress, and at least one shot of the finished dish). So she has a robust archive or recipes, but not a specific theme I can think of besides “home cooking”? (For instance, David Lebowitz specializes in sweets, but certainly posts plenty of unique savory recipes, like the pate and the panisses made with chickpea flour the other day. But I certainly go to him for ice cream or cookie recipes.) I also count Clotilde of Chocolate & Zucchini as a favorite “general’ food site, but perhaps I am not quite getting the distinction you are drawing.
    Dianne, maybe you could say a little bit more about what you mean by so many food blogs failing? Do you mean not being as popular (in terms of traffic, or notice taken by potential publishers) as their authors might hope? Or a failure to you as a reader (in terms of content, them and interest)?

    • Hi Rachel,

      Thanks for writing. What I was getting at is that it’s already challenging to make people interested in the topic of what you did today, because you’re not generating news in the traditional manner (ex. you robbed a bank or gave birth to octuplets). You’re cooking, baking, going to a restaurant, or relating the details of your life. That’s one challenge. The next is that writing about your ordinary day has to engage the reader in an extraordinary way. Not many writers know how to do that. It requires mastery of so many elements: voice, content, knowledge of subject, photography, etc. You’ve given some good examples of bloggers who succeed.

      Re failing, I meant that most food blogs fail to engage me (and others). I wasn’t talking about whether they are a commercial success.

  6. I am a cook from Colombia, I just got recently interested in food blogs and have checked many of them, I have been loving David Lebovitz blog because is funny, inteligent, nicely written and done with care and love, what He has to say about food is important and there is a lot to learn from him, like in that post where He open his Kitchen drawers I can not say how much I enjoy it. I do check other food blogs ocasionally because I like the writting but I have to say I do not lose my time paying too much attention to the recipes.

  7. Yes, David is great. Haven’t become familiar with Tom Philpott yet. As a new food blogger, my focus is on food, not something I threw together last night, of course, but something I view as standing out, the best of its kind, the perfect representation (though I don’t throw the word “perfect” around.) I don’t like the words “gourmet,” or “foodie.” I just want to share good food, really good food. I prepare food from the best ingredients I can find and put them together using all the know-how I have mustered to date. For example, I have a wonderful recipe for paella Valencia that is different from any I’ve seen elsewhere, including Valencia, Spain. One of the techniques is preparing the ingredients separately and composing the dish at the end. And there is a splash of Pernod–about to appear on http://www.sweetpaprika,wordpress.com. A garnish in the works is a quick, hot seasoned stirfry of chopped okra for those who think of okra as slimy. This is crispy and slightly charred. I like to introduce my recipes but I don’t want to become long-winded because I know that viewers scan quickly.

  8. I think the key to any blog is knowing why you exist. Dana McCauley [http://danamccauley.wordpress.com/] writes about food trends and I read her each morning for the latest in ingredients and techniques. I always learn something.

    5 Second Rule[http://www.5secondrule.typepad.com/] has great photos and mouth-watering recipes, but her hook is always so unique I can’t wait to read her lede. I always feel something.

    The blogs I don’t return to? Those without a voice.

    I agree with Tone Victoria about David Lebovitz. I strive to be like him — but in my own disaster-prone way.

  9. I´m a cook, just recently got interested in food blogs I am not from the USA. I am loving David Lebovitz’s blog. It is inteligent, interesting and funny, what he has to say about food is important. I can´t say enough how much I enjoyed that post when he opened his kitchen drawers for example, you could feel how much he cares and love cooking and food. I do check other blogs because I like the writing but I do not lose my time paying attention to the recipes.
    I just ordered your book, looking forward to reading it!

  10. Dianne, I had just written a post on the Christian Science Monitor about Lebovitz’s book vs. blog when I came across your piece! I had to quote you (http://tinyurl.com/m7lquf).

    I read through a lot of food blogs, and I’m also a fan of both Philpott and Lebovitz, less a fan of the general interest home cooking sites. I think what draws me is a voice, a personality, a story, and a discussion that informs me, entertains me, and/or makes me think. I always enjoyed Gluten-Free Girl’s blog, for instance, even though I don’t have celiac disease, because she is such a lovely storyteller, and writes so brilliantly about the experience of eating, period. It’s universal, not a niche. And, yet, I also quite like niche blogs that inform me about my own niche interests, like Marisa McClellan’s “Food In Jars” canning blog.

    • Whoa! Thank you, Rebekah, for the quote. Nice review of David’s book.
      You’re also the first commenter to mention Philpott. I think this crowd is more into hedonism and guilty pleasures — not that there’s anything wrong with that.
      Great points about what makes a good post.

  11. I also enjoy reading Tom’s blog; he’s definitely smart and seems well informed and I always find myself wanting to follow up or research more of what he has written about. I do actually question, to some degree, though his post on the Cheesecake factory, and not that I don’t agree with it being gross, but rather that it is singled out amidst thousands of restaurants that could be called out for similar practices.

    Do you eat Chinese, for example, or shrimp, or chicken, or fish in your favorite neighborhood joint? It’s likely they too are serving factory eggs and shrimp from Thailand. So seems to me the first blogger is commenting on taste, and Philpot is commenting on the evolution of food in our country and what is wrong with it. A worthy argument none the less, and perhaps that is why his blog is always so interesting! I would like him to comment more on Salmon as I’m super against it, but there are evidently sustainable salmon farms sprouting up, as there are also sustainable shrimp operations; we just don’t hear much about them.

    All that aside–David’s blog is always fun and he certainly knows how to draw in the crowds. I have never cooked from his blog, and sometimes (sorry), tire of all the ranting. I would say that there are many “general” blogs out there, or at least ones that started out that way, and it’s perhaps the fact that they have managed to draw an audience (whether it be because of voice, connections, good photography, interesting stories, good recipes, etc) that I think effectively makes them appealing to the masses. Take 101 cookbooks for example–though her blog started out as a documentation of cookbooks, she is basically writing about what she has eaten that day. She just happens to do it very well.

  12. Thanks, Dianne, for your response! That makes a lot of sense.
    Things that usually lose my interest:
    *Restaurant and Food Reviews that Go Nowhere.
    By “go nowhere” I mean posting a picture of what you ate in a restaurant, declaring it good, throwing in a couple adjectives, and stopping there. Unless you are seeking to be a restaurant reviewer, and writing sample columns or newsletters (in which case, I am only really interested if you go there multiple times like an actual critic would), why are you writing about this? How about posting it to a review site or message board where someone else can look at that amongst other comments/reviews of the same place? Why not just tweet it?
    What I do enjoy is when people are so inspired by a dish/product, that they seek to replicate it at home, or use a technique from that dish, and publish the recipe. Or include some useful resources related to the topic or experience. My point is that you need to go somewhere else with it.

    *If you are doing ordinary/general food, you need to document in a wonderful way.
    You can make something simple if you have beautiful photos and thoughtfully written head notes that sell the post. Smitten Kitchen has great process photos, some that might really help beginning cooks. Another blogger, Sassy Radish did something very creative recently to demonstrate what pie dough looks like when it’s ready to chill, to prevent overworking it, and took a photo of it pinched together, with the rest of the un-pinched dough in the background. I hadn’t seen that in a cookbook before, and while the “pinched together” instruction is always there, sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words. Online media allows you to show more visually, and blog authors should take full advantage.
    Even if someone with excellent writing will not keep me as a reader if their photos are terrible, because I just cannot stand to to look at the site. While no photos is bad if you are trying to convince someone to make your recipe, I would venture to say that no photos is better than terrible photos.
    ALL that said, I think photos can be overused and one of the excellent things about Smitten Kitchen is the photo collage of the process/intermediate steps of a dish – so not all the photos are large, but there is always at least one large one to draw the reader in.

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