Friday, 2 May 2008

Planet of the Blogs

My blog is one year old this week (If you haven't seen my green gourmet giraffe birthday cake, I recommend you check it out). It seems an appropriate time to reflect on blogging. I have learnt over this year that food blogging is a delicious dance of concealing and revealing, of sharing and daring, of detecting and connecting.  (NB if you are looking for resources, go to Blogging Resources)

When I started my blog, I wrote a post about why I wanted a food blog. My reasons for starting my blog were:

- To share recipes and ideas with a community of cooks
- For challenges and inspiration
- For the immediacy and organic development that the web offers
- A way to record and order my recipes
- To express myself
- To keep in touch with friends and family

I feel that all of my initial aims have been fulfilled and more. So now here is a little peek behind the scenes to see where I have been and how far I have come:

How I Became a Blog Monster:
Early last year I developed an interest in food blogs. I stumbled across blogs while searching the internet for creative and healthy recipes to inspire me to eat well. I had despaired of finding anything but the same old vegetarian recipes in cookbooks, tv food shows and magazines. Blogs gave me the innovative recipes I sought, plus comments and photos. I loved the glam blogs with all their gorgeous photos and slick production but I was really fascinated by the everyday blogs that were just people like me sharing what they were cooking. More and more, I began to think, I can do that.

Tentatively, I started planning my own blog. I tossed around names for a blog with E. I searched for green giraffe pictures (there are just not enough on the net and I finally had to make my own). My tendency is to lurk but I decided that, given time, I might feel comfortable enough to join in the commenting. Rather than my blog being totally unread for weeks or months as I had expected, I was surprised to receive a comment on my second post from Cindy. She warmly welcomed me and I have been embraced by friendly encouraging bloggers ever since.

When I was a student I loved cooking with others in a student household, sharing ideas and learning fro each other. But these days my friends and I have less time and energy to cook together, despite the best of intentions. My mum and I talk about cooking on the phone but often don’t share the food as we live too far apart. My partner E loves to share whatever I eat but he has no interest in cooking.

Blogging has re-injected me with the enthusiasm in cooking that I had as a student when I spent a lot of time discovering recipes and learning about cooking from friends. It has saved me from the pasta and stirfries rut. I now find myself digging out old recipes I haven’t made for years, trying recipes I have always wanted to and cooking things I would never have dreamt of. I gain great insight and inspiration from seeing how others approach their cooking. My pantry is bursting at the seams, my mind buzzes with ideas and I am a bolder, more knowledgeable cook.

Of course, I couldn’t do all this without demands on my time and energy. E now calls me the blog monster – especially late at night when I am at the keyboard instead of heading for bed. The benefits are that we eat well and I am always happy to bring some food to a dinner or gathering.

Blogging and the Post-Punk Spirit:
A discussion at the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival earlier this year sparked a conversation about blogging. Stephanie questioned the quality of blogs and how they will affect the mainstream media. Of course there was a stream of protest. Yes not every blogger is a journalist or academic with copious experience in writing. But there are so many thoughtful, beautifully photographed blogs out there with oodles of enticing recipes that I am eager to try if only I had the time.

Blogs seem to embrace a post-punk spirit such as the one that that led to spotty boys starting fanzines and setting up bands in their bedrooms. Many were dreadful to begin with. Some stuck at it and learnt a lot. My favourite band Pulp illustrates this. Jarvis Cocker has written brilliant songs that have encapsulated the spirit of a nation, and yet he probably wouldn’t have if he hadn’t been encouraged by John Peel and spent a lot of time playing in dives to a handful of people. (If you want to know more about the post punk music scene, you could check out Simon Reynold’s excellent book, Rip It Up.)

Likewise I believe that blogging is something we learn by doing. It is not something we go to university to study or are trained to do. I have seen many blogs improve in quality over the past year and I like to believe mine is one of these. But it is about creativity rather than fame or fortune. I don’t want to be a Nigella or a Nigel who will entertain many but connect with very few of these.

I love the interactive nature of blogs. Not just that I can share comments, but that we can track recipes developing across blogs and nations. I can find a recipe and, rather than just being given a list of ingredients and a method, I can read about other people’s experiences, successes and warnings. My blog, then, is a resource, a place to be inspired, a way to connect with other like-minded people and share my recipes and reflections.

Recipes:
Since I was a child I have been gathering an overwhelming collection of cookbooks, recipes from magazines, and, more recently recipes from the internet. I have copied out a lot by hand in a little notebook.

My blog is a way of recording and reflecting on recipes. I reproduce recipes here but I always rewrite the method to give it my personal touch (and to attempt to avoid breaking any copyright laws). I expect that readers have some experience in cooking, like myself, and are not complete novices like Heidi’s correspondent. I often tweak the ingredients list in a way that makes sense to me (especially to Australianise them). I acknowledge the source where possible but as I have been collecting recipes so long that I am sorry to say I haven’t always recorded the source.

In writing out recipes for my blog, I have seen – with some horror – how often I misread the ingredients. I have also been pleased to see how that I am not afraid to be creative and even blend recipes where it suits me.

Eating Out:
My blog is primarily a place for recipes I make but I also include some reflections on eating out and food shopping because my encounters with all-things-delicious is so much broader than my own little kitchen. I also like to think that my blog gives a little window into my life, my town, my culture and my history. Writing about eating out often gives me another opportunity to write about the sights and delights of Melbourne (and surrounds), to enthuse about favourite and fascinating foodie places, and to share another source of inspiration.

On the Stereo:
I have written on this elsewhere, but I like the challenge of trying to select different albums to listen to while I cook or eat. It means I don’t listen to the same old album over and over while all the other albums languish unloved, and I have an excuse to tell E to take an album off repeat! Unfortunately, it have given E a great excuse to buy even more new albums.

Photography:
Photos are important for getting a sense of a meal, for making a post pleasing to the eye, and for prompting my memory when I return to posts. E is now used to waiting for me to take a photo before I eat. But I am often too hungry to take too many photos. I also don’t have good light at my kitchen table (so I have to stick to my work area which is full of clutter). Hence, the many close-ups photos.

Since starting my blog I think I can say that my food photography has improved. Two discoveries - the button to turn off the flash and the close-up button on my camera (thanks Nicki G) - made a huge difference. Before beginning my blog, I found reading the section on photography in foodblogschool very helpful (see resources below). Hearing about others coming home in their lunch hour to photograph food in natural light made me realise that it is not so crazy to spend a few moments with the camera before sitting down to eat.

Comments:
Comments seem to be the glue that holds the food blog community together. I enjoy receiving the feedback for the encouragement, the advice, and a good laugh. I have also learnt to enjoy leaving comments where I find inspiration and delight on other blogs. I have learnt so much from all the comments, as well as got to know some wonderful people.

I wish I could spend more time visiting and commenting on other blogs. I struggle with the tyranny of choice. While I love the vegetarian, the local, the Scottish and the prolific, I find it is about so much more – some of my favourites are evocative, thoughtful, gregarious, enthusiastic, generous, informative, cheerful, historical, adventurous and healthy. I want to mention so many more but if you look at my right hand menu you will see a list of just some of the fantastic blogs which resonate with me and provide oodles of inspiration.

Navigation:
I always hoped that my blog would be a resource. As it has grown I have realised the need for some navigation aids, for myself and others. The most important of these is my Blog Index. As I gradually add old favourites as well as new ideas, I can now find recipes again easily, revisit the photos and notes, and share them with others. I still struggle with categories and will continue to develop the navigation. I have also managed some About Me posts and a Cookbook List.

Blog Events:
Blog events push the boundaries of what I might cook. They challenge, inspire and encourage. Where once I might have asked E what to cook for dinner and he would inevitably suggest pasta and pesto, now I might look at a blog event for ideas. Whether it is a spicy soup, healthy party ideas or vintage food, the challenge will get me thinking outside the square. Not only do I get great ideas but it does feel like a community of cooks when a round-up of all the dishes cooked for an event appear.

(NB: For the uninitated, blog events are where a blogger requests people make dishes according to a chosen theme by a specified date and send them the link to the post on this dish - after this date, the blogger will post a 'round-up' or list of links to all the dishes made.)

Highlights:
My first comment by Cindy, winning No Croutons Required, kind awards and kudos (thanks Susan, Lucy, Jenn, Holler, Mrs W and Pixie), hosting A Neb at Nut Roast event, and so many enthusiastic, heartwarming, helpful exchanges of comments.

Resources:
[Update August 2012: I have updated this list - for a more comprehensive and up to date list, go to Blogging Resources.]
When I started blogging I found it all a bit of a mystery and so I am sharing some of the resources I have found useful. Many thanks to all those who have helped me find my way. Any other suggestions will be welcome. (I try to update these occasionally)
- Food Blog S’cool – discussion about blogging issues (update - now inactive but this will link you to other similar resources)
- Foodie Blog Roll – listing of over 1000 other food blogs
- Kristen’s, Gena's and Sarah’s advice for new bloggers
- Is My Blog Burning and Sticky Date and Food Blog Diary for events listings (also see blog events listed on my blogroll)
- Technorati – the best place I have found to keep track to links to my blog by others - update - I don't use this anymore - I have used google alerts and trackbacks at the bottom of each post and Statcounter - none is perfect for me.
- Bloglines – the best place I have found to keep track of others' blogs - update - I now use Google Reader
- Food Blog Search and Veg Blog Search – the best places I have found for searching food blogs
- StatCounter – software for a bit of statistical analysis - I also now use Google Analytics and Bloggers has added a stat counter to the functions.
- Picnik – an excellent online photo editing software
- Vegan Yum Yum's advice on food photography, or Meeta and Mowie's 41 tips
- Blogger Tips and Tricks
- Delicious  - a great site where you can keep and organise your bookmarks
- Advice on adding Anchors (which are links within a post)
- backgrounds - http://shabbyblogs.com/
- Some interesting reflections on blogging by Lysy, Ricki, Lisa, Neen
- Back up your blog - see Cindy's advice for Blogger back up
- Read about copyright outrages on this post and this one

Update 4/5/2008 - just saw a link by Pixie to advice on food blogging by Adam of the Amateur Gourmet. While I think there is some useful advice, some of it made me reflect on how different blogs appeal to different people. Adam tells his readers that they must have well-designed, well-written blogs and that lots of songs and vids are great. Personally I don't like downloading videos and songs - I am attracted by good writing and good recipes rather than great design. He also says you should display your photo and divulge lots of your personal life which again I think is not necessary to be entertaining and interesting (after all we conceal a lot about ourselves in every day life and should be even more wary about revealing it on the internet which is the most public domain you can find)!

Thanks:
So I want to leave with a note of thanks. Thank you to everyone who has read and commented on my posts, shared their recipes, tried my recipes. You have all inspired and supported me in so many ways. A wee thanks to my cat, Zinc, for keeping me company while I blog (she's been banned from the laptop but now sits on a chair beside me). And a special thanks to E for sharing our meals, trying new foods, choosing music to put on the stereo, tossing around ideas with me, and washing all those dishes.

28 comments:

  1. Congratulations on your first year. Thanks for the great tips on the resources you use. They are really helpful.

    Looking forward to more of your posts :)

    Gay

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  2. Congratulations and Happy Blog B-Day, Johanna!

    I loved this post (it actually made me tear up a bit!). Great reflections, wonderful resources. I can relate to so much of what you write: the blog monster, trying new recipes, wishing I had more time to read and comment on other blogs (and thanks so much for including me in your list--really means a lot! And I had fun trying to guess which blogs would pop up connected to each of those words!).

    So glad I found your blog (yours was one of the first comments on MY blog!)--I've so enjoyed "meeting" you this year, and always look forward to reading what you have to say.

    Here's to many more blog b-days for you!

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  3. Congrats!

    You know, my blogging life has been made that much richer by yours, Johanna.

    How will you celebrate, I wonder?

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  4. Ha! I just had to revisit your second post to see what I wrote to you a year ago. I suppose Technorati led me to your blog before you were entirely aware of its powers.

    My new blogging highlight - being described as gregarious for the first time in my life. :-D

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  5. Hi Johanna,

    Gosh, I'm so late stopping over. I did see your cake earlier on in the week- absolutely wonderful, LOVED IT and happy first year to you. There's a great source of information on this entry that I'll have to work my way through. Keep up the wonderful work!

    Pixie

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  6. Happy b-day to your blog!

    Is the gggiraffe that tall already? At just one year old? :))

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  7. I just discovered your blog. Wish I would have sooner. What a fantastic and reflective post. Well done!

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  8. Johanna, I've only been reading your blog for a couple of weeks (don't think I've posted a comment yet, though) and I really enjoy it. Congrats on your anniversary and keep on doing what you obviously do so well!

    ~Vicci

    ps- to Cindy, I should aspire to someday be described as gregarious... ;)

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  9. That was such a wonderful post Johanna, it brought it all back to me, how much I have gained from the community since starting to blog! I am really glad that you and may other blog friends are out there :)

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  10. Great post and a very happy first Blog Birthday!

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  11. This is such a sincere, thoughtful post that I feel that no 100 words or less comment can do it justice. Instead, on behalf of at least two of your readers, thank you for the time and energy that you've poured into your posts, your food, and the community. Cheers for growing beyond the pimply teenage punk rocker-in-the-bedroom stage (not that you were ever in that stage, judging by your early writing). We look forward to watching your blog and you foodie aspirations blossom further during year 2. A Toast to Green Gourmet Giraffe!

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  12. Phenomenal post filled with lovely sentiments. In my experience the whole food blogging community is filled with wonderful, topnotch personalities!

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  13. Hi Johanna, me again, you make some great points about the amateur gourmet entry- some of his points were informative and others a bit over the top. Still an interesting read.

    -Pixie

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  14. thanks Gay - I have put these resources here as I am still trying to find my way with technicalities and thought it might help to share some ideas!

    thanks Ricki - I am pleased to be one of the first commenters on your blog - it definitely is one of the blogs that resonates with me - but I do hate having to name some favourite blogs as I know I will always leave out some of the ones I love!

    thanks Lucy - enriching is a nice way of seeing blogging - and so true of your blog and lots of others!

    thanks Cindy - it was a mystery to me how you found me but makes more sense now - I chose gregarious because you and Michael - of all bloggers - give so much good vego information about eating out this side of town and I thought how often your eating out is sociable :-)

    thanks Pixie - glad you liked the cake, and am grateful for the time you take the time to read and comment (like you have said in your last post, I understand how hard it is to find the time!)

    thanks Lore - it is amazing to see how the wee giraffe is growing strong and healthy!

    thanks Kristen - glad you have found your way here - I really had wished that I had read your tips for bloggers when I first started!

    thanks Vicci - very kind - glad to have you visiting!

    thanks Holler - your support has been great and it has been nice having a wee connection to Scotland through blogging!

    thanks Ruth - and thanks for inspiring me to cook interesting pasta with Pasta Presto Nights - another great thing about blogging!

    thanks Neen - the small comments box feels inadequate some days (esp for anyone who likes to write as much as me)! Very kind - I do feel I had the spotty teenager in the bedroom moments when I started and still continue to have them occasionally! But I think I can say I have them less often!

    thanks LisaRene - all the positive feedback on my blogiversary has filled me with warm and fuzzy feeling for the blogging community!

    Thanks Pixie - I thought there was some really good stuff in the amateur gourmet's posts and really wanted to link to it but a few things worried me because it does seem that his way is not right for everyone! It is really useful to see a variety of approaches and to remember that not everyone agrees on the best way to blog!

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  15. Johanna it's me AGAIN lol; Wanted to let you know I took more time in reading this and reread it carefully over- a very sincere and inspiring post. Like how E calls you a Blog Monster; I'm quite certain I've been driving M a bit bonkers lately with it all.

    Wanted to offer another helpful link to you: http://www.bloggerbuster.com/

    Not sure if it will come of any purpose to you but found it of great use.

    Will browse through your suggested links now- thanks for them!

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  16. belated birthday wishes to a beautiful blog.

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  17. Has it been a year already, Johanna? Well done on so many fine recipes and the music to prepare them to.

    Love your Zinc. She looks so much like my Salty, they could be twins. : )

    Best Wishes for Blog Birthday # 1!

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  18. Hear hear! What a great post, and please keep the entertaining, thoughtful and yum-inducing words coming!

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  19. Thank you Johanna for your continued thoughtful, and enjoyable reflections, and of course, your top-notch food ideas. You are an inspiration to me.

    Hugs,
    Lisa

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  20. Congrats on one year!!

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  21. Hi Pixie - that looks like an interesting site - I would love to get a proper banner up one of these days and this looks like it might help (I have very little technical ability so I need any help I can get) - thanks very much

    thanks Bee - very kind!

    thanks Susan - yes it is amazing it is one year already - I am told white cats have a lovely nature so I am sure your Salty is a wonderful cat like Zinc

    thanks Lysy - will try to keep inducing some yum :-)

    thanks Lisa - glad to be able to inspire you because I get so much inspiration from your blog and so many others too

    thanks Amanda (what a surprise to see your name Mrs W!)

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  22. Slightly belated but happy, HAPPY blogging birthday. Your blogging just gets better and better. And this is one of your best posts. It's a fine resource and site you've developed over a year Johanna. Congratulations to you.

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  23. Happy blog anniversary.
    I am glad I found you (via Nikki Greenberg, who is a friend of a friend) and your great recipes.
    Although not a vegetarian myself, I dearly love vegetables and the pulses and grains that seem to make most of vegetarian cooking so feel quite happy perusing your recipes.

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  24. thanks Kathryn - high praise indeed - this was a post that I drafted and thought about over a few months so I guess it is a bit more developed than most of my posts!

    thanks Nathalie - always a pleasure to have you visiting and nice to drop by your blog every now and then too! I don't think you have to be vegetarian to enjoy vegetarian recipes so glad you prove the point :-)

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  25. Love this post and love your blog. Thank you. xx

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  26. Wow Johanna, I didn't realise you had only been blogging for a year. There are so many recipes and posts here - you've been so busy. Well done!

    Listening to different music while you cook is a great idea - I'm always complaining that I never get time to listen to new music. Sounds like my all time favourite band is the same as yours though!

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  27. thanks Wendy - I always love a wee bit of cooking too!

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  28. thanks Sophie - I do feel I have accumulated many recipes over the past year - frightens me to think how many I might accumulate if I continued to blog for the rest of my life! Oh and re the music - cooking is always more fun with some music - I'd recommend it to you as it sounds like you have excellent taste in bands :-)

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