When Emily nominated Sue of Food Network Musings as my next participant in this Edible Lives series of conversations, I have to confess that I was slightly worried. The thing is, as I explained to Sue at the outset, we haven’t had a television since moving to the South of England in 1997, my knowledge of food programming on UK television is hazy at most and the less said about my awareness of television across the Atlantic, the better!
As its name suggests, the greater part of Sue’s posts on Food Network Musings are inspired by her opinions of the various food shows she watches in the US. Given my general cluelessness about all things TV, I didn’t feel at all suitably qualified for the conversation I was about to initiate.
Sue kindly told me that it didn’t matter – one of the reasons she writes about a show in such detail is so that anyone reading her blog doesn’t actually have to have seen the show at all. And she was completely, utterly right.
As I delved into her blog, I became captivated by her vivid and often hilarious style of writing and the way in which this becomes such an effective vehicle for teaching about food and cooking. Emily claimed that she had learned so much from Sue’s blog. I can now put up my hand and say, “Me too!”
Here, then, is the story of Food Network Musings …
How did you make the leap from yelling at food shows on television to writing about them on a blog?
I was a religious Food Network viewer. Saturday morning/afternoon was my MUST SEE TV – particularly Michael Chiarello, Ina and Giada. I would sit in front of the TV and exclaim (to myself) about how great that tip was or how something was so completely wrong.
At the same time, my wonderful nephew, Josh, started blogging. He has Duchenne’s Muscular Dystrophy, and after graduating from college, he started a blog to talk about disability issues and the book he was writing. I was so impressed with what he was doing (all with a headset that controlled the cursor on his computer!) that I decided to try it. He was my guide and early advisor.
I started with a yellow pad and pen and the words literally just flowed. I had TOO much to say. I loved using the shows as teachable moments. I’m sure others do the exact same thing as they’re watching, they just don’t write it (all) down.
Blogging is addictive and when you’re writing about something you have such affection for, it’s easy. The mechanics weren’t easy, however. Thank goodness, I had my nephew and 2 twenty-something kids to answer my really dumb questions. Most of the time, though, I would just type a ridiculous question into Yahoo (I really don’t like Google, which just shows how out of it I am) and figure out the answer. The writing and cooking comes easily…the blogging and computer issues less so and are self-taught.
I get the impression when I read your blog that I’m sitting there with you, watching the shows and hearing your running commentary. We’re laughing together like old friends about what’s going on, whilst you’re also my mentor, slipping in extra teaching tips as the opportunity arises. It’s a very compelling style of writing and it’s present right from the start in your very first post. What inspired you to write in this way, and did you consider any other styles of presenting your opinions before publishing your first post?
That’s so interesting that you say that. After I’d been blogging for a week or so, I sent my blog around to some friends. One was even more clueless than I was about internet matters. She said to me that person sounds exactly like you. I said, “Thank Goodness, because it IS me!”
I can’t say that my writing style was a conscious decision…exactly. As I said before, really, my first posts wrote themselves. I liked the idea of stopping the action in the narrative to interject what was wrong OR right with a given recipe or host. I also love having AH-HA moments and sharing something I’ve learned that’s new and fabulous.
So, no, I never considered writing any other way. I do want my posts to be very much how I speak. MY favorite blogs are ones where the author has her or his own unique voice. I definitely decided early on to never couch my opinions in vague generalities. I think one thing you can say for good or bad is that you know where I stand. One thing I learned teaching cooking and also organizing classes for chefs is that people WANT you to have an opinion. That’s why they’re there. They can get namby-pamby anywhere. BUT I also have absolutely no problem admitting if I get something wrong. In fact, I LOVE to be given new information or an improved way of doing something. And in cooking, that happens all the time!
What new things have you learned through your experiences of blogging, in terms of both culinary and computer-related skills?
Kate, you may really wish you never asked that question. Do you have about 2 years? That’s as long as I’ve been blogging and I’ve probably actually learned TEN YEARS worth of stuff.
Some specific things I’ve learned cooking-wise:
Add mushrooms to hot fat (which I already knew), but then LEAVE them alone (which I never did) to get nice and caramelized on the first side.
DON’T add salt to the above, at first, or it will draw out the moisture and negate all you’re trying to do in the browning department.
Refrigerate chocolate chip cookie dough for a day before cooking. Why? I can’t remember, but it works for me.
You don’t need tons of water to boil pasta. You can use just enough to cover, but make sure to keep stirring.
Don’t use no-bake lasagna noodles if you’re making the recipe in advance.
GREEN plantains should be twice-cooked. (There I go with my fancy hyperlinking…see below.) They are cooked once, then flattened and cooked again. Ripe plantains…just once. (That’s handy for the once a decade that I cook plantains.)
Computer related skills? Although I could fill several books with what I DON’T know, I could also fill a volume or two with stuff I’ve learned (mostly by teaching myself) that relates to technical aspects of blogging.
The very first thing I taught myself was how to edit a hyperlink. I was really proud of myself when I could write stuff like “RR made something really appalling today.” It adds an entire new layer of information to a post.
I actually took an HTML class last year, because I was so frustrated with Blogger and its weird line spacing and occasional other glitches. But I’m far too scared to move away from Blogger, because it’s perfect for computer newbies like I am.
Digital photography is where I’ve had my other HUGE steep learning curve. I had no idea what a macro setting was and I couldn’t understand why my close-up pictures were always out of focus. I used to (and sometimes still do) set whatever I was photographing 20 feet away from my camera. Then I would zoom in and get a clear close-up that way, instead of using the macro setting on my camera.
I still have so much to learn about taking pictures. From all I’ve read, I know natural sunlight is the preferable lighting, but unfortunately many of the food pictures I take are about to be put on the table for dinner. And I just can’t see cooking at 11 in the morning, so lighting is something I still struggle with.
I know you’re supposed to compose the shot BEFORE you shoot and leave editing to a minimum. But I often edit my pictures the way I edit my prose – slowly and carefully and making tons of changes.
I made some early mistakes in blogging etiquette. Just when I started, I found these message boards, for the Barefoot Contessa, Nigella Lawson and Giada. They all had identical rules – nothing nasty could be said, they were for fans only etc.
Well, I was thrilled. I thought who better than stalwart fans for drumming up interest in my blog? I registered and joined in the chats. I posted something like, “Oh, I love this site. For lots of discussion about the Barefoot Contessa, come on over to FoodNetworkMusings.Blogspot.com.”
I did the same thing on all three message boards and I waited for the enormous response that I was sure I would get. Well, it was enormous alright, but not in the way I had thought. I had no idea that I made a HUGE error in blogging conduct, maybe one of the biggest…with the exception of stealing content, I guess.
I had gone to a site ONLY to plug my own site without engaging in the conversation. Honestly, I had no clue that that was verboten. I thought these folks would honestly be interested in what I had to say.
I received an email, shortly after I posted my larcenous comments. It was ALL IN CAPITALS and it said something to the effect of “HOW DARE I COME ONTO TO THEIR SITE TO DO NOTHING BUT PROMOTE MY OWN SITE!!! Henceforth I would be BANNED and forbidden to ever return.” After I finished hanging my head in shame, I decided to see what would happen if I tried to enter their site again. It said, “YOU HAVE BEEN BANNED.”
Honestly, I was gobsmacked. I had no idea you weren’t supposed to do that. And I was appalled at their lack of grace in explaining my transgression. I actually sent them an email, apologizing, explaining that I was a complete newcomer and had no idea that was so frowned upon. I got a screaming email in response and never darkened their door again.
I have to say there are plenty of times when I, as a blogger, get emails that say, I’ll link to you if you link to me. I admit, knowing what I know now, that is a little irritating, especially when the other blog is about outboard motors. But, of course, I never yell, I usually just don’t respond.
But the truth is that online relationships are really like any others. The most successful ones show courtesy, empathy and interest in the other party. Close bonds don’t happen overnight.
What I know NOW is that you read a blog, feel a connection, leave germane comments. The other blogger does the same. And eventually, over time, you have a relationship – built on mutual interests, appreciation of the other’s talents and some kind of chemistry.
MY blunder, of course, was bypassing all that in a coarse attempt at publicizing my blog without taking the time to develop a relationship first. I didn’t know that then, but it’s probably one of the most important things I’ve learned from blogging and the thing I value the most.
How have you built up relationships with your own readers, and what have you learned about them?
I don’t want to go into too much detail here and tell other people’s stories, but there are quite a few bloggers that I feel very close to.
Let me answer that question first as a READER of other peoples’ blogs. Reading their posts is almost like having a quick phone call with them. You hear what they made for dinner or what their father-in-law barbecued last weekend or about a long lost recipe from Grandma. It really is like being a part of their world. Big events are inevitably posted about and it’s always nice to hear happy news or to be able to reach out when someone is having a hard time.
And, as a BLOGGER, building relationships with readers is what it’s all about. If there are no readers, there is no blog. It may be hard to believe after word 2000 in some of my posts, but, in large measure, I write to hear what readers think. I love to know how they react to my meanderings.
Readers without blogs who comment regularly are the best! They really are interested in what you have to say and manage to tell their stories within the confines of a comment box and not in long-winded posts (like mine!).
Have you ever had any feedback from the people you are writing about – the chefs on the television shows?
That’s interesting that you ask that. Of course, I always wonder if the folks I’m writing about ever check out my blog. It would be interesting to know what Michael Chiarello thought as I was gushing, REALLY gushing about him, when he was on the Saturday lineup of the Food Network. I wouldn’t have been surprised if his wife banned him from reading me.
The only one I’ve ever heard from is Sunny Anderson and I was sooo thrilled to hear that she looks at my blog. She’s responded to most of my posts about her. She’s cool too, she answers various points I make in my posts. She actually sounds exactly the way she comes across on television – really friendly, down to earth, with a lot of cooking experience and some awesome recipes.
Have you ever felt like just turning off your television and giving up on your blog?
I have certainly felt like turning off the television, but NEVER giving up my blog. It actually informs so much of what I do. I always think in terms of to blog or not blog about that meal, that restaurant or that show. I also always have my camera ready. You never know when you might need a photo of a certain dish. I know I’m not unusual in having many times more pictures than I actually post. (The post by your first interviewee about going to a food blogger’s house for dinner was a RIOT and sooo true.)
What’s your own favourite recipe out of those that you’ve posted on your blog, and what’s your most popular post?
My favorite recipe is my Carrot Vichyssoise. I’ve written about it twice – the first time when I needed a pick-me-up; the second about how it becomes transformed in the blender. It’s the BEST soup in the world and I call it a vichyssoise, even though I know that’s reserved for cold soups. (This is wonderful cold too, but incredibly satisfying when hot.)
My most popular posts Call The Cardiologist, The Neelys Are Cooking and 2 Ingrid Hoffman ones – Ingrid Hoffman: Simply Delicioso Or Just A Giada Wannabe? and Comments on Ingrid Hoffman - were ones that caused some anger amongst readers. It may not look like there were tons of comments, but I didn’t publish most of them, because some folks actually had the nerve to disagree with me. I’m kidding…actually, I love a good debate, but I won’t publish obscene, overly angry or racist comments, of which I got many.
I had previously written some nice things about the Neelys – I like THEM, just not their often fatty, junky recipes – but many people interpreted my criticism of their food as a criticism of their race. And some of the people that agreed with me came to their conclusions in a way I couldn’t support. THEY were racist. Similarly with Ingrid Hoffman, I was thrilled at the prospect of a new Latin show on the Food Network. But this hoochie mama really couldn’t cook and Jello shots as a dessert one week just confirmed that.
My favorite post (I’m pretending you asked) is, of course, about my wonderful Barefoot Contessa and her fantastic Jeffrey – Ina and Jeffrey Sitting In A Tree. I just love their easy relationship. It goes so well with her informal, comfortable style of cooking.
Another favorite one is Michael, Will You Marinate Me? It’s so easy writing about Michael, because he has so much to teach us.
And finally, who do you nominate to be the next person I invite to talk to me about their food blog, and why?
Kate, you’re the best. I don’t know how you do it, but you come up with the best open-ended questions and everyone knows that bloggers DO love to go on. Okay, maybe it’s just me, but I really enjoyed our conversation and look forward to many mini-chats in the future.
The blogger I nominate for you to talk to next is the warm and wonderful Cynthia from Tastes Like Home. You’re in for a treat. You’ll get a window into many cuisines – Caribbean and others – that I know will interest you. Plus she has many fascinating stories that I’m sure you’ll find a way to get out of her.
I’ve had a wonderful time talking to you too, Sue. Thank you ever so much for such entertaining and honest replies. I’m sorry this conversation has come to an end – but I’ll certainly be keeping in touch with you .