It’s good to be back. The strange thing about being away from a regular blog is that you are still thinking about what you’d write, what you’d shoot, what recipe you’d share next. So after a bit of a break, typing out another post feels right.
While I’ve been offline, it’s been a good time to learn new things and meet other cooks and bloggers. Did you know that a whole network exists out there just for Canadian food bloggers? And I even met some of the folks in person. Of course it is nice to meet other people in the digital world, but nothing takes the place of real facetime. (No, not that one …)
The inspiring online food community
If you’ve been weaving about the food blog universe for a while, you may know of Chocolate and Zucchini. Earlier in November, I had the chance to hear the author Clotilde Dusoulier speak about what it takes to make a smash-hit food blog — though she didn’t describe it in that way because she is modest, as shrewd managers of success are. Still, if you haven’t tried her infamous yogurt cake, you should get thee to the dairy section. The way I came to this event was through Ann, a food photographer I met by chance at a class, and she told me about the Food Bloggers of Canada who were part of the foodie community covering the event. As I read about the food photography tips, PR strategies, and members’ food blogs on the FBC website, I was hooked. Signing up with the FBC was like how Walter must’ve felt when he joined the Muppets — I felt like I was meeting my own kind who went to tweet-ups, carried business cards for their online project hobbies, and cared about which hashtag to use. All their energy for food blogging was contagious, and I was inspired for the time to come back online.
Food offline can feed others
For almost a year, I’ve also been meaning to connect with Spezzatino, a food magazine that gives proceeds to the food banks and agencies to help mobilize the goods. Spezzatino is another great network out there in the real, physical world that also feeds real, tangible mouths. I finally had a chance to email the editor in chief and get a feel for volunteering on an issue. Since then I’ve recently joined their team as an editor out of the desire to do something with my love for food and words that might make a tangible impact.
Let’s be real
But before I blow up balloons with hot air, I’ll say that the hiatus helped me face my limits. Initially, I left as a web design newbie wanting to learn the language of HTML and CSS. Now, I return as a web design newbie who still can’t decipher the code (though this website is sympathetic). In talking with other food bloggers and reading their blogs, I also saw a lot of great slideshows, contests, personality and recipes that I admire and wish I could replicate. But that’s just it — you can’t make something yours that isn’t natural to your style or too steep on your learning curve. After all, if blogging isn’t fun anymore than we must assess what went wrong! Clotilde shared ten rules to food blogging which the FBC nicely summarized, and #4 is to be genuine. What’s true of what you have to can offer? What are your strengths, and how can you exercise that knowing your limits? All that being said, I am definitely not a web designer and there are so very many talented bloggers out there who can do slideshows, contests and recipes better than I can! Why not let them shine and do their thing, while I do mine?
And so, dear reader, the return onto this blog is a fortified and thoughtful one to what it means to be genuinely pedestrian. While there won’t be layers of visual stimulation that other blogs may provide, I hope you will still enjoy the food stories and focused photography that I love to bring to you. Having met more food bloggers, I hope to invite them into this space where we can share ideas and talk shop when it comes to cooking everyday.
To make up for the long silence, I’ll leave you with three recipes. And of course, the story behind them …
Salt and pepper green beans
This recipe came from the resolve to never have a stringy, lifeless beans again! Flash-fried, they remain crisp like their sharp green colour and almost, almost can be snacked on like french fries.
- 1 lb string green beans
- salt, pepper, sugar
- Trim the edges off of the green beans.
- On high heat, add water to a shallow pan so that the surface is just covered.
- When water is boiling, throw in the beans to the pan, and season generously with salt, sugar, pepper. Keep watch of the pan, as water will evaporate.
- Add water in small quantities as needed, and season accordingly until the beans are cooked and crunchy. When beans take on a lively green colour, they’re probably done, around 10 minutes.
- Remove from heat and serve immediately.
Sweet potato shepherd’s pie
A twist on the comfort classic uses sweet potatoes and ginger instead of white potatoes. The first time I made this I was being experimental, then when I made it again at a friend’s house, she added the necessary butter and milk to make the sweet potatoes extremely smooth and smashable. If ginger is too strong for you, lower the quantity or try using the powder spice instead.
- 2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
- 1/2 onion, diced
- 1 tsp – 3 tsp fresh ginger, minced
- 1 lb ground beef
- 1 tbsp butter
- salt and pepper
- Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
- Boil the sweet potatoes in water, for about 20 minutes.
- Meanwhile, heat oil in a pan, fry onions until slightly undercooked. Set aside, and brown the beef in same pan, seasoning with salt and pepper. Drain the fat. Combine the onions when the beef is nearly cooked. Spread the beef mixture into the bottom of an oven-proof casserole dish.
- Check softness of the sweet potatoes. If they’re soft to the fork, remove from heat and add ginger, mixing well. Incorporate the butter and milk to achieve desired softness.
- Layer the smashed sweet potatoes on top of the beef, and use a fork to create a criss-cross pattern on top. Bake for 25-30 minutes.
Cod and clam chowder with garlic bread, adapted from Circle B Kitchen
Offline, I’ve also had the chance to cook and share meals with newly arrived refugees to Toronto at Matthew House. The great thing about Matthew House is that it serves as a welcoming home while residents can stay while they work on their next steps in Canada. Inside the dining room, there is a giant round table with a lazy susan where we set the dishes to be eaten communally, and conversation ensues in the best English that we can manage! Fish is a favourite for the residents, and so that’s what I try to make and innovate each week. This cod and clam chowder was said to be the best yet.
- 2 lbs cod or firm fish, de-boned and skin removed
- 7 small potatoes, cubed
- 2 cans of clams
- 2 cups of clam juice or diluted in water (reserve)
- 1/2 cup celery, chopped
- 1/2 cup carrots, chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 cup cream or milk
- 1 tbsp dill
- 1 bay leaf
- salt and pepper to taste
- fresh parsley, chopped to garnish
- crusty bread
- butter and garlic salt
- Preheat the oven to 375ºF.
- Combine all the ingredients except for milk and parsley in a deep, oven-proof casserole dish. Bake until fish flakes and potatoes are tender, around 1 hour.
- Transfer dish to stovetop set to medium heat. Slowly stir in milk, and let the soup simmer, adding salt, pepper and extra dill to taste.
- While soup is simmering, cut up a crusty loaf. Whip garlic salt into the butter, and serve on the side for guests to slather onto their bread.
- Serve soup together with the garlic bread.