August 03, 2011

Big Summer Potluck 2, Part One: On Becoming a Food Blogger

A breakfast feast at BSP2, featuring fresh peaches, gluten-free muffins and homemade jam from Sugarcrafter

I remember the first time I wondered if I was really a bona fide blogger, even a part-time one, which was all I was aspiring to be. I was having that most perfect of Saturday morning indulgences – a pedicure – and as the aesthetician and I chatted, I mentioned I had a food blog. “I have a blog too!” she said. It was a mommy blog, and she had started it a month earlier. We exchanged URLs, and when I got home I looked up her site. I had written nine posts that month – quite an accomplishment, I thought, for my little hobby. Erika had written 80. Not eight – 80. Whoa.

I had dipped a toe in the water of food blogs barely six months before. Ready-made Blogger template; barely a notion of how to tag, let alone what it would do for my Google ranking. Monetize? I had gingerly put two food-related ads on my blog; the cheque must still be in the mail. Every new follower was a triumph and it didn’t matter that the number hardly changed from week to week (well, it did, but this was a hobby, right?). I thought I took decent photos with my little point and shoot.

I was amazed at the size and diversity of the food blogging community. I threw a stone in the pond and I joined Foodbuzz, Cook Eat Share, The Daring Kitchen, Charcutepalooza. With each ripple, I saw the community was legion, and I couldn’t even make out the distant shore. Relationships mattered, and Twitter provided a way to form immediate connections, even if at arm’s length and more like cousins twice removed than siblings.

The beautifully simple table setting at Linden Hill Gardens

And that’s how I heard about Big Summer Potluck. It hardly mattered what it was; what did matter was that it seemed to be a MUST ATTEND event (and if @thepeche said so, I was smart enough to believe it). It seemed a friendly thing – somewhere in the middle of Pennsylvania – and with just the right amount of people; not too big to be overwhelming, not too small to feel out of step with all those who would surely know one another. And so I bought a ticket. With that weird blend of low and massive expectations, I made my way by two planes and an automobile to Ottsville, PA, quinoa and rice salad in tow.

I learned a lot.  Not about SEO, or monetization, or tagging or writing the perfect post.  I learned that a moment can be an idea.  That the hardest part of getting a great photo is getting past yourself.  That you need a point of departure - what, exactly, are you trying to say with those words? That photo? The post?  And that it's okay not to know the answer to those questions when you start.

Chickens at Linden Hill - living in the moment

At BSP2 last weekend I wondered again if I was a bona fide blogger. But for the first time, I finally got permission to be exactly the kind of blogger I can be, with the expectations not formed by some amorphous and invisible host of judges, but by me. That was the life lesson, amongst many, that Shauna James Ahern, the wonderful Gluten-Free Girl, imparted.  Get real and be real, girl (and boy).  Expose your messy self.  It's what matters and what makes a connection count.  Yes, indeed.

The radiant Penny de los Santos.

Perhaps by now you’ve read some of the amazing and moving blog posts written by others who were at BSP2. If you haven’t you should know that Penny de los Santos is a wizard – not just with her camera, but with her ability to spellbind a room and recreate a photograph that all of us could see as clearly as if it were in front of us. [Click here to see the incredible photographs that Penny was describing and the read the beautiful story They Remember Home by Annia Ciezadlo].  I have never been so inspired and felt so connected to a speaker before – but that’s because this was a personal conversation and Penny offering her art (and self) up to us with arms wide open.  And that was her point, really.  As Penny says, photography is a metaphor for life - and that magical moment of making a connection, of drawing people in - is what really matters.

Expectations? Beyond exceeded.  But that's what happens when you think you're going to a food blogger event and you find yourself connected to an instant family of friends.

So am I a bona fide blogger?  If what that means is that I am passionate about what I write, that it matters to me, and that I am being my real self - then I think the answer is yes.  It matters less that I have the requisite photo of ingredients with "easy and delicious recipes that you can make for dinner tonight!" (guilty as charged).  It matters more that I am connected - to myself first of all, and then hopefully to you too.  I hope you stick around to see how it all comes out. 

[With a huge 8 second hug and thanks to Maggy of Three Many Cooks and Erika of The Ivory Hut for an amazing event. Can't wait 'til next year!]