It’s a funny old place, the Internet. This weekend, I was reminded of what an alien and lonely environment it seemed when I took my first tentative steps online back in 2004 when I started this blog. My nephew, aged 9, had been watching me in fascination for a few days as I posted pictures on Instagram or my blog. As we drove home from a visit to Addo Elephant Park on Friday, he asked “Aunty Jeanne – how do you make a website?” I asked whether he could program html and (unsurprisingly!) he said no, so I suggested that maybe a blog was the way forward. And so by sunset, he had his own Instagram account as well as a blog. But of course, the only person following him or commenting on his photos, was me. “When are people ever going to find me and talk to me?” he wailed after a whole 48 hours of blog ownership. Patience is not a huge family characteristic.
But it did get me thinking about the slow process of getting a toehold on the virtual world; of finding like-minded people across the globe and getting them to take an interest in what you were posting; and if you were lucky, of making friends and finding sisters-from-other-mothers. The first step is usually a comment on some shared experience that you’ve written about – a restaurant you’ve both been to; maybe a near-identical childhood memory; or the realisation that you share a taste in music. And from there, the most wonderful relationships can form. Some online encounters translate rapidly into face-to-face meetings and then into friendships indistinguishable from those forged offline. Others may translate into daily e-mail and Twitter contact, support and encouragement, even if you don’t see each other face to face that often. And yet other relationships are formed with people that you never get to meet in person, but with whom you have shared joys and sorrows across the miles. I think these are the friendships that those who are not online much find hardest to understand.
I never met Barbara Harris in person – as long I have known her, she has lived Down Under, and as long as I have known her she has had cancer. I can’t remember why we hit it off, but she is one of the first other food bloggers with whom I started having offline conversations. She told me about her cancer, which she discovered by chance while walking the Camino de Santiago de Compostela in 2004; I told her about my mom’s polycystic kidney disease, also discovered by chance. We chatted about food and photography, books and art – all of which were shared passions – and discovered a shared love for Renoir. Barbara was very open about her cancer and the trials and tribulations of her treatments, but at the same time she never seemed to allow the disease to define who she was. Through each round of chemo- and radiotherapy; through the ghastly side-effects and the hospital stays, she remained resolutely positive, always looking forward to when she would feel well enough to cook again, or eat again, or visit a restaurant again. For a number of years, she ran the Taste of Yellow event to coincide with Lance Armstrong’s Livestrong day, where bloggers from around the world would make a yellow dish to raise awareness of cancer. She was kind and funny and brave and inspirational in every way, even to people like me who had never met her in person.
“Everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle” said Ian Maclaren, and this was particularly true of Barbara. But Barbara lost her battle with cancer last Friday. We had chatted on Twitter not two weeks ago and she had told me how she was looking forward to getting home after a recent hospital stay. As always, she gave no inkling as to how serious her condition was, remaining resolutely positive even as her body failed her. I was surprised at how shaken and how very sad the news of her death left me – after all, I had never even met her, and it felt peculiar trying to explain to my family and offline friends why I should be so affected by her death. All I can give them as a response is that it is proof of the Internet’s power for good and for connecting people on opposite sides of the globe who in some way enrich each other’s lives. Barbara’s absence will leave a huge hole in the food blogging world; and I can barely imagine the impact of her absence on her family, to whom my heart goes out.
In honour of Barbara and her wonderful Taste of Yellow event, I thought it fitting to post a recipe for something made from that most yellow of fruits, the lemon. The association of yellow with cancer support stems from the yellow armbands distributed so widely by the Livestrong Foundation, just one of many cancer charities to which you might want to make a donation in Barbara’s honour. Here are a few more:
- The Austrailan Cancer Research Foundation
- The Cancer Council Australia
- The National Breast Cancer Foundation of Australia
- The MacGrath Foundation
- Cancer Research UK
- MacMillan Cancer Support
- The American Institute for Cancer Research
- The Cancer Association of South Africa
Farewell and God bless, dear Barbara, until we meet again. I hope you’re up there somewhere having a glass of wine with Auguste Renoir.
LEMON & LIMONCELLO SORBET (serves 6-8)
200g white caster sugar
300ml freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 6 large lemons)
4 Tbsp Limoncello liqueur (or similar lemon liqueur)
Juice the lemons and remove any pips. You can strain the juice to remove any pulp, but I like leaving some bits of flesh in the juice.
Heat the sugar and water together in a small saucepan, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Allow to boil for 10 minutes or so until it forms a thin syrup, then remove from the heat and allow to cool.
Stir the lemon juice and Limoncello in to the sugar syrup and freeze in a wide, shallow plastic container for an hour (an old ice-cream tin is ideal). Remove from the freezer and beat until smooth, the re-freeze. For a smooth sorbet, you can repeat this two more times, but I just leave it at this point and make granita.
When ready to serve, remove from the freezer, scrape up the granita into chunks using a fork and serve in pretty glasses, topped with a shot of Limoncello.
I am submitting this as my July entry into Meeta’s Monthly Mingle, which I am hosting this month. The theme is A Taste of Yellow to honour our friend and fellow-blogger Barbara Harris of Winos and Foodies who passed away last month after finally losing a long battle with cancer. In honour of her annual Taste of Yellow event which raised cancer awareness, we have decided to paint the food blogs yellow with dishes or ingredients in every shade of yellow, and we hope you can join us! Feel free also to share memories and pictures of Barbara in your post if you wish. You have until 6 August to get your entries in - click here for detalis of how to take part.