When I was seven, I still lived next door to my best friend Andréa and we often met up where her garden wall met my driveway to shoot the breeze or plan our next play date. I still remember the day when she poked her head over our wall and proudly announced that she was ONE DECADE old. I was terribly envious. Seven was such a blah age, but a decade! Now there was an age to conjure with. It all seemed unimaginably glamorous and I did not know how I would be able to wait three long years till I reached this milestone.
A decade ago, one late May night in 2004, I started this blog. It was, quite literally, in another era. None of my real-world friends knew what a blog was, I did not own a digital camera, and the internet was mostly still viewed as the wild west where you only met axe murderers and fraudsters. Even I was a little paranoid at first, not revealing my real name for a number of years and hiding behind the persona of the Cooksister. I had stumbled across a few food blogs by the time I started my own and was so inspired by these people who held down day jobs and yet had the time to write up recipes and take pictures in restaurants and share them with the world. I wanted to be one of them. It was a tiny and exceptionally friendly community back then, and the divide between US and European bloggers did not seem as pronounced as it does now. PRs did not care about blogs and were not interested in inviting them to events, sending them samples, or taking them on press trips. Nobody earned a living or even aspired to earn a living out of blogging. Traditional journalists had no competition and no group upon whom to vent their frustrations It was an altogether more innocent time when the only reason to blog seriously was because you loved doing it.
Sadly, many of the people who first inspired me to blog or blogged alongside me in the early days have since stopped (particularly the wonderful Frost Street, Becks & Posh, Nordljus, and The Passionate Cook); Spiceblog still blogs but far too infrequently; but a few of the first bloggers I first met are still regularly at it – I’m looking at you David Lebovitz, Kalyn’s Kitchen, Blog From OUR Kitchen, Chocolate & Zucchini, Amateur Gourmet, Nami Nami, Spittoon and Anne’s Food! Of course, things have changed over the years. Blogging platforms have come and gone; blogging events have lived and died; social media that was but a twinkle in Mark Zuckerberg’s eye when I started is now an indispensable part of blogging; the quality of food photography on blogs has improved astronomically; and of course the marketing and PR world discovered blogs in a big way and started courting bloggers with all manners of compensation and freebies. But at its heart, blogging is still very much the same as when I started – it’s still you and a plate of food, a camera, a keyboard and a screen, and from these elements you have to squeeze creative inspiration, often in tiny moments of the day stolen from your other commitments (day job, kids, spouse, pets, social life – all the usual clutter of life). At various times over the last decade, blogging has been a joy, a burden, an outlet and a source of support, but most of all it has been a teacher. Here are 6 things that ten years of blogging has taught me:
1. People you meet on-line are no less “real” friends than those you met at a friend’s dinner party. My accident this year brought that home pretty forcibly as many of those who visited most regularly and were most generous with their time were food bloggers.
2. There is no “right” and “wrong” way to blog. Some people want to read a blog with recipes made using canned ingredients and cake-mixes, so why shouldn’t bloggers who choose to, cater to that audience? Some people like blogs that produce one 3,000 word post a month; other readers want a 200 word post every other day. Trying to say that “bloggers who do not use all fresh ingredients are not proper food bloggers” or “people who have not worked in a restaurant are not proper restaurant bloggers” or “no post should be longer than 500 words” or anything along those lines goes against the best part of blogging: your total freedom to blog exactly as you wish.
3. The fact that you are paid to blog or not paid to blog does not determine the quality of the content you produce. Obviously I am biased (!), but assuming that hobby bloggers are cheap ‘n cheerful while pro bloggers are sleek and sophisticated is simply meaningless. I know bloggers who blog for free who produce magazine-quality images and text; and I know bloggers who are paid to produce content who seem unable to tell which end of the camera to point at the food, or identify the spell-check function on their laptop. It comes down to individual talent and hard work and not whether or not you are paid.
4. The ongoing “debate” between print journalists and bloggers as to who is the most ethical is as pointless and time-consuming as teaching a tomato to sing. Journalists get free meals and trips to write about, and so do bloggers. This is how it is. You can’t say it’s OK for journos to get a free trip but not for travel bloggers or that free trips make bloggers less impartial than journalists. And anyway, when last did you see a travel blogger write a disastrous review about a destination where they were sent for free?? It’s no use getting my blood pressure up about people tarring “all you bloggers” with the same brush because one person calling themselves a blogger has behaved badly. Just like there are bad drivers or bad cooks, there are bloggers who behave badly (the “do you know who I am?” school of restaurant blogger springs to mind!). I try not to be one of them.
5. There is no set of rules or badges that will make people behave ethically. I have seen more than one initiative to create a badge to display in your blog sidebar to say that you adhere to certain ethical standards, and I have ignored them all. Displaying a badge no more makes you ethical than wearing a wedding ring makes you faithful. Lead by example, I say.
6. Never forget what a blogger’s principal role is and never allow the tail to wag the dog. In my opinion, a blogger’s primary function is creating high-quality content (text and images) for their blog and their readers. When you are spending more time obsessing over your social media stats than creating new content; or fretting more about your blog’s header design than about your latest post, then it is probably time to remind yourself that your blog’s content is the hamster that keeps the entire wheel turning, and that you neglect it at your peril!
For those of you who are curious, I have also delved into my archives to find my previous blog birthday posts from the past decade, or if I did not do a birthday post, a recipe from the last week in May so you can see how far we have come…
- In 2013 I made strawberry rhubarb upside-down cake to celebrate.
- In 2012 I made orange and pine-nut cookies.
- In 2011 I made passion fruit pavlovas to celebrate.
- In 2010 I celebrated with posh BLT sandwiches.
- In 2009 I was making tomato cheese bread.
- In 2008 I revisited my original chicken a la king recipe to celebrate.
- In 2007 I was cooking almond trout fillets with samphire.
- In 2006 Johanna and I actually threw a blog birthday party for our blogs!
- In 2005 Johanna and I hosted the first ever London/UK food bloggers meet-up.
So how does one celebrate ten years of blogging, particularly when it falls in a year when I have blogged fewer times than at any other point in my blogging career? With something simple, of course, and preferably something bone-friendly after my accident in February. Pavlova is one of those dishes that I can never tire of because it can be reinvented in so many ways. Change the fruit; flavour the meringue; or create a deconstructed version – the possibilities are endless. And as luck would have it, it’s also bone friendly, consisting of protein-filled eggs and calcium-rich cream – just add pomegranates with their hit of Vitamin K and you are onto a winner. Rather than make a large pavlova, this time I made pavlova shots, to be served in small glasses and perfect for a pre-dessert, or to be served at a stand-up event. Of course, home-made meringue is always best (use my meringue nest recipe here if you want to make your own) but if you are pushed for time, good quality store-bought meringues will do in this recipe. The result is the perfect balance between sweet and tart, in a dainty bite size – and oh so pretty with the jewel-like arils perched on top. If the first ten years tasted this good, I can hardly wait for the next ten!
If you are a fan of pomegranates, you might also like these recipes:
- My pomegranate, pear and fennel salad
- Michelle’s blood orange, radicchio and pomegranate salad
- Emily’s spiced pumpkin, halloumi & pomegranate on bulgar wheat
- Helen’s fried halloumi salad with pomegranate molasses baked grapes
- Danii’s tahini pomegranate salad dressing
- Margot’s pomegranate rice with garlic and onion
- 1 large good quality meringue nest (or a few smaller meringues)
- 175ml double cream
- 2 large pomegranates
- 50g granulated sugar
- Remove all the pomegranate arils from the skins and discard all the white pith. Doing this with your hands and the fruit submerged in a bowl of water is the least messy way . Put half the arils to one side, place the other half in a food processor and blend to a liquid. Press this pulp through a sieve using the back of a spoon and catch the clear juice that runs through – it should yield about 200ml.
- In a small saucepan, add 50g of sugar to the pomegranate juice and heat to a gentle simmer. Continue simmering until the juice starts to reduce to a syrupy consistency. Remove from the heat and cool.
- Whip the cream together with caster sugar until soft peaks start to form. Crumble the meringue(s). Divide the crumbled meringue in four and place into the base of four pretty shot glasses (or sherry glasses). Top with a spoonful of syrup and a a dollop of cream. Divide the pomegranate arils between the four glasses and sprinkle them over the cream. Drizzle all remaining syrup over the top of each glass and serve immediately.