quote from Sumayya Jamil, speaking at Food Blogger Connect, London 2012
Last Friday saw me quite literally stumbling onto the 7.15 Edinburgh-London train. I am not the most co-ordinated of people (I can fall off a pair of flipflops), but my flawed proprioception couldn’t be blamed on this occasion. As I attempted to board the train a sudden shift in the ever-present wind blew hair into my eyes, and I had a heart-pounding, and nearly electrifying, experience as my foot slipped between the step up and the clearly marked walkway. Still clutching my bags and cup of tea I just managed to lurch forward into the carriage, my body tingling with adrenalin that you get from a proper near-miss. Yowz.
The reason I mention this seemingly random incident is that I also experienced the same all-body tingle later that day. But not due to clumsiness or wind-whipped hair. When I pushed through the imposing blue doors into a sea of people at Food Blogger Connect I had that overwhelming ‘new girl’ feeling. You know, the heart-pumping anxiety you get when you walk into a room where everyone seems to know each other and you only have one shot at making a decent impression? I was that girl, but with fictional spots, greasy hair and a selection of slide rules and leaky pens poking out of my pocket. Yup, that nervous. But I needn’t have worried. Almost as soon as I entered the lively courtyard of the former Lambeth Ragged School for destitute children (we are talking Victorian times, not the ’70s) Jacqueline, the trans-continental blogger behind the fabulous How to be a Gourmand, placed a welcoming glass of Champagne (from Champagne Jayne – the most popular girl at this particular school) in my sweaty, shaking hand and steered me toward the welcoming embrace of Karen, of the also fabulous Lavender and Lovage. I have been reading and virtually chatting to Karen for over a year and it was so wonderful to meet her in the radiant flesh. She said I was just as she imagined (she did not elaborate, and I did not push her), and she was just as I imagined – warm, personable and generous with her knowledge.
And so it went on. I met countless enthusiastic, articulate and talented bloggers over the three days. Although the talks and workshops were full on (you get your money’s worth) we had plenty of time to chat while queuing up for the varied and always outstanding street food vendors and producers, who had pitched up and cooked their socks off just for us greedy writers and snappers. I enjoyed all of the food but I must make special mention of Toma Mexicana (no guesses what kind of food they do) and the Seychelles food specialists Vinn Gout. Please come to Edinburgh and do a pop-up! I haven’t licked my fingers in public like that in a long time :D
As for highlights, I found most of the talks incredibly useful, and the other participants, tweeting madly under the hashtag #FBC12, did as well. Topics included photography and writing sessions, using SEO and other blogging tools, using social media and pr techniques to promote your blog, as well as the dreaded but necessary blog security issues. But, for me, Silvana de Soissons, the eminent cook and writer behind the jaw-droppingly beautiful online food magazine, The Foodie Bugle, was unmissable. With her subject, The Brave New World of E-Publishing, Silvana charted the beginnings of her very democratic magazine – from the year she took to research the contributors and plan the design (she took a poster board mock up to her designer), to its being awarded the much-coveted Guild of Food Writers ‘New Media Award’ after only 18 months. I was so in awe that I neglected to take notes. But please just go and have a look at The Foodie Bugle. My words are not necessary.
I did take notes elsewhere, including at Sumayya Jamil’s talk on Niche Blogging. Her food blog, PukkaPaki, explores the huge and distinctive world of Pakistani cooking. Her mission with the blog is to fight misconceptions about her country in a light-hearted way through food. During her session she made some very salient points for anyone thinking of niche blogging, or engaging in niche blogging (that’s me). First of all, have a passion and speak authoritatively about it. Another main consideration is consistency of message: she says that she “uses her niche as a filter” for whatever she wants to put on her blog. In her case, does it reflect Pakistani culture, does it expand others’ knowledge on Pakistani food or way of life? For me, that might translate as does it use mainly whole foods? Is the cooking method healthy? Does the recipe contribute to health, or does it make a traditional favourite healthier? I will have this small but powerful tip in the back of my mind from now on.
Other sessions where my fingers got a workout were Felicity Cloake’s, on The ABC’s of Writing, and Elements of Recipe Development Writing. Felicity, award-winning food writer and columnist behind the Guardian’s “How To Cook the Perfect…” was that wonderful mix of entertaining, informative, inspiring and can’t-believe-my-luck. In other words, I want to be her. I will have to really study the scribbled notes from her sessions, but the gist I got was to focus on not only the recipes, but also your style. Like niche blogging, finding your own style and being true to it is essential. She describes style as “writing with personality,” and advises reading over your last 15 posts in quick succession (not looking for typos) to help pinpoint your style and voice. To help hone your style and writing, Felicity suggests a tip she picked up from the fiction author, Zadie Smith: reading your work like an enemy might – really try and pick holes in it. Sounds painful! She also suggests that writers read: read as much as we can, see patterns, find out what you like in others’ writing and what you don’t like.
Other superb advice from Felicity: write first, edit later; describe don’t tell (paint a picture); give the story behind your recipe; avoid the obvious (describe why something is delicious instead of that it is delicious); get out of the house and away from the computer – live a little so you have something to write about; use a planned structure; make sure the piece links/has a thread running through it; rhythm is important so read your piece out loud (shut the door so no one thinks you are mad); use a thesaurus, but bear in mind the first word that pops in your head is often the best…unless it is ‘nom nom’. And lastly, pause before clicking ‘publish’. As tempting as it is to just publish and be damned, sleeping on it and looking at it with a fresh eye in the morning can be sobering, in more ways than one.
Food Blogger Connect 2012 was pretty overwhelming and exhausting but I would highly recommend that anyone who gets the chance to go next year to just sign up. I hope to get in on some of the smaller, intensive workshops to do with photography and writing next year, but even with the standard sessions you will take home priceless knowledge and contacts. Once my fellow attendees have written up their own views and news from Food Blogger Connect 2012 I will give links to them.
I am sure you are running out of patience so I will just pop the recipe on and let you get on with the business end of this post – cooking. Although I made this dish before I went to FBC2012, it is my little vegan nod to the gorgeous food I ate at Toma Mexicana. Sorry for the lack of FBC photos. I’m just not coordinated enough to eat, hold stuff and use a camera. Or get on a train without almost killing myself.
I am sneaking this over to Ren Behan’s Simple and In Season, being hosted this month by by Nazima at Franglais Kitchen. Please go and visit to see what other seasonal goodies are on offer. Nazima, and Laura from How To Cook Good Food, also have a One Ingredient Challenge link-up featuring Squash, so am putting this in the ring as well. And Jacqueline, the brain’s behind the fabulously-named No Croutons Required contest, kindly invited me to submit this recipe. Check after the 20th of this month to see all the submitted recipes, but meantime check out Jac’s blog, Tinned Tomatoes. Thanks Jac!
How to Use Togarashi: With a pronounced citrus and pepper kick, as well as a touch of the ocean togarashi can be deliciously incorporated into all manner of dishes – omelettes, stews, rice and noodle dishes (great for zinging up bog standard ramen noodles), grilled fish, chicken and tofu. I even sprinkled it on the grilled miso butter tofu and corn from a few posts back, and I often put it on popcorn. It is a fairly common tabletop condiment in Japan and in Japanese restaurants, where it adds an intriguing and somewhat addictive dimension to sushi, miso and edamame. But like I said, use Mexican seasoning if this all seems a bit much.