A few months ago, I spent some time doing volunteer work in Kenya through the volunteer agency International Volunteer HQ. I stayed with a Kenyan family and volunteered at an orphanage, Internally Displaced Persons camps, and with the Masai (warrior tribes in Kenya). It was an extremely moving experience. Read more.

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    A Note to New Bloggers

    Filed under :blogging, IFBC, Tips
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    Thinking about starting a blog?  Allow me, a new blogger myself, to impart a few words of wisdom I’ve learned in the 2.5 months of my blogging career.

    1.  This blogging thing is hard.

    There’s a lot of work involved in building a blog!  The learning curve is steep, and you have to become an expert at everything at once:  writing posts and updating frequently; photography; networking; developing content; website design (yes, even if you’re using a template- it ain’t as easy as it looks!); not to mention all the “prep” work involved in creating a post- developing recipes or other content, cooking, taking pics of everything, etc.  If you posses mad computer or photography skills, you’re way ahead.  Otherwise, take it from me, set aside much more time and energy than you thought you’d need.  That being said, it is a labour of love, and there’s nothing quite like typing in your url and seeing YOUR blog, YOUR posts, YOUR content, YOUR pics, and the comments resulting from YOUR networking and the friendships YOU’RE nurturing.  I assume it gets easier as time goes on and you get the hang of some of these things.

    2.  Learn from the best.

    When I decided I wanted to write a food blog, I reached out to other bloggers (who I found through google- starting from scratch here).  One wise blogger (Mardi of eat.live.travel.write.) swore by the New Media course from Writers.com.  Instructors Amanda and Mike are true gems and made the transition into blogging much easier for someone with limited blogging-related skills to begin with.  I was thrilled to have the chance to meet them when in Seattle.

    Amanda Castleman and Mike Keran

    Amanda and Mike from Writers.com

    Remember, you can always ask for help.  I hired a programmer to help me with my initial design as technology and I don’t mix well.  Yet.

    3.  Examine your motives.

    WHY do you want to write a blog?  Are you trying to segueway into a new, exciting foodie career?  Do you need an outlet for your cooking obsession before your head explodes?  You don’t have to share this with anyone, but be brutally honest with yourself.  I wanted to meet like-minded people, so in my case, when things take a little longer, that’s ok.  But for those of you looking to leap into the professional culinary world, beware- you need a LOT of patience.  It takes a lot of time and energy, and you need to post quality content regularly, develop tasty, original recipes, perfect your photography skills, and network widely.  This is all important- as we learned from the Pitch to Publish panel at IFBC, potential publishers are looking for bloggers who can do it all.  It can take a long time to develop all these skills and meet the right contacts.

    4.  Network, network, network.

    Read other food blogs.  Not only are there some awesome blogs out there, but through leaving comments and “meeting” other bloggers, traffic will increase on your blog as they return the favour.  Sign up for twitter- a lot of conversation happens there.  Attend conferences and events such as IFBC or Camp Blogaway if you can, and have printed blog business cards at the ready to distribute.  Join on-line clubs and actively participate- the Daring Kitchen or Kitchen Boot Camp are good places to start.

    5.  Connect with major programs and websites.

    Foodbuzz runs a Featured Publisher program which links you with a community of bloggers and interesting opportunities.  Foodgawker and Tastespotting, among others, will publish your high-quality food photos and drive traffic to your site through them.  Food Blog Forum and similar sites put you in touch with a network of bloggers where you can learn all manner of tips and tricks and post questions in the various forums. 

    6.  When you have a moment to breath, remember that you’re doing this because you love it, and enjoy every minute (ok, at least most of them!)

    Of course, there are all kinds of other tips and tricks that you’ll learn along the way, but hopefully this will help you begin.

    Anything Goes Salami Spaghetti

    Filed under :Basil, IFBC, Mushrooms, Olives, Pasta, Salami, Spaghetti
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    Spaghetti with salami

    Anything Goes Salami Spaghetti

    After two months travelling back and forth to London (UK), Cuba, Arizona, Montreal, Vancouver, Kelowna, Seattle and Israel, I’m finally home for a while, and thoughts of potential gastronomical delights taunt me.

    In our goodie bag from IFBC, we received a Creminelli Tartufo handcrafted Italian salami with black truffle.  I was eager to experiment with it, and also wanted to use up some other leftover ingredients, so I decided to cook up a big plate of spaghetti with a sauce incorporating the loose ends in my fridge.  The salami was delicious so of course I forced myself to *sample* while cooking.  It was all I could do to save some for an antipasti plate later, and for Chris to have some.

    Basil and Salami

    Tartufo Salami and fresh basil from my garden. The cutting board is also from our IFBC goodie bags.

    Feel free to alter the recipe as you deem fit.  The point is to make it work with your tastes and what you have lying around.  I haven’t included amounts as everything is to taste!  This spaghetti is REALLY good.  The flexibility of the recipe and sheer deliciousness ensures this won’t be the last time it graces my table.

    Anything Goes Salami Spaghetti

    Cook spaghetti in boiling water until al dente (still slightly firm).  Drain, put aside.  Return pot to stove over medium- low heat.  Add tomato sauce (jarred or home-made) and cream and mix together.  Add whatever ingredients you want; I added sliced mushrooms, green olives, chopped salami, and lots of fresh basil, which I grow in my kitchen potted herb garden.  Stir and heat through.

    Rose sauce

    Sauce coming together

    Put spaghetti on plate.  Pour sauce over top.  Garnish with additional basil leaves.  Enjoy with a nice glass of your preferred wine.

    IFBC- Day 3

    Filed under :IFBC
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    After a late night of eating, drinking, and hearing James Oseland’s engaging stories, Sunday dawned early.  We prepared ourselves for the sugar- carb breakfast of donuts, muffins, donuts, mini zucchini bread, and donuts (delicious as they were, many bloggers crashed from their sugar-high well before lunchtime the day before).  Luckily for me, Driscoll’s Berries was also a sponsor of IFBC (International Food Bloggers Conference) 2010, and platters of jewel-red strawberries, raspberries, and delectable blackberries and blueberries lay in wait next to the urns of coffee.  I love berries in general, and blueberries are my favourite food (in the summer I can subsist for days on them alone), so I piled my plate high and gingerly walked back to my seat, trying to avoid dropping even one of the precious gems.

    The day opened with a session on recipe development and cooking for specialized diets, hosted by Shauna James Ahern of Gluten-Free Girl and Alexandra Jamieson, author of Living Vegan for Dummies.  Shauna, a former teacher, began by asking all those who can’t eat gluten to stand and remain standing.  Then all those who can’t eat nuts.  All those who can’t eat dairy.  Or eggs.  Or those who won’t eat meat.  Now all those who love someone who has a restricted diet in any way….

    By the time she finished, almost the entire room was standing.  She had everyone sit, and for contrast, asked to stand anyone whose diet is unrestricted in any way, and can eat anything.  As I stood, I looked around and realized I could count the number of us revealing ourselves on two hands.  We truly are the minority, yet it is those people with restricted diets who are made to feel different, even somewhat ostracized.  Being an aunt to a toddler with life-threatening allergies, I see first-hand how unaware people are, and recall one particular event where my nephew was crying and both a friend and a waiter, in an effort to be kind, tried to hand him things he cannot eat.  Thank goodness I was there to stop them, but as a society we need to be sensitive to eating habits and realize that it isn’t ok- in fact it can be downright dangerous- to assume everyone eats as we do.

    The next session had Dr. Nathan Myhrvold leading us through his ground-breaking upcoming book, The Modernist Cuisine.  We sat in rapt fascination and lusted after the incredible photography, but at $600, I doubt these tomes will be gracing most of our bookshelves any time soon.

    Penny De Los Santos amazed us all with her beautiful photography and stories of her approach to creating that perfect shot.  “Go where the light is, and make a picture,” she said.  Make a picture, not just take a picture- beautiful.  Her passion shone through in every word.  Now, if she published a coffee table book of her photography, I would be first in line.  Might even buy a few as gifts for family- my dad in particular appreciates beautiful photographs, being quite the impressive photographer himself.

    Lunch brought my first experience with food trucks, a phenomena sweeping the States but seemingly less controversial (or even visible) in Canada.  The highlight was the amazing lemon- burnt sugar crepe from Anita’s Crepes, and the women gave away coupons for discounts to those lucky enough to live in the Seattle area.

    The last official session of the conference had us interacting with Victoria von Biel, executive editor at Bon Appetit, Kirsty Melville, president of the book division at Andrews-McMeel Publishing, and Molly Wizenberg, Bon Appetit columnist and blogger Orangette.  I discovered Molly through her columns some time ago and was surprised to see how young she is!  The women discussed the blogger-million-dollar-question:  “What does it take for a blogger to get published?”

    Although they started by revealing what they look for as publishers, intrepid bloggers brought the conversation around to what actions a blogger can take to move from web to print.  For all of you out there with the same question, listen up!  The number one factor is perseverance.  Your first pitch likely won’t be successful.  A number of other helpful tips were given, and watch for my upcoming posts focusing on specific sessions including this one.

    For those of us spending another night in Seattle, we got a sneak peek at the upcoming foodie movie Today’s Special, starring Aasif Mandvi and Madhur Jaffrey.

    Thank you, Foodista, for putting together an inspiring conference.  My biggest lesson is that this is a labour of love, and it takes time, and that’s exactly what I expected when I began.  The sessions were great, with the most valuable part being the networking.  In my last post I recommended you check out A Chow Life.  In this one I direct you to Cristina at Teenie Cakes.  Cristina is an amazing person who writes a lovely blog with beautiful photography and food styling.