2017 Shows No Signs of Slowing Down

An icy intersection

It’s been quite a year so far, hasn’t it? Vancouver came sliding into 2017 on a tide of ice, but the year seems to resemble much more dynamic weather so far. Here are some of the things contributing to the first twenty days’ whirlwind, along with a few things that may help ground you as 2017 continues to bluster.

Political Shifts

Canadians were looking south today, as a new President takes the U.S. in a drastically different direction. Canada, huge in area but small in population, is particularly dependent on trade with our next-door neighbour for much of our economic well-being. So it comes as no surprise that Canadians will be marching in solidarity with the Women’s March on Washington, including in Vancouver.

With Canada’s Conservative Party leadership contest sounding many of the notes that defined the U.S. Presidential race, it might be time to look at how our understanding of political divides needs to change. This New Statesman piece is centred on British realities, but these divisions seem to be holding true in many Western democracies.

Bloggers Get Real

I know I’m not the only one who wishes they could still run to The Toast in times like these, but sites like The Establishment and The Belle Jar are helping to salve the loss. (I’d love to hear your about your favourite feminist/literary/pop culture/smart writing sites, too, if you’d like to share.)

Speaking up has become the topic of much debate in the food-blogging sphere, as Dianne Jacob explores in a piece that uses posts by Lindsay Ostrom and Molly Wizenberg as a jumping off point for questions about the risks and benefits of radical honesty in a niche that is often constrained by a perceived need to please everyone.

Cooking It Out

As important as it is to stand up and be counted, to keep abreast of world events, and to communicate our personal realities deeply with one another, sometimes it’s good to find relief in the arts and in some more homey pursuits like cooking.

There’s a new opportunity to cook the stress away coming up next month. The fabulous Andrea of The Kitchen Lioness is reconvening The Cottage Cooking Club for a six-month journey through River Cottage Every Day and Love Your Leftovers.

Or you could drown your sorrows in indulgences like Dine Out Vancouver or the Hot Chocolate Festival, to recharge for the next round of fate’s slings and arrows.

The Swiftest Month

Has September been as busy for you as it has been for me? It seems to have flown by so far.

I’m trying to remain present, though, even through the busiest of times. When the glory of Metro Vancouver’s mountains, forests, and oceans are all around us here, it would be a shame not to be awake to it. 


I haven’t been so busy that I’ve let go of doing some planning for the blog, though.

I’m starting to put together the list for my annual holiday book review series, starting with Better Baking by Genevieve Ko. If it’s any indication, this year’s series is going to knock it out of the park.

And I’m working on a feature of a local social and environmental initiative that I’m excited to tell you about.

In the meantime, I’ve got some cooking and baking to do for Cook the Book Fridays and Tuesdays with Dorie.

September shows no sign of slowing down yet.

How to Cook a Book

Cookbooks I love

If you’re like me, you have shelves full of cookbooks, many of which look as pristine as the day you bought them. Even those of us who love to cook get distracted by busy lives and rely on the same handful of recipes, when we’re not getting take out. We all have dog-eared, bedraggled cookbooks that are full of stains, notes, and barely attached pages. We’ve learned the rhythms of the author’s techniques, stocked our pantry with the book’s basics, and have grown confident enough to improvise or adapt when needed.

It can be hard for new books to compete. Though they may be full of bookmarks from the first read through, they’re often neglected after the first one or two recipes, probably because there’s another new cookbook to peruse on the night stand. Cookbook clubs, online or off, offer a way to ensure you’re making the most of a cookbook while helping create a community of like-minded cooks.

I’ve been blogging through cookbooks since 2010 and it’s built community for me along with kitchen chops. If you’re considering joining a cook-along group, here are a few things to keep in mind:

Be True to Yourself

There’s no right way to write a cook-along post. Some people chart their experience with each recipe step-by-step. Others connect their assignments to stories and memories. You might be interested in writing about the roots of ingredients, recipes, or cuisines. Another blogger might weave these meals into an ongoing record of their lives. It’s not just structure that makes a blogging group work, it’s creativity.

Pros: Finding your voice is an enormous part of what makes blogging worthwhile.

Cons: If you’re struggling to find an angle, you won’t connect with your project or your readers.

Be Consistent

Make a commitment, whether that’s to cook every single recipe in the book or to participate every second month. Whether your goal is to make better use of your cookbooks, get into the kitchen more often, or begin a writing practice, you’ve got to have some structure. Your schedule doesn’t need to be precisely the same as your cook-along group’s schedule, you just have to find what works for you and stick to it.

Pros: Finding a schedule that works for you takes things from whim to project.

Cons: When things get tough, the tough get writer’s block.

Be Flexible

Illness, vacation, or work crunches can cause your cook-along to take a back seat. Don’t worry – that’s what ‘catch up’ lists are for. Your family’s health restrictions or food preferences might not fit with every recipe. Adapt the recipe, make one or some of the components, or skip it altogether. There’s no such thing as a cookbook that’s tailored to your needs and tastes precisely, unless it’s your own. If you can’t make a project work with your life, it’s not going to work at all.

Pros: If you’re too rule-oriented, you might not enjoy yourself.

Cons: If you’re too flexible, you just might find you’ve stopped.

Be Accessible

It can be frustrating to read through a post and find out that the only way to comment is to sign up for a third party commenting system – consider relaxing your restrictions a little and rely on spam filters or moderation a bit more. If it’s too hard to comment, your fellow cooks may give up trying. In a similar vein, when you’re posting your link for an assigned recipe, make sure it’s a link to the post itself, not your blog. If you’re not getting comments, it could be that folks got frustrated trying to find the right blog entry.

Pros: Being part of the conversation is what makes cook-along groups tick.

Cons: Managing spam can be time-consuming.

Be Generous

Comment on everyone’s blog, whether their following is large or small, even if you think you’d never cross paths in your offline lives. When done well, every exchange is a gift, allowing participants to learn from each other, have fun, and even form real-life friendships. Don’t be the person who doesn’t reciprocate – in the end, you’ll be the one who won’t want to stick around.

Pros: This is how you build online community.

Cons: If you’re part of a big cook-along, you’re going to have to schedule time for commenting, as well as cooking, photography, and writing.

Be Open

What started as a cook-along project for you might morph into developing your own recipes, writing reviews of cookbooks or restaurants, or spur your creative urges in another direction entirely. There’s value in participating in one of these groups from beginning to end, but there’s also much to be gained from joining mid-stream, or letting go of the group when your interests change.

Pros: Following the direction of your creative energies will keep your output fresh.

Cons: When you’re ready to move on, you’ll have to work harder to maintain the community you’ve created.

After all of that, you might be wondering, where do I sign up? There are a wealth of cook-along groups out there. Search by cookbook, cuisine, or meal and you’ll be sure to find some. To get you started, here are links to the groups I’m currently participating in:

And if the idea of joining an online cook-along just doesn’t appeal to you, don’t despair. That’s not the only way to cook a book.

Want to go your own way?

Chart your own course through your cookbook shelves, like Ei, of the Cookbook Immersion Project. Make your blog into a record of your hits and misses, what you’ve learned, and what you’ve yet to master. With no deadlines or requirements, you can visit and re-visit the books on your shelves as you see fit.

Pros: Explore your cookbook library at your own pace, according to your own tastes.

Cons: If you’re not a self-starter, you might be back at square one.

Not online? No problem!

Cookbook clubs are the new potlucks, according to a wave of recent media trend watching. Recruit a cadre of home cooks and plan regular dinners, with each participant bringing a dish from a cookbook you’ve chosen. Unlike other book clubs, the meat of the discussion is right on the table.

Pros: A delicious, multi-course meal, made by many hands. Conversation, conviviality, and analysis. No pressure to document each dish photographically or otherwise.

Cons: People are coming over! If a meal isn’t documented on the internet, did it really happen?

Once you’ve found your way, you’ll be a more skilled, more creative, more adventurous cook. Just don’t neglect those old favourites completely. Never repeating a recipe can be as much of a fault as making the same ones over and over.

My Ever Changing Moods

Poppy

I’m going through one of my periodic blogger identity crises. I keep reading that the most important thing to do as a blogger is to narrow focus – if you want anyone to read your blog, that is.

It’s also the one thing I can’t really bring myself to do. I love cooking along with the French Fridays crew and I’m interested in all sorts of questions that fall under the rubric of food – food systems, vegetable gardening, restaurants, cookbook reviews, along with food security and justice. But I’m at least as interested in writing about things that I’ve classed under the broad category of community. How people connect is endlessly fascinating to someone who never really left their childhood shyness behind. Drilling down into what’s offered locally is one of my favourite ways of demonstrating what my hometown is about. It’s also my way of trying to connect with my readers’ sense of what’s similar and different about the places they live. And the ways in which ideas around community are changing, for better or worse, seem important to explore, too. As a Gen Xer with roots in social justice movements, the shifts we’re seeing in income equality, affordability, and inclusiveness seem inextricably wound up in what community is coming to mean in the 21st Century.

All of which is to say that I don’t think I’ll be narrowing my focus any time soon. I suspect that my blog will continue to be as imperfect as my garden can be, with the occasional beautiful bloom to distract from the ever-encroaching weeds.

Thanks for sticking it out with me.

Looking for Connection and Creativity in Social Media

Typist's teapot

Having introduced my nieces, two rather internet-savvy young women, to the world of blogging recently (you can see their Tuesdays with Dorie post on making a chocolate truffle tart here), I started thinking about how much there is to navigate in the social media realm. It can be hard to build community online when it seems that the channels of communication are so fragmented, or worse, the same people are broadcasting the same information over channel after channel.

I’ve found Twitter to be a great resource for information and also a good way to connect in real time with people in my region and in my French Fridays community. Facebook is more for far away friends, local acquaintances, and family, though I do have a Facebook page for my blog. I like to keep all 11 of its Facebook followers in the loop…

I eschew location-based social media applications like Foursquare, but love location-based apps on my phone that help me find shops, food trucks, and even what’s in season. I don’t feed my activity from them onto social media, though. Maybe it’s generational.

What I’ve been finding really fascinating lately, though only as an observer, is how Google+ has taken off as a platform for photographers. A good friend of mine has become deeply involved in the community there and it’s become for her both a venue for connection and a spur for creativity. I think the combination of social media functions and ease of sharing is a big part of what’s made it so popular. Unlike a number of social media platforms, it’s also easily adaptable to users’ needs. A great example of this is the way the video chat function, called Hangouts, has become a forum for tutorials, classes, and even photo walks.

I have to admit I haven’t used Google+ for much, yet, but when I start working on improving my photography skills again, I’ll be looking to the resources that can be found there.

Here’s a few links, in case your interest has been piqued:

Google+ Survival Guide

Google+ photography book for charity

There’s a lot of potential in the web, but it’s easy to get distracted by all the entertainment, fluff, and chatter out there. It’s inspiring to see a web tool like Google+ take off so productively and creatively. Now, I just need to keep that in mind when I turn on the computer.