2014-08-life-of-pix-free-stock-photos-restaurant-lobster-neon-lighting

5 Tips to Make a good food blog

When I first started writing, I was heavily into music. I’d stand at good gigs, bad gigs, sweaty gigs and sweary gigs. I wrote about them all. Move forward five years and life has completely changed. With a child at home, late night shenanigans were no longer an option. So, I turned to the sweet comforts of food blogging.

I got a few offers to write for magazines and for a while, I liked it. I rode the crest of the wave; life was great back then and my husband didn’t sigh look when I took another picture of my starter.

Tonight my friend text me to ask my advice on how to set up a food blog. Since it’s by far (in my opinion) the most difficult type of content to get right, I thought I’d put my thoughts down on here – my very own not-so-foody-but-somewhat-foody…not really committing to much, kind of blog.

1. Story first

Any good food blog envelops the actual eating within a soft, floury wrap of a story. Readers don’t just care about what’s on the plate, they want to know about the cushion beneath your butt; the sounds in your ears. Most good food blogs carefully portion their writing to cover all angles of the experience, giving the reader a full picture.

2. good photography

You mustn’t be afraid of taking pictures. Pictures with a flash in dark, atmospheric places. You mustn’t be afraid to make fellow diners jump as a by-product of your photographic zeal. Take photos away from your food. Show the quirks. Invest in a small SLR; filters on a smart phone can look cute, but definitely don’t hold the journalistic clout of a beautifully-defined image.

3. exciting dishes

People don’t want to read about another burger. If the restaurant has a unique dish, do your readers a favour and order it. Not only will this challenge your palate, it will push your writing skills. Good food blogs cover an engaging array of meals and locations.

4. micro-interview

Whether you’ve been invited on a PR request, or you’re writing a post, pre-arrange some words with the owner or the Head Chef. It makes for an intelligent piece and once again, will make you think about why you’re actually there and what you want to get from your visit.

5. make connections

The more you read about food, the more you’ll get to know the better writers out there. Appreciate and learn from them. Create a list on Twitter so that you can see their updates. Over the course of time, you’ll build a network that will help you to improve and keep motivated.

2014: Hashtags of the Year

It’s been a busy year for social media slaves like myself. I’ve had fun, been saddened and shocked, and also marvelled at some of the strangest behaviour that a hashtag can instigate (and yes, I’m gutted to say that I took part in one or two myself – I’ll let you guess which).  Below, I reflect on some of 2014’s most prolific hashtags.

January:

#neknomination – It only took a couple of weeks of 2014 to discover that mankind hasn’t moved on much in terms of chest beating and buffoning around to dangerous extremes. The craze that saw millions of people downing drinks and telling their mates to do the same actually claimed a few lives. I’ll make a note to check back in in 100,000 years and see if we are still being as stupid.

PicMonkey Collage

February:

#nicknomination – Ah, that’s better. Instead of watching my next door neighbour, or the high school idiot sloshing pints of turps down their throats and boasting about it, I now have a timeline awash with hammy Nick Cage pictures. Social media at its most ridiculous, obvious and pointless moments. A bit like one of his films, I guess.

March:

#nomakeupnomination – Ok, we’re a quarter way through the year and STOP NOMINATING ME FOR STUFF ALREADY! Oh. It’s a charity thing. Ok, ok, I’ll do my bit. I even feel compelled to screengrab my donation, to show the world I’m not just using the opportunity to publish a selfie. We all the spent half an hour laughing at the girls on our timelines, who clearly still have lots of makeup on and false eyelashes.

Also, special March shoutouts to the #100happyday folks, who gave up after three days. It’s really ok to be a belligerent old bat like me and not feel obliged to be happy for 100 days solid. Too much, folks, too much. face

April:

#Thankyouteacher – an outpouring of social respect for the horrific stabbing of schoolteacher, Ann Maguire. People used the hashtag to say thanks to teachers, who made an impression on them during their schooldays. In April we said thanks to #stephensutton, who made such an impact in his short life. We also raised awareness of the 230 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls through #bringourgirlsback

May:

#ConchitaWurst – In May 2014’s Eurovision Song Contest, we were beguiled and confused by Austria’s Conchita Wurst. With the body of Venus, the hair of Nicole Sherzinger and a face of a beautiful plumber, Conchita’s social gathering helped to collect votes to win the top place in the competition.

June:

#Glastonbury2014 – Usually one can be quite safe from smug Glasto posts, given that the average iPhone has the battery life of a Kardashian marriage. People however have cottoned on and seemingly started to take their prehistoric brick phones away with them to tell us repeatedly of what an amazing time they are having. Even the electrical storms that pulled Rudimental off stage didn’t stop the masses from tweeting about the ‘biblical’ weather. At least given the lack of music at times, our hippies for the week could complain via Twitter about rain in their organic yoghurt. Oh, those yoghurt times. yoghurt Also of course, June saw England play Italy in the World Cup, which sparked no less than 7.2 million tweets within 90 minutes.

July:

#letour – Being in Yorkshire, the Tour de France in 2014 took over my life for weeks, if not months. We painted the county yellow and I was lucky enough to see both legs of Le Grand Depart whizz past my house in both directions. July was also the month that flight #MH17 disappeared and continues to remain a mystery.

August:

#icebucketchallenge – Off we go then, chucking icy buckets of water over ourselves, this time predominantly for the American ALS charity. We witnessed a horrendous number of mankinis, Benedict Bucketbatch, cringeworthy bucket slip-ups and also the swearing toddler (argh, just no!). Even Professor Stephen Hawking got in on the action and volunteered his children to take the challenge, nobody was safe from this. We also said #ripRobinWilliams in August and baking enthusiasts relished the feud between Diane and Iain on GBBO, aka #bingate, when Diane seemingly sabotaged Iain’s Baked Alaska. robin

September:

In September, Emma Watson introduced #heforshe, a global responsibility for the promotion of gender equality. You can read about the manifesto here. British Muslims took to social to promote #NotInMyName – a campaign to show a lack of support for ISIS. Women across the world shared their accounts of domestic violence through #whyistayed. In other realms, we saw #stevebruceatweddings and it worked. Too well. Also, we learned of #bendgate, when Apple decided to launch its first pliable phone. Not only is it the size of a coffee table, it also learns the shape of your derriere when it sits in your pocket for too long. What more do you need? PicMonkey Collage

October:

#Pistorius – whether he did (cough cough) or he didn’t shoot his girlfriend, Oscar Pistorius charged our October timelines, heckling our macabre sides to guess the punishment he’d receive.

November:

We waited, anticipated and finally John Lewis gave us their ad. #MontyThePenguin even has his own Twitter account that he used to publicly woo his missus, Mabel. Really cute, eh? It’s real love! No sooner were we dabbing our eyes after too much cuddly penguin cuteness, than Marks and Spencer send in their #TwoFairies, spreading altruistic love, expensive party nibbles and queues of tetchy posh people glittering across the land. monty In other and slightly bigger news, we followed Philae Lander on #CometLanding, as it landed on a comet. That was good.

December:

#illridewithyou – a sad way to end the year, but one that shows how a single hashtag can be adopted by an entire nation, to stick a finger up at terrorism and let those who wear religious attire know that they needn’t feel intimidated by riding public transport. What were your hashtags of 2014?

11 Kindle Reads of 2014

It’s been a year since I bought a Kindle Paperwhite. I was concerned that reading off this little machine would remove flavour and personality from the stories. Who doesn’t love holding a book? I’ve actually found that my Paperwhite has boosted my reading beyond my expectations; I couldn’t be more pleased with my purchase :)

Not only is it small, lightweight and needs charging maybe once every two weeks, its adjustable backlight is perfect for sitting in the dark, with a toddler who has trouble getting to sleep.

Having a Kindle has meant too that I can join my local book group and read most of the books that we plan to get through each month. Although I get a free copy from the group leader, I tend to download a digital version for a couple of quid. Well worth it (in most cases, anyway).

This year, I’ve mainly read fiction. It’s been my guilty pleasure, feeling even more frivolous because I barely get a second to myself most of the time. I figured it’s better for me than kilograms of chocolate, or a bucket of wine every night.

I think I have a pretty good bond with my Kindle (his name is Wendel). We’ve been on many journeys and holidays together now and so far he’s been the perfect companion. I also have a fun* little habit of using his turquoise cover for an upbeat read, and his tan cover for a serious one.

*weird.

Here’s what I have read this year:

books

The Husband’s Secret – Liane Moriarty
This was at the top of the Kindle bestsellers at Christmas 2014, so I thought it would be a good starter to ease me back into regular reading. It was a smooth read, but quite thin on the all-important whatsthebigsecret front.

The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul – Deborah Rodriguez
I’m fascinated by the modern history of Afghanistan. This is a fictional story written by a woman who aside from writing this book, once owned a hairdressers in Kabul. Her account of running a business in the face of constant Taliban threat is humorous and even romantic in parts. It reminds us that life continues through good and bad in even the most war-torn areas of the world.

The Hundred Year Old Man who Climbed out of the Window and Disappeared – Jonas Jonasson
This split our book group in half. One side (including me) loved the wry, Scandi-trendy and minimalist way in which the story is written. The other half thought it was basic and childish.

The Tailor of Inverness – Matthew Zajac
Written about his Polish Dad as a migrant to Scotland, Matthew Zajac tells a true story that I can relate to. You haven’t been on a ‘long trip’ until you’ve ridden the bone-rattling roads of Europe all the way to Poland. I felt like yelling at my Kindle ‘Don’t worry, you’ll have Ryanair in a few decades time!’. Budget airlines have never felt so luxurious.

The Red House – Mark Haddon
Adults with murky pasts and their hormonal children, all stuck in a holiday cottage. There are a lot of characters in this that you have to get to know very quickly, but it is quite a page turner and I was sad in the end that it flew by so quickly.

The Goldfinch – Donna Tartt
This was a privilege to read and I’m so pleased that I managed to get through it. Over 700 pages long but is so lean and beautifully edited. Tartt is incredible; her stories are always intricate and emotionally captivating. Just wonderful, wonderful stuff.

Divergent – Veronica Roth
I love a bit of dystopia, does me. I wanted to read the book before I saw the film. I still have’t seen this film. It was a good read, the concept behind the four ‘Factions’ of society is interesting, but having leapt to Young Adult fiction from the intricacies of The Goldfinch, well, I can’t be overly critical.

Insurgent – Veronica Roth
The second of the Divergent trilogy. Lots of fighting and confusion faction allegiances. Not much more to say about that.

Embers – Amy Keen
I like working with Amy. I have no idea how she has written a trilogy, whilst working and having two young kids. Seriously. As I mentioned, I’m not too familiar with the Young Adult genre but I really enjoyed Amy’s first book of the Foresight series. I was pleasantly surprised by the escapism that a supernatural element offers. Her next two books will be downloaded promptly for 2015!

Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn
Another one, where I thought I’d just buy what was at the top of the best sellers. I rarely get the chance to go to the cinema and to be honest, I wouldn’t have jumped at the idea of going to see this. It’s a clever story though; a well written one, too. Definitely worth a read, you won’t get bored.

And The Mountains Echoed – Khaled Hosseini
I nearly flipped our book group’s christmas diner table over in excitement, when the leader handed out copies of Khaled Hosseini’s latest read. It will not disappoint, but it requires close attention. Spanning over eighty years and several key characters, it’s wonderfully colourful. I didn’t want it to end.

What have you been reading in 2014, and what do you have on your list for 2015?

baconsoup

Butternut Squash & Smoked Bacon Soup

This is a very tasty, filling and cheap soup, which is also very easy to make. It’s perfect for a quick lunch, as it heats through again in no time at all. I picked up a large butternut squash for less than £1, plus some Basics smoked bacon. Since everything gets whizzed up, there’s no point splurging on posh bacon.

baconsoup

You’ll need:

1 butternut squash, peeled and diced
3 cloves of garlic, skin on
4 thin rashers of smoked bacon
1 medium onion, chopped into thick slices
1 litre veg stock (I used a stock cube)
Olive oil, for roasting
Pinch of chilli flakes (optional)
Tsp smoked paprika

Put the butternut squash, onions and garlic in a roasting tin and coat it all with a big glug of olive oil.Lay the bacon over the top of the mixture.  Roast at around 200/gas mark 5 for 40 minutes, or until butternut is completely cooked. Carefully squish the roasted garlic pulp out of the skin onto the mixture (mmmmm) and discard the skin. You can then either put it in a blender, with a little stock and pulp – slowly adding stock to your desired consistency, or tip into a pan and pulp with a hand blender, carefully adding stock.

You’ll see from the dreamy look on my son’s face, this is a hit with kids. Just go easy on the chilli if feeding it to little mouths.

 

Leftovers Chicken Pie

Pastry terrifies me. I once made a Boxing Day turkey pie that was so awful, I was actually reminded this year to be really kind and not make that pie again.

My brother, a snooty pastry chef was horrified to see the Jus Rol in my fridge this weekend. I would ask him to think of how much time and effort I saved by using it to create this delicious and inviting chicken pie tonight:

image

I used one roll of shortcrust pastry and a floured rolling pin, to roll out a thin base for this 14″ pie dish. I then took all my Sunday dinner scraps (taking care over tiny bones) and put them cold into the base. Using a small amount of hot water, I made a gravy ‘paste’, thinning it slightly with cold water. Putting hot filling into raw shortcrust just makes the whole thing dissolve. You could brush the whole top with a beaten egg to make it shinier than my one.

What a pietastic dinner!