Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The Souffle That Went Into the Cold -- Cook Up Some Energy Savings

Baby it’s cold outside and the gas and electric meters are humming. We all look for ways keep down our energy bills and help the environment by conserving, but have you thought about ways to save while you cook? (Pacific Gas and Electric customers see the notes section below for information on how saving energy in the kitchen can help you earn you a rebate.)

A lifetime and two kids ago I was a spokeswoman for a major utility. One of my favorite parts of the job was promoting energy conservation cooking. I worked closely with the conservation specialists in the test kitchen to cook up and promote ways to trim electric and natural gas costs. True, covering your pot won’t save you as much as replacing inefficient appliances, turning down the heat, insulating your home, wrapping your hot water heater and getting your kids to turn off the lights, computer, television, stereo system and Playstation, but every little bit helps. Even just saving a quarter a day on energy in the kitchen can result in yearly savings of more than $90 a year. Trust me I have the proof these tips make a difference, I just am too lazy to go up in the attic and get down my old press releases to quote you the numbers, so here are some basics to start with.

Don’t preheat your oven – most things will only take a few more minutes to cook if you don’t preheat your oven. Put that casserole in a cold oven and take advantage of all the preheating time and energy. The home economists I worked with once even put a soufflé into the cold. It worked just fine.

If you are using the oven, use it – You are already paying for all that energy anyway, so why turn on your stove top and burn money there, too? Make a whole meal in your oven, or most of it anyway. Roast vegetables and potatoes to go along with that chicken. Make a dessert in there, too. Baked apples filled with raisins and granola and drizzled with maple syrup, maybe? Or cook several meals at once to take advantage of all that hot, hot heat – who says a veggie lasagna and a ginger-garlic-hoisin roast beef can’t get along.

Grill friend – All those little kitchen helper appliances could be your worst enemies or your best energy saving friends. You just need to use to match them to the job. Use them in place of other cooking resources not in addition to. If your countertop grill saves you from having to preheat your range’s broiler, that’s great. But if you have the oven on anyway, maybe you should bake that chicken breast instead of grilling it to save some cash.

Home on the range (top) – Work those burners. If you are using your range top or stove top, make the whole meal “on top.” Consider using a multilevel steamer. Boiling water on the bottom, your main course in the middle and some tasty vegetables up top. Don’t forget to use the lid. Putting a lid on it is a good idea. Water will boil faster if you can’t see it. Honest. Another tip only put enough water in the tea kettle for what you need at the time. I know some people who fill it up to the whistle every time. It takes forever to come to a boil and tea really needs fresh water every time to taste its best, anyway. A personal favorite of mine is to use a pressure cooker. Pressure cookers create wonderful stews and soups in a fraction of the time but with that slow cooked flavor and texture.

Magic Box – Microwave use has doubled since I last preached energy conservation in the kitchen, which is great, since it is one of the most efficient appliances in our kitchen arsenal, especially if you work it right. It’s great for one potato, two. But a family’s worth are better being cooked in the oven with yesterday’s dinner and just warmed in the microwave. Planning ahead to have “leftovers” or “pre cooks” not only saves energy, but your time.

I know there are other tips and tricks and I promise to eventually lug the ladder up the stairs and climb into the attic and see what my old files have to offer, but I thought this would at least get you thinking about ways to save energy in your kitchen.

Have an energy conservation cooking tip to share? Please post a comment below. Need a souffle recipe to give the "cold shoulder?" Check out this recipe in the archives.
Notes and Resources

An aside and added incentive to customers of Pacific Gas and Electric Company (northern and central California), if you can trim your natural gas costs by 10 percent between January 1 through March 31st, you will receive a 20 percent credit on your April or May bill. More information at

PG&E customers can also see how much energy using different appliances can save by clicking on its
appliance usage calculator.

Check with your local utility to see if they have anything similar you can use. The
Alliance for Safe Energy has lots of energy conservation tips and links if your utility doesn’t.

Photo credit: www.vikingrange.com

Monday, February 27, 2006

Five a Day the 7-Eleven Way

Check out my post at Well Fed Network's Paper Palate site. It's all about fruits and veggies at your local 7-Eleven. What's next, a V-8 Slurpee?? Read all about it here .
Update: All Paper Palate and Well Fed links are dead -- you can see the post via the wonderful wayback archive here or see below.
A recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle by Steve Rubenstein detailed some of the changes planned by America's largest convenience store chain. seveneleven
The article, "7-Eleven seeks to go beyond beer, jerky, cigarettes," reports on a northern California meeting of 7-Eleven franchise owners. The company set up a "faux" 7-Eleven so the franchisees and their managers could see how to market carrots, bananas, apples, and pears.
While bananas can be sold from a rack pretty easily, watch for the other fresh items to be cut, washed and prepped in some way to make them as easy to grab and go as a Slim Jim or bag of Cheetos. The carrots, for example, will be sliced and packaged in "plastic cups that fit into automobile cup holders." As Rubenstein writes, "Even a carrot must evolve to survive."
For those more interested in fruit flavors than the actual thing, the company is also introducing some new Slurpee frozen soft drinks. These include mango melon, blue raspberry and sugar-free raspberry lemonade.
There are more than 29,000 7-Eleven stores according to the the company's website in U.S., Canada and 17 other countries and U.S. territories.
Graphic Credit: www.7-Eleven.com

Friday, February 24, 2006

No More Fudging It

Fridays are my Chocolate Box days over at Sugar Savvy. This week's See's Piece by Piece features vanilla walnut and chocolate walnut fudge. Click here to read all about it.

This concludes our Five Days of Fudge spectacular and makes it safe to go to the candy counter again.

Update: Sugar Savvy is no more.  View the link through the archives of the Wayback Machine. Read on for the text from that post.

Here's my copy thanks to the internet archives of the Wayback Machine.  Some symbols/characters did not do well in translation and some links may be broken or outdated.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Let Them Eat Bread With Their Soup Soup

Trust me, dear Blog Appetit readers, that I do cook things from scratch. How else would I get all the leftovers I tend to turn into soup?

This week's creation was consumed before I could get a photo, but I do have a related photo to share. The bread I used for the soup was very reminiscent of the huge, rustic round loaves baked by Poliane Bakery in Paris. The photo you see is from my trip last spring where I was able to go to the basement of the famous boulangarie and see the baking process first hand.

Let Them Eat Bread With Their Soup Soup

This was created from the remains of my dinner last Friday night. We had roast chicken, braised butternut squash with mixed greens, and the rustic bread (as well as roasted potatoes, a green salad and a glass of red wine, which did not go into the soup although the cut up potatoes and the glass of wine would not have been amiss).

The flavor of the braised squash and greens is important to the soup, so here's what I did for that. (So it's kind of two recipes in one post!)

Butternut Squash and Greens Braise

Saute 1 medium onion, chopped, in 2 tbls grapeseed oil until softened. Add 3 cloves garlic, chopped. Saute until slightly golden. Add spices, about 1/4 tsp of red pepper flakes, 1 tsp Herbes d' Provence seasoning, 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper, 1/2 teaspoon salt and a pinch of cumin. Cook briefly until aroma of spices is released. Add about one pound of butternut or other winter squash cubes (weight after peeling and trimming). Saute until squash pieces have browned a bit. Add 1/2 cup of chicken stock, stir and let simmer. Add about 3 cups of chopped mixed greens (such as collard, turnip, kale, chard, mustard, spinach etc.) Mix and stir, add another 1/2 cup of chicken stock and let simmer until greens and squash are soft. (Add more chicken stock as cooking if needed). Taste and add more salt and pepper if needed.

The Soup Itself

This is really more a procedure than an exact recipe, since I don't know exactly how much butternut squash and greens saute and roasted chicken you have left, so please adjust the amounts to work with your available ingredients and preferences.

You'll need:
Leftover Butternut Squash and Greens Saute (I had about a half recipe left)
Chicken Stock (I used about 5 cups for my soup, you might need more or less)
Additional Mixed Greens, chopped (I used 2-3 cups)
Chicken meat, cooked, cooled and shredded into large bite size pieces (I used just over a cup, but only wanted a light chicken presence.)
Salt, pepper, hot pepper sauce (optional)
Thick slices of rustic, artisan-style bread (I used a country style loaf made from organic wheat, sea salt and water. If something like that isn't unavailable, use any sturdy, flavorful bread)
Grated cheese, optional (I used a cheddar)

Put left over squash and greens saute in large saucepan or pot. Heat over low to medium heat for a few minutes. Add chicken stock. How much? Until it looks like soup to you. You can always add more. Bring mixture to simmer. Add additional chopped mixed greens. I like a lot of greens in my soup, so I must have added another two-three cups. Stir well and let simmer a bit. Then add in your chicken meat. Quantity depends on how much chicken you want in each bite and how much soup you are making. Figure on one to two cups.

Cook soup until heated through and the additional greens have softened. Taste. Add salt and pepper to taste. If you want a spicy soup, add a few dashes of your favorite hot pepper sauce. Stir to combine.

To serve, place a piece of the sliced bread in each bowl and ladle the hot soup over the bread. Sprinkle some grated cheese over the top if you'd like.

The hot soup seeps into the bread and softens it. You eat the soup by scooping up bits of the bread with the other ingredients. Filling, not too fattening. Warming. And tasty. Very tasty.

A note on leftovers of the leftovers: It warms beautifully in the microwave. Just put your slice of bread in a microwave safe bowl before you ladle in the soup. Sprinkle the cheese on after you have heated the soup.

Too Much Chocolate?

Can there be such a thing? But it does seem like many of my most recent posts have been referring you to my chocolate musings.

In the drafting stage -- a nice soup. In the thinking about it stage -- a round up of pomegranate recipes. In the cooking stage -- a menu for a wine tasting party (with special thanks to Alder from Vinography for his recommendations). Heck, while we are on the subject, I'm making Vinography a formal link from Blog Appetit. Lots of info on wine (from around the world), food and restaurants (mostly but not exclusively in the San Francisco Bay area). I like Alder's style, too, you don't need to be a wine expert to enjoy and use his site.

Plus, I will be a guest columnist on a food blog on March 6th and will feature a family favorite guaranteed to soothe your soul and raise your cholesterol. Want a hint as to what site I'll be writing for? It will never rub you the wrong way. Here's a second hint, where there is smoke there is good eating. Click here to check out this "mystery blog."

Please watch for these posts and more.

P.S. I am starting to think of competitions one might have at an Olympics of Chocolate Games. Curling (make chocolate curls) comes to mind. Perhaps icing dancing, where you make chocolate dribbles ontop of frosting. Speed tempering? Would Alpine events involve white chocolate? Any other ideas out there? Add a comment below.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Passion for Fudge

My interview with Fudge Fatale maker Alexander Black is up at Sugar Savvy.

Click on over to the link to see why Fudge Fatale is a whole different kettle of fudge. For more on the ultra-premium, 100 percent natural chocolate candy, check out the website.

Update: Sugar Savvy is long gone (sigh).  Thanks to the wonderful Wayback Machine and it's archives - here is a link to that post through its web archives. There are addiitonal photos there as well.

Here is the text:

Monday, February 20, 2006

Oh, Fudge

Sugar Savvy is doing five full days on fun with fudge this week. Click on over to read about fudge trivia and history, get recipes and more. Yum.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Come See What I Tasted

My latest See's Piece by Piece in The Chocolate Box is posted at Sugar Savvy .

Thoughts of spring and cherry blossoms guided my selection. Click on over and see what I choose to sample this week.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Simply Pomegranate

Work prevents me from experimenting with my newly devised pomegranate recipes, so I asked the Mistress of Recipes, Elise of Simply Recipes, if she had some she could share. Did she ever. Please click on over to Elise's place and see her pomegranate treasure trove.

If you are a food blogger and would like to share your pomegranate recipes, email me the link through my profile and I'll be glad to add them to Blog Appetit. Or you can put your recipe link, the recipe itself if you are not a blogger, usage suggestions or other helpful pomegranate info into the comments section below.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Winter Farmers' Market Challenge

A couple of weeks ago, Blog Appetit’s vegetable drawers were bare, so I went to my neighborhood farmers’ market. In the best of times, it is just a block long, but the vendors always seem to have a good variety. But this was winter and even in California I wasn’t sure if I’d find much to blog about never mind cook.

A quick walk up and down confirmed my suspicions that most produce was between seasons, at least as far as this market was concerned. A second, more deliberate perusal yielded some wonderful fresh ingredients for this dish.

I served this on top of roasted fingerling potatoes and the leftovers went over noodles. You could add more stock to the dish and make it into a soup, or add some tomato sauce and make it more like a pasta sauce. I poached a few eggs in the simmering liquid the first day but skipped that with the leftovers. I could have easily added chunks of chicken, sausage or tofu instead
One more note, this spicing was on the medium side. If you like your food hotter, increase the seasoning to taste.

Winter Farmers’ Market Sauté

About 6 servings

2 tablespoons grapeseed oil
½ large onion chopped
2 cloves chopped garlic
¼ tsp dried red pepper flakes
¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
½ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground ginger
1/8 tsp (pinch) ground coriander
Kobocha pumpkin, acorn squash or cooking pumpkin, a little more than 1.5 pounds before peeling and seeding, cut into cubes about 1 ½ inches
2 large red and/or yellow bell peppers into 1” pieces
Cauliflower, about 1 pound before trimming, separated into flowerets
1½ cups of chicken or vegetable stock or water, plus more if needed
1-14.5-to-15 ounce can of diced tomatoes
1 bunch of kale, chopped (optional because my farmer’s market didn’t have any that day!)
Additional salt and pepper if needed

Add oil to large fry or sauté pan. Heat to high. Add onion, sauté until softened. Add garlic and red pepper flakes, salt, pepper, cinnamon, ginger and coriander, sautéing until the garlic is barely colored and the spices have released their aromas, then add squash and sauté a few minutes, then add bell peppers and cauliflower pieces. Let pieces brown a bit, stirring to incorporate any browned bits that stick to pan. Add stock and stir well to combine. Add tomatoes and juice. Add chopped kale if using. Stir. Reduce heat to medium. Cover. Check vegetables periodically, adding more stock and stirring, being sure to incorporate browned bits from bottom. Cook until the vegetables have softened. Remove cover. Let simmer to reduce liquid a bit. Taste and add more salt and/or pepper if needed.

(Here’s where I poached the eggs. To do so yourself, move vegetables to the sides of pan. Break two eggs into the simmering liquid. Cover pan again and let cook until eggs are poached.)

Serve in a bowl as a kind of stew or over potatoes, grains or pasta.

Other options: Add in chunks of cooked chicken and sausage or tofu with the tomatoes. If you are using raw chicken or sausage, add them to the pan after the garlic and seasonings and sauté until browned then continue with the recipe.

Note: For directions on how to peel and clean pumpkins and squash, please check the archives for "Pumpkin Eater."

Seeds of My Heart -- Pomegranates -- Part One -- Everything But the Recipes

Pomegranates – This ruby red fruit with its jewel-like seeds seems to be everywhere at the moment. Partly because of religious symbolism, partly because of the success of the marketing of its juice, the pomegranate with its spiky calyx crown seems to be the king of fruit.

A few nights ago we celebrated Tu B’Shvat, or the Jewish celebration of the first fruit from the trees. One contemporary way to mark this holiday is with a special meal with a special order to eat these fruits, or a seder. The first type of fruit in the seder I attended was those that have their shell or skin on the outside. The symbolism is that these fruits use their covering as protection, but once you discard the peel, you have the true fruit. They wear their defenses on the outside and are compared to children who need their parents’ protection. Pomegranates are one traditional fruit in this category, oranges are another. (Jewish tradition also holds the pomegranate has 613 seeds, one for every mitzvah or commandment of the Torah and as such is a symbolism of righteousness. I don’t know anyone who has ever actually counted, however.)

It seems to me the rounded, grapefruit-sized pomegranate is the Hummer or Sherman tank of defensive fruit. Not only do you have that tough red hide to deal with, there are all those pesky (but tasty) edible seeds (or arils) to dig out of the honeycombed cells or membrane, which must be nature’s idea of Styrofoam to protect its delicate and tasty cargo. And the juice. Red wine has nothing on the staining power of pomegranate juice (which is laboriously extracted from the red pulp surrounding the seeds). The red color of the fruit (there is a white-skinned version which has paler arils, by the way) and its juice are responsible for the name of the color garnet and the island of Grenada is named after the French and Spanish words for pomegranate. Hand grenades are said to be named after the fruit’s shape and interior fragmentary nature.

The taste of the pomegranate calls for some bravery, too. The fruit and juice can range in flavor from sweetly tart to pucker power.

If the physical aspects of the pomegranate don’t seem daunting enough, there are the mythological ones.

In Greek mythology, we have winter because Demeter’s daughter, Persephone, was kidnapped by Hades. Demeter, goddess of the earth, mourned and all the crops failed and the earth was dark. Before Hades released Persephone from the underworld, he tricked her into eating six pomegranate seeds, so she had to return to the underworld for half of every year, which is one explanation for the seasons.

Others also have incorporated pomegranates into their teachings. According to Wikipedia, the ancient Egyptians were buried with pomegranates. The Babylonians believed chewing the arils before battle made them invincible. The Koran mentions pomegranates twice as examples of the good things G-d creates and once as a fruit found in the Garden of Paradise.

There is also a lot written on the health benefits of the pomegranate. They are high in vitamin C and antioxidants, a virtual hand grenade against free radicals.
For generations, the only way to get to the seeds and have the juice was to attack the pomegranate when it wasn’t looking, hoping not to have your hands stained like some thief who unwittingly steals an exploding pack of dye mixed in with the bank’s money. I’ve read of the rubber glove approach, the bathtub approach and others to opening up the pomegranate’s hidden vaults. Then, after you picked out the seeds, you need to extract the juice from the thin pulp covering them. It is this juice, which squirts and sprays and just plain leaks out all over as you prick out the seeds, that creates the powerful red stain, so permanent that it was used in antiquity as a fabric dye.

For years, I would shop in Middle Eastern stores to buy bottles of pomegranate juice, syrup and molasses (concentrated juice). I used these in different sweet-and-sour food preparations. Now, one only has to go to the supermarket to buy bottles of fresh juice and prepackaged defenseless arils, no messy seeding needed. The wider availability juice might be one reason we are seeing a surge of pomegranate products on the market. (I had several tasty pomegranate juices, sorbets and other products at the Fancy Food Show and was very taken with a Republic of Tea pomegranate tea. The tea’s box very prominently featured the Pom name and logo.)

To do it yourself, first pick a pomegranate that is heavy for its size. Then extract the seeds. My preferred way coincidentally happens to be the way the Pom people say to do it. Click over to Pom Wonderful's site to see photos of the operation. Basically, cut off the crown and score the outside hull into sections. Then submerge the pomegranate under water in a big pot or bowl. Break apart the sections. Still under water, rub the membrane off the seeds. The seeds will sink to the bottom and the white membrane should pretty much float. Spend the time to get all the membrane off at this stage. It is much easier now then afterwards. Then drain and strain and you have your seeds ready to use.

Unopened pomegranates can last for a few weeks at room temperature, a month or more in the refrigerator. The seeds can be frozen or kept in the refrigerator for up to a week.

To be honest I’ve never juiced a pomegranate myself. I just love eating the seeds. But if you want to try here are two methods from ehow.com. The first is caveman style. Bash the pomegranate against a kitchen counter or other surface a few times, rolling it back and forth to release the juice. Then “puncture or cut” the pomegranate and squeeze the juice out. Blog Appetit is not responsible for any cleaning bills this method may incur.

The other method is to gather the drained seeds you harvested via the water bath and pulverize them in a blender or food processor, then strain the resultant juice through cheesecloth. (This is why I have always BOUGHT the juice.)

To Be Continued -- Part Two (Recipes)

Update: Click here for the recipes.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Not Just a Heart-Shaped Box

Thinking outside the box ....

It's Valentine's Day. We are not really holiday-centric here at the Blog Appetit househould, but over at Sugar Savvy, there are Valentine's treats aplenty.

Please click over to Sugar Savvy to see my round up of Valentine goodies that are not as traditional as a red-wrapped box. Oh, and a chocolate voodoo doll for when things are not so sweet.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Belated Blog Roll

I'll be adding the following sites to my link section ASAP. In the meantime, please check out the following.

Creampuffs in Venice features the writings, photos and recipes of Ivonne. Her background is Italian, her current home is Toronto, her writing is enticing. Plus, I love the name.

Becks&Posh must be the go-to blog for the food and restaurants of San Francisco, even for me, and I live in the area! Sam is British, her boyfriend, Fred, is French, and she has a unique perspective that really comes through. Sam is also the "headmistress" of the blog Food Blog Sc'ool, a lifesafer for me, a still somewhat neophyte food blogger.

Please also check out Cooking With Amy, Simply Recipes and 101 Cookbooks, all of which I have mentioned in previous posts.

Watch for more blog roll introductions to come. You might want to check out these blog rolls of honor from the archives:

"Blog Roll Please"
"Another Link"

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Promises, Promises

Dear Readers,

Disappointed there have been no new recipes lately? Fear not, soon I'll be posting a winter farmer's market saute that is very versatile. Lots of options for cooking and serving. Plus I'll be participating in the food blogging world's Cheese Sandwich Day towards the end of the week.

Also, I am working on some of the long-overdue wrap ups of the Fancy Food Show, including some of my favorites such as rosewater ice cream.

I also have some new cookbooks I want to share and some food magazine issues to ponder. I've ask a friend for permission to share her impressions of a French supermarket. Also, I'm working on a few things for Sugar Savvy that I hope you will click on over to.

By the way, the photo above is one I took last May in Paris through a shopkeeper's window. The roses are made of sugar. I thought something like this seemed perfect to share so close to Valentine's Day.

Take care,

Friday, February 10, 2006

You Gotta Have (Chocolate) Heart

Click on over to Sugar Savvy to read my latest See's Piece by Piece. This week I am exploring the deep, dark mysteries of the Scotchmallow. See what happens when the chocolate scientists at See's experiment with grafting butterscotch caramel with honey marshmallow. Will I like this Frankenstein of a treat? Please check it out. I guarantee it is almost as much fun to read about chocolate as it is to eat it!

In other heart sightings, my local bagel store had heart-shaped plain and cinnamon raisin bagels this morning and I had run out of the house with out my camera. At least they weren't tinted red.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Some Stats on Eating Habits

Did you know that:

  • 53 percent of Americans say they try to avoid snacking, up 10 percent from 20 years ago
  • Stove tops are used 18 percent less and microwave use has doubled since 1985
  • Use of fresh products (scratch cooking) has declined 10 percent since 1985 to only 46 percent
  • In 2004, 75 percent of adults said they wanted to reduce fat from their diets and 61 percent wanted to add more whole grains

    (Now I would like to see the sales figures for potato chips, chicken wings, etc., and see how people's actual behavior matched their self-reported goals!)

    These facts on "20 years of eating habits" were excerpted in the magazine Fancy Food & Culinary Products. I got the January issue as a freebie at the recent Fancy Food Show. The magazine culled them from "Eating Patterns in America" report by the NPD Group

Monday, February 06, 2006

Food Bloggers on Blogging

(Warning: This is NOT a typical blog entry for Blog Appetit, but if you write a blog or enjoy reading blogs, you might want to spend a few minutes and read the below.)

I went to a forum tonight in San Francisco that was promoted as a Food Blogger Face Off. Since I knew a lot of the people involved and knew they seemed to like each other just fine I figured that the name was some marketing hype. But how many tickets would have "meet the nice bloggers" sold?

I went with my friend, a food writing teacher and non-blogger. She felt she learned a lot, I was more ambivalent about what I learned, but the event (which featured super-bloggers Bruce of Saute Wednesday, Pim of Chez Pim, Heidi of 101 Cookbooks and Alder of Vinography and was moderated by blog-savvy Amanda Berne of the the San Francisco Chronicle) did prompt me to think a lot about blogs and blogging.

The turnout was large, about 130 people, which for a Monday night seemed huge. Virtually all of the audience raised their hands when asked if they read blogs. About a quarter indicated that they themselves blog. This panel was talking to pretty knowledgeable folk. Also, my friend pointed out the large number of men in attendance, which she says is unusual for a food event. She speculated it had to do with the technological appeal of blogging.

If you want, I'll be glad to do another post about what these very popular bloggers (101 Cookbooks gets 7,000 views a day) had to say about their blogging roots, concerns and passions. But right now I am just trying to process the thoughts the forum generated.

My disclaimer. I have no numbers. I have not polled anyone or done any surveys, scientific or self serving. These are my impressions and conclusions and are worth about what you paid for them.

First, Heidi referred to bloggers as independent publishers, which fits well with my concept of the low economic barriers of entry for blogging. For many bloggers, it is just the cost of a computer and an internet connection. The spread of broadband has to help, too. I love being editor, publisher, photographer and writer. It reminds me of when I was a kid and used my father's old Royal typewriter and some carbon paper to bat out a neighborhood newspaper. It was too much work and despite the success of volume one, issue one there never was an second issue. Bloggers have cut out the information middlemen -- the traditional media -- and gone straight to their consumers/readers/viewers. They also don't need "news," they can write about the ordinary as well as the extraordinary. They don't need "man bites dog" to have something to share.

I also think many bloggers would blog even if they weren't sure their sites were being read. I know I did. Except for those bloggers who create their sites as marketing adjuncts, there is a yearning to communicate, to connect with other people and to share ideas and lives.

Next, bloggers are the new story tellers. Every blog and every blog post tell a story. Every blogger has a point of view and is part of the group memory of the world we share. Bloggers and readers organize themselves into special interest niches (food blogs or whatever) which gives them a common language and experience. Instead of weaving an oral history, we are linking to each other and creating an archival one. Bruce of Saute Wednesday and Pim of Chez Pim both spoke of early versions of their blog entries wafting around the web, waiting to be plucked and read by anyone who creates a Google search with just the right words.

This is the power of life told in first person. As a former journalist trained in the "objective" third person, that is the biggest difference I see between writing for a blog and writing for a publication. Yes, print media has drifted from its mid-century conceptions of supposedly neutral writing into the first person thanks to the influences of Tom Wolfe and Hunter Thompson and celebrity interviews that are more about the interviewer's interaction with the famous person than the star him or herself. But this is different, this is truly first person. Early blogs were literally about "what I had to eat today." Or what I thought. Or what I thought about what I ate, etc. And without the tedious technology of typewriter and carbon paper, letterpress and ink, delivery trucks and the like, one could write and "publish" about what he or she ate today and have it read by one or one thousand even before the body had digested it.

This immediacy, this intimacy, this lack of barriers are what blogging and reading blogs are about. In the beginning, this was enough within a specific special interest category. Now, I'm told that blog readers appear to be more demanding in terms of content, with the rise of "hyper focused" blogs about sushi or burritos or taco trucks or whatever. I don't know about the appeal of single subject blogs over the more generalist ones (and you can't get more generalist than Blog Appetit) and I have some analogies that compare to the passing of more general interest magazines (such as Life) and the rise of more niche magazines, but I think it is more a reaction to two things.

1. There are more blogs to read that compete for the blog readers' attention and the novelty of first person eating descriptions is not enough to engender viewer loyalty and repeat visits. Your content has to be compelling, preferably in both subject and writing. What your blog looks like has become increasingly important. With the rise of easy-to-use templates, standards have risen. Suddenly blogs face the same problems as other media, how to rise above the clutter.
Having a focus your reader can instantly discern lifts you above the noise. Blog writing and blog reading have passed from the early adopters to a broader group of participants who are looking for more specific experiences than just the thrill of the simple existence of there being blogs and blog reading.

2. Blog readers (and RSS users) are in essence creating and editing their own magazines and cookbooks. They do it piecemeal as they click from source to source, link to link, bookmark to bookmark, regularly checking favorites and looking for new clicks for kicks. They never really create what you would consider a front page of a magazine, or have chapter headings or even have an index (who needs one when you can simply search for what you want with Yahoo, Google, etc.), but they are juggling content in their heads and their browsers. Any good magazine or cookbook needs a mix, a variety of article types and recipes. Blog readers are looking for new and different materials to fill out their mental media. By the end of the day they have created their own "mix tape" of blogs.

The next point is about the success of blogs. How many blogs do I see as I scurry around Blogger just checking things out that are just undisguised porn, finance or other unsavory commercial site masquerading as a blog? Or what about "blog farmers" who use other blogs' content to create sites that are designed more for generating ad revenue than readers? But it is not these phony blogs that could change the wide open world of blogging. The change will come from commercial success and influence.

When bloggers figure out how to make money with a blog beyond cookbook contracts and a few hundred dollars every month from Google's Adsense, then the impetus of having a blog has a major shift. Perhaps economic barriers will rise. Will Blogger and other sites continue to offer free hosting and tools if their users are making more money off their products than they are?

As more bloggers hire programmers (and perhaps content providers) to jazz up their sites to compete for readers, what will happen to the more home-grown sites without the money or talent to install the bells, whistles and real-time forums?

I know first hand how people in the food industry view the influence of food bloggers and I imagine it is the same in other niche blog markets. Virtually every vendor and manufacturer I met at the recent Fancy Food Show seemed as thrilled to talk to me about their products as they would be to someone from the traditional print media. I felt virtually no discrimination against me as a blogger, which I was very upfront about. I have begun to see and hear the interest of industry and commercial ventures in blogs. Will there someday be a "Betty Crocker" of a blogger, some made up corporate spokesbloggers whose carefully crafted first person accounts will be subliminally pushing us toward their products? What is the implication for such co-opting with politics? Do we have a blog police to flame these impostors? Do we trust to the free market and hope that an educated blogging public will be able to detect these frauds? Or does the line between blogger and website, personal and corporate become ever more blurred and a promising technology become commercialized and put out of reach of the masses?

The rise of the so-called Web2 technologies with their increased emphasis on interaction seems to me nothing more than traditional websites and commercial entities wanting to get what we bloggers have -- immediacy, flexibility, the ability to affect and motivate others, the interactiveness with our readers with comments and forums, the responsiveness, etc. Admittedly, I know little beyond what I read in the newspapers about Web2, but being a blogger, even one for just a few short months with a limited readership and using an off-the-shelf template, I can feel the pull of blogging's promise.

I used to wonder if blogs would end up like the CB fad in the late 70s. For a while it seemed everyone you knew had one or thought they should. CBers developed an ethos and lingo all their own. Then the fad began to fade. CBers had only each other to talk to in dwindling numbers as new technologies (such as car phones) and new interests replaced the CB. Within the blogging community there seems to be a concern that only people with blogs are reading other blogs and there is a concern that this is not healthy. I don't worry about it as much now. We still might be a fad or our success might drive out the original thought and writing, or without new readers we might slowly go away, but we will live on through our permalinks, always just a Google search away.

Feel free to leave your comments on the past, present and future of blogging below.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Helping Out at My Local Food Bank

Yesterday the oldest son and I volunteered a few hours at the Alameda County Community Food Bank (ACCFB). This is something I do periodically, but this son had never done before. We worked a three hour shift sorting through bins and barrels of donated foods to help make up boxes of food to be given to about 300 agencies feeding about 120,000 folks. Some of the agencies repack the food and give individual grocery bags to clients, others just hand over the box. (The photo above shows the contents of a typical bin of donated food.)

Since I know that many people will need to eat for the week what is inside each of these boxes, I take packing each box very seriously.

We were told to pack two rows of cans on the bottom of the box and fill it up to the top with "soft" goods such as rice, noodles, cereal boxes and the like.

My technique was to "dive" into the bins and barrels searching for protein such as beans, canned tuna or chicken, canned ham and other meats, peanut butter and spaghetti sauce with meat. I would try to make sure that each box got at a variety of these. Then I would fill the rest of my can allotment with canned fruits and vegetables, again trying for an assortment. I was really aware of what I would feel like opening a box and what my reaction might be. Then I filled in the soft goods, making sure there was pasta for the sauce, rice for the beans, etc. Sometimes I would run across a cake mix. I would set it aside until a can of frosting popped up in my search and then I would put both in the carton. I hoped whomever got this box would enjoy the treat and have a way to make the cake and that my giving them cake did not take up space that could have gone to food they would have wanted more.

In the three hours the 18 or so of us volunteers packed 9 pallets full of boxes to go to the agencies, each weighing about 1,200 pounds. (The photo at right shows some of the empty boxes that greeted us as we began our shift.)

I was acutely aware that I had spent a significant portion of my time just a few weeks ago wandering around the bounty of the Fancy Food Show and how I spend so much time working on Blog Appetit and writing about food that I almost take it for granted.

Working at the food bank really brought me back to reality about hunger here in America. I am not going to take the time to research the statistics, but believe me that hunger is very real and no matter where you live, there are people near you who depend on the services of a food bank.

Please donate funds and your time to your local food bank. You can go to to find the agency nearest you through America's Second Harvest organization .

Please donate food whenever an opportunity presents itself. Please don't use the food drive as an excuse to empty out your pantry of exotic foods you never got around to using, ancient cans, food without labels, anything that is not sealed or individually wrapped (with ingredients on the wrappers), baby food or formula (which the food banks are not allowed to distribute), or anything you probably wouldn't want to eat yourself. I can't begin to tell you how much we had to throw away (which cost time and money for hauling services) because well-meaning people just didn't realize this.

Here are my suggestions for general guidelines for foods to donate (click here for a list of foods recommended by the ACCFB. Needs in your area might differ):

Whenever possible consider buying and donating low fat or low sodium versions. A canned food diet already contains a lot of fat and sodium.

Proteins: Canned beans, tuna, peanut butter, canned chicken, canned corned beef and other meats, spaghetti sauce with meat, cans of meat ravolis and spaghetti with meatballs, boxes of macaroni and cheese (packed in soft goods layer), cans of soup, especially those with beans, chicken or meat in them. Check to see if shelf-stable tofu is wanted in your area.

Vegetables and fruits: Cans of spinach, green beans, carrots and mixed vegetables. There was a ton of canned corn and peas, which are fine, but I worried about all the carbs and tried to make sure the vegetable assortment was varied. I saw a few cans of potatoes, which seemed like a good idea as a quick side dish. There were lots of cans of sweet potatoes and cranberry sauce, probably left over from the holidays. Canned applesauce (not the little plastic cups), fruit cocktail, pineapple and mandarin oranges are all a good idea.

Soft goods: Bags of rice, pasta and beans are great. So are boxes of cereal and oatmeal. I saw a number of small boxes of cornbread mix which seemed like a good idea. There were a few five pound bags of flour, large boxes of cornmeal and bags of sugar. I didn't want to pack these in anyone's boxes since they took up so much room that meant they wouldn't get other foods. I left these for the food bank to distribute to soup kitchens and other food-serving agencies.

It was hard work and I was tired at the end of my shift, as was my son. But we both felt like we had accomplished something. I hope you will consider helping out at your local food bank sometime soon.

Be Mine K-9

Click on over to Sugar Savvy to see my post on what kind of Valentine's Heart to get your beloved dog or cat.

If romance is going to the dogs, we might as well get them nice Valentine's presents!

(Please remember, no REAL chocolate for the pooches. Feel sorry for them that their delicate digestive systems that can handle goodness-knows-what eaten from the gutter can't cope with a nice chocolate buttercream.)

Thursday, February 02, 2006

See's Piece by Piece #3 Posted

If this is Friday, it must be Sugar Savvy time again. Well, actually it is still Thursday night, so I'm writing this a few hours ahead of myself because of a busy schedule.

Anyway, the third in my dissection and delection of See's Candy Piece by Piece will be here by the time most of you read this post. Please click over to Sugar Savvy's The Chocolate Box feature to check out my discussion on Chocolate-Covered Cherries. I think my expose of this confection may surprise you.

Some of you have emailed me asking if I need See's tasting assistance. Well, no, I don't. This is a one palate job. However, I could use some recommendations about what See's pieces you'd like to have me write about in the next few weeks. Any favorites you want to share with the world? Any flavors you've been curious about but too timid to try yourself? Anything from See's you want to dare me to eat? Need inspiration, check out See's list of pieces. Leave me your suggestions as comments below and I'll do my best to include them in The Chocolate Box.

Update: Sugar Savvy and Well Fed are no more - But thanks to the Wayback archives you can see the original post as part of the page here:

Text of that post is below: