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On Food Writing: Always a Sensual Foodie

Stephanie Kordan, stephaniedujour

Back in 2011, I began The Sensual Foodie blog, mostly because I wanted to write about something I loved. My blog launched with the heartfelt philosophy that food and love go together. 

I had the desire to write but didn’t join the blogging world with a plan. The idea of branding and creating a career as a food writer wasn’t even in my radar yet. I was just a stressed out single mom of three kids managing an uncertain day job to support us all, worrying that I was one bad cold away from living in my minivan. I wanted to write about something I enjoyed as an outlet, to relieve the frustration of not creating. I had overdue bills to pay, all arranged in scheduled installments, daycare costs, late minivan payments. I had ex-husband struggles, custody court issues, and a failing relationship with my youngest daughter’s father. My life was anything but full of the pleasure and romantic meals I dreamed about! I now believe that blogging was a practice in visualization to align my life with my dreams. 

But when I first started blogging, I was working long days to make enough income to support my family on the Westside of Los Angeles. I was changing my eating focus from vegetarian to vegan. To lose weight after my third child, I biked to work, of course, after doing the minivan drop-offs to daycare as well as two different schools. Three kids, three locations, then a full work day. I also went raw vegan for nine months, took spinning and barre classes.

Yet, I felt like I was literally spinning in circles, not going in any one direction. It wasn’t until I realized that writing — blogging mostly— was important to me as it gave me the opportunity to reach into my soul and express some of what I contained. So I took it more seriously. When I needed to be creative (because if I didn’t create I’d go crazy) I gave food blogging my attention. 

Sometimes to clear my mind, I took the beach route home after work and biked along the path from Santa Monica to Marina del Rey, just to breathe in the fresh ocean air and appreciate the beauty. I was so over being too busy, over-stressed and juggling everything. I’d think about creating blog posts during my bike ride. Blogging brought me into the moment. 

I started the blog to refresh my passions and to remember who I was, deep down, without all of the noise that scattered my focus. It began with my first Mac laptop and a basic Nikon camera. 

I attempted to gather the many parts of me I forgot along the way. 

The part of me that loved to cook. The part of me that craved pleasure. The part of me that was creative. The poet that wrote long hand journal entries while watching the landscape go by through a train window. The painter that fell in love with light and color. There were so many parts of me I put away because I was in survival mode. 

Starting a food blog seemed like journaling at first. I wrote about an afternoon lunch of pizza and iced tea. I described the pizza as delicate and thin, dappled with burrata cheese. The crust had a burnt, earthy flavor, covered with fresh cherry tomatoes, zucchini, thyme, garlic, little buds of squash blossoms. It tasted like sunlight baked upon a hot stone. 

How I described food back then may have been a tad cliché. My effusive wording sounded fluffy and didn’t hold weight. It didn’t truly utilize my knowledge of food and cooking, nor was it a showcase of my abilities. Maybe I didn’t read enough food reviews, or maybe I just really loved the pizza in an adolescent way. Nevertheless, it was a step upon the path that brought me all the way here.

I’ve come a long way, baby.

However, now, as I re-read my early posts, my blog reads like a teenage girl gushing over her favorite boy band over and over again. (I can be my very worst critic.) Because in my mind, if I’m not writing about Los Angeles dining like Gael Greene of New York Magazine circa 1980, then what exactly am I doing writing about food? How did I become a recipe blogger? Where was the true writing? Perhaps I should just write a series of romance novels under a nom de plume and settle for way better pay. I’d be able to take my kids on vacation, at least. 

Please, my darling readers, don’t get me wrong here: food writing in Los Angeles hasn’t always been an unappreciated task. However, these days it’s like a bunch of teenagers squabbling over what to contribute to the school newspaper. 

LA Weekly, a publication I’ve contributed to a few times, has been eaten up like a pack of rabid dogs devouring a cold dumpster pizza. It was straggling along before the buy out. Suddenly, everyone fired — editors, contributors, freelance and staff — all left without a writing position. Though, honestly, one cannot live off of food writing these days. Everyone writing (I feel that I can speak for freelance food writers like myself) needs a side hustle. I’ve made under one thousand dollars in total as a food writer. Obviously I’m not doing it for the money.

Like my writing heroes Anaïs Nin and Henry Miller, i wonder if penning erotica for pay on the side still has some value? Ah, but who am I kidding. The money isn’t in erotica or porn. Who is reading the erotica genre, but maybe those exhausted of the digital robotic porn so ridiculously rampantly accessible. It’s all popcorn pornas I call it. Hot buttered and served up salty, it’s sort of good until you taste the fake butter and gnaw on the styrofoam texture too much. The shock to my system when Fifty Shades of Grey was a hit. The worst writing. Maybe writing crap mediocrity is where the money is at? 

In all seriousness, food writing, a privileged sort of career, has changed. It’s title reminds us of overweight temperamental critics wading up to a table and ordering everything on the menu while waiters nervously scurry around. People have come to fear the critic and their written word. Nowadays it’s changed to the impossible gaggle of Yelper trolls and their pedestrian bad one-star reviews, and they’re  as pervasive as Trump’s childish tweets.

I’d like to think good food writing has evolved beyond stereotypical critique like the kind that the Anton Ego character in the animated film Ratatouille doles out. Consider food critic Jonathan Gold, a Pulitzer Prize winning writer, who has helped so many mom-and-pop businesses thrive in a huge megalopolis like Los Angeles with his reviews. Perhaps there is some room next to food critic Pete Wells and The J Gold to squeeze in some other interesting voices and seasoned writers at the dining table?

The writer Elizabeth Gilbert in her wonderful book Big Magic, advises the creative person not to demand that their creativity support them. She speaks from experience that keeping your day job is the best thing to do, because you can’t expect your craft to make money and demand that of it— that approach is as effective as shouting at a cat to do something. 

But how to write anything, even a to-do list, after you’ve put in a hard day’s work and wrangled all your parenting responsibilities? Virginia Woolf may have been absolutely correct about finding a Room of One’s Own, but dear Virginia didn’t live in Los Angeles circa 2017 as a single mom without a trust fund or family money to live off of while managing to house and feed her children and write. But I think she definitely would have suggested a side hustle or two, if she were aware of us modern writers and the changes brought about during the internet age — we have to do anything we can just to write. I don’t mean write content, although it has its prevalence over anything else in this cyber era, but what about quality writing, soulful writing, and the art of writing?

Virginia Woolf did say that “one cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well” and also, I must mention, one cannot properly write about food if you are hungry. You cannot be either too hungry nor too full, and that is par for the course when food writing. 

Here’s another thought: why food writing? Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher, another writer known for her prolific writings on life and food, is quoted: “It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the love of it and the hunger for it… and then the warmth and richness and fine reality of hunger satisfied… and it is all one.”

My voluntary fits and starts with Huffington Post slowed to non-existent (I didn’t have much time to submit new pieces). There was no pay, no contract. I did it because I wanted to do it. My writerly dreams and aspirations had the platform to reach thousands, to be a part of something bigger and more dynamic. After a year into contributing, Huffington Post changed the whole platform interface. I was warned it would go from beta, and I was sent the new username and password. I forgot about the changeover, I didn’t write for months. Later, when I did attempt a log in, HuffPo’s new interface wouldn’t allow access into my dashboard. So I wrote to the mysterious editors (only one I know as “Steven” replied to an email after I playfully teased that they were really a bunch of elves). Until I attempted to retrieve my updated log in and password. This time, no one, not even the one editor elf I knew by name, replied. So I gave up there after a blank screen and no way to log in. Next

I’m returning to the original and dependable blog format where I have total control. I’ve posted essays on Medium when I have the inspiration. I’ve thought about other culinary outlets to contribute to, but first, this blog needs more. It’s seasoned, and it’s mine. 

My approach to blogging is still somewhat organic. I’ve managed to hone my blogging skills over the years. My food photography, once yellowy-orange and badly lit, has evolved, and continues to improve. Recently I had a camera geek conversation with another food photographer as we swooned over the many features of the new Sony mirrorless cameras. 

Currently I’m completely out of space on my MacBookPro, so much so that I can’t even save a screenshot. My Nikon D700 is acting up and I struggle to get a well focused shot, so I resort to using the portrait feature on my new iPhone 8 plus. All of my recent food photography on Instagram and the blog are taken with my iPhone. My posts aren’t scheduled nor are they planned.

This would happen in my perfect world: I’d fill my editorial calendar with weekly recipes and gorgeous Insta-worthy photo shoots like a sleek magazine. I’d have three cookbooks already published in gorgeous hardback editions. I’d have a team of recipe testers, all crafting plant-based creations, and maybe I’d finally get my yoga-sculpted bottom to Italy before my 50th birthday to feast upon pasta and olives and savor some good wine. (I have two more years to make this happen.)

Reality: If a weekday dinner comes out well, I’ll take notes on what I did (I don’t measure a thing) and try it again before sharing the recipe. To get a good photo of the recipe takes more trips to the grocery store and/or farmers’ market for ingredients, then clearing my workday (i.e. no income that day but many grocery expenses) to cook, style, and catch some of the available afternoon light to get the best shot. Sometimes I get it down right and we get to eat my beautiful creation. Other times it seems that every photo I take completely misses the mark, and I’m simmering in my own self-criticism. Nothing comes from those moments. I go out to grab us all burritos for dinner instead. How many times that whole endeavor happens exceeds my blog posts by far. (We eat a lot of burritos around here.)

Every new year that comes, I think I’ll have my Valentine’s e-cookbook ready before February. Every year that I dream about creating a cookbook, every month that I’ve only posted one recipe, every week that comes and goes with more to-go burrito dinners, I’m wondering why I started food blogging at all. 

But I do remember why. Passion, creativity, and the desire to share my love of food, is my purpose, my why. I happen to know quite a bit about food, cooking and the art of creating a recipe. My talents are strong in improvisational cooking, so crafting a recipe taught me more about my own way around the kitchen. (My boyfriend joked that I needed to wear a GoPro camera strapped to my head so I’d remember how I made something.) I love to cook and create food for pleasure. It’s like any other type of art.

Still I have to remind myself sometimes that I have been on the culinary path all along. I took French classic cooking, a whole year-long certification program –all while working as a stripper– to support my culinary aspirations, way back in the 1990s. It was fun. I dined at L’Orangerie, I was engaged to a line chef at Spago, I knew how to make pâte à choux and decorate fancy cakes. I owned a blowtorch for making that golden caramel crust on crème brûlée. My background, if I can give myself credit, is deeply rooted in the culinary and creative realms. Food and pleasure, as I knew it, belonged together. 

I still think that it’s a magnificent gift to be able to express oneself with writing. My love of food, the culinary, the vegetarian, the vegan, the delicious, and the art of cooking, outweighs anything else that deters me from writing about food at all. “Freedom and fullness of expression are of the essence of the art,” as Virginia Woolf wrote, a quote as timeless and as true as anything else we can say about writing. 

I’ve changed the title of my blog from The Sensual Foodie to sync with my Instagram account, @stephaniedujour. I think the way blogging is integrating all together, as blog and social media platforms align, it’s an exciting time with many possibilities. Ultimately, if we are willing to continue to do something like writing and blogging, despite it supporting us financially, and do it because we enjoy it, then it’s not just because we want something in return. Opinions on food, a restaurant review, a recipe, the memory of a beautiful meal— all of it is worth the time and effort to share in a blog post. There are readers out there, and you never know who you might inspire. Do you still want to write something even if it’s late, you’re tired, and you aren’t getting paid? If the answer is yes, you are opening the door to the world. Draft the post. 

I’m always a sensual foodie, always a writer, always a pleasure seeker, a dreamer, a survivor and a positive thinker, and I’m ready to see where this blog takes me next.

 

 

 

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