04 March, 2010

On Blogging and Writing About Food

I love writing. Always have. I used to (and sometimes still do) prefer the written word over face-to-face communication. When writing out one's thoughts, it's easy to edit yourself and take a moment to filter things. In a face-to-face setting, we don't have those luxuries. Sometimes I might hesitate to say something important because I can't find the right words at that time, or I do elect to say something that I would like to immediately retract.

Not to say that people aren't often misunderstood in written form, as well. Missing are the eyebrow raises and hand gestures, and the beloved tone of voice that helps us interpret the oft misunderstood multiple meanings behind words.

If anyone finds a perfect way of communication, please let me know! In the meantime, I'll do my best between spoken and written words, and hope (and pray) that somewhere along the line, the message and meanings are interpreted correctly more often than not. That would be a success!

While I love traditional prose, and plan to really write here, I also love recipes, photos of food, ideas behind food, the culture around food, and just about everything food related. So, this has somehow quickly turned into a food blog, despite my best efforts to keep it neutral. How I came to conceive this passion for writing about food has been a rather long journey, one that started in Germany, traversed through Belgium, and has landed here in Seattle.

I have been fascinated with all things culinary since working and studying in Europe in the early 90s. I’d always enjoyed good food and drink, but my job as a nanny had me actually cooking for an entire family. When I cook (versus just simply eating someone else’s cooking), I experience an appreciation for the food that goes beyond just enjoyment. I feel like I am helping sustain myself and others. I also feel like a creative chemist; I just created a meal from a bunch of scattered ingredients, and made it taste good.

I have read many cookbooks, from cover to cover, much like my mother reads novels. I truly enjoy good food writing, by both gourmands and the common cook, and with or without recipes. Cookbooks are my weakness, and I will spend hours reading recipes and dog-earing the pages of the best-sounding recipes for later use. Like most people, I suppose, I really enjoy cookbooks with good photos. Food photography, if done well, turns the page into more than just a good read. It adds that third dimension to the dish. And, for some of us, a beautiful dish is just as wonderful on the eyes as it is on the tongue. As the Germans like to say “You also eat with your eyes.”

Beyond just recipes, though, I love to contemplate the science of flavor, the chemistry of cooking, and the psychological and physiological effects that foods have on our minds and bodies. Food is, at its simplest form, sustenance. In a more complex form, it can be art. Or an addiction. Or a social stimulant. Foods and ingredients can be both the root of disease, as well as its cure.

We actually have a complex relationship with the things that we ingest, both in solid or liquid form. Since a great many of us drink and eat regularly, an average drink or a meal for us does not pack the same punch as it would for someone who has been fasting or someone who has not had access to standard nutrition in some time. For those people, eating is much more conscious, and the lack of nutrition is much more obvious than for those of us who eat all day long and never stop to ponder the alternative.

Simply put, we would not be able to survive without food. But, as with all things, moderation is the key. It would benefit us to develop a strong sense of balance in our meals, an affinity for the nutritional elements which graze our plates, and a real appreciation for the beauty of cuisine. My friend, Charity Burggraaf, has a new blog "The Sustainable Plate" where she is tracking the miles and locations of the food that comes to her plate. What if we were all that conscious of where food comes from and how it gets to us?

I announced this past week that I plan to write a cookbook. I have been wanting to write this since my second year in Germany, which was 1992. I knew there was so much to know about European dishes and culinary culture, that I began studying it. I studied it close up, with local cooks, travel, restaurant trips, and bought every book I could get my hands on, both in English and German (and even some Italian magazines).

Since learning to cook in Europe, I have developed a love of gastronomy that rivals my other passions: Europe, writing, and photography. So why not combine those passions and do food photography and writing…together? Thus, the idea of working on a cookbook was born. And now, this blog. Honestly, what better project for me than to combine my passion for European culture, cooking, photography, and writing? It's the perfect way for me to utilize my talents and get enjoyment out of it at the same time.

I'm still deciding on the organization of the book. There are many ways to organize a technical manual (and a cookbook is indeed a book of instructions). The book could be a completely different book, if organized a different way, so I'm still fleshing out the details of the best way to present the recipes, the history, the culture, and the passion I have for bourgeois Old World cooking. I love haute cuisine, but I'd much rather sit at a scuffed wooden table than a linen-and silver-covered two-top. I love everything from farmhouse cooking to gourmand offerings, but I prefer being elbow-deep in kitchen twine and dumpling dough.

I'll blog my journey with my own cookbook, as well as continue to cook from others'. There is nothing more inspiring to me, when working on my own project, than to see so many others who have created great works before me. Maybe that might be daunting to some people. To me, it is inspirational. I think we all have our own unique talent, in whatever it is we do. We just have to own it and make it ours.


  1. Jackie, what a perfect idea.
    Congratulations, enjoy the journey.

  2. About time ;-) Look forward to following along.

  3. I agree--what a perfectly natural endeavor for you, and I'm surprised it's taken this long! Also, the photos will be stunning, I know.

    And I'm going to try your Tarte au Sucre for dinner tonight!
    ::a bajillion hugs to you!::

  4. Can't wait to be your taste tester! ;) Let the journey begin!

  5. We also say "one eats with the eyes" in Japanese too. Great to come across such a good writer - it's the main thing I look for in a blog, though the photos are lovely too of course!

  6. Thanks for sharing some great thoughts. Very true that we are not as aware of eating in order to survive as someone who is not able to, or chooses not to, eat on a regular basis. I try to take pleasure in what I eat while also being aware of what affects what I'm consuming may have on my body. I'm also trying more and more to trace the source of everything I eat. I'm working on eating more local, whole foods, and trying to give up anything that has been heavily processed.

    Looking forward to reading your future food writing!

  7. Greetings! I just discovered you via your comment on Cooking School Confidential. I am also a writer, and also attending culinary school. After years of PR and later staying home w/kids, I'm trying to decide what I want to do when I "grow up," if ever. ;) It will be some combo of writing and cooking.

    Please come see me at www.fancypantsfoodie.com and let me know what you think. Looking forward to reading and learning more from you!

  8. Reading your thoughts on food and the written word made me feel as though I were reading my own thoughts! I couldn't agree with you more, Jackie! In my opinion, whether it's the simplest dish or an elaborate meal, food should be a feast for the senses ~ all of them! This is what I strive to achieve with everything I prepare and photograph, and I thoroughly enjoy the entire process. As for cookbooks, I have hundreds yet never have enough! I use many of them for inspiration and the sheer enjoyment of reading and browsing through the mouth-watering images! All this being said, it will be a pleasure to follow your blog with your lovely prose and food photography, Jackie!

    marie, the EpicureanPiranha