Food Blogger Gift Guide
For the last three years, I’ve been coaching new food bloggers as part of my job (I teach Food Writing), and I am always amazed by the doors that fly open for those who approach it with ferocious passion and tenacious hooks. As a former print journalist, I was skeptical, initially, of teaching students to blog because I didn’t see the value of side-stepping the editorial process to post a bunch of raw writing online. Now, I view blogging quite differently — as a teachable platform that grows skills like onions. The best food bloggers don’t just learn how to write and edit themselves, they learn how compose photos, use social media (ahem, professionally), and become part of a thinking, cooking community.
This gift guide was inspired by some of my current and former students who continue to surprise and dazzle me. If you know someone who is keen to kick off a food blog, encourage them. Even if they don’t turn into the next James Beard or Molly Weisenberg, they will discover transferrable skills — whether it’s how to write concisely about mustard greens or how to engage an audience that really likes…cheese. I love that I am still learning many of these skills myself. Here are some useful items for the food-blog newbie or nut:
This tiny pocket camera takes beautiful close-ups in low light. It’s perfect for the budding food blogger who wants to snap on the go, or better yet: hover over her meals in restaurants. I don’t own this gizmo, but it’s on my list. At a recent wedding party, I met a Cyber-shot owner and challenged him to a duel. I used my wee Canon Elph, which I adore for its macro lens, but it could not make crumbs look as pretty. The Cyber-shot is the only Napoleon-sized camera I know of that can make a cheese plate glow in a dark room.
If you know a budding blogger who has never used WordPress or set foot on Twitter, the online video library at Lynda.com is a must. I recommend the video series on food photography. I used this site for a month, thanks to a license from work, and I was amazed at the quality of the videos (bite-sized instruction in many modules) and by the knowledge of the teachers. The tutorial on Twitter taught me many functions I didn’t know, even though I regularly use Twitter to follow cheesemakers and fellow dairy hounds.
Lyndsey and Bjork from the blog Pinch of Yum have a radical idea: they are setting up a mini food blogger university. When they launch Food Blogger Pro in January, they plan to use videos and screencasts to teach foodies the ins and outs of blogging. You can start as a freshman, sophomore, junior, or senior, depending on your skill level. Although I don’t know these bloggers personally, I am fascinated by their business savvy. They monetize their blog, but they do it through “affiliations” rather than flashing ads. And I like their honest but snappy copy.
Even though blogs live on screen, publishing a kitchen-shelfable book made of real paper and actual ink is still en vogue. This was a banner year for beautiful, informative, innovative books by bloggers. Here are a few that I desperately hearted:
Food in Jars, by Marisa McClellan
La Tartine Gourmande, by Beatrice Peltre
Herbivoracious, by Michael Natkin
The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, by Deb Perelmen
Note: Saveur offers a round-up of great food mags that are re-shaping the food world, from dream-luxe Kinfolk to super heady Gastronomica. Even if your foodie only thinks in pixels, it’s worth introducing her to magazines and newspapers that coach writers and shape stories in ways that few websites ever do. Longform journalism, like the springform pan, still has its uses.
Estate sales, antique shops, and kitchen stores are great places to pick up plates, bowls, cutting boards, silverware, dish towels, and the odd delight — like a shot glass made of horn. A stack of fabric swatches (in Philadelphia, try Spool) or wallpaper can be a great gift for a blogger who cooks at home and wants to employ different backgrounds. Peer into a professional food photographer’s studio, like Jason Varney’s below, and you’ll see a prop library to make most food bloggers weep.
For more ideas, check out what these food bloggers offer on the subject of food photography and styling:
- Vegan Yum Yum (on props and lenses)
- La Tartine Gourmande (she leads sumptuous workshops)
- Serious Eats (lighting tips)
My most used prop is a 12×18 piece of slate from Brooklyn Slate. Everything looks good on it, and it comes with chalk and a burlap bag to keep the slate from getting scratched. It’s durable and lovely.