Snips and snails and puppy dog tails

by Ben on September 14, 2010 · 60 comments

in Essay, Index

Oh, but it was an unpleasant feeling. My wife had long since gone to sleep when I reached the sobering conclusion, having read just three posts from Molly Wizenberg’s nearly 6-year-old blog, that I had been hopelessly, thoroughly scooped. Honey, wake up. No, seriously—wake up! There’s another blog here that has good writing and photos …

Okay, for the sake of argument, let’s pretend that this didn’t happen in March 2010, that Molly’s memoir (which discusses, at length, her wildly successful blog) hadn’t already been on bookshelves for a year, and that I was not the last person on earth to read Orangette. Given those mental circumstances, I had to weep a little bit. Because before that fateful Waterloo moment, I was the proud, new owner of a free WordPress.com blog, and had begun writing about (wait for it … ) food. With a couple posts under my belt and some snarky comments in tow, I was confident that, of the 100,000 or so food blogs out there, mine would stand out as being the best written.

I’ll acknowledge that I was a little naïve about that one. But in my defense, I thought I was onto something different from what I knew to exist. As a spanking new blogger, I had begun my journey by pondering what makes a good blog. I read some of the pros (as well as some Jos) and accumulated bits of advice that I came to identify collectively as Best Practices for food blogging. I’m sure you’ve heard them, in some form or another. They boil down to something like:

  1. Keep your posts short.
  2. Cut to the chase.
  3. Post often.
  4. Take good pictures.
  5. Occupy a niche.

And so forth. Not horrible advice, really. But with myself as editor, I knew that I could not write this way. I certainly could not satisfy all these constraints while maintaining a writing voice that rang true to what I am: Completely neurotic and self-conscious. Was I really going to crank out pithy mood-prefaces to “quick and easy” recipes that were flavorful, healthy, and cruelty-free? Not when so many other writers were doing that much, much better than I possibly could. I wanted to distinguish myself, and for me that meant disregarding the Best Practices format altogether.

The concept I had in mind was to tell stories in the form of vignettes that illustrate the importance of food in my life. Stories long enough to tell you a little bit about me. I might write about the surreal experience of growing up in a moxanim’s household in Hawthorne. Or I might write about trying to do something wacky, like make fake skate wings out of diver scallops. But I would always leave room for myself to develop a distinct voice, which, in my mind, ought to be the most important part of any blog. If I do my job correctly, you’d want to read my posts, even if there is no recipe. And when there is a recipe? Well. You’re going to want to bang out that bad boy today.

So I started writing that way, and feeling good about myself. Then I found Molly’s blog. And Luisa’s. My response was a resounding: Crap. I am forced to adore these two blogs because the authors clearly do not care one iota about Best Practices. They take their time. They tell great stories. And their voices kill. Despite my initial chagrin over being beaten to the punch (by you know, six years or so), I eventually calmed myself down with a key realization: They have their voices, and I have mine.

Whether you love, hate, or remain steadfastly indifferent to my blog, I may compel you to admit that there aren’t many others that read like mine. I am not famous, professionally trained, poetic, or ethereal. My posts are not short. I don’t post every day. And I don’t write in my speaking voice (I’m not nearly this clever in person).

But enough about what I’m not. I am a husband and a dad. The arrival of my daughter forced me to rethink my grad school diet of frozen pizzas and meals that come in pocket form. I am now compelled to prepare delicious, homemade meals for my family. Though I am fascinated by all cuisines, I tend to gravitate toward simple, rustic food with bold flavors. After many years in which eating out was my primary form of entertainment, I started to teach myself to cook some of my favorite dishes. In doing so, I went from being somewhat of a food nerd to being consumed, beyond any reasonable degree, by thoughts of food and cooking. I am a pretty serious geek. Despite repeated attempts at maturity, I continue to excel at being a smart aleck. And I am now learning to write about all of it.

It is perhaps for all these reasons that I currently toil in relative obscurity. But if you’ve read this far, if you’ve read me more than once, or spent any time wondering when my next post would come, I’m willing to bet that you like this blog. If I were to encounter you in an elevator, I would, in all likelihood, be too chicken to say anything. But if forced, at gunpoint, to pitch you, I would say something like this: At Babychili, we try our best to serve delicious posts that are fun to read, useful, and crack you up. Best practices be damned.


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60 comments… read them below or add one

Joan Nova September 14, 2010 at 4:42 am

First time to visit and, you’re right, I like this blog. You voice is strong, clear and compelling. I actually read all-the-words and am going to take a look around beyond the home page. Good luck in the challenge.

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Ben September 14, 2010 at 10:02 am

Hi, Joan. I think yours was the first Challenge 1 post I read! Thanks so much the compliment, and good luck to you, as well.

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Marie (FoodNouveau) September 14, 2010 at 5:18 am

Well, Project Food Blog indeed allowed me to discover your blog, and I’m sure lots of other readers will come your way. I really like your voice and the recipes look yummy, for that I’ll come back often. Good luck with the contest!

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Ben September 14, 2010 at 10:05 am

Nice to meet you, Marie. Looking forward to seeing your post!

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Foodie in Berlin September 14, 2010 at 5:37 am

Did you know Molly has a column in Bon Appetit? I almost prefer the way Luisa writes, she can make eating a day old piece of bread sound interesting!

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Ben September 14, 2010 at 10:13 am

I have read Cooking Life a few times, but it’s the really the blog that I wait for. What a great opportunity, though—Go, her!

And yeah, Luisa’s great. You’ve got to root for the home team, right? 🙂

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Sara @CaffeIna September 14, 2010 at 8:32 am

Keep it short?! Well then I’m out of the game 🙂 but you know those are very good advice but at the end of the day one has to follow his own personality and keep the blog close to that. I love your blog the way it is and you should be proud yourlself!

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Ben September 14, 2010 at 10:15 am

Thanks, Sara. That’s really nice of you to say. And btw that semolina cake looks INSANE. And I don’t even eat dessert.

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Jennifer September 14, 2010 at 11:33 am

The best piece of advice that I ever read about blogging was that there are always going to be better writers than you, but you are the only you. You do have a great voice and I do laugh out loud at least once when I read your posts… I don’t write in my speaking voice (I’m not nearly this clever in person), made me smile this time, and I do wait and look forward to reading your posts. Thank goodness there is room for more than one great food writer out there!

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Ben September 14, 2010 at 12:03 pm

That’s very sound advice, and not just with respect to writing. Getting out of that Salieri-like mindset is a big part of what allowed me to even try things like cook, write, start grad school at age 32, etc. But you know, old habits die hard, and when I read really great blog writing, there’s a small part of me that feels like an idiot for trying. Fortunately, life is not (always) a blog contest, and it’s nice to be able to appreciate other people’s work and go on doing my own thing. I appreciate your feedback.

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Foy Update - Cook. Garden. Write. Repeat. September 14, 2010 at 4:44 pm

Thank you for not writing a generic essay on “Why you want to be the next food blog star”. You are a breath of fresh air. I’ll vote for you!

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Ben September 14, 2010 at 5:14 pm

Hi, Foy. I remember you were one of the first people to friend me on Foodbuzz! Thanks for the nice words. Oh, and I hope this doesn’t compromise your top-secret balloting, but I voted for profile pic ‘A’. 🙂

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Kevin September 14, 2010 at 7:29 pm

Well done, son.
You’ve got a lovely voice. Don’t let anyone tell you different.

(Plus, the pictures are beautiful, too!)

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Ben September 14, 2010 at 7:49 pm

Hey thanks, Kev. That you’re reading my blog in those brief hours that your kids are sleeping is all the praise I need. Speaking of lovely voices, whatever happened to parenthetic (diabetic)?

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Muji September 14, 2010 at 10:44 pm

Gasp! Your baby girl is gorgeous!
Keep up the good work, it’s all looking great.

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Ben September 16, 2010 at 2:10 am

We think so, too. 🙂 I’m glad you’re enjoying the blog.

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Alexandre September 15, 2010 at 7:32 am

I’ll be reading (and rooting for!) your blog with enthusiasm!

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Ben September 16, 2010 at 2:15 am

Thank you for visiting, Alexandre! I’m always surprised and delighted to learn about new readers.

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Jun Belen September 15, 2010 at 10:04 pm

Have you read Molly Wizenberg’s Homemade Life? If not, you should. I love her writing style. Funny and poignant. I’m glad I found your blog. You’re witty and sincere, without trying hard to be cool, unlike the “cool” kids. LOL. Best of luck with PFB, I still have not decided whether I’ll join in the fun or not. Sometimes, I feel I’m not cut out to be a food blogger. Looking forward to reading your posts.

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Ben September 16, 2010 at 2:31 am

I have not read the book, but certainly will. We’re going to have to meet someday and you can tell me all about the Cool Kids. I’m fascinated that such a phenomenon exists in this sphere, and honestly a little perplexed at how it would play out. Anyway, I’m totally comfortable being in the dork realm. 🙂

For real, I just figured out how to use Twitter (like yesterday it seems), and using it to connect with and get to know other bloggers has been a totally unexpected and awesome outcome. LOVE your work, whether you join us for PFB or not. I am rooting for yes. What do you mean about being cut out for food blogging?

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Amy K. September 15, 2010 at 10:41 pm

I’ve always like your style of writing. It’s so completely opposite of my impression upon meeting you the first time – I don’t think your said more than 10 words.

You should just ditch science…(oopsy, did I just say that out loud?)

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Ben September 16, 2010 at 2:37 am

Well, when I say that I’m not the most outgoing person face-to-face, that’s not just branding! I was reading Sarah Gim’s blog, and she said something about her writing being an accurate representation of her personality, but without all the awkward pauses of a spoken conversation. I like that way of thinking about it.

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Amy K. September 16, 2010 at 11:02 am

was my comment even grammatically correct?! i guess at 2 a.m. it was…

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Ben September 16, 2010 at 11:07 am

And to think I was the drunk one. Do you want me to edit it?

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Bridget September 16, 2010 at 10:27 am

I love this blog! If a person not only enjoys reading, but actually enjoys a post so much they’re moved to try a new recipe (i.e. ginger scallion noodles – YUM!), that’s good stuff!

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Ben September 16, 2010 at 10:31 am

Ciao bella!

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Baking Barrister September 16, 2010 at 11:52 am

*i* like your voice–and as long as you do what makes you happy, you’re doing it right! Good Luck with PFB!

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Ben September 16, 2010 at 11:58 am

What if it makes me an insecure, nervous wreck? KIDDING! Thanks for the comment, S. Digging your tweets.

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Jean September 17, 2010 at 8:52 am

First of all, your daughter is gorgeous! Secondly, I’m glad you eschewed the recommended blogging practices. You would be depriving us of your funny, witty and smart writing. Keep doing what you’re doing for it’s what keeps us coming back. So glad to have found your blog–I also see you advancing to the next challenges–no problem at all! 🙂

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Ben September 17, 2010 at 11:35 pm

Esme was a tiny little bear when that picture was taken. I love that little fish face.

Thanks for going through the pain of squinting, pinching out, dang-near going blind, to read my rambling. I tried tweeting on the bus the other day with my phone and it made me so carsick that I had to lie down for about 20 minutes when I got home. Anyway.

Also thanks for your nice words and encouragement. Hope you’re continuing to have a great time in France!

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sippitysup September 18, 2010 at 8:44 am

Great entry. I came to check out the competition and got so much more. You have one of the strongest “voices” I have read in a long time. You look strong. Good Luck. GREG

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Ben September 18, 2010 at 10:17 am

So incredibly sweet of you to say, Greg. Good luck to you, too. Though you’ll hardly need it. 🙂

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angi September 20, 2010 at 1:41 am

“Best practices be damned.” YEAH! Did I tell you I read this post before I tried to write mine and I seriously contemplated not going thru with PFB?? I mean that in a good way, of course. My eyes always light up when my RSS reader alerts me there’s a new babychili pos … so all I gotta say is, watch out PFB!

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Ben September 20, 2010 at 5:14 am

Haha–I had the exact same thought after reading entries that were posted before mine. Your food blog was the first I had ever heard of and a model for many things I have done, so of course I take your comments as huge compliments. Hope we both get through as far as we can. Real-life responsibilities be damned. 🙂

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The Cilantropist September 20, 2010 at 9:08 am

Love love love, this post. I agree with you that it is terribly important to have your own voice and be true to yourself, and I think you do a great job of that! 🙂 I love telling food stories and reading others so your blog is perfect. Good luck with PFB!

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Ben September 20, 2010 at 10:24 pm

Thanks, Amanda! You may gather from my profile pic on Twitter that I was a fan of your post, as well. 🙂

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Renate Valencia September 20, 2010 at 10:21 am

Love this post! Oh, man, do I know about “toiling in obscurity”…! However, good work always pays off in the end, right? Hope it’s not just its own reward… 🙂

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Ben September 20, 2010 at 10:38 pm

Thank you! I think it’s mostly good work, and that’s more or less enough payoff for me. Everything else so far has been icing. Sweet, sweet icing. 🙂 Very nice to have met you, Renate.

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Meg @ Soup Is Not A Finger Food September 20, 2010 at 12:06 pm

I like your post! I’ve dabbled in food writing myself, and don’t know how anyone could possibly write about it succinctly. There’s just so much to say, and you need to let your voice shine through. Best of luck to you in the voting!

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Ben September 20, 2010 at 10:46 pm

Thanks! There are people who write succinctly and do it very well. I have a feeling they would also write better poems than I could, too. Also, their farts might not stink. But you know, it is what it is. 🙂

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Daily Spud September 20, 2010 at 3:50 pm

I like it here Ben. Best practices be damned indeed – I’ve been known to ignore some of those myself. You are more than deserving of my vote, sir.

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Ben September 20, 2010 at 10:49 pm

Why thank you, Aoife! I hear they have these food conferences every once in a while. Hope to meet you at one of them. 😉

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Jacob's Kitchen September 20, 2010 at 7:37 pm

Great post! Nicely written. I voted for you! =)

Good luck!

Check out my PFB post: http://www.foodbuzz.com/project_food_blog/challenges/1/view/503

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Ben September 20, 2010 at 10:50 pm

Thanks, Jacob. Read it, and voted already!

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Jeanne September 20, 2010 at 8:52 pm

You certainly don’t need “best practices”. You’ve got a great style of your own! You earned my vote.

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Ben September 20, 2010 at 10:55 pm

Thanks, Jeanne! Being a biologist, I need to keep my math as simple as possible. Nice to meet you!

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Lick My Spoon September 21, 2010 at 6:21 pm

Being a smart aleck is fun, huh? Cool to see where you draw inspiration and how you’ve been influenced by the blogger community. It goes without saying that you get one of our votes.

Lick My Spoon

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Ben September 21, 2010 at 11:11 pm

In addition to being fun, I consider it a way of life. 🙂 Consider yourself voted!

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Jenni September 21, 2010 at 7:10 pm

I just met you, and I love you. You have my vote, you and your no-best-practices approach. Now, THIS is a blog to believe in! You have a great voice; I hope you go far in the competition!

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Ben September 21, 2010 at 11:23 pm

Thanks, Jenni. You totally made my day!

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Ellen (lapuremama) September 22, 2010 at 9:43 am

Great post! I voted for you 😉

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Ben September 22, 2010 at 9:51 am

Thanks! Just read yours and felt a lot of the same things.

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kate @ scarpetta dolcetto September 23, 2010 at 11:39 am

i think your voice kills, too. got my vote, ben…best o’luck!

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Ben September 23, 2010 at 11:45 am

Thanks, Kate! Already voted for you!

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Libby September 23, 2010 at 5:05 pm

I’m so glad I just stumbled across your post right before voting closed! You had me smiling and nodding in agreement…except it was several YEARS before I discovered that I was even toiling in obscurity, let alone that there were food bloggers and blogging best practices! (I was organizing my recipes. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.) But one of my very first posts was “Turkey Chili Junior” and my son still requests it regularly. You and your beautiful daughter have my vote!

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Ben September 23, 2010 at 5:15 pm

Thank you, Libby! You know, it’s funny. I’ve been thinking about doing a chili post, but haven’t been really inspired by a chili recipe yet. Made a chicken chile verde that was really not worth repeating. I’ll have to try yours.

I was fortunate to have heard of your blog on Charlie Speight’s recommendation, and was similarly moved. You certainly have one of my handful of votes.

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Stephanie M September 24, 2010 at 3:48 pm

Ben,
I love your voice — I think it’s great! As someone brand-new to blogging too — who started doing it as a fun, personal, creative outlet for what sound like similar reasons — I’ve read a lot of the articles and realize that I feel my best writing when I’m writing for, and as, me. As a former fundraiser and manager, I’ve observed that people are at their best when they’re doing what feels good, so I’d say: keep on doing it the way that feels good to you! Can’t wait to read more.

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Ben September 26, 2010 at 2:22 pm

Thank you, Stephanie. And so nice to meet you! Looking forward to reading your posts, as well.

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zmm October 18, 2010 at 6:55 pm

Your little girl is cute!
Can I send my husband over to learn cooking from you?

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Ben October 19, 2010 at 12:06 am

I am still learning cooking myself, but you can certainly send your husband to my blog. 🙂

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