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A&E >  Food

Millions of Megabites

Renee Schettler Washington Post

A few years ago, specialty food magazines, celebrity cooking shows and coffee-table cookbooks began to proliferate. But it wasn’t enough.

Internet-savvy food enthusiasts sought something more quirky or writerly or lavish or esoteric or weeknight-friendly or fill-in-the-blank.

Enter the food blog, a form of online journal.

There is the Movable Feast (www.movable-feast.com), a chronicle that captures seconds in the life of an aspiring chef, from deveining shrimp at 8:20 a.m. to typing in an apartment-door code at 11:50 at night.

The Grocery List Collection (www.grocerylists.com) showcases images of 700 discarded grocery lists and related stories about … grocery lists. Arthur Hungry is the Web log name of a 20-year-old international relations student at Boston University who posts pictures of everything he eats (www.arthurhungry.com). Pinoy Cook (pinoycook.net) is a Filipino mom’s collection of updated traditional recipes. And Dead Man Eating (deadmaneating.blogspot.com) records the last meals requested by prisoners on death row. (Fried chicken and steak predominate.)

The Food Section blog ( www.thefoodsection.com) aspires to post “all the news that’s fit to eat.” Late February brought a riff on “Tangerine Dream,” questioning the color ascribed to the fabric in the recent Central Park exhibit of “The Gates.” Was saffron, selected by artists Christo and Jean Claude, more accurate than, say, clementine? Or persimmon?

A few days later, Vittles Vamp (www.vittlesvamp.com) featured “Art Lover Alert,” depicting a close-up of cheddar cheese sandwich crackers balanced on end in Central Park with the “Gates” in the background.

There are even food blogs that essentially list others, such as Kiplog’s FoodBlog (www.kiplog.com/food) and Food Porn Watch (foodpornwatch.arrr.net).

Blogs now cover a miscellany of culinary topics, sometimes only tangentially related to food. The only constant among the sites seems to be that they are increasing dramatically.

And people are reading. “Every single genre of blogs has increased at an almost alarming rate over the past several years,” said Biz Stone, Blogger senior specialist at Google.

That includes food. Type “food” and “blog” into Google, and the hits exceed 8 million. The number of actual English-language food blogs is far lower. Paul McCann of Kiplog puts the estimate at about 600, but says it’s increasing daily.

According to a Pew Internet & American Life Project published in 2004, 27 percent of American Internet users say they read blogs, an increase of 58 percent from the previous year. In the past year, several food bloggers have seen the number of daily visitors to their sites double or triple.

Along with the proliferation of food blogs comes a proliferation of food blog awards. This year the Bloggies – an annual award given to publicly chosen Web logs – introduced a food category. Bloggies categories are updated annually to reflect “how trends change in the blogging universe,” says Nikolai Nolan, the University of Michigan senior who launched the awards in 2001.

In addition to their own category, food blogs number as nominees in several other Bloggies categories as well. The winners can be found at 2005.bloggies.com.

Last year, food blogger Kate Hopkins of the Accidental Hedonist had initiated the aptly named first Food Blog Awards to recognize the “wealth of food reporting and writing” taking place on blogs. She created 16 categories ranging from best recipes to best photography, solicited nominations from her fellow bloggers and tallied the votes. Winners were announced in early January ( www.accidentalhedonist.com /index.php?cat=250).

Because blogs often take the form of journal entries – ranging from the inane to the relatively profound, from stream of consciousness to carefully worded prose – the biggest draw for repeat visitors to a particular Web site is something intangible: a sense of resonance, if not a shared vision of the world – even if that means knowing where to get the best cream puff in Paris.

Whether bloggers aspire to be the next Jeffrey Steingarten, the sharp-tongued food writer for Vogue, or M.F.K. Fisher, one of the country’s early food writers, they provide readers with their own personal food section, updated weekly and, in some instances, daily. The authors of these sites cover what mainstream media overlook or ignore, but in a casual, interactive manner. And, while most newspapers and magazines require payment for online access to articles published in the not-so-distant past, blogging archives are free.

Taking home four of the Food Blog Awards was Chocolate & Zucchini (chocolateandzucchini.com), a Paris-based Web site written by Clotilde Dusoulier. Her blog gracefully conveys her food experiences, such as her introduction to kohlrabi and her daydream of the ideal brunch.

Her site, named for two of her favorite ingredients, includes more than recipes and receives some 7,000 visitors a day, Dusoulier said. “Basically, the idea at first was to find a way to share,” said Dusoulier, who writes in English. “I was very much into cooking and very eager to talk about it to my friends and family. And after a little while, I sort of felt like I needed a wider audience to interact with.” On most blogs, interaction comes in the form of reader responses to anything that piques their interest.

Unlike political bloggers, who often express opinions and attempt to convince, food bloggers find great things and tell others about them so they continue to exist, said Hillel Cooperman of Tasting Menu (www.tastingmenu.com). Last year, Cooperman, who works for Microsoft in Washington, became the first food blogger nominated for a prestigious James Beard Foundation journalism award.

“What people lack in experience or formal training, they make up for with the fact that they love what they’re doing,” said Cooperman. “There are some days I don’t feel like posting, but I feel an obligation to all those people visiting my blog every day.”

According to Google’s Stone, the increase in popularity of blogs is partly due to “blog children” – people, such as Dusoulier, who stumble across a blog and become inspired to start their own. Many, also like Dusoulier, are parlaying their blog experience into more lucrative ventures. Dusoulier is now being approached by newspapers and magazines to write articles.

New Yorker Julie Powell, who cooked and blogged her way through Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” one recipe at a time, landed a book deal with Little, Brown and Co. “Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, One Tiny Apartment Kitchen?” is due out this fall.

Another blogger-turned-author is Heidi Swanson, the San Francisco-based photographer and cookbook writer behind 101 Cookbooks (www.101cookbooks.com). An avid collector, Swanson had begun a private recipe journal for her Web site. After people repeatedly Googled their way into the file, she decided to start a food blog. Her site combines prose, food photos and recipes.

Last fall Swanson published her first book, “Cook 1.0: A Fresh Approach to the Vegetarian Kitchen” (Stewart, Tabori and Chang, 2004).

Total visitor traffic to her site has nearly tripled over a six month period.

Paige Hren, a regular visitor to 101 Cookbooks from Malibu, said that reading Swanson’s posts is like having your own prep cook in the kitchen: “She’s found the loopholes and what the pluses and minuses are for the recipes.”

“My traffic really seems to spike when I post sweets – anything chocolate or anything cute,” said Swanson.

Though some food blogs have begun to seek advertising revenue, most food bloggers “don’t get into this to make money,” Hopkins said, but to make food a little less ordinary for at least one other person.

“How many high-quality food blogs does the world need?” asked Cooperman. “It turns out, a lot.”

Most bloggers who post recipes on their Web sites say desserts get the best response. If this recipe, from Clotilde Dusoulier’s Chocolate & Zucchini blog, is typical of what’s posted, it’s no wonder.

The recipe is from “I Want Chocolate!” by Trish Deseine (Laurel Glen, 2003):

Melt-in-Your-Mouth Chocolate Cake

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line an 8-inch cake pan with parchment paper; if using a nonstick pan, you can just cut out a circle to line the bottom.

Melt 7 ounces, or 14 tablespoons (200 grams), of butter with 7 3/4 ounces (220 grams) of good quality dark chocolate. If melting in the microwave, be sure to do it slowly, blending with a spoon between each pass. Add scant 1 1/4 cups (250 grams) of sugar and let cool a little. Then add 5 eggs, 1 by 1, mixing well with a spoon after each addition. Finally, add a rounded tablespoon of flour and mix well. Pour the dough in the pan, and resist the urge to just dive headfirst in the pool.

Bake for 25 minutes. The recipe says the very center can still be a little trembling, but mine wasn’t. Let the cake cool down a bit, then turn out on a rack to cool completely. Serve warm or wrap tightly in plastic wrap, refrigerate and take it out about an hour prior to serving the next day.

Per serving (based on 12): 329 calories, 27 grams fat (13 grams saturated, 74 percent fat calories), 4 grams protein, 31 grams carbohydrates, 129 milligrams cholesterol, 1 gram dietary fiber, 28 milligrams sodium.

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