The blog became one on Wednesday. I’d been thinking over the last few weeks about maybe doing something special to celebrate but in the end plans were overtaken by Jonathan, Lyndsey and Zeph moving out that day and thus a certain amount of chaos in the house. Cooking anything wasn’t going to be on the agenda, let alone a Torta Caprese – the family’s favourite celebration cake!
I may not have cooked but once my temporary housemates were installed in their new home, a dining table set up, cutlery and glasses found, there was only one way to fill empty stomachs and bodies tired from lots of putting furniture in place and unpacking: a Tangawizi takeaway! I wrote about the lovely Tangawizi restaurant last month and said then, it’s the only place I ever order a takeaway from. It’s also one of my favourite haunts and so was the perfect solution to the non-cooking birthday event.
I hadn’t a clue about blogging, nor much about social networking (apart from a rather inactive personal Facebook account), when I began. My daughter Nicola had started a blog following her move to Birmingham – nicinbrum – and that was my introduction to blogging; she told me it was really easy to set a blog up on WordPress. After returning from a great holiday on my own in Greece last June, I began to formulate the idea of finding great places for the single traveller to stay and eat. Then, when I had a conversation with a girlfriend about the trouble women can encounter eating out alone both home and abroad, I thought seeking out great places for the single woman traveller would be especially great.
The best laid plans etc … as an idea, it’s one I’ve tried to remain true to and whenever I do find anywhere that’s great for a woman eating or travelling alone, I want to and do write about it. But as a focus, it was too limiting for me. My real passion is for finding great places to eat, cooking, and travelling to new and favourite places, and while I often do those things alone, most of the time I’m in the company of family or friends. So, the blog has evolved in its own way. Lovely responses, sudden inspirations and little surprises over the year have taken me off on to paths new and frankly, I’m only interested in going with the flow (a bit of Taoist influence here) and seeing where the path takes me.
Five days after starting the blog, Nicola and I were sitting in another favourite haunt – the wonderful A Cena – eating Sunday lunch. A special treat. A spark of boldness led to my mentioning the blog I’d just started to Tim Healy, owner of the restaurant with his wife, Camilla. Could I interview him, I asked. Kindly, Tim agreed and a week later I found myself arriving at A Cena one rainy morning and, crouching under my umbrella as I ran through the rain, asking myself what on earth had possessed me to arrange this. Surely I would look a fool! But Tim was great and so enthusiastic about what I’d written so far, offering support by putting a link to the blog on the restaurant’s website, that I can honestly say that A Cena have made a huge difference to my blogging experience. My initial enthusiasm might have quickly waned without this endorsement; this confirmation that what I was writing was of interest to others.
The thing that stands out for me when thinking of my blogging year is the kindness I’ve met in others. There really are a lot of lovely people out there! Apart from the very special A Cena family – including the guys, Andrew and Matt, up ‘on the hill‘! – I’ve met some wonderful people through my Chefs’ and Restaurateurs’ Top Ten Cookery Book Series. Chefs I’ve admired like Sam Clark at Moro, Abdul Yaseen at The Cinnamon Kitchen, and the other eleven interviewees, have actually said Yes when I’ve asked if I can interview them. These interviews have been really special experiences and I just love doing them and feedback from my followers is that people like reading them too.
I began by wanting my blog to be a totally positive blog: I only wanted to write about things I liked; I wasn’t in to doing destructive writing jobs. As time has gone on though, I’ve realised that never saying a bad word about a restaurant, for example, wasn’t realistic and left me open to not being taken seriously. The first ‘bad’ review I wrote was in Venice. It was my and Annie’s last evening. We’d waited the entire trip to get a table at a restaurant well reviewed in a number of guides and when we finally ate there – it was terrible! I discussed it with Annie. Up till then I’d written every day about everything we’d done and everywhere we’d eaten or had even a drink. I couldn’t leave this last place out. So, I wrote. It was part of my Venice experience.
I still rarely do a ‘bad’ review. Most of the time, if I eat out and don’t think the cafe or restaurant is good enough to recommend, I don’t bother to write anything. One of the reasons I don’t ‘warn’ anyone I’m coming is if I don’t like what I have, I don’t want to write anything! Giles Coren and Jay Rayner have written about the good v. bad reviews. Coren started off like me, I’ve heard (though he gets paid and I don’t!), and tried to only write about places he likes. But it appears people are much more interested in reading bad reviews. Well, that’s kind of sad, really. All I want to do with the blog is say, Hey, I had a great meal here … I had a good-value meal there … this is a good place for the single diner … this is a fantastic deli/butcher/food market, etc, and share.
And as for social networking … well, I have to gloat a little that the blog has upped my social media credibility rating considerably where my son and daughter are concerned: Mum with a Twitter account (700 followers), a Facebook Page, a LinkedIn account with well over 500 connections. However, there’s still a long way to go. Lesley Carter makes my own progress seem almost insignificant. She recently wrote on her blog about The Importance of Social Media. With 28,000 followers on her blog her achievement over the past year is awesome. But what she shows is, It can be done! Following her advice, I’ve started a blogroll and will list Links to places and other blogs I like or recommend. (Other food/travel people note – let me know if you would like to be listed and can reciprocate … sharing spreads the word!)
Connection with other bloggers is great too. Yes, it has to be said there are some terrible blogs out there which are very badly written but there are great ones too; fantastic reads. I follow some myself now and really enjoy this glimpse into other peoples’ cooking and travelling worlds (I choose to just follow those with same interests as me but you can follow a blog on pretty much anything) and feel I’ve gained some new friends.
Someone who takes bloggers seriously is Anthony Lloyd at the Fallowfields restaurant/hotel in Oxfordshire. He even had a bloggers’ event at the hotel and the fabulous young chef Shaun Dickens cooked a superb meal for us all. The Cinnamon Kitchen takes Twitter seriously which led to my invitation to their Tweet party last year. And this was someone who had previously stated she would never have a Twitter account … but actually I really like Twitter; love that instant response and could easily let it distract me for far too much time! (Occasionally I have to remind myself to get on with the Day Job and earn those pennies to pay the bills!)
I had no idea where starting a blog would take me last July, but I can only say it’s been a life highlight … yes, really … I’ve had so much fun, so many good times, met some great people … and, of course! … eaten exceptionally well. I love cooking for the blog too: thinking through my favourite recipes more clearly and making notes, measuring properly; trying out new things, experimenting (and have only had the odd disaster that hasn’t made it to the blog); photographing as I go. It’s made me much bolder in myself: a once shy woman who walked boldly into that Twitter party at one of London’s best restaurants; asking for interviews and not being put off by occasional rejection or being ignored; feeling more adventurous about where I want to travel to in the future. So, off I go into my second year. Still taking it all with that pinch of Taoist philosophy: not too many plans but seeing where the blogging path takes me … And, if it’s half as good as the past year, well I’m most definitely looking forward to it.
Just a few personal thanks here: for their constant love, support and encouragement, first and foremost Nicola, Jonathan and Lyndsey; to the many friends who have put up with me photographing their food in restaurants before I allow them to touch it, but especially: Annie for being with me on more blog outings – including Venice – than anyone else; Robert and Jenny for sharing Rome; Linda for being my guide and fellow food lover in Spain; Jane – a real published writer – for making me believe I’m a writer too; and really any of my lovely friends who are willing to enter a restaurant or cafe with me, board a plane, check in at a hotel … knowing my camera and iPad are tucked in my bag ready to go … I hope you’ve all enjoyed it as much as me and I haven’t embarrassed you too much!
Next up – on the travel front – will be Normandy, France, in two weeks’ time … meanwhile, if you enjoy my blog please press that Follow button to the right and make sure you get notice of all my posts. If you follow me on Facebook as well you’ll find not only links to all blog posts as they are published but lots of extras – links to restaurant special offers, good food sources and quick meals that might not warrant a post all of their own.