It was as I was publishing my last post with the red mullet recipe that I noticed a message from WordPress congratulating me on my blog’s 9th anniversary. Yes, it the blog’s birthday!!
I was too busy to cook the blog a birthday cake (and in truth, there’s no one around at the moment to share one with!), so I ‘cheated’ and bought one of my favourite little strawberry tartlets in Paul Bakery in Richmond this morning. Well, it’s always good to have an excuse for a bit of sweet indulgence and nine years is pretty special, isn’t it?
The blog has become so much part of my life it’s hard to remember when it wasn’t there. It’s like a companion. I like that I can write a broad range of things on it, although every post connects to food and/or travel in some way. I began writing back in 2011, inspired because my daughter had started a blog, and knowing I wanted to write about food. In particular I was keen to find places where a woman on her own could comfortably eat. I’ve always been confident eating alone; it comes from my upbringing, I think. But I’d heard stories of women eating on their own in restaurants being treated badly or turned away or hidden in a corner and made to feel uncomfortable. It hadn’t, to be honest, been my own experience but I didn’t like what I heard. I hope things have changed over the past nine years but I’m sad to say I think women dining on their own, particularly in a nice restaurant, can still be treated awkwardly or even with suspicion. Frankly I consider it really crazy and a hangover from less equal times and I can still get angry if I hear these stories. I’m sure some men find it uncomfortable eating alone in restaurants too; I don’t want to be sexist here. It’s just that the tale of a woman being treated badly in a restaurant back in 2011 is part of what spurred me on to start blogging.
I was also fairly newly alone, recently divorced, and while even married I was used to travelling alone sometimes, eating out alone sometimes, it was going to be a bit different. But I wasn’t about to compromise and eat only in cheap, informal places where I could slip unnoticed into a quiet table. I’ve been eating in smart restaurants since I was about two, thanks to my parents, so I wasn’t about to give up searching for the best. That doesn’t mean expensive though. You’ll find a Michelin starred restaurant a rare thing here. Partly it’s because an expensive meal is a treat I can only occasionally afford, but also because I’m really more of a cafe person – sophisticated cafes, as in brasserie-style cafes in France or Italy; tapas bars in Spain; bars and huge open cafes in Amsterdam full of buzzing conversation; historic cafes in Turin, Paris or Vienna knowing famous writers and philosophers once gathered there or a famous food dish or drink was born.
The most memorable exception to my informal eating preference was having lunch at Massimo Bottura’s Osteria Francescana back in 2014 (click here for review) – a 3-Michelin star wonder that had just, a couple of days before I went there, won the award of 3rd best restaurant in the word (a year or so later, it would be No.1).
I’d seen Massimo on TV and was so impressed with his style of cooking, I knew I simply had to go to his restaurant if I got the opportunity. That came soon after as I had a trip to Bologna planned. I contacted the restaurant and booked a table for lunch. It was – and remains – one of the most exciting eating experiences of my life.
As the blog grew, its content broadened. I also realised I was eating out with friends and family a lot; sometimes travelling with people and not always solo, so I decided to change the name of the blog from The Single Gourmet and Traveller to Travel Gourmet in 2016. Not only did it seem a more appropriate and less clunky name, it summed up succinctly what it was about.
A highlight the year before, in 2015, was when I was shortlisted for the DFDS Travel Blogger of the Year Award. I didn’t win but it was very exciting to be noticed and shortlisted. Then the next year GPSmyCity, a global travel app, approached me and asked if they could publish some of my articles. They now publish over sixty of my travel articles. I receive a (very) small but regular royalty from them, but the best part of this association with GPSmyCity is how it’s helped me grow as a writer. They don’t commission me to write specific things, but I know what they like and so I’ve given more thought to what I write and now, I believe, write better articles because of it. I introduced those ‘summing up’ posts of travel to cities that give you all the details about why you should go, how to get there, where to stay, where to eat and what to do. I love writing them. Of course in 2020’s pandemic lockdown, I’m not travelling and not writing them at the moment, but I enjoy looking back and reminding myself of some of my great trips in recent years to cities like Nice, Malaga, Amsterdam, Turin and others.
Because I travel solo a lot, the blog really is a companion: I have followers to share my experiences with; I get lovely comments from some of them and thus some interaction. It’s made me a little more adventurous, encouraging me to seek out new places to visit and things to do while I’m away. I think, What exciting this can I do today to write up on the blog? And I love that! It may not be what everyone would want to do on a holiday, but for me it’s my chance to write (normally at home, I’m working as a book editor and having to concentrate of others’ writing!). And of course the blog is a wonderful record of all I’ve done and all the places I’ve been to over the past nine years. Few people keep photo albums these days – but now I have the blog.
GPSmyCity’s publication of many of my articles officially made me professional, even if in a small way, and because nearly all my articles are about food, even if travel too, this enabled me to join The Guild of Food Writers, which has been another highlight of the blog’s life. In ‘normal’ times they organise lots of wonderful events for members. My first event was all about vermouth (click here) and perfectly timed just before a trip to vermouth’s home – Turin!
The blog has made me bolder about just going up to people and starting a conversation. In the early days I did lots of wonderful interviews with chefs and restaurateurs (click here). I simply asked chefs and owners of restaurants I liked whether I could interview them. People were so kind and I met some truly lovely and generous people. I keep meaning to revive it … maybe that can be part of a post-pandemic plan!
I’ve always loved cooking and trying out new recipes, but the blog has encouraged me to stretch myself a little more. I was cooking from a very young age, as were my kids, and now my little grandsons have started to cook. One of the most fun recent additions to the blog has been writing about cooking with my eldest grandson, Freddie, just 5½ (click here) and also taking him to find good places to eat with kids (click here).
The blog hasn’t always been just a record of what I’m doing now but a place for memories too. I remembered learning how to dress a salad (click here) with one of my authors when, back in my twenties, I was commissioning cookery books and stayed with her at her home on the Ligurian coast of Italy. I wrote a whole post on memories (click here), which I enjoyed doing and many readers kindly shared their own food memories, which I loved reading.
Because the blog is important to me, I’ve done what I can to keep it going during the pandemic this year when I haven’t been able to travel or visit restaurants. I wanted to conserve its broad range and so have had to be a bit more creative in my thinking than normal. But I’ve written about shopping in the early days of the pandemic when it was hard to get food (click here), growing some of my own vegetables (click here), a barbecue when I was finally able to ‘bubble’ with my son and family and eat with them (click here), getting to know my local area better (click here), cooking a lot of bread (click here), and have even done some virtual travelling (click here).
The blog is in many ways a record of my life, but only part of my life. I began it with the intention of celebrating the best things; it was always meant to be a positive blog in which I would share good things. And thus it has sometimes lifted my spirits if low, encouraged me to be bold and positive, filled me with joy at times and has brought some amazing experiences and wonderful new friends. May I be as delighted with the experience of blogging in another nine years’ time. And may you, dear readers, continue along the journey with me. For without followers, knowing that some people do actually read it and sometimes share their thoughts with me, it wouldn’t be the fun it is and I may well have given up if writing into a vacuum. So a very BIG thank you to you all!