Throughout written history, authors have struggled with writer’s block. Some of our favorite bloggers recently tackled this issue. Shannalee Mallon from Food Loves Writing says that she “free writes,” writing pages until a story begins to take shape. Helene Dujardin of Tartelette finds herself toying with phrases and writing posts in her head. Katie Boyts of The Shoofly Project mentally circles the topic, distracting herself with time-consuming errands and chores while procrastinating sitting down to write.
Megan Gordon of A Sweet Spoonful suggests that what appears to be avoidance tactics is often a way of letting her subconscious begin to wrap itself around a story.
“All of that organizing and cleaning, all of those errands — that was my way of making space for it all. Clearing the decks, I call it. In a way, the project is kind of like when you walk into a dark room, and you can see the shape of a figure or an object perfectly but can’t quite make out the details just yet. You probably know that feeling.”
CNN’s Eatocracy Associate Editor Sarah LeTrent instructs food writers how to write a constructive restaurant review and expounds its importance. Slams are easy. “What makes a particular restaurant bad also makes it unique and uniqueness makes a much more compelling story,” she writes.
Positive restaurant reviews are more difficult, but can make diners aware of lesser-known establishments. There was a time in which a single negative review might close a restaurant. However, today with so many critics and varying points of view competing for attention, a negative review is less likely to close a place down, but may serve to keep chefs on their toes.
Unfortunately, many aspiring critics may not have the opportunity to get paid for their restaurant reviews, says Paula Forbes, Deputy Editor at Eater. The rise of individual bloggers and sites like Eater has many established newspapers and magazines scaling back their coverage. The most recent example was Gael Greene’s departure from Crain’s New York Business. Given her decades of tireless criticism, we hope Ms. Insatiable continues to post restaurant reviews on her own site.
Amateur criticism is a terrific addition to the restaurant landscape, but losing established expertise that teaches diners how to select restaurants and evaluates week after week the evolution of cooking is a serious blow to our national culinary IQ of both the readership and the chefs.
Journalists and conventional news media, who do extensive gastronomic research, are facing serious competition from “scrapers” as well as from unproven voices without the means (read “expense account”) or the training to gather facts. Mathew Ingram, Senior Writer on GigaOm, proposes a style of presentation that differentiates between these sources while supplying readers with drill-down for as much or as little expertise as their search requires. His idea — packages of small, interconnected pieces— has been around since the advent of interface-over-database. However, technology is now presenting easy, compelling ways to present these packages, making the approach worthy of a serious revisit.
Were the fledging restaurant opiner to include links to a variety of views – a local voice, a national voice, or a crowd-sourced synopsis such as Zagat – this would allow the writer to begin with what is already known, and avoid rehashing or repurposing previously published material. This would be a boon to consumers and a constant motivator for the writer in an arena in which voice and knowledge are deal-breakers.
In light of the summer season, fruits and vegetables have been featured extensively on blogs and website on the internet. Jess Thomson of Hogwash falls in love with Orondo Ruby cherries, and says they are “the love child of Rainiers and something much darker and spunkier, like a Benson or a Van.” On NPR, Susan Russo makes a case for beets of all levels of sweetness and earthiness, or “dirt-tasting,” as so many beet detractors claim. CNN’s Stacy Cowley writes of her “five-month death battle with (her) fridge’s veggie drawer,” and recounts her first experience with amaranth greens, while Faith Durand takes on a fight of her own, as she writes on Leite’s Culinaria, with the burdock threatening to take over her garden. Gardening Doyenne Leslie Land takes on a funky and tasty root.
We love Elissa Altman’s witty and satirical rants. Eat and enjoy the best that you can afford, and stop looking over your shoulder to see who is watching.
As the BBQ season smokes into high gear, Michael W. Twitty takes a serious look at the African American roots of American Barbecue.
And the recent 60 Minutes piece on the dangers of high sugar consumption may lighten your hand as you sweeten icecream and summer berry pies.
Our Cook ‘n Scribblers have been busy this month. Susan Pridmore supplies a variation on shrimp and grits in the form of griddle cakes. Mindy Trotta profiles Sirvan Payasli, the “baklava master,” while Tom Hirschfeld talks on Food52 about his grandmother’s Sunday dinners. Meanwhile, Amy Halloran contributed to our Food Writing Lives series last week with a piece on DIY Diva Kate Payne.