For some people, baking is an enjoyable pastime that often ends in a delicious dessert.
But for Ellicott City resident Jackie Gonzalez-Feezer, baking is much more than that. Gonzalez-Feezer is a food blogger, whose website, La Casa de Sweets (lacasadesweets.com), is an entree to recipes, vibrant pictures of her creations and a place to connect and raise money for charity.
"The whole point of the site is to join together baking and blogging for a cause," she says.
Her site is part gourmet delight, part meeting place for fellow baking enthusiasts. It's a place where "cookie swaps" are promoted to raise money for charities and philanthropic causes.
Since her debut as a food blogger two years ago, Gonzalez-Feezer has organized more than 25 such cookie swaps. And she says she's just getting started. The genesis for her blog, according to the stay-at-home mom and former teacher, was to combine her two passions -- baking and giving back.
"It just kind of all came together at once," she says. "I thought, 'Gosh, I'd really like to get my recipes out there, and I'd really like to help people.' ... It's been such a great blessing for me to just know that people care."
So far, La Casa De Sweets has been featured on several prominent foodie websites, and her creations -- such as mud pie ice cream and pecan pie brownies -- are being replicated and shared by bakers worldwide.
"When I get feedback from someone from another part of the world to say, 'Hey, I've made one of your recipes,' that's great. Also, using [the blog] for a higher purpose makes it even sweeter," she says.
Gonzales-Feezer's endeavor is among a growing number of food-centric blogs in Howard County. Jessie Newburn, co-founder of the local blog aggregator hocoblogs.com, calls the food blogging sphere in Howard County diverse.
"It's everything from niche and local to beautiful and photographic," Newburn says. "I like [each blog] for different reasons. … Each is different in its own way."
Take, for instance, the work of Victoria Budich, whose blog, The Soffritto (thesoffritto.com), brings together foodies who love gardening and fresh vegetables.
Her posts include topics like a step-by-step guide to making homemade applesauce, and a recipe for Moroccan root vegetable soup that she made with produce from her local Community Supported Agriculture group.
Budich, of Woodstock, says her blog stemmed from her focus on eating sustainably and sharing the benefits of her lifestyle with others.
"My blog is about making the most out of life," she says. "Though time and resources can be limited, a garden is within everyone's reach, even if it's just herbs in a sunny window.
"Growing up in California I was surrounded by great produce at all times. When I moved to Maryland I didn't see the roadside produce stands -- it was all about grocery and big-box stores," she says. "Slowly I started to learn about CSAs and the farms in the area. I can find local produce, proteins and dairy products and support the farmers down the street."
Some of Budich's favorite local vegetables to cook with include kohlrabi, cucumbers, tomatoes, okra, garlic, lettuce, kale and chard. "Fried okra fresh from the garden is heavenly," she says. "It's just crisp and yummy. They also have one of the most beautiful flowers."
Thanks to her blog, Budich increasingly has found herself involved in the national online conversation about food sustainability.
"A few bloggers around the country get together to post about eating local and growing sustainably," she says. "It's amazing to see what grows in Texas while we are bundled up for the winter. It also exposed me to resources in my own community."
Elizabeth Brunetti, a food blogger in Columbia, is similarly entranced with connecting about food topics through her blog, The Bare Midriff (thebaremidriff.blogspot.com).
Brunetti's blogging niche focuses on the interplay between food and diet. Her blog -- which she describes as her personal journey to figure out what's healthy -- is at times philosophical, at times charmingly candid. (Posts have titles like "How Chukar Cherries Saved My Marriage" and "Hips Don't Lie … And Men Love Them.")
The blog's title is a nod to what she calls the nation's obsession with the midsection, which also happens to be a vulnerable part of the body.
"I know that I love good food too much to ever be really skinny. I've sort of accepted that," she says. "I guess my blog is about being vulnerable and having the ultimate goal of being fit."
In addition to sharing adapted and original recipes (like coco-watermelon rum fizz, spicy plum cucumber salsa, and winter squash stuffed with turkey, apple, corn, quinoa and sage), Brunetti uses her blog to document experiments in eliminating various items from her diet -- sugar, coffee, yeast, starches and alcohol, in addition to a "juice cleanse," to name a few.
One blog post involved her taking a mallet to a piece of bread. Before she wrote the post, she had been cutting bread out of her diet.
"I woke up one day feeling very cheated and incredibly angry, so I wanted to hit something … and we happened to have some of this delicious ciabatta bread at home. So I took out my anger and frustration on the bread," Brunetti recalls with a laugh.
A picture on her blog shows her in the process of doing just that. These moments, shared on the blogosphere, add up to a journey of self-discovery, she says.
Each blog adds flavor to the Howard County foodie scene in a different way, observes Newburn, while also contributing to the broader community dialogue.
"There are probably 20 more food bloggers in the community that we're not even aware of," Newburn says. "I think food is one of the easier things with which readers can engage. People are more likely to comment on a recipe or review of a new restaurant than to chime in on politics and zoning issues. As such, it helps people build muscles for online community engagement in a gentler realm."