Food fans have their say

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Virginia Franklin may not be able to eat many of the foods she loves, but she can certainly write about them.

A recipient of gastric bypass surgery, the South Carolina resident is the creator of the Accidental Gourmet, a food blog of recipes, cooking techniques and culinary musings. So while she spends hours gathering information and crafting words that will guide visitors to her blog through the heavenly delights of gastronomy, she does not indulge.

"It's my creative palate," said Franklin, who is also writing a cookbook and is married to a chef. "There are some things that I can't eat anymore because my body just won't allow it, but I can write about it and remember what it tasted like."

Blogs, short for Web logs, are online journals that have exploded on the Internet over the past few years. In these diaries, bloggers can write about whatever they choose, post photos and invite others to comment on or discuss the content of their Web pages.

The power of the blog has taken center stage recently, especially in the political arena. Bloggers were credited with exposing information that led to the resignation of Mississippi Sen. Trent Lott as Republican majority leader and the questioning of the authenticity of National Guard documents relating to President George W. Bush and acquired by CBS News, a scandal that came to be known as Rathergate.

But many of the blogs on the Net are not so controversial and for the curious epicures, they are providing information and bringing together food fans.

Whether you are searching for an obscure recipe, wondering about a new wine or in need of a review of a local restaurant, there is a blog waiting for you. In the 21st century, blogs are forming bastions of bons vivants for what has been described as a huge "virtual dinner party."

"The best part is the interaction," said Derrick Schneider, whose Obsession With Food blog began almost three years ago after friends who enjoyed his frequent e-mails on the topic suggested he start blogging. "People will e-mail me and I have interaction with a whole group of people who I may never meet."

Food has long been a passion for people, and writing and reading about it is an extension of that love, according to Barrett P. Brenton, a nutritional anthropologist and associate professor at St. John's University in New York.

"There are two fundamental things we need to do to survive as a species and eating is one of them," said Brenton, who also points to the popularity of cooking shows and the emergence of the Food Network as evidence that food holds a dear place in the hearts of many.

"Blogs are examples of individuals being able to free-form and that's one of the great things about the Internet in that they can go on blogging and sharing their thoughts with others for days on end. People didn't have that availability of expression before," said Brenton.

From amateur chefs to professionals, singles enjoying the nightlife to mothers with mouths to feed, vegetarians to carnivores, practically everyone has gotten in on blogging. There are blogs about baking, herbs, restaurants, wine and just about any cuisine you can imagine.

For the most part, blogging requires only some time and the ability it takes to write an e-mail. One exception is Danny Grinberg who needs cold hard cash, or at least a credit card. His blog, A Year in Food, documents 365 days of dining out. The 23-year-old New York resident began Jan. 1 and estimates that he has spent at least $5,000 on his venture.

"I am a paralegal at a law firm and I work heaps of overtime to pay for it," said Grinberg, whose meals have ranged from a couple of bucks for pizza to $500 for a sushi meal at one of New York's hottest restaurants, Masa. "I've met a lot of other bloggers and it has created a great dialogue with people who are interested in what I am doing."

Many blogs receive thousands of visits per day. Alaina Browne learned just how extensive the world of blogging can be after she published a quote on her Web log, A Full Belly, which she attributed to Dan Barber, the chef behind the Manhattan restaurant Blue Hill and now Blue Hill at Stone Barns.

Browne had written that Barber had said of foie gras, "I'd rather eat a force-fed duck than a Tyson's chicken." She quickly received an e-mail from celebrated cookbook author Paula Wolfert informing her that Barber had actually been quoting her quote of "I'd rather be a force-fed duck than a Tyson's chicken."

"Having a blog takes more work than you might imagine, but it's a great opportunity to share what you are passionate about," said Browne, who moved from New York to San Francisco last summer.

"I do get requests a lot of times from people assuming that you are an encyclopedia of restaurants, but San Francisco is a great food town, as is New York, so there is a lot to write about," she added.

Linda Murray, whose At Our Table blog chronicles the culinary experiences of her family, has heard from waiters in her city of Chicago who are in need of employment and others who are just looking for homemade treats.

"I just had a person from Canada contact me and say they had been searching for a rice-pudding recipe their grandmother used to make and they think they may have found it on my blog," said Murray. "It's been really surprising how many people from all over the world will e-mail me and say they visit my site or link to my site."

Baltimore native Jarrett Byrnes is the brain behind Food Porn Watch, a computer program that keeps track of food blog updates. Byrnes, who now lives in California's Sonoma Valley and is a graduate student in a marine lab, said he was inspired after stumbling upon the popular Chocolate and Zucchini blog, which has an impressive listing of links to other blogs.

"Blogging is largely about community, and food and eating are also about community," said Byrnes who now has well over 200 sites that his program scans hourly for updates. "I frequently receive requests to add to my list so I have taken to adding them en masse, otherwise I would be spending all my time doing nothing but adding sites."

One example of the communal spirit of blogging is the site Is My Blog Burning? It brings bloggers together for online events and challenges them monthly to submit a recipe based on a theme.

Josh Friedland, creator of the Food Section, a Web log about food travel and wine, said those who blog share a kinship. "You feel like you know these people as colleagues and friends even though you usually only know them through e-mail and their sites," Friedland said. "This is a tightknit group and there is a mutual recognition and respect that we have all taken this initiative."

Kate Hopkins took up the charge to see that food blogs get even more respect. Her blog, the Accidental Hedonist, received honorable mention in the food-blog category of Time magazine's 50 Coolest Websites 2005 list. But Hopkins wasn't happy that there was no nomination category for food blogs in the Weblog Awards competition known as "The Bloggies." So she started her own food-blog awards and received almost 8,000 votes for various sites. The Bloggies have added a category.

"There's a strong emotional tie to food," said Hopkins, who is an aspiring food writer in Seattle. "We have musicians for our ears and artists for our eyes so why not engage our tastes?"

Ronald Ashri and his wife Katia Amore started Via Ritiro N.7 as an online diary to record their move to Sicily, their love of food and news of their travels. Ashri, who also manages Is My Blog Burning?, writes from Modica in Sicily and says the response has been tremendous from people who want to discover the joys of Mediterranean living. Blogging, he believes, is here to stay.

"I think that we may start seeing more podcasts of recipes and, who knows, even videos before long," Ashri said. "All signs are that the number of blogs will keep increasing and as far as I am concerned, the more diversity we get the better."

A Sampling of Food Blogs

The Accidental Gourmet mikesgoddess.seo-blog.org

The Accidental Hedonist accidentalhedonist.com

At Our Table atourtable.blogspot.com

Chocolate and Zucchini chocolateandzucchini.com

Food Porn Watch foodpornwatch.arrr.net

The Food Section thefoodsection.com

A Full Belly afullbelly.com

Is My Blog Burning? ismyblogburning.com

An Obsession With Food obsessionwithfood.com

Via Ritiro N.7 lovesicily.com/blog

A Year in Food yearinfood.blogspot.com

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