Category Archives: writing

My blogging anniversary

It’s kind of scary to realize that it’s the 14th anniversary of my blog.

At the start – July 17, 2008 – I thought it would be so easy. I thought I’d build my posts around my collection of restaurant memorabilia such as the match books above. I imagined it would take me about half an hour to write each post, and in fact the first one didn’t take much longer than that. That is no longer true.

Since then I’ve revised that initial post — Joel’s bohemian restaurant – because I came to realize it was much too sketchy. I’m thinking of revising it a second time.

My blog posts have grown longer, though I try to keep them relatively brief, and I have extended my topics way beyond the possibilities of my ephemera collection. Now my process is reversed and I’m always on the lookout for elusive images that are relevant to subjects I want to investigate.

When I began, WordPress was a folksy kind of blog host. I always got a quick answer to queries about how to do things, and they were signed with first names. The company made relatively little effort to sell additional services or to get bloggers to add advertising to their site.

They did, however, place advertising on sites without asking. The day I discovered that WordPress had inserted a weight loss advertisement into one of my posts, I shouted NO! Then I immediately signed up for “No Advertising” even though I had to pay an annual fee – and still do.

Now, after publishing 496 posts and pages, I remain glad that I didn’t “monetize” my blog.

Another change in WordPress (for the better in this case) was the ability to link posts easily to other internet sites such as Facebook, Twitter, etc. – and for readers to click “Like.” My early posts have no Likes, not because I had no readers but because there was no Like button then.

I am thankful for my readers and followers. I’m happy that they are interested in what I write about and that they bring a lot of knowledge about restaurants with them. Along with on-site comments, I get an equal number of emails from readers, some looking for additional information and others who kindly go out of their way to send compliments.

Another nice aspect of producing my blog are the occasional invitations to give talks and interviews.

Now, when I go back and look at my old posts I always see something that could be improved – where I should add a link or illustration (see part of my image file above), reword an awkward sentence, clarify a murky point, or insert something I’ve since discovered. Usually I try not to obsess over these shortcomings and end up moving on.

Although I often profile individual restaurants, frequent readers probably realize that my greatest interests are how the custom of eating out grew, how the various types of eating places developed, the types of food and ways of cooking that are highly associated with restaurants, and how restaurants reflect American culture.

A few of my favorites posts are linked here, some of them early ones that are deserving of more attention.

Back in 2008, a friend asked if I feared that I would soon run out of topics. That still makes me smile. I haven’t even come close.

Thanks for reading!

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Writing food memoirs

I attended a wonderful panel moderated by Cara De Silva at the past weekend’s Food Writing Forum at the New School in New York. The panelists – all with rich careers in food and writing — had so many interesting things to say, a handful of which are excerpted below. Not exactly restaurant history, but close enough.

Elissa Altman

“I grew up in a home that was tied in knots over food.” Her mother, who was afraid of food, gave her diet pills while her father, a “fresser,” smuggled her off to secret meals at La Grenouille.

Among other books, she is author of POOR MAN’S FEAST and the upcoming MOTHERLAND: A Memoir of Love, Loathing, and Longing.

Mark Russ Federman

“A fish monger from the lower East Side,” he observed that when word got out that he was writing a book about his family’s famed business, “All the literary agents showed up and bought an eighth pound of lox.”

As the third generation of the Russ family to own and operate the family appetizing store, he published a combined memoir/history titled RUSS & DAUGHTERS: Reflections and Recipes.

Madhur Jaffrey

As a memoir writer, she realized that “When I looked back on my life it was all about food.” Reflecting that the name given to her at birth means honey, she commented, “God connected me to food.”

She is author of cookbooks and CLIMBING THE MANGO TREE: A Memoir of a Childhood in India.

Anne Mendelson

Writing a biography of the mother-daughter cookbook authors of The Joy of Cooking she admits, “I was flying blind.” But she considers this a “necessary condition” for writing a biography.

She has written STAND FACING THE STOVE about Irma Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker, as well as cookbooks and other food books.

Laura Shapiro

“You can tell any life if you know the food,” she observed. Working on her recent book, she knew she was onto something when she discovered that feminist Inez Haynes Irwin had once confessed that preparing Sunday dinners had “set a scar on my soul.”

Among her books are PERFECTION SALAD and the new one, WHAT SHE ATE: Six Remarkable Women and the Food That Tells Their Stories.

 

See my new-ish blog on childhood food memories, Archaeology of Taste.

 

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2016, a recap

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It has been a great blog year. After 8½ years and 381 posts, it’s nice to report that my blog is still growing. I’ve accepted that it won’t ever be a blockbuster, but I am cheered that I get more readers all the time. 2016 also stands out for including my best day ever as measured in page views, doubling the total from my last best day. And 34 posts, many of them old ones, got more than 1,000 views this year.

I hear from a lot of readers via e-mail, many of whom have information about a restaurant I’ve written about or ideas for future topics. Some of them are doing their own research. Recently I heard from an author in France asking about restaurants that provided customers with telephones at their tables. I’m always happy to share my sources with them, though of course I can’t perform individual research.

Warm thank-yous to all my readers, subscribers, commenters, linkers, and likers. Happily, only one post I’ve written has attracted trolls. I am perfectly willing to approve comments that disagree with my slant on things or correct mistakes, but I don’t accept hostile comments that attack me or another reader. Nonetheless, thanks to trolls for boosting my stats!

It’s heartening to see that many of my old posts still have power to attract readers, such as the ones on parsley, uncomfortable seating, or the buying power of a nickel. Posts on once-beloved restaurants such as Wolfies in Miami and Miss Hulling’s in St. Louis continue to draw thousands of readers each year.

What’s coming up? More books are being written on the history of restaurants, so expect to see reviews of Ten Restaurants That Changed America (Paul Freedman), Restaurant Republic (Kelly Erby), and Dining Out in Boston (James C. O’Connell). And my list of ideas for future posts never shrinks — in fact it’s longer than ever. There are quite a few in the pipeline, such as restaurant fashions for women diners, The Bakery in Chicago, and the 19th century’s cheapest-of–cheap eateries.

Wishing everyone happy restaurant-ing and a good new year.

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