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Take care to chop the onion fine. To keep from crying when you chop it (which is so annoying!), I suggest you place a little bit on your head. The trouble with crying over an onion is that once the chopping gets you started and the tears begin to well up, the next thing you know you just can’t stop. I don’t know whether that’s ever happened to you, but I have to confess it’s happened to me, many times. Mama used to say it was because I was especially sensitive to onions, like my great-aunt, Tita.
So begins Laura Esquivel’s novel Like Water for Chocolate, a book that has the power to make you laugh and weep at the same time it makes your stomach grumble. While this is a classic example of literature that integrates recipes, it’s not the only one.
Cooking and writing. Eating and reading. They’ve got a lot in common.
When we go into the kitchen and begin to prepare a meal for our friends and family, it’s not just about getting dinner on the table. It’s an expression of our love for them. Unless you’re using the meal to poison someone as happens so often in those popular culinary mysteries. But that’s a whole other kind of story, isn’t it?
Writing is the same. We don’t put pen to paper or fingers to keyboards just for the string of words. We do it because we’ve got something we want to share with others. Something that we believe will make them feel better or think about things differently.
Likewise, the best eating and the best reading are both done at a leisurely pace with attention to detail and a desire for satisfaction.
While it’s not necessary to tell a story with every blog post (and some very successful bloggers supply recipes only), food bloggers who engage us with the stories behind their recipes make us feel warm and fuzzy. It makes us feel as if we know the blogger, which creates positive feelings towards the blogger.
Good news! You don’t have to write a novel to be a riveting storyteller. In fact, shorter is usually better. If you don’t believe it, consider Ernest Hemingway’s tragic six word story:
For sale: Baby shoes. Never worn.
Adding words wouldn’t make that story any more heart-breaking. Keep your narrative to 500 words or fewer so it’s snappy and not a distraction from the actual recipe (since many of your readers may only be looking for a recipe). Try not to be so depressing though, right? Geez, Hemingway.
Not Hemingway emotional – normal human emotional. Think about the stories that captivate you. They’re about love and betrayal, friendship and frustration, longing and denial. Can food possibly inspire those sorts of emotions? Ask my dad while he’s weeping over my mom’s heavenly scones. Ask any woman who has been denied her rightful lunch hour and is in the grip of the hangries.
Your stories don’t have to be epic to trigger emotions in the reader. Tell about the time you accidentally used salt instead of sugar in the brownie recipe or about how much your baby enjoyed spitting those garden peas across the room. Day-to-day emotion is just as powerful (and much more enjoyable) than once-in-a-lifetime, earth-shattering emotion. It’s a food blog, not a Harlequin romance.
Use specific details and sensory descriptions to bring the narrative elements of your blog posts to life. People may not know your Aunt Sue, but they’ll feel like they know her if you name her. Your readers may not be able to visit your kitchen, but they can imagine the aroma of the molasses cookies baking on a December afternoon if you describe them.
You might think no one would be interested in memories of your elementary school’s vegetable soup, but even seemingly trivial memories help us connect with one another. At least one person reading this blog post is now going to spend the rest of the day hungry for that delicious, magical elementary school soup. Because the simplest, most mundane details of our lives are the things that we all share.
If you’re writing about cupcakes, focus on stories that center on baking, cupcakes, or cupcake-related events. Don’t mix cupcakes and goulash. Yech. And again, you don’t have to tell a story, so if there’s no relevant story to tell, just give the recipe and be done with it. Nobody’s judging.