Welcome to a new and necessary component of Nanette’s Feast, wherein I figure out in public what the hell I’m doing.
The Nanette’s Feast journey has taken another turn. I’m attempting to bring clarity to chaos, and if I can help somebody with similar struggles along the way, awesome.
A brief history: Nanette’s Feast began as a site about food inspired by movies. I never liked the old Dinner and a Movie show on some network, the name of which I can’t remember. First, it showed movies I’m not wild about, mostly rom-coms in which Meg Ryan stars to a disproportionate degree. Second, the menus were so literal. When Harry Met Sally? Let’s eat a pastrami sandwich! Etc.
I love a thoughtful dinner-and-a-movie-at-home. Cooking and watching movies with Steve has been and still is one of the great pleasures of our relationship. The goal was sophisticated dinner/movie pairings, with an emphasis on the relationship potential of the exercise. Well, that’s a hell of a convoluted elevator pitch; by floor 200, the pitchee would be clawing at the door and I wouldn’t even be halfway finished. People seemed to want either movie recommendations or a straightforward food blog. I was neither. I looked at movie blogs, but didn’t even bother with food blogs.
Here’s how that happened. I read cooking magazines religiously, and have a huge collection of cookbooks. I cook great creative meals at least 4 times a week. But I didn’t look at the thing, or one of the things, that I was trying to do. When, about 6 months after I launched the site, I did look, I despaired. I’m not a photographer. I didn’t consider myself a recipe developer, more of a discoverer and collator of interesting stuff. People were coming up with wonderful recipes and gorgeous photography. I felt like a massive fraud.
For about 8 months, Nanette’s Feast became a thing I had created and had subsequently begun to hate. After moping and pouting (which gets boring), I realized that I had to take a good hard look at what I wanted to do. January came along, and so did the New York Times annual travel feature, the “52 Places to Go” list. I’m lucky in that I get to travel a lot, but I can guarantee you, I ain’t goin’ to 52 Places in 2016. But what if….I went to the 52 Places through food and film?
I started to rework the blog along those lines. I was not, as we say in restaurant kitchens, out of the weeds yet. But I had found a reason to post every week. I could focus. I was discovering cool stuff, like the fact that Mozambique has a fledgling film industry, and that North Dakota does not; that when it comes to cuisine, regions matter more than national borders; and that cabbage is your go-to vegetable wherever in the world you may be.
Still, while I stubbornly clung to the notion of “dinner + movie = magic,” I couldn’t make it work. I’m an improviser by nature, which is why I’m a cook and not a baker. I’ve always felt uneasy barking orders. I didn’t want to be a tastemaker. I wanted to be your cool friend that knows stuff, the one who opens doors but leaves the decision of whether to walk through up to you. That loosy-goosiness is very me, but was very wrong for what I was trying to do; I would have been better off insisting on a particular menu with a particular movie for a particular week. I couldn’t do it. I mean, who wants that, anyway?
Around this time, I discovered Food Blogger Pro, created by Bjork and Lindsay Ostrom. This huge and continually growing suite of educational material covers everything from basic blog structure, to photography, to how to write a cookbook that you can give away on your site. I knew that if I dug into Food Blogger Pro and availed myself of its copious resources, I would find my way.
Change is hard. Which darlings do you kill? I started with my movie page. Nobody went to it, and it was time-consuming. Now, I’m cutting the 52 Places feature, even though I’ve diligently knocked out half of the posts for a year, and to stop halfway through feels like breaking a pledge to myself if no one else. How do I justify that—once again, to myself? Because I’m the one who sits in judgment. I’ll continue to use the list as an inspiration; for that, it’s been wonderful. In fact, it was through 52 Places that I realized I could and should develop my own recipes. But the time spent in preparing posts sharing my inspirations, posts that barely anyone read, can now go into the posts that people find the most helpful. I’ll still do all the stuff I do to get inspired, all the research, all the tinkering. I just will do it behind the scenes, which is, I think, where it belongs.
And now, for the important stuff. Part and parcel of being a legit food blogger is to massively up my photography game. I have had to re-educate myself. Food photos are not just about a good-looking dish arranged with some precision and snapped with an iphone. I learned how to use Steve’s DSLR Nikon in manual mode with the help of Food Blogger Pro and a couple of really excellent photographer friends, and of course Steve, because he knew the camera. I bought some white lights. I learned how the sun works through our windows. I did my crash courses, and ended up going to Lindsay’s Pinch of Yum food photography and branding workshop last week.
Lindsay’s a superb teacher; sessions with her have changed my life. Almost everything I know about photography, I have learned from this woman and her patient tutorials—not because she is the only teacher, but because she’s the one who speaks to me. Here are a couple of shots from the workshop. The first was a bit of a challenge; I don’t think about breakfast. But it was a lot of fun to play around with these elements that are not that easy to shoot, and to come up with a composition that, while imperfect, helped me figure out my style.
And here’s my sweet spot: a bowl. So far, bowls have been my big hits on the site and on Instagram, the one platform I feel sort of OK with. This is probably the best shot I’ve done of a bowl, and it’s primarily thanks to Lindsay. I didn’t make the food so I can’t give you the recipe, though I can probably figure it out if I have a little time.
Most important was Lindsay’s quick, concise branding workshop. I used to work in digital advertising. I KNOW all that stuff. Did I apply it to myself? Only to a point. With her help, I asked the questions I’d conveniently left out in my own half-assed approach. By taking the time and the honestly terrifying step to answer them truthfully, I have started to realize who I am. Foods jumbled together with equal parts brio and love: that’s my story. Why can’t I do 5-ingredient clean-as-a-whistle dishes? Because they’re not who I am, and no matter how much I love and admire them, I’ll never pull them off, in the same way that the clean-whistlers can’t do my big crazy mosaics.
I came home fired up, and then realized that, while yes, I could do this, it is going to take tremendous amounts of energy. SEO? Ugh. Blog architecture? Ouch.
I sat down with Steve, told him I wanted to go for it, but needed him to take on some stuff. His reply, as usual, was, “no problem, baby.” This is just one of the ways in which he is awesome, but I am a woman in love, which is very nice after five years together. Sigh.
Anyway, with him covering the left-brain stuff, I can handle the right.
This week, we’re setting up some interviews because I want to do things right. I’ll share what I find as we go. And I won’t stop cooking, though it may get a little messy around here in the figuring out portion of the show. But that’s who I am. I’m excited.
Please: Let me know what you think. I realized that I was making the mistake that so many people coming up with a business make: I thought things through, had great ideas, but ultimately those ideas were about what I felt like doing. They weren’t about things that really help people. I want this to be more than my expression venue, where I go on about how awesome my ideas are and never let the people I care about get a word in edgewise. Unfortunately, I’ve done that more than once in my life. Please, once again: tell me what you need to make the best food for you.
If I can help, I will.
See you next week if not sooner. I seriously love anyone who’s made it to the bottom of the post.