I Am Who I Am: Fava Gnudi, Nettle Emulsion & Elderflower Spring Onions

posted in: Cooking, Dine, Experience, Savory, Traveling | 77


I am sorry for my unexplained absence, planes, trains and jalopies whisked me off to faraway destinations like Los Angeles and Atlanta over the past week and change. In Los Angeles I ate extremely well (Gjellina, anyone?) and furthered my career while spending time with people who know very little about the intricacies of working in the food space. It was refreshing, filling, and resulted in the purchase of a new dress. In Atlanta I ate beige conference food and nearly decided to end my career as a food blogger after spending time with people who think they know very much about the intricacies of working in the food space. It was vapid, draining, and resulted in the purchase of a one-way Marta ticket out of town.

Don’t get me wrong, Atlanta charmed my daisy dukes off. A city full of sticky heat, impeccably-dressed women and many, many gay men is a place after my own heart. An urban belle insisted there was no way I was from Seattle as she took in my fuchsia confectionary attire replete with matching shoes. Then she leaned in further and exclaimed “Oh yes, I see it! You are from Seattle- you are wearing way too little makeup.” I can only imagine how crazy a girl like me could be in a city as decadent as Atlanta. Also, I am proud to say I resisted the urge to call it “Hotlanta” throughout the duration of my visit, but it was very, very hard. I do hope the locals have a drinking game in place wherein every time a tourist says “Hotlanta” they ring a cowbell and force a Zima down the tourist’s gullet.

The problem was the food bloggers conference. These conferences are billed as a great way to network, come home with piles of fancy Swag (another word which deserves banishment along with Hotlanta, Moist and Awesome spelled with no “E” in the middle), and get a chance to hobnob with people wildly-famous in this fringe world but virtually-unknown outside it. Imagine you are an entomologist and you have the chance to meet William Kirby. I am sure this gets your cockroaches wet like cockles, but to the rest of the world, he is just another guy with a pocket protector who can’t handle his liquor and deliberately drops pens in order to look up women’s skirts.

As I see it, in order to successfully social climb in my chosen profession, it helps if you “develop recipes” for at least 10 major food companies (Starkist Tuna and Butterball Turkey better be on the list), are a gay man, and have arms like daggers so you can elbow pierce any potentially more intriguing conference attendees who set sights on your prey (aka someone more famous, even, than you). Does this sound like a scene you want to be a part of? There are many lovely people who attend these conferences and I want to make it clear that I am not talking about them, only the few spoilt pomegranate arils who suck the juice from the fruit.

This conference was entitled Blogher Food, and I realize “Blogher” is possibly the worst word ever invented. I use the term “invented” generously- probably they came up with it after a night involving one too many peach schnapps daiquiris sitting around a table with a bunch of women who look like overweight versions of their poodles. My takeaway from Blogher Food was almost to quit what I’m doing, and certainly to never attend another conference populated by people who write for the sole purpose of gaining sponsors and advertisers. I mean, there is HONESTLY a contingency of people who call themselves “Walmart Moms” and as far as I can tell, they are tickled with the moniker. I would move for mandatory tubal ligation among this set, but I would probably be crushed to death against a dumpster in a dark alley by a mysterious minivan sporting both “honor roll” and “Palin USA” stickers on the bumper.

But then I remembered that I blog because I NEED to write. I write for me and for the rest of the people out there just “off” enough to realize I am not a major security threat to their front bums barely concealed by mom jeans and fanny packs. My laptop imploded midway through the Atlanta foray and I realized just how crippled I am without a means to communicate on the page. I also blog because frankly, I like to share the things I do with food with the world so that people not heavily-entrenched in the food community can see that it’s about more than just cake pops, sprinkles, cupcakes, cornflake chicken and all the other loathsome, pointless foods in existence. I realize this does not make me terribly marketable, per se, but at the end of the day I have to be true to myself and hey, if I say I LIKE something, you damn well can trust that I ACTUALLY like it.

One thing I really liked was this dish I conjured last week consisting of fava bean gnudi (which is like gnocchi made from ricotta), stinging nettle emulsion, and spring onions poached in elderflower cordial. I am plowing my way through noma (decapitalization intentional, that’s how they write it), the cookbook featuring recipes from the best restaurant in the world of the same name. Noma is all about pride of place in a place that was previously-deemed to not have much to be proud of in the way of culinary tradition. Denmark was considered a hinterland, lacking in the truly great foods of the world like foie gras and lobster, and yet Rene Redzepi made do with what he had to the tune of trumping even El Bulli for the esteemed San Pellegrino top honor. The recipes in noma for me are not so much meant to be followed to a tee, but rather to act as springboards to showcase my terroire. As such, I have started a little snail farm from which I hope to harvest escargot soon, and I put practically every bush and berry in my mouth during my daily runs in order to discover foods that might not be obviously edible. These “put it in your mouth” experiments are frequently disgusting but have yet to prove fatal. Hint- do not deep fry lambs’ ears- eating them is like going down on the bearded lady from the circus after she’s worked herself into a hot and hairy dither.

Fava beans and ricotta combined with a little flour and salt form tufts of gnudi soft like poached meringues. Nettles emulsified in butter with lemon prove that strength in simplicity often trumps excessive manipulation, as with a good pie crust. The spring onions in elderflower cordial add a shot of color and sweet tang punch up the graphite flavors in the rest of the dish. I get bored easily. This meal captivated my attention for days because it was complex in the way that a really good film stays with you, and every time you watch it again there is a nuance you missed, and yet, it comes out on the plate as effortless.

This is how I want to exist: thoughtfully put-together, honest about the elements that compose me, aesthetically-balanced like good art, but never trying hard to be someone I am not, because it doesn’t ring true, during conferences or daily life.

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77 Responses

  1. Maria Raynal

    Well, when I read this post, I don’t feel as sad about missing the conference. Maybe someone needs to throw an Un-Conference…

    Refreshing candor, as always, SS.

    And, the fuschia finger made me laugh.

  2. Just picked up some fava beans at the farmer’s market. Definitely going to try the Gnudi.

    Thanks for the insight into the Blogher conference. I do my fair share of marketing; however, I always try to stay true to myself and cook/photograph dishes I am actually passionate about. I’m glad you are going to continue blogging. Your writing is so well crafted. Such an inspiration.

    Brandon

    PS. Booking a flight to Atlanta asap. You had me at impeccably-dressed women and many, many gay men ;)

  3. Im not sure if this post makes me happy or sad. I wanted to believe in a magical place where bloggers could go to better learn the skills that their blog is devoted to (in this case – food, cooking, recipe writing, being more adventurous in the kitchen and with the possibilities out there). You read the chatter and see how many people are attending, but even though Im on the east coast, financially its just not a possibility for myself at this point (which frankly, if it isn’t I shouldn’t even be considering such a thing). Part of me is elated to hear that the convention was something I didn’t really need to attend and part of me is sad that is isn’t. For the expense that everyone put out to attend and how many amazing things I hear about it is kind of like finding out the Easter Bunny is just a man in a suit trying to get you to buy one more piece of candy.
    Thanks for the honest feedback.

  4. “But then I remembered that I blog because I NEED to write.”

    Amen.

    But also, I love cake pops. So, do with that what you will.

    I really admire your commitment to writing (!!) and to providing genuine and VALUABLE content. And I agree with your disappointment about the factors I see as diluting or cheapening the food blogging world.

  5. I have been curious about the BlogHer events. Despite the enthusiasm of even the giddy attendees, I never read a review and think, “Damn, I missed out.”

    Linda, you really are an incredible writer and food artist. I always enjoy your blog and appreciate your honesty and wit!

  6. Linda:

    I live in Atlanta, and had absolutely no desire to attend BlogHer Food (not just because of the lame moniker). Spending hundreds of dollars to learn about SEO and how to drive more traffic to a blog just seemed sad.

    The only conference I’ve ever been to was a small one held in Birmingham this past January, and I came away with some good information, especially pertaining to photography and writing (the closing session with Kim Severson was particularly enlightening).

    The one panel I went to that was a waste of time was just as you described – a blogger who learned the tricks early on and has become “popular” by doing so – she even has a cookbook or two in print, catering to people who are looking to open a box of cornflakes and smother a dry chicken breast with them. She’s sponsored by some of the most socially irresponsible companies out there and proud of it. Let’s just say the world could use far fewer bloggers like that and far more like you.

    Thank you for being authentic.

  7. I definitely appreciate honest posts! Whether I agree with them or not, it’s a thing of beauty when someone is able to speak their mind and not care how they’re perceived. It doesn’t happen nearly enough, especially in the food blogging world :)

    With that said, we both really enjoyed ourselves. I think we went into the conference with an open mind, knowing full well that there would be all types of people from different walks of life, even moms who love the cornflake crusted chicken ;) I did notice the Walmart moms group but, to be honest, it didn’t even phase me. Because they were there for them, just like we were there for us. Who am I to judge? I guess everyone just takes from it whatever they’d like, ya know?

    People can take these conferences however they please or attend them to gain whatever they wish, whether it be more knowledge of their craft, swag, or armfuls of Starkist tuna. We decided to take it as a chance to meet wonderful, non-competitive women, who were interested in learning from one another and networking. And at the end of the trip, we left with a slew of new friends.

    Unlike a lot of other conferences we’ve attended (which will remain unnamed!) BlogHer Food was the first non-cliquey one. It was a group of mature women (and handful of men!), who were all eager to get to know one another and learn about each other’s lives. And to us, that’s a rarity and something we definitely cherish!

    Keep on writing! And rocking those shoes :)

    [Chels]

  8. Laughing at the cornflake chicken remark because I was thinking the same exact thing this morning. Reading some of the crazy titles are wow, why do you do this? Do you even like your own food?? Everyday or every other damn day you (not you, but the folks you’re referring to). I live in Germany with three little no way in hayell will I make a blogging event. I can see how obnoxious it can get. I think you’re amazing and tell as many people who aren’t fodd bloggers…hell people who aren’t even into food about you because you’re true and a damn genius. Yes, you are. Another lovely recipe…truly inspire. You go girl, *snap*

  9. I’m so glad you are back at a keyboard. Where else can I learn such vivid life truths? I will not try frying lambs’ ear leaves thank you.

  10. I suddenly feel like I know nothing about Food because I’ve never worked with elderflower essence or whatever the frick is in all your pretty photos. Over it already though.

    Sitting across from you Friday night at that beautiful table full of real and fabulous people was one of the highlights of the conference for me. Really. It was my first conference and I knew absolutely no one. Then I ended up sitting with you and admiring your duck leg. What could be better than that??

  11. BlogHer Food was my first food blogging conference, and I’m sorry that you did not get to be part of the group of women that befriended me while I was there. I came away with connections to some fabulous women and a good deal of knowledge. I experienced none of the social climbing that you ran into. To be truthful, I didn’t have time to read up on who would be there before I went, and I was unaware of who many of the more well-known people were even when I met them.

    I suppose the swag is kind of fun, but it’s not the reason why I went, and while I met some women who really loved the stuff, I didn’t get the impression that was the reason they were there. I went to learn more about my craft, have a little fun, and (honestly), have a legitimate tax write-off that doubled as a little vacation.

    Gotta agree about the word BlogHer, though, but it’s not the worst word invented. The worst word is “webinar.” I cringe every time my husband says not to disturb him because he’s giving or attending a “webinar” in his office.

  12. Brava. Your post is exactly everything I love (food, writing) and hate (everything else) about blogging.

  13. I love this post.

    You are such a beautiful writer, and I love your honesty about BlogHer Food. I’m also happy I didn’t go.

  14. I saw you at Cathy Barrows session. Loved your shoes! I actually sat through the star kist tuna demo because I felt sorry for them that nobody seemed interested in their session. And the fried butterball was okay for a morning….somehow didn’t like the fry shack smell all throughout the day.

  15. I did not attend and probably never will for the fact that it is called blog HER. So unnecessarily exclusionary. GREG

  16. Linda, one of the highlights of the conference was taking a break with you. How would I see you if we did not both go to conferences? There’s the rub.

  17. The food world needs more women like you! I admire your honesty, humor, and sassy style. Your writing makes me laugh and smile – and encourages me to be myself – not just try to fit the “typical” (if there is any) food blogger/vlogger mold. We may vary on our opinions, but I will fight for you or anyone else’s right to blog how they feel or who they are. Keep up the great work girl!

  18. Thank you for your candid reflections about the conference, Linda. Your words reassured me that my decision to skip Blogher was indeed a wise one. I have neither burning desire to snag a sponsor nor any interest in “swag.” I have even less interest in spending time with those who swagger — their actions are typically fueled by narcissistic, over-inflated self-importance. My day job involves treatment of individuals who have psychopathology … I don’t want to deal with Axis II drama during my leisure time.

  19. Can’t get the bearded lady thing out of my head, cheers.

  20. Linda…I heart you! Seriously! Only reason I’d go to a conference is to meet you! keep doing what you’re doing!

    Heather

  21. That last photo… is that the elderflower spring onions? It’s hauntingly beautiful. I love the way the roots are wispy and the onions (if that’s what they are) are spooning each other. Aww. :)

    I’m so happy to hear you’re not about to go all cake-pop on us. If that day comes, then I know truly Judgement Day is near. But! I hope you’ll still come to Foodbuzz Fest later this year though… just so we can hang out!

  22. You just confirmed to me why I never want to go to a food bloggers conference!

    This is my first visit to your blog – I love your writing, I love your food and most of all I love your honesty about who you are. I’ll definitely be back.

    Sue

  23. I love you. I have two children in my arms so that’s all I can say…but I think you make more sense than most people in this food world.

    xo kim

  24. I obviously made the better choice of conferences, this weekend. Although, there are one or two “experts” that I think have done several too many stints on panels, and need to get their asses back down here in the audience with the rest of us peons. They’re starting to believe their own press.

    Just warn me before you cook your pets, Linda. I couldn’t possibly bring myself to eat something I’ve known personally – no matter how briefly – even if they are snails. ->Shiver!<-

  25. I laugh until I cry when I read your posts. That is why you should never stop blogging. You bring quirk and joy to food like no other fuchsia-clad blogger does.

    It’s refreshing to know that even the “big dogs” had the same feelings as the little guys at BlogHer Food; although, that’s horrible in the grand scheme of things. Glad I didn’t waste my money. And yeah, I called you a big dog. You’re kind of awesome.

  26. The problem with conferences is that everyone walks out with the same information … and if they implement it, you’ll have a whole bunch of bloggers all following the same path. But it’s not THEIR path, it’s the path someone else walked before them.

    The best blogs are unique. You can’t learn how to be unique at a conference.

    There are things that can be learned at a conference, certainly. But not the important things, like developing your own voice and finding your own perfect niche.

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with advertisers and sponsors, but it seems that if your blog is good enough, those people will find you. It might take longer, but it might also be a better relationship.

  27. I love you.

    And what, pray tell, is a Wal-Mart Mom? I have my suspicions, but I need to know for sure, so I can stay far, far away…

  28. This was not my first visit to Atlanta, and I took time to go out and explore a bit. On Sunday, I went to the High Museum and thoroughly got lost in the wonderful art surrounding me.
    When I meet people, I am usually verbose, trying to get to know them, extricating information without appearing rude and intrusive. I did not meet too many people, but the ones I met, I got to know better.
    There were so many I did not meet, and that made me sad. I adore your writing, and wish that I had at least had a chance to wave to you when you sashayed past my table at the closing panel.But, there is always the chance to write a comment, or send an e-mail, and get to know someone beyond the conferences.
    I write because I have to write. You will not stop writing after BlogHer Food, and neither will I. And that’s the only reality worth mentioning. Looking forward to another beautifully written post from you, until we meet IRL:)

  29. That’s some awesome brain sauce! The way you write… you are the blogging equivalent of a streaker. As someone who’s just in it for the money, I even loved the parts I didn’t like. You rock so hard.

  30. Brutal honesty sprinkled with brightly beautiful pictures: only you can do it Linda. Please stay true to yourself, please do, because nobody here would want to read an unsalted version of you.

    From the reports I’ve been reading, it seems blogging conferences are getting less appealing by the second. I wonder if they can be improved upon – otherwise the only people that will keep on attending are newbies who are not (yet) on to the scheme, freebies addicts and upper-tier bloggers who now get paid to tell lower-tier bloggers how to get to a thousand followers on Twitter. Or maybe becoming a big live infomercial is the ultimate goal?

  31. A very refreshing post, thanks!
    It’s good to know there are others out there who are writing because they need to, not just to get sponsorship and advertising.
    Don’t stop, please.

  32. Ah, Linda.
    I came home wondering why I do this too, and where to go with it from here on out. Not what I was expecting to come away with at all. Sigh.
    Loved meeting you- you are even better in person than you are on your blog, if that’s possible.

  33. I don’t know if we would be friends in real life or not but regardless you ARE my kind of a girl. Possesing honesty is a virtue not a fault. Great job!!

  34. Well, I enjoyed the weekend… but mostly because I attended to see friends and meet people I’ve been wanting to meet for a long time (and see what sorts of shoes you’d be bringing!) Although the sessions weren’t what I had hoped for… and the food was not good… and the swag was not really there at all… I still managed to have a good time. Hope a few people who are interested in working w/ brands to make money got something out of my panel.

  35. I hope you never quit blogging or attending conferences. Who else will raise hell with me quite the way you do? Every second with you is time well spend, my love. You are a gem.
    X
    Sabrina

  36. First time I’ve read your blog, and I appreciate the honesty. I’ve never been been to a foodie conference but it must be hard to really be yourself. I mean, no matter how much we write for ourselves we do love hearing how awesome we are, how much people love what we do, and how worthwhile these hours in front of the computer actually are. We have idols, who are just as imperfect as we are. Are these massive conferences really the place to get to know them as people? Probably not. We all have to find what suits us. Personally I’m holding out for an invite to a penny de Los Santos class ;)

    Linda Reply:

    @Amanda@EasyPeasyOrganic, Penny De Los Santos makes life worth living. That’s an invite to hold out for.

  37. Thanks for putting into words so eloquently what I have been feeling since I came back. Was hoping for some inspiration and some new life to be breathed into my blog but I came away wondering why why why about a lot of things. My biggest regret? Not spending more time with you. Need to remedy that sometime… And thanks – this post helps me realise that I need to keep on blogging for ME.

  38. Wow. Just Wow. I love you, and I wish I had the chance to meet you at BlogHer..though I don’t plan on ever attending that event. You speak with a truth most people would shudder to even consider and that is truly courageous. F$%k the rest of them right?

    So I’ll see you at IFBC in November then?

  39. After reading your words, I am glad I live in Europe where the bloggers community is small and still seen as a bunch of aliens (it is such a fun experience to take out our cameras and shoot the dishes we are served in a restaurant lol).
    This means that we do not have any really sponsorship available so in conferences we just enjoy our company, gossiping, exchanging tips and having fun without much of a Famous hunt. Naturally if you would pop by it would be a totally different story! ;)

    I still see conferences/workshops as a valuable place where to re/meet valuable and sorely missed friends.

  40. ha! love that you say what you’re thinking. I was feeling a big sad that I couldn’t go to any of the conferences this past weekend but after reading the reviews, I have no desire to ever attend. So many other fun things to do instead.

    If you want to come pick the many many many snails off of my lilac trees, you are welcome any day. Hell, I’d even pay you! ;-)

  41. I’m glad you realized you need to write because I don’t like the thought of you taking your voice away. I’m so disappointed to hear about the negative vibe emerging from this past weekend, but I’m glad it’s being used by some people to re-focus on what’s important to them. At the end of the day, little else matters except for being true to yourself.

  42. I was supposed to volunteer at BlogHer Food, but we had a very unexpected situation to deal with at home. I canceled at the last minute. Part of me was sad, because I was so excited to meet some of the bloggers I admire. Part of me was okay with it, because I didn’t care about the food blogger politics of it all.

    However, I live in Atlanta. So if you ever come and visit again I’ll gladly show you were the locals dine. This is an amazing food city, and I say that as a transplanted Philadelphian.

  43. Okay, I didn’t go to Blogher and was feeling a tad jealous and left out, also I’ve never been to any Foodblogging event, camp, sleepaway, goat roping etc. You have made me feel so much better about what I thought I’d been missing.
    I was showing our houseguests your blog this weekend and in doing so I realized that I do my own version of what you do. The ingredients may be unfamiliar to the American palate, and yeah I’m cooking in clay and unless Yellow Cobra Brand Hing decides to sponsor a Superbowl commercial nobody’s gonna ask me to develop any recipe for them any time soon..I love your quote!!! “I like to share the things I do with food with the world so that people not heavily-entrenched in the food community can see that it’s about more than just cake pops, sprinkles, cupcakes, cornflake chicken and all the other loathsome, pointless foods in existence”
    I hope we do get to meet one of these days..old skool and new skool, molecular gastronomy, and traditional Indian..any meeting of ours should probably occur at the Hadron Super Collider maybe they’ll have a blogging fest there.
    As always, love what you’re doing.

  44. Dear Ms. Salty,
    I blog because I crack myself up. Medication needed? Maybe, but I too love writing. That is why I could give a rats ass who wants to read or not. If I were doing this for money I would starve. That is what I married my boy toy for…. I am JOKING I work sorta…

  45. and hey, easy on the cornflake chicken. xo.

  46. Sharon Miro

    I first had raviloi gnudi at a very small restaurant in Florence called Che C’e C’e in 1993. They were fantastic. The restaurant is still there with the same chef in the same 4×6 kitchen.

    Che C’e C’e translates loosely to Whatever there is, there is. Seems appropraite today for your post.

    I have never been to a food blogger’s conference, and doubt I would ever go–been to too many real world conferences that are the same. The same hi-school attitude that I hated then, and still hate now. The thing with those conferences? I was getting paid piles of money to go.

    To sully what I love so much playing those games, would be unthinkable for me.

    I love this post…and thank you for writing it.

  47. I told you those people were from Mediocre Satan. At least you have outed a good deal of them and I’m sure when they secretly read this they will feel the fuschia finger pointing at them.

  48. Well- live and learn Linda. It is great you shared your experience in the same straight-forward way you always do. There was a secret shadow of regret for me for not going to BlogHerFood and really Foodbuzz and other similar ‘conferences.’ Now that regret is gone and the conviction that my time is better spent cooking and writing is back in full force. XO

  49. The truth of your words almost make me teary…everyone else laments the caste system or how it seems one because they might be an introvert but you are right. What you said to me. I would hate it.

    I’m so glad I saved my money and worked in my garden. Instead of going over what she said or what I wish I had said I have a garden planted with 36 geraniums, a clean house and 3 jars of bacon jam. And $1000+ bucks I would not have if I have gone. I’m happier with that. The ONLY thing I think I missed? You.

  50. I’m no longer sad that I missed Blogher Food last weekend. Although, I do still want to spend more time in Atlanta than my last conference room view only adventure.

    Saliva-inducing photos as always and I demand an invite when those escargot are ready for plating ;) XO Sarah

    Linda Reply:

    @Sarah @Oc2Seattle, Atlanta is a place I, too, want to know better. The escargot experiment has proven rather amusing thus far- I spend 4 am hunting my neighbor’s gardens ISO snails so often it’s only a matter of time before imminent arrest.

    Dee Reply:

    @Linda,

    How many snails do you need? Our garden is a bit overrun and we’re just up in North Seattle.

    Linda Reply:

    @Dee, I’ll stop by and pick up snails any time you have extras! cheers, L

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