The formula for a successful food blog tends to look a bit like a recipe for simple syrup: Take one part flash, one part soul, and melt down into something sweet, comforting, and warm. We tend to like our food bloggers fun-loving but vulnerable and, perhaps most importantly, armed with an artillery of lenses, filters, and pretty place settings.
So it’s gratifying to discover that one of the best food blogs out there right now has no photos, no ingredient lists, and no links to the food world’s favorite publications, online or otherwise. And yet it manages to be more delicious and evocative than a hundred photos of glistening pork chops could ever be.
Kate Christensen is a novelist whose books include The Great Man, The Epicure’s Lament, and, most recently, The Astral. Last year, Christensen moved from her longtime home in New York to Portland, Maine. In December, she began blogging.
You could call the result the work of a food blogger. In her “About” section, Christensen describes herself as “a cook of the improvisational, what’s-in-the-cupboard school,” and goes on to provide the CliffsNotes version of her evolution as a cook and eater, from her childhood love of “hot dogs, ‘creamy corn,’ and boiled carrot coins with margarine” to her early adulthood in France, where she “discovered cheese, butter, and wine.” And her novel-in-progress, Gin on the Lanai, is about rival food writers in Hawaii.
But in Christensen’s telling, food is just one ingredient in a story, a supporting character that drifts in and out of scenes and resurfaces at the very end to tie everything together. The recipes that end every post are offhand, loose, and, to the more puritanical reader, not really recipes at all. A recipe for a car picnic calls for “leftover leek and potato soup from last night,” “3/4 log of goat cheese in a Baggie,” carrots and celery, “a box of sesame rice crackers,” “all the dark chocolate in the house,” a “bag of salted roasted cashews,” and “the rest of the orange juice.”
Then there’s the recipe for rice and beans, which reads, in part, “From a Puerto Rican takeout place, order a big aluminum dish of rice and beans with chicken and extra hot sauce. From the deli next door, buy a six-pack of Bass Ale.… Bring this feast home, take off your shoes, eat everything alone at your rickety little table and wash it down with cold beer. Wriggle your feet and shiver with hard-won happiness.”
Christensen’s writing is sensual and humorous. A member of Europe’s nobility, for example, shows up as “a fat, sardonic, lonely man with a pendulous, wet lower lip like the wine connoisseur’s in the brilliant Roald Dahl story, 'Taste.'" Describing a meal with her husband in the dead of winter, Christensen writes, “We fell on this cold feast, eating with our hands, standing up by the counter. It was still winter, but to us, it was torrid tropical spring. We drank the first bottle with the food, talking and talking, and then we drank another, sitting by the fire, and here the Victorian curtain goes down.”
You don’t need photos to accompany this kind of writing—the imagery is there in the words. Christensen’s blog brings to mind another food blog by a non-professional eater: Mario Batali Voice, written by Steve Albini, who has a day job as one of the world’s most renowned and prolific recording engineers. Although Albini uses photographs (albeit pretty rudimentary ones), he also eschews recipes in favor of descriptive instructions that are woven into a narrative. Like Christensen, he’s funny and doesn’t try too hard, and his food sounds good. The pleasure comes not from the payoff of a beautifully backlit roast chicken, but from getting sucked into a good story. Which, like any good meal, leaves you wanting more.
Image source: Kate Christensen by Jon Lewis via Facebook