Be prepared, this is the long one.
I am an accidental blogger. Never thought about writing a blog, even more, sharing recipes of the food I cook. Thinking about it now, when I happily write 4 blogs on regular basis, I understand clearly that it was meant to happen. It is also the best thing that happen to me, standing right after having a child and emigrating to Australia. Cooking, and especially baking, was my love and passion since I became a teenager, when I practically started to cook family meals, not because I had to, but because I wanted and really enjoyed it. My mother was only too happy to let me do it. No one taught me, or at least spent time cooking with me. It was, to put it in medical terms, “all in my head”. The main principle of cooking and baking was to make something nourishing and tasty with what produce was available. Suited me perfect, let me do what and how I wanted.
The same goes for writing. As far as I can remember, I always wrote something. And no, there were no dairies, or something personal. I wrote letters since I was a child, first to my great-aunt, when we were not together,
then to schoolchildren of my age, living in different cities, whose addresses and desire to correspond, my father would bring from his regular business trips. Later, in school, I liked to write essays on different topics, which was a great way to get a better mark for a subject. University projects and diploma essay were a natural progression, followed by multiple scientific papers, PhD essay, review articles and chapters for scientific magazines and books. I was born and raised in Latvia, bilingual republic of the Soviet Union, so Russian and Latvian, which was my first second language, were the natural bilingual living environment. From grade 2 my parents transferred me from regular school, to the so-called “English” school, where English language as a subject was taught from grade 1, and English Literature from grade 3 or 4, I do not remember it clearly. As a result I knew more Shakespeare by heart than Pushkin, and loved English literature more than Russian. I can only speculate about the reasons why it happened, but one reason for sure was the teacher. We had a wonderful teacher who managed privately to get several recording of Shakespeare plays and we had the absolute pleasure of listening to the recordings siting with earphones on, being completely immersed in an amazing world of intense and overwhelming emotions, with beautifully flowing and nearly musical language. Even remembering this takes my breath away. I am not particularly gifted in languages and was not in the first group of the most achieving students, but my love for the language has its roots in my beloved Riga Middle School No 40. The best school any child and teenager can have, the school of free spirits, inquisitive minds and intense intellectual life of students, sharing new books and magazines, going to literary and musical concerts, special lectures from art critics with presentations of movies from top world directors. We even had a tradition to come early to school under pretence to copy each others homework, but in reality to have discussions about everything under the sun. Our class was amazing, nearly all went to graduate from prestigious universities, my classmates live all around the world now, many of them are well-known, if not famous, in their profession. I thought the tribute to my school would be appropriate in saying thank you for giving me the foundation for future life.
Though I was born in multi-ethnic family, my first language was Russian. Our goal when we came to Australia was to fully integrate, to become loyal citizens of our new country that kindly accepted us as professionals. Thus, nearly everything Russian was consciously excluded. I can write about this interesting, and many might say controversial topic, but to cut the story short, after 20 years living in Australia, this approach resulted in dramatic loss of quality Russian language, to the point that I had difficulties in serious conversations when I had a chance to talk to people from my previous life who do not speak English. I am sure, I will never be as good as any native speaker is, and the accent is there as well, but I got to the point that I thought in English and dreamt in English.
But back to blogging. It all started from my husband’s photography. It became our new tradition to make photos every Christmas and share them with friends around the world. Time between Christmas and New year became Skype time. Slowly, but surely photos of our Christmas table joined family photos. We started to publish them in Flickr for easier sharing. The questions of recipes without any reference to coeliac disease and my gluten free diet followed. I was really annoyed to write the recipes over and over again, when my husband suggested to publish them in a blog. We did the first no-frills recipe of gluten free sultana cake with minimum text, just ingredients and photos and that was it. I was not ready, not interested and resisted the activity. But the time did the trick, and I started to publish recipes of the dishes I made. The goal of the blog CookingWithoutGluten was to show that it was possible to have gluten free household with delicious, nourishing food, that is not too difficult to prepare and is a joy to eat. The blog was not about telling stories. I tried to keep it completely impersonal, and to concentrate on food itself. Food photography served the same purpose, just to show honestly how the dish looks, with special emphasis to the texture of baking products, as the most challenging part of gluten free cooking.
When I felt confident in many areas of gluten free cooking, I stepped out of my comfort zone into grain, dairy and sugar free cooking. I did this to create recipes for our family friends, who are afflicted more severely in their dietary restrictions. When several recipes were published, the natural development was to have a special place for them. It was becoming too difficult to fish them out from many only gluten free publications. That’s how the second blog e-cookingblog was created. All recipes there are specifically designed to suit the ingredient list acceptable to our friends. Those were the real recipes for a real life changing cooking and eating.
They had to be published with step by step, detailed instructions and photos, to make sure they are easily replicated. I thought the blog would have only 20-30 recipes for essential dishes, but the task was so challenging and so exciting, that even now, with more than 100 recipes gluten, grain, starches, legumes, soy, dairy, yeast and sugar free, under my belt, I can’t stop thinking about new approaches and going through new ideas. I like to use unusual combinations, because I never think in terms of recreating the recipe with allowed substitutes, but think only in terms of taste and texture of the final product, and select ingredients, and their combinations to achieve those.
Occasionally, I would look at both blogs statistics and some numbers would clearly suggest that at least 15% of my readers come from Russian speaking countries. The statistics of most popular posts and pages showed even more. Some of the readers from English-speaking countries had at least some Russian background. Who, if not Russian readers, would look for gluten free pelmeni or Napoleon cake? I started to entertain the idea of culinary blog in Russian, but rejected it 4 times for variety of reasons. Only when I started the project about my parents meeting each other during WWII, and had to install Russian language on my laptop with a separate Russian keyboard to correspond with archives, I had a chance to browse in Russian and to do searches in gluten free cooking. I soon realised that gluten free cooking and baking has very few, if any, serious outlets in Russian blogosphere. I thought long and hard again. The black hole was there and I decided to address this emptiness. I also decided on the format of the blog and its specifics. I am familiar with many bilingual culinary blogs: in English and French, In English and Italian, in English and Greek, in English and Russian, where the same text and the recipe itself are presented in both languages in one post. I decided against that format and went for completely individual publications, written specifically for the targeted audience, depending on the language. Many specific issues had to be addressed. The first goes to the ingredients, their specific for the region features and qualities, their availability on the local market. The readers come from all over the world, so I had to do my research about international and local companies, manufacturing gluten free produce. A lot of attention had to be devoted to general education of some readers groups, that did not have an access to quality and correct information about gluten cross contamination. As I suspected, Russian blog Готовим Без Глютена (cooking without gluten) had more traffic from the very beginning, than my both English blogs counted together. Now is has 10 to 20 times more traffic, depending on the day. Readers ask questions and do cook/bake using my recipes. I can’t ask for more. Readers modifications are particularly pleasing as they show the flexibility of the recipe. Search in Russian language often places my recipe in the first position on the page, and sometimes recipes take half of the page. Considering that all my blogs are not commercial, Russian included, and I don’t have Facebook or Twitter accounts to promote my blog, it is quite surprising. I believe there are two reasons for that phenomenon. There is very little competition in Russian gluten free blogosphere, I can name may be 2-3 blogs, specifically dedicated to gluten free cooking, with the wide range of recipes on offer and regular posts. You can find recipes here and there in chat rooms and in specialised forums, but the quality and attention to detail in those recipes are not the same. I make the special effort to describe the process of preparation with every minute detail and publish as many step but step photos as reasonably possible. The main goal is not only to present the recipe in a way to be reproducible with ease, but to discuss many options for the recipe to be adjusted to family taste, and to show variations that can be achieved with product substitution. All this I hope can lead to more confident gluten free cooking, experimentation, making my blog a stepping stone to free personal gluten free cooking without the need for recipes.
The fourth blog Радости Жизни (Joys of Life) had completely different reasons behind its creation. This blog is not a culinary one, it is about life in general, and it contains publications in 4 areas:
- events in Melbourne, Victoria and Australia we find interesting and worth sharing
- photo galleries of my husband’s photography, dedicated to individual topics
- fine things in life I enjoy
- general thoughts on topics that interest me
This format was selected based on readers reaction to several non-culinary publications in my Russian cooking blog. I shared the event from last November, when we had a visitor, later a permanent resident in our backyard. Blue tongue lizard came and stayed to live with us,
later giving birth to a baby/babies, we are not sure. We absolutely loved Gertrude, the mother, and later the baby we called Valentine, because he was born on Valentine’s Day. Though we let them live in the wild, we fed them with berries and fruits and they happily accepted our food.
I received several private letters from my readers who asked me to write more on different non-culinary topics. The second reason behind the 4-th blog was to share some thoughts, impressions and ideas with my close friends. I find it more practical, compared to writing long emails over and over again. The third, may be the most significant reason for me personally, was to share my favourite photographs from my husband’s portfolio, which contains enormous quantities of images, with only few of them published in his personal page in 500px. These photo gallery publications have very little text and present mostly images. Have a look here.
As a person living with poor health for many years now, it is not a surprise that my life is mainly concentrated around the house. I like to surround myself with fine things I love and enjoy. It is a pleasure for me to share this love. I find writing as therapeutic as cooking. These two activities, however, demand different mindset and different level of energy. Cooking is easier than writing, especially when I am writing an article and not a recipe. Initially, it was very difficult to write in Russian and I really struggled. It took 2-3 hours to write a page in the beginning. It is easier now, after more that 2 years of writing and more than 200 recipes published. I am very glad that it gave me the chance to return my native language back into my life, if not in a full sense, at least to a certain extend. After 22 years break I started to read Russian classics, that I missed in school. I am absolutely ashamed to admit, that I discovered completely anew the world of Leo Tolstoy, the magnificent world of deep thinker, whose understanding of human beings was so profound. I doubt that literature like that can be fully understood and appreciated when people are young and have busy physical lives without real time for reflection. May be it is true, that we do things when we are young, and think about things when the time allows.
Thank you for reading and your patience.