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Reflections and Shades Upon an Anniversary...

Seven years ago, kitchenMage was born into a rather small and snuggly online food'verse. Quirky sites like Belly-Timber (now sadly in eternal hiatus) could tell the tale of the Mighty Cheese Warriors (cached) to a crowd that was sufficiently inside to get the joke and Food Blog S'cool meant we didn't need no stinkin' conventions.

In 2005, agents and publishers had not yet begun to demand that their writers start a weblog. This is fortunate for me since I might have ended up writing about nothing but esoteric technical topics, government compliance, training and other things that, as one reader said, "makes your brain hurt." I still do that work but I have also written a cookbook and having food as an additional focus has been sanity-saving.

Anniversaries are time for reflection and renewal and this one is true to form. kitchenMage is undergoing a serious makeover behind the scenes; one that has been near-eternal, largely because a few months ago I decided that I needed to rework the structure and content as opposed to simply the look and feel.

For a variety of reasons, the last few years has left me reading a lot more than writing and it's been interesting. The food'verse has been utterly transformed since way back in 2005 and not always for the better. While there are a lot of really great web sites, they are increasingly hard to find amongst the self-promotional noise and assemblages of food-like substances.

Just today a twitter conversation led me to discover that "pie inside cake" gets 13.5k hits on The Google. Fortunately, fewer than 500 are images. On the other hand, most involve frozen pies and cakes from a box. The more ridiculous the combination, the more likely it is to garner attention and page views. I have found myself sighing a lot as I read.

Before moving on, I'd like to share a few things I have learned about online food writing:
  • "Adapted" has an extremely flexible definition. So does "disclosure."
  • Contrary to twitter, every cookie recipe is not, if fact, awesome.
  • Claiming authenticity is often inversely related to being authentic.
  • One person's community is another person's cult.
  • Some people confuse fact-checkers, most of whom seem unemployed, with trolls.
  • Shame has died...of shame.
  • Twee rhymes with me. I do not think this is a coincidence.

All snark aside, as I was writing this, Van Jones came on the tv that is murmuring in the background to convey the best advice he was ever given. When he went to Yale Law School, his father said,

"There's two kinds of smart people. There's smart people who take very simple things and make them sound very complicated so they can enrich themselves and there are people who take very complicated things and make them sound simple to empower other people. I want you to be that kind of smart kid when you come back home."

This resonates deeply with me. When I have had to describe my core skill to people in a sentence it tends towards, "I excel at researching complex subjects and explaining them to to a wide range of audiences...sometimes with Powerpoint slides and tests."

Some of the future of kitchenMage is already burbling in a cauldron in my mage's tower. I can guarantee two things: there will be simple explanations of complex topics and no Powerpoint (you're welcome).

With any luck, there will also be lively and useful discussions. If you ever visited A Year in Bread, you probably remember the comment threads there with fondness--they were epic, with people testing recipes, reporting results and learning from each other. It's something that seems missing lately and I'm determined to bring it back.

On a personal note: Kevin Weeks, of Seriously Good and one of band of three from A Year in Bread died recently. While he would deny it, Kevin was one of the best people I have met. A fellow refugee from writing on technical topics, smart, funny and wise, his bright "Hey, girl" made me smile every time I heard it.

Kevin knew he was dying and had no illusions about his own mortality. He wrote of his impending death in a series he shared with friends. I'm sure he would forgive me for sharing this bit with you:

So let me confound Dylan Thomas and go gently and gracefully into that good night. Let me slip out the back door, unnoticed. The party's over and there's no need to make a production of it.

Hey. Dead is dead. Get over it.

That is pure Kevin, always bowing gracefully to the inevitable. Here, in my own private memorial, candles are lit, dough is rising, glass is raised. Hope it's not too much of a production, dude. Damn but I miss you…

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