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MEDIA DISH

You too -- yes, you! -- can be a food blogger

October 31, 2007|Regina Schrambling | Special to The Times

Of all the new jobs created thanks to the great American food frenzy, the most astonishing has to be how-to-start-a-food-blog instructor. Charging for something so free and easy is like paying a restaurant for tap water plus a lesson in how to get it from glass to mouth.

This is the golden age of do-it-yourself publishing, and the bar for entry has never been set lower. Anyone with a computer, a camera and a fascination with the world's most fascinating subject can compete with top food blogs such as Smitten Kitchen and Chocolate & Zucchini. The result has been a proliferation of great-looking blogs showcasing real life and real cooking. No wonder professional food photographers are looking over their digital shoulders.

Even better, food blogs can exploit every form of communication. If you want to write, you can just write. If you want to embed videos, you can embed videos. If you just want to link to other blogs, the blogworld is your oyster.

Getting into the cyber-kitchen used to take money, for every step from registering a domain name to contracting with a server to host a website. It also required expertise worthy of molecular gastronomy -- five years ago, I had to pay a designer who could write HTML code. Now anyone looking to unleash his inner A.J. Liebling can sign up for a free blogging program and start typing.

To prove it, this techno-dunce decided to actually walk the walk into cyberspace rather than repeatedly talking the talk. After five years with a website built by professionals, I set out to create a blog, from choosing a name for it to posting an avatar for myself and compiling a blogroll, the list of other blogs that will pump up traffic to mine. The sense of accomplishment was almost like what comes from cooking a fabulous dinner. Unlike the perfect cassoulet, though, a blog is forever. Even if I commit the all-too-common sin of abandoning it after a few posts, foodfake.wordpress.com will be around long after I am ashes.

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Strong points of view

Google only knows how many food blogs are out there, but the amazing thing about cyberspace is that there is always room for more. (Kiplog.com/food, maintained by a photographer outside Chicago, has an extraordinary list.) A few bloggers have made names with their musings on such niche foods as ramen, pizza or cheese or such trivia as food media and gossip; others have readers who check in daily to see what dinner was the night before. The best have a strong point of view, an easy way with words and something more profound to say than "here's what I ate or cooked."

Some role models include eatdrinkonewoman.com, by a singer in New York City who writes insightfully about her own life in food and interviews others about theirs, or thegurglingcod.typepad.com, by a professor in South Carolina with high-wire language skills and a cynical perspective on all things food-related, or eatingla.blogspot.com, which gives a transporting sense of the local food scene.

But if you just want to share recipes, there's a place in the blogosphere for all creatures big and small. Proof lies in the blog- rolls. What used to be known as the World Wide Web is all about sharing what you catch in it: Blogs link to other blogs. One good virtual party leads to another.

Step One is deciding what you will be trying to say. Before you bare yourself, which is what the Internet is all about, you need to know yourself, and your strengths. If writing scares you more than tackling a souffle, just approach it like an e-letter: Type something someone you know would be entertained by, not dutifully read.

And as with food itself, presentation is crucial. Great chunks of type tend to go gray unless you break them up with garnishes: boldface, italics, color, bigger point size. (Adding all those effects is as easy as clicking on icons on most blogging services.) Recipes in particular can be virtual Ambien; they should be broken up into smaller bites either by using the "more" button or by tweaking the type.

Most important, the cliche about a picture and a thousand words never sounds fresher than when applied to blogs. Jazzy photos enliven the most labored prose. I am one of probably the last six people in America still using film but was able to convert CDs from the photo processor into digital files, so I know anyone with a 21st century camera can do it faster, easier and better. Even with a cellphone.

(Shooting food in restaurants has become a blog hallmark, to the point that the use of flash is inciting a backlash. My advisers say the solution is to choose a digital camera that has low-light, or even food settings. Turn off the flash, place your elbow on the table and use your arm as a tripod to keep the camera as steady as you can. Shoot away -- the best way to get something sharp is to snap a lot of shots.)

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