7 Things I Learnt at the Food Blogger Connect Conference

Photo 25-09-2015, 07 07 48

Sunrise over Chiswick Park. Gorgeous weather.

For the past six weeks I’ve been posting three Instagrams a day as Food Blogger Connect in the run up to FBC15, and over the conference weekend itself I was Instagramming and Periscoping on behalf of FBC15.

It was a great opportunity for me to attend an otherwise unattainably expensive event but stay coccooned within a small volunteer team of similarly newbie bloggers. In some ways it was quite overwhelming to be surrounded by people who had been blogging ‘since the last decade’, as one veteran put it, but it was also great to be surrounded by people with a wealth of experience and blogging knowledge – there is a lot to learn!

The FBC volunteer team with Claudia Roden

The FBC volunteer team with Claudia Roden

I learnt a lot of quite mundane, practical things that I hope to implement to improve this blog, but here are my somewhat more interesting top seven observations on the event in general.

1.) Periscope is the next big thing in social media. I experimented with it for FBC in between Instagramming, and it is a great way of telling people ‘Here I am, here’s what I’m doing right this second.’ The great thing about is your viewers can ask you questions as you’re filming, and they can be from all over the world. For an event like FBC this is a good way of promoting the event and letting bloggers who can’t make it see what is going on. But for the individual, small scale blogger like myself, it feels a bit self-indulgent, although I’m so inconsistent I’ll probably be Periscoping merrily away soon. I guess the bigger bloggers would find it useful for self-promotion, and I know a lot of American paleo blogger use it. Like all other social media it aims to bring followers even closer to their idols. In some ways I’m nostalgic for the time pre-reality TV shows, pre-celebs Instagramming their every movements, when your idols seemed like gods. Which brings me on to the next point…

2.) Meeting a food hero is wonderful. I met Claudia Roden. She’s incredible – so friendly, so gentle, so inviting. She’s one of those people who radiates warmth, able to speak to anyone and everyone – she has that skill of making you forget the massive age gap between you. I could natter on for hours about how wonderful the experience was. But to bring it back to point 1. above – she started her talk saying that she’s ‘in awe’ of all of us bloggers as she is such a technophobe. But she was also quite blunt when she said ‘No-one learns from their mother anymore. They just use the internet.’ To be fair to the young bloggers out there, I think there was a lost generation of mothers who perhaps did not provide much inspiration in the kitchen – those born in the 80s and 90s were brought up slap bang in the height of the low fat, high carb, highly processed food days. I think bloggers of my generation are relearning the value of whole ingredients, home cooked foods, and for me, both my grandmothers are a greater source of inspiration. Having access to the internet means I have access to a whole world of food, not just the Malaysian and British worlds of my grandmothers! Claudia went on to explain how she often asks people ‘And how does your mother do it?’, which I thought just lovely, and actually gave me inspiration for a potential future project.

Me with Claudia Roden. Totally starstruck!

Me with Claudia Roden. Totally starstruck!

3.) Most bloggers are bakers. And most baking blogs get clicks. I am not a baker. In fact I feel quite strongly that paleo baking is an oxymoron, so I’d rather not post baking recipes. If that means I get fewer visits then so be it – this is MY blog and I want to give a realistic, honest view of what I do. I’m not a purist paleo by any means – see my previous blog about my version of paleo – but I just don’t think having a baked good in the house is a good idea. They’re highly palatable and highly addictive. If I have guests round for tea then I MAY consider doing a paleoish brownie as a very special treat, but that doesn’t happen very often. Having said that, when we were moving I made the gluten-free gingernut biscuits that I learnt at the CNM Cooking for Health short course, and they were a wonderful welcome treat during tea breaks for packing. But I would eat about 5 bsicuits completely mindlessly, and to me, that is not what my paleo is about. So in the context of moving house, fine. In the context of having them daily as a teatime treat? Not fine.

4.) The frankfurters in the Oh My Dog! hotdogs are gluten-free. But they don’t advertise it! They are made of 97% premium cuts of pork and they have three different toppings (pulled pork, steak and classic). Of course their buns are not gluten-free and they started muttering about trying to develop a gluten-free bun but it being difficult, and I told them point blank ‘You don’t need a gluten-free bun! A lettuce leaf would do and would make paleo peeps very happy!’ That’s what I find so frustrating about being paleo here. Many restaurants and vendors, especially the trendy ones, just can’t quite work us out. They think gluten-free means replacing like for (not very!) like but gluten-free, which is so unnecessary. More annoying is when you look at a brunch menu and think ‘oh those potato cakes are probably paleo-friendly!’ but when you check with the waitress, they’re made with flour. It’s so annoying – I can SHOW you have to make potato cakes without flour!

Premium hotdogs from OMD. Also, look at that blue blue sky!

Premium hotdogs from OMD. Also, look at that blue blue sky!

5.) You can cook on a block of Himalayan sea salt. Can you believe it? The guys at Salthouse and Peppermongers had a stall at the FBC strEAT party and were showcasing their blocks of sea salt by cooking pieces of steak simply flavoured with their mixed peppercorns. The steak was divine, although a tad salty on the second day (yes, I went back multiple times), which he said was to do with leaving it on the salt block for a bit too long. I found it fascinating, although probably quite a fine art to perfect. They’re not quite as expensive as I was expecting – £40 for the block he was using – but it is a bit gimmicky and not really something I absolutely need I suppose!

Cooking steak on a block of Himalayan pink salt.

Cooking steak on a block of Himalayan pink salt.

6.) Having a weekend off paleo is fun for the mouth but not for the gut. As you probably know by now, I have a flexible approach to paleo. And once in a while, I blow it all off for the sake of enjoying myself. This weekend saw me eating tacos, churros, pitta bread, hot dog buns. All excellent quality, and highly recommended. But…well let’s just say my gut was not particularly happy. I know I have said it before but I will say it again – there really is a reason why I eat the way I eat, and these sorts of weekends off just confirm it more firmly each time. I could easily have gone gluten-free – asked for the pork souvlaki from The Athenian on a bed of lettuce, ala Ceri of Natural Kitchen Adventures, for instance. When will I learn?!

Definitely not paleo. But definitely delicious. Highly recommend seeking these guys out and getting a salad box version.

Definitely not paleo. But definitely delicious. Highly recommend seeking these guys out and getting a salad box version.

7.) The goodie bag is really awesome. There’s quite a lot of stuff that I wouldn’t really use, since they’re not particularly paleo-friendly, but I couldn’t believe how generous some companies are for the sake of publicity!

The famous FBC goodie bag.

The famous FBC goodie bag.

The ones I’m most excited about are:

  • Microplane – one of the chefs at the Cooking for Health course said this was every chef’s essential so I’m well pleased I own one now, although a little apprehensive at the shredded fingers that are inevitably coming my way.
  • Mara seaweed – I’ve read so much about how good seaweed is for you so this will be a good addition to my kitchen. I like this company in particular because they source their seaweed from Scotland by hand so it’s very sustainable.
  • Steenberg spices – this spice company sells all-organic spices. I’ve never used them before because they’re a bit pricey but I’ve heard great things. I’ve always wanted to chuck all my spices and start again from organic, but never quite get the guts up!
  • Love Your Blender smoothie superfood mix – I’m intrigued by this. This company prepares little sachets of superfoods to put in your smoothies. I like the idea in theory although it’s a pretty pricey way to get nutrients in (which, by the way, you can get from normal, every day food like VEGETABLES!). The one I got was Cherry Rose  which is a blend of acerola cherry (what’s that?), rose petals (might go with a Moroccan themed smoothie for this!), sea buckthorn berries (what’s that?), vanilla, almonds and hemp seeds.
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