It used to be that people swapped recipes and cooking tips over the back fence or around the water cooler. Now, they're sharing them all around the world in a matter of seconds, thanks to Web logs, or blogs.
A blog is a Web site that features entries that are usually made in journal style and the ability for readers to post comments.
With an Internet connection and help from software, anyone can publish his or her own food blog, complete with recipes, commentary and photos.
Food blogs go beyond recipe swapping, said Kalyn Denny, a Bountiful schoolteacher who has a blog called Kalyn's Kitchen at www.kalynskitchen.blogspot.com. It gets 3,000-4,000 visits a day, generating comments from readers as far away as India, Thailand and Singapore. Last month when the Well Fed Network, an online compilation of food blogs (www.wellfed.net), announced its annual awards, Denny's was named best blog in the theme category.
"In late 2004 I lost over 40 pounds on the South Beach Diet," Denny said. "Since I had always been known for being a good cook, friends who also wanted to lose weight started asking me for recipes."
She started her blog in April 2005, after it became cumbersome to send out her South Beach Diet-friendly recipes on a large mailing list.
"I think I've kept blogging because it was such a perfect outlet for my three creative passions, cooking, writing and photography," she said. "I also was excited about sharing the recipes that helped me lose weight."
She said the blog has expanded her life, connecting her to thousands of people around the world who share her interests. She's met about 20 other bloggers in person, and several have become close friends.
Her blog usually features a new recipe each day, such as Chicken Asparagus with Three Cheeses or Black Bean, Rice and Cilantro Salad. You can also find directions for making a restaurant-quality salad, frittatas, homemade chicken and beef stock, and freezing herbs. There are lists, such as Denny's favorite diet snacks, cookbooks, kitchen equipment and other blogs.
She updates her blog six days a week, spending three to five hours a day testing recipes, shooting and editing photos, writing posts and networking with other bloggers.
"On the weekends it's not unusual for me to spend an entire day working on the blog," she said. "I try to take either Saturday or Sunday off every week."
Her blog has also attracted advertising, which now generates $500-$600 a month. (None of it comes from the South Beach Diet folks.) Denny says she knows at least 20 bloggers who are able to make a full-time living from their blogs.
"For me, one of the biggest benefits is the daily feedback from readers and other bloggers," she said. "I love reading in the comments that someone tried my recipe and liked it."
She's discovered a worldwide network of thousands of food blogs. Some host "events" where bloggers all create recipes around a common theme. Kalyn's Kitchen sponsors one of the longest-running food-blog events Weekend Herb Blogging.
"The food-blog community in general is a close-knit group of people who are united in their passion for food, and it's been very fun learning from all these other good cooks," she said.
The camaraderie among bloggers became evident when writer Peter Wells, in the 2006 issue of Food & Wine magazine, said many food blogs are boring and referred to them as "cheese sandwich blogs." One of the sentences he used as an example came from Denny's blog. In a spirit of retaliation, a number of food bloggers declared a Cheese Sandwich Day. They posted recipes on a variety of cheese sandwiches, along with sayings, such as "More Food. Less Whine," on their blogs.
"He missed the point of blogs,"she said. "Food blogs are not meant to be slick and shiny like food magazines. They are meant to be whatever that particular writer wants it to be. People write them for all different kinds of reasons, and some are writing them just for self-expression."
And what may seem boring to one reader might be intriguing to another. There are blogs devoted to every type of food topic, such as The Fat-Free Vegan Kitchen (www.blog.fatfreevegan.com) or Gluten-Free Girl (www.glutenfreegirl.blogspot.com). The site foodpornwatch.arrr.net lists most of the food blogs in existence.
Denny has a program that tracks the number of visitors, what they read and how long they stay on her site. She has found there are two types of visitors: People simply seeking recipes, and those who enjoy the interaction of posting comments, sharing recipes and feeling part of the food-blogging community.She doesn't think that blogs will ever replace the food writing in cookbooks, magazines and newspapers. "They all have their place, but with blogs there's more interaction with people creating the food."
Denny isn't the only Utahn bitten by the food blog bug. At Blog.josephhall.com, Joseph Hall combined his interests in cooking and computers with the tag line, "Computer geek gone chef and back again."
A graduate of the Atlantic Culinary Academy in Dover, N.H., Hall was often asked for his recipes. "I already had a blogger account, so I decided to post some recipes every so often. It quickly grew, and more recently it's had an emphasis on teaching people how to cook.
His content includes tutorials, such as how to separate eggs, and commentary called "Recipes: Rules versus Guidelines" on how closely a recipe needs to be followed.
Blogs lead to other writing outlets. With The Julie/Julia Project, Julie Powell chronicled her challenge cooking her way through Julia Child's tome, "Mastering the Art of French Cooking."Powell became an Internet celebrity and the blog became a book, "Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes and 1 Tiny Apartment" (Little, Brown and Company, $23.95).
For would-be bloggers, Denny advises: "Be clear about what your goals are. One of the beauties of blogging is that there's no one correct way to do it, but decisions you make at the very beginning are going to partly determine what your site can become. You need to decide whether this site is just for you and a small group of people, or whether you're hoping to attract lots of readers."
If you're starting a blog mainly for fun, there are plenty of free hosting options that are adequate, she said.
"But if you're hoping to create a 'professional' blog, you want a template design with more options, which means more to learn and possibly paying for hosting."
She adds that there are literally millions of abandoned blogs, because people lost interest or didn't have time to keep them going."Have fun, but don't forget that there's a lot to learn, and it's very time-consuming to do it well," she said.