Thursday, October 29, 2009

Getting a Food Writing Job or Assignment

I’ve been writing about food for a long time. I started out freelancing for a local newspaper, the Columbia Flier, back in the day when print media was still mostly thriving, authors typed on typewriters, and the current Internet was only vaguely imagined by the most forward-looking visionaries. Despite the stunning array of changes since then, I’ve been pretty busy writing food articles and cookbooks ever since.

Today it's tougher than ever to get food writing assignments because, as everybody knows, the traditional markets—from newspaper food sections and food magazines to cookbook publishers—are now downsizing and/or disappearing at an accelerating rate. As a result, it’s now vital to think outside the old publishing box. Competition for the scarce print media work, whether freelance or staff, is so fierce that it’s more realistic for all but very experienced job seekers to focus most where the opportunities are still expanding--meaning the Internet.

It's also realistic to expect to have to "work your way up," from smaller websites and publications to better known ones. Higher profile venues almost always want to see samples of previous articles or recipes you've done to assure themselves that your skills are sound. (Think of this as having to play in the minors a while before getting to the big league!)

Despite all the dramatic changes, many of the characteristics food/cookbook editors and other food content providers (whether Internet based or not) are looking for in freelancers or employees have remained the same for decades. Check out my story, "What Food Editors are Still Looking For," for some specifics of how to approach editors, deliver what the want, and establish and maintain good relationships here .

A list of resources of to get you started honing your basic skills as a food writer follows:

Will Write For Food by Dianne Jacob
Good overall intro to various types of food writing. Solid nuts and bolts info on testing and writing up recipes—which is vital to know.
Dianne Jacob has a great blog covering all sorts of food writing issues and topics. She also tweets useful tips.
Check this to get an idea of what sorts of writing opportunities (not necessarily food) out there and what they might pay. I’d ask around and/or do some research on the various organizations listed before signing up to work for them.
Some basics on writing about food. The writer makes this easier than it sounds, however.
On-line newsletter/tips from somebody who appears to know.
Tips on how to get started writing for food mags. Very practical info for a tough market.

PS--Some folks are apparently optimistic about getting writing jobs: The Columbia School of Journalism applications are up; read about it here.
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What Food Editors Are (Still) Looking For

In the process of preparing a talk for the Women Chefs' & Restaurateurs Conference in Washington, DC, on how to find food writing jobs, I came up with some tips on what editors (and other content providers) are looking for when they assign work or hire writers. I learned this info over many decades as a freelancer, some of it the hard way! I've also put together a resources list for food writers; click here and scroll down.

What Food Editors Are Looking For

Surprisingly, some key basics editors want haven't changed in decades:

>It’s called food writing because the work usually requires both food and writing skills. Potential employers want somebody with both experience working with food and communicating in print, often in the form of sample published recipes, stories, columns, blog entries, or reviews. Lacking such evidence, be prepared to produce samples of what you would provide if given the chance.

>Editors and other content providers want someone who understands and can very effectively “speak to” their audience. Try to walk in their readers’ shoes. Pitch topics and choose samples that are appropriate and targeted to their readers rather than of general interest. For example, an editor serving an audience of young mothers will want much different ideas/recipes/tone than one serving well-traveled, well-heeled, middle-aged foodies.

>Editors want an idea person: a fresh perspective; someone who stays current on food trends; sees what the next hot topics are likely to be. If it's an old topic, they want a new slant. Be prepared to repeatedly come up with topics/recipes of interest to the targeted audience.

>They call it a deadline because the only acceptable reason for not delivering the work on time is being dead! Whatever the venue, editors want someone who is completely reliable and who always delivers reasonable quality on time. Demonstrate your reliability at every point and in every way: For example, send your bio or clips exactly as promised or requested and make sure any submissions/e-mails are as error-free as possible.

>Most content providers seek a self-starter. They usually outsource because they are harried and want the work done without much effort or involvement on their part. They hire those who can generate approriate ideas, develop the content, and deliver it with minimal guidance, feedback, or handholding.

You also mught like Five Things Never to Say to a Food Editor here.
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Sunday, October 25, 2009

Seeing Red--Seas of Cranberries at Harvest Time

I hate to admit it because it seems silly now. When I first saw the arresting pictures of red seas of cranberries floating on bogs at historic Whitesbog in New Jersey, I just assumed that cranberry plants were aquatic. I imagined that, like lily pads, they grew in deep pools of water, and when the berries were ripe, they floated to the surface, ready for harvesting.

Anyone who has ever seen cranberries growing knows this notion was wrong, completely wrong. These native plants don't live in water at all! Farmers simply flood their bogs at harvest time (usually October), then churn through the water with a large rotating reel that loosens the berries from their stems. Pic 2 shows a bog being flooded; the berries haven’t yet been loosened from the plants. The wheel-like churning apparatus near the tractor (look closely!) is ready to do this job.

Once afloat, the berries are corralled by booms (pic 3) and either drawn up conveyor belts into waiting trucks or sucked up with giant hoses. Not only are the plants not aquatic, but they will actually die if the water is not promptly drained off again. And the berries have to be processed into juice or sauce right away, as they will not keep once waterlogged.

As I learned during a visit to Whitesbog, a historic cranberry farm in the New Jersey Pinelands, where I took my pictures, this method, called wet harvesting, is completely modern and technically complex. Growers use a system of sluices that are opened and closed to efficiently flood and drain tidy rows of bogs in rapid succession. This preserves both the plants and the berries. (The good news is that it makes cranberry farmers much more productive than they once were. The bad news is that they now produce more berries than we need.)

The method was introduced in the mid-twentieth century and drastically reduces the amount of labor that used to be required to pick cranberries. Almost all of America’s cranberries are now harvested this way; only the whole, fresh berries destined to be sold in plastic bags each fall are picked using the older “dry” method.

 The extra labor and more careful handling means the fresh berries are pricier of course, but since I love their tang and color in all kinds of baked goods, I don’t mind. Every autumn I stash a few extra bags in the freezer to use the rest of the year. My cranberry-pear muffins with crystallized ginger are a family favorite, especially at Thanksgiving. Or check my recipe archives for other cranberry treats.
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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

What Happens At a Baking Conference?

At a baking conference there's always lots of talk about baking.  But at this conference the attendees also got together and made bread--specifically some of the recipes from my new book Kneadlessly Simple. The first three pics feature several groups mixing up the ingredients and me showing the simple, fuss-free steps.  I explained all the secrets behind the no-knead method, which are detailed here. Interestingly, the consensus of the group was that no-knead is not a fad but is here to stay. While several people were skeptical, most also thought the method produced bread as good, or better than the "traditional" method. If you have an opinion, please feel free to share your comment.

Of course, you can't talk or bake all the time at a conference, and this one happened to be in Nashville. So, woo ha, we went to performance at the Grand Ole Opry! Yes, some acts were on the  Hee-Haw corny side, but some were just fabulous displays of masterful musicianship. One pic below shows Charlie Daniels, whose talented high-energy band performed an electrifying  rock-jazz instrumental number that nearly blew the roof off the place. (Who knew the Charlie Daniels Band played jazz?) The other shows Craig Morgan, who clearly raised the heart rates of all the young girls in the audience. My favorite part of the night--I got Charlie Daniels' autograph!

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Saturday, October 3, 2009

Autumn Leaves Inspire "Painted" Leaf- and Pumpkin-Shaped Sugar Cookies

Maple Leaf & Oak Leaf Iced Cookies
It's great fun making autumn-themed cookies for Halloween, Thanksgiving, and other fall events, so my leaf cutters number in the dozens. Besides maple, I especially like oak shapes, but also enjoy the plainer, ovalish birch or beech leaves, too. And, to go with the leaves, I ready pumpkin cookies as well. 
Iced Maple Leaf Sugar Cookies

Some especially pretty pumpkin sugar cookies, plus some packaging ideas are here. (For pretty decorating ideas for another season, see my eye-catching iced Valentine's Day cookies here & here .) Or, see my very unusual, au natural "painted daisy" sugar cookies here.  I also have one particular way I think works BEST for rolling out cookie dough; I show it in a short, fun video here. Then I give you some handy tips on cutting out cookies in a follow-up video here.

 Note that the leaf cookies at the very top and top right, and the pumpkin cookies below and at the very bottom were all created with natural, botanical colors, not synthetic food dyes. I feature some "au naturel" decorating techniques in my new book Simply Sensational Cookies,you can get more details or order it for a great price here. For more pics and blog posts on naturally beautiful decorating , go here.

Iced Cut-Out Pumpkin Cookies
A good approach to making leaf cookies is to make a powdered sugar icing in a whole palette of autumn colors—reds, bronzes, yellows, and moss greens (the more shades, the more natural the look)—and just dip into these and “paint” the cookies with a brush.
Icing Painted Maple Leaf Cookies
Notice that for a natural look, the leaves shown are slightly mottled—just like the real ones drifting in my yard now. The painting part is easy and fun for even kids to do. To see the kids' cookie painting party we held in my kitchen click here. To get the mottled look, just dip into one color after another without washing off the brush.The final touch is to pipe on the veining with a piping cone or bag with a very fine tip, which, admittedly is easier for a grownup to do.

The cookies make lovely table decorations and super gifts. For giving, pack them individually or in eye-catching color-coordinated groups in clear plastic bags.

Any simple powdered sugar icing will do for creating autumn leaf cookies. For a glossy finish just add about a 1/2 teaspoon of light corn syrup, and stir it in well. With all that icing, the cookies themselves should not be too sweet. One of my favorite doughs for these cookies is posted here. For other cookie decorating techniques, go here

If you're now in the mood, see some more painted pumpkin cookies including the one below and some packaged for giving here:
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