Welcome to my world

MY NAME is Caroline and I am a blogger.

Most particularly, I am a food blogger, addicted to taking photos of my meals and writing about the things I bake, cook and eat. Not so long ago this was seen as rather strange behaviour.

Now I take out the camera at dinner and people nod wisely, saying “Ah, another one!” And I’m not alone: there are many hundreds of Irish bloggers out there, all busily having their say.

From being something of a quirky activity a few years ago, blogging is now firmly in the mainstream. In various shapes and formats, online journals of news, views and ideas have been around since the 1990s, but it was only with the development of software like Blogger, which facilitated creating and maintaining sites, that they really started to capture the public imagination. Even so, when I started Bibliocook: All About Food in 2005, it was no easy task. Since then, blogging platforms have become far easier to manage and there has been a corresponding leap in the number of people using them.

Blogs vary from short, simple text postings to image, video and audio-rich articles. From political commentators to music obsessives, election watchers, fashionistas and foodies, blogs offer a forum for people to express themselves and, most importantly, to communicate with each other.

In the beginning of my blogging life I was an under-employed journalist living in New Zealand and so excited by the variety of food there that I itched to write about it. Bibliocook gave me the opportunity to engage with producers, explore new specialities and look at food in a whole new light. But the most important thing for me was being able to communicate with people who shared my interest. The few New Zealand food bloggers that existed quickly became online friends and I got the feeling — very exciting for an avid blog reader — that I’d just joined a worldwide community who were as passionate about the same thing as I was.

The community of Irish political bloggers have been making waves for some time now but, with a general election in the offing, things are about to get even more boisterous. Suzy Byrne’s MamanPoulet.com will undoubtedly be stuck in the thick of it. Always interested in politics, Byrne says what started off as an online diary quickly became an energised and animated blog focusing on the worlds of Irish politics, media and equality.

“People should understand why decisions are being made and who makes them,” Byrne says simply, adding that she sees her blog as a way of encouraging participation and transparency.

Group weblog IrishElection.com, which gathers content from a variety of contributors under editor Cian O’Flaherty, works on a similar principle. When O’Flaherty set it up in advance of the 2007 general election, he hoped that the blog would “get voices into the discussions that are otherwise outside it and would help grow the number of perspectives we have in our debate”.

While blogs like these are able to continue and generate political discussions online, they are also likely to bring to public attention what O’Flaherty calls “the stories flying below the radar, the policies that aren’t grabbing the headlines”.

One of the most interesting things about reading blogs is getting a glimpse into someone else’s world. Whether it is the wardrobe of a fashion writer — in suitably breathless text on I Blog Fashion, The Irish Examiner’s Annmarie O’Connor writes of her “must, must, must haves” and devotion to a pair of Dries Van Noten shoes — or a peek inside the door of food stylist Sharon Hearne-Smith’s home, this is real life for, and by, real people.

For I Married An Irish Farmer, Imen McDonnell humorously describes the very real difficulties in transforming from a high-flying US TV producer to a stay-at-home wife and mother on an Irish farm. Shane Culloty’s The Torture Garden, meanwhile, is a personal take on music, with thoughtful, evocative writing that captures the atmosphere of the mp3s featured.

Blogging can also be a way of building a brand. While it might not have started that way, Lorraine Fanneran’s italianfoodies.ie has been an inexpensive way of raising the profile of her business. She and her partner, Bruno Coppola, run La Cucina, an Italian café, in Castletroy, Co Limerick. At home with her new baby in February 2007, Fanneran started Italian Foodies as a diary of the food she cooked at home. “I had a lot more time then to cook every week and blog about it,” she laughs. Fanneran’s sparky, opinionated writing and easy-to-cook recipes have grabbed readers, awards and put a spotlight on La Cucina.

For some, it is a springboard into another career. Just six months after Dubliner Donal Skehan started the Good Mood Food blog in 2007, he was in talks with Mercier Press. His first cookbook, Good Mood Food, was released in 2009. Since then he has signed a two-book deal with HarperCollins, with the first — Kitchen Hero — due on bookshelves in March. While Good Mood Food is now a part of the DonalSkehan.com website, for Skehan, the blog is still about “that personal touch ... people want to see what you are cooking and want to know what they can cook themselves”.

Both Kirstie McDermott and Niall Byrne have web design backgrounds which they used to make their blogs — Beaut.ie and Nialler9.com — look smart, but it’s the first class content that sets these sites apart and has translated into real world jobs for their creators.

McDermott and her sister Aisling started Beaut.ie in September 2006 at a time in Ireland when blogging was in its early days and, as she points out “it was the province of tech-heads, mostly men”. Full of witty and irreverent postings on cosmetics, make-up and beauty products, the site was a hit from the start. While Nialler9.com started out as a portfolio website, it soon became far more than that for Byrne. His eclectic musical tastes and ability as a tipster has won readers, a solid reputation in the industry and the site is also a four-time winner of the music category of the Irish Blog Awards. It has also led to Byrne’s music journalism work with Slate Magazine

But it doesn’t have to be about getting a book deal, finding a full-time job or making your business stand out. Blogging for many people is just, very simply, a fun way to connect with others. When Kristin Jensen of DinnerduJour.com and I met at a bloggers event, we so enjoyed the chance to turn online acquaintances into real life friends that we were inspired to set up the Irish Food Bloggers Association (irishfoodbloggers.com). We wanted to create a place where Irish food bloggers could get to know each other a little better, see who else is out there and get involved in food events. So far there have been Milk Market Meets, themed monthly cook-alongs, food photography workshops and, most exciting of all, the development of a community.

So what are you waiting for? All you need to start your own blog is a computer with an internet connection and a topic that you are passionate about. See you online!

POLITICS

Who: Suzy Byrne, MamanPoulet.com.

What: With a beady eye always cocked for political contradictions, the sharp insight and thoughtful commentary on Maman Poulet makes it a must-read blog, especially at election time.

“Maman Poulet is my bit of the internet. It’s the playground where I play with other people, have a laugh — and get angry.”

Who: Cian O’Flaherty, editor of IrishElection.com

What: O’Flaherty heads up a diverse group of Irish political bloggers who use the site as a central space for debate and independent commentary. While a few of the links are old, the body of the content is bang up to date.

“It is full of writers, readers and commentators who have their own views and it leads to healthy discussion around the issues of the day and some of the angles and aspects that are not picked up elsewhere.”

FASHION AND BEAUTY

Who: Annmarie O’Connor, iblogfashion.blogspot.com.

What: Drool over the frocks, bags and shoes of Irish Examiner fashion writer O’Connor, be amazed at her ability to pack four kilos of jewellery for a beach holiday in Spain and pick up tips for the hottest new trends and Irish designers in this smart and funny look at a life in fashion.

“I Blog Fashion is a lighthearted tome — part diary, part ‘Hey, look what I found today!’. When I’m old and grey I can look back and say ‘Shoes! So that’s what I wasted all my money on’.”

Who: Kirstie and Aisling McDermott, Beaut.ie.

What: Can’t find the perfect mascara? Searching for that discontinued lipstick shade? Need some male grooming tips for the fella? The girls at Beaut.ie have it all covered, along with a sassy attitude that says you don’t have to be brainless to care about how you look.

“Beaut.ie is a blog very specifically for Irish women with a focus on beauty. Because of that Irishness, we don’t take things too seriously, so it’s very irreverent and we like to have a bit of a laugh as well as provide news and accurate, honest product reviews.”

LIFE AND HOMESTYLE

Who: Sharon Hearne-Smith, friendlycottage.blogspot.com.

What: Hearne-Smith shows off her pretty home complete with colourful vintage kitchenware, old lady wallpaper, garden projects, and crafty houserenovations.

“For me, home is everything and ‘homemade’ even more so. There is no place else on earth I feel happier than at home, being myself, pottering around creating lovely surroundings and then relishing in its comfort. My Friendly Cottage blog is all about my adventures in creating my ‘no place like home’.”

Who: Imen McDonnell, marriedanirishfarmer.com.

What: McDonnell brings a fresh eye — and stylish sensibility — to farm life in Co Limerick as she discovers traditional farmhouse pursuits like gardening, butter making and beekeeping. It’s not often you come across a mention of Carrie Bradshaw at the start of a piece on artificially inseminating cows.

“I Married an Irish Farmer is a personal and lifestyle blog on modern Irish country living with a fresh American twist.”

MUSIC

Who: Shane Culloty, thetorturegarden.blogspot.com.

What: Although the name might not get past the web nanny at work, it’s worth persevering with as the lyrical prose and brilliant choice of music on this MP3 blog really stand out. Best read, and listened to, late at night with a large glass of red on hand.

“The Torture Garden is about different songs and bands I like, with a particular emphasis on Irish bands and lesser-known musicians in general. I try and write about them in a way I find interesting. It’s a nice, unusual blog with a poorly-chosen title.”

Who: Niall Byrne, nialler9.com.

What: Five years on the go and getting better all the time, this influential blog is a one-stop shop for anyone interested in independent music. Discover new artists, listen to his brilliant podcasts, argue with the ‘best of’ choices and be the first to hear about the next big Irish thing. “Put simply, Nialler9 acts as a filter for a lot of people’s music taste these days. There’s so much out there that you need other people to help you focus on what’s good.”

FOOD

Who: Lorraine Fanneran, italianfoodies.ie.

What: An Irishwoman’s take on Italian food, with step-by-step photos of recipes like penne alla vodka and mackerel with sage butter, real life tales of working in the Irish food industry (check out her “a rant & a recipe” post) and insight into Italian family life.

“I’m not an expert, all I know is what I’ve taught myself, what Bruno’s mother has taught me and from travelling in Italy ... The blog makes me keep up to date, try new things all the time and come up with different ideas.”

Who: Donal Skehan, donalskehan.com

What: Simple, tasty food. His carefully-styled images will grab your attention from the get-go, but you’ll have to stick around for his Swedish cinnamon buns and roast garlic shepherd’s pie. Watch out for the cookbooks too.

“The beauty of what I do is that it’s all home cooked food, stuff you can do at home, using the store cupboard, not something that takes a million ingredients. It’s all attainable and that’s what food blogging is all about.”


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