Virginia Willis Blog

Sour Grapes and Sweet Maine Lobster Chowder

I had planned on writing today’s post about my visit last week to Maine. Last weekend I taught at Stonewall Kitchen. It’s an amazing facility and they do an absolutely great job. We stayed at the York Harbor Inn. We enjoyed walks on the beach, picnics, and just had a wonderful time. It was truly fantastic.

But then, yesterday morning I opened my inbox with a solicitation to write a post about a specific fast casual restaurant that makes me want to instead write about the current state of food writing.

It got my gander up. It stirred my pot. It burnt my biscuit.

I am a simple creature. I cook, I eat, I write recipes. The last time I used this blog as my soapbox was with Julia and Julie: Yes, the Swap is Intentional. I got all sorts of haters for that one. I usually stifle my comments about recipe development and blogging because it can sound like I have sour grapes and my grapes aren’t sour at all.

I love to write. I love to write almost as much as I love to cook. I write this blog to write. Shauna, author of glutenfreegirl recently said, “She didn’t want visitors or hits, she wanted readers.”

Amen, sister.

As you can see, I don’t accept advertising on my blog. It’s not that I am absurdly purist. And, I write for money. It’s how I make my living. I have a mortgage and bills, too. Truthfully, I flat out don’t like the way ads and banners look. I don’t know that much about them, but my preliminary research shows that one can make $3-10 per 1000 pageviews. I know there are also other ways to monetize your blog. There’s a lot to consider when thinking about advertising. I very well may consider it, but I am not there quite yet.

I guess, the primary reason I don’t advertise is that the main focus of my writing is my cookbooks. I didn’t go blog to book, I went book to blog.

Back to what got me riled up and away from the beauty of Maine….

The email stated they were “looking for influencers to let their readers know about these new value offers.” There were several points of criteria to be met and encouragement to also promote the post with social media like Twitter and Facebook. It was described as limited spots available, so please hurry.

The payment was $20.

I am not sure what is worse, not being paid at all or being paid $20. The whole campaign devalues food writing as a whole.

I would not participate in this, it’s not appropriate for me, regardless of the amount of money.

The part that’s stirred my pot is that this sort of campaign does effect my bottom line. It’s the same attitude that leads a Big Kitchen Appliance Company or Big Food Commodity to create a social media promotion with #giveaways instead of hiring a professional food writer or recipe developer to do real work for a real wage.

Why should they? They can giveaway a ding dang spatula or a coupon for a carton of orange juice and get more bang for their buck — and whether the recipe is original or tested seems to be absolutely, completely irrelevant.

Then, there are even crazier situations in that the Big Food Company essentially wants stone-cold free labor. Dianne Jacob wrote about an totally outrageous request put forth to Amy Sherman from Cooking with Amy in that they wanted her to pay roughly $2000 in expenses for the opportunity to promote her blog…. BTW, I consider Dianne the “Dean of Internet Food Writing.” Her blog out and out states that it’s “Pithy snippets about food writing.” She’s smart, saavy, and has the experience to back it up.

The deal is many bloggers sign up for such promotions and are happy to take the free trips, coupons, and giveaways. I had an earlier situation this week when a food blogger used my recipes for a promotional post for which he was compensated with essentially, $30 of trinkets. He did ask me permission first, but he did not reveal it was a promotional post — or I didn’t catch it if he did.

In the end, it benefited me because he linked to my site and blog, I can chalk it up to marketing, etc etc. It was fine. It promoted my book. I’ve met him in person and we know each other through social media. He seems to be a really nice person, but he was used by the Big Food Company and the Big Food Company essentially got to use my recipes without compensating me.

It’s not all bad. Not by a long shot. There’s a lot of good in the blogosphere. The response to the heart-wrenching situation with Jennifer Perillo brought to the forefront Bloggers without Borders, a non-profit organization helping connect bloggers to one another, and helping them to assist others in need. And, it’s just phenomenal that we now have this self-publishing option. There’s a lot of really talented people that can cook, write, create art through photography — and all of whom are sharing their passion online.

I love what I do. I work hard, but I eat well and I make a decent living writing about food.

So, to be clear, you’ll find no sour grapes here, and I do hope you enjoy my recipe for Sweet Maine Lobster Chowder.

Thanks for listening.

Bon Appétit, Y’all!
VA

 

Sweet Maine Lobster Chowder

Yield: Serves 6

Sweet Maine Lobster Chowder

This is a wonderfully flavorful summer soup. I have made the crème fraîche optional – after accidentally leaving it out once when I taught it to a class. Surprisingly, I liked it even better!

Ingredients

2 1-1/2 pound lobsters
2 large onions, chopped
2 bay leaves, preferably fresh
Scraped kernels from 8 ears fresh sweet corn (about 4 cups)
3 cups lobster stock (recipe in body of recipe)
1/2 pound bacon, diced
1 large carrot, peeled and finely diced
1 rib celery, finely diced
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/3 cup crème fraîche, optional
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 bunch fresh chives, chopped
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

Instructions

  1. Bring a large stockpot of salted water to boil. Blanch the lobsters for 4 minutes. Reserve cooking water.
  2. Remove the lobsters from the water; break off the claws and tail. Remove the tomalley from the body. Using kitchen shears cut the lobster tails open and crack open the claws. Remove the lobster meat and cut into bite-size pieces, refrigerate until needed.
  3. To make the lobster stock: Using the back of a chef’s knife, crush the head and shells. Using a large saucepan over high heat, combine lobster head and shells and enough of the water used to cook the lobsters to cover, about 2 quarts. Add one onion and bay leaves. Bring to a boil, skim, and reduce to medium low. Simmer, skimming occasionally, until liquid is flavorful, 30 minutes to 1 hour. Pour stock through a fine sieve into a heatproof bowl. Discard the lobster shells and set aside 6 cups of stock. Save the remaining stock for another use.
  4. Using a food processor fitted with a blade attachment, puree 2 cups of the corn with 2 cups of the lobster stock until smooth, set aside.
  5. Using a large saucepan over medium heat, cook the bacon until crisp, about 5 minutes. Transfer the bacon to paper towels to drain and set aside. Remove all but 1 tablespoon of the bacon fat. Add the remaining onion, remaining corn, celery, and cayenne pepper. Cook until the vegetables soften, about 5 minutes. Add the remaining 4 cups of lobster stock and corn puree. Stir to combine and simmer until slightly thickened, about 10 minutes. (Remove soup from heat, whisk in the optional crème fraîche.) Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper.
  6. Meanwhile, heat the butter in a medium saute pan over medium high heat. Add the reserved lobster meat and sauté just until heated through, about 2 minutes. Ladle the chowder into warm serving bowls. Garnish with lobster meat, bacon, and chives. Serve immediately.
http://blog.virginiawillis.com/2011/08/sour-grapes-and-sweet-maine-lobster-chowder/

photos by me.

Please be nice. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without permission is prohibited. Feel free to excerpt and link, just give credit where credit is due and send folks to my website, virginiawillis.com. Thanks so much.

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43 Responses to “Sour Grapes and Sweet Maine Lobster Chowder”

  1. Great post Virginia! I totally agree with everything you said. Food writers and bloggers should be treated as professionals and paid for their work – bottom line! And if our recipes ate being used elsewhere we should have intellectual rights to these just as any other creative professional does. Kudos to you for saying it out loud!

  2. Clear thoughts and fun reading.

    $20. TWENTY DOLLARS? The definition of chutzpah.

    Pictures are wonderful and I wish you, Lisa and I were just sitting down now to a lobster dinner. Oh, with daughter Kristi, since lobster is her absolute favorite.

    Thanks, VA!

  3. Thanks for the shoutout, Virginia, and for my new title as Dean. I’m so honored!

    I don’t think the bloggers who took the restaurant up on it are thinking of their readers. Who wants to read about a fast food company several times on one blog? And $20 is insulting. Still, some will be happy to participate.

    Even book publishers are getting into the act. I saw an offer recently where bloggers had to post about a recipe from a new book 9 times in a short period to qualify for the freebies. (Maybe you should look into the way your publisher’s planning to promote your new book online, just to be sure.)

    I’d rather read a post like this any day, with gorgeous photography and a gracious yet pointed message. Thanks for getting it off your chest.

    P.S. I love the “ding dang spatula.” That cracked me up.

    • Don’t you fret – I will make certain that no one is held captive to promote my new book. Thanks for the heads-up. Yeah, I like ding dang. It works for me. Thanks for commenting. Best VA

  4. I really wanted to be in Maine participating in your class, but life got in the way. Thanks for sharing the recipe and I’ll make it the next time I see a lobster that is “Willis” worthy.

    Thank you for speaking frankly as to advertising and promotions on blogs. I’m trying to work my way through this right now and I respect that there are differing opinions on the subject.

    I always look forward to your writing and your recipes, don’t know which I like more.

  5. A great post, I’m not a professional writer, just a blogger, and you’ve put succinctly a lot of how I feel about the blogging life. I seem to spend all my time doing everything but writing and it is the writing that I enjoy and want to promote. No-one seems to notice what a great deal all these kitchen appliance, food companies are getting from bloggers for peanuts, or a rubber spatula, compared to what they spend on advertising campaigns…. and I know, because I used to work on them! Love the lobster recipe, sadly can’t afford lobster, as its v. expensive in Provence, and I’m just a lowly blogger…….

  6. Well said. You are much more eloquent than I am on this subject. Sometimes things just don’t feel right. It’s not that I don’t want to make money or begrudge anyone else their right to make money, but I do feel there are some things befitting a professional and taking too little money because you are “only a blogger” or too much money for doing the wrong kind of things both strike me as not professional conduct and ultimately bad for one’s career.

  7. Totally agree. While it’s nice to be recognized, and to be paid occasionally. I write to share information – and to write.

  8. I found this post very helpful. I’ve been going back and forth between using ads and not for a few years. I recently decided to ditch them, and revamped my blog into a cleaner, clutterless style that hopefully invites people to spend time reading. Now, to come up with the perfect response when people ask, “Do you make money on it [your blog]?” That really annoys me.

  9. I was recently asked to pay $25 by two small independent bookstores for the privilege of driving hours to their store’s book festivals, bring samples of recipes, and sell/sign their copies of my two cookbooks. I declined!

  10. I’m so glad to see this conversation happening and another reason why I like coming here even though you came to blogging by writing books first. It’s your openness to participate in the conversations about blogging, food, cookbooks, cooking, family, food adventures and what burns your biscuit. I went back and read your post on Julie/Julia and the attendant angry comments which always makes me laugh when one expresses one’s opinion on their own blog. Your feelings about blog ads mirror my own but I’m not writing/photographing/blogging for a living. It’s a passionate hobby and the ad banners are just ugly and desperate. Knowing my own blog reading habits and innate stubbornness, monetizing my blog just ain’t gonna happen. But we all know that people do things for lots of reasons and bloggers taking trinkets for free advertising for Big Food Companies will continue to be a fact of bloggy life. I can’t really blame the Big Food companies if bloggers are so invested to take whatever they offer. It’s like the reality show contestants who sign ridiculously one sided contracts just for the merest whiff of fame and fortune.
    I continue to believe that passion, experience and knowledge will be rewarded. Just not with ding dang trinkets.

    On a side note, all your photos are gorgeous but that first lobster shot is killer.

  11. Virginia,

    I really appreciate your post and your frankness and openness. While I do accept giveaways on my site, I only do so from companies where I actually buy their products and enjoy using. I’m always sharing on social media sites and my blog products that I care about that are not sponsored nor the company has never contacted me.

    I hope we get to meet up some time again and get to talk about this sort of thing. The thing that really bothers me (or burns my biscuit, stealing from one of your commenters) is when a blogger does not disclose that they received free product or payment when it’s completely obvious. I try to be transparent and even have a disclosure even though I received nothing and the company didn’t even contact me. I hope you have a nice weekend, Virginia!

    • Julie – Thank you so much for your openness and frankness, too. You are very transparent on your blog about endorsements. I applaud you for your way of handling things. Thanks so much for commenting.
      Best VA

  12. I got the same reach-out as you, and had the same reaction. My first inclination, which I actually did, was to hit reply within seconds and ask them to remove me immediately from their database.

    My husband suggested a different tack: accept the offer, write about how classless the solicitation was, write about how nasty I find the food at that chain restaurant, and then submit them my invoice for $20 as directed.

    I didn’t, but I’m glad you brought this issue to light.

    • I am unsubscribing, as well. I think I should submit this post for consideration and name the chain. Hope you are well. Best VA

  13. Bravo. I don’t share your thoughts about ads, but possibly that’s because I started as a blogger and have nothing else to sell or promote but my blog. But I agree completely about sponsored writing, blog posts that are really unpaid ads, and blogging for “freebies.” I wrestled with my feelings about all this for a long time and a while ago I decided just to stop accepting any type of products or books for “review,” and it’s been a complete relief. And I don’t do giveaways or accept free trips either.

  14. Wonderfully written! I’ve started collecting those “offers” just for kicks~ I spent many years as a struggling actress and the exact same thing happened in that world too. Musicians are faced with those “no pay, but an opportunity for you…” baloney baiters also. Wherever there is talent, there is someone hoping to “use it for free”. I’ve always enjoyed your intelligence, and your blog has been a great find. Best of success with your book, can’t wait!

  15. Brava and pass the chowder! I completely agree with your commentary. Moreover, it bothers me that your integrity is not the obvious choice among writers whether in newspapers (yes, there are still a few), magazines, books or blogs. As a reader I am as infuriated with plumped up prose as I am with plumped up poultry. As a writer I am equally frustrated there is no gatekeeper to the accuracy or veracity of information with which we are bludgeoned daily, not to mention the widespread theft of intellectual property without blinking. As a chef, I am so saddened to see the degradation of many sectors within our industry. Whether calling someone a master chef at 22 for completing a television bootcamp of challenges or calling someone a writer for simply spewing forth an opinion however ill informed or influenced by graft- either way the results stink. I think the work for those of us who uphold our industry with ethics and standards have to be vigilent and bang the drum loudly whenever necessary. Your drum skills are excellent!

  16. Virginia, great post and thanks for being so honest. I only recently started with an ad network, as an experiment. I do feel the best thing is to put good content out there, and to know what one’s goals are. Some people are trying to make a living, while others want to share their thoughts with the world. Neither is wrong.

    I do think that companies are desperately trying to figure out social media, and if bloggers will take $20 (I got that email too!) to do a post about a fast-food restaurant, then that company says, “Oh, that’s what it costs!” It’s up to us to set appropriate reimbursement and value our own time and skills. I have a whole page describing my editorial policy, which includes endorsements and giveaways. And if that PR person had actually READ that page, they would have known I didn’t fit their criteria.

    It’s like writing in the Wild West, this interweb.

  17. In this brave, new world of food writing, it’s great to hear all sides. I am flummoxed sometimes that food writing isn’t always taken seriously. When someone offers you $20 they are telling you what you do isn’t important, it isn’t a career. It’s frustrating to say the least. Blogs and social media are a great way to connect with an audience but they shouldn’t be used to devalue the intellectual and artistic work of the professionals who provide the content.

  18. I so appreciate posts that are open and honest (and fair for that matter!), like this one. Coming into this industry by way of blogging has been an uphill battle in the learning department. I’ve wished more than once that I’d been able to sit down with someone and have them explain in the beginning some of the pitfalls that await food bloggers, and WHY they are pitfalls. I think newer bloggers hear opinions from the more experienced end about how, “I would never…” but without any accompanying explanation to educate them, it can sound pretentious. It’s only after some experience that many come to understand. *Muwah* to you for sharing your grapes.

  19. Thank you for your post. Over the years I have received many different requests, and I always love how they try to say everything is an “opportunity”. Sometimes they are decent ones, sometimes they are horrible, and basically ask you to give up hours for free for little to know compensation. It is often disheartening that so many bloggers accept these ads because it cheapens the craft a great deal.

  20. I read each and every word of your post and comments by others. I have been trying to understand this world of blogging. No one has offered me money when they ask if they can use my images or articles. At first, I was so flattered, I quickly said “yes”. I really don’t know when to draw the line. Your article is the ONLY information on this topic that I have come across…ever. I figured I have to attend one of those conferences to be “in the know” about these topics. I am writing for an new upstart online international magazine. I would love to ask you some questions about this privately if you ever have time. Thank you!

  21. I read this post today after a lengthy conversation with another local blogger. She blogs for a living. I blog about what I love doing. We are on such opposite ends of the spectrum. She takes $25 for posts but they are really an ad; a sentence of two. Whereas I shop for ingredients, prepare a dish, photograph it and then write a post. I told her I was offered $100 the other day to write a post about Splenda. She was shocked I didn’t take it. Well, my blog has nothing to do with artificial ingredients or weight loss products and the truth is…by professional billable rate is much greater. I’m not taking time away from what pays the bills to do a sponsored post for something I don’t love.

    If I love a product…if I would use it anyhow? I might do a post or review just for product as compensation but I refuse to write a post for money just because someone has asked…and that offer? Insulting.

    Thanks for speaking up about this Virginia…it is true what someone said. More experienced bloggers lament that newbies will take almost anything. But try and get them to share what a good rate would be to expect and it’s like trying to open Fort Knox!

  22. Nicely said. And thanks for the taste of Maine–it’s only been a week since I got back from a trip there, but I do miss it

  23. Totally agree with you. (I also got that e-mail.) $20? For your integrity? Come on now. I’m not looking at it from the perspective of advertising budgets shifting away from real copywriting; I think these kind of campaigns discredit those who decide to participate in them. Oh well. On the bright side, I haven’t seen a single sponsored post from that campaign go up on a blog I read.

  24. I’m glad you don’t accept advertising here. I appreciate the sincerity of your writing and the cleanness of your blog. I read your blog (and your cookbooks) for the sheer pleasure of reading about one of the things I love: food – I do not come here to look for things to buy.

    I am not a professional blogger, just a little one writing for a few friends, and I assume that if they want to shop, they’ll turn off the computer and go to the mall, just like I will.

    On the topic of reading your recipes and thoughts on food, I’m looking forward to your book party here at the end of September. Between now and then, I’ll have eaten dozens of things, many of them things you unknowingly told me how to make.

    • Thanks so much – knowing that folks cook my recipes gives me great, great pleasure. Thanks for taking the time to comment. Best VA

  25. magicofspice

    I see no sour grapes here…in fact I found it to be a very direct and honest article. As a newer blogger sometimes it is hard to decide what is beneficial to promote or link with. I appreciate the perspective and though provoking words.
    As for the recipe, just wonderful!

    • Thanks so much for commenting here, too! I loved this piece. My approach to most things is to be as clear as possible and put it all out there. Many thanks once again. Best VA

  26. Hi there, just came across your post and found it to be a good read and got some good points. Im pretty passionate about cooking and so this was a nice avenue to share my interest with the food blogging community. I like the way you write, it is straight from the heart.

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