“That’s really interesting, but who cares?”

Out of everything I heard at Kathleen Flinn’s food writing workshop, that statement resonated with me the most.   What compels us to read food blogs?  Are you willing to stop and read everything an author has to say regardless of the topic?  I can’t say I know many people who would do that readily.  I’m not going to lie here; I’m a notorious skimmer.  I mostly visit blogs for the recipes and to support my friends and community.  But when I’m trying to catch up on 20-40 blogs a day I just don’t have the time to read every story.  If I skim your post it doesn’t mean I don’t love you.  I’d rather peek in and give a hollar of encouragement than do nothing.  But truthfully, if I’m going to slow down and read everything there needs a be a hook.  Something to catch my attention and draw me in.  A strong opening line.  Why should I care that you went to the grocery store and stumbled in the cereal isle?  That’s really interesting, but who cares?  Make me care.  Perhaps I should re-frame that so it doesn’t sound so demanding.  I want to make YOU care that I went to the grocery store and stumbled in the cereal isle.  I want compel you to read my story.

I read Kathleen’s memoir The Sharper The Knife, The Less You Cry just before making the decision to attend culinary school.  Her story was a huge inspiration to me, right up there with My Life in France by Julia Child.  When I heard she was teaching a two hour food writing boot camp in DC it was a no brainer.  I signed up immediately.  And I was astounded by how much I learned in my brief time with her.  She had me thinking about writing in a whole new way.  Did you know I have a bachelors degree in English with a focus on Creative Writing?  I don’t see why you would because I never mention it.  After so many years in IT and the kitchen I feel incredibly disconnected from my college days as a writer.  But the exercises from our workshop brought it all back.  I felt excited about writing again.

“Every food blogger writes about the farmer’s market.  Go to the grocery store instead.”

Kathleen shared a lot with us including a story from when she was a speaker at IFBC last year.  In preparation for the event she had her assistant look at the attendee blogs.  The conclusion?  45 out of 50 blogs were exactly the same.  I was kind of stunned to hear this but it also made complete sense and fascinated me.  I mean we are all kind of doing the same thing here. There’s nothing wrong with being similar to other blogs but it got me thinking about how to set myself apart in an over-saturated market.  For the past three years I’ve been constantly working to improve my photography but have given little thought to the quality of my writing.   Perhaps this is the next step?  It’s certainly something worth exploring.

The recipe I’m sharing with you today is from Baking Bites.  It’s her exact recipe with the exception of the salt.  She used regular Maldon Sea Salt and I used Maldon Smoked Sea Salt.  It sounds weird, right? Smoked sea salt caramels.  They are indeed weird.  Weird and good.

 

Smoked Sea Salt Caramels
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Author:
Serves: 3-4 dozen, depending on the size
Ingredients
  • 1½ cups sugar
  • ⅓ cup water
  • ¼ cup corn syrup
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • ¼ cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • ½ teaspoons salt
  • 1 – 2 tablespoons smoked sea salt (I used Maldon)
Instructions
  1. Lightly grease an 8x8 or 9x9 baking dish (I used baking spray with flour).
  2. In a saucepan, combine the sugar, water and corn syrup. Cover the pan and bring to a boil over high heat. Once some steam has developed in the pan, remove the lid (steam will help prevent crystallization). Continue to boil until the caramel turns a deep honey color, approximately 10-15 minutes.
  3. While the sugar is cooking, combine the butter and cream in a microwave safe bowl. Microwave for 30 seconds at a time until the butter is melted.
  4. When the caramel begins to darken, carefully but swiftly add the cream and butter. The mixture will steam and bubble up so pull your hand away. Use a heat resistant spatula to stir the mixture and add the salt once the bubbling has calmed down a bit.
  5. Place a candy thermometer in the saucepan and stir frequently until the mixture reached 260 degrees.
  6. Pour the caramel into the prepared baking dish and allow it to cool completely. Sprinkle smoked salt on top.
  7. Use a warm knife to cut caramels into small squares or rectangles. I used a ruler to draw guides first. Caramels will keep at room temperature for a few weeks.
Notes
Barely adapted from Baking Bites

 

Don't miss future updates from Savory Simple! Subscribe to new recipes by email. You can also follow me via RSS, Facebook and Twitter.

Comments

  1. Love Kathleen Flynn! Interesting findings by her assistant, though I’m not too surprised either . As for these caramels, the smoked sea salt is perfection!

  2. I like to think that good writing will always stand out but it’s so easy to get swept up in all the other things that you’re supposed to be doing that it’s easy to sacrifice it. Love this post!

  3. I just took the time to read your entire post, and I’m glad I did! Actually, due to your very informative subjects, I usually read all of your posts. As a new blogger, I thank you for that, and heed your advice. …and I love the caramels! Enjoy your day, Jen!!!

  4. First, Those caramels look freakin’ amazing!

    Second, I love this post. I tend to skim – because I do find that so many blogs are the same. But I loves my bbbs (best blogging buddies) – and happily support them as they support me. I can’t say enough about how much I appreciate it. That said, the blogs I am most loyal to have a unique voice – often humorous. It’s probably a matter of taste (so to speak). Your post resonates with me – I’m going to work on the writing, and keep working on the writing!

  5. 45 out of 50?! Wow! You’ve given me something to think about. Great post, Jen! Thanks for sharing.

  6. I too have an English degree with Creative Writing as a focus. But I also have a second Bachelor’s in Viticulture & Enology which is why I’m a blog-writing winemaker…at least I’m using them both!! After my first college degree I used to the write the news for NBC in Los Angeles but left that to follow my real passion. However, who cares right? It’s hard to sit down and write great content all the time especially because we know most people skim or we are so tired from our “real” jobs. Okay I love the idea of smoked sea salt too, over the top.

    • It’s definitely hard to write great content all the time, especially with the pressure to constantly produce. Fewer posts with better writing are probably better for a writing career and more content is better for driving traffic. It’s tough to find the balance! I love that you have a degree in Viticulture. I bet that was a great experience!

  7. It can be difficult to find a unique voice in the expanding world of food blogging and sometimes I lean too heavily on the amount of chocolate in a photo. :D This is an excellent reminder to channel my inner Hemingway again!

    Beautiful caramels!

  8. I’m a notorious skimmer, too, but this post inspired me to read the whole thing, every word. =) And to think more about my own writing. So thank YOU for that! And these caramels look divine!

  9. Oh my goodness, Jen. Is this real life? Homemade SMOKED caramels… get in my mouthhole!

  10. Good point. A blogger’s writing style is a huge draw for me, and I’m hoping it’s what draws in my readers as well. Off to check out The Sharper The Knife, The Less You Cry!

  11. Now I want to read her memoir! Lots of interesting thoughts.

    These caramels sound amazing! I need to try smoked sea salt!

  12. There is nothing like salted caramel. NOTHING! I love chocolate salted caramels but the real thing, plain and simple, cannot be beat.

  13. Salt caramel is a very local flavour here. The old Roman salt pans are still in use on the Ile de Re ( a Vendeen island just near us that is a little like the Hamptons) and the salt caramels from there are delicious, as is the ice cream – why would I make them:)

  14. Hi! I want to make these ASAP…! Question: does it matter if you use light or dark corn syrup? For the sugar, I was planning on using Turbinado, so maybe the lighter corn syrup would be better. Anyway, I have all the ingredients including the smoked salt on hand… so excited! Thanks for a great post!

    • Thanks for commenting! I used light corn syrup. I don’t see why dark wouldn’t work but you might get a more molasses-type flavor in the caramels. Potentially a bit more bitter which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. As an FYI – I used regular sugar, not turbinado. Let me know how that turns out!

  15. UM WHAT THE HOLY.

  16. Great post. Sounds like it was a really useful workshop.

  17. I was skimming, but then you hooked me. :) I wish I could’ve attended that workshop — it sounds amazing! Thanks for sharing some kernels of wisdom with the rest of us.

  18. I love making homemade caramel and what is even the use without sea salt! These look incredible, Jen!
    And I feel exactly the same way – I have 100-150 new posts in my reader each day. I never get to them all but I try to skim each one and to read the whole thing, every word, it has to catch me quickly! Great post!!

  19. What an awesome post my friend :)
    And wow to your caramels!

    Cheers
    Choc Chip Uru

  20. Hello DELICIOUS. I almost licked my monitor. Caramels make life so much better. I need to make this right away!

  21. great recipe good for the holidays I read blogs mainly as I like the people behind them

  22. Very good point about having a hook. People can only write about “omg fall is here and I love pumpkin!!” so many times before I’m tempted to just scroll straight to the bottom and type my comment based on the pictures ;)

    Caramel is actually really fun to make! I tried for the first time a month or two ago. Love the addition of the smoked sea salt!

  23. I so agree with you, Jen. I have so many posts in my reader everyday that I find myself skipping the text too often. But I still want to leave a message to show that I care. But then there are those blogs I always read all the way through. Like yours. Love this post!! Caramels – can’t wait to try them. Especially that sea salt is involved!

  24. I didn’t skim your writing today, because I could feel your intensity, excitement and your desire to share what you’ve learned. This is what makes me slow down and not skim a blog post.. Not to say that I mind skimming.. if someone is happy and just wants to say “I love cookies”.. I can smile and skim at the same time. But my favorites are the ones that make me think.. and that’s what yours did today! I wondered about the smoked in the salt… but I trust your judgment, it would be very good!!

  25. Yikes…I have to work on my writing AND my photography! Thanks for the push out of the rut :)

    PS…I do love your caramels!

  26. What’s not to love about sea salt caramels?! I put as much effort into writing my posts as I do the recipes. I am an aspiring novelist so writing compelling posts is important to me. I call my blog a baking and writing blog because for me the two are inseparable. I have to agree with you though that skimming other blogs is necessary or I’d spend my whole day reading blogs. I’d rather have a kind comment from a skimmer than no comment from someone who read every word.

  27. Sea salt caramels are one of my favorite treats, and these look fantastic! I also appreciate the advice :)

  28. Yes, I completely agree!! I’m reading like 100+ blogs a day and yes, I do skim a lot but there are some posts that just definitely hook you in. Definitely need that to get the readers’ attention. These smoked sea salt caramels sound amazing. I love that the sea salt is SMOKED. I can only imagine how great these taste! They look like little puffy pillows, haha

  29. I love sea salt caramels. Never thought of trying smoked salt… now I want to!

    The writing/blog stuff is tough.

  30. I’d say i read full content of about 80% of the blogs i visit. I put effort into my posts, not just in pix but content. I dont comment often but when i do, i try to give thoughtful responses. That, to me, is proper shout out & encouragement to the blogger.
    There’s a readon why the majority of bloggers/foodies go to farmers’ markets & not grocery stores: better produce, supporting local farmers blah blah blah. Trying to be different for the sake of being different is insincere & inauthentic & quality readers know that.
    So glad you had such a good experience with Flynn’s writing talk. Personally i did not like her book but her recipes were great, particularly her rabbit stew.
    The caramels look great, i wonder if i could use coconut cream instead of heavy cream.

    • I think you might have misunderstood what I was trying to convey from the lesson. With regards to the grocery store versus the farmer’s market, I didn’t do her workshop justice by throwing out that line without an explanation. There’s obviously a good reason to go to the farmer’s market. The workshop wasn’t about where to get the best product or how to be different, it was about how to improve food writing and engage readers (whether you’re a novelist, a blogger or whatever). Her point was that we stretch ourselves as writers when we think outside the box and listen for food stories in unusual places. If a photographer goes to the same location every weekend, the inspiration won’t be fresh. There are only so many angles to get a pretty photo. It doesn’t just have to be the grocery store. There’s inspiration everywhere. She never said we should be different for the sake of being different. If the writing isn’t meaningful, it will indeed be inauthentic. But meaning can come from unusual places. I’m always going to love the market. It will always inspire new recipes but it’s not necessarily going to inspire creative writing after awhile.

  31. I actually have a jar of smoked sea salt! The recipe sounds wonderful -I like remembering that writing is fun;-)

  32. I love this post. I think about this everyday. . how to set myself a part from the thousands and thousands of other food blogs. . Thanks for the encouragement to get my creative juices flowing again with my writing! I love this recipe by the way! What’s so weird about caramels with smoked sea salt? I think these are fabulous!!! :)

  33. Thanks Jen for the inspiring post. I think many of us can relate to this. My reader is filled with blogs I want to read but at the end of the day I just can’t get through them all and focus on my blog as well not to mention chasing my kids around in the midst. I have recently changed to limiting the amount I comment on and really focus people I feel connected with (like you :) ). I love your style, your writing, your wisdom. I was putting so much pressure on myself to comment on so many and before I knew it hours past and all I accomplished was commenting on other blogs, not to productive. For the ones I read, I read and comment. Then I have a ton I just skim through because I want to see whats going on but its just not possible to be everywhere. For the ones that can do it, post on everyones plus stay on top of social media and produce content for their own blogs, I applaud them. Sorry for the long comment here, just happy to read this post and btw I love these caramels too! :)

  34. A friend just gave me some smoked sea salt, great timing!
    P.S. I think we are all skimmers! I just read your entire post and enjoyed it.

  35. I pretty much have zero writing skills. I love blogging, so I hope that somehow it’ll get easier over time for me to be more descriptive and draw the reader in. I do read every single post I come across… not sure how much longer I’ll be able to keep that up! :) Your posts always interest me, btw! I’m happy to have found you fosho! :)

  36. I’m with you completely. I’ve had the same feeling so may times. Just sitting there with the post open, photos uploaded, recipe written down and then I had to write an intro. The entire time I’m thinking, “why does anyone care about what I did today? How can I say something that matters 5 days a week? I’m not that interesting!” ANd I’ve had The Sharper The Knife The Less You Cry on my to-read list for about a year. I’m going to bump it up rightnow.

  37. I love caramels and have memories of my mom making them as a child and I make caramel sauce often, but need to make actual caramels. They are perfect!

  38. And being guilty of skimming, of not writing to the quality I know I could or can, yes, been there. We all have! Thanks for being honest about it. I realized that photography was important and recently realized that I’d rather talk about the FOOD on my food blog than everything else. So have been trying to improve my writing and find a balance of talking about it without obsessing about it but not getting too boring. I love this post, Jen. And also your culinary school post from a few week(s) ago…has REALLY really stuck with me. I think about it all the time!

  39. Thanks for this post, it’s always comes back to balance for me. I do agree about being different.
    And you had me at smoked sea salt with these caramels – love!

  40. Kathleen is amazing. I’m so glad you got something out of her workshop!

  41. i love love love the smoked sea salt in these! they are gorgeous!

  42. Well I’m thinking now about more creative,engaging writing AND if honey would work in these caramels?… Hmmm… Thanks for your inspiration Jen. Now I’m going to noodle the honey in this recipe idea! Any thoughts?

  43. We are all works in progress. I spend my whole week in academia, writing in an academic voice! :-) Then there’s the freedom of the blog. Sometimes we have it, sometimes we’re too tired to care! :-) And for the record, I read every word!

    I love sea salt caramels…never considered making them myself. Now I will! :-)

  44. Great article (lucky duck for the class!) and I did read it all the way through … just to get to the caramels :)

  45. This is such a great post. And I will be making these caramels as gifts come the holidays – they’re GORGEOUS!

  46. Wow, these caramels look amazing!! I wish we lived close so I could come over and we could make these together…the last time I tried to make caramels…I failed miserably and the house smelled like burnt caramel.

  47. Hi – it was nice to meet you today at the blogger meet up on Google+ & always to find a new blog to love!

    I’ve been working on caramel this fall – with an eye to making some candy for gift giving at Christmas, so this very timely & appreciated. I even have some smoked salt. ;) thanks for sharing it!

    • It was great meeting you as well! I had to leave pretty much as soon as the meetup was over but I can’t wait to go check out all the sites and get to know people a bit better.

  48. This is an interesting post. In my reader I only have blogs I really have a `friendship´ with and some that interest me for some particular reason like trends or photography. Eventually I will have the time to read them all, because the list is not huge. And I only comment because the blogger interests me. It´s my way to keep in touch.
    But I think that what´s crucial is to do things in whatever way interests you. What I write, and photograph and blog about interests me most of all. It´s my style. Many will be attracted to it and many won´t.
    I had a different reaction when I read the 45 out of 50. I immediately thought that whatever the person giving the workshop had to offer only appealed to a certain type of blogger. And this is not a comment about that person since I have no idea who she is. Maybe we all feel we´re doing the same thing because in our own groups we ARE. That´s why we´re attracted to each other. I tend be attracted to a certain type of food blogger the same way I tend to photograph my food in a certain way. And it´s hard for me to try to do it any other way.
    For the record, I not only read your whole post, as usual, but in this case I read every comment, because it´s an interesting topic.
    And the caramels are fabulous!!

    • Thanks for the comment! I think you’re definitely on to something. I do tend to like a particular type of blogging style and unfortunately I think I’m following way too many people (20–40 was a modest estimate because that’s how many emails I get in a day. I’m probably following more like 80). What I’ve been doing recently to deal with it is only reading the posts with recipes I’m very interested in so I have a bit more time to read and comment thoughtfully. And then I have my friends who I always read and comment on no matter what. But it still gets overwhelming because there is SO much talent out there right now, you know? There aren’t enough hours in the day.

  49. These caramels look and sound delicious. I want to start making some candy for Christmas gifts, and these are definitely on my must-try list.

  50. I am a skimmer too — so glad you highlighted this important “struggle” that we all as a blogger often go through. It’s difficult to find balance between constantly producing quality recipe and writing.

    Mmmm… Delicious caramels!

  51. My best girlfriend and I always make Xmas desserts and treats together and this year she really wants to focus on candies – wish granted :-) Good luck with Sandy!! On another note, am very grateful that you’re passing on the interesting tidbits from your workshops and using them to generate rich discussion. It’s a very “community of practice” way of challenging and giving back to bloggers and readers to talk about how to push further and get better.

  52. I am actually not much of a skimmer! I am very attracted by a writer’s style, even if pictures are not the best (though of course, that’s what always catches the eye first). But then, I don’t have time to follow many blog really, maybe 5 maximum right now.I don’t have time to read all articles either, but it’s all or nothing!When I get on it, it’s for good! Keep going, love your blog! And yes, nice caramels..I was thinking of putting one in the center of some chocolate muffin recipe, then cook in the oven..would make a nice liquid heart!

  53. Oh my goodness, these are beautiful! Looks like I’ll have to come up with an excuse to make these! :-)

  54. Denise Wilson says:

    These sound amazing!

  55. Just read through the post and all the comments. I really appreciate the topic of quality writing be brought in food blogging because sadly it is quite rare to see anything worth reading. No wonder most people skim through our posts. I used to put a great deal of thought into my writing when I first started out ( linguistics and literature major ;-)) but I only wrote 1 post a week. Now that I do 3 a week most of the time I feel brain dead when it’s time to write. As far as being different, I would love to stay true to who I am, I would love to be authentic and only post about what we actually eat as a family, however what gets attention on social media is desserts drenched in chocolate and caramel and it’s hard to compete with that. Thank you for writing Jen.

  56. Yummmm….definitely on my to-do list!

  57. Talk about ‘hook’. I too am a skimmer but for the first time in a long time I read your complete post and it wasn’t even those yummy looking caramels…although I am now going to try them. From now on I am going to slow down and read more Thanks for this…. and the recipe :-)

Trackbacks

  1. [...] A very interesting and thought-provoking post from Jen at Savory Simple. I thought about writing about this subject many times but just [...]

  2. [...] received some really interesting comments on my last post about food writing.  I read each one and truly appreciated the honesty.  And some of them definitely made me stop [...]

Speak Your Mind

*