10 Years of M’s Adventures

Can a blog make your dreams come true? For me, this blog has lead to book publishing. So when my father suggested that I start a blog, he fulfilled my childhood dream to be a published author. Amazing, right? Thanks, Dad.

When I reflect on ten years of writing blog articles and ten years of adventures in food and travel, I feel emotion. I realize all the stories I have heard of people’s lives, the dignity in ordinary lives of hard-working people, and all those other cheesy American ideals. To write a blog is to exercise the very core of the American ideals: freedom of speech, pursuit of happiness, liberty, and the American dream.

The reality of blogging has been many hours writing, editing, taking photos, and thought. It has also included waiting over 3,000 hours for bad food in restaurants, lots of money (my own) traveling, taking photos incessantly, hours uploading, editing, hashtagging, and posting on social media.

Ah, but yes, people want to know one thing. How do I afford it? Please read my “Who Am I?” page.

Many times people (and companies) try to get me to monetize my blog. I laugh at this idea. To monetize a blog requires a certain readership/following (for example on YouTube, one must have at least 1,000 subscribers — I have 12) which I do not have. Also, it would take the fun out of it. Instead, my blog costs me money. Which is really not necessary because a phone camera is all one really needs. One can even blog from a smartphone.

I don’t. I write at a computer. An old fashioned desktop (well, it’s not but the set up is) with a mechanical keyboard because I like hearing the clickety clack of the keys as I type (slowly). I use a Mac and iPhones simply because that’s what I went with and so that’s what I’m sticking with. My keyboard is not from Apple. It’s a “Das Keyboard” that I bought in a kiosk in Vancouver. I use WordPress to publish my blog. I started blogging 15 years ago using Blogspot because it was user friendly. But, I moved to WordPress because that seemed the platform used by professional bloggers. It took 24 hours of hate but eventually I learned to use WordPress. I also find it interesting that almost all social media platforms have begun to resemble WordPress. I guess they got it right.

It was once that a “blog” or weblog was said with some disdain. But, it’s really just a website. It’s an online journal. Like an online book. In South America and Europe, people seem to be less disdainful about blogging. Embarrassingly, some restaurants have given me free food assuming that I was a powerful food blogger. I prefer not to receive anything for free. I like having a normal customer’s experience when I go out to eat.

From my blog, because I have to release my inner marketing demon at times, I have produced mousepads, pens, stickers, postcards, magnets, mugs, t-shirts, and of course, over ten books. I don’t do as much marketing anymore, but I try to keep my blog pages up to date and I work on my books. In looking at the pages of my blog, I am surprised (although not sure why) at how often people read the “about” page which I call “who am I?” — while it’s not a secret who I am, I just don’t think it’s so interesting.

I encourage anyone, anyone, to write the stories you want to tell. Self-publish the books. Everyone has stories to tell and if you can’t tell them as a book, then use social media. It seems like everyone wants to be heard. I have written quite a few books but don’t expect them to be widely read or bought. Some may have a publishing run of ten or 20 copies. But, to me, it’s the joy of writing them that has been the most fun. The production is the journey.

Some of the unintended things that have happened because of my blog is:

My friends wait to eat until I’ve got my photos. Thanks!

My friends often will go with me to places that they say, “is this for the blog?” Yes. Thanks.

And once, I was recognized while waiting for the elevator (through colleague’s photos).

Some unpleasant stuff has happened too but I don’t want to deign to give those unpleasant things the time of day. Trolls and bullies get no play here.

I try to keep the focus of my blog on travel and food. This is a view in Emilia Romagna, near Modena.

What have I learned from a decade of blogging:

  1. Americans (gringos) are obsessed with TexMex food. This is possibly the most common question I get.

2. It’s easy to publish a book. Don’t be held back. Write and publish your words!

3. Don’t write about massage. It brings too many porn hits. Which is too bad because I like massage.

I used to carry my DSLR camera everywhere (where it’s easier to get photos like this one), but I do so less and less.

Almost every day, I check the statistics page on my blog to see which articles are popular and what topics people like. The top searches are to do with Bangladesh. This makes sense. At the time that I was writing from Dhaka, I was one of four expat bloggers writing in English. Even years later, I still receive questions about Dhaka. For a while, I was interested in what countries my blog was being read. I’ve been read by people from almost every country. I think I’m missing a few, but only two or three.

For many years, my article about the Bangladeshi lungi was the most popular. From the search terms that lead people to my article on the lungi, I’m afraid that my article on national dress, with only ankles on display is not what they hoped for (I don’t think I mentioned anything lewd in my article…). I am not tagging this subject for this article because I don’t want to start re-start the mislead hits by those looking for men in lungis.

So, other than that, the most popular article in the past ten years is:

Dhaka-townian’s 100 Eats and the Top Ten Restaurants in Dhaka. Over 22,000 reads of that article/post. When I wrote that article, my blog was the only comprehensive list of restaurants in Dhaka. I even had people write me and ask/tell me that they would use my articles and photos to write their own guide. Imitation is the best form of?

In the past year, the most popular article was an article from several years ago in Bogota about fruit.

Does anyone blog anymore? It was such a thing ten years ago. Now, it has been overtaken by moving words and pictures by way of YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, and other video formats.

I have noticed that many bloggers have quit and often leave their blogs as a website. I can see why. It’s sad to see the decrease of readership. My readership peaked in 2014 and has gone down since then. As I mentioned above, Dhaka was a popular topic. No one seemed to care about Bogota (at least not in English) or Lima. But, some of the articles from Bogota are picking up traction, which is strange because I thought the google bots took six months to trawl but perhaps it takes a few years now that there is so much content out there in the vast pacific of the Internet.

For my readers, other than those who know me personally, why should they stick with me when I keep moving. Those who are interested in Dhaka are not interested in Bogota. Of course, my blog has evolved. When I started, there was little content and not much linking. Now, I have accounts on Instagram, Youtube, Facebook, and a podcast. I am not as diligent about keeping all these forms of social media up to date but I try. Yet, I still write a blog article about every week. I try to post on Instagram and Facebook every day. Like any relationship, consistent care is required. But, my readership keeps dropping on my blog while conversely, my followers increase on Instagram. Heck, I even joined Patreon so people can support me in my blogging endeavor… maybe I would do this full time if I could making a living… no, no, no, that way leads to dependency!

When my readership goes down to zero, I may stop. Maybe. Then, it may simply become an online diary. A weblog. Like on the Starship Enterprise.

From Star Trek:

These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise
Its five year mission
To explore strange new worlds
To seek out new life
And new civilizations

…. my blog is twice the age of those space voyages!

So, let’s see where we go. I have plans to sort of “reverse engineer” my blog and write books that are only available as books! Then I can write about massages and other topics that get bowdlerized on the web. But, mainly, I’ll just slip into my comfy shoes and continue to be mad for food and adventure!

12 Seasons of Roman Vegetables and Fruit

Romans truly eat by season. They get excited by what is only available at certain times of the year. Of course, all year, there are imported vegetables and fruit in Rome, but the Romans still find joy in the seasonality of fresh vegetables. And, it seems like chicory is always in season…

Three types of asparagus with the expensive wild version in the front.

Cicoria (chi-CORE-E-ah) or chicory is “Italian dandelion” and is a bitter green leafy vegetable that looks a bit like spinach. If you live in the U.S. and want to plant some for your self, this farm sells the seeds.

January: puntarelle (puhn-tah-R-ALE-eh), or cicoria di catalogna or cicoria asparago (although no one in Rome uses these names) is in the chicory family but looks more like a thick stemmed dandelion. The Romans eat the white stems, cut to curl up, in a salad with an anchovy garlic dressing — like a zero-carb caesar salad. No cheese. In other parts of Italy, puntarelle are cooked. In Rome, only the trimmings are cooked as part of a general vegetable stew. But, the white inner stems are the treasure.

The first stage of the preparation of puntarelle.
Puntarelle ready for dressing.

March: agretti, asparagi selvatici (wild asparagus), fava beans, and artichokes. Wild asparagus are slimmer and have a stronger taste. Agretti (Salsola Soda, opposite-leaved saltwort, opposite leaf Russian thistle, Roscano, or barilla plant) is almost unknown in the English speaking world, although recently becoming a bit of a thing with chefs.

Agretti
Peas and fava beans are both eaten fresh and raw when young. Fava beans are eaten with pecorino cheese.

April: Strawberries, agretti (monk’s beard), peas, beans, and small artichokes.

May: Peas, beans, spring onions, garlic chives, etc.

June: Apricots, peaches, green beans, potatoes, etc.

July: Melons, peaches, plums, nectarines, pears, lettuce, etc.

August: This was hard to figure out as most of the markets close in August… but at the back of the Trionfale market, there are still some zero kilometer farmers who sell their produce. So it’s all about peaches, cucumbers, pears, walnuts, water melons, cantaloup melons (called so because they were grown in Cantalupo just outside Rome), lettuce, grapes, nectarines, plums, and apples.

Apples

September: Pears, apples, figs, melons, lettuce, broccoli tops, pumpkins, pumpkin greens, plums, peppers, chiles, peaches, and grapes.

Pumpkin greens

October: pumpkin, potatoes, gourds, squash, nuts, cabbage, lettuce, and peppers.

November: potatoes, clementines, and nespole/medlars.

Medlars which one eats when they are brown and toffee like.

December: puntarelle, artichokes, and clementines.

clementines

Every restaurant will have “seasonal vegetable” on the menu and it will always be cicoria/chicory greens. Very healthy. One of the nice things about living in Rome is that it is possible to eat pesticide free food and in a perpetual “farmer’s market” all year round. I have to admit that I’m excited for artichoke season after not having artichokes for six months.

Affection in the Time of Corona

Sfoglie and cream cheese turnovers.

I can’t figure out why I keep getting free food (and other gifts). Do I look hungry? Is it because I buy a lot? I’m not talking about samples. I get lots of those too. I mean real gifts like cakes, chocolates, and other things. Do I look like I can’t afford it? Like I don’t have enough money? Well, my clothes sense does perhaps say that… but I don’t think it’s charity.

I pondered this for a while and I think I figured it out. One thing is that I am a regular… I tend to go in to the same places late in the day. The proprietors can create goodwill by giving me free food — which they might have to throw out anyway. But, does that explain the chocolates? I’m beginning to have a growing suspicion that some of these Romans are nice people… which also makes me wonder if I didn’t think they were? I think I need to get out more. Maybe’s it’s because I ask so many questions about the food and clap my hands in glee. The result is that I garner quite a bit of goodwill because I usually re-gift, pass on, the gifts of food that I get, from cakes to chocolate. This pandemic has clearly made me unaccustomed to human kindness. But really, I don’t think it’s that. Or is it?

Now that I’ve thought about it in the cultural context, I think that while every country will tell you that food is their national obsession, and I am not sure that Italy leads in that. But, Italians will talk about the next meal while eating the current meal. The giving of food is an expression of love, or at least friendliness.

The Italians are a tactile, hugging, kissing people and this pandemic has forced them to keep their distance. I had not thought about how hard this must be for them on this account as well. To go from daily kisses and hugs to absolute zero.

A cornetto (a croissant).

Suddenly, this is much deeper than I thought. This makes me think even more deeply about these gifts that I receive. When the Italians can air kiss again, will this stop the gifts of food? Somehow, I don’t think so.