My interview with Andrea Hubbell, author of Bella Eats, appears below:
When did you begin Bella Eats?
Bella Eats was born nearly one year ago – October 31, 2008. It began as a food diary – a way to hold myself accountable to my healthy lifestyle goals and to track my training for the Charlottesville Ten-Miler. I never intended for the blog to be public, but I didn’t realize that when I commented on other blogs people could link back to mine. Suddenly, I had readers, and found myself diving headfirst into a supportive but demanding community.
How has it evolved over time?
While I enjoyed the support of the food diary community and the wonderful emails I received from readers who were inspired by my training and eating habits, what I really discovered about myself in those first four months was a renewed passion for cooking, writing and most of all, photography. I am a bit of a perfectionist, and was putting a lot of pressure on myself to have beautiful photos, unique recipes and clever writing in each post; a difficult task when you have a full-time job and are posting daily. I made the decision last March to transition Bella Eats from a daily journal to a 2-ish times per week logging of specific recipes and stories, giving me more time to experiment in the kitchen and with my photography, while also working on my skills as a writer. It was a great move for me, and I’ve really enjoyed browsing through posts from the last year to see how each of those areas of the blog have improved.
What do you hope to achieve through the blog?
There are two food issues that I feel passionately about and would like to push more on the blog: daily cooking at home and using seasonal and locally-sourced ingredients. Home-cooking seems to be a luxury of the past as parents and children have become busier and convenience foods (drive-thrus and frozen dinners) have become more abundant. I try to provide my readers with healthy recipes that are manageable even for those who are working 40+ hour weeks as my husband and I do. By testing out recipes in my own kitchen and then posting them on Bella Eats, I feel like I am a filter for the countless recipes available in cookbooks, magazines and online that can sometimes be overwhelming for those with little kitchen experience.
I do enjoy a challenge, so will sometimes tackle a more difficult recipe on the weekend to share on the blog, but oftentimes will discover that even a recipe that appears at first to be very time-consuming is actually quite manageable. And there’s not much more satisfying than making your own pasta, or bagels, or layer cake and having family and friends fawn over your accomplishment.
I feel very lucky to live in Charlottesville, a community with its eyes wide open to local food issues. While I have a very broad reader base that has only recently started to include a significant number of C’ville residents (I was shy about sharing the blog for the first, oh, 8 months or so…) I’d really like to provide a stronger focus on eating locally and seasonally. I always try to give credit to the source of ingredients in my recipes, and have started a “Local” page with links to area food providers and businesses that support local food. While I realize that these Charlottesville-centered features may not be as helpful to my non-local readers, I hope that they will be inspired to learn more about their own local food communities.
What benefits have come from blogging?
I’ve learned so much since starting Bella Eats – about photography, writing, cooking and baking. I have no formal training in any of these areas and have certainly had my share of disasters over the last year, but have found that there is no better way to learn than to practice. The food blog community is strong and supportive and I’ve “met” some really amazing people through our blogs. People who are happy to answer questions about camera technology or the amount of tapioca you should use in a fruit pie filling. There is an amazing amount of knowledge out there to tap into, and I’m excited to be providing a fraction of it to my readers.
Who is reading your blog (any surprises?)?
I have a pretty broad readership, everybody from high school students who enjoy experimenting in their parents’ kitchens to busy moms and dads looking for simple healthy recipes to make for their families. My readers come from across the globe, and its fun to receive comments from people as far away as Australia. I am always excited when I receive a comment from another food blogger whom I admire greatly, or realize that I’ve been added to the list of recommended sites on a well-established blog. I love that friends and family are starting to consider me their go-to person when they have recipe questions or want a recommendation for a special dessert to make for a loved one’s birthday. I never imagined that Bella Eats would become so popular, so I’m honestly surprised each time I check my blog stats and see how many people check in on a daily basis…its thrilling!
Tell us about pie month and other “months” or series you establish on the blog – how does it work and what other examples are there?
Bella Eats Pie Month was an idea born after I made a last-minute decision to participate in C’ville Pie Fest, and then discovered that my pie repertoire was nearly non-existent. Pies are an area of baking that I really haven’t experimented much with, usually preferring cakes, breads and cookies. I find that I learn best when I tackle a specific type of recipe multiple times in a row – I’ve done the same (not on the blog) for rugelach, banana bread and eclairs in the past. The timing for Pie Month was perfect since November and December contain holidays that are pretty pie-centric, and I thought that my readers could benefit from my experimentation with some classic autumn pies. I’ve already shared the Italian Plum Pie that I had planned to enter in C’ville Pie Fest, and have a Chocolate Mousse Pie up next on the agenda. Tune in on Thursdays through the end of October (and maybe a week or two into November) for a new pie each week. I’m hoping to still share another recipe unrelated to pie each week as well, but so far pie-baking is taking up all of my time!
This summer I posted bi-weekly updates about my husband’s and my home vegetable garden, a series called Bella Terra that was well-received by my readers. I featured produce that was ripe in the garden at the time along with a recipe that showcased that fruit or vegetable. You can find them all on the Recipes page on Bella Eats. Next summer I’d like to continue Bella Terra but also throw in a weekly “At the Market” post showcasing produce that Charlottesville residents can find at the City Market that week, with recipes using that produce. I’ve also had the idea to do a series of “Better Than Delivery” posts, where I focus on recipes that are easy to make at home in the same amount or less time than it takes to pick up the phone and have less healthier food delivered to your door. I’ve done something similar in the past, and you can find those “Healthified Comfort Foods” on the Recipe page as well.