Twitter is the new coffee klatch. It's the backyard fence where you meet to talk about what's for dinner. Your very own kitchen cabinet, as it were, accessed from your laptop or mobile device.
It would be completely perfect if you could taste what's cooking. Or borrow a cup of sugar. Sort of hard to do with virtual friends on the social-networking Web site.
In just 140 characters, home cooks share kitchen successes, kibitz about ingredients or comment on fabulous recipes they've seen on TV or in magazines. Some Twitterers are restaurant junkies who want to tell the world where and what they've eaten. Still others have names you know: Martha Stewart, Tyler Florence, Paula Deen and Jamie Oliver. Yes, even famous people post — or Tweet — daily. And as with cell phone text-messaging, abbreviation and unusual, or no, punctuation is the norm.
For instance, on May 15:
• Oliver, Brit chef and daddy of three girls, was teaching his eldest, Poppy, how to ride a bike. "I'll get the band aids ready," he warned.
• Gourmet magazine editor Ruth Reichl wondered "Are you as furious about the big food companies deciding that food safety is OUR problem as I am?"
• Flourgrrrl, a.k.a. Heather Lalley of Chicago, touted: "Testing of cream-cheese ice cream for cinnamon-roll bread pudding a success. It's like frozen cream-cheese frosting. It should be illegal."
Twitter, which has been around since 2006, has exploded with participants this year. Some 19 million people worldwide are now sharing what they are thinking or doing, up about 10 million since March. A big chunk are talking about food.
Like Facebook and MySpace, Twitter is yet another spot on the Internet where communities form among friends and/or about topics. Celebrities use the micro-blogging site as a form of public relations and, indeed, there is something fun about knowing that Paula Deen is hankering for tilapia with baked peaches for dinner or that Tyler Florence is having trouble downloading documents on his computer. Never read if he got help, but since he has 8,000 followers, it's likely.
The exchange of information can be overwhelming, and even seems unnecessary, especially to those who haven't joined. Who cares what I am doing or thinking, non-users may ask. And why do I care about you?
They may think differently when baking help comes at midnight from 3,000 miles away.
A kitchen connection
Flourgrrrl (Heather Lalley) used to be a newspaper features writer, and now pursues her passion for baking at culinary school in Chicago. With skep-ticism, she joined Twitter about a month ago. Mostly, she says, to drive traffic to her blog, flourgrrrl.blogspot.com.
"I wasn't sure I would like it at first. All those weird characters seemed like nonsense," says Lalley of the @'s and #'s and RT's that populate posts. (See accompanying glossary.) But once she got used to the Twitter lingua franca and connected with other passionate cooks, the value became clear.
"I am just a random woman in my kitchen in Chicago and people all over the country are giving me cooking advice," she says.
In her brief time on Twitter, Lalley has joined a 200-person group vowing to bake every recipe in The Bread Baker's Apprentice by Peter Reinhart (Ten Speed Press, 2004). (Find them on Twitter by searching #bba.) The baking idea is the brainchild of Nicole Hamaker of San Diego, who writes the blog Pinch My Salt (pinchmysalt.com).
The bread-baking challenge began with a tweet at 8:51 p.m. Pacific time, May 2:
"I need a challenge. Am thinking of baking my way through every single recipe in The Bread Baker's Apprentice. Anyone want to join me?"
In just nine days, Hamaker had heard from enough people to open a chain of bakeries. Their first recipe was anadama, a traditional New England bread made with flour, cornmeal and molasses. Last week they tackled bagels. And asked for advice. And shared results.
A voice in the dark
The noise on the Internet can get overwhelming sometimes with so many people commenting on so many topics. But the beauty of Twitter is that you can connect with (or follow) people with similar interests, blocking out what you don't want to "hear."
I joined Twitter earlier this month and I follow people who are commenting about food and travel. No basketball scores, very little politics and nothing about gardening, stamp collecting or historic battlefields. Those aren't my things, but if they are yours, there are people out there waiting to connect with you.
On a recent Saturday night, I was frustrated with a scratch cake I made. Vanilla cake with fudge frosting sounded promising and the recipe was from one of my tried-and-true magazines. But the cake was dry. I tweeted at nearly midnight:
"Made the vanilla cake with fudge frosting in the new Sunset mag. Wondering why I bother with homemade cake. It tasted like dust. Is it me?"
Within minutes, @guialinat, that's Gui Alinat, a personal chef and writer in Dunedin, wanted to know what I was doing up so late. (I had to wait for the cake to cool before I could frost it.)
Then a co-worker suggested I bring the cake to the office and let my colleagues be the judge of it.
And in less than 10 minutes a tip from @savorysweetlife in Seattle popped up. Weigh the flour on a kitchen scale. About 4.25 ounces equals a cup. You'll have better results, my midnight cooking teacher wrote.
It was almost as if we were chatting at the kitchen table over a cup of steaming coffee. Well, almost.
Janet K. Keeler can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8586. Follow her on Twitter (@keelerstircrazy).