The Laessig home is a lot like other busy households on a rainy Sunday afternoon.
There's a baseball game on the TV. Kids are doing their thing: reading, lazing around on comfy chairs, hanging with friends in bedrooms. Dad's watching the game in between other duties. The dog is flitting from place to place, looking for a chuck under the chin and possibly a treat.
Mom is at the kitchen table with her laptop and iPhone. She's answering tweets and monitoring comments on Facebook. And pinning food photos on Pinterest. And sharing trendy Instagram pictures on various social media websites, all while keeping an eye on the clock. She's got to start dinner soon and gather the troops at the table. On this night, a live online chat with a cookbook author starts at 7 p.m.
Yes, the Laessig home is a lot like other busy households, especially those in which Mom is a food blogger with a growing following.
Birth of a blog
A year ago, Isabel Laessig's oldest child, Alexandra, was preparing to head off to the University of Florida. What would she miss most about life at home, her mother asked her. Family dinners featuring food from her mother's native Portugal and table talk, she replied.
After wiping away the tears, Isabel, now 44, got thinking about the importance of the family dinner, plus she was feeling pretty good that her daughter recognized the benefits of home-cooked food and good conversation. So Isabel did what so many women do when they like to cook and share recipes and have a little time on their hands. She started a blog. Familyfoodie.com was born, and you could call it Isabel's fifth child.
So now, every Sunday, besides having dinner with her four flesh-and-blood children and husband Ron, she breaks bread with people all over the world. She knows this because she's monitoring the activity throughout dinner on several social media websites. In fact, she's the only one allowed to have a phone at the dinner table.
"Look where this person is from," she says on a recent Sunday evening, pointing to the screen. VintageKitchen1 has joined the conversation from Buenos Aires. "Can you believe that?"
There's a buzz about #SundaySupper (that's the tagline that allows people to find the Family Foodie conversation on Twitter and other places) on this night because Katie Workman, author of The Mom 100 Cookbook (Workman, 2012), will join the conversation live from New York.
By the end of the evening, #SundaySupper has become a "trending" topic on Twitter, meaning it was among one of the nation's most commented-on topics for at least a few hours. Reports the next day revealed that the conversation reached about 1.1 million people on Twitter alone. It's a bit like the telephone game, or perhaps more aptly, ripples on a pond.
Isabel never expected much to happen when she launched familyfoodie.com last summer, but much has, and fairly quickly.
She remembers the exact date when she knew she was on to something.
On Dec. 5, 2011, Mario Batali tweeted live using the #SundaySupper tag. With something like 320,000 followers for Batali, that's no small thing. It was quite a public relations coup and helped her grow her fan base. Comparatively, she has almost 14,000 Twitter followers.
Since then, major corporations have come calling. General Electric flew her to its Kentucky headquarters to check out its new high-end line of appliances. Land O'Lakes sent samples of flavored butters for her to cook with and hopefully Tweet about (please!). Last Sunday, Merrell Shoes provided giveaway products. Former fashion model and cookbook author Christina Ferrare hooked up with the group earlier this summer for a chat, and Isabel featured one of her recipes.
They all want to reach the Family Foodie audience.
A social worker
Food blogs have exploded in the past decade, covering every kitchen and cooking topic imaginable, from gluten-free meals to all-bacon manifestos. There's a guy in California who blogs about eating and cooking only what he can grow, forage, catch and hunt (honestfood.net). There's a mom of three in New England who loves to tell the world about what she bakes (bakedbyrachel.com). A University of South Florida student shares his dining experiences all over the Tampa Bay area (carloseats.com).
There are so many food blogs that there are now blogs about them, including foodblogsearch.com. Magazines give awards for top food blogs, and many websites rank their favorites, among them Babble.com, which recently named the top 100 "mom food blogs."
Hosting sites like Wordpress.com and Blogspot.com make it easy for beginners to share their thoughts on Grandma's cacciatore or their devotion to homemade dog food. Besides tips and recipes, droolworthy photos of food have become a mainstay and have fostered their own sites such as foodgawker.com and foodspotting.com.
It's not enough anymore to simply spew your deep thoughts about food in the middle of the night and expect an audience to come. Bloggers must be masters of social media, a time-consuming prospect that can turn a hobby into a full-time job.
How much time does Isabel, who has a background in marketing, spend on Family Foodie? Easily 40 hours a week, she says. Is she pulling down a 40-hour a week salary? Not hardly, but potential sponsors are calling.
For now, it's still a labor of love with a few fringe benefits.
Heart to heart
Renee Dobbs, blogger at MagnoliaDays.com in Stockbridge, Ga., is one of Isabel's new Internet pals.
"She's one of my closest friends and we've never met," Isabel says. Well, never met in person anyway.
Part of the reason for Isabel's success, Renee says by phone, is her authenticity. The Internet audience has a way of ferreting out phonies and tossing them aside like burned toast.
"This is something she is doing from her heart," Renee says. "She has always embraced people, and people can see it's an authentic thing with her."
As an example, Isabel's son, Reis, 12, a budding foodie with thoughts of his own site, says it's not really a big deal that mom is working on Sunday because they have a home-cooked dinner as a family nearly every night. The Laessigs truly live family dinner night.
It's the desire to stay true to her beliefs, though, that gives Isabel pause about sponsorship. Sure, she wants to make money, but bristles at cooking with ingredients that she doesn't normally use or really even like. She knows that her devotees will move on to another blogger if they feel she's become a vehicle for product placement.
For now, though, she's more concerned with NicoleHCook, BigBearsWife and VintageKitchen1 in Buenos Aires. They are hungry to know how her One-Pot Arroz Con Pollo, Portuguese-Style, turned out.
Janet K. Keeler can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8586.