Sites We Love: Beyond the Plate
Gorgeous photos? Check. Engaging writing? Check. Seriously inspiring recipes, tips, and culinary curiosity? Check, check, and check. The best food blogs all seem to have a lot in common — but what separates them out are the strong personalities behind them. In our Sites We Love series, we sit down with some of our favorite bloggers to find out how they do it — and why it’s as much fun for them as it is for us.
This week's Site We Love is Beyond the Plate, where food lover and photographer Danielle Tsi provides compelling recipes alongside gastronomic backstory on farmers, foodstuff, and food happenings in and around San Francisco. Lush, spare photography provides the backdrop for informative posts on local and sustainable food movements as well as Bay Area-inspired restaurant reviews and recipes. **Here's what Danielle has to say about her site: **
Blog has been live since:** January 2011.
Posting rate: Once a week.
Geographic location: Mountain View, CA.
Why is the site called Beyond the Plate? It's a blog that aims to go beyond just talking about recipes to tell the stories around our food. I actually started blogging in May 2009 with a general focus on recipes and a bit of travel, but it took a visit to Paul Willis' farm in Iowa last August to realize that food becomes a lot more meaningful when we connect with the people who produce it for us. By that stage in my short blogging life, I was asking a lot of questions about where my food came from (thanks to Michael Pollan and Joel Salatin) so I decided to refocus my blog to address these questions, but with a difference. There's a lot of talk about what's wrong with the food system in this country and how it's 'broken'. With Beyond the Plate I wanted to show what's going right by featuring the producers and artisans in my area who are feeding us very well, and doing it in a manner that's good for our health and the environment.
Photo: Robert Paetz
What's been your most popular post? It would have to be the post on homemade Nutella.
What's your favorite post? I have a few favorites. Recipe-wise, it's the post on Kaya, a pandan-infused coconut custard that's a breakfast staple in Singapore and Malaysia. Because I suffer from bouts of intense culinary homesickness, being able to recreate this childhood favorite in my American kitchen was one of my proudest moments. My favorite producer post would be the profile of Paicines Ranch where they're working to balance the needs of food production and environmental conservation on their huge ranch by using the cattle as a tool to restore the land. It's an inspiring story as it undermines the argument that cattle ranching is detrimental to the environment.
What's something great that you've learned or that's happened to you since starting your blog? A consequence of spending time with ranchers, bakers and farmers is that you gain a lot of content knowledge. It's a steep learning curve for sure, but it means that I can now have fairly decent conversations about oyster farming, cattle ranching and raising chickens. The best reward though, has been the relationships forged with the farmers, artisans and fellow bloggers, some of whom have become firm friends.
Photo: Danielle Tsi
What's the usual process for developing one of your posts? I try to schedule my visits at least a month ahead of when I intend to publish the post. After spending a morning (or more) at their farms or kitchens, it's time to gather my thoughts and edit the photographs that help flesh out the story. Throughout the process I'm also thinking about the recipe I'll include with the post to feature their products. Occasionally they'll provide a recipe for me to share, but I do the majority of the recipe selection/development for these interviews.
For a recipe-specific post, it's really about what I'm inspired by at the moment. I have an idea sheet pasted on the wall in my home office where I scribble recipe ideas when they come to mind. Looking back, inspiration comes from anywhere - a restaurant meal, fellow bloggers, a cookbook, food magazines, or just the plain beauty of seasonal ingredients.
What are your favorite ingredients and tools? Farm-fresh eggs, good quality canned tomatoes, onions, garlic and fresh herbs. We're very fond of our little herb garden that provides a regular supply of thyme, rosemary, sage, chives, parsley, tarragon, lemongrass and, in the summer, basil.
My favorite kitchen tools are my 8-inch chef's knife, Kyocera's ceramic paring knife (which never needs sharpening), metal prep bowls, digital weighing scale, food processor, and our two Lacor stainless steel skillets.
Photo: Danielle Tsi
What are your favorite food and cooking resources? For recipe ideas, my first stop is to browse food magazines like Gourmet Traveller and Donna Hay. The newly revamped Bon Appetit is starting to become a regular on that list as well. I have a modest collection of cookbooks (although my husband would disagree) and some gems that I could never part with are Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, Jamie Oliver's Cook With Jamie, Yotam Ottolenghi's Plenty, The Flavor Bible and Claudia Roden's The New Book of Middle Eastern Food. For sweet treats there's the Tartine cookbook and all of Emily Luchetti's books.
For kitchen equipment, I try to go to restaurant supply stores whenever I can, but when that's not an option, our local Sur La Table will have to do.
What photography equipment do you use? A Nikon D700 with three lenses: a 60mm/ f2.8 macro, a 50mm/ f1.4 and a 35mm/ f2. I also use an Induro tripod fitted with a Manfrotto ballhead, white foamcore boards for reflectors and a homemade scrim featuring vellum paper stretched over a wooden frame as a diffuser
Where else can we find your work? There's my portfolio, and I'm a regular contributor to the Etsy blog where I profile local producers and write commentary pieces on pertinent food issues. I also conduct food photography workshops with the Digital Media Playground in San Francisco. We just wrapped up our season for this year so stay tuned for more workshops in 2012.
What food blogs do you follow? Too many! But if you really want to know, here's a sampling of blogs that I make a point of reading regularly: a la mode*, A Sweet Spoonful, 5 Second Rule, Lemon Pi, Melanger, Turntable Kitchen, Chez Us, and Fresh New England.
Do you know a blog or blogger who deserves to be featured in this space? Email a nomination — including a link to the site and a few sentences on why they're worthy of love — to email@example.com.