if this were a proper food blog

cloverleaf rolls | the merry gourmet

I have had a lot on my mind lately, and I thought it might be nice to share some of it with you all. You are all very good listeners, and I know you won’t mind if I ramble on a bit.

I’ve been thinking about this blog and how it fits in to the general universe of blogs. The fact that it is January may have something to do with these thoughts in my head. This first month of the year always finds me reflecting on the past, making goals for the future, and pondering what may come. The blog also has a pretty big anniversary next month – five years – and that feels significant.

I started this site as a food blog, a place to share recipes and the stories that held their hand. Through the act of making recipes for blog posts and then writing up and testing those recipes, I became a better cook and I gained confidence in the kitchen. In the beginning, that was enough for me.

Over time, though, the stories started coming first, just as they did in actual life. The recipes became less important to me. The recipe in any given post became the utensil – preferably a vintage silver spoon – used to dish out the narrative.

Mostly, I have been okay with this change in focus. I assume that, since you’re still reading, you have been too. But other times, I get twinges of angst,  like I’m doing this blogging thing all wrong.

Just last week, I was reading the posts in a Facebook group I belong to, a private group for food bloggers to ask questions and share information about food blogging. As I read each post or comment, I found my anxiety rising. I realized that I wasn’t doing so many of the things that productive food bloggers do to create content, to maintain their blogs, to boost income potential, or to manage their blogs. I realized that I wasn’t a good food blogger, and that this really isn’t a good food blog.

But do I care?

This is what I have been struggling with.

I don’t believe that I care. I think that I am okay with this being less of a food blog and more of a…a…I don’t know what kind of blog. Just a blog, maybe. With some recipes.

If this were a proper food blog, for example, I would not be sharing this recipe for cloverleaf rolls with you in January. I should be posting a salad, or maybe something with kale or quinoa or chia seeds. But I make these cloverleaf rolls every Thanksgiving and Christmas, and they are my absolute favorite dinner roll. I should have shared the recipe with you in early November, or maybe early December at the latest. Instead, you’re getting the recipe now. And the real reason you’re getting the recipe today – because I’m being very truthful with you – is because I wanted to have the recipe saved here, in this printable version, for my own use.

This blog may have felt like a legitimate food blog once upon a time. Now, though, it’s something different. It doesn’t fit into a box. I am learning to be good with that.

For the record, I know that I am lucky to be able to do this blog for fun. My income doesn’t depend on any income earned from this blog (and also for the record: the money I earn from it is pitiful). If my income DID depend on this blog, it would look a whole heck of a lot different today, and I wouldn’t be writing this post.

For 2015, I am making a promise to myself that I will let this space have some flexibility. I will not let this square blog be forced into that skinny, round hole that it has no longer fits comfortably in. I may share less food photos, less recipes. I may post more about my new love – knitting. I might post more photos of birds or my cats or the places I visit. I might tell you some tougher stories that need to be told, stories that will never have a matching recipe. My promise to you – and to myself – is that, if I don’t have a recipe to share, I won’t be deterred from writing here.

I promise to give this space – and myself – some freedom.

2015 is going to be fun.

Yield: 12 rolls

Cloverleaf Rolls

These rolls are buttery and flaky, and when you eat one warm out of the oven, it almost melts in your mouth. Because of their consistent deliciousness and the reliability of the recipe (thanks Cook's Country!), these cloverleaf rolls have become a regular addition to our Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner menus. I like to make enough for each person to have 2 rolls, so I often double the recipe.

If you have leftover rolls, store them covered. You can warm them in the microwave the next day and they are almost as good as fresh out of the oven.

Ingredients:

3/4 cup (177 mL) skim milk, heated to 110 degrees
2 tablespoons (25 grams) granulated sugar
1 envelope (2-1/4 teaspoons; 7 grams) instant or rapid-rise yeast
1 large egg plus 1 egg yolk, room temperature
3-1/2 cups (438 grams) all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons kosher salt
10 tablespoons (1-1/4 sticks; 140 grams) unsalted butter, cut into 10 pieces and softened, plus 2 tablespoons (28 grams) melted unsalted butter

Directions:

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 200 degrees. Once it reaches 200 degrees, turn oven off. Grease a large bowl.

2. Whisk milk, sugar, and yeast in a liquid measuring cup until yeast dissolves, then whisk in egg and yolk. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, mix flour and salt until combined. With mixer on low, add milk mixture in a steady stream and mix until dough begins to form, about 1 minute. Increase speed to medium and add softened butter, 1 piece at a time, until incorporated. Continue to mix until dough is smooth and comes away from the sides of bowl, about 10 minutes.

3. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead briefly to form a smooth, cohesive ball. Transfer dough to prepared bowl and turn to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and place in turned-off oven until dough has doubled in size, about 45 minutes.

4. Brush a 12-cup muffin tin with 1 tablespoon of melted butter. Punch down dough on lightly floured surface. Divide dough into three pieces, and roll each piece into an 18-inch long rope. Cut each rope into 12 equal pieces and cover with plastic. On a clean surface (not floured), roll each piece into a smooth ball. Place 3 balls, seam side down, in each muffin cup. Cover loosely with plastic and let rest in turned-off oven until doubled in size, about 20 minutes.

5. Remove rolls from oven and discard plastic. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Bake until golden brown, about 15 minutes, rotating the tin halfway through baking. Brush rolls with remaining 1 tablespoon melted butter. Cool in tin for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire rack. Serve warm.

To make ahead: Refrigerate the filled muffin tins, covered with plastic wrap, for up to 24 hours. Let the dough sit out at room temperature for 30 minutes prior to baking.

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25 Responses to “if this were a proper food blog”

  1. I love coming here to read your stories. There are plenty of traditional food blogs that I’ve never made a single recipe from, but I read religiously because I love the writer and the voice he/she shares across the web.

    Your site isn’t quite like that for me–I have made several of your recipes and even recently posted an adaption of one onto my own site–but I will always come back here, no matter what you’re posting. I adore your writing and wish my own posts had more of a literary element that I find so enthralling in yours. Keep writing, please. No matter the subject. Your words need to be read.

  2. Cheryl — January 11, 2015 @ 6:08 pm

    I give my old food blog credit for turning me into a writer. And making me realize I never wanted a career as a recipe developer. And that is totally okay.

    You do what you need to do, change how you see fit. The rest, and the readers, will follow.

  3. Kate on the Domestic Front — January 11, 2015 @ 6:12 pm

    You know I’ve struggled with the same thing again and again and again – and finally, I just embraced it. I’m not running my blog as my career (and neither are you) and so the beauty of that is that I don’t have to make it fit some marketer’s idea of what a blog should look like – I can make it be WHATEVER I want. I love food, I love sharing food, and food is a big part of my life, but it’s not the only thing I love and it turns out, it wasn’t the only thing I wanted to write about. That’s OK. I ended up rebranding but I don’t think that’s even necessary – it’s your blog, your space, your thing to do with what you will.

    PS- the rolls look delicious. (your text is a bit hard to read though – I’d make the font a bit bigger and higher contrast)

  4. Isabel Laessig — January 11, 2015 @ 6:17 pm

    I have loved your blog the first time I came to it. The reason I love it… it is like no other blog. It is so honest and truly so… Merry. Don’t change a thing. You are wonderful and so is this space.

  5. Smith Bites — January 11, 2015 @ 6:35 pm

    it’s called ‘evolving, changing, growing’ and i believe that’s what we’re supposed to do; i’ve seen many, many posts these past several weeks saying the same thing: an overall understanding that there can be a different purpose for a blog today than it was 5 years ago. bravo MJ, bravo for doing what is right for you; i’ll be here reading

  6. Brian @ A Thought For Food — January 11, 2015 @ 6:39 pm

    What has kept me coming back to your site, year after year, is how honest you are and how you haven’t let the changing blogging world effect what matters most to you. Your love of food is palpable, but, even more so, your love for your family, your passion for writing, and having this beautiful space to combine all of these things… that’s what a blog is all about. It’s about having an outlet to share all of this with your family, friends, and, as I’m sure was a bit of a shocker, complete strangers.

    I’m not sure if any of this makes sense. The point is that I’m so excited to see where your site goes. I will always be back to read your posts because this blog is an extension of who you are. And you are a special, loving person.

    Ok… I’ll stop rambling now. Thank you for sharing, MJ!

  7. I am ready for your tough stories, with or without recipes. Bring them on! (And what Kate said. I adore the look of your site, but I struggle to read the typeface.)

  8. Michelle — January 11, 2015 @ 7:21 pm

    Hooray for you! It’s your blog….create it as you will, and as it suits your creative needs best. I’ve been following your blog for several years – it’s one of a very limited few I have stuck with as time has passed. Why? Because of your writing, your honesty, your ability to share your thoughts, your feelings, your life – all of it. Yes, you started out as a “food blog” – I get it – but your life is about so much more than food. This is personal, and personable. You celebrate LIFE – the ups and the downs. It’s real here. You are real here. Or at least that’s how it feels. Hooray for new backyards, birds, children, cats, family, knitting, travel, and even Cloverleaf rolls. Brava, MJ! Brava!

  9. Kathy Strahs — January 11, 2015 @ 8:01 pm

    Well, if yours isn’t a “proper food blog” then mine is…really, really not one either! Ha! There absolutely is no right or wrong, good or bad to all of this — I firmly believe that. Authenticity reigns supreme in my book — you always give your honesty and that is why I love reading your blog. Please don’t ever change! (And tune out those FB group conversations — I do, it’s the only way I can stay in this game, lol).

  10. Carolyn — January 11, 2015 @ 8:46 pm

    I’ve had the same questions over time. The way I see it, there are a quadrillion food blogs, but only one person with your wonderful voice. Let it sing. xx

  11. Lana | Never Enough Thyme — January 12, 2015 @ 7:34 am

    Thank goodness we’re not all stamped from the same mold. What a boring world it would be if every blog followed the prevailing “formula.” Our blogs are as personal as a journal and should be whatever *we* decide they should be. Keep doing what you do! We’ll all keep reading!

  12. Paula — January 12, 2015 @ 11:37 am

    Your honesty and your willingness to share so intimately with your readers is why I read your blog. That and the fact that you do write so beautifully. I always look forward to seeing a new post of yours in my email. This blog is your space on the internet and as such, you can do what ever pleases you with it. I’m grateful that you continue to write and share pieces of your life with your readers…whatever the subject. Best wishes with The Merry Gourmet throughout 2015.

  13. mimi — January 12, 2015 @ 12:06 pm

    Whatever you do, don’t get on Tastespotting!!! You’ll end up pullling your hair out!!! For what it’s worth, I love your blog. And you don’t have a boss!

  14. Flavia — January 12, 2015 @ 12:27 pm

    So very well said, MJ. Thank you for sharing. I’ve been thinking about my own food blog in the same way lately. It is undergoing a re-design and as that happens behind the scenes, I am re-thinking about how I want to blog, what I want to write about and how I want to write it. I’ve never felt like my blog ever “fit” into the typical food blog category and for the last five years I’ve blogged, it has always caused me anxiety, But this year, I have decided that I’m not going to fall into that comparison trap.

    Your blog is one of my very favorites and I am so excited to read anything you write because you are honest and genuine. Thank you for sharing parts of your life with us. I’m excited for what’s to come in your beautiful space. Happy New Year, friend!

  15. Gail — January 12, 2015 @ 12:32 pm

    What Brian and everyone else said. You’re the reason we come back.

    And, occasionally, there’s cake. 🙂

  16. jaquie — January 12, 2015 @ 1:22 pm

    keep doing what you are doing as brian and the others said. I keep reading because you don’t have the typical food blog. bring on those tough and oh so honest stories and some knitting too. And what is wrong w/ warm rolls in January a month that cries out for comfort food?

  17. Colleen — January 12, 2015 @ 3:30 pm

    If this is an improper food blog then I totally love it! Things never fit into their boxes perfectly…they usually need to hang out, overflow, and sometimes even explode. Keep writing about what you feel is necessary for you. There’s no way of knowing if that is the one thing someone else might need to read the most!

  18. Teresa Blackburn — January 12, 2015 @ 6:26 pm

    I have had many debates about my blog as well. Especially a couple of years after I started it. Did the world really need another recipe? Truthfully I started Food on Fifth as a place for my daughters to go to keep up with my recipes and why I am cooking what I cook and why I am interested in such and such at any given moment. My blog is my modern “recipe box” for my children. It has become so much more, but I hope one day in the future when I am no longer cooking up a storm they will peruse Food on Fifth and cook a few of my favorites and remember me.
    I as well do my blog for pleasure. I am a food stylist by trade for income. My blog is the place I go to to write and comment on life and connect foods to my life. For now that is a good place to be. I need a respite from the work day and my blog is my place to have fun in the evenings. You have a really wonderful blog…keep it up.
    Life can be about love or money, seldom both collide.

  19. What Brian and Gail and everyone said: the honesty, the beautiful writing (and the cake). This is why we are here. Not because it’s an “anything” type of blog. But because it’s YOU. Don’t go changing. XO

  20. Kathryn — January 14, 2015 @ 5:56 am

    I can only reiterate what everyone else has said – I like reading whatever you want to write about whether it’s food or knitting or work or family or whatever. Keep on writing about what you want to write about. We’ll keep coming back.

  21. Mallory @forkvsspoon — January 14, 2015 @ 9:41 am

    I can not say anything different from what everyone has already said – I will just simply agree with them and continue coming back to read more of your lovely stories and to enjoy a recipe from time to time.

  22. Nichole — January 14, 2015 @ 6:14 pm

    I started MY blog as a newlywed, and it has evolved into a food blog as my experience has improved and my photos have gotten better. But I wouldn’t want my site to just be food, because so many things excite me, drive me, etc…I have stepped up my foodie blogging game last year, but yes seeing how ahead everyone is sharing seasonal recipes and all that jazz, gives me some stress, as well! I say blog what you like and I know I’ll be back to visit 🙂

  23. Pingback: Fun Friday Five! | A Fettle Fine Thyme

  24. Anna — January 17, 2015 @ 6:03 pm

    This is a great post – I love your promise for 2015! I love reading recipes on food blogs but it’s really the stories that make them. I can totally relate to the change in focus. I started a blog almost 3 years ago but I work 70 ish hours a week and I just don’t have the time to devote to growing it and posting recipes that have been triple tested. It’s become more of a diary and while it’s not what I intended, sometimes you just have to let things flow. Looking forward to reading in 2015!

  25. Charles @ The Local Forkful — February 5, 2015 @ 8:54 pm

    Let me start by saying that your blog is something special. I can’t help but to be sentimental and you can thank my mom for that. This space in which you weave words from life experience-occasionally smudged in chocolate frosting or dusted with a little 10x. One could not help but too return to read more. Your honesty is a lamp of inspiration and you’ve never ceased to be my muse to write better, to write with intention and to be…me. Never change what you’ve been doing unless you feel as though its no longer a representation of you. You are truly blessed with a gift beyond measure and I’m grateful to know you in this space. 

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