Diversivore turned three years old on January 1st! I thought it would be fun to celebrate by looking back at the recipes I first got started with. These are the 15 recipes I had up on the site when I launched, and I used them to build Diversivore. Many of them have undergone some pretty substantial changes and updates over the last three years – as you can see for yourself!
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Three years! I can hardly believe it. Not because I thought I’d quit or anything (I’m way too stubborn for that) – I’m surprised because I can’t believe how time has gone by. As a father to two (soon to be three) children, watching this site grow has been a lot like watching one of your kids grow up. A really quiet kid that doesn’t get you up at 2 in the morning. What I mean is that it seems like it’s all gone by in the blink of an eye, and yet it somehow feels like it’s been in your life forever. It’s a good feeling.
Of course, like a child, this blog didn’t just come into being. I feel like I might be getting into some questionable territory if I continue on with this analogy, so I’ll be a little more literal now. When I first launched Diversivore on New Year’s Day in 2015, I had spent the better part of a year making it happen. At times I felt like I’d never be ready, but the alternative (i.e. launching before I knew what I was doing) was terrifying. I’d never built a site and I had no coding experience. I’d enjoyed photography for years, but I was completely new to food photography and digital post processing. I had zero social media experience. And while I had plenty of writing experience, it had been limited to passive-voiced, jargon-heavy journal-based science writing for a while, and I needed to get comfortable working in a more casual style again. All of that meant that I needed something to practice with while I started figuring out this whole food-blogging thing. Enter the original 15.
The Original 15
Diversivore’s year long behind-the-scenes development period could only work if I had pages to work with. I could have code filler pages, but writing, photography, and the million complexities of writing a site really work best if you have some tangible examples. Progress is a lot more rewarding when it’s tangible. Setbacks are perhaps more frustrating too, but hey, it’s not all smiles and sunshine (it’s amazing how your day can be ruined by a missing one of these buggers → >). So I decided that when Diversivore went live, it would have 15 recipes on it. I can’t honestly remember if I picked that number for any reason, or if it just sort of… happened. In any case, these were my building blocks, acting as testing grounds and eventual templates for future work.
I was glad to have these recipes when I launched – but as is the case for so many of us, my earliest work didn’t stand up to scrutiny as I became more experienced. Fortunately, the internet is a delightfully plastic work environment, so I was able to go back and reshoot, rewrite, edit, and add where I felt it helped. Out of all of my posts, the original 15 recipes have probably seen the most revision and reworking – especially photographically. Because of that, I thought it would be fun to take a look back at the recipes themselves, with a peek behind the curtain to see how they’ve changed over the years. I hope you enjoy them.
The OG Diversivore recipe. This was the very first post I ever created to work on – and interestingly enough, it’s the one that I most recently rewrote. The original text was very sparse, so I redid it with more information about the ingredients, as well as a look into the recipe’s fantastic name (it means ‘Pockmarked Old Woman’s tofu).
Thankfully the photos have held up fairly well – they were taken on a stump that sat out in front of my old house. I loved the look of that stump, and the natural light worked fairly well (had to fight those shadows in Lightroom though). Sadly there’s really only a few variations on a single photo though – I learned fairly early on that I needed to diversify my shoots so that I’d have multiple angles and aspect ratios to work with.
Japanese Simmered Cauliflower Leaves
I feel bad for this little recipe of mine. It’s deserved reworking for too long, and I only recently got to it. I’ve also neglected to promote it much on the ol’ interwebs, so it is (as of posting) the only recipe on Diversivore without a comment. Poor cauliflower leaves.
Despite that, I’ve noticed it doing fairly well with search engine traffic lately – probably from people who want to know if you can in fact eat cauliflower leaves. You can, and they’re delightful. So while I’d like to reshoot this recipe one of these days, I stand by it as a great no-waste recipe that can also be adapted to a wide variety of brassicaceous veggies. Also, I love saying ‘brassicaceous.’
Green Tomato Fettuccine
with Bacon and Prawns
When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. When life gives you green tomatoes, make dinner.
I tweaked the photos on this recipe a bit over the years to better deal with the lighting and shadows, but like my mapo tofu, I feel like it’s held up fairly well. I shot it a cement sidewalk because… well, I thought it looked cool. And you know what? I still think it looks cool. Go with your gut, right? As for the recipe itself, I still love it. If you’ve never cooked with green tomatoes before, I encourage you to start. In fact, I encourage you to start here!
Healthier Broccoli Cheddar Soup
This recipe taught me a lot. First of all, it taught me the value of reshoots. The original shoot was… well, awful. I didn’t own professional lights when I first made it, which meant that I had to use yellow indoor lights. The colour balance was awful and impossible to clean up. Moreover, I didn’t really style the original shoot very well. Food styling is a complicated creative endeavour, and it’s one that I feel like I’m always working to improve. So I remade and reshot the whole thing and I was much happier with the results.
But this recipe wasn’t done teaching me – not by a long shot. Even after the edits it wasn’t getting the kind of traffic I thought it deserved, and I realized that it had a lot to do with how I represented it. I didn’t originally lean into the ‘healthier’ aspect, fearing that people would think the recipe wasn’t rich or cheesy enough (which it totally is). But I learned that I wasn’t doing myself any favours. You see, there are PLENTY of broccoli cheddar soup recipes out there, but mine is special because it’s flavour-forward AND healthier from the ground up. This recipe is cool because veggies do so much of the hard work when it comes to building up the flavour. Pureed corn, for example, provides sweetness and creaminess that allows you to easily omit cream in favour of milk. At under 400 calories per serving, this is way healthier than similar recipes – and it deserved to be promoted as such.
Find out what makes something special and really lean into it.
San Diego Mussel & Clam Linguine
I’ve reflected on this lovely, somewhat oddball pasta dish (it uses squash blossoms, coconut cream, basil and more) quite a bit over the years. The most important lesson I learned from it is that if you do decide to make and shoot a recipe while you’re on vacation, make sure you take a lot of pictures – because you’re not going to get to shoot it again any time soon. Actually I’ve found that shooting in a vacation environment can be a lot of fun, as it gives you an opportunity to use new, fresh props and backgrounds.
This recipe was the result of a trip to a wonderful farmer’s market and a desire to cook for my wife’s family – and even though I’d love to have a few more photos of it, I doubt I’ll reshoot it. The sentiment of the original shoot matters to me, and the place it occupies in my memories. I did, however, recently add some more information about the ingredients, including a few tips I learned when putting together a different recipe. That’s a fun thing about blogging – posts act can grow, live, and change along with you. As an educator, I really like this – information changes and improves, and it’s vital that we adapt to share these changes as we go along.
With Chicken, Broccolini, & Shimeji Mushrooms
Hey look at that, a square bowl shot that worked out. Phew.
Never underestimate the power of a simple weeknight dinner. That’s probably been the biggest take-home over the years from this one. From a photography standpoint, I got fairly lucky here, and managed to get good results out of the original. Diversivore originally featured 2×1 banners at the tops of every page, but this recipe and others made me realize how much I hate shooting for that aspect ratio. So I switched to 5×3 and was much happier with the results. Of course now if you visit on a mobile device, you’ll generally see a square photo at the top of every recipe – another bit of optimization that’s come with experience and trial/error.
Seville Orange French Toast
With Maple Whipped Cream
Making a plate of food look really nice is not nearly as easy as one might think. Case in point. I really didn’t like the original photos of this recipe, and it bugged me to have them up because I adore Seville oranges and I love to promote recipes that use them.
Not to keep harping on lighting… but LIGHTING. With short winter days, lots of overcast skies, and little kids running around during daytime hours, it can be exceptionally difficult to shoot with natural light. The original photos attempted to use natural light, but a) that light happened to be verrrry blue, and b) I foolishly left interior lights on, meaning that the photos had a mix of blue and yellow casts all over the place. Editing. Nightmare.
As a random little aside, I quite like the fact that this post includes the words challah, pulla, and zopf. It sounds like the names of three fairies who secretly make bread at night in a folk tale.
Lamb with Mint Chimichurri
Adventures in Photoshop!
Let me make one thing very clear – I always endeavour to get my food looking its best through styling and shooting so that the editing is mostly playing with the lighting, white balance, focus, etc. But sometimes the props need a bit of help.
This recipe was something of an unplanned addition to the Diversivore family (getting dangerously close to the child analogy again), and I shot it in my in-laws backyard on their dinner plates. The brightly coloured background worked for me, but I’ve never been happy with the plates. The plating isn’t fantastic either, but I can’t change that now. I can, however, change the plates.
During a recent overhaul of this post, I added some notes and new information but decided things just weren’t quite right. On a whim, I decided to see if I’d acquired enough Photoshop mojo to erase the floral pattern that decorated the plates. The difference felt like night and day.
Mango & Tomato Salad (or Salsa)
With Mint Chimichurri
Well if the last recipe was an unplanned addition, then this was the serendipitous extension. I had plenty of mint chimichurri leftover, and it just so happens that it goes stunningly well with mango and tomato. I presented this as a salad initially, but input and comments from a few readers made me realize that it was just begging to be a salsa too. Input is a lovely thing.
Lemon & Ginger Sole
With Forbidden Rice
If I had to pick a recipe on the site to reshoot right now, it’d be this one. These photos, man…. I mean, I love the recipe itself, but I’ve messed around with these photos over and over again in order to improve them. The lighting was a catastrophe, but honestly I learned an awful lot about using Adobe Lightroom just by fixing (and refixing) that aspect. So… silver linings I suppose. Now if only that serving of forbidden rice wasn’t so disproportionately large. Ah well, I like rice. Who doesn’t?
This recipe was also one of my first chances to explore seafood sustainability and biodiversity. That’s definitely something you’ll continue to see in the years to come on Diversivore!
Seville Orange & Lemon Pie
My sweet orange baby. This dessert was the first one on Diversivore, and it remains one of my proudest (albeit richest) creations. Picture a key lime pie, but instead of lime, it’s the most intensely orange-y tasting orange you’ve ever had. Plus a chocolate Graham wafer crust, because chocolate and orange forever.
Lest I seem smug and self-satisfied with all these reworkings, let me also say that I’m trying to keep moving and improving. I don’t love the way the meringue shot here – I waited too long to shoot it and it got spongy. Perhaps I’ll just have to make this again. You know… for research.
My original shoot of this made do for a while but it was never my favourite. I remade the recipe (which is always a nice way to check and make sure the instructions are the best they can be), and put together a bright, sunny shoot. That’s my favourite dessert fork too. Only the best for this pie.
With Crab, Andouille Sausage, & Jerusalem Artichokes
Adventures in Photoshop Part Deux!
I’m going to start off with what I like here. I love this recipe! This was my first real ‘project’ recipe. I set out with a goal in mind – a completely scratch-made gumbo using seasonal winter ingredients – and I was thrilled with the result. There was some serious experimenting (e.g. how to replace the Cajun holy trinity of onions, peppers, and celery – the latter two being decidedly out of season), but we in the Diversivore household couldn’t get enough of this. I love challenging myself, and it’s definitely something I’m going to push myself to do more and more around here.
Now, the photos. I’m going to start sounding like a perfectionist here, but oh well. These photos drove me nuts until I did something new just the other day. I completely changed the colour of the towel.
A bit of background. I made three mistakes while shooting this that I’ve since learned to pay a great deal of attention to. First mistake: too dark. That’s never good. Second mistake: I moved the bowl full of gumbo. That makes a smeared soupy line all around the food that looks awful. Now when I shoot food I fill the bowl part way, get it into the position I like, and top it up by pouring in more soup. Last mistake: I didn’t pay attention to the colour palette when accessorizing. The original photo set (which you can see in part below) had a blue and red towel and I HATED it after the fact. I wasn’t sure what to do, and I haven’t had a chance to reshoot this, but just the other day (while preparing for this post) I had an idea. I fired up Photoshop, filtered out the food, and completely changed the hues. Combined with some colour burning, sharpness adjustments, and desaturation and it was like a whole new towel. Now given the choice, I’d MUCH rather go back and pick a new towel to save myself the work – but I’m actually pretty pleased with how it turned out.
These are still the kinds of pictures that drive me crazy when I look at them really close up (which is something I have to do quite often), but I try to assure myself that they’re acceptable in their current state. Call Billie Holiday – we’ve got some Long Gone Blues.
Chinese Garlic & Vinegar Cucumber Salad
I adore this recipe. It’s easy to make, uses simple ingredients, and it’s a great example of how authentic Chinese cooking can be really approachable. It’s one of those dishes that everyone just keeps eating – which is good, because it’s also crazy good for you.
The simplicity of this dish made it a cinch to reshoot, and though the new shots are similar in many ways, I’m so glad that I made the change. It’s amazing what the punches of red colour do for this photoshoot.
Kimchi Fried Rice
Another lesson in the importance of accessorizing. This probably makes me sound a lot more stylish than I actually am.
Any recipe that’s fairly homogeneous is going to be difficult to shoot. Rice, soup, beans, and other similar dishes lack a strong focal point, so you need to do something to make them pop. Enter the egg. A fried egg isn’t just a delicious way to round out a tasty bowl of kimchi fried rice – it’s also the the saviour in this photo set.
Next thing I want to do to update this post: link it to my recipe for making kimchi. Now, to find the time to finish that….
Granny Smith Grilled Cheese
Boy, I could have chosen some easier things to shoot for my first 15. Soup… rice… and now sandwiches. Sandwiches are annoyingly hard to photograph for two reasons. One: they’re flat, and flat food is a pain in the butt, and Two: all the good stuff is inside. I mean, if you don’t shoot it right, you’re basically just shooting… bread.
This recipe is simple and wonderful, and it focuses a lot on my appreciation for good ingredients (and cheese).
Next step in the post’s evolution: to finish up and link to the recipe for that homemade plumcot ketchup you see in the photos. It’s ridiculously tasty. 2019 maybe? We’ll see.
A Bit of Belated Bragging
Thank you all for joining me over the last three years – or however long you’ve been with me! I’ve got big plans and a lot of stuff in the pipeline for this year. But I wanted to take one more little moment to talk about a big moment from the last three years – even if I am doing it a little late. Ok, a year late. I was going to do a birthday post last year, but life kind of got a bit crazy and… well… better late than never, right?
Last year, Diversivore won the 2017 Taste Canada Award for best general food blog. The Taste Canada Awards are a Canadian food writing award, and I was thrilled and incredible honoured to win the award. At the end of the day, there wouldn’t be anything for me to write about if I didn’t have this audience and this platform – so thank you all for listening to me, and for sticking around while I dive into my little tangents on the linguistics of pepper, the intersection of cocktail culture and gun making in Japan, the biodiversity of flatfish, the illegal trafficking of counterfeit olive oil, old chickens, and fragrant manjack. I’ve never met a tangent I didn’t like.
Here’s to keeping food delicious, fascinating, and a little bit weird.
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