comments 48

Rhubarb & Fennel Fizz (+ blog rant)

Fennel infused gin and rhubarb syrup

In these days of conservative politics, human rights abuses and global unrest, writing a food blog seems vapid and frivolous, and I agree that it mostly is. Not only is blogging supposedly dead – in the “old-school” sense of daily blogs written by a single person and designed to engage readers in conversation – but who actually reads them now? We’re all over on Instagram curating our lives; who has time to read an article longer than 250 words? Even if we do, are we genuinely engaged by the continuous churn of reposted, sponsored, SEO-optimised content titled: “Beyond the chip: 20 new ways with kale” or “Avoid these 8 common mistakes when buttering toast”? For a long time now, blogging has been about building your brand, driving traffic to your site and trying to land sponsorship deals and I have to say that I’m weary of the rampant consumerism. Blogging was once the domain of citizen journalism; now it’s all affiliate links and clickbait, radical democracy perverted as “the establishment itself”.

Rhubarb & Fennel Fizz - a fresh and fruity spring cocktail

Here’s a story to make you cringe – three years ago we travelled to Mudgee in NSW for a week of relaxation and wine tasting. I wasn’t familiar with wines from Mudgee, so I sought recommendations from The Wine Wankers (a group of Australian wine experts with an extensive online following) about the best wineries to visit. A member of the team kindly supplied me with a list and asked me to pass on his regards to one of the recommended winemakers if I saw him. As it happened, I did see him (it was a small, boutique winery), and the encounter sparked a discussion about blogging that quickly turned sour. The winemaker had recently been contacted by a blogger who requested that he host she and a friend for dinner at his restaurant in return for a feature on her website. Now there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with mutual back-scratching in principle, but what made the winemaker uncomfortable was the thinly-veiled threat that if he asked her to pay for the meal, well, she couldn’t guarantee a positive review. Unfortunately this is not an isolated experience for those in the hospitality industry and the winemaker had every right to feel outraged at the attempted manipulation. I felt guilty by association and weakly argued that mine wasn’t “that” type of blog.

Market haul - fresh spring fennel and rhubarb

I’m doing that thing that people do, right, painting the past as a lost utopia? The reality is that blogging was exploited for its commercial potential virtually from the beginning and has been highly lucrative for those who got in early. It’s much harder to make a living as a professional blogger now (does this explain the rise of dodgy tactics?) but that doesn’t stop many trying. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against the use of blogs as a marketing tool. It’s a competitive world out there and for people whose livelihood depends on making a sale, blogging is an important communication medium, among many. The crux of the matter is that I crave originality. Don’t give me pop-up ads and expect me to hang around your site. I want to enrich my life with blogs that are beautifully written, that make me think deeply, provoke me, challenge me, inspire me to action, even if it’s just to cook. Fortunately there are many bloggers out there who still write like this: consider Tim’s thoughts on racism, Steve’s informative posts on food politics and Molly’s heroic coming out narrative. Food bloggers, all of them, and all with something really gutsy and interesting to say, not to sell. If I follow your blog, you can be assured that it’s because I think you do too (thank you).

Baby fennel - about to become fennel-infused gin

I’ve been writing this blog for six years and have been contacted by my fair share of PR reps offering free products or cash in exchange for reviews, or app developers chasing content. All very modest in scale I assure you and nothing that I couldn’t easily refuse, but as the offers slowly mounted up I was forced to think hard about my position. Essentially it is this: we already live in an over-advertised world and I don’t want to write to influence you to buy just to make a buck myself. Monetisation is a slippery slope and I won’t even take the smallest step. You’ll never find sponsored content on this blog. I’ll never ask for or accept any product or service in exchange for a review. If I do happen to mention a specific brand (which is extremely rare) it’s because the recipe calls for it or it’s truly exceptional in some way. This stance makes me a dinosaur, I’m well aware, but I only want to write how I want to write (and read). I have a job that pays the bills and this blog will never be that.

Making fennel-infused gin, to be paired with rhubarb syrup in Rhubarb & Fennel Fizz cocktail

So what has this got to do with cocktails or rhubarb or fennel? Not one thing. I’m sorry to be all serious and grumpy but this is something I had to say. Make this (delicious) drink and forgive me? Please?

Rhubarb & Fennel Fizz - a delicious fresh and fruity cocktail to welcome spring

Rhubarb & Fennel Fizz

  • Servings: 4-6 drinks
  • Print
Very slightly adapted from A Year in Food

For the fennel-infused gin and rhubarb syrup:
1 small fennel bulb
350ml gin
500g rhubarb
350ml water
1/4 cup sugar

For each drink:
90ml rhubarb syrup
60ml fennel-infused gin
60ml sparkling water
Squeeze of lemon, to taste
1 lemon slice

First, prepare the gin. Wash and roughly chop the fennel, reserving a few pieces of fennel frond for garnishing the drinks later. Add the chopped fennel to a tall, narrow-mouthed glass jar and top with about half of the gin. Using a muddler, heavy wooden spoon (or the end of a rolling pin, as I did) vigorously muddle the fennel for two or three minutes. Add the remaining gin, stir and let the infusion sit at room temperature for 1-2 hours (2 hours produces a stronger flavour, but 1 is fine if you’re in a rush).

While the gin is infusing, prepare the rhubarb. Wash and chop the rhubarb and combine with the sugar and water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent burning, until soft but not completely collapsed. Remove from the heat and strain immediately through a fine sieve. Use a spoon to press the juice from the pulp. The pulp can be reserved for another use, such as muffins.

Strain the gin and discard the fennel. Refrigerate the gin and syrup until chilled.

For each cocktail, mix 90ml rhubarb syrup, 60ml gin, a squeeze of lemon and a small handful of ice cubes in a cocktail shaker. Shake vigorously. Strain into a chilled glass or small mason jar. Add 60ml sparkling water, a few ice cubes, a slice of lemon and a piece of fennel frond.

48 Comments

  1. What a great read. I agree with you all the way!!! I want to be creative, not commercial, and I have a real job that pays the bills. I don’t follow commercial blogs. It’s funny, whenever I tell a real-world acquaintance or friend that I have a blog, they instantly seem to think I’m trying to build an empire in a quite self-obssessed way, posting daily duck-faces images of myself. It’s almost embarrassing. Such is the reputation of bloggers. And that is why I still haven’t posted one proper picture of myself…

    • I know what you mean – I rarely talk about the blog in real life. In fact, I still haven’t found a way to talk freely without cringing inwardly and wondering what people might be thinking so it’s easier to avoid it. If I’m being totally honest, the small tension is that I do want people to read my posts. I do want some level of engagement but I suppose that I want it to happen organically and genuinely with no money involved and definitely no duck faces! Ahhhhh, first world problems…thank you for your thought provoking comment 🙂

      • 1st world problems indeed! We are lucky to be worrying about these things! But I do think it’s quite normal to want an audience: it’s why artists do exhibitions, writers try to get published and musicians play for people. It’s no fun to create if no one experiences what you’ve created, sharing is an important part 💕

  2. typically late to the table…but yes. an entirely justified discussion on the merits of making something worth reading as opposed to something not worth reading, chez.

    i’ve started blogging again because i love writing longer pieces and, more importantly, love reading longer pieces. they just feel…right for the times.

    and that post of molly’s…that was what really made me come back. man, can that woman write…

    lovely recipe, btw. fennel!!!

    • She sure can write…it’s an ‘edge of your seat’ read, but threaded through with so much vulnerability, sadness, love and hope – it stayed with me for days after reading it. I was so happy to see your latest blog post arrive in my inbox Lucy…but I’ll head over to you to share my reaction. And yes, fennel! It had to be tried.

  3. This was as refreshing read as your Fizz. Nice to know I’m not alone. I’m fairly new to blogging, 2 years in now, and like to read good content, minus lots of ads (personal preference).
    I’ve been approached by restaurants offering freebies for a shout out but have refused. This has caused me to be wary of posting eating out. If I do post something it’s at my own will.
    Thanks for sharing.
    Now, who’d have thought you could create a drink with Fennel and rhubarb?

    • Thanks Eartha, I hesitated publishing this post and actually had another version that was just about the cocktail but in the end I decided to take a risk and put it out there – so glad that I did! It makes a huge difference to know that some of my favourite bloggers feel the same way xx

  4. this is something that i go back & forth with. for a long time i refused sponsorships, monetizing, blah blah blah on the blog and then i opened the gates to a select few, and it’s not much impacted *my* life (i still created and was paid for it, hooray!), but i did notice a decrease in interaction on those specific posts – something that i always suspected, and now know for sure. all this to say, i very much appreciate your rant, and it’s in stark contrast to a conversation i had recently with someone who could not understand why i wasn’t a full time blogger and pretty much berated me for only posting 1-2x/month. i do what i do when i want, how i want, and jumping the shark has been educational and interesting.

    • That is so interesting Lan, thank you for sharing your experience. I guess you don’t really know what it will be like until you try it. Whether you do or don’t has so much to do with your own goals and expectations. Plenty of people set out blogging with a business/promotion/profit mindset but I don’t think that anyone who has responded here sees it that way. A bit like you, I also had someone say to me once “why do you even bother having a blog if you’re not posting every day?” I mean, really?? Different strokes, folks.

  5. I always love a good rant, and I felt myself nodding along vigorously to this one over and over again. I won’t lie and say I haven’t flirted with monetization, namely around including Amazon links to the books I cite, but that ended up being way more trouble than it was worth and I quickly abandoned it. Instead, I realized it was far more important to keep my blog as a creative space for me where I could share the random stuff I like, with the hope that I could find people who could inspire me and intrigue me in return.

    I too have been grappling with food blogging as a frivolous thing in this day and age, but I think that as long as there are people like you and the other bloggers you mentioned who are caring more about their content rather than commoditizing their lives, there is something meaningful in doing it. There seems to be this big backlash against intellectual curiosity more now than ever, and to sit down and write about a topic because it’s something that interests you and it’s something you enjoyed feels like a very small part in resisting that backlash.

    Thank you for writing this–you’ve given me some great food for thought this morning!

    • I guess that you have to try some things on to see how they fit! I actually came very close to accepting one offer (for money) as it was so tempting and (I’ll admit) very flattering to be asked. In the end I decided against it and as time goes on I’m more and more certain that it was the right decision for me.

      I like how you’ve linked in the backlash against intellectual curiosity – that’s so right. We need free-thinking, independent voices now more than ever before. Thanks for chiming in!

  6. I get that people do this professionally but in order to maintain credibility, they need to be transparent when linking to other sites for promotional reasons. I unfollow those who don’t do this. And, honestly, if I want a travelogue or a cookbook, I’ll buy one. Dinosaur or not, to me blogging is about sharing your original voice and connecting to others. Thanks for a thoughtful post!

    • I absolutely agree about the need for transparency and many bloggers do deal with this really well and honestly – to their credit. I do question sometimes if people’s ‘original voice’ is compromised, shaped or censored in some way when they are writing for a client. I’m sure that this does happen and I can’t think of anything worse. It would go against all of my reasons for doing this.

  7. I am so with you on this little rant! I’ve been blogging for 4 years now and see it as a way to express myself and to communicate with others. As Sandra (ladyredspecs) says, content is paramount as is a lively discourse. I also click off when I see any hint of product promotion. Unfortunately, to use the free platform of WP, you do have to put up with advertising at the bottom of your posts. But enough of my own rant, the fizz looks marvellous and refreshing. Wish I could get rhubarb here in Greece!

  8. Wow, Chez…What a lovely rant and I was just hoping that gin would pop its head up somewhere in the post and what amazing pictures and recipe once again… I totally agree with you which is why I am setting up a completely different blog to sell my wares and leaving my first one as it is…Because it is me, not commercial and I don’t want it to be that..Great post Chez…

    • Good for you! I’ve never felt this way about your blog though, I have to say, but if separating them allows you to meet both goals more fully then that’s a great thing. An gin, well gin is my spirit of choice so it’s no surprise that it features heavily in my (short) list of cocktail on the blog! It won’t be the last time, I promise you 🙂

  9. Jennifer Leggatt

    Hi Chez

    I thoroughly enjoyed your rhetoric and couldn’t help but agree with your rant.

    If you are a dinosaur, what does that make me with my lack of need to have a cell phone??

    Well written as always, insightful ……..and just a plain good read!

    Love Mum XXXX

    • Thanks Mum 😊 I admit that the first few times I was contacted I was “whee! Free stuff!” But then I thought about it and decided that it would change everything. P.S. about that cellphone…!!

  10. An interesting read Chez. ‘ Moneytising’ isn’t something that’s ever interested me, or frankly, I haven’t been asked! I doubt it is something I could do and still be true to myself and am basically just delighted that anyone reads my posts at all… it’s a great creative outlet and I have met so many fantastic people through blogging. (Although advertisements do pop up as part of my WordPress package I suppose.) I think there are some who can keep it real whilst making a living from their blog but transparency is key and they have to be offering something pretty special. Ie amazing photography or food styling or writing. (But it can sour the read a bit.) These drinks however, look delicious and would certainly cure what ails you. Your photos are lovely as per usual.

    • Hi Lisa, I agree that there are many people who are able to do it in a very unobtrusive way and with commitment to transparency (some even have clear policies/guidelines posted on their blogs). I certainly follow many who do, but it’s because of their great recipes and compelling writing – essentially I’m able to ignore the rest! This rant is mostly about where my line is, and like you, I want to keep this a creative outlet for myself first and foremost. Great to know that others feel the same!

  11. Oh I hear you Chez. I’ve lost interest in a number of blogs because they’ve sold their soul to the £$€ devil and in my mind lost all credibilty. As soon as an ad, promo or pop up appears, I’m done. I’ve even gone as far as paying for no ads on my own site. Content is paramount in my mind. The lively discourse that often eventuates through the comments and the relationships that develop are a bonus. You gorgeous refreshing fizz will definitely be tried

    • That’s what I live for too, the comments, feedback and sense of connection with like-minded others. I also pay to have no ads on my site to try and keep it pure. It’s also about reducing distractions – ads are so distracting!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s