One has to start somewhere…

One has to start somewhere, and sometimes finding the beginning is an adventure in itself. I had the idea for a blog about food and garden writing a few years ago, but never did anything about it. I bought the domain name “”, but stalled, not really knowing where to start.

Best, then, to start at a beginning . . .

Long ago, I found myself in the kitchen of my first apartment with no idea how to cook anything but bacon and scrambled eggs. I bought a couple issues of Gourmet magazine to teach myself cookery. Things did not go well.

Several boyfriends later, I landed with a guy who was a food and kitchen tool snob (and camera snob and motorcycle snob, and – well you get the picture). He cooked things like we had over in Berkeley at Chez Panisse, and Pig By The Tail, and Cocolat, saying that one had to have “standards”. Standards, indeed.

By the Bicentennial year, I was house cook for a commune in California Gold Rush country. During the summer fire season, firefighters camped in the yard, waiting for their next call. I cooked for them, too.

Then my grandmother fell gravely ill. My aunts were convinced that if she’d just eat, she’d be restored to the vibrant woman we loved so well. With Gourmet’s Basic French Cookbook by Louis Diat in hand, Grandma and I spent several months surprising each other with the similarities and differences between Kansas farm and French peasant cooking. The undisputed best thing was “Cherry Pudding French Style”.

After her death, I kicked around the country for a few years, working as a galley hand on shrimp boats, a cook on a couple historic sites, and making bridal veils. Eventually, I landed in New York City, seeking an MA in Museum Studies and Women’s History at NYU.

A shipwrecked relationship cast me out of New York and tossed me ashore in Boulder, Colorado. I knew one person, and we had the best time cooking and gardening and singing John Denver songs until her boyfriend got jealous and demanded that she choose – and she chose him (by now, they’ve been divorced longer than they were together/married).

One Saturday afternoon in the mid-80s, I was looking for something to do, and my eyes lit on the student newspaper. Right there on the front page, above the fold, was a picture of two guys in armor, with swords, wailin’ away at each other. There would be a feast after the “tournament” was over.

Fast forward 25 years of discovering historic cookery, historic costume, building a research library of almost two thousand volumes, working at Alfalfa’s (an organic grocery store), the Colorado Shakespeare Festival, as a layout artist for a catalog company and a couple newspapers, and selling costume and cookery books at Renaissance Faires. It was fun while it lasted.

I now live in the historic town of old Greenbelt, Maryland. All the sewing/costume stuff is gone, but I still have my beloved Pfaff sewing machine. The cookery/gardening books are reduced to a couple hundred volumes, there are two Weber grills out back. I can hardly turn around in my tiny kitchen, but there are antique kitchen tools on the wall and the top shelf is crowded with vintage copper pans. I tend a shady woodlands garden and my ambitions for a formal herb garden far outstrip my abilities, but I keep trying. I volunteer at our farmers market, and one weekend a month a bunch of Greenbelters get together to pull invasive weeds out of the local woods. There is one cat in the yard, and indeed, life used to be so hard, but it is much easier now.

As it turns out, one side effect of poring over all those cookery and gardening books was that I read commentary by some amazing writers. As things progressed, I discovered I liked reading about cooking and gardening as much as I liked cooking and gardening. Then blogging erupted on the scene, and I stumbled into an entire new world of writing about food and gardens.

David Lebovitz was the first food blogger I found on the web, and by the year 2000 I was a dedicated reader. I spent a lot of time looking for other food writers who were publishing on the web, slogging through site after site full of plagiarized recipes and bouncing loaves of bread. I was not particularly sad when a hard drive fry-up crisped them all. When I opened the web browser on my shiny new computer, the only blog I looked for was David’s.

In 2011, I discovered Dianne Jacob’s blog, Will Write For Food and immediately bought her book. I saw that she was doing a writing workshop at a London conference called Food Blogger Connect, and I signed up on the spot.

In Dianne’s workshop, one hugely talented woman wrote about being a little kid and getting SO carsick that you’d think she’d hate food forever, but here she was! Another woman wrote delightfully about moving from New Zealand to London “for a couple years’ adventure”, and finding London tea rooms, the redoubtable Mr. Kiwi, and blogging. I wrote a paragraph about a detective trying to figure out something (anything!) about a missing child, then seeing the child’s initials finger painted on the wall – in coffee grounds.

I’d forgotten how much fun it is to write, and that I am a better editor than I am a writer. I am now recreating myself as a copyeditor and a proofreader for food and garden writers, specifically bloggers.

My business site is Do have a look, see what I have to offer and take me up on it, if you are so inclined.


Mary-Denise Smith

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