Food bloggers' Thanksgiving

Food bloggers in and around Los Angeles toast during a get-together last week aimed at helping them share early holiday recipes and photos with their readers. (Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times)

Absolutely no one cared that the Thanksgiving turkey was growing colder by the moment, along with the garlic-and-herb potato gratin and the caramelized chestnuts and Brussels sprouts tossed in a velvety cider vinegar braise.

But there was plenty of anxiety about the fading afternoon sunlight.

The food bloggers who crowded onto a front porch last week in West Los Angeles weren't as hungry for the holiday feast laid out before them as they were for that perfect picture. They were there for the poshest of potlucks, helping each blogger produce a magazine-like spread with a bounty of new recipes for their respective readers in advance of Thanksgiving.

When the last two plates finally arrived to complete the buffet table spread — crispy Yukon Gold latkes with harvest fruit puree and a delicate crab, avocado and pomegranate salad tucked into crisp endive leaves — the bloggers pounced.

Some dived in for a luscious up-close shot of the festive goblet filled with ginger-cranberry sauce, the spiraling tower of caramelized shallot and herb focaccia bread or root vegetables sliced into semicircles, then roasted till buttery sweet. Others chose a wider view of the entire spread. Special attention was paid to the sweet potato pie spiked with Kahlúa and adorned with golden brown pastry "leaves." One by one, they took turns atop a step ladder for that all important top-down shot. (Several passing motorists slowed to take in the quizzical scene.)

Only then, after each camera angle was exhausted and afternoon gave way to dusk, was it time to actually eat.

"To family — our food family," Rachael Hutchings of La Fuji Mama said as the group paused for a Chardonnay toast after all the necessary dishes had been reheated or microwaved.

The potluck helped the food bloggers solve the age-old problem that bedevils publishers in any medium: how to come up with a creative spin on Thanksgiving. Each of the eight bloggers in attendance would walk away from the gathering with new recipes and viewpoints to share with their readers. The result, they hoped, would help goose blog traffic for all.

But that was a thinly veiled excuse for something more. As each digital publisher prepares to head into the most stressful time of the year, running a holiday gantlet of seemingly endless demands, it was a moment to give thanks for that serendipitous instant when they realized they'd found a new home and a new family in the online world of food blogging.

"I have found my tribe," said Dorothy Reinhold of Shockingly Delicious, who started blogging about two years ago and was responsible for the gratin. "When you're an adult, in general, the way you make friends is through work or your kids' school. Or maybe a new neighbor moves in. But blogging opens a whole new universe of potential friends and friendly relationships. That's a welcome addition to our lives."

More often than not these new friends have little else in common but a love of food that borders on the obsessive.

During dinner, Greg Henry of Sippity Sup confessed he'd spent the previous night shelling and roasting several pounds of chestnuts in pursuit of just 1 pound of camera-ready nuggets for his side dish. Sounds insane? Not at this gathering. It was met with nodding approval followed by an extensive discussion about where to buy the best chestnuts in L.A. and whether canned or bottled could ever serve as a stand-in. (Of course not.)

Arguably the dean of the food bloggers gathered was Denise Vivaldo of Food Fanatics Unwashed, a veteran food stylist with several books to her name. She flitted about offering advice to some of the newer bloggers in attendance about showcasing the food for the best camera angle. ("Don't overcrowd the plate! It will make the viewer want it more.") A turkey slapped on a platter looks just so-so. But add some magical accents, like rounds of lime and sugared grapes that catch the light like snowflakes, and you've got yourself a photo, she explained.

Mental notes were made. No one took offense. As members of Southern California's close-knit food blogging community, they look to each other to share tips and help hone skills even as many are technically in competition with each other for ad revenue and readers.

"Food bloggers want to learn new things," said Patti Londre of Worth the Whisk, who hosted the Thanksgiving potluck at her home and was responsible for the boozy sweet potato pie. Londre, co-founder of Food Bloggers L.A., a nearly 2-year-old networking group, said there is an expectation in the food blogging community that the more experienced bloggers will be "gracious and generous" to the newbies.

That was Tori Avey's experience shortly after launching Shiksa in the Kitchen. Through a fluke series of circumstances, Avey (she brought the latkes to the potluck) ended up volunteering to host the first meeting of Food Bloggers L.A. that she ever attended — even though she'd never met a single member. "I just figured, 'Hey, jump right on in,' and folks couldn't be more welcoming."

"Blogging is a lonely craft," Londre said. "It takes an effort to get away from the computer and get away from the kitchen. But every time we do that, we can share questions and tips about how to do things better."

For trained chefs Louise Mellor of Geez Louise (the homemade focaccia bread) and Cheryl D. Lee of Black Girl Chef's Whites (roasted root vegetables), that has meant learning how to expand their brand beyond well-crafted recipes and into monetizing their blogs, food styling and photography, and the art and science of nabbing Web traffic.

"These are people who help build each other up," Mellor said.

There are times, though, when the collective wisdom of this group of savvy social media experts and bloggers is beside the point.

"We might not see each other all the time, but we're tweeting and commenting and linking to each other — we're breaking bread together, virtually," Lee said. "I don't need to be related to you to consider you family. And I definitely consider this my second family."

rene.lynch@latimes