This is a “guest interview” with Val Curtis of the food blog Mental Chew. There she works to bring seasonal gardening, food and fun to her island-style family (and the world).
How did you decide on the blog name, Mental Chew?
Originally, I liked the idea “Food for Thought” but, of course, it was taken.
I wanted something that would capture the idea of “think before you eat” since, as consumers, we really do drive the market.
I had been reading through various options in a thesaurus and making combinations and finally landed on it. I think subconsciously I had “Mental Floss” buried from the magazine a friend had given me a couple of years before my blog came into being.
It is so important to keep thinking about your thinking!
Where did your love for gardening and food start?
When I moved to San Juan Island the type of food, the quality of food and the community aspect of food created a shift for me.
Potlucks were 2-3 times a week during the summer.
Fresh caught salmon, oysters, crab, scallops, lingcod, prawns, homemade breads, salads and sides from personal gardens, friends who were like family gathering around fire pits with great wine, laughter.
It was addictive and why my “summer stay” in ’97 turned into a permanent move.
How do you generate traffic to your blog?
Currently I use Facebook, Twitter, StumbleUpon and several sites for moms who blog.
What’s been the most difficult part of blogging?
Finding my audience and staying focused have presented the biggest challenges for me.
I am an ideas person.
As a teacher, I thrived on creating new units that would fit my current students’ needs and personalities. With my blog, I can have variety, but I understand that there has to be a little predictability in order to bring people back.
Do you think photos are important within blog posts?
I believe that we are drawn to visuals over text.
It is why we use icons on our computer desktops and why my students would scan a page on a website and think the answer wasn’t there (because the question wasn’t about one of the graphics).
One of my greatest pet peeves on blogs is when authors use graphics and do not credit their source when it is not one of their own originals. Perhaps this strikes a chord with me because I shoot all of my own photos and I have quite a few posts I never published because the photos I took were not worth posting.
When it comes to writing about food and gardening, a picture can be a wonderful expression of what my words cannot bring to the screen.
When it comes to my kids, there are moments that my words could never do justice. There is a moment, a feeling, an image.
What advice would you give to a frustrated gardener?
Think of each year as an experiment.
You try something out, there may be success or failure, a combination or surprising outcomes. Whether the weather, a mold, a raccoon or Towhee throw a wrench into your “plan”, it is all part of the experiment.
You learn, you alter.
I would also advise to start small, have some success and then build on your successes. Herbs will grow. Start there.
How do you stay motivated and driven?
Blogging is my mental release as a stay at home mom
It is where I can complete my thoughts and complete a task. My days are filled with 100s of incomplete tasks and with blogging I click on “Publish” and I am done!
Gardening is an important past time for our family.
It starts in the winter when all of our seed catalogs come in and we decide what we are going to grow and when. This is followed by planting starts and tending them, readying the soil, new projects and eventually our spring planting. Then it is all about tending, harvesting and preserving until October.
Watching my kids pick peas off the vine for their snacks and strawberries for their pancakes is incredible motivation. Knowing where their food comes from and what was or was not used to promote its growth is reason enough.
I do fear I am raising veggie snobs though. My four year old turns his nose up to “less than fresh” produce.
Where’s the best place you’ve ever traveled to?
We have an incredible love for Costa Rica.
It’s incredible biodiversity and the warm, welcoming friends we have there make us yearn to return.
I really want to go to Italy to experience agriturismo. The concept is close to my heart.
Perhaps the best trip overall, is the one that brought me to San Juan Island, home.
About Val Curtis
I grew up “behind the Orange Curtain” of the OC and now I have been living life on an island in the Pacific Northwest for the last 14 years.
Over the years, different avenues have allowed me to wear many hats, (Preschool teacher, SCUBA field researcher, marine biology camp instructor, legal secretary, grad student, tech geek, liveaboard, middle school science teacher) however; now I am blessed to be a Stay at Home Mom. said with pride and a sense of thanks.
Growing up, I was removed from my food and now I am in it.
Gardening and buying local meats is how we are creating meals these days.
I am not afraid of butter, but margarine makes me cringe. I am mindful of how much sugar we use, and refuse to open a packet of anything identified as a sweetener. I believe in healthy meals, real desserts and giving in to rib-sticking goodness occasionally (although those are the most fun to write about!).
Meal planning starts with produce in our house and at least two days a week, we have veggie-only meals. My blog, Mental Chew, is about appreciating seasonal gardening, food and fun for my island-style family.
In addition, my camera is frequently in front of my face, so I have a little fun posting pics there as well.
Overall, I am concerned about what is happening to our food source and through my writing, I hope to inspire moms and dads to get their kids outside, make great food from scratch with their families and get their hands in the dirt.