Minimalism Blogging and Cooking eBooks
I’ve been working for the past couple of months on the first of a series of cooking ebooks called The Minimalist Cook; its launch date is September 21st. By a stroke of good fortune I am getting tremendous assistance in the launching process from blogging masters Mary Jaksch and Leo Babauta. There’s a lot to learn from them, and if you are a new or new-ish blogger, it would be well worth your time to check out and join their A-List Blogger Club.
Mary has the blog Goodlife Zen. In a recent post she relates her personal story, which is how she went from a huge financial loss to creating a new line of work and income stream. I really related to her experience, so when she then wrote a post asking readers to share their own rising-from-the-ashes stories, I contributed a condensed version of my own. Later, after re-reading it, I had a bad case of Poster’s Remorse. Yes, my husband and I had a few rough breaks, but that’s life, right? In answer, however, Mary proposed to give me a hand with the launch of my ebook, an offer I accepted wholeheartedly. As part of the offer, she wanted me to write more fully about my personal story, because, like her own, it led to blogging and learning how to set up a related income stream. So here it goes:
In 2002 I married Steve, an artist friend from England, and he moved here to the States. Not long after we married he developed health problems which gradually had complications. He hadn’t time to establish health insurance or social security, so that complicated matters as well. He did manage to paint, teach art, and become the executive director of an environmental nonprofit, but each year seemed to bring more health problems. On top of it, I had developed my own medical issues, which forced me to close my landscape design and contracting business because it was too physical for me to do anymore. Our house was divided into apartments, one of which was a loft-style space with an open staircase, so we got creative and turned it into an art gallery featuring both new and established artists. It was successful from the get-go and looked as if it would provide at least a partial living for us. Then the bottom dropped out of the local economy, thanks to suddenly-skyrocketing property taxes. We went from making a few thousand dollars to nothing. People stopped buying art and a lot of other extra things.
In light of health and the economy, our employment options were increasingly limited. We made the decision to downsize from a big drafty house in a resort area to a tiny well-insulated one in a more affordable town center, thinking the savings would help us until we could get back on our feet. We found the ideal house and a buyer for the old house, but this was around the time of the housing market crash and we ended up carrying two houses for a year and half. By the time we sold the first house at a drastically reduced price, the national economy was in a tailspin. The financial repercussions of all of this was horrible.
About a year after we moved into the smaller house I found a job as a cook in a coffee shop. I made the most of it and managed to gain a small following. The coffee shop closed, but I felt encouraged enough to open my own commercial cookery, with the idea of supplying other coffee shops and local businesses with baked goods, casseroles, salads, and soups to order, including vegan and gluten-free items. Steve and I built it ourselves in the back third of our garage. I got my first client the day I got my license and managed to sustain a small but crucial income stream from the venture. Even as the economy took its toll on some of the businesses I supplied, I would get more businesses, and it got to the point I could barely keep up with the demand. Catering, however, is not easy work and the hot humid conditions of the cookery worsened my health. The doctor warned me of dire consequences, and Steve, too, urged me to either rethink how I did things or close up shop. I was reluctant to give up what income there was, and to give up something I’d built from nothing. The current economy forced me to work more than I was capable of in order to make a profit. After a while I ended up every day in tears from fatigue and pain. Something had to give, and soon.
Minimalism and Blogging
We started serious budget-tightening during the local economic crisis, and after a while it became the new normal. Our downsizing to a smaller house and fewer expenses was part of this. We did not find it to be a hardship, and actually found having less stuff and maintenance to be greatly preferable to the alternative. I began a personal blog about the process of unloading stuff and simplifying and the reasons as to why it was so satisfying and enlightening. To my surprise Minimalist Woman gained comments and followers and was in fact more successful than my other two blogs (for my art and the cookery).
My son, who has a successful online business, was impressed by this and suggested that I write a series of cooking ebooks with some of the hundred-plus recipes I’d developed for the cookery. It was an idea that clicked, so yet another blog was set up for the purpose. It was during this time I joined the A-List Blogger Club and subscribed to dozens of blogs in order to get a sense of what was involved in setting up an income stream from blogging. The A-List Club members probably felt sorry for the woman with the four blogs, but they were very nice to me, very patient, and very helpful.
Simplicity and minimalism did not stop with our possessions and expenses, though. The same thing was happening with my thinking about food and its relationship to consumers, highlighted by the effect the economy was having on the restaurant business and grocery stores. I found myself developing a minimalist cooking philosophy. Thus inspired, I checked for the domain name Minimalist Cook, and it was available. I shut down the recipe site, the cookery site, put the art site on ice, and developed the Minimalist Cook site, so I could write about a new basic approach to cooking and develop recipes that were simple and wholesome.
The two minimalism blogging projects share a point of view and are easy to cross-promote. I’ve kept the personal and philosophical postings on Minimalist Woman and use the Minimalist Cook blog primarily for food writing and recipes. Perhaps it would have been more minimalist to have only one blog, but I think readers appreciate the distinction in purpose and focus.
Steve (Art by Steve Johnson) has been a big part of this process; after several years of serious health problems he is slowly but surely on the mend, and his own art and writing efforts are growing. The whole minimalist approach to life is second nature to him and he has been on board from the get-go. He has built up an interesting collection of photos, from which I draw for both blogs, and he does the photos for the cookbooks as well. He contributes tons of advice about how to set up the blogs and how to use keywords and Adsense and many other things that go on in the “back room” of a blog, things I would have a lot of difficulty understanding on my own. My son Nick and his wife Amy have their own online businesses at nickstutorials.com and strandoverfist.com, and it’s a bonus to have their encouragement and support as well.
My New eBook: The Minimalist Cook
The culmination of all of this so far is the first of my cooking ebooks, a collection of 25 recipes selected for their utterly basic and simple qualities. Perhaps more important is the approach to home cooking that I present, one which encourages looking at the process anew and simplifying everything from the kitchen down to the menu. I consider how marketing and consumerism has affected what we expect of ourselves as cooks and what our families expect of us as cooks. I help both the stressed and the beginning cook to own the cooking process, and to build themselves a solid, comforting, and soothing cooking routine, one basic recipe at a time. All that, plus 25 recipes, for $4.95. It is the first volume in what I hope to be a series on minimalist cooking. There is a previously-released sampling of 7 Main-Course Recipes you can download here.
Thanks again to Mary Jaksch and to Leo Babauta and the A-List Blogger Club for their assistance in launching my first official ebook. It’s been a wonderful learning experience, and like so many of us in the blogging world, I’m grateful to have the chance to create a living which is sustainable. Thanks also to you who are reading this: without you I’m not sure I would have had the confidence that I could do it at all.