Editor’s Note: The following story first appeared in Cal State East Bay Magazine. Read the most recent magazine, The Food Issue; view more photos; and check out back issues online.
Some of Serene Vannoy’s favorite childhood memories center around food.
There’s the fried rice her mom, Joan, used to make and the clam chowder that sustained Vannoy’s family during cold New England winters. Now, the CSUEB English major is sharing both her own family recipes and the childhood favorites of others on her blog, The Mom Food Project.
“I began cooking with my mom when I was four years old,” Vannoy says. “She’s an incredible chef, but she never wrote down her recipes. Several years ago I asked her to help me write down the ingredients so that I could make my childhood dishes for my own family.”
Her love affair with blogging began in 2001 on Usenet, an Internet discussion system that categorizes newsgroups by subject. “I found blogging was a great medium to communicate with others about topics that interested me, including food and politics,” she says. “When Usenet started dying out, I moved to LiveJournal.com and ultimately decided to start my own blog.”
In 2006, Vannoy launched momfoodproject.com, allowing her to share her mom’s dishes and ask readers to share their own mom-food recipes. She quickly found that blog readers appreciated being part of a community that provides a culinary link to their pasts.
Vannoy’s blog offers a breezy anecdotal-writing style that invites readers to join in the conversation rather than just read her posts. Her lighthearted approach to cooking serves as an invitation to beginning cooks who may be wary about creating new recipes and offers seasoned chefs new concepts and ingredients to keep their ideas fresh.
“Mom food is about the people who feed us because they love us,” she says. “It’s also about the food that evokes memories of being loved, whether the recipes were made by your mom, your dad, a grandparent, or your next door neighbor. These recipes link the past to the present.”
The 44-year-old re-entry student likes the conversations about food that take place on her blog and the ability to share photos and recipes with her readers as well as her own mom. She views her blog as a means of not only displaying her own family recipes, but to also help readers re-create beloved dishes that may have become lost over the years after family members died.
“My own mom, who lives in San Diego, isn’t tech-savvy, but it’s easy to send her a link to my blog and tell her that I’m featuring her pot roast today,” Vannoy says. “We have regular conversations in person and over the phone to recreate the recipes she made during my childhood. She loves the idea that her recipes will live on with the next generation.”
A senior, Vannoy, chose to finish her degree at CSUEB in part because of the English department’s strong emphasis on creative writing. A published poet, she hopes to one day publish fiction and take her blog to the next level by turning the recipes into a cookbook.
“I looked at other college English departments that were more literature based, but the CSUEB program was the most sympatico with my goal of writing fiction,” Vannoy says. “I was impressed by both the classes and the professors and think it will be an excellent place to hone my fiction writing skills.”
She has invited other bloggers to share their recipes on her site as contributors and hopes to incorporate recipes from other cultures as well. Her blog earmarks certain recipes as “veg-friendly” and “gluten-friendly” for readers who might have dietary restrictions. She recently posted some Korean family recipes she obtained from her sister-in-law’s side of the family.
“I’d love to learn about the meals that moms in other countries and parts of the United States make for their kids,” Vannoy says.
With a faithful social media following on both Facebook and Twitter, Vannoy also attracts loyal blog readers.
“I get a lot of e-mail from people who say things such as ‘I wish I knew how to make those biscuits’ that my mom made,” Vannoy says. “It gives me a lot of pleasure to be able to help others to re-create memories from their past that they can then share with their own family today.”
Self-taught in the art of cooking by her mother, Vannoy who lives in Oakland, has also started practicing once-a-month cooking to ensure there is good food on the table as she juggles her studies at CSUEB with her full-time job working in the Disabled Student Union at the University of California, Berkeley.
“I’ll spend one day on the weekend cooking all day,” Vannoy says. “When I’m done, I have 20 or more meals stashed in the freezer for later at a fraction of the cost of buying TV dinners or eating out.”