Three-year-old Vivian's favorite place to sit is on the counter, between the spices and her mom’s cutting board. She regularly helps prepare dinner, all the while describing the look, smell, texture and taste of the ingredients. When the food is ready, she hops down and runs to her seat at the table beside her parents, baby sister and any guests who happen to be at the house, and continues the conversation.
This is a daily scene in Vivian's Lincoln Square household, and exactly the experience with food and family that her mom, Caroline Lubbers, wants for her family — and for everyone else for that matter.
Caroline, 36, is the local blogger behind Whipped, a food blog with a growing following in Chicago and across the country. More than 75,000 readers visit her blog every month. Although she often shares recipes, the blog is more than just an online cookbook. It is a space that Caroline calls her “virtual dinner table,” where family members, friends and strangers can enjoy and discuss food, just as they would at a real table.
“The dinner table is where we can just connect with each other, relax and savor the food,” Caroline, said. “That same atmosphere is recreated online through my food blog.”
Once or twice a week, Caroline draws on her personal experiences and culinary experiments to create posts which detail her recipes, stories, videos, photos or advice. Then she waits for her guests to arrive on the blog. Comments slowly come in, and often, rich conversations about food and family ensue. For example, this spring, Caroline blogged about Vivian’s pink-themed third birthday, sharing photos, parenting lessons from the occasion and pink recipes. The comments poured in.
The online table idea originally sprung from Caroline’s memories of leisurely family dinners growing up, as well as her experience marrying into her husband’s large Greek family that relishes good food and long conversations.
“Family, friends, good food and conversation are so healthy in an emotional way,” Caroline said. “I don’t ever know who my online guests will be, but through their comments and feedback, I really connect with readers.”
Just like at any family gathering, not all conversations on the blog are picture perfect. Along with her fans, critics of her recipe and posts occasionally pop up on Whipped.
“Putting yourself and your work out there on the Internet is like an open invitation to your table,” Caroline said. “You are going to get people of all types at your table — some argumentative — and you have to think about how you are going to act as a hostess.”
This means politely responding to, rather than deleting, negative comments. Caroline explained that this can be challenging, but also part of a healthy exchange of ideas and a transparent, honest message to readers.
Healthy, but tasty, food advice
Caroline refuses to label herself as a “health nut,” since she loves sweets, custards and fried desserts and works for a chocolate company in her other job as a marketing specialist. However, on Whipped and in her kitchen, she is committed to using few processed foods, incorporating fresh ingredients whenever possible and understanding proper portioning while eating.
She credits many of her healthy cooking and eating habits to the blog itself.
“Now that I have a public voice in the world, I feel a responsibility to share good information — which means giving tasty food ideas that are also healthy,” Caroline said. “Also, the blog is like a food confessional: When I indulge and eat a donut, I feel the need to tell my readers about it.”
Photographing plated food for the blog is another way she keeps her portion sizes in check and her plates colorful and varied.
“I’ve noticed that since I’ve started setting up pretty plates of food for photos that I can’t serve a colorless plate of food for my family,” she said. “Now if I look at an every day dinner plate and think it needs more green to look nice, I’ll add salad, and if the portions look heaping, I’ll make them smaller.”
But all these strategies are just perks that go along with the healthy combination of food, family and conversations — which add up to a healthier lifestyle overall, according to Caroline.
Mommy blogging and more
At its inception in 2007, Whipped mostly focused on Caroline’s personal favorite recipes and ideas about food. But as her family has grown and her posts more and more often focus on homemade baby food and ways to sneak vegetables into kid-friendly dishes, the blog — and its types of followers — have shifted.
“I never considered Whipped a ‘mommy blog’ but since I started the blog I became a mom twice over,” she said. “As my posts started focusing on my kids, I started getting accolades in the mom blog community, so I embraced the opportunity.”
As she heads into the New Year, Caroline plans to continue developing and building her dual focus on kid-friendly cooking and learning to eat better through dinner-table conversations and true appreciation for food. She will be partnering with several food companies and chefs, posting more frequently on the blog and possibly writing a book.
In the meantime, she continues to take notes whenever Vivian is perched on the counter and plan interesting ways to share her insights, successes and failures with all the readers at her virtual table.
A little more about Caroline:
Q: What are your top five favorite foods?
A: You know, I really love everything, so that is like asking me to name my favorite child. But I’d say:
1. Custard and pastry cream
2. Donuts and any sort of fried dough
3. Doctored up oatmeal (We recently tried it with chocolate and maple syrup)
4. Wood-fried pizza
5. All Greek foods
Q: What are your top five local businesses?
A: We frequent so many local places, but we really love the farmer’s markets as well as:
1. Paciugo Gelato — it’s a healthier sweet treat than ice cream!
2. Merz Apothecary — I often go in to discuss natural remedies for minor ailments.
3. The Davis Theater — It’s nice to have a theater so close.
4. Harvest Time Foods — I cook a lot of Greek foods and I get tons of my ingredients here.
5. Gene’s Sausage Shop — About 50 percent of our groceries come from here because we love the fresh, European style of grocery shopping.
Q: Why live in Lincoln Square?
A: We love the family atmosphere in the neighborhood and that it’s very walkable, which is great with the kids. But the biggest thing is the community connection here. It’s like a small town within the city. Our hospital, our fitness center, our grocer, our babysitters from North Park University — everything is right here.