Rachel Rappaport started blogging four years ago to share her recipes with friends. Though she was trained as a school teacher, the 28-year-old Lauraville resident has a natural skill in the kitchen and a desire to let others in on her cooking secrets. She named her blog Coconut & Lime (coconutlime.blogspot.com) because, she says, "They are two foods that taste good together, had sort of a fresh connotation, and I thought it sounded somewhat memorable."
She started writing about what she makes to eat each day: red onion and cucumber salad, inside out blue cheese burgers, and blueberry sour cream muffins. Readers started visiting, and coming back for more.
Each month, 100,000 unique visitors click over to see what she's making. When she's not typing up her recipes for things like her award winning tangerine dream cookies or pumpkin swirl brownies, she's trying to respond to the approximately 100 e-mails readers send her each day. She has won numerous cooking and blogging awards and has been interviewed by major media outlets on everything from seasonal produce to recipe copyright laws.
"It's nice to do something and realize you're good at it and people appreciate it," says Rappaport.
Rappaport is just one of the Baltimore area's many bloggers who are building an audience with posts that can be useful, profane, funny, raw, and often desperately honest. Bloggers are not usually motivated by the hope of money or notoriety, often resisting both. Some blog under pseudonyms and refuse to put ads on their sites.
They tend to start with a mission: to share their personal story or to connect with like-minded readers about a common interest, such as neighborhood news, sports, politics, or raising children. Some write alone, while others combine their work with other bloggers. When they attract a following, it often catches them by surprise. They find they become a part of readers' lives—and sometimes get sucked into junior high school-style cliques and squabbles in the comments section. But for the most part, they say their readers are supportive and ultimately they find it's not so easy to stop what they've started.
"It's a symbiotic relationship," says Rappaport, who posts from the computer in her dining room about three times a week. "The more I post the more they come." Her blog now includes close to 700 original recipes and she writes another blog, Food Maven , to share product tips and other thoughts that don't fit the format of Coconut & Lime.
From her vibrant blue kitchen, she starts a recipe for chocolate oatmeal cookies with a general list of ingredients. As she works, she notes her adjustments to the recipe: dark brown sugar provides more moisture, two ounces of semi-sweet chocolate chips add taste and texture.
When she removes the cookies from the oven, her pug Elvis stops circling her bare feet and freezes hopefully. But no time for treats. (And besides, chocolate is a no-no for dogs.) It's time for the cookies' close up.
"It's hard to take pictures of food," she says. But she manages nicely, usually arranging her food in one of her collection of brightly colored pastel dishes that are much tinier than they appear in the photographs. She makes the most of natural light; cooking early in the day and often positioning her work in the square of light her small kitchen window lays on her counter top.
She has a proposal worked up for a cookbook and is talking to an agent. Nothing is final yet, she says. "That would be the ultimate for a food blogger."
Although Rapport's subject matter isn't particularly local, she's a member of a group of local bloggers whose blogs are featured on the site Blogtimore, Hon (blogtimore.com). Blogtimore, Hon is a blog aggregator. It collects bloggers' feeds (a bit of code that allows each blog post to be picked up by subscribers and published on other sites) and provides readers with a way to keep track of what local bloggers are writing without having to discover and visit a lot of different sites on their own.
Brett Stevens, of Reisterstown, helped start Blogtimore, Hon three years ago when he learned a similar site called Crablogs.com was shutting down. "A bunch of us liked it and we decided we wanted to keep something similar going."
Stevens, 38, a database developer and runner who writes a blog called The Running Moron (runningmoron.blogspot.com) says they started with about 30 local bloggers who signed up to have their feeds included and now feature 200 bloggers.
He's watched the local blog scene change since he started the site.
"When we started off, it was mostly personal blogs," says Stevens. "People talking about going out and getting drunk with their buddies. Now it's evolved into niche blogging. There's still a lot of personal blogs, but most them are about something," he says. "More and more people aren't putting themselves out there personally."
Blogtimore, Hon's most well read blog is Baltimore Crime (baltimorecrime.blogspot.com), a three-year-old site that gathers crime news from sources throughout town.
Marcie Brennan, 35, started Baltimore Crime after she heard a man had been murdered less than a mile from her Hampden home. She didn't hear about it in the local news. She first learned of the murder in her neighborhood newsletter.
"It freaked me out," says the mother of a 6-year-old daughter and a newborn son. "I thought, what else do I not know is happening?"
Brennan, a parenthood and pregnancy book author who now lives in Roland Park, decided to collect crime news anywhere she found it and sought to give it a home on her blog.
"I figured I'm reading it anyway, how hard it is to paste up a link?"
She challenged herself to keep up the blog for a year.
Her blog averages about 1,000 visitors a day. "It's become almost like a bad habit for me," Brennan says. "Something will happen and you can't ignore it."
Chuck Amos of Highlandtown also contributes to Baltimore Crime and has been doing most of the posting since Brennan's son was born.
Like Brennan, he took an interest in crime coverage when he had trouble finding news about two murders that took place in his Highlandtown neighborhood in early 2004.
"I realized there are dozens and dozens of people dying and no one pays attention," says Amos, 38, who works as a computer analyst for a local hospital.
He writes about his experiences in several blogs of his own, including The Way of Chuck: TaoTeChuck.com.
"I try to look around my neighborhood with empathetic eyes and see if I can describe that to people who don't live here," he says.
He keeps it up because he loves Baltimore.
A similar sort of passion fuels the blogging of Anthony Amobi, publisher of Oriole Post—Baltimore Orioles Analysis & News; The World of Baseball and Beyond.
"It's sort of like a labor of love," says the 29-year-old who works as a technical manager for an aviation company.
A friend who is heavy into blogging and a big Red Sox fan inspired Amobi to give his opinions a voice online. After Sports Illustrated mentioned his blog, Oriole Post's readership started to take off. These days, he says he gets between 150-300 visitors a day. Amobi attends between 40 and 50 Orioles games each season and other events where the players make appearances, taking notes as he goes.
"I see the games a lot more differently now. I'm paying more attention and I'm more cynical now," he says. "Readers expect me to put down my opinions about not only the game but about how things are being run."
He says he didn't start the blog as a money making venture, but he recently put his e-mail address on the blog and began soliciting advertisers. The Orioles-owned MASN sports network became one of his sponsors and now he's made a few thousand dollars in advertising revenue.
Fans aren't the only ones checking in. "We do read his blog," says Monica Pence, Orioles director of public relations. "We definitely monitor the blogs to see what people are saying. It's a way to gauge the temperature of fans. If there is a certain situation they feel good or bad about, that is something we take into consideration."
Amobi's blog largely sticks to his views on baseball. Other bloggers reveal much more personal matters.
Jenn Raynes is one of those bloggers. Jenn's Journal: The Black Comedy of Love, Life and Recovering from Infertility has chronicled her battle with infertility since 2004.
Raynes, 29, is brutally honest about her experiences. She details her struggle with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, which causes irregular ovulation among other problems, and every treatment she received on her way to delivering healthy twin boys.
She admits there was a time when she wished she hadn't always shared quite so much. In the beginning, readers were clamoring to know the result of each of her pregnancy tests. When the news was negative, Raynes says, "I didn't have a chance to deal with it myself."
After that, she stopped revealing the dates of her tests.
Raynes says she's never had a problem with having her family's names and pictures on the blog. She doesn't indicate where she lives, for the record revealing only that it's somewhere in Baltimore County. And she'll say only that she works full time for a social networking site. She said she's only received a couple of unkind comments and has only blocked comments from one person who said something nasty about her children.
"We decided to put it out there because if we helped one person feel less alone it would be worth it," she says. "Infertility is a huge problem and nobody talks about it. I decided it should be me."
She doesn't keep close track of her readership statistics but knows it spiked when her blog was picked up by Club Mom, an online network for moms. She says Club Mom paid her for blogging for about 18 months and she got bonuses based on her traffic. Her highest traffic came when she gave birth—something she found time to blog about—with one hand—during the many hours she spent nursing her babies.
Her birth post generated 36 comments from readers. But she says once she started blogging about her pregnancy and her twins, she lost some of her readers who were still dealing with infertility.
Today her blog is much more about being a mom. But she still talks about infertility and feels more aligned with infertility bloggers than she does with the ranks of mommy bloggers.
She blogs about the five frozen embryos she and her husband still have and the risks involved in trying to get pregnant again.
"I don't like the idea of just letting them go, but it's a tough decision," she says. "My boys are just so great. I want more."
Readers keep coming back to see what she'll decide.