Follow your dreams. Listen to your heart. Do what feels good. We’ve seen the writing on the wall for years, we know what we should be doing. We should be dedicating ourselves to our dreams rather than our 9-5s, right? Doing what our hearts tell us to, not what our wallets insist upon. That’s the move, isn’t it? We should be chasing the things that leave our brains buzzing with ideas and our souls burning with passion — not the things that make us feel charred and empty.
So abandon your post! Set sail! Do what you love! Right? Well… kind of. Before you move, learn a lesson from Brooke Conroy Bass, or Dr. Bass. It’s not as simple as quitting and going gung-ho toward becoming a creative powerhouse. The PhD who was lecturing one day and food blogging the next didn’t make the devil-may-care leap we originally assumed. Some things fell into place, other moves were calculated, and an Airbnb offered a second income stream.
Bass sat down with us this week to talk about when she knew the tipping point had come, how it felt to make the move to full time food blogger, and why a tomato from her garden with a little olive oil and salt is really all it takes to make her happy.
So, you were a professor once upon a time?
Once upon a time (laughing), yeah, I was. I graduated with a PhD two years ago and at that time I was adjunct lecturing, an adjunct profession here in Portland at a local university. I decided to make a big change and move on to being a food blogger.
What was the tipping point? At what point did you decide, this is it, I’m going to dedicate to food blogging?
I think it was more of a gradual thing. I started food blogging as a sort of passion project. I love food. I was starting to learn more about photography and really getting into that and just wanted an outlet that was not my dissertation to express myself to the world. I started blogging and then eventually started having some readers and getting some work, some sponsorships and such and eventually was just enough for me to say I want to do this full time and I was happy doing this full time.
I think that was just at that point where I decided I’m going to jump ship and make a go at this.
At the time you decided to jump ship, what was your income like from the blog?
Oh gosh, not much. It would be too difficult for me to give you an exact number on that but I’ll say I was earning enough to feel like I was making a contribution to my household, but not enough where I could live super lavishly. I have a partner. Having a partner supports a little bit, it gives a little bit of wiggle room when you make big leaps like that, but also I had an AirBnB apartment underneath my house. That acted as a buffer during the transitional phase which was amazing and has been a great source of income actually. That helps a lot.
The change must have happened pretty recently if you were running an AirBnB?
Yes, I’d say it was about, I think I started doing it full time about a year ago, so not that long ago at all. I haven’t even been blogging for more than, a little over two years.
Since you dedicated to it full time, what’s changed as far as the product is involved? Are you producing more posts, are you photographing more?
I definitely do. I’m more consistent with it. I post at least once a week now; sometimes twice. Before I don’t think I was posting that often. I was posting a couple of times a month, early on. I think the biggest thing that’s to me is just I work with a lot more brands now. Before that wasn’t the case. I was mostly just writing whatever I wanted, developing whatever recipes I wanted just whatever inspired which I actually think is a really great way to start out if you want to make a living off of a blog, just do what feels right to you until you gain your footing and then find a brand that really aligns with your values and your cooking style and what not.
That’s probably been the biggest change. I don’t know, I like to think that I’m changing every month, that I’m growing and learning more and evolving as a blogger.
Are you still pursuing recipes and ideas that you’re passionate about or are they mostly sponsorship driven at this point?
No, I go for a balance. I think it’s really important not just to my readers, but also to my personal sense of self to not exclusively do brand work. I could. I turn down a lot of opportunities for brand work just because I don’t want it to become all that. I truly feel it’s just about keeping a balance between earning a living from making these posts and staying true to myself.
If there’s a story I really, really want to tell, for instance, I’m not going to work with a brand for that story more than likely because it’s something that’s really true to my heart and close to me and I want to tell it the way I want to tell it without any kind of limitations or a person looking over your shoulder, you know?
For sure, Do sponsors usually pursue you or do you pursue them, or how do you work out payment? How do things like that work?
I think like 90% of the time sponsors reach out to me. I think it just becomes if you’re in it for long enough and you’re getting picked up by different outlets, eventually sponsors start hearing and know who you are. I think they have a list, I imagine, of bloggers that they work with, at least in the food blogging space. There are some brands that I will reach out to specifically if it’s something, a product or something that I found that I absolutely have fallen in love with. I’ll reach out and say, “Hey, I really love what you’ve got going on over here and I’m sure we can probably align ourselves and collaborate on something.”
“Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but that’s usually how the initiation goes down. Then as client involvement grows, rates go up as numbers go up. As my readership increases, I can charge more.
That makes sense.
Early on I did some work for a trade, which everyone does.
Of course, thanks to Instagram I’m very familiar.
Right, I know. A lot of creative and especially in the digital space are familiar with that. I think we all have to do it at some point until we really establish ourselves. That was probably before I had transitioned to doing it full time. Then as the numbers went up then I can start to ask for higher rates.
Setting your sights on the future, where do you see the blog going? Are you working for anything specifically or is it just where the ride takes you?
This is going to sound really lame, but my goal with the blog as far as numbers and income is really nothing. It’s to be able to provide for myself and that’s it. If I can’t do that then that would be a problem.
I know there are food bloggers out there who are making six figures and I’m not sure I ever will be one and that’s perfectly fine with me. I think the more important thing to me is just to keeping happy in what I’m doing. As long as I’m content and I’m feeling inspired on daily or at least weekly basis, that’s plenty enough for me, that’s all I need.
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Ancho-rubbed @snakeriverfarms wagyu flat iron! Charred corn and avocado salad! And some reflections on last year's, and anticipations for this year's, one and only @FEASTpdx are all up on the blog today! This week, I'm also giving away a @shuncutlery knife and a @snakeriverfarms wagyu flat iron to one very lucky person! See blog post, or yesterday's IG post, for details on how to enter. Link in profile. #partner #f52grams #forkyeah #foods4thought #howisummer #myopenkitchen #feedfeed #eattheworld @thefeedfeed #cookit #steak #flatiron
That’s a pretty incredible outlook. I don’t think that’s lame at all. On your website you mention that the blog primarily focuses on locally sourced or at least seasonal ingredients, right?
Absolutely. It’s funny because that’s not a way of living that I grew up with. I grew up in the South in New Orleans. I love New Orleans food, it is wonderful and beautiful in all its own way but it doesn’t really necessarily emphasize, or at least not the main nuances, do not necessarily emphasize the seasonal approach to cooking. That was something that I really learned to love when I moved to Portland a few years ago.
I don’t know how to describe it other than food makes more sense when you’re cooking with the seasons. Ingredients that grow together, taste better. That’s just something that I’ve fallen into. I know there are plenty of people out there especially in the Pacific Northwest who have lived their whole life thinking about food that way. It’s been really cool to come into that as an adult and really appreciate it.
Then I also have a garden which I love. I’m not the most skilled gardener but I think every year I improve and love it more and more. That’s been a big feature in our lives too since we moved to Portland.
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In case anyone was wondering what happened to good ole Giant Ugly Tomato (lovingly renamed Sloth), he ended up in @dollyandoatmeal's beautiful summer salad, complete with peaches, avo, cucumbers, pepitas, za'atar pesto and several of his closest buddies. He lived happily every after. The end.
That’s really interesting you mentioned that. I’ve noticed that a lot of my friends and people that I talk to who are chefs either have some hand in gardening or an active fascination in gardening. It was surprising to me at first, but then it became so obvious. They work with those ingredients. They want to know them and are driven to know them to the best capacity they can.
I mean they just taste better when they’re fresh. I harvested 4 pounds of tomatoes the other night which was just a huge old bowl of cherry tomatoes. We have two heirloom plants going. There’s nothing better than just grabbing one of those while it’s still warm from afternoon sun and hitting it with some flaky salt and a little bit of olive oil and eating it. It’s like, I don’t know how to describe it. It’s pure ecstasy. I just can’t think of anything that makes me happier than a tomato.
If you asked me this 15 years ago about gardening, I would have just laughed in your face. I hated tomatoes.
Yes, I think gardening it’s a wonderful thing for people who love food. I mean 15 years ago, no I would be completely surprised. I did look up when I was 18 and had dial-up internet. I don’t know how old you are, but we always only had dial-up internet growing up.
Yeah, I’m all too familiar with dial-up.
That AOL and the annoying noise. I remember logging into my AOL account and googling how to be a food writer and I remember reading that it was really, really tough. Really competitive and that you shouldn’t do it unless you’re okay with a one in a million chance. I was like, “Oh, well I could never do that.” Then I literally closed that door and was like, “I’ll figure something else out.”
It was a very small memorable moment that I thought about doing something in this space and then decided it wasn’t possible.
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Step away from the boring burgers and fill the grill with all of this goodness on your next campout. On the blog today, we're talking about how to grill up the perfect campfire (or backyard) feast, with tips on fire building, grill grate prep, timing, dealing with flareups, and sourcing all of the best ingredients from @wholefoodsmarket. There are also three recipes for special sauces to pair with including, wait for it, A SUPER EASY NORI BUTTER that's got me all like💃✨. Link in profile! #ad
But here you are, That’s really interesting. Do you think there’s going to be a point where you look back at your doctorate and revisit it and think maybe I should go back to that.
Probably not, actually. I think for two reasons. One I think the academic sphere is really difficult to re-enter once you’ve exited and that was hugely stressful when I was making that decision because I knew how hard it would be, if not impossible, to go back if I ever left. At the same time, I don’t think I want to go back. Like I said, I’m a really different person. I think I understand myself a lot better now than I did maybe 4 or 5 years ago, just having that understanding about who I am and what I value and what I want out of life, I think makes it less desirable to go into that space again.
I’m not knocking it, by the way, because I know plenty of people and plenty of friends who are in academia and it’s the right fit for them. But for me, it wasn’t.
Following our discussion, Brooke reached out to add to how a second income stream made her dreams possible. She felt the need to emphasize the importance of a second income stream when making such a transition in order to ease the mind and keep her financially stable. Her bases were covered, more or less, and her mind was free to commit to her passion.
It was fun chatting with you the other day. I’m looking forward to seeing how the article turns out! One thing I did want to follow up with you on was the talk of making the transition from academic life to blog life. One of the questions you asked was something about how much I was earning before I made that leap, or something like that, and I’m not sure if you’ll use that portion of the interview but upon reflection I did want to elaborate on my response to that.
I mentioned hosting on AirBnB, which is something I don’t often talk about on my blog, but it’s also something that hugely changed my career trajectory, I think. I say that because without renting some of our home space out on AirBnB, I don’t think I ever would’ve been able to afford to take the leap before being fully financially stable as a blogger. Realistically, I probably never would’ve become fully financially stable as a blogger had I not taken at least five or six months to really invest in blogging full-time. (Early earnings as a blogger are, for obvious reasons, scant.) But, during that transition period and even afterwards, we were renting a portion of our house out to travelers to offset the dip in my income and also to provide a buffer for times when brand sponsorships were fewer and further between.
It was great income, and I feel fortunate that we had the space available to rent out, but it also wasn’t glamorous by any means. It involves a lot of washing, a lot of toilet bowl scrubbing, and a lot of waking up in the middle of the night when a guest locks themselves out or has a clogged drain or sets off the smoke detectors. But, that said, it was probably the biggest factor in allowing me to really invest in a career in food blogging and to do so without having panic attacks over how we were going to pay the mortgage each month, so I’m really grateful it’s something we chose to do. I hear of other people trying to get blogs off the ground while working full-time, 9-5 jobs. I admire them, really, I do. But if I were to give someone one piece of advice on how to take that leap without going into bankruptcy, it would be to get creative about your lifestyle and use the sharing economy to your advantage so that you can have at least some buffer when you leave the 9-5 in pursuit of something different.
Anyway, maybe you want to use that, maybe you don’t. I just wanted to offer it up since the picture really is less complete and accurate without that detail.