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Little Foodie

A Laie mom's passion for food and writing makes for a great blog

By Joleen Oshiro

LAST UPDATED: 7:44 p.m. HST, Feb 2, 2011

Mariko Jackson of Laie is a high school English teacher, wife and mother of two young children, ages 5 months and 4 1/2 years. She works all day while her husband stays home, then she comes home and he leaves for work.

If you were Jackson, after the household chores were done, kids were fed, bathed and put to bed, and English papers were graded, would you:

a. Fall on the couch in exhaustion and start snoring
b. Vegetate in front of a television
c. Blog

If you picked "a" or "b," no one blames you. Many of us would. But Jackson picks "c."

"I enjoy blogging," she says. "I get to know people and I feel connected with them because of our shared experiences. Plus, it's a great way to have an audience. I like to write, and it's a good way to foster my writing. There's such an immediate satisfaction — people respond right away."

Jackson started her blog, the Little Foodie, in 2009 with a friend. Originally, it was intended to be about raising her children to enjoy food.

"My daughter, Amaya, was a very picky eater, and it drove me crazy," she says of the 4-year-old. Son Mozely is the infant.

Eventually, Jackson's friend bowed out, and the Little Foodie has evolved into an examination of parenting, Jackson's relationship with her daughter and her relationship with food.

Those themes are apparently an engaging combo. Last fall, Jackson entered Foodbuzz's Project Food Blog contest, a search for "the next food blog star," along with thousands of others. The Little Foodie made it through seven of 10 rounds and was among 48 finalists.

"Mariko Jackson's blog is an excellent example of an emerging voice. Her blog is a thoughtful, heartfelt and often funny look at cooking for a family, and it was exciting to watch her develop and refine her skills as a blogger during Project Food Blog," says Alexa Malott, Foodbuzz's community manager. Though Foodbuzz organized the contest, none of its staff served as judges.

Jackson thinks her Hawaii perspective also contributed to the blog's success.

"The food is strikingly different here; we cook all different kinds of food," she says. Jackson was raised in Oregon and moved to Hawaii in 1998. "There was a pizza round, so I made a bi bim bap pizza with rice crust and veggies. People associate fusion with the cuisine of Hawaii."

Fellow food blogger Sophia Lee is a fan of the Little Foodie. She eventually became Jackson's friend.

"I connect with her because she has Asian roots like I do," Lee says. "Her photographs are amazing ... and they are not of just food. There's her family, too; it's more personal, an inside look at her life. ... She has a subtle way of relaying who she is."

Lee says the appeal of blogging is in finding a shared passion.

"Who else will be talking about food 24/7? My friends don't understand my passion. In blogs, I can find someone who actually understands, and that's thrilling," she says.

Over the past couple of years, the Little Foodie has become a natural part of the Jacksons' family life.

"I'm always cooking, and the family expects me to take pictures," Jackson says.

Though setting up props and lighting for the shots add only 20 additional minutes to the process, the computer work on those images can take hours, and Jackson spends time on the blog every day. It's a job that takes the effort of both Jackson and her husband, Jacob, also an educator.

"My daughter is totally aware about the blog. She's always saying, 'We should make that for the Little Foodie.' We took popcorn to a friend's house, and she got out her own little camera and took pictures."

Though the Little Foodie pairs Jackson's love of blogging and food, her focus on food is rooted in more than just its entertainment value. Jackson believes food plays a significant role in imparting values about oneself and others.

"I want my daughter to have a good food relationship. I worry about how the world makes girls feel about their body image," she says. "My mom is Japanese. She tried to learn to cook American, and she also cooked Japanese food, and she expected us to eat everything. Food can connect you to other cultures that way."

Jackson also believes awareness and respect for different diets reinforce open-mindedness.

"I don't want my daughter to eat only whole grains. I want her to enjoy it all. I cook vegan, but I also cook meat. There's so much variety to enjoy. People misunderstand each other because of diets — 'Why do you have to eat vegan?' 'Why do you have to eat meat?' We have to accept everyone's diets. It teaches tolerance."

But much of Jackson's love of food comes from her upbringing. Her parents spent lots of time together in the kitchen.

"Food is treated like a chore, but it can be a whole family experience. My best childhood memories have to do with food," she says. "My mom cooked every night, and my dad was a good helper — he jumps in even more so now."

Today, though mother and daughter are separated by an ocean (Jackson's parents still live in Oregon), "we've both developed together," Jackson says. When they visit one another, the duo spends time trying new cuisines both in restaurants and in the kitchen.

Jackson's mother has in turn found inspiration in her daughter.

"Mom just started her own blog — it's awesome!" Jackson says. "It's surprising for me because I never knew my mom was so funny. I see a different side to her than just 'mom.' She's been calling me every day to ask advice. It's great for our relationship. It's a new side to our relationship."

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