Archive for August, 2012

Kristen Lamb

A few months ago I heard Kristen Lamb was speaking at the Ozark Writers League in August.  I immediately inked the meeting onto my calendar.  Early Saturday morning I dragged myself out of bed for the two-hour drive to Hollister, MO.

It was worth the trip.

I can’t remember now how I heard about her books, We Are Not Alone, and Are You There Blog, It’s Me, Writer, but according to my Goodreads list I read them both earlier this year.  They were, in fact, among my first ebook downloads.  The thing that struck me most, besides the simple instruction in why and how to set up a social media platform, was her approach to marketing.

An explanatory digression:  Picture me as a college freshman, all shiny with dreams of making the world a wonderful place.  My goal: to communicate, to share vision and joy and hope with all those wonderful people out there.  (Actually, that part of me hasn’t changed much.)  So, of course, I declared my major as Communications.  New picture: me sitting aghast in my first Communications class–Intro to Mass Communications, aka Intro to Mass Manipulation.  And the next picture: me exiting the classroom, turning right, and proceeding to the English Department to change my major.  That last picture was a video.  Nothing against marketing types.  It just wasn’t my scene.  I had completely misunderstood the appellation of Communications.

I mean no offense here.  I have many business-y friends who are wonderful people.  What is refreshing about Kristen Lamb is that she marries a personal philosophy of service and positivity to marketing.   It is so strange and invigorating to read a marketer saying that our first priority should be to build relationships, to build people.  Then “sales,” if that is your aim, will follow.  It is revolutionary.

That is why I wanted to meet her.  I also had other questions.  Was she really 1. as upbeat and perky as she appears to be on her website and in her books, and 2. as dedicated to people over $$ as she claims to be.  The answer to both, from my experience, is yes.  Don’t get me wrong.  She believes in marketing and all that nastiness we artist types just don’t want to deal with.  She just believes in helping people more.  And she proves that by her support of and interactions with individuals.

Here’s a for-instance.  Some of you may have heard of the “Roni Loren incident.”  I wrote something about it myself here.  So did Kristen, but she went further.  With a desire to support bloggers in the quest for quality, non-copyright-infringing art, she started Wana Commons.  As far as I know she’s not making a penny off it.  She’s not a photographer, so she also doesn’t get any direct marketing exposure.  She does help others get that exposure, and she gets peripheral benefits.  However, I really believe that if money went out of fashion and we all worked gratis for the sake of bettering society and the lives of others, Kristen would be working just as hard as she does today.

This really isn’t intended to be a Kristen Lamb lovefest.  We’re just sympatico on the whole concept of valuing and building individuals.  So, yeah, read her books.  There.  She got some free advertising.  I don’t mind.  They may be helpful to you, especially if you are uncomfortable with marketing and/or social media.  But even more than that, think about her philosophy and her attitude.  I can’t tell you to adopt it, but if more of us practiced it, our little corner of the world might be a more fulfilling place.

So am I a sucker?  Is Kristen really that awesome?  Or did she just get an A+ in Mass Manipulation?  I don’t know (okay, I really think I do), but she has me seriously considering joining Twitter.

***

What makes you shake when you think of marketing and social media?  Do you think it’s hype or history in the making?  And a completely unrelated question–did you ever sit in a classroom and think “I am sooo in the wrong place”?

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Photo by Lura Helms

Photo by Lura Helms

Nature is a cruel Mother.  Feeding to be fed.  Nurturing to be nurtured.  Consuming flesh, leaving bone.  Then absorbing that, too, until nothing is left resembling the creature that developed from her seed.

Abbie watched her father pull out of the driveway.  Another day, another dollar.  The insistent clatter of breakfast preparations summoned her, but she lingered, watching his car stop at the sign, turn the corner.

“Abbie.  Breakfast.  Hurry or you’ll be late for school!”

She slid from the couch and allowed her feet to carry her to the kitchen table.  A good student starts with a nutritious meal.

***

Hope you enjoyed my drabble.  I love comments and critique.  Read more great stories or add one of your own at Friday Fictioneers on Madison Woods’ website.

Our trip to Chicago would not have been complete without Chicago-style pizza and Chicago dogs.

Friday brought pizza. While there are apparently a multitude of specialists, we chose to eat at Pizzeria Uno, reputed to be the original home of Chicago-style deep dish pizza. I liked the buttery, flaky, pastry-type crust, a true pizza “pie,” unlike the yeast bread crust I’m used to. Most of my family prefer the bready style; I remain conflicted. Inside the crust, I was expecting a few toppings floating in a sea of mozzarella, and was pleasantly surprised with a decent amount of vegetables (I had the Spinoccoli) and a sparser share of cheese. It was a meal even my dairy-sensitive digestive system could manage. I was quite satisfied with my first exposure to Chicago’s pizza scene. As I mentioned, however, there are many pizzerias rumored to be must-visits, and Giordano’s is on the list for next time.

Our planned destination for hot dogs was the storied Hot Doug’s. It comes highly recommended by everyone from personal friends to Anthony Bourdain. We scheduled our visit for Friday so we could indulge in their Duck Fat Fries. We plotted our dogs ahead, intending to share: The Dog (of course), the Game of the Week (whatever it was…), and one of the other fascinating concoctions on the Specials menu. Sadly, the time demon caught us, and we placed Hot Doug’s on the catch-you-next-time list. While it wouldn’t be quite the same, we were going to the Sox game that night and were sure we would at least be able to get a Chicago dog there, if not buffalo or rattlesnake. Take note: Chicago-style hot dogs are not available at US Cellular Field. Or if they are, we were not able to locate that particular concessionaire. This was a great disappointment, but somehow our trip to the Windy City was complete and fulfilling even without the encased meat.

So that’s it. We did eat other food, obviously. We were in Chicago for a week. I did want to make one final comment about eating on vacation. If you want to eat well on a budget, you have to make choices. If you want to go to pricier restaurants, there are ways to save money on other meals (that free hotel breakfast, for instance) and places you can cut expenses. We live within a day’s drive of Chicago, so we took our car instead of a plane. The money we saved more than covered the price of our out-of-normal-budget meals. We walked when we could and took public transportation when we couldn’t, shaving a few more dollars off. We even opted out of some activities because we preferred to spend our time and money on amazing food. This won’t be our only trip to Chicago. Some of the activities we skipped will make up the memories of our next visit. And a couple of new and wonderful dining experiences will definitely be on the menu as well.

Other stops on the food tour:

I hope this whets your appetite for your own visit. And if you are from the city or have visited, please share your favorite restaurants and dining experiences. I’d love to hear from you.

Photo by Susan Wenzel

Water rippled away from her fingertips.  She had seen the shell clearly, centimeters from the surface.    It seemed a simple thing to retrieve, but she should have touched it already.  Focus was everything; anxiety, adrenaline were distractions.  She breathed deep, pushed through, purposefully, until she felt the boundaries of dimension shift.  There it was—the hard edge of the double lobes.  She ran her fingers over the smooth exposed plane of each half, lingered at the point of connection, then withdrew her hand, resisting the temptation to pull the shell back to her side.  Contact was enough for now.

Hope you enjoyed my 100-word (99, actually) story.  I love comments and critique.  Read more great stories or add one of your own at Friday Fictioneers on Madison Woods’ website.

I held no expectation of anything surpassing Sepia.  Indeed, at this level of sophistication, I feel unqualified to make judgments or assign positions.  Still, I think Naha  topped the list of dining experiences on our Chicago trip.  I don’t know that every dish was superior to those we had at Sepia, but overall I liked the food better.  Perhaps that was in part because we did a tasting menu.  Unbelievable.   We had 4 diners and 7 courses equating to 17 different dishes (not each was unique).  Don’t worry.  I won’t go through the whole dinner.  Just the highlights.

The French Kiss Oyster was aptly named.  A single bite of heaven.  I was also  lucky enough to get scallops again!  I doubt I’ll ever consume their equal.  They were perfectly cooked; the dish wonderfully orchestrated. It’s a good thing this was so well-prepared, or my husband might have lost his Summer Corn Soup, another near-indescribable dish.  The Arctic Char was a favorite—the epitome of surf and turf, without any meat.  The surf element is obvious.  The turf accompaniment of Jerusalem artichokes, wheatberries, mushrooms, spring herbs & greens was earth all over.  And the morels I snitched from my husband’s salmon were not a distraction from my own fish.

I experienced another first at Naha as well.  Duck Breast and Foie Gras–actually a double first; I’d never had either before.  The worst part of this is that at home I’m stuck with chicken.  Duck is so much more to my taste, a wonderful flavor composite of poultry and game.  It’s not readily available in my area, and if it were, I know I couldn’t do it justice.  Foie gras?  Not even going to try.  That’s the dilemma of eating at truly excellent restaurants.  Subsequent meals rarely measure up.  Approaching this as an experience, rather than a new standard, is the only way I cope.  And with time the memory fades.  I may still be able to eat scallops.  Someday.

In the weeks before our Chicago trip, I visited Naha’s menu several times.  I wanted to have my order planned before I got there.  When my husband suggested the tasting menu, I thought it was a great idea.  I’d had a difficult time deciding what I wanted to eat, and this would solve that problem.  I did hope I would get a few things that sounded especially appealing.  The oyster, scallop, and foie gras were on the tentative list, and I was thrilled when presented with the Lamb Osso Buco, one of the finalists in “entree. ” I actually may have clapped my hands.  I know I did that at one point during the meal, much to the amusement of our waiter.  The lamb was very nice, but I think I may have enjoyed the accompanying marrow toast as much or more.  Strange how something so simple can sometimes hit the spot.

Dessert was interesting.  I guess they assumed that I, being a middle-aged woman, would go for the chocolate.  I admit it was tasty, but I had a very difficult time not hijacking my daughter’s Rhubarb and Almond Tart, Orange Blossom Ice Cream (which I liked better than my own pinot noir version), and Almond Meringue. 

After two and a half hours enjoying the amazing offerings at Naha, we ventured back out into the July heat.  We had walked from the hotel to the restaurant, and we returned the same way.  We traveled a little slower on the way back, not because we were overfed, but because the experience had been like many others we had in Chicago that week.  Something to contemplate, to remember, to re-enjoy, if only in our minds.

I hope this whets your appetite for your own visit.  And if you are from the city or have visited, please share your favorite restaurants and dining experiences.  I’d love to hear from you.

Small portions are what I expected from the two out-of-budget restaurants we visited.  The wonderful thing about this is that I can really enjoy the flavor without feeling stuffed.  There is still plenty of food, and the nuances of each bite automatically slow me down to savoring speed.

The first upscale establishment was Sepia.  (Their website is beautiful.  When you click the link, make sure you have the sound on.  They have great music.) Their decor is rich and relaxing, an understated mix of the architectural and the artistic, the old and the new.  The blending of wood, stone, steel, and glass is evocative of what I’ve come to expect from Chicago’s skyscraper heritage.  The photographic elements appeal to me as much as to my photog husband.

Their menu is not expansive, but when you present food of this quality, it doesn’t need to be.  I know you are dying to hear what I consumed: sea scallops for starters, followed by the Lamb Loin and Crispy Lamb Neck, finishing with the strawberries and Basil-Black Pepper Ice Cream.

Sea scallops are one of my favorites.  It is amazing how much an ingredient can change depending on what it is combined with.  These were excellent, especially paired with the other elements in the dish.  One of these, the smoked paprika lardo, was a revelation in itself.  (Check out the menu to see the full description.)

I’m glad I went with the lamb for the main course.  The contrast of the two was very effective.  Surprisingly, I preferred the neck slightly over the loin.  I didn’t realize this until I took my last bite, loin, and realized I was disappointed not to have just a touch more of the crispy neck to finish on.  I discovered something else along the way.  My daughter had the Carnaroli Risotto, which she loved.  But it was accompanied by baby morels, which she did not.  I tried them—another first.  So much earthy flavor packed into such a tiny package.  I now have a favorite mushroom.

As for dessert, I don’t eat it often.  I love it; I’m just wary of empty calories, however deliciously packaged.  And, honestly, I’ve eaten enough really excellent desserts that most of the places I eat out at just don’t measure up.  I’m glad I broke my rule here.  The best part of the dessert was the ice cream.  I prefer rich or savory ice cream to sweet and this concoction was incredible.

The only other comment I have on Sepia is kudos to the staff.  The talent and ability of the chefs and kitchen staff is attested to by the amazing food.  Those at the front of the house were wonderful as well–cheerful, helpful without being intrusive, constantly on-point.  For the first time I realized how a really skilled waiter can raise the experience from nice to delightful.  Thanks to the people who do their job so well.  You are noticed and appreciated.

I hope this whets your appetite for your own visit to Chicago.  And if you are from the city or have visited, please share you favorite restaurants and dining experiences.  I’d love to hear from you.

Oh, the joy of a good meal.  I admit it.  I love good food.  So does my husband.  In fact, Chicago’s foodie reputation is so powerful, it was one of the motivating factors in our choice of destination.  He researched restaurants for a couple of weeks before we went. Again, most were in the area of our hotel due to the demon time constraints. We settled on two upscale, way-out-of-our-normal-budget restaurants, and picked a few other in-budget possibilities based on food “genre.”  We were not disappointed.  In fact, the food was so amazing, that I overloaded the post I’d intended to cover this aspect of our trip.  I decided to break it down into bite-sized pieces, rather than serving up the whole banquet like I did in An Outsider’s View of Chicago, Pt. 1.

Our first night in town, we decided to go light.  Sushi, a family favorite.  We’ve eaten a fair amount of sushi of varying qualities, though admittedly never in a place that has any reputation for excellent seafood.  We’ve even rolled our own, so to speak.   Ai Sushi was the best to date.  We did not have blowfish, although they do prepare it on occasion.  I was tempted, but I think the Columbo episode, “Murder Under Glass,” caused a permanent fugu phobia.  That and the fact that they serve it in December and we were there in July.  I did have the Sake Ceviche.  I thought it would be an interesting experience to have South American acid-cooked fish in a Japanese raw fish restaurant.  It was tasty, as was my main course, the Chirashi Sushi.

The surprise of the meal was the uni.  I had never eaten sea urchin before, and the texture and taste I find extraordinarily difficult to describe.  It looks something like a tiny, turmeric-infused tongue, though the texture is nothing like that.  The feel of it on my own tongue was fascinating.  The softly gelatinous morsel literally melted in my mouth.  The flavor started out light, then deepened into a rich, somewhat musky, mineral-toned aftertaste that my sushi-loving daughter did not relish. Not at all fishy.  I liked it, but it was strong.  Sometimes a small portion is enough.

I hope this whets your appetite for your own visit to Chicago.  And if you are from the city or have visited, please share your favorite restaurants and dining experiences.  I’d love to hear from you.