2016: A (writing) year in review.

Globally speaking, I’m beyond ready for 2016 to beat a hasty retreat. Seriously.

Professionally, though, I’m still marveling at what a great year it was. Seriously.

I was fortunate to collaborate with a number of longstanding and new clients, broadening and deepening my portfolio of writing about food and wellness. My work fell evenly into two camps: writing for publication and online marketing content. The subjects were inspiring, the teams fun to work with, the finished projects stuff I’m proud of. A few high points:

A visit to one of my top clients. After working together — closely, on lots and lots of projects — for two years, I traveled to connect in person with my colleagues at the Produce Marketing Association. We’ve worked together to promote dozens of global events for growers/suppliers/retailers in the fresh produce and floral industry. It was so neat to meet the PMA team face-to-face. And 2017 looks to hold even greater collaboration.

Giving life to local food coverage. Call me old-fashioned, but I still love reading the local newspaper over my morning coffee. And my recipe file is full of old clippings from newspapers’ food sections. So when editor Amy Wilson asked if I’d regularly contribute to the Cincinnati Enquirer‘s weekly food coverage, I jumped at the chance. I got to write about the pleasures of eating breakfast for dinner, shared delicious ways to enjoy summer tomatoes, and declared that making your own butter is just about the best thing ever. Coolest encounter of the year: Running into an Enquirer reader, toting my recipe for herb and spice cashews that she’d cut from the paper, as she was buying the nuts at Dean’s Mediterranean Market. Local food — and local media — for the win!

Tackling a new medium: recipe videos. You know those 1-minute recipe videos you see in your Facebook feed all the time? Turns out, those take about 2 hours to film and are a whole lot of fun to create. Working with Curiosity Advertising and their client, The Christ Hospital, we’re rolling out a series of quick recipe videos.

Supporting local food producers, farmers and retailers. Serving as editor of Edible Ohio Valley remains a passion and pleasure, as we get to tell the stories of people who are working hard to bring beautiful, healthful food to our tables here in Cincinnati. One of my favorite stories to write this year was a feature on farmers’ markets and their importance to our community, economy and our collective health.

Here’s hoping you had a productive and fulfilling 2016, and that 2017 will bring you more of the same!

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New work: Edible Ohio Valley Spring issue.

This issue of Edible Ohio Valley magazine celebrates the ways that food can bring people together, lift folks up and make the world a little bit better.

Plus, isn’t the cover gorgeous?

Spring EOV coverFind this issue at your favorite Ohio Valley food purveyors, including the fabulous Dorothy Lane Market and Findlay Market, plus bookstores like Joseph-Beth.

New work: Untangling the Farm Bill.

Of all the subjects I’ve covered as a journalist, none is more unsexy—or more important—than the 2014 Farm Bill.

Wait: Before your eyes glaze over, hear me out.

The 2014 Farm Bill (which should have actually been the 2012 Farm Bill, but was delayed by all manner of political shenanigans) directly affects what you and I eat every day. It affects how underprivileged folks get access to healthy food, how young people can succeed in farming, how farmers’ markets can grow and reach more customers, how big industrial farms interact with the environment.

While the 2014 Farm Bill was signed into law in March, the real work is ongoing, as committees undertake the task of translating legislation into reality. How will rules be implemented and enforced? What will these rules look like on the ground? And consumers (as well as special interest groups) can have a big say in how the Farm Bill goes into practice.

If you’re interested in local food, if you want continued access to farm-fresh food, then you should know what’s going on with the Farm Bill. My recent article in the newest issue of Edible Ohio Valley aims to detangle the confusion.

A nice bit of recognition.

In December, I submitted my writing for Edible Ohio Valley to the Bert Greene Awards for food journalism sponsored by the International Association of Culinary Professionals. It was kind of a lark, but I figured, “Why not?”

This week, the IACP announced the award finalists, and there among the top three for Culinary Column was my Cultivators column for Edible Ohio Valley.

Cultivators introduces readers to chefs, farmers, advocates and others who bring wholesome, locally grown produce to our tables. The 2013 columns profiled Michael Paley, executive chef of the much-awarded Metropole at Cincinnati’s 21c Museum Hotel; Madison’s, a farm-to-shelf retailer at Findlay Market; the Greater Cincinnati Master Gardeners Association, whose members gardening work feeds and beautifies our community; and chef and master sommelier Steven Geddes, who recently departed Local 127 restaurant, a model of farm-to-table dining.

These are beautiful, beautiful stories to tell. I’m thrilled that the IACP judges selected the work among the three finalists (along with columnists from Real Simple and Playboy). As of the first of the year, I’ve joined the Edible Ohio Valley team as editor for this wonderful quarterly publication; my Edible colleagues are a dream to work with, and I treasure our mission of celebrating local food.

Click on the image below to download a PDF the Cultivators column about Chef Paley.

Presenting: What you learn when you teach.

I’m just back from Edible Institute in Santa Barbara, a 4-day gathering of food magazine editors and publishers, foodies and locavores. My people. The conference had two parts: an informational meeting for folks who own and publish Edible magazines (there are nearly 80 of them throughout the country), and an issue-oriented conference for those interested in local food.

I was thrilled to present two sessions during the editors/publishers’ meeting, where I shared strategies and tips for making the editorial process run smoothly. It was an incredible experience. And I discovered that by teaching, I learned a ton.

Presenting = giving. I was super nervous about this presentation. If you’ve been to a HOW Design Conference in the past decade, you may know that in my host role, I’d welcome participants to the event. But let me tell you: Standing before 4,000 people to say a quick ‘hello’ wasn’t nearly as knee-knocking as presenting—with slides and handouts and everything—to 40.

My session targeted an audience of Edible editors and publishers, nearly none of whom had magazine experience. Magazine experience I have in spades. So I worked very hard to prepare a professional-looking Keynote presentation (with slide backgrounds created by talented designer Jill Anderson).

Most important, I aimed to share a ton of great information. I approached the presentation from a position of giving; I knew that the attendees struggled with getting their magazines produced, and I knew I could help. An opening slide read, “My goal is to minimize your pain.” I shared “insider secrets” for producing a magazine. And people told me throughout the weekend how much they valued what I had to offer.

Presentation is rooted in the word ‘present.’ This has a double meaning: 1) give freely of your time, expertise, information, ideas, and 2) be there, be fully engaged.

Presenting inspires clarity. As you gather information to share during a workshop or conference presentation, you dig deep into the material. The process of researching, organizing and editing clarifies your own thinking about the subject. When you have to explain how something works or decipher a complex topic—particularly a subject that you’re very familiar with—you have to look at it from the perspective of a novice and make the information accessible to everyone.

I stuck around after my presentations (back-to-back sessions on Friday) for the rest of the weekend’s program. And I’m glad I did. After expending a lot of creative energy Friday, it was great to recoup that by listening to inspiring speakers from the food community.

We need to refill regularly. As creative professionals, we pour ourselves into our work. No matter how rewarding the project, it still takes from us. And we need to make time to refill. That’s why conferences rock. Being among your peers, among people with shared passions, among people you can learn from—the energy boost is immeasurable. It’s hard to allocate time and funds to attend an event like Edible Institute or HOW Design Live (use my discount code BRYN if you’d like to register for the Creative Freelancer Conference).

Maybe it’s not a big conference every year. But it’s critical to refill the well regularly, whether it’s by attending a conference or a smaller, local gathering that can inspire you.

We can make a difference. One of the highlights of Edible Institute was Marion Nestle’s keynote presentation. Dr. Nestle is a nutritionist and one of the nation’s leading voices advocating for healthier diets and changes to our food economy. In our current socio-political-economic climate, where supersize portions are the norm (did you know that a Double Gulp soda has 800 calories, nearly half our daily intake?), food labels are deliberately misleading and food companies are ever-pressured to deliver shareholder value, “it’s impossible for people to practice personal responsibility.” But we’re not stuck. We have a lot of power as individuals to spark change. We can “vote with our forks” by choosing healthful foods, supporting local growers and producers, and sharing our tables with family and neighbors.

 “Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what’s for lunch.”

— Orson Welles

New work: Chef Michael Paley profile for Edible Ohio Valley.

Metropole is the most-anticipated restaurant debut in Cincinnati for quite awhile. I finally managed to have dinner there recently, and it was sublime. Chef Michael Paley does wonders with the freshest of ingredients prepared in the simplest of ways.

You know how difficult it is to do simple, right? If you’re a designer, you know that stripping away elements until you have the perfectly balanced composition requires discipline and finesse. As a writer, I can tell you it’s vastly easier to write 1,200 words on a topic than it is to write 200.

When I interviewed Chef Paley, he told me: “What keeps me up at night is that this stuff is way too simple. … There’s a lot of pre-work that goes into [our dishes]. I’ve sourced this really great vinegar, I’ve been through three different farmers for lettuce, we’ve got these awesome radishes that are sliced perfectly thin and even. But in the end, after all that prior work—that the diner doesn’t know about— you have a salad with three components. And you really want to make sure you’re doing that right.”

In a new profile for Edible Ohio Valley, “The New Guy,” I write about how Metropole and Chef Paley are doing simple—and awe-inspiring—things with local and seasonal ingredients in Cincinnati.

See the Winter issue of Edible Ohio Valley magazine and read the article on Metropole and Chef Paley.

Metropole’s open kitchen adds to the experience; service counters throughout the space top out at waist level to provide patrons an unrestricted view of the action. Chef Michael Paley likes the synergy and connectedness between the dining room and kitchen. And then there’s the massive brick hearth with fire a-blazing at the back of the room: “You see the fire, hear it cracking, you hear the sounds of the kitchen,” he says.

 

The fireplace is the heart of both the environment and the menu. It, too, represents a blend of old and new: a throwback technique that echoes home cooking circa 1850 and a culinary style that’s part of the city’s current food scene (think: wood-fired breads and pizzas).

 

Paley’s interest in open-flame cooking isn’t new, but it’s in full expression at Metropole. He became interested in the method thanks to the wood-fired oven at Garage Bar, the Louisville hot spot he still owns. “I really like the challenge of bringing this ancient cooking method into a modern restaurant kitchen,” he says.

 

In late morning one weekday in December, six whole chickens were suspended by strings from two wrought-iron cranes mounted above a friendly blaze; over three hours they would rotate slowly, depositing their juices into a hotel pan below filled with aromatic vegetables, which would be turned into sauce for serving. Paley offered a tour of the fireplace, pointing out the hand-forged iron fire cage and swinging cranes, crafted by Kentucky blacksmith Craig Kaviar. To one side, a heavy iron plancha, kind of a footed griddle, sat awaiting a sweep of embers underneath to heat it. On the other side of the cage, chefs can assemble a grill that’s also fired by the hot embers. The brick fireplace is “can be arranged as needed, like an arena gets configured for concerts or basketball games,” Paley says.

 

“We can run a menu off something that doesn’t need gas or electricity,” Paley continues. And he does, or nearly so: whole onions, charred and caramelized in the hot ashes, top a seasonal salad of fresh garbanzo beans and creamy burrata cheese; oysters are hearth-baked; slices of rich foie gras take a turn on the plancha, as does a savory poached pear half served on a salad of roasted beets.

Client love: Edible Ohio Valley

File under: Why the hell did I not do this myself?

In 2009, three sisters from Cincinnati secured the local franchise from Edible Communities Publications, and Edible Ohio Valley magazine was born. I happened upon a copy at our local farmers’ market not long after the first edition was published in the summer of 2010, and I was hooked.

Here was a well-crafted magazine, made right in my own backyard, that celebrated local food and the farmers and producers who bring it to our tables. I had to be a part of this. And when I spotted the three Kramer sisters handing out copies at Cincinnati’s famous Findlay Market, where we do our weekly grocery shopping, I ran over to introduce myself.

[Actually, I think I made a fool of myself, I was so completely, gushily enthusiastic about what they were doing and so eager to contribute.]

A short while later, I found myself at an editorial brainstorm session with the women and other contributors, and then found myself with my first feature assignment. Edible has published some of my very best work, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to tell great stories. Stories about chefs, farmers and producers who are committed to bringing healthful, wholesome, seasonal food to my table and my neighbors’. I’m pleased and proud to be the Cultivators columnist for Edible Ohio Valley magazine.

See my work for Edible Ohio Valley by clicking these links:

A Season of Anticipation — Winter 2012
Edible Trips: Bloomington, IN — Fall 2011
The Tao of Dairy — Summer 2011
Growing Interest — Spring 2011
Roots and Branches — Fall 2010

A conversation about local food.

I recently had the unbelievable good fortune of interviewing Paul Willis, live onstage (or rather, on a picnic table).

Paul, the founder of Niman Ranch Pork Co., was the featured speaker at the community pig roast that kicked off the Ohio Valley Greenmarket. This wonderful first-time event celebrated local food and sustainable living, and was sponsored by Edible Ohio Valley magazine (my delightful client), the Hamilton County Park District and Hamilton County Master Gardeners (of which I’m a member). With about 125 people in attendance, Paul and I had a conversation about the present and future of sustainable food.

Paul is an inspiration to anyone who’s interested in eating whole, healthful, high-quality food that’s produced in an ethical and sustainable way. A third-generation Iowa hog farmer, Paul raises animals the way his family’s always done it: outdoors, in a way that lets the pigs be, well, pigs. No less an authority than Temple Grandin has approved of Paul’s practices. Niman Ranch Pork Co., a network of more than 650 family farms, supplies Chipotle locations around the country and many fine restaurants; you’ll also find their products at stores like Whole Foods.

I wanted to share a few highlights of our conversation:

  • People often talk about local food in absolutes—as in, setting a geographical boundary (like, 50 miles) for local. In fact, Paul says, every farmer is local somewhere.
  • Scale is important in farming. Just as there’s too big—as in, big agribusiness—there’s also too small. Paul talked about the efficiencies that mid-sized food producers can realize: It’s more environmentally friendly (and economical) to ship a whole truckload of pork from Iowa to California than it is for him to transport a single pig from his farm to his processor.
  • We as consumers need to be informed and take responsibility for our purchases. “Get to know where your food comes from.”
  • Want to make a difference in our food system? “Be a farmer. Plant a tomato. Every little bit counts,” Paul said.

Dinner that night was fantastic: Napoleon Ridge Farm provided the pig; the folks at Savor (part of the Relish Group) did all the cooking using produce from Carriage House Farm and other growers. OYO served up a delicious grown-up stone fruit-vodka lemonade. Great Crescent beers were on ice.

Under a picnic shelter at Cincinnati’s Winton Woods park, over a meal of local food, in the company of new friends, under a nearly full moon, it was a remarkable evening. I’m so glad I was part of it.

photos © Bill Magness

New work: Peach Mountain Organics profile

So much of my work—whether it’s team biographies for a creative agency or a published article about designers or farmers—really boils down to one thing: Telling compelling stories about innovative people.

I find extraordinary joy in meeting these interesting folks who are making big and small differences in our world, and in telling their stories to others.

Recently, I had the pleasure of spending time with Doug Seibert and Leslie Garcia on their Peach Mountain Organics farm near Yellow Springs, Ohio. Interviewing them gave me deep insight into the work it takes to bring good, healthy food to my kitchen.

The article was published in Edible Ohio Valley’s summer issue; read the full story here. A little excerpt:

An easy-to-miss driveway juts off a county road north of Spring Valley, Ohio. The gravel lane leads to a modest house tucked in amid tall shade trees. Across the yard stands a barn that’s seemingly held together by its contents: old machine parts, stacks of plastic nursery pots, seed packets, bags of soil amendment. A stooped yet graceful white-haired woman pushes a walker slowly down the pebbly drive, taking in the cool morning air.

This 17-acre Greene County spread is home to Doug Seibert and Leslie Garcia (along with Garcia’s 93-year-old mother and a big ol’ farm dog). On seven acres, the pair —business and life partners since 1991 — cultivate a huge variety of vegetables and cut flowers under the Peach Mountain Organics banner. Their farm, certified organic by the Ohio Ecological Food and Farming Association (OEFFA), produces enough for Seibert and Garcia to create a simple, sustainable lifestyle on the land.

The farm’s bounty also graces dining tables throughout Montgomery and Greene counties: Seibert and Garcia sell to restaurants in nearby towns, including the popular Winds Cafe in Yellow Springs and The Meadowlark in Dayton. Their ever-changing salad mix is a must-buy at the Saturday morning Yellow Springs farmers’ market; Peach Mountain sells out of its offerings in an hour or two. “I once saw a woman in high heels running across the parking lot to get the last bag of our salad mix before we sold out,” Seibert says, laughing.

What kind of story can I tell for you?

Speaking gig: Ohio Valley Greenmarket

If you’re at all interested in making sure your food comes from sustainable sources, then you’re probably familiar with Niman Ranch. The company began in the ’70s with a Northern California property that raised beef cattle in a way that was determinedly humane and sustainable, and delivered high-quality meats to a select group of high-end restaurants. In the mid ’90s, the company added pork to its offerings, thanks to a partnership with Paul Willis, a hog farmer in Thornton, Iowa. These days, a network of more than 675 ranches and farms works on contract with Niman Ranch, according to the company’s strict guidelines for humane animal treatment, sustainable agriculture practices and quality product. Paul Willis continues in a leadership role in Niman Ranch while he manages his own hog farm.

On Friday, August 3, I’ll have the pleasure of a conversation with Paul Willis, as he’s the featured speaker at the Ohio Valley Greenmarket. This three-day event is co-sponsored by my friends at Edible Ohio Valley magazine and the Hamilton County Parks Department. I’ll be sharing a question-and-answer discussion with Paul and taking questions from the audience.

Learn more about the Ohio Valley Greenmarket and purchase event tickets here!

Virginia Creeper covers an old barn and silo at Peach Mountain Organics; photo (c) Bryn Mooth