New Work: Cincinnati Visitor Guide 2017

So, the assignment was to write about 5 iconic dishes from across Greater Cincinnati. Not fancy food, necessarily. Not things we’re 100% known for, like goetta or chili or Graeter’s ice cream. But dishes that if you’re a newcomer to the city, and you’re hopping around to the city’s distinctive neighborhoods, that you’d most definitely not want to miss.

Like a Zip Burger. This family-friendly little joint in my neighborhood dishes up arguably Cincinnati’s finest burger: a super high-quality beef patty ground to order, cooked on a flat-top and served on a soft bakery bun.

Hard work, right? I know.

Check out my profile of 5 Hot Dishes in Cincinnati’s booming food scene, part of the 2017 Cincinnati USA Visitor Guide.

New work: Healthy Living News for Meijer

I recently wrapped up work on a campaign for Meijer called Healthy Living News: I contributed content about wellness, healthy foods and lifestyle tips to this in-store consumer magazine. Working with the creative team at IN Marketing Services, we created four bimonthly publications of about 20 pages each. Take a look!

Meijer HLN SO cover

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New work: Organic Gardening

Imagine being asked to write a feature article — for a national magazine you’ve long admired — about making candy. Right? Impossible to turn that assignment down. Even more so when the subject of the story is Cincinnati chocolatier Shalini Latour, whose Chocolats Latour are as beautiful as they are delicious. What a fun story to tell!

Shalini, photographer Julie Kramer and I collaborated on the story plus four recipes — for chocolate truffles with fresh mint, raspberry swirl marshmallows, buttery mints like the ones you find in mom-and-pop Italian restaurants and Shalini’s own award-winning almond rosemary brittle.

Find the story out now in the December/January issue of Organic Gardening.

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Finishing that marathon project.

Well, it’s done.

On July 1, I turned in the manuscript for “The Findlay Market Cookbook.” It’s a whopper: 54,000 words, about 220 pages, full of 70+ interviews with local farmers and food entrepreneurs and about 125 recipes. The biggest project I’ve ever undertaken, by far.

And my goodness, was this a learning experience—from start to finish. I wrote about this Marathon Project (MP) several months ago on my blog and in my newsletter. (In fact, that post, in March, was the last one I’ve added to my blog. Yeah, I’ve been busy.) At that point, about 2 months into the MP, I had discovered some project-management tricks that would help manage a long-term gig, including breaking the MP into chunks and doing the pre-work necessary to make things move smoothly.

Now that I’ve wrapped up much of the work involved in the MP (marketing and promotional work will happen when the book is published this fall), I thought I’d document and share more of what I’ve learned during the experience. And I’m sure more “a-ha’s” will emerge the farther away from the MP I get.

image via creative commons license

The MP is smaller than you think it is. If you’re a “get-er-done” kind of person, one who tackles the to-do list with relentless pursuit and who’s not comfortable until tasks are finished, the Marathon Project will loom large on your plate from the very start. Until you finish, it will remain a constant presence on your mind and your calendar. The thing is, the MP is psychologically larger than it actually is. It will consume you … if you let it.

That said, the MP is large. And you probably won’t fully appreciate its magnitude until you’ve wrapped the project. Only when I finished the last step of my cookbook project—when I compiled all the profiles and recipes and front matter and miscellaneous stuff, about 200 separate pieces, into a single document—did I realize just how BIG this MP was. Only then did I truly feel a sense of accomplishment. When you reach the finish line of your MP, look back and consider all the ground you’ve covered.

Know that you’ll hit the wall, and trust that the inspiration you need will come. I had about 10 final profiles to write for the book and was scrambling to gather recipes—and I couldn’t keep going. I hit the wall. I was just going through the motions, totally un-fired-up about the project. Then Julie Kramer, the photographer, shared some of the images she was getting for the book. They were amazing. Perfect for the project. Those shots gave me the dose of inspiration I needed. When you hit the wall in an MP, keep your eyes open for something that will give you the buzz to get to the finish.

Business development efforts shouldn’t cease. For the final month of the project, I graciously declined several other gigs so that I could focus solely on the book, and I let my clients know that I’d again be available in a few weeks. It was scary to say no to business, but I felt I needed to. During that time, though, I also cut off other marketing channels: didn’t contribute to my blog, put the newsletter on hiatus, neglected business-development follow-ups. This was not smart. Next time I find an MP on my plate, I’ll be more disciplined about carefully keeping the marketing machine turning.

Find a way to celebrate. When you reach the finish line on a Marathon Project, do something deliberate and meaningful to celebrate, particularly if it’s a team effort. Lunch, happy hour, an afternoon off … find a way to reward the effort and acknowledge your quality work.

Finish that Marathon, catch your breath, and then get back to doing the great work you do.

Working on a project that I can help with? Get in touch—I’m ready to start something new!

New work: Summer vegetable recipes for Cincinnati Enquirer.

Ahhh … summer. Funny how Mother Nature syncs our appetites with seasonally available produce. Right now, tomatoes, corn, cucumbers, melons — they’re all abundant in our farmers’ markets, and these are the foods we crave during hot weather.

The August 28 edition of the Cincinnati Enquirer, featured my food writing — including introductory copy, six recipes and accompanying photos. Delicious! (Click on each image for a full view.)

New work: City Eats guide for Cincinnati Magazine.

I love writing stories about creative people in both food and design. This spring, I contributed a sweeping, 10-segment feature package to Cincinnati Magazine’s annual City Guide.

The project included telling readers—primarily, people who are new to or considering a move to Cincinnati—about some of the chefs, bars and restaurants that are bringing excellent food and drink to the city’s neighborhoods. In my mind, there’s no better way to get to know a place than by experiencing it through food. This assignment brought me to far corners of the city that I don’t often visit and introduced me to the city’s most awesome chefs.

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.

Fast food: Why we need to slow down

We eat in our cars, at our desks, on the go, in front of the TV. We eat drive-through, take-out, delivered, packaged and prepared meals.

We need to slow … down.

Consumer trends around the globe show that over the past three decades people are purchasing more prepared foods at the grocery and eating out more. It’s projected that we’ll spend a record amount at restaurants in 2011. We’re consuming an increasing number of calories and bigger portions. Simultaneously, we’re getting less healthy.

While debates rage over the food industry’s contribution to our growing waistlines and our resulting health problems, the bottom line is this: What we eat, where we eat and how we eat are all 100% under our control. We can choose to eat a fast-food lunch on the go (spending that extra $6 and adding 150 calories to our day). We can throw a frozen meal in the microwave and call it dinner.

Or, we can dedicate an hour of the day to cook and enjoy a meal with our families. We can spend a few minutes in the morning to eat a healthy breakfast. Eating sensibly doesn’t take much time or money, but it does require you to make a conscious decision to do so. Here are some steps you can take:

Respect food. Prepare it with love, enjoy it with mindfulness, use it to your healthy benefit.

Shop your local farmers’ markets. Studies on both coasts have shown that farmers’ market produce is comparably priced to grocery produce—and it’s much fresher, it’s better for the local economy and it’s more sustainable.

Be mindful of what you put in the shopping cart. Why buy salad dressing that’s full of high-fructose corn syrup and preservatives, when you can make your own salad dressing for much less money and better health?

Be careful about coupons. Buy-one-get-one on PopTarts seems like a good deal. But is it? Is that coupon prompting you to buy something you don’t want or need?

Read more about these and other steps you can take toward your own slow-food movement and eating healthier today in my article for SparkPeople.com: Why a Fast-Food Nation Needs a Slow-Food Movement.

Food and cooking trends for 2013.

As a writer who covers food and cooking, I’m always scouting other food websites, chatting with local farmers, interviewing chefs and producers, and generally scoping out the food scene. Like design (the other much-loved subject of my freelance writing career), food is constantly changing. Here’s what I’m most looking forward to in the coming months (and years):

foodie trends for 2013

farm to table

Maybe this prediction is premature, but I think that, increasingly, farm-to-table isn’t a thing anymore — it just is. Chefs are sourcing good ingredients (as are home cooks); they just aren’t squawking about ‘Blah Blah Farm heirloom vine-ripened just-picked baby tomatoes’ on their menus. Instead, they’re simply serving high-quality goods without fuss. And home cooks have embraced the explosion in the number of farmers’ markets in the U.S. (up from about 3,100 in 2002 to more than 7,800 in 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture).

the evolving food economy

I think we’re midway along a continuum:

industrial > organic > local/regional > healthy/sustainable

In other words, we’re evolving from a food system that’s dominated by big brands and national scale, past the organic movement (which has its benefits, to be sure, but isn’t the final solution for our mass-produced-over-processed-long-haul-trucked food economy) to the locavore trend … to, I hope, a point where we’re talking about how healthy a food is and how sustainably it’s produced, and not just its source. Health-conscious, food-loving consumers are in Phase 3 of the continuum, and they’re starting to drag more mainstream eaters in that direction.

heirloom foods

We’ve encountered heirloom varieties of vegetables in seed catalogs and restaurant menus for some time now. Next up: dried heirloom beans. California grower/producer Rancho Gordo really started this trend, and now I’m seeing it locally, as dried beans have just recently appeared in my neighborhood farmers’ market. These heirloom varieties can be challenging to grow (and they’re likely a pain in the neck to pick and process), but they’re deeply flavored and wonderful in all kinds of cooking.

old-fashioned cooking methods

Similar to the trend in heirloom vegetables, restaurant chefs and home cooks alike are returning to time-tested methods, including fermenting, canning and wood-fire cooking. A recent interview with chef Michael Paley of Cincinnati’s highly anticipated Metropole restaurant, confirmed this 2013 food trend for me. Paley cooks on a custom-built wood-burning hearth — not because it’s cute or trendy, but because he loves the challenge of creating top-quality dishes that truly leave an impression on diners. Likewise, I can’t see culinary trends like canning, preserving and fermenting tapering off any time soon.

vintage recipes

Not only are we cooking in old-fashioned ways, we’re embracing old-fashioned recipes. My own Clara Project here is a personal example of this interest in vintage recipes; Paley’s resurrection of generations-old German sausage recipes for Metropole’s charcuterie program is another. Comments I’ve received on The Clara Project seem to indicate that fellow home cooks are returning to much-loved family recipes.

the new homemade trend: yogurt

Last year, I ran across so many posts and recipes about making simple homemade cheese like mozzarella and ricotta. The DIY dairy product trend for 2013? I’m betting on homemade yogurt. I’ve done it; it’s beyond easy and super delicious. Here’s my recipe for homemade yogurt.

simplicity

For this new restaurant trend, we’ve gone past molecular gastronomy, with its foamy, freeze-dried laboratory experimentation, back to foods that taste like what they’re made of. When you’re sourcing great ingredients, the best preparation method is to cook simply and get out of the way. Of course, simple is harder than it looks, particularly in a restaurant. As chef Paley told me: “What keeps me up at night is that this stuff is way too simple. You don’t want fall on your face doing something super simple.”

I’ll take the challenge of keeping food simple, welcome the continuation of retro cooking methods and embrace a food movement that goes beyond local.

Here’s to a healthy and delicious 2013!

 

New work: Pro-bono projects for creative entrepreneurs.

As an independent creative professional, I share a conundrum with many of my peers: How to lend my creative writing services to causes that I support in a way that’s valuable to them and sustainable for me.

I explored the subject of pro-bono creative work in a recently published feature story for The Creative Group’s eZine. In researching the article, I connected with a few graphic designers in my network, both indies and small-agency owners, to find out how they decide which organizations to work with, and how they manage that work.

Here’s an excerpt from the feature story on pro-bono creative work:

Pro bono public, aka “pro bono”, is a common practice in the creative industry, particularly among designers who long to use their skills and talents on projects they find personally fulfilling. (For those who are unfamiliar with the term, it’s work of any sort that’s done for the public good without compensation.)

But the design field is littered with stories of pro bono projects gone wrong. What starts as a labor of love for a grateful client becomes a time-sucking disaster for a two-headed monster.

Support a cause you believe in

Many designers seek to use their innate creativity for purposes beyond “selling more widgets” or increasing traffic to a website. When you work to support a cause that holds special meaning to you, it can rekindle your creative spark. That’s certainly the case for Justin Ahrens, creative director of Rule29, a strategic design firm based in Geneva, Ill. Ahrens and his team spend one-fifth of their working hours each year volunteering. One organization they’re very dedicated to helping is Life In Abundance International, a group devoted to helping some of the poorest communities in East Africa.

“We look for projects we’re passionate about, because if we’re passionate, then our best work shows,” says Justin. “It’s so inspiring when you show work in your portfolio that you’re passionate about, because you know more about it and you speak about it with more enthusiasm. Clients and prospects get inspired, too.”

As 2012 winds down in the coming weeks and we look forward to next year, I’ll be on the lookout for causes that I want to serve by offering my copywriting skills.

What about you? What plans for pro-bono work do you have?