Recent work: Mohawk Maker Quarterly

Writers truly geek out when their work is published — even more so when their work is presented in glorious, beautifully designed fashion. I’m lucky. I get to work with creative people who turn my words into really cool printed pieces.

For more than a year, I’ve been collaborating with the insanely talented people at Hybrid Design in San Francisco on a covetable quarterly publication that celebrates creativity, artistry and the maker culture. Mohawk Paper produces the Mohawk Maker Quarterly for its audience of printers, creators and designers. Here’s a look at Issue No. 7, which carries a theme of Character:



New work: Celebrating the design community.

Late last year, the team at San Francisco’s supertalented Hybrid Design called with an assignment: Would I be interested in interviewing Sibella Kraus for one of their client projects?

Um, yeah.

Sibella Kraus is the matriarch of our modern farmers’ market system, and a personal hero of mine. She worked with Alice Waters at Chez Panisse, where the two of them began seeking better quality produce from local farmers. When Sibella left the restaurant business, she went on to found the Center for Urban Education About Sustainable Agriculture, the nonprofit organization behind the Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market, a San Francisco institution that Rob and I never fail to visit when we’re in the City by the Bay. Sibella was wonderful to talk to, and the story ended up in Issue 3 of Mohawk Paper’s Maker Quarterly. (Click on the cover image below to download the PDF.)

Four months later, the Hybrid Design team asked if I’d contribute to Issue 4 of the Quarterly. This time, I had the fun assignment to write about public spaces that foster community: tiny parks, communal apartment buildings, co-working spaces and the like. (Click on the cover below to download the PDF.) I love working with the Hybrid team … it’s a real collaboration.

Beautiful food packaging design.

Recently, my colleagues at HOW asked me to create a feature story for about beautiful food package design. The pleasure was all mine, since the project combines two subjects I love: food and design.

The featured works included a range of food package designs, from big-box retail to small-batch producer. They take different creative approaches, but they all make their contents look amazingly, appetizingly delicious.

Among the projects:

Cat Lady Preserves: stamped and hand-written labels and sweet string ties

Mast Brothers Chocolates: inspired by vintage papers and textiles

Callegari Olive Oils: beautiful blown-glass bottles for a specialty Spanish producer

For my money, though, you can’t beat the Italians for beautiful food packaging. During our recent trip to Tuscany, we purchased food from small shops in Lucca; everything, from fresh pasta to cheese to wine, was wrapped in white paper bearing the purveyor’s logo and address. The simple paper wrapping was pretty, easy to use and environmentally friendly.

Paper wrapping from Italy: wine, pasta and bakery shops

How to See When You Look

There’s a difference between looking and seeing, between hearing and listening. Many of us (I raise my hand) are better at the former than at the latter. We look, but we don’t see. We hear, but we don’t listen.

Over many years of working with visual creatives — designers of all types — I came to admire their highly developed ability to see. Designers look at the world differently than I; they see things I miss.

Turns out, our particular expectations, experience and expertise shapes what we see when we look around us. It’s why a gardener can spot the wildflowers amid the vacant lot full of weeds. It’s why my design friends critique the typography of the menu when we go out to dinner.

Last weekend, I went hunting in the woods for morel mushrooms with an acquaintance. “They’re hard to find,” she said. “But once you spot one, you’ll see them all over the place.” (We never spotted one.) It’s pattern recognition; the same thing comes into play with my odd ability to find 4-leaf clovers.

Ever feel like you’re missing something when you go out for a walk, or when you’re on vacation? Me, too. Hoping to better develop my ability to pay attention — to really see — I picked up Alexandra Horowitz’s wonderful “On Looking.” I loved her book “Inside of a Dog” (a fascinating read if there’s a beloved canine friend in your life).

In “On Looking,” Horowitz takes walks with 11 “experts” — including illustrator Maira Kalman and type designer Paul Shaw, along with a blind person, an entomologist, a geologist and others. She also walks with her toddler son and her dog, insightful journeys, both.

Bombarded by visual stimuli, she writes, our brains over time develop the ability to filter out everything but what’s critical to our particular mission in the moment, be it finding edible roots or navigating an unfamiliar neighborhood. “Over time” is the key phrase — in infancy, we don’t have those filters.

“One perceptual constraint that I knowingly labor under is the constraint that we all create for ourselves: we summarize and generalize, stop looking at particulars and start taking in scenes at a glance — all in an effort to not be overwhelmed visually when we just need to make it through the day. The artist seems to retain something of the child’s visual strategy: how to look at the world before knowing (or without thinking about) the name or function of everything that catches the eye. An infant treats objects with an unprejudiced equivalence: the plastic truck is of no more intrinsic worth to the child than an empty box is, until the former is called a toy and the latter is called garbage. … To the child, as to the artist, everything is relevant; little is unseen.

“In childhood, all is new. With age, we see things as familiar. We have seen it all before. … Vacations are the adult exceptions. There, two things happen: we actually do see new paces and second, we bother to look. … Soon, though, we acclimate. Before we know it, we have become entirely accustomed to how that vacation spot looks. We have routines, we know the way — and we stop looking.

Want to start looking? I’d recommend “On Looking.” Followed by a slow, inquisitive, attentive walk around your neighborhood.

Worth Reading

In Mindfulness, a Method to Sharpen Focus and Open Minds—Advice on how to quiet your mind’s busy-ness and be aware of your world, by “intentionally paying attention to the present nonjudgmentally.”

Inside of a Dog—by Alexandra Horowitz. “Dogs don’t act on the world by handling objects or by eyeballing them, as people might, or by pointing and asking others to act on the object (as the timid might); instead, they bravely stride right up to a new, unknown object, stretch their magnificent snouts within millimeters of it, and take a nice deep sniff.”


For the love of food and design.

This has been making its way around the interwebs in the past 2 weeks, so perhaps it’s not new to you. But I’m utterly charmed by Minneapolis-based designer David Schwen and his Pantone Pairings project. Schwen takes two compatible foods and creates ersatz Pantone color chips with them. The foodie and design enthusiast in me love this project in equal measure!

David Schwen Pantone Pairings Project peas and carrots

David Schwen Pantone Pairings project chips and salsa

Why business cards still matter.

With so much business-related interaction happening in the digital realm, you might wonder whether such old-fashioned niceties as a well-designed business card still matter.

They do.

A great business card design makes such a strong impression. These days, it’s not so much about handing someone your card in hopes that they’ll stash it in a Rolodex for future use. A business card is part of making a great initial connection. It says you’re serious. It shows you care about the little things. It’s part of your image.

Ordering a set of business cards was the second thing I did after I launched my recipe website in 2010. And it was the second thing I did after I launched my business website in 2011. I requisitioned my business cards from, the UK-based printer of business cards, stickers and postcards. Why Moo? First, I loved the diminutive card sizes—Moo mini cards are about half the size (horizontally) of traditional business cards. They’re printed front-and-back, and you can upload practically countless photos for the back of the cards. The Moo website is ridiculously easy to use, and the brand’s persona is ultimately charming. (My order arrived in a box with a sticker proclaiming “Yay!” on it. Yay, indeed!) But the best thing about my Moo mini cards is the response they elicit from people I hand them to—everyone is universally delighted by their cute smallness.

More recently, Moo launched a Luxe line of business cards—a full-size model that’s printed on deliciously double-thick cardstock. My friends at Mohawk Fine Papers, which provides the stock for Moo’s Luxe line, presented a not-to-be-missed opportunity to try the new product.

I asked Jill Anderson, who created the fabulous website you’re perusing right at this moment, if she could design the cards—I knew I wanted something really special, given the weight and finish of the Luxe cards. We came up with the idea of picturing a writes4food recipe on the back, with a QR code that links directly to the recipe.

The cards arrived yesterday in a lovely bespoke box, and I have to say: I’m thrilled with them. They’re beautiful, substantial, impressive. (And my photos don’t do them justice.) I can’t wait to start handing them out.

Want one?


Food for thought: Fuel your brain (and get better ideas)

You’ve heard the phrase ‘starving artist’—but you may not know what a role diet plays in our creative and artistic pursuits. We may think of food as fuel for our bodies, but it charges up our minds, too. Whole grains, fruits and vegetables and nuts have all been shown to assist with brain function.

Healthy vegetables and fruits fuel the body and the brain

Healthy vegetables and fruits fuel the body and the brain

In fact, studies have shown that foods high in antioxidants—like blueberries, plums, strawberries, walnuts, artichokes, kale and spinach—can help boost the brain’s natural cellular repair function and may improve memory. James Joseph, who leads the neuroscience lab at the Jean Mayer Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging, wrote in the study, “Weighing just 3 pounds, the brain accounts for only 2 percent of the body’s total mass, yet it uses up to half of the body’s total oxygen consumed during mental activity. Phytochemicals, together with essential nutrients in foods, provide a health-benefits cocktail of sorts.”

(Or you could get your antioxidants IN a cocktail, like this Blueberry Muddle.)

Other studies have shown the value of Omega-3 fatty acids in promoting our mental capacity and ability. And if you’re considering a fast-food chicken sandwich and side of fries for lunch, know this: Diets high in saturated and trans fats can negatively affect our cognitive ability.

Tips for feeding your brain and satisfying your body:

Don’t skip lunch. Even if you’re cruising on a creative project, be sure to fuel up mid-day. See Worth Eating below for links to a couple of wonderful make-ahead salads packed with brain-happy whole grains and veggies.

Snack smart. Take a quick break to eat a piece of fruit and a handful of healthy roasted almonds. My favorite pick-me-up afternoon snack is a sliced honeycrisp apple with 1 Tbsp. of natural peanut or almond butter.

Eat whole foods. As author Michael Pollan and nutrition advocate Marion Nestle advocate, avoid packaged foods that make health claims. Get your fiber from whole grains, your antioxidants from fruits and vegetables. Nutrients delivered in pills or supplements work in isolation and lose the benefit of being in their natural form and consumed in combination with other nutrients.

Drink more water. If you’re feeling sluggish or hungry, drink a glass of water before you reach for another cup of coffee. Fatigue is a sign of dehydration. Drinking water throughout the day helps nutrients circulate through your body, including to your brain.

See Worth Reading below for a link to more information on how diet impacts creativity.

“If you think of the brain as an engine, it’s going to run better on high-grade fuel. That’s what a brain-healthy diet provides.” — Paul E. Bendheim, neurologist


The Diet, Exercise and Creativity Connection: Learn more about how what you eat affects what (and how) you think.

Best Brain Foods for Brain Function, Health and Memory: From WebMD, here’s a list of brain-boosting “superfoods” to stock at home and in the office.

Worth Eating

Lentil Salad with Chard and Tomatoes: This healthy salad is packed with protein, legumes and leafy greens, which can provide energy and nutrients to keep you going. Make a batch on the weekend and pack it for an easy workday lunch.

Delicious Cooking with Whole Grains: A roundup of wholesome grains (like quinoa and farro) that make terrific bases for hearty and healthy salads and side dishes.


Client love: Enrich Creative

My favorite part of my work—any project, whether it’s writing a magazine article or crafting marketing copy for a client—is the personal connection. Interviewing sources. Talking to people. Understanding what makes them tick. Telling their story.

Gretchen Schisla got in touch with me (via our good friend Peleg Top) as she was in the middle of rebranding her 10-year-old design studio in St. Louis—in order to focus on designing for clients in the food and wellness categories.

Could I help her tell the story of her terrific team and the work they do? Absolutely.

I created biographical stories for each of the four Enrich Creative staffers. And then we went on to develop compelling project case studies and client testimonials that shine a spotlight on their great work.

Here’s a sample from a case study describing their work for Noboleis Winery:

When two generations of the Nolen family came to us in 2009, they brought an unusual creative challenge: Design a package for a product that hadn’t been produced yet, and an identity for a business that was still the founders’ vision.

Robert and Lou Ann had long dreamed of starting an estate winery in the beautiful rolling hills of Missouri Wine Country, and in 2004 bought a property and began transforming it into the area’s newest wine producer. They called it Noboleis Vineyards (a hybrid of Nolen and their two daughters’ married names). They wanted to celebrate family and community, good food and wine, and the area’s winemaking heritage. When we began working with them, they’d planted vines and begun construction, but hadn’t made a single bottle of wine from their grapes.

It was up to us to envision a brand for this new venture — literally from the ground up.

See more case studies I created for Enrich Creative.

And learn more about my work as an independent writer focused on food, wellness and design.