New work: Mohawk Maker Quarterly No. 13

I’ve been working with the fantastic team at Hybrid Design in San Francisco to create content for Mohawk Paper‘s Maker publication for quite some time now. The writing I did for Issue No. 13 was especially interesting, because it challenged the way I think about the differences between fine art and design, blurring the line between the two.

For the issue, the design team commissioned illustrator Merijn Hos to create an art print — but it wasn’t just one image. Thanks to the way Hos constructed his illustration, a computer program that the Hybrid team used and something called variable-data printing, each edition of the Quarterly contained one unique version of 20,000 total prints. Mind blowing, right? It was kind hard to write about, too. 

See more of Mohawk Maker Quarterly 13 here.

Storytelling is dead. Long live storytelling.

Four years ago, into my inbox came a newsletter from farmer Drausin Wulsin. I remember it to this day. In it, he wrote with respectful honesty and a farmer’s wisdom of caring for an ailing cow, of knowing that his efforts would ultimately be unsuccessful but that they weren’t for naught.

“After a day of struggle and best intentions, all I was able to accomplish was moving her into the barn. Her kind and gentle eyes kept surveying and boring into my growing ineptitude. After a while, I began to feel it wasn’t me she was looking at, but something through and beyond my poor purpose. I finally realized I made no difference at all in this situation. So, I put the tractor and bales of straw away, laid my hand on her great shoulder, and in heart-heavy deference, began my retreat to Batavia to have dinner with Susan. During the drive, I tried to make sense of the intimate smells of her body upon mine, the wisdom in her eyes, and her increasingly labored breathing.”

These words caught my heart. They sparked in me an even more profound gratitude for what farmers do to raise and grow food for my table. They connected me to Drausin’s Grassroots Farm & Foods and turned me into a customer.

In fact, his writing was so engaging that we published five of his stories in the Holiday/Winter 2017–2018 edition of Edible Ohio Valley. Here’s a link if you’d like to read those stories.

Drausin writes for his Farmer’s Almanac blog almost weekly, focusing on what he calls the “Five Strands of Life”: labor, heart, mind, soul and spirit. He writes about the joys of those first spring days, the miracle of seeing baby animals born, the tasks small and large that come with raising livestock for food. I encourage you to read through some of his stories from the farm.

I imagine it takes Drausin no small amount of time to write these stories. Nonetheless, he’s a talented writer. He writes regularly. But more to the point, he has created a powerful marketing tool, one that other farmers, food producers and brands can learn from.

“Storytelling” (and I use that in air-quotes) has been the flavor of the month that’s had marketing people licking their chops for awhile now. It’s become something of a cliche in business. And brand managers have latched onto it without regard to their audience, assuming that *everyone* is surely interested in the origin story behind their brand of laundry detergent or electronic device or whatever.

Storytelling is over- and inappropriately used by so many brands — but it’s the kind of marketing that food brands especially should—and can, legitimately—embrace.

“When reading straight data, only the language parts of our brains work to decode the meaning. But when we read a story, not only do the language parts of our brains light up, but any other part of the brain that we would use if we were actually experiencing what we’re reading about becomes activated as well.” — Why Our Brains Crave Storytelling in Marketing, FastCompany.com

Food marketers, here’s your golden opportunity. 

Food connects people. Stories connect people. Eating and storytelling have gone together since the beginning of humankind. That synergy makes storytelling a mighty marketing tool for food brands large and small. Here’s what storytelling can do for you:

  • Create loyalty among your buyers
  • Give customers a sense of shared ownership
  • Communicate a message of quality and integrity
  • Make a strong case for buying *your* product over others
  • Secure a premium price, because buyers know your story, know your quality, know what lengths you go do to produce your product.

In an upcoming post, I’ll share tips for identifying your story and ways to share it with customers and their connections. So stay tuned.

Meantime, I’ll leave you with a few more words from Drausin about life on the farm.

“As is too often the case in the rush of a day’s work, we do not see the obvious. These clouds were a magical spectacle, performed in the great hidden space above, last weekend, lasting only minutes. Fortunately, we were uncharacteristically quiet enough to witness the magic. What a fabulous few moments those clouds offered, as they passed by, so rich with presence, color, majesty, and intention. They were nature’s marching band, strutting down the boulevard of the great blue beyond. We felt lucky to have looked up in time.”

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New work: Portrait of an artist.

In 2015, we began publishing Last Word in Edible Ohio Valley magazine, the very back editorial page of the magazine featuring a Q&A with notable Ohio Valley people. It’s one of my favorite elements of each issue, and one of my favorite things to write. I love these interviews and the opportunity they afford me to meet interesting people and ask them interesting questions.

Our first Last Word subject was Jim Tarbell, who many people call “Mr. Cincinnati” for his roll-up-your sleeves investment in the city. I’ve spoken with arts figures including Cameron Kitchin of the Cincinnati Art Museum and Victoria Morgan of the Cincinnati Ballet. Former Councilwoman Yvette Simpson. Musicians Linford Detweiler and Karin Bergquist of Over-the-Rhine.

My conversation late last summer with 93-year-old wildlife artist John Ruthven may have been my favorite. Read this, and you might imagine why I fell so in love with this talented man (photographer Michael Wilson told me he did, too), who’s considered the “Modern Audubon.” When I visited his home studio, he had four works in progress, and was looking forward to a duck hunt with friends the following week.

Award-winning teamwork.

I’m over the moon that a project I’ve been involved in for about a year now has received a major industry recognition:

My “Wholesome Kitchen” video series with the awesome marketing team from The Christ Hospital, part of their Healthspirations online outreach, has won a Silver in Modern Healthcare magazine’s Healthcare Marketing Impact Awards.

With the “Wholesome Kitchen” series, we’re sharing quick recipe videos that encourage the community to eat just a little bit more healthfully without sacrificing flavor or fun. The Silver award recognizes a video we filmed at Findlay Market in Cincinnati.

See my writing about health and wellness and my recipe videos for Healthspirations.

New food writing projects.

Since I spent so much of my professional journalism career working on a graphic design magazine—where the way the page looked, not just how it read, was super important—I’ve come to greatly appreciate the beautiful marriage of word and image.

Which is, partly, why I love working with the creative team at 84.51° in Cincinnati on our projects for Kroger’s MyMagazine (the other reason I love working with them is the collaboration). I do the words and recipes; they do the images and design. And their work is flat-out gorgeous. Take a look at these recent projects, where I did the food writing and recipe development:

All About Lemons — two easy recipes featuring lemon, one sweet, one savory

Summery Vegetable Tarts — easy recipes using prepared pie crust and puff pastry

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.

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: Christ Hospital wellness site.

My food writing work hits the sweet spot when the subject intersects at healthy and local. So my new collaboration with The Christ Hospital and agency Curiosity Advertising is right in my kitchen, so to speak.

We’re working together to spotlight local food — producers, farmers’ markets, seasonal flavors — and encouraging the Christ Hospital community to cook and eat healthful foods. In addition to a new series of recipe videos — SUPER FUN! — I am writing online content around healthy cooking and eating. My subjects so far include a feature on local winter farmers’ markets, strategies for stocking your pantry to make home cooking easier, and ‘locavore’ New Years Eve party ideas. Take a look at some of the work:

Looking for inspiration in all the right places.

In college, I took a 200-level English class on American literature and popular culture that focused on the intersection of music and literature. We studied Sam Shepard and Patti Smith’s rock-and-roll play “Cowboy Mouth.” I remember writing a term paper that dissected the lyrics of 10,000 Maniacs. Ever since, I’ve found inspiration in beautifully crafted songwriting.

A couple of months ago, we saw Rickie Lee Jones in concert, and about halfway through, I started to cry, totally blown away by hearing music live that has been the soundtrack to some of my favorite moments in life. Rob is something of a music junkie, the master of the playlist, and we have music playing all the time: while I’m working, while we’re having a cocktail outside on our porch, late into the night when that cocktail has segued into dinner and a bottle of wine.

Hearing Rickie Lee live reminded me of how magical great songwriting can be, how transportive and transformative.

While inspiration often finds me in a great book — my god, have you read All the Light We Cannot See????? — it regularly creeps in through the speakers or headphones. My musical taste steers toward singer-songwriter types, from the 1970s Laurel Canyon artists that dominated the radio waves during my Indianapolis childhood to the likes of R.E.M. and The Bodeans during my college years to current artists like Dawes, Lake Street Dive, Jill Andrews, Sturgill Simpson. I love songs that capture a time and place, that transport you into situations and relationships, that depict characters so vividly you’ll swear they’re standing in front of you.

It’s so important for creative pros not just to seek inspiration — but also to seek it outside their own medium or genre. Looking beyond your milieu opens your eyes to new influences. It frees you from the self-criticism inherent in comparing your stuff to other artists’ work. It gets you out of the weeds and into the wider world.

Skimming through my iTunes library recently, I sparked to these snippets of lyric poetry:

Eddie’s got one crazy eye
That turns him into a cartoon
When a pretty girl comes by
And there’s nothin’ here to do anymore
He sits on the stoop all day
Like there’s something he’s waiting for
Rickie Lee Jones “Living it Up”

You have found me on the other side of a loser’s winning streak
Where my thoughts all wander further than they should
Let me sing to you my solitude, let me pay for your next drink
Let me defend these hearts which are so rarely understood
Dawes “From the Right Angle”

I met him once way after midnight
he lit a smoke and I just stared
He seemed to me like such a sore sight
Bobby Tanqueray with his gorgeous face and hair
Lake Street Dive “Bobby Tanqueray”

Pour some sugar on me
Ooh in the name of love
Pour some sugar on me
Def Leppard “Pour Some Sugar on Me”

What’s in your inspiration queue?