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Archive for the ‘Blogging and Events (Tips, Tricks, Perspective)’ Category

I’ve been working on a surprise for you for a long time.

I work on it often.  But it never seems to end.

I thought it would take a few weeks.

It’s well past a year.

So, I thought I’d raise the stakes and put some pressure on myself.

Dana’s away for the weekend on an awesome foodtrip and that means me and Schaeffer are having a boys weekend.

And, by Monday morning, I will complete the table of contents and indexing of this website.  There’s a gonna be an entire weekend of geeking out – I figure by letting you in on the secret that I’ll be raising the stakes and increasing the pressure.

Here’s how Schaeff is feeling about it:

And here’s how I am (this is the before picture):

There better be a lot of coffee.

In all seriousness, I am a little intimidated by the goal – it’s a big one.  But I’m so excited at the results and making our archive of more than 1,300 articles actually usable…  It’s not going to be a complete relaunch of WellPreserved but it will be a significant step towards what we’ve been meaning to do for about 3 years.

Wish me luck!

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Today marks a milestone for me; 1,200 posts written since December 27, 2008.  There are more posts than that here but this number seems somehow magical to me.  Perhaps it’s the first time I feel like we’ve hit any sort of milestone since our 1,000 consecutive days (a streak that continues through today) or perhaps it’s because I didn’t expect to feel that there were more milestones left.  At any case, it feels worth mentioning – and it feels good, if not surprising.

A really giant thank you and hug to those of you who read and follow this project.  Your support has inspired us – and others – as we’ve stumbled and fumbled our way along.  An even bigger thanks to those of you who comment, share and attend events and say hi.  I wish there was more time in a day to interact with the comments we get and if I had a magic wand that’s the one wish I’d be gunning for.  Thanks as well to our members on Facebook and Twitter; it’s been a lot of fun to hang out with you there and thank you for sharing all that you do (of ours and others that inspire us) as well!

This post isn’t so much about patting myself on the back though (I’m an awful self-promoter who is guilty of sometimes forgetting to promote myself while others times accidentally over-promoting and not even knowing I’m doing so).  It is about sharing some of the things I’ve learned the hard way that might save others some steps along the way.  These are the types of posts formed of good intent that I often cringe at years later realizing how much more there was to learn and if there’s one thing I know more than ever, that’s it.

Bigger hair and beard than normal:

Here’s a few other lessons learned on the way (completely subjective based only on my opinion):

About Food

  • Eating real food, slow food, locally and seasonally is not nearly as difficult, expensive or time-consuming as I once feared.  It’s a natural progression and something that gets easier every year.
  • Meeting others and sharing experiences is the quickest accelerator in learning to eat more like our foreparents did.
  • Our food system is in trouble.  It’s important to know what’s happening within it and within your food supply.
  • Eating is political and each meal is a vote.  Many of my votes are aligned with my beliefs and ethics but I still make missteps.  A 5% shift from large agriculture to small farming would force radical change.  Every meal you make is a vote.
  • Don’t trust labels.  Better yet, try to buy food without them.
  • There are so many resources, people, blogs and groups who can help you learn more.
  • We need to encourage the changes we want to see.

About Blogging

  • Writing daily forces me to learn something every day.  That’s the magical reason ‘why’ I blog.  Know why you’re writing or the motivation will be lost quickly.
  • Know your audience.  I still feel guilty when I admit that the main person I write for is me.  I have no doubt that I search WellPreserved more than anyone else – just to find out how to do stuff I already did and forgot how to.
  • Put yourself out there; fight against trying to make it perfect.  I’m partially dyslexic and struggle with reading and writing.  I’m far better at speaking than writing (and adore public speaking).
  • You can’t please everybody.  We’ve received a few tough comments this year and I’ve learned that I can’t possibly please everyone.  Heck, I look back at some of the thoughts I had on food 3 years ago and am not exactly pleased with myself!
  • The format is going to be challenging in the next little while.  As blogging matures and becomes read by larger audiences, the pressures and temptations to bend ethics are mounting.  There’s no single code of conduct and there’s more opportunity than ever for websites like this one to do things that traditional media would have considered unethical.  As a writer, the only thing I have to offer is my integrity; but that’s just my view.  Offers for secret payments or other ‘hidden’ incentives in exchange for posts are becoming more frequent in the blogosphere.  I’m hopeful transparency will be the norm; for now there’s room for improvement.  This could be an entire series of posts and perhaps it will be one day soon!
  • Have friends that do it, share with them and learn from each other.  There are many who are in this category formally and informally and I have learned a pile from each of them.
  • Have fun.  If it ain’t worth doing, it ain’t worth doing.

What would you add to the list?

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If there’s a single question that Dana and I get asked a lot, it’s this one: “Where do you get the time to do this stuff?”  We don’t mind the question at all – but I’ve just started to realize that it wasn’t rhetorical.  Dana and I don’t really think about the answer all that often and don’t consider ourselves to be more active than many others, especially in this community.  Frankly, I’m not sure my answers will be of any use to anyone else – but if this helps one person cook or share more, then I’m all in!

I suppose some of our time-savers come from our life situation: we don’t have children, we rent a loft and have no grass (but our back patio does have seats and tables for 30+ and kicks butt for dinner parties).  We live downtown Toronto and have very close access to most of our common needs which also help.  Dana works from home and thus has zero commute (although that is easily consumed by dog walking as we’ll share later).

Shopping at the CSA is a time-saver for us – our groceries are mostly pre-chosen, the night is committed to and, while our selection is huge compared to many CSAs, our choices are typically limited to 2 tables of fresh options.  Grocery shopping is very fast – a few odd staples (like flour) are picked up at an alternate grocery store near my work (it’s all organic and features a lot of local options).

We also have some life factors that eat into time.  Dana owns her own business and works long hours and my job keeps me out of the house at least 11-12 hours per day, 5 days per week.  In that time I have little room for blog or cooking activities but it is not beyond me to eat lunch reading a cook book.  Our awesome dog (Schaeffer) is walked twice a day (most days, on the weekends this sometimes turns into one extra long walk).  Dana walks him for an hour or longer in the morning and leaves the house early to do so.  The time she saves in commuting is easily replaced by the walk.

I think it’s important to note that Dana and I have been project people our entire life – our hobbies, careers and lifestyle generally involves taking on projects which have definitive beginning and ends (she is a graphic designer, I was a career project manager, training leader and facilitator though I am now transitioning to full-time social media).

We don’t see WellPreserved as a project but an entire group of somewhat related projects tied together by conscious and excitement about food and people’s involvement with it.  We don’t see it as a single topic – eating out with friends, cooking, preserving, shopping for food, social media, meeting people, researching recipes, talking about food ethics, hunting, writing, designing and talking about food all feel like very different parts of our lives and not a single obsession.  As cliché as this sounds, WellPreserved has become part of the fabric of our life and isn’t something squeezed into it – and it doesn’t generally squeeze things out (though there was a time that finding such a balance was difficult).  We don’t consider ourselves foodies or bloggers – this is just something we do.

I write as often as I do because it’s easier (to me) than writing sporadically.  I think if I wrote a ‘few times a week’ I’d start to forget to write and it would just disappear.

Our articles are generally written on the same day they are printed.  I used to hold myself accountable to an 8:00AM deadline in the first year or so.  I know that when we post early in the day that our traffic increases as a result – but the balance of ensuring life fits in is far more important these days.  I try to think of what I’m going to write about at least 24 hours in advance so that the article can bounce around my head and it almost writes itself when I sit down.  I try to make sure that I have the idea for the next days post by the time my head hits the pillow (coming up with a post idea and writing it are two entirely different processes and I’ve found it’s much faster to separate them with many hours between the two activities).

I write a lot of articles in my head.  My commute can talk 30-60 minutes (depending on the day).  I tend to think about work for the first half of my drive home and then shift to life and/or WellPreserved-type projects the rest of the way.  These things don’t always make it to the pages and some take longer than others – the post on honey wine (a few weeks back) was a project I’ve been wanting to do for more than a year.  The Tortillas were thought about, researched, created and blogged in less than 24 hours.  I have no doubt that I will make steamed buns (something I’ve been chatting about on the FaceBook group) in the future but that’s likely to be months or more away was I want a proper mixer to give it a really good go.

I also have an emergency list of topics in case I come up blank.  I’ve been wanting to write about what the different types of cheese knives are used for for more than 2 years – but I’m holding onto that one for a day when I come up with absolutely nothing.

Posts break into multiple categories – ones that require research are rarely written the same day.  These are some of my favorite articles as they force me to learn a lot in a short period of time.  Learning to use Twitter and Google as more effective search tools is an essential element of making the most of the time.  Also knowing that I can’t research every article that I want to and working in journals (like this one) can be a big help.

My brain rarely rests; that’s both an awesome and horrible fate.  I don’t believe I am ADD (though some may have diagnosed me as such) but my brain is never silent.  The only times in my life that I can ever remember silence was during a brief stint when I spent a lot of time at the gym and lifted heavy weights.  When pushing a heavy weight my brain would go silent and I would almost begin to laugh.  If the television is on, I tend to be doing something else – cooking, reading, writing or surfing the Internet.  Not all of my web time is food-based but it’s a dominant topic of my search.

I generally require little sleep (though that’s changing with age).  I generally sleep 5-6 hours a night (when I was younger I would generally go with far less).

We don’t attend the amount of social events many people think we do.  Family and friends think we’re out 7 nights a week and while that may be true sometimes, we’re generally pretty close to home (and with good reason – by the time I get home it’s after 7, we walk the dog, make dinner, eat it and it’s generally 9:00PM or later before we get to truly sit down and relax).  We like to go out but are selective with our time as we’ve been poor at this in the past (and stretched ourselves too thin) and the resulting exhaustion isn’t fun.  We try not to overcommit ourselves but still make the odd mistake.

I do the majority of our projects on a weekend.  I will do the work of multiple posts in a single day (we made honey wine and root beer on the same day) although their articles are written later.

Our last item of finding time is trying to ignore the need for perfection and being willing to put ourselves out here and be willing to be wrong.  I look at some of our previous articles and photos and cringe – but I also know that there was a life to live beyond simply writing about it and sometimes that’s just what it takes.

Beyond the ‘how’ of doing this is a larger question that probably explains a lot more to how we find the time – and that’s ‘why’ we do this.  Although I have some ideas (including we have a lot of fun with it, it feels important, we love to be part of building and enjoying a community with others), I haven’t exactly figured that out yet.  I do, however, wonder what would have happened if I didn’t sleep in on December 28, 2008 – my best guess is that we would have no blog at all.

How do you fit cooking, projects or blogging in to your life?  What tips can we learn from you and each other?

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A few weeks back we had the opportunity to join (our Chef/Activist/Food Hero/ Friend)  Joshna Maharaj and 15 of her awesome friends at her “Growing Tastebuds” workshop.  Joshna has special guests join her to teach 8-12 year olds 8-weeks of cooking classes and the virtues of slow food, farmers market and the importance of our food system.

We made pickled beans with the group – each child brought a jar home to try.

Rather than a blow-by-blow of the class, here’s some of the things we learned that might help others lead a similar class (I’m not sure I’m the most qualified as we have no children but here’s what we learned):

  • Lots of adult hands help.  We had 4-5 adults assisting the group of 15.  ‘Assisting’ wasn’t hands on – just watching, encouraging and helping ensure they were having fun.
  • Be prepared for some one-on-one needs for attention (multiple adults helped with this).  It helps if some know all the kids, I imagine it could be trickier if some only knew a few (i.e. a parent). 
  • Stay light on facts.  It’s not time to lecture for 25 minutes about how the process works.
  • Ask lots of questions.  I learned that we preserved because “Next year is 2012 and the world is going to end.”
  • Keep it simple.  Pickled beans are high acid and pretty difficult to mess up.  This isn’t time to play with a preserve that’s marginally acidic.
  • Give them practice jars.  This buys lots of time and lets them get their hands all over everything before the ‘real’ deal.
  • Boil water before everyone gets there.  If you think it takes a long time for water to boil – it takes even longer with 20 people watching it.
  • Bring LOTS of produce.  I didn’t account for beans that would be dropped – or the amount that were eaten!
  • Ask who’s preserved before.  Almost half the class had some form of experience with it; most were really excited about beans.
  • Have optional spices.  We offered chili flakes – surprised by how some were very excited about this.
  • The most important piece of equipment is a Sharpie marker.  Each child wanted to have their SPECIFIC jar; the sharpie markers on the labels lasted through the water bath and each got to keep their own.
  • If possible, keep the jars.  Since this is a weekly program we let them know that the jars were too hot to take home and they would get them next week.  While this was partially true, it also allowed us to check the seals (note: if you can’t keep the jars like this, have copies of instructions for the parents).
  • Make it epic: we told everyone that they couldn’t open the jars until New Years.  They were disappointed – and excited.
  • Have a place that they can watch you pour the hot liquid into the jars.  Each wanted to see the brine fill their specific jars.
  • We had 3 hours and the adults had trimmed the beans in advance.  We could have finished in 2.5 hours.
  • Have fun with them – and it was a lot of fun.
  • Have something for them to do when the jars are in the waterbath.

It was a great class, a lot of fun and felt really good to be a part of.

What would you add to the list?

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I have been thinking about today’s post for more than two years.  Today’s post marks a special anniversary and the completion of a special goal – 1,000 days of consecutive posting.

WellPreserved was conceived and launched while I slept (the full story was shared back in 2009).  When Dana shared it with me, I committed (silently) to writing for 100 days.  When I reached that goal I made another silent goal of 100 days.  From there I tried to make it to a year and the idea of 1,000 days started to creep in my head.

The site has changed our lives.  The biggest change has been the people we’ve met (in real life and digitally through comments) as well as the sheer amount of learning we’ve had to do to stay current and share items we hope are relevant.  The commitment to writing 7 days a week has also meant a bond to learn something new 7 times a week in order to have something new to share.  This has changed our kitchen, the way we cook, eat and look at our food.  The biggest benefits of the project have been enhancing our connections with people and food.

The Brickworks Picnic (the fundraiser where we cook alongside 60 of the best chefs in our city) and Preserve Swap symbolizes the intersection of the two major benefits of this project.  Both events were a chance to interact with people and food and were things that we likely would have never been part of without the site bringing us there.

I really want to emphasize how grateful we are, especially to those of you who read, comment, share articles, and interact with us and the community here.  Without you, we would have walked away from the project long ago – receiving comments and seeing community members interact with each other is what this is all about to us and nothing can be more fun or more fulfilling to us.

I’m not going to risk boring you with any form of pity party but it wouldn’t be fair to leave the impression that it’s been all roses.  It’s been difficult to keep up at times and a severe commitment that is complicated even further when squeezed around 60+ hour work weeks, our awesome pup and life in general.

The time constraints have been frustrating at times.  There’s so much more we want to do here, including:

  • Redesign the site (it’s something that’s been on our list since 2009)
  • Enhance the usability of the site (i.e. an index that makes things easily accessible for you)
  • Building more of an interactive on-line community
  • Hosting more events
  • Finally get our poster sales going that you’ve all been so patient with (starting with the Periodic Table of Waterbath Preserving)

The Periodic Table is a prime example. 

When we wrote the original article, we didn’t anticipate the reaction it garnered (I remember watching our statistics jump more than 100 views in less than a minute, which is still a giant rate for us).  When we were met with flattering (and most appreciated) requests to buy a copy, we knew that we wanted to ensure that we had a quality print that would be archival (wouldn’t fade) and examined all sorts of options.  We then ran into more work than we ever expected – trying to figure out how to build an online store, process payments, figure out how to store shipping supplies, posters, ship and charge for shipping internationally, and even having to convert our free WordPress site to a self-hosted site to be able to install applications to help out… you get the idea: the onion kept getting bigger and while we were most excited, there just wasn’t enough time in the day. 

We never lost sight that the lack of time was only because we were fortunate to have so many opportunities and are thankful for that (I don’t want to sound like we’re whining!). 

Over the last few months, we’ve had a lot of conversation to try to determine the path after today.  We’ve discussed all sorts of radical ideas (everything from moving to the ‘middle of nowhere to’ shutting the site down for new content).  The possibility of shutting down was a very real discussion; something neither of us really wanted but we recognized a significant crossroads.

A few weeks ago we posted a cryptic message to the FaceBook group:

Dana was standing at the counter of one of the biggest professional photography stores in the city, buying a printer that took two of us to carry to the car.  It was a symbolic moment – the moment of no return.  A commitment to trying to take this project to another level and a journey we hope you’ll join us on.

In order to make more time in the day to dedicate to WellPreserved, we’ve decided to make it a client of Dana’s business.  What I mean by this is that we’ve decided to focus on getting our past design products available for purchase – as well as to produce more.  In essence, WellPreserved is going to try to hire Dana a few days a week.  The hope is to generate some revenue which will allow us to further dedicate more time to the project which in turn will bring fabulous design and even more free content to you in the form of the blog, our events and more.

We are indeed working on the items above, including migrating to a new site, building an index of the 1,100 or so articles (there were days when we posted twice), and working on a few more things:

  • Additional food swaps and events for those who are local
  • Pimp that Preserve will come back before the Holidays; an International contest of jar decorating ideas
  • A continued focus on building the FaceBook communityas a home for people to interact with each other, share their ideas, questions and inspirations.  It’s the Brunch table of WellPreserved – a casual place to pull up a table, share conversation and choose whether it’s time for a coffee or a Canadian Bloody Caesar!  More than 2,000 people have joined since January and the discussion is often rampant over there.
Photo Courtesy of Edward Pond

Daily posts will continue but for the first time since December 28, 2008, I have no goal related to quantity.    Today really marks the end of the original vision – and, for now, the future seems somewhat limited only by imagination and our willingness to risk committing more.  So we’re gonna give it our all and see where it leads and we hope you’ll come along!

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We have been humbled with a request to assist some friends who run a local food-related charity by sharing some advice/ guidance/ experience related to blogging and food blogging in particular.

We would adore your help in this and sending an open request to any and all who would be willing to spend a few minutes replying to this message and offering your opinions on what you feel is important/ cool/ interesting/ essential when it comes to reading a site such as ours. My payback is a meager offer to listen to your requests and try to show you action on them as well.

Topic requests are welcome as are general tips, samples of other blogs you love (including your own if you’d like), advice to share with others and simply perspective in helping us understand why people read and what they are looking for. I won’t even attempt to answer why I get up at 5:00AM to write..laugh..

Thanks for any help or random thoughts – the first thought that comes to your mind is more than enough to help us out and we’d love it if you could!

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It`s a short post today because some things just don`t need many words.

Our friend Margaret Mulligan is a professional photographer who we have written about many times. You can see her pro pics here and her fun photo blog here.

Margaret has started another blog – one that I think would be of interest to many of you – especially those who take photos of your food to post (for blogs, for work or for fun). Camera Kitchen is the intersection of her two passions – food and photography.

There are several posts up already (3 in 3 days) but I must draw special attention to her post on how to MacGyver your own lighting to make your food shots better. It is essential reading if you wish your shots were better (we are spoiled with a photo booth but punished with the lack of space to actually put it up). She shows you how to build your own lighting booth for $60 and shows pics with and without the DIY-booth.

While your there, take a moment to check out her about page and learn a bit about her perspective – she is passionate about helping each of us improve our pics and reminds us what a difference a great photo can make compared to a mediocre one – it’s as bad as forgetting salt (unless of course you’re on a sodium reduced diet in which case it’s still just as bad but the analogy doesn’t work).

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