Part 1: I Want to Be a Writer. Now What?

posted by Amy Laws, Writing & Editorial Intern (Spring 2013) on Friday, May 22, 2013

Please welcome Writing & Editorial Intern, Amy Laws – winner of the 2013 Country Roads Short Story Fiction Contest and New Orleans-based writer – as she shares the first part of her series, “I Want to Be a Writer.  Now What?”  Here, Amy offers a thoughtful review of three writers who spoke at the 2013 Tennessee Williams Festival, quotes their experiences, and reflects with some ideas of her own.  Welcome, Amy! – Helana  

Part 1: I Want to Be a Writer. Now What?

by Amy Laws
27th Annual Tennessee Williams Literary Festival
March 20-24, 2013 

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Pictured: The festival program and one of Tennessee Williams’ favorite drinks, which was given out in liberal amounts during the festival – Hendrick’s Gin 

“The Art of the Debut: Writers on their First Novel”
Q&A:  Authors Manuel Gonzales, Kristen-Paige Madonia, Ayana Mathis, and Moderator Susan Larson

Friday, March 22, 2013

_________

This year I volunteered at the 27th Annual Tennessee Williams Literary Festival in my hometown New Orleans, LA.

I graduated from LSU in Creative Writing this December and then moved back in with my mom. After a day or two—or was it a week or two? or perhaps a month?—of lounging about my house and watching movies, I said,

“Well, I suppose I should do something about this writing career I presume to eventually have (something besides, that is, being part of the inspiringly talented team at Clearly Delicious).”

So, I signed up to volunteer at the festival. And, with my mom’s somewhat forceful encouragement, I decided to attend some of the events and panels at the festival.

Pictured: Me, posing with Tennessee Williams, (unfortunately just his cardboard cut-out.)

I may have been a little afraid that the there would be a group of elite writers who would turn a cold shoulder to someone as inexperienced as myself.

[You know these anxious feelings we sometimes get when venturing into unknown territory. Well, at least I know Cara and I do.]

How wrong I was!

I don’t believe I’ve been to any festival where the people were more welcoming, helpful, and friendly.

I walked into the Hotel Monteleone, the festival’s headquarters, and was taken aback by the beauty of the venue.

Pictured: Lobby of Hotel Monteleone

To the right:  the famous Carousel Bar. To the left: a huge sign pointing me onward to the Tennessee Williams Festival, as well as a fellow volunteer who was already on duty. She smiled, greeted me, and complimented my shirt—a Doctor Who/TARDIS shirt that my fellow writers and nerds appreciated greatly.

Pictured: Festival sign

That morning, Friday, March 22nd, I knew what panel I wanted to see. I marched into the Queen Anne Ballroom, which was already half-full at 9:30 a.m., and found a seat to the right of the stage.

Pictured: Queen Anne Ballroom in the Hotel Monteleone

My panel wasn’t until 1:00 p.m., and you better believe that I sat there, slowly moving to the front row between panels —eating a homemade sandwich at some point—until that time. I dodged legs and toes, while working my way to seemingly available chairs. When up close, I realized said chairs were occupied by umbrellas or programs. But then I spotted some ladies discussing empty stomachs and a possible lunch outing. So I hovered.

[I hovered like I’ve been taught to do at places like the Café du Monde when searching for a table. And my Café Du Monde-hovering-skills payed off.]

As you will be able to tell from my audience Q&A video later in the article, I ended up seated in the exact middle front row. Success!

After conquering my front row chair, I chatted with fellow writers next to me. Veterans of the festival and newbies alike were glad to talk about their festival experiences. People from 16 to 80 years old with different jobs and areas of interest all wanted to improve their writing. This range encouraged me, in that it erased all preconceived notions that you must perfect the craft of writing at a certain age. The crowd at the festival just proves the simple fact that you’re never too young or too old to start your journey as a writer.

Although I attended many panels during the festival and plan to write about each of the panelists (as well as the hard-to-navigate field of writing and publishing they discussed), I’d like to start with my favorite panel.

On Friday, March 22, I was willing to wait over 3 hours for—

“The Art of the Debut: Writers on their First Novel”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9NVjjEaN9z

Pictured: (left to right) Authors Manuel GonzalesKristen-Paige MadoniaAyana Mathis, and Moderator Susan Larson.  Video of insightful questions and answers from the Audience Q&A with the Authors. Don’t worry, video becomes less shaky after first 30 seconds.

The “Art of the Debut” panel consisted of first-time published authors who spoke of their personal woes and triumphs while writing and publishing their debut work.

Manuel Gonzales discussed his book “The Miniature Wife: and Other Stories” as well as “writing what you know” and how to write a collection of short stories.

Kristen-Paige Madonia discussed about her book “Fingerprints of You” as well as “writing what you don’t know” and how entering writing contests can help an aspiring writer.

Ayana Mathis discussed about her book “The Twelve Tribes of Hattie” as well as her “love-hate relationship with writing” and her phone call from Oprah Winfrey.

Susan Larson moderated the panel by asking the authors questions and keeping them on topic. Susan is the host of The Reading Life on a New Orleans public radio outlet WWNO 89.9, and is the author of “The Booklover’s Guide to New Orleans.”

Pictured: (left to right) Authors Manuel GonzalesKristen-Paige MadoniaAyana Mathis, and Moderator Susan Larson

7 Questions & Many Answers:

Below: All the questions from Moderator Susan Larson and a summary of the authors’ answers in bullet point format. My own comments and advice are listed after, “NOTES.”

Question: When did you know you were really embarking on your book?

  • Manuel: “When you get an idea you can’t let go of.”
  • Kristen-Paige: “When that idea becomes a product of frustration. Another product of frustration is publishing and the hardships of marketing.”

NOTES: Kristen-Paige discussed a book she wrote, which she and her agent were unable to get published. After much frustration, many feelings of doubt, and tears, what enabled her to move forward and start work on her new book was just knowing that she was “on to something.” But, just because you are “on to something” doesn’t mean that writing and developing that idea won’t be hard or perhaps even cause more tears.

Question: Where and how do you start your story or project?

 

“The first line of the book is everything.”

Susan Larson

NOTES: Susan had each author read the first sentence from his or her book. Barely a breath was heard as each author did so. Small “Ooh’s” and “Aaw’s” erupted from the audience as they finished. The audience’s attention was captured so much so that I and many others went to buy each author’s book after the panel ended.

  • Manuel: “Don’t put a completely outlandish unexpected twist at the end.” Sometimes it is good to let readers know up front that something strange and outlandish is going on, and then continue to develop your character’s problems in that situation or setting.

  • Kristen-Paige: “Start with the character and develop the character’s voice.” Write in the voice of the character a lot. That’s how you can figure out who the character is and how the character would respond to certain conflicts and situations you go through every day. And then start your plot.

  • Ayana: “Know two or three important things about or wrong with your character.” Don’t obsess over the beginning of the book too much. You can go back to it after the entire plot plays out.

  • Manuel: And sometimes what you start with ends up in the middle or near the end of the story.

  • Kristen-Paige: “And that’s the beauty of cut and paste.”

NOTES: It really depends on what you as a writer are most comfortable starting with: character, plot, conflict, or setting. I even came up with one interesting sentence once, and ended up building a story around that one sentence. Whatever you choose to begin with, it is important to make sure you are disciplined. Keep writing, even if you go back later and decide to put none of what you’ve written in your final story. Anything and everything you write will help you to develop your work.

Question: How do you sell your book?

  • Manuel: “Most importantly write what you want, and don’t worry about whether it will sell or not.”

NOTES: Make sure you believe in your work. Manuel was with his former agent for about 6 years. Manuel wrote his collection of short stories, and his agent kept delaying looking for an editor. His agent made excuses like “short story collections just aren’t selling right now.” Manuel was extremely distressed, and started to lose faith in his work. After two years of his agent not doing anything to get his book published, his friend simply suggested that he get a new agent. He did. Manuel’s new agent, P J Mark, sold his collection in a week. So, have faith in you work and don’t let anyone hold you back.

Question: Did you ever want to give up on your book?

  • Ayana: “It’s a love-hate relationship.”
  • It took a while to accomplish. The relationship between Ayana and her book was that of a “bad lover”:
“I love you. I want to be with you forever. Then, I hate you. Get out of my life. Then wait, I think I still love you.”

Ayana MathisThe Twelve Tribes of Hattie”

  • Ayana wrote her first book in graduate school and eventually sold it to an editor. In another year and a half it was published.
  • Ayana got a call from Oprah Winfrey, herself, while she was in Paris no less, informing her that her first book was now part of Oprah Winfrey’s Book Club.

NOTES: You may need to spend some time away from your writings, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t worth coming back to. In fact, you should spend some time away from your story instead of trying to edit it every day. I find that editing becomes easier and faster once I spend a few weeks, or months, or years away from my writings. I go back to them with a completely new perspective and fresh outlook on ideas from story plots to sentence structures that help make my stories flow better.

Question: How does entering a writing contest help your development as a writer as well as your career?

  • Kristen-Paige: When you do win a writing contest it helps to encourage and validate your talent.

  • Kristen-Paige is the winner of the Tennessee Williams 2nd Annual Fiction Contest.

NOTES: When it comes to writing contests, look at previous winners and their stories to see what has been popular in the past. Also, research the judges to see what kind of works they have published. Keep the past contest winners’ and judges’ writing styles in mind, but still make your story your own, and not a copy of others’ works. Make sure you read all rules before submitting your story. If formatting is wrong or the word count is exceeded, your story will be thrown out.

Entering contests helps with practicing your craft even if you don’t win the contest the first time you enter. I have entered many fiction contests, but it was a few years before I actually won one. I recently won the Country Roads Magazine Fiction Contest. My story “The Living” will be in the June 2013 issue and can be found online here.

Question: How do you know when your collection of short stories is done?

  • Manuel: “When you have a similar theme and voice in the stories. Notice an element you may be repeating and keep that in mind as you continue writing your collection.”

NOTES: Writing similarly themed stories may be easier than you think. We all go through many experiences and stages in our lives that affect our writing. Each experience (or theme) can lend itself to countless writings before you move on to a new life experience (or new theme) in a new line of writings. I started writing 5 years ago and I still find the same theme cropping up in my stories. One can see that my story “The Living” deals with the themes of death, loss, and denial. Yes, I have dealt with these themes in many of my stories, but always with different characters, settings, and situations so that the themes can be explored from different angles.

Question: How do you feel now that the public has something you wrote in their hands?

  • Manuel: “It’s hard to explain it. It feels like they’re talking about someone else’s book and not something you spent all this time and heartache on writing, especially when it is a good review.”

  • Ayana: “I’m moved by the generosity with which this book has been received. I got a letter from a woman and the last line of the letter said, ‘I want to tell you this: Never be discouraged.’”

  • Kristen-Paige: “You are afraid you’ll get a comment like –

     

‘How do you have the right to write what you know nothing about?’ – but I push against writing what you know. I write things I know nothing about and no one has gotten angry with me yet. I was actually thanked for writing a non-MTV teen mom story.”

Kristen-Paige Madonia, “Fingerprints of You”

NOTES: Both Ayana and Kristen-Paige discussed how meeting YA (Young Adult) readers is rewarding, and the feedback they receive amazes them. However, while doing a Q&A with YA readers, Ayana and Kristen-Paige are always wary of inappropriate questions that children and teens sometimes ask.

-Amy


Amy Laws is a recent LSU English and Creative Writing graduate, who couldn’t be happier than when she’s discussing a book or movie in depth. This March, Amy won the Country Roads Magazine’s short story contest with her story “The Living,” and will be published in their June 2013 issue. Her story can also be found online here.

Amy is one of our four Editorial and Writing Interns specializing in a wide variety of projects—articles and essays, recipes and recipe writing, and creative short stories–about living and eating in Louisiana. According to past teacher and mentor James Wilcox, Amy “has a nack for editing.”

Contact: amy [at] clearlydeliciousfoodblog [dot] com

 Follow Amy on: http://pinterest.com/amycollierlaws/

Chocolate Truffle Cake

posted by Erica deVeer, Writing & Editorial Intern (Spring 2013) on Wednesday, May 15th , 2013

Chocolate Truffle Cake

So, you might have read about the end of my Lenten experience this year after going 47 days without meatIronically, after I had abstained from meat for six and a half weeks, the meal my mom had planned was comprised of seafood specialties.

When my mom told me about our Easter menu—

[with me being our family’s sweet-lover as well as the adventurous baker who will not let the challenge of stacking cakes and tempering chocolate deter her!]

—I excitedly asked about dessert.

I knew, without a doubt in my mind, that we would have something laden with sugar and dripping with chocolate (we always do). Encouragingly, my mother responded that I could be in charge of my desperate desire—the chocolate dessert—and I promised her that, like a freshly hatched egg to a hen, the chocolate dessert would be my baby for Easter dinner.

I pulled out my All-New Ultimate Southern Living Cookbook (2009) that my parents had given me for Christmas in 2011 with a note that reads, “Bon Appétit! Merry Christmas, Erica,” inside the cover and numerous sticky notes that mark recipes I will one day make and master, such as crispy Shrimp Cakes with Watercress Remoulade (page 233), sweet Baked Ham with Bourbon Glaze (page 322), and fresh, bright Biscotti with Lavender and Orange (page 184).


Pictured: the front cover of the All-New Ultimate Southern Living Cookbook (2009), where I found the following recipe for Chocolate Truffle Cake on page 136.

I flipped through the glossy pages until I landed in the cake section—yes, an entire chapter dedicated to baking and frosting cakes!

I had been itching to create something fluffy and self-rising topped with something creamy for almost two months. Unable to satisfy my impulse, I stalked those lovely confections on Foodgawker, adding into my favorites list sweets (and meats) that had seemed only too distant of a dream during those dry days of Lent.

Here I was now, with the whole of Southern Living’s tried-and-true expertise at my fingertips, eager to begin sifting and beating. So when I landed on this beauty…

IMG_1398

Pictured: Southern Living’s version of Chocolate Truffle Cake decorated with a ribbon. 

I said, “I want that.”

My mom, being the planner that she is—a trait that has so graciously been passed on to me—asked me to send her a grocery list the week before Easter so that she could track down the right ingredients, making the process that much easier for me.

[I just want to point out: what a great Momma, encouraging her daughter’s obsession with chocolate!]

So, when I texted her this…

screenshot copy

Pictured: screenshots of the text messages I sent to my mom with the list of ingredients for our Easter cake.

…she replied, “That is gonna be one special cake!!!”

She was not lying.

On Friday night, after driving to Mobile for three hours, I saw the ingredients on the kitchen countertop and remembered the note under Southern Living’s recipe that says, “For best results, bake the cakes a day ahead.” I decided, “Hey, might as well give this a go right now.” Like the enthusiastic, chocolate-deprived, sheltered-from-disaster-in-the-kitchen baker that I am, I dove in head-first.

The mixing went well. I did exactly what the recipe said.

IMG_1166

Pictured: my three greased and cocoa-dusted (9-inch) cake pans filled with a perfectly mixed chocolate cake batter and ready for the oven.

I saw this homogeneous, light brown, smooth, and creamy batter and thought, “Who thinks baking is hard? All you have to do is follow the directions exactly as they tell you to, and every cake will come out perfect!”

I slipped the three pans into the stainless steel oven that I had set for 350 degrees. But I had already made a fatal mistake—

I hit CONVECTION.

Little did I know, when you turn on CONVECTION, it doesn’t cook your ingredients the same way that an oven on the simpler BAKE setting does.

This difference between “bake” and “convection” is something the baking fairies at Southern Living forgot to mention in the recipe, so I had to learn this nugget of knowledge through experience.

I had cooked the cakes for 22 minutes as the directions told me. Southern Living doesn’t even say “22 to 25 minutes.” Simply, “22 minutes” at 350 degrees. At the 20-minute mark, I poked the center of one cake with a cake tester—not the simple wooden pick that Southern Living suggests—but it came out completely wet with batter.

After the remaining two minutes of prescribed time, I poked each cake again with the cake tester, and they came out completely clean—

“That was quick! Wow, those people at Southern Living really know how much of a difference two minutes of baking makes,” I thought.

I pulled the cakes out of the oven, let them all rest for ten minutes in their pans, and then flipped them—expertly, if I do say so myself—onto three separate wire racks in order to let them finish cooling.

I felt so accomplished, showing my dad.

“It was simple, really,” I bragged. “Anyone could do it.”

Suddenly, the tops (or, technically, the bottoms) of the cakes started caving in, creating three identical craters across each cake layer.

“Um, Dad, is that normal?” I asked the smart engineering man.

“Oh, I’m sure. The cakes are probably just settling.”

When it seemed like the caving was never-ending, I crouched low so that I could see what was happening beneath the wire racks.

[If only I had taken a photo of this scene! I think I was too ashamed…]

Hurriedly, I flipped each cake back into the pans to assess the damage.

The cake—or the uncooked batter, I should say—had fallen through the wiring!

Pictured: my failed attempt at baking these chocolate cakes. This is what the product looks like when the center is not fully cooked yet you flip the battery cakes onto wire racks to cool anyway.

Instead of dumping these, let’s say, thirty-dollar cakes and starting over again or just settling for buying a chocolate cake down the road from Winn Dixie, my mom encouraged me to try to recover.

“If at first you don’t succeed…” You know the saying.

My mother and I troubleshooted about what could have gone wrong. I walked her through my steps, barely getting past the part where I pushed the CONVECTION button. She stopped me and suggested that this decision had probably been my mistake. I insisted that baking with the convection on was better than baking without it, so that couldn’t have possibly been the reason my cakes weren’t completely cooked.

[What did she know? She’d been cooking and baking for three decades. I’d been cooking and baking for three years….]

She left me to figure out how to fix the cakes on my own. Her suggestion hung in the air, though, over my head like a freshly whipped, fluffy meringue.

Looking at my decimated cakes, I pushed the BAKE button and waited for the oven to heat up to a true 350 degrees.

[In CONVECTION mode, the oven only heated up to 325 degrees since the fan would move the hot air around more evenly.]

The cakes, after 22 more minutes of baking—on top of the 22 minutes during which the cakes were in the oven on CONVECTION—finally cooked all the way through in the center. So, contrary to the 22 minutes’ time in which Southern Living claimed the cake would bake, my cakes were in the oven for a total of 44 minutes:

22 in CONVECTION + 22 in BAKE.

So, what went wrong? Since I love lists (another trait that I get from my mom), here are a few of my hypotheses:

1.) CONVECTION – I baked my cake on convection.

After telling Helana about this mishap, she told me about a time in recent domestic history when home cooks began to hate convection ovens because they seemed to be wrecking homemade creations (here’s a link to a forum of bakers and here’s a link to a blog post if you want to learn more about convection cooking).

Well, add me to that school of thought—Death to CONVECTION!

2.) The cake tester  The first time I inserted the cake tester and pulled it out, the test actually worked properly.

My cakes were not done, and the liquid batter line on the tester confirmed that. The subsequent times that I inserted the cake tester and it appeared clean after I pulled it out of the cakes were faulty tests.

Why is that?

Helana suggests that I should have used a sharp knife, which she thinks works best and most accurately—even more than a wooden pick.

My theory: I think the exterior of the cake had baked tightly, creating the same phenomenon of holding a rag around your car’s oil dipstick when checking the oil and pulling the dipstick through the rag in order to clean it (see step 4 here as an example of what I mean with the oil).

Basically, the exterior of the cake had baked so well that it wiped the cake tester clean when I extracted it from the center of the cake, giving me a false reading about the cake’s readiness. Maybe if I had wriggled the tester around while it was inserted in the cake, creating a larger hole in the cake than the tester’s circumference, the exterior layer of the cake would not have wiped the uncooked batter from the tester. But this is just a theory.

3.) Southern Living’s Recipe  It is definitely possible that Southern Living’s recipe, along with my inexperienced baking skills, caused the mishap.

Twenty-two minutes to bake a cake in a 9-inch round cake pan? I’ve cooked cupcakes—which normally have 3-inch diameters as opposed to the 9-inch diameter of the cake layers—for almost the same amount of time.

And, generally, convection ovens are supposed to cut down on your cooking time and cook more evenly. But my convection oven did neither. So, maybe Southern Living’s original recipe is flawed.

Once the baking was completely done and the layers were cooled, I began constructing the cake by heaping scoops of Chocolate Truffle Filling between the layers—which evened out the bumpy surfaces—before spreading the Ganache around the sides and on top of the cake.

IMG_1185

Pictured: the cake layers stacked and topped with Ganache, perfectly hiding the disaster that we saw above. My mom is in the background, preparing our seafood Easter dinner.

Come to find out, filling and frosting perfect most imperfect baking experiences.

Here’s the final product.

Chocolate-Truffle-Cake

Pictured: the finished product, captured beautifully by my mother, Cathi deVeer, who was all too eager to put her photography skills to the test.

And here’s the recipe. I tried to keep it as close to Southern Living’s original as possible, hoping that you can learn from my mistakes and offer me any advice you may have about the recipe and baking in convection ovens.

Happy Baking!

Chocolate Truffle Cake

As in The All-New Ultimate Southern Living Cookbook (2009)

Yields: 16 servings

Calories: 801.6 (see here for full nutrition information)

Prep Time: 64 minutes

Cook Time: 24 minutes (questionable)

Ingredients:

Cake:

* 8 (1-ounce) semisweet chocolate baking squares, chopped

* 1 cup butter, softened

* 1 3/4 cups sugar

* 3 large eggs

* 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

* 2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour

* 1 teaspoon baking soda

* 1/2 teaspoon salt

* 1 3/4 cups buttermilk

* Crisco or butter, for greasing cake pans

* Unsweetened cocoa, for dusting cake pans

Chocolate Truffle Filling:

* 4 (1-ounce) semisweet chocolate baking squares, chopped

* 6 tablespoons butter

* 6 tablespoons heavy whipping cream

* 2 ½ cups powdered sugar, sifted

Ganache:

* 10 (1-ounce) semisweet chocolate baking squares, chopped

* 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream

Other Things You Will Need:

* 3 (9-inch) round cake pans

* Parchment paper

* 2 (14-ounce) containers chocolate hazelnut rolled wafer cookies (I used Pirouettes)

For the Cake:

1.) Preheat oven to 350F. In a glass bowl, microwave chopped chocolate for 1 minute on HIGH or until the chocolate is melted, only stirring once.

2.) Beat the butter and the sugar with an electric mixer at medium speed until the mixture is fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating intermittently until the yellow disappears. Beat in cooled chocolate and vanilla extract until they are blended.

3.) In another bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and salt. Add these dry ingredients to the butter mixture, alternately adding the buttermilk, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Beat at a low speed until all the ingredients are just blended.*

*When adding the flour mixture and the buttermilk, be mindful that the beater may spit batter out at you.

4.) Pour the batter into 3 greased parchment paper-lined cake pans (9-inches) dusted with cocoa. Bake at 350F for 21 to 22 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean.*

*It is important to make sure that the center is cooked completely through. Allow the three cakes to cool in their pans. Remove cakes to wire cooling racks by placing the racks on top of the cake pans and flipping. The cakes should slide out of the pans. Allow them to continue to cool on the wire racks, preferably overnight.

For the Chocolate Truffle Filling:

1.) Microwave chocolate and butter for 1 minute on HIGH or until the chocolate is melted, only stirring once. Stir in heavy whipping cream. Gradually add the powdered sugar, stirring until it is blended and smooth.

For the Ganache:

1.) In a medium-sized glass bowl, microwave the chocolate and the heavy whipping cream for 1 minute on HIGH or until melted and smooth, only stirring once. Cool for 20 minutes.

To Finish the Cake:

1.) Place the first layer on a cake stand. Spread the Chocolate Truffle Filling on top of first layer, then add the second cake layer, spreading the remainder of the filling on top of the second layer. Finally, place the third cake layer on top. Keeping 1/4 cup of the Ganache off to the side, spread the remaining Ganache on the sides and top of the cake.

2.) To decorate, break off the tops of the cookies irregularly, still making sure they are long enough to reach the top of the cake. Line the sides of the cake with the uneven broken cookies. With the reserved Ganache, form a small mound in the center of the top of the cake and place some short pieces of cookies on the mound.

Erica

P6030387Erica deVeer is a recent graduate of Louisiana State University, with a Bachelor’s degree in English – Creative Writing with minors in French and History. Erica will be attending the University of New Orleans’ Master of Fine Arts program — the Creative Writing Workshop — to study and to write contemporary fiction beginning in the Fall. She also recently won the Undergraduate Fiction Award at the Gulf Coast Association of Creative Writing Teachers Conference in April 2013 for her short story, “Summer.”

Brought up in a family of Louisiana foodies, Erica loves all things delicious, spicy, and, especially, sweet.

Contact: erica [at] clearlydeliciousfoodblog [dot] com

Follow Erica on Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/ericafrances/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/EricadeVeer

Tumblr: http://veri-hungry.tumblr.com/

Instagram: http://instagram.com/ericadeveer

The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly: Blogging Restaurant Reviews

posted by Tara Hebert, Writing & Editorial Intern (Spring 2013) on Friday, May 3rd, 2013

The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly: Blogging Restaurant Reviews

As time passes, we, the Clearly Delicious interns, are becoming a fluid team. We are getting to know each other, learning our strengths, and settling into our weekly routines. Together, we work to make Clearly Delicious the best that we can. 

But what is “best” exactly? I asked my fellow interns for input here, and everyone offered great advice. According to Amy Laws, we aim to be original and creative. Erica deVeer thinks we can strive to be the best through clarity, quality, and accessibility. Meredith Quinn stresses the importance of connecting with the readers and forming our blogging community.

To be the very best, we push for that golden combination of all these traits. Kenji Lopez-Alt of Serious Eats created very helpful guides for measuring quality:

Pictured: Erica and Meredith both prefer Kenji’s hand-drawn line graph measuring authority and quality in determining what makes a blog post “best.”  (Read graph in context with Part 1 here.)

Pictured: Amy thinks Kenji hits on her definition of “best” perfectly here with the culmination of originality and quality.  (Read graph in context with Part 5 here.)

[Note: Congratulations are in order for Kenji Lopez-Alt on his recent James Beard Award nomination. Go Kenji!]

In one of our first sessions, we shot right out of the gate with the series of Kenji Lopez-Alt articles from his keynote speech at Food Blog South 2013, and through our extensive meetings and all the time spent in between, I have begun to see just how much work is actually required to publish those nicely polished pages readers see.

Why work so hard, one may ask?

Why spend so much time on each post, tweaking it until it is “perfectly golden brown and crispy?”

This is where Helana emphasizes the importance of quality over quantity to us, and I have to agree.

Every word counts in a world where people are so strapped for time, and if your blog becomes renowned for sloppy, unclear posts featuring poor ideas or recipes that don’t work, people will not continue to waste their time sorting through your mess.

Since today’s society regularly looks for “easy breezy” reading where they can acquire information quickly, a post should possess a level of polish and not be something readers should have to take too much time with.  Otherwise, they will likely not return to your blog.

Essentially, if you aren’t proud of what you publish, then readers will notice where the content is lacking.

For many people, “commitment” is a very scary term. Many blogs fall off the radar when their leaders lose the drive to pursue success, to devote the time necessary to this endeavor, and to continue crafting interesting and engaging posts.

On the other hand, some blogs focus just on the issue of consistency, putting themselves on a strict “one post per day” schedule that they struggle to maintain. This is when content is likely to suffer due to the blogger being too overloaded, stressed, and lacking ideas. For a single writer, this is often a far too ambitious goal, especially when it comes to creating completely new and original content.

Even though a post’s publishing may be delayed, it is always better for a writer (and their blog’s reputation) to spend the extra time polishing the work. Plan ahead, but don’t be afraid to adjust that plan when needed.

Instead, commit to your blog, set manageable goals, and only reveal content of which you are truly proud. As we have been wisely warned—

“Don’t get too eager with that publish button.”

Life is full of curveballs, and we all experience our fair — or sometimes more than fair — share of them. A successful blog can roll with the flow, overcome these obstacles, and stay committed to its cause.   

No lesson is complete without examples, right? Let’s take restaurant reviews, for instance. 

To accurately compare two reviews, I am drawing upon many parallels. This comparison features two male bloggers, which are definitely the minority in this field. Neither of them are chefs; however, one claims to be while the other firmly professes that he is not (amateurgourmet…the name says it all). It also features reviews of two local restaurants: one is a Louisiana legend itself and the other serves a classic Louisiana delicacy).

The two restaurants in question are not exactly paralleled in “class,” but they deserve the same level of respect in their review. A systematic and objective approach to reviewing will achieve this respect every time, allowing readers access to a fair view of the business in question. 

good vs bad review image copy 2

The Good Review

For an example of a good review, I look to Adam Roberts of the Amateur Gourmet’s review of Commander’s Palace in New Orleans here.

Adam Roberts is a law student turned full-time food blogger. Roberts writes about his exploits as an amateur chef as he explores the tricks and techniques of the trade. His blog outlines both successes and failures in his culinary adventures.

For more from Roberts, check out his Youtube channel here or his Twitter here.

Pictured: a shot of the Commander’s Palace Sign in New Orleans, Louisiana, from Adam Roberts’s blog, The Amateur Gourmet.  Read the review here.

Pros:

1. He starts with a brief history and vivid description of his surroundings. This allows readers to get a handle on the atmosphere as well as what to expect if they decide to visit the restaurant themselves.  He writes,

“A New Orleans institution (it’s been there since 1880!) the whole place, on the surface, positively oozes charm and character.”

THEN

“The first thing that you experience upon walking in is a crew of restaurant staff smiling and greeting you. Then you turn your head and see a jewel-box of a room with chandeliers hanging from the ceiling and balloons floating from the chairs.”

2. The pictures are clear, crisp, attractive, and varied. They give a good representation of all aspects of the restaurant, staff, atmosphere, and the meal, of course. He even includes pictures of the kitchen, so you know they are proud of their restaurant.

Pictured: inside the Commander’s Palace Kitchen during Adam Roberts’s review in New Orleans, LA.  Read full post here.

3. Each dish or drink is described in detail for its good and bad qualities. Descriptive words such as “fragrant,” “frothy,” and “intense” let readers experience the meal with their senses.

“Perfectly crisp, perfectly buttery and fragrant with garlic this was a lovely start to the meal.”

[That sure does sound like some good garlic bread to me.]

4. When reviewing a signature dish, the regional story is given the limelight. This allows readers to connect better with a menu item that they might be unfamiliar with otherwise. In a trio of soups, Roberts was served turtle soup, which is a regional specialty. He highlights this with a little anecdote connecting his experience with the soup’s special story:

“Commander’s Palace is famous for its turtle soup. Later, at the New Orleans Cooking School (I’ll tell you about that soon) the cooking instructor told us that the turtle soup at Commander’s (which gets drizzled with Sherry, table-side) isn’t made with the turtles that we kept as pets as a kid. It’s made with ‘the mean snapping turtles that bite you.’”

Cons:

1. One thing I find that could have improved this review would be a mention of the prices readers could expect to pay for the meal reviewed. Especially since it is a higher-end restaurant, allowing readers to get a glimpse of prices beforehand would help them to know more fully what to expect for their own dining experiences.

The Not-So-Good Restaurant Review

For this example, I am calling into play a blog that I do not think fairly reviewed this local restaurant.

Jay Ducote of biteandbooze.com reviewed 926-Muff here.

Ducote is a self-titled blogger, food and beverage writer, radio host, culinary personality, and self-titled, “chef.” He makes a living writing about the food he eats and beverages he drinks on his blog. 

For another look at Ducote’s work, check out his YouTube channel here.

Pros:

1. He did review a local restaurant, and we all know the importance of supporting local businesses.

2. He tried their most popular menu item, a half-muffaletta, which is also a Louisiana classic.

[Note: The history of the muffaletta is wrought with controversy. Its origin is unsure, but Central Grocery in the French Quarter of New Orleans claims to have created this sandwich in 1906. It features Italian meats such as salami and ham, cheese, and an olive salad on a large, round, sesame seed-topped loaf. See here for Serious Eats’ take on the Central Grocery muffaletta. Also, special thanks to Lorin Gaudin for her help with the mystery of the muffaletta.]

3. He included pictures… (refer to “Cons”)

4. He gives the owner’s name and a positive impression of her from the get-go:

“I swung by the little joint on Congress at Perkins the other day and met owner Leigh Ann Town.  With a kind smile and welcoming opening of the walk-up window, Leigh Anne asked what she could get for me.”

5. When ordering, Ducote noted the option between a hot or cold sandwich as a perk to 926-Muff and articulately explained his choice in favor of warming the sandwich:

“I opted for the heat in order to crisp the bread and melt the cheese.”

I feel this description creates an accurate and enticing image of Ducote’s half-muffaletta.

Cons:

1. While not mandatory, this review does not offer the price of the sandwich. Featuring the price would give readers an insight of value and what to expect at the restaurant.

2. The pictures included were of poor quality (low-lighting, bad composition) and did not showcase the sandwich positively at all. The photograph was an afterthought, and unfortunately, this was clearly evident. While writing a review, taking time for a decent picture should be one of the top priorities.

Pictured: photo of partially-eaten Muffaletta at Jay Ducote’s website, Bite and Booze.  Read the review here.

3. In the review, the blogger admits to taking the sandwich home and scarfing it down:

“Then I got my sandwich, took it home, and scarfed it down…”

While 926-Muff is a walk-up eatery, even this is not explained. Nor is the building, atmosphere, or experience at the restaurant described.

4. He also does not take the time to learn about the restaurant, leaving any personal element out of his review. Every local eatery has a story behind it that should be highlighted in some way.  Ducote writes,

“Then [sic] we chatted for a bit about how I heard about the place (driving by up and down Perkins) and other things that I might happen to do or not do in the food world of Baton Rouge.” 

This section focuses on him, how he found it, what he does, and what he doesn’t do. The only thing missing here is Leigh Ann and 926-Muff’s story.

5. The review does not go into much detail about the sandwich: its flavor, messiness, price, texture, scent, size, etc. The reader is given a run-down of ingredients, but the description stops at “satisfying.”

How do we define satisfying?

6. Every compliment the sandwich and restaurant receive in this review—which are sparse and minute in detail—were suddenly defunct with the last sentence:

“By no means will it replace the occasional trip out to Anthony’s Italian Deli on Florida Blvd. for what I believe to be the best muffaletta on the planet, but 926-Muff is definitely a welcome addition to the Baton Rouge food scene.”

This goes back to my issue of blogging commitment. When writing a review, the blogger should commit to that task at hand, not flop back and forth, unable to decide which restaurant he wants to be talking about. Is this because he only felt compelled to write the review after receiving free food?

If we take evidence from the right sidebar of biteandbooze.com, where a square features a “This could be you!” type of advertisement, and right above the donate button are the words, “all this eating and drinking is expensive! buy me a beer or meal and you’ll get a shout out!” we see this may be likely.

While I cannot say for sure, the lack of commitment to and real enthusiasm in this review are evident. 

For other perspectives on 926-Muff, see these sources:

The Reveille | 225 Magazine | WJBO

 Conclusion:

Adam Roberts delved into the dangers of eating everything placed in front of you just for the sake of free food with his article, “Chutzpuh, Truffles, & Alain Ducasse.” Comically, he warns that this terrain comes with some definite dangers. You never know, you could end up singing the “Facts of Life” theme song in the middle of a nice restaurant…

Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen also mentions this idea on her “About” page with this statement:

“Is this an email about promoting a product? Smitten Kitchen does not accept any free products or cookbooks for review. Everything that has ever been mentioned on the site has been purchased with personal funds, usually on a whim.”

This philosophy  allows for a heightened sense of trust that her reviews are realistic, honest, and useful. The products are likely not ridiculously priced, and we know there is no ulterior motive for giving a product a “good” review here. 

This is simply a question of blogging ethics. When is it okay to receive gifts and let those influence your content, and when should you stay away from it? 

These sites show the true meaning behind that word “committed.” Much time is spent between clicking “create” and “publish.” Roberts’s post shows his commitment to his field, to writing, and to his blog. The result? Great posts, solid information, clear images, the whole nine yards… All the while, he is keeping it local (to us, anyway), too! 

For further proof of a good review, check out the comments section. On Adam’s Commander’s Palace review, I discovered this comment: 

Brooke @ Food Woolf wrote: “I’m so glad you wrote this post. I had so much to say about Commander’s Palace and now I don’t have to. You nailed it! xoxoxo”

Thoroughly covering all topics of conversation within a single review? Now, that is what I would call “nailing it” too.

Tara Hebert is a sophomore currently pursuing a degree in Public Relations with minors in English and Business Administration at Louisiana State University. A true Cajun girl, Tara knows that good food and family go hand in hand. She finds delight in entertaining, curling up with a good book, discovering new music, and cuddling with her kitten Luna. Keep an eye out for her new restaurant-related blog that will be launching soon.

Contact: tara [at] clearlydeliciousfoodblog [dot] com

 

The First Thing I Ate After Lent…

posted by Erica deVeer, Writing & Editorial Intern (Spring 2013) on Friday, April 19th, 2013

The First Thing I Ate After Lent…

Being a born-and-raised Catholic, each year I participate in the forty day fast that comprises the Lenten experience. Also being a self-declared “sweet-aholic,” those six and a half weeks of fasting every year are a time for me to put down the cupcakes and step away from the Twizzlers.

This year, I decided to abstain from another favorite food item of many—meat.

You must be thinking, “This girl is cray-zee.”  

I agree. I wasn’t sure how long this fast would last.

But, Lent being a time of sacrifice, I figured eschewing all mammalian flesh—no matter how juicy, how tender, how fatty and succulent—would earn me some points with the Big Man upstairs. Plus, Jesus ate mostly fish, so I could too!

Anything from the sea was fair game (oysters, shrimp, fish, scallops, crawfish), which, living in Louisiana where seafood abounds, might not seem like such a sacrifice. At times, eating foods such as crab-stuffed red fish, dripping in garlic butter from Riverside Inn in Broussard or freshly caught and boiled crawfish felt more akin to a spring indulgence than a Lenten immolation.


Pictured: my boyfriend and me crawfishing outside of Lafayette on a perfectly comfortable overcast day. I learned that if you grab a live crawfish behind the tail, it can’t pinch you. I felt super brave holding onto this little guy!

But I can assure you that meat—especially here in Baton Rouge—where every Thursday you can pick up free Chicken and Sausage Jambalaya (like this one) at places like the Catholic Student Center at LSU, is difficult to nix completely from your diet. Chefs find clever ways to sneak it into their dishes, so I had to be on my guard when ordering at restaurants, where I had to avoid all dishes flavored with everyone’s favorite animal fat—bacon.

[A list of a few of the Editorial and Writing Interns’ favorite bacon obsessions: SwineSwag, Bacon Chocolate Peeps, Chocolate Bacon Bars, Chocolate-Covered Bacon at Renaissance Festival, Spreadable Bacon, Bacon Tape, & Mr. Bacon’s Big Adventure Board Game]

When stopping to pick something up at Wendy’s, I had to opt for the Premium Fish Filet sandwich instead of my normal Quarter Pound Hamburger. And when my boyfriend and I made homemade pizza, pepperoni and sausage did not dot the melted layer of mozzarella cheese but, instead, shrimp (which actually was quite delicious, though I had been skeptical).

Because those forty days leading up to Easter are used for fasting and abstaining, for me, Easter Sunday is a day to satisfy those longings for chocolate and nougat and caramel.

And this year, I added meat to that list.

Every year, my mom plans out the menu for all the big holidays: Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter. She lists every course, down to the bread that will be served with our dinner. During Holy Week (the week before Easter), I talked with my mom on the phone about our upcoming meal.

“So what’s the menu for this year?” I asked, hoping for a juicy, fatty standing rib roast or a golden brown, smoked turkey with all the fixins. My mouth was already salivating in anticipation.

[I had never gone so long without meat.]

“It’s going to be really yummy. We’re having a seafood Easter!”

[Silence…]

“Oh.” I paused. “But Mom, I haven’t had meat in, like, 47 days,” I reminded her, immediately feeling like an ungrateful child.  

She had already planned a trip to Joe Patti’s Seafood in Pensacola and created multiple grocery lists with ingredients categorized by the store where she would likely find them. After realizing that my comments might have hurt my mom—who had so excitedly announced this nouveau style of “the big holiday meal”—I commenced damage control.

“So, what kind of seafood?” I asked, conciliatorily.  

My mom listed off homemade marinated crab claws for our appetizer, Oysters Rockefeller Soup from Brennan’s in New Orleans, and Trout Payton (named after the New Orleans Saints’ head coach, Sean Payton) inspired by Impastato’s in Metairie, LA, along with grilled vegetables, mashed sweet potatoes, and Sister Schubert dinner rolls.

Needless to say, once I heard this menu, I wasn’t so bummed about the no-meat-for-Easter-dinner-thing.

My mom—being the wonderful woman that she is—made a concession and decided that we could have steaks on Holy Saturday, the night before Easter, just for me!

[Fear not! Lent technically ends after Holy Thursday, as the Easter Triduum, a three-day liturgical season, begins, so this steak did not break my fast.]

Pictured: Sirloin Steak with Herb Butter at Clearly Delicious (recipe here).

And let me tell you, that medium-rare sirloin steak was marinated just perfectly with a slightly crisp exterior where the open flame of the grill had seared the meat.

It was worth the wait!


To read about my first taste of chocolate after Lent along with some of my mishaps along the path to sweet satisfaction, read my post here.


P6030387Erica deVeer is a recent graduate of Louisiana State University, with a Bachelor’s degree in English – Creative Writing with minors in French and History. Erica will be attending the University of New Orleans’ Master of Fine Arts program — the Creative Writing Workshop — to study and to write contemporary fiction beginning in the Fall. She also recently won the Undergraduate Fiction Award at the Gulf Coast Association of Creative Writing Teachers Conference in April 2013 for her short story, “Summer.”

Brought up in a family of Louisiana foodies, Erica loves all things delicious, spicy, and, especially, sweet.

Contact: erica [at] clearlydeliciousfoodblog [dot] com

Follow Erica on Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/ericafrances/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/EricadeVeer

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Instagram: http://instagram.com/ericadeveer

Pullin’ Bread

posted by Meredith Quinn, Writing & Editorial Intern (Spring 2013) on Tuesday, April 2nd, 2013

Pullin’ Bread

(remembering a classic family recipe with Clearly Delicious)

A few weeks ago, I remember logging on to Clearly Delicious and being pleasantly surprised by its most recent post: a guest recipe provided by Miranda Gellert for Miranda’s Monkey Bread. Just by glancing at the picture, I was instantly transported back in time, catching glimpses of some of my fondest memories. Flashes of Christmas morning and my sixth birthday appear in my head.

Obviously, Miranda’s recipe had my mouth watering as soon as I saw the the caramel brown color of the cinnamon-esque bread, but—as I just mentioned—it also reminded me of all the holidays, birthdays, and celebrations during which I would help my mom make this scrumptious breakfast treat.

In my mind, I can still see the tattered, yellow-tinged recipe page once crisp from the Sunday newspaper of my parents’ small hometown Ringgold, Louisiana. The years of handling have now made it worn and soft, with holes connecting the lines where it was repeatedly folded. My mom always mutters something about needing to “rewrite it” on a clean recipe card, but I like the idea of using a piece of kitchen history. There is a certain vintage sentiment in carefully taking the worn newsprint out of the recipe box and placing it on a safe piece of countertop.

Besides, the sticky stains left from the old days assure me it was a good enough recipe to make time and time again.

If it was good enough then, then its definitely good enough now.

Pictured: Monkey Bread recipe by Miranda Gellert (guest-post) at Clearly Delicious (here)

As my mom recalls, this was the breakfast item of choice during her childhood and her mom always used this specific recipe. However, instead of being called, “Monkey Bread,” the recipe was long-titled, “Pullin’ Bread.” I don’t think it could get more southern than that.

Why name it after some animal for no apparent reason? Just call it what it is: “Bread that you pull. Pullin’ Bread.”

Yet, our recipe is almost exactly like Miranda’s, the only difference being that we used a bundt pan instead of a bread pan. I remember shaking that ziploc bag full of the cinnamon-sugar mixture like my life depended on every inch of the dough being covered. And, embarrassingly enough, I still do.

[Its funny how certain foods bring out the kid in us.]

Pictured: family recipes are an everyday treat at Clearly Delicious (as seen with Linda’s recipe box, here)

I try to imagine my grandmother’s steady hands preparing the bundt with butter. No PAM or vegetable oil for her. In the south, we use butter wherever we can (just ask Paula Deen).  In one quick swoop, she covers the entire pan with the slick ingredient, pushing the greasy butter into uncovered edges and crevices.

I often think of my own tiny hands covered in flour, clumsily rolling sugary-dough balls and looking up to my mother waiting for her nod of approval. It never seemed right—making that much of a mess—yet she never scolded me.

These are the images that fill my heart with warmth and make me realize that this recipe is more than just a melt-in-your-mouth delicacy. Rather, it represents a bond between three generations of women. Although I never knew my grandmother, I listen to my own mom’s description of their time together making this dish. There is no difference between our time (mine or my Mom’s) and theirs (my grandmother’s). It is almost as if I have risen to take my place in the Pullin’ Bread assembly line. Someday I’ll take my place as “Pan Butterer,” no longer thinking of my clumsy, childhood hands.

At our intern meetings, we always find ourselves reminiscing about certain dishes and the power these dishes may have played in our lives. It is well-known fact that food is inherently tied to our memories just as Dianne Jacob explains in Will Write for Food.  And, for this reason, I was so excited to begin working at Clearly Delicious:

I love the sense of community found through discussing, eating, and preparing food.  As we interns know, talking about food is a huge part of the joy of eating it. We get the chance to realize what makes it so special by closely examining everything about the food itself. Thanks to the blog, I get to experience this type of togetherness each week.

One day, I will make this same dish with my own child (hopefully the original copy of the recipe will still be in one piece by that time) and s/he will begin to formulate their own memories much the way I came to form my own. I will add that, along with my experiences at Clearly Delicious, to the images that run through my mind whenever someone mentions this gooey goodness so strangely referred to as “Monkey Bread.”

Sources:

Miranda’s Monkey Bread: http://www.clearlydeliciousfoodblog.com/2013/guest-post-monday-cinnamon-roll-monkey-bread-with-cream-cheese-frosting/

Past Family Recipes at Clearly Delicious (“Linda’s Recipes”): http://www.clearlydeliciousfoodblog.com/2011/lindas-recipes-a-look-back-at-some-of-my-favorite-recipes-in-the-new-year/


Meredith Quinn photoMeredith Quinn
 is a senior at LSU seeking a degree in English. Naturally, she is thrilled to be a part of the Clearly Delicious team as an Editorial and Writing Intern. A self-professed addict of anything British, Meredith can often be found with a cup of Earl Grey and a Raspberry Scone.

Contact: meredith [at] clearlydeliciousfoodblog [dot] com

 

 

 

 

Old Dogs, New Tricks

posted by Amy Laws, Writing & Editorial Intern (Spring 2013) on Friday, March 8th, 2013

They Say You Can’t Teach an Old Dog New Tricks.

(Maybe Cara and I are still young enough to try.)

“Cara, come here, Sweetie. Cara. Cara.”

Helana’s shy and nervous greyhound shifted her feet back and forth as she calculated how best to escape me.

It was only our second intern meeting. I had never been upstairs, where the greyhound hides from us, but this time nature called. I stood at the top of the stairs, and Cara stood between me and the bathroom.

Pictured: Helana’s dog Cara, a timid, sweet, but wonderful greyhound.

Kneeling down onto the floor, I presented my hand. Cara’s eyebrows scrunched together, and she took a few steps forward.

“That’s right, that’s a good dog, yes,” I whispered, an edge of triumph in my voice.

But, Cara retreated, deciding it was safest to keep on the move back and forth from the bedroom to the study, all the time running in front of the bathroom.

I gave up, darted into the bathroom, and shut the door as quickly as possible. Soon after, I heard Cara gallop down the stairs, probably on her way to complain to Helana about me.

Before coming out of the bathroom I ran my fingers through my hair, straightened my blouse, and took a deep breath. I understood Cara’s trepidation. After all, she had only lived with Helana for 3 months. Meeting new people, adjusting to new schedules, and learning how to do new things is nerve-wracking. Sometimes we want to curl up in a ball and say, “Forget it, I’m better here with what I already know.”

———-

I hate to say, but in the past I was guilty of doing just that with food. I hardly ever tried new things. I stuck to the greasy, crunchy, salty fried foods I had grown up eating: fried German potatoes, fried catfish, fried pork chops, fried everything. Unfortunately, I saw the results of my terrible eating habits sooner than others often do.

A year and a half ago I had to have my gallbladder removed at only 21 years of age.

Since then, it’s been a slow recovery.

Worst of all, I’m supposed to stay away from fried foods, and eating too much meat can upset my stomach. It’s hard to give up things you’ve been eating forever. I didn’t realize it before, but food helps define who I am. My attempts at healthful food were bland and uninteresting. And so, I would cheat with fried food. But, the food that I knew and loved was not, in this case, better for me.

At Clearly Delicious I didn’t expect my eating habits to improve that much, but in less than 3 weeks, I’ve tried more new and healthful dishes than I’ve tried in the last year.

By good fortune, I was put in charge of adding recipes on the blog to the Lent and Meatless Monday categories.

Perfect.

Being in charge of Lent and Meatless Monday has not only taught me how to work the backend of Clearly Delicious and navigate its dashboard, but it has also introduced me to many Amy-friendly recipes such as Broccoli Salmon Chow Mein and Matzo Ball Soup. My favorite, however, which I have already made twice and plan to make again for some friends at a barbecue on Saturday, is the Kale Chips recipe. Instead of grabbing a fried potato chip, I now reach for a healthy, green, and crunchy kale chip.

Pictured: Kale Chips recipe at Clearly Delicious (here).

I admit it. I could have looked online for healthful recipes before now, but as I said, changing your diet means changing the way you define yourself. Stepping into the unknown is always daunting. Until Helana put one of her recipes on a plate and a fork in my hand, I had been reluctant to try the healthier high road, but I’m glad I have.

———-

I slowly opened the bathroom door and peered out. I didn’t want to scare Cara again. With no greyhound in sight, I headed down the stairs and turned the corner to see Helana and Meredith laughing at me.

“Ha, we kept hearing you say, ‘Cara. Cara,’” Helana imitated jokingly.

I laughed—“I want her to love me so bad!”

As it was time to go, I gathered my notes and pencils together and stuffed them into my bag.

Then, something wet rubbed my elbow gently, and a gust of air blew against my arm. It could only have been one thing: the long nose of a greyhound. I stood still as sniffing noises moved up and down my back. Eager to pet her, I turned around, but Cara was already halfway to the stairs. She turned her head briefly to look at me with that scrunched brow and worried eyes and then charged up to the second floor.

I smiled. Waving goodbye to Helana, I picked up my bag and headed for the door.

It’s scary to try new things, but I think Cara is coming around.

 

Amy Laws is a recent LSU English and Creative Writing graduate, who couldn’t be happier than when she’s discussing a book or movie in depth. This March, Amy won the  Country Roads Magazine’s short story contest with her story “The Living,” and will be published in their June 2013 issue.

Contact: amy [at] clearlydeliciousfoodblog [dot] com

 

 

 

Trial and Error: the 5 Things I Learned about Recipe Writing this Week at Clearly Delicious

posted by Erica deVeer, Writing & Editorial Intern (Spring 2013) on Monday, March 4th, 2013

Trial and Error: Sometimes it helps, not knowing what you’re doing….

Many think it’s foolishness to claim that ignorance is bliss. Well, to achieve food blog recipe perfection, sometimes ignorance is necessary. 

This past Friday, my boyfriend and I decided we were going to cook dinner and watch a movie. It’s currently Lent, which means no meat on Fridays (see here for great Lenten recipe ideas). Working at Clearly Delicious, I explored the site and saw the recipe for Butternut Squash Lasagna with Blue Cheese and Mozzarella, which sounded like a fun, meatless challenge. 

Neither my boyfriend nor I had ever cooked lasagna, and neither one of us had ever worked with butternut squash before. I printed off the recipe, and we were off to Winn Dixie to buy our produce. Not only did I drop a big butternut squash in the process—twice, mind you, cracking the botanically-classified fruit—but I also didn’t know to seed the pumpkin-like vegetable.

So, we made the lasagna, eating it with a “hmm…this is interesting,” response as we crunched our way through seed-filled lasagna. 

Somehow, something got lost in translation between Helana’s head, her fingertips, and my brain. I started considering what about the recipe led us astray on our culinary adventure, and I devised 5 tips to recipe writing that this humbling experience taught me.

Erica’s 5-Tips for Recipe Writing Success:

writing

#1 – Just like we learned in school when writing papers, assume your reader knows nothing.

As neither my boyfriend nor I knew to seed the squash, someone reading your recipe (or post) may not know to chop the garlic or stem the mushrooms called for in the recipe.

Be specific and clear even when it comes to basic steps like seeding butternut squash or peeling the paper-y skin off of garlic.

#2 – Your list of ingredients should always match the method in your recipe.

Be sure that all ingredients are listed in the order of use.

Nothing’s better than having all the ingredients readily available at the top of the recipe when your reader is making his / her list of groceries!

#3 – Keep your instructions clear and concise.

Like your eighth grade English teacher taught you: never use run-ons. If you think your sentences are too convoluted and your directions are too complex, your reader will probably think so, too.

#4 – Be not afraid of revising your recipe or post.

The Internet is wonderful because, though your recipe may technically be “published,” you have the ability to return to it and amend your post. Your online recipe is never so set in stone that you can’t revisit it, chip away what you’ve already carved in, and re-chisel it for clarity and perfection.

#5 – Sometimes, though, no matter how perfect your recipe has been written, there is no help for your reader.

As much as recipe and food writers need to be good writers, so must your readers be good readers. All you can do at this point is give them a share in your food knowledge and hope they take full advantage of your wisdom.

When I came into work Monday morning, Helana asked me how cooking the lasagna had gone, inquiring as to my foray into this new-to-me world of butternut squash lasagna. I remarked that I thought the lasagna needed some sort of fresh herb, to which Helana responded, “What about the sage and the basil?” First result of my boyfriend’s and my experiment: sage and basil were not listed in the ingredients.

Next, I timidly told Helana–revealing my lack of culinary experience with various produce–that I didn’t know if we were to seed the squash or not, so we were spitting out these toasted treats after every other bite of lasagna. To this, she reacted with wide eyes and an, “Oh my gosh! I didn’t say to seed the squash?!” exhibiting that sometimes it helps to be a first-timer.

Many think it’s foolishness to claim that ignorance is bliss. Well, to achieve food blog recipe perfection, sometimes ignorance is necessary.

P.S. The Butternut Squash Lasagna with Blue Cheese and Mozzarella recipe has been amended to include the omitted ingredients and instructions!

P6030387Erica deVeer is a recent graduate of Louisiana State University, with a Bachelor’s degree in English – Creative Writing with minors in French and History. Erica will be attending the University of New Orleans’ Master in Fine Arts program — the Creative Writing Workshop — to study and to write contemporary fiction beginning in the Fall. She also recently won the Undergraduate Fiction Award at the Gulf Coast Association of Creative Writing Teachers Conference in April 2013 for her short story, “Summer.” Brought up in a family of Louisiana foodies, Erica loves all things delicious, spicy, and, especially, sweet.

Contact: erica [at] clearlydeliciousfoodblog [dot] com

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My First Week at Clearly Delicious: the AP Stylebook and the Question of “tweet” and “Twitter” 

posted by Meredith Quinn, Writing & Editorial Intern (Spring 2013) on Friday, February 22nd, 2013

Off We Go!

The first week here at Clearly Delicious has gone off with a bang, and like Helana’s beautiful greyhound, we interns are beginning the first stretch on the track towards enlightenment.

[Ok, so that’s a pretty cheesy metaphor, but the excitement of this journey is truly like a day at the races. If only we could don those beautiful hats like royalty at Ascot.]

It has only been a few days but I have to admit, I have already learned so much. For example, while discussing a recent post, the Editorial/Writing team at CD came across an interesting dilemma: is “tweet” capitalized? And by “tweet” I am referring to the increasingly popular social media site Twitter, in which each post is referred to as a “tweet” (a noun), as well as the verb “to tweet.”

[Of course, you’re probably already familiar with these terms, but I find it’s useful to clarify these nuances and rules when thinking about how to edit or write for social media.  Although many of my English major friends still prefer pen and paper to 140-character tweets.]

The article discusses issues regarding social media and the public’s growing concerns about who decides how we define our presence(s) on social media sites like Twitter.One commentator even observed, “I’m not sure why we should allow the AP to define how we, who’ve been on Twitter since early on, describe what we do.” However, Grammer Girl makes the necessary distinction that the AP does not dictate the language we use, but actually approves/disapproves patterns of speech of which we’ve already been using.

You can read the whole article here.

To save time, however, here was their conclusion: “tweet” is lowercase. Despite being a product of the site, the term is not a proper noun. Of course, the title of the site (Twitter) is a proper noun and should be capitalized. Who knew? I sure didn’t. Yet, it is one of the many (chicken) nuggets of knowledge I continue to digest during my time here at CD. While I haven’t even rounded the first corner, I hope the finish line doesn’t appear on the horizon too soon. I still have so much more running left in me!

[Ok, I promise I’m done with the racing metaphors.]

Sources:

AP Stylebook for Twitter – https://twitter.com/APStylebook

Grammar Girl’s Quick & Dirty Tips: “tweet” or “Twitter?” http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com/tweet-or-twitter-verb.aspx


Meredith Quinn photoMeredith Quinn
 is a senior at LSU seeking a degree in English. Naturally, she is thrilled to be a part of the Clearly Delicious team as an Editorial and Writing Intern. A self-professed addict of anything British, Meredith can often be found with a cup of Earl Grey and a Raspberry Scone.

Contact: meredith [at] clearlydeliciousfoodblog [dot] com