Saturday, January 8, 2011

Old and New - My First Blogiversary

Sorry to be cryptic with yesterday’s quick post (you'll find a better pic and fuller explanation below), but the day marked one year since I started blogging, and I wanted to acknowledge the start of year #2. While some people take to the gym or resolve to diet after the turn of a new year, it’s amazing how many people start their blogs on or about Jan. 1.

I don’t generally make New Year’s resolutions, but when I received a digital camera for Christmas in 2009, I was eager to start using it. Hoping to join in some friendly blogging cook-o-rama’s I’d been following from afar, I’d been mentioning a digital camera on my holiday wish lists for some time. Last year Dad said he and Mom finally decided I must be “serious” about wanting one, and it may be the best Xmas gift I’ve ever received (even better than both the easel and zither I received at age 5).

My camera, and blog, have led me to a new creative outlet, an expanded awareness of what other bloggers and food enthusiasts are doing, and an unanticipated experience of community. Putting together my little (or, more often, long - lol) posts has often helped me refocus my energy away from day-to-day frustrations, and I can't count how many times my spirits have been lifted by a kind word, a gorgeous photo, or a quirky story shared by my blogger friends.

It took me a while to go public – various technical blogger stuff to figure out, a number of draft posts deleted. When initially faced with page design options, I hesitated to add a tag line or try to encapsulate what I do in a pithy “about” item on my sidebar (is there anything that hasn’t already been said by the gazillion food bloggers who’ve come before me?). Besides, I wanted give my little blog a chance to grow up and see what it wanted to be. And while this remains a food-focused blog (sometimes I eat out; sometimes I cook in), I’m happy to let it continue to grow and meander where I choose to take it.

What’s been more interesting is where my blog has taken me. I’ve gained lots of new recipes and picked up great cooking tips from others. Although I still have a long way to go, I’ve learned a lot about photography from observing how other people do it, and experimenting and practicing myself. I’ve also been following the local food scene more closely, and making a point of, yes, backing away from the computer and getting out of the house to explore what some of Cincinnati’s talented, hard-working food vendors are up to.

My oft-referred-to friend Cindie has kindly aided and abetted me in these pursuits, and this fall we evolved a new ritual – our “food days out.” It started when we made reservations for an event sponsored by Buick that promised a free opportunity to see Marcus Samuelsson and taste his food in exchange for test-driving a car. We made our reservations early and arrived a little after noon on the appointed day, only to learn the event had been pushed back to 2:00 p.m., with no attempt by organizers to contact us. We were hungry and skeptical, eyeing designer waters, Sunchips, and the prospect of a long wait. So we decided to skip the shilling she-bang and head to the nearby neighborhood of Northside instead.

We had a great lunch at Melt Eclectic Deli, my first time there with camera in hand, Cindie’s first time period. We both chose "Halvies" with 1/2 sandwich and 1/2 salad portions. I went for the white-cheddar-laden Artichoke Melt on foccaccia, with artichoke-spinach spread plus artichoke hearts and sliced tomatoes, coupled with Greek salad and sundried-tomato dressing.
Cindie chose a roast beef sandwich with potent horseradish sauce and the Blue Gingered Pear Salad with toasted walnuts, blue cheese, and balsamic vinaigrette.

In much better spirits after our bellies were full, we wandered down Hamilton Avenue to the bakery/lunch/brunch spot Take the Cake (too bad I was too timid to try to snap any pics of their lovely dessert case or stylish interior and that my photos of their delicious red-velvet whoopee pie didn’t turn out). Then we walked back up the street to Melt’s sister business, Picnic and Pantry, a great little carry-out featuring fresh soups, salads, sandwiches, produce, baked goods (lots of vegan options) – and Columbus-based Jeni’s ice cream! I picked up some fresh salads and this fresh-from-the-oven lemon-pesto zucchini bread.
We were energized to sample Northside’s great food scene (across town for me, and even farther for Cindie) and delighted we’d made the trip.

On a roll, and with plenty of our allotted Buick afternoon left, we headed to Findlay Market, which we’d both frequented in the past, but, I’m sorry to say, hadn’t been to in quite a while. We’ve fallen in love with Findlay all over again!

This particular Saturday happened to be the weekend Fresh Table opened, and its stunningly displayed prepared foods were impossible for me to resist that day or on any subsequent visit.
I could kick myself for failing to pick up a slice of their updated version of a much-beloved pie from Mecklenberg Gardens' heyday (with a nutty crust and chocolate filling topped with mocha whipped cream) last time I was there. But who knows what sweets and savories I'll find on my next visit? Fresh Table offers a wide selection of rotating dishes, many made with products from other Findlay vendors, including produce from Daisy Mae's, which is open year-round and, I learned recently, delivers downtown on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. Sign up for their e-newsletter to receive weekly updates of what's available.

Another old favorite we’ve fallen in love with again is Avril’s (nka Avril-Bleh’s), on Court Street, with its house-made, house-smoked sausages, hams, and more. Cindie found “real” city chicken (with veal) there for the first time in eons, got an awesome ham there for a family holiday party, and is on standing orders from her father to pick up Avril’s fresh sauerkraut whenever she can.

Since that day, Cindie and I have made a point of scheduling our “food days out” at least once a month, trying new (to us) restaurants in addition to our now de rigeur trips to Findlay and Avril's.

One glorious fall Sunday, we started with brunch at forkheartknife, which opened last summer to considerable, and well-warranted, buzz.
This cozy community spot, with only a few tables inside but outdoor seating when weather permits, features food you would make at home if you were as talented as the fhk chefs. Comfort food, locally sourced, artfully made, with thoughtful twists.
The restaurant/catering business's wildly popular brunches (now served Saturdays as well as Sundays - they’ve also shifted their two weeknight dinners to Wednesdays and Thursdays) usually include a strata or two made with bread from Blue Oven Bakery, eclectic veggie, yogurt and fruit dishes (like the apple-beet salad above lightly dressed with lemon oil), baked sweets, and awesome potatoes in various forms. Chorizo, applewood-smoked bacon, and other pork products make their way into some of the dishes as well. The menu, posted on butcher paper, changes each week and is posted on fhk's facebook page. (Click the image for a closer look.)

Another weekend, Cindie and I started our day with lunch at Terry’s Turf Club, hoping that if we arrived near the noon opening time on a Saturday, we might avoid the long waits that have only gotten longer since this little Eastern Avenue gem filled with vintage neon signs was featured on “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives.” Huzzah, there were a few people ahead of us waiting for Terry’s to open, but once it did, we were able to walk right in and take a seat.

We started with an appetizer of belotta ham from Spain, served antipasto style with greens, a rich goat cheese, and black garlic (preparations of this dish, and others, apparently change often at the whim of the chef). Then we moved on to Terry's gourmet burgers and split an order of fresh-cut fries cooked in duck fat. Cindie was a bit overwhelmed by her foie gras-topped Beef Wellington burger (the burgers themselves are enormous and rich, and we both ended up asking for to-go boxes). I ordered my burger with triple creme brie and the house burgundy wine sauce with wild mushrooms and truffle, every bit as succulent as I'd been led to hope for. The crisp, hot duck-fat fries were a knockout! Cindie's been wanting to try duck-fat fries ever since I told her I'd had them at Hot Doug's in Chicago, and these did not disappoint.
The best thing besides our burgers and duck-fat fries: the fruity "elixirs" - Cindie ordered mango; I went for blood orange.
Apparently not “house-made,” as one sign suggests (Cindie inquired of our friendly waitress and was shown a jar bottled in California), but refreshing and delicious straight-up or with a splash of club soda. No doubt these full-flavored juices would be great spiked as well. P.S. Terry's doesn't have a website, but you can find info on its facebook page, which says it's currently closed for a few days for kitchen expansion and ensuing inspections. The kitchen work sounds like it's among the expansion plans mentioned in this article. Cindie (who always requests a booth) would be happier to go back if they had more comfortable seating than tall stools at both bar and tables. I, on the other hand, would happily return to try more of Terry's menu, as long as the wait is not prohibitive.

Despite the dismal economy, I am invigorated by the many fine new local food businesses that have launched in the year I’ve been blogging, as well as established businesses that continue to thrive and hone what they do. People are focusing their businesses in all sorts of creative ways, carving out their own strategies to reach a slice of the local food-dollar pie, and often partnering with each other. It's a great time to be a food lover in Cincinnati.

But of course blogging isn’t just about who and what you cover on your blog; it’s about connecting with other people. And that’s the biggest thing I did not anticipate a year ago. Cincinnati food bloggers don’t seem to comment much on each other’s blogs. Nor, for some reason, do the readers of AllTopChef, where a lot of my blogging hours have gone since I joined that blogging team in September.

So it's been fascinating to discover that I have readers - and new friends - from across the U.S. and even around the world. This blogging thing has allowed me to meet a wider spectrum of individuals than I would ever have chanced to meet otherwise. Some share my affinity for food and cooking; many have other fascinating interests and talents. I am richer for the opportunity to glimpse the corners of the world in which they live, and the corners of their minds they choose to share. Nothing could have brought that point home more movingly than the blogger party/fundraiser this New Year’s hosted by Boxer, which raised nearly than $1500 for our various causes - and was a whole lot of fun to boot!

I thank all my friends in the blogosphere, as well as my family, for your support, inspiration, and kindness. My dad has turned out to be one of my biggest supporters, talking up my blog to friends and relatives and encouraging me to contact them - "with instructions" :) My sister reads and even comments when she can, and I am looking forward to the Ingredient-of-the-Month Club she is creating for me this year, not only for the opportunity to try some new foods but also as fun blog fodder. My aunts, who I vacationed with in California in September, could not have been more receptive to my cooking, eating, and blogging interests, and it was my very artistically inclined Aunt Jeanette who created this lovely thank-you card from hand-made paper after our trip, which I posted yesterday.
In addition to the eggplants on the front are a cluster of grapes on the back, in fond memory of our many winery visits.

Finally, thanks to Cindie for 40 years of friendship. Yikes, we're getting old. But I love it that our friendship keeps reinventing itself - and that we keep eating so well.

Looking forward to more food and blogging friendships and adventures in 2011,


ThatJewCanCook said...

Eggy, conrats on the 1 year. Mine is a year old today! Lets see how the terrible two's will be :)


Sharon Rudd said...

Oh, Andy, I'll bet we could wreak all kinds of pork-inspired havoc in our terrible two's :) Congrats to you as well, my friend!

Velva said...

Happy 1st Blog Anniversary! It is an amazing journey. I would have never realized the world that would open up because of blogging. I love it too!

I am looking forward to enjoying your blog for many years to come.


fishy said...

I'll come often as I have seen what you do for brunch!

Aunty Belle said...

My gracious! What an astoundin' review of yore first year an all the amazin' Cincinnati food options--I'se lookin' into flights --yore city is full of surprises.'

Congratulation Eggy on yore first year an may the comin' year be one of new discoveries an' happy times wif' yore fellow bloggers,


Roses said...

Happy Blogversary darling!

Well done you.

Blogging is one of the things that has enriched my life. I started out blogging about bus journeys for an art project. This will be my 5th year. Blogging gave me a fantastic boyfriend, who has remained a great friend; friends IRL, who I love dearly and wouldn't have met otherwise and friends overseas of all types and pursuasions.

I'm so glad you popped by my blog. And I'm loving yours. I so love good food. Today, I'm going to experiment...I'll let you know how it turns out.

Boulder Locavore said...

Happy 1 year! What an accomplishment. There is so much more involved with this that meets the eye are you described. It's not sitting down for 10 minutes and writing about food. So glad you persevered!

Love your Food Days out with Cindie. What fun! Also that darling market. Thanks for taking us along. Can't wait to see what you have in store for us for this year!

If you have a second pop by my blog for a Michael Pollan book giveaway (by midnight Monday) and a really yummy second giveaway beginning Wednesday. No hoops, just leave a comment if you want to be included! Looking forward to reading more of you soon!

Dani said...

It's been a great year Eggy! Love all your foodie posts even if they do make me drool over the keyboard.

Buzz Kill said...

You're one of the best best home cooks on here (that I follow anyway). I enjoy your posts and learn a thing or two while I'm at it. Happy Anniversary!

Magic of Spice said...

Happy must be very exciting getting through your first year :)
Wishing you many more happy blogging years!

Jenny said...

Happy One Year! I understand how blogging can open up avenues of creativity. I had a similar experience and it's really wonderful. Your posts just get better, so here's to more blogging!

chickory said...

happy anniversary, eggy! im glad you blog -but please go ahead and take the pastry case photo next time. duck fat fries (!) ?

Kate Donahue said...

Congratulations on sharing, caring and eating well for a year! I really enjoy your writings, Sharon - keep on going! So glad your folks got you a digital camera for Christmas last year! Makes for great eye-candy and mouth watering...

Happy New Year! Kate

Alessandra said...

Happy Blogiversary and 100 of these days!!!


moi said...

Happy Blog Anniversary! Finding your site was one of the highlights of my 2010. Now gimme some'a those duck fat fries!

LauraK said...

Here's to many many more years of blogging, and thanks very much for joining ATC. You certainly class up the joint. OXOX

Jen said...

Happy Blog-birthday! I always enjoy reading your blog and am glad you are ready to go for year #2!

(Also, it's true that Cincy food bloggers are not excellent commenters, but I do try show you when I can that I'm here reading!)

Anonymous said...

Happy Blogaversary or however you spell it. ;)

GuacamoleBen said...

Cool, same here.

Roses said...

Hello foodie lady.

I've just put a new recipe up on my blog, journeying. Would you mind popping by and seeing what you think?

darkfoam said...

I can see this is going to be a blog that I will drool over.
It's scrumptious!
Happy 1st year anniversary!