Lessons learned over one hot stove and several cooking classes

lessons learned over one hot stove - www.alliepottswrites.com #valentines #datenight #cookingclassFood.

Food is a magical thing.

Though everyone who sits at a table will have a unique experience, we still refer to a meal as being shared. You can disagree about a particular taste and the other people at the table with an opposing view will actually support your preference so that nothing goes to waste. Love pickles? Here, have my share. Hate chocolate? Please, by all means, pass that my way.

Food brings us together in a way that nothing else can.

My husband and I decided several years ago that we would rather exchange memories than things and so unless there is a specific pressing need, our gifts to each other are typically printed out confirmations of bookings or tickets to an upcoming event. This year was no exception. I’d booked us a couple’s night out at a local cooking class.

Now, not all cooking classes are created the same and so it is always important to read a class description as well as reviews before signing up.

Words to look for:

Home Chef – unless you are trying to learn to be a professional in the kitchen, classes that cater (pun intended) to the home chef typically feature more commonly found ingredients and utilize the types of equipment and/or appliances found in the average kitchen. Meaning there is a remote chance you might be able to recreate a recipe at home on your own. The downside though is you will learn a recipe you can recreate at home – meaning don’t expect a once in a lifetime experience.

Hands-on – If you are looking for dinner and a show, a class that is not advertised as “hands-on,” is the one for you. A hands-off class is like being part of the live studio audience on a cooking show. You get to sit at a bar drinking wine while the chef talks you through what he or she is doing and then you eat the results. At a hands-on class, you should expect to work for your meal. Hmm, now that I’ve put it like that, I am beginning to question my preference.

Class size – The best classes are smaller classes with a high teacher to student ratio – ideally you don’t want to share your instruction with more than nine other students.

Instructor – It should go almost without saying that you want to be lead in your cooking class by someone who actually has formal training in the subject matter, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they know how to teach. This is one of those times you may want to pay attention to a person’s resume.

Location, Location, Location

This wasn’t our first cooking class together. We’d gone to one offered by chefs at one of the high-end restaurants in town. We’d learned about wine pairings, how to properly trim (and store) a steak. Though the class hadn’t been quite as hands-on as we would have liked, we still left with more food than we could eat.

We also left with significantly less money in our wallets. That class hadn’t been cheap, nor had the schedule been flexible as this class sells out months in advance with no refunds offered.

The second class we took together was easier on the budget (as well as the calendar) but was located within a cooking supply store rather than a restaurant. As a result, in addition to our meal, we also had to listen to product pitches for the latest and greatest kitchen do-dads. Still, the food we made all by ourselves (four words – black truffle mashed potatoes) was worth the occasional commercial interruption.

This year I tried to find a happy median between the two. I found a small, hands-on class offered by a chef whose primary business model was the cooking school. The advertised meal (Chicken Saltimbocca) looked delicious, the price was right and the schedule, convenient. But the class itself was not entirely what I expected.

Instead of each couple preparing our own meal from end to end, we each were given a specific course along with a recipe card while the chef instructor hovered between stations. If I ruined the chicken, I’d ruin it for everyone. Right – no pressure at all! I decided it was in the best interest of the group to pass that duty over to my hubby while I peeled potatoes instead.

I will admit that I was disappointed not to be at the dessert station as baking is where my talents lie, but that would have meant spending the evening apart from my other half, who is never so happy as when he is cooking, hence the reason for the night out in the first place.

Then it was time to eat.

The eight of us took our plates to an adjacent room and sat down and this is where the real magic happened. I might not have learned how to make a raspberry almond torte, but instead, I learned of one couple’s adult twin daughters now making their parents so proud. I learned of a documentary on wine tasting, I need to check out, and of one woman’s semester abroad.

Food has a way feeding conversation as well as people.

But I also learned that my hubby still makes me proud (and continues to make me laugh) as he entertained the group with our stories both at the table and over the stove preparing a meal we enjoyed together. And that’s a lesson always worth learning more than once.

 

Advertisements

Batman’s greatest challenge yet – a tru-ish story

Batman's greatest challenge yet

background image courtesy of http://www.pixabay.com

Gotham city lay quiet. It had been weeks since the Joker had shown his bright green hair or pale white face. The flu virus going around must have taken him out too.

Alfred pulled the curtains open.

“Good day Master Bruce.”

I grimaced as my eyes adjusted to the daylight cutting through my room. The ornate clock on the mantle said it was already past noon.

“Feeling any better today?” he asked bringing over a tray consisting of hot tea and a package of saltine crackers.

My stomach growled at the sight – a distinct difference from twenty-four hours before. It had been some time since I’d last kept down solid food. I scratched at days of growth now covering my chin. “Much,” I replied. The sound of my voice was strange to my ears. My recent illness must have damaged my vocal cords. I wouldn’t be able to maintain the deep, cold distinct tone I used to render fear into the hearts of my enemies for another day or two.

He pulled out a small scanner and held it up to my forehead. “Indeed. You no longer appear to be contagious. Shall I go over your schedule then?”

“That’s alright, Alfred.” I had only one appointment to keep that afternoon.

“Very good sir.” Leaving the tray behind, Alfred exited the room.

I stepped over to the mantle and pulled on a lever next to the clock. The fireplace spun revealing the entrance to my secret command center. I pulled on my suit. It was looser around the waist and chest than I’d remembered. I wondered how much weight I’d lost over the last few days. I made a mental note to double my efforts in the gym for the next few weeks. I reached for my belt, only to notice it was missing from its usual resting place.

“Computer. Where is my utility belt?”

A woman’s voice programmed to sound like my mother answered. “In the field. Shall I activate the retrieval protocol?”

It began to come back to me. My trusty companion had borrowed the belt along with my spare suit when it became clear that I was in no shape to be out fighting crime so that criminals wouldn’t think the city lay unprotected. He must not have returned home yet. “That’s okay computer. I won’t need it for this mission.”

I pulled on my mask and cowl. The rubber tore open in the back. “Computer – damage assessment.”

“There is a large split in the back. The material must have taken too many hits and exceeded its tensile strength during your last battle with Bane.”

Bane! I cursed to myself. “Is a replacement available?”

“Negative, sir. Your spare is out with the other suit. I will instruct the 3D printer to begin work on another, but it will take several hours for the material to cure.”

I frowned. I didn’t have six hours. I didn’t even have three. I tucked the open rubber ends under my cape. It would have to do.

I looked into the cave’s parking bays. “I assume the Batmobile is in the field too.”

“Affirmative,” replied my ever helpful computer.

I couldn’t drive one of Bruce’s cars. They were too recognizable around town. That left only one option. “Computer, inform Alfred I’ve borrowed his car.”

“One moment.”

I verified the address of my destination. Without the Batmobile’s speed, I had even less time to spare.

“Alfred has acknowledged.”

“Thank you computer.”

I turned the key in the ignition, shaking my head at what Alfred considered music as I drove out of the cave and into the city. Beads of sweat formed under my mask and down my back. I realized I must not be as recovered as I thought, but it was too late to turn back now. This appointment was too important to miss.

I pulled up to my destination and walked through the door marked with a single yellow balloon.

batman birthday - www.alliepottswrites.comA small boy sat inside. Seeing me, his face immediately broke into a smile. My biggest fan.

“Happy Birthday, LT,” I said coming to his side.

The smile slipped from his face. His eyes narrowed. “You’re not the real Batman. That’s just a costume.” He nodded to himself. “I can tell.”

I’d thought my greatest opponents were safely behind bars at Arkham Asylum, but it would turn out even the clown prince of crime had nothing on the keen eyes or unfiltered opinions of this particular six-year-old birthday boy.


For the record, LT didn’t buy any part of this story for a second, but to his credit, the Bat-hero attending his party never once gave up trying.

That being said, some tips for other caped crusaders considering taking on the extremely risky children’s party circuit.

  • Drink lots of fluids – that suit gets hot
  • Don’t forget your utility belt – you never know when you’ll wish you had a smoke bomb or a grappling hook to get away
  • Practice your angry voice – it comes in handy answering questions as well as directing activities
  • Don’t forget to shave – the mask will fit much better
  • Have fun – Even if you forget all the rest, you’ve still made one kid’s day

And for that last one, we average citizens, thank you.

How my blog gained its first sponsored content – it was simpler than you might think

How my blog gained its first sponsored content - www.alliepottswrites.comMy story begins in June in London.

I was there to participate in the Bloggers Bash, an international meet-up and conference for bloggers from all walks of life. Suzie of Suzie Speaks approached the front of the room. I’d followed Suzie for a while, I knew she’d walked away from a teaching career and had begun blogging professionally out of necessity as much as interest. I’ve applauded her courage, admired what she’s achieved and was thrilled to finally meet her in person.

I opened my notebook as she began her presentation eager to record all the secrets of the professional blogging universe. Then she said something that made my note-taking hand pause in mid-motion.

Size doesn’t matter…

I blinked. I looked around the room. Light shone down through stained glass windows depicting images reminding me I was far from home. I couldn’t have heard that right, I told myself. It must have been the accent, but did she really just say that a blog of any size (or style) can gain sponsors? Even one like mine?

Well, yes … just don’t expect them to call you first.

Emboldened, I set out to try to find a sponsor.

Earlier, I’d joined Massive Sway where I published a guest piece on logo design through their sister site, The SITS Girls, so I knew they provided a list of companies looking to amplify their reach through social media and were willing to pay for it. All I had to do was fill in a profile detailing my interests and list my social media links. Then they would send me a list of companies willing to pay for posts, tweets, or other social amplification.

Dog condiment coat

Her Royal Highness was not amused. (affiliate link)

For example, one campaign listed was for a flea collar and all you had to do was purchase the product, take a picture or two with your furry family member and write a story. I have a dog, neither of us like fleas and I write stories. It was perfect.

Except for one catch. You had to be on Instagram too.

I wasn’t on Instagram at the time (I am now). So, I let that opportunity pass me by, excited by the possibility that adding sponsored content would be easy, confident that more would come. The next one to catch my eye was for wine. Not a brand I was hugely familiar with per se, but I do enjoy wine. This was it. My first sponsored content … I hit the button to apply.

Then nothing.

A few weeks later I learned my application had been declined. My profile hadn’t been enticing enough to the brand. A red flag should have gone up the moment I thought it might be easy.

…It’s what you do with it.

It was disappointing, but as I read through more and more corporate pitches I realized something else. Just as I wasn’t a fit for that earlier company’s strategy by the numbers, many of the easy pitches coming my way weren’t a fit for me or this blog by the content either.

Pinterest fail truck cake - www.alliepottswrites.com

One of the many reasons I am not making a killing on Pinterest

My blog isn’t about handcrafted lipstick or yogurt made from the milk of a coconut, nor is it about hidden uses for deodorant or strappy sandals that perfectly compliment the color of your favorite cough syrup. (I’m sure that last one comes in especially handy.) I have nothing against those sort of sites. In fact, I use them all the time. This site just isn’t one.

I realized I had been going on about this all wrong. I was wasting time waiting for the ‘perfect’ opportunity to appear in my inbox when what I really needed to do was create that opportunity on my own.

As almost every business today has contact information somewhere on their website, I decided to use it.

How did my blog gain its first sponsored content?

Simple. I sent an email.

In it, I made my pitch which included the following:

  • Who I was
  • What I wanted to do to promote their product on my site (post length and content bullet points)
  • Where I was active on social media
  • When I would post
  • Why they should take me up on my offer, making sure to provide monthly blog stats, social reach, and audience engagement
  • How much my proposal would cost

I then prepared myself mentally for their response (because as an author I need more rejection in my life). I reminded myself I had nothing to lose and only acceptance or experience to gain.

And would you know it? We reached a deal!

All I had to do was ask.


For those who are interested, Suzie also offers help growing your blog and social media presence and really knows her stuff. And no, she is not paying me to say that (though she’s welcome to). This is just my way of saying thanks to her for giving me the confidence to take that first step.

What poisonous zombie tsunami sharks can teach us about achieving realistic goals

What poisonous zombie tsunami sharks can teach us about achieving realistic goals - www.alliepottswrites.com

“What would happen if a Tsunami came here?” my youngest son asked as he brought over his latest creation. It was a drawing featuring a tiny mound of brown in the lower left-hand corner. A large blue backward C shape filled the rest of the page. I looked at the picture. I looked at my son. Clearly, the island was toast.

“Maybe it would be okay. They might have had advanced warning,” I suggested. “Or maybe there are boats that could help them float away?”

It was a slim excuse at best (I’ve seen what a Tsunami can do to a small boat), but I was going to go with it. My youngest is only five (for another week). Who wants to talk about a disaster from which there is no hope of escape with someone that age?

LT’s eyes narrowed as he glanced at his artwork. “I’ll be back.” He ran off to the other room.

He returned with another drawing of a giant wave. This one even larger than the one before. “How about now?”

Note the use of bold strokes, repeated forms, and the inclusion of a single cloud on an otherwise clear day. Here the artist is expressing the futility of man when confronted by nature’s might.

I looked at the poor island in the picture. Then another feature caught my eye. Dark triangles poking out of the second wave’s curl. “Wait. Are those sharks?”

LT grinned. Both of my children are well aware of my, let’s say, lack of fondness, for Selachimorpha in all its variations and take an inordinate amount of joy in watching my reaction.

“You drew a Tsunami with sharks.”

LT’s eyes twinkled as he nodded. “What would happen, now?” he asked. “Would we die?”

I’m not sweating. “Maybe not. You could punch the sharks in the nose or use the Bat-shark repellent.” LT wants to be Batman, correction – The Batman Weatherman, when he grows up, so it should almost go without saying he’ll have a ready case of Bat-shark repellent on hand for just such an emergency.

“What if they were poison sharks?”

“Poison?! Umm… er… there might be an antidote-”

“What if they were zombies too?”

I blinked. I looked at my husband, was he hearing what I was? His grin matched that of our son’s. Yep. He shook his head at me as if to say, what are you gonna do? I turned back to our little creator of the next made-for-TV, cheesy creature feature. “Poisonous Zombie Sharks? In a Tsunami?”

Poisonous Zombie Sharks - www.alliepottswrites.com

I’m confident sales will smash all box office expectations. (In case you are wondering, yes, this is the sort of thing I do in my spare time).

Okay, I have to admit it’s a genius idea, but every now and then I have to wonder if there is something about that boy that just isn’t right.

LT was almost cackling with manic glee at this point. Delighted with his cleverness, but unable to speak, he could only nod again.

Seeing no alternative – no stick figure on the island representing a scientist who had up until this point been the laughing stock of his profession, but was now humanity’s last hope against the coming killer tide – I had to give up. “Well, I guess, then yeah, we would all probably die.”

Apparently, this was the answer LT was going for the whole time. Satisfied, he ran off to create additional masterpieces.

I’ve mentioned before, my youngest knows how to achieve his goals and close a deal. The first step to doing either is to go in knowing what you want going out.

The same can be said about storytelling. It’s far easier to tell a joke if you know the punchline just as it is far easier to write a book if you know the ending.

But while having a goal in mind can keep you focused, it is also important to allow yourself the flexibility to deviate from the plan. I’m pretty sure that the inclusion of poison and zombies was a spur of the moment decision (though with LT one really never knows). All he wanted was for me to confirm that his island was a complete loss, but he allowed our conversation to detour, evolve, and refine until the end result was even better than the one he originally imagined.

Many of us made resolutions at the beginning of the year and many of us have already broken them once or twice. You don’t need my permission, but I want you to know that’s okay. Life happens. Zombie sharks may appear in waves.

The important thing is remembering the reason for the resolution in the first place. Ask yourself what is the underlying need and keep asking until you know the answer by heart and adjust your plan accordingly.

Who knows? When you finally reach your goal and look back, the path you wound up taking might prove even better than the one you first imagined.

 

 

One super serious, yet totally fictitious performance review – featuring Uncertain Faith’s Charlotte Row

The super serious yet totally fictitious performance review - www.alliepottswrites.com

The cleanliness of the desk alone in this picture should tell you the following is completely made up.

May include spoilers.

My office door opens and a woman with curly brown hair peeks in. “Um, are you ready for me?” she asks with a smile. Not waiting for a reply, she crosses the threshold, with the familiarity of an old friend.

“Hi Charlotte, come right in.” I gesture for her to close the door behind her. Charlotte flops down in a chair with a mug in hand while I rummage around to find the collection of papers stapled together with her name on them. “I can’t believe it is already time to do performance reviews again,” I say, handing her the pages. “How long have we been doing this?”

Charlotte leans back in her seat, scanning my written comments on the first page with a quick glance. “Hmm,” she begins, tapping her lip, “technically it will be five years this October, but I think this is only my second or third one of these.”

I blink.

She shrugs. “You kind of forgot a few times.”

“Oh, that’s right.” The heat from my cheeks is a better gauge of the severity of my blush than any mirror. “Sorry. All I can say is I was distracted.”

Charlotte leans forward, returning the papers to my desk face down. “It’s fine. I understood. The Project’s success was, is, a huge priority for everyone.”

“It is, but I don’t want you to think I don’t value you too,” I say, nodding at the papers. “You’ve done good work, and I want you to feel like you are contributing.”

Or is it coffee? Either way, it wouldn’t surprise me if in the least if this was Charlotte’s mug (affiliate link)

Charlotte laughs. “I’m not exactly saving the world over here.” She takes a sip of her beverage.

“I’m serious, Charlotte,” I say, thinking I could go for a coffee too after this is done. “You might not be expected to go on epic quests, but what you do still matters to a whole bunch of people.”

She shakes her head, though the smile remains. “That’s nice of you to say, but really, I’m okay. It’s not like I would want Juliane’s job anyway.” Charlotte shudders. “That woman is a freak.”

“Charlotte,” I chide, imagining the conversation I would have to have with the human resource department later if I had one.

Charlotte’s eyes grow wide as she slaps her hand over her mouth. “That didn’t come out right at all. I meant she’s a workaholic. I didn’t mean to imply I thought her … her … you know … the project made her a freak, which it totally didn’t.” Charlotte’s hand dropped to rest over her heart. She gulps. “I just like having time to spend with my family. That’s all.”

I purse my lips and take a deep breath before speaking again. “Let’s stop talking about Juliane and keep this focused on you. What can I do to help you become more successful this year?”

She looks up at the ceiling in thought. “Well, maybe I could attend a workshop.”

I raise an eyebrow.

“Or two,” says Charlotte, meeting my gaze once more. She chews her lip when I don’t respond. “Three?” she squeaks.

“Think bigger, though I’m making a mental note to revisit your thoughts on a workshop later.”

“Bigger?” Her brows knit. She eyeballs the papers on my desk. Her hand twitches. I can tell she’s itching to give my review a more in-depth read. “But … but … look, I appreciate the vote of confidence and don’t take this the wrong way,” she takes another sip, “but I’m not certain … Kids are only young once. You know?”

“Oh, believe me, I know.” I grin. “Which is exactly why I am so excited.” I pick up the papers. “What if I’ve come up with a way for you to grow within the company while also giving you the opportunity to spend even more time with your family?”

Charlotte cocks her head to the side and looks at me out of the corner of her eye. “How would that work?”

This time it is my turn to lean forward. Opening the papers to the back, I point to the last paragraph. “Because, Charlotte,” I say, my grin threatening to split my face, “before this year is out, I’m giving you … a sequel.”


That’s right, early revisions are all but done and I will be looking for beta readers for my latest contemporary / cozy mystery novel entitled An Uncertain Confidence in the coming weeks.

Charlotte is back in a new story proving happily ever after is a constant work in progress following one disastrous night out. Those interested should send me an email at Allie at alliepottswrites dot com for additional details. You don’t have to have read the first book, but it certainly helps.

Speaking of beta readers, Lucy over at http://www.blondewritemore.com was kind enough to feature a guest post of mine entitled Writers: What to expect when your beta reader is an elven prince. Click on the link to check it out.