There was a corner in Pittsburgh that my have caught your eye. Whether it was the curious bilboard atop the building or the large, waffle-shaped sign on the sidewalk, there was something different about that corner.
That corner was the site of The Waffle Shop, a neighborhood restaurant that produced and broadcasted a live-streaming talk show with its customers, operated a changeable storytelling billboard on its roof, and ran a take-out window with food from countries engaged in conflict with the U.S. The shop was a public lab to bring together people from all walks of life to engage in dialogue, experimentation and the co-production of culture. The project functioned as a classroom for students from Carnegie Mellon University, an eatery, a TV production studio, a social catalyst, and a business.
The Waffle Shop was - past tense- all of those things because it has since closed. July 28th, 2012 marked the end of an era for that corner. The Waffle Shop poured the last of its batter onto waffle irons and streamed its last episodes. I was honored to be part of the finale thanks to a special invite from Chef Tom Totin, the host of a weekly program titled “Cookspeak.”
The timing for my appearance on Tom’s program was symbolic for me. Just a little over one year to the date, I had launched my blog on Cookspeak. I had worked privately for more than a year to solidify my photos and stories into something more meaningful. When I caught up to my real time food adventures, I sought to share my blog with the world in a big, celebratory way. Tom and The Waffle Shop immediately came to mind.
Tom’s show became a set of bookends marking these chapters of my life in the blogosphere. Accordingly, much of our most recent “on air” conversation reflected on what I have learned, what I have experienced and what is yet to come in my adventures with the grains. Now I’ll share those thoughts here.
Making Food For People Is Far More Satisfying.
I put a lot of extra care into designing my kitchen and dining room, knowing I’d be spending a lot of time there. It finally dawned on me I needed to share that dining room space for it really to come to life. I started inviting friends over for brunch on a regular basis, and I have posted several of those experiences. Through these brunches, I have been reminded how strong and inspiring my friends are. I have a friend who fights fracking, a friend who promotes the education of girls in science/math/technology, a friend who draws intricate worlds of imagined mechanisms, a friend who knows exactly who she is and beams with positivity! This brunch in particular reminded me how special the people in my life are, and how lucky I am to know them.
The series of posts related to my boyfriend’s birthday also remind me of the significance of preparing meals for the people I hold dear. I’m tremendously grateful to have him in my life, and I wanted him to feel as special as possible for his birthday. In addition to his many amazing qualities, he supports my food fancies. He always lets me take pictures of our food before we eat, and not every fella would be so tolerant, let alone encouraging. I’m very grateful for his patience, and I showed him my appreciation in this birthday video.
Blogging Can Bring Exciting, New Opportunities.
When I first launched my blog, I happened to run into Adam Milliron, a photographer I had met years prior through a photoshoot. I asked him for photography advice. Since he liked my style, we started to do some practice shoots together for fun. One of my favorite shoots with Adam was this ode to Art in the Age liquors. Nearly one year after reconnecting, we worked together professionally on the Sarris Candies catalog (stay tuned for its distribution this winter!!!). This was a huge step for me as I’m very eager to dive deeply into the food styling world.
Blogging Inspired Me To Look At Pittsburgh With Fresh Eyes
When I started to blog about the food and experiences of my travels, I decided to include my Pittsburgh wanderings as well. In many ways, I had begun to feel stagnate in this city. I had lived here a long time and started to feel like everything was the same. When I opened my eyes a tad, I noticed a burgeoning food scene, so I began to incorporate posts about the many noteworthy Pittsburgh restaurants.
My goal was never to act as a food critic in those posts. Though I might make critiques or suggestions for improvement, I’m offering support to the places I see as raising the bar. I have many pictures (again…the patient boyfriend dinner companion) that never make it to the blog because if I have nothing nice to say, I shall follow the ol’ proverb and exercise restraint. On the other hand, when a restaurant really does it right, my enthusiasm shows!
Through these restaurant posts and social media, I have been able to connect more closely with other local foodies and chefs, especially Justin Severino of Cure. I admire his obsessive dedication to sustainable and local foods, a characteristic that became very apparent after attending one of his Sunday hog butchering demos.
I’ve also stretched the bounds of a food blog through some more unique Pittsburgh experiences:
What does brunch have to do with a Porsche? I’m so glad you asked! Find out!
What do small plates and craft cocktails have to do with a giant, water balloon fight? Well, let me tell you!
It’s A Great Big World, But The Internet Can Make It Smaller & Friendlier!
I hesitated on using twitter, but like many a modern tool, if used correctly and with restraint, it can be an invaluable resource. Through twitter, I happened to connect with a whimsical and creative chocolatier based in Charleston, SC. I still owe him a care package, but he got the ball rolling by sending me a sampler of his chocolates. As a thank you, I made him a video.
I also connected with a PGH blogger who has since relocated to the sunnier coast to live in San Diego. Who can blame him?!? I feel like I’ve known Rodzilla the Diningsaur for a while even though we never had the chance to meet. I liked his writing and trusted his restaurant reviews. Unfortunately for him, he left before Union Pig & Chicken opened, so as part of a promise I made, I took “him” to the restaurant, so to speak, by bringing a cutout of his little diningsaur logo with me. Then I brought “him” to The Waffle Shop because I figured he hadn’t been there either. You’re famous little diningsaur!
My Fifteen Minutes
As we all exist more and more in the digital realm, there is something increasingly special about the tangibile, printed world, which is why seeing myself in an edition of Edible Allegheny was especially rewarding.
I smiled one of my BIGGEST, longest-lasting smiles ever on July 4th of this year. On that day, I opened my inbox to discover it had been bombarded with emails from WordPress (my blogging platform). I thought I had been spammed until I looked at my stats. On the contrary, I had been featured on WordPress’s “Freshly Pressed” page, where they highlight standout blogs. There was a picture of my avocado egg recipe, and it was a dream come true for a WordPress blogger. I was so honored and happily overwhelmed by all the comments and praises. It still makes me really giddy inside!
I’m taking some time on my blog to focus on the simple moments in life (such as this stoop picnic), to step back and focus on intentional happiness. Hopefully, I won’t come across as a cheesey lifecoach, but I am investigating a lot of life questions that are common for my age.
You will see even more touches of my style online and in publications! I’m pursuing more food styling opportunities, so if you know of any, send them my way! I dare say, you’ll probably see a portfolio soon because that’s the grown up thing to do!
No editors or publishers or independently wealthy individuals have contacted me, so I can’t say there is a book in the works yet, but I would love to turn With The Grains into something you could hold, dog ear, write on, stain, wrinkle and cherish.
You’ll probably see me experiment more with graphic design, as I’d like to learn more about the rules of the design game. If you are a graphic designer and love bestowing your wisdom upon eager learners, let’s grab some coffee and talk!
Branding! Ooh, that’s a topic that interests me quite a bit. I also like change. Combine that interest and that habit, and you’re bound to see some changes around here.
A wedding cake(s)! When I launched my blog on Cookspeak, I mentioned I’ve always wanted to make a wedding cake. This September, I will be doing just that! I’m thrilled my dear friends have asked me to make the cakes for their special day.
I’m looking forward to even more connections with other bloggers, online food publications, chefs and foodies.
In honor of The Waffle Shop, might I remind you of these delicious waffles? You really must give them a try!
I love my little corner of the blogosphere. I love creating and preserving memories. I hope my passion inspires you in some way, or in the least, fancies your eye because if you are reading this, you are part of what has made this year quite magical for me! Now go find ten friends and tell them to read too! Cheers!
ps: I created various versions of a flier to leave for The Waffle Shop brunchers, but you might spy some around the town as well.