Archive | July, 2011

Writing Wednesday: Michael Hyatt’s 5 Steps to Building a Platform When You Hate Selling Yourself

27 Jul

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/tap10 / via Michael Hyatt

In a recent blog post, Michael Hyatt, chairman of Thomas Nelson Publishers, listed the “5 Steps to Building a Platform When You Hate Selling Yourself.”  If you go to the blog post you can read the five steps, but I want to point out one line I especially liked.  In one of the steps Hyatt says that writers should share relevant news about their writing.  For example, we should share if we’re doing a reading or were recently published.  He says:

This isn’t selling; it is informing.

So true.  Self-promotion always feels like bragging, but the way I think of it is that I’d want to know if my favorite writer were doing something cool and wouldn’t think they were showing off if they informed me of their upcoming book or recent clip.

So, what would you like to inform me of?

Tasty Tuesday: Mango Salad with Sophia’s Pomegranate Dressing

26 Jul

I’m not a salad person.  Like a good Greek, my dad ate a huuuuuuge bowl of salad every night at dinner.  Salad seemed like a whole lot of chewing for not a lot of flavor payoff to me, though.  I’ve taste-tasted plenty of dressings at all-you-can-eat buffets, and while blue cheese or Italian might make lettuce a little more palatable it usually ends up making my salad taste rather generic.  “Hi, I’m American, and I like ranch dressing!”  That’s why I was surprised when I found myself tempted by the salad dressings at the grocery store.

Shelved between plastic bottles of gooey dressings was Sophia’s Gourmet Foods Greek Island Dressing.  The tall glass bottle looked sophisticated and down-to-earth at the same time, as if Sophia’s is the shabby chic of salad dressings.  The labels are white with beautiful line illustrations that call to mind late afternoons on the Greek islands.  The contents of the bottles looked thick, textured, and vibrant.  The dressing looked natural and homemade.

I picked up a bottle and read the label.  I’m really into reading labels these days.  It’s crazy the amount of junk (read: preservatives, sugar, coloring) that goes into packaged foods.  Here’s what’s in the Tahini: “Lemon Juice, Tahini, Water, Garlic, Salt, Sesame Seeds, Citric Acid.”  That’s it.  All of the other flavors do contain xantham gum, which helps the dressing achieve the thickness I’d noticed.  Some have various types of sugars added, but a serving size (2 tablespoons) only has 2 grams of sugar.  I wish the natural ingredients themselves did all the thickening and sweetening, but still Sophia’s seems more natural than a lot of other brands on the market.

I selected the “with Pomegranate” dressing.  The ingredients are:

Water, Pomegranate Juice (from Concentrate) Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Lemon Juice, Soybean Oil, Honey, Vinegar, Garlic, Spices, Cultured Dextrose, Salt, Xanthan Gum, Natural Color, Natural Flavor.

Pomegranates, which originated in Iran, are central to the Greek myth of Persephone.  In Greek Orthodox Christianity it is the pomegranate, not the apple, that was the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden.  At very traditional Greek weddings, pomegranates are broken on the ground.

Pomegrantes are believed to reduce risk of heart disease.  They’re a good source of vitamin B5 and C.

Sophia’s Greek Island dressing just has pomegranate juice from concentrate so it’s not quite as beneficial as eating a fresh pomegranate on its own, but all the Sophia’s dressings are all natural, gluten free, cholesterol free, and low in sodium.  They also made from extra-virgin olive oil, which is also good for preventing heart disease, according to the research I’ve done previously.

Okay, so it’s pretty healthy but how does it taste??

I loved it!  It tastes fresh and tangy.  The texture isn’t syrupy, goopey, or runny.  It pours out nicely and has a bit of a pomegranate-seed texture which I liked.

I poured it over fresh romaine lettuce and fresh slices of mango.  The tang of the pomegranate and the sweetness of the mango paired really well together.  Delicious!

Follow Friday: Beat Generation Edition

22 Jul

Saw James Franco in Howl at the Angelika: amazing.  Now you can watch it for free on Hulu.

Replace “Moloch” with “Murdoch” in Allen Ginsberg’s Howl and this is what you get

John Allen Cassady reveals why even though he’s named after Jack Kerouac (and Allen Ginsberg) he’s named John

The Bowery Poetry Club is hosting a Diane Di Prima film screening on August 7

The Beat Museum is blogging for HuffPo

Anyone get the Penguin On the Road app for iPad?  Company loyalty means I have a Nook.

Wishing I was still living in LA County so I could see the Ed Ruscha and Jack Kerouac exhibit at the Hammer Museum

Clip: “Industry Tales: The Tall Tales of a Russian Illusionist” in Resource’s Summer ’11 Issue

21 Jul

A couple months back I had the opportunity to meet and interview a legendary photographer in his studio.  It was such a fun and inspiring day.  I mean, this photographer had shot all sorts of famous people — jazz musicians, a president, Allen Ginsberg — and had incredible and hilarious stories to share about his photography adventures.

My editor at Resource Magazine asked me to fictionalize an account of the photographer’s craziest day on the job.  You can read the result in the summer 2011 issue of Resource Magazine, on newsstands now!  It’s called “Industry Tales: The Tall Tales of a Russian Illusionist” (page 18).  If you can guess who the photographer is (hint: he really is Russian), comment below!

You can’t read the article online (sorry!) but if you look real hard you can view a photo of me on the contributor’s page.

Hope you’ll check out Resource not just for my article alone.  It’s a great photo mag.  What I love about Resource is the way it breaks the mold for photography magazines.  It’s so much more than a technical how-to photo magazine.  It’s a lifestyle photography magazine, meaning Resource features cool restaurants to take clients, photographer profiles, and intriguing events and stories that a photographer might be interested in shooting.

Writing Wednesday: Memoirist Patricia Volonakis Davis on Finding a Direct Line to Your Readers

20 Jul

In my last Writing Wednesday post, I wrote about how memoirist Patricia Volonakis Davis discussed the role of marriage and moving in one’s sense of cultural identity in her deliciously titled memoir Harlot’s Sauce.  In Jane Friedman’s Writer’s Weekly interview, “How to Find a Direct Line to Your Readers,” with Davis, the memoirst divulges some great tips on building a platform and reaching out to potential readers.

When thinking about her readership and trying to build an audience, Davis says:

I contacted Italian-American groups, and philhellenic groups (groups of people who love Greece).

I contacted websites, magazines, blogs that focused on female empowerment and personal growth.

In short, I made a list of the topics I visited in my story, and worked from that, writing articles to appeal to those readers in particular, and posting them on sites that had already cultivated a readership catering to those interests.

This is such great advice!  When I was discussing my memoir with someone recently, the woman with whom I was speaking wondered why I was writing about growing up Greek American.  She happens to know me very well and suggested that I have much more to share with the world than my ethnicity.  She’s right, of course, and I tried to explain that my memoir is actually about so much more than just growing up Greek American.  If I were to make a list similar to Davis’, the topics I touch on and the readers I would reach out to include:

Greek Americans

Swedish Americans

Expatriates: Americans (and other foreigners) living in Greece

First- and second-generation Americans: besides Greek and Swedish, also Korean and Japanese

Protestants

Greek Orthodox believers

People from northern New Jersey

Children of the 1980s

Graduates of women’s colleges

It’s my sincere hope that my memoir speaks to a wide variety of people, uniting readers of various upbringings.

Burlap to Cashmere Drops New Album Today

19 Jul

 

Back when I worked for a little indie newspaper in Los Angeles County, I had the incredible opportunity of interviewing the band Burlap to Cashmere.  They were one of my favorite bands at the time, making the whole experience of calling them up to chat — I remember I interrupted percussionist Scott Barksdale’s breakfast — and seeing them play live at Hollywood’s Key Club intensely exciting.  I was a real journalist, reporting on real stars!

I felt an immediate connection to Burlap to Cashmere.  The fast guitar, the earthy drumbeats, the yelps, the ethnic undertones — it was all so reminiscent of the Greek folk music I grew up listening to at family gatherings … and yet it was modern and lyrical too, preceding the whole indie folk rock movement.  The two founding members, cousins Steven Delopoulos and John Philippidis, were Greek like me.  Not only that, they were from New Jersey like me.  Their songs were poetry.  Their songs were full of Truth and Beauty and Love.

That was more than a decade ago, and they hadn’t put out an album since their Dove Award-winning Anybody Out There? (1998) until now.  Today, they release their new self-titled album.  The line up of the band has changed a bit, but Delopoulos, Philippidis, and Theodore Pagano are still in it.  The new album, Burlap to Cashmere, features songs like the heavily Greek-influenced “Santorini,” the sixties folk rock-sounding “Love Reclaims the Atmosphere,” and the hopeful and faithful “The Other Country.”  Watch videos here.

Hopefully, they’ll be at the Bitter End this summer!

My Material World Project: Hazelnut Eight O’Clock Coffee

18 Jul

The coffee at my office is undrinkable.  It’s not just that it’s often weak, it’s that it tastes like old coffee grinds.  Maybe I got a little spoiled from my previous job.  Prior to this job, I worked for a company that had an on-site chef, who often whipped up fresh juice combinations and smoothies in the test kitchen.  Even the employees’ kitchen was well-stocked with a wide variety of flavored coffees so I could select blueberry or cinnamon roll, depending on my craving.

I’m not a huge coffee snob.  I can enjoy a good cup of diner coffee.  But the coffee here just doesn’t cut it.  There’s a great Swedish coffee shop called FIKA, which I used to stop into on my way to work.  We Swedes know how to make coffee.  Lately, though, I’ve been making my coffee at home before I leave for work.  I’ve been taste-testing my way through different brands and flavors.  The last three bags, though, have all been what I grew up on:  Hazelnut Eight O’Clock Coffee.

My mom is a coffee fiend.  I don’t remember ever seeing her drink water when I was growing up.  It was always a hot cup of hazelnut coffee.  With the coffee machine always on, the kitchen had a warm, sweet smell to it.  To this day, the smell of hazelnut coffee relaxes me and makes me feel comforted.  It makes me feel close to my mom.

Since she lives in Greece and I live in New York, I don’t get to see her all that often.  Maybe it’s silly, but drinking the same brand and flavor that she always drank has made me feel a little closer to her these past few weeks.

This morning, as I was drinking a cup of horrid office coffee (it’s been one of those days when a single cup at home just isn’t enough…), I remembered a factoid I learned when I was reading up on Louie Psihoyos for the post I wrote on the photographer/film director and his efforts to save the whales: he was a major contributor to the UN-sponsored “Material World Project,” a traveling show of portraits of families around the world with their material possessions.  The above photograph is a shot of the coffeepot that my friend Mario gave me one year for Christmas (thank you!) and a bag of hazelnut Eight O’Clock Coffee that I took the other day.  The only thing missing is my mom.

Clip: BOXHOCKEY!!!

14 Jul

Forgot to mention that Burnside posted by Boxhockey!!! article.  Don’t know what Boxhockey is?  It’s awesome, that’s what it is.

Writing Wednesday: Memoirist Patricia Volonakis Davis on How Cultural Identity Changes after Marriage and Moving

13 Jul

Happily ever after wasn’t the case when first-generation Italian Patricia V.–as in Volonakis–Davis married a Greek national.  The author calls her book Harlot Sauce: A Memoir of Food, Family, Love, Loss, and Greece “a tragedy written as a black comedy,” in her interview with Jane Friedman for the article “How to Find a Direct Line to Your Readers” in Writer’s Digest.

In the interview, Davis alludes that her sense of self shifted when she experienced another culture:

…Harlot’s Sauce was about how being raised first generation Italian-American affected my worldview and attitude about myself, then how these both changed as a result of my marrying a Greek national and moving to Greece with him, in an attempt to save our failing marriage.

As a memoirist writing about identity and culture, I’ve often reflected on how being raised Greek American affected my worldview.  For me, though, it wasn’t just about being Greek–it was about being Other.  Or rather, being Something.  I wasn’t just plain Jane American.  My family did not come over on the Mayflower.  I was more than American.  I was Greek American.

However, I did not fully understand this until I moved to California.  I grew up in a pretty diverse town in New Jersey.  Most people were “ethnic.”  When I moved to California, I was suddenly surrounded by blonde-haired, blue-eyed, white Americans.  They weren’t white like I was white, though.  They were American.  Their family had been here for generations.  It was in moving that I came to a better understanding of who I am as a Greek American and who I am as someone who grew up in Northeast America.

I’ve never lived abroad, like Patricia Volonakis Davis did, but I did wander around Europe for about three months one summer, and I gained further understanding of my identity through these travels.  People were quick to make assumptions about my American-ness.  People didn’t really care that I was of Greek descent.  Being raised in America trumped ethnicity in terms of my identity.

It seems to me that identity is fluid.  Depending on where we are and who we’re “comparing” ourselves with, our identity can shift.

For women especially, identity changes with marriage.  Most women still take on their husband’s name, and our names signal a lot about who we are.  For instance, I saw the name Volonakis, and I immediately assumed the author of Harlot Sauce was Greek, even though as it turns out she’s Italian American.  And yet in some ways she became more Greek than I simply by virtue of living in Greece.

I wonder how many women become culturally Other to what they were raised as because of marriage?

Check next week’s Writing Wednesday for more on Patricia Volonakis Davis.

Gripster: Documentary Films, Dolphins & Pirates

11 Jul

Arion Riding a Dolphin, by Albrecht Dürer (ca. 1514; public domain)

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, Greek American photographer and film director Louie Psihoyos is the son of an immigrant from the Peloponnesus.  The Peloponnesus incidentally is where my immigrant family came from as well.  Whether it’s a coincidence or a matter of upbringing that Psihoyos was intrigued by dolphins, the Peloponnesus has a dolphin myth.

Arion, the poet who invented the song and dance (called the dithyramb) for the wine god Dionysus, was kidnapped by pirates while returning to Greece from Italy.  In an effort to save his life, Arion sang to the poetry god Apollo, before flinging himself off the ship.  His song attracted a pod of dolphins and one of them carried him to safety, bringing him to the sanctuary of the sea god Poseidon in Cape Tainaron.

A swashbuckling tale of pirates, wine, and poetry, you have to admit this is a pretty cool Greek dolphin myth!

It led me to study up on Cape Tainaron.  Also known as Cape Matapan, it is the southernmost part of mainland Greece.  It’s located in Mani, which reputedly has the world’s best extra-virgin olive oil, grown organically on mountain terraces, and is also known for its superior honey and syglino (pork with oregano, mint, and orange peel.)  There are also some stalactite and stalagmite caves, which are partly underwater, and can be visited by boat.

I’m putting Cape Tainaron on my to-do list for the next time I go to Greece.

For more on Poseidon, check out:::

Gripster: Portlandia, Hipsters, and Greek Myth

Gripster: 2011 Coney Island Mermaid Parade & Greek Mermaid Myths