My Feminist Fingertips, Vol. 2

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Nail Color: Play Date by Essie
How ironic that the nail color I've been wearing most of the month is called Play Date. My feminist fingertips have been hard at work. Play dates have been few and far between.

This month for my B-Metro column I wrote about why natural hair is my feminist fashion statement.

I blogged for Birmingham Restaurant Week 2014.

School started back but declared on this blog that I wouldn't let that stop me from pursuing my writing dreams or spending quality time with family and friend.

At school I organized an hosted a TEDTalk-inspired professional development day for my colleagues. One of my co-workers gave a talk on Sam Seidel's Hip Hop Genius: Remixing High School Education. I was so inspired that I wrote my August column for WBHM on the topic and revamped some of my lesson plans.

And one of the things I am most excited to report is that this month I revamped the See Jane Write website. Check it out and let me know what you think.

What have your feminist fingertips been up to this month? 

5 Things That Made Me a Happy Feminist This Week, Vol. 3

Friday, August 29, 2014


Do I really need to explain why this made me happy?

2. Well, in case you don't get it, read this article from the Ms. Magazine blog. 

In my review of Bey and Jay's On the Run tour, I mentioned that seeing the word FEMINIST was emblazoned on a huge screen at a mainstream music concert was nearly a religious experience for me. And it's an experience I had the chance to relive while watching Beyonce's performance at the MTV Video Music Awards Sunday night. As Ms. Magazine writer Anita Little explains:  

In being so unapologetic and quietly outspoken, she’s made feminism accessible to young women around the world who otherwise never would have identified with the movement. 
By lifting verses from Adichie’s TED talk on gender equality and using it to inspire her own music, BeyoncĂ© is bridging the gap between academic feminism and everyday feminism. If young women attendees at her On the Run tour can scream out the lyrics to “Flawless” and mean every word, who says they can’t  eventually read Audre Lorde?

3. While we're on the subject of celebrities dropping the f-bomb, Taylor Swift has finally joined the feminist club too! Two years ago I blogged about comments Swift made about feminism in an interview with The Daily Beast. 

When asked whether she was a feminist in a 2012 interview with The Daily Beast, she replied:
I don’t really think about things as guys versus girls. I never have. I was raised by parents who brought me up to think if you work as hard as guys, you can go far in life.
But now she's singing a different tune. In a recent interview with The Guardian Swift had this to say: 

As a teenager, I didn’t understand that saying you’re a feminist is just saying that you hope women and men will have equal rights and equal opportunities. What it seemed to me, the way it was phrased in culture, society, was that you hate men. And now, I think a lot of girls have had a feminist awakening because they understand what the word means

Why should we care whether or not Swift calls herself a feminist? I think Anita Little, writing for the Ms. Magazine blog, said it best: 

Swift has millions of fans, most of them young women, so for her to gave a tacit endorsement of the feminist  movement could encourage fans to explore the meaning of feminism for themselves.

4. Tamron Hall spoke out on the ridiculous notion that child-free women are somehow less mature and less caring simply because they don't have kids.  "I’m taken aback by the idea that that empathy is bestowed upon you only because you are a parent," Hall said. 

5. Even Playboy understands that catcalls aren't flattering. 

See the full flowchart here

And one thing that pissed me off...

Lifetime's new show Girlfriend Intervention promises to bring out the "strong black woman" trapped inside every white girl. Sadly, I'm not making this up. Read this NPR article for more.

What made you a happy feminist this week? 

BRW 2014: Parish Seafood and Oyster House

Sunday, August 24, 2014

My husband loves seafood. He's originally from Virginia, so he grew up eating fish, shrimp, and crab the way my fellow Alabamians and I grew up eating chicken and ribs. So I knew that during Birmingham Restaurant Week 2014 we'd try at least one seafood place. We decided to visit a restaurant we'd never tried before -- Parish Seafood and Oyster House in Trussville. 

For our starter, my husband and I shared Nikki's Low Country Crab Cake -- a huge homemade crab cake made with lump and claw, blue crab served on a bed of Creole corn and topped with zesty remoulade sauce. 

For dinner I had the Low Country Shrimp and Grits -- creamy three-cheese grits smothered with big, juicy shrimp, mushrooms, tomatoes, green onion, and applewood bacon. At Parish they aren't stingy with the shrimp, making this a great pick for shellfish lovers. 

My husband had the Deluxe Seafood Platter because he wanted a little bit of everything -- fried catfish, fried shrimp and fried oysters, served with hushpuppies, cole slaw and fries. The shrimp, which I kept swiping from his plate, was seasoned perfectly. But hubster said the succulent catfish was "the star of the meal."

Matt Norman opened Parish Seafood and Oyster House in February of last year with a simple concept. 

"I wanted to open something simple, laid back that everyone could enjoy. I have always loved seafood and loved cooking this style of food," Norman said. "We strive to be that comfortable neighborhood restaurant and bar where friends can come to meet for a drink, enjoy our oyster bar, but you wouldn't think less of it as an option to bring your wife on a date or an anniversary."

Parish certainly has the welcoming atmosphere Norman is striving to achieve. The staff if friendly and goes above and beyond to be helpful. When my husband and I visited on a recent evening after work, the sound of soul music was soaring through the air. Enjoying the music, dinner guests were swaying in their seats and bopping their heads to the beat. 

Parish Seafood and Oyster House also serves live music on some nights. And they host a  jazz brunch on Sundays from noon to 3 p.m., featuring live jazz, $2 mimosas and $5 trips to the "Build Your Own Bloody Mary" bar.

Parish Seafood and Oyster House has a spacious covered patio that's perfect for events (when it's not 100 degrees outside).

"When we started out we were serving po'boys on deli paper and using foam cups and plastic ware," Norman said. "We moved past that. I now bring in a few hundred pounds of fresh gulf fish each week - red snapper, grouper, flounder - all butchered in house." 

Norman went on to say, "We like all kinds of food but most importantly, we love people. They, after all, are the only reason we are in this business and the only reason I am in this business. I want to make them all happy -- every last one that comes through our doors. Period."

And he means that. On the day of my and my husband's visit the temperature outside was hovering just below 100 degrees and so it was pretty hot inside the restaurant, too. Noticing sweat on the brow of some customers, Norman, who's been in the restaurant industry for 20 years, started offering free cocktails and glasses of wine to his guests. 

When asked what he thinks sets Parish apart from other local seafood restaurants, Norman's answer was simple: "Stubbornness," he said. 

"We know we are not always doing it right. We know we have room to improve. We know we aren't perfect. We are not too proud to admit it. However, we strive to be. We start over every day trying to be better." 

BRW 2014: Rusty's Bar-B-Q

Yesterday I was in the mood for a cookout. But it was so hot I felt like my skin was on fire whenever I was outside.  So sitting outside, in the sun, and near a grill was not happening. 

So I decided it would be a great day to try Rusty's Bar-B-Q for Birmingham Restaurant Week 2014

I'm actually not a big ribs eater, but I believe barbecue sauce should be its own food group. Rusty's has plenty of homemade sauces to choose from -- house barbecue sauce, spicy barbecue sauce, sweet, barbecue sauce, and white barbecue sauce. 

I, of course, sampled all four sauces, but the creamy white barbecue sauce was perfect with the delicious chicken dinner, which I had with cole slaw and sweet baked beans. 

Located in Leeds just up the street from the Outlet Shops of Grand River, Rusty's is the perfect place to relax and refuel after a day of shopping. 

I also had a chance to chat with Rusty himself -- Jonathan "Rusty" Tucker. 

"After graduating from Johnson & Wales University with an A.S. in Culinary Arts and a B.S. in Foodservice Management, I did the only logical thing and moved home to Birmingham to open a barbecue joint," said Tucker, who opened Rusty's Bar-B-Q in 2009.  "It was always my dream to own a restaurant; I grew up in the kitchen always experimenting with new recipes and learning from the many great cooks in my family."

Jonathan "Rusty" Tucker

What do you believe sets you apart from all the other barbecue joints in the Birmingham area?

We are a family friendly restaurant that will go above and beyond to meet our customers' needs and exceed their expectations. Most of our food is prepared from family recipes that have been handed down in my family for years. 

What things have you learned as a business owner that you think would be valuable lessons for
any entrepreneur? 

I started my business when I was 23 years old. The lessons that I have learned as a business owner are innumerable. The one that is close to heart at the moment is to make time for yourself and for your family.

What are some of the advantages and disadvantages to being located in Leeds? 

Leeds is a great community and there is a great potential for growth here. We have some great attractions to this area within just a few miles of our location - Barber Motorsports Park, Bass Pro Shops, and The Outlet Shops of Grand River are all close at hand.

Why did you choose to be part of Birmingham Restaurant Week? 

I joined Birmingham Restaurant Week three years ago. I saw it as a great opportunity to promote Rusty's Bar-B-Q and hopefully gain some new loyal customers. It is a good opportunity to showcase local restaurants in the greater Birmingham area and celebrate the talent we have in this industry.

What are your hopes for the future of Rusty's BAR-B-Q? 

To leverage what little we have to make a big difference in our community and the lives of others.

Why Melt Is More Than a Food Truck and More Than a Restaurant

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Blogging for Birmingham Restaurant Week 2014 has been great not simply because I'm getting to eat out almost every night and call it work. What I've enjoyed most is getting to know the owners of the restaurants I've been visiting. 

The dream team behind Melt (which is both a food truck and a restaurant in Avondale) consists of co-owners Paget Pizitz and Harriet Reis and head chef Joey Dickerson. 

Pizitz says that one of her goals is for her diner to be inviting and comfortable for everyone. I think she has definitely succeeded. Melt is more thank just a restaurant. It feels a bit like a home away from home because its atmosphere is so welcoming. 

First of all, the concept of Melt is perfect -- a modern twist on the classic American comfort food. "Everyone likes a grilled cheese," Pizitz says. "We also have options for those who are vegan, vegetarian and gluten free."

Eating a salad made me feel less guilty about trying Melt's delicious dessert.

That candy jar was nearly full when we sat down. But despite all the Now & Later chew in his belly,
hubster still devoured the Melt queso and his Flying Hawaiian sandwich. 

Melt is a great place to catch up with friends and it's a great choice for kids -- or those who are still a child at heart. On a recent visit my husband kept dipping into the candy-filled mason jars that sit on the tables. Despite all the Now & Later chews he ate, he was scarfing down the chips and Melt queso that we had for our starter just as quickly as I was. And he cleaned his plate when our server brought out his Flying Hawaiian -- smoked ham, habanero jack cheese, and cajun grilled pineapple on a pretzel bun. This sandwich is my husband's favorite.

Ordering from the Birmingham Restaurant Week menu, I tried for the first time the buffalo chicken sandwich, which is perfect for someone looking for a spicy twist to the grilled cheese sandwich. 

If you have a sweet tooth, you must try the Banana Stand -- Nutella, bananas, powdered sugar and clover honey on Texas toast. 

And if you're looking for good conversation to go with your good food, just have a chat with Paget Pizitz.

The Melt Team 

When you moved back to Birmingham in 2009 you knew you wanted to start a brick and mortar business, but what made you decide on a food truck? 

My business partner Harriet Reis and I knew we wanted to start a restaurant, eventually. We bounced around a couple of ideas and decided that food truck was the best way to dive in. It seemed a perfect fit for Birmingham at the time and gave us a great opportunity to meet different areas of the community. Matilda, as we fondly refer to our truck, has been on the streets about two years. 

How did you know it was time to open a restaurant? 

We knew it would be time when we found a location that spoke to us. Avondale was always appealing and when we found the old Stephens Garage space we just knew. 

How did you and Harriet decide to work together? 

This is a LONG story. In short, I would visit her at Ocean, the restaurant she opened with her ex- husband, when I was in town. I thought she was adorable and I developed an obsession.  Years later, when I moved back to Birmingham, we were reintroduced. I stalked her for about a year and forced her to open a business with me. I am probably to blame for any grey hairs she has but we work very well together and couldn't be happier. Our strengths and weakness are a perfect match. We are partners, friends and family. It's a very special relationship. Especially when we fight and make up all in the same 60 seconds.

What things have you learned as a successful restaurant owner do you think would be valuable lessons for any entrepreneur? 

I could say something cliche like "follow your dreams" but I won't. I've worked in D.C., New York City, Birmingham and Virginia and had lots of jobs I liked but they were all jobs. I always knew what I wanted to do but had a fear of making it happen. Find something that you makes you feel passion. If you are lucky enough to work for yourself, you have the best boss in the world. Harriet and I have no one to let down but ourselves. That motivates me. The people who work with us motivate me. Our guests motivate me. Helping Avondale grow and thrive motivates me. Oh, paying back loans also motivates me. 

What are your hopes for the future of Melt? 

If it was up to me, I would have three more restaurants in the next two years. Harriet might kill me in my sleep when she reads this. I just hope that we continue to grow and maintain what we have now, which is a staff of people who care about the food they make and an environment that is inviting and comfortable for everyone. 

Little Sleep, Lots of Prayer

Friday, August 22, 2014

"How do you do it all?"

I'm asked this question often despite the fact that I don't have kids and that this is a question usually asked of women juggling motherhood and a career.

But I do have a lot on my plate. I teach full-time at a local high school for gifted and artistic teens. I blog. I freelance for several local and national media outlets. I run See Jane Write, a network for women writers, bloggers and entrepreneurs. I exercise every day. I'm a wife, sister, daughter, and friend and I'm active in my community and my church. 

So how do I do it all? With little sleep and lots of prayer. 

This past week has been especially busy. It was my first week back at school. And this year, I'm not only teaching but also handling my school's social media. I've been blogging for Birmingham Restaurant Week. And I was on deadline for two freelance stories. Meanwhile, there's a laundry list of things I need to do regarding See Jane Write that I've been putting off for several days. 

So tonight I'm pulling an all-nighter. My husband's out of town and so I'm going to pretend I'm back in college and stay up all night working -- blogging, catching up on emails, handling paperwork, and working on revamping the See Jane Write websites. I'm even going to order pizza and listen to Sade like I used to do during my days at the University of Alabama (although, I'll probably throw some Beyonce in the mix, too, when I start feeling sleepy). 

Now, I know that not getting enough sleep is really bad for me. And I'm really trying to work on this. But until I figure out a solution, my "late night, early morning" lifestyle will have to remain.

My secret to success -- little sleep, lots of prayer, and lots of pizza

Despite how busy I've been this week, I've been sure to start every morning with God. Before I do anything, I spend time writing in my prayer journal and reading Scripture, searching for the verse that's going to give me the encouragement I need for the day. When I started to feel stressed and overwhelmed a few days ago I turned to Psalm 16:8, which reads, "I keep my eyes always on the Lord. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken." Most days I share these verses on Facebook in hopes that they'll give my pals some encouragement too. 

I suppose I should add planning to my list of secrets too. I keep detailed to-do lists and plan nearly every minute of every day. 

At the heart of the question of how I do it all, however, is something deeper. I think what people really want to know is how on earth I find the energy to do all that I do, especially since I suffer from a connective tissue disease that makes every move I make a little tougher than it would be for the average 33-year-old. My strength comes from my God and my goals. I have a dream that I'm pushing toward, a dream that I am confident God placed in my heart. And I decided a few months ago that I'm either going to make that dream come true or die trying. It's just that simple. 

BRW 2014: Why Rojo Is a True Neighborhood Bar & Grill

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Laney DeJonge and Clark Lopez

When Laney DeJonge and Clark Lopez opened Rojo 12 years ago, they decided to name their restaurant after the Spanish word for red not simply because they planned to offer Latin-inspired food. 

“Red is a color of love and passion,” DeJonge said. “That’s what we feel about this place and we wanted others to feel that too.”

Certainly, they seem to have succeeded. Rojo is a wildly popular bar and grill located on Highland Avenue in Birmingham and is one of the local establishments participating in Birmingham Restaurant Week 2014.

This past weekend I enjoyed dinner at Rojo and had a chat with DeJonge and Lopez. 

Because the restaurant industry is still a male-dominated one, I asked DeJonge about her experiences as a female restaurant owner.

“When I first started, I was more timid,” DeJonge said. “Telling people what to do -- that was hard for me at first.” But DeJonge said she actually had never had any negative experiences because of her gender.

“I feel like it was my own fears of telling people what to do, but now I’m not intimidated,” she said. "Plus, my business partner has always treated me as an equal. We do everything together.”

What makes Rojo stand out from other restaurants?

“We’re not just another Mexican restaurant,” Lopez said. Rojo offers both Latin and American dishes and a variety of options.  So whether you’re in the mood for a burger or a burrito, Rojo has you covered. On the menu you’ll find wings and quesadillas, Philly cheese steaks and fajitas. Rojo offers vegetarian and gluten free options too.

During my recent trip to Rojo I started the Kip’s queso – white cheese dip with chorizo and jalapenos.  For my main course I had the shrimp tacos. The folks in the kitchen were quite generous with the shrimp, which made for a filling meal, but I still made room for dessert. The chocolate pie is like a thick, soft, and chewy cookie and is now one of my favorite things on the menu. 

Beyond building a great menu, DeJonge and Lopez are striving to build a sense of community too.
“We’re a neighborhood bar and grill,” Lopez said. “We’re here for the 8,000 people within walking distance of our restaurant.”

Stroll by Rojo on a nice day and you’ll see dozens of people enjoying good food and good conversation on the restaurant’s patio.

What have you learned about Birmingham from being in the restaurant business?

“People who live in this part of the city really love Birmingham or they wouldn’t be here. They like to be around each other,” DeJonge said. "And so many things are happening. I feel like Birmingham used to take one step forward and two steps back, but now it really feels like we’re taking steps forward and we’re continuing to go forward. There’s a lot of enthusiasm. It’s infectious and I love it.”

And Rojo is striving to be part of that growth by partnering with local groups and programs such as Sidewalk Film Festival and Hand In Paw and by hosting fundraisers for local charities and art shows.

What advice would you give aspiring entrepreneurs?

“Be patient,” Lopez said.

DeJonge agreed.

“You can’t expect it to just immediately be successful,” she said. “You have to build it up and that takes time. “

And time has been good to Rojo. 

BRW 2014: Satterfield's reminds me I'm a true Southern girl

Monday, August 18, 2014

Birmingham Restaurant Week 2014 is underway and this weekend the hubster and I had dinner at Satterfield's, a fine dining restaurant located in Cahaba Heights. This was my first visit to Satterfield's and a visit that reminded me that I am truly a Southern girl.

And as a Southern girl, I appreciated that great hospitality from the restaurant staff, especially our waitress Tabitha. Before our meal, Tabitha brought my husband and I an assortment of breads all made in house. The miniature corn muffins were my favorite and reminded me of my grandmother's cornbread. They were amazingly soft with scallions and corn kernels baked inside. I gobbled them down so quickly and raved about them so much that Tabitha brought us more. 

The specialty libation of the evening was the Black Buffalo -- spiced blackberry shrub, aged Cruzan Rum, fresh citrus and Buffalo Rock Ginger Ale. The spice gave the drink unforgettable flavor, while the citrus made for a very refreshing cocktail. And, of course, a Southern Girl resist a drink featuring Buffalo Rock.

For my first course, I had a salad with crispy artisan lettuces, toasted pecans, blueberries, pears, Danish blue cheese and champagne vinaigrette. The mix was just right, with the fruit and pecans mellowing the strong flavor of the blue cheese. 

For my entree I had the pan roasted wahoo, which was served on a bed of grits, haricots verts, and bacon-sherry vinaigrette. The fish was good and very well seasoned, but it's no surprise that I really, really liked the creamy and flavorful grits. 

For dessert, I pretended I was in New Orleans as I savored sweet beignets with sautĂ©ed peaches and house made vanilla bean ice-cream. 

Becky Satterfield opened Satterfield's in 2005 and sought to build a restaurant on the principle that fine dining doesn't have to be pretentious. I would say she has definitely succeeded. Satterfield took the time to talk about this principle and answer a few other questions about her restaurant. 

Becky Satterfield

What are some things you've done to foster your belief that fine dining doesn't have to be pretentious? 

My mother and grandmothers taught me as a little girl that meals are an essential part of family life and mealtime is an occasion for togetherness and bonding. Memories like these are the foundation of Satterfield’s Restaurant: bringing together fine dining, wholesome meals with a new twist, and the comfort of the family dinner table. I began with one simple philosophy in mind: find the freshest local ingredients and deliver a memorable dining experience. Our friendly and knowledgeable staff are a key component to delivering this experience for every one of our guests.

Have you faced any unique challenges being a woman in the restaurant industry?

In a predominantly male led industry, it's very important to  identify with and support other women in the industry. I'm a member of Les Dames D'Escoffier, a philanthropic society of professional women leaders in the fields of food, fine beverage and hospitality. They are a great support system for sharing and contributing new ideas to Birmingham's burgeoning culinary scene.

What things have you learned as a business owner that you think would be valuable lessons for any entrepreneur? 

Be a leader, have vision and stand your ground, but don't forget to surround yourself with a team of people who you trust like family. 

Becky Satterfield is a pastry chef trained at Culinard so it's no surprise that the beignets are delicious. 

What do you love about Birmingham and what have you learned about Birmingham -- specifically the Cahaba Heights area -- by being a restaurant owner in this city? 

I love how Birmingham has blossomed into a culinary destination for the South. We are so proud to be on the forefront of the culinary scene in a town that is very supportive of the culinary arts. Birminghamians love food and they love supporting local businesses, that's what makes Birmingham approachable. I'm also so proud to be a part of our smaller community, Cahaba Heights as it is a hidden gem that people discover when they go behind the Summit. The location is perfect because it is convenient to many of the other surrounding neighborhoods like Mountain Brook, Liberty Park and other communities on the 280 corridor. 

Why did you choose to be part of Birmingham Restaurant Week? 

As I was talking about earlier, we started Satterfield's to fill a niche in our Cahaba Heights neighborhood and we love being a part of our community and an extension of Birmingham. Anytime we can be a participate in something that supports our community and city, it encourages people to get out and indulge their culinary cravings of which we absolutely want to be a part.

What are your hopes for the future of Satterfield's? 

Whether you are a loyal Satterfield's diner or someone interested in discovering one of Birmingham's many hidden treasures, we want to continue to be among the best Birmingham has to offer. I love traveling and experiencing the restaurants every city has to offer, and I'm always reassured that Satterfield's stands among the best. Next year is our tenth anniversary and we're going to celebrate! I hope everyone will join us and toast to our future!

In Which I Stop Living For Summer

Monday, August 11, 2014

Today I return to the daily grind. 

Summer is over and it's back to school for me and my colleagues. And our students return next week. 

I had a great summer.  I saw Beyonce and Jay-Z perform live. I went to BlogHer '14 where I saw Kerry Washington, partied with Rev. Run of Run DMC, and met Arianna Huffington. And I even hosted a blogging conference of my own

But still there was so much I wanted to do but didn't. 

I didn't spend enough quality time with my family and friends. I didn't go to New Orleans with my husband. I didn't work on landing new freelance writing gigs or on building this blog. I didn't truly enjoy my city the way I wanted to and I didn't read all the books on my summer reading list.

The other day while looking over my list of summer intentions I said to myself, "Oh well, there's always next summer."

Then I stopped myself. 

Why do I keep acting as if life ends when school starts?! 

Sure, it's easier to write, build my business, and hang out with loved ones when I don't have to be at work 8 hours a day and spend my evenings grading papers. But this doesn't mean that I can only have a life two months a year. 

Plus, I really like my job! Teaching the gifted and amazingly talented students at my school is one of the most rewarding things I've ever done. It's my mission to inspire my students, but they have no idea how much they inspire me. 

So this school year I'm going to use all that energy and inspiration that I get from my students and pour it into all the work I do both inside of the classroom and outside. 

Of course, my teaching career is my priority August through May, but I'm still going to make an effort to spend more time working on my business and freelance writing career. And I'm going to make an effort spend more time with family and friends and my husband, too. 

You may not be a teacher, but chances are you can relate to this story. Is there something you want to do, but you keep putting it off until the right time? I have news for you: there is no right time. That's what this summer taught me. I was sure that I'd be able to accomplish all my summer goals because I'd have a copious free time. But each day that time was eaten up by something -- cleaning, cooking, laundry, sickness, laziness, moodiness, etc. 

The New Living Translation of Ecclesiates 11:4 reads: "Farmers who wait for perfect weather never plant. If they watch every cloud, they never harvest."

And this isn't just a verse for those working in agriculture, y'all. 

There is no perfect time to start pursuing your passion. Start right now. Work with whatever is in front of you and with whatever time you have. Do one small thing each day to move you closer to bringing your dream to fruition. Sow the seeds. Otherwise you will never enjoy a harvest. 

How To Write Good Restaurant Reviews

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Image by David Schiersner via Flickr/Creative Commons

It's a good thing I've been exercising every day for the past seven months.

Birmingham Restaurant Week is coming up August 15-24 and I've been asked by the event organizers to visit and write about some of the participating restaurants. This is great news for my taste buds, but not-so-good news for my waistline. But I suppose I will have to make this sacrifice for my blog, right?

Birmingham Restaurant Week is a ten-day event that features some of Birmingham's best locally-owned and operated restaurants, offering prix fixe menus and drink specials. Last night the Birmingham Art Museum played host to the Birmingham Restaurant Week Preview Party. I had a fabulous night with friends at this sold out event sampling dishes from The J. Clyde, Silvertron Cafe, Maki Fresh, Rusty's Bar-B-Q, Dixie Fish Co., Davenport's Pizza, Oscar's at the Museum, and other participating restaurants.

We're smiling because we'd just had the bread pudding from Silvertron Cafe. 

Birmingham Restaurant Week is a great chance to try new restaurants or visit old favorites and blog about your experiences. But when you're penning your posts you want to have something more interesting and insightful to say than, "This dish was yummy!"

So I turned to food writer Jason Horn for help. Horn is a senior editor at and is the co-founder of FoodBlogSouth, the food blogging conference held annually in Birmingham. He's also worked for, Cottage Living, Cooking Light, and, and his food writing has appeared in B-Metro, Birmingham magazine, and on

Jason Horn

If you're planning to write about a restaurant, what should you order when you visit? 

"In order to a review a restaurant well you have to try a lot of different things," Horn says. "When The New York Times reviews a restaurant the reviewer goes 2, 3, or 4 times with other people so they get to try pretty much the whole menu."

If you’re trying to review a place based on one visit, Horn suggests that you at least bring a date and try anything your date orders.

If the restaurant is famous for one dish, order that dish, but also try other things on the menu. 

"If it’s famous for one dish there’s going to be a lot of coverage out there about that one dish and you want to do something that will be different," Horn says. 

Ordering the special of the day can be hit or miss, but if the special is a new dish that may be added to the menu later, you should definitely try that, Horn recommends. 

All in all, just order as you would normally,  but bring along a friend who doesn't mind sharing so you can try his or her food, too.

Mark your calendars! Birmingham Restaurant Week 2014 is Aug. 15-24. 

What kinds of questions should a writer ask her waiter or waitress? 

It depends on the restaurant, Horn says. For example, don't expect your server at a casual neighborhood grill to recommend a good wine, but feel free to ask about his or her favorite dish. 

Horn says it's best to be as specific as possible when asking questions of the staff. So instead of asking "What's good?" give your server an idea of what you're in the mood for. If you're torn between two dishes, ask which one he or she likes better. Instead of asking what wine goes well with your dish say something more detailed like, "I'd like a red and something in this price range and I don't like Cabernet," Horn suggests. 

"How well informed the servers are can be the line between a good and a great restaurant," Horn says. "If the chef is doing wonderful things but the servers don’t know anything about them or don’t have an opinion or can’t help you pick the right dish, that’s a big problem."

Can you give some tips on how to effectively describe the taste of food? 

If a dish has an unexpected flavor combination, talk about that and if it works or not, Horn says. "Compare it to other things if it’s similar to something you’ve had before but some important aspect has changed."

For example, let's say you're writing about a cocktail and the restaurant offers a Manhantan but the bartender uses gin. You can talk about that difference and if it worked for you or not. 

"Or if you have a burger -- what about that burger is different and is that good or bad?" Horn says. "It’s all about being specific. Talk about aspects of the dish that you liked or didn’t like. Talk about combinations of things that worked or didn’t work. You can even say I wish there was more whatever in this. Or I wish this was sweeter or I wish this was less sweet."

When reviewing a restaurant, comment on the layout, setup and atmosphere, in addition to discussing the food.
Image by Edinburgh Blog via Flickr/Creative Commons

When writing a restaurant review what else should a writer comment on in addition to the food?

"Service is always important and that should be an aspect of the review," Horn says. Notice how the staff deals with rude people. If someone is a jerk and the staff handles that person exceptionally well, "that's definitely worth mentioning," Horn says. 

Horn admits, though, that for him the food is still most important. "For me good food can redeem bad service, but good service can't redeem bad food." 

Pay attention to the set up, layout and atmosphere. "Does what the restaurant sell itself as match up with the restaurant that you get?" Horn says. "A lot of restaurants are pretty loud. If you’re in a barbecue joint and it’s loud and raucous, that’s fine. It’s supposed to be that way. If you go to an expensive date spot and it’s like that, that’s not.  If you go into what’s supposed to be a romantic restaurant and you can’t hear your date that’s a problem."

Writing about a restaurant for your blog is quite different than writing for a major publication. On a blog you can talk more about your personal tastes. So if you hate green beans and a dish has green beans it's OK to have a little fun and talk about that a bit. 

But be sure to take your personal tastes into consideration when assessing the food. "If there is something you didn't like step back and consider if there was a flaw in the dish or if it was your personal taste," Horn says. 

But also just have fun. 

"What it comes down to it it’s all about whether it appeals to you or not.  There’s no universal thing that’s delicious to everybody. If there was there would only be one restaurant and it would only serve that dish."

For more information on Birmingham Restaurant Week 2014 visit

How To Build a Better Blog and a Stronger Online Community

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

This old Facebook photo shows that maybe I do more live tweeting than I thought...

Despite my love for social media, I don't do a lot of live tweeting. You won't find me sharing my thoughts on my favorite TV show. On Thursday nights, Olivia Pope gets my full attention. And even when I attend conferences and other events I usually only tweet when I arrive and after I leave because I want to be fully present.

But at BlogHer '14, I couldn't help myself. So many people had so many insightful and inspiring things to say that I just couldn't keep those nuggets of wisdom to myself.

I think I probably tweeted the most during a session titled "Size Isn't Always Everything: The Difference Between Page Views and Community." This panel discussion featured Anita Jackson of Moms Rising, Jordan Page of Fun, Cheap, or Free, and Thien-Kim Lam of I'm Not the Nanny and was moderated by Stacy Ferguson of Blogalicious.

I strongly believe that blogging should be about people, not page views, so this session was right up my alley. But this session not only gave great tips on building community but also on how to build a better blog.

First of all, you need to know the mission of your blog, Page said. 

And you need to set goals related to that mission.

And when it comes to community you have to first figure out your target audience and then go after them. 

Then you need to keep in touch. Email is a great way to do that. 

If you need some guidance in building a better blog, it's OK to look to your favorite websites for help.

But don't copy someone else's blog. You still need to be original. 

And once you figure out what does make you unique, own it! 

What tips do you have for building a better blog and a stronger online community?

Why Bloggers Should Love Misty Copeland

Monday, August 4, 2014

This summer I saw Beyonce and Jay-Z perform live. This summer I went to BlogHer '14 where I saw Kerry Washington, partied with Rev. Run of Run DMC, and met Arianna Huffington. This summer I even hosted a blogging conference of my own

But despite all of this I still count simply reading Misty Copeland's memoir as a highlight of this season. Her book Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina tells the story of how she discovered and fell in love with dance and recounts her rise to become the third African American female soloist and the first in two decades at the American Ballet Theatre. The memoir details the struggles she faced and still faces in the world of ballet, a world that often told Copeland her skin was too brown and her body too shapely to be a true ballerina. The book gives readers a glimpse into Copeland's tumultuous childhood as well. But despite the fact that she and her family lived in a cheap motel room, despite the fact that Copeland started dancing at a much later age than most, and despite the discrimination she's faced due to her body type and race, today Copeland is one of ballet's most celebrated dancers. 

Misty Copeland is becoming a household name. Just last week her name was trending on Facebook after Under Armour sportswear released an ad staring Copeland. 

This commercial is a perfect example of what makes Copeland so special. Not only did she overcome unbelievable odds to be where she is today, but she's also taking something like ballet -- a world often seen as exclusive and elite -- and introducing it people who might not otherwise be exposed to this art form. That's why she does commercials. That's why she is an ambassador for the Boys and Girls Club. That's why she's performed with mainstream music artists like Prince. And that's why she's active on social media. (Side note: I'm kind of obsessed with her Instagram account.) 

She's been criticized for this. She's been accused of being too hungry for publicity or just disparaged for "letting people in." But she stays true to her mission, nonetheless. 

And this mission of hers reminds me of blogging in so many ways. Blogging has taken the world of journalism and the world of literary arts and democratized them both. Sure, there is a down side. Sometimes amateur reporters get the facts wrong. Sometimes self-published authors don't bother hiring a good editor. But there is plenty of good that has come from the power and popularity of blogging, too.

So many people, especially women, who once felt marginalized and disenfranchised now feel that they have a voice. Women who would have otherwise never gotten a book deal are now successful published authors because of their blogs. And because of blogging more women are getting the chance to pen reported pieces, essays, and commentary for major publications. 

Fellow Birmingham-based blogger Alexis Barton saw an even deeper correlation between Copeland's art and her own. In a post about the Under Armour ad, Barton wrote: 
I’m not a ballerina. But this clip shows how I feel when I write and blog – in a word, alive. This works every nerve and brain cell and muscle, it takes everything I have and promises nothing in return. Many times it frustrates me. But when just one sentence is right, or when one paragraph crystallizes a memory and holds it up to the light – well, there’s no feeling in the world like it. It’s what I’m meant to do. 

The slogan for the Under Armour campaign inspires me greatly: I will what I want. 

That's what Misty Copeland did. And as women writers and entrepreneurs, that's what we must do too. And you can do so one blog post at a time.