Searching for the Moon

Shannon Clark's rambles and conversations on food, geeks, San Francisco and occasionally economics

Posts Tagged ‘local’

Idea for a new magazine – to be named later

Posted by shannonclark on January 10, 2009

I recently learned about a very interesting new service, MagCloud, which prints magazines on demand and handles all subscription features (mailing, payment etc).  They are currently in limited Beta and have some limitations (the biggest of which is the cost for buyers – $0.20/page though the publisher can set the price for any given issue at a higher rate to make some profit. 

For a long time I have been thinking about creating a media outlet of some form and at the moment I am serious leaning towards a magazine of some form. This post is an exploration of those ideas, it is a stake in the ground as to the shape of this new publication. It is also a call for submissions and volunteers.

The Name – to be named later

My working name for the publication was going to be Mesh (or The Mesh) but it turns out that there was a MeshSF magazine here in SF a while back (appears to be out of print now) and there is another Mesh magazine in Jacksonville Florida. Thus to be named later – the name has to be highly inclusive and evocative of the range of topics to be covered, while also not being too long or hard to remember or use (and yes this includes requiring that there is a good domain available). 

The Format

My thinking is that to be named later will be more akin to a series of books than a monthly (or more frequent) magazine, though over time it may evolve into a more frequent publication. Thus I am torn about a number of physical formats – leaning between a book like size such as that used by Granta (or many University literary magazines), a slightly larger format such as that used by Foriegn Affairs, or a more traditional magazine size such as The New Yorker or Monocle (which is more booklike in format). 

That said, while a perfect bound format (glued edge) creates a more booklike publication, I personally find that format less conducive to reading – as quite literally it makes it harder to read the publication (since you can fold the magazine to only view one page at a time as you can with a traditional magazine). That said, it does create a more archival publication which has some advantages. 

Years ago when I was the editor of a literary magazine (in high school, we won an award) we decided to go with a half size format which had some advantages especially for the publication of poetry as it created a highly readable format (if small).

However for to be named later my goal is to have a publication which stays in print for a long time (so “back issues” remain available for a long period of time), which eventually (and as soon as possible) pays highly competitive rates for photos, art and articles, which supports a lot of very interesting writing, and most critically is a publication which I want to read myself. 

The Guidelines

  1. Articles must have a point of view, but may not be purely opinions.
  2. Every article will have illustrations – photos or art
  3. Every article will be bylined
  4. A very wide range of topics and types of articles will be accepted – no subject is out of bounds IF the writing is good, consise, and well written.
  5. Serious as well as non-serious writing is welcome and encouraged, including in most issues at least a few articles that meet peer-reviewed academic writing standards (footnotes and all)
  6. The physical form & design matters.
  7. Every issue will have at least one work of fiction (clearly identified) – genre writing not just welcome but encouraged (Science fiction, fantasy, mystery, romance etc).
  8. Every issue will be meant to be relevant for at least a year, usually longer. Thus timely articles will not be printed, nor will reviews which are timelimited (i.e. of a limited run of a show – though movies which will eventually be on DVD may be accepted)
  9. While the focus may include regional and city interests – underlying to be named later will be a global perspective (though initially at least all articles will be in English)
  10. CC-licenses for the content will be encouraged (though not mandated) and while to be named later will retain a right to keep each issue “in print” for a long duration, authors & artists will have the right to sell their work for other publications (i.e. they retain all rights – but to be named later has the right to keep an issue “in print”, including via print-on-demand for a long duration – ideally perpetual). Much of to be named later (perhaps all) will be published online as well as in physical form – though the PRINT edition is the primary focus.

So what do those 10 somewhat random points mean?

First I am imagining a publication which will have a seriously broad range of articles – from writing about food, to serious academic exploration of economics, to science fiction stories, to photographic coverage of art and hacking. 

That said, the focus of to be named later will also be on timeless writing, on writing which is first and foremost eminently readable and engaging – which you want to turn back to and could pick up anytime after it is published and enjoy (i.e. this will not be a publication trying to cover breaking news or trying to get “exclusives” or scoops). 

to be named later will have advertising

Even if to be named later is wildly successful in generating interest and subscribers it will include commercial content from the beginning. Advertisers who welcome the timeless nature of to be named later and want to support the publication of high quality, challenging, intelligent writing covering a wide range of issues with a high focus on being enjoyable to read and experience. 

My tastes are wide ranging and eclectic – a magazine I publish will reflect these interests – and thus, I hope, will be of interest to an audiance that share some traits with me. In turn, I hope that there are (and I believe there are many) advertisers who want to reach this audience. Some may be local, some national, some global. All will be welcome (with some limited exceptions) specifically political or advocacy advertising will probably not be accepted as it would be discordant with the tone and focus of the magazine (which is inclusive not exclusive). 

Curation will be key. 

I may technically be the publisher, may also be an editor, but first and foremost I will be the Curator of to be named later – it will be my tastes and decisions (or my choices on delegation) which will determine the content of the magazine. 

Topics to be covered

  • Food – especially from a Slow Food and serious foodie perspective
  • Local businesses – not reviews persay but stories about local businesses but with a global perspective
  • Hacking – especially from an Arts perspective
  • Science Fiction – both via publishing great stories (including perhaps Fantasy or other genres) and also articles about the field & genre
  • Science – especially reports from the frontiers of research
  • Business – if written about in a highly engaging manner and in a timeless manner
  • Non-fiction storytelling – think This American Life style stories – which can cover any topic imaginable but are written with a point of view and story to tell
  • Design – especially highlighting intentional design applied in innovative ways.

Topics which will not, mostly, be covered:

  • Breaking news – i.e. current events, pop culture etc
  • Politics – while great stories about campaigns might be published, “stories” which are more manifestos will not
  • Activism – I am a CENTRIST. I am neither “left” nor “right” and my magazine will reflect this. While we may, occasionally, take (and publish and clearly label) an opinion on important matters, my magazine will not be a forum for activism, nor will it mirror the articles found in most Free weekly newspapers around the country (indeed in spirit we will likely be more capitalistic)
  • Time sensative reviews – stories about the arts (movies, theater, music, books, gallery shows or events) will definitely be published, but reviews of specific events or limited availability content will not
  • Product reviews – the focus of the magazine will be on stuff people want to and will enjoy reading, reviews of products rarely meet this criteria – nor do they usually meet the criteria of remaining relevant for years to come (since most products today are only sold for a limited time and replaced later with newer/better/cheaper/faster versions)

I intent to be named later to be eclectic, to be personal, to probably not be for everyone. That said, for those to whom it resonates I want it to be a publication which is read cover to cover. The focus will be on being reader friendly first – high design second (we will not be akin to Wired magazine in terms of design aesthetic)

All of this is tentative – now I am looking for:

  • Submissions: email submissions or ideas for articles/stories to shannon DOT clark AT gmail DOT com, please use a SUBJECT line of “Submission for to be named later”. Include a short bio of yourself, as well as the publication history (if any) of the article (preference is for unpublished writing). For the first issue(s) payment will depend on advertiser and subscriber targets so be prepared to only get a token initial payment (but the goal is to reach “professional” levels as quickly as we can. If you will only sell the story for a specific ammount include that, but realize that may impact our ability to accept the article/story for the first few issues
  • Volunteers: while in the future all staff will be paid (if only small amounts initially) to get going will be a labor of love, not money (unless we obtain financing or serious advertisers/sponsors quickly). Copyediting, “slush pile” reading, and pre-press layout help are initial core needs. Quickly as well help with advertising sales, distribution and more will also be needed.
  • Advertisers: From the first issue the plan is to have advertising. Rates almost certainly will go up as we grow the audiance, but the advertisers in the first few issues will be set – even as those issues remain (as is the plan) in print for at least a year, likely longer. So the first few advertisers will, we hope, get a bargain over the long term. There will be a limited number of full page ad opportunities, as well as a handful of partial page opportunities (think New Yorker style part of page ads). The back of the front cover as well as the back pages will be the highest cost ads. Rates are still to be determined, preference will be given for advertisers who are willing to commit to a full year of issues (at least 4 but the goal is to get to probably monthly). Advertisers will also be part of the online presense as well as the print publication – so should include a URL to link their ad to online. As a new publication ALL aspects of the readership are yet to be determined (including the size, demographics etc) so early advertisers must be interested in the mission of to be named later and willing to support it. Exact dollars are hard to determine (and to a point go up as the number of copies printed go up) but my initial “gut” guess is that for the first 4 issues something close to $100,000 is needed to pay all writers & artists, to physically print the magazine, and to pay staff (even just a token amount). So a target of about $25,000/issue is the goal though more may be needed for the very first issue.
  • Investors – My plan is to bootstrap. Even in the absense of all the advertising support I might like, the goal is to use a service such as MagCloud to enable us to put out a first issue (or two) and build up the audiance over time. To learn by doing and to thus incur as little costs upfront as possible. But if the right investor or sponsor/grantmaker were to offer I would listen. My goal is first to get great stories published, secondly to make money doing so (mostly I want to build something which is self supporting at a minimum). I also want to test my theories about how a new media publication could more than just made do but also prosper even in the Web 2.0, “the media is dying” world. 

So that is the idea – very rough, may not happen, but I hope it will. Please leave a comment, blog about this, link to this or at least contact me if you are interested!

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Posted in digital bedouin, Entrepreneurship, futureculture, geeks, internet, personal, photos, reading, tbnl, working | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Please copy this new business idea (but give credit)

Posted by shannonclark on November 23, 2008

Open Office

Consider this post as cc-atribution licensed – feel free to exploit this idea commercially (heck that’s the point) but please do give me at least some credit if you do

A timely, new (if also old) business idea

I describe myself as a locavore – whereever possible I try to purchase the food I eat – whether in restaurants or that I cook at home – from local sources – ideally as close to the source of production as possible. I shop at the butcher’s shop down the street, the corner (and great) produce market, the local farmer’s markets and try as much as possible to avoid shopping at big box national chains and when I do I try to purchase mostly locally sourced, seasonal products as well as fair-trade and environmentally friendly products when I have to (i.e. toilet paper etc).

But being a locavore is not just about food – I also try to do most of my other shopping – whether clothes, books, or gifts for family and friends from local stores. I often buy used books as gifts – both because I often find highly personally relevant works that way – and because philosophically I like supporting good reuse. However I also recognize that this does not support the authors directly – so in the case of books by friends of mine (which is literally nearly 100+ books a year, not all of which I buy) I generally buy those new, usually from a local independant bookstore (or occasionally the first week they come out from a big chain store such as Borders to help out my friend’s first week sales numbers). 

So what does my personal shopping preferences have to do with my business idea?

I moved to San Francisco only a few years ago, in that time I have spent a lot of time and wore out a few pairs of shoes, walking the streets of San Francisco learning the neighborhoods, finding shops and areas of interest. However I find that there is no good source for me to refer to, especially as we enter into the holiday shopping season, to know what stores are selling what, sales or special offers they are making, and especially about newer shops which might be offering just the right thing I want to buy.

I’ve looked at many of the various free publications here in SF (SF Weekly, The Bay Guardian) as well as a few of the monthly magazines – and while they offer a limited amount of coverage of the local scene (and even more limited amounts of local ads) none of them do a very good job – and the extremely local options (my neighborhood Noe Valley has a very small local newspaper) while interesting are quite limited in their coverage and fairly low quality.

Sites such as Yelp offer some coverage – though I do not like Yelp in the least – I find it next to useless – the food coverage is horrible and the shopping coverage to random and fundementally people have way too different a range of perspectives as to what is a “good value” to cite just one example or of what tastes good – I’m biased but I think I am a far more discriminating restaruant critic than the vast majority of the reviewers on Yelp.

My idea is a high quality, probably seasonal, web AND print publication (or publications)

The publication would be relatively high quality in the print edition – though it would start with the digital edition and extend rapidly to a print edition (once ad commitments were high enough to pay the cost of printing probably in color and a distribution/subscription plan was set). 

In terms of format the coverage of stores (which would be a major focus of the publication) would be highly visual – lots of photos to illustrate every article – at a minimum of the storefront, of the owner and/or staff, of a few representative products. The articles would ideally be part of a piece covering a broad theme – either a collection of related types of businesses and/or a given neighborhood of the city. 

Publishing an article would be seperate and NOT related to that business running an advertisement in the publication. But in the course of talking with each business ads would be pitched – the articles would run online, would include a link to the store’s website (if it has one) but would be writen to be relatively timeless – i.e. wouldn’t be focused on current sales (or perhaps only a current show in the case of a gallery). If a store pays for an ad – that ad would be a platform for them to maintain up-to-date information about offers (discounts for readers, current specials, new shows, upcoming events). The ad text would be clearly identified as being an ad. 

Pricing would be flexible – this is a bit of an experiement – my rough thinking is that broadly speaking pricing would be tiered – with one level for businesses under some arbitrary size (or in certain categories) and a tiering up level up – the result in part being that national chains would be charged almost certainly a higher rate than most local businesses – though a local business selling very high end products (and thus if their volume is also high having a fairly high revenue base) would also be charged at the higher rates. Ideally the rates would be for the whole season – so for a few months at a minimum. 

I don’t know the right rates – but my gut says something <$200 or so for a small business (<$250k/yr gross revenues) and going up from there to a few $K for a business such as Macy’s.

Technically each advertiser would be given a way to update their ad text – which would appear online around the article covering their store/business as well as in relevant sections (so in the larger article covering their neighborhood or business type). Before the print edition(s) each advertiser would submit the content they want to have – small businesses would likely have TEXT only advertisements and those paying a slightly higher rate would have small sized graphic ads (i.e. 1/4 page or likely smaller) with the largest companies who pay the higher rates being offered either a set of small graphic ads or a full page ad. The premium placements (back cover, front pages, middle pages) would go to the highest rates though likely at least one or two of those pages would be reserved for a collection of small, text ads from smaller local buisnesses. 

So this is a very commercial idea – it is not about long form investigative reporting, nor is it about highly political ranting (as is so much of the free weekly press). But neither is it only focused on businesses of a given type – i.e. not just “green” businesses or in the other extreme not just high fashion/design businesses. 

Executing on this idea would take a lot of people – and a lot of work – and the result would need to be carefully edited and produced to avoid (in the physical print form) being unwieldy – my instinct is to print many different editions – perhaps as frequently as once a week – with each one focusing on different neighborhoods and different themes – i.e. perhaps local butchers and bakers in the week before Thanksgving but also cover three distinct neighborhoods of the city – so both theme and geography – with the final result being nearly complete coverage of the city in some fixed period of time (perhaps the whole year or perhaps on a rotating basis over 3-4 months).

Each print edition might include a few long form articles – but initially I think it should not – the focus shoudl be on some visual (as well as textual) coverage of lots of businesses and lots of themes. As an article is written and edited the whole piece would be published online – probably with an editorial standard of a minimum number of photos (2-4 at least I think), an accurate address (or addresses), hours of operation, website link.

Of course technically much of this data could be marked up as one or more microformats – but that’s not the point here – the point is to build up a rich set of interesting content – content that gives you a solid sense of what the buisness is about (via visuals and writing with a human voice) combined with relevant – if also commercial – messages (i.e. ads from the business or related businesses – always clearly marked). 

The idea here is also to be a curator of the city (or more accurately to enable multiple people to curate different aspects of the city) so not every business will be covered – only the ones that a given curator thinks are notable – are worthy of being writen up and discussed. 

So that is my idea in the broad outlines – yes, it is in many ways very traditional – it builds on past ideas (Yellow Pages, those free publications you find in most cities in your hotel rooms) but I think there are a few twists here as well – lots more visual content (enabled in part by digital cameras) and an experimentation in the form of advertising content – i.e. to have ads which are updated by the businesses automatically for the duration of their contract (technically this could be via a custom RSS feed from a feed under the business’s control – with some HTML/URL filtering/preprocessing) Heck, the ads could technically be updated via Twitter!

In thinking about the businesss requirements of this idea I think it could be bootstrapped by a small core cadre of passionate people – it would require a few sales people and a lot of writers – initially everyone would be working essentially on commission/spec – but eventually a rate per business would be set, as well as rates for the curators who would choose which businesses meet the criteria and editors who would ensure that all copy is of a high quality (gramatically, factually accurate, all photos licensed accurately etc). 

The reason to combine a print publication and the web are many – for one the print publication would then, in part, be distributed at the many local stores featured in the publicaiton (probably sold there not given away for free – placing a small price on it gives a revenue incentive to the stores – probably the face value would be set at say $3.00 or so – and the stores would keep it all for the say 20 copies they get for free – if they want more they pay for them at some preset rate)

Anyway lots of details to work out – but if you are interested in exploring this idea here in San Francisco leave a comment or contact me directly. If you want to explore this idea in your own city – as I said at the beginning consider this cc-atribution – please go and try this – build up a great buisness and make lots of money – just also please give me some small bit of credit.

Posted in advertising, Entrepreneurship, internet, reading, reviews, San Francisco | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

My dinner party menu for tomorrow

Posted by shannonclark on December 24, 2007

And yes, I know tomorrow is a holiday for many (i.e. Christmas) which we did celebrate growing up (my father is Catholic) however my mom is Jewish and I am an atheist. So Dec 25th is no longer a religious holiday, and only somewhat of a cultural holiday for me.

But, it is a good excuse for a party – and in my circle of friends I have many friends who are also not celebrating Christmas as a religious holiday (or even in many cases as a cultural one). Of course there is a tradition of Jews eating out at Chinese restaurants around Christmas but as an alternative to that, I’m having a non-holiday themed dinner party.

Here is the menu, I’ll try to take some photos tomorrow (and today as I’m preparing).

Appetizers

Fresh sourdough and Pumpkin Quark. Quark is a German dish, a dairy product but something like yogurt – very tasty. I’ll also have some cheeses and have asked others to bring additional appetizers

Main courses

Roast, free-range, boneless leg of lamb. Rubbed with mint, garlic, sea salt, fresh pepper and other spices. Served with homemade mint sauce (organic apple vinegar, fresh mint, sugar & salt to taste).

Roast, Duroc pork loin. Rubbed with a dry rub of spices (cloves, cinnamon, salt, pepper, and more). Duroc is a type of pig prized for the quality of the meat. Very juicy, full of flavor and not at all your typical supermarket, too lean pork.

Panko crusted white fish (a very thin, fatty local white fish) with light spices quickly fried. Served over wilted beet greens & salad mix with a slightly sweet & spicy dressing)

Pear, goat cheese and arugala raviolis served with fresh ripe pears and a gorgonzola cream sauce. Pasta is fresh made and purchased from the Farmers Market on Saturday.

Side Dishes

Oven roasted carrots and golden beets w/sea salt

Roasted Brussels sprouts w/rice vinegar dressing

brown rice w/dried cranberries and zante currants. The brown rice is a local rice I purchased at the Farmers Market and is amazingly flavorful

Drinks

With the meal I will serve two red wines, a local CA Syrah and a Pinot Noir. Both are from small vineyards with production of <450 cases of each wine. One is a 2001 and the other a 2004.

For the non-drinkers I have a couple of bottles of non-alcoholic sparkling juices, cranberry-blueberry juice, and ice tea

With dessert I have a local eggnog from Mitchells Ice Cream and will make Blue Bottle coffee.

Dessert

simple custard pies – homemade pie crusts, farmer’s eggs, organic whole milk, sugar

homemade apple pie – apples of three varieties (all organic), spices, homemade pie crusts

Both ala mode if people want

almond “sandies” cookies (if I have time and get the recipe right)

and for those who want it, a selection of phenomenal hot chocolates – spicy or a Oaxacan variety.

And some people may also bring other desserts.

So that’s the planned menu, as I continue cooking, cleaning and prepping this evening the menu may change yet again. Almost everything is not from a specific recipe (other than the desserts), nearly every ingredient I’m going to be using is organic, mostly local to CA, and minimally processed. I expect up to 12 (small chance of close to 15 people) tomorrow with a variety of food restrictions from vegetarian to pescatarian (eats fish) to eats nearly everything.

Of my recent dinners, this will end up being the most expensive – in no small part due to the wine and meats. But assuming we have 12 people it will still be less than $25/person (including drinks) and that includes purchases of staples which I will have for many future meals as well (I bought a gallon of rice vinegar for example). The meats I’m using are all extremely high quality and purchased from my local neighborhood butcher – who pretty much only sells organic, free range meat products (and most are also local). Most of the rest of the ingredients were purchased at my local produce market, or at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, with a few additional purchases at Rainbow Co-op a vegetarian co-op grocery story which has extremely high quality foods (but is usually hard for me to shop at since I don’t have a car).

All told, this is how I celebrate holidays – feeding friends, eating great, local, food, prepared simply but with a lot of care and attention. We may watch some films, listen to music, and play games as well, but mostly the celebration for me is in the cooking, in the preparing of a feast for my friends old & new. In 2008 I anticipate having a dinner at my place at least once a month, probably more than once in many months.

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Cooking simple dishes

Posted by shannonclark on December 10, 2007

For lunch today I had a salad which I prepared at home. Everything in the salad I purchased at the Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market this past Saturday, all directly from the farmers and everything was local and organic. I started with a base of mixed greens, then added some baby potatoes which I boiled until tender (checked with a fork) and then cut in half. I then sliced a few small purple onions – not the type which are bulb shaped but a variety that is closer to what people call “green onions”. To top off the salad I had a piece of duck confit which I had purchased from a local charcuterie at the market. I finished the duck confit by heating it until crisp in a cast iron pan on my stove top, I then shredded it and gave the shredded pieces a few minutes to crisp up even further.

For the dressing I took an old small jar (which had once held artichoke hearts) and added balsamic vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, sea salt, fresh ground pepper, and some dried basil. I then close the top and shook the dressing until it stayed on the sides of the jar (I typically use about 1 part olive oil for every 1 part vinegar and add olive oil as needed to get the right texture).

And I finished by tossing the salad so that every piece of lettuce and potatoes was dressed.

Very simple, but also very satisfying, quick to make and extremely tasty. If I had had something else to go with it, also more than enough for two people. All for a total cost of about $10 or less.

Last night I was at a friend’s dinner party down the Peninsula, the party was a BBQ so there was plenty of meat dishes but as I looked over what was on the menu I noticed we didn’t have many vegetables at all (okay, no vegetables at all actually). So I asked if I could make something with ingredients he had around his kitchen – and he said “sure”.

So I made a couple of quick dishes.

First, a very, very simple dish of mashed potatoes. He had a couple of pounds of baby red potatoes, I simply put them into two large pots on the stove in water so all the potatoes were covered and let them cook on a medium temperature until tender.  As the potatoes cooked I diced up a medium yellow onion into fine cubes and sauteed the onions in extra virgin olive oil. I added some pre-chopped garlic to the onions near the very end and I only lightly turned the onions, just enough to avoid burning.

When the potatoes were finished I mostly drained them and dumped them into a large glass bowl. Some of the water they had boiled with stayed which was fine. I then added a half of a stick of butter, salt and fresh pepper. I let the butter melt a bit and started smashing the potatoes. I then added the onions and garlic and finished mashing.

Since he did not have a large fork or a potato masher I used two table knives to slice the potatoes (skins and all) going at various angles to end up with well mashed potatoes, this is where having cooked the potatoes correctly and fully really paid off.

As I was mashing the potatoes I had a second dish cooking as well, while I was waiting for the other parts to finish I had thinly sliced a couple of zucchinis. I sliced them into very thin (a couple of mm) circles and then sauteed them in the same pan as I had sauteed the onions, adding just a bit more olive oil back to them. I also lightly salted them and ground a little bit of fresh black pepper on them.

I sauteed them until they were mostly tender and the thinest pieces were almost translucent. I served this dish in a simple, shallow white bowl.

Neither dish lasted very long at all at the party – they were both long eaten before any of the BBQ meats were ready.

So I also made a simple dressing to go with some salad greens someone had brought. For the dressing I found a large old jar w/lid. Added balsamic, extra virgin olive oil, salt, fresh pepper, some dried basil and a couple of spoonfuls of brown mustard. Again, I closed the lid and shook until the dressing stuck to the sides. The up and down shaking emulsifies the oil and vinegar – more simply and quickly than any other technique I had seen or tried.

So that was my simple cooking for the past few days – nothing very complicated – but also apparently from the compliments I got appreciated.

My philosophy of cooking is to start with the best ingredients I can get and to then do about the bare minimum needed to them to bring out their flavors. I try to use fresh, local, seasonal ingredients as much as possible (for which I love living in California) and at least when cooking at home I also care a great deal about the freshness and quality of the spices, olive oils, vinegars and the like which I use while cooking. Most of my spices are from The Spice House in Chicago which is, by far, my favorite place to buy spices – and one of the things I most miss from my old neighborhood in Chicago (I lived just a block away from their Chicago store and could run down the street to get just about any spice I might ever need).

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Preparing for a simple, local Thanksgiving

Posted by shannonclark on November 21, 2007

I love to cook. Not so much just for myself, but for others – friends old and new. My family was all about shared meals, growing up we ate at least dinner together as a family almost every single night (my father traveled a lot but my mom, sister and I would always eat dinner together). Not “eat dinner together in front of the TV” as is the case for so many families today, but an actual multiple course, family style meal usually around our small kitchen table. Nothing too fancy, but almost always a salad and/or side of vegetables, some form of starch and a main course.

And around this table we talked about our days – my sister and I about our school work and activities, my father and mother about their work – problems they were working on, ideas they had had. During these conversations the discussion was never just one sided – it was always a discussion with even my sister and I being asked for our opinions, thoughts and ideas.

It is a bit hard to explain – and perhaps (okay almost certainly) not a typical family conversational style. We were (and are) a family of intellectuals. My father was a tenured college professor – but then left that soon after my sister was born (I’m the oldest, she’s 3 years younger) and joined industry. However he retains much of the air of a college professor – he’s published a ton of journal articles (more in fact than many professors) and a couple of text books and technical books. My mom had a long career as an independent computer consultant and programmer, she also taught computer science at some local colleges as we grew up (I learned flowcharting by doing the homework she assigned her classes – this was in the 1980’s keep in mind)  I should note that while my father has a PhD (Chemical Engineering – and yes, he is very much the engineer – albeit one who also can very seriously write quite well) my mom “just” has a college degree, she did some graduate work but never got a graduate degree, instead she started working as a computer programmer right out of college. She hadn’t studied CS in college (but then in the mid-1960’s not many people did) but she worked on a great number of interesting projects. Wrote the systems for a major railroad to manage and track their trains (before I was born in the early 1970’s) and most of the system to run a university around the time I was born in the mid-1970’s).

Often our family dinners and the conversations they started would last for hours.

So, as a result, I love to cook – and I love to have people gather around my table. However while I was living in Chicago I lived in a very small, fairly cramped 1 bedroom apartment – I had a few dinner parties but only a very few. Then when I first moved here to the Bay Area we had nearly no furniture in the apartment in Berkeley.

However that is no longer the case – in my current apartment in Noe Valley I have a dining table which was custom made for me – a 7′ birdseye, curly redwood table with matching 7′ long benches made from a locally harvested redwood (which was either condemned or fell due to natural causes). The wood was air dried by the mill from which I purchased it for a year before they made it into the table for me. A truly magnificent table. Plus I have a desk from a different redwood which I can add to extend the table to nearly 12′ – giving me a table (and in a room large enough) where I can easily have 13-14 people for dinner.

So later this week I will be cooking a simple, local Thanksgiving dinner. My personal style of cooking is very much local and seasonal. I buy ingredients which are fresh and for the most part seasonal and then prepare them with generally simple preparations to bring out their flavors – trying to use only the best possible spices and other items (olive oils etc).

For Thursday here is my current planned menu (there is probably still room for a few more, if you are reading this and in the bay area, contact me, I’d love to meet you):

A 16 1/2 lb free range, Willie Bird heritage turkey. Probably simply prepared with sea salt & pepper, stuffed and roasted for 4+ hours (basting it frequently as needed). I may add a few additional spices to the rub.

Stuffing of fresh Acme sourdough cubed with sauteed onions and organic celery w/a light amount of spices.

(an additional side dish of stuffing prepared outside of the bird w/vegetable broth for any vegetarian guests)

fresh, simple cranberry sauce (water, sugar, cranberries)

roasted seasonal vegetables – local yams, parsnips, turnips, carrots roasted with extra virgin olive oil and sea salt

roasted halved Brussells Sprouts w/light asian chili dressing (Thai chilies & rice vinegar)

made from scratch pumpkin pie (roasted myself pumpkins, made from scratch pie crust)

And that may be it – I might add some additional dishes and I’ll be prepared to make a main course for any vegetarians who join us for dinner. I might also make from from scratch current scones. And I plan on having a variety of great teas and locally roasted coffee to serve with dessert.

But that’s the main menu. Very simple (almost too simple perhaps) dishes with only a few ingredients in each, almost everything from farms less than 100 miles from San Francisco or made fresh here in the city.

I know that many people make very elaborate dishes for the holidays – stuffings with meat, nuts and more. But to my tastes what says a special occasion for me is very simple dishes done just right – with ingredients that are full of flavor.

And, of course, we’ll save the complicated stuff for the conversations!

Happy Thanksgiving!

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