• Connector.

    Wine 101: Avoiding Embarrassment with a Snooty Sommelier

    Originally written for Sipping Social blog project, launch postponed. [READ MORE]

  • Connector.

    Social Media Specialist: Did I Just Land Every Millennial’s Dream Job?

    Originally written for LinkedIn to introduce the company’s newest position. [READ MORE]

  • Connector.

    Everyday Paleo Around the World: Italian Cuisine

    Book review originally featured on PALEO iN PUMPS blog. [READ MORE]

Wine 101: Avoiding Embarrassment with a Snooty Sommelier

After her coat was taken in the lovely foyer, she and her date were escorted to a cozy table for two in the beautifully rustic dining room where a fire crackled a few feet away. Sliding into her chair, she soaked in the décor and tried to not look too impressed or as if she didn’t belong. “I go to $400 French dinners every weekend,” she attempted to make her posture say. The waiter greeted the couple warmly and after a quick review of the menu he sent over the sommelier to assist with their wine selection.

Suddenly her special date night got a bit scarier. Her eyes darted from the gargantuan leather-bound wine menu up to her date, who looked equally panicked. The sommelier looked them up and down skeptically as he glided toward the table. She stared at the arched eyebrow approaching her and self-consciously shifted in her seat. The sommelier leapt straight into the wine menu, explaining which wines were from which regions and how nicely the $500 bottle paired with that evening’s special.

The couple squirmed a bit and exchanged a glance. “Well, I drink a lot of wine,” she attempted to joke, “but I’m not as well versed as I’d like. I drink Malbec and sometimes Cabernet, would you be able to – “

“Malbec?” the sommelier chided. “From which region? There are many of types of Malbec. As for Cabernet …” As his lecture droned on, she could feel her blood beginning to boil. When she could no longer stand the condescension she stopped him. “Look, we’re not wine snobs. Just bring us this one.”

Fail. You can quickly sour your night out when faced with a sommelier like the one above. Don’t get me wrong – there are plenty out there who are known for both their exceptional knowledge and customer service – but there are a number who are known only for the former. While a sommelier’s wine recommendation will enhance your culinary experience, a snooty (snotty) attitude can make you swear off rack of lamb and Bordeaux for life in order to avoid the reenactment of emotional and digestive distress that ensued.

Skipping the embarrassing encounter can be as simple as doing some homework, and that doesn’t mean you need to memorize a full wine course on the way to the restaurant. Follow these simple guidelines and feel comfortable knowing a little preparation can go a long way.

  • Set the right expectations. No matter your preferred source, you’ll be able to get an idea of the establishment’s overall attitude by reviewing the information available from past patrons. Everyone’s a critic in the age of blogging and social media, so a quick Google search should give you a good idea of what to expect. Some places will be known for their relaxed atmosphere and approachable servers, while others definitely will not – knowing the difference is the first step in setting your interaction expectations properly.
  • Review the menu and have an idea of what you’ll be ordering. I understand there are nightly specials, seasonal menus, etc., but if you know you usually enjoy seafood, your sommelier will be better able to assist you in the selection process. When in doubt, fear not, many places are able to cork your first bottle should you decide a switch is necessary for your meal.
  • Know your budget. Going in blindly and asking a sommelier to pick his favorite wine to accompany your Beef Wellington without setting boundaries will almost certainly guarantee drinker’s remorse when the bill comes around. If you’re afraid of looking cheap, requesting to stick in the mid-range of the menu is generally a safe bet for both your wallet and pride.
  • Arrive with a couple examples of tried and true wines for your sommelier. Admitting that your regular reach on the shelf is Barefoot Chardonnay or Black Box Cab is not necessary, but being able to articulate something beyond enjoying a “white” or a “red” is going to get you a bit further in the respect department. If you tend to open up Yellowtail when the girls come over, it’s okay to say you enjoy Australian red and ask if the sommelier might have an appropriate suggestion.
  • Honesty and a smile will go a long way. If you know nothing about wine, go ahead and put it out there right away. Hinting that you’d “love some guidance” or will “trust your expertise” is a gentle way of asking for help while also (hopefully) softening the sommelier with a small compliment. Nothing will set you up for failure with that snooty someone quicker than pretending to know more than you do – and I think we all prefer rosé in our glass as opposed to on our cheeks.

Social Media Specialist: Did I Just Land Every Millennial’s Dream Job?

Best Laid Plans

I have always spent my free time journaling, blogging or playing around with different aspects of design, and had been quite certain for quite a while that I would be in a marketing-type role “when I grew up.” Instead, I ended up in operations and personnel logistics for a major player in the protective services industry. Surprise!

Five years later, I’ve now shifted to a newly created position with our parent company and am combining my experience in the industry with my true passions: writing, graphic design, and Facebook. Yes, you read that correctly. I almost can’t believe it either. Maybe some plans do work out for mice and (wo)men after all.

Let’s Get Social

Social media outlets that used to be all fun and memes amongst friends are now powerful tools for businesses both big and small, and it’s no surprise that companies who may not have had a strong social media presence previously are now jumping on the bandwagon. According to a report published last summer, Americans spend an average of 4.7 hours per day on their smart phones, including checking their social media accounts 17 times per day. I must admit that I, like my fellow millennials, am guilty as charged. I am quite literally never without my phone and have nearly mowed down several co-workers in the hallways being “that person” typing while walking on more than one occasion. #sorry

There Really IS a Method to the Madness

When I excitedly announced to friends, family and co-workers what I would be doing in my new gig, there were a variety of responses but one theme seemed to repeat: “Wow. I wish I could be paid to sit on Facebook all day at work.” Ouch. If you were thinking along the same lines as these individuals, you might be under the impression that it’s pretty mindless having all of your responsibilities revolve around social media; but there, dear friend, is where you are wrong! Sure, I will be on multiple social media outlets all day, every day now – but I assure you there is much more involved than just clicking buttons on status updates and the occasional cat meme (because let’s be honest, everyone loves a good cat meme).

Developing an effective social media strategy can actually be pretty tricky business. A deep understanding of your field, company culture, and audience are all essential to crafting effective messages for social media engagement and optimal conversion rates. There’s an incredible amount of research, market analysis and creativity that all contribute to becoming a successful social media specialist, but don’t take my word for it. A quick Google session of “social media strategy” will lead you to the entrance of the resource rabbit hole which is being dug deeper and deeper each day by the growing number of professionals in this area of specialization.

Modus Operandi

I have a number responsibilities as our organization’s first social media specialist: recruiting new talent for our family of companies, retention of our current workforce, and constant communication with interested parties worldwide. I’ll be posting job openings, letting our employees and job candidates know about exciting new opportunities as they arise, and keeping followers posted on the latest happenings in our industry. I’ll be starting conversations, and answering questions. I will be running accounts across Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram. There are a few other things I have hidden up my social media sleeve, but that’s where they’re going to stay for now … we secret squirrels in protective services industry don’t just go showing our cards, you know.

Everyday Paleo Around the World:
Italian Cuisine

Saturdays are usually my Get-Your-Life-In-Order day. I generally reserve it for catching up from the hectic week that preceded it: clean the apartment, get the laundry done, sort and pay bills, run errands, wash and gas the car, organize my purse, make my to-do & shopping lists for the week … and on and on it goes.

This weekend was a little different. My body was exhausted from the long week of work, my new-ish workout routine, a new blogging adventure, and of course cooking healthy, satisfying meals for two morning and night. I woke up this morning with every intention of diving right into my normal organizational tornado, but found myself laying in bed for an extra hour browsing my RSS feed on my phone and thumbing through the book next to my bed I had started the night before. My copy of Everyday Paleo Around the World Italian Cuisine (Authentic Recipes Made Gluten Free) bySarah Fragoso had arrived from Amazon on Thursday, and last night was the first time I had to flip through it. I had turned over to the back cover and the first words I read were:

Part travelogue, part lifestyle guide, this is not just another Italian cookbook.

Yeah-yeah, I thought to myself. Truly, I had ordered it for two reasons: 1) I have a cookbook addiction that has only become worse over the last couple of months, and 2) I saw a way to satisfy my Italian cravings without gluten and I ordered it without further research. So, upon reading the ‘differential’ first line on the back cover, I decided that I wasn’t going to just flip past the introductions and stick post-its on recipes to try in the future. I was going to do something I have never actually done: sit down and read a cookbook in its entirety, cover to cover.

Warning: The following review may make me sound like a total fangirl, however may I remind you that I hadn’t knowingly made single paleo meal nor had I purchased a paleo cookbook up until about two months ago. 

I can easily see this becoming not only my favorite paleo cookbook, but quite possibly one of my favorite cookbooks in general – maybe it is because the culture is so beautifully illustrated through Sarah’s eyes, maybe it is the actual food that is expertly prepared and photographed in the most mouth-watering way possible, or maybe it is that this peek into the way of life in Italy reminds you that most of us are way too caught up in the day to day grind. In the spirit of this, I decided my Saturday errands could wait. The chores could be put off a little longer. I settled into a chair by the open window with a fresh cup of coffee and a cat curled into the back of my knees.

Everyday Paleo Around the World: Italian Cuisine really is about so much more than just food – it’s about the approach to life. The first 57 pages take you on Sarah’s tour of Italy with her family through five different destinations, each one with its own unique qualities and people. Then she includes a guide to travelling Italy, recipe origins, and suggested kitchen tools/ingredients to work through the recipes on your own. As I poured over the pages, I felt a strange connection to every page of this book. I felt as though I were there – in the rental Fiat soaking in the scenery, in the rustic kitchens tasting the food of the world-class chefs, by the seaside enjoying a glass of wine and fresh calamari. It’s impossible to read the first part of this book and not feel more connected to the people of Italy and the food that follows.

One section that I adored was the wake up call from their Italian guide who tried to quiet American Sarah’s racing mind upon a late arrival, “Why are we in such a hurry? We have all the time in the world, my friend. We have all day! … Italians, compared to Americans, we are lazy, yes, but we still get it all done. We are hard workers, but we know how to rest and live and eat!” Ingredients are grown or hand-selected (including the live animals in some cases) by the chefs themselves. Butcher shops are passed down from generation to generation and their products are handled with pride and great care. There aren’t cans and boxes of ingredients mucking up the cabinets – whole, real foods decorate the kitchens and tables in both restaurants and homes. Every dish is prepared with thought, love and incredible flavors. Cooking isn’t a chore (as it has started to feel for me) – it’s an important part of their lives.

THiS is the way we are meant to live and eat! Not driving up to a window and shoving something in our faces because we’re in a rush to get somewhere! Enjoy. Savor. Live. Rest. In our go-go-go culture and demands placed upon us from work and home life, I feel that the happiness simpler living can bring is lost on so many people. Can you imagine grabbing your Starbucks and being one of those people that actually sits in a chair and enjoys it for fifteen minutes, rather than racing to your next destination when your name is finally called by the barista? I couldn’t. How about relaxing at a two-hour lunch where you enjoy your family or friends? What? I don’t get up from my desk most days for lunch except to microwave my food in the office kitchen. We need to slow down a bit. We also need to remember to feed ourselves with more than just food – with rest, leisure and enjoyment of the little things in life now and again.

My familiarization with a widely-varied list of ingredients over the last few years really helped me imagine the flavors of the recipes in this book. I devoured each and every one in a single sitting (figuratively, of course). I love the simplicity of the recipes, a number of them having fewer than five ingredients (excluding the staples of olive oil, salt and pepper) for an entire dish. There are more ingredients than that in a jar of tasteless marinara sauce from your grocery store! The fresh ingredients used to prepare these dishes pop off the pages, and I really was able to see myself sitting down in Sarah’s welcoming kitchen and sampling each one (maybe someday!) and“mmm”ing over every bite with my eyes closed in sheer bliss.

The only thing more I could ask from this book is that it were a sturdy hardcover, as I foresee my paperback getting much use and abuse in the future. Otherwise, I consider it a perfect staple for my bookshelf and Kitchen Arsenal. Thank you, Sarah, for taking me to Italy this afternoon. One day, I will make it to Sardinia myself and say hello to Roberto for you – until then, I will be cooking my way through the country with your help.