Thursday, February 04, 2016

Stuff They Love: Kinderhook Snacks on Golden West

Just about a year ago, I had the very sweet opportunity to write about Katie Horn and Marie Stratton, the ladies behind Baltimore's Kinderhook Snacks.

If you haven't had the snacks, you should. They're so good - my favorite are the macaroons - and it's a bonus that Horn and Stratton are super, super nice.

When I asked them to talk to me about something they love in Baltimore, they had a million glowing things to say about the food, beer and - most importantly - the staff at Golden West in Hampden.

Golden West has been a part of the Hampden community for years and people love it for a lot of reasons. For Horn and Stratton, it's a port in the storm when they get busy. "Since we started Kinderhook, we've had so many long days and late nights in the kitchen, after which we are needing a good beer and good food. Golden West has been our most favorite place to go in these seemingly dire situations and the staff there continually lifts our spirits," they say.

"They recommend great beers, they don't judge us when we finish off an entire Green Chili Cheeseburger and fries (in fact, they congratulate us) and they always seem to know when we need a shot of tequila."

The Kinderhook ladies love that not only does the GW bar staff feed them burgers and tequila, they also have interesting creative pursuits of their own. David Spelce is one of their favorite bartenders, they say, and "a wildly talented artist."

And Edan Perrigo, Stratton and Horn's former Charles Village neighbor, works behind the bar and is also part of Great American Canyon Band, a Baltimore indie-folk band releasing a new album this spring. The band has already released one video from the new album, which I'm sharing (with permission from them) here:

This is some of what I love most about Baltimore. It's the kind of place where you can find a home at a restaurant because you like the food...then discover that the people behind the bar are talented artists and musicians and great bartenders. And you never know - maybe the people on the stools next to yours make great snacks, too.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

On Advertising and Aspiration

It's Super Bowl week, which means it's ad season.

For my first eight years out of college, I worked in advertising. To agency people, the Super Bowl is Christmas. The people creating the ads you see during the game are industry rock stars and it's always entertaining to see what clients are dropping gazillions of dollars on.

It's been twelve years since I was an agency employee, but having worked in the industry still colors my worldview. When I look at ads, I automatically try to figure out the strategy behind it.

Kenny MF'ing Powers: Shiller of Shots
That's why I found this short blog post so intriguing. It's a quick comparison between two current liquor promotional campaigns: one for Jack Daniels' limited edition Sinatra Century whiskey, which draws on Frank Sinatra's affinity for the brand, and one for Southern Comfort, which stars comedian Danny McBride.

As a general rule, liquor advertising is an exercise in aspiration. When you're trying to convince someone to buy your booze, you appeal to who they want to be. During my advertising heyday, the power of aspirational cocktails was obvious every time I walked into a bar filled with wannabe Carrie Bradshaws spilling their cosmos on their Forever 21 going out tops.

But back to the present. That post about the Danny McBride Southern Comfort campaign mentions that the brand's sales are on a downward slide - in fact, net sales dropped by 7% in the first 6 months of 2015 and the brand is currently being sold off by owners Brown-Foreman. On one hand, I'm sorry for SoCo's soon-to-be-former owners - and for Wieden + Kennedy, the very smart agency behind the campaign. I'm sure they're disappointed. But should they be surprised?

While I think that Danny McBride is super funny, I certainly don't aspire to be him. Yes, I realize I'm not the target market. I also realize the  campaign does its best to gussy up McBride as SimCity James Bond and spin him as an off-kilter Most Interesting Man in the World. But underneath it all, he's still Kenny Powers. And does anyone aspire to be Kenny Powers, even if he's wearing a tux or hanging out with a flamingo?

My guess is that while SoCo's target demographic - likely 18-34 year old guys - think he's funny and would like to hang out with somebody like Danny McBride, they don't want to personally be him, the same way they'd aspire to be Frank Sinatra. Again, even if he's in a tux, with or without a pink bird.

Southern Comfort's advertising didn't always miss its mark. As soon as I read that post, my mind wandered back to the mid-90s, when the brand ran a campaign I absolutely loved, including one of my favorite ads of all time:
The original ad. Source.

I connected with this campaign, built around the tag line "Take It Easy," so completely - and at the time, I was the right age for the brand. 

Even then, I laughed a little at the notion that anybody would order Southern Comfort on the rocks at a bar. I have done too many SoCo and lime shots to think that's a reasonable drink order. But what I think is so smart about this ad is that it manages to be aspirational without overpromising. It doesn't suggest that SoCo drinkers will become Sinatra - but it does communicate that they'll live lives that are both fulfilling and laid back. 

For shots-doing kids in their 20s, trying to figure out their lives, that's some pretty powerful stuff. The McBride campaign delivers on laid back, but it misses in terms of fulfillment.

Now, I don't know the metrics. Maybe the "Take It Easy" campaign didn't do well - I can't find any sales data old enough to find out - and even if SoCo was selling like hotcakes back then, liquor sales are of course driven by more than advertising. 

But ads do matter. And ads that make us want something more...I think they matter most.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Cheers to Health and Happiness

No bar will ever own my heart like McGarvey's does
In news that I like because it confirms my core beliefs, Oxford anthropologist and evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar has just released findings from a UK study indicating that people who booze it up (in moderation) at a local pub are happier, have higher life satisfaction and have more close friends than those who do not.

I can't find the original paper, but according to the Campaign for Real Ale, the lobbying group that funded the study, "People who have a 'local' and those patronising community-type pubs have more close friends on whom they can call for support, and are happier and more trusting of others than those who do not have a local. They also feel more engaged with their wider community."

The study also found that drinking a small amount had a positive effect on well-being and some social skills (shocking, I know).

The question is, of course, is whether there's any actual causation here - and if there is, which way does it go? Are people happier because they're at their local? Or are they more likely to go to their local when they're happier? Probably a combination of both.

My guess is that the power of the "local" isn't quite as heady here the US - but I think you'd find other entities/places taking its place.

Take my friends. They're mostly parents in our 30s and 40s, which means it's not likely that most can spend enough time at a bar to consider it a "local." But that doesn't mean we're unhappy or anti-social. Replace "local" with "pool" or "my kitchen" and you're in business.

The ultimate lesson here, I think, is that the more time we spend carousing together, the happier we are - and that carousing is easier when we have a reliable place to do it . And carousing is something that I fully support - whether it's in the pub down the street or my very own living room.

Stuff I Love: Papercuts and Pressed Flowers

Pretty papercut and flower pic courtesy of Annie Howe
I love pretty, intricate things, so it's no surprise that I am all about both papercuts and flower arrangements. They both involve close attention to detail and a straight up appreciation for beauty.

Here in Baltimore, we have some wonderful people who not only make these pretty things, they teach other people how to make them, too. So generous!

On February 11th, Annie Howe, of Annie Howe Papercuts, is teaming up with plant designer Liz Vayda from B. Willow for a papercutting and pressed flower arranging workshop at Trohv.

If you haven't seen either of their work, check them out right now. What they do is really special.

I talked to Annie about what she loves about being a papercut artist and teaching workshops like this one. "It gives me a chance to connect with people on a personal level and help build appreciation for papercutting and the many exciting possibilities it has artistically," she says.

She's especially excited about collaborating with Liz - their joint workshop is something new and promises to be really cool - and about hosting the workshop at Trohv, which she says is a great place for a class. Of course she loves Trohv. Who doesn't?!

The ticket price includes the instruction, of course, but also all the supplies and framing materials you'll need - and workshop attendees will also get a 15% discount at Trohv before the event.

Plus, there will be cocktails and snacks. Everyone loves cocktails and snacks. And flowers. And paper!

Papercutting and Pressed Flower Arranging Workshop with Annie Howe Papercuts and B. Willow Interior Plant Design. February 11, 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at Trohv, 921 West 36th Street, Hampden. $120. Buy tickets here.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Old vs. New in the Cocktail Game

As much as I love cocktails, it's possible that I actually love books about cocktails even more. I can't stop buying them.

Two of my most recent acquisitions are a vintage copy of Playboy's Host and Bar Book by Thomas Mario and a brand new copy of The Architecture of the Shot by Paul Knorr, with illustrations by Melissa Wood.

The Playboy book was first published in 1955; my copy was printed in 1971. The architecture book, on the other hand, was hot off the presses in 2015. Both books about booze...but they couldn't be more different. I love them both.

Though at first glance the shot book seems like it could be gimmicky, really, it's not. The recipes are precise and descriptions are genuinely interesting. The book includes about 70 different shots, both classics and drinks that are new to me. It's a good mix. Plus, the graphics...I love them.

Seventy sounds like a lot of shots, until you open a book like the Playboy tome, which is truly encyclopedic, with some pretty fab pictures of '70s parties and all manner of cocktail information and advice, from glassware to etiquette.

"But while a host should be active and should generously offer his punches, his pitchers or trays of cocktails, he should remember at the height of his wassailing that he's a host and not a hustler," Mario writes in the first chapter, titled "The Code of Conviviality." In addition to Mario's extremely strong, non-holiday season use of the verb "to wassail," he offers some good advice here. And there's a lot more where that came from.

But also...there are drinks. Dozens and dozens and dozens of drinks, from straightforward martinis to so many that require egg whites, I couldn't even count them all. If this book is any indication, mid-century entertainers really got their arm workouts in, what with all the cocktail shaking.

Despite their different angles - one uber-precise and succinct, one lengthy, comprehensive and swinging - both books are pretty incredible. And both promise hours and hours of good times...followed by a hangover or two.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Stuff They Love: Mobtown Fermentation on Dovecote Cafe

Gorgeous frittata photo courtesy of Dovecote Cafe
This is the first in a new series of posts called "Stuff They Love." For each post, I talk to someone doing something cool in Baltimore – and find out what they think is cool.

Baltimore is filled with people making the most of whatever they're passionate about, from cookies to art to woodworking. It's an exciting time to be here – and every time I hear about something new that's happening, I'm even more thrilled to be a part of this city.

For this first post, I talked to Adam Bufano, Sergio Malarin and Sidharth Sharma, the guys behind Mobtown Fermentation, the Baltimore City company that makes Wild Kombucha. Mobtown has earned tons of fans for its locally brewed, flavored kombuchas, which are sold in cafes, markets and yoga studios all over the area.

The Mobtown guys get fired up about what they do – and about what they see when they're out and about in the city. One of their new favorite spots – the place they chose to highlight – is Dovecote Café, which opened last month in Reservoir Hill.

"They have made an awesome little cafe in the heart of a residential neighborhood in Baltimore," says Sid Sharma. "They have an incredibly fun environment and kind staff." 

Aisha Pew, who came to Baltimore by way of Brooklyn, New York and Oakland, California, co-owns the café and runs the front of house. Her mom and uncle do the cooking – and have already earned a boatload of fans from Reservoir Hill and beyond. Pies, breads, muffins, frittatas…they all look fabulous. The pecan pie, Sharma says, is "to die for."

And, of course, there's coffee, which is sourced from a variety of roasters, including some local companies, like D.C.'s Café LosSuenos.

The Mobtown Fermentation guys love the café's atmosphere and that the Dovecote team goes out of its way to promote other local businesses. Dovecote sells Wild Kombucha and other good local stuff, like the awesome W00T! Granola and candles by Letta Moore's Knits, Soy and Metal.

Dovecote is also all about the art, with local artists on the walls and the work of featured authors in the cafe – and the spirit of art is just kind of in the air. Last weekend, the café hosted its first #ArtistsShouldntStarve event, bringing together the community and the artists featured on the walls of the café. Right now, the walls are covered in work by Stephen Towns and Jonathan Brickous and the featured writers are Michelle Antoinette Nelson (aka LOVE the poet), author of Black Marks on White Paper and Nia Johnson, author of LesB Inn. On Sunday, Dovecote's artists packed the house with an enthusiastic crowd.

A great café is more than just a place to grab coffee. It's a community hub – a place to gather and share and that has a personality of its own. The Dovecote crew gets that - and the Mobtown Fermentation guys love it.

Wild Kombucha/Mobtown Fermentation,

Dovecote Café, 2501 Madison Avenue, Reservoir Hill, 443-961-8677

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Closing Out 2015: Stuff I Loved at the End of the Year

As is often the case, I've got a list of posts-to-write that's a mile long. Over the past two months, especially, I've done a million fun things and eaten some great food and while some of it has made its way to Instagram or Facebook, I'm way behind on actual blogging. I managed to write about a couple fun nights...but I'm still way behind.

And that means a roundup post. Here's what else I've been up to - the good stuff - since November:

Wine Tasting at Tarara

 In mid-November, to celebrate my friend Mandy's 40th birthday, a small crew headed to north-central Virginia for a day of wine tasting. Her husband, Oliver, organized it and chauffered, and he did a bang-up job of both.

The best part of the day was the serious tasting at Tarara in Leesburg. Not only were the wines we tasted really nice, the setting is beautiful and the overall experience there is super thorough. The selection, which started with sparkling then made its way through whites and reds, ending with dessert wine, was paired with four diverse cheeses - and a lot of education. I've done a decent amount of wine tasting, but I still learned some things.

Thanksgiving Weekend

Cooper and I alternate families for Thanksgiving; this year, we were at my parents' house, and so were my brother and sister (and Cail and Clark).

Thanksgiving always - always - involves a round of mid-afternoon oysters. Mostly, we stick with Oysters Waskom, our fine-tuned family specialty. As a family, we are pretty locked into tradition. My mom made a new sweet potato recipe this year and there was very nearly a revolt. But as long as we have a couple dozen Waskoms available, we're also open to trying a new approach or two.

This year, my parents worked hard to replicate a dish they'd had in September, when they celebrated my mom's birthday with Erin and Clark at L'Auberge Chez Francois in Great Falls. The oysters - topped with bearnaise and grilled a little (but not too much) impressed them so much.

At home, they needed some tinkering. My mom made the bearnaise the day before Thanksgiving, so it would have time to solidify in the refrigerator, but even the next day, she worried that it was a little too thin. Plus, we grilled the first batch of oysters a little too long - they weren't overcooked, but the bearnaise melted and disappeared.

With adjusted cooking times for the second batch, though, we had it. (And by "we" I mean my dad. All I did was plate and eat.) They were awesome. And pretty:

The day after Thanksgiving, as is our tradition, the family, including both baby Virginia Catherine to 97 year old Nan, went to Petit Louis for lunch. It was, as always, excellent. I love the whole menu, but there is nothing like PL's pureed soups. I had a cream of cauliflower that was unreal. Just perfect.

40th Birthday by Clementine at Church and Company

A couple weeks after Thanksgiving, party season got serious Chez Pollard. Cooper turned 40 on December 12th and I followed ten days later, on the 22nd.

After much, much discussion, we decided to throw ourselves a party. (I'm not sure why it required so much discussion. That was obviously what we were always going to do.)

Instead of doing something at home, we rented out Church and Company, an insanely cool event space in an old church in Hampden. Alex, the guy who owns the space (and who rehabbed it himself) might be the nicest person in the world - and he has such a solid eye for design.

Since our party was just before Christmas, the space was all kinds of decked out with garlands and trees and candles. It was just gorgeous.

There was never any question about what we'd do for food - the whole reason we decided not to cook ourselves was that we wanted Clementine to cater. Unsurprisingly, everything from the pickled oysters to the charcuterie (heyyyy chicken liver pate) to the basil lime elixir was incredible. Plus, Alicia made us mint chocolate chip cupcakes and our friends got us a cake from Graul's - both of which were awesome.

It wasn't just Clementine's food that was great - it was the people, too. Especially Cristin, who realized we were wrong when we told her we didn't want to hire a bartender. She gracefully let us make that choice...then stepped in and tended bar at the last minute (with Alex's help). She was right, I was wrong, and she didn't even say, "I told you so."

Overall, the night was kind of ridiculous. On one hand, I felt silly throwing such an intense party just for our birthdays. Between the space, the catering and the guest list, which covered family and friends from all parts of our lives, it was like a small(ish) wedding. On the was so great I didn't really care. It was a blast.

40th Birthday at McGarvey's...and More

But here's where things get really ridiculous. The Friday night party in Baltimore was just round one.

The party continued on Saturday, when I made my annual birthday trip to McGarvey's. I've been celebrating there since I turned 21...and party in Baltimore or no, I was not about to break that tradition. Instead, I upped the ante.

Most years, we just have lunch or brunch or drinks in the bar, wherever we happen to fall. This year, since it was a big one, I reserved the upstairs space from 4 to 6 p.m.

I'd never been up there before - it's only open for private parties - so even just walking up the steps was a total thrill. It's not a terribly big space - it holds about 30 people, standing - but it is comfortable and has a great view of Dock Street and of the back room in the bar itself.

Saturday's crowd was more Annapolis-oriented - my high school friends and family (including the ones who live in Virginia), plus Mike and Alicia from Baltimore and Stacy, who came down from New York just for the parties. Unfortunately, we were missing not only Bill and Kyle and Mary but also Cooper, who got sick at the end of the week. He powered through Friday night like a champ...but just couldn't do it on Saturday. Sad, but understandable.

Ultimately, that meant more oysters, crab balls and crab cakes for us. That's what we ate at McGarvey's (along with many, many Aviators, their house beer). Those are McG's strengths - and they did them well.

We were all also super impressed with the service. We had one young waitress, who hustled up and down the steps and kept drinks in everybody's hands for two straight hours. She was such a pro.

Once the upstairs party ended, we migrated downstairs for a couple more drinks and to figure out a plan of action. Our goal was to drink our way up Main Street, following the path of a long ago bar crawl that Bert and Rob and I did, and to still be standing strong, ending at Harry Browne's, at midnight, when Bert turned 41.

Spoiler alert: we made it.

But we knew, if that was going to happen, we needed sustenance. Bert scoped out the options for a group our size and we ended up upstairs at Middleton's, where everyone scarfed down burgers, crab cakes...and oyster shooters.

As my sister said, if it was good enough for Ben Franklin, it's good enough for me.

Next, we classed it up with Natty Bohs and a Bud Light tower at Acme, which was so, so, so crowded, even at 8:30. It was kind of weird, being there without anyone using a fake ID.

Note: that is Alicia.

After Acme, we made two more quick stops - Treaty of Paris, which was a bit of a snoozer, and Galway Bay, which was packed and super festive - before finally stumbling into Harry Browne's.

As a general rule, when I go out in Annapolis with my high school friends, that's where we end the night. It's such a nice bar, so it's always kind of funny to roll in there after watching people spill beer all over each other at Acme or wherever.

As soon as we walk in, we always start upgrading our drinks - and making a mess. I switched to wine and Alison ordered a martini, which she promptly spilled everywhere. Rasim ordered a pile of food and I ate an entire plate of calamari by myself. Hot.

Then, we went home (or back to the O'Callaghan Hotel, in my case) and slept it off. What a night.

Even More 40th Celebrating

What's funny (maybe?) is that wasn't even the end of it. The next morning, Mike, Alicia, Stacy and I had an awesome breakfast at Iron Rooster in Annapolis. Their homemade pop tarts really are no joke.

And then, on my actual birthday - which was a Tuesday - Dixon and Cooper and I had dinner at Grano Emporio in Hampden.

I had veal marsala and it was lovely. Cooper and I also split a carafe of Montepulciano and I remembered that I so love restaurants that still sell wine in carafes. They remind me of when I was a kid, going out to dinner with my parents.

And then, finally, the birthday celebrating came to an end.

Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year's Eve

But just a few days after my birthday, we were back on the party train with Christmas Eve dinner at our house (first time ever! Meat...obviously.) followed by Christmas brunch with Cooper's family and dinner at his parent's house (more meat...obviously).

On New Year's Eve, we had dinner at our house with Mike, Alicia, Kyle, Mary, George, Audrey and all the kids. Piper, George and Audrey's second oldest, came over early to help me set the kids' table, which made the whole day even better for me. She is only in second grade, but was so thoughtful about all of it.

We had Oysters Waskom, crab cakes from Conrad's, this ridiculously easy and delicious John Besh cauliflower puree thing that I make every year and a bunch of wine.

It was crazy and hectic and fun and such a good way to kick off 2016.

Speaking of 2016, I've already had a bunch of good meals. We loved brunch at Silver Queen and dinner at Smoke (more on those later) and we have a bunch of good dinners and parties scheduled for the next few weeks.

Ending strong and starting strong.

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Parties + Happiness + Research

These days, it's more fashionable to talk about sparking joy than about straight up happiness (that's so 2009). But I still find the subject pretty riveting, especially as it applies to one of my other favorite subjects: throwing parties.

In 2005, Sonja Lyubormirsky, a noted happiness scholar and psychology professor at the University of California Riverside, published a study indicating that happiness is driven by three things. Genetics are responsible for about half of our happiness; circumstances account for another 10%. We don’t have much, if any, control over either. But the remaining 40% is determined by "intentional activities and practices." Stuff we do to make ourselves happier – or not.

Having parties is what makes me happy – and I'm not unusual. Even people who don't think of themselves as natural hosts or hostesses can benefit from the act of throwing a party. But don't trust me on this - trust science. I've done some research (proving that I can make anything nerdier) and here's what I found:

Throwing a Party Makes Us Socialize – and Socializing Makes Us Happy

Parties bring people together – obviously – and that's a good thing. Two psychological studies of university students both found that socialization is associated with more happiness.

In a 2007 study, students who rated their social skills higher also rated their stress lower and life satisfaction higher. Good stuff all around. An earlier study, published in 2002, found that while exercise, religion and the incidence of "good events" did not differ between very happy and average or unhappy people, those in the very happy group were more likely to be highly social, with stronger relationships.

If this sounds like a raw deal for people who aren't natural extroverts, don’t think of it that way. No, you can't (and shouldn't) force yourself to convert to extroversion. But even if you're an introvert, you can enhance social relationships by throwing a party that fits your needs. A small one, with just your close friends, is still a party. 

Throwing a Party Keeps You Busy – and Happiness Is Action-Oriented

Throwing a party can be a lot of work. There are guest lists to make, invitations to send, menus to plan, drinks to dream up and booze to buy. The good news, though, is that your mile-long party to-do list has a hidden secret. It'll help keep you happy.

A 2010 study at the University of Chicago demonstrated that people who are busy are happier than people who are idle. A separate study,from 2005, found that performing five acts of kindness all in a single day increased short-term happiness levels.

Think of each item on that list - from buying ice to baking cookies - as an act of kindness for your guests. It's true.

Throwing a Party Helps Us Visualize Our Best Possible Selves

When I was a little girl, one of my absolute favorite things to do was to play dress-up in my grandmother's closet. After layering on as much costume jewelry as possible, I'd stick my little feet into a pair of her high heels – my favorites were a glittery pair of silver pumps that were more over the top than your average drag show – grab a matching handbag and shuffle around her bedroom, feeling as glamorous as Grace Kelly. In those moments, I dreamed of my adult life. And wow, did it sparkle.

Every time I throw a party, I go through the same exercise – minus the silver shoes and borrowed beads. From invitations through menu planning to the day of the party, as I chop and sweep and organize glassware, I imagine how the party will turn out, what will happen, how I'll feel. In my mind, it's always a success.

I know I'm not alone in those pre-party daydreams – it's something that happens naturally. And the good news is, those types of thought processes can have a positive impact on our overall happiness.

In a 2006 study, researchers found that exercises helping people visualize their "best possible selves" both boosted the way people experienced positive emotions and hampered negative emotions. That is more than enough reason, for me, to keep on dreaming about the fabulous parties ahead. 

Throwing a Party Helps Us Spread the Love Around

When we surround ourselves with happy people, we'll be happier, too. It's so logical – and it's true.

A long-term study of happiness and social networks (the real life kind, not the Facebook kind), publishedin 2008, found that individuals studied were 15% more likely to be happy if another study participant to whom they were connected (like a friend or family member) was also happy. The study also found that individuals were 25% more likely to be happy if a friend who lived within a mile became happy during the course of the study. Basically, happiness is contagious.

Contagious and, unlike those lice getting passed around your kid's seventh birthday party (true story chez Pollard), something that's actually worth spreading. People meet people at parties. They share stories, laughter, fun. 

Happiness blossoms.


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