Sunday, December 16, 2007

A few of my favorite last minutes things - if you're still looking...

It’s that time of year… Thought I’d offer some great last minute gifts ideas. I’ve organized them in a handy way – they’re designed to go on, go in, and surround friends and family with the best…

One of my favorites. This is a perfect peppermint wake-up and a nod to the holidays – but amazing all year long, Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps Peppermint Pure-Castile Soap Liquid is a refreshing gift. Organic ingredients and an eye-opening shower experience, it’s great for face, body, hair…leaves you alert and ready for the day. The 32 ounce bottle is usually around $12.99 and available at Kroger, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and more.

Who doesn’t want happy feet?

British haberdasher Charles Tyrwhitt makes great cotton socks. The navy with pink polka dot socks are a fun accent and, for the moment one sale at $16.00 a pair, not inexpensive, but high quality and uncommon design commands a little higher price. They’re available online. Also available in sky blue with navy dots and navy with sky dots. If you know me – you know I love socks and I love dots. These rock.

Am I dotty? Yes. One of my favorite new retailers Kuhlman has swell polka dot pocket silks.
In black, brown and navy with white dots and other colors with colored dots – they’re currently on sale for $19 and are swell.

POP! Screw the weasel – how ‘bout some moderately priced bubbles to spark the holiday spirit? Good to sip at home with a drop of cranberry juice and a dried cranberry – the Spanish and Italians really bring good sips to market. Sure – Veuve and Roederer rock – but… for less than $20 – and sometimes even less than $10 – these sips shine.

From Italy
Prosecco like the $13.95 bottle from Zardetto or similarly priced Canella Prosecco di Conegliano is great to sip, great with appetizers or fish. The aforementioned two are widely available and are both rather tart with just a hint of sweetness. These bright bubblers both showcase pretty, smaller bubbles. There are a bunch of nice, affordable Prosecco options out there now - from the grocery store to the wine store...

From Spain

Cristalino Brut is a stellar Cava. AND – at around $5.99 or $7.99 a bottle is as easy on the wallet as it is on the palate. It’s available at Cost Plus and Kroger – among other spots. Grab a case if you can, great to have on hand for unexpected guests or for the last-minute hostess gift.

Mmmmm… Ganache! Do you ganache?

Full disclosure – this is a client – but also a GREAT treat to “sip, spoon, spread or melt” as they say. All natural and made without high fructose corn syrup – Chalmers Ganache has come out with a great Taste Trio – a jar of each flavor [Luxe Dark, Ultra Mint, and Mucho Mayan Spice] presented in a swanky brown sueded gift box with a Chalmers blue grosgrain ribbon. Available online and at select specialty food retailers like Naples Gourmet Grocer in Long Beach and Southern Whole Foods Market locations – it’s around $29.99 and makes a sumptuous gift!

Dynamic Dish here in Atlanta has a select few grocery items. It’s an amazingly-curated collection of lovely food items and vintage serving pieces in an organic deli/market on Edgewood Avenue in the historic Sweet Auburn neighborhood. In fact, charming chef/owner David Sweeney clips the fresh rosemary he uses from the bushes at MLK’s Ebenezer Baptist. One of my favorite finds – and at under $5 a great value – is Caber's Seasonello.

From Bologna, Italy - it's an aromatic mix of sea salt, rosemary, garlic, sage and pepper in a shaker jar. The heady blend is just great to sprinkle on veggies before roasting – or to just add a quick seasoning to whatever you’re cooking – this makes a delicious, uncommon gift.

This little treat is more for creating “In” than eating. But the darling ramekin-sized silicone bowls from Le Creuset make a swell prezzy!

Called “pinch bowls” they can be put to use as any ramekin to create the perfect mise en place – and the squeezed to add your ingredients to the dish you’re creating! I found the four-piece set for $9.95 on I am sure they’re also wherever Le Creuset is sold. Neat!

Sights, sounds, sharing…

New favorite person alert!

Not only am I thrilled to be a part of the ATL and love my new home – but – I’ve begun to meet some swell new folks as well. Dejie Johnson is an amazing singer and groovy gal. Her CD is just splendid and ripe with standards. The former voice of both Judy Jetson and Josie (yes – of the Pussycats) – brings it on her CD. Check her out and take a listen. Great gal. Great gift!

What can I say about the woman who guided me up Mulholland Drive and down in high style? Lisa Shaw, oft a muse for Stellar Spanish DJ Miguel Migs, and her long-awaited solo debut album “Cherry” is just one more addition to lush, sexy deep house from Naked Music. This makes a chill gift for your favorite groovster and the soundtrack for a sexy evening! Listen to samples at and purchase for $16.98 at YUM!

Gift cards – are obvious – but do you have a favorite store that you wish all your friends supported? Check and see if they offer gift cards or certificates. I LOVE Aldi and would LOVE to take everyone there and let them spend a little to get a lot. I even wrote about a special shopping trip I made to this fun Euro import. Introduce your friend and family to your favorite things with a gift card.

Are all great ideas, numbers and notes jotted on bar napkins? One fun gift idea believes so...

At $6.99 from the MOMA store – the napkin note book is as fun as it sounds and a nifty little gifty.

See above – but the little $3.99 size of Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps Peppermint Pure-Castile Soap Liquid would be a great introduction and a perfect stocking stuffer.

And…in the gift card vein – did you know for $4 you can custom-design a Starbucks card for your favorite caffeinator?! Check it out at

Monday, December 3, 2007

Quick, Fun Party Idea - Why Didn't I Think of That?!

Credit where credit is due... I saw this walking down the street this morning on my way to get coffee...

Someone had taken a children's foam, alphabet puzzle mat and spelled out "Alans Party" in the puzzle was affixed to their balcony along with similarly colored balloons.

LARGE bold type...colorful and fun... What a GREAT idea for your next soiree... Imagine "BRUNCH HERE" or "COCKTAILS" or "BON VOYAGE" Fun!

Not sure Colin Cowie would approve... But - I do!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Sharing a table... Sharing memories...

At the risk of being a me-too on this day, I thought I’d take a moment to reflect on meals, emotions, friends and family.

What really got me thinking were two events of the past week… The first that triggered reflection was the passing of Martha Stewart’s beloved mother. Granted – the passing of a 93-year-old isn’t shocking – per se – but this sturdy stalwart was oft at Ms. MSLO’s side and seemed quite vigorous. She also seemed full of joy. Made me pause…

The second event this week that got my gears turning was more sad news I came across online while googling a chef/restaurant I was particularly fond of and learning of his death - too young for a brilliant talent.

Joel and Catherine Findlay owned and operated one of the best restaurants I’ve ever been to – 302 West in Geneva, Illinois. Having left Chicago in 1999 I would occasionally think about the striking, simple room – the restaurant was houses in a vintage bank building – one entered the wine room (if I’m recall correctly) through the bank’s giant safe door. The clean, prairie-inspired, Man-Ray-accented room was soaring and deceptively reserved.

This couple, clearly mad about each other, brought the refined part to diners and caring, involved staff, every day – he - the chef – she - the pastry chef and sexy hostess.

Though I never attended their famous [infamous] sybaritic New Year’s events – Chef several times regaled me with stories of thus lush, joyous evenings.

My mother and I shared a fun, indulgent lunch there that I suspect neither of us will ever forget. MMMM…malted chocolate terrine… They were as passionate about dessert and coffee as they were about every part of the meal. "The last flavor you experience is as important as the first," I recall one of the pair telling me.

Today as I prepare a simple meal in my fab new Atlanta digs, I’m thankful for life, laughter and endless opportunity. I’m thankful for hundreds of beautiful meals with loving friends. Indeed – many of my most treasured memories are of spectacular meals with spectacular company.

A quick – though not exhaustive – list of spots where I’ve shared swell times include: Stein’s in Lyons, The Bakery in Chicago, Come Back Inn in Melrose Park, Barrington Country Bistro in, well, Barrington, Zuni in San Francisco, Chanterelle in New York, Nobu and Hank’s in Las Vegas, Tupelo Honey in Sea Cliff, Bea’s and St. John’s in Chattanooga, and sooooooo many more - all tables of joy and memory. Happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Service with a shrug©

Perhaps it’s my Midwestern upbringing…or my years of retail service…that lead me to the brink of exasperation lately.

When did it become acceptable to just bark numbers and instructions at people?

When did it become acceptable for that to be acceptable?

When did it become acceptable to respond to a “thank you” with “no problem?”

I suppose it’s too much to ask that people don’t wear their pajamas to the market. And – I’m sure my father’s lament about “dungarees” on Michigan Avenue is somewhat anachronistic. But – when even basic courtesies fall by the wayside – we’re in trouble.

Over the years I’ve peddled goods and food at retailers and restaurants including:
-a Kimball organ store (Yep – I played the organ in the center court of Springfield’s While Folks Mall)
-Ardan’s (a sort of Service Merchandise knock-off)
-Le Bistro Café (OY – don’t ask about “Le Café Café”)
-Younkers (Iowa’s department store)
-Things, Things, Things (a true Iowa City original and one of the coolest mini-department stores I’ve ever encountered)
-Charmers Market (one of the best gourmet shops I’ve ever seen)
-Von Maur (a small delusional department store company)
-Marshall Field’s
-The Sock Market (a debacle best undiscussed)
-Barneys New York
I’ve mostly given good, informed service. I’ve always worked hard.

SO – I am taken aback when placing a drive-thru order and all that’s barked at me is a number. “One Fifty.” Is the young person on the other side of the talking box guessing my weight? Alas…she’s way off! Is that the total of my purchase? Is it that late already? How much harder would it be to say “Your total is one-fifty, please pull around?”

What’s most troubling is that the fast food service standard is permeating upward. Not that one expects stellar service at mid-level restaurants or stores – but when cashiers at Target are conversing with each other rather than greeting customers – it’s time to rethink.

I am a HUGE Target fan. Their come from is entirely different from the filthy mess that is most K-Mart stores and the maddening monster that is Wal-Mart. I expect no service at the latter two – but – I do at Target.

Target came from department store roots. Dayton’s (Minneapolis’ flagship retailer) has sadly been gobbled up by Federated and been Macy’d. Dayton’s – which when Target really got wings - was dumped along with Hudson’s and Marshall Field’s by the Dayton-Hudson Corporation – now Target Corp. - was a fine retailer. Along they way they decided to delve into a lower-price strategy. Target was the result. But – it was created with a department store mentality and philosophy – which is still evident today. Laura Rowley – in her energetic book On Target tells more about this stellar player in the retail world.

What sets them apart, like Whole Foods Market [though they'd better keep an eye on customer service as the grow so large] and The Container Store – is that though you may be shopping for essentials – you still end up spending more time there. It’s pleasant. Conventional grocer Publix is on this track. Conventional grocer Kroger, however, is not.

But what really sets anyone selling anything apart is service. Period. Anyone can sell groovy goods in a pleasant environment. Unless the service is up to snuff, will people return? I don’t know.

I do know that it seems lately when you encounter good service it comes as a tremendous shock. We’ve become so accustomed to the barking and disinterested indifference (alas – even our local IKEA suffers from this service malaise in most areas) that when someone is polite or even a little professional it’s jarring.

Which is why I’ve been so pleasantly surprised by a couple of experiences of late. One – that with a little thought – makes sense. One that’s a real surprise. I’d forgotten the superb service standards that the American monolith (no, not Wal-Mart – the other one) has when I pulled up to a local [newly remodeled] McDonalds to get a Diet Coke. The “please” and “thank you” responses were like a symphony to my weary ears! So – despite Supersize Me – I will be returning for a beverage now and then and even try their upcoming coffee drinks - AND perhaps a nice salad now and then... AND... can't beat their fries!! The wild surprise was at my local Taco Bell – at the corner of Ponce and Crack – which is indeed whack! What a delightful experience at their drive-thru (yes…I do eat fast food – it’s really handy when you’re just starting a new business and a little cash-poor). The pleasant welcome... The informative recap… The invitation to pull around... I was in customer heaven. Cheers to this particular location for getting it right.

So as we work on our business plans, marketing strategies and all that – remember – it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing. Well – you get the idea. Slick packaging and hot store design don’t add up without service. Spend the time and energy to hire service-oriented people and train them. Train them. Train them!

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

What I would've said...

SO...I always think of the best things that I'd like to shout out my car window - or bellow at a passerby on the sidewalk... Since the timing just seems to be off... this will be my forum for the occasional outburst!

#1 - HEY ANGRY "PUNK"'re scowl and bravado is hard to take seriously as you speed off in your champagne-colored Buick Century!!!!

There. I feel better.

Stay tuned.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Monday Monday...

just a little light on a crisp Monday afternoon...

"Our deepest fear is NOT that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, NOT our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?' Actually, who are you NOT to be? Your playing small does not serve the world.

There is nothing enlightening about shrinking so that other people won't feel unsure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory...that is within us. It is not just in some of us, IT IS WITHIN EVERYONE! As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."

-from Nelson Mandela's 1994 Inaugural Address

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Simple acts of kindness... or at least common courtesy

Well...not to go all Pollyanna...but...

It's a harsh world. People are in a hurry...they're thoughtless and careless - certainly more so in America's big cities. I live in one of those.

As I struggle to get my consultancy going and get settled in my magnificent new city, little things resonate louder than ever.

Some things to consider:
-Turn indicators are named turn indicators for a reason. THEY INDICATE YOUR TURN. Use them and you won't get hit! It's just polite. AND - probably THE LAW?!

-As India.Arie's song "There's Hope" says: "It doesn't cost a thing so smile. You don't have to pay to laugh." Remember that when you pass someone in the grocery store or perhaps the sidewalk [though I know this does violate my DNE - do not engage - rule] a simple smile can go a long way to making wherever you live a better place.


-FOR THE LOVE OF GOD EXCUSE YOURSELF when you block someone's way or bump into them. I am SHOCKED by how many people over 40 [likely about when this particular form of manners stopped being taught - and therefore anyone that looks under 40 gets a pass since few have any manners whatsoever.] just plod along and expect YOU to move. I was horrified by the matronly St. John knit-wearing broad that shoved her way past me at Saks this last weekend. So much so that I loudly exclaimed "NO, excuse ME!" Gross.

-When did it become appropriate business etiquette to completely ignore E-mail? Spam is spam - don't get me wrong. But it's simply rude to ignore what are clearly thoughtful business correspondences personally addressed. Perhaps craft a standard "Thanks, but - no, thanks" response - or just take a moment to acknowledge receipt of the communique. Digitizing everything has led to poor manners - to be sure. Unsolicited crap is one thing. But - when it's clear that someone took the time to write to you for some reason. Take 3 seconds and respond. Simple as that. Whether you're bombarded with pitched from PR firms or responses to a job posting remember that one day it'll be YOUR E-mail that's ignored.

-NOW for the good news and what prompted this posting... I popped into a local grocer to pick up a few things to complete a meal I'm making this evening. With a limited budget and sense of trepidation - I approached the butcher case. The lovely young woman with the dreads and killer smile asked if she could help... I asked about the spicy Italian sausage (making pasta tonight)...she weighed a couple - which turned out to be more than I had intended to spend. I asked for just one. She asked me if I'd ever had this particular sausage. I told I had not - but had enjoyed several of the different chicken sausages they made. She smiled and told me that the second one was on the house as I should enjoy the flavor. Well...I tell eyes almost welled up. I think thanked her with the most warm appreciation I could offer and smiled and went on my way. Not earth-shattering news. Just a WILDLY pleasant experience that COMPLETELY turned my day around. Think about it as you navigate through your day and smile.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, October 26, 2007

No Pickles, No Rachael, Extra, Extra Mayo...

So I thought she was a little overexposed of late. But...enjoyed her $40 visit to Chattanooga - though she missed some of the real deals!

But NOW, well, she's gone to far!

[from People Magazine]

Someone brought this to my attention and I have to say that Ms. Ray is dead to me.

Those who know me, know I L O V E mayonnaise. While I admit to a youthful indiscretion with Miracle Whip - now - it's the tangy goodness - the [as Joey would say] "moistmaker" mayo that rocks my condiment world. And - I've met a delightful new Southerner named Duke.

Anyway - I may wax poetic about my condiment of choice another time - but had to speak out against this culinary injustice.


Thursday, October 25, 2007

Don't postpone joy...

"All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the

dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity:

but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act

their dream with open eyes, to make it possible."

—T. E. Lawrence from "Seven Pillars of Wisdom

Admittedly the last season of Roseanne was a little out there. dissatisfying as the last episode was [though it neatly tied up some loose ends] ended with this quote. And it stuck with me. I tracked it down. I thank Roseanne for bringing it to my attention. Words of beauty and inspiration indeed.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Chattanooga Ciao Ciao...answering the questions many have asked why I relocated.'s an article I was drafting for the Chattanooga Pulse (think Village Voice or Creative Loafing) but decided against publishing. Except - now - I'm publishing it here as some sort of cathartic cleanse - if you will. It's pretty there. It's affordable there. But there are issues... Here then is the article:

Looking back on a rocky road in the Scenic City – a tale for friends and family

Here we are two and a half years later. I have bid adieu to the ‘noog. It is not without sadness that I leave this little city on a river. I have met some of the most intriguing, wonderful, loving people here. I have also encountered the most backward, judgmental, hateful people as well. The city has come a long way from being what Walter Cronkite called “the filthiest city in America.” Unfortunately – things seem to have stalled. There are probably innumerable factors that have slowed or even halted, really, the great momentum of CHA. The great publisher of this paper (one of my first, key indicators that I could live here and one of the city’s undervalued treasures) said – “when you pull out – we’re going to give you a full page.” Well…I don’t want to take all your time and have decided that those who get it, know it – those who don’t, won’t. [This story is, therefore, a private rant for those I love or who are interested] I have pulled together some bullet points outlining the key reasons I had to go…in no particular order – some will include a little explanation – some will be painfully obvious – some, I suppose, may be cryptic.

o June Griffith – Chattanooga’s favorite hatemonger

o Mayor DooLittle – what’s Ann Coulter up to? Period costumes? Really?

o Parking meter madness – I don’t believe I’ve ever been ANYWHERE that has meters that run on the weekend – and certainly not until 11 PM. Way to annoy and discourage residents and visitors alike!

o 81% of the people of this state voted to exclude their friends and neighbors from enjoying the same rights as them.

o Zach Wamp

o The fact that a liberal republican and conservative democrat had to run as mirrors of whom they really are.

o Now - Berke vs. Brock. Really?

o McBayliePS – does it really matter where you went to high school once you’re over 20 years old? Really? REALLY?

o “Do what?” Has everyone forgotten the phrases “pardon me?” or perhaps “excuse me?” even “huh” sounds less dumb. “Beg Pardon” is charming. Incidentally – most times the other person hasn’t asked you to “do” anything.

o CNE (Chattanooga Neighborhood Enterprise) and the most inept building management I’ve ever encountered.

o The insanely artificially-inflated downtown housing market.

o Building a hobo mall doesn’t address the multiple car break-ins and regular aggressive panhandling on Market St. – or as it’s known the intersection of Super-fancy & Ghetto.

o Getting assaulted and beaten in the bathroom of a favorite hangout by ignorant, drunk frat boys.

o Little chance of growing my business – attention local businesspeople – if you hire expert consultants with lots of experience. Listen to them and pay your bills. You are not the only company that does what you do and quite possibly you are not the best one on the planet. (on a personal note: asking to be paid for delivered work product prior to undertaking additional work on a project nine months past due - is not walking away from said project – mkay?!)

o Patten Towers

o The notable lack of a middle class

o Very little chance of dating – this is a great town if you’re married or partnered (or 19 and want to have 10,000 babies).

o The single most negative colleague I’ve ever worked with and the primary reason I left my job and therefore eventually CHA…

o The Drive-Thru Bank district (or DriBa – as it’ll likely be branded!). Still need another one in that lot Berry, Hunt & Yarbrough? “Districts” in general, in a city this size. TriPoints (Tripe-O?)?

o Float a bond and buy out several of the Republic Parking properties to offer free (first hour only) and reasonable parking downtown or forget retail development. Take a look at how Savannah handles their parking for example.

o Mediocrity that passes for competence. Just because you’re the only one that does something or you’re funded by old money doesn’t mean you’re the best or even good.

o In The City Quasi-governmental entities that operate with public funding and in cahoots with a commercial entity shouldn’t be allowed to compete against competitors of said company.

o Less God. More Mod. No more regressive decisions based on "the Lord." No more TV stations deciding what Chattanoogans can or should watch. No more two steps forward and three steps back... I realize it's the buckle of the belt...but ya’ll are in serious danger of being left behind. Prospective residents and companies may begin to (or continue to) shy away if we continue our - sometimes disrespectful, exclusive, decidedly un-Christian, judgmental - ways. Believe and worship as you wish – but – if it continues to be crammed down people’s throats – Chattanooga will be nothing but a picturesque, moribund, backwards Southern city.

I’m proud of my time here. I think I accomplished a great deal. I think I made a positive impact on the people and businesses I encountered. I think I wrote some nifty articles for this paper. You may think this sounds like sour grapes – but let me assure you – they were sweet and fruity when I got here (insert whatever joke you wish here). There are some remarkable retailers and restaurants – and I’ve celebrated them in the pages of the Pulse… Anyway - this should give ya’ll something to ponder, discuss, argue about. In the words of Project Runway’s Tim Gunn: “Make it work people!”

Alas…it’s time for me to go. And when I speak of Cha Cha – and I will – I will be kind. I’m outta here.

So...that's why. It's nice to be back in the big city.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

A little Friday inspiration...

My friend Tony sent me this GREAT quote...

TGIF Ya'll!

"I've dreamt in my life dreams that have stayed with me ever after,
and changed my ideas; they've gone through and through me, like
wine through water, and altered the color of my mind."

-Emily Bronte

Monday, October 8, 2007

A few of my favorite words...

As I work to determine what this will be and why I'm doing it - I am utilizing the process of elimination to figure out what it won't be.

Will I comment on Bjork's next ostrich gown - should another pop up? Sure. But - will I be a snarky hanger-on a la Perez? No. It always irks me when someone that makes Michael Ailig look like George Will deigns to tell people how to dress or act and such...though there are many out there doing so that should look in the mirror.
In fact, the only "fashion experts" I seem to like anymore are Stacy and Clinton.

This also won't be some snotty, pretentious, uptight foodie blather. I've promoted and marketed some of the finest restaurants in New York (Jean-Georges, Chanterelle...) and was the national PR manager for Whole Foods, but I won't gush about Star Provisions' truffle burger at the expense of Checkers - real "foodies" appreciate both. Don't get me wrong, I adore Star Provisions and their meats and cheeses are simply astounding. I do, however, also love Aldi.

Public relations and marketing are a big part of my life - so I'll likely talk about that. Though - there will be no "tipping points" or other "salesulizations" or "aspirational" buzz speak.

Read at your own risk. Tell me what you want to know what I think about...

As the "About me" section says: "I watch too much TV, drink Diet Coke, think $300 jeans are absurd - but will pay $5 for my coffee drink experience [go figure]*, can't schmooze but can chat up a storm and occasionally make you laugh. For some reason people seek my style (fashion and home) advice. For some reason I LOVE giving it [apple...tree...thanks Mom]. I'm new to Atlanta and ready to share my warped ramblings about the world."

Here we go...

* - in case you wondered - it's an iced quad venti sugar-free hazelnut nonfat (or breve) latte...