Monthly Archives: March 2015

Photo Friday: Anglophile Therapy

Sometimes, when I feel in a funk, I nurture my inner anglophile and I feel better. Try it sometime. My technique is to turn on some good ol’ Doc Martin, drink tea, and–when I get serious–make some clotted cream. I also flash back to our road trip through southwest England two summers ago. Considering I have some cream clotting up nicely in the fridge at the moment, I decided I would pull you into my flashback with some photos from the journey. Enjoy!

We began our journey in Oxford where my sister had just finished her study abroad program.

Needless to say, it was very grand.

Detour in the Cotswolds. Yes, places like this actually exist.

Getting our Jane Austen kicks in Bath.

Getting our Roman kicks at the Baths in Bath.

My Father holding the land of his forefathers.

Thoroughly wowed by Wells cathedral.

The Well of Wells.

PROOF! We found my great great great grandparents’ grave!

Dartmoor National Park. Yep.

The land of my ancestors.

Where ponies roam…

Up for a stroll?

Where fairies come from…

Holiday by the Sea.

That’s what I’m talkin’ ’bout. Devon Cream Tea.

 

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Tidbits from the Wise, #4

As I’ve mentioned, I am in the midst of reading many books at once. Not the best habit, but little else feeds the mind or fuels the creativity so well as a variety of voices sharing their wisdom. Therefore I’m doing a series sharing tidbits from these works in the hope it gives you some mental fuel. This is Part 3. See Part 1 on Friendship. Part 2 on Philosophy. Part 3 on Poetry

Tidbit #4: On Experience Engineering

“Whatchya reading?” I asked Josh, who wasn’t paying attention to the TV show we were watching. He looked up from is phone and said, “Oh, just this article talking about how Disney cast members have to barf inside their costumes if they get sick. There is no excuse for breaking that experience.”

I laughed, but I was not surprised. Both Josh and I have read a good deal about the renowned Disney code of customer service. They excel at making sure no trash stays on the ground, that no backstage door is ever left open, and that no two cast members in the same costume ever appear in the same place at the same time. They guard that sense of magic to a frightening level, even to the point that they would rather clean up vomit in the inside of Jiminy Cricket’s mask than let a child see the human within.

As charming as I’m sure you find this idea, we have to admit there is something admirable about the scrutiny with which Disney works to create experiences for its customers. Why is it that Disney stands alone amongst theme parks for quality? Why is it that families dream and save for years just to walk through its gates? Why is it that my in-laws can visit the parks every single year and still have a magical time? The answer: Disney goes beyond the rides and the merchandise; they have analyzed every step their visitors take and asked themselves, ‘How can we make that step more pleasant?’ 

The good news is that Disney does not have a corner on the market on experience creation. Any of us can ask this question about our customers or clients. What’s more, it looks like we might not survive in this economy if we fail to ask these questions and respond creatively. More and more, businesses are realizing that customers don’t just want stuff or services; they want good experiences. One of the many books I’m reading now, Change by Design, by Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO, discusses this shift. He describes how our consumer culture now expects businesses not only to meet basic needs but to create emotional resonance. “When we sit on an airplane, shop for groceries, or check into a hotel, we are not only carrying out a function but having an experience.” He goes on:

“The Walt Disney Company may be the clearest example of an experience business, and we should not assume that it is only about entertainment. Experiences are deeper and more meaningful. They imply active participation, not passive consumption, which can happen on many different levels. Sitting with your three-year-old daughter as she sings along with The Little Mermaid is an experience that goes well beyond entertainment. A family trip to Disney World may be quite stressful…but most visitors remember it as one of the great experiences of family life. 

“The real meaning of the ‘experience economy,’ then, is not primarily entertainment. The hierarchy of value–from commodities to services to experiences–corresponds to a fundamental shift in how we experience the world, from the primarily functional to the primarily emotional. Understanding this shift, many companies now invest in the delivery of experiences. Functional benefits alone, it seems, are no longer enough to capture customers or create the brand distinction to retain them.”

Brown goes on to show how Whole Foods, Virgin America Airlines, and the Mayo Clinic have benefited through engineering their customer’s experiences, proving that it is not just a feature of entertainment. Any of us who have patronized these companies can attest that they feel different, and they feel good, thoughtful, and respectful.  They make it easy for consumers to engage with their services. These companies have correctly identified, empathized with, and acted on these feelings, and therein lies their success.

I hope you find this discussion empowering. This paradigm shift might be a little tricky, as it is easy to say, “I have a great product, and people should want this product because it is great.” The problem is that this is not enough. People want to know why your product is great for them. They want to enjoy the process of learning about your product, purchasing your product, and experiencing it in action. This might be overwhelming, but this is actually good news. Products might not sell themselves, but great experiences will. You want repeat business? You want people getting excited about what you do? I’ve been to Disney World three times, and I expect to go many times more. Whole Foods might be painfully expensive, but I still tingle with culinary possibility just by walking through the door. Why? They’ve hit that emotional resonance. They’ve created a great experience. And so can we.

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Bathing with the Fat Virgin

For a long time my family, and especially my father, dreamt of sailing in the British Virgin Islands. Last week we realized that dream. We sailed from island to island, idyllic beach to idyllic beach, wonder to wonder. It felt like a completely separate reality, an alternate universe. At one point I just started laughing like a Mad Hatter because, try as I might, I could NOT believe I really was there. Either it didn’t exist or I didn’t. I wasn’t even sure who I was. All that mattered was that beach.

White Bay, Jost Van Dyke

The BVIs are particularly well suited for this type of travel as the islands are all relatively very close together. We visited six in a week. Today, I want to tell you about Virgin Gorda, named so supposedly by Columbus who, classy guy he was, thought the island looked like a fat woman on her side. But I digress. My point is that Virgin Gorda is home to a small national park known as The Baths.

At the top of Virgin Gorda

Have you ever wanted to be 10 years old again? To run wild and climb all over stuff and splash around in pools of warm water and make sand castles out of perfectly white sand? This dream can come true. The Baths are a wonder made up of enormous boulders nature somehow managed to stack on top of each other making makeshift caves right by the waters edge. A pathway of sorts leads you through a labyrinth of crevices and caverns, and it didn’t matter whether the people I saw were eight or eighty, they all had the same broad grin stretched across their face. All the inner children come out to play at The Baths. God made us a playground, and none of us were going to waste it.

Here are some pictures of our explorations of The Baths. They hardly do it justice. I just wanted to make sure you all added this place to your list of dream destinations. After all, travel is one of the best tonics to stimulate our imaginations. The world is big and fascinating and beautiful! Get going!

 

 

This is looking up.

 

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Only us explorers…

Do you remember that scene in The Truman Show when the child Truman tells his teacher he wants to be an explorer and she tells him he can’t because there is no where else to explore? It’s a funny moment given the context of the story, as Truman is in fact trapped in an entirely artificial world, but behind our laughter we squirm a little. Don’t we all fear, at least a little bit, that there really is no where else to explore? That we as a people are rapidly approaching a plateau to the world’s mysteries? Well, read these sentences and tell me if you think I made them up:

“An expedition to Honduras has emerged from the jungle with dramatic news of the discovery of a mysterious culture’s lost city, never before explored.”

“…this vanished culture has been scarcely studied and it remains virtually unknown. Archaeologists don’t even have a name for it.”

“For a hundred years, explorers and prospectors told tales of the white ramparts of a lost city glimpsed above the jungle foliage. Indigenous stories speak of a “white house” or a “place of cacao” where Indians took refuge from Spanish conquistadores—a mystical, Eden-like paradise from which no one ever returned.”

“Archaeologists, however, no longer believe in the existence of a single “lost city,” or Ciudad Blanca, as described in the legends. They believe Mosquitia harbors many such “lost cities,” which taken together represent something far more important—a lost civilization.”

I did not make these up. In case you missed it, two weeks ago National Geographic posted this article about the findings of a lost civilization in the jungles of Honduras. This article made me flash back to It’s a Wonderful Life when the young George Bailey tells his future wife, “I’ve been nominated for the National Geographic Society! Only us explorers can get it!” I love his optimism in that scene, and I think we need to stoke that optimism of discovery in ourselves. This article reminds us that there is hope for our inner explorers after all. Cheers!

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Top 5 Recent “Treat Yo Self” Recipes

Happy Birthday to me! I am 29 today. I woke up this morning to discover my hero of a hubby had my favorite breakfast of strawberry nutella crepes ready to go.

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What a man.

I love birthdays. I love making a big deal of other people on their day. Truth be told, I like taking advantage of any excuse to celebrate and do something unusual, especially if it means something tasty. Therefore, on my birthday, I want to spread the love by sharing some delectable dishes I’ve discovered recently, and encourage you, as the Parks and Recreation cast does, to “Treat Yo Self.”

1) Peaches and Creme Crepes 

Last week I was visiting some friends and wanted to make them something delicious for breakfast. I had all the stuff to make this crepe recipe, which is by far the best recipe I have found for this french staple (By the way, if you don’t have brandy, remember that sherry, bourbon, and rum also work; play with the amounts). But what to put inside the crepes? I hunted through their kitchen. No fresh fruit. But what ho! They had an enormous amount of canned peaches. I decided to turn this into a challenge. I sliced up the peaches and simmered them in bourbon, water, and sugar. When they became a little more tender, I added a splash of vanilla. Now for the topping. I searched their fridge. They didn’t have regular cream. They did however have sour cream. I grabbed that, mixed it with milk, sugar and bourbon in a bowl and played with the amounts until I had slightly tangy, slightly sweet creamy drizzle to top the crepes. I’m rather proud of myself. Give it a go!

2) St. Germain Wedding Cocktail 

I first tasted St. Germain at a wedding rehearsal dinner when another friend of the bride whipped up some cocktails using this elixir of elderflowers and champagne. Super simple and magnificent. Josh brought some home on Valentines day and we started getting curious for how else we could use the stuff, which leads me to #3…

3) Orange Champagne Sorbet 

Holy cow, was this easy and spectacular. I’ve never been much for sorbets. Not when there is chocolate to be had. But this sorbet made with fresh squeezed oranges won me over big time. Though we have an ice cream maker, we didn’t end up using it. We just put the mixture in a large ramekin waited for it to ice over in the freezer. Doing it this way gave the sorbet the consistency of an italian ice, which in some ways is more fun than smooth sorbet. We made two changes to this recipe that, I believe, made it a true show stopper. First, we added pieces of orange rind to the simple syrup, giving it a pang of orange zest. Secondly, we added St. Germain liquor right before the mixture went in the freezer. Nom Nom Nom.

4) Homemade Buttermilk Beignets 

As you may remember, I wrote about the Nashville ice storm that stopped the city in its tracks for a week. What it also did was postpone the New Orleans Fat Tuesday dinner party I had planned. The other night we made up for it with shrimp etouffee and buttermilk beignets. I have had mixed results making beignets from scratch, but this recipe is a keeper. I’m pretty sure one of my guests ate ten on his own. Once these suckers were tossed in a paper bag full of powdered sugar, there was little to help us withstand the temptation of the finger-licking goodness of fried dough in its classiest form.

5) Duck Confit 

Valentines Day 2015: The day Josh learned to butcher a whole duck. It was awesome. We pan seared the duck breasts and served them a l’orange. We then took the legs and wings and marinated them overnight before baking them in their own fat for several hours. Following the David Lebovitz’s My Paris Kitchen book has not steered us wrong yet, and this confit recipe was no different. This was REAL food–you know that moment when you realize a combination of ingredients achieves something greater than the sum of its parts? Serious food. Seriously good.

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