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Thursday, July 31, 2008

RWA Nationals 2008 - Wednesday

It occurs to me that I'm probably not the best or most informative person to be blogging Nationals. Disclaimer: If you're looking for the inside scoop on who's here, who's pitching, and in-depth analysis of workshops, this may not be the blog for you. While the good conference attendees were attending Leadership Seminars (formerly the Chapter Presidents Retreat) and checking out the Book Fair and Goody Room, I spent most of yesterday shopping in Chinatown with Kristen Painter. It was actually our second trip; Tuesday afternoon was our inaugural visit with the much larger and more boisterous crowd of Lara Santiago, Anna Whose Last Name I Don't Remember So I Couldn't Link To Her--Sorry!, and Rocki St. Claire.

On Tuesday, we bought beautiful Chinese silk patterned tops to wear to the Chinatown-themed RWAOL chapter party and had delicious dim sum. On Wednesday, Kristen realized she'd been so focused on the top she'd neglected to buy a t-shirt for her husband, and I realized I had the opposite of buyer's remorse over a pair of sunglasses I'd lusted over. I'm so much more likely to regret NOT buying something--why isn't there a term for that? Anyway, we obviously had to go back. This time we were completely successful and also had some of the best Chinese food I've ever tasted at the Empress of China restaurant, a Chinatown institution. Best potsticker I ever ate, with shaved lemongrass on top, and a prawn dish that involved a light batter, shredded cabbage, and candied walnuts all tossed in mayo. I know, but trust me, it tastes better than it sounds.

Then we went back to the hotel and "wrote" in the lobby. Essentially, we spread ourselves over a seating area off the bar, opened up our laptops, and talked to everyone who came by. Okay, fine, that was just me. Kristen and Lara, who joined us, actually both wrote tons. I just suck. But I hadn't seen Naughty Kate yet, and I had to take the opportunity to flag her down and make sure she was coming to the RWAOL party! And to harangue Jen Rementer into buying a Chinese silk dress for the same event! Very important stuff.

The Literacy Signing was a blast, as it always is if you don't try to actually buy any books or wait in that horrible line. We did a lap and talked to all our favorite authors: Gena Showalter, Jill Monroe, Kresley Cole, C.L. Wilson, Marley Gibson, Roxanne St. Claire, and of course, the incomparable Deidre Knight. News from the ladies? Ok, here goes.
Gena: Made a gorgeous one-of-a-kind original bracelet for Kresley with her own face all over it, and was upset that Kresley was a bit late to the signing and not giving the jewelry the exposure it deserved.
Jill: Let us know that there a quite few Author Talks in our future (yay!) as conference is a pretty good time to get three busy authors together in one location.
Kresley: Was late. But when she did show up, she was wearing the stunning Gena Showalter creation, so all was forgiven.
C.L.: Converted a fine art nature painter to the dark side with one of her bestselling Tairen novels, and now the artist is asking permission to use the books as her muse.
Marley: Went on a ghost hunt in Louisville before she got to Nationals, and for someone who hadn't slept in 24 hours, she looked damn good. We can't wait to read her Ghost Hunter YA novels!
Rocki: Was the first author we encountered who completely sold out of her books. What can we say? The woman has a ton of fans. Some of whom she'd just met the previous day in Chinatown. Seriously, true story, we were chatted up by these retired ladies visiting SF from who-knows-where and Rocki invited them to the Literacy Signing, made sure they knew where it was and everything. And we forgot all about it. But those ladies didn't! Rocki said they were the first people in line for her and bought everything they could get their hands on. Proof that hand selling really does work, people!
And finally Deidre: Who looked amazing in an adorable mocha and white polka dot dress, is running a truly fabulous promotion for her upcoming new Midnight Warriors series. Check it out, I guarantee you've never seen anything like it!

This post is getting out of control, so I'm going to save the rockin' RWAOL party for later. I do have some pics, though, so stay tuned!

Monday, July 28, 2008

RWA National Conference 2008 - The Ferry Building

When Mark Twain said that the coldest winter he ever spent was a summer in San Francisco, he wasn't just whistling Dixie. Sweaters are a must (I like cardigans for ease of layering) and be sure to bring a pair or two of long pants. Seriously, even when it's sunny and gorgeous out, as it was on Saturday when we enjoyed the hell out of the fantabulous farmers' market at the Ferry Building, it's still cold in the shade.

The Ferry Building is just unbelievably cool. I can't say enough about it. We've been there twice in three days, and I fully intend to go again when the outdoor farmers' market tents are set up again. they only come out Saturday and Tuesday, so if you get to SF anytime between 10 and 2 on Tuesday, I suggest you head straight for the waterfront and some of the best and most tempting food I've ever been involved with. Seriously, I would move here just to go to this market every week. To the left are Mama and Daddy enjoying an amazing open-face sandwich which tuna lox, homemade cream cheese spread, roasted golden beets, thinly sliced red
onions and a sprinkling of walnuts. We'd already had breakfast when we happened across this stall, and everyone said we'd get one to share because no one wanted more than a single bite. I'm telling you, there weren't even crumbs left. Also consumed that day by my deliriously happy family: cherry turnovers (may contain pits), a ratatouille turnover, and samples of the sweetest nectarines ever from Frog Hollow Farm, and a jar of spiced tomato juice and one of hibiscus lavender lemonade.

On our second trip for lunch yesterday, we browsed through Book Passage Bookstore (where I daydreamed about setting up a book signing during the Saturday Farmer's Market--hey, it could happen!) and an antique culinary store where we saw a complete set of absinthe spoons, before popping into Taylor's Automatic Refresher for lunch. You order at a counter and sit at long wooden tables. It's fast food heaven, with gourmet burgers, tacos, fries and shakes all made using Ferry Building vendor produce. I ordered the special Duck Confit Tacos, pictured right, with a bright mango salsa and shredded cabbage for crunch. Stinger had the Wisconsin burger, which involved cheddar cheese, bacon, and sourdough toast instead of a bun. He was generous enough to share both his amazing Garlic Fries, tossed with pureed parsley and garlic to crisp perfection, and his White Pistachio Milkshake.

We left heavier, but happy. Now on to Napa!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

RWA Nationals 2008: Pre-Conference Hotel Update

I hate to be the bearer of bad tidings, but so far I am NOT IMPRESSED with the San Francisco Marriott. The first sign of ugly things to come was that when we reached our room (sans luggage and after a horrendous day of airline fuckups) it was already inhabited by a large-ish loudly whirring machine that a helpful passing maid told us was to "fresh the air" and get rid of the "bad smell." And indeed, beneath the strong scent of industrial cleaner, a very bad smell was still distincly noticeable. When I call the front desk to ask wtf, the guy's big offer was to come up and remove the maching.

Uh, no. New room, please.

So fine. Ensconced in our new room, full of the extra bedtime pillow chocolates the sweet maids had given us, we went to bed and dreamed hopefully about out bags all making it to the hotel. Which they did. The guys at the bell stand were helpful and efficient. (Are we seeing a trend here? The support staff is great; it's management that sucks.)

Around nine am, just as I was drying my hair and Stinger was emerging from the shower, the lights started to flicker. Water pressure dropped. A few seconds later, all the power went out. For the whole hotel, as it turned out, minus one elevator which became immediate beseiged, and the service elevators, which we snuck onto and rode down to the lobby. Risky, I know, but I wasn't about to walk down 31 flights of stairs. Downstairs, the lobby was chaos, full of people with luggage unable to be checked in and people trapped in an elevator. The only staff trying to help them were--you guessed it--another couple of maids. The management guys were mainly standing around looking harrassed and saying the power will be back on soon. Only that was a big lie. Two hours later, still no power. Very upsetting to Stinger, who was only able to come on this trip on the understanding he'd be released from in-law duty during the mornings to work on his laptop. So we went shopping for a bit, had some lunch and then he went back to the hotel to try his luck again. STILL no power. The power didn't come back on until five that evening.

And has the hotel offered a single thing to compensate for the insane level of inconvenience to their guests? Nope. Instead, we got a note under our door explaining that, due to the power outage, there would be a limited supply of hot water for the next few days. By the time I read that, it was already too late.

So I'm sitting here unclean and fed up, and warning you all to shower before you get here. And maybe pack a flashlight or a couple of candles. Because this might be a rocky conference.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Time to Get Packing

I'm leaving for San Francisco! The Golden Gate City! And probably some other nicknames I don't know!

Nick and I are flying out this afternoon for a weekend of fun and tourism and shopping and FOOD before the RWA National Conference begins. At least, I hope Nick is coming--it's still a little up in the air. His department is launching a new website next week, and apparently this is a critical time full of stress and last minute questions. Or whatever. So keep your fingers crossed for me.

Either way, though, I intend to have a smashing time. We're on the waiting list at Chez Panisse and the French Laundry, but since I don't expect anything to come of that, we also have reservations at a highly recommended little Greek place, Kokkari Estiatorio, an old favorite of ours, Bix, and a local favorite, Fish and Farm. I'm probably most excited about that last one. Described as "New American Seafood and Artisan Meats," Fish and Farm's menu takes advantage of the abundance of local produce available, with tempting dishes like:

and side dishes like:

Yes. Please. Give it to me now. (Also, from the menu items I chose to highlight, can you tell I like salt?)

I'll try to remember to take pictures of all the food, but honestly, if it's really good I might not remember. It's been months since I've had anything sublime to eat that I didn't have to make with my own hands, and I plan to enjoy it to the hilt.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

I survived!

The Event is over at last, and I made it through! I believe it was a resounding success--lots of happy guests and chefs. My own bit of it, the auctions, made more money than last year (lasted about three times as long as scheduled, too, which was tiring) and got me up on stage with Iron Chef Michael Symon, Bob Waggoner of Charleston Grill, Marcel Vigneron (who now sports a full beard, almost bushy, which is surprisingly becoming on him), Celina Tio, and Lee Anne Wong (who looks great and is a total doll--she really sold her auction item, man. She had ME wanting to bid on it.)

The only item I actually came close to bidding on was a last minute addition from our friends at the Food Network: exclusive VIP tickets to Iron Chef 2009, to be filmed in Manhattan, with a VIP tour of the studios and kitchens. But wait! There's more. It totally snowballed; Chef Joel Antunes, a very fine French chef who is taking over the fabled but declining Oak Room at the Plaza Hotel, offered dinner for 4 at his restaurant for the VIP guests. And during bidding, Michael Symon agreed to have lunch with the winners while they were in NY. I know, right? I would've been willing to pay thousands. Unfortunately, there were people (people who'd been drinking wine all night) willing to pay much more than I was, and that particular package went for almost the highest amount of the evening. The largest single bid was for a private dinner for twenty prepared by Charlie Trotter and his entire team.

And all the proceeds benefit Veggie U! My sweet little nonprofit children's education program. Well, I say "my" program. I've actually downgraded to volunteer status, now that I've got a book deal and am supposedly writing every day. Don't tell my editor, but it's been about two weeks since I managed to do anything that wasn't auction related. And this whole week has been spent catching up on bills and other stuff that had piled up. Oh, and on auction stuff. That's right! It's not quite over yet. We still have to track down the folks who won things but haven't paid for them yet, so that's ongoing.

By the end of this week, though, I'm out of it. Leaving for sunny San Francisco on Friday, to hang out for the weekend with Stinger, my parents (who are insane and have driven all the way from Texas to California) and my sister. Then...RWA National Conference! And all the accompanying madness, drinking, networking, and cleavage shots.

I know. I can't wait either.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Remember This Guy?

Apparently, he's a very memorable Top Chef contestant? I wouldn't know, since I've so far managed to avoid that particular crack pipe, but I'm thinking I should maybe start DVRing past episodes of Top Chef. In the interests of preparation.

Because in a week, I'm going to be meeting him. That's right, Marcel Vigneron is coming to Ohio! He's not such a freak as that makes him sound, though--next week, nearly 40 top flight chefs from around the country are flocking to my little neck of the woods for the annual Food & Wine Celebration hosted by our local organic veggie producer to the stars, the Chef's Garden. Figures no less illustrious than Thomas Keller, Charlie Trotter, and Alain Ducasse have sat on the board of that company and used the Chef's Garden vegetables in their restaurants. The Culinary Vegetable Institute is the marketing arm of the farm, a gorgeous state of the art kitchen and facility where chefs can come to stay and play with the product. I work for Veggie U, the nonprofit wing of the syndicate. The Food & Wine Celebration is a fundraiser for the Veggie U program, which goes into elementary schools to teach kids about nutrition and sustainable agriculture.

So that's the background. But the important thing is that this year's event is all about food reality shows. Lee Ann Wong will also be attending and the emcee for the event is 2007's Iron Chef winner (and local Cleveland golden boy) Michael Symon. An enormous tent is set up on the lawn and the forty chefs and wine vendors set up booths where they cook little tastings for the 1,000 or so guests who show up in their garden party best to swill wine, watch cooking demos and a Star Chef cookoff competition, and hopefully spend gobs of money bidding in the silent and live auctions (of which I am the chairperson this year.) A rocking good time is had by all, and if you're anywhere near Milan, OH, I highly suggest you call for tickets before they're sold out. You won't regret it! (Check the link for details.)

I may not have lots of time to post between now and the event, but tune in next week for pics and dish on how everything went.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The Right Finalists

I have to admit, Fox is good, man. Every damn week they show these ridiculous highly edited previews for next week's episode of Hell's Kitchen where something completely outrageous happens. Someone smarts off to Gordon! No, someone attacks Gordon! Someone is rushed to the hospital! Someone cuts off his finger and serves it with the pancetta!

It invariably turns out to be bullshit, or at least less dramatic in context than it was in the preview. The finale was no different. Once we found out that the final two would be Christina the Culinary Student/Know-it-All and Gentleman Petrozza the Caterer/Slob, the very next preview showed Chef Ramsay sitting the two hopefuls down in his office and very seriously telling them he's not sure he has the right finalists. And I totally fell for it.

Because I wasn't sure either. I mean, Petrozza is a sweetheart, for sure. The most gracious contestant Hell's Kitchen has ever seen, possible the nicest person ever on a reality show--but that doesn't mean he can run a Ramsay restaurant. In fact, it might just be points against him. Not that a head chef has to be a bastard, but a certain level of assholeishness is anticipated and respected. And Christina! What is she, 20? And we heard a lot about her intimidating intelligence, but I, for one, was not impressed when she responded to Gordon's surprise extra prize of a trip to his new restaurant in Dubai with the question, "Um, where's Dubai?" Seriously. Sure, she showed some smarts and won a lot of challenges, but all that really tells me is that she's good at playing the game.

But Gordon was just messing with their heads, like he likes to do, and the rest of the finale went on as usual except that this time, for the first time, I didn't really have a favorite. Stinger was totally cheering for Petrozza, but I was worried enough by his sort of slapdash approach to his menu and restaurant design to swing back towards Christina. I mean, come on. You've been in the business for 20 years, you come on this show hoping to win it, and you've never thought about what your menu would be? What your place would look like? It made me question how serious he was about it all. Christina is a hard worker, I'll give her that, and she's determined. Service went well for both of them, despite each being saddled with one of the worst, most problematic contestants ever--Christina with Crazy Matt and Petrozza with Sullen Jen. Having to see Jen again almost took the fun out of the finale for me, and I've never seen Gordon want so badly to jump in on the final two and bust some ass in their kitchens. Usually he's content to lie back and watch how his finalists handle it, but there were times last night when I thought he was going to vault over the pass and knock Jen and Matt's heads together.

It felt neck and neck right up until the moment Christina and Petrozza put their hands on those doorknobs, but as soon as Christina popped through I realized I should've seen it coming. Gordon has a history of choosing potential over experience, going all the way back to the first season. He saw something in Christina, and now she gets her shot. I, for one, was relieved to hear that Josh Emett, Chef de Cuisine at the London in New York, will be "supervising" her. Gordon's no dummy.

Now it's all over for another season and my only question is: When is Hell's Kitchen Season Two coming out on DVD???

Monday, July 7, 2008

The Call...That Came a Month Ago

For about five weeks now, I've been sitting on the biggest news of my adult life. Well, my adult career life, anyway. (My actual engagement and marriage might have been slightly more life changing--but only slightly.)

I'm going to be a published author!

St. Martin's Press bought my proposal for a series of chef-hero romance novels set in the New York restaurant world. The first one, Can't Stand the Heat, will be out in Fall 2009 and the others will follow at six-month intervals. Four books in all. I know. I'm still so stoked about it I could just scream. And now I finally can! I can shout it from the rooftops if I want!

I had to wait because The Dream Agent wanted to get Publishers Weekly to run a small piece about the deal, and they don't like to get scooped by bloggers and romance discussion boards. Finally the snippet appeared in today's issue, releasing me from my torturous silence, and I can finally say how utterly thrilled and excited and happy and scared and overjoyed I am! For shameless reveling in the memory of The Call, scroll down.

The Dream Agent called me on me cell at work and engaged me in a bunch of semi-pointless chitchat to throw me off. I knew the proposal was out there, of course, and that St. Martin's had it on exclusive until their editorial meeting, but I wasn't expecting to actually hear anything until after that meeting, which was a few days away. But after a bit of this and that, Dream Agent says casually, "Oh, and by the way, St. Martin's loves your book and wants to buy it."

She totally got me. I had to ask her to repeat it, then I squealed so sharply I startled all my coworkers. I ran out back so I could yell and dance around in peace and solitude while Dream Agent filled me in on the details. Things were still being negotiated, decisions had to be made, but all I could really hear or think was "They love it, they want it, they're going to publish it!" To give credit where it's due, Dream Agent predicted the whole thing. As soon as she read the proposal, she said, "Rose Hilliard is going to buy this." And just two weeks later, she was proved absolutely correct. After a little more detail hammering, the deal was done and I was the happiest girl on the planet.

The End! Except for the part where it's really only The Beginning, because first I have to finish writing it and then it goes out into the wide world for other people to read and love or hate and then who knows? But this is the end of The Call. I edited out the parts where I sobbed with gratitude and called Dream Agent a genius and an angel. I'm sure you're thankful.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Just in Time

Meg really lucked out. Yesterday we had some of the loveliest weather I've ever seen in Ohio, sunny and breezy and not too hot. It was gorgeous, and we enjoyed it to the fullest.

While it lasted. It clouded over in the evening as we were on our way to the movies to see Get Smart (I'll post on that later), and by the time we left the theater, sides and cheeks aching from laughing too much, the mother of all thunderstorms had started. It's still raining now, sheets of rain blowing hard against the windows and freaking out my neurotic little dog. And a friend of ours in the town we used to live in (15 minutes away) sent this picture, taken this morning. The house on the left was our first post-wedding home. The tree was ours, too.All I can say is, it's a miracle no one was hurt. And I'm so damned thankful we sold that house, I can hardly breathe.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Another Birthday Post

Today, Miss Deborah Harry turned 63, and my mind was totally blown.

Debbie Harry! 63! Not that that's ancient or anything (60 is totally the new 40), but she's got to be one of the only progenitors of the punk rock movement still alive and kicking. Nearly all the Ramones are dead, I think the Sex Pistols kicked it decades ago. Okay, so Siouxsie Sue and the rest of the Banshees were alive enough to reunite for five minutes back in 2002, but still.

Debbie Harry is 63. Happy Birthday, baby! You're still gorgeous.

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