Embracing My Suckiness

Some know I used to cook for a living. I’d like to think I was pretty good at it too. I started before the Food Network and all the other cooking shows on TV (save for old Julia Childs and Jacques Pepin shows on PBS and the like), before the internet blew up. Cooking in Tampa was almost like being in a vacuum. You’d see what your peers were doing, maybe find a little time to travel to Miami or New Orleans, but otherwise, we were left to our own curiosity, a few books from some of the chefs on the cutting edge (Mark Miller and the staff at Coyote Cafe, Norma Van Aiken and his contemporaries like Allen Susser & Mark Militello) and the occasional Food & Wine article.

We explored other cuisines via ethnic dining, scoured Oceanic Market for Asian ingredients, the markets of West Tampa for authentic Latin/Caribbean staples, and the open air markets outside the commercial produce market. We were then left to our imagination, creativity, and abilities to marry flavors together.

That was kinda like how it was when I first started building websites. You’d look at someone’s source code. Someone might have written a blog post, or shared a tip in a forum somewhere. You bought Zeldman’s book on HTML standards, or Andy Budd’s CSS Mastery. It was a path of discovery and learning.

Now, in this “age of information”, we (I), am bombarded with all of the latest tricks and best practices, cutting edge designs and techniques. The external pressure to live up to these can be overwhelming. I’m no longer experimenting and discovering on my own, I’m drowning in information. It’s like having an elevator straight to the top of the mountain without experiencing the journey (I think that’s a paraphrase of something I read once about doing LSD, but I digress.)

So what I’m finding is that I’m a deer in the headlights, afraid that I’ll be judged for not using the latest markup techniques. That someone will see my code and think I suck. And rather than embrace my suckiness, learn from it, I freeze. I stare at blank pages in my text editor. Meanwhile, new and more information continues to bombard me from every angle, and the cycle perpetuates.

Today, when I cook at home, I’m not worried about having all the fancy ingredients or flashy sous vide machine. I’m confident in my skills and know the finished dish will look appetizing and taste better. Or, I might just miss the mark, but will recognize what I did wrong or forgot, storing it away in my memory bank or nowadays, jotted into a text file for the next time I make a similar dish. That’s not to say when time permits I don’t use those fancy ingredients or make my pasta from scratch but a good meal shouldn’t be passed up simply because I didn’t have artisanal cheese and didn’t make my pasta from scratch.

So while I struggle to reboot my personal site and convert it to Jekyll, I need to recognize that I don’t have to follow every new trend. So what if it wasn’t built in Sass. The work I put into making it responsive, and FAST is more important in the long run. There are plenty of sites/devs out there that have well structured Sass directories and all the right mixins, but load slow as hell. There is plenty of time in the future to revisit converting it. The end goal for this site isn’t about being a Sass master, but an outlet to share my thoughts and experiences on the web. Why create an artificial hurdle?

Which also means I need to document my failures, as well as successes. Whether that means publicly, or internally. Not only document them, but celebrate them. I need to reconnect with that ambitious kid who would spend every waking hour in the kitchen experimenting, enjoying the journey. Thus starts my journey of documenting this phase of my site.

Classic American Chefs Honored on US Postage Stamps

Celebrity Chef Stamp

Stumbling around the web this evening, came across this limited edition set of 5 American chefs celebrated on US Postage stamps. The one chef that stood out to me was Edna Lewis. I suppose there isn’t another American who personified Southern, low-country cooking more than Ms Lewis, but was still surprised to see her along side Julia Child, James Beard and others. Not surprised as though she doesn’t belong, just that she’s not as much a household name.

When I first started cooking, I stumbled onto her book, In Pursuit of Flavor(note, it doesn’t appear to be still in print, but a Kindle version is available). Its less a book of recipes—though they are in the book—rather more a look into how she cooked. It would be an understatement to say her words in that book shaped the way I approach food even to this day.

I think the names Childs and Beard speak for themselves. I’m not familiar with Felipe Rojas-Lombardi, and am only slightly familiar with Joyce Chen, but if they were deemed to be contemporaries of of Lewis and Child for their cuisines, I will look to learn about their contributions to the American plate.

An Epiphany: How to Finally Resurrect My Cooking Blog

There are probably 6 of you who know me either in real life or online who read my tweets/blog that know that A)I was a chef in another life, B) I have a cooking blog.

Every 9 months or so, I get these grand ambitions to resurrect the blog, but my grandiose visions overwhelm the realities of my daily life, and they never transpire. That’s not to say that I don’t still love food, that I don’t every day in my current profession as a guy who makes and manages web sites (do they still call it webmaster?) use my experiences as a chef, both in the work place dealing with people and changing focus at the drop of a dime, as well as the art itself. It’s ephemeral, here today, gone in 20 minutes, a delicate balance between art and science.Still Life-ish

The epiphany is, keep it simple stupid. It may not surprise 4 of you 6 that I read weekly the Miami Herald, NY Times, Chicago Tribune, LA Times food sections as well as our local über cool food writer Jeff Houck. Not to mention the many tweets and links that come through my streams weekly. I often want to share these, with a short anecdote, or comment. That’s what a couple of my favorite bloggers – Gruber and Kottke – do already. It was really the basis of blogging 6-7 years ago. Then, just maybe then, I won’t feel the overwhelming (self imposed) pressure to write long form. Those can just occur naturally.

My question to the 3 of you still reading this? I should probably not push these to my regular Twitter account, right? I should just tell folks about the re-positioning once it’s done, and let them subscribe to the feed. Possibly create a new Twitter account to push those updates to those who prefer to use Twitter instead of Atom feeds for updates? Should I link directly to the source article, ala Gruber, or simply link in the post with my anecdote ala Kottke?

And full disclaimer, I do have advertising on that site, that despite it’s languishing in purgatory, pays for a significant amount of my hosting costs. That has nothing to do with my desire to kick start the site however, but just want to be clear, ads will continue on the site.

Happy 2010

Perhaps I’m just a sucker for a reason to say things are going to change, but this little flash site to create your 2010 resolution spun one my way that dove tails into the last post I made on this site.

Speaking of the site, to ring in the new year I finally updated Habari, as it was oh, 300+ revisions behind latest commit. Aside from having to upgrade a bunch of plugins from before the XML file as added and the info function removed, it went off without a hitch. I also had to swap out a little code in the tweet template, but otherwise, for a script running off of trunk that hadn’t been svn upped since May, it was pretty damn painless, and a testimony to how stable it really is.

I do have some ideas for my cooking site, inspired by Christian and his 365 days of photos in ‘09. Congrats again for seeing it all the way through!

Perhaps not a dish a day, but maybe one new thing from scratch a week with a post would be a good and realistic goal.

Anyway, may MMX be a shining path of peace and enlightenment paved with prosperity a…I mean, may it fucking suck less than 2009 did, and hopefully we’ll get through it a little less scarred than the last.

Special thanks to Mike Lietz for talking me down from the ledge I was on after I started the upgrade, and especially for showing me the handy svn wildcard command. Most of the plugins I had were already trunk version from the Habari-Extra’s repository, but I thought I was going to have to cd into each one and svn up, he showed me I could do

svn up user/plugins/*

and it would step through the directories and svn them up. Handy!

I’d also like to take a second to thank Rick Cockrum for keeping the ball moving this past summer/fall on the development side of things, I’m really looking forward to digging into the new taxonomy system, especially as I build out the cooking site.

Blog Designs, Function or Form?

This started out as a simple comment on Rachel’s design blog, but started getting wordy, so I converted it to a post w/trackback. (Which may be a thought for a future post, what is too long of a comment?)
The part I found myself relating to was the design of Squible, and user experience, which I found myself having recently gone through.
I had gotten busy, neglected my blogging, and when I got back into the swing of things,felt a new look was in order. Not having that much time, I opted for Squible. A good friend who also blogs noted that he “just couldn’t get his head around that format”. I fought changing things back for some time, but that comment hung around in the back of my head. I kept thinking that this guy is a “web guy, a designer. If he can’t get around it, what about the other 150+ a day that stumble upon place.” So when I changed hosts, and upgraded, I tried Squible for all of about 20 minutes, and then cobbled together a more traditional blog design.
Not that as a fledgling, wanna-be designer I don’t want to push my envelope, but I have to come back to the user experience. Much as my cooking evolved from wanting to be “everychef”, that is, I wanted to be Charlie Trotter, Jean Louis Paladin, Alan Susser, and Jean Georges Vongrichten on every plate. Little by little, I learned that my guests weren’t looking for me to defy gravity and mix flavors that might not otherwise be mixed, simply for the sake of “pushing the envelope”. It took me a long time to understand that my guests wanted a good meal. Sure, an unexpected flavor that contrasts but doesn’t detract, or a creative yet accessible presentation is fine, but make it edible. But I digress.
I still want to push envelopes, and broaden horizons, and all those clichés, but first and formost, I want the ramblings, and info to be accessible, and to flow in some manner that people will “get”.