A social networking site for the Philly creative community.
For the sixth installment of our spotlight on local websites,I talked with Christopher "Flood the Drummer" Norris about his site, TechBook Online. I have always been someone who has had that "let's save the world" mentality. Blame comic books, blame early superhero movies, or blame, I guess, a general sense of wanting to help people in big ways (that makes more sense). That's why I was excited to introduce you all to TechBook Online, where Chris' vision to save the world plays out in media-savvy ways.
Q: When did you start TechBook Online, and what are the issues that you aim to cover?
A: Techbook Online was incorporated on Dec. 14, 2009, which happened to be my 23rd or 24th birthday. When we first started, we went through several identities. For example, the name originally came from the idea of retailing college textbooks online. After really assessing the marketplace and looking at future market trends, we understood the need in the marketplace for a multi-faceted organization that can produce and implement solutions that impact and improve society, the environment and the way we educate our people. As a publisher of socially relevant content with a global appeal, we aim to cover stories of individuals and organizations that are innovating and advocating for social transformation through the use of creative entrepreneurship, the arts, collaborations and political actions.
Q: Is the general media lacking in its coverage of these issues?
A: We rely on the media to help us make informed decisions by presenting not just the details of important issues, but also a variety of perspectives and opinions surrounding them. However, the term “important issues” is based upon the perception of those who control the distribution of content and media. Local content is the expression of a community’s knowledge and experience, and the process of creating and disseminating content provides opportunities to the members of the community to interact and communicate with each other, expressing their own ideas, knowledge and culture in their own language. Therefore, the general media will always represent stories of general interest. So, it is my goal to use our resources to publish and market stories of special interest- supporting and highlighting those who have a special interest in the salvation and sustainability of our community and world.
Q: Can you walk us through the layout of the site? What can people expect to find?
A: www.techbookonline.com is a video-centric, interactive news and marketing website, populated with the original brands, content and products of TBO Inc. and our affiliates (Justice Members). Members of J.U.S.T.I.C.E., who are educators, non-profit organizations or corporations, each have their own branded Techbook page that displays their content, services, news and more! In addition, on our homepage is a news ticker that displays to users our most recently published news articles. Furthermore, our interactive news room features all of our published videos and links chronologically displayed for real time storytelling.
Q: You write on the site that, in basic terms, TechBook aims to develop “green” solutions to economic, environmental and educational problems. How so? You mention “educational brands” and “technology products.” What do you mean by that?
A: For decades analysts have pointed to a steady decline in the Earth's natural enviornment. This troubling trend is not simply a technical problem, but has much to do with the way societies operate. Moreover, environmental problems are closely linked to global poverty. Neither is a peripheral problem that can be dealt with in isolation. The only solution for true sustainability is the progressive implementation of econology- the synthesis of sociology, ecology and economics- a base for creating an economy that is both socially and ecologically sustainable. For example, our online content business models allow us to produce and distribute socially relevant content in virtually a “paper free” environment. That’s an environmental solution with an economic impact (the opportunity for advertisements, content sharing partnerships, premium content offerings, etc). In regards to our educational brands, we own a portfolio of econological education brands. Our top two can be viewed on our website. On the homepage you have ‘Brainchild & W.O.R.M’, our early childhood education brand that uses animation and acronyms to teach children about econology.
Q: The website mentions how one goal is to bridge the social gap between Corporate America, schools and communities. Can you talk about how TechBook aims to achieve this?
A: As a marketing agency, we take pride in our ability to design integrated marketing programs that allows Corporations to speak directly to students and community members through educational live events.
Q: What got you into these issues? Have you always been someone who wanted to help make the world a better place? Did that feeling start in school?
A: I definitely didn’t feel that way in school. Back in school my goal was to be either a WWF/WWE Superstar or a famous musician/actor. I grew up, and after living in the suburbs of Austin, Texas, and enjoying a successful career in AppleCare Corporate Sales, I moved back to Philly due to layoffs, and was sadden by the conditions of my childhood neighborhood. I realized at that moment that real work needed to be done and it had to have a sustainable economic, environmental and educational impact. I also have to give a big credit to my Co-founder and President of New Business Development, Arthur L. Griffin, who really opened my eyes to the plights in the world, and got me reading the “bottom of the page” (news that they don’t really want you to read).
Q: “TechBook” implies an emphasis on the usage of new media. How does your site use current technologies to report? What do you offer that the general media outlets do not?
A: Our organization uses the latest digital and social media technologies to capture, publish and market images and content. We pride ourselves on giving our readers/viewers a comprehensive look at the events and stories we tell through video, text and photo. We routinely publish the entire speeches, talks and/or performances of the events we cover – whereas your local news (general media) would present a one minute story equipped with a few sounds bites and a few seconds of a performance. By publishing HD quality content on several media websites, most notably Comcast’s PhillyinFocus.com, and by gathering a variety of perspectives on the subject matter we’re presenting, we are uniquely positioned and perceived as an innovation in brand journalism and socially relevant content producing.
Q: TechBook’s goal doesn’t appear to be just covering social and educational issues in Philadelphia, of course. It seems to be concerned with these issues in a worldly sense. But, is there any benefit to being based out of Philly?
A: Philadelphia is the 5th largest city, has the 8th largest school district, is the 4th largest consumer media market, and with a gross domestic product of $388 Billion, Philadelphia ranks ninth among world cities and fourth in the nation. This is the perfect city in my opinion to build a brand such as Techbook. Philadelphia has historically been a city of first – a birthplace of innovation.
Q: How have you seen the media landscape in Philly change since you started TechBook?
A: Well, for starters we are one of the largest and most active publishers on PhillyinFocus.com. We know have a highly visible platform in which to tell our stories from. In addition, we have been able to partner with media organizations to share our content; i.e. Radio One Philly, who has published our ‘Skittles ‘R Not Guns’ and our ‘Step Afrika’ performance videos. While we are far away from where we hope to be positioned, we have successfully taken a marginalized group of people, and through the power of media and collaborations, put them in Focus.
Q: Why start your own thing? Why be an entrepreneur in the first place? Why not just hook up with another media company’s staff to do what you do?
A: No one will ever be able to pay you what you're worth but you!
Q: How do you see TechBook growing? What’s it look like in, say, five years?
A: Techbook’s greatest strength is its ability to produce and leverage our original content, facilitate and maintain strategic growth partnership and identify growing markets. I know where I would like to be in five years, I know what we’re working towards, but what I’ve learned this year is that “My evolution is bigger than my brand." And so while I have a strategy, financial projections, etc, I’m just looking forward to my continuous evolution.
Q: Can others get involved with TechBook?
A: We welcome collaborations and partnerships. From Education organizations looking to join J.U.S.T.I.C.E to writers, photographers and videographers who want to become content contributors and media partners. We’re open to progressive and productive ideas and partnership that cross the creative and political spectrum.
For the fifth installment of our spotlight on local websites, I decided to talk with Shannon Ullman about her new travel website, Travel-Mosaic.com. I will admit that I have only really started to travel in the last two years. My childhood was pretty much devoid of travel, and, well, let me put it this way: Between the ages of zero and 25, I had only been to the Jersey shore once. Throw in a couple of trips to NYC, and that pretty much summed up my life outside of Philly. Last year, I went on a two week road trip up to Canada and I flew for the first time this past May. So, my traveling experience is growing, but it's nothing compared to Shannon's. Travel-Mosaic is a great site to read about Shannon's travels, advice and a great place to catch that travel bug.
Q: When did you start Travel-Mosaic?
A: I started Travel-mosaic.com in the beginning of September.
Q: Why did you start it? You obviously love traveling, but why share your stories with the world?
A: I started it because it’s a site that I would have wanted to find on the internet. Whenever I was planning a new trip, or just looking for some general entertainment, I seemed to find sites that were a little too specific. I wanted to create a place that was a compilation of things that travelers would want to look at. Different tidbits of information, useful travel resources and overall inspiration for travel.
Q: What can people expect to learn about traveling and you on the site?
A: I think that people can expect to learn how to make traveling more feasible for them. I have been trying to include information and stories about how to make travel more affordable, which I think is hugely important because money can be a hurtle. I also think that people might be exposed to new ideas about traveling that they may have never heard of before such as Couchsurfing or Air B&B. I have not incorporated too much about myself on the site, but people can read my blog section and learn more about my personal experiences.
Q: Did you and your family travel a lot when you were a child? Do you remember the first trip you ever took?
A: My family actually never traveled when I was younger. We went to the Jersey shore every summer until I was about 11 and we took one trip to Disney World together because my younger brother had cancer and going there was his make-a-wish. I really caught the travel bug when I took a road trip to Tennessee with some friends to go to Bonnaroo. The freedom of getting in the car and just driving to a new place really got to me. Just the subtle differences of new highway signs, different chains of stores and people with accents made me wonder how different other places could be. That trip made me want to see and experience new things, see what else was out there. It made me feel like I had been living in a shoebox my whole life and finally realized I could lift the lid.
Q: Do you like having Philadelphia as a home base to come back to?
A: I do like having Philadelphia to come back to! I feel like everyone has that one city or place that they can really identify with and call home, even if they have lived in many places. The tourist attractions, the restaurants and hangouts, even the street names, they just feel like home. The memories that I have in Philadelphia with friends and family are really what makes it feel like home to me and I am always happy to come back to it after an adventure.
Q: There’s a story on Travel-Mosaic that mentions how you ran into a bad snowstorm in Maryland. Have there been other panic-worthy times during your travels? How did you deal with it?
A: Oh man, I have had quite a few panic-worthy stories! One time in Munich my boyfriend thought he lost me for 2 hours. He ran through the streets crying, trying to find me and ended up calling the police to search for me, even though I had mistakenly fallen asleep in the hostel laundry room. Another time in Florence after walking around for hours trying to find accommodation, we were able to escape from a potentially murderous, one star hotel owner, and avoid sleeping in a train station, when we met the owner of a nearby campground during a champagne toast, who gave us a lift to his camp site. We have gotten stranded in Paris and had to spend half a day and night slumming around the airport with our packs trying to find a way to the UK. We mistakenly ran into two bears on the Appalachian Trail, and did everything you aren’t supposed to do, when you run into a bear in the wild. I could go on, but I think I will save some of these for later blog entries. Whenever these sorts of situations come up, I always like to sit down and formulate a plan. I try to use my common sense and figure out the safest way to go about things that will still provide us with our basic needs such as shelter and food. I like to figure out what resources I have at hand and the most effective ways of using them. There is always a way!
Q: What’s the one place you can’t help but to travel back to?
A: I want to see as much of the world as I can, and I don’t have a lot of money to do it. So, I try not to visit one place more than once. However, I have been to London twice and I do have the urge to go back more than anywhere else I have ever visited. I think I just fell in love with the UK in general. It has all of the comforts of home, but is still so different at the same time. I feel so comfortable there but I still feel like there are so many new things to explore.
Q: Is there a particular travel book that has helped you in some way?
A: There is a book I read called, The lost girls. It is written by three women from New York who had just started amazing careers and lives in the city, but left it all to travel around the world for a year. The book really helped inspire me to view travel as a lifestyle and not just a series a trips. I found it so inspirational, because not only did the girls live out their dreams and travel the world for a year, but they also were courageous enough to quit their jobs, figure out ways to make money on the road and they even came back and wrote a fabulous book and created a website all about their journey. It made me realize that I am capable of doing something similar with my life.
Q: A lot of people never travel, because of the money issue. Do you find that traveling is a real hazard on one’s bank account?
A: I think it is all about the way you approach it and how you prioritize with your money. I never really drained my savings by going on a trip. My financial process for traveling starts with creating a trip I would like to go on, finding the cheapest way possible to do it and saving money separately- enough time in advance. I always plan my trips far in advance and figure out a savings plan that usually involves me cutting down on any extra spending for a while. I never just take money out of my bank account and take a trip. I have a separate account I use when I am saving for trips. And it is so important to find alternative methods of travel that may be cheaper and less strain on your wallet. Couchsurfing and hostels as opposed to hotels and resorts will allow you to travel more often and stretch your money further.
Q: You write about how couch surfing is a way to travel on the cheap. You actually attempted it yourself. Can you talk a little about what it is exactly and your overall experience?
A: Ah, Couchsurfing. I talk about this a lot, and I even have a whole blog entry all about my experience with it. Couchsurfing is basically a social networking site for travelers. It is set up similar to Facebook. Everything about the site and all interactions are free. You set up a personal profile about yourself including pictures, descriptions of yourself and things you like as well as places that you have traveled and information about where you live. You can add and request people to be your friends and leave each other references that show up on one another’s pages. And for how it works, here is an example. Say I want to take a trip to Providence, Rhode Island. I would use the Couchsurfing website and search for hosts in Providence. Various profiles of couchsurfers living in Providence would come up, and I would look through them to try to find a person that I think I would get along with and want to stay with, and then I send them a couch request telling them what days I would like to come, and why I would like to stay with them. They get your request and either accept or deny you. If they accept, usually you would get their phone number and make arrangements and then you would go stay with them. Usually you would get to stay on their couch or in a spare bedroom and have access to use their kitchen and bathroom. Sometimes hosts will even give surfers a key to their house to come and go as they please. Many times the hosts will be able to hang out with their surfers and show them around, or sometimes they are busy, but provide you with tips for what to do in the area. Again, all of this is completely free of charge! It is just travelers trying to help other travelers to see the world, meet new people and understand new cultures. Overall, I have had only great experiences with couchsurfing! It has really helped me interact with people in a new way, and has helped me gain my trust back for strangers. My experiences with couchsurfing have helped assure me that good people still do exist out there.
Q: Are there any current or past travelers that inspire you?
A: I think Bill Bryson is a traveler who really inspires me. He is so funny and witty in his writing that he seems to make the readers feel at ease with traveling. It can be a scary idea sometimes to be so far away from home, but Bryson recounts his travels in a way that makes any mishaps comical and makes you feel that if he can overcome the struggles of travel, that you can too.
Q: Where do you see Travel-Mosaic, and you, going in the future? Any dream locations you want to visit?
A: Travel-mosaic is brand new and not quite finished yet so it is hard to tell! I am hoping to see it incorporating more of a variety of travel destinations and trips and I am also hoping that I can provide more resources and ideas that will actually help inspire people and aid them in planning trips of their own. I see myself in many places in the future. So, hopefully as I add to my own personal experiences, I can incorporate them into my website as well. As of now, my dream destination is probably Thailand! I really want to backpack Southeast Asia altogether, and hopefully within the next two years, I will make it a reality.
Q: Any last thing you want readers to know? Is there any way they can get involved with Travel-Mosaic?
A: I guess that I want readers to know that I really want my website to inspire them. I want them to realize that they are capable of seeing the world, even if it is only one state at a time. The resources are out there and the ideas are out there. People just need to be exposed to them. I would love for people to get involved in my website. As of now I don’t have any sort of forum up for people to share their thoughts and ideas. I think that if my readers started to leave some comments, it would be really valuable. I would love to hear if anything on my site helped you, if you think I should be adding something or focusing on a certain place or resource. If I get more feedback, I would really consider putting up a forum, which could really be helpful for all the readers to get more information and get more involved.
For the fourth installment of our spotlight on local websites series, we decided to feature local film and food website Tinsel & Tine founded by Le Anne Lindsay. Philly has a great film community. And as Katie Briggs talked about in our last installment, Philly is also a foodie town, too. It only makes sense to come across a site, which happily marries the two. And when I say "happily" I mean happily.Le Anne loves what she does. And it shows.
Q: When and why did you start Tinsel & Tine?
A: It was actually a school project for my Data Comm class (2008). Our Instructor was going to be away for a week and creating a Blog was one of the assignments he left for us. I wasn't into it at all. I really felt it was a waste of time, and just busy work. So choosing an unorthodox name, seemed like a fun rebellion; I called my blog, Suck My Pretty Toes! It originally was about pet peeves and things that made me mad. Kinda an Andy Rooney rant. This was fine to get graded on the assignment, but to my astonishment, I really liked blogging! What I decided I didn't like, was writing from such a negative place.
Actually, I was already do some writing. At the time, my sister had an online magazine and I was a frequent contributor. I also wrote a screenplay with a friend; I would best described it as “The Others” meets “The Philadelphia Story” but features a gay male lead.
Anyway, if I wanted my blog to come from a positive place, I needed to write about things that made me happy – Film & Food. I still feel like a child every time I go to the movies. When the theater darkens and the movie begins, I get giddy. And I've always been lost in stories. Any medium that tells a good story, but film encapsulates storytelling in a way that's finite. And I LOVE to eat! Look forward to every meal; big on comfort foods and trying new things. Love the moment you enter a restaurant, commandeer a table, take in the surroundings, peruse the menu and after ordering, anticipate the presentation of your choice.
So like a naughty child, I learned my lesson from my earlier rebellion and changed my blog name to Tinsel & Tine.
Q: How would you categorize the local film scene?
A: Alive! Philadelphia is a film city. There are several film festivals throughout the year: Philadelphia Film Festival, Jewish Film Festival, Asian Film Festival, Blackstar Film Festival, QFEST, WCL Film and Music Festival.... Then there's events and screenings throughout the year hosted by The Greater Philadelphia Film Office, The Philadelphia Film Society, Reelblack, Cinémathèque Internationale of Philadelphia, The Philadelphia Cinema Alliance, screenings at Universities, and most of all, seeing preview screenings through the PR agency Allied-THA. There's always much to cover.
Q: Do the food and movie communities intersect in any interesting ways in Philadelphia?
A: This year GPFO decided to add a theme to their Set in Philadelphia screenplay competition. All submitted screenplays must feature a prominent food element in the script. It can be set in a restaurant, the characters can be foodies, chef's etc..., it could just have a really good food in film moment... I actually went to cover the PitchFest auditions; this is the part of the competition where writers/filmmakers pitch their screenplay idea in front of a panel of judges. Here's a link to the post - http://www.tinseltine.com/2012/10/comcast-market-gpfo-phillypitch.html
Q: What’s your favorite food-themed movie and why?
A: I really enjoyed “Eat Pray Love” Elizabeth Gilbert (author of the book the movie is based upon) really gets the sensuality behind food. Plus this was a book that really spoke to me; so much so, I worried the movie wouldn't live up to my experience of the book. But it did, the movie was a bit more lighthearted; but stayed true to the essence of Gilbert's words.
Q: Are you a total foodie when it comes to watching movies? As in- do you have to eat while watching flicks?
A: I do like to sneak food into the movie theater. I once hid a large pizza box under my coat. If I'm home watching a DVD, I'm often also eating lunch or dinner, or maybe indulging in one of my drugs of choice: Cheez-its or Doritos. But the only time I really plan a menu is during The Oscars!
Q: What opportunities have Tinsel & Tine opened up for you?
A: Well, the blog keeps growing it audience, which brings things like ticket giveaways and guest bloggers, press screenings, red carpet openings, roundtable interviews with directors, all good stuff!
However, the one opportunity I really want is to figure out how to make blogging lucrative. Even if I had time to really go after sponsors, that wouldn't be enough money. I so enjoy Tinsel & Tine and every part of myself that I put into it, but working a full-time job along side of it, means every evening and weekend, I'm either attending a screening, or dining experience, interviewing someone, writing/editing a post, researching, formatting, emailing, promoting, linking, social media-ing or downloading photos. It's exhausting, and I don't have enough free time.
Q: If you had one absolute wish for the local food and film scene, what would it be?
A: Just what I said above, that somehow I could be paid for my content, that it would be beneficial to some organization or company to link to Tinsel & Tine.
Q: How important can film be to bringing attention to food issues?
A: Film, particularly documentaries, are at the heart of bringing attention to any issues. Which is why it's great that docs in general, during the last decade have developed a bigger audience. I think in terms of food issues, docs like “Supersize Me” & “Food Inc” definitely made an impact. Not a significant change, but an awareness.
Q: How have you seen the Philly film community progress since you started Tinsel & Tine? Where would you like to see it go?
A: Two years ago when Sun Center Studios opened out near the airport, I thought this was going to be a mecca for the Philly Film Scene. It had plans of becoming the east coast version of a Burbank film lot. But thus far, it hasn't garnered a lot of attention. Films are being shot there, most recently, M. Night Shyamalan's "After Earth," starring Will & Jaden Smith. Yet, I don't hear any real buzz about Sun Center, hopefully this will change soon.
Q: Recommend any upcoming films?
A: I'm looking forward to seeing “Cloud Atlas” “Middle of Nowhere” & “Les Miserable”. Films I recently reviewed and liked: “Looper”, “Sleepwalk with Me” and “Pitch Perfect”.
Q: Are there any ways in which readers can interact with Tinsel & Tine?
A: I do have a couple of guest bloggers and depending on the strength of a person's writing, would accept others. Particularly food bloggers. I've really been woefully neglecting the Tine side of Tinsel & Tine. I also hope to free up time to interview and highlight local, up and coming filmmakers. And I do have an ad rate sheet on the site, along with my Google Analytic's stats. If anyone wants to advertise on T & T, feel free to contact me!
For the third installment of our spotlight on local websites, we decided to feature local food site, Eclectik Domestic run by Katie Briggs. Once upon a time for me, the local food scene used to mean trips to McDonald's, Dunkin' Donuts and supermarkets to buy the usual tatter tots and hot pockets. But over time, I was introduced to urban farming, C.S.As, local grocers and, well, the actual local food scene. Eclectik Domestic is a great gateway into this world of fresh food, healthy living and creativity in cooking.
Q: When and why did you start Eclectik Domestic? What’s your goal?
A: Eclectik Domestic started about 3 years ago with a close friend of mine. At the time, we couldn't afford (or legally) go to bars, so we decided to have dinner parties in her one bedroom and feed all our friends and maybe get a little crazy. We would do all sorts of different dinners, mussels, mini pizzas, pasta, soups, kabobs, you name it we made it. Eventually, we started having a yearly tradition of Friendsgiving, a pot luck with all the fixings, right before we went away to spend Thanksgiving with our families. We loved nothing more than cooking for our friends, and were always dishing out culinary tips and calling home for advice. A loyal attendee of our parties made point that we needed to start writing down our recipes and should start a blog. This is roughly when Eclectik Domestic came to be.
Q: What is the local food “scene” like in Philly?
A: Pennsylvania, is, after California, one of the most diverse agricultural and culinary powerhouses. From the vast farm land to the cities, PA has a lot to offer, and Philadelphia is going through a rebirth of culinary tastes. Historically, Philadelphia has always been a leader in quality goods, and, in recent years, we have seen a push for local, sustainable, and most importantly delicious food. Farmers market are exploding across the city and people are reclaiming their taste buds and their health. Now, Philadelphia's food scene is one of the leading in the "farm-to-table" movement and is offering itself up as a vibrant, locally-oriented, foodie town. I think its one of the most exciting places to eat right now.
Q: How seriously should Philadelphia take food and nutritional education?
A: Food, is the most uniting human facet. Everyone eats, and generally everyone loves to eat. As a food enthusiast, I love nothing more then sharing new flavors with friends…and just about anyone. For me food is such an enormous part of my life, and an endless exploration. I find that incorporating basic and simple nutritional guidelines to my meals is not only logical, but critical to ones livelihood. Unfortunately, not everyone is educated about proper [nutrition] and many are trying to manage in a badlands of salty, greasy and generally unhealthy food. That is why I need Eclectik Domestic. The outlet helps me reach people, and let them know that healthy food can be tasty food, and it can be done on a budget!
Q: How did your parents shape your love of food?
A: My parents are veteran food industry. They have obviously had a huge impact on my culinary journey and continue to inspire me. I think the most transformative philosophy that was instilled in me as a child, were the wise words of my mother's father. He always said (and my mother too always said) "You don't have to like it. You just have to try it". As a young eater, anything that I had never experienced or encountered before was like an adventure waiting to be eaten. The new flavors, smells, and sensations I experienced always left me hungry for more and is why I still am so in love with food. I know hordes of people who say they hate something that they have never even tried. I find myself always looking for the challenge of changing people's misconceptions and helping them find their new favorite foods.
Q: When did you start cooking? Are you completely self-taught?
A: I have been in the kitchen my entire life from cookies as a child to attempted gourmet in my teens. I have been lucky enough to be surrounded by immense culinary talent and always absorbing new information. I have never been formally trained, but I do spend about 30 hours a week in a professional kitchen. Though my job there is not to cook the food, I have a hard time not being hypnotized by the chefs working around me.
Q: You mention on Eclectik Domestic that at Temple University, when you moved into the dorms, you really only had a hotplate to cook with. Can you talk about some of the creative ways you cooked with it?
A: While at Temple, it was the first time I had ever not had access to a kitchen, if not at least an oven. At the prison style dorms they had only a hot plate and fridge. After getting tired on making tacos and stir fry's, I finally invested in a toaster oven and would bake as much as I could. I would try to make as many non-cooked items such as salads and snack mixes, but I am happy I got out when I did.
Q: Eating can be a very social experience. We go out to eat with friends, dates and family. How does food help develop bonds between people?
A: For me eating a meal together allows for undisturbed one-on-one interactions. The conversations had over meals can produce some of the most amazing outcomes and connections between friends and family. Sitting down and eating a meal is, for most people, the only time of day we take time for ourselves and take care of our bodies. Working in the service industry, I constantly see people bonding over culinary experiences and love showing people a good time. Food is how I show people I care about them, from the ingredients to the preparation, it's all done with love and joy. I like to think people can taste that.
Q: What do you feel like are some reservations that people have about cooking?
A: I think most people think they can't cook, because they have never been shown how or were told they are bad at it. There is such a wealth of information, so many ideas, it can be difficult to even know where to start. I always tell people to master one dish, maybe try for a favorite to motivate you, and take it from there.
Q: It seems like in the poorer sections of Philadelphia- and this is probably true for most areas like this across the country- there are more fast food restaurants than any type of grocery or outlet to go and buy the healthy stuff. If that’s the case, why do you think that is? Is there a remedy for it?
A: There is unquestionably a demand for fast food within poorer sections throughout the country, and for good reason. Fast food is cheap, tasty, and filling, but you also have to consider the amount of corporate politics that are involved in these areas. Not many people are willing to put a restaurant on 3rd and Erie but a multi-billion dollar company like McDonalds can and will. It just so happens that its easier for these companies to infiltrate these areas, and for people on a budget, fast food is generally the most economic choice. In most of these areas, there are not people looking for vegetables or gourmet food, not to say that people in these areas are not interested in these items, it's just that there needs to be education in conjunction with things such as farmers markets and victory gardens. As far as a remedy to this problem, I think that education is a critical remedy to these areas and that we are slowly seeing a change in this (i.e. farmers markets).
Q: How bad of a shape is our country in with regards to, well, shape? In your opinion, is there as big of an obesity problem as we’re told? Is that mostly because we just cannot seem to eat right?
A: I am no expert on the shape that our country is in. Generally I would say that most Americans are over weight. Given our multi-billion dollar diet industry it seems to me that many folks wish not to be the weight that they are. I am always so frustrated when I talk to people who are on crazy crash diets because that's no way to be healthy. Food shouldn't be about weighing out portions or exiling certain foods. It's about nutrient dense food- giving your body what it wants and rewarding yourself occasionally with fatty foods such as fried foods. I do not think its a matter that people can't eat right. I think its a matter of they don't know how.
Q: How can healthy food be made to seem more appealing to the majority of people?
A: Preparation is a huge part of winning people over to the vegetable team. Most people tell me all the time that they hate this or that, but they [probably] just have some horror story of having it prepared the wrong way. Making vegetables or "healthy foods" palatable is all about seasoning and preparation.
Q: You’ve also mentioned on Eclectik Domestic that people are getting back to the old-timey way of gathering and preparing food. How so?
A: Generally in this statement, I am referring to cyclical nature of cooking. Cooking should really be about cooking with the seasons, what's fresh and preparing for the time when we don't have many fresh foods such as in winter. The old-timey methods I speak of are things such as canning, preserving and fermenting fresh- generally only summer available items that can be kept and stored for winter. It can be challenging to cook this way, but it's an adventure and fun.
Q: How can a more thoughtful approach to food help better Philly?
A: A thoughtful and conscious approach to food can help Philly in so many ways. By supporting local farms we are not only helping the local economy but also are getting the freshest and nutrient rich produce. Buying produce from California does nothing for the Pennsylvania economy, and by the time that food arrive here, it had traveled over 3,000 miles, and who knows what happened to it along the way. I also believe that people who eat a conscious and vegetable-based diet generally are healthier, feel better and have more energy to lead a more active lifestyle. Over all I think its the best solution from an economic to a health level.
Q: Are there any local food-related programs that you are aware of that people should know about?
A: I am a big fan of C.S.A's, or community supported agriculture, which cuts out the grocery store and connects you with local farm. I participate in Lancaster Farm Fresh's 25 week C.S.A and love it. I also love the local farmers market such as Passyunk Square, Head House and many more. Also one of Philadelphia's greatest and oldest local food programs is Reading Terminal Market, where there's the best of the best, and something for everyone is all under one roof. I am always stopping by RTM's Fair Foods, who exclusively sell local produce and goods.
Q: What would be your ultimate wish for food in Philadelphia?
A: My wish would be for people, critics and foodies alike to start taking Philadelphia's food scene seriously. We have been easily passed over for quite some time, due to our close proximity to New York, but I am here to say on the record that this is such an exciting time in Philadelphia.
Q: Lastly, is there a recipe of yours that you wouldn’t mind sharing with us?
A: One of my favorite combos is my chill and jalapeno cheddar corn bread. Its such a great way to have a filling meal while tricking yourself into eating your veggies! I hope you enjoy it!
3-4 can of beans
1 jar Tomato Sauce
1-2 onions sauteed and caramelized
2-4 cloves garlic sauteed
1 bag frozen corn
1 cup edamame/peas
1 jalapeño pepper
1-2 red or yellow peppers diced
2 tomatoes diced
Add a pound of turkey or beef if you'd like!
Combine beans and tomato sauce. Sautee onion, peppers and then garlic. Mix together onions, tomatoes and beans. Add frozen vegetables and simmer. Season with Sirachi, pepper, season all, and chili powder. Enjoy!
Cheddar-Jalapeño Corn Bread
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons baking powder
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 cups milk
3 extra-large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 pound (2 sticks) butter
8 ounces aged Cheddar, grated
1/3 cup chopped jalapeño
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a bread pan. Combine the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Add milk, eggs, and butter. Stir until mixed. Don't over mix! Mix in the grated Cheddar, jalapeño. Pour batter into the bread pan, smooth the top, and sprinkle with the remaining grated Cheddar. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes. Enjoy!
For the second installment of our Local Website Spotlight Series, we decided to feature the local comedy website, WitOut.I have a huge love for comedy and Philly, yet I have never been too knowledgeable about comedy in our city. This is why I love WitOut so much. It's a site dedicated to covering and promoting the Philly comedy scene. You can find interviews with comedians, reviews on shows and news about what's happening. Below you will find the Q&A I did with WitOut's editor, Aaron Hertzog.
Q: Why and when was WitOut Started?
A: Witout was started in early 2011 by a group of comedians led by Luke Giordano (who did most of the work) to fill a hole left in local comedy coverage after longtime site Comic Vs. Audience shut down. Comic Vs. Audience ran for a few years and was getting some attention from more national comedy sites and we wanted there to continue being an online source for all things comedy in Philadelphia. We wanted to have a full calendar of all the shows going on in the city as well as a database of performers, open mics, and regular shows, as well as a regularly updated site with news, interviews, columns, and humor articles.
Q: What is it that you do for WitOut?
A: I'm the editor. I took over for Luke after he moved to Los Angeles when he was hired as a writer for a network sitcom. For a while I was writing most of the content on the site, and I still write a good bit - but we have recently been getting more material from some really fantastic contributors lately. I'm pretty involved in the comedy scene (I do stand-up, sketch, and improv) so I try to keep updated with everything that is going on so we can report on shows, big events or news with local comics, as well as just doing pieces or interviews that highlight some of the comedic talent in Philly.
Q: Does Philly have a notable comedy history?
A: A lot of great comedians and writers have come out of Philly, or at least got their start here. Everybody knows Bill Cosby and Tina Fey have roots in Philadelphia, many other successful comedians today also have ties to Philly- Tim and Eric, Paul F. Tompkins, Todd Glass, Kevin Hart, Adam McKay (just to name a few.) Philly was home to a lot of clubs in the late 80's and early 90's and had a great comedy scene then during the "comedy boom" and again has a lot of talent and shows right now. I don't think Philly has ever been known as an "industry town" probably because of it's proximity to New York. There's always been a thought that once you get "good enough" here you move somewhere else, but that's not exactly the case anymore.
Q: Does Philly have a big comedy scene, now?
A: It's big and ever growing. Stand-up wise there are shows or open mics every night of the week in clubs, theaters, small venues, and bars- a lot of times multiple shows going on at the same time. There is a lot of stage time out there for comedians to hone their act, and a lot of the mics in Philly have a great advantage of the fact that there are real crowds to perform in front of. A lot of times open mics tend to just be comedians performing for other comedians, but here, places such as Laughs on Fairmount (Monday nights, The Urban Saloon) Rittenhouse Comedy (Tuesday nights at Noche) and Center City Comedy (Thursdays, The Raven Lounge) get nice crowds of actual audience members every week to perform in front of. The open mic at Helium is always a great place for comedians to test material also. The sketch and improv communities are always growing with new groups popping up all the time as well as shows throughout the city. Philly Improv Theater (PHIT) runs two full weeks of shows at The Shubin Theater (407 Bainbridge) every month, ComedySportz has regular shows at The Adrienne Theater, The NCrowd has weekly shows at The Actor's Center, and more and more independently produced shows are being created all the time. There are a few comedy festivals that happen here each year (Philly Improv Festival, Philly Sketchfest, City Spotlight, DuoFest, F. Harold) that showcase local and national talent. There is a lot of comedy happening in Philly right now, and I think the next step is to start building a regular audience of people in the city that want to come and see great shows. Witout is a place those people can go to find out all that is happening.
Q: Is this city more of a stand up or sketch and improv town? Why?
A: That's a hard question to answer, because I think each has their place and their own audiences. I think that, as far as mainstream crowds are concerned, stand-up is probably the most popular. But sketch and improv both have very loyal followings of people who you might categorize as more fans of "alternative comedy." By this I mean, more independently produced, local shows in smaller theaters and venues rather than the traditional comedy clubs or larger theaters.
Q: Who are some of your favorite local comedians?
A: Stand-up wise, I love Doogie Horner, Chip Chantry, Darryl Charles, Brendan Kennedy, Mary Radzinski, Joey Dougherty, John McKeever, and so many more people that will probably be mad that I didn't mention them. My favorite sketch groups are Camp Woods, The Feeko Brothers, Secret Pants, and ManiPedi. My favorite improv groups are Medic, Beirdo, Kait and Andrew, Matt&. I also love Hey Rube (improv) Hate Speech Committee (improv/sketch) and Tap City (sketch) - but I can't really say they are my "favorites" because I'm in the groups.
Q: What are the audiences like here? Is it a tough city for comics? Do they have to be quicker on their feet here, especially when a bit isn’t going well?
A: Every room is different, and every night is different in every room - part of what makes performing comedy so rewarding and frustrating at the same time. For the most part, I think the crowds in Philly are great. You can get honest reactions on material whether that is a good or bad. In my six years of performing and watching comedy, I haven't noticed any trends in Philly being tougher crowds than other places, or comedians having to deal with more hecklers or anything. Every once in a while an audience member wants to be part of the show and tries to make it about themselves, but that happens everywhere. I love Philly crowds because there's a bit of everything. If I can put people into categories, Philly crowds are a mix of hipsters, young professionals, blue collar folk, urban crowds and everything in between. Some rooms may attract more of one than another but if you are dedicated to going to a wide range of rooms you can perform in front of anybody here.
Q: Is it hard to break into the comedy scene here?
A: I don't think so. I started as a stand-up six years ago, and through going to various open mics and, hanging out at other shows, met many of the other local comics who were overwhelmingly supportive and helpful. About two years ago, I started taking improv classes at Philly Improv Theater and getting more into the improv scene, and all along the way I've dabbled in writing and performing sketches. The scene here is very supportive, many comics run their own shows and open mics, giving stage time to other acts. New improv and sketch groups are popping up all the time and performing around town at many of the shows at PHIT and independent shows. For the most part, it is a very supportive environment for comedians in Philadelphia.
Q: Where’s a good place to learn comedy in Philly?
A: For stand-up, the best way to learn is just doing it. Luckily, there are a lot of opportunities to do that here with open mics (sometimes multiple) almost every night of the week. Philly Improv Theater offers great classes in improv and sketch comedy writing as well as their Late Night Improv Jam and Sketch-Up or Shut Up, a sketch open mic where Philly sketch groups test out new material, and new writers or performers can bring material and meet people to work with.
Q: Who are some of the great comedians to come out of the Philly area?
A: I kind of answered this earlier but to name a few: Bill Cosby, Tina Fey, Adam McKay, Paul F. Tompkins, Todd Glass, Tim and Eric, Kevin Hart...
Q: So, we have some bigger, well-known clubs like Helium, but are there any lesser-known comedy clubs that we should know about? Any place to go see great local stand up or sketch?
A: I've mentioned Philly Improv Theater a few times already, but they have a lot of great shows happening. And despite their name, they are not just an improv theater. They offer stand-up, sketch, and variety comedy shows the first and last weeks of every month at The Shubin Theater, and are currently looking to find a permanent theater where they can have shows every night. My favorite show in the city right now is Camp Woods Plus, a monthly sketch comedy show the group produces at L'etage (6th and Bainbridge). Camp Woods performs a brand new set every show as well as featuring sets from two other sketch groups, usually one local, and one out of town.
Q: Is there a comic or comedy group here that you think is on the cusp of making it big?
A: There are so many people here that I think have the talent and the drive to "make it big". Doogie Horner is one of the best writers and performers I know, and already had a taste of television fame with his appearances on America's Got Talent. Tommy Pope was just featured as a "New Face" at the prestigious Montreal Comedy Festival. Sketch group Camp Woods is full of performers and writers who given the chance would excel in front of a national audience. "Making it" is a tough thing from Philly. The perception is that if people are good they'll just "go to New York". What we are trying to do is prove that's not exactly the case. There is a lot of great, professional-level comedy right here in this city.
Q: Why is comedy important to you?
A: I've always loved watching comedy, and from a young age just naturally started to study it and become interested in how it worked and what was funny about different things and people. I used comedy as a way to try to not get picked on in middle school and as a way to make new friends when I went to college. I've also always loved writing, and the two fit together perfectly. I could talk about comedy for hours (and I do) breaking down shows, or movies, or stand-up acts- discussing the subtle ways of why something is funny and the different levels that it works on. I love "reverse engineering" a joke or a sketch after seeing it- trying to think through where the genesis of the idea came from and how the writer came to work out all the details from idea to finished piece. It's not just watching something and laughing and enjoying it for me. It's more of a study.
Q: Why should Comedy be important to Philly?
A: It's comedy. Everybody loves to laugh and be entertained. Getting the word out about locally produced shows that are worthwhile is beneficial to everyone- the performers, the audiences, the venues. It's a cheap, fun night out where you get to see great shows produced by people from your own city. People take pride in the fact when a band from their city blows up, and they were there to see them in the small local venues first, and comedy here could be a chance to do that in a different medium.
Q: If you could have one wish for the Philly comedy scene, what would it be and how can it be achieved?
A: Building a more consistent audience of people at local shows by getting the word out about the comedy in the city. I see more national acts at larger venues draw huge crowds and think that there are people in this city that love and want to see great comedy. I've been to New York and LA where smaller theaters and venues can get huge draws and audiences because the crowds there seem to be "in the know". They know that they are going to see a great show of people who maybe someday will be stars. I don't know if that will ever fully be the case here but letting people know there are fantastic, inexpensive options for local entertainment is a start.
Q: Multimedia has recently been huge for comedy. There’s so many different comedic web series and podcasts, now. Garfunkel and Oats’ web series on HBO.com and basically any podcast under the Earwolf and Nerdist umbrella come to mind. But I haven’t really come across a lot comedic Philly-based multimedia content in this way. There’s the web series Wrapped. Do you foresee more comedy web series or podcasts coming out of Philly?
A: The sketch group Bird Text have got a lot of attention from their online videos (Pat Burrell, Real Househusbands of Philadelphia, Deck the Hall and Oates). Secret Pants is a sketch group that took advantage of online content early in the game, and built a following and is now one of the longest running comedy groups in the city. There are a few podcasts based out of Philly, either humor or interview based that I can think of - there is CheaPodcast (James Hesky and Darryl Charles), Getting Close with Mike Marbach, The Holding Court Podcast (myself and Gregg Gethard). The internet is a great way for people to get their material seen and heard by everyone and obviously taking advantage of that is something many comedians are starting to do and will do more of in the future.
Q: Who can contribute to WitOut? Comedians? Comedy fans?
A: Anyone! We are open to submissions from writers who would like to review a show, interview a comedian or group, submit a humor piece, or have any other ideas they'd like to see featured on a site about comedy in Philadelphia.
CPR: Creative People in Recovery is a community blog started by local writer and musician Katy Otto, whose Q&A interview with me you'll find below. Let's face it: The whole "tortured artist" image may be a cliche, but it's cliche for a reason. Creative types just seem more prone to deal with issues such as addition and mental disorders ranging from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder to depression. Otto has not only witnessed the struggles of addiction in creative people around her, but has also dealt with it herself. CPR is dedicated to bringing those issues to light, and is a community where stories of copping with recovery are shared. Full disclosure: I wrote a guest blog post for CPR some time ago.
Q: Can you tell us about your own creative background?
A: I started writing stories on a typewriter when I was eight. The first one was called Ringtail the Raccoon. I was also always trying to be in creative partnerships. I would try to find friends to illustrate my stories. I wanted to make little films of my friends. I always talked about starting a band and messed around with lyrics. When I was 17, I started playing drums. I met another girl when we were both in high school - Bonnie Schlegel. She was such an inspiring person to me. We formed first a band and then a record label. We also wrote chapbooks of poetry together. I kept writing and playing music. I still do both. I have studied with a couple of wonderful teachers, including Susie Ibarra - a musical hero of mine. After my band with Bonnie - Bald Rapunzel - I played in several bands, including a band Del Cielo that put out two albums and a few split seven inches, and my current band Trophy Wife. We just released a second record on 307 Knox and our own band imprint label Meet Your Adversary Records.
Q: Why and when did you start Creative People in Recovery (CPR)?
A: Living in a world of music, I have met, loved, struggled with and lost many, many people who were troubled by deep addictions and demons. I myself am four years sober, though I often have trouble talking about the relationship I had in younger years to alcohol. I wanted to carve out a space for people who struggled with addiction who were creative. I read a book through which I met my friend Sabrina Chap - her anthology "Live Through This: Women, Creativity and Self-Destruction" - and it resonated with me completely. Another book that impacted me was Caroline Knapp's "Appetites" and "Drinking: A Love Story." Stories about artistic and creative people's battles with addiction are fascinating and important to me, and sharing about how creative people may cope differently in recovery was something I wanted to do with this blog. I have had it less than a year. I really hope it becomes something than more folks contribute to and participate in - I want to post a range of voices.
Q: Do you feel that creative types are more likely to go through mental hardships or addiction? Why?
A: Yes. Many reasons. Creative people are driven, easily bored, impulsive. They like to visit the edges and borders. They often also struggle emotionally, with high highs of creative bursts and low lows of dry periods. Musicians are often performing in places that sell alcohol and provide it to them for free as a recompense. It's a cliche that musicians are susceptible to alcoholism. Sometimes, addiction is a sublimation, when the colors of the world or palette available just feel too bleak. But the cost is too high.
Q: What are some of the ways that creative people go through recovery?
A: I think they connect with each other. They seek out stories of other creative folks who have fought addiction with the same creativity with which they approached their work. They look to artists who continue to make work AFTER they are sober, throughout their lives. They read the work of those friends and inspirations we have lost as a world, and think about what could have been. I think traditional recovery programs may not be enough for people who connect using to creating. Creating is an essential part to survival for a lot of people, and when you connect playing music with drinking, getting sober can feel even scarier. How can you play music? How can you go to see live music? Will some of your friends move away from you? Addiction is also a way people with depression and anxiety self-medicate; in a world that affords people very little peace, it can be frightening to feel you are losing a vehicle of escape.
Q: Do you feel that there needs to be more attention given to the fact that creative types might be more prone to these issues?
A: Yes. I wish there were programs specifically geared towards artists looking for recovery programs. I wish addiction was treated with compassion. I wish the underlying causes of it were addressed, including mental health issues. I also think a better, more just world would not breed as much addiction. I wish arts and artists were valued in our culture more, and encouraged to create work.
Q: How has addiction affected the lives of those around you?
A: I have had friends make it out on the other side, and some who have not. I have had extremely close, valuable relationships destroyed because of someone's addiction. It makes it nearly impossible to be close to people, even when you love them. When they are using, they leave you. They abandon you. Realizing that this happened was enough to convince me that as painful as approaching this world sober might be, there really was no other option for me. I don't want my friends and loved ones to ever feel abandoned by me.
Q: What can be done to help creative types more in their recovery?
A: Less acceptance around dangerous drinking and drug use. Reaching out to people and making sure they know they aren't alone. If creating work is important to them, asking them what they are working on - with genuine interest. Sharing music, writing or art that makes you think of them. Working in tandem so that multiple people are supporting someone and holding them accountable.
Q: Is there anything that can be done to prevent that slip into addiction?
A: There is always hope of preventing the next slip. The prevention comes from that kind of willpower coupled with real support and options.
Q: What has your experience been with creative people in relation to these hardships in Philadelphia? And is there a great support system here for those who do need help or are recovering?
A: My friends in recovery and who struggle towards recovery are around the world, not just in Philly. I think there are good support systems here but there is also a lot of access to drugs and alcohol, and it can feel pushed at you in creative spaces. I have some friends who like the AA and NA groups here. I think it is important to respect that everyone's recovery might look different. Talking about these issues more in public is a good start. In Philadelphia, I also think a lot about communities that struggle with great poverty. The people in those communities deserve much more support, access and resources - including to art and other avenues for self-expression. Creating and expressing yourself does help life feel less miserable, and help you to feel less powerless. That should be a human right. Poverty also understandably breeds addiction as an escape, and Philadelphia has a lot of poverty. That is something we all need to care about as a society.
Q: Do you look up to any specific creative people who have gone through these addiction problems?
A: Caroline Knapp. Eric Clapton. Other people who I cannot name because many folks don't know about their recovery processes. To be honest, it is even hard for me to write about my own experiences here - but I hope that the positive aspects outweigh the potential repercussions. I am a fairly open person - and that is part of my healing.
Q: This is a very personal subject. Is there anything you won’t write about? Anything you might feel uncomfortable with someone submitting?
A: Yes, I am sure. But ultimately, I am okay with stories that are intense that are written that way for a reason. It would have to be a case by case basis.
Q: Who can contribute to the blog?
Q: Where do you see CPR going?
A: I would hope that with this interview more people would read it and contribute. It is at www.creativepeopleinrecovery.com - and you can submit writing to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can post with your name or anonymously. I want this to be a forum for others, so please write me even just to discuss the project if it appeals to you.