Thursday, April 29, 2010

Accepting the Past

Recipe: Jamie's Breakfast Casserole with Ham and Cheese

Truth be told... I saw this going differently.

It's just that you might say I grew up on eggs. And not in the sense of living in the country, gathering your own farm-fresh eggs every morning... but moreso that they were so cheap, we turned them into breakfast, lunch, and dinner (which, I must admit, mom, I completely get it now, being one of those crazy adults who has a grocery budget of her own, etc.). It seemed like not a week went by where eggs didn't star in something on our menu - ranging from fried egg and ham sandwiches, to scrambled eggs and hash (out of a can!), and at its height, scrambled eggs with chili on top (which got a family's worth of raised eyebrows... only to be forgotten with the first bite).

Yes, I did just say "hash (out of a can!)" but make no mistake, my mom spent considerable amounts of time in the kitchen preparing healthy, well-rounded meals, for us, every night of the week, and she also made sure that in the midst of everything else, we prioritized eating together as a family. Or should I say... eating eggs together as a family.

So as fate would have it, nowadays, not only do eggs play a prominent role in my own weekly menu (with special thanks to a just-as-cheap-as-me husband who loves breakfast anytime of the day), but I actually like and even crave them (it's true).

To say this Ham and Cheese Breakfast Casserole* was a no-brainer is stating the obvious. Cheese? Breakfast meat? And, eggs?! Yes, please. And if I hadn't had a great reason to serve it at brunch, you can bet it'd have been right at home on our any-night-of-the-week dinner menu.

So I guess I owe a(nother) thank you to my mother-so-dearest...without whom I would never have known the joy of eggs, or how many different ways you can serve them.

*I substituted smoked Kielbasa for the ham and used our favorite cheesy bread to up the cheesiness.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Writing Imperfectly

As I've come to expect from myself, I'd sat through about 3 minutes of day two of training before I was reminded that my memory is far from perfect. Or my interpretation of my memory... however that best makes sense to you.

what I meant yesterday about writing on an 8th grade level. You should still aspire to do this, don't get me wrong, but in doing so, don't talk down to your audience - but rather, write in a way that makes sense to a wide audience and simplify... focusing on that 8th grade level.

One other thing I can't believe I forgot to tell you about (it's true that the most obvious things are often what escapes us) is Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Both users (90% of the time people use search engines, rather than a specific pages' Search, for open-ended queries) and search engines have become so much more sophisticated - users are inputting longer search requests so that miniscule little "Search" box is becoming inadequate.

I'm personally ready to move on, though. Enough with the Web Usability... and onto Writing for the Web (which nicely picked up right where day one had left off):

  • Who are we (us, online)? We don't want to read a lot, we're impatient, and we are on the move. Keep this in mind as you create content (and I'll continue to write more of what you don't want to and don't have time to read).

  • Do NOT attempt to take printed material and just 'paste' it onto a website. It just won't work.

  • Committed readers (people who stay on a page to read at least 1/2 of the content) are few and far between:

    • Pages with 50 words are optimal with 80% committed readers (this doesn't mean to cut all of your pages down to 50 words but to focus on chunking your content into readable sections)

    • Pages with 100 words fall down to 50% committed readers

    • Pages with 200 words gain an obismal 30% committed readers

  • Users love lists!! Bold words! We see these as shortcuts to finding what we're looking for.

  • The words "Click here" or "Link here" are lost opportunities to give your readers more information; instead make an 'article heading' (or other content rich text) a link.

  • Accessibility is important! But not just for the handicapped. If you write with Accessibility in mind, you're designing a page so that all users can more quickly receive the information they desire.

  • Stock photos... oh, stock photos. They present a credibility loss for the site as users find them off-putting and they might incorrectly portray an image for your site. People are more drawn to non-professional pictures that they can relate to.

And with that, I have given you a classic "do as I say, not as I do" as my writing here certainly would be an embarrassment to the lecturer who imparted her wisdom to us yesterday. Hopefully, though, we can all continue to learn and practice together.

Thursday, April 22, 2010


Embarrassing fact: the term “web usability” meant about well, nothing, to me a month or so ago

Remedy: as of today, “web usability” means a whole lot to me (and it's all sorts of interesting!)

A happy coincidence has found me in the Windy City this week for some work and a little bit of play. With my employer rather keen on professional development and my day-job involving a fair amount of website design and content creation, it was a given that the Nielsen Norman Group’s Web Usability Week Conference would be ideal for me in this time of (strictly work-related) transition (from our current website to our upcoming “spiffy” new site – keeping in mind that “spiffy” is relative).

One day in... consider me a happy customer. I couldn’t be more pleased after my day-long session. I learned so much and had fun doing so. And since we all find ourselves here, right now, on the web, I thought it’d be fun to share some tips that I gathered today during the “Fundamentals in Web Usability” session that might just apply to you (though, admittedly, if you do website design full-time, this will be old hat):

  • It turns out that users actually will scroll (beyond “the fold” – the first screen that you see on any given monitor)… but only a total of 2.3 pages worth.

  • Less is more! Cluttered (with the wrong images, content, etc.) websites just distract your user from what they came to do in the first place.

  • When writing content for a general audience, do so as if your users have the literacy level of an 8th grader (yes, I'm serious... and no, this doesn't have anything to do with the American education system).

  • Be consistent within your site, whether in link and text colors, placement of navigation on the page, etc.

  • You have a lot more flexibility (i.e. room for error) with a highly motivated or extremely loyal user; do not design with that user in mind.

Now that I've dispensed web design and usability guidelines here (amid this not-so-by-the-book-following-designed if-you-can-call-it-that blog), I will proceed to hide my head and never come out again... or at least not until tomorrow when I'll hopefully have some handy writing for the web tips (and with any luck, written in prose flowing like fine wine).

Saturday, April 17, 2010

A (Not-So) Chance Meeting

Recipe: Strawberry-Citrus Salad

Well, now, that wasn't half bad! *sure it took me almost a week to write about it but don't be fooled into thinking that it was a result of being scarred by the experience No wonder so many look to the internet to meet people these days!

We were so thrilled to host Abby and her husband, Brad, on the tail-end of their road-trip up here to our neck of the woods. I'll admit to being a bit nervous as the time of our meeting approached... though we thankfully avoided the awkward "I'll be the one wearing the red rose" by agreeing to brunch together at our house. A bit of a selfish move, of course... as I'm more uneasy picking a restaurant to dine at with a group than feeding people from our own kitchen (quality of food, notwithstanding).

I was so intrigued, and a little humbled - if I'm honest - to realize how much Abby and I actually didn't know about each other (or moreso, each other's spouses (after all, even here, Chris rarely gets a mention, let alone the spotlight)) after kinda, sorta, almost "knowing" each other for well over two years. But what better situation for great conversation; earlier in the week, in anticipation for the big meeting, Abby and I admitted to each other that we loved meeting new people and making new friends... even, in our case, friends who will likely never live within a few hundred miles of each other.

And friends we did make. (Abby, we hope you agree) With or without the delicious Moravian sugar cake and spice cookies that our gracious guests brought us, the afternoon went off without a hitch.

In large part, I believe I owe the event-less-ness of the morning to this beyond beautiful (I can say that - it's not my recipe) fruit salad that rounded out our meal (more on the rest of what we ate later). The fact that it has four ingredients, including brown sugar, had me sold from the start, but when I (effortlessly, I must add) tossed it together Sunday morning in about 3.5 seconds and looked at the brightly colored creation before me... it blew my mind (and even looked halfway decent in an iPhone picture!).

Suffice it to say, we thoroughly enjoyed the morning with our new friends. As someone once said (you might know her), " ... the internet is filled with great people… and you don’t have to look very far to find them". (you can read all my disclaimers to that statement here... or not, but you know... proceed at your own risk)

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Meeting on the Internet

No, this isn't a story of how Chris and I met... as it wasn't via these here interwebs, after all (rather on a hot and dusty softball field... a story that I may one day indulge you with, if you're lucky... only because it'll be a post with few words and even fewer pictures).

This story is (or will be) a little bit how I "met" a food blogger online, and a lot of how to both get up the nerve to invite one into your home and subsequently, prepare for it. Or... more easily said - how to host a food blogger.

One of my typical disclaimers: it's quite true, I haven't written a food-related post in a couple of weeks so take the fact that I refer to myself as a 'food blogger' below with a grain of salt

1. Meet a food blogger (uh... not hard, there are thousands of them) and over 2.5+ years, develop a friendship - realizing one of you went to college in the other's current hometown and enjoy a friendly rivalry based on ACC sports (during which we were united in our love for anything not Duke).

2. Come to terms with the fact that you met someone online and realize you're okay with it - it's the 21st century, after all.

3. Learn that said food blogger would be traveling to your neck of the woods for a hanami of her own and build up the nerve to invite her and her husband for over brunch.

4. Pour through cookbook after cookbook, trying to think of the fanciest brunch menu ever contrived and then realize that she'd see right through it. Nix also the idea of cooking all things from her long recipe index but get somewhat sidetracked oohing and aahing over her homemade marshmallows.

5. Finally, relax, confident that the big meeting will be loads of fun and great conversation... tastiness of the food not as certain... but someone as sweet (and Southern) as she is will be gracious, regardless - of that, I have no doubt.

Thus concludes my not-very comprehensive tale of how to (get up the nerve to) host a food blogger. I couldn't be more excited about my first taste of how this internet is making our world so small and connected. You, on the other hand, are saved from me waxing poetic about just that as Abby and her husband, Brad, arrive in about 30 minutes so I'm off!!

to be continued...

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Feasting at the (Cherry) Blossoms

Cherry (and one Apple) Blossoms 2010... as told through only (my unprofessional - seriously, look at some of these) pictures... (meaning I have to keep my mouth shut)

Oh, fine... for clarity's sake, I must interject. One thing my semi-silence doesn't mean is that I think my pictures are good enough to stand on their own... moreso that the beauty of these gorgeous trees (and their associated flowers) should not be tainted by my ramblings.

And lastly... (as if you expected me to stay quiet) I feel this final picture warrants some explanation.

On the second of my two lovely lunches spent down by the Cherry Blossoms, we had delicious, traditional Japanese picnic food - which I was told, is the only appropriate way to have a hanami, the Japanese word for "flower viewing". Two different varieties of freshly homemade onigiri (or "rice balls") - filled with either mackerel or pickled plum, and a hard-boiled egg!

I feel compelled to say that the Japanese have a good thing going... I couldn't have been more content as we feasted on both the views that their trees provide as well as their tasty snacks.

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