Mini Blueberry Peach Crisps
“Two established #girlbosses seek an equally ambitious and delightful summer social media intern to design and implement killer social media marketing strategies for two new sub-ventures of their cross-collaborating creative brands.”
While in the middle of a thunderstorm, sitting under the same patio umbrella that had just days before shaded me from the 90 degree heat, that sentence actually came out of my head. It sounds brilliant. I think what it means is: will someone please just show me and my best friend how to effectively use Instagram? That new sub-venture for my best friend is a new business. One that she is well suited for, one that is long overdue, and the wild success of which I know is going to take her by surprise. I can hardly contain my excitement for it. For me it is this space. Seems that I went about this whole blogging thing a little backwards. Most bloggers began as bloggers and through months and/or years of cooking and shooting can now very legitimately call themselves food stylists. Almost seven years ago I started food styling, assisting the absolute best of the best in the industry totally by accident. Now I’m here and trying to figure out how to make space for myself in an overcrowded and very loud market.
For every personal online journal out there, there are about 20 articles on the proper way to start, manage, and maintain one. Everyone has an opt-in, a buy-in, a sign-up, a 10 step program, beautifully branded printables, Facebook groups, and a six part video series guaranteed to bring you overnight success for the low, low price of $295. It’s mind bloggling. See what I did there? Seriously though have you ever seen that YouTube video of the fainting goats? No? Go watch it right now. I’m happy to wait because the mental reaction to this information overload is kind of like that. Panic followed by paralysis. There comes a point when you have to stop taking in and start taking action.
Ever since college I’ve had this weird personality disorder (one of many I’m sure) that makes it next to impossible to pick up an important task until all other pointless and irrelevant tasks around me are squared away first. I could never sit down to study until after I’d cleaned my room, folded laundry, organized my bookshelf, etc., etc. By some miracle I did manage to make time to graduate. Nowadays, when I sit down to write or set up to shoot, the act of scouring the oven inside and out becomes so pressing it simply must be done before I can focus. That often leads to re-folding all the clothes in my messy dresser drawers, organizing my bathroom shelves and so on and so forth. It’s terribly annoying and likely, as with most annoying things, fear-based in some sense and certainly born out of a need to cross something tangible off of my to-do list. Those of you who took psych in college have likely diagnosed me with chronic OCD at this point.
When I set the very large and, in my mind, very urgent task before me of getting this space organized, naturally I did what I do and went on a cleaning spree. And then some. I purged my apartment of all the useless things collecting dust, every expired spice, and of nearly every article of clothing I haven’t worn in the past 6 months (a most tangible representation of clearing my mind), I planted flowers in my window boxes, resolved to paint all of my furniture the faintest and most feminine shade of pink (and promptly bought the supplies), cut my hair, bought a new dining room table, and ordered a new camera. And now, for the love of all things, it’s time to get down to business. Short of resurfacing my floors and rebuilding the engine in my car there is literally nothing else left to do.
The fact that I’ve learned these things doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m really great at putting them into play yet but I’m working on it. If you’re starting something, anything, and you can’t figure out where to begin, here’s what I’ve learned in the past couple of weeks. Maybe it will be helpful for you too.
1. Make space
Whatever you need to do to clear your mind and your schedule, do it. But don’t get hung up on it for too long. See above.
2. Define your core things
For years the Nordstrom employee handbook was a total of 75 words. No more. During that time they had the highest retail sales per square foot in the industry. Obviously they were on to something there. I was a finance major and therefore, one would assume, an automatic proponent of a lengthy, detailed business plan. Well, I’m not. I don’t contribute regularly to my IRA either but that’s a conversation for another time. A business plan is an absolutely critical part of any new endeavor but it can quickly become a monster of epic Russian novel proportion if you let it. Maybe that’s your jam. Maybe that’s even your way of making space. Amazing. Get to it and get on with it. I’m the opposite. I happen to know that I can easily end up burying myself in creating plans on plans and lists of lists to the point where it becomes it’s own venture. Yes, it is most often the case that the more specific you are and the more you define, the better. For those of us that are quickly overwhelmed or easily given to hiding behind something like this in order to avoid getting down to the real work, there is much value in simplicity.
So instead, begin by writing down why you started so you can remember. I gave myself 5 to 10 guiding words that describe me and thus my “brand” by which to measure any and all pieces of content created against. When you’re stuck and are tempted to channel someone else’s voice or style or whatever because you’re having trouble finding your own, you can go back to this mini-mission statement and recalibrate. Simplicity also allows for flexibility. It gives you some breathing room. If you’re starting a construction company or a venture capital firm or something, by all means, please create iron-clad operating procedures. But if your endeavor is a creative one, simplicity and flexibility are key. Your path should be an organically wandering dirt one, not one laid in concrete. Your summer sundress with the empire waist is much more fitting here than the tight-ass skinny jeans that you have to discreetly unbutton every time you sit down. You see what I’m saying? Too many times I’ve started off having too narrowly defined myself. The result is one area that is adequately nourished while the others slowly starve for attention and expression. Because that one area hogging all the attention isn’t strong enough to hold up all the others, eventually the whole thing grows stale and unsatisfying and it collapses.
Food is my passion for both very simple and also wonderfully complex reasons. It’s a broad umbrella. I see the glory and beauty and playfulness and brilliance and endless possibility of the created world through and in food like nothing else. And it's a BLAST. So on a very basic level, I just like to make beautiful things out of it. Beauty for the very simple sake of beauty. Somehow I got to make a career out of doing that. Because I work with food on a daily basis, I’m now all about eating consciously and feeding yourself very well but in my heart of hearts I’m a baker which has absolutely nothing to do with health. I’m also super passionate about feeding others, about living life around a table and a meal and the kind of community that can create. And about teaching people how to cook so that they can cultivate meaningful community in their own lives. I’m also all about encouraging people to quit their day jobs and pursue their real passions with abandon and to hold the voices of those that offer encouragement over those that condemn (and there will be those voices) because those are things that I’m living and have lived and because of that I have something of value to offer others going through similar things. These are the reasons why I started. All of these things need sufficient airtime. Humor, adventure, boldness, beauty, faith, simplicity, and authenticity are my words. Now you know. And I’m accountable to you too.
If you over-define yourself, after awhile you can’t move. Trust me, I’ve been doing it for years under the good-natured advice of all the printouts and e-courses I’ve amassed that are doing their best to help me take the first critical step of “defining my brand.” It took far too long and one very purposeful conversation with that friend to realize that I AM my brand. I am all of these things. And these are the topics for me that never lose their luster. It’s not possible to single one of them out and expect that to be sustainable. Now if I woke up one day and decided to add a subcategory on my blog about knitting or interior design well, I’ve clearly started to wander off into the weeds and it’s probably time to return to my words and why I started. There are parameters. But your umbrella can still be large and wide and colorful. And it should be.
3. Make a list
Biting off more than you can chew is the fastest way to fainting goat status. But breaking a larger long-term goal into more manageable, perhaps monthly ones makes actionable steps more identifiable. Make a list of those steps and practically outline how to get them done. The word practically is key. Batching tasks and time-blocking have been infinitely helpful when it comes to keeping my wandering mind (and time) on track. Caution: when you start making lists of lists, it’s time to stop and perhaps make a note on your tendency to do so in light of the next point.
4. Know yourself
Get to know your own self-soothing, procrastinating habits so when you start to fall into them you can recognize it and quickly pick yourself up out of them. Social media, mindless television, compulsive cleaning (obviously), obsessive list making, etc., all count as these things.
5. Start with an encouraging yet brutally honest support system.
You need someone you can call (or who will call you) at 6am when you’re curled up in your bed, afraid to come out from under the covers, knowing full well that the most beautiful light is about to break through the window and what you should be doing is making a stiff cup of coffee and switching on your camera. After years of supporting executives at some of the most influential companies in Silicon Valley, my best friend is starting her own company focused on helping aspiring (i.e. me) and established bloggers develop their brands and run their businesses. Already her clientele is impressive. Divine provision at it’s finest, right? Obviously I won. Even if your best friend isn’t a blogging business girl boss, you can still build a network of key supporters capable of giving valuable insight, honest feedback and relentless encouragement on the days when all you want to do is give two middle fingers to the whole thing and go get a job at Starbucks. In addition, every Monday at 1pm a reminder goes off on my phone to check in with a friend that has committed to holding me accountable when it comes to making time to write. It’s hugely beneficial. Whether its a mentor, an accountability partner, a small group, a small business coach, doesn’t matter. Find those people. Love them. Value them. Pledge your most gracious feedback-receiving skills and utmost transparency to them. And encourage them back.
So that’s what I know at this point. If you’re starting/creating/building too, I hope it was helpful. And I would love to know what you’ve learned thus far so as to save myself the time and excruciating pain of getting there on my own. Finally, because this is a food blog, I brought you a recipe. And a quite beautiful one at that.
Mini Blueberry Peach Crumbles
These pretty little peach numbers are one of the easiest most satisfying sweets you could possibly throw together. Crisps and crumbles are a given in Fall and Winter but market-fresh peaches and blueberries make them decidedly Summer. If you don't have mini cast iron pans (because honestly why would you?), double or triple the amount of fruit (you should still have enough streusel) and bake in an 8 inch square glass dish.
Half pint fresh blueberries
2 peaches, sliced
3 tablespoons coconut palm sugar (or brown sugar), divided
1/4 cup all-purpose or gluten-free flour
1/4 cup chopped pistachios (almonds or pecans would work too)
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled.
Mixing bowls (2)
2 mini cast iron pans or a small baking dish
Half sheet tray
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees, line the sheet tray with parchment, and place your cast iron pans on the tray. Gently combine the blueberries, peaches, 1 tablespoon of the sugar in a bowl. Divide the mixture between the pans (or pour it all into whatever dish you're using.) In another small bowl whisk together the remaining sugar, flour, nuts, salt, and cinnamon. Pour in the melted butter and stir. The mixture will be crumbly but should just hold together when pinched with your fingers. Top the blueberry mixture with the streusel and bake for 25-35 minutes until the top is golden and the inside is bubbling. Cool slightly before serving and top with ice cream.