Wednesday, June 27, 2012

I originally posted this a couple of years ago. It's kind of remarkable how much has changed since that weekend at the cottage. Then we were a bunch of childless people celebrating the upcoming nuptials of Hannah and Brady with a weekend-long bachelorette party. There were lakeside pedicures, late night cocktails and more food than we could stomach. 

It seems like a lifetime ago. Now there's Sofia for Nick and Natasha and Hannah and Brady have a baby, too, little Adelyn. They have since moved east, to a beautiful home in the Beaches. Where once we cycled through a system of good times, now all the rules have changed. New truths: Addy and Sofia will be ipso-facto-besties. Dinner parties end before midnight. And all adult attention is placed firmly upon little faces. Happily so.

So, looking back two years, another lifetime.

First (I did it the night before) bake large potatoes, one for each guest. Leave them overnight to cool. In the morning, slice the tops off and, using a melon baller, scoop out the insides. Place those in an oiled pan and season for hash browns (I used fresh thyme and rosemary, grainy mustard, S+P). 
Back to the potato skins. Line the bottom of the skin with thinly sliced aged cheddar. Crack an egg into the potato, gently, so the yolk remains intact. Sprinkle some cooked bacon, dill, salt and pepper onto the egg. Finally, sprinkle with a mixture of panko crumbs and parmesan cheese. 

Put them back in the oven (375° for about 30 minutes) until the whites are fluffy and the yolks are semi-hard. You'll have to eyeball it. 

The potato skin gets double-baked and crispy while the egg is light and fluffy. Add a dollop of crème fraiche and some freshly chopped chives. I served with bacon, toast and the hash browns, as well as a dead-simple green salad with balsamic/maple mustard dressing. 

Holy shit.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Instagram. In just over a year it's become a household word. Recently purchased by Facebook for one billion dollars, I describe this social media platform as "Twitter for visual learners." A quick way to share a moment without the words.

I've been a devotee since the very start. In many ways, my iPhone (with its quite-good camera) has replaced lugging around my "real" camera for the every day. Lots of people have begun to use their phone the way our parents used the Polaroid camera: snapping away at the seemingly-mundane parts of daily life. And instead of saving ourselves for special occasions, we're back to taking photos each and every day. 

Rob Delaney (comedian, hysterical) has noted that Twitter taught him a lot about writing: editing himself, telling a joke in fewer, funnier words. I'd say the same thing about Instagram. Because the commitment is low-stakes and it's so easy to take photos with your phone, I spend far more time on composition and story-telling than I do when I bring out the big guns. Technical image quality becomes secondary and I'm reminded to say something. It's also an opportunity to, perhaps, take photos in a way you might not normally. I always try to remind myself to pull back and show more of the context, to give a little more information. And this kind of round-the-clock image-making keeps me nimble and thinking about light and composition which informs my professional work, too.

Earlier this year, my friend Ryan and I taught a class about Instagram at the Mommy Blogger Conference to End All Mommy Blogger Conferences, Blissdom. It was fun and moderately successful, so I thought I'd share some of our tips from that class here. 

(All photos by me, except the bottom right. Shot by T.J. and given the Brannan treatment through my feed.)

Now, let me start by saying this: Do Instagram however you wanna do it. I'm not saying my way is right or better. This is just information and my personal approach to the app and social networking in general. I get a lot of questions about followers and technique and whatnot, so here's what has worked for me. Warning: Obnoxious lingo forthcoming.

1. Consistency
Easily my number one piece of advice. Like any part of your online persona, your point of view is critical. Think about it: The only reason you follow anyone in social media (or the real world, ie. your friends) is because you love their take on the world around them. The only reason you watch Oprah or read Vogue instead of Cat Fancy or use the same cleaning products year after year is because those brands speak to you. They are consistent. They are reliable.

People want to see and fall in love with the way you see the world. 

So that's easy - If you're the one taking the pictures, your point of view should be obvious, right? Not necessarily. Where Instagram is concerned, a surefire way to create a distinct and consistent point of view is to use ONE filter. Marry yourself to it. Decide what tells your story best and commit. As time goes on, people will see your image and know that it's you. Furthermore, when a new follower is deciding whether or not to follow you, they'll take one look at your profile and have an animal attraction to it. Humans love consistency. Predictability. The familiar. Pattern. I use Brannan. If I take a picture and it doesn't work with Brannan, I don't post it. It's as simple as that.

1.1. Grid Maintenance
This is a big one for me. Remember, potential new followers will look at your Profile Page/Grid to determine whether or not they dig you. If the thing is all over the place (ie. no point of view, no consistency, no "brand") they will likely click out and never look back. But if they like those 16 images and they appeal to their deep-brain need for pattern and consistency, they'll probably follow. So, keep an eye on that opening page. If something jumps out at you, if it's glaring and distracting and takes away from the images around it, delete it. Just go in there and delete it. You'll always have the picture, your current followers have already seen it. So all it's doing now is sore-thumbing it amidst your otherwise lovely grid. 

2. Branding
Each of us uses the internet to varying degrees. I happen to be a fairly active person, what with this blog, Twitter, Instagram and a general emotional-reliance on all of it. Over the years these places have become an outlet to build a persona, share my life and work and evolution. I joke regularly about brand-management. But, if you take any of this at all seriously, it's not entirely a joke. There's something to be said for creating and maintaining a consistent point of view to which people are drawn. Martha Stewart does it. At some point in her career, her point of view and genuine, personal approach to living her actual life became a brand. And when people started wanting to live with (and up to) that brand she became a logo. But don't lose sight of the fact that it started in a very real place. Points 1 and 2 go hand-in-hand, so I'll say it again: Humans love consistency. Live your point of view.

2.1 Brand development
This can be elaborated upon. While I think being consistent is absolutely #1, I also think each social media platform can allow you to develop and finesse your brand. To put it in fairly simple terms: I started my blog in 2008. It was then and has remained fairly sincere and pleasant. My Twitter is considerably more brazen/sarcastic/cuss-laden. And my Instagram feed is, by all accounts, balls-out twee. Now, these are all genuine aspects of my real-world personality, but when you combine them, you get a sense of my fully-formed point of view. Some people may avoid my tweets because they're not into the F word or my pop culture commentary. Some people may avoid everything else because they are. All I'm saying is, know your audience and cater to each appropriately. 

2.2 Because all of these platforms are interconnected (Post to Facebook, Share on Twitter!, etc.) it's critical to remember the invisible line drawn between each. Do not feed every single Instagram through Twitter. Do not post all your Tweets to Facebook. Remember that each audience follows you for different reasons and one thing may not translate to another. Fact: Twitter audiences do not care about pictures of your feet. Instagrammers love it. So don't shit where you eat.

I'll post more in the InstaGrammar School soon. Next up: Social Networking with Instagram for your professional development, app recommendations and my technical tips to get the most out of your iPhone camera.