I feel like this chapter of my life could be titled “Tales From a Semi-retired Influencer.” From the first post I published on my old Blogspot blog to the present, it’s been a wild ride. Here are some thoughts that have been whirring around my heat and heart lately as I reflect on joys, regrets and learnings from sharing myself online for much of a decade:
“You do you.”
This is the best blogging advice I’ve ever received. This is the best life advice I’ve ever received.
It’s hard to believe I began this blog over five years ago. I was in a really different place as a newish college grad. It never occurred to me that I’d live anywhere other than the Twin Cities. I was completing my first year of graduate school towards a M.A. of Marriage and Family Therapy and apprenticing with one of Minnesota’s only Registered Herbalists.
I tried to follow in the footsteps of my favorite food bloggers of the time who wrote about dining experiences. For someone who had never published anything online before, this struck me as exciting (and terrifying). If you take a look at my old posts, you’ll find many overwrought restaurant reviews. I’ve since tried to remove the most unnecessarily snarky ones. They reflected my experiences with 100% truthfulness, but, three-five years later, we’ve all had time to grow.
If you write about it, people will find you.
Blog analytics programs are fun. They tell you how many people visit your website each month and how long they stay. You’ll discover what links people click on the most and the websites that refer the most readers. My favorite feature lists some of the search words and phrases people enter that lead them to your blog. Since I began blogging over four years, I’ve written about everything from learning about bird mites on Animal Planet to trying my first sip of Arak, a traditional Lebanese spirit that tastes like anise. This range of topics results in some interesting key word searches.
A few of the most popular searches seek information about cooking frozen pizzas, making knoephla soup, and 90’s Midwestern cafeteria food. This post shares some of my favorite examples. Some of my posts provide answers to the questions; others, not so much. If anyone knows how to bake a cake filled with rainbows, I’d love know! My own thoughts and answers follow in bold italics.
HOW TO COOK A FROZEN PIZZA
Never would I have predicted that my cousin Brian Dahlen’s guest post on how to make the perfect frozen pizza would become one of my top posts of all time. People’s questions about cooking frozen pizzas bring the most traffic to my blog.
“How to warm pizza in slow cooker”
how to oven pizza: “Oven” as a verb. I love it!
how do keep frozen pizzas from curling: Good question. We had the worst luck with Jack’s and Tombstone varieties.
half cook frozen pizza on rack then move to pizza stone
“How to cook frozen pizza in hot water”: Depends on your definition of “cook.” Technically, yes. . .
“do you add or subtract 65 frozen pizzas 10 is baked each day”: Oh no, is this a math story problem? Story problems made me cry in grade school.
beth ciles pizza recipe: “Hey Beth, did you ever post a pizza recipe?” Beth: “No.” Wrong Beth C.
I wasn’t the only one searching for more information about that school cafeteria food known as “Mexican Pizza.” Technically, it’s a hexagon because of the six sides, but I had to look that up, too. For more information on finding today’s version of The Fiestada, visit this post.
fiestada school pizza
school mexican pizza recipe
mexican pizza from school cafeteria
octagon school pizza
hexagon school pizza
North Dakota introduced me to knoephla soup and now it’s one of my favorites. This German-Russian comfort food is served at nearly every restaurant and cafe in North Dakota. It’s a creamy soup filled with potatoes, chicken, and flour dumplings. Here’s how I make it at home. The best version I tasted is served at the Home Plate Cafe in Fredonia, ND. Josie’s made my favorite version in Fargo, however, they don’t serve it every day.
how to make good german knoephla
does flour make knoephla soup broth thicker? Thicken with roux.
kroll’s knoephla soup recipe: A popular rendition served at a local chain of diners. Not my personal favorite, but a reliable and easy to find bowl.
bismark airport knoephla soup
how to make knoephla soup without having my dumplings dissolve: Knoephla dumplings are easy to find in the freezer sections of grocery stores around North Dakota. The homemade version I learned to make is like pasta and is too firm to dissolve.
THE ST. LOUIS GATEWAY ARCH
will i get claustrophobic in the st. louis arch? Yes.
the arch saint louis how to reach the summit?
Pizza Lunchables were a big deal when I went to grade school. Here’s my adventure revisiting this product.
lunchables with soda / lunchables that come with can of Coke: They once came with pop? Who knew?
truth of the 90’s pizza lunchables: Wow, there’s a pizza Lunchable truth? I need to know.
that’s a lot of stuff down in the basement by the sink all kinds of lunchables
We learned a lot from purchasing a house without blinds. I did research and ultimate decided to install our own blinds purchased from Menards.
menards blinds / menards faux wood blinds
menards confessions: Intriguing! Is this a romance novel?
FOOD NETWORK PROGRAMMING
People still land on my blog post listing my six suggestions for improving the Food Network’s programming. Here are a few examples:
how come the foodnetwork tv has so many reruns
why is guy fieri on food network tv schedule so much as he is not a cook
why is there never anyone over 35 in giaidas cooking themed shows
CELEBRATING A BIRTHDAY AT JOE’S CRAB SHACK
I’m learning there are lots of people curious about what it’s like to celebrate a birthday at Joe’s. They now have my personal account. As a word of warning, they might write something suggestive on your bib.
joe’s crab shack birthday / what does joe’s crab shack do for birthdays
what do you write on joe’s crab shack bib
restaurant mason city ia spaghetti: Northwestern Steakhouse is one of North Iowa’s most famous restaurants. Everyone recommended me order a side of spaghetti. We felt our meal of Greek-style steaks and spaghetti tossed in meat juices & Parmesan cheese was completely worth the hype.
good cake recipe i’m sorry: Whatever you do, don’t bake this cake that I made as an apology for forgetting my mother-in-law’s birthday. It was disgusting.
sorry birth cake: Oh my.
bake a cake filled with rainbows: Sorry, I don’t know how to do this.
QUESTIONS THAT I CAN ANSWER:
do i need a boarding pass air choice one: Yes
how much is it cost for the course on world wide auctioneer in iowa: As of today 11/27/2015, tuition costs $1,395 with a $250 non-refundable deposit 15 business days before attending. Tuition costs $1,495 if not paid 15 days before attending. See the college’s website for exact details about tuition, deposit, two person discount, due dates, etc. Transportation to and from school + hotel reservations & most meals are the student’s responsibility. Read about what I learned from auction college.
what can you learn about the hierarchy below stairs downton abbey: Read Margaret Powell’s memoir Below Stairs: The Classic Kitchen Maid’s Memoir That Inspired “Upstairs, Downstairs” & Downton Abbey
does butter have to be refrigerated if spread on lefse: No. Hard butter will tear lefse. I leave my butter out at room temperature, anyway.
is apricot jello still being made: Yes, although I had trouble finding it at North Iowa grocery stores. Learn more on JELL-O’s website. You can also try to contact JELL-O via their Facebook page. It looks like they once provided a woman with a list of stores near her that carried Apricot Jell-O.
story telling porn: I’m sorry to bitterly disappoint you with my blog, sir/madam.
parchment mites and birds: I hope this has nothing to do with parchment paper because there’s some in my pantry.
geisha past life quiz: Maybe I should take this quiz to confirm what the strange man told me.
crackpot beef and chicken adobo recipe: I can help you with a crockpot beef adobo recipe, but am not well versed with the crack pot.
the pastor changed into a snikey: What is a snikey? It sounds like a mythical creature.
little brown balls in my egg salad: Throw it out!
Do you have any answers to these questions? Bloggers, I’d love to know the most interesting search words that have brought people to your blog. Feel free to leave a comment.
This past weekend I attended Bloggy Conference and participated in a panel at Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio. Yes, it’s a blogging conference located at a huge amusement park on Lake Erie and it’s awesome.
When we weren’t riding rides or wandering through the haunted corn maze, we attended conference sessions covering different aspects of blogging from affiliate marketing to creating instructional videos to the North Iowa Bloggers panel about creating local connections in one’s community.
Here are 10 of my favorite take-home points that I learned at Bloggy Conference:
From Rachel Martin & Dan Morris’ (Blogging Concentrated) presentation “111 Things You Never Knew About Social Media, Tech & Blogging.”
1. Don’t be stagnant with how you post on social media; keep testing things. If your Facebook views are down, ask yourself how you are continually changing your posts. One reason Instagram has remained successful is because it keeps introducing new features. Rachel & Dan encouraged us to ask ourselves how fast we’re able to alter what we’re doing.
2. There is actualy an app called Ignorenomore that parents can install on their child’s phone. If you think your child is ignoring you calls, you can activate this app which will shut down your child’s phone so that he or she can only call the number(s) you’ve selected, like yours or 911. Supposedly, it’s nearly impossible to uninstall from the child’s end.
From Rachel Martin’s presentation about Facebook pages:
3. When you write your Facebook updates, approach them with the intention of making them so powerful that people will pause at your status when they scroll through their feed. Will your readers connect with your posts enough to want to share them with their friends?
4. The Facebook algorithm awards engagement. Building huge followings of people who only liked your page to enter a giveaway doesn’t necessarily build communities of people that engage with your posts and genuinely want to see what you create next.
5. Share things that you know your community will love. Martin recommends that if you read something and say, “I wish I would have written that,” it’s something worthy of sharing. If you join Facebook/Twitter sharing groups, you may feel obligated to share content that simply isn’t a good fit for your community.
6. Make status updates that are long enough to offer the option where you have to click to “read more.”
From Donna Hup’s presentation on Twitter:
7. Twitter analytics exist! Access your 28-day summary here.
8. Tweeting more than twice an hour results in a drop of your click-through rate per tweet.
From Sara Mock’s presentation “Instructional Videos – Connecting With Your Audience In A New Way”:
9. You can subscribe to Final Cut Pro for $10 a month!
10. Instead of winging a video, try mapping it out ahead of time with a story board. Include a call to action at the end encouraging people to leave a comment (only if you’ll answer them) or find you on other social media platforms.
Thanks again to Sara Broers for inviting me to speak on the Panel “Local Connections Matter.”
Cooking Korean food in North Iowa is often an adventure.
This weekend, Twin Cities food critic, James Beard award-winning writer and author Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl invited me to pop into her radio show/podcast Off the Menu to talk about food and community in North Iowa. She is one of the first food writers I ever followed and her writing inspired me to be curious about exploring our local dining scene. The invitation was very much an honor.
I felt like a North Iowan ambassador. We discussed ham balls, the low ceilings in the Frank Lloyd Wright hotel, Greek influence on our culinary scene, Casey’s gas station breakfast pizza, and North Iowa blogging community. You can actually download the podcast on iTunes later this week.
Our conversation made me reflect upon the challenges that arise from having access to a smaller variety of multicultural grocery stores and food products.
On one hand, I can’t just make Pad Thai or vegetable korma on a whim. Obtaining the ingredients to make these dishes requires enough forethought to grow the ingredients (such as Thai basil) or purchase them online or while visiting a bigger city. Don’t try to find tamarind paste here, it’s basically impossible. On the plus side, I’ve learned how to be more creative and replicate certain flavors with the ingredients that I can find.
We may not have an Asian market or Indian restaurant in town, but friends continue to eagerly introduce me to their favorite food traditions and restaurants. Ham balls, pork burgers, pork tenderloins, loose meat sandwiches, old school supper clubs like Half Moon Inn in Clear Lake, Iowa, gas station breakfast pizza, it’s all been fun. As Deb Brown, the Executive Director of the Webster City Chamber of Commerce said, “We make magic out of small towns because we have to.”
Here’s a simple recipe for pork-tofu patties. I riffed on a recipe from The Korean Kitchen: Classic Recipes from the Land of the Morning Calm. I served the patties with a soy sauce dip, marinated zucchini strips, steamed rice, and kimchi.
Korean Pork-Tofu Patties
Adapted from the recipe for Gogi Chun (Bean Curd and Pork Patties) from The Korean Kitchen: Classic Recipes from the Land of the Morning Calm
1 package of firm tofu. Crumble, squeeze out in towel
1/2 pound ground pork
Handful of finely diced onion
1 clove of garlic, minced or grated
1/3 teaspoon salt
Black pepper to taste
Panko break crumbs. Enough to bind mixture, about 1/2 cup.
Crushed garlic clove
- Remove tofu from package. Crumble with your hands. Wrap tofu crumble in a clean towel and squeeze out excess water.
- In a large bowl, combine crumbled and drained tofu with ground pork, one egg, handful of minced onion, minced garlic, salt and pepper.
- Add enough breadcrumbs to bind the mixture. Let the mixture sit for a few minutes before adding more breadcrumbs. It will tighten up as the breadcrumbs absorb the moisture.
- Form into small patties.
- Fry on each side in a thin layer of hot vegetable oil (I used peanut) until the pork is cooked through. Drain on paper towels and keep warm in the oven on a cooling rack set on a sheet pan until you are ready to serve.
- To prepare the dipping sauce, season soy sauce with grated ginger, crushed garlic, brown sugar and vinegar. I did not have rice wine vinegar, so I used a splash of plain vinegar.