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Q&A with Suk Lee and Bob Song, editors of Never Give Up: Jack Ma In His Own Words

Jack Ma is not your average business leader. He started his first Internet company with no knowledge of computer coding. Now, he runs a multi-billion dollar business that in 2014 conducted more online transactions than Amazon and eBay combined. Despite his substantial influence in China, and a net worth estimated to be north of $21 billion, Ma’s remarkable story is generally unknown to the American public.

In Never Give Up: Jack Ma In His Own Words, Suk Lee and Bob Song have collected Ma’s thoughts on business, leadership, innovation, and much more. To celebrate the book’s publication, we are sharing a Q&A with the editors.

 

What business insight will readers learn from Jack Ma that they won’t hear from any other business leader?

Jack is a successful Chinese entrepreneur and he changed the e-commerce world in China. Before Alibaba, Chinese small- and medium-business owners were limited in their ability to connect and sell to other businesses and consumers. Jack has enabled millions of people worldwide to conduct e-commerce with each other, whether it’s business-to-business or business-to-customer transactions. Also, Chinese culture and values gave Jack Ma a different perspective and insight on business. For example, the following quote tells the readers about Jack’s tai chi philosophy:

“I love tai chi. Tai chi is a philosophy. [It’s] about yin and yang. Tai chi is about how you balance . . . I use tai chi philosophy in business to calm down. There is always a way out and to keep yourself balanced. Competition is fun. Business is not like a battlefield where you die and I win. In business, even if you die, I may not win.”

—interview with Charlie Rose, World Economic Forum, January 23, 2015

We selected many great quotes that readers outside of China may have never heard or read. In fact, the business philosophy of Jack is a great combination of Chinese culture, Japanese theory, and American science. We hope to share with readers the wisdom of the East, which has thousands of years of history. Jack Ma exemplifies this wisdom through his thinking and his quotes.

Did you learn anything surprising about Jack Ma while researching this book?

Bob visited Jack’s personal club, Tai Chi Zen Institute, and met with Jack’s assistant, Mr. James Chen, on the afternoon of September 1, 2015 in Hangzhou. When Bob entered the room he saw thousands of Jack Ma’s Chinese books on the table. Bob found out that 20,000 copies were sold out in only one hour at Taobao.com, which is the biggest B2C e-commerce platform in the world. That’s when Bob realized just how influential Jack Ma was to Chinese citizens.

In researching for this book, Suk saw many videos of interviews with Jack Ma. During one interview, Jack Ma was dressed up as a drag queen, and he performed in front of his employees at one of the big Alibaba anniversaries. The performance showed that Jack Ma can make fun of himself, and she knew right away that he is not your typical CEO.

 

What can current and future business entrepreneurs learn from Jack Ma?

It is Jack Ma’s integral belief that clients come first, employees second, and shareholders third. In the West, it is usually the other way around. Jack says this belief should become a universal value. The Hong Kong Stock Exchange could not accept this belief. Alibaba decided to pass on the HKSE and instead listed on New York Stock Exchange in 2014. Current and future business entrepreneurs can learn about company priority from Jack Ma: clients first, employees second and shareholders last.

 

In 2014, Alibaba’s online transactions totaled more than those of Amazon and eBay combined. Why do you think Jack Ma’s story is relatively unknown in the United States?

In the Chinese market, we can find about 600 titles on Jack Ma. In America, we can find about 10 titles on Jack Ma. Our book, Never Give Up, is a comprehensive history of Jack Ma’s quotes from the founding of the company to now. We hope our book will give readers a better understanding of Jack Ma’s philosophy. Jack is helping millions of small-and medium-sized enterprises—including American businesses—develop business with China. In the next 20 years, China will have 300 million to 500 million middle-class citizens, which means Chinese consumers will become more important even outside China since this middle class will generate demand in every area. In the past, Alibaba has not directly impacted the lives of many American citizens. People in the United States may hear business stories about how much revenue Alibaba Group generates or how wealthy Jack Ma is, but because Alibaba is not, for example, competing directly with Amazon, Google, or eBay in the United States, they don’t think about it much. If and when Alibaba’s plans to help more and more American small businesses sell to Chinese customers start to take effect, the United States will start to better understand the power of Alibaba.

What will be readers’ greatest takeaway from Never Give Up?

The title says it all. “Never give up” is one of Jack Ma’s most famous quotes. Throughout his life, he experienced many failures and learned from them. We leave the reader with this quote:

 

Five years ago, my colleagues and I wanted to create the world’s greatest company. Many thought such talk was mad. But no matter what was said, my dream to create such a company didn’t change.

In the Internet recession of 2001–02 we talked only about ‘surviving.’ Even if all the other Internet companies died, we had to survive. And we did so only by refusing to give up, by believing in our dream. This incessant effort and constant ability to learn from our mistakes led to success. While today is tough, tomorrow can be even tougher. However the day after tomorrow may be beautiful. But too many will give up after tough times on the eve of tomorrow night. Therefore, never give up today!”

—receiving Economic Person of the Year in China Award, CCTV-2, December 28, 2004

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Q&A with Ron Faiola, author of Wisconsin Supper Clubs: Another Round

Author and award-winning filmmaker Ron Faiola's new book, Wisconsin Supper Clubs: Another Round, is the highly anticipated follow up to his first book, Wisconsin Supper Clubs (Agate Midway, 2013).

Featuring interviews with club proprietors and loyal customers, funny anecdotes, as well as beautiful full-color photography, Wisconsin Supper Clubs: Another Round is a second helping of everything that made the first Wisconsin Supper Clubs such a hit. To celebrate the book's publication, we are sharing this Q&A with the author below.

Your first book, Wisconsin Supper Clubs: An Old-Fashioned Experience, is a runaway hit. In what ways was it different to travel and research the clubs after the success of the first book? Did you approach anything differently? Did you have any encounters with fans?

Obviously the supper clubs I went to for the new book were happy to be in the second book, with some owners giving me some good-natured ribbing about not being in the first book. There were two things I did differently this time around. The first was to only visit one supper club per night. For the first book, I was on a tight deadline and would have to do two or, on the rare occasion, three supper clubs per day. This time, doing one per night meant I was there when the kitchen was active and customers were there. The second thing was that I asked the owners to invite customers, friends, and family to be at the club while I was doing the profile so they could socialize and enjoy the food. It worked out great in that I was able to get plenty of food photos and try a bit a food myself while the people that were invited got to enjoy some great meals.

 

Why did you decide to go back for “another round”?

I had originally wanted to visit 100 Wisconsin supper clubs for the first book, but I just didn’t have the time, so I ended up visiting 50 clubs. Once the book was released, the reaction was so terrific that I realized I needed to update my master list and visit 50 more.

 

Let’s say that Ron Faiola is going to open his own supper club. Where would you open it and what items would be must-haves for your menu?

I’d reopen an old supper club, maybe the former Pyramid Supper Club in Beaver Dam.

Who could resist an Egyptian-themed supper club housed in a pyramid in the middle of a cornfield? The menu would have the classic supper club dishes like prime rib, fish fry, and a relish tray with cheese and liver spreads, homemade salads, raw veggies, and ripe green olives. The olives are hard to find, but they are very tasty and unique (and available in Italian grocery stores under the Cento brand).

 

What is the mark of a good supper club?

A full parking lot and a two-hour wait for a table.

 

Why is the cocktail so synonymous with supper clubs? Do you think it has anything to do with the fact that so many clubs seemed to have been friendly with bootleggers during Prohibition?

Supper clubs as we know them today didn’t exist during Prohibition, especially in Wisconsin. They were dance halls or resorts or former taverns that served whatever was available from the bootleggers. After Prohibition ended, the food as well as the cocktails got more sophisticated, especially at supper clubs. Cocktails were a more upscale choice than the usual shot and a beer that was served at a tavern. Of course, in Wisconsin, the supper club cocktail of choice was and still is the brandy old-fashioned, which is enjoyed by both men and women.

 

As in your first book, this book is full of anecdotes about the history of each supper club. What is your favorite story from this round of clubs?

I love the ghost stories because I’m sort of on the fence about ghosts. I’ve never seen one, and I’ve never had a spooky encounter—yet there are lots of people that have these very detailed and very similar experiences at the supper clubs. So I’m like the Cowardly Lion in the Wizard of Oz . . . I’m all bravado until I meet up with a ghost.

 

This book includes a few reader polls related to traditional supper club offerings, such as relish trays (though we won’t give the results away here). What’s your favorite element of a supper club dining experience?

I enjoy walking in, sitting at the bar, relaxing with a drink, reading the menu, and deciding what to order.

 

You’ve now produced and directed a documentary and published two books—all about Wisconsin supper clubs. How did it all begin?

It started with the economic collapse in late 2008 and 2009. All my corporate video production work disappeared in 2009 and instead of panicking, I decided to shoot a documentary on the Wisconsin Friday night fish fry tradition. No one had done that before, and the film, Fish Fry Night Milwaukee, was immediately licensed by both Milwaukee Public Television and Wisconsin Public Television for broadcast in 2010 and beyond. During production of the fish fry movie, I was looking for a supper club fish fry to feature in the film and realized that no one had documented Wisconsin supper clubs either. That topic became my second film, which was licensed to PBS nationwide. Rick Kogan who is on WGN Radio and writes for the Chicago Tribune wrote a glowing review of the film, which led to a book deal from Doug Seibold at Agate Publishing in Evanston. I agreed to write the book, and the result was huge—both for the book and supper clubs.

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Agate at Printers Row 2016

This Saturday and Sunday, June 11-12, Agate will be returning to Printers Row Lit Fest, the Chicago Tribune's annual book festival, which happens to be the largest of its kind in the Midwest. Come visit the Agate staff and many of our fantastic authors in Tent BB, located on Dearborn Avenue just north of Polk Street. There will be deeply discounted prices on both new books and back-listed titles. 

If you're interested in meeting any of our authors, check out the schedule of demos, talks, and book signings below.

 

Saturday

Marilynne Robinson in conversation with Mary Schmich

Sat., 10-10:45am, Harold Washington Library Center, Cindy Pritzker Auditorium

More Info Here

 

Raymond Lambert, ALL JOKES ASIDE

Agate Tent Signing: Sat., 11am-12:00pm, Agate Publishing Tent

 

Freda Love Smith, RED VELVET UNDERGROUND

Agate Tent Signing: Sat., 12-1:00pm, Agate Publishing Tent

 

Diana Moles, Jolene Worthington, and Maureen Schulman, THE ELI'S CHEESECAKE COOKBOOK

Sat., 1:45-2:15pm, Food and Dining Stage

Agate Tent Signing: Sat., 2:30-3:00pm, Agate Publishing Tent

More Info Here

 

James P. DeWan, PREP SCHOOL

Sat., 2:30-3:15pm, Food and Dining Stage

Agate Tent Signing: Sat., 3:30-4:00pm, Agate Publishing Tent

More Info Here

 

Jocelyn Delk Adams, GRANDBABY CAKES

Sat., 3:30-4:00pm, Food and Dining Stage

Agate Tent Signing: Sat., 4:15-5:00pm, Agate Publishing Tent

More Info Here

 

Sunday

Coffee with Mary Schmich and Eric Zorn

Sun., 10-11:00am, Center Stage

More Info Here

Chefs from the Green City Market, THE GREEN CITY MARKET COOKBOOK

Sun., 11-11:30am, Food and Dining Stage

Agate Tent Signing: Sun., 12-12:30pm, Agate Publishing Tent

More Info Here

 

Jeannie Morris, BEHIND THE SMILE

Agate Tent Signing: Sun., 11:30am-12pm, Agate Publishing Tent

 

JeanMarie Brownson, DINNER AT HOME

Sun., 12:45-1:30pm, Food and Dining Stage

Agate Tent Signing: Sun., 1:45-2:15pm, Agate Publishing Tent

More Info Here

 

Joan Barnes, PLAY IT FORWARD

Sun., 3:30-4:15pm, Hotel Blake, Dearborn Room

Agate Tent Signing: Sun., 4:45-5:15pm, Agate Publishing Tent

More Info Here

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Q&A with Joan Barnes, author of Play It Forward

Entrepreneur Joan Barnes details her journey of professional success and personal struggle in her memoir, Play it Forward: From Gymboree to the Yoga Mat and Beyond. Barnes is the founder of Gymboree, an innovative, billion-dollar household brand, and her book offers a refreshing perspective on the ongoing national conversation about work-life balance, from a woman who built her business with balance at its heart.

Play It Forward offers wisdom and inspiration, and reminds us that our most difficult stories, when bravely and transparently told, can have a lasting impact on others. To celebrate the book's publication on June 1, we are sharing this Q & A with the author below.


Why did you decide to write Play It Forward? Why now?

After I sold the yoga business and took a pause, many—including publishing people—encouraged me to write my business memoir. While I knew my two entrepreneurial turns became home runs and held valuable lessons, and that the story had some punch, I resisted. Why? Partly due to humility, and to be honest, partly due to wanting to feel passionate about that sort of project, which, I can now vouch, is a significant undertaking! 

I was, however, up for speaking engagements, particularly at women’s entrepreneurial conferences. That seemed like something I could do. As I started speaking publicly and saw the raw, heartfelt, tearful, and enthusiastic reactions of audiences to my unvarnished story, as well as repeated requests for a copy of my “book,” I experienced a shift. As time passed, I knew deep inside that my story held significance and meaning for others, especially women, and that a book could make a genuine contribution to a variety of audiences. When my partner enthusiastically agreed to coauthor, I was all in.

 

You write frequently about the improvisational character of your leadership at Gymboree. What’s your sense of both the strengths and challenges of that approach?

Ah, yes, improvisation in leadership! In my early entrepreneurial days, the cliché “on-the-job training” had robust application. I had neither business training nor role models to guide or inspire me. When lady luck dropped opportunities at my doorstep, I threw caution to the winds, believing I could make it all happen. Acting with a passion-driven vision thrilled me.

The consistent challenges of having a strong and persistent “can do” perspective are staying faithful to what you believe in and who you are and being careful not to line up to satisfy others’ expectations. Essentially, you are running two businesses: one outside and one inside you. Both need vigilance to maintain integrity and achieve ultimate success.

 

What do you see as most different for women entrepreneurs today, compared to when you started your company?

Business culture has changed significantly and more favorably for women. When I was building Gymboree, I was a little out of step with the times, as most women, if they worked at all, were limited to a narrow list of traditionally female employment and business opportunities. The climate was tricky for launching women-owned businesses. Now, we are blessed with so many innovative, dynamic, and bright women entrepreneurs putting their mark on any number of industries. While there is much work to do, women are steadily redefining the business world.

A major byproduct of these changes is that women have increased access to capital, as more investors are willing to finance entrepreneurial women and share in the success of their leadership. And, importantly, women have developed a powerful network of mentors, role models, and support systems. It is a great time to be a woman entrepreneur.

 

What’s your advice for women seeking to become entrepreneurs?

Never, ever, stop believing in yourself. Surround yourself with the best colleagues possible and give them room to create. Identify mentors and role models. Leave pride at the door and seek out people who inspire you. Their advice and support is invaluable. Experienced and successful women are gracious about giving back. After all, that kind of sisterhood is second nature to most women! Dream big, take risks for what you believe in, and doggedly pursue your vision and goals. Treat setbacks (or, if you must, “failures”), as springboards for the next success.

 

What are some of your personal beliefs about the best way to achieve work-life balance?

The best way to begin is to acknowledge that work-life balance is elusive. As is said in yoga poses, “balance, she comes, she goes.”Accepting that there is no consistent moment-to-moment balance makes things easier.

Personally, I access and assess my personal value system as a yardstick for how to live and make decisions, both in and out of business. Work-life balance, then, is seen in the rear view mirror to get the long view of whether and how I have dedicated myself to the all-important practice of checking in with myself, my inner board room and what is truly important to me. My slippage comes from not catching my shadow where the ever-present danger of prioritizing the expectations of others over mine can hijack me. This kind of unconscious habitual environment can lead to temporary overload, imbalance, and ever-dreaded stress.

I urge working hard to establish and honor boundaries in order to ward off tendencies to feel guilty or too self-involved about making private time for you and your loved ones. As I honor myself, I gain both my own respect and the respect of others. We are all in this together!

 

What’s next for you?

Other than writing a sequel to Play It Forward with my coauthor, I have no grand plans. It might sound trite, but my focus is on continuing to do whatever keeps me in personal harmony. And yes, I am always on the lookout for creative expressions that grab me!

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A Grilling Giveaway for Memorial Day

If you're like us, then you have been eagerly anticipating the official kickoff to grilling season. An adventurous subset of you may have been stoking the coals since April, and maybe some of you have even had to refill your gas grill tank already. But as the weather gets downright balmy in Chicago, all of us are looking forward to a Memorial Day weekend with plenty of barbecue.

To celebrate the warm weather and national holiday, we will be giving away a copy of the brand new, beautifully redesigned title 1,001 Best Grilling Recipes, 2nd edition, by Rick Browne.

Author Rick Browne is known as one of the country's foremost authorities on grilling. The creator and host of the PBS TV series Barbecue America, Browne is also the author of 12 cookbooks. In this volume, he's created an encyclopedic collection of recipes drawn from cuisines around the world, with a particular focus on North American and Asian traditions.

To enter our contest, comment on or share our posts on Facebook and Twitter. We'll be selecting a winner this week and sending you a free copy! If you just can't wait that long, see a bonus recipe below from 1,001 Best Grilling Recipes.

Thai Beer-Can Chicken Satay

Yield: 4–6 servings

This is beer-butt chicken using Thai spices and marinades and a satay (peanut) dip- ping sauce. If you can’t find Thai beer, substitute any American brand. The chicken won’t know the difference.

Chicken

1 (4–5 pound [1.8–2.3 g]) chicken

2 (14-ounce [392-g]) cans unsweetened coconut milk

½ cup  (118 mL) loosely packed chopped fresh cilantro

3½ tablespoons (52.5 mL) turbinado sugar

3 tablespoons (45 mL) yellow curry paste (or 1 tablespoon [15 mL] curry powder)

3 tablespoons (45 mL) Thai fish sauce

8 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped

1½ teaspoons (7.5 mL) ground white pepper

1 (12-ounce [354-mL]) can Singha (or other Thai beer), to taste

Dipping Sauce

3 tablespoons (45 mL) vegetable oil

2 tablespoons (30 mL) red curry paste

½ cup  (118 mL) finely diced shallots

2 teaspoons (10 mL) chili powder

½ cup  (118 mL) finely ground roasted peanuts

¼ cup  (60 mL) smooth peanut butter

¼ cup  (60 mL) packed brown sugar

1 tablespoon (15 mL) tamarind juice

1½ teaspoons (7.5 mL) salt (or to taste)

4 cups  (0.95 L) unsweetened coconut milk

1. With a sharp barbecue fork, poke the chicken multiple times in the breasts and thighs to help with the marinade process. Place the chicken in a 1- to 2-gallon (3.8- to 7.6-L) resealable plastic bag and set aside.

2. In a food processor combine the 2 cans coconut milk, cilantro, turbinado sugar, yellow curry paste, fish sauce, garlic, and white pepper and process until smooth. Pour the marinade over the chicken. Marinate the chicken in the refrigerator for at least 5 hours or overnight, turning occasionally.

3. Preheat the barbecue to medium high (350°F [180°C] to 400°F [200°C]) for indirect heating, putting a water pan under the unheated side of the grill.

4. Drain the chicken well and discard the marinade. Open the beer can and pour off half of the beer.  Slide the chicken tail-side down over the can, using the legs to form a stabilizing tripod.

5. Place the vertical chicken on the unheated side of your grill and cook for 1½ to 2 hours, or until an instant-read thermometer reads 160°F (71°C)°.  Carefully remove the chicken from the beer can and place it on a cutting board. Cut it into quarters or serving pieces.

6. In a small saucepan, heat oil over medium high heat until a drop of water sizzles when dropped into the pan. Add the shallots, red curry paste, and chili powder and heat until fragrant, approximately 2 to 3 minutes.

Add the peanuts, peanut butter, brown sugar, tamarind juice, salt, and the 4 cups (0.95 L) coconut milk. Reduce the heat to low and simmer gently until the oil rises to the surface. Remove the pan from the heat and spoon the satay sauce into small serving bowls, one per person. Keep warm.

7. Arrange the chicken on a heated platter and serve with the dipping sauce.

Reprinted with permission from 1,001 Best Grilling Recipes, 2nd ed., by Rick Browne, Agate Surrey, 2016.

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The Human City rave review in Wall Street Journal

In this past weekend's Wall Street Journal books section, Shlomo Angel reviewed Joel Kotkin's new book, THE HUMAN CITY: Urbanism for the Rest of Us. The headline in the print edition reads, "In Praise of Urban Sprawl: Suburbs provide not only the majority of American residences but also of jobs." For those of you who wish to read it, you can follow the link here

Should you not have a subscription to the Journal, here are a few select excerpts from Angel's piece that describe Mr. Kotkin's views:

Joel Kotkin in ‘The Human City: Urbanism for the Rest of Us,’ presents the most cogent, evidence-based and clear-headed exposition of the pro-suburban argument. In Mr. Kotkin’s view, there is a war against suburbia, an unjust war launched by intellectuals, environmentalists and central-city enthusiasts. In pithy, readable sections, each addressing a single issue, he debunks one attack on the suburbs after another.
[Mr. Kotkin] weaves an impressive array of original observations about cities into his arguments, enriching our understanding of what cities are about and what they can and must become, with sections reflecting on such topics as ‘housing inflation,’ ‘the rise of the home-based economy,’ ‘the organic expansion of cities’ and ‘forces undermining the middle class in global cities.’
[Mr. Kotkin] argues that central-city living is largely unaffordable by the middle class, let alone the poor; that central cities are becoming the abodes of the global rich, encouraging glamorous consumption rather than providing middle-class jobs; and that dense urban living in small, expensive quarters discourages child rearing, a critical concern for policy makers in many industrialized countries today. (There are 80,000 more dogs than children in San Francisco.)
Mr. Kotkin, in his unabashed defense of the essential role that suburbs play in cities the world over, is clearly on the offensive. . . . All the same, and much to my delight, the book does not read as a diatribe or an anti-urban manifesto. Mr. Kotkin comes across as a relaxed, confident and experienced litigator standing in front of a jury of readers and making his case; and ‘The Human City’ does provide a vision for a legitimate and pragmatic urbanism that could and should become mainstream.
 Joel Kotkin, author of  The Human City: Urbanism for the Rest of Us

Joel Kotkin, author of The Human City: Urbanism for the Rest of Us

 

 

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Q&A with Tom Salonek, author of The 100

Award-winning tech entrepreneur Tom Salonek shares his secrets to business success in his new book, The 100: Building Blocks for Business Leadership. Salonek offers practical advice based on his experiences as the founder and CEO of Intertech, which Fortune recently named the #7 Best Workplace for Flexibility and the #5 Best Small Workplace in Tech.

For anyone who owns a business, is thinking of starting one, or simply wants to be a more effective leader at work, The 100 will help establish clear visions and compelling values. To celebrate the book's publication earlier this month, we are sharing this Q&A with the author.

Why did you decide to write The 100?

The 100 started as a guide for my employees to share how we do things at Intertech. As I started writing, I realized the concepts applied to many organizations and not just my firm. When I read a book, attend a conference, or read an article, I find myself earmarking the ideas that I want to implement. In The 100, my goal was to give readers something practical and actionable in each of the 100 sections. Hopefully, if the book hits home with reader, their copies will all have 100 earmarks.

What was your own experience starting up Intertech? What lessons did you learn?

In the beginning, it was controlled chaos. I worked insane hours, I took on any project regardless of whether or not it was in my wheelhouse, and I was so focused working “in the business” that I didn’t work “on the business.” I learned a lot of lessons starting the firm.

One of the biggest lessons I learned was that great people make a great organization. When hiring, take time, be stringent, and be consistent. When I was starting out, I was so focused on not missing out on work or opportunities that I was too quick to hire—I’d hire someone over a coffee. Today, we have eight separate steps in our interview process and hire only one out of every 20 applicants. The process is thorough, and the right employees appreciate that we set a high bar. The wrong employees are weeded out or opt out themselves.

I also learned that life is short. For clients and employees, if it’s not a positive relationship, cut bait and move on. When starting out, I would tolerate the employee who was technically gifted but who acted like a prima donna. I would tolerate the client who used berating as a tool to get more “value” out of the work provided by our team. Today, we have a thorough hiring process, but when we make a mistake in a new hire, we’re quick to fire. It’s a similar story for clients. While it doesn’t happen much, if there’s a client who sees us as a “bar of steel” and not a partner—or thinks raising his voice is a motivational tool—we’ll finish up the project professionally and pass on future opportunities.

 Tom Salonek, CEO of Intertech

Tom Salonek, CEO of Intertech

 

What inspired you to write “the shortest book” on this subject?

When I attend a workshop or read a book or periodical, I’m the type of person who’s looking for the answer or core idea. Theory, while good to know, isn’t as useful to my business as practical, actionable, and proven ideas and tools are. My goal was to create a book where there were a lot of implementable ideas to grow and improve a business.

What advice would you give to someone just thinking about starting a business?

There never will be a perfect time to start a business. I started Intertech in a recession. To limit risk, ask yourself if there’s a way to dip your toe in the water without quitting your day job. Also, set it up to succeed or fail quickly. It’s not about money or significant investment. From co-location workspaces to all the resources available through cloudbased services to the sharing economy, there are a lot of ways to start with minimal expense. The amount of resources available for an entrepreneur is staggering. From books to workshops to online resources, the challenge isn’t to find resources—it’s to sift out what is practical and useful. My hope is that The 100 provides a quick read with plenty of actionable ideas for the aspiring entrepreneur.

What’s your advice for entrepreneurs whose businesses are on the decline?

Action cures fear. When you’re actively focused on the solution and working the problem, you feel more empowered. For a business in decline, remember that you’re not the first to experience this problem. Who do you know within or outside your organization that could help generate ideas to turn things around? Start with “green light” brainstorming session around the core problems causing the decline. Ask, “In what ways can we increase sales?” or “In what ways can we reduce expenses to improve profitability?” After all the ideas are on the table, sort from first to worst, and then act.

What are you working on next?

For Intertech, we’re investing in and growing our Internet of Things (IoT) consulting practice. IoT is projected to grow five-fold (from about 5 billion devices currently connected to the Internet to the 25 billion projected to be connected in 2020). The future is a world where everything has a sensor connected to the Internet. IoT consulting is the type of work our consultants love, so that makes it a win all around: our consultants get work that gets them up early and keeps them engaged; our customers get a great solution because engaged folks produce solid work; and our firm wins because happy customers and employees results in great retention and profits.

On the writing front, a couple of years ago, I wrote a children’s book. It was mainly a way to teach my then three- and five-year-olds manners. I'm toying around with another book to help with my next parenting challenge.

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Q&A with Patty Pinner, author of Sweet Mornings

Acclaimed cookbook author Patty Pinner's newest release, Sweet Mornings, compiles 125 of Pinner's favorite sweet and savory breakfast and brunch recipes. These authentic, generations-old recipes hark back to the wholesome basics, helping new bakers build their repertoire and reminding more experienced of the heritage dishes they've made with loved ones. Years of wisdom and kitchen experience are amassed in Sweet Mornings, making it a perfect addition for any home cook in need of reliable morning recipes.

 

Add a little sugar to your mornings with your own copy of Sweet Mornings. A Q&A with Pinner is below.

 

Your family has southern roots, but you grew up in Michigan. How do these recipes combine southern comfort with your midwestern lifestyle?

My family does have southern roots—Mississippi, Tennessee, and New Orleans, to be exact. On the weekends, when time was less structured, the women in my family prepared breakfast and brunch meals that were reminiscent of the morning meals that they grew up eating in the South. 

As I recall, the first "southern" breakfast that I ate was my aunt Frances's. It was large and resembled a full-course dinner more than it did a breakfast. I had never had a breakfast like Aunt Frances's—it included eggs, bacon strips, smothered potatoes with onions, fried chicken, smoked ham, buttermilk biscuits, gravy, fried apples, a berry cobbler, and various home-canned fruit preserves. Before that, I had only heard about the magnitude and diversity of a country breakfast—how they were prepared big and hearty to sustain farmers and their workers while they plowed through their daily farm chores. Now, I was actually living, eating, and enjoying the wonders of one. When I'm cooking breakfast or brunch for company, I often use that meal as my guide. 

My cooking and entertaining rituals are also influenced by my mother and her southern roots. I like to cook savory dishes that are seasoned with chopped onions, garlic, and bell peppers; my mother used to call it the "Trinity" of southern cooking. No good cook prepared a meat dish without her vegetable Trinity. I like to add lots of sugar and butter to my desserts. It was what I was used to, what I have always seen the women in my family do. My mother would call me into the kitchen to see her adding secret seasonings and performing her secret methods to her cooking. This is how I learned to cook, watching the techniques of other cooking women.

When I bake, I like foods that are quick and easy to prepare, recipes that require ingredients that I already have. I actually find comfort in foods that take me back to the security of my childhood. Savoring comfort in everyday life, and in food, is the hallmark of midwestern living.

 Patty Pinner, author of Sweet Mornings

Patty Pinner, author of Sweet Mornings

 

Why do you particularly love sweet treats for morning meals?

I grew up in a family that considered breakfast the most important meal of the day. My father was famous in our family for saying things like, "A waking body benefits greatly from the nourishment that a morning meal provides." My mother expressed similar thoughts and so did my extended family. I was surrounded by people who preached the value of good morning nourishment. The pleasure and necessity of a good breakfast are rooted in me.

Growing up, our meals included the usual savory fare—smoked bacon or homemade sausage, eggs, pan-fried potatoes—and a slice of something sweet was almost always included. Those meals were plush, warm, cozy, and welcoming. The coffee cake, bread pudding, sweet loaf, or drizzle of pancake syrup really put a Sunday hat on breakfast or brunch.

A sweet treat displayed on a morning table gives everything a bright, special air. I love the way a sweet addition jazzes up a breakfast. We're all used to the typical breakfast of bacon and eggs, but the addition of sweet pie or cake redefines it.

 Cherry Granola

Cherry Granola

 

Have the women in your family impacted your baking?

Even though Sweet Mornings includes a huge selection of recipes and culinary techniques that I've picked up here and there, I am always drawn to the classic recipes and old-fashioned cooking tactics of the women in my family. My mother created moods with food. My grandmother said that good cooking was a woman's glory, and my mother's eldest sister, Marjell, told wonderful food stories. 

I love to make mornings special, just like the women in my family have. I cherish the recipes that were passed down to me. Most of my maternal relatives are wonderful cooks, and when we're together, we talk about food and recipes. We talk about flaky pie crusts, moist cakes, heirloom cookies, and how food was gathered and prepared back in the day. Sometimes that's all we do—on the phone and in person—exchange recipes and talk about food. I don't think anyone would admit it, but we all have a competitive cooking spirit.

 Aunt Bulah's Brown Sugar-Hazelnut Biscuits

Aunt Bulah's Brown Sugar-Hazelnut Biscuits

 

Many home cooks are intimidated by making breakfast and brunch. How do you keep it quick and easy in the morning?

I know that many people are rushed in the mornings; there's work, school, and other vital appointments. There are four things that I do when time is of the essence. First, I try to maintain a supply of baggies and storage containers. I use these to store prepped foods for easy access. Second, anything that I can prepare the night before—cutting up fruits or vegetables, for example—I do. Third, when I know that I'll be short on time in the morning, I set out the utensils that I'll need the night before. Last, there are some morning treats that require effort and time no matter what you do. These recipes are better left for mornings when you aren't so rushed. When I want to give my family a quick and easy breakfast with some spark, I serve cereals—hot or cold—in nice dishes, topped with chopped nuts, fresh fruit, or a dollop of whipped cream. It's nothing short of magic, how nice china can add a lilt to a mundane meal.

 

What's next for you as an author?

I am working on a book featuring chocolate desserts: cakes, candies, cookies, pies, and puddings. I've seen many chocolate cookbooks but never one from a black chocoholic's perspective. The proposed manuscript features some of the same people as my previous cookbooks. It is similarly nostalgic, but it highlights stories of chocolate cravings.

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Jocelyn Delk Adams on TODAY making Cinnamon Roll Pound Cake

In case you missed seeing author, blogger, and baker extraordinaire Jocelyn Delk Adams on the TODAY Show, fear not! You can watch the full segment here, in which Jocelyn shows Matt Lauer how to add a modern twist to a Cinnamon Roll Pound Cake recipe inspired by Jocelyn's grandmother, a.k.a. Big Mama.

 Jocelyn Delk Adams with her grandmother, affectionately known as Big Mama, who inspired her blog and cookbook,  Grandbaby Cakes .

Jocelyn Delk Adams with her grandmother, affectionately known as Big Mama, who inspired her blog and cookbook, Grandbaby Cakes.

If you haven't had a chance to read Jocelyn's new book, GRANDBABY CAKES, we've got you covered! You can find out more about it on our website, where it's on sale for only $20, or pick up a copy at your favorite bookseller:

 Find your local indie bookseller

Find your local indie bookseller

 Learn how to make this delicious Cinnamon Roll Pound Cake by clicking the image above!

Learn how to make this delicious Cinnamon Roll Pound Cake by clicking the image above!

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Q&A with Maureen Schulman, coauthor of The Eli’s Cheesecake Cookbook

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Q&A with Maureen Schulman, coauthor of The Eli’s Cheesecake Cookbook

Today is the publication date for The Eli's Cheesecake Cookbook, a title that is 35 years in the making. This book celebrates the anniversary of a signature Chicago dessert and the restaurant where it all began. Opened by Eli Schulman in the late 1970s, Eli's The Place for Steak quickly became a pillar of Chicago's culinary community, a noted celebrity watering hole, and much beloved for its rich and creamy Chicago-style cheesecakes.

The Eli’s Cheesecake Cookbook celebrates the 35th anniversary of Eli’s Cheesecake. Why do you think Eli’s Cheesecake has stood the test of time?

Eli’s has stood the test of time because, plain and simple, Eli’s Cheesecake is a great dessert. We have always put quality first and maintained the standard of excellence put forth by Eli himself. Whether it was at Eli’s The Place For Steak, purchasing the best cuts of meat, or testing sour cream as it went through the culturing process every hour for 18 hours—great quality, excellent ingredients, talented pastry chefs, and dedication to detail always stands the test of time.

Also, Eli’s Cheesecake is different than most cheesecakes in terms of taste and texture. If you like it, you’re a fan for life because nothing else tastes quite like Eli’s. It’s like a souffléed custard on the inside, a little firmer and golden on the top and sides, and not too sweet. My father-in-law is credited with creating Chicago-style cheesecake, and that’s what Eli’s is: richer and creamier than its New York counterpart and baked on an all butter-cookie crust instead of graham. 

 

In the book, you share stories as well as recipes. Which is your favorite anecdote?

When President Clinton came to Eli’s The Place For Steak for dinner and the Secret Service told us we couldn’t tell anyone about his arrival, even the staff. I suggested telling Hal Roach, our great piano bar entertainer, so that he wouldn’t react. The SS said that they would have the President at his table so fast, Hal wouldn’t even notice. The President wasn’t in the doorway for more than a second, when we all heard “Hail to the Chief” being played on the piano!

I also really like the Shrimp Marc story, when my husband was being interviewed for a job at a law firm. After looking at a fairly impressive resume, the interviewer asked him if he was Shrimp Marc.

 

Beyond the obvious differences you describe above (texture, crust), what sets Eli’s Cheesecake apart from other cheesecakes?

I guess you could say we’re control freaks. We do everything ourselves, from having ingredients made to our specifications and selecting certain fruits from specific groves at specific farms to making all our caramels, ganaches, and fruit compotes in house. So basically, nothing goes into or on top of an Eli’s Cheesecake unless we’ve made it, tested it, and tasted it. 

We still do a lot of things the old-fashioned way. There is handwork on almost every cheesecake and dessert we make. We have a decorating line that looks a lot like the candy scene from I Love Lucy. If a cheesecake has a swirl, decorators literally stand there with the skewer and make sure every swirl is beautiful. They dust the cocoa, smooth the tops, pour the caramel—real pastry artists are working on every cake.

 

Why did you include some savory favorites in addition to the many cheesecake recipes?

Eli’s The Place For Steak was a very popular restaurant and had a loyal following. It closed ten years ago, when the building was torn down to make room for Lurie’s Children’s Hospital. People ask us all the time if we will reopen Eli’s because they miss certain dishes. Since the book has a timeline theme to it and the cheesecake was created in Eli’s kitchen as the signature dessert for the restaurant, we thought it would be fun to include the most requested recipes. By far, Liver Eli is the most beloved.   

 

The book discusses how Eli’s took a scientific approach to cheesecake. What’s the secret to creating perfect cheesecakes at home?

Baking is a science, so we felt the best way to approach the recipes was to address the issues that affect the outcome of baking a perfect cheesecake. In the “Demystifying the Cheesecake” chapter, we call out the “Must do’s”: tempering ingredients, adding one ingredient at a time, scraping the mixing bowl after each ingredient addition, mixing slow and long, baking hot and fast, and letting the cheesecake rest at room temperature for an hour before releasing it from the pan. Once you understand those elements, you’ll be able to troubleshoot if your cheesecake turns out to be less-than-perfect and adjust your process for next time.

 

What do you hope readers gain from The Eli’s Cheesecake Cookbook?

Confidence. Cheesecake is traditionally considered an intimidating dessert to make at home. If you do everything outlined in these recipes, the cheesecake will turn out perfectly. And if, for example, the cake cracks, the reader is now armed with the scientific knowledge to address the problem. I think our approach empowers the home cook to not only make a great cheesecake, but to understand the principles behind successful baking. The book provides a jumping-off point to be creative. 

 

What’s next for Eli’s Cheesecake?

Continuing the year-long 35th anniversary celebration and, of course, the sequel to this cookbook. We’re also planning to expand the bakery to meet demand and create new desserts. 

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Visit Agate at the 30th Annual Printers Row Lit Fest

The sun is finally shining, the lakefront beaches are filling up, and here at Agate, we’re gathering books together to take down to the South Loop. Yes, it’s time for the 30th annual Printers Row Lit Fest, put on every year by our friends at the Chicago Tribune. Agate will be in tent  “AA” again, on Dearborn St. near the intersection with Polk, and right across from Sandmeyer’s Bookstore at 714 S Dearborn St. Come by to check out our new books for Spring 2014, peruse through our backlist titles (all on sale!), and say hi.

A number of Agate authors will be at the Fest as well, demonstrating recipes or giving talks. They will be signing copies of their books in the Agate tent a half hour after their program concludes. Here’s an annotated schedule:

Saturday

10 AM, Good Eating Stage – Paula Haney, author of The Hoosier Mama Book of Pie, will be demonstrating her famed Hoosier Mama Sugar Cream Pie and Rhubarb Pie, along with basics of making pie dough.

10 AM, TribNation Stage – Stephan Benzkofer and Mark Jacob, co-authors of 10 Things You Might Not Know About Nearly Everything will amaze you with a fascinating assortment of odd factoids and tidbits, including many about Chicago history and culture.

12 PM, Jones College Prep/Classroom #5034 -- Robin Daughtridge, Chicago Tribune associate managing editor of photography and video and author of Capone: A Photographic Portrait of America’s Most Notorious Gangster, in conversation with author Jonathan Eig. Images will be shown.

12:30 PM, TribNation Stage – Join Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Mary Schmich in conversation with fellow Tribune columnist Eric Zorn, discussing her recently published column collection, Even the Terrible Things Seem Beautiful to Me Now.

Sunday

11 AM, Good Eating Stage – We’re publishing The Green City Market Cookbook in July, but in the meantime, you can join Beth Eccles of Green Acres Farm, Rita Gutekanst of Limelight Catering, and Green City Market board member Elizabeth Richter, all of whom are either vendors or serve on the Market’s board. They will be appearing in conversation with Tribune Food Editor Joe Gray.

11 AM, RedEye Stage – Agate’s own Doug Seibold will discuss the statue of the publishing industry after digital disruption and the future of the industry, along with other local booksellers and indie publishers.

2 PM, Center Stage – Bill Hageman, one of the editors of the fun and informative book Life Skills, which provides detailed illustrated instructions for tasks from the most random to most practical, will be appearing on a panel with Colson Whitehead and Amy Krouse Rosenthal. Mark Bazer, founder of The Interview Show at the Hideout and co-host of WTTW’s My Chicago, will be moderating.

2:30 PM, Good Eating Stage – James P. DeWan takes both experienced and novice chefs back to basics in his book Prep School, demonstrating some kitchen techniques that every cook should know.

3:30 PM, Good Eating Stage – Take a trip to the dazzling Provence region of France (home to Cannes, Marseilles, and famous rosé wine), with Viktorija Todorovska and François Millo, authors of Provence Food and Wine: The Art of Living.

3:30 PM, Jones College Prep/Classroom #5034 – CNBC senior producer Lori Ann LaRocco (author of Opportunity Knocking) and global PR firm GolinHarris CEO Fred Cook (author of Improvise) discuss the secrets of the C-Suite with moderator and Chicago Tribune business columnist Melissa Harris.

 

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Indian for Everyone preorder promotions from author Anupy Singla

This October, Agate Surrey is very pleased to be publishing Indian for Everyone, the new book by Anupy Singla, author of the bestelling The Indian Slow Cooker and Vegan Indian Cooking. Below is a message from Anupy regarding preorder promotions that she is sponsoring:

We're just five months away from the official release of my third book, Indian for Everyone, and I predict that this is going to be an amazing summer. Why? Because we are going to party--Indian style. There's a lot to celebrate.

Free books: I'll be giving away a free signed copy of either The Indian Slow Cooker or Vegan Indian Cooking for every 500 new "Likes" on my Facebook Fan page and on my blog as well.

Free spice blends: I'm also so excited to start giving away samples of my latest product offering--custom Indian spice blends from Chana to Tandoori Masala. You are going to love them. I'll be running promotions on them soon. In the meantime, you are a click away from experimenting with them.

Free gorgeous PDF: My favorite promotion of all? The gorgeous PDF my publisher and I have put together for all of you just for pre-ordering my third book. It's yours--just for pre-ording. (Thank you to everyone that already has--you will receive an email with your exlusive password next week.) In this eleven-page spread you'll get a one-pager of your key Indian spices with pictures, the same for legumes, a tutorial on sprouting, and some extra recipes that have not made it into any books yet. I also included a delicious mango lassi recipe. You can get this previous only by pre-ordering, so get to it!

I realize, after dedicating the last five years to writing cookbooks and recipes, that it takes a village to help spread the word and sell books. YOU are all a part of my village. I hope you will all help by purchasing at least one copy of Indian for Everyone...or maybe even two. Its release (October 2014) is timed perfectly for the holidays and Diwali. It's hardcover with pictures that will just blow your mind. They are absolutely gorgeous--not to mention functional. I have step-by-step process shots on how to make roti, makki ki roti, and samosas. This WILL be your go-to Indian cookbook.

So, go ahead. Get clicking, so I can get cooking on some more promos and more fun ways to get us both in the kitchen prepping gorgeously delicious Indian meals at once healthy and authentic.

xoxo Anupy

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For Julia Child at 101: riding the Wienermobile

 

Sanford "Sandy" D'Amato is a legendary American chef whose Milwaukee restaurant, Sanford, has been showered with praise and awards from outlets such as Bon Appetit, Gourmet, Zagat, and the James Beard Awards. His new memoir/cookbook, Good Stock, will be out from Agate Midway in November.

In honor of what would be Julia Child's 101st birthday, we're posting this advance excerpt from Sandy's forthcoming book, detailing the time he and Julia rode the Weinermobile.

It was quite a few years before I saw Julia Child again (in person) after Le Veau d’Or—about 15 to be more precise. It was six months into our first year at Sanford, and I was a cofounder of the original American Institute of Wine and Food (AIWF) chapter in Milwaukee. We had planned a series of events, and the main part of the festivities, scheduled for September 4 to 7 of 1990, was to accompany Julia around the state to showcase the bounty of Wisconsin. Her first visit to the state was to conclude with the chapter’s inaugural dinner at Sanford on her last night.

After several days of stops around the state, we were humming along on the return flight when Julia’s aide, Gabrielle, called me to the jet’s window.

“Sandy—what is that?” she asked.

I peeked out. “Oh my God! It’s the Wienermobile! This is great! They sent the Wienermobile to pick us up!” I was enraptured, until Gabrielle replied, “I don’t think so.”

A flush of fear crossed my mind. Would this be the second time I missed the Wienermobile?

When I was about five years old working (hanging out) at my dad’s grocery, the Wienermobile used to make unannounced stops at local stores to promote their products. As it pulled up in front of our store, I jumped up on the front radiator to look out the window and saw the door rise. Out strode Little Oscar, all four and a half feet, dressed in his signature floppy-hatted chef outfit. He was headed for our front door when I panicked and ran screaming to the back room of the store. The rest of the neighborhood kids got a tour of the Wienermobile along with complimentary official wiener whistles. I always regretted missing my chance.

It seemed like the sun rose, as Julia leaned toward the window and said, “I think I’d like a ride in that wiener bus.” Julia, where have you been all my life? And so transpired as surreal an experience as I’ve ever had: riding down I-94 in the Wienermobile with Julia Child, as the Oscar Mayer theme song blasted through the interior and exterior speakers. We blew along with our de rigueur wiener whistles, as drivers in passing cars honked and waved.

As we pulled up to our destination, the Pfister Hotel, a large, wiener-curious crowd had already gathered, and as the DeLorean-style flip-up door rose, Julia majestically strode out— it was a vision of worlds colliding. The crowds, with their gaping mouths, surely thought this was the largest chef that had ever walked out of the Wienermobile. I think the aura of the Wienermobile even won Gabrielle over.

The most inspirational part of being with Julia for that trip was watching her passively educate everyone around her with the intuitive questions she asked. She had the enthusiasm of a food reporter and recorder, and as soon as she asked a question, I would think, Of course! Why didn’t I ask that? It is the same commonsense brilliance that any great chef has when they produce a dish that is so simple and delicious that everyone chides themselves for not coming up with it. She had an inexhaustible need for knowledge and was always learning—a consummate professional.

To learn more about Good Stock, go here.

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Printers Row Lit Fest

From Agate's Anjali Becker:

Here at Agate, early June means one thing: the Printers Row Lit Fest. Put on every year by our friends over at the Chicago Tribune, the PRLF is a weekend-long celebration of books and authors. Hundreds of thousands of people descend on the Printers Row neighborhood to browse tents-full of books, hear authors speak, and mingle with other book-lovers. 

Agate will be selling books at special discounts in our tent, which can be found on Dearborn just north of Polk. Additionally, a number of Agate authors will be appearing at the fest—scroll down for the schedule.

Saturday, June 8:

-Power Vegan author Rea Frey will appear in conversation with Dawn Jackson Blatner (registered dietitian, author, and Chicago Cubs nutrition consultant), moderated by Tribune writer Monica Eng; 10:00-10:45 at the Good Eating stage

-Prep School author James P. DeWan will host a cooking demo; 11:00-11:30 at the Good Eating stage

-Long Division author Kiese Laymon joins fellow debut authors Samathan Hoffman and Jason Mott in a discussion moderated by author Scott Blackwood; 11:30-12:15 at the Jones College Prep Student Learning Center.

-Soup & Bread Cookbook author Martha Bayne will sign copies of her book at the Agate tent; 1:15-1:45

-Ramblers author Michael Lenehan joins Ted Cox and Robert Weintraub to discuss sports stories in a panel moderated by Tribune sports editor Tim Bannon; 1:45-2:30 at the University Center Park Fountain room.

Sunday, June 9:

-Vegan Indian Cooking author Anupy Singla will sign copies of her books at the Agate tent; 11:00-11:30

-The New Old Bar author Dan Smith demonstrates the art of party foods and classic cocktails; 12:15-12:45 at the Good Eating stage

-Hot Doug's: The Book author Doug Sohn in conversation with the Tribune's "Cheap Eater" columnist Kevin Pang; 1:00-1:45 at the Good Eating stage

-10 Buildings That Changed America authors Dan Protess and Geoffrey Baer will screen parts of their book's companion documentary that aired nationally on PBS and discuss how they chose the buildings and made show, moderated by Tribune editor Mark Jacob; 2:00-2:45 at the Wyndham Blake Hotel's Burnham Room.

-Agate president Doug Seibold discusses the state of ebooks with Mark Jacob, moderated by Tribune editor Colin McMahon; 3:30-4:15 in the University Center's River Room.

For a complete schedule of events, click here. And of course, various Agate staffers will be on hand to sell books and talk about our upcoming season all weekend long. We hope to see you there!

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Guest Post - How Divorce Court Saved My Marriage

Judge Lynn Toler is the author of the newly released Making Marriage Work (Agate Bolden 2012) and My Mother's Rules (Agate Bolden 2007). She's also the featured judge on Divorce Court, the longest running court program on television. A longer version of this essay previously appeared on Huffington Post Weddings.

Judge Lynn Toler

As the judge on Divorce Court, I am familiar with the thematic mistakes made in marriages. Yes, I know the show is often a little silly, but when my husband and I were staring into the marital abyss, I learned a valuable lesson from Divorce Court that helped me out at home.

I learned this particular lesson from couples who couldn’t figure out how they had gotten to Divorce Court in the first place. They had marriages that went awry in such small increments they didn’t know what had happened. But before me they were forced to compress years' worth of trouble into a short presentation. Each telling me a different story the other was usually surprised to hear, they often found that they were coming apart not because one or both were wrong, but because of unexamined needs. Seeing that scenario play out before me over and over again helped me figure out what was going wrong in my own home.

Lynn and Big E on their wedding day

By year 19, my husband, Big E, and I were off the road and deep in the weeds. Having become a father at 19, my husband married his first wife and had four children by the time he was 26. As a result he never got to do as he pleased because he did so much for others. When he looked at me he saw new and unencumbered. He saw me as the first installment in a lot of choices he was owed. 

I, on the other hand, was raised in a house that rocked and rolled on the rhythm of whatever was wrong with Dad, who was brilliant, principled, and also bipolar. Stuff was jumping off at my house all of the time and you never knew when or why. When I looked at Big E, I saw stable, safe, and secure.

Once we married, however, every time E didn’t get his way it was another drop in a bucket of sacrifices. By being willing to give me the children I sought—which, when you think about it, is huge—he took everything else off the table. Any desire I had that didn’t match his got me a little static. Though E was just ordinary, everyday annoyed about things, I didn’t see it that way. Even the mildest objection he raised prompted that voice in the back of my head to say, “Shut it down; it could go bad.” So instead of engaging in any meaningful exchange, I capitulated, repeatedly.

If you keep selling surrender like that, eventually the other person buys. Over time I taught my husband that by merely furrowing his brow he could get me to back off my position. And once you start that nonsense, the person whose pardon you are continuously begging begins to believe that you are, in fact, a perpetual problem. 

Of course, the hardest thing in the world for anyone to see is oneself. I didn’t know all this was what we were doing until I stepped back from where we were and looked at it as if I were on the bench. That’s when I saw all of the small stupid that landed us where we were. Once I got past the anger I started to address my own fears and learned how to communicate effectively. He followed suit because he saw that I had changed in a way that was in his best interests. We then decided to fight the problem instead of fighting one another.

Lynn and Big EOf course, this does not guarantee we’ll get to happily ever after. Marriage is quite the journey and things change all of the time. But our marriage is better now because it is a mindful one. We keep an eye on our competing needs. We no longer act on that right-now feeling without considering long-term consequence.  We have made a conscious decision to be consciously married. We also have our fingers crossed.

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Agate at Printers Row Lit Fest

Agate's had a booth at the Chicago Tribune Printers Row Lit Fest for the last nine years. It's always a fun event, bringing together publishers, booksellers, and book lovers from around Chicago. This year, we're proud to bring several of our authors for panels and signings. Also, be sure to visit our tent just north of the intersection of Polk and Dearborn for lots of discounted Agate titles.

Saturday, June 9th

11:15 am – Anna Blessing, author of LOCALLY GROWN, will be discussing farmers markets and sustainable eating at the Good Eating stage, with Janine MacLachlan, chef Sarah Stegner of Prairie Grass Cafe, and Monica Eng.

1:00 pm – Agate president Doug Seibold talks about the new Agate Digital ebook partnership with the Chicago Tribune's Geoff Brown at the Trib Nation stage.

2:30 pm – Anupy Singla signs copies of her best-selling THE INDIAN SLOW COOKER and her new cookbook VEGAN INDIAN COOKING at Agate's tent T, north of Polk and Dearborn.

Sunday, June 10th


1:00 pm – Monica Pedersen, author of MONICA PEDERSEN MAKE IT BEAUTIFUL, discusses design and entertaining the Chicago way, with Chicago Home and Garden editor Jan Parr, author of CHICAGO SPACES: INSPIRING INTERIORS, at the Good Eating stage.

3:15 pm – Anupy Singla demonstrates Indian cooking from her new cookbook VEGAN INDIAN COOKING at the Center stage.

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A Handbook for the Travel Writer

A good novelist can sweep readers away on a journey, carrying them to new lands to meet new people and experience new things. Travel writing does much the same thing, but the locations, peoples, and encounters are all real. The travel writer fashions her travel experiences into a narrative that illuminates both her own experiences and the places she was traveling though. Along the way, the travel writer will have to contend with all of the hassles that any normal traveler might face. When she returns, she must also go through a set of potentially overwhelming practical challenges: writing, editing, submitting, and publishing the resulting piece.

This is why we’re pleased to be publishing the seventh edition of the bestselling The Travel Writer’s Handbook, by Jacqueline Harmon Butler and Louise Purwin Zobel (click for a link to Amazon). This handy guide walks readers through the travel writer’s process. From how to pitch a story to planning and researching a trip to conducting on-the-road interviews, The Travel Writer’s Handbook provides a road map for finding success as a travel writer. This new seventh edition contains all the most essential and up-to-date information on how travel writers can tap into mobile and online resources to find new ways to publish and publicize their work, as well as to help with planning and preparation.

We hope you find The Travel Writer’s Handbook helpful. Happy traveling!

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Q & A with Soup & Bread Cookbook's Martha Bayne

Martha Bayne is the author of Agate Surrey's new Soup & Bread Cookbook: Building Community One Pot At A Time. In 2009, Martha began the free weekly soup potlucks that became the Soup & Bread series at The Hideout in Chicago. Now in its fourth year, each week Soup & Bread features soups contributed by  various well-known Chicago area chefs (Paul Kahan, the James Beard-bedecked maestro behind Blackbird and Avec, and Stephanie Izard, winner of Bravo’s Top Chef, have stopped by) as well as a range of nonprofessional soup enthusiasts. Guests are encouraged to leave a donation, and all proceeds benefit the Greater Chicago Food Depository and other neighborhood food pantries. The recipes from these weekly dinners formed the basis of the Soup & Bread Cookbook. We asked Martha about soup, the community-building focus of soup exchanges, and what some of her favorite recipes have been.

Why soup, as opposed to another type of meal?

Soup just seemed the right fit, both practically and conceptually. For one, it’s generally easy and inexpensive to prepare, so we aren’t asking too much of the contributors in terms of their time and money. Unless, of course, you’re Paul Kahan and you decide to throw truffles in your split pea soup. But that’s your business! Soup is easy to serve—all you need are some soup warmers, ladles, and bowls—which is important in a nontraditional setting like a tavern, where there might not be a full-on kitchen. (Side note: At one point we considered buying some toasters and throwing toast parties, but that never really caught on. I wonder why?) And, of course, soup is a hallmark of help in hard times, from the soup lines of the Depression to the classic soup kitchen model to mom bringing you chicken soup when you’re sick. When we started doing Soup & Bread in 2009 the recession had really just hit in a big way, and people in my world—as everywhere—were losing their jobs left and right. Soup seemed a way to connect the dots between the Hideout’s relatively small community of artists and weirdos and the larger cultural moment.

What do you think makes soup a particularly communal meal?

It’s a very forgiving dish, but from a creative perspective the culinary possibilities are endless, so you’re able to please even very picky eaters. And there’s something just so metaphorically satisfying about a community sharing a meal out of one big pot. When I started working on the book, over and over again people would say, “Oh, well of course you know the stone soup story, right?” The fable about the little village that is starving until everyone contributes a potato or a carrot or an ounce of beans to create a pot of soup? I swear I first heard it in preschool. But, it’s such a great story! It really epitomizes the ability of cooking, and cooking soup in particular, to create community, and of the ability of a community to sustain itself by harnessing the collective power of even its humblest, most raggedy parts.

The Soup & Bread series has become a noisy, communal, well-attended affair that many Chicagoans look forward to every winter. When you began back in 2009, did you ever consider that the event would resonate with so many people?

Not a clue. When this started I thought it would be a fun, casual way to get people out of the house in the depths of winter and raise a little money for a good cause at the same time. I had no idea it would take off the way it did—with hundreds of participants and more than $25,000 raised to date—and it’s been personally very gratifying to see this project grow and evolve. I’ve been particularly heartened by how many people have volunteered not just to make soup (or come eat it) but also to show up early to set up tables and slice bread, to take on boring behind-the-scenes work like helping post recipes to the website, and to jump in to set up events in other cities.

What do you hope the guests at a typical Soup & Bread event would take away from the evening?

I hope they take away the idea that a benefit doesn’t have to be a stuffy, rubber-chicken affair for rich people. That it’s possible to do good and have a good time to boot. That hospitality can be a radical act, and that it’s within their power to take an idea like Soup & Bread or any of the other grassroots community-building ideas in the book and run with them, in whatever direction strikes their fancy.

Can you talk about any particularly inspiring soup-related stories that you’ve learned through the Soup & Bread series?

This isn’t so much a story as an experience, but this summer we did a one-off event as an emergency benefit for the Garfield Park Conservatory, a beautiful 100-plus-year-old structure on the west side of Chicago that was severely damaged in a hailstorm. It’s a wonderful community resource and I’ve spent a lot of time there in the past as a volunteer. After the storm shattered something like 13,000 panes of glass in its greenhouses I threw together a Soup & Bread, for which a dozen restaurants and cooks donated soup and hundreds of people came out to attend. Given that it was organized in just a few days, it was thrilling to raise almost $3,000 in just a few hours, and the staff members who showed up were so happy both for the outpouring of appreciation and for the chance to kick back a bit and have fun after what had been a truly horrible week for them. That was inspiring.

What were the most popular soups you’ve seen over the years? The most unusual?

Squash soups seem to be very popular, year after year, as well as black bean and lentil soups. But it’s been fun to track some culinary trends through soup as well. In 2010, for example, an inordinate number of tortilla soups turned up at Soup & Bread. That was shortly after Rick Bayless won Top Chef Masters, and seemed to coincide with a general surge in interest in regional Mexican cooking. I think Mike Sula’s Asian Carp soup takes the prize as the most unusual thing ever to pass through our Crock-Pots (sweet-and-sour, challengingly bony) but there have been some other extreme efforts as well, like a turkey soup made with stout beer and chocolate chips, or my friend Vera Videnovich’s chicken and nettle soup, made from the weeds running wild on her farm. Then there was the genius night when, in a moment of random soup synchronicity, seven out of eight soups were all the same shade of taupe/tan. We dubbed it “The Night of Beige Soups.” A pot of chili was the lone outlier.

 What’s next for Soup & Bread?

The whole point the book is to show that these kinds of projects are just the tip of the iceberg—that soup is really an open-source idea—so I’d love to see other people take it up and launch their own Soup & Bread-style events, and I’d like to see Soup & Bread become a resource for them.

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Free Ebook Giveaway: Creatures Here Below (Part 2)

Loyal blog readers will recall our giveaway last month of the ebook version of O.H. Bennett's powerful new novel, Creatures Here Below. They may also recall our little hiccup regarding the availability of the ebook on Amazon. We felt so bad about this inconvenience that we wanted to offer everyone a second chance to download this terrific and very moving book. You can get the ebook for free on Amazon, or if you prefer the EPUB format, you can download it here.

This giveaway serves as a fitting end to our Black History Month celebration (you can still see our discounted titles here). We really appreciate the insights of everyone who participated in the discussion on this promotion of our Bolden titles, which is our imprint dedicated to the best in African-American fiction, nonfiction, and memoir. But we can't stress enough, as our friend Troy at the AALBC commented on our blog post (linked above): Black history month is not a panacea for all the ills heaped upon Black Americans -- far from it. But every little bit helps. Even though February is ending, we hope that readers will continue to recognize the contributions of African-American writers as well as continue the dialogue about race and representation in this country. These aren't ideals reserved for a single month, but rather necessary topics to keep in mind year-round.

As always, we promise to keep delivering intelligent and accessible work throughout the year by some of America's best African-American authors. We hope you enjoy this free ebook of O.H. Bennett's "moving and poignant coming of age novel" and find it as vivid, rewarding, and bold as critics have. In the meantime, we'll keep fulfilling the request of our friend Tayari Jones by bringing you more books by talented brothers (and sisters).

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Ebooks and why we celebrate Black History Month

From Agate’s Zach Rudin, sales and marketing coordinator: We have another special offer for you. For the entire month of February, we’ll be offering discounted prices on ebooks from our Bolden imprint, which is dedicated to African-American fiction and nonfiction. This week, Denise Nicholas’s Freshwater Road is $2.99 and Leonard Pitts, Jr.’s Becoming Dad is only $0.99. In the coming weeks, different titles will be offered at steep discounts on our site, as well as on the sites of Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple, and more.

We work hard to promote awareness of great African-American writers all the time, and we appreciate the support of our readers and friends. People enjoy reading and finding new authors, and one of the benefits of being an independent press is that we get to play an important role in that process. We’re proud of the books we publish and feel they contribute to our culture. However, companies like Heineken are also proud of their product, enough so to slap a Black History Month-focused ad for the Dutch brew on a bus and unabashedly parade it around major urban markets.

 

The gap between the negatives caused by brazen ad displays and the positives produced by increased focus on African-American culture causes tension every February. In the wake of 2009’s presidential inauguration, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Cynthia Tucker put forward the idea that “Black History Month has come to seem quaint, jarring, anachronistic…suffice it to say that the nation of Tiger Woods, Oprah and Barack Obama no longer needs a Black History Month.” In 2005, Morgan Freeman told Mike Wallace of 60 Minutes, “I don’t want a Black History Month. Black History is American History.”

 

This year, PBS will be airing a documentary during Black History Month titled More Than a Month by filmmaker Shukree Tilghman, as a part of the Independent Lens series. The documentary, as the Lexington Herald-Leader’s Merlene Davis explains it, follows Tilghman as he “crisscrossed the country for a year exploring the good and bad aspects of having a month dedicated to the history of black Americans.” Tom Jacobs of Miller-McCune writes that Tilghman “finds the commercialization -- not to mention the shift of focus away from actual history -- simultaneously amusing, puzzling, and disturbing.” Jeff McWhorter of The New Republic, in a New York Times video interview with Glenn Loury of Brown University, proposes that the month has outlived its usefulness.

 

So for us here at Agate, the question “Why have this sale?” begins to blend together with the ongoing debate “Why have this month?” Naturally, there are counterpoints to the above arguments against Black History Month, as eloquently expressed in an NPR interview by Dawn Turner Trice of the Chicago Tribune, and even as a direct retort to Tucker by Pamela Reed in the Daily Voice.

Black History Month is unique in that it is both a celebration and commemoration. Observing Veterans Day, a commemorative holiday, doesn’t preclude us from honoring those who served our country during the other 364 days of the year. Likewise, the ideals of Christmas ask that we spread good will to all mankind throughout the year, not just in anticipation of getting more presents underneath the tree.

While Black History Month is clearly a holiday of greater complexity in terms of how it is observed, it’s similar in that it is a specified point on the calendar that reminds people of its message. It is difficult to constantly feel the same front-of-the-mind reverence for service-people day in and day out that we do on Veterans Day. We attempt to give thanks for our blessings every day, but having a holiday to appreciate all that we have serves to emphasize rather than replace.

Holidays exist to deliver a message; they’re a reminder for us to learn about and to observe the day’s significance. Whether the message is ideological, spiritual, or memorial in nature, we insatiably consume information regarding the holiday’s subject matter before and during its observance. Today, in America at least, nearly every holiday acts as a vehicle for, yes, consumption.

As a publisher, this reminds us of another debate, namely the question of how people want to consume their media. There is an emerging rivalry between physical and electronic books, and the cultural conversation about ebooks is contentious. From authors like Jonathan Franzen, Maurice Sendak, and more who staunchly oppose the medium, to retail juggernauts like Amazon that want to be your one-stop shop for all types of books, the debate is not getting any less heated.

 

In our view, how people choose to consume media or information should be up to them. We love being able to offer print and ebooks, as they both have their virtues. Similarly, having a month that celebrates black history (even if it also raises many troubling issues) is a welcome complement to the understandable if undesirable pattern that sees great expressions of black thought and writing too often occurring in response to insensitive, widely panned hypotheticals.

We hope that you enjoy this offering of discounted Agate Bolden ebooks for Black History Month. We hope this might, in some small way, get more people engaging with African-American literature and culture. We hope that you continue to read and enjoy our newest releases, our forthcoming releases, and our many other print and ebook titles by exceptional black authors. We hope that Black History Month can be a time (not the only time) when we pay extra attention to the uniqueness of black history and culture. If you need an example of the month's value, ask Nikky Finney why she’s celebrating the bare arms of black women. Or ask Jesmyn Ward, another National Book Award winner, whose first novel we proudly publish, why she thinks Black History Month feels like a miracle, an act of defiance, like hope every February.

 

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