lovehate: The Garnish Continuum

As I've been likely to eat out more than ever in the past few months, and especially over the past weekend at Podcamp Toronto, I've taken to a small affectation of noting the presentation of food from apps to entrees to desserts. In that time, I've come to a conclusion about the old trusted axiom: "presentation is everything." Quite simply, my conclusion, axiom fail.

If someone brought a big steaming heap of goat testicles to the table, lovingly adorned with parsley and a tomato rosette, you could pin a blue ribbon on it in Good Housekeeping and I'd still be making a beeline for the nearest upchuck trough.

In this time though, I have tried to draw the fine lines that sometimes exist between the differing levels of food on a plate. While you think the differences may be evident and obvious, I'm finding that the relationships exist more in a venn diagram of foodstuffs than in Swanson-like compartments with an insubstantial brownie cup.

Step 1: Garnish

Strictly ornamental. That some people eat the big honking piece of fibrous lettuce underneath every piece of food on the plate is disgusting. The sprig of parsley or some other random sprig is perhaps the most useless effort on an entree or appetizer plate. As the continuum advances through step one the garnishes evolve to things that one coud, and sometimes will, eat if one is hungry enough. The garnish can exist in the app, entree and dessert phase of the meal. Ever had a piece of cake that had something sticking out of it looked like it could be a chocolate or could be a piece of plastic? After several apprehensive nibbles, and perhaps a chipped tooth, you can decode the decorative appendage. The garnish doesn't impact the taste of the main food item unless masticated simultaneously. Examples like the entree's aforementioned tomato rosette, the multifoliate radish tulip or the ever-inventive and decidely ubiquitous cucumber slice, the garnish, in copious enough amounts can verge on Step Three.

Step 2: The Non-Granulated Herbs and Spices

The oft-forgotten step that includes the visible herbs and spices that often tempt the diner by their bold colors or promise of intense taste. But how many of us really want to bite into that bayleaf or sliver-thin red pepper that looks suspiciously like the same pepper they used to model the "spicy" food indicator in the menu you just ordered from. In itself, such a pepper (or like foodstuff) did contribute to the overall taste of the entire dish (essentially the definition of the Step Two), but upon eating it as an independent food entity crosses into a very tenuous relationship with Step One and Step Three. The Red Sheep of the Step Two family is Paprika which often gets added only to provide a splash of color, but does, in enough quantity have and impact on taste as well.

Step 2.5: Sauces and Condiments

Often an essential part of the meal, the sauce or (as we say in the colonies) condiment is applied in startling amounts to apps, entrees and desserts alike. Whether in endless combinations on top of a pizza or hamburger, or in endless varieties of liquification on top of pastas and pancakes, condiments and sauces are a vital part of our enjoyment of a food item while not intrinsically being tied to the foodstuff itself other than in our subjectivity. One can eat a scoop of vanilla ice cream without chocolate sauce, but I live in a civilized society where chocolate sauce is plentiful and squeeze-bottle-friendly proving Step 2.5's value in the continuum.

Step 3: The Side

Some side dishes you choose, others are thrust upon you as part of the main entree. Step Three is perhaps the step most breached by the other levels of the continuum. Take for example the tomato: in rosette form - Step One, in wedge form - Step Three. The Side should essentially be a smaller portion of what may be considered the main entree. Admittedly such an entree may not be the most adventurous, but how many of us haven't scarfed down a plate of fries or salad and called it a meal. Essentially the side is based on nothing other than amount: 1 big ass plate lining lettuce leaf = garnish, small assembly of lettuce and spices = side, plateful of lettuce with spices and additional modifications = entree. I didn't invent the math folks, it's simple science.

Step 4: The Main Attraction

Quite simply the biggest single item on your plate. Oh, I know some of you are disagreeing with me here and saying "No the Main Attraction is the entire meal", or "What if there's a bigger potato on my plate than the steak I ordered." Here are your answers smartass: 1) the Main Attraction, by definition, cannot be the entire meal or appetizers and dessert menus would not exist and without their intrinsic data, this blog post would be pretty damn boring, and 2) if your potato is bigger than your steak, either eat at a better restaurant, lobby your government to stop genetic agriculture mutations, or resign yourself to the fact that the $25 Steak Dinner you just paid for is actually a $25 Potato Dinner with a side of steak. In the same way the sidekick has less screen time than the hero, the side dish has less plate real estate than the entree. If your potato is the BFOP (Big Foodstuff On Plate), enjoy your side of meat. 

Step 5: Dessert

The Dessert basically holds all of the same qualities as the Main Attraction except that it must come after it. Perhaps you may once again argue that this is too simple a definition, but no matter what it's called on the menu, the dessert is anything that comes after the Entree's Main Attraction, Sides, etc.. If you want to have chicken fingers for dessert, go crazy. If you'd like a big heaping bowl of goat testicles, rock the casbah. I'm not one to preclude or insult anyone's dessert choices except to say that a fortune cookie is not dessert.

A fortune cookie is an insult to cookies everywhere. Those of you who say you like fortune cookies are just rationalizing the holiday child in you that gets to open something as vacuous as Pop-o-matic Trouble. Those of you who say you LOVE fortune cookies are liars. Fortune cookies lie in a small cluster on a plate in a resplendent puke beige that cries out "I'm as efficient in a shipping experience as styrofoam packing peanuts and I taste even worse!" Like I said, I didn't invert the math. Fortune cookies are an abomination to the Garnish Continuum as, by their non-existence anywhere on the continuum, must logically not exist at all. They are anti-food and if they ever come into contact with hyperfood, the food-time continuum itself could blink out of reality... but that's really for another blog post.

For now, be aware of the stuff they try to pass off on your plates. Don't eat the big fibrous lettuce plate liner. And, above all, help to protect the continued practice of dining out everywhere by waging war on the fortune cookie and you will meet a mysterious stranger.

lovehate: Podcamp - Peaks, Pitfalls, #pcto09

After attending, enduring, and being encompassed by my first Podcamp over the past few days, I'm hoping I can relay some of the peaks, pitfalls and go forward plans on my realtionship with with the experience.

First the good - and there were numerous great things that I experienced as a novice to the proceedings. As I've echoed in previous blog posts about conferences (especially some on the grand scale), the reason most people go to them, I believe anyway, is to be around like-minded individuals that they especially would not be able to hang out with on a regular basis. I'll be the first to admit that my immediate circle of friends and acquaintances that I see every day have little interest in blogs, podcasts or new media in general. Sure, some of them may consumer as an end-user and think they've tapped some vast arcane cool "alternative" thing, but most will get a glazed look in their eyes upon anything that sounds like jargon. So the immediate best thing about my Podcamp experience was being part of the hive mind that made up such an event.

I also met a bunch of great people. Although I'm far from a social butterfly (more like a wallflower moth that dabbles in moments of grandeur) I did get the opportunity to meet a solid group of people that I will maintain some sort of contact with especially around like events.

I like the idea of an "unconference" more than the execution. I love the anarchic feel of having anyone present about anything within the parameters of the event, but I will admit that such a process, or lack of one, does lend to some weak presenters and/or deceptively-titled workshops. I got the feeling that, other than sitting back and absorbing knowledge from someone like Chris Brogan, even experienced Podcampers were willing to sit through a workshop led by someone with less experience if there was a strong interactive component. Let's face it, we want to stamp our tag on everything as communicators and the venue of a "classroom" to wax intellectual about something we know about is too good to pass up. This said, there were still plenty of "traditional" presenters doing the preacher from the pulpit thing that can be engaging with the right dose of charisma and content.

The only trend that through me over the event was the huge number of PR people who were present on Saturday. I get that new media is still media and media is message and message is money, but, without knowing what to expect, my thoughts were that most people there would be indy bloggers and podcasters like myself instead of industry people. That's not to say the culture was bad, but it did throw me for a bit of a loop when one presenter asked how many PR people were in the room at a workshop I was in and half the hands went up out of about 80 people.

My single most gratifying moment, and one that to me summed up a combination of both the business side, the social media, the gathering itself, was the result of a challenge I threw out to a rep from Molson's via Twitter about a week ago. When I learned Molson's was sponsoring the big Saturday night event and saw the rep's name while watching the #pcto09 hashtag (which was the biggest trend on all of Twitter for the entire weekend mind you) I threw out the challenge of having a cold bottle of Molson Stock Ale waiting when I got to the party.

Thinking that, at best, it would be the prompt for some ribbing and casual conversation upon getting there (and quite honestly not even knowing if Molson Stock Ale was still being bottled) imagine my surprise when @molsonferg went behind the bar and pulled out the Stock Ale for myself and a couple of new acquaintances - those of us over 35 remember the original "Blue" with nostalgic reverence. So cheers to Molson for doing up the event right.

I can honestly say I'm already looking forward to Podcamp Toronto 2010 and got more than one prompt to get me thinking about Podcamp Hamilton. So for all you new media folks in the Hamilton, ON area, get in touch and maybe we can get something together.

Let the law of two feet live - so say we all!

Molson Stock Ale

lovehate: Camping Trip

Sitting in my room, downtown Toronto, Podcamp 2009 weekend.

I've been looking forward to this weekend for some time now, although I'm not sure why. Sure, I know there's the obvious "gathering in a community of like-minded people" and the ability to be away from home for a couple of nights at an event that has nothing to do with work, but I think there's an intangible that has been creeping around as well.

I've been an afficionado of pop culture and media for decades. Perhaps it came with being co-raised by television, season after season of Sesame Street, and an undying nostalgic recollection of hours upon weeks upon days being spent in front of cartoons on Saturday mornings. Maybe it was helped spawned through the advent of video games and the generations of arcades with their coin-sucking pixellated goodness. Could be that playing in band for years in every soul-sucking bar across Southern Ontario listening to beer-drenched bozos bellow "Skynyrd!" at the top of their lungs every five minutes spawned a desire to escape into films, music and television?

All I know is that I've discovered some interesting things about myself through explorations in new media. It's not until one can immerse themself in something, and see the archetypes and patterns, that they can truly appreciate the whole in relation to its parts.

I know that's not too clear, but think about how your intelligence about films grows as you watch more films. This does not necessarily result in an one's enjoyment of films increasing, because the critical eye one starts to develop can often embody a cynicism that sticks with viewer for the rest of their life. One starts to view acting, writing and direction in a meta state that becomes a series of parameters, patterns, and data sets. Becoming the meta critic for any such medium involves endless time spent enaging and enriching one's mind with content... and there's only so much time in the day. 

While I've been surfing the web for almost fifteen years, I have been, for the most part, an end user content to consume information and, in doing so, have become accustomed to, and critical of, the type of web that I started with - flat, passive, and one way. When I started to provide content instead of simply consuming it, there was not only a desire to entertain and create, but also learn about the constructs and archetypes that constitute this final frontier... or final until next week anyway.

So, in gathering around hundreds of bloggers, podcasts and new media types, I hope to not only learn about the minutae that makes up the technical side of bold new techniques and unknown approaches to creating online, but also to start to get the meta take on New Media... well at least from one city, for one weekend, washed in weather colder than I would like it to be... love it or hate it.