My laptop screen blinked with these bolded words, “WE WERE WONDERING IF YOU COULD SECURE SOME ONTARIO WINES FOR OUR PARTY?” It then floated quickly toward me and exploded in my face. A fax machine in the corner started chumming and whirring with an incoming message. The filmy paper simply read, “ONTARIO PINOT!” A black antique phone rang in the other corner. I lifted the hefty handset, and a voice yelled, “Canadian Chardonnay, eh?!?”
Breathless, sweaty, and murmuring incoherent nonsense, I woke from my nightmare to find Amelia’s wet nose inches from my face.
“Hello, little one,” I whispered to her. “It was just a dream. I’m ok. Come on, come up here,” and I patted the corner of the mattress for her to jump onto. On cold, rainy nights, of which there are plenty here in Portland, Amelia likes to be spooned by my jammied body. I was grateful to have the nightmare’s spell broken, and I curled myself around her warm black fur. We protect each other. She’s my girl.
I frequently dream of my gigs with varying levels of terror. The job in my nightmare was going to be a piece of cake. The client emailed to say that it would be a casual party with appetizers for 20 in an art studio. My subconscious was focusing on the one task I couldn’t complete though. The hosts had asked if I could procure a few bottles of outstanding Toronto-vinted wines (“outstanding” is my word.) I called my wine contacts and came up empty-handed. I was able to find a double bock amber beer brewed in Toronto, but my subconscious was obstinately lingering over my uncontrollable shortcomings.
When I first spoke with the client on the phone, I imagined an intimate studio space, with vaulted ceilings, soft lighting, and a cluster of easels in the center. In my head, I could see guests in gently stained smocks and berets, palette in one hand, wine glass in the other. I may or may not have been paying attention to the actual details of the party because I was so enraptured with the images in my mind.
I double-checked the address as I pulled into the strip mall parking lot. The party location was not an art studio in Portland, Paris, but in a ceramics and pottery classroom in Beaverton, Oregon. “Ok,” I thought, “so they’ll throw some pots while snacking on my small artisanal food. That’s cool.”
When I walked in I found a few women in the workspace, unfolding tablecloths that read “Ontario,” posters with images of Canada, and coozies with Toronto logos for the beer. What I hadn’t realized was that this party was an event arranged by the tourist board of Ontario. An artist from Toronto had flown in to teach the guests how to paint dinner plates in the likeness of Toronto landmarks while the ambassador and assistants spoke about the perks of traveling to Canada. That’s the tourist ambassador, I should say, not the ambassador ambassador (at one point she suggested that one of the guests become an ambassador for Canada and I, not understanding the vast difference between the two, thought, “Wow, Canada is kind of loosey-goosey with their diplomatic policies!”)
I started to unpack my bags onto the small side tables where I would be heating, plating and serving the food. The ladies were very impressed that I had found an Ontarian beer and they had brought bottles of Toronto reds and whites with them. All would be fine.
Guests started to arrive and the door to a world I knew nothing about opened: the world of the travel blogger. They were an eager bunch, a few younger than me, a few older (due to rain and other issues the party of 20 turned into a party of 8). They had learned about this presentation at one of the many travel blogger conferences they regularly attend. I never learned who was a hobby travel blogger and who had turned the hobby into a full-time career, but they were a committed, internet savvy bunch. They were generous with their time, patiently learning about Ontario before sharing their websites and social media names. “Facebook! Instagram! Snapchat! Twitter!” They blotted paint onto stencils of Canadian streetcars and the Toronto skyline as they happily slurped Ontario pinot noir. (No joke here; they said it was fantastic.)
And I experienced something I hadn’t expected to. My first feeling was one of sadness. These bloggers, not unlike me, have spent a lot of time developing their brands online. I have found, personally, that there is an inherent loneliness in interlocking your life with social media. I think that a person’s experiences alone should be more important than the online proof of them and that the small thrill of looking at someone’s photos has turned into a giant, profit-seeking industrial complex with the sole intention of making everyone’s life seem more interesting than yours.
But then, looking a little deeper, I felt a very familiar sensation.
Because I can sit, with my intellect and my opinions, aware of the manipulation that’s taking place. I can stand firm in my convictions that someone I would hate in real life is getting wealthy while mining us for information to sell us more crap and influence us politically—but when I see… those photos of the crimson sun beams dancing atop the Chilean mountain range or the shots of the parmesan falling onto a creamy bowl of bucatini carbonara, I lose my fucking mind with envy. I want all of it. AND I want the bragging rights.
I know that I have a great life. I know that I feel more connected to it when I turn my devices off. But I also know that when I receive acknowledgment for something I have shared online, my heart rate is elevated, I feel I’ve accomplished much more than I have, and I want to do it again as soon as I can. Theodore Roosevelt once said, “comparison is the thief of joy,” and he didn’t even have a Facebook account.
Toward the end of the party, I went to the back and asked the owner of Blaze, the ceramics studio, if she would like some food.
“How long have you been in business?” she asked as she nibbled on a s’mores cupcake.
“I’ve been in Portland for just over 2 years, so my business is just getting settled.”
“Oh my gosh, have you been on the Mom’s Small Business group on Facebook? You should go on it immediately! They’ve helped me set up so many things and make great connections! I love them! You will too!”
I shifted from one leg to the other and sighed.
Ah Facebook, we meet again.
“That sounds great, but… um… I’m not a mom.”
“What!?! Well, as soon as you are, you just get in touch with them, and they’ll be a great help.”
I thought about cuddling with Amelia and wondered if dog-mom qualified. I guess I don’t have to be involved in all social media networking.
The irony is not lost on me that most of you will read this blog on social media. I understand that I am part of this machine as I use social media to advertise for my catering company. I want to hold myself accountable for the nonsense I consume while supporting the industries that might not exist or thrive without this strange revolution. The travel bloggers I met have a passion for their incredibly rich content. I know because when I saw their pictures online the following day, I wished I’d been part of all of it. Then I realized those pictures were of my food!
So now I give you the recipe for my secret ingredient blueberry muffins. The secret ingredient is optional (and almost unrecognizable when you eat them), but it elevates these muffins from good to outstanding!
Secret Ingredient Blueberry Carrot Mini Muffins
Makes 3 dozen mini muffins
- ¾ cup shredded carrots
- ½ cup sugar
- ¼ cup brown sugar
- ½ cup vegetable oil
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- ½ teaspoon lemon zest
- 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
- 1/8 teaspoon cloves
- 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped fine (optional and SECRET)
- 2 cups blueberries
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- Line 3 mini muffin tins with mini muffin skirts.
- In a medium-size bowl, blend the grated carrots with the sugars with the tips of your fingers, making sure they are well blended. Stir in the oil and then the eggs. Add the vanilla, the lemon juice, and zest.
- In a larger bowl, mix together the flour, the baking soda, the baking powder, the salt, the cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves.
- Slowly stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and then stir in the blueberries.
- Using a cookies scoop or a spoon, scoop the batter 3/4 up the mini muffin tins.
- Bake for 17 minutes.
And now “like” and “share” my post, after you actually like and share my muffins!
Here’s a clip of me making these muffins on Afternoon Live.