It's that time of year when The Valley Advocate announces the winners of the "Best of the Valley" reader's poll. If you've lived here for any length of time, you know all about this perennial poll and the push it gives to local businesses not only to promote themselves, but to promote The Valley Advocate as well. As someone who handles lots of local businesses' web sites, I can tell you that the flurry of action is welcomed. During the voting period, clients clamor to have banners and call-outs on their home pages to drive visitors to vote. Then once the winners are announced, lucky businesses want to show their pride and thank their loyal followers for supporting them.
I always vote for all my clients because I believe in them, and know that every vote counts, but what is impressive to me is when I realize how many of my clients place at the top of their category. It makes me feel good to know that I get to work with the best businesses out there. Owners and staff who excel in what they do excite me and challenge me to give them the best service I can provide too.
So here's a quick shout out to some of those who are the "Best"
- Cooley Dickinson Hospital - Best Birthing Center
- Esselon Coffee Roasting - Best Independent Coffee House, also placed in Outdoor Dining
- The Pilates Studio - Best Place for Pilates
- Brooks & Butterfield - Best Day Spa, also placed in Nail Salon
- Puffers Salon & Day Spa - Best Nail Salon, also placed in Day Spa and Therapeutic Massage
- Summerlin Floors - Best Carpet and Flooring Store
- Faces - Best Gift Shop
Fly Fish the Deerfield Outfitters is a small company specializing in big fish. Owner Chris Jackson provided guided fly fishing tours on the Deerfield River in Western MA. He is not only a knowledgeable fisherman, but a consummate professional who takes care with each client, wether a novice or an expert, to get them to where the fish are and show them a good time.
EatMed.com is a website dedicated to the healthy benefits of eating a diet based on the rustic offerings from around the Mediterranean Sea. It is the brain child of Bill Bradley, R.D., and it strives to be a networking platform and a resource for people around the world who can learn from the simple facts of healthy eating.
"The mission is to provide the public with the best of the Mediterranean Diet from all over the world. You will find recipes, videos, and information from scientific experts, cookbook authors, and people just like you who are contributing what they know about the Mediterranean diet and lifestyle."
I enjoyed setting up this web site, and found that Woo Themes has some nice functionality extenders for Wordpress. I particularly like their video widget, and the home page options.
At The Pilates Studio in Hadley, MA, the clients are not just exercising; they are creating strength and flexibility that improves their lives and wellbeing. This conditioning method has been around for a while, and it quite popluar 'round these parts. One of the main concepts is the work of strengthening the "core." The core, if you don't know is the central muscle system that affects our posture and overall functional strength.
I can relate to this concept of "core" because I use many pieces of core technology and code to build web sites. In fact, I have worked hard to create a core suite of functions that I use in my custom-made ColdFusion CMS. This web site is built on this core, and it serves quite well.
This deployment of gCMS uses core components like the ability to create, edit and publish unlimited pages to a give website, to promote within the site, via the use of blocks that can be assigned on a page-by-page basis, to manage a staff directory with bios, headshots and action shots, to pull in an external blog feed, and to manage and maintain the content without knowing HTML.
In this case it was not purl or perl... but coldfusion and Wordpress. There are just too many puns when it comes to the knitting community, but I just couldn't resist. Over the past few months I have had a full immersion into the world of knitwear design, Ravelry.com, self publishing, and the power of the blog.
In September and October I had the pleasure of working with my friend Gudrun Durham in the transition of her very successful knitwear blog into a full blown web site. She had been blogging at Blogger.com for quite a while and had built up quite a following. She creates her own patterns and has been successful at selling them to a worldwide audience of knitwear enthusiasts. With the help of Ravelry.com, she is able to easily manage the commerce end of things because they provide the shopping cart and the cut-n-paste code that allows knitters like her to put "buy" buttons on their own sites that link back into the Ravelry.
Here is the home page of TheShetlandTrader.com:
Gudrun's website was very enthusiastically adopted by her fans, and helped to launch her first self published book of knitwear designs - The Shetland Trader Book One.
What astounded me was how ravenous the other knitters online were... and this is a huge testament to the power of a good blog based on a niche topic. Hundreds of followers started commenting on the new site praising the simple and understated design, the photography, and many pledged their support for the new book. And they noticed something else... my signature at the bottom of the pages.
That led to a new client for me within two days of launching TheShetlandTrader.com. Wow!
I have now had the pleasure of working with another knitter and knitwear designer, Caryl Pierre.
Caryl lives in NYC and she also has worked the blogosphere building a following, selling her patterns and keeping her thread through the knitting community. She has a very successful pattern called Ruffle My Feathers and with that success she too decided that her Wordpress.com free blog was not enough to really grow her knitting into a full business.
I helped Caryl with her new company concept: CarylStyle. This involved developing a logo, business cards, and the new website. She also uses Ravelry.com to sell her patterns, and has successfully migrated her blog audience over to the new website format... which, of course still includes a blog.
Which leads me to the technical commonality of these two clients. Both come from the blogosphere, and so blogging is their lifeblood.... that is the main marketing activity that makes their businesses grow. But having a free blog on Blogger or Wordpress just doesn't communicate in a way that says "this is my professional enterprise."
Enter WordPress. After these two projects, I am really loving WP as a full blown CMS. There is so much more to Wordpress than blog. The plug-ins, widgets, and overall easy of use makes it a great way to build a website, and have a blog all in one package.
In addition to WP, I also installed one of the modules of my Coldfusion CMS, that allowed for a home page that the client can update outside of WP. I think that with a little more looking, I could do everything within WP, and I already have a few proposals out that will get me deeper into the Wordpress pimp role. Stay tuned!
My latest ouvre. Yoga-Sanctuary.com was a website that had been stretched to its limits. It was a classic site, static HTML, frames, and outdated branding. There was third-party integration with MindBody, a business logic software system for scheduling, taking online payments and payroll for yoga studios, salons, gyms, and spas.
My work was to install my ColdFusion CMS so that the studio manager could maintain the site, integrate a live feed from MindBody into the site for a nicer user experience, and to supply mechanisms for adding galleries, taking in and displaying testimonials, teacher bios, display a blog feed on the home page from Blogger, integrate Constant Contact newsletter sign up, and work with the owner and studio manager to design a site that was pleasing, dynamic, and not overly feminine. The result, is a wonderful example of the zen of website development.
Here is the homepage as it was:
Here is the homepage now:
The building and customization of the CMS was a large task in itself, but it built up a codebase that I have been working on for almost 2 years now. This is the best example of what my gCMS can do. I learned several things about how to use CF and MySQL to do all the back-end stuff, and still publish static and dynamic pages on the front-end. I can see that I have to refine things a bit now too, like for example, I need to add a back-end function for publishing or regenerating all the pages in the site with one mouse click.
The juiciest bit of programming was integrating the MindBody feed. That meant exploring the CFHTTP tag and after pulling in the XML feed, a lot of XPath data manipulations so the front-end display was what we wanted, with conditional logic, styling and fail-over code in the event of a communications time out with the third-party server. Take a look. Although it just looks like a simple page, there is a bunch of hard-won knowledge behind it.
That's what a friend said of the platter of deviled eggs at the party last weekend. Little did he know that his comment was directed at my handiwork.
So, what do you do when you are invited to a potluck and the invite says, "Bring a fork-free, nut-free appetizer to share."
Well, if you are me, the first thing that pops into your mind is deviled eggs. Why? I don't know... perhaps because we have 6 hens in the yard, and 6 dozen eggs in the fridge.
That thought was a stroke of genius! I immediately put 3 dozen eggs in cold water and put them on to boil. What's next is key: once the water boiled, I covered the pot, turned off the burner, and left them on the stove for a timed 18 minutes. The result: perfectly hard cooked eggs, with bright yellowy-orange yolks, and no green.
From there it was easy to recruit my daughter for the peeling, and as she peeled, I halved the eggs and scooped out the yolks. Once all that was done, it was on to the fun!
The yolk stuffing can go so many ways... and I was feeling like some curry or thai chili sauce would really make people's taste buds pop, but the family was more cautious. " Just do the traditional," they said, "Keep it simple."
That is so hard for me.
Well, I pulled out the mayo, some lemons, dried mustard, and I started mashing and mixing. Once again, no celery in the house, so I improvised with some romaine stalks... just the light colored middle vein of the leaf... something crunchy. I diced that up, and threw it in!
Things really started getting interesting when I noticed my wife on the way out the door with some scissors in hand. I asked her to cut me some herbs from the plants in the yard. She came back with some great sprigs of oregano, thyme, chives, and chive blossoms. Awesome!
I cleaned and chopped the thyme and in it went... same with the chives, but I save some of those for garnishing, which I decided would be the fate of the oregano too.
As I put away the mustard, and was pulling out the paprika, something caught my eye... the very thing I needed... the zing! Next thing I know, I'm sprinkling wasabi powder all over the yolk mash. Not too much, but a dusting over the bowl. Things were coming together, and I knew I had reached the optimal point of ingredients. Time to stop. And... I decided not to tell the family about the secret zing I added... that always makes things fun.
On to the filling of the egg halves with a heap of yellow goodness, and laying them out on the platter (no pun intended). The coup de grace for the deviled egg is the garnish and whatever you shake over them to give color and flavor. I gave a liberal scattering of fresh chopped oregano, fresh chopped chives, and a light dusting of paprika.
The final touch was tucking the purple chive blossoms in and around the eggs... a nice counter point to the yellow and white of the eggs. Done!
At the party, the platter was gone before I got around to the food table, but I overheard some comments about the eggs... "tasty business" was a great way to call it, and my friend admitted that he based his comment on several trials by mouth. It sure is nice to come home from a potluck with an empty server... and even better... a good story for the blog!
You know when your kid says, "someone should put this in a cookbook," that you need to start writing this stuff down. The game: dinner improv. The objective: make those leftovers in the fridge into something new. Now.
Here's what I was working with: 3 grilled chicken breasts 1/2 lb of grilled pork loin 7-9 baked potatoes, partly peeled, somewhat dessicated from being in the fridge uncovered 1/4 bermuda union, peeled 3-4 8" long zucchini or green squash fresh cilantro 1 bottle The Ginger People Ginger Sesame Sauce Pickled ginger
I knew I wanted potato salad from the git go, so I chopped up the onion and the potato into large chunks and threw them together in a bowl. From there I was a bit stuck, because we had no celery, so I set it aside.
I julienned the chicken and pork into 1/3 inch cubed strips, and covered that with the Ginger sauce.
Next up I peeled the zucchini and sqaured off the stem and bottom. I sliced the zukes lengthwise in half then sliced each half into 1/4 inch thick slabs. The slabs, I laid out on the cutting board and cut several long thin stips from each slab. The result were long light green noodles of squash.
On with the burner medium high, and with 2 tsp of canola oil in a saute pan, I started the zucchini. That reduced over about 10 minutes, and then I moved it to the side of the pan, and in the space created I added the chicken and pork in a mound.
This is when I went back at the salad, now armed with the classic mayo spread, and a handful of chopped cilantro. But that was not enough. I like a snap to my potato salad... and this is when the magic happens. The palette of flavors that is your fridge... ahhh... with a little sniffing and searching I spied the perfect x-factor. The Pickled Ginger!
A healthy pinch of sliced, pickled ginger was diced coarsely and added to the potato mixture. The pink of the ginger and the green cilantro were perfect for the creamy potato salad.
By then the zuke and the meat were all heated up, and ready to be out on the plates... I dished it up for each on our favorite wedding-gift crockery from my friend.
What a nice surprise. A gourmet dinner... and I pulled it out of... um, let's not go there :-)