Wren, changing fashion

The director of the clothing company Wren came up with a novel idea.  Let's make a video of people kissing for the first time wearing Wren's clothes for an ad campaign.  Put it up on our site, send it to our friends and see what happens.  It went virtal.  

Once again showing the power of the crowd through social media.  You can get 500 people to come to your fashion show but getting 47 million views does not happen.  Sales went up for Wren and it certainly got people in the fashion industry thinking.  

The video is really great.  


The changing of the SAT

We just went through three kids taking the SAT's.  I am not going to say it was pretty because it wasn't.  They all went to a school that did not spend a good part of the curriculum on testing but more on group learning.  Not to say that there were not tests but not really until high school. Needless to say they all had to learn how to take the SAT.  They were all diligent and got to the other side with tears, anger and frustration.  

I hated the SAT when I was a kid.  I bagged all the classes I was supposed to attend to learn about the test and instead went to softball practice.  I performed terribly but luck had it that the college that chose me looked at all the other things I did.  That admissions department also had the ability to read every application thoughtfully because there was not a common app on a computer that gave me the ability to apply to 15 schools with one click.  

There are multiple things wrong with the SAT starting with gender inequality and most important it easier for kids who can pay to learn how to take the test.  I am spewing data here.  The good things are that there are kids who have not performed that well in school but through pure smarts do awesome on the test.  That certainly says something about that particular kid.  It also helps universities and colleges create a pipe line of which application to read first.  If you are not even near the scores for that particular school then it becomes a reach and my guess it becomes a reach for the school to take that application seriously.  I'd say that applying early is a way to get around that but early applications do not take financial needs into account so if you need them and get accepted and then do not get financial help you are in big trouble.  The whole system is tilted towards the privelege.  Woudn't it be amazing if there was another formula vs the SAT to truly measure each students potential.  I am not sure that there is or ever be.  

Some schools have stopped looking at SAT's.  Someone told me the other day that their university decided a few years ago to make the test optional as part of the application process.  Ends up they have data on the kids that were accepted without the scores and they have done better than the ones with the high scores.  Interesting.  I probably would have been one of those kids.  I did pretty good in college but failed miserably at the SATs.  

The person who helped our kids prep for the SAT who knows the system well and incredibly smart said this; We are witnessing the dumbing down of civilization. This redesign seems very utilitarian and anti-intellectual.  An interesting perspective.  As horrible and frustating as the test is I am not sure changing it is the answer.  People will figure out how to game this too.  

Either get rid of the test, figure out how to have kids apply to less than 10 schools and start looking at the whole kid.  Not sure this change makes a difference.  It just creates another host of problems. 

Armory Show at the Pier

Every year at this time NYC gets a little art crazy.  It is truly overwhelming.  I did not get to everything that I wanted to see but perhaps that isn't a bad thing.  I plunged into the Armory show on the first day it opened.  It was overwhelmingly crowded with the art world but a fun day to go.  The conversations alone were worth the trip.  I took a bunch of photos of my highlights.  Here you go.

The Sean Kelly booth was excellent this year.  This cloud piece is beautiful.  Layers of etched ink glass create this unique effect.  Leandro Erlich.

This piece is made of wood and screws.  Have to hang it somewhere where there is some depth.  It is unique and I was drawn to it.  Leonardo Drew at Sikkema & Jenkins Co.

Chiharu shiota
I have been following this artist for awhile.  I missed out on a piece last year but have been corresponding with the gallery over the past year on new pieces.  Since I was early to the show I was able to buy this piece.  It was hidden in the back closet so the photo is not great.  It is a little dark but again art is personal.  Hanging cards inside wrappings of string.  Chiharu Shiota at Galerie Daniel Templeton.

This installation was great.  Each piece was sold separately with a mirror but there is definitely something for buying the entire thing.  Douglas Gordon.

I have always liked this artist, Sharon Core at Yancey Richardson.  Have yet to pull the trigger.

Always like a good chuckle when it comes to art.  Andrew OHanesian at Pierogi.  Pierogi had more than a few interesting artists.  

This like taking a snow globe and putting a whole in the wall and being able to peer into it.  Really cool.  Patrick Jacobs also at Pierogi.

Love letters to and from Beyonce by John O'Connor also at Pierogi.  I generally find if you like one artist at a gallery that you end up liking several.  Same sensibility.

This artist was in two places.  Taking off on the Richard Prince theme but cutting out the cowboy.  Jose Davila.

More than a few very cool hanging pieces.  Really loved this one.  Tomas Saraceno at Andersen's Contemporary in Denmark.

This was part of a triptech.  I found this piece really powerful.  Meleko Mokgosi painting about historical events in South Africa.  

A hand carved marble island of NYC.  It is amazing.  David Zwirner gallery.  

Martin creed
Huge fan of this.  Martin Creed at Galleria Lorcan O'Neil Roma.

Always fun to see what is happening across the art world in one big swoop.  Overwhelming but worth the effort.  The Freize has taken a bite out of the Armory show but I think this year most of the galleries rose to the occasion. 

Charter Schools in NYC

I have no problem to admit I was wrong.  I was brought up in the public school system in a wealthy suburb of DC/Maryland.  As most people do they follow what they know and where they came from so I always believed in the public school system and certainly wanted to follow that path for our kids at one point.  

We were living in the suburbs when Jessica started elementary school.  Her first teacher was a delight.  Happy, cheerful, engaging kindergarten teacher.  Just what you want.  Her second teacher not so much.  She had been at it for 40 years and she was just showing up.  She had zero interest in doing anything that would challenge the kids outside of her box.  I actually spoke to the principal about it but he just dismissed me.  Welcome to the public school system and unfortunately the unions behind the public school system that keep those teachers around.  The room for motivation and excitement is not built into the program.  Educating our kids with the best educators should be the number one priority in this country not insuring that a 40 year veteran still gets her paycheck.

We moved back to the city and put our kids in private school.  I had spent enough time in the public school system through MOUSE and knew that the best move for us and our kids was the school we chose, LREI.  What we liked about the school was the progressive curriculum and the fact that 25% of the operating budget went towards financial aid.  There is a commitment to diversty at the school and that was important to us.  

Fast forward Charter Schools start cropping up.  The concept being that they will build better schools for kids and do it through public funding.  Like technology start-ups that are disrupting old industries the Charter Schools are doing the same thing through public education.  How can we shake the trees of a system that is barely working.  I was not sold.  I thought we should just fix the public school system.  Slowly but surely the Charter Schools started to make a difference.  The data is there.  The kids in those schools who were the lucky few to get chosen through the lottery were not only staying in school they were excelling.  I admit it, I was wrong.  The Charter School system is a winner for families in NYC.  I'd even be so bold to say how do we get them to fix the entire public school system getting rid of dead wood teachers, layers of management and build curriculums for the 21st century.  

The city has elected Bill DeBlasio as our mayor for the next four years.  A man who has embraced an old time liberalism that really did not work so great 20 years ago (by the way I am a liberal).  Now is the time to create a new paradigm for what liberalism means.  Hiring a 70 year old woman to run the New York City Public School system would not fit under that category or would hiring the same old faces from years ago.  Aren't there some new forward thinkers out there to bring the city forward adapting what he ran on which is making the city work for everyone.  

He appears to be hell bent on getting rid of Charter Schools although I would bet many of the people who voted for him send their kids to those schools or wish they could.  Is DeBlasio just looking out for the unions or is he reading the actual data in regards to the success of the students at Charter schools?  

My friend wrote this letter to her city council member.  It is worth the read.  My fear is that the next four years will be equal of treading water with hopes that the city does not drown under stuck in the mud idealism that doesn't make sense in 2014.  

Council Member Mendez,

My husband and I have never been one-issue voters, but now that our son is thriving at Success Academy Union Square, fair treatment of charter schools is the yardstick by which we will measure our representatives.  Here’s a quick summary of our experience:

- At our neighborhood public school, our son had a mediocre teacher in a mostly homogenous environment (overwhelmingly white and Asian) that was not very challenging academically.

- Now, at Success Academy Union Square, our son has a spectacular teacher in a wonderfully diverse environment that embodies “joyful rigor.” 

Some people like to say that charter schools benefit from fewer ELL students, fewer students with disabilities, and a self-selecting population.  But in our case, our son attended kindergarten at a school reflecting our high-income neighborhood, so his attending 1st grade at Success Academy meant more students from low-income neighborhoods, and I presume no fewer students with disabilities—and that didn’t stop Success Academy from delivering a remarkably better education to our child than our neighborhood public school.  And of course the greater diversity + greater learning makes us cherish the experience he’s now getting at Success Academy.

We wouldn’t expect you to “favor” charter schools but we hope dearly that you will not punish them:

- Charging rent to charter schools—when charter schools already receive lower per-pupil funding, and regular public schools pay no rent—is punishment, not equal treatment.

- Charging higher rent to charter schools that have raised more private philanthropy makes sense for about 2 seconds.  Then you realize that these charter schools have succeeded at raising private philanthropy precisely because they have delivered great student outcomes.  I’m sure there’s an example of a charter school that has raised a lot of money simply because its founder knows a lot of rich people, but generally speaking, a charter school network’s fundraising is a good proxy for its performance in closing the achievement gap.  In other words, if you allow the NYC DOE to charge higher rent to charter schools that have raised private philanthropy, you will be seeking out and penalizing precisely those schools that are performing the best.  It’s effectively a tax on achievement, and conversely, a subsidy for underachievement.

- Such an approach will inflict even greater damage than the rent expense itself, because going forward, philanthropists will think that by donating to a charter school, they are triggering a new expense that will negate their own donation.  Imagine you’re in a position to donate money, and realize that if you give money to Success Academy, you will mark Success Academy as a “high fundraising” network of schools, thereby triggering a rent charge that will eat up the very donation you made.  Well, then you will stop donating.  I bet that for every $1 that the NYC DOE is thinking about charging in rent, the punished charter school will lose another 50 cents on top of that, in the form of philanthropists who no longer want to provide support.  So it’s not just a tax on achievement, but a scheme designed to “leverage” the damage inflicted on children.

We will vote, donate, and agitate based on your approach to the issues above.  Thank you for your consideration.

Women vs Men, Men vs Women

BN-BV233_2BOSSY_D_20140307182719I am always asked about the differences between men and women entrepreneurs.  I have been thinking alot about it and since I am invested in so many women I can actually look at the landscape.  

I sat down with an entrepreneur turned investor and professor the other day and we talked about this.  He told me that he had recently introduced a woman entrepreneur to someone.  He thought she was really good. and they should meet.  The investor that he introduced her came back with some feedback that threw him off.  He said that she just seemed too arrogant.  I give my friend high kudos for coming back with the response which was "would you say that if she was a man"?  My guess is the answer is a resounding no.  

There was an article written in the WSJ this past week by Sheryl Sandberg and Maria Chavez on Bossy, the B word.  How do we level the playing field when young girls are discouraged from being bossy.  I am not so sure all women take to that, I certainly didn't and obviously neither did Sandberg but there is something to be said about this.  There has been several sociology books written on the topic of how once girls hit middle school they fall to the back of the class so they can be perceived as nice and perhaps popular vs smart.  How do we change that?  

I have come across more arrogant men in the tech business who are applauded for their bravado with in my humble opinion valuations that are off the charts.  Why we don't pull back the reins and build these businesses intelligently at every turn vs just wads of cash is beyond me but maybe I am just looking at it differently.  Perhaps I am looking at it from the womans angle.

In the past few weeks I have seen women who are having traction, revenues and a continue flow of customers at their door who continue to be scrappy, humble and almost afraid to take more cash.  They are methodical about their businesses, hiring when need be when they should be hiring a little ahead of the curve.  They are very interested in showing profitability.  They are wary of taking too much cash in at valuations that might seem absurd.  On one hand impressive but on the other hand you do have to spend money to make money.  

There are so many conversations around this particular topic.  My bottom line comes down to women need to be just a bit bolder.  Be more confident in your companies not to the point of being "bossy or arrogant" but being "confident and sharp".  Go to the head of the class and confidently raise your hands.  I love the way that all the women I work with are going about building their businesses.  I am so impressed with how they are all methodical and consciencious.  They all have great leadership skills.  Not that the men don't who I work with it is just that they go about it differently.  I respect both of them.  For me it is just fascinating to watch.  

Julie Carlson, Remodelista, Woman Entrepreneur

I am a huge fan of Remodelista.  I am on their feed and loyally open the email everyday and scroll through the content and photos.  I have even spent some time on their site doing research for items and travel.  Remodelista describes itself as a source for considered living, an authoritative sourcebook.  I have always wanted to talk to Julia and hear her story so I was delighted when a friend of mine introduced me.

Julie grew up on Cape Cod in the town of Orleans.  They moved to Wellfleet when she was 11 where there were only 1000 people living there in the winter.  Her uncle had a home there that her mother had coveted and when the opportunity came for her to buy it the family did.  It worked perfectly for her parents who were a bit on the bohemian side. They house became a place of refuge for artists and writers.  Her mother had quite a few careers.  She taught French and English at a girls boarding school on the Cape, worked in public health at Boston University spending time in Africa and at one point moved to NYC to work on the publicity of the Puck Building for her good friend Peter Gee.  Her father was a commercial fisherman.  They had met in NYC.  He had gone to Yale, she had gone to Wesllesley and they got married and moved to the Cape to be bohemians.  

Julie went to prep school in Northern Massachusetts in her sophomore year.  She took a year to go to Paris between high school in college with her friend Louise.  They worked in Boston in the summer and saved money for their trip.  They also worked on Fishers Island working in the oyster beds.  The girls left for Paris to study at the Sorbonne in a program called the Course of Civilization that provided lectures for foreign students.  They got their without knowing a word of French.  Found an apartment, used their guide books to learn the town and went to museums daily.  As Julie put it, we were such good girls.  They never called their parents but communicated through letters.  Looking back it was pretty amazing their parents just let them go.  She has been back several times to France.  She can understand the language but speaking it is a whole other ball game.  An amazing gap year.

She returned to the states and went to Brown University where she took a lot of classes in art history.  Her interests were in architecture and arts.  She says that she was always sensitized to her surroundings.  Their house in Wellfleet was this old Victorian home vs the salt box homes in the area.  She has this memory of walking around that house and just observing the way they used it.  Her major was actually English with a bend towards American Literature.  

After graduating from Brown she moved down to NYC to work with her Mom's friend, Peter Gee, who was developing the Puck building.  He was one of the first people who began to buy up the lofts and spaces in Soho and turn them into living spaces.  He was the king of Soho and her Mom was the head of his PR.  She was Peter's wife Olgas assistant.  They were crazy designers.  They would decide one day that they wanted to make a giant curtain out of fur and Julie would go down into the Bowery, find fur and bring it back.  It was an incredible experience that lasted one year.

Julie then went to work as a writer for the Institute of Architecture and Urban Studies.  It was a one year program in a non-profit architecture think tank.  Essentially a prep school for architects.  Amazing lecturerers would come like Frank Gehry, Philip Johnson etc.  Great education.

She then went to work for the New Yorker starting in the secretarial pool climbing her way up the ladder to become a copy editor.  There was a huge staff and the climb was slow.  Those were the days.  She stayed there for four years.  Julie got married around this time and her husband was accepted to Stanford Business School so she painfully left NYC to go to Palo Alto thinking it would only be two years.  She wanted to go back to NYC right after he graduated but she landed the job of the food and style editor for the San Francisco magazine after spending two years working at Consumer PC Magazine  It was the dream job reviewing restaurants so they stayed.  

She stayed in this job for about four years until her husband was offered a job in San Diego.  They had a child and the management had changed at the magazine so this gave her an opportunity to get off the train for a little bit.  They moved to San Diego.  They never found themselves there but they did start on a path that led to Remodelista.  They bought their first house which was three blocks from the beach in Del Mar.  It was $385,000.  There was a dip in the market because they had just closed some of the naval bases.  They put $60k into the house.  It was a funny house with a flat roof and knotty pine paneling.  They painted it white, cleaned it up, had another kid and sold the house for $700K.  

It was such a great experience that they did it again.  They moved back up to the SF area and bought a house in Mill Valley.  Dark wood paneled house that needed work.  It was around this time that the internet started taking off.  It was 1995.  Julie became obsessed with sourcing.  One of her best friends was in Brooklyn Heights NY doing the same thing at the same time.  They were choosing the exact same things. They were inspired by Daily Candy and decided to build a site sourcing all the looks and products that they were using. They recruited two other friends and began.  Originally they were focused on dailyl emails but then Wordpress changed that.  Her husband set them up on Wordpress.  

They sold the house in Mill Basin and moved to London for a year because of her husbands job.  They moved back because her Mom got sick.  When they returned her husband left his job to return and joined her on Remodelista.   It was a big moment.  They had started this in 2007 but when her husband joined it went from a hobby to a real business.  They had self funded the entire time.  Then they were approached by Say Media who was shifting from an ad network to a media network.  They were looking to acquire them. They went for it and that was two and a half years ago.  Everyone is still involved as they continue to build out the business and platform.  I am a huge fan. 

Lemon Souffles

This is pretty easy to make as long as you follow the directions.  The key is the whipping of the eggs and the baking process.

You can either use ramekins like I did or one whole souffle dish.  Makes about 6/8.  

Preheat oven to 350

2 Tbsp. butter at room temperature

1 cup sugar

4 Tbsp. flour

1 1/2 cups milk

1 whole lemons juice and rind

3 eggs separated

1 pinch of kosher salt

Beat the butter in one bowl.  Add in the sugar, flour, and lemon juice and rind.  Mix do not beat.

Take the egg yolks and beat until they turn a pale yellow.  Then slowly pour the milk into the eggs and mix do not beat.

Add the eggs and milk mixture to the butter, sugar, flour and lemon bowl.  

Beat the egg whites until firm.

Fold the egg whites into the other bowl of ingredients.

Set the ramekins in a deep baking pan that is filled with hot water.  I put the ramekins in first and then filled the hot water a little over half way up the ramekins.  Then use a ladle and put in the mixture to the top.

Put in the oven.  After about 20 minutes the tops get browned.  Then take tin foil and cover the pan so that they can steam while cooking otherwise the bottoms never bake and remain liquidy.

Serve warm or at room temperature with whipped cream, a sliced lemon on top and a few raspberries.  


Mission Cantina

When we first moved to NYC there was a large fishbowl restaurant on Broadway north of Houston called Carumba.  It was inexpensive and served killer margaritas.  It was the first real restaurant you went with friends after college.  The biggest issue is that theives would come in on random nights and steal pocketbooks off of womens chairs and nobody even noticed.  The entire restaurant including the patrons and the people who ran it were drunk.  It was quite the scene.

Fast forward, we have Mission Cantina.  It is a different time, they do not serve margaritas (just beer and wine) but the food is inexpensive, the place is packed and even if the food is not stellar it is a fun low cost experience.  

We started across the street at Tiny Fork for some margaritas.  An adorable restaurant with a huge bar area.  Whoever built that place did a great job in terms of space and flow.  They also have a really good margarita.  

Our first course was the smoked queso oaxaca with herbs over fried bread.  Fried bread is kind of one of those things that you can't go wrong with.

I swear that there are chicken wings under there.  Deep fried chicken wings rubbed with mole spices and doused in chili vinegar, sesame and crema.  

Tacos galore.  They all kind of taste the same but there are highlights.  These are the fish tacos.  Skate wing tempura with avacado and crema.  

Carnitas.  Confit pork shoulder and pork jowl with pork craklings.  This is a winner.

Cumin lamb, smoked prune and herbed crema.  If you like lamb (and I do) then this has your name on it.

Braised octopus with grilled turkey wing.  Does that work?  It can.

Roasted eggplant with tomato, raisins, pine nuts and chorizo spices.  This was clever and really good and spicy!

Bowl of creamed masa with beer braised collard greens on top.  I would have like to see just a bowl of collard greens.

Spicy cucumbers with a peanut salsa.  Bang.

Last out was the whole roasted chicken stuffed with rice, chorizo raisins and pecans with a brown rice vinaigrette.  Falling off the bone.  We all indulged on this one.  

Had a great time.  Lots of dishes, lots of drinks, totally Mexican the Mission Cantina way.

Dove's Selfies

If you haven't see this you should.  Dove put this selfie campaign around body image.  It really well done.  What I found the most interesting is that many of the young girls felt more comfortable about who they were than their mothers.  Perhaps the mothers figured out how to raise the girls they wanted to be.  


Seafood Thai Green Curry with Lime

This is simple to make and really good.  

2 cups coconut milk

1/4 cup green curry paste

1 tbsp. curry powder

1 cup chicken broth

1 tsp. fish sauce

1 stalk lemongrass ( although you can bag this if you want ) cut off the top and pound the rest to open

Small piece of red snapped cut into cubes

1/2 lb raw shrimp

1/2 lb raw scallops

1/2 lb calamari

2 small eggplants cubed

1 red pepper thinly sliced

1 jalapeno sliced

1/2 bag of frozen peas

chopped handful of cilantro and basil mixed together

In a large pot boil down 1 cup of coconut milk in half.  Add the curry paste and curry powder and whisk for about a minute until fully mixed.  Add the rest of the coconut milk and the chicken broth.  
Add the lemongrass stalk.  Bring to a boil and then simmer for about 5 minutes.  Take out the stalk. If you dont' use the stalk you should still bring it to boil and then down to simmer for about 5 minutes. You can turn this off now and warm later to put everything together.

In a frying pan get it hot and cover the bottom with oilve oil.  Saute the eggplant until they are almost mushy.  I set this aside for later too.  

Right before you put everything together, reheat the eggplant and put it in the sauce.  Add the fish first because it takes the longest to cook, about 8 minutes.  Then around 5 minutes later add the shrimp, the calamari and the scallops.  Then add in the peas and the red peppers.  

Let everything mix and make sure everything is cooked thoroughly.  Serve over rice and sprinkle the cilantro/basil over the top.  I used Jade rice that I made with coconut milk and chicken broth.



Joanne Wilson Joanne Wilson loves food, books, and music. She lives in New York City. Her husband Fred and children Jessica, Emily, and Josh are bloggers too. More »

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