Wine & Words: Notes From Santa Barbara

Riverbench Winery

In Santa Barbara they're called sundowners—hot, aggressive winds that kick up after the sun goes down and make the coastal landscape feel like a dry, inland desert. At dinner Friday night, in a restaurant without air conditioning, I sweated through my linen dress while sipping white wine and eating grilled salmon, peach and burrata salad, and baked Alaska. 

We quickly got to talking about all the meals we've shared in this dining room, and I couldn't help share how special it felt to return, book in hand, to a place that helped shaped me as a writer. I was in town for Wine & Words, a new series at Riverbench Winery. They invited me to read a few poems from the cookbook, and even served up a few dishes to pair with the reading, not to mention the selection of lovely wines being poured. 

There's no doubt about it: Returning to Santa Barbara always feels like coming home. It doesn't matter that I haven't lived there in more than a decade, it's a place that will always have my heart, and always welcome me back with open arms.

Eat This Poem Reading at Riverbench Winery

If you're looking for a more in-depth tour, head to the Literary City Guide. For today's post, I'll be focusing on what we did during the weekend. 

A few places to go:

Dune Coffee Roasters. Formerly The French Press, this outpost is one of my favorite stops. Great seating, a little off the beaten path (a few blocks east of bustling State Street), plus options for coffee and tea lovers alike. Get lost in a book while sitting on the patio, or do what we usually do—swing by on the way out of town for hot drinks and a bran muffin. 

Butterfly Beach. Our favorite beach in town, it sits just outside the famed Four Seasons Biltmore in Montecito. We got engaged on this sand, and always love to visit for a stroll and a view of the waterfront.

bouchon. We've been eating at this restaurant for the past 12 years. (And no, it's not affiliated with Thomas Keller's version.) The patio and dining room are always cozy, and the farmers' market-inspired menu serves up dishes that use French techniques with relaxed, wine country inspiration. 

bouchon restaurant, santa barbara

Jeannine's Bakery. We always have at least one breakfast here. There's an upper State Street location, but we like the Montecito restaurant best. (It's also walking distance from Butterfly Beach, if you're so inclined.) The lattes are extra large, and the menu varied enough to please everyone's morning cravings. 

Santa Barbara Public Market. From ice cream to Thai food, this little market has it all. The beer garden is loud if a game is on, but there are plenty of options for everyone, and it's a great spot to wrangle the kids if you're traveling with little ones. 

santa barbara public market

It's Eat This Poem's Birthday! | 6 Lessons From Cookbook Land

Eat This Poem Pears

Back in January I shared the photo of a gold letterpressed drawing of two pears on Instagram. They were sketched by Cat Grishaver, the illustrator and designer who took the words I wrote and turned them into a living, breathing book. This permanent piece of art is one of the ways I've chosen to mark this sweet milestone because, as predicted, publishing a book is indeed a season. It's worth relishing and devoting ourselves to, but then, like autumn leaves turning from green to crimson, they fall to piles.

But let's stop time for just a day and talk about how exactly one year ago, my first book was published! Eat This Poem: A Literary Feast of Recipes Inspired by Poetry was born on March 21, 2017. It's one! Should we throw a party? Maybe. But I'm usually pretty reflective on my birthdays (evidence here), so I thought I'd reminisce about some of the lessons I've learned this past year. 

6 Lessons From a Book's First Year


01 | Prepare for a low-key publication day

Before a book comes out (and especially in the final stretch) it feels like nothing else can possibly be as important. There's a lot to do on the marketing front. I was drafting guest posts, pitching stories to websites, creating Instagram images for National Poetry Month, and making travel arrangements for places like Seattle, Michigan, and Brooklyn.

When the 21st arrived it was sort of ... quiet. It makes sense now because even if lots of people pre-order your book, it might not arrive until later in the day, and they won't be able to read it until the weekend, say. A lot of the fun fanfare when you actually see your book in the world comes a few days later after packages are delivered. 

That Tuesday morning I went to work like usual, but refreshed my Amazon page most of the day to check the rankings. I may have stopped for donuts in the morning. I may have received a gorgeous bouquet of flowers from my publisher. But it wasn't the kind of day that felt like a parade. Instead, it felt very heart-centered. I just wanted to journal and take in the moment, especially since it had been five years in the making. 

Eat This Poem

02 | The emotional roller coaster is open for rides

Emotions run high. They're mostly good ones, but days can really bring highs and lows. There's the adrenaline rush of the first couple of weeks of publication and seeing all your efforts happening in the form of social media posts and reviews popping up on Amazon. Then you go to sleep and wake up feeling totally exhausted. This continues for months.

03 | 'Tis the season

As I mentioned, publication is merely a season on the long writer's path. This wasn't a lesson I needed to learn because I anticipated it wholeheartedly, however, when you're in it, you have to do everything you can to embrace the experience and help your book catch flight. Then you have to put your head down and start writing again.

04 | Keep talking

One of the fears I had (and I've heard this refrain from other writers) is that people will get tired of hearing about your book. Maybe some of them will (especially if they follow you everywhere), but studies have shown that people need to hear about something at least seven times before they buy, so there's no shame in telling people about the book you wrote, as long as it's not all day, every day. 

Eat This Poem

05 | Ask, ask, and ask again

Getting Amazon reviews is hard. Even if you have a team of people who fully committed to helping you spread the word, it'll still be hard to get them to write reviews. This isn't true for everyone, but I found myself having to remind various groups of people more than once, and I was afraid of sounding like a broken record or a desperate first-time author (see above). I eventually hit the 50 reviews I'd hoped for, but it took months, not days. 

06 | Your parents = your marketing team

My dad has bought and given away a lot of my books. So many, that Amazon flagged his account and didn't let him post the 5-star review he drafted. Never underestimate their reach.

What's next

Books on Creativity

I'm still blogging here, and have a few Eat This Poem events planned for later this year. But the big news to share is I'm writing another book! You can read a bit more about it here, but come 2019, I'll be doing this all over again. And no, it's not a cookbook! It's a book about embracing the ever-changing creative seasons. It's everything I've been living, preaching, and guiding fellow writers through over the past few years, and I'm so excited for you to read it. It's called Wild Words: Routines, Rituals, and Rhythms for Braving the Writer's Path, and I'm deep into the first draft right now.

So, over to you. If you've published a book of your own, did anything surprise you about the process? I'd love to hear! 

Notes from Northern Michigan

Lake Michigan Waves.jpg

In 2017 I traveled to Seattle, Brooklyn, Indianapolis, and a few spots around Southern California, and it was always an incredible treat to introduce Eat This Poem to new readers. But now I'm getting ready to hunker down for the holidays and spend the rest of the year at home. My very last stop was in Northern Michigan, specifically Harbor Springs and the surrounding area, where I spoke on two panels at the Harbor Springs Festival of the Book. I had a little time to explore while I was in town, and here are my favorite finds.

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Between the Covers. The local bookstore, complete with a small children's section in back.

Small Batch Bakery. I walked out with a giant chocolate cookie sprinkled with sea salt. Enough said.

American Spoon. This is the place for locally made jam. The tasting bar is a nice touch, so you can sample before you buy.

Pond Hill Farm. A few miles outside of town, this spot is fun for both kids and adults. The downstairs has a cute little shop, and the cafe is upstairs. Everyone told me to get the Parmesan-crusted grilled cheese and the spicy kale slaw with peanut sauce. You can also wander around and enjoy the views of vegetables.

The Depot. This converted train station is the fanciest restaurant in town, and it's also members only. I was lucky enough to be a guest my last night, and the local walleye with creamy risotto didn't disappoint. (Bonus: We ate inside the Hemingway Room, because he often came to town. You can also find his statues around the area.)

Harvest at Pond Hill Farm.jpg
Lunch at Pond Hill Farm, With a Side of Poetry.jpg


Dripworks Coffee. I ordered a turmeric tea latte and spent three hours here one afternoon. There are cozy booths (with outlets) and a great drink menu, for both tea and coffee lovers.

McLean & Eakin. Another charming bookstore, perfect for picking up a new read for the plane ride home.

Palette Bistro. I ate here for both lunch and brunch. It's simple, Mediterranean-inspired fare with a great view of the lake.

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Coffee at Dripworks.jpg
Lake views.jpg