Monday, July 30, 2012

Liz Flock Rocks!

One of the first authors I met when I started publishing was Elizabeth Flock.  Lucky for me, since she is one of the coolest people I have ever had the great good fortune to know.

Is she not GORGEOUS????
Liz is huge fun, a true gamer who is up for anything, and equally excellent company at a fabulous party or at a bust of a booksigning.  We once sat together at a signing table and had a contest of who would sell the fewest books since we appeared to be invisible to everyone in the room.  I won, but only because I cheated. My mom bought a bunch of Liz's books right at the end.  We have laughed our butts off together in three different states, both geographical and metaphysical.  She is quite frankly one of my alltime favorite people.

Also? She is one helluva writer.

When Jen and I were in NYC for Book Expo, we had a great night with Liz, expanding our usual twosome to become Stennifliz.

Do. Not. Mess. With. Stennifliz.

Back in 2005, Liz's book Me & Emma hit the bestseller lists, including the coveted New York Times, and I like so many other readers was riveted by this tale of a young girl surviving against terrible odds in rural North Carolina.  I lost myself in the story of powerful sisterhood and self-reliance, and the surprise ending hit me right where I live.

Random House has re-released the book, with a snazzy new cover, and I am so glad!  Especially because the new release is for a very good reason....

The sequel to Me & Emma is coming out next week!

What Happened to My Sister picks up a few months after Me & Emma ends, and is another page-turner.  I loved returning to these characters and finally finding out "what happened next"!  What Happened to My Sister is available for pre-order now, and you know how I feel about pre-orders!

I cannot recommend this pair of books enough, they are both wonderful summer reads, and I hope you will check them out.   And when you are done, you can get all the rest of Liz's books  and have an equally wonderful time.  You're welcome.

And because Liz is the coolest, she has graciously offered to giveaway a pair of signed books to one lucky winner!  So comment below to enter and on Friday I will announce the winner of a signed copy of both Me & Emma  and What Happened to My Sister!

Yours in Good Taste,

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Contest winner

Congrats to fgirl! Your immersion blender is going to have a little Dhun knife to hang out with! Email me your shipping address including phone number to staceyballisinfo (at) gmail (dot) com

More giveaways next week!

Monday, July 23, 2012

The First Cut is the Deepest

Chickens, I am nothing if not a true Gemini. 

The dichotomies I possess are infinite and mostly ridiculous.  I am so often of two minds about things that it is staggering and exhausting, requiring many naps.  For example, I have long believed in the following truths:

1.        If I cook a lovely dinner for my sweetie, I have worked long and hard to bring him pleasure, and he should clean up the kitchen.
2.       If my sweetie cooks me a lovely dinner, he has messed up the kitchen and should clean up after himself.

You can see the problem.

(I mean, beyond that I am lazy and hate to clean the kitchen.)

When it comes to kitchen tools, I am at perfect odds with myself.  On the one hand, I do actually believe that one only needs possess a dozen simple basic pieces of equipment in order to produce wonderful meals.

On the other hand….

I genuinely believe in my heart of hearts that as long as you have a good sharp paring knife, 8” chef’s knife and one serrated blade, there is nothing you cannot accomplish.

And yet….

I know, I know.  It is embarrassing.

But I have no choice but to embrace it, and recognize that I can support both sides of the coin.  So you can imagine my delight when Shun knives, long respected for the superior quality of their products, sent me a care package!  I had connected with them at the Housewares Show in Chicago this Spring, and was drooling over their products, as was Charming Suitor.  Shun knives are made using traditional Japanese methods of steel production for blades that are super thin, super sharp, and gorgeous to look at, with Pakka wood handles specially shaped to fit in the hand solidly for perfect control.  I only previously owned one Shun knife, a lovely little mini cleaver vegetable knife that I find myself turning to again and again for small work for garnishes, and making supremes of citrus fruits.   So I was very excited to open a box to discover four new knives that they were offering to let me test.


All of these knives appear at first blush to be specialty knives, which would put them solidly in the “only if you can afford it/are a crazy person like me who has compulsion to collect things” category.  But one of the fabulous things about writing this blog is that many companies recognize that their products need actual testing, and are generous about letting people like me play!  What I discovered was that these knives are much more useful than their “specialty” appearance might make you think.

The 8” rocking knife has become my go-to for anything that needs fine mincing or chopping.  It makes quick work of delicate herbs, but tackles toasted nuts equally brilliantly.  Its large flat blade is perfect for crushing a clove of garlic. 

The Serrated Offset Bread Knife does indeed make genius slices of bread, goes like a dream thru crusty baguettes but doesn’t crush or tear tender brioche.  But it does so much more.  In the heart of tomato season, nothing does a better job of slicing smoothly, as thin as you please.  I love it for trimming artichokes, and slicing steaks right off the grill.  I haven’t touched my regular serrated knife since it arrived.

I’ve talked about the usefulness of an 8” Santoku knife before, since the little divots in the blade mean that the items you are cutting don’t stick to the blade.  Shun’s version is wonderful, going thru meats and cheeses and veggies smooth as silk.  A new favorite task?  Melons of every size and shape.  The large blade takes off rind like a dream, but the dimpled blade ensures that as you cube, the cubes stay on the cutting board.

Finally the little Bird’s Beak paring knife, with its flat cutting surface, I’m using for slicing shallots and spring onions, peeling small fruits and veggies, and creating strips of citrus zest for cocktails.

And because they are fabulously cool, Shun has given me one of their fabulous paring knives to give away to one lucky reader!

So, comment below with a tale of a piece of kitchen equipment that surprised you…something you thought was a unitasker that has revealed multiple uses, or something you use for an unusual or unexpected purpose before 11:59pm on Thursday July 29, and our friends at Random.Org will pick a winner who we will announce on Friday.

In the meantime, thank you to all who wrote to tell me you saw Off The Menu mentioned by Jennifer Weiner on CBS Sunday Morning, it was very exciting.  If you missed it, you can watch it HERE, I cannot recommend all of the other books heartily enough, and of course, Jennifer’s new book The Next Best Thing is one of the best things I have read this summer, so be sure to check it out as well.

And if you loved Off The Menu, I do hope you will continue to help me promote it…word of mouth is everything, and those great Amazon reviews don’t hurt either!  Don’t forget that if you missed being able to see me at one of my appearances, you can always get signed or personalized books shipped to you.  Just head to my snazzy new website and go to the Contact page.

Yours in Good Taste,
The Polymath

Monday, July 16, 2012

Friends Don't Let Friends Type on Ambien...

Dear Chickens-
Popping my head up to say hello and address a recent event that some of you might have read about over on my pal Jen’s blog
Now you all know that Jen is my bestie.  I get the benefit of her company, counsel, and generosity of spirit.  We make each other laugh till we almost pee.  And we are women in our 40s, so that is NOT a euphemism.   Being Jen’s BFF is a constant source of joy for which I am always grateful.  

But never so grateful as when something happens like happened today.
In order to best explain this, I am turning to Jen herself, who has posted the event from her perspective on her own blog.  I am reprinting her post with her permission, and you will see my notes interspersed….

Sometimes what I write and what I mean to write are diametrically opposed... like, when Ambien is involved.
Stacey’s Note: Jen and I have had many discussions about the Ambien thing, where I have STRONGLY encouraged her to turn off her computer before she takes the pill, and then to immediately get into bed without her iPad after.  Jen, does not always take this sage advice.  Especially since, despite the air of authority I adopt when discussing this with her, she knows that I am not, in fact, an MD.
Now, a quick caveat before someone signs me up for the Betty Ford Center - the Ambien stories are few and far between.  Ninety-nine percent of the time, I take my pill, read my book, possibly eat a piece of cheese, and then fall asleep, exactly as God and Sanofi-Aventis intended.
Stacey’s Note: Ninety-nine is not one hundred.
It's only about one percent of the time that anything happens, e.g. ordering Barbie heads, skinny jeans, or seatbelt extenders.  And the odd reaction is usually the result of either being dehydrated or not having consumed enough protein during the day.
Last night, I was the one percent.
Stacey’s Note: Like I said.
To backtrack, I had guests up here this weekend.  One of my friends mentioned first how her dentist doesn't do teeth whitening and then later that her dermatologist doesn't perform cosmetic procedures.  As I am nothing if not business-minded, this made me twitchy.  I kept exclaiming, "Your doctors are leaving money on the table!" 
(Note: no one else seemed bothered.)
Stacey’s Note:  This is because MOST people are not concerned about their medical professional’s bottom line, and are just grateful that these people are not hocking at them to whiten teeth or pump face full of fillers when we just need our six month cleaning or annual mole check.
Such was the extent that the doctors' lack of entrepreneurial spirit bothered me, I kept thinking about business-type ideas after my friends left. 
Stacey’s Note: Even sober, this is not a good idea. 
I would look at the most basic of household items and then come up with suggestions on how one might profit from it. 
Stacey’s Note:  And before you ask, no, this is not the first time this has happened, and yes, I do my best to talk her off the ledge before she goes public.
For example, I happened to be cleaning out the fridge when I came across a bunch of little tubs of ranch dressing left over from a packaged salad that accidentally froze and I thought, Ah, yes.. there's an idea here.
Stacey’s Note: If you think this is not going to go well, you are correct.
So I began to figure out how one might monetize ranch dressing. 
Stacey’s Note: Apparently the whole multimillion dollar ranch dressing industry that ALREADY EXISTS did not occur to her.
I came up an "I'd dip that in ranch!" campaign, envisioning it as a Stuff White People Like-type tumblr.  Every day I'd feature some beautifully photographed item that would be made more delicious when dipped in ranch dressing, e.g French fries or grilled cheese sandwiches.  Seriously, name almost anything and it would taste better dipped in ranch.  Like, a stalk of broccoli is nice, but dipped in ranch?  It's a treat worthy of a dinner party!  But I'd make each entry funny, like one day showing a shot of Channing Tatum, because, come on, ladies. 
Stacey’s Note:  Oy.
Channing Tatum dipped in ranch? 
Stacey’s Note:  No.
Then I pictured said website becoming a cult favorite and all of a sudden Big Dressing comes a-calling and offers to buy the whole thing for a check containing many zeroes.
Stacey’s Note:  Jen fails to see that once you run through the gamut of readily available produce and the cast of Magic Mike, this very quickly becomes boring.  Anyone else really tired of Iron Chef America?  Want to know why? They have used all the good secret ingredients and are now just going through Bob’s Big Book of Fish and filming episode after episode of Fish Battles.  I don’t care if this is the white flaky fish from Hawaii, or the white flaky fish from the Caribbean, I. Am. Bored.  Fish Battle, schmish battle.  No one is making ice cream.  But I digress…. 
Stacey’s Note:  No.
 (FYI, Fletch thought this idea was dumb, particularly the Channing Tatum part.)
Stacey’s Note:  Fletch is correct, on both counts.
(Fletch is not a visionary.)
Stacey’s Note: This is irrelevant, it doesn’t make him wrong. Steve Jobs was a visionary.  I'm not seeing the iRanch in my fridge.
Yet I cracked myself up about this the whole night and at random intervals, I'd shout, "I'd dip that in ranch!" to the point that Fletch went upstairs to watch Falling Skies by himself.  (He said he was going to anyway.)
Stacey’s Note: I cannot blame him.
I kicked the phrase around so much that it actually began to morph into an idea for a television pilot - I envisioned a couple of best friends who adore each other but are polar opposites, yet circumstances force them to live together. 
Stacey’s Note:  Oh, here we go…
I'm talking The Odd Couple meets Two Broke Girls only less Tony Randall and fewer graphic discussions of ones downstairs ladyparts.
(By fewer, I mean none.)
Stacey’s Note:  NIPPLE.  Nipplenipplenipplenipple.  Sorry, couldn’t resist.
Somehow they'd come together in this pilot and all the action would turn because of the one roommate's passion for trying to make the "I'd Dip That in Ranch!" website happen.
Stacey’s Note:  Hmmm.  Wonder which roommate this would be?
  They'd end up fleeing from corporate America to run a food truck and would have hilarious and delightful misunderstandings in the neighborhood and with one another.

Stacey’s Note: To be clear, Jen and I could absolutely live together.  We are both very respectful of each other, have an awesome time, and recognize that we are of an age when we need separate bathrooms.  I have total faith that if we were young and single we could be awesome roomies.  Provided it was just Jen, and not “Jen and Menagerie”.  Two Broke Girls?  We can do.  Stacey and Kate Make Eight?  Uh uh.  I’d be out the door, banging younger girls with tramp stamps and endorsing Ed Hardy within a week. 
I'm not kidding you, I would watch this.
Stacey’s Note:  Yes.  Yes she would.
I would.
Stacey’s Note:  Jen would watch “I’d Dip That in Nair” if Andy Cohen produced it.
I mean it.
Stacey’s Note: We know.
Oh, come on. 
It's not the worst idea in the world. 
Stacey’s Note: Yes.  Yes it is.
(Cavemen, anyone?)
Stacey’s Note:  Touché. 
So, I knew I was seeing Stacey for lunch today and I made a mental note to mention it to her.
Then I took my Ambien.
Stacey’s Note: You all see where this is going.
That's when my silly little idea began to take on epic proportions.  I figured I'd best get this down on paper before anyone stole it from me or did it first, so I grabbed my iPad and wrote Stacey:
Stacey’s Note:  I woke up this morning to find three things in my inbox…two e-mails from Jen and a note from Twitter that Jen had mentioned me in a tweet.
This is the first e-mail, arriving in my inbox at 12:30am, annotated:
 Okay,do not let my Ambien buzz dissuade you for the badness poroporotins i'mma put I from of you to tomorrow with out new pilot we're writing based Ion the nicotine "I'd dip that in ranch!".
Stacey’s Note:  I know immediately that Jen has ignored my excellent advice once again.  I can mostly deduce that she has a proposition to bring up to me at lunch, and that it involves a tagline involving ranch, and apparently, smoking?
See, yiu're an uptight felix foodie and I'm your bestie Oscar who just lost her house and has to move I wit tiy.  We clash over our differences but bond ove the one. Niversal truth - evening tasted better dipped in ranch.
Stacey’s Note:  Okay, Felix and Oscar I get, and I get that in this pilot we are apparently writing, they have to live together.  So apparently at the moment this pilot idea is entirely cribbed from the plot of The Odd Couple,  but with girls and ranch dressing.
Stacey’s Note:  I do not like beets with ranch.
Friend pickles in ranch!
Stacey’s Note:  Pretty sure she means FRIED here, and yes, that I can get behind.
Freshu veg with ranch!
Stacey’s Note: Closer to English, and sure, who doesn’t love fresh veggies with ranch?
French friens with ranch!
Stacey’s Note:  Most of my French friends are good without dressing. 
And we ciudk go to town with a food truth and lake stander shy try all out four shit with ranch and theync'd be all RANCH RANCH YES YKU ARE GIRL GENUSISES
Stacey’s Note:  This is just fairly incomprehensible.  The combo of Jen’s finger/iPad problem and auto correct is not helping.
Stacey’s Note:  E I O?
We ciudk trademt k "I'd dip that in ranch' and the sell to the hidden valley consortium for ALL OF the THINGS
Stacey’s Note: Not just SOME of the things, ALL of the things.  Also?  Exactly what is this consortium of which you speak?  Is this like The Authority?  The Tribal Counsel?  Can they vote us off the island?  Is Austin Powers getting involved?
Stacey’s Note:  Yup, you are telling miu.
All UR buttermilk are belong to us!
Stacey’s Note:  Anyone need buttermilk?  Apparently Jen and I are cornering the market.
pS copied fletch o case he needs to ruthis past the lawyers land accountants and they keepers of the RWNCH
Stacey’s Note: Fletch was, in fact, CCd on this email. This is why Jen is not allowed to have the email addresses for the lawyers or accountants or “keepers of the RWNCH”
Stacey’s Note: To be clear, this part I like.
See YIU tomotto!!!
Stacey’s Note:  Sigh.  Here was the second e-mail, sent precisely seven minutes after the first.
Well.  Did YIU read it yet..?.
Stacey’s Note:  Oh yeah, I read it.  Then I saw the tweet:
@staceyballis - checch your email for brilliant Ambien bindersest plan! He who controls The RANCH CONTROLS HE WORLD,!!
Stacey’s Note:  Bless her heart.
I particularly like how I misspelled/autocorrected everything except for the "Hidden Valley Consortium."
Stacey’s Note:  This did not go unnoticed by me either J  Jen and I had lunch today.  Imagine my surprise when she ordered fries…with Thousand Island dressing.  Stay tuned to see what new porposieshumns come my way tonight….

Monday, July 9, 2012

Hope to see you at one of these events!


Finally the book is out and available at your favorite book store or online book retailer. 

The Chicago Tribune says "readers hungry for cleverly written contemporary romances will definitely want to order Off The Menu"

The Parkersburg News and Sentinal says "This is a great contemporary romance!"

My mom says "I love it!"

Both Jennifer Weiner and Jen Lancaster have put it on their short lists of recommended summer reading.

Beginning tomorrow, I have several events coming up in the greater Chicagoland area, and I REALLY don't want to read chapters to empty chairs, so come and play with me and I promise you can ask me about which parts of the book are real, and why I put purple streaks in my hair, and which of the Housewives is my favorite.  Grab your pals and pick one or more of the events this week or next and come say hi!

Tuesday July 10

The Book Stall at Chestnut Court

811 Elm Street, Winnetka, IL



Thursday July 12

The Book Cellar

4736 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago

Reading and Signing with Eleanor Brown, author of The Weird Sisters


Friday July 13

Lake Zurich Middle School South
435 W. Cuba Road
Lake Zurich, IL

Reading and Signing with Jennifer Lancaster, Sarah Pekkanen and Jennifer Weiner
7:00 pm

CLICK HERE for tickets

Tuesday July 17


1944 N. Damen, Chicago

Reading/signing and food event- Cocktails and Cupcakes!


Event is free, but please RSVP to

Thursday July 19

Flavour Cooking School

7401 W. Madison, Forest Park, IL

Reading/signing event with cooking demo and light meal


$15 per person/ CLICK HERE or call 708-488-0808 to register

To everyone who pre-ordered, thank you thank you, it means the world. I hope you love it. And I hope when you love it, you help get the word out!  Tweet, blog, tell your friends, suggest it to your book club.  Post great reviews on Amazon or Barnes and Noble.  You are officially my PR team.

More soon, in the meantime, I really hope to meet a lot of you in the next couple of weeks!

Yours in Good Taste,
The Polymath

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Happy Pub Day to Me....and we have a winner!

Thank you one and all to everyone who entered the Stennifer Lunch Tour Contest. 512 people sent in 577 entries, which makes Jen and I feel awfully popular.

Know that in our hearts we wish every one who entered could win, but as you know there can only be one!

So without further ado, congrats to Jon Panofsky of Philly, PA!!! Jen and I are very much looking forward to meeting you and your bestie sometime this year!

I know that the rest of you are disappointed, but know how much I appreciate your pre-orders, you really do make a difference. And more importantly, I really think you all are going to love this book! I hope that if you do, you will help spread the word to your friends and on the social media interwebs and posting reviews on Amazon etc.

If your book club is interested in reading the book, you can contact me at staceyballisinfo (at) gmail (dot) com, I am happy to phone in or Skype in for questions schedule permitting.

I'm off the rest of the week blogging over at the Penguin Community Blog, you can read the first post here

Don't forget Chicago Chickens that I am doing appearances the next two weeks, and hope to meet a lot of you in person.

In the meantime, have a wonderful safe holiday, and if you haven't yet, pick up a copy of Off The Menu, finally available at a bookseller near you or your favorite online retailer!

Yours in Good Taste,