Forte dei Marmi en route to Genoa



treesWe got up in the morning and began our drive up the coast from Il Pellicano.  It is so beautiful driving through the coast of Tuscany.  We were headed to Genoa for the evening en route to Lake Como.  We stopped at Forte dei Marmi and saw the town.  These trees are everywhere.  So beautiful.

townThere are a few areas around Forte dei Marmi.  We started in Pietrasanta, a small town in the area of Lucca near the base of the Apuan Alps.  The town is a classic Tuscan town with narrow streets and no cars.  We strolled around and got a feel for the town.   Lots of art galleries here.

strollersOf course there is the piazza that is the center of town.  They had this art installation in the square which made me laugh.  Strollers for adults.  I can think of several times where this would have come in handy.

store in townAfterward we drove to the town of Forte dei Marmi, a high end beach resort.  You have all the high end shops there such as Prada, Missoni etc.  The Hamptons of Italy.  We wandered into this wine, charcuterie, salads and fresh pasta shop.  The scents were amazing in there.  It was about 90 degrees so we walked around until we just didn’t feel like sweating anymore.

pizzaOur next stop was lunch.  All signs pointed to Pizzeria Orlando.  This shop is located near a tennis club that is located in a residential area.  Lots of families walk down the street for pizza. We each had a slice that is made fresh when you order.  Not the best pizza I have ever had but it hit the spot.

We then tried with all our might to find Fortini where they have been making biscotti for hundreds of years.  I get the feeling that you can buy the biscotti in all the top bakeries but we wanted to go to the actual place where they made it.  Google maps sent us up into the hills.  It was Sunday and we decided that it was either not where it said it was or it was just closed.  Regardless, we took off for Genoa.

The drive up the coast to Genoa from there is  a bit of a white knuckle drive.  There are two lanes.  The right is for the slower drivers and the left is for the faster drivers.  I admit I spend the majority of the time on the left and there is certainly protocol in letting cars pass you.  People drive fast and of course when in Rome do as the Romans.  On the way up you drive through easily over 15 tunnels through mountain terrain.  Beautiful but not simple driving.  We made it to Genoa and decided to kick back before we heading off for dinner.  Not that much to see here as we caught a bit of the city driving through it on the way in.  It is a one night stop as we continue the journey.

Porto Ercole

beachWe literally did nothing at Il Pellicano.  In the morning we sat by the water.  The rocky platform juts into the Mediterranean where we took several dips in the ocean and lounged a bit on the floating beds.  I got through an entire book and did the Sunday crossword.  Couldn’t ask for a more relaxing day.  After lunch we changed locations and went up to the pool.  Those were big decisions.

formeFor dinner we went into Porto Ercole a charming fishing village about 15 minutes from our hotel.

bottargaThe place to eat there is Il Gambero Rosso.  Real family place.  The man who owns the place basically told us what to eat and we decided to go with it.  We started with the chefs appetizers where we got a bite of 6 different ways that they had prepared fish.  Nothing to write home about but all local.  We split the bottarga spaghetti for a second course.

fishHad the grilled sea bass for dinner.  After dinner we went back to the hotel for some drinks, cigars (not me but Fred) and called it a day.

I highly recommend Il Pellicano.  An absolutely beautiful place.

 

and the journey begins

esperssoWe landed in Rome, picked up our car and got on the road to Il Pellicano.  You never feel refreshed when you get to Europe so we stopped to fill up the car and fill up on caffeine.  You can find good coffee at the roadside gas stations.

roomviewOur first few days are being spent at Il Pellicano where we are literally chilling, reading, sleeping and eating.

shrimp:calamari We got to the hotel and went immediately to lunch with a few glasses of wine on the side.  Fried shrimp and calamari.

saladIl Pellicano salad with mozzarella, tomatoes, greens and avocado.  Perfect.

watermenuTook a long nap and then of course it was time for the next meal.  We ate at the hotel restaurant that boasts at 2 star Michelin rating.  The water menu made me laugh.  We went with vintage Italian still water.

oysterThe olive oil they served at the table was amazing.  Straight from Sicily.  The big question of the night is do we just pick up olive oil bottles at every stop and bring them home?  This starter was hake with oysters and a shiso sauce.

lobsterWe also had roasted lobster with marsala sauce, barbary and smoked potatoes.

pastaWe split a farfalle pasta with cream of crab, orange and confit sea bream.

fishcheeseOur main courses were John Dory with pecorino sauce, fresh fava beans and mint.

fishPoached sea bass with celeriac puree with seafood sauce.

cheeseWe drank a bottle of local white wine and to wrap up the meal we went with the cheese plate.  I hate to say it but the cheese was my favorite.  Each cheese was paired with something from honey to fruit.  Really delicious.

dessertsOf course they bring out the tiny desserts just to push you over the edge.

chocolatesThen something that I haven’t seen before although they do have a chocolate cart at The Modern is a chocolate cart with 3 different types of dark chocolate.

Off to bed and am pretty sure we will be on European time by morning.

Beyond The University, Why Liberal Education Matters by Michael Roth

Yesterday we dropped off our kids at Wesleyan University.  The President of Wesleyan University is Michael Roth.  At the end of the day he speaks to the parents before they all depart leaving their children to begin their life as a student a Wesleyan.   This would have been the third time we saw Michael speak to the parents but the truth is we never showed up for the other two.  This time we went to hear the wrap up.   I am really glad we went. Having the head of the University speak about the experience that your child is about to embark on is powerful.

Michael’s last book which came out a few months ago is called Beyond The University, Why Liberal Education Matters.  A worthy read if you are interested in education.  Bottom line is that many of the conversations we are having today about the worth of a liberal arts education started with Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Frederick Douglas and W. E. B. DuBois.  Should we be educating people for vocational instruction based on their economic background or should we embrace the concept of education where your mind can be expanded through several disciplines?

To be able to spend four years opening your mind to anything from opera to art history to computer science is inspiring.  I do believe that a liberal arts education particularly a progressive one instills the skill of being a life long learner.  It is not so much what happens in the four years in higher education but what you do with that knowledge once you have get out and hopefully have been intellectually transformed.

Michael Roth practices what he preaches.  Education is a life long discipline.  It is worth listening to the NPR piece on All Things Considered where he talks about a liberal arts education.

 

A journey and the next chapter

urlI have been preparing for the empty nest chapter for the last 8 years.  Someone told me to look at my daily life and color code each of my activities.  I realized very quickly that a huge chunk of my time was devoted to the family.  That was fine for then but what would happen as each kid started to move out and begin their own life journey.  They would begin to rely on themselves not me and that huge chunk of time would become smaller and smaller until Josh went to college.  So I began a new journey for myself.  I had already been blogging and essentially leveraged that into angel investing, a conference (thanks to Nancy Hechinger) and a variety of side projects.  Fast forward 8 years and I have reinvented myself back into the business world in a way that works for me.  I have been fortunate enough to be able to do this on my own terms.

Even though I was preparing I still always put family first.  When plans were being made over the past 8 years I still thought about making sure I was present until Josh flew from the nest.  This past week I started to get some inbound asks about events to speak at and even some asks for a drink.  I had a huge aha moment when I realized I could make any decision I wanted.  I did not have to be home in time to make dinner, I did not have to even come home until late at night.  I did not have to be present.  I could do a drink, I could get on a plane and speak somewhere if it worked into my schedule, I could go on a quick trip with a friend for four days and not give it a thought.  The only person I have to think about in regards to evening or weekend activities is Fred.  What a concept.

We are entering the next chapter of our lives.  No better way to mark that chapter with a journey.  To go on a trip where there are no rules or restrictions and we can literally be on the road with no responsibilities is what we plan on doing.   Fred and I will be going on a month long vacation through Italy, France, Spain and Portugal.  We are staying on the coasts.  The trip has been in the planning phases for quite some time.  We will be off the grid (as much as humanly possible).  I can’t imagine not answering emails particularly with the businesses that I am involved with but I certainly will not be as quick on the response as usual.  Anything new will be ignored (must be that way).  No board calls either.  I do plan on blogging about the trip because not only do I enjoy recording all of our travel journeys it is a reference guide for life although the kids say I shouldn’t blog at all.  We will see.

The next chapter is going to feel strange but it is the progression of life.  Seeing our kids fly from the nest and become their own individuals who can take care of themselves is insanely rewarding.  I am sure it will feel strange having an empty house but how could it not.  This journey is marking the beginnings of our next chapter.  Having a lot of feelings from bittersweet to excited to I can’t believe it but all and all it feels good and it feels right.

Succotash

succatashLast salad of the season this year was a succotash.  So simple and so good.  You could almost throw anything in to this.

1 whole sweet onion chopped

corn (as many ears as people you are feeding)

frozen edamame beans (1 lb bag)

1 pint and a half of golden cherry tomatoes (you could use red)

handful of basil chopped up

lemon juice

salt and pepper

1/2 cup of more of feta crumbled up

Saute the onions in a pan with olive oil or butter.  I added the edamame in here and stirred until the it was warm (unfrozen).  Grill the corn on the BBQ and cut it off the cob when cool and add to the bowl.  Slice the tomatoes in half and add to the bowl.  Add the basil.  Squeeze lemon juice over the top with salt and pepper and mix.  Right before serving add the feta cheese and mix.  Serve.  Goes with pretty much anything.

Nicole Yeary, Ms. Tech, Woman Entrepreneur

imgres-2As Just Works spreads its insurance plans into more small companies on a daily business I have been talking to the new head of sales to see where I can help.  I have made a few introductions and then he returned the favor by introducing me to Nicole Yeary.  He figured I would enjoy talking to Nicole about her business supporting women entrepreneurs.  I love that he sent me someone that I would should be talking to.  He was absolutely right.   Nicole has built an organization to help women start and scale their businesses in Chicago called MSTech.

Nicole grew up in Ohio, east of Cleveland.  Her father is an entrepreneur.  He owned a boat/auto/tire shop.  Her mother is a systems engineer who would change systems in server rooms.  She worked for Reed Denison that became Progressive.com.  Growing up Nicole spent a lot of time with her Grandmother.  The biggest traveling they did was often was back and forth to Florida.

Nicole wanted to go away for college but her parents convinced her not to.  She started out at Cleveland State but after one year transferred to Purdue School of Engineering in Indianapolis.  When she was in Ohio she had worked part time for Progressive Insurance and wanted to find something else near Purdue while she was going to school.  She landed a job with Golden Rule which is now United Healthcare.  Nicole worked there all through college.  It ended up becoming a full time job.  Her original intent was to go on to business school but she wasn’t able to finish because although young she was in the midst of a divorce.   She had met him when she was 19.

Nicole was at a point where she was reflecting on her life.  She stayed in Ohio for her parents, she went to Indiana for her husband so by the time the divorce was over which was not pretty considering they had property to divide.  She always wanted to travel and it was time for her to do her own thing.   Nicole had been working inside United Healthcare in a small division that was like working in a start-up.  They were moving a part of the sales process on line.  She saw the opportunities.  In six years she had 5 promotions.  They would take the online applications and turn them into sales leads.  She made a lot of commission.   She worked in a mostly male division except for one woman who had been doing it for years who she gives the total nod to.  At one point Nicole became her team leader taking a team of 7 to 150 people reporting to her.  Nicole developed their entire training team.

During this time Nicole had come up to Chicago to give a pitch to the Illinois Consumer Advisory Group.  It is a requirement for health insurance companies that have a residence license in Illinois to present and share products to a group of consumers that would report back to the commissioner.  She fell in love with Chicago and told her boss that she wanted to move there.  She began to commute back and forth for work and then the company decided to lay off a bunch of people.  Her boss suggested she take the package and start a new in Chicago and so she did.

Nicole decided to start exploring the start-up world.  She wanted to take the knowledge she had about why people bought insurance on line and why a broker could keep that information for an entire year but a company could only keep it for one month.  She knew brokers were making money online and wanted to figure that out.  In the meantime she began teaching financial service classes to insurance people to help them get their CE credits.  Nicole also began to explore how to market financial services to women.  Through this she wanted to take all the problems with the industry combined with her knowledge and put it on line and make it seamless.  She became Hipaa certified and was ready to go.

Nicole had $50K of her own money to put into her business.  Although she had this desire to flip the industry on its head and intellectually knew what to do she did not know how to go about executing on it or getting funding.  She could either use this money and hire someone to build out a website or should could first teach herself how to code.  She opted for the latter and took a Stanford program through iTunes and taught herself about building a website.

She now was able to write her own website.  The only VC she knew was at Lightbank.  She figured she should first get into one of the start-up companies and understand how they work before pitching or building.  She took a job with Spotsocial.  It was young, new, local and small and had just raised $3m.  During this time she also went to as many pitch events as possible.  She realized it was more social than anything else.  Nicole decided to launch a Facebook site called MSTech figuring she could use that to at least get people to post small jobs to build their websites for them that were more like brochures.  She enjoyed SEO work and figured that her site could be a place where people would trade for jobs.   She ended up getting a great group of people on her page where they would ghost for each other by trading jobs.  She learned a lot.

That website is what evolved into what MSTech is today.  Now it is an actual company with memberships.  Every time Nicole turned around she felt like she was reinventing the wheel.  She wondered why the people on her site were not sharing resources and talking to each other.  She decided to put structure to the site by creating curriculums in bootcamp style for people starting companies.  She essentially built a virtual accelerator focused on women.  How do you get from point A to point B when you are building a company?  Where can women find a place to develop entrepreneurial thinking even in mid-career?

While she started to figure out what MS Tech would look like she came to NYC to spread her wings.  She looked at the pre-series A’s in NYC vs Chicago. She also looked at how many females were part of the teams in NYC and Chicago.  She saw more females as part of companies in Chicago and decided she would stay there and build something local before doing anything else.

She officially launched this past March.  MSTech now has 1300 members in their forum.  They write a profile called Monday Makers focusing on women entrepreneurs.  They are structured as a social impact organization considering only 4% of women get funded from VC’s.  The curriculum spreads the gamut from how much do I give my head of marketing to how much of my company do I sell to investors.   Many women never even think about raising funds for their company.  She is trying to bring a different group of investors into her company to  look at some women led companies to invest in where they would be happy getting an annual return on their investment vs one large one.  She is going with the mentality that she is helping others who are exactly where she found herself when she decided to live and stay in Chicago.  She is making an impact and that feels good.  Nicole no longer has to take photography or SEO gigs on the side to make the rent.  As her mentor told her, making it through the first six months is pivotal.  You have to make sacrifices and building a business is always hard but it will be well worth it.

I really like what Nicole is doing.  I have found that a lot of the advice that I give to entrepreneurs about their businesses are the questions that most people just pretend that they know the answers to, particularly men as they go with the fake it until you make it much easier than women do.  People do not know from the onset how much of your company you give away, what is the amount of stock a CTO should get, how much is the norm for a PR agency at this time and does it make sense to bring one on now, how should I run a board meeting, how should I talk to my advisors, how should I talk to the investors that I never hear from, should I hire senior people when I can’t afford them.  I could go on and on but those fundamental questions are the ones that help build the foundation of a company.  Without someone to answer them or being part of a group where you feel comfortable asking them can make a huge difference.  I hope that MSTech continues to grow and evolve and we see Nicole branch into other cities and figure out how to make this a bigger arena for women after she figures Chicago out.  You can launch your own collective through their site but my guess is there is an opportunity to here to create a global collective in a very unique way.

Linked-In

imgres-1Linked-in is brilliant.  You can keep your online resume up for the world to see.  You can link with new people and old people.  It is a smart business tool and my guess is it will get even better for different stages of people’s lives from college to volunteerism to retirement.  I would guess that the majority of people who read this blog have a Linked-in profile.

Facebook is a different model that is skewed towards your social life.  I understand them both and they are no doubt the foundation of our times.

Here is the thing.  I have a Facebook page but I never use it.  I have one to so I can see how companies we are involved with use the platform.  I have a Linked-in account for basically the same reasons.  I pretty much let anyone be my friend or connect to me.  As long as it does not flood my email box it is fine.  It doesn’t because I have set it up this way.

If you want to talk to me or reach out to me then email me.  I do not want to answer requests from Linked-in.  I am pretty public because I blog daily.  My email is on my site.  I answer those requests.  Once in a blue moon I will answer a Linked-in request but rarely.  I have taken to ignoring them.  If you really want to get in from of my eyeballs then email me directly.   Otherwise, you won’t be getting a response.   And one more thing…I love Twitter but sending me a direct message with a request won’t get a response either.

Brooklyn Bangers, Phin and Phebes and Foody Direct

brooklynbangersI got an email from Phin and Phebes announcing that they just launched on Foody Direct.   Foody Direct is an online platform where some of the best products from bakeries, meat shops and some specialty food producers can run their ecommerce business without having to build it out.  It is smart.  It is a pure drop-ship platform and Foody Direct gives the consumer access to these products and just takes a piece of the transaction.

We had a bunch of people out so I decided to do a little shopping online.  I bought burgers from Pat LaFrieda, ice cream from Phin and Phebes, Chocolate Babka from Breads Bakery and Brooklyn Bangers.

The master mind behind Brooklyn Bangers is Saul Bolton and Ben Daitz.  Ben is also the co-founder of Num Pang where we are investors.  I completely forgot about that.  Ben shot me an email after receiving the order to confirm it was me before adding an array of dogs to try.  The products are amazing.  Knackwurst, Bratwurst, Kielbasa, Num Pang dog, all beef Hot Dog and more.  I see that beef jerky is coming soon.  Love beef jerky.

We tasted them all and one is better than the other.  The burgers were also top, the ice cream was destroyed later in the evening and the babka was a breakfast favorite.  Nothing better than having all your favorites in your refrigerator.

 

Step by step Paella

Once a summer I make a huge paella.  It is a lot of steps and a lot of chopping and I am not sure I have ever figured out the liquid ratio until I made this batch.  I had an aha moment more on that later.  This is the first time I made it out on the grill.  It was a wise move.  The closing of the grill during some of the steps really works.   I also have yet to figure out how to make paella for less than 15 people.  It is a bit like a stew or soup, the more the merrier.

Ingredients:

Hard chorizo – I used 8 six inch pieces sliced.

4 sweet onions chopped

5-6 peppers ( I used what the farm stand had – purple, green and yellow)

Had a bag of okra from the farm stand so I chopped that up and used it too ( not necessary)

Roughly 4/5 cups of chopped tomatoes.  I used beefsteaks and golden cherries but Italian works too.  I like the mixture

2.5 lbs of shrimp

2 lbs of calamari sliced into rings

5 lobster tails cut into two slices

4 chicken thighs cut into two ( you could use more)

1-2 lbs of mussels

1-2 lbs of clams

4 cups of shrimp stock (a really rich fish stock is the way to go here or you can use a chicken stock and cut it in half with bottled clam juice)  I bought this stock from our local fishmonger.

2 cups of Aborio rice ( I should have used 3)

chorizoHere is the beginnings of the paella.  I heat up a seriously large paella pot and sauteed the chorizo until it was crispy.  Then I took it out with a slotted spoon and set aside.

chickenThen I added the chicken pieces and let them get browned.  They were not thoroughly cooked yet and I set them aside.

peppers:onions:okraNext is the onions, peppers and okra mixture.  I cooked this until it was really soft and starting to caramelize.  About 15 minutes.

riceNow the rice goes in.  Mix it up for a few minutes before adding the stock and tomatoes.

rice:tomato:stockNext I added the stock and tomatoes.  You should have the stock warmed  when you put it in.  If you are doing this on the stove, bring this to boil before taking it down to simmer and putting the lid on.  I put the top on inside the grill and every once in a while I would lift up the grill and pan top and give it a stir.  Here is why I should have used 3 cups of rice instead of 2.  The tomatoes really do count as liquid and it was obvious down the line but still delicious.

shrimpOnce the liquid was almost gone I added the shrimps.

chicken:lobster on grillAt this point I took the lobster pieces and the chicken and set it on the grill on the side.  It allowed those ingredients to start to cook on their own before finishing them off in the paella.

everythingThen came the calamari, clams and mussels.  All the fish does add liquid too so it took a bit too long for the liquid to reduce.  The rice became stickier than drier.

stoveSo instead of letting it hang out on the grill I took the paella inside and got the liquid boiling on the stove.  I finally decided it was done.  Maybe not as non-liquidy as we would have liked but the flavor was amazing.  Next time, more rice.  Nobody seemed to mind.