a peek inside the fishbowl

28 Feb, 2015

Weekend reading: February 28 edition 

By andrea tomkins in Weekend reading

On the nightstand: Eleanor & Park

I’ve been thinking about THE TWITTER and the power of social media a lot this past week. Mostly because (a) I’ve had two meetings with two different agencies about working with social media influencers and (b) I attended an affair called The Secret Supper, which REALLY got me thinking about the intersection of social media and marketing, and how it’s increasingly taking centre stage for a new campaign.

Back in January I received an email from Blackbook Lifestyle – a local PR agency – asking for my mailing address. As soon as I sent it to them I wondered what I was getting myself into, as most people probably wouldn’t share their mailing address with any stranger who asks for it. Sigh.

The invite arrived in the mail in a sleek black envelope. It contained an invitation to a “secret supper” hosted by “one of Canada’s top food brands.” There was not much else, and the location of this event could be only be figured out by going to a website on a certain date and typing in an personalize access code.

The secret location turned out to be the Elmdale Oyster House, which I was happy about because it’s a close drive and I’ve never actually been before. So on the appointed night, Mark and I set out together. When we arrived we gave our names which were checked against the list, and were asked to sign a release form (although I was assured my image won’t show up on a billboard anywhere). We made our way in.

The Elmdale, all set up for #thesecretsupper

I thought the idea of creating and promoting this event as a secret was pretty smart. It was an easy way to create some buzz, and people were definitely buzzing, long before the event started. (“Who’s going?” “Are you going?” “Oh, I wasn’t invited, were you?”) It all taps into the same kind of primitive feelings that tend to be part of elementary school birthday parties and high school proms, doesn’t it?

The invitation list was a relatively small one. Media people, and bloggers, love exclusivity of any kind, for starters, and the talk of the night was WHO. Who was hosting this event? I was worried it was going to be a company I could not publicly support, such as Walmart or McDonalds. In fact, I could not stop thinking about this food blogger related fiasco. Planning this kind of event was a risk, no matter how you sliced it. The very “live” nature of it can be a huge success or an abysmal failure, and to be honest, I was prepared to walk out at any time.

The emcee was a fellow by the name of Derek Fage. I do like Derek. He’s the host of a Daytime Ottawa on Rogers and is very amiable and outgoing, and great at connecting with people. He is perfect for this kind of gig. During the evening he walked around and asked us all what we thought about each course. He dropped hints about the host (“note the colour of the decor”) and kept us guessing. I had no idea what I’d say if he came over to me.

View of our place settings at #thesecretsupper

People speculated that the host might be Whole Foods or Sobey’s as both have green in their logo. Someone guessed Roots, because of the decor. I wasn’t sure what to think. But as he wandered around the crowded room, I wondered, what are my responsibilities here? I wrestled with what I should be saying publicly, especially knowing I had signed that media release. And what should I be tweeting, if anything? Tweeting all night while sitting at a table for six is anti-social, but it’s the unspoken deal here. This is ultimately why I was invited, right? How many tweets are too many from a social standpoint? From a social media standpoint? And what’s my responsibility to Twitter followers if something bad happens? What if it the food wasn’t good? Some bloggers have stated publicly that they never publish negative reviews. I decided long ago that I had to deliver the straight goods in a fair and balanced way, but is it my DUTY to tweet it all?

The way this event was set up, I was essentially tweeting out endorsements BEFORE I actually knew what the brand was. As someone who’s built her business around authentic and honest storytelling, this didn’t exactly sit well with me, I admit. What if I commented, on camera, about how good the cheese croquettes were (fried cheese will always get a thumbs up in my books) and then it was revealed it was a new menu item at McDonald’s? And then what if my tweet and image was used to sell them to other parents? Gah.

This is something I think about, because all I’m bringing to the table is my reputation, and it’s one that I’ve spend 15 years building in this community. So the optics of these kinds of highly public events are important to me.

In the end, the food was good and the host turned out to be Giant Tiger. This was a company I felt ok about tweeting about. GT, if you didn’t know, is a home-grown success story. In fact, Mark works right across the street from the first GT in the Byward Market.

The premise of the evening was to show that GT groceries can make a very economical “fancy” dinner. I should point out that The Secret Supper menu was prepared by Elmdale Oyster House and Tavern chef Michael Radford, and included those “croquettes au fromage,” baby scallop ceviche, herb roasted lamb poutine, grilled pork tenderloin and a deconstructed key lime and coconut pie. Every item on the menu, right down to the seasonings, was sourced entirely from  GT. Even the table decor was provided by GT.

I believe now that Target is pulling out, GT is working hard to remind people that they’re a contender in this particular category. And so far they’re doing a good job. So was the evening a success from a social media point of view? I would say yes. With about 40 media types in the room, many of whom were online before, during, and after, the word got out. #Thesecretsupper was a trending topic on Twitter. These conversations, whether they happen between neighbours at the bus stop or are amplified online, are what drive sales. Did you know that GT sells amazing sweet potato fries? Well now you do.

The other day I received a copy of a press release which was titled: GIANT TIGER IMPRESSES UNSUSPECTING FOODIES WITH THE SECRET SUPPER. (And yes, it was in all caps.) I wasn’t included or mentioned (which is a-ok by me) but I think they’re walking a fine line between impressing and fooling. You know what I mean?

So, in each of those two conversations I had with agency folks this week, they each asked me: what kinds of things can brands offer, that will appeal to an influencer? I told them that this is different for everyone. Some bloggers will welcome a case of hot dogs or a box of cereal, and others will balk. Ultimately, I think, many influencers are looking for a unique opportunity or experience that they can’t find elsewhere. Exclusivity helps, as does fried cheese and bottomless glasses of wine. :)

So in effect, I guess I got what I wanted eh?

Edited to add:

I thought it might be interesting to see what other attendees wrote about the event so I’m listing them below as I become aware of them. If there are any Ottawa Secret Supper posts missing from this list, let me know!

23 Feb, 2015

A rare ski day

By andrea tomkins in Easy ways to make kids happy,Ottawa

Mark and I have learned two things about winter during our parenting careers:

1) Unless we get out there and find a way to enjoy it, this six month season of sub zero torture will seem EVEN LONGER THAN IT IS.
2) By dressing appropriately and reframing our idea of “cold,” we are better equipped to undertake #1.

So when the mercury RISES to minus seven it is cause for celebration around here. It was with this in mind that we returned to this NCC cross-country ski trail on Sunday.

Eastern Greenbelt NCC

Quiet ski trail, Ottawa

I'm way back here!

It was, as always, a dream. It was cold, but not uncomfortably so. There was a little wind. Every once in awhile the trees would shift and sway, and in their wake they’d send down a shimmer of snow on our heads. The sun would burst out from behind the clouds every once in awhile, just in time to illuminate these inner-forest snow showers. Magic.

Does it sound strange if I mention that I think that skiing has healing powers? It’s fitness. It’s family time. It’s a meditation. How does it help our brains and our bodies?

Speaking of which, I have fallen in love with the idea of riding my bike to Carleton Place for my birthday this summer. (Overnight, that is. Not all in one day.) Check out this route and then come back and tell me if I’m crazy.

21 Feb, 2015

Weekend reading: February 21 edition

By andrea tomkins in Weekend reading

On the nightstand: The Great Zoo of China

20 Feb, 2015

Oscar weekend is almost here

By andrea tomkins in Misc. life

Normally I snooze through the Oscars and all of the hype, but this year we’re doing something different. Remember our quest to watch more films? This FITS RIGHT IN. Mark suggested the four of us squeeze in as many Oscar films as we can between now and Sunday night (which will be spent consuming appetizers, fizzy drinks, and scads of popcorn).

Last night we went to see The Imitation Game. (You can watch the official trailer right here.) It was a great film and we all really enjoyed it. (You know what’s sad though? We read the Wikipedia entry about the film and Alan Turing and it seems they took a few creative liberties. As if his life wasn’t interesting enough eh?)

Tonight we are watching Birdman on Netflix. And then The Theory of Everything. We already saw Boyhood and the Grand Budapest Hotel. I wish we had time to watch Whiplash and Selma before Sunday but both kids have stuff going on this weekend which will eat into our Overall Movie Watching time. Sigh.

I don’t think I’ve been this excited about watching the Oscars. Are you going to be tuning in?

p.s. Want to hear my prediction for Best Picture? I think Boyhood is going to take it!

19 Feb, 2015

Notes from a Dim Sum convert

By andrea tomkins in Ottawa,Recipes and Food

This is a peek at my lunch yesterday. A group of us from the office went for Dim Sum at Yangtze:

February 18 #dailylunches - Dim sum at Yangtze

Fitting eh? Since today is the Chinese New Year. :)

Funny thing: I cannot for the life of me remember if I’ve been here before. I MUST have been, years ago, but my brain is a fog and I can’t say for sure. That being said, I have officially decided that I need to make Dim Sum a regular part of my life. What’s not to love about ladies wheeling carts of food around a restaurant and serving it to you, right at your table? This covers all of my favourite things about eating out: it’s delicious, delightful, and communal. Everything that was served up yesterday was amazing. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.

Here’s the question: how will my kids feel about coming here? They like dumplings and spring rolls, but will they be adventurous or will this just freak them out? Are you a Dim Sum family in Ottawa? Any tips to share? If so, where do you go?


NAC Ottawa family events

Saunders Farm annual passes for family fun!

Arctic Voices, Canadian Museum of Nature, Ottawa

Mrs Tiggywinkle's - the best toy store in Ottawa

Sustainable shopping at terra20 - Ottawa

Visit tThe Village Quire in Westboro Ottawa!

Joan of Arc Academy in Ottawa

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  • coffee with julie: I received the "secret" invite and admit to being intrigued but also feeling anxious ... what would I be getting myself into??! I immediately thought
  • andrea tomkins: Thanks for your comment Kelly. Good point about the foodie angle. I wonder... did this event do a good job of raising awareness about GT, or not? A
  • Kelly Rusk: HMMM.. Don't know how I feel about this. Particularly as someone who both works with influencers on behalf of clients and someone who has been invited
  • Misty Pratt: I cycled to Cornwall all in one day last year for the MS ride :) Totally doable! And yes to skiing being magical/therapeutic soul-food. Have I mention
  • vaylo: Cycle to Carleton Place? YES!
  • Lynn: Agreed - if you don't get outside in winter, even in a freezing cold winter like this one, it'll just seem like an endless drag. This year we've actua
  • A rare ski day >> a peek inside the fishbowl: […] minus seven it is cause for celebration around here. It was with this in mind that we returned to this NCC cross-country ski trail on [̷

The Obligatory Blurb

My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our two daughters Emma (15) and Sarah (13). I am the editor of the Kitchissippi Times, Capital Parent Newspaper, and a regular contributor to MediaSmarts.ca. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger, and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999... which makes me either a total dinosaur or a veteran, I'm not sure which! The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

If you'd like to contact me, please use this form. If you're so inclined, you can read more about me here. Thank you for visiting!


My right hand is actually a camera

Connect with me at these places too!

The #dailylunches project – 970 lunches and counting

Every day I eat lunch and take a picture. Here's the latest:

Created with flickr badge.

Click the photo for details: what it is, where I ate it (if it's worth a mention!) and how to cook it (if there happens to be a recipe). You can also read more about this project right here.


  • So I was feeling a bit ranty and wrote this post about raising children in an age of zero privacy in the hopes it will start some conversations! Please leave your two cents right here.

    - #
  • My latest post on the MediaSmarts website is up, and it's about family social media accounts. (Yes! It's a thing! And I think it's pretty neat.) Is this something you do as a family? I'd love it if you left your two cents on the topic.

    - #
  • I'm sharing some of my favourite lunch-related items over on the terra20 blog today. Whether you're packing a lunch for work, for your kids, or just eating at your desk at home, I bet there is something there for you. Check it out!

    - #

On the nightstand

... check out past nightstand reads right here.

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