Friday, February 27, 2009

The New "Zen" Samovar Tea Lounge @ Laguna and Page St

Well I finally went to the new Samovar Tea Lounge in Hayes Valley located at 297 Page St at the intersection of Page St. x Laguna. It's kitty corner to the Zen Center which makes the location so appropriate. I met Karen Hsu from Grandiflora there for lunch to catch up.

If you've never been it's a real treat. The menu isn't inexpensive but for the quality of the food I think it's a good value.

This is what I had for lunch that day: Japanese Maki Bowl with Smoked Salmon (or tofu), steamed kale w/ ume marinade, Wakame Seaweed Salad w/sesame-miso dressing, cooked carrots, seasoned brown rice, toasted nori, Seasonal Pumpkin Soup and Ryokucha Brown Rice Tea.

The pumpkin soup was so good! 

Karen had the same meal with the organic Chai Tea.

And she ordered 2 Cherry Oat Scones w/ Devonshire Cream & Jam for dessert. I declined sampling them because I've been trying to cut back on my desserts lately... Then she forgot them in my car when I dropped her off after. I got back home and found an email from her informing me that I now had to eat them. So I did. They were great.

As far as locations go I did enjoy that this tea lounge is in a more residential neighborhood, but that made the parking more difficult to find. If you go on Wednesday be sure to note the "No Parking from 12:00 to 2:00 on most of the streets in the neighborhood due to street sweeping. All in all I'd definitely go here if I'm in the neighborhood but if I were between this location and the one at Yerba Buena Gardens I'd probably go to the YBG location. Easier parking in the Mission Street garage and the gorgeous reflecting pond there is such a serene environment when you sit out on the patio on a warm summer day.

PUG, as in Pictage User Group

Continued from the previous post: So after leaving Joshua Charles Catering in Redwood City I had 45 minutes to hustle myself back down to San Jose for a 7:00 pm appearance...

When Jill Johnson, leader of the San Jose PUG group first contacted me and asked me to be a guest speaker at a PUG meeting? I wondered why she wanted me to come talk about a breed of dog that I didn't even own. LOL. Then it dawned on me she had to be talking about a different kind of PUG. So I popped onto Google and typed Pug+Wedding+Photography into the search box. Immediately the links for several Pictage User Groups came up.

Ahhhhhhh well that made more sense!

Their mission as described on their website:

The PUGs mission is to facilitate communication and education among professional photographers at a regional level around the nation in order to allow photographers to learn from each other and share experiences.

Have I ever mentioned that I LOVE when individuals embrace the concept of community and pool their knowledge? It helps stir creativity and allows each member to share their strengths with the group so that everyone involved will benefit. In the end it's the client who will benefit the most because any person from the group they hire will be more well rounded.

She asked me to come and speak about blogging, online social networks and marketing. No problem! I talk about these things every day. I have to say it was really fun. We also talked about web design, viral marketing, SEO and more. I also saw my photographer pals: Dennis Menendez, Orbie Pullen, Rebecca Meredith, Tanja Lippert and special guest, post WPPI videographer Andrew Hsu. I even made a few new friends and learned a thing or two myself :D

Thank you Jill for inviting me and all of you for being so welcoming and fun

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Joshua Charles Catering = Fabulous Food

A couple of nights ago I had the pleasure of attending the Joshua Charles Catering Winter Tasting where they prepared some of the tastiest food around! I honestly don't know how they are able to infuse such intense flavors into each and every morsel. I've eaten a lot of food in my day... Believe me I've been around the proverbial hors d'oeuvre serving tray more then once... But Joshua's food is different. His is outrageously wonderful. The ingredients are SO fresh! And the flavors... My mouth is watering just thinking about them.

I had first sampled their "small bites" at the Freedom to Marry event a few weeks ago and was delighted when I was invited to attend their winter tasting event. Other menus you can view on the Joshua Charles.net website include their: Cocktail Party, Garden Party Tea Sandwich Luncheon, Vegetarian Gathering, Wedding Reception and Summer Barbeque.

It was a busy night for Executive Chef Jonathan Veenker and his team as they prepared both small bites and a buffet for their appreciative and very hungry guests!

The Gravlax of Arctic Char was my favorite of the hors d'oeurves. It was a tender strip of gravlax rolled up around the tastiest "eggplant caponata," crème fraiche and black pepper that I've ever had the pleasure of meeting. I mean eating. Oh and if you aren't sure what gravlax is? It's salmon that's typically been cured in a dry marinade that's comprised of a mixture of salt, sugar, and dill, under a heavy weight that presses the water out of the fish.

Here's a close up in case that first picture didn't make your mouth water. I swear I could have eaten about 30 of them. I LOVE GRAVLAX!!! I can still remember my introduction to it years ago at a high tech Christmas party. I parked myself by the gravlax buffet station and just sat there surrounded by little pieces of bread, salmon, capers and créme fraiche and just kept eating them... one after another... Yes I'll admit it, I can be that uncouth around unattended hors d'oeuvre stations whenever gravlax or caviar are involved... I can't help myself.

And this was Rabbit Cacciatore Spoons with creamy soft polenta. To be honest I didn't try it. Having had pet bunnies for much of my life I just couldn't do it. It sure did look good though and I'm certain it tasted good too.

And I ate Venison Tartar served on a Potato Gaufrette with Romesco Sauce. Yes you read that correctly, venison tartar. I tried it because I assumed it was ahi tuna. LOL. It was really good and was the first time I'd ever tried venison in my life. I didn't realize I'd be having such an exotic dining experience when I accepted the invitation.

And another first for me: House Smoked Sturgeon with apple-mint "caviar" and creme fraiche on thin little slices of walnut crostini bread. I'd never had sturgeon before either. I liked it a lot. It was my second most favorite bite of the night.

I took this shot shortly after I arrived. A small tent with lights and a very nice bartender were set up to greet us. I had a great time but couldn't stay long, as in I missed enjoying the buffet, because I had to be back to San Jose that evening to be a guest speaker at a meeting... So back in the car I went and headed back down HWY 280...

As I drove away here's what I missed out on at the buffet. *Sniff sniff* I could almost cry just thinking about it:

Grilled Striped Sea Bass with Olive Tapenade

Grilled New Zealand Lamb Rack
with marinated feta, Mediterranean herbs, and pomegranate molasses.

Spicy Pulled Pork Sandwich
on a hoagie roll with wild arugula and house made aioli.

Roasted Baby Beets with Chevre, Parsely and Shallots

Organic gold, pink, and purple Baby Beets dressed in Lemon Vinaigrette with crumbled Cowgirl Creamery Chevre

Baby Artichoke Bruschetta...
Artichokes in Lemon Confit and Cured White Anchovies

And the desserts?

Crema Catalan

Chocolate-dipped Organic Raspberries

Grasshopper Bars
Luscious square of brownie with emerald cream and scharffenberger fudge.

We can only imagine the dining experience the rest of the guests enjoyed at the buffet that evening. LOL, but believe me I'm grateful that I was able to attend at all. It was SUCH a treat!

To be continued...

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Most Gorgeous Spring Blossoms

Just down the street from my house there is a tree the blooms each year covered in these gorgeous pink blossoms... I can't tell you how much I love walking beneath them as I walk my dog each day. And they're fragrant too! Just wanted to share a little bit of beautiful with all of you :D

Bridal Gowns, Wedding Cake and Gorgeous Flowers at Ralston Hall Mansion

Last Sunday I attended "An Afternoon of Elegance" at the beautiful "Italianate Villa" styled Ralston Hall Mansion in Belmont, CA. which featured an exclusive fashion show of bridal gowns & special wedding fashions presented by Paper and Petals Bridal of Burlingame, gorgeous flowers from several Bay Area floral companies and more cake then you can imagine!

Preparing for the show... I believe there were 12 models who each did multiple gown changes. This was a show where you could see dozens of bridal, bridesmaid and Mother of the Bride gowns, along with a few cute flower girl dresses all live moving down the elevated runway.

Click on the images to view larger.

I snuck in for a quick picture before the show started then watched the models waft through the crowd wearing some really gorgeous gowns.

This is model Liz carrying one of DK Designs clay flower bouquets.

And this was DK Designs' booth. That's why I was at the show that day, to help as needed if her booth got swamped. And guess what? It did a few times over.

Close ups of some of Diane's clay bouquets and favor boxes. Gorgeous aren't they?

She made so many flowers for the show! And they can be used in so many ways from non-toxic cake decorations to bouquets, centerpieces, corsages and boutonnieres to hair accessories... There doesn't seem to be a limit on ways to in corporate her creations into your wedding day!

And these are individual hair pins that can be worn on your wedding day or for any special occasion. They would make really wonderful bridesmaids gifts.

And guess who else was there?

Yup, our good friend David Ethridge from A Video Reflection.

A little close up of his post cards.

Flirty florist Karen Baba from Plan Decor was also participating that day. I loved this bouquet! Model Ann Mary looks very flirty imo.

And her stunning table display with one large centerpiece, several bouquets and a tray of corsages and boutonnieres.

And what about this feather and flower bouquet? Perfect for a Maid of Honor or Bridesmaids.

Click on the images to view larger.

When I was given a sample of these "Caramels with Pecans" by Ciara Dolce I was told it would be the best caramel I'd ever tasted. And they weren't kidding. You will love the intense flavor of these soft and chewy caramels that would be perfect wedding or party favors.

They'll even customize the packaging allowing you to choose both the art and font to create a custom label for your favors.

If you'd like to win a box of Ciara Dolce "Caramels with Pecans" just leave me a comment with a link or drop me an email with your contact information. I bought a little box at the show just so one of you could try them too! I'll draw a random winner on Saturday :)

Click on the images to view larger.

When I saw the display for Studio Cake I thought to myself "Cute Cakes!" It took me a minute to realize I was face to face with the work of designer extraordinaire BethAnn Goldberg who recently was featured on The Martha Stewart tv show as a finalist in her Dreamers into Doers contest.

Click on the images to view larger.

I first saw BethAnn's cakes last year when she created a whimsical tortise wedding cake for one of wedding coordinator Jean Mark's clients.

And it's always a pleasure when I get to see and visit with Dianne Tatro, owner of "Honeymoon Under the Sun" (aka TravelQuest) a company that specializes in planning honeymoons and catering to the romantic needs of travelers.

And it had been years since I'd seen Cero from Cake Expressions. His booth was in close proximity to DK Designs' so I watched everyone feasting on his cake all afternoon long. I even grabbed a sample for myself at the end of the day. It was delish!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Stacie Tamaki (Hey that's me) will be moderating a DIY Wedding Panel Tomorrow!

An invitation to Bay Area Do-It-Yourself Brides and Grooms!

I'll be moderating a panel discussion all about how to DIY certain elements of your wedding... Like a professional!

In tough economic times, and believe me I know of what I speak, I was living in Silicon Valley during the dot com bust in 2001-2002... Anyways, I was saying I know there are times when brides and grooms may need to be resourceful for a multitude of reasons. The decision to DIY is sometimes about wanting to be creative, but often it's simply a way to save money. My advice? Whenever possible try to work with a professional instead of replacing them completely. So, how to save money going the DIY route while achieving as professional of a result as possible?

If you've already decided to DIY certain elements of your own wedding, we'll be sharing some great ideas all about how to prioritize, what you should and shouldn't attempt to do yourself and cover how to: Successfully have an iPod wedding reception, though it may not be how you think. How to shoot and edit your wedding video like a pro, with the guidance of pros. How to work with a professional floral designer to have beautiful arrangements at a lower cost and how to make your own "like-a-pro" wedding invitations.

There will be Fabulous Food Tasting • The Flirty Guide Expert DIY Panel • Exciting Vendor Displays Custom Cocktail Creation Lounge • Wedding Fashion Show Amazing Prizes

RSVP to the Crowne Plaza Cabaña Hotel before the day of the event for a FREE VIP Pass and Free Valet Parking

email: sales.catering@cabanapaloalto.net
Schedule of Events:
11:00 am Doors open

1:00 pm Flirty Guide Panel of Do It Yourself Wedding Experts, including a florist, DJ, videographer and invitation designer

2:00 pm Nouvelle Bridal Fashion Show

All Day Fabulous food tasting, signature cocktail creations and fantastic entertainment

DIY Panel Professionals:
Fleurty, Floral Design
Hello Lucky, Invitations
Jewel Savadelis, Videographer
Ron Grandia, DJ

Contact the Cabana Hotel to RSVP for a FREE VIP Pass:
Crowne Plaza Cabana Hotel
4290 El Camino Real
Palo Alto, CA 94306

Saturday, February 21, 2009

A Brand New Kara's Smore Cupcake

A Kara's Cupcake Update: A brand new flavor: Smores!

Toasted marshmallow, chocolate cupcake and a graham cracker bottom crust. What's not to love?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Who to Friend on Facebook

"Find people you know on Facebook
Your friends on Facebook are the same friends, acquaintances and family members that you communicate with in the real world. You can use any of the tools on this page to find more friends."

That's what the top of the "Find Friends" page says on Facebook.com. So if that's the premise as described by the site itself why are you getting so many friend requests from people you don't know at all? Like never knew them in High School or College, are not friends with them now at work, or it's literally someone on the other side of the planet you may never meet in real life...

To accept, ignore, reject or wait is subjective. Some people try to friend as many people as they can, others only the people they really know in real life. I'm not saying either way is right or wrong but rather that different people approach their "Friend List" with different criteria.

And just so you know... I don't always immediately respond to all of the Facebook friend requests I receive.

Why would I wait to accept a friend request?

Well there's a few reasons. My most basic criteria for accepting friend requests are based on the following:

1. Are we really friends in real life?

2. Are we colleagues that share more then the occasional "Nice to see you" at an industry event? Have we got together to chat outside of an industry event? Have we ever worked on a project together?

3. How well do I know your work? To me, accepting a friend request is in itself an endorsement of both the quality of work and the way in which a company conducts their business. So if I don't know anything about who you are, what you do, or your company in general, chances are I'll want to wait until I do.

4. If we aren't work colleagues how well do we know each other? Whether you're a local friend or an internet friend the same "I have to know you and already be friends with you" standard applies.

So what to do to avoid the somewhat awkward situation of not accepting friend requests? You can always reserve your personal profile for family only (or no one at all) and start a Business Facebook Profile for your company that is open to the world to join.

If you're a colleague and I haven't accepted your request because I don't know you at all, and you see me at an industry event? Please come by and say hello. Let me get to know you. I'd appreciate it. Really I would.

(Just for the record: There have been a few time I accidently accepted the requests of people I don't know when my computer accepted not only the request I meant to but also the one directly after it. So a few people I don't know well are on my friend list. Rather then defriend them? I'm getting to know them better :)

Some great articles about friending on Facebook:

Is it rude to not accept a friend request? Frequent users of social forums like Facebook will most likely say no. But to someone new to the scene it might feel rude. The thing to keep in mind is that some people are all about quantity. Your declining to accept won't devastate them. You're just a unit to bring them closer to a "target" number of friends. Or they might have accidentally hit the "send a friend request to everyone in my email address book" while setting up their account. So if you get a request from someone and wonder why they sent it? Maybe they didn't mean to in the first place: When you don't want to be Facebook friends

Another awkward situation created when you join a site like Facebook is defriending a friend:
Meaning removing them from your friend list. If you join a site like Facebook it'll most likely happen to you at some point. It's nothing to get worked up over. Well at least not for me it wasn't. This is real life, you'll have ups and downs and may take breaks or just stop being friends with someone for good. Either way here's an article about how to deal with this issue on Facebook: Friends, Until I Delete You

You may find this surprising but most of my friends with kids, are friends with them on Facebook. I'm even friends with some of their kids. I'd recommend parents with teenagers on Facebook get online themselves. Even if your kid won't friend you as a parent I think it's good for everyone to understand how the site works so they have a better understanding of how especially really young kid(s) are potentially using the site when they're online: When Mom or Dad Asks To Be a Facebook 'Friend'

Monday, February 16, 2009

Pasquale Esposito • A Brand New Me

Even though I don't speak Italian? I Absolutely love to listen to Pasquale Esposito sing. Last night I'd invited my friend Diane Phillips to attend his concert with me so we headed off to the Montgomery Theatre in San Jose to hear my favorite tenor perform his original music along with classic favorites, both American and Italian, to launch his new 14 track CD "A Brand New Me."

CLICK HERE for his remaining tour dates and locations.

Did I mention we had second row seats? Oh yeah we were up close and personal!

The concert was amazing with live musicians, back up singers, duets with soprano Amy Baker and dancers! This was my 5th Pasquale concert so I know of what I speak. I've also attended one recital and for the past 8 years since seeing him sing at a holiday event at the Kohl Mansion I have attended dozens upon dozens of his local performances.

He sang his new original pieces... My absolute favorite was the soaring and soulful ballad "Aria e Cielo." I'd heard him perform it live over a year ago then had to impatiently wait for the new CD to be able to listen to it over and over again. My other favorites are "Un In Trumonto"and  "Vento Tro I Capelli." 

He also performed classic Italian and American songs in both Italian and English and entertained us with hilarious stories about his mother and a charming story about how he got his start as a vocalist after breaking his grandpa's gramophone machine.

I purchased 2 copies of his new CD... One for me... And one to give away here on the blog in an upcoming contest. After the show we somehow managed to be first in line to have our Cd's autographed! So yes, mine is signed and so is the one I'll be giving away.

His opening act Nexuno was a very pleasant surprise. Again, I don't speak Italian so I have no idea what the lyrics in their songs meant... But I really liked their music. In fact I have to find out if they have a full length CD because I'd love to have it.

Readers of the blog know that I love cupcakes... Well Pasquale's singing ranks right up there with the best cupcake ever created. In fact listening to him sing whether live or on CD is one of my most simple pleasures in life. When his voice hits those long, rich, passionate notes... It's intangible the way it goes straight to my heart and no matter where I am... I feel happy.

Photo by: Todd Rafalovich

Here we are at my wedding. After being a super-fan for so many years how could he not be at my wedding? My new hubby and I engaged his services for our cocktail hour. Our guests? Loved him! He's available for weddings, private parties and special events.

I swear if I ever become a millionaire I will hire him to come sing to me at least once per month. Short of that my other dream scenario is to get a massage, while listening to his My Passion CD and having someone sitting under the massage table feeding me a Kara's Fleur de Sel chocolate cupcake through the breathing hole in the face rest of the massage table. Ahhhh good times! LOL

If Pasquale isn't coming to where you live you can always invite him into your life by ordering one or all of his Cd's. My Passion is his first and contains my favorite classic Italian song he performs, the heart rending:"Il mare calmo della sera." I swear I swoon every time I play it and ten times over when he performs it live.

My Destiny is my favorite cd to play in the kitchen. It's energetic and peppy and makes me want to dance. OK I'll admit it actually makes me dance around the kitchen as I whip up this or that. Now that I told you that I'll have to put a curtain over my kitchen window so no ridiculous videos of me dancing in the kitchen appear on Youtube. LOL

The Naples That's Amore CD is the pinnacle of when Pasquale's dream to create a stage show combining his vocals with live musicians and dancers became a reality. I bought tickets to both performances it was such a special occasion. It's not often one gets to not only witness a friend's dream come true but also gets to be a part of it so this cd is special indeed.

Being both his fan and friend over the years has been an honor.

I admire his passion and respect his devotion for pursuing his music not only as a performer but academically as well. This year Pasquale will graduate from San Jose State with a music degree. This man is no slacker. In fact he may be the hardest working person I know. For years he has gone to school to pursue his degree, has continued his vocal training to improve his singing, has been writing songs and all the while he performs throughout the Bay Area most nights... For years and years.

If you want to keep up on his latest news there's more then one way to do it!

Tour dates, photos, links to purchase his CDs and more.