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Saturday, December 18, 2010

Adam Schlesinger + Mike Viola + The Corner Laughers = Positively Power Pop Pleasure

If most of these names don't ring a bell for you it is because they seldom make headlines themselves but are behind some of the best movie music ever. I admit to being a sucker for anything distantly related to the 1996 Tom Hanks directed film, That Thing You Do!. So it was a complete no brainer for me when I saw that Adam Schlesinger was performing this rare show with Mike Viola. After all, Adam wrote the infectiously catchy title tune, Mike sang the lead vocal and added his production talents all over the soundtrack of this favorite flick of mine.

With only two west coast appearances and the one in San Francisco being at the tiny Café Du Nord on Market Street we made sure to arrive plenty early for this very special performance. We took advantage of their priority seating for diners and had a great meal as well.

The warm up act was just a perfect way to kick off this evening. Featuring Karla Kane on vocals and an electric ukuele, The Corner Laughers treated us to a dose of cheery pop. They included a couple of festive Christmas songs including a great version of The Kinks holiday classic, "Father Christmas".

Adam Schlesinger's most notable work as a band member is his bass playing for the group, Fountains of Wayne who are a Grammy-nominated power pop band from New Jersey. So we also enjoyed a few FOW tunes and Adam's kicking bass lines.

In addition to Mike Viola's work on the "That Thing You Do!" soundtrack he also was a major contributor to the music for Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story and most recently, "Get Him To The Greek".
When not playing lead guitar he took turns with Adam at the keyboards.

The band consisted of just Adam, Mike and their drummer. They joked about the night before at their Los Angeles show when they somehow neglected to introduce the guy pounding out all those beats. This oversight was especially funny with only a total of three of them on the stage performing. So they more than made up for it by constantly propping the guy behind them, Brian Wolfe. So here's a shot of Brian whose drums kept this performance stinging.

So we were delighted by The Corner Laughers and dazzled by two of the best pop songwriters around. This rare live collaboration of talent was a dream billing for any fan of power pop music.

And as the old expression goes..."That's The Ticket"!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Aperture Academy: Paradise For Photo Fans

In nearly the center of Santa Clara County at the Campbell Pruneyard Shopping Center is a gem of a place for photography enthusiasts. Aperture Academy is the brainchild of Stephen W. Oachs whose work has been featured in many A-List publications like National Geographic, Popular Photography, and Outdoor Photographer. Aperture Academy opened in 2009 and hits so many bases with exhibits, workshops, classes, events and a truly amazing schedule of on-location photography field trips.

It was one of their recent events that got me to make the trip from Santa Cruz. Stephen held a holiday party for many of this students, family, friends and associates. I had been to Aperture Academy once this summer for an industry event and walked away raving about the facility. It's like the motto there is "Go Big or Go Home." Every inch of their 4,000 square feet leaves a positive impression. Their new Mac workstations, brochures, furnishings, their website and every tiniest detail is a lesson in image and branding. You just can't help but feel like you're dealing with experts here.

So what do the big boys give away at their holiday party raffle? The list went on forever and included lots of really cool gear and prints from one of their favorite partners, Canon. So I dragged my dear friend and photobug-in-her-own-rite, Stacie Tamaki along for the fun and to take a shot at the grand prize seven day Alaskan Photography Cruise.

As we schmoozed and noshed we were soon approached by an old friend with one incredible memory. Stacie and I go back about ten years to the early days of wedding industry networking. Our group would meet at the studios of renown wedding photographer,George Delgado. Working closely with George at the time was Francois Clement. To say that Francois has a photographic memory is an understatement. He pulled both Stacie and I out of the crowd and remembered our names. Sometimes I can't remember what I had for breakfast. I had to get a shot of Francois and Stacie for old times sake.

But Francois reminded us that he has not lost his sense of humor so we tried the proverbial digital self-portrait here. It reminded me of how much easier it is to do this with a little point & shoot instead of a D-SLR and shoe mounted flash. Francois impressed us with his strength and steady hand.

Enough clowning around. It was time for the raffle and Stephen Oachs did a great job of emceeing and giving away the many fantastic prizes.

I am normally pretty lucky at raffles but neither I nor Stacie came home with any prizes. We did come home with another great experience at Aperture Academy. This place just rocks. I will take one of their workshops whether it's a one day Marin Headlands trip or a week in Oregon's Columbia River Gorge. My photography will improve and no doubt the experience will be priceless. I recommend this place to the novice snap shooter or serious photo geek alike. It is truly a unique combination of services all under one roof.

My parting shot is of one of the many surprises we had in store that evening. Stephen unveiled his latest release called "Rockstar" at the party. It was under wraps until the final raffle drawing. So if you want to get up close and personal with it, you'll have to swing by The Pruneyard and say hello to Stephen and the crew. It will be well worth your time to check out all that's happening at Aperture Academy. Thank you Stephen and keep up the great work.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Road To Martini Madness Via A 16

How much fun was last night? The simple plan was to grab a bite at A 16, a popular Italian restaurant in San Francisco's Marina District on the way to Duncan Reyes' final Martini Madness of 2010. A 16 shares its name with the highway that runs from Naples to Canosa, Puglia. The southern Italy region of Campania is where most of A 16 dishes get their inspiration.

Our departure time was 4:30 from Campbell so we figured a 5:30 reservation at A 16 was doable. Think again and factor in major rainstorm and holiday traffic. The folks at A 16 were kind enough to hold our spot until we arrived at 6:00ish and by these smiles it is obvious that we were glad they did. Our entourage to The City included Stacie Tamaki, Lisa Whalen, Andy Mark, and Luke Goodman.

The A 16 Gospel according to my foodie friend, Andy Mark (itscookin.com) is to order lots of apps, sides and pizza. I'd love to tell you which dish was my favorite but I simply can't pick one. These two pizzas were a great intermezzo between the freshly made Burrata/olive oil/sea salt and crostini starter and the Pumpkin/Ricotta Gnocchi with braised kale, onions and panchetta.

Have you ever noticed how easy it is to get photographers to pose for pictures? Here Lisa is seriously composing her thoughts for tasting notes on this red.

When actually this shot is much more in character for her as she composes a shot of Andy's red.

We were having so much fun at dinner that the only thing we didn't notice was the clock. When we realized it was already 8:00 we quickly slipped out of our culinary bliss and into panic mode to get to Martini Madness before closing time. In an exit that almost rivaled a dine & dash departure followed by a quick trip across The Streets Of San Francisco we got to the Union Square hotspot called Infusion Lounge for the Holiday edition of Martini Madness.

When we arrived at Martini Madness hardly anyone noticed we were fashionably late. Duncan, of course, greeted us with open arms and Lisa had plenty of evidence of our frolicking at A 16 on her cell phone photos. We learned our lesson to allow more than one hour to get to S.F. especially in the rain at holiday time.

It was another successful Martini Madness at one of the hippest clubs in The City. My parting shot is of host Duncan and DJ Jason Mitchell of Music Solutions who did a fantastic job of keeping the energy up and sound pressure at a volume where we could all chat. Thanks again to Duncan for another memorable Martini Madness and to the A 16 crew (Stacie, Luke, Andy and Lisa) for an evening that was truly Dolce Vita!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Carl Cooks: No Tears French Onion Soup

When it dips to 33 degrees overnight here in Northern California it is definitely time to dip into comfort food. And one of my personal favorites in French Onion Soup adapted from one of my favorite cookbooks, Tyler's Ultimate. F.O.S. is another one of those foods where every recipe boasts the same ingredients but no two soups come out tasting alike. My first photo is what you need to bring home from the grocery store.


6 large yellow onions
3 cloves of garlic
3 fresh thyme sprigs
1 bunch of fresh chives
Kosher Salt & Fresh Ground Pepper
2 Bay Leaves
All Purpose Flour (3 tablespoons)
Red Wine (1 cup)
Vegetable or Beef Broth (3 quarts)
French Bread or Baguette
Gruyere Cheese (1/2 pound)
Unsalted Butter (1 stick)

The most effort in making this soup is deconstructing the onions. I always begin with halving them first which makes for easier peeling.

To get lots of consistently thin slices I use one of my favorite kitchen tools, the mandoline, for slicing. Mine is made by RÖSLE and is a very simplistic design. The black plastic guard is a great idea if you are a novice at slicing with a mandoline because the blades are extremely sharp.

And here's where the fun comes in. I have no problem working with one onion in a typical recipe, however, when it comes to slicing six large ones my eyes just can't handle it. One simple solution is a pair of onion goggles. Although I am not big on uni-tasking kitchen tools this one is a must when handling lots of onions. They may sit in my drawer for awhile but quickly become instantly indispensable. The most popular brand is made by RSVP and they are available at any kitchen store.

As funny as I may look in these goggles the chance of slicing my finger is greatly reduced without tears in my eyes. One other trick they teach you in culinary school is to chill your onions in the refrigerator which will reduce the gases that cause tearing but it's still not as much fun as suiting up with the protective gear like one of the HAZMAT team. :-)

So a great big bowl of thinly sliced onions is a good start for your soup.


Peel & Slice Onions per my pictures
Peel and finely mince garlic cloves
Slice bread and toast lightly
Grate Gruyere Cheese
Finely mince chives


Melt Butter in large pot
Add Onions, Garlic, Bay Leaves, Thyme Sprigs, S & P
Stir often until soft and fully sweated. (About 25 minutes)
Add Wine and Bring to Boil the Reduce to Simmer
Discard Bay Leaves and Thyme Sprigs
Dust with Flour, Stirring well and cook 10 minutes
Add Broth and continue cooking 10 minutes

The best bowl for French Onion Soup is a ramekin that can take the heat of your oven broiler. Since I like to make this soup so often I invested in bowls made especially for this dish by Revol.


Place toasted bread slices in bowls
Ladle soup into bowls
Top with shredded cheese
Place in bowls into oven and broil until cheese is completely melted
Top with chopped chive garnish

And Voila...Soup's On...Tears Off!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

It's Called Customer Service – Don't Bury The Small Video Rental Store Quite Yet

In my world sometimes old technology still beats out the latest and (supposedly) the greatest.

In the constantly evolving arena of home movie entertainment the hottest names right now seem to be Comcast, Netflix, redbox, Direct TV and AT&T. I recently had several strong personal recommendations for a movie called 500 Days of Summer, however, it quickly became a personal quest to find it. Although I don't subscribe to every latest whistle and bell I am not exactly in the Dark Ages when it comes to home entertainment. My monthly bill with Comcast averages $200 including their high speed internet service. I thought finding this fairly popular movie would be as simple as navigating the choices in On Demand. Think again Carl. Neither was my movie part of the Comcast repertoire, nor was not available from the redbox machine at my favorite supermarket. The only place I didn't bother looking was at our local Blockbuster which has now become an auto supply store to no one's real surprise considering the level of customer service they provided.

I have nothing against the redbox concept which is actually pretty solid. Instead of paying minimum wage clerks to ring up simple video rental transactions like Hollywood Video or Blockbuster they've replaced it with vending machine technology. And for only .99 cents it makes for one very convenient movie grab at the grocery store. However, just like their Blockbuster predecessors they ONLY stock the hits. Netflix also has its advantages but paying their monthly membership fee is not practical for the less frequent movie renter like myself.

My frustrating search finally came to an end when I pulled into what many call a dying breed, the Ma & Pa video rental shop. It is simply called "DVD To Go" and it is tucked away in a nondescript strip center complete with a missing letter on the center's main sign.

But don't let the funky front of this place fool you. You are greeted by a specials rack on the sidewalk and a special kind of attitude that is sadly missing in big box stores and malls.

And that special attitude comes directly from the owner, Linda Walton, who says she's been working in video stores for 15 years. The second you step inside this place something is different. She greets every customer as they come in the front door and knows most of them by name. The air is filled with reviews and recommendations. It sounds more like a movie club than a retail store. Linda knows her inventory so well she seldom has to visually check it to tell you if a title is in stock. Getting a movie here is like shopping for golf clubs at a pro shop instead of wandering around Sports Authority trying to find a sales clerk.

After scoring a copy of 500 Days of Summer I could not wait to return to test this little place on some other movie rentals that have eluded me like the popular Sean Penn film Milk and the more obscure Flash of Genius starring Greg Kinnear. And sure enough this little store delivered again and again. The display racks are nothing fancy but rather just plain wire racks. The difference is they are filled with a decent depth of catalog instead of JUST THE HITS.

My parting shot is of Linda Walton herself. I found huge irony in her name and joked with her about being related to Sam Walton who founded the world's biggest retailer, Wal-Mart. However, Linda and DVD To Go simply could not be any further from the Wal-World. When I tried to interview her for my blog she blushed and could only describe herself as "just a nice person." But that "nice person" has built a loyal clientele who keep coming back for a great experience. It's great to see tea cozy and old school customer service is still very much alive. Thank You Linda!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Jubilee Lau & Gloria Wong: Role Models For Wedding Designers and Event Planners

It seems like Jubilee Lau and Gloria Wong have got it all backwards. They hosted a vendor appreciation luncheon for those of us who were lucky enough to work one of the most incredible weddings in 2010. Although they were thankful for our efforts WE should have been the ones taking THEM to lunch. After all, the industry still seems to be buzzing from that September 18 extravaganza that went completely off the charts on its production value alone. Although I can't go into details of that wedding it was reviewed by my friend and industry colleague, Stacie Tamaki on her blog. Click to read A Day In The Life of a Professional Wedding MC.

Gloria and Jubilee chose the legendary Top Of the Mark to indulge us. The wraparound views of The City alone made the trip to the top of this Intercontinental Hotel well worth it.

This Appreciation Luncheon started off with a traditional Caesar Salad topped with a generous helping of Parmesan shavings. Although the salad was almost entree size we followed it with either of these two main courses:

Farfalle with grilled chicken in a lemon cream sauce.

The vegetarian option was a Roasted Butternut Squash Ravioli in a rich sundried tomato and thyme cream sauce with deep fried vegetable shavings.

Capping our luncheon was the classic Italian Tiramisu presented in a white and dark chocolate cup.

The entertainment group was well represented at the luncheon. Shown here is dance coach, Cynthia Glinka, Carl that MC Guy, and talent agency owner, Peter Rudolfi.

My parting shot is of everyone at the long luncheon table squeezing into our group photo. The wedding event we all did together in September had almost as many on-site wedding vendors and staff as it did guests. You're looking at some very hard working people who made it all come together under the direction of Jubilee and Gloria. Major props should go out to everyone who participated in this team effort. And, of course, a huge thanks to those you know as Jubilee Lau and Gloria Wong. I like to call them Jubilee Wow and Glorious Song.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Carl Cooks: Torta di Risotto Sounds Fancy But Is Actually An Easy No Risk Risotto Dish

It's time to acknowledge another one of my favorite cook books called "New Vegetarian" by Celia Brooks Brown. If you think all vegetarian dishes are just boring steamed veggies and slimy tofu, think again. Celia accurately tags her food as "bold and beautiful recipes for every occasion." Among the many great recipes in this book is a hearty Torta di Risotto. This dish is a very substantial side or paired with a green salad can completely stand on its own as an entree. It is also an excellent main course when you have any vegetarian guests. Best of all it is the least intimidating risotto recipe ever so don't be afraid of this sometimes temperamental ingredient.

2 medium zucchinis
3 garlic cloves
2 handfuls of fresh basil leaves
1 cup Arborio Rice
16 oz. chopped plum tomatoes
1 tbl. balsamic vinegar
1 tbl. brown sugar
1/4 cup toasted breadcrumbs
1/3 cup olive oil
4 oz. Mozzarella Cheese
4 oz. Fontina Cheese
2/3 Cup Freshly Grated Parmesan Cheese

Slice zucchini length-wise into 1/8" strips
Brush strips with olive oil/S&P
Heat grill or grill pan on high
Cook just long enough to get char marks and set aside

Chop garlic cloves & basil
Cut the mozzarella and fontina cheeses into 1/2 inch cubes
Heat oil in saucepan and add garlic until soft & fragrant
Add tomatoes,vinegar,sugar, S&P
Simmer about 10 minutes until thickened
Stir in the chopped basil

Bring about 2 cups of water to boil
Add some salt to the water
Add rice and bring back to boil
Simmer until rice is tender and water is absorbed (about ten minutes)

Combine rice into the saucepan with the tomato mixture
Fold in the cubed and grated cheeses

Preheat oven to 425 degrees
Prepare 9x5x3 loaf pan by oiling lightly & bread crumb dusting
Pour 1/2 of the rice mixture into the pan
Layer the grilled zucchini
Cover with the remaining rice mixture
Top with sprinkling of remaining bread crumbs
Bake for 30 to 40 minutes until golden and bubbly around the edges
Cool for at least 15 minutes
Run a knife around the edges to free it from the loaf pan
Place on a serving plate, invert pan, tap on the pan to release it
Cut into 2 inch slices for serving


As I mentioned this dish is rich and delicious enough to stand alone as an entree. The surprise element is the unexpected layer of grilled zucchini in the center but you could easily substitute another vegetable and I bet asparagus would also be a great choice.