Friday, May 28, 2010

Brain Booster: Creating Fresh Ideas

Rancho Cordova, CA – If you ever find yourself in a rut, I encourage you to attend a Techcoire event to rev up your creative engine. Last night’s event “Driving Product Innovation Through Open Platforms & Social Media” was a bit heady for this technological neophyte, but nonetheless opened up some long-buried neurological pathway to creativity. The night’s premise of “fresh ideas come from people with fresh eyes” captivated me.

Leading this brain brigade is idea guru Anand Chhatpar, CEO, Brain Reaction. His company focuses on structured brainstorming sessions resulting in fresh ways to initiate new ideas. Part snake oil meets bottled tap water mentality, he teaches companies to create innovative ideas based on existing concepts. Genius. His cadre of 35 certified barnstormers at various times are called upon to generate between 100 to 300 ideas for companies based on new kinds of value.

I attended this event in hopes of learning more about social media and found myself a kindergartner among college students. Web 2.0 is so yesterday. Still, I learned about the synthesis of pattern recognition; that mess and creativity creates tension; and more importantly that leap frogging is the name of the game. What does this all add up to? We exist to create. Open up the dialogue and then bring those little piggies to market. It’s a whole new world out there. Allow your ideas to catch fire. I know I will.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Michelangelo's: Good Food, Right Price

San Francisco, CA – It’s hard to select an Italian restaurant in the heart of North Beach when there are so many bright jewels on Columbus Avenue. My childhood friend Shirley and I were searching for just the right spot to celebrate my 49th birthday. We chose Michelangelo, not so much because of the menu, but because of the charming invitation of the owner—tall, gallant and uber-handsome Michelangelo Marcantonio.

Michelangelo’s promise of free wine and a Bruscetta appetizer helped seal the deal. It was Shirley’s birthday treat to me under the guise of "I just got paid." Our table gave us a view of Coit Tower and the gothic cathedral Sts. Peter and Paul Church. Before our dinner, we snacked on marinated Italian olives while drinking red wine. We split an order of Chicken Milanese, which is a delicate wafer thin breaded breast of chicken in white wine lemon sauce, served with broccoli and home-style potatoes and their house Lasagna. The combination of these entrees together was complimentary. Alone, the simplicity of each dish may not have wielded the rich texture I was seeking for maximum birthday taste bud explosion.

The homemade Tiramisu was the evening’s Coupe de Gras. The house lights were lowered and the wait staff brought me the liquor soaked concoction with a birthday candle on top. Singing Happy Birthday to me in Italian felt original, until we heard it two more times that evening. Michelangelo told me his birthday count was seven that night—he doesn’t require birth date identification to provide this gratis gift. If you’re looking for an authentic Italian meal with a warm, charming staff to serve you, I recommend Michelangelo’s. The price is right; the food is good, and the positive energy, priceless. Bon Appetit.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Finding California Gold: Antelope Valley Poppy Preserve

Lancaster, CA -- At a party in Venice Beach, the owner of Flake, a Venice restaurant dedicated to the pursuit of cereal and yummy cuisine showed me pictures on her cell phone of brilliant orange poppies. "If you ever get a chance to see these poppies in bloom, do yourself a favor and go, you'll never regret it." Now I've lived long enough to know that when someone makes a recommendation of this caliber and intensity, it's wise to heed the call, if possible. The Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve conveniently enough, was on my way out of the L.A. basin, north along Highway 5, 15 miles west of Lancaster, California. Divine timing.

Listening to the Grateful Dead station on my XM satellite radio driving by fields of brilliant orange poppies put me in that groovy head space of wonder and awe. Is it possible that so much beauty can exist on this Earth and not have it be overrun with people? Indeed. The intense blooming season for the California poppy falls usually within late winter to early spring, during the months of mid-February through mid-May. Go there now, for the maximum bloom. Within the reserve, there are seven miles of trails, including a paved section for wheelchair access, which traverse through the poppy fields.

Watching the undulating breeze quake a sea of golden poppies at the 1800 acre State Reserve was like finding California gold incarnate. As far as my eyes could see, there were poppies. Liquid gold. The energetic vibration of all these flowers was difficult to hold. I couldn't sit still for long—the energy too intense. When I viewed the experience through a micro lense and examined each individual poppy, the metaphor was revealed to me. Each flower in various stages of growth represented the natural cycle of our lives: some were buds, others unfolding, still others in full bloom, while many had gone to seed and were dormant.

In celebration of the 40th anniversary of Earth Day—which by the way is my 49th birthday, do yourself a favor and go visit the poppy reserve. Tell them the Divine Daytripper and Paige sent you. Happy Earth Day!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Spring Skiing: Bluebird Days

Sierra Nevada, CA -- Oh the bluebird days of spring skiing has me hummin' a tune: Zippidee Doo Da, Zippidee Ay, my oh my what a wonderful day, plenty of sunshing, heading my way...

Sugar Bowl Ski Resort is still alive with grateful skiers enjoying the last days of winter.  While most people are now thinking of gardening, golfing or tennis, our tribe of ten, including the Bowl's 2009 ski patrolman of the year Paul Licata were enjoying the slopes mostly to ourselves.  The snow was soft and forgiving, the temperature in the mid-50's and plenty of sunshine.  Better wax and edge those skis because Sugar Bowl will remain open until April 25. My favorite run: top of Lincoln down to Disney.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Ace Hotel: Back to the Future

Palm Springs, CA – It’s always a good luck sign for me when a Neil Young song plays in an unexpected place—kind of like finding a penny heads up on the ground. Alabama, the song Neil wrote that Lynyrd Skynard retaliated with the hugely popular Sweet Home Alabama, is apropos for the hip and edgy Ace Hotel community pool where I’m lounging in the 80-degree afternoon sun. I’m in Palm Springs to experience Modernism Week, a nine-day celebration of mid-century modern design, architecture and culture.

The 180-room Ace Hotel & Swim Club is on the grounds of a former Ho-Jo’s, part of the architectural trend that renovates mid-century modern motels and turns them into eclectic, one-of-a-kind retreats. “We wanted to create a community place where people could come together,” said front desk agent Joe Faron. Communal activities like Game night, mix cocktails and bingo—Craft night, held once a month, brings guests together by making paper plate face masks and friendship bracelets.

Rooms are shabby chic, invoking a cross between a college dorm room and a beach house complete with magazine clipping style art, a steamer trunk for storage, sheep skin rugs and the requisite full bar. The eight fireplaces sprinkled throughout the property bring the indoor/outdoor Palm Springs lifestyle alive, giving my neighbors a warm place to convene until the 2 a.m. curfew. Oh well, this not your grandpa’s Howard Johnson’s—more like your lively uncle who took you for your first drink at 21. Fun. Retro. Trendy. Welcome to the new Palm Springs.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

California State Capitol: Gallantry Lives On

Sacramento, CA -- The camellias are budding, the oranges are ready for picking and Arnold is finally taking down his Christmas tree—just another day in the Golden State’s capitol building. While the mild 60 degree climate is inviting, the draw for me is inside the dome. After passing through the metal detector I am now standing in what could be the most romantic notion in government. It is the marble statue of Queen Isabella and Christopher Columbus—a testament to her belief in his mission.

He is kneeling by her side and she is draped in a form fitting gown, a crown atop her head. Etched in marble are these words, “I will assume the undertaking,” she said, “for my own crown of Castile, and am ready to pawn my jewels to defray the expenses of it, if the funds in the treasury shall be found inadequate.”

Is there a cause in your life that you believe in with all your heart, that you would pawn your jewels? 

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Ride, Wine & Dine: Biking Napa’s Wine Country

Yountville, CA – In my mind, bike riding and wine tasting don’t really mix. Kind of like peanut butter and banana sandwiches, it’s an odd pairing. However, I’m always willing to try anything once. So here I am on a winter’s day, sitting on a touring bike with a wide, comfortable seat, riding past boutique vineyards in Napa Valley’s wine country. It’s a cool 45 degrees, my nose is running, my ears are freezing, and I am bitter with envy as my friend Koleen rides in comfort with her wool gloves and thermal head band. I mock her preparation skills—Ms. iPod, she’s probably wearing thermal underwear, too. Still, I get over myself long enough to marvel at the stark beauty of the dormant winter vines. I promise myself to come back here in early spring when the mustard blooms and the temperature is mild. Or maybe during fall harvest, when I can pluck a juicy grape off the vine as I whiz by on my bike, wearing nothing more than a flowing skirt, a skimpy t-shirt, and, of course, my trusty helmet.

Leading us on this survival challenge is Nick Wierzba of Napa Valley Bike Tours. Nick tells me his love of wine and passion for biking is a good fit. “The people I guide on bikes are on vacation, they are already happy, and it’s fun to show my backyard to everyone.” Nick’s “backyard” includes hidden wineries that a visitor might not otherwise discover. “Biking is a good way to see the Napa Valley,” says Nick. “If you’re in a limo or car, the vineyards look like corn rows.” I ask Nick what the policy is on drinking and biking. “We cycle an average of four miles between each wine tasting. It gives people time to burn off alcohol—we’ve had zero accidents related to people being drunk.”

I actually like the thought of being drunk on my bike—might take the edge off of our chilly winter’s afternoon cycling adventure, which thankfully is only two hours long. We stopped and imbibed at the hip and tony Cliff Lede (pronounced Cliff Lady), a 60-acre winery set in the Stags’ Leap District. This quintessential Napa Valley winery’s got it all: indoor art gallery, outdoor sculptures, state of the art gravity-flow conical tanks, and acres of hidden caves filled with single-layer barrel storage. Owner Cliff Lede, who acquired the property in 2002, put some serious coin into this bucolic slice of heaven. Repeat after me: swank-tastic. I recommend their 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon (15.2 percent alcohol content—yum!), which conjures exotic spices, old leather, and new money—a winning Napa Valley combination.

Alas, it is time to get back in the saddle, and continue this unique two-wheeled adventure. By the time we get back to our hotel, I discover that bike riding and wine tasting do mix after all. My suggestion is to wait until warmer weather prevails when it's enjoyable rather than just endurable. Next time I’ll tear a page out of Koleen’s Girl Scout book and be prepared—Sunscreen and Chardonnay anyone?

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Bistro Jeanty: Enchanting French Cuisine

Yountville, CA – There is every reason to visit France, but if your cash-flow limits your real-world travel, treat yourself instead to a bona fide French meal at Napa Valley’s Bistro Jeanty. You’ll be enchanted by the authentic, old-world feel—you might even visualize yourself sporting a beret, black turtleneck, and colorful scarf; researching a recipe for cassoulet; and greeting visitors with the charming word for “pleased to meet you,” Enchanté.

“If you read old French books and see classic French recipes, they’re all on our menu,” says Chef de Cuisine, Joel Ehrlich. “People come here because, in my humble opinion, our restaurant is the most classic French bistro in America.” D’accord. Agreed. This classic French bistro decorated with vintage 19th century Parisian posters, hanging fryer copper pans, and a roaring hearth is more than just atmosphere—the food is first-rate.

I sample appetizers of escargot with garlic butter, foie gras pâté served with a port-poached pear, and Miyagi oysters—which, coming from nearby Pt. Reyes, don’t really seem like classic bistro fare until I dab a French-style mignonette potion of vinegar, chili, parsley, and onion on the freshly shucked oysters and voilá—another French star is born, California-style.

At the helm of Bistro Jeanty is owner and chef Phillipe Jeanty, who grew up in the Champagne region of France and opened his 100-seat restaurant in Yountville nearly 12 years ago, adding another coveted Michelin star to the epicurean capital of California—Yountville. “I wanted to recreate all my favorite childhood dishes and opening up a bistro was one way to do it,” says Jeanty. Bravo, Phillipe—bien fait; well done.