Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Penny Profiler #53

Lisa Samuelson. An Aussie transplant that happens to be wicked funny and highly motivated.  She crossed my path some 10 years ago in that grey area where my work life intersects with the personal life.  Lisa has a dynamic consulting business that helps companies in branding, communications, sales and marketing.  We have more than friends and clients in common and it is no wonder we hit it off on both fronts as her vibrant persona is a breath of fresh air.

Our penny exchange took place with two of our favorite ingredients: wine & food.  Ironically after all these years of knowing one another, it was the first time just the two of us had enjoyed some quality one-on-one time.  Here’s to the power of the penny and more shared experiences in 2013! 

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Penny Profiler #52

Fred & Katherine Tate.  A little bit of opportunity matched with a sense of humor helped make this introduction.  The background story will help fill in the pieces.

About 13 years ago while I was working at the Washington Wine Commission I would occasionally join my elderly friend Joe for lunch at Tulio.  Our mutual love of wine led to an invitation to join him at a special winemaker dinner featuring Chinook Wines, also attended by the Tate’s.  

As the wine flowed and the night unfolded, one of them inquired if Joe and I were dating.  I practically spit my wine out with laughter.  I assured them Joe was like family and old enough to be my grandfather. We shared a few laughs on the subject and from then on stayed in touch throughout the years. 

Their interests and commitment to travel inspire me and their tenacity as a family I find remarkable.  You see, Fred, Katherine, and their two sons each have a black belt in karate.  Thankfully our penny exchange did not involve any shuto uchi’s (to the layperson known as karate chops) but rather some cocktails and pizza in the neighborhood.  Their knowledge and passion for mixology is top notch and once we get the doors open to B&H I’m going to invite them to guest bartend!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Penny Profiler #51

Pam Perry.  When I sit and contemplate how people have intersected my life, the visual resembles a labyrinth similar to that of a Japanese transit grid.  The Yellow rail takes you to point B with several stops in between.  The Blue rail will take you to different stops with a few intersecting the Yellow line.  Tokyo, by the way, has the most extensive urban railway network and the most used in the world with 40 million passengers in the metro area daily. I digress.

Pam is a friend whom I met through another dear friend.  However, given our circle of friends, common interests, and the Tokyo rail analogy, what I’m trying to say is that Pam and I were destined to meet.

A few years ago, Pam set out on a grand international journey.  One that would take her away from her family, home, career, and life as she knew it in Seattle for almost a year.  To no one’s surprise, she returned a significantly changed woman.

When I get a little (or a lot) nervous at the road I am going down, I can look to her  as a source of inspiration who did not let fear get in her way.

The love for our pets is another connection point and the penny exchange occurred at a dog park with our golden retrievers in tow.  Perhaps it was the other way around?  As we returned to the cars, at first glance it appeared someone had ransacked her front seat.  At second glance it was remnants of the booty that awaited and we both had a good laugh at the spectacle.  Her zeal, determination, and pure passion make these pennies worth gold to me!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Spain III (The End)

We left San Sebastián heading west with our sights set on a little medieval village called Santillana del Mar. 

As Rick Steve’s mentions in his book, there is an old saying that this is the town of three lies, since it is neither a Saint (Santo), nor flat (llana) and has no sea (Mar) as implied by the town's name. However, the name actually derives from Santa Juliana (or Santa Illana) whose remains are in the kept in the Colegiata, a Romanesque church and former Benedictine monastery.

Our time here was limited and after only one night we pushed on to Segovia, which would be our last stop before returning to Madrid. 

Segovia is so charming! You’ll find twisting alleyways, the highest concentration of Romanesque churches in all of Europe, pedestrian streets where no cars are allowed, the aroma of roast suckling pig around every corner - all surrounded by the city's medieval wall which itself is bordered by two rivers and an extensive green-belt park. On the north-west extreme of the wall is the famous Alcázar castle, source of inspiration to Walt Disney, and where Queen Isabel promised Columbus the financial backing he needed to discover America. On the south-east extreme is the world renowned Roman Aqueduct, the largest and best preserved of its kind anywhere. 

Side note: Gin is in!  I don’t know why this caught me off guard.  A hearty supply and variety is available in each region, and especially in Segovia.  Some establishments will even do an elaborate table-side service for a gin and tonic that rivals bananas foster.  

Upon returning to Madrid for our last day of frolic, Elizabeth and I had discovered an underground Arabic Bath house that was the most perfect way to cap off our whirlwind trip.  Three pools for soaking, a steam room, waterfalls, flickering candles, and massages from hot Spaniard men.  We both left wondering why we hadn’t started our travels with the same tlc.  Ahem.

Now that I am back on the other side of the pond, I am left with innumerable memories that will serve me both personally and professionally.  Until the next adventure…

“Voyage, travel, and change of place impart vigor.” - Seneca, 1st Century philosopher

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Spain Part II

We are now about half way through our adventures as we make our way north to the majestic city of San Sebastián that sits in Basque Country along the coast of the Bay of Biscay and only 20 km from the French border.

Despite the city’s relatively small size (less than 200,000 inhabitants), it is home to a burgeoning annual film festival; an impressive annual jazz festival (Jazzaldia- the longest, continuously running Jazz Festival in Europe); an international fireworks competition; and a high concentration of restaurants boasting Michelin stars.  While we did not partake in any Michelin starred restaurants, we certainly did not feel compromised culinarily.  Talk about tasty morsels, this was my favorite food town!

Tapas or pintxos (Basque version) are served warm, room temperature, or cold.  They are always small in size and ingredients run the gamut to include some variation of seasonal vegetables, fish, meat, and/or dairy.  It was explained to us that serving portion stimulates conversation because people are not so focused on eating an entire meal.  In many instances seating is limited and it is customary for diners to stand and move about while eating. 

We did not suffer for beverage options along our journey and San Sebastián was no exception.  I am pretty sure that by the time we left, Txakoli was running through my veins. 

For those of you who enjoy wine and have never tried it, I urge you to run, not walk to your local wine merchant and request a bottle.  Txakoli is a slightly spritzy, very dry white wine with lovely acidity and low alcohol content. 

In all of my travels I have had favorites but not like this.  When we pushed off I sincerely hoped that I would return in the not so distant future. 

Elizabeth and I got into a good routine commuting from one town to the next.  It started out as necessity and worked into a mutually beneficial relationship. You see, I do not possess the ability to read and ride in a car simultaneously.  Thankfully my travel buddy can read a book, look up at the sites, back down at the book, glance at her phone and look up to give me adequate directions.  If I were forced to do the same, we’d spend our fair share on the side of the road. 

So our next task at hand was “where next?”  Some people plan ahead, we elected to shoot from the hip.  Elizabeth scoured the books and read up several towns all sounding worthy of our attention as I pointed the car west. In the end we both liked the lure of a little town outside the city of Santander called Santillana del Mar.

To be continued…

Friday, January 18, 2013

Spain Part I

Spain is a lovely, tasty, affordable and easy country to spend time in.  My expectations heading there were filled with romantic visions of beautiful people, memorable vistas and epicurean adventures.  Now home and reflecting on the nine days spent abroad, I am filled with gratitude for the invitation to join my dear friend Elizabeth and for the amazing experiences we shared, and perhaps a touch melancholy that it ended so soon. After all, I am pretty sure that I ate ham daily and by daily that means with breakfast, lunch, and dinner. 

Collectively I found the people of Spain to be friendly and inherently social.  From church outings to excursions in the tapas bars.  From a cigarette in the plaza or standing in line at the bakery, socializing with others is commonplace and second nature.  It is very easy to be a stranger among such convivial locals.

People-watching was rife with opportunity!  We certainly enjoyed our fair share of playing witness to elders strolling the plaza, or lovers cozying up at a table, and sports enthusiasts celebrating a victory, or travelers getting their bearings.  Most often we’d have a spritzer in-hand, sunglasses on when weather permitted, legs crossed facing the sun (or drama) and thankfully they didn’t seem to notice or acknowledge our extended glances. 

Our tour looked like a big teardrop starting and ending in Madrid.  As we began in the capital and most densely populated city of Spain, I was surprised by how much we enjoyed our wanders.   (Insert side note: it didn’t hurt that every other block we noticed a tapas bar to justify a little research).  Much of the modern infrastructure is met with a balance of preservation of the old neighborhoods chalked full of sculptures, parks, historic landmarks, museums, churches, and of no surprise… tapas bars.   A little known fact: Madrid is the European city with the highest number of trees and green surface per inhabitant and it has the second highest number of aligned trees in the world, with 248,000 units, only exceeded by Tokyo. (Thank you Wikipedia)

After 48 hours in the big city we rented a car and headed northeast without a solid plan and only a few guidebooks to lean on. 

The thought was to drive towards San Sebastian (roughly 350 miles northeast) but after a few hours in the car it was evident a detour to experience wine country (during harvest) was in order and part of our civic duty.  Our guide books touted Haro and as we pulled into this charming wine town, we knew we’d found a little gem.  The only problem, and it was a big one, was that we forgot it was a national holiday weekend and not a single hotel room was available. 

As Elizabeth waited for parking instructions outside, I was inside butchering the language and negotiating our next move.  The hotel clerk invited me to wait as he called a friend in a nearby town to check availability.  We were in luck if we would drive another few kilometers heading out of town.

Labastida was home to our third night of exploration.  For a township of roughly 1,000 people we were impressed to find more than two dozen wineries, at least a dozen restaurants/bars, a solid farmers market, a delightful wine/cured meat shop, and two butchers.  Their priorities are definitely in alignment with our taste buds.  In our final moments before departing this rural community we elected to take a peek inside one of their churches that was just letting out of Sunday service.  Given the town’s small size, the scope and detail in this church had me holding my breath and honestly a little weak in the knees.  While I jokingly admire the volume of drinking establishments, this work of art takes the crown.

Stay tuned for the second half of our journey as it unfolds in the Basque Country.  

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Happy New Year!

It has been too long since I have sat down to put all my thoughts to paper.  I wish that the lag in time was due to extended travels abroad but rather, the excuses of work, holidays, a new job, and gearing up for work on Brimmer leads the charge.

The end of the year was filled with bank meetings and reality checks.  Overall, most of the banks I met with were impressed with what we had to offer.  That being said we had a few deficiencies in calculations, missing data, and a little gap in our funding.  As of today, we have rectified their requests and are getting ready to re-submit. 

In addition, I left my post as bartender with my dear friends at Marination ma kai to assist with the new restaurant opening of Agrodolce in Fremont for James Beard Award-winning chef Maria Hines.  You’ll find me there as a dinner server four nights a week pimping beautifully crafted southern Italian cuisine. 

Stay tuned for posts regarding my travels to Spain and what is happening in the world of opening a restaurant & bar.

It feels great to be back on the world wide web.  Here’s to a healthy, enlightening and prosperous new year for everyone!