Looks good enough to eat, right?

22 Apr

By Angela James

For notable restaurants like Birk’s in Santa Clara that focus on an exceptional culinary experience, highlighting food through photography is a must. I had the distinct pleasure of attending Birk’s Spring seasonal menu change photo shoot session recently. I should mention that I started out my career as a photographer and spent many hours in the Test Kitchen at Sunset Magazine striving to make a dish look as great as it tastes, so this was a particularly special treat for me.

Shooting food, like shooting anything else, can be rewarding when it goes well and frustrating as hell when it doesn’t. Taking a methodical approach, however, can yield excellent results. When you get right down to it, it follows the same concepts that apply to photographing people. Paying attention to lighting, background, camera angles, composition, exposure, and “wardrobe” can produce great portraits, but it can also produce mouth-watering results when carefully applied to food.

Oliver Danby from Pixel West Media and Alyssa Williamson from Design Flair Studio, both from Pleasanton, CA devised an efficient system for handling the non-stop procession of food and drink. It allowed them to position,  light, and capture about 20 dishes and cocktails reflecting a vast array of colors. It was a well-orchestrated production as Maurice Dissels, Birk’s Executive Chef and his restaurant staff  plated each of the new menu offerings, and the food came straight from the kitchen, camera-ready.

It was pure joy for me to watch the shoot in action. I was taught early on that “A successful image is when the customer sees your photo and says ‘I’ve got to have that right now.’” I sure can’t deny that the plated subjects and leftovers made me and the whole crew very happy!  The finished images will be published on Birk’s website soon and making their debut on their Social Media channels this week. We will let you be the judge, but from where I was standing, I think we met our objectives!


Drinking a flower, like an Elf – ‘Blossom Water,’ inspired by nature

9 Mar bloswat

By Jackie Flaten

Summer in a bottle. That was my first impression upon sipping the tasty “Blossom Water” at the Fancy Food Show. Blossom Water is pure water infused with fruit and flower essences, lightly sweetened with agave and all natural.

The Massachusetts-based company, started in 2013, offers four flavors, aromatic and unique with the ephemeral tastes of summer: Grapefruit Lilac, Lemon Rose, Plum Jasmine and Pomegranate Geranium. 45 calories per bottle and 11 grams of sugar (16 oz. serving); non GMO, no artificial flavors, colors or preservatives; gluten- sodium- and caffeine-free.

bloswatI tried the Grapefruit Lilac, wondering how in the world these two flavors could be woven together but it worked – you first experience the refreshing tartness of grapefruit, softened by a delicate lilac finish.

I also sampled the Plum Jasmine with the same curiosity; the makers know what they are doing. The fruity initial note was balanced with the jasmine providing just a kiss of floral sweetness. These waters are sophisticated enough for any gathering.

Co-founders Steve and Trish, ardent gardeners, were inspired by the heady fragrances of their flower plantings a few years back. Could these aromas be captured into a drink? They managed to do it, quite well. The bottles are beautiful, too – Blossom Water employs a local artist to ”carefully hand paint each watercolor illustration so that it is a botanically correct representation.” Their story: http://drinkblossomwater.com/our-story/

Learn more about the company here: http://www.drinkblossomwater.com; they’re also on Twitter @blossomwater. You can purchase product online — http://www.chatsworthgoods.com/collections/beverage/products/blossom-water-sampler-pack — or look for a store near you, here: http://drinkblossomwater.com/find-a-store/ #blossomwater #drinkblossomwater #floraldrink #flowerwater

Kreuzberg Coffee & Cafe-Paso Robles Grand Opening

9 Mar

by Angela James

There are warm welcomes and positive customer experiences brewing in downtown Paso Robles! We had the distinct pleasure of being a part of Kreuzberg, Ca Coffee’s Grand Opening Celebration and company expansion! The event included coffee lovers and afficionados from near and far being introduced to Kreuzberg’s  unique cafe offerings and culinary rituals. They are serious about the coffee and tea experience, which drives them to bring their customers  an experience which not only represents the amazingness of their coffee but also gives a double-shot boost to the Kreuzberg brand.

Kreuzberg Coffee Company started in 2010 by Cal Poly grads that fell in love with European cafe culture while hanging out on their laptops in the coffee shops of Kreuzberg, a neighborhood in Berlin, Germany. They set out to bring this same experience to SLO and Paso by offering a welcoming, fun, and creative environment where customers come to eat, drink, meet, study, play, listen to live music, drink a beer, or just hang out with friends. They roast their own beans every day and their talented and creative baristas pour their heart and soul into every cup.

We mingled with a steady crowd of locals and weekend travelers who were quickly building relationships while discovering the inviting ambiance, high-quality coffees and teas, morning treats and lunch menu, kombuchas, and more.

Easy to get to and situated in picturesque downtown Paso Robles, California – Right off Hwy. 101 at 725 13th St., in the heart of California’s Central Coast, Kreuzberg Coffee is elevating the morning beverage to a treat worth indulging in regardless of the time of day. Special kudos goes to the hard working staff who spent days and nights preparing for the event – especially manager and artistic barista, Julian Cantreras, pictured here preparing hand-crafted indulgences. Stop by and enjoy the the best of a coffeehouse environment for yourself combined with excellent customer service.

Follow them on Facebook . Order Kreuzberg’s fresh roasted beans here.

Cosmos Creations Divine Premium Corn Puffs

4 Mar

by Angela James

Each year my business partner and I show up the Winter Fancy Food Show with empty stomachs and high expectations. Long ago we learned that it was best to go lightly at the onset to avoid over-indulging and losing focus. Our goal is to seek out unique new products, flavors and trendy food concoctions. This year we were stopped in our tracks by Cosmos Creations gourmet oven-baked puffed corn.

This is not your typical popcorn snack. Cosmos Creations are a delicious, all-natural alternative that we could not stop tasting! An assortment of unique, fun flavors was available including Salted Caramel, Carmel Apple, Spicy Sriracha and, my personal favorite, Coconut Crunch.

Baked corn is different from popcorn – there are no hulls or kernels because it’s made from corn meal that is extruded then baked, resulting in a puff. Cosmos products are made with all natural ingredients which means no preservatives, no additives, no artificial flavors, and no artificial colors.

The fantastic assortment of flavors initially drew me in, but what kept my attention was the fact that Cosmos Creations satisfy the way popcorn should yet have no hulls or kernels that lodge between your teeth and ‘stick with you’ throughout the day. An added benefit that I think should be shouted from the rooftops is that it’s gentle enough to enjoy for anyone with braces, retainers, and other appliances – Oh how I wish I had discovered Cosmos Creations when my kids were in braces! Cosmos melts in your mouth and are hand-made from natural ingredients, all of which I could pronounce.  It is a gluten free snack made from non-GMO corn with zero trans fats.


Cosmos Creations gets it drive and inspiration by holding steadfast to their founding purpose for creating a healthful delight for the masses to share. Managed by the Strasheim and Tiller families under the name 4 Him Food Group, CEO John Strasheim says, “We think a great way to demonstrate our beliefs in the fruits of the Spirit, especially joy, kindness and goodness, is by providing our own version of heavenly mana right here on earth.”

Each year I collect my favorite finds and ship a “care package” to my daughter who is away at college, which included several flavors I snagged at the Cosmos Creations exhibit. She soon called me and had to know where to get more (Caramel Apple, please!) for her and her pals. Coincidentally, her school is within a few miles of Cosmos Creations new plant in Junction City, Oregon so they had no trouble finding a local Fred Meyer with a nice selection. Cosmos was a huge hit with me as well as some picky, health conscious college students. We agreed that Cosmos Creations’ pure natural ingredients combine to make an airy, natural snack alternative that proved to be deliciously addictive.

Purchase Cosmos Creations on line here. Or search for a store near you at this link.  Buy Cosmos online at Costco.comFollow Cosmos Creations on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Uniquely Southeast Asian Sweet Treats from Hey Boo!

2 Mar

by Angela James

I actually started out  at this year’s Winter Fancy Food Show with a road map and a plan. In the past I have made the mistake of tasting everything that is offered to me but this year I was determined not to slip into my typical food haze, stay strong and remain focused! I began my journey on the hunt for new, intriguing products as I sampled my way through the US State specific show floor section. Being a lover of all things coconut, I was tickled to find Hey Boo’s Award winning Coconut Jams featured in the Savor California booth. I have long enjoyed Hey Boo’s version of a coconut spread, an indulgence I was introduced to as a kid. But this year I was lucky enough to sample Hey Boo’s newest concoctions – Coconut Caramels in four unique, Southeast Asian flavors -Vietnamese Coffee, Thai Iced Tea, Ginger Rum and Sea Salt. Soft, chewy and incredibly satisfying, I found it difficult to find a favorite, so I continued chatting and sampling much longer than I should have…


Founder Cristina Widjaja’s career focused on the high tech industry, but her passion for gourmet artisan foods eventually led her back to a treat from her Indonesian roots. All of Hey Boo’s jams and caramels are slow cooked in small batches using only high quality natural ingredients: premium coconut milk, cane sugar, and egg yolk. Organic agave syrup and cane sugar is used in the caramel sauce. Dairy and gluten free. Hey Boo Jams are available in three divine flavors: Coconut Jam, Mango Coconut Jam and Coconut Caramel (my personal go-to!)

Cristina has received high praise for her products from both the industry and consumers. She won a Silver Sofi Award from the Specialty Food Association (like an Oscar in the gourmet food world), and Jessica Seinfeld (yes, married to that Seinfeld) posted how much she loves Hey Boo to her 97,000 Instagram fans at @Heyboojams. You can also join her loyal following on Facebook at HeyBooJams. Buy some online here  or use this store locator to pick some up at a store nearby.



Pop. Burst. Wow. Meet the Citriburst Finger Lime, Caviar Citrus

1 Mar

By Jackie Flaten

Some of the new exotic fruits are gloriously showy – Day-Glo pink with lime-green tendrils, bold gold ovals with orange spots and vicious pokey spikes, moss green buckyball-esque…

On the other hand, you might not look twice at the Finger Lime, an Australian native that’s smallish, like a short fat cucumber, dark green and innocuous. It doesn’t scream intensity. The price tag might scare you off too.

But if you happen to find a rare Finger Lime or Microcitrus australasica, I highly recommend you buy it. Underneath the mild-looking skin are translucent tiny pearls of dynamite flavor. They’re hard to find, limited seasonally and fanatically sought-after by those in the know. The taste? Like most fruit, almost impossible to describe but I’ll try: “citrusy magical textural flavor explosion.”image

After discovering “Citrus Caviar” a few years ago at the Shanley Farms’ booth within Savor California at the Fancy Food Show, I was hooked. Its high-profile flavor accents anything it accompanies to the nth degree. Samples were served with yogurt as well as on their own. The pop on one’s tongue is reminiscent of the small orange sushi roe, but the taste is citrus, green, sweet and tangy all at once. Top chefs adorn everything from fish to salads to risotto and ice cream with these delectable dots.

The pop on one’s tongue is reminiscent of the small orange sushi roe, but the taste is citrus, green, sweet and tangy all at once. Top chefs adorn everything from fish to salads to risotto and ice cream with these delectable dots.

Poised to be the next great citrus, California farmers are scaling to larger markets. Shanley Farms, out of the California Central Coast, has trademarked their Finger Limes as “Citriburst’; they also provide Morro Bay avocados, kiwis, lemons, coffee trees, raspberry figs, goji berries and more (most produce sold to wholesalers). Citriburst Finger Limes are available for purchase online fall through early winter and also through several distributors including Whole Foods Market, Hy-Vee, New Seasons and Super Valu.

Shanley Farms founder Jim Shanley started farming in his retirement years, after a commodities career. His goal is to leave a real legacy for his family and generations to come. Starting with an avocado ranch, Jim was soon smitten with the first-to-U.S.-market possibilities of the Finger Lime micro citrus. The first trees were planted ten years ago, and begin fruiting in 2011.

Learn more about their products, and great story here: http://shanleyfarms.com/our-story/ Main website is here: http://www.shanleyfarms.com, and you can find them on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest. #fingerlimes #citriburstfingerlimes #citriburst #newfruit #newcitrus #microcitrus #wffs16 #amazingflavor


Curiously sweet tasty flames from Little Bird

25 Feb

By Jackie Flaten

Another great find at this year’s Fancy Food Show – Little Bird Curious Confections of Long Island City, New York. This award-winning chocolate with candied jalapenos is unique, deliciously super-hot and sweet. I started with the milk chocolate-covered jalapenos.

spicOnce owner Sara Meyer (pictured) determined for sure that I had survived that experience, I was promoted to the candied jalapenos realm. Yes, my mouth was in flames — but the good kind of flames. I like it hot, and am usually disappointed by packaging that touts “hotness” as a selling point. But not Little Bird. Woo-wee! Sizzlin’!

It all started when Sara made some chocolate-covered candied orange peels as a treat for her husband. They turned out so munchably great that she was inspired to try candying all kinds of things… but the candied jalapenos proved to be the showstopper, and Little Bird was born.

Now they produce (along with the original candied jalapenos), chocolate-covered candied jalapenos (milk, dark and white) and dark chocolate bark with crushed candied jalapenos. I saw on their Instagram @LittleBirdChoc an intriguing Jalapeno Simple Syrup too.

Little Bird has won several Scovie Awards (Scovies are for the best fiery foods in the world!) for their products and packaging. Buy their products at Amazon Little Bird Chocolates as well as several stores across the U.S. Retailers can purchase in bulk on their site also. Little Bird Chocolates on Facebook

Chocolate-Covered Salted Crickets and Spicy Superworms, Oh My!

25 Feb

By Jackie Flaten

We had a great time exploring the businesses under incubation by the non-profit La Cocina at this year’s Winter Fancy Food Show in San Francisco.

donbugiSuzanne (pictured) gave us an enthusiastic rundown of Don Bugito, a Pre-Hispanic Snackeria. Don Bugito has two new exciting products — Chocolate-Covered Salted Crickets and Spicy Superworms.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to chomp a grasshopper or the like, but I would have and definitely will when the next opportunity arises. You can get these tasty healthy treats at the La Cocina kiosk at the San Francisco Ferry Building; also check out: Don Bugito.

Learn more about the fine work La Cocina SF is doing to help fledgling food entrepreneurs, here: La Cocina SF.

The fascinating premise and mission of Don Bugito (from their website):

“Don Bugito, based in San Francisco and born at La Cocina, is a food company that offers tasty edible insects prepared as gourmet foods and treats. Monica Martinez was inspired by pre-hispanic and contemporary Mexican cuisine, specifically by the ‘bugs’ she snacked on as a child. This cuisine has been consumed by people in Mexico and within cultures throughout the world for thousands of years. Don Bugito is thrilled to be able to share new versions of these classic foods with an American audience as well as support a healthier world by providing a sustainable, ecological food.”

Elegant Brie wins Sofi Gold!!

1 Aug

Congratulations to Elegant Brie who has just won its first gold Sofi Award for their decadent Mushroom, Garlic, and Scallion baked brie! Media Owls first discovered Elegant Brie last year at Los Gatos Farmer’s Market one lazy Sunday morning.  I was in search of a special treat to bring to a housewarming open house. I, of course, had waited until the last minute to put together something special for a good friend’s party and needed it to appear that I had actually planned ahead and put lots of thought into it! Elegant Brie to the rescue.

I brought home a beautiful brie en croute (the brie’s rind is removed) loaded with sautéed mushrooms, garlic and scallions. I should have taken a picture when I placed it on the guest table. By the time I thought to get my camera, the guests had torn into it like hungry savages.  I should get some credit for saving my friends the embarrassment of photographing them scraping for the last, tasty remnants.

The creamy brie and delicious filling are wrapped in a flaky puffed pastry decorated with an elegant leaf design. It was not until it was all gone and I was asked repeatedly how it was made that I finally fessed up and said I hadn’t actually whipped it up myself and directed my pals to Elegant Brie’s website and the local grocer’s frozen section so they could get their own impressive brie en croute ready to bake at home. Here is a shot of Leslie (The Big Cheese) and Linda (Chief Cheese Officer) and what looks to be a trusted assistant, of Elegant Brie at the Winter Fancy Food Show in San Francisco. They received the coveted Gold Sofi Award of excellence in the Frozen Savory Category at a red-carpet ceremony at the Summer Fancy Food Show in NYC. We wish you all continued success!!  http://www.elegantbrie.com #elegantbrie #brie #fancyfoodshow #sofiaward #sofi #FFS #mediaowls #appetizer #mushrooms #savorcalifornia

Elegant Brie booth at SF Fancy Food Show 2014. Crew includes of Leslie (The Big Cheese) and Linda (Chief Cheese Officer).

Elegant Brie booth at SF Fancy Food Show 2014. Crew includes Leslie (The Big Cheese) and Linda (Chief Cheese Officer).

Killer Trombones, A Transcendent Ukulele, and Tasty Drunken Nuts – Dispatch from 2010 Monterey Jazz Festival

20 Sep JakeS_MJF

By Jackie Flaten

 Silver Moon Desserts was selling their award-winning liquer-infused ice cream and sorbets at the 53rd Annual Monterey Jazz Festival, and so we offered to help out. And perhaps catch a few tunes.

Silver Moon CEO Sheri Tate and her right-hand woman Aliye Melton created a variety of gourmet sundaes especially for the event.

The Drunken Nut — Silver Moon’s Bourbon Vanilla ice cream liberally adorned with stout caramel and Bourbon pecan sauces, pralines, peanuts and whipped cream — proved to be quite popular. (People clearly enjoyed saying, “I’ll have two Drunken Nuts, please.”)

Never really considered myself a big jazz aficionado but thought it would be a hoot to scoop ice cream  and soak up the plentiful cool-cat vibes. Sundae-making actually turned out to be rewarding, especially when I was forced to eat a spoonful of hot fudge every so often. For quality control purposes, of course. When Sheri wasn’t looking.

It was also a genuine thrill to see the reactions of people who were getting their first taste of the Silver Moon Desserts phenomenon. Lots of “Wows!” and “Amazing!” and “Oooh, that’s GOOD.” And you could tell people meant it by their body language and big eyes; they weren’t just being polite.

But truly wonderful was the experience of being exposed to incredible artists who blew me squarely into diehard jazz fandom. Even in the food pavilion, we could hear – feel – the riveting magic of Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews and his band Orleans Avenue.

Uncontrollable bootie-shaking and air-tromboning antics ensued in our little booth as Shorty’s fiery horn action mercilessly propelled us about. Mac McDonald at the Monterey County Herald review says it all:

“…From the opening blast of his trombone, the youngster from the Big Easy had the audience by the scruff of the neck and shook it for all it was worth. Andrews was on both trombone and trumpet and backed by a smoking-hot band. The rising star had a usually laid-back arena crowd on its feet, clapping, dancing and responding to his frequent call-and-response rejoinders.” More here.

And then there was Jake Shimabukuro and his transcendent Ukulele. I love music across the spectrum –rock, alt, folk, country-fried, Swedish techno-goth, yet never had really considered delving into the ukulele oeuvre.

By pure wonderful chance and having no idea what was on tap, we got a seat just as the Hawaiian legend took the stage. Jake introduced himself, talked a little about how he got his first ukulele when he was four years old, and his different influences. Then he began to play.

His music: beautiful, evocative, humorous, complex, intense and deeply moving. (Again, there are others who can recap it better than I – check out Blog Monterey for more.) Suffice to say we were stunned by this young man and his talent. The appreciative crowd of at least 500 was transfixed and utterly still as he played.

The first song hooked us, the second, “Blue Roses Falling” blurred my vision and then he completely sent me into quiet hysterics with renditions of the Beatles’ “In My Life” and Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” We could almost hear the late great Freddy Mercury in the uke’s expressive voice.

To frost the cake, he came back to encore with a ukulele-shreddin’ version of George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”

And then, the huge crowd stumbled blissfully away into the night. – jdf

Above: Jake soaks up the crowd’s adulation after his wondrous encore rendition of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”.

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