Half Moon Bay Tweetup!

I drove to Half Moon Bay by myself to my first twitter meetup on July 22, 2008. I heard about it from Laura Fitten (@pistachio, http://pistachioconsulting.com/).  Laura and I are connected through Twitter.com.

The drive was longer than I expected.  I initially thought Half Moon Bay was near Stinson Beach.  It’s not.  The drive ended up being almost two hours, including San Francisco Bay Bridge traffic that I had to pass through.  The closer I got to Half Moon Bay, the more beautiful it was.

I was reminded of the only other time I had been there.  In high school my science class had gone to Half Moon Bay for a fieldtrip to see the tide pools.  That memory and the view around me made me eager to plan a trip their again soon, with my kids.

I finally arrived at the Half Moon Bay Ritz-Carlton!  It was a stunningly beautiful hotel nestled next to the bay.  The view was incredible!  We were supposed to be meeting by the fire pit on the ocean side of the Ritz.  What I didn’t realize was that the Brainstorm: TECH Conference that I had heard talk about was also going on there at the same time!  In the same location!  It was so crowded with people it was difficult to get to the fire pit area,  which by-the-way contained no fire.

I first spotted Lucretia (@geekmommy)!  Laura Fitten (@pistachio) was also there!  Lucretia and Laura are both twitterfriends of mine and we recently met face to face for the first time last week at the San Francisco BlogHer ’08 People’s Party.  I stayed with Lucretia, most of the time, and got to meet her family, her husband and adorable daughter!  I met Shel Israel (@shelisrael) , also Ryan who has a startup and no business card!  Robert Scoble was there, and I had orignally hoped to meet him, but in the end I was standing next to him and didn’t make the effort.  He seems very friendly, maybe next time.  He actually looked much younger in person than I had expected from the pic on his blog.  There was a barbie doll version of him floating around that was hilarious!

Funny story.  While I was standing next to Robert Scoble I was trying to set the date on my camera and had it pointed down and ended up taking a pic of his shoes!  Made myself laugh!

The BrainstormTech people were beginning their dinner outside near our meeting spot and everyone started leaving the tweetup to find dinner elsewhere.  Men that looked very much like secret service men, with the dark suits and earpieces, told us we had to leave.  Right before that a woman had told me that I wasn’t supposed to be taking pictures.  Oops, too late!  (If I suddenly disappear, you’ll know why).

I had talked with Cathryn Hrudicka (@creativesage) on twitter and had hoped to meet her some time soon, but I didn’t realize that she was going to be at this meetup, so when she came up to me I didn’t place her at first, but luckily she did me.  I was very pleased to meet her!  She had ridden with another couple who initially wanted to leave early, so I offered to give her a ride home.

I was a little nervous about driving out of Half Moon Bay at night because there had been quite a few turns and I didn’t have clear directions home.  I initially wanted to leave before dark, but Brian Solis’s cheeseburger description changed my mind.  Luckily Cathryn knew her way around Half Moon Bay a bit more than I did so between the both of us we found the restaurant and the rest of the group.

The restaurant was part of a hotel, simple but nice.  We had a table of twelve that included Laura Fitten, Shel Israel, Stowe Boyd, Brian Solis, Cathryn and myself.  Cathryn and I ended up sitting across from Brian and Stowe.  They seem to know each other quite well and were enjoying the night and a bottle of wine.  After we all got aquainted they wanted to get another bottle of wine and share it with Cathryn and I.  I was driving, but was really good and only had a small glass.  I had my friends on twitter DM (Direct Message) me to remind me not to drink too much wine!  (Thank you Mark and Tina!)  Brian and Stowe were a lot of fun and Cathryn and I really enjoyed the dinner.

Even though we got turned around a bit at first, the drive home was very enjoyable thanks to Cathryn’s company.  It was such a pleasure to get to know her.

Even though I had a long drive by myself, I am so glad I made the effort.  I got to see some special friends again, and make some wonderful new friends.

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Product Review ~ Mott’s Cinnamon Applesauce

 Image via Wikipedia

This product review has moved to it’s own blog! Find more at: http://lauralovesbest.com

Mmmm! Mott’s Cinnamon Applesauce is amazing! It is my new favorite snack to have with my coffee – the flavors blend perfectly together! I take a bite of the applesauce, then a sip of my coffee, and perfection results.

Mott’s Cinnamon Applesauce is also convenient to eat as a snack since it comes in a snack pack with 6 individual cups.  Each cup equals one fruit serving and gives you 20% of your recommended vitamin C for the day.   It’s also fat, cholesterol and sodium free!

My mom and dad even enjoy them as snacks , as does my daughter19.   It’s really perfect for my dad who can only eat soft things.  Mott’s states that they hand pick their apples and make the applesauce from their special Mott’s family recipe.  That must be why it tastes so good.

I just know I love it with my coffee!

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How to Tip in American Restaurants

Don’t you dare go out to eat again until you’ve read this. I mean it!

I used to be a food server or waitress. I’ve worked in casual dining at chain a restaurant (Chevy’s Fresh Mex) and I’ve worked in fine dining in the Napa Valley at Villa Romano Restaurant and in uber fine dining at Julia’s Kitchen in Copia. I have first hand knowledge of American tipping practices and I am about to share them with you.

By and large people tip well, but there are those few that are still clueless. They don’t know what is appropriate, how much to tip, or they just aren’t sure how much it should be. There are the ones that don’t go out often, maybe only on holidays, or maybe are foraying into fine dining for the first time. They can also be from a foreign country with different tipping practices than we have. This guide is for all of you!

Casual dining:

Poor service: 10% or less
Good service: 15%
Great service: 20% or more

Fine dining:

Poor service: 15% or less
Good service: 20%
Great service: 25% or more

What defines good service? Good service includes a polite server who is efficient. The server tells you any specials and takes your order, returns with your drinks in a timely manner, makes sure your drinks are refilled or asks you if you would care for another. They make sure you have the correct silverware. They check to make sure your order arrives correctly and that it is to your liking. If there are any problems or special requests they do their best to take care of them as soon as possible. Coffee and dessert are offered at the end. The check is presented and payment is taken care of quickly.

In fine dining each coarse must be cleared and new silverware provided before or with the next course. Multiple courses are not served together unless the guest specifically requests it. Appetiser, soup, salad, entrée, dessert are the basics. Servers or wait staff may also “crumb” the table, either after each course or just before dessert, which consists of sweeping away any crumbs on the table with a small tool called a crumber.

Great service, well you will know great service without me telling you. Your server and wait staff are friendly and caring and attentive and makes you feel like a VIP. They make sure that your dining experience flows smoothly and that you don’t have to worry about a thing but enjoying yourself.

How do you calculate? Let me make it easy for you. A lot of people go with double the tax, if your tax in your area is around 7% this works IF you round it up, because obviously doubling 7% is only 14%, not 15%. That gives you 15%.  Taxes can vary from area to area so the best way is just to look at the check total and figure from there, people it isn’t that hard. Let’s take a $100 check. 10% means just drop a zero or $10. If you need 20% double that, you’ve got $20. If you need 15% take half of that or $5 and add it to the 10% and you’ve got your 15% or in this case $15. Let’s try it with a $50 check. 10% drop the last number so you have $5. Half of 5 is $2.50 so add that to the 5 and you have $7.50 for your 15%, and double the 10% or $5 and that gives you $10 for your 20%. I hope this helps.

My last word is on gratuity. Some places add the gratuity. They may do it with parties of 6 or more, or they may just add it to every tab. It never hurts to ask your server if you aren’t sure. If they do add gratuity, find out how much. If they are only adding 18% and your server deserves 20% or more, it’s always very appreciated when you add extra. You’re ALWAYS welcome to leave them more.

Do servers split their tips with the other wait staff? Yes, they do. At the last place I worked we tipped 5% to the hostess, 8% to the bartender, 10% to the food runner, and 15% to the bussers. That totals 38%. Some places tip out more, some places tip out less. So remember that, the tip you leave isn’t only going to your server, it’s going to be split up between all the people who helped to make your experience a pleasant one.

Servers work for minimum wage generally and so the majority of their pay, the way they support themselves, comes from your tips. Please be generous.

For more tips on eating out please see my other post: Ordering Wine in a Restaurant.

Ordering Wine in a Restaurant

Okay I am NOT @GaryVee, Gary Vaynerchuk,  but I have worked in fine dining and I can give you some very easy common sense advice. If you don’t live in the Napa Valley or a big city, here are some tips to enjoy wine in a restaurant.

Ordering wine, there are a few easy tried and true rules:

Oysters: Champagne or Sauvignon Blanc
Chicken: Chardonnay, aka Chard
Salads or Seafood: Sauvignon Blanc aka Sav Blanc
Pork, Duck, Lamb: Pinot Noir or Merlot
Beef: Cabernet Sauvignon, aka Cabernet or just plain Cab

All of these are subject to change depending on the wine. Personally, I think champagne goes with everything! I love all varieties of wine. There are good wines and bad wines in all varieties so don’t judge all chardonnays by one bad one.

If you have no, or limited, wine knowledge my best recommendation – is to ask the server for a recommendation. You can read magazines or websites or books and do research and find an amazing high rated bottle of wine and then get to the restaurant and find out they don’t carry that wine. If people are having a variety of dishes I will often times suggest a pinot noir, a light red. Your server or the sommelier will ask what type of wine you are looking for, what your price range is, and look at what you have ordered and make a few recommendations. Don’t go with the house red or white unless you are on a strict budget. This wine was bought in bulk by the restaurant and won’t have the best taste.

As a general rule white wine should be less than 5 years old. It is not made to age a long time the way most red wine is.

Once a bottle of wine is ordered, the server presents the wine to the person who ordered it by reading the label, then confirms it by showing the bottle. After they say, “Yes, that is what I ordered”, the bottle is opened, by the server, and a small sip is poured to the person who ordered the wine. That person must try the wine to make sure it is not corked, they do this by swirling the wine, taking a sniff, then taking a small sip. Corked wine smells musty and tastes of mildew. It’s not really necessary to sniff the cork. Once they have approved the wine, the server will pour the wine for the rest of the guests at the table, and lastly fill the glass of the person who ordered. At this time you make a toast and clink glasses!

You may request an ice bucket for champagne or white wine to keep it chilled.  There is usually no extra charge for this. 

If your red wine is quite strong or has too much of a bite from the tannins, you can request that your wine be decanted. There is usually no extra charge for this.  This is done by your server and your wine is poured into a clear glass decanter, which gives the wine more air surface to breathe. This is especially recommended for red wines over 5 years old. Decanting the wine allows it to breathe and smooths out the taste. There is also a really nifty wine aerator tool that does this instantly, called the Vinturi Essential Wine Aerator.  I highly recommend it if you enjoy red wine!

Different shaped wine glasses are used with different varieties of wine. The general rule is that champagne is served in flutes, white wines in a smaller wine glass and reds in the larger bordeaux glass and the largest bowl glasses for the pinot noirs. This rule can change in accordance to the restaurant. Fresh glasses should be provided for each new bottle of wine unless otherwise requested.

If you bring in your own wonderful bottle of wine most restaurants will charge a corkage fee. This can vary greatly in amount from approximately $15 – $50 a pop. This fee is a charge for the service of using their glasses, which will need to be washed and hand polished, and the server opening the bottle and pouring the wine. On the higher end ($50) it can be cheaper to buy a bottle at the restaurant. If the corkage fee is a concern to you I recommend calling ahead to the restaurant and asking what their corkage fee is.

Most restaurants do greatly mark up the price of wine, it can be almost double what you would pay at a wine/liquor store.

Now you are ready to go out to a restaurant and enjoy wine! Cheers!

For more tips please see my other article: How to Tip in American Restaurants.

Product Review ~ Jolly Time Healthy Pop Butter Popcorn

This product review has moved to it’s own blog! Find more at: http://lauralovesbest.com

Pop! Pop! Pop! You listen for the microwave to make it pop and take it out before it stops!

Tonight as my daughter were heading out to watch the Fourth of July fireworks we decided to bring some snacks. I looked in the cupboard and remembered I had bought popcorn last time I was grocery shopping. In looking at all the popcorn it was hard to decide, but I’ve been very commited to health lately, so I decided to try the Jolly Time Healthy Pop Butter.

I popped it in the microwave and let it do it’s thing. It took about 2 minutes. Maybe could have gone a bit longer, but who wants to take the chance that it burns, burnt popcorn is the worst and it takes forever to get the smell out of your house! I was a little nervous to try it because sometimes the diet healthy stuff just doesn’t taste as good.

We drove to find a spot to watch the fireworks and found a place to put our blanket in the grass in between all the other people. Then we were ready to snack. Strangely, my daughter19 insisted on bringing grape jelly to dip the popcorn in. She said my mom, her grandmother, got her started on this odd habit. Funny thing is, I don’t remember my mom ever doing that with me? Oh well. So we broke out the popcorn and grape jelly and gave it a try. It was truly excellent. I didn’t miss anything. I had no idea it was healthy or diet. It was just good popcorn! My daughter19 concurred!

Jolly Time Healthy Pop Butter popcorn is 94% fat free, has 0g trans fat, and has no diacetyl added. I have no freakin idea what diacetyl is, but it doesn’t sound natural and I’m glad it’s NOT in my popcorn. As for calories, I cup of popped popcorn is only 20 calories, so take it from there depending on how many cups you want to eat. I love popcorn and can keep eating and eating it if it’s good, and this was. Especially dipped in grape jelly. Thanks Mom!

Product Review ~ Ghirardelli Brownies

This product review has moved to it’s own blog! Find more at: http://lauralovesbest.com

Mmmm! Chocolately, chewy, caramel-y! The Ghirardelli Chocolate Caramel Turtle Brownies are by far my favorite brownie mix. I have tried them all, but this is truly the best.

The Ghirardelli Chocolate Caramel Turtle Brownies always come out perfect. I love the carmel and the walnuts, they are the perfect touch to their soft cakey chewy brownies.

The brownies are so easy to make, too. I spray the baking pan with Pam. I use an 8 x 8 inch glass baking dish. You take the brownie mix and add water, oil and 1 egg and stir about 40 strokes and pour it in the pan. Then you sqeeze the caramel packet on top of the batter in 5 lines, then for a ripple effect you take a knife and in the opposite direction you run it through the batter in 5 alternating strokes, back and forth. It’s easy but looks quite fancy! My daughter19 was impressed, she said, “Wow! How’d you do that?!”

After dinner tonight my daughter19 said she wished we had some dessert. I said, “I could make some brownies…”. She said, “Yeah! Make brownies!” So I did, and they are delicious.

Next time you want brownies remember these – Ghirardelli Chocolate Caramel Turtle Brownies. Yum!

Product Review ~ Blueberry Muffin Frosted Mini-Wheats

This product review has moved to it’s own blog! Find more at: http://lauralovesbest.com

I haven’t seen them advertised, but then I’m not a BIG tv watcher. I dvr a lot of shows and zip through the commercials, so maybe I’ve missed it. But, as I went shopping on Saturday and strolled down the cereal aisle, there it was! Blueberry Muffin Frosted Mini-Wheats! Now I love blueberries, and blueberry muffins, so I had to try it!

Later that night I had to open up the box and try a few as a snack! Yes! They definitely have that blueberry muffin taste! They made a great crunchy snack. Now I’m eating them with milk. It just adds a creamy milk flavor to the blueberry muffin-ness of them. It slightly dilutes the flavor, but not in a bad way. They soften up in milk but still hold their shape. We all have heard how important fiber is to our diet, how it can lower cholesterol, well Mini-Wheats have plenty of fiber, that’s for sure!

If you are a blueberry fan, you’re going to love Blueberry Muffin Frosted Mini-Wheats cereal. I do! Great for a little snack, great for breakfast! Yummy in your tummy!