Chocolate Box Seductions

All under one roof...and just a stone's throw from our bustling Pike Place Market...the Chocolate Box is your one-stop-shop for Seattle's confectionary goodness. From truffles to pastry, gelato to espresso...all your chocolate fantasies come together in this sexy urban space.

And this week, yours truly scored an invite to their grand opening. I tell you...Willy Wonka never had it so good!

Between samples of exquisite Fiori truffles, complex toffee nibs from Theo, flavor-packed scoops of Gelatiamo gelato, uber rich cups of midnight black chocolate from Chocolat Vitale, and oh-so-light whipped white chocolate cheese cake from The French Bakery...

Sign me up for a chocolate DETOX!

To score your chocolate fix, visit:

The Chocolate Box
108 Pine Street
(between 1st & 2nd Ave)
Seattle, WA

The Wisdom of Magic

Heriberto & Magic Johnson in Las Vegas
Last month, I went to a trade show in Las Vegas. While there were many highlights, meeting Magic Johnson was definitely one of them. As a keynote speaker, afterwards, he was swarmed with people wanting autographs and photos. This guy Heriberto asked me to take a photo...and I agreed...only if he promised to send me a copy. The photo arrived soon after. (Judging by the angle, it's obvious I'm much shorter than these guys!)

This weekend I'm attending another marathon conference, and I'm still thinking about the last one. Magic's advice resonated loud and've got to know your customer...and give them what they want
It sounds simple....Give the customer what they want.

What a novel idea!

And yet, since my meeting with Magic, I've taken the time to observe...who really delivers?
Case in point: In my office building there's a small "cafe"--selling quick breakfast and lunch items (cold sandwich fare, mostly.) Here, two half-full coolers flank the with Pepsi....the other with Coke. Thrown into the mix are a few random other drinks. One day I asked, "Do you have Red Bull?" The response was, "You know, we get asked for that all the time! Do you like regular or sugar-free?" It really didn't matter much. Because three weeks later, they still don't stock it.

Yes, I can buy my own drinks and keep them at work. But I'm lazy. And I'm willing to pay a premium because I didn't plan in advance. I'm okay with that. If only they'd stock it. Now I actually get in my car...and go somewhere else.

Amazon got it right.

Because of Amazon, I buy more books than I'll ever read.

Perusing their site, I look at a wide range of titles. Not only can I read a full description of the book and viewer's opinions, but I can also buy that same book new or used. Would you like hardback, softback, or audio? If I want to buy it later, that's okay. Amazon's got the solution: I can put it on my Wishlist. And after the purchase, I can track my shipment progress, and on occasion, I receive follow up e-mails.

Am I satisfied?

You bet!

My book buying frenzy often takes on colossal proportions and occasionally I'll forget if I already own a title. Not to worry. With Amazon, I can easily check my previously purchased file. Granted, I don't buy all my books at Amazon, but you can bet I buy MOST of my books there. Why wouldn't I? After hundreds of transactions, each one is handled flawlessly. Amazon knows what their customer wants....and they deliver.

When you put yourself in someone else's shoes, a whole new perspective opens up. This is the first step in bringing your A game.

The other day, I stopped by this Thai restaurant near my office. When the woman came to take my order, I greeted her in Thai. We spoke for a few minutes about my travels through Thailand, where she was from, and I received an incredible recommendation for lunch. When the food came, she brought me a large spoon. Smiling graciously, she gestured to the spoon, now resting alongside the pre-set fork. With a knowing nod, she said, "Like Thailand."

We exchanged huge smiles...and I thanked her, "Khawp khun kha."

At the tradeshow this weekend, I'll be on a fact finding mission. Not only am I looking to spread awareness about our publication, but I'm looking to have specific conversations with our clients. How do you use the magazine? Do you use the online site? Where do you get stuck? What can we do better?

Taking a cue from Magic, I've got a clear picture of my objective:

What does our customer want?

And how can I meet that need?

The Sweet Life

These life is tinted with a dream-like quality. It's as if my long-held fantasies have, serendipitously, shifted into reality. Truth be told, it's still bewildering sometimes...and I often feel the need to take a giant stride back...and pinch myself!

This week was a perfect example:

My good friend Crescent Dragonwagon was in town. Before you snicker at her name too long (one she donned during her "hippy-dippy days"), this dynamic woman has published over 40 books, hosted President Bill Clinton's inaugural brunch, ran an award-winning B&B, and was the founder of a well-known writer's colony. All accolades aside, I adore her warm and generous spirit.

Our first day out, Crescent and I tooled around Seattle. We managed to squeeze in a visit to the farmer's market....meandering from stand to stand, nibbling on foraged sea beans and indulging in fat slices of Nubian goat cheese.

Afterwards, we strolled over to Bakery Nouveau and paid my friend William Leaman a visit. In case you don't know William, he was captain of the 2006 World Champion Baking Team. Coming off the heels of his win, in December, he opened Bakery Nouveau. Tucked away in West Seattle, this tiny gem evokes the soul of Paris.

A side note for a swoon: I'm crazy about William's twice-baked almond croissants. Crisp, buttery shards of croissant dough wrap around a heart of almond paste...

No wonder Bakery Nouveau has taken off like a rocket! A feast for the senses...the shelves are brimming with an array of artisan breads, candies, and pastries. Often the line snakes out the door, but this trip, timing was on our side. After quick introductions, Crescent and I sat to enjoy a drink and contemplate our pastry choice.

Before long, William paid us a visit...and eliminated the need for a decision. One dessert after another arrived at our table...tempting us with a parade of treats. Even after he sat down, the desserts continued to arrive! Hot out of the oven, the oozing strawberry-rhubarb tart was divine! (Sorry, no photo. It was devoured before I gave my camera another thought...)

Here's a look at the first round of desserts:

Two of these desserts helped William's team snag the baking championship.

See that pistachio macaroon--the garnish on the left? William makes amazing macaroons. What's his secret? Most chefs use a buttercream filling, William uses delicate candy fillings. Mmmm.....

And then there's this beauty with a cocoa pod candy, festooned over a caramel glazed cake.

Blame it on the sugar-high hangover...if I recall correctly, we had a few of these too!

William sent us off with an assortment of chocolate candies....wrapped in his signature box, secured with a simple snow white ribbon. He called this heavenly parcel..."a little something for your journey." (Okay, that's a 15 minute trip over the West Seattle bridge, but who am I to argue???)

Ah, and just when I think it can't get any better...Saturday night I went to a party at my friend John's. He threw a wonderful fĂȘte...celebrating the 3rd year anniversary of his business, Kwanchai Design. John specializes in interior design and event staging. Have you ever thrown a party and wished your place looked picture perfect like a magazine? It's possible. Those in the know.... call John.

Saturday night, John transformed his industrial space in South Lake Union with oversized paper lanterns and parasols hanging from the lofted ceilings. Thai-inspired dishes were kept warm over heated slabs of granite alongside a profusion of flowers. Drinks flowed well into the wee hours...

Networker that I am, I invited a few friends to come along. Thrown into the mix were the owners of Starry Nights Catering (who helped cook the Tony Bourdain dinner) and cake-baker-extraordinaire, Dan Mikosz.

Years ago, Dan and I met briefly at one of his baking classes. He barely remembered me, but his humble charm and incredibly light cakes stuck in my mind. Recently, a friend asked who had the best cakes in town...I told her, without a shadow of a doubt, if I needed a special occasion cake...Dan's the man.

One thing led to another, and now, Dan's beautiful cakes are going to be featured in Seattle Metropolitan Bride & Groom--a new magazine set to launch in July!

Get this: As a thank you, Dan whipped up a cake--affectionately called "The Dublin"--and had it delivered to my office! Can you believe it?! Nothing like being the new kid on the block...and dazzling my co-workers with cake!

Saturday night, Dan proved his incredible generosity once again. For John's anniversary party, he arrived with yet ANOTHER cake. This one was stunning chocolate cake soaked with a bit of Grand Marnier, and layerd with a luscious bittersweet chocolate moose.

Um, yeah.

Blissful sighs... followed positively indecent moaning...

All this...and the sweetest surprise was yet to come.

An e-mail landed in my box. I asked innocently, "When are you coming next?"

The Waffle Man replied, "What are you doing on Sunday?"

S-U-N-D-A-Y! Really??

He was on the east coast for business...and detoured to Seattle. That was no easy feat. The plane had trouble and ultimately, what is often a 5 hour trek...turned into a 16 hour ordeal. But finally, he was here.

Sunday, we met.

It was raining.

I leaned in...and under the protective cover of his umbrella, found my space, again.

Yes, my is very sweet!

Orcas Island Afterglow

Last weekend I headed up to Orcas Island to meet up with two legends in the culinary world,Christina Orchid and Robin Woodward. Christina runs the lovely Christina's Restaurant on Orcas Island. She, along with Alice Waters, was a pioneer...working with seasonal, fresh ingredients. Still going strong after 28 years, her charming restaurant overlooking the smattering of San Juan Islands is the perfect place to be!

I stayed at Christina's what is affectionately known as "the barn." The only creatures this place stables are guests (me!) and visiting chefs. (Annie Somerville slept in my bed!) Frogs out by the pond serenaded me to sleep every night, and the family of geese greeted me in the morning.

The barn's first level features a commercial kitchen stove, refrigerator, and all the amenities you could ever want (I counted 5 types of tart pans!) The oversized glass doors open up to a patio overlooking the pond and a view of the Sound out in the distance. This is the space booked for "Cooking in the Barn," which is held throughout the month of June. Past chefs have included Jerry Traunfeld, Nancy Oaks, Annie Somerville, and this month will include James Beard Award winner Crescent Dragonwagon, and Cornucopia’s Becky Selengut. (If you want in on this season's classes, event details are at the bottom.)

Next, I met up with Robin Woodard who owned a couple well-known restaurants in Seattle. The history is completely fascinating but if you want to get a sense of her impact...she was the first person to sell scones in Seattle! Eventually, she discovered Orcas Island and moved up there. Her son, Charlie, now owns a wonderful spot called "The Restaurant" on Orcas and he carries on her seasonal, fresh approach with incredible Asian-inspired dishes.

Saturday we paid a visit to the farmer's market. A mix of produce, flowers, meats, and crafts make up this bustling scene. Afternoon story hour is put on by the local library. And fire up the grill... those oysters were the best I've ever had! (I even brought back some of Local Good's secret sauce: a lovely horseradish & carrot mignonette. Mmm...)

As luck would have it, Saturday night I was invited to Charlie's birthday party. Held out on Maple Rock Farm, they were serving up...roasted chickens from the pizza oven, salads made with home-grown produce, and cakes provided by Robin (carrot, rosemary, and polenta). On the island, they're committed to organics...and I was assured even the keg of beer was organic!

Talking with many of the locals, I began to understand some of the challenges living on the island. Staffing is a difficult issue--not only because of the limited population, but because of a shortage in available housing. As Robin explained, you can lease a house on the island, but often times, not for the entire year. With the wave of summer tourists, landlords find it much more profitable to lease to seasonal guests. So for three months out of the year, a number of the locals have to find alternate housing. That, combined with the influx of staff needed to work the summer crops and tourist industry, housing is definitely an issue. Many people camp through the summer and I met one guy lived on a boat that was dry-docked (on land).

Sunday morning Christina and I went to breakfast at the beautifully situated, Rosario Resort. The place is legendary (both historically and due to significant promotional efforts), but the food was horrible. Truly horrible. It's a nice spot for a cocktail and a look out over the water...but for food, there's much better fare to be had in town.

Afterwards, we took a drive into Moran State Park. This is an idyllic location with old-growth forest and as you can see...from Mt. Constitution...a jaw-dropping view. I wish I had a wide angle lens to show you how the islands wrap around 180 degrees from this vantage point. It's amazing and if you get the chance, you must come see it for yourself. In all my travels, this is one of the most spectacular places I've ever seen. It's a pity the photos don't do it justice...

Christiana and I became fast friends...and so with a teary goodbye, I headed back on the ferry. The ride, snaking through the San Juan Islands, is just amazing. I loved sitting on the deck, spotting houses tucked away in the rocks and watching sailboats catch the breeze...Crossing from one side of the ferry to the other, I spotted that funky motorcycle and just had to share it with you!

Ah, and the Alpacas? Friday, on my way up to the island, I knew I'd missed my ferry and would have to take a later boat. So when I spied the Alpaca farm just off the highway, I stopped to say hello. Curious and shy, the younger alpacas had recently gotten a trim. So cute...

For me, the highlight was just having a chance to chat with Robin and Christina. Rarely at a loss for words, somehow I find myself unable to capture the experience with a string of sentences.

In sum...they talked, I listened.

And it was one of the best weekends of my life.

If you want to get in on the 3 remaining Cooking in the Barn classes, here's the scoop:

June 12 - Crescent Dragonwagon is traveling from Putney, Vermont to the barn to share her wealth of cooking experience with us. She has written over 40 books including the James Beard Award-winning, “The Passionate Vegetarian” and "Dairy Hollow House Soup & Bread: A Country Inn Cookbook." Crescent appeared on NBC's Today Show, ABC's Good Morning America, CNN’s On the Menu. Crescent’s focus is on locally produced raw materials which she transforms into scrumptious meals. She is currently planning her menu with the guidance of John Steward from Maple Rock Farm. Crescent is an accomplished teacher whose warm and engaging personality makes every class an event to be remembered.

June 19 - Greg Atkinson is making his third appearance at Cooking-In-The-Barn. He has a new book for us to savour, “West Coast Cooking” and will be planning his menu using recipes from the book. Greg shares his vast knowledge of all things culinary through consulting, writing, teaching, and radio and television appearances. He is a Northwest treasure.

June 26 - Becky Selengut is a bold young entrepreneur who founded Cornucopia in Seattle. She is a teacher and private chef who earlier in her career worked with Jerry Traunfeld. She graduated from the Seattle Culinary Academy where she was awarded the Outstanding Culinarian of the Year. She has worked on two PBS cooking shows and did stints at La Medusa and La Spiga before starting her own business. Her most recent innovation is a website which is a tool “ easily identify when local foods are in season” for all Puget Sound cooks.

Proceeds benefit the Orcas Island Children's House. Classes are $125 each and include cooking demonstration, dinner, and wine--to say nothing of the sunshine and good company! Author's books will also be available for autographed copies.

To register contact: Orcas Island Children’s House (360) 376-4744 (Monday through Friday from 8am until 5pm)

What the World Eats

Time Magazine ran a fascinating excerpt from the book Hungry Planet. The premise is simple: Around the globe...what's on the family dinner table?

It's an eye opening piece...and in case you missed it, check out the full article here.

United States: The Revis family of North Carolina
Food expenditure for one week: $341.98


Chad: The Aboubakar family of Breidjing Camp
Food expenditure for one week: 685 CFA Francs or $1.23

*Photographs by Peter Menzel