The Beat on Your Eats: Turkey

Words by Johanna Harlow

Welcome the season of the turkey with these gobble-worthy dishes.

harry’s hofbrau
redwood city

Is there anything more satisfying than a “stick to the ribs” kind of meal during those colder months? Harry’s Hofbrau is just the place to cozy up as the days shorten with its inviting fireplace, brickwork and timber-framed interior in the traditional German style. Whole-roasted turkeys have been at the heart of Harry’s since it opened back in 1954. So much so that this buffet-style carvery dishes out more than a million pounds of the flavorful fowl each year. Roasted turkey sandwiches and turkey legs are always available, but their rotating specials also include a turkey enchilada, a hearty Texas turkey chili and a turkey stroganoff with gravy and sauteed mushrooms. 1909 El Camino Real. Open Sunday to Wednesday from 11AM to 10PM; Thursday to Saturday from 11AM to 11PM.

san mateo

With boundless options for culinary creativity, artisan burger spot Roam takes the tried-and-true to new heights. Its turkey burger—like all the restaurant’s patties—can be dressed up with your choice of 12 sauces and 17 toppings. Or try one of their crafted combinations. Like the Seasonal Autumn (with a Firebrand pretzel bun, sauerkraut, Fra’mani smoked ham, caramelized onions, Swiss cheese and Bavarian sweet mustard). Or the French ‘N Fries (which pairs patty with truffle parmesan French fries, brie, avocado, caramelized onions, greens, piquant sauce and stone-ground mustard). Roam is proud to partner with Diestel Family Turkey Ranch, a farm that raises their birds on open pastures and feeds them an antibiotic- and hormone-free diet—ethical choices that also enhance the flavor. 3081 S. Delaware Street. Open Sunday to Thursday from 11AM to 9PM; Friday to Saturday from 11AM to 10PM.

marsha’s lunchbox
san carlos

If you’re looking for reasons to be thankful, put Marsha’s Lunchbox on your list. Located not five minutes from the Hiller Aviation Museum, this no-frills (but welcoming) restaurant will put you in the holiday spirit. Marsha’s Always Thanksgiving Sandwich is the epitome of the season with moist oven-roasted turkey straight off the bird, stuffing and cranberries enveloped in the toasty warm embrace of sliced French bread. If you’re hoping to cut the carbs so you can indulge on November 24th, it’s also available as a wrap. On overcast days, double down with a piping hot bowl of homemade turkey rice soup. 760 Industrial Road. Open Monday to Friday from 7AM to 2PM. Closed Saturday and Sunday.

Dishing Out Pies

Words by Johanna Harlow

Two hours before sunrise, bakery manager Oscar Pacheco switches on the lights at the Palo Alto Creamery, illuminating empty bar stools and booth seats (in that iconic ruby red of diners everywhere), before crossing the checkered floor to the silent kitchen. Don’t let the stillness of the place fool you. Beginning the day at dark o’clock (and staying late) is the only way Oscar will keep his head above water in the torrent of pie orders that rush in every Thanksgiving.

“He’s the glue,” credits Eric Beamesderfer, who oversees operations for the restaurant group behind Palo Alto Creamery, Reposado, British Bankers Club and Scratch. Even though Eric’s the numbers guy—tasked with keeping track of orders in Excel and updating the inventory—he isn’t above rolling up his sleeves.

There’s something agreeable in the way Eric and Oscar carry themselves around each other: the natural ease and understanding shared by longtime friends who’ve served in the pie-making trenches together. “I flat out tell Oscar, ‘You have two hands. Tell me what to do,’” remarks Eric.

If that’s rolling out 60 crusts or blending whipped cream at the mixer, so be it. Come the holiday season, that “all hands-on dough” mentality is the Creamery’s secret ingredient.

Diner Days

The Palo Alto Creamery, long a staple of downtown, started doling out milkshakes and burgers in 1923. “We get second and third and even fourth generations coming in now, saying, ‘My parents or grandparents or great-grandparents used to come here,’” shares Eric. Today, he wears a plaid button-up (perhaps unconsciously reminiscent of the many spreadsheets he orchestrates daily).

Rob Fischer, the diner’s owner since 1988, works under the mantra simple food done right. “We stay true to the basics here,” Eric affirms. It’s a recipe that clearly works. Since joining the team nearly a decade and a half ago, Eric has seen pie orders more than quintuple over the Thanksgiving rush. “Two years before COVID, we were just shy of a thousand,” Eric says. “And that’s a four-day stretch.”

Apple pie is by far the seasonal favorite. No skimping here, Palo Alto Creamery loads each with four pounds of Granny Smiths. Cut in large chunks and seasoned with cinnamon, the fruit is topped with a lofty golden dome of a crust. “They look impressive,” acknowledges Oscar, adding that they peel 45 or so cases of apples each season by hand.

The diner serves a slew of alternatives including pumpkin (Thanksgiving’s second bestseller), cherry, chocolate pecan, blueberry and cream. Eric’s personal favorite? “Oh, I never answer that question,” he says, as though he’s being asked to pick a favorite child.

The Game Plan

In September, the Thanksgiving pie prep commences with an order of pie plates.

Somberly, Eric revisits the year they experienced a glass pan shortage. “The week before Thanksgiving, we were all running around to places like Bed Bath & Beyond and the outlet stores,” he recounts. Fortunately, a friendly neighborhood journalist put out a call for assistance in the local newspaper, inspiring locals to drop off dishware. Thanksgiving 2022: 2,000 pie plates. Check!

Two weeks prior to the holiday, the necessary ingredients and pie dough are stocked in the fridge. (“We don’t bake pies weeks in advance and freeze them,” Eric is quick to clarify. “It’ll be baked within 24 hours of your pickup time.”) Then, with T-Day a week away, the team doubles down for the final sprint.

A lesser baker might crumble under the avalanche of orders, but to a man like Oscar—who sees dessert as a science, an intricate process and an art—it’s “Bring it on!” time. “I tend to get a bit overwhelmed, but in a good way,” he reveals. “I know it’s only a couple days for me to give my best.” Knuckling down, he asks himself, “What needs to be prioritized? What needs to be done right now?” His plan of attack begins with pecan pies (due to their longer shelf-life), before barreling through the rest of his lengthy to-do list. “Keep in mind,” he points out, “that we’ve gotta keep up with all the production for the restaurant too.”

And then there are the unknown factors. Like last year when cherry pies were inexplicably popular, requiring some last-minute pivoting. Oscar adds that the diner’s display case also acts as a source of inspiration to visitors. “You get to see how majestic the apple pie looks,” he beams. “You picture it on your table with your family. And so you end up buying a pie.” Even weather creates variables, notes Eric. Like if it’s snowing in Tahoe. “If it’s a perfect ski week up there, pie sales will go down,” he explains, as regulars head for the slopes.

Crunch Time

Fortunately for pie lovers, Oscar has a mind for details. Even his approach to the oven entails careful consideration. Pies require rotation because the crusts closest to the oven walls bake faster. Cooking the pumpkin ones too fast will crack their glossy surface. And turning the heat a little higher doesn’t mean faster pies—it means charred ones. “You have to stick to the process,” Oscar observes.

With only two ovens available, crunch time happens right after the diner’s dinner shift. But even then, only 24 pies can bake at a time. That’s when Eric taps into his broader network. “In years past,” he says, “we’ve gotten support from the other restaurants in terms of baking or doing some of the preparation.”

Thanksgiving Eve is a madhouse—albeit an organized one. “We’ve got all these cars full with pies, the counters are full with pies, spices everywhere,” describes Oscar. In the past, the pickup line stretched out the door and curled around the side of the building. Nowadays, the Creamery mitigates traffic by having customers pay in advance.

“I don’t know anyone—at least in my generation—that didn’t grow up with pies during the holidays,” comments Eric about this beloved Thanksgiving tradition. So let’s raise a glass (of milk) to these kitchen veterans continuing to serve up a timeless slice of Americana. “We make it happen,” notes Oscar with pride. “We always make it work.”

Pies Please

To guarantee your Thanksgiving dessert, pre-order by November 18.

Perfect Shot: Bee-utiful Burlingame Hills

Woodside’s Dennis Hancock credits the COVID era with inspiring walks around our Peninsula neighborhoods. “What a revelation it was to see and appreciate that which was missed while zipping by in our cars,” he shares. During a recent outing in Burlingame Hills, Dennis captured this Perfect Shot of a lavender dentata bush abuzz with bee activity. “No remote work option for these essential workers!” he points out.

Calling all shutterbugs: If you’ve captured a unique perspective of the Peninsula, we’d love to see your Perfect Shot. Email us at to be considered for publication.

Landmark: Coleman Mansion

Words by Lexi Friesel

Nestled in the middle of a Menlo Park neighborhood sits a grand white building with an unusual and colorful past. Coleman Mansion has served as a home, school, movie set and even… the backdrop for a ghost story. In 1882, the mansion was designed by esteemed architect Augustus Laver for Maria O’Brien Coleman, the sister of successful businessman William S. O’Brien. After two long years of construction, the Italianate structure was complete with 22 rooms, a porch, arches, large windows, Corinthian columns and elaborate molding. Interior details included a grand staircase, marble decor and luxury chandeliers. Coleman intended to present the mansion as a wedding gift to her son, James Valentine Coleman, an accomplished assemblyman, and his wife Carmelita. However, the couple never enjoyed their stately new home, as a loaded revolver (accidentally?) discharged and killed Carmelita in 1885. Some claim that Carmelita’s spirit still haunts the building and sightings have been reported of a silhouette wearing a green, translucent gown in the attic. In 1905, James Coleman sold the mansion and its land, and the property was divided into the Menlo Oaks neighborhood. Aside from the removal of its signorial tower, the mansion remained essentially the same. In 1929, Josephine Duveneck and a small group of parents (including Stanford faculty members) purchased the Coleman Mansion and some of the surrounding land to house the Peninsula School, which was founded in 1925. Serving preschool to 8th grade students, Peninsula School maintains its original mission to this day, offering a progressive educational approach focused on child-centered, experiential learning. Coleman Mansion also carries the unique distinction of being featured in the 1975 fantasy sci-fi movie Escape to Witch Mountain. Some Peninsula School students even appeared as extras in the popular Disney film.

Finding Airbnb Nirvana

Words by Johanna Harlow

You’re standing in front of a door. Not a run-of-the-mill kind of entryway, but one of thick, dark wood with a submarine hatch wheel and a porthole of opaque glass. Presenting like a portal to adventure, this door beckons. Answer the call, and encounter the Peninsula’s funkiest, most imaginative Airbnb.

One of two vacation rentals residing on a half-acre property in East Palo Alto, the building’s equally artful interior is the handiwork of super-host Todd Gaviglio. A world traveler, painter and sculpturist (specializing in traditional statues as well as salvaged material ones), Todd converted his former home and art studio, furnishing both with his creative projects as well as artifacts and art from around the globe. Staying here means experiencing your own Night at the Museum.

“I’m not a businessman,” Todd freely admits. “It’s more for my own gratification and expression and balance for me.” Despite that absence of ambition, he’s achieved the lofty Airbnb Plus badge, reserved only for top-rated, highly-booked venues with one-of-a-kind flair. “There’s so many decisions behind every little thing you see,” this host with the most reflects. “I try to have things look one way at a distance and another way up close.”

Ready to plunge into this pay-for-stay masterpiece? Hold on tight because here we go!

Photo (and Cover Photo) by Johanna Harlow

Eye for Detail

Even before your mind registers the eclectic decor, you’re engulfed by an exuberance of color. Unsurprisingly, Todd isn’t a fan of the neutral, subdued palette. (“It’s almost like a mausoleum,” he tsks.) Instead, his rooms range from sunset tones (fiery rose, lava orange, tangerine, saffron yellow) to tropical ocean shades (Caribbean blue, turquoise, sea green, aquamarine). Passing a peppy coffee table, Todd brushes his hand across its surface. “To me, it just sings,” he muses. “The red vibrates.”

Some of Todd’s guests travel to receive treatment at nearby Stanford Hospital, so the cheering colors provide respite and replenishment. He also sees plenty of out-of-towners, “digital nomads” seeking a stimulating setting to work remotely as well as Stanford Live performers and other artistic types looking to get their creative juices flowing. “And then honestly, there were people that just couldn’t get a hotel,” he concedes with a smile.

A rule-breaker in more than color scheme, Todd situates rustic, primitive elements next to modern, sleek ones for an industrial chic atmosphere. “I believe in juxtaposing things that don’t ‘belong’ together,” he explains. “You appreciate each one more.”

With a fastidious eye for detail, Todd strives for a “divergent” aesthetic. “Maximalist is what I’m hearing,” he comments. That means artwork everywhere you turn and patterned rugs everywhere you step. Books organized by category and color. A medieval-style chandelier in the shower. And so many eclectic light fixtures and neon signs it takes a scavenger hunt to turn them all on and off again.

Photo: Courtesy of Marietta Asemwota

Of course, there’s also oodles of sculptures and paintings, many of them Todd’s own creations. “Generally, everything that happens, I kind of process it through art,” he shares. His bronze sculptures can also be found in private collections as far away as Germany and France—though Todd says parting with his paintings is another matter entirely. “They’re like my children,” he confides.

In the case of Todd’s salvaged sculptures, he hopes Airbnb guests will find his reclaimed work a chance to get reflective. “You can look at it at the superficial aesthetic level. Or you can look at it and think, and then use it as a meditation device: ‘What do I see? Why do I see that? And why do I perceive things that way?’”

According to Todd, the ideal home should display a variety of different elements designed to stimulate or rest your mind, body or spirit. “So that’s why when I look around, there’s ‘thinking’ art, but there’s also maybe aesthetically peaceful things too.” Whether you’re seeking a meditative retreat or a stirring escape, Todd’s intentionality is easy to see. Down to the drawers and the doorknobs, every little detail is orchestrated.

So exquisitely detailed are each of Todd’s rooms, that it’s not uncommon for guests to cycle through bathrooms and bedrooms each night. “They like to migrate from zone to zone,” he relays with a grin.

Photo by Johanna Harlow

A Taste of the World

If there’s anything that rivals Todd’s appreciation of an artful interior, it’s his passion for world cultures. Todd’s restless spirit has carried him from Morocco to Mexico, Bali to Brazil, Suriname to Switzerland. And throughout his adventures, he searches for meaningful mementos. “I don’t want some little key chain,” Todd remarks of his vast traveler’s collection. “I want something nice and solid and big and meaningful and expressive of that culture and that aesthetic.”

The result? Jhandi flags sway from bamboo poles in the courtyard and a bronze miniature of the Taj Majal sits in the book nook. Mosaic globes of multi-colored glass from Oman hang in the bedroom. And a statue of the three-faced Lord Brahma (bedecked with bracelets and necklaces from Turkey, Greece, and the Vatican) presides over the living room.

Todd, a retired Peninsula teacher and principal, credits travel for many invaluable life lessons. “Perfection is not as beautiful as imperfection,” he shares of one such epiphany. To illustrate, he recounts a trip to Cambodia.

“There were Buddha figures that had been buried, that were uncovered,” Todd recalls. “They were rotted and had termites in parts of them, but it created this beauty to them: that they were somewhat decomposed and ethereal… ephemeral.” It’s one reason he enjoys creating patinas on the surface of his own bronze work. “For a bronze sculpture, you want it to show some irregularity,” he explains. “It makes it more interesting. And it’s more significant. More relevant. Gravitas!”

Photo: Courtesy of Marietta Asemwota 

He pauses to reflect further on the allure of travel. “If you’re in your regular routine, you don’t notice things…It’s the same people, the same routines, the same location, the same buildings… When you’re someplace else, when it’s something distinctive, you remember.” He adds, “I think what creates a memory is if it’s distinctive, right? If it stands out. Otherwise, it blurs together.”

When on the lookout for new pieces to add to his collection, Todd admits that he’s no good at bartering. Actually, he takes great pride in that. “I met the person who made that. It’s beautiful to me. I had a conversation with them. They’re artists,” he emphasizes, “and I paid them a fair price.”

Saving the Environment one Plate at a Time

Passionate about the environment and upcycling, Todd has also furbished his Airbnb units with reclaimed finds, heirlooms and interesting artifacts from yard sales. “There’s plenty of mirrors that already exist in the world, that are out there in salvage yards and flea markets or in your grandmother’s basement,” he observes.

Photo by Annie Barnett

To that end, Todd repurposed his mother’s porcelain plates as wall decorations and constructed an ironic step ladder out of old handicap signs. He even incorporated corrugated tin from the property’s defunct chicken ranch into the building’s design, honoring its farming past from before he bought it back in the early ‘90s.

“Beauty doesn’t have to come from a big box store,” reasons Todd. “So maybe you don’t like the color of that dresser your grandmother had—But could you paint it? Could you sand it down to just bare wood? Can you put a piece of marble on top of it? Could you nail a piece of metal across it? Just make it yours.”

This is also why a handful of mannequins can be found sunning themselves in the back garden. Todd rescued these discarded figures from beside the Nordstrom dumpster. “It’s kind of sad because they have these signs on them. It’ll say ‘trash’ or ‘incomplete.’ Kind of profound in a way though.” As he passes these alabaster models, now posing among the cactuses, lounging on benches and watching over his vegetable garden, he notes, “They’re almost like little garden spirits.” Then, after another moment, “Honestly, I may need to scale back.”

Photo by Annie Barnett

Steeped in Memories

If you’re lucky during your visit, you’ll encounter Todd and his young daughters out picking vegetables and fruit in the yard. “It’s like Easter to come to the garden,” he describes. Harvesting the bounty of the land, nature’s egg hunt, is one of many fond memories here. Todd has plenty more of family milestones and festivities. Like the weekend he celebrated his grandmother’s 100th birthday party on the grounds. Or all the times he hosted elaborate Day of the Dead celebrations—complete with Mexican folk dancers, musicians and altars designed by Todd and his artist friends—for 200 revelers.

With a grimace, Todd recalls the time he almost sold this place: “The realtor had a buyer and had a really good offer,” he recounts. “But I was confronted with the daunting task of getting rid of all my stuff… It’s sentimental, a lot of it.” With a property so steeped in meaning, he couldn’t bear to part with it.

As Todd continues to tread the garden path, he stops to survey the land. “It’s very fertile ground here,” he remarks. Seeing this creative soul standing amidst the cucumber and chamomile plants, it seems a particularly fitting observation.

Visit Dreamland

Back House:

Framing Nature’s Wonders: Landscape Photographer

Words by Sheri Baer and David Hibbard

Behold the blaze of colors and quiet moments that fall evokes, as captured by Menlo Park landscape photographer David Hibbard. Born and raised in Los Angeles, David ventured north to attend Stanford University and has lived on the Peninsula ever since.

David traces his love of the natural world back to his early childhood, much of which he spent on his grandparents’ citrus ranch. “There were orange groves in every direction and then beyond that were the mountains,” he recalls. “There were no fences. I had the run of the ranch and I was always out exploring.”

Although he got his first camera, a Kodak Brownie, when he was seven, it was looking through the viewfinder of a Pentax SLR when he was in high school that cemented David’s pursuit of a wilder path. After a 20-year career in technical writing, he returned to his first love, photography. Along with this homage to Peninsula autumn, David shares insights into his lifelong quest to engage with the natural wonders around us.


Early in life, I got into the mental habit of “framing” what I saw. A congenital eye disorder left me with flattened vision. I can see the height and breadth of things, but not their depth. I was always looking at and through windows, marveling at how they parsed the chaos of the visual world and made it more comprehensible. When I was a young child, I did not question why my two eyes rendered the world so differently. My left eye saw everything with great clarity: the smallest detail resolved to exquisite sharpness. My right eye, on the other hand, turned the world into a lovely Impressionist painting. Shimmery light and vibrant color, but no hard edges anywhere. To live in the world, I must use my ‘good’ eye; thus, it dominates. It is the magic of light and color, what I principally see with my “inferior” eye, that pulls me out of the everyday world and into art.


As a child, I drew and painted constantly. I would take snapshots with my Brownie camera on family vacations, but I didn’t take photography seriously until I happened to look through the viewfinder of a Pentax SLR. The bright image that I saw, so exquisitely rendered on the ground glass, enchanted me. It was a magic lantern view of the world. I knew, in that instant, I had to become a photographer. I connected with that flattened, luminous image because it was how I saw the world. Although my brain cannot resolve what it receives from my two eyes into a coherent vision, I am able to do that through photography, and perhaps that is why photography has such a powerful hold on me. Out in the open air, the camera is a portal into a dimension I cannot see. I am often told that my photographs convey a strong sense of depth and space, but that is something I cannot fully appreciate.


When I started out in photography in my 20s, I modeled myself after Ansel Adams, whom I had met and who had encouraged me. I first encountered his work on a family vacation to Yosemite. We were staying at the Ahwahnee, and in the dining room, the menus always featured a beautiful, full-page photograph by Ansel. I was so taken with his photography that I wanted to steal one of the menus. After I met Ansel, I built a darkroom and taught myself how to make expressive black-and-white prints by poring over Ansel’s highly technical Basic Techniques books. Elliot Porter, a pioneer of color photography, was another important influence. His exquisitely detailed photographs of New England’s forests blew my mind when I first saw them. Ansel told me that I had a better eye for black-and-white than color, but over time I have found that I love color photography more. Perhaps my childhood immersion in painting accounts for this. Whatever the explanation, I’m having a ball with color.


Throughout my life, specific places have been important to me. I can return to them again and again and never feel that I’ve had my fill of them. The very first is Point Lobos, which I encountered as a small child. The beaches of Northern California, from San Mateo to Mendocino County—all within a day’s drive of my home—have been my main focus in recent years. Most special of all, perhaps, is Gazos Creek, a wooded coastal canyon that I discovered when I was a student at Stanford. Recently, I went through my records and counted how many days I’ve spent at Gazos Creek since the mid-1990s, and the number turned out to be 340. That’s almost a year of my life. All of these are places where I can immerse myself—lose myself, if you will. Through photography, I try to convey the wonderful alchemy of light and weather I often encounter there.


I strive to get out with my camera at least once a week. I follow the weather closely, checking the forecasts up and down the coast. Weather brings the most interesting light; I like to work on cloudy or foggy days—or when a storm is rolling through. I depart well before dawn so I can catch the first light, and I usually work the entire day, pausing only to eat a bag lunch. I carry a backpack that holds a camera body and three or four lenses, and over my shoulder I sling a heavy tripod. All of that can weigh as much as 35 pounds, depending on how much gear I decide to bring that day. I always have a destination in mind once I’m on the road, but I assess the light and weather while I’m driving, and sometimes I decide to go elsewhere based on what I’m seeing. I think of it as chasing light.


At the beach or on the trail, I’ll just start walking. I try to keep an open mind and heart—and let the landscape speak to me. It’s almost always the quality of light that draws me into a scene. The light can be dramatic or subtle, but if it strikes the right chord in me, I will stay and work with it as long as it persists. If the sky, for example, is full of beautifully illuminated clouds that are forming and reforming, making all kinds of glorious shapes, I might stay at that spot for an hour or more, observing the clouds and making photographs as the spirit moves me. When my days in the field are like that, I’m happy as a clam.


We have such an abundance of landscapes and ecosystems here: the Bay and its wetlands; mountains high enough to receive an occasional dusting of winter snow; beautiful forest lands and open, rolling grassland; superb beaches and magnificent coastal vistas. I’m hard put to think of another place that I know of with all of that in one package. We are blessed that so much of it has been preserved. Some of our open space preserves are just minutes away from our house, and the coast is less than an hour’s drive. I often feel as if the natural world, with all the miraculous sights it has to offer, is but an extension of our backyard.


Well, for sure, I’m drawn to the color. In our coastal canyons, the alder leaves and redwood fronds stay green, but the maple leaves turn yellow and even into red, creating a vibrant color contrast between warm and cool. Then too, I love the quality of the light as the days get shorter. The sun is lower in the sky and the light is not as intense as it would be, say, in midsummer. At Gazos Creek, the sun barely peeks in during the middle of the day, selectively painting the lower branches and leaves with light as it filters through the forest canopy. On our beaches, late in the afternoon, the coastal bluffs turn golden as the sun eases down to the horizon. Even the modest neighborhood where I live seems transformed by the autumn light. The light has a pervasive softness that graces everything. From mid-October into February, the light is magic.


Photography gives me a great excuse to be out-of-doors. I am grateful that I live close to so many beautiful places, and that I have the time and ability to photograph, which I intend to do as long as I’m physically able. My photographic journey has blossomed since my retirement. I’ve taught classes in photography, led field workshops, taken workshops, started two photography groups, made some wonderful friendships through photography, exhibited my work and published a monograph of landscapes, Natural Gestures. I’m currently working on a new book that will feature my recent coastal photography. As always, I look forward to my next field session, which, as I write this, happens to be tomorrow.

Illuminating Beauty

Gem of a Moment: Christine Guibara

Words by Christina Chahal

Marriage proposals, weddings, anniversaries, birthdays and babies. For Burlingame custom jewelry designer Christine Guibara, these milestone events fire up her imaginative expertise with gems and precious metals. “I feel very grateful that I have had the opportunity to connect with clients during their most special moments,” she says, “whether it’s a simpler wedding band for a small ceremony or an exquisitely bespoke piece celebrating decades of marriage.”

Christine’s process usually starts with a client coming to her with a general idea, picture or purpose—like a proposal. Then she walks them through the options and together they hone in on a design by perusing her myriad sample settings, compiling inspirational photos, sourcing stones and finally combining preferences and details into something cohesive. Christine relishes utilizing all of her skill set in order to bring her pieces to life.

“I am very appreciative of my very traditional and ‘old-school’ jewelry training that I have been able to augment with high-tech CAD and laser welders,” she notes. “I like to say that if it’s made of gold, platinum and gemstones, I can figure out how to make it.”

Most of her clients come through word-of-mouth, which is a critical factor in her line of work. Just consider the cost of an engagement ring. “When you’re buying something that’s the price of a car, trust is important,” she underscores.

Christine describes her style as classic, often with an antique or organic twist. She loves the unique, quirky and imperfect and is drawn to gem dealers who “can look at a stone and try to see what it’s talking about.” One of her favorite professional moments was when a man came to her with a treasure trove of stones and asked if she’d like to take a look. “He said, ‘My father was a jeweler’ and I uncovered this box and the box had some really beautiful stuff in it. They were a great fit, antique-cut and irregular, which is what I love. I bought a lot of moonstones from Afghanistan from the early 20th century.”

A key component of the Christine Guibara jewelry experience is visiting her studio for design appointments. Not a Neverland, Christine’s atelier is an Alwaysland, where dreams are transformed into reality by her skillful hands. Plus, there’s a bonus perk: getting a peek at the work of her talented neighbor, who just happens to be her dad, renowned bronze sculptor Albert Guibara. “My studio is a fun place to meet because it shares a lot of my history,” she reflects.

Christine grew up painting and playing where she now has her studio alongside her father’s sculpture garden and showroom. “We collaborate in funny ways,” she explains. “I don’t know if we’ll ever design a piece together but sharing a studio space means that we can connect and bounce ideas off of one another and give one another feedback. That’s been really great for both of us. When his sculptures get small he asks my opinion and when my jewelry starts to get big, I ask him more questions.” She adds, “I think of my pieces as mini-sculptures.”

Christine’s artistic pedigree also extends to her mother, a former interior designer. “I have really good memories of going into San Francisco and doing the treasure hunt of going through fabrics. I learned a lot about color and texture by tagging along,” she recalls. “It’s always been nice to have both of my parents in a creative industry—it opened the door to me that it was possible; it gave me that confidence. And I was always around people who respected the arts and made their living from the arts and that was so inspirational.”

Initially interested in fashion as a career, Christine changed her mind to focus on jewelry not only because it was more collaborative but because of its sustainability. “Fashion has come a long way, but when I was starting out, there was so much waste,” she recalls. “I couldn’t see myself doing that, whereas jewelry was sustainable. No one throws precious metals and gems away.”

Most of Christine’s favorite gem vendors are Bay Area-based, with some in LA. “California is a special place where people in the industry think about where the stones are coming from. I’ve always been drawn to that, thinking about how they are being mined,” she says. “Many local dealers are trying to get involved with source countries and working on industry-wide standards of sustainability.”

A true Peninsula native, Christine was born at Mills Hospital in San Mateo and grew up in Hillsborough. She graduated from Menlo School and then UCLA, earning her bachelor’s degree in business economics. She also received graduate degrees from both the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles and the Revere Academy of Jewelry Arts in San Francisco.

Christine credits her business degree for making her acutely aware of her balance sheet, overhead and expenses. “It really transformed my business into a sustainable career. So many artists and creators have a tough time making their art a sole income,” she observes. “I focused on how to make this my way of life and breathe this for decades to come and have a career from it.”

Living on the Peninsula with her husband and three children, Christine weaves her family life into her professional passion. Her children, aka her “mini-assistants,” are well-versed in diamond lingo, not to mention which vendors have the best candy.

In addition to her custom creations, Christine also has a studio collection, which she plans to expand over the next year. “My strength as a designer is my flexibility to try new things,” she reflects. “I have a deep sense of design in jewelry throughout history and also what’s current. My passion leads me to look at new ideas and all the possible ways to do things.”

Custom Creations


Expressions of Contrast: Nash Design Group

Words by Sophia Markoulakis

Let’s face it. We live in a pretty spectacular part of the country. The weather, the views, the temperate climate—it’s easy to get caught up in the landscape that surrounds us and forget that our dwelling should be a place that represents who we are, where we’re going and how we want to be remembered. Prolific interior designer Kendra Nash of Nash Design Group understands the importance of expressing who we are through our interior surroundings while still emphasizing this special place we call the Peninsula.

With dozens of local projects underway, Kendra continues to build her San Carlos-based studio of all-female employees. The design firm recently completed two projects that convey their own unique aesthetic, vibe and feel. “These projects have yin-yang interconnectivity,” Kendra observes. “The San Carlos project was a contrast in soft goods and materials and the Los Altos project was a contrast in architectural elements like the black-clad windows and hardware.” Contrasts are what create emotional and visual drama and tension, she says, and the roots of each home within their respective neighborhoods provide the foundation from which each home can shine.

Elaborating further, Kendra shares that her San Carlos clients conveyed, “We want this place to feel designed and sexy.” Whereas the Los Altos clients desired California casual, a family-friendly home with ease throughout.

San Carlos Project: A major focal point and unexpected dining room feature is the ceiling detail of Fabricut’s graphic black and white wallpaper. To create reflection, Kendra and lead designer Lisa Vuong selected a patina mirrored backsplash from Peninsula showroom DaVinci Marble.

Two different perspectives. Two different approaches.
The San Carlos project, a 3,600-square-foot farmhouse glam new build, is full of moody colors and textures. The first piece that the client requested was a custom black velvet couch that resides in the living room. “This is my space with my husband and my friends,” Kendra was told, which helped inform an elevated ambiance that’s off-limits to the kids. There’s a mix of feminine and masculine, with enough textural contrast to keep it interesting through the use of fabric and pattern.

“They were so willing to go bold,” says Lisa Vuong, the lead designer of the San Carlos project, about working with the clients. “Though some of their selections seemed like they could be overwhelming, they actually made the design stand out.”

As drama takes charge in the dining room and sunken living room, its presence diminishes in gathering spaces like the kitchen and family room, though there’s no denying the statement made by the Opus White quartzite slab waterfall-edge kitchen island. Colors in the family room express more muted soft pinks and grays, with the rug, stools and throws adding natural textures.

San Carlos Project: Wow factors like the Birds of Paradise artwork from The Future Perfect in the living room, a rich matte black tub in the master bath and a textural waterfall island of quartz and black modern sink in the kitchen make this home full of design and major contrast.

For her recent Los Altos project, Kendra transformed a dated sprawling ranch home into a modern California-cool space that embraces outdoor views and accentuates the homeowners’ commitment to sustainability and biophilic design. “We wanted the remodel to stand the test of time but still show their personality. They were open to new color tones and playful wallpaper and fabrics,” Kendra says of the design journey. “The homeowner was really interested in local and female-owned vendors like Half Moon Bay’s Elworthy Studios and Lindsey Cowles for wallpaper and fabric.”

Lots of effort went into the home’s “effortless” look. “It was a pleasure designing this California-cool home for the coolest couple around,” comments lead designer Amalia Kallas. With an emphasis on ease, touches like automated shades in the living and dining room deliver smooth efficiency, along with a clean look.

Another client priority was durability. Kendra admits that she’s not a fan of engineered materials like quartz, but the homeowners stressed that they wanted it for their kitchen counters. “We found a pattern and product that pleased us both in the end—a slab that didn’t look manufactured and a final look that utilized a sustainable, eco-friendly material,” she says.

Long-lasting wide-plank white oak floors, along with other oak elements like beams, shelving and a built-in cabinet that houses the homeowner’s heirloom dishes, create warmth that will only patina over time. Kendra explains that “the crispness of the white walls and the warmth from the wood contrast so nicely against the gold fixtures in the kitchen. They were very intentional with their choices to create a comfortable, effortless feel.”

Similar to the San Carlos project, the Los Altos homeowners wanted to invest in a special (leather!) couch as an anchoring element. “At first, they were looking at leather couches online,” Nash recounts, “but we changed direction and said, ‘What if we could select the exact hide and build the couch to your specifications?’” And that’s exactly what transpired. The clients now view the piece fabricated at Nash Design Group’s custom workroom as a forever furnishing, which will undoubtedly age over time and transform with the stages of their home.

Creating Your Space


Words by Kate Bradshaw

Staring at the target, I follow the guidance I’ve been given. Make sure my feet are aligned. Nock the arrow. Hold the bow with my left arm straight but not locked, rotated just-so. Hook the three middle fingers of my right hand around the bow string and pull straight back while trying to keep my body aligned. String pulled taut, I rest my pointer finger in what my instructor has called the “drool corner” of my mouth. I set my gaze below the target and finally, gently, release the bowstring.

The arrow arcs into the target with a satisfying thwack, definitely not a bullseye, but not far off center.

I’m in Pacifica at San Francisco Archers, a 500-acre archery haven owned by the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department, located a half-mile up Rifle Range Road. Founded in 1946, the site hosts introductory archery lessons for the public every other Sunday and is certified by the National Field Archery Association.

Leading the introductory session on a recent Sunday is Jack Rauch, a retired teacher, who speaks animatedly to an eager audience of children and adults, all equipped with protective gear. They wear forearm protectors to keep the bowstring from smacking their arms and finger protectors to make it easier to pull the bowstring back. Jack advises the group on key safety guidelines: watch the back ends of arrows, especially when removing them. Never run. And never point the bow and arrow at another person. It’s a well-practiced spiel, and one that’s critical for maintaining the association’s high safety standards.

Jack explains that volunteers take pleasure in teaching newcomers to shoot a bow and arrow—which also translates into getting outside, seeing wildlife and learning something new. “It’s not just about archery,” he observes.
Among the attendees is Valentina Rivera, age nine, who made the trek to the range with her mom. Valentina shares that she’s excited to try archery for the first time, an activity that caught her interest when she watched the feisty redheaded heroine in Disney’s Brave best the boys in competition.
These introductory sessions are a key way to teach beginners about the sport and find new members, says Jim Robison, board president of San Francisco Archers. At $5, the program is “one of the cheapest things you can do in the Bay Area,” he adds. These fees also help maintain the range.
Nearly four years ago, one of those attendees was Jim Volker, who, in an introductory session, managed to pop a balloon with an arrow. “I was smitten,” he recounts. Today, he sits on the club’s board and volunteers as an archery instructor, guiding me on how to consistently direct my arrows toward the intended target.

Jim relays that there are a variety of archery disciplines represented within the club. There are those who favor the challenge of Olympic recurve archery, others who prefer the stability of compound bows and some who like the thrill of bowhunting. There’s even a group of people who make their own longbows.

“We want it to be good for the public, and we want it to be safe,” Jim Robison shares as he gives me a tour of the range. Over the past 30 years, he’s invested a huge portion of his free time in bolstering the club’s operations. A South San Francisco resident, Jim used to golf a lot—until he tried archery. “It became my passion,” he says. “I ended up getting a bow and started shooting, and I haven’t played a game of golf in so long it’s ridiculous.”

A retired electronics repairman and self-proclaimed “country boy,” Jim says he finds solace on the archery range, even as he labors to help maintain the facility and prepare for upcoming events. After all… “I have this to come to,” Jim points out, as he navigates one of the range’s forested trails. “I probably put in more hours now then I was when I was working,” he says. “I enjoy the solitude out here. It’s peaceful.”

Other members of San Francisco Archers share similar sentiments. The archery range seems like a second home, the archery community a second family. Additionally, many also see the sport of archery as a unique way for families to grow closer together and find joy in helping facilitate that.
As we walk, I’m struck by how tranquil the landscape is. Dense with cypress and eucalyptus trees, the area is overlaid with a lingering layer of Pacifica fog. Intimately familiar with this place, Jim points out wild blackberries, strawberries and stinging nettle. On quieter days, archers often catch glimpses of bobcats, owls, turkey, deer and even mountain lions.

Speaking of beasts of prey, the club hosts an annual One Million B.C. shoot every August. One of several archery competitions offered by the group, this decade-long tradition gives participants an opportunity to shoot at three-dimensional, life-sized dinosaurs made of foam. In the weeks and months leading up to the event, Jim spends hours upon hours with a small group of club members painstakingly repairing prehistoric targets and setting up for the shoot. Just moving the mammoth sculpture, Manny, into position requires a team of six.

Photography: Courtesy of Jim Robison

Ashley Adams, secretary of San Francisco Archers, says she joined the group about nine years ago after falling in love with the people there. More broadly, she adds, the archery community around the Bay Area is supportive and inclusive. Even during major competitions, archers are known to give suggestions to their competitors. “One cool thing is that the competition wants to see you do your best,” she says. “They’ll help give tips in the middle of world competitions.”

As archery advances from primal hunt to hobby, that sense of camaraderie and support attracts newcomers. Even though I found shooting a bow and arrow intimidating at first, it’s easy to understand why this sport hits home with so many.

A Range of Ranges

San Francisco Archers

Kings Mountain Archers

Palomo Archery
(Palo Alto / Indoor)

Bowhunters Unlimited

Pasta Perfection: La Stanza Cucina Italiana

Words by Jennifer Jory 

Every Sunday while growing up in Sicily, Chef Angelo Cucco churned out homemade fettuccine noodles alongside his mother. “Food is the culture in Italy,” he notes. The meal began in the afternoon and Angelo’s extended family would linger at the table for hours, savoring appetizers, eight different dishes and dessert. “The culture of the whole family was to stay together and eat,” he reminisces.

At La Stanza Cucina Italiana in Menlo Park, Angelo offers up the fresh bread, pasta and sauces from his childhood. “I learned how to cook from my mother and now I use her recipes at the restaurant,” he shares. Partnered with co-owner and chef Miguel Prado, Angelo strives to recreate a neighborhood Sicilian trattoria experience with fresh ingredients and seasonal specialties nightly. “When people say the food is good, it’s a fantastic feeling,” Angelo says. “Everything is from scratch including homemade ravioli and meatballs.”

After initially studying agriculture in Italy, Angelo found his true calling in the kitchen at 20 years old, beginning as a dishwasher and working his way up to cook at a hotel in Northern Italy. “I worked for a very strict chef and it was so much pressure,” he remembers. “It was like the military and I could not make a mistake.”

Angelo’s big break came when he immigrated from Sicily to work at San Francisco’s Vacco restaurant in Noe Valley alongside his brother who served as executive chef in the mid-1990s. Angelo honed his gastronomic skills and went on to open Sapore Italiano in Burlingame, where he met a hard-working dishwasher named Miguel, who showed culinary promise. After being promoted to cook, Miguel excelled in his new role creating appetizers, salads and pastries. “I arrived in this country with nothing in my hands,” Miguel marvels. “This is my dream. I wanted to be a partner in a restaurant.” His aspirations came true when the two men who began as dishwashers became business partners and blended their expertise to open La Stanza. “I spend more time with Miguel than my wife,” laughs Angelo. “He takes his job very seriously and is talented and we make decisions together.”

Angelo and Miguel overcame significant challenges when they opened the restaurant in early 2020, right as businesses were shutting down. The Menlo Park community rallied around them and the restaurateurs brainstormed ideas to keep the business going. “The whole neighborhood came together to support us,” recalls Angelo. “People were passing out menus and getting the word out about our restaurant.” They describe how even their landlord showed support by frequently buying gift certificates and never using them. The partners created an outdoor dining experience with white tablecloths, heat lamps and string lights and began offering take-out meals, which they continue today.

La Stanza, meaning “room” in Italian, started out true to its name with just one room. “We want our guests to feel like they are in their own dining room,” says Angelo. Over the past two years, Angelo and Miguel expanded the restaurant to include two adjacent private dining rooms as well as the outdoor dining option. Reflecting Angelo’s childhood roots, the intimate, comfortable space evokes memories of family gatherings. And the restaurant is a true family business: Angelo uses “like a son” to describe restaurant manager Danny Browning; Miguel’s wife, Nayeli Prado, waits tables; and Angelo’s wife, Andrea, manages marketing, along with wrangling the couple’s eight-year-old twins.

Back in Angelo’s hometown of Castlebuono, traditional meals reflect the bounty of the region including fish, olive oil, basil and oregano. “The season is very important in the kitchen, right down to the tomatoes,” explains Angelo, who draws upon his mother’s recipes for staples like Penne Alla Bolognese and Polpette Della Mamma (veal, pork and beef house-made meatballs). With a menu designed to capture “a touch of Sicily,” La Stanza’s specialities range from homemade flat pasta ribbons with tomato lamb stew to fresh eggplant gnocchi with ‘nduja sausage in a tomato and white wine sauce. In addition to homemade pastas, La Stanza also offers antipasti options, salads, specials and main dishes including wild salmon, chicken, wild tiger prawns, pork tenderloin and filet mignon.

And, in a nod to local preferences, guests will find an extensive list of vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free noodle options not seen in many Italian restaurants. “We responded to customers who requested alternatives to traditional Italian,” says Angelo. “There are no additives. Everything is made fresh.”

Aligned in their vision—a trattoria offering fresh ingredients with Old World charm—Angelo and Miguel are grateful for the Peninsula’s support through difficult times. “I have spent my whole life in the kitchen,” Angelo reflects before breaking into a triumphant grin. “This is my passion and we survived.”

The Great Cake Story: Jamie Li

Words by Eva Barrows

Gold flake sparkles inside an emerald green vein of exposed geode, encrusted in a cracked slab of marble. Contrary to what your eyes might be telling you, this isn’t precious rock—it’s a cake.
The sculpted geode represents the groom’s fascination with the California Academy of Sciences’ gems and minerals exhibit. The Chantilly cream infused with Santa Barbara lavender and the layers of Earl Grey tea cake is all bride.

“Each cake is definitely a secret story,” says San Mateo’s Jamie Li, creative designer and owner of Jamie Cake SF. Through her conversations with clients, Jamie interprets wishes and insights into one-of-a-kind narrative concoctions—cake stories, if you will. These often form around major life events like marriage, baby showers, anniversaries and milestone birthdays.
For the geode cake, Jamie spent days studying rock formations to inform the structure, texture and detailing. Little by little, she added layers of edible paint, glitter, gold flake, rock candy and isomalt (a sugar substitute) crystalized inside a mold—the perfect alchemy of sugar and art to craft a hyperrealistic, shimmering creation. “This whole cake thing has become a crazy obsession,” admits Jamie. “I’m thinking cake 24/7.”

Jamie refers to what she does as “caking.” Her work with cakes is part baking, combined with skills like art, design and engineering. Twenty-plus years as a makeup artist and work in corporate cosmetics forged her foundation and path to cake design. “When I was younger, I wanted to explore hair, makeup, fashion and clothing design, but there was always something anchoring me to business and marketing,” Jamie recalls. “Starting my own cake company is a marriage of all those things and experiences into one.” But cake wasn’t on her mind until she was inspired to recreate a guava cake she enjoyed while growing up in Hawaii.

With a little encouragement from friends, Jamie overcame her initial hesitancy and posted photos of her baked works of art on Instagram in 2019, unofficially launching her cake business. While pregnant with her first child, Jamie received her first paid cake order while she was also going through chemotherapy for stage 2 breast cancer. “During that entire time, I was still making cake,” she shares. “I think that’s one of the things that kept me going.”

As she recovered from cancer therapy, Jamie trained at the San Francisco Baking Institute in cakes and compositions. In 2020, she made a full-time commitment, but quickly had to do the pandemic pivot, going from large-scale events and wedding cakes to celebration cakes for individual families. Designing on a smaller scale, she experimented with different techniques—leading to timely and topical creations like an Easter bunny in the shape of a roll of paper towels and an edible container of Lysol wipes.

Jamie’s Instagram-famous cakes caught the attention of HBO Max, and she was selected to compete on the streaming show, Baketopia, which aired in 2021. Since doing the show, Jamie has been sought after to do cake styling and food styling for commercials and photo shoots. Recently, she styled various whimsical cakes for a YouTube commercial aimed at content creators. “Being on the TV show definitely helped my process at home,” Jamie adds. “I’ve incorporated that type of structure, planning out what my process will be and how I will bake everything out.”

In 2018, Jamie created a dedicated caking studio with equipment and ingredient storage space in her San Mateo home in Bay Meadows, where she lives with her husband and their three youngsters. Jamie’s lucky neighbors get to be taste-testers because, ironically, Jamie’s husband is averse to sweets and can’t help with flavor suggestions.

When it came to developing her lineup of cake flavors, landing on a vanilla sweet spot was surprisingly the most challenging. Eventually, a moist vanilla cake with the perfect texture and taste emerged. On the other hand, Jamie says, her chocolate recipe came easily. Ideas for different filling flavors spring out of client requests—like white chocolate coconut-covered cookie crunch and Bailey’s Irish cream. It took six iterations to get the Bailey’s flavor right. “I was drinking at 9AM and then had to taste throughout the day. I was just slightly buzzed all day,” Jamie chuckles.

Photo: Courtesy of HBO Max & Baketopia

Such ambitious cake creations require Jamie to problem solve as an architect of sorts, ensuring the structural integrity of her sugar-y sculptures. To keep a magnificently-crafted dragon cake from losing its head, she improvised an internal armature to support the weight of the beast.

Cake tasting is a special moment for Jamie’s clients, especially for weddings. Couples are presented with perfectly straight, lined-up, evenly-sliced cake pieces. She wants them to get the perfect bite of cake on a fork, with the layers working as one. She likens herself to a personal shopper presenting all the possibilities. By giving clients choices from tiny details (like floral toppings made from wafer paper, sugar paste or genuine blossoms) to big ones like cake platform style, she creates a bespoke experience.

“It’s really cool to be able to get a look into the window of why a client wants a certain cake,” Jamie notes. “They let me design it, which is amazing.”

Once an order is placed, Jamie becomes consumed with designing the cake all the way to first bite. In a state of “cake brain,” Jamie mulls over how the cake flavor and presentation can combine to tell a meaningful personal story about her clients. “I will literally zone out or constantly be thinking about the cake design all the time,” she explains. “I cannot shut it off until I have an ‘aha’ moment, when I realize, ‘That’s it!’”

Each cake Jamie makes is unique, and she’s always learning new techniques and tools to up her game. Armed with basic caking skills like blending or working with fondant, Jamie looks for creative ways to incorporate them with modeling chocolate and other edible features. She’ll also incorporate art methods not usually associated with the culinary scene, like water coloring on fondant. Jamie’s process of organized chaos guides her from initial sketch to the final icing details right before delivery. “When everything comes together is when I get really happy,” she reflects with a smile.

Custom Creations

A Whale of A Time: Monterey Adventure

Just a glimpse of a shadow and suddenly the calm sea erupts. A humpback whale surfaces with a huge spout of breath, spraying a cascade of water. Splashed by droplets, enthralled spectators respond with outbursts of their own: “Whoo-hoo!” “Wow, look at the eyes!” “It’s huge!” “There’s the tail coming!” “Unbelievable!”

Here’s a further point of amazement: Witnessing this kind of spectacular marine life display doesn’t require a trip to Hawaii, Mexico or Alaska. It’s just a short car ride away.

“Monterey is one of the few places in the world where you can whale watch and have whales here reliably all throughout the year,” says Gina Thomas, a naturalist guide with Princess Monterey Whale Watching. “It’s National Geographic in our own backyard.” With one of the largest and deepest submarine canyons in North America (the watery equivalent to the Grand Canyon), the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary attracts an extraordinary array of whales, dolphins and marine life close to shore. “You just never know what you’re going to see or when you’re going to see it,” notes Gina. “It’s just this adventure of a lifetime.”

Photography: Courtesy of Vivek Kumar / Cover Photograpy: Jorge Casconez

plan a day trip

For an efficient, intimate outing, Santa Cruz Whale Watching by Stagnero Charters offers daily tours for all ages. With just a jaunt over to Santa Cruz Yacht Harbor, you can join an excursion lasting 1 to 3.5 hours. Raised on the Peninsula, marine biologist Megan Petersen is one of the skippers on Velocity, a 60-foot charter boat that carries up to 68 passengers. When it comes to spotting whales, Megan and her crew rely on their senses and tried-and-true binoculars to look for clues on the surface of the water. “There’s no app for finding whales,” Megan explains. “You just gotta go out there and take it all in.”

The Marine Life Protection Act requires boats to keep at least 100 yards away from the whales. However, if whales approach a boat, in what’s called a “friendly encounter,” there are spectacular opportunities to see them up close. On our excursion, we hit the jackpot when two curious humpbacks do exactly that. Gracefully, they move around our boat, surfacing above and passing below, appearing on every side. Completely awestruck, we take in their soulful eyes, powerful blow holes, dorsal fins and arching tails. We watch as they spyhop, positioning themselves vertically above the water to observe their surroundings. Throughout our encounter, we notice a distinct, pungent odor lingering in the air. “That’s whale breath,” Megan confirms with a scrunch of her nose. “To me,” she laughs, “it always smells like rotten broccoli.”

At the back of the boat, the crew uses a mini whiteboard to jot down highlights from the trip. Today’s detailed list ranges from harbor seals and western gulls to a black-footed albatross and an egg-yolk jelly. “It’s a joy to be out there with these animals that are just so amazing,” Megan reflects. “You have the opportunity to connect with what is effectively another world.”

Photography: Courtesy of Sydney Minges

a whale of a getaway

Based in Monterey Harbor, Princess Monterey Whale Watching offers larger vessel excursions for up to 250 passengers, running 2.5 to 3 hours. As we prepare to board, we register the dry-erase marker notations on the Daily Sightings whiteboard: Dall’s Porpoise! Minke Whales! Blue Whales! Risso’s Dolphins! Big Herds of Sea Lions! Humpback Whales! “Every trip is different,” observes naturalist guide Gina Thomas.

On this particular day, overcast skies and fog linger over the water as the 9AM boat departs from Fisherman’s Wharf. We’ve chosen the early morning tour, as the water is typically calmer, so there’s less chance of seasickness. Wrapped in warm layers for variable weather and armed with anti-nausea meds, we grip onto the cold metal railing for balance. We pass a jetty on the edge of the harbor covered with Brandt’s Cormorants, a common coastal species. California sea lions rest on the rocks and sea otters swim nearby. We keep our eyes peeled for the main attraction: humpback whales.

Averaging 40 feet in length and weighing up to 40 tons, these gentle giants have dorsal fins that sit on slightly fatty humps. “When they make their sounding dive,” Gina tells us, “they arch that area of their back steeply out of the water giving them their name, the humpback whale.” We learn that patterns and markings on the underside of the tail uniquely identify each whale, much like a human fingerprint. As we stand on the deck and scan for tell “tail” signs, Gina gives a few pointers: “We use the boat as a clock, so everyone can look in the same direction. The front of the boat is 12 o’clock, halfway down the right side is 3, the back is 6 and halfway up the left side is 9.”

Due to the marine layer, fog sits dense on the water. Moisture coats our faces, hands and hair, even our eyebrows. Two hours into our excursion, we’re still waiting to see the star of the show. “This is 100% wild, natural behavior that we can’t predict,” Gina reminds us. Then, our crew gets tipped by another boat that a whale is in the area. “We are going to slow down,” Gina announces, “in case that whale makes its way in our direction.”

Luck and patience pay off. “There, at one o’clock, two humpback whales!” Gina calls out with excitement. “Absolutely fantastic!” Our eyes track the action as the whales swim along the surface. “There’s that arch and tail flukes,” Gina exclaims, as we watch spellbound from our front-row view.

Photography: Courtesy of Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa


Less than a 100-mile drive from the Peninsula, Monterey makes for a perfect weekend getaway, combining whale watching with main attractions including the Monterey Bay Aquarium and historic Cannery Row. A luxurious homebase in the heart of it all, Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa sits perched right over the water. Half of the 290 recently renovated guest rooms and suites have ocean views, and we appreciate the extra touch of binoculars at the ready. At Vista Blue Spa, we take in panoramic views from the sundeck and enjoy a quiet, early morning soak in the hot tubs. After warming up with a latte from Tidal Coffee overlooking the Bay, we find the stairway to the public beach, a popular local spot where kayakers and standup paddle boarders come and go throughout the day. Just steps from the main lobby, bikers and walkers leisurely explore the recreational trails lining the coast. The hotel’s central location also provides easy access to activities such as golfing, sailing and scuba diving.

In tune with Monterey Plaza’s iconic setting, Coastal Kitchen offers oceanfront dining featuring a multi-course tasting menu with fresh, sustainable ingredients from local farmers and fishermen. Chef Michael Rotondo changes his culinary creations to reflect availability each season. “I try to incorporate all the different senses,” he says, adding that texture “keeps your taste buds excited.”

After our active day on the Bay, we relax into the fine-dining experience, soaking up the expansive ocean views. With wine pairings curated by Sommelier Conrad Reddick, course highlights include king salmon, wood roasted black cod and a 48-hour braised beef short rib with a beet juice reduction. We end on a sweet note: a shortcake with coriander ice cream. Although it’s hard to look away from each artfully arranged plate, we smile at the sight of sea otters just outside the window, enjoying a feast of their own.

Photography:  courtesy of joseph weaver and monterey plaza hotel & spa

Photography: Courtesy of Joseph Weaver

Extend Your Stay

+ InterContinental The Clement Monterey – Luxury waterfront lodging with panoramic ocean views.
+ Monterey Plaza Hotel – Classic coastal hospitality with dramatic beachfront setting.
+ Victorian Inn – Boutique hotel with historic
Monterey charm just steps from Cannery Row.

Seasonal Sightings

January-May: Gray Whales
April-November: Humpback Whales
Year-Round: Blue and Orca Whales (less common),
Dolphins, Porpoises and Seabirds

Diary of a Dog: Hopper

In the spirit of Halloween, I’ve never understood why black cats get such a bad rap. I do know that my Menlo Park family count themselves lucky to have brought a black miniature poodle into their home. Namely, me. Hopper. In 2018, a family friend discovered me at Love & Second Chances Rescue and instantly knew I belonged with Peter and Jaime. Back then, I was known as “Chase” because I kept escaping from my foster homes. Once I settled in, it never occurred to me to run away again, and Peter and Jaime decided to rename me after their favorite artist, Edward Hopper. Here’s the funny coincidence: It didn’t take long for them to realize I have this amazing ability to hop and jump. When they gave me my first dog treat, I began to spin around on my hind legs to show my appreciation. To this day, I have a whole “bone dance” routine I do before I gobble down a yummy snack. With my dark eyes, it’s sometimes hard to tell what I’m thinking. I show my feelings by being extra snuggly, and my family calls me “the light of their lives.”

Calling All Dogs: If you’ve got quirky habits or a funny tale (or tail) to share, email your story to for a chance to share a page from your Diary of a Dog in PUNCH. 

Hands-On History: San Mateo County History Museum

Words by Johanna Harlow

It’s not hard to spot the San Mateo County History Museum. To visit Redwood City’s courthouse turned facility of learning, look for the grandiose building with towering Corinthian pillars and hulking decorative eagles that sit on ledges like stony gargoyles. Waiting in the rotunda is Dana Neitzel, Pacifica resident and curator for the San Mateo County Historical Association (SMCHA). We’ve asked Dana for a private tour to glean insights into her work and the museum’s mission to bring Peninsula history—from the original native people to today’s inhabitants—to life.

“Our job here is to tell local stories. But we’re putting it in a national and worldwide context,” Dana explains as she crosses under the building’s massive, Renaissance revival-style dome, its stained glass twinkling like a colossal kaleidoscope. “History repeats itself. The human factor of how you interact with your world is universal.”

Speaking of “the human factor,” Dana has been a driving force behind the museum since 2009. Among her responsibilities, she develops, designs, curates, fabricates and installs four to six changing exhibits each year as well as renovates the permanent ones. The grand total to date: 61 exhibits. She also assists with SMCHA’s other two historic sites: Pacifica’s Sanchez Adobe and the Woodside Store.

Image courtesy of Jerry Pierce SMCHA Archives

When asked for favorite tidbits of local history, Dana cracks a smile and reveals that the county got its start embroiled in corruption. “One of the early exhibits (and more fun ones) I did was called Broads, Bootleggers and Bookies… We had so many bars in this museum, it was ridiculous!” The temporary exhibit is no longer available, though a permanent version dedicated to both law breakers and law enforcement can be found upstairs. The sheriff’s badges and dueling pistols seem to stare each other down from opposite sides of the room in a symbolic standoff.

As Dana leads the way into an interactive exhibit spotlighting the county’s early residents, an Ohlone chant fills the room. “We want to address the different learning styles,” she shares as she passes a traditional willow and tule hut, along with animal skins and hunting equipment in the Native American corner—then moves along to the rancho section featuring cowhides, saddles and spurs. Fueling the imagination, the walls depict Old West scenes set against the expansive frontier. “Type one is personal,” Dana elaborates. “It needs to speak to you. It needs to speak to me. Type two is the reader. ‘I want content. I’m gonna read every single label.’ So we need to make sure that the text we have is telling stories. Type three is ‘I gotta touch this! I wanna see that! That looks good!’ For those people, we want to have imagery that draws them in and makes them want to read the text. And then type four is the holistic learner. ‘I want the big idea. What is this whole thing trying to say?’”

Dana self-identifies as a big-picture type four. “I am a lifelong learner,” she clarifies. “What really interests me is learning something new.” It’s one of the reasons she first came to the museum. After nearly a decade at Oakland Museum of California—where she tackled everything from cataloging items to conducting visitor studies to organizing and transporting 2,500 Native American baskets to the museum’s new state-of-the-art warehouse—Dana joined the tight-knit team at SMCHA. Though her current job spans the responsibilities of five employees for a single department over at the Oakland Museum, she enjoys the freedom and variety of her work. “I like doing a little of everything. I get bored if I do the same thing every single day,” she confides with a laugh. “And that was what one of my references told my boss here. Every once in a while, she’ll check in and say, ‘Dana, are you bored yet?’ I’m like, ‘Nope!’”

Proving her point, she continues, “My husband teases me because every exhibit I do, I say, “Oh, this is the best exhibit I’ve done!’ He says, ‘Yeah, you said that about the last one. And the one before that. And the one before that.’”


Image courtesy of Audrey Luke and SMCHA 

As Dana weaves her way through the many experiences here, it becomes apparent that she (and the other SMCHA curators before her) haven’t taken a one-size-fits-all approach to the exhibits. Each room takes on a flavor that matches its subject matter, expressing a personality uniquely its own. At Mavericks, a surfboard simulator invites riders to hang ten amidst walls crafted like a cresting wave. At Land of Opportunity, colorful hues and an eclectic collection of multicultural clothing and artifacts honor Bay Area immigrants. And at the local and international maritime exhibit, boat models, stormy ship paintings and a pulley demonstration provide focal points.

Perhaps most impressively, there’s the “object theater” at Living the California Dream. As the voices of past promoters from different time periods try to sell you (the perspective home buyer) on the benefits of living in San Mateo County, videos play through the windows of “rooms” in grand estates and suburban 1920s kitchens. Vintage household items (ranging from a dust bag vacuum cleaner to a Laun-Dry-Ette Electric Washing Machine) are illuminated in turn.

With an emphasis on relaying personal accounts, the museum makes oral histories a priority. “So yes, we have cool artifacts,” notes Dana, “but who used those artifacts?” Visitors listen and learn as the voices of San Mateo County immigrants speak about the traditions they brought with them, a child of bootleggers shares memories of the family making grappa during Prohibition and a seasoned Mavericks surfer recounts death-defying tales.

Dana makes a light-hearted confession toward the end of our visit: “I’m not a historian. I just play one at work,” she good-naturedly admits. Really, she’s more of an anthropologist at heart. “I’m into people… So what makes humans tick. And the artifacts they use represent where they are in their lives—what their culture is about. You can learn so much about humans from the objects they use.”

As our tour ends back at the rotunda, it’s evident that Dana and her team’s tireless efforts create a conversation with San Mateo County’s rich history and culture. The voices of the Peninsula—past and present—fill this place. And it’s so much more than the distant murmur of first-hand accounts from the speakers.

True Crime Historian

Words by Johanna Harlow

Forget what you’ve seen in the movies. Real crime solving is a long slog to The Truth: shuffling through paper trails, sifting through timelines, scrutinizing witness accounts and examining seemingly mundane details. Most of us aren’t cut out for such banality. But detectives and historians are made of tougher stuff.

In 1905, detectives failed to find justice for Jane Stanford, the deceased co-founder and trustee of Stanford University. A century later, a modern-day history professor took it upon himself to uncover the troubling truth behind her demise. The saga began when Richard White, a longtime faculty member at Stanford University, stumbled across the historic cover-up.

After reading neurology professor Dr. Robert W. P. Cutler’s 2003 book proving Jane Stanford had come to an insidious end, Richard was intrigued. At the time of her passing, Mrs. Stanford’s demise was chalked up to natural causes. Which was odd. The evidence clearly pointed to her dying of strychnine poisoning—after surviving another poisoning attempt only a month earlier. And yet people with ties to the wealthy philanthropist, including college administrators, seemed oddly eager to credit her death to heart failure. Something wasn’t adding up.

According to Richard, it was apparent that private detectives hired by the university had discovered the guilty party. “Why was it that they went out of their way to make it seem that they had not discovered the murderer,” Richard wondered, “and indeed told you there had been no murder at all?” Richard’s in-depth research resulted in his own tell-all book. Published in May 2022, Who Killed Jane Stanford? earned praise from The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.

“Stanford University appears to be a Silicon Valley university, a modern research university—but peel it back a little and the ghosts are still there,” observes Richard. “The murderer who once walked there, traces of them are still all over that campus.”

Before the bestseller, came the class. When Richard first introduced his “Who Killed Jane Stanford?” curriculum, he invited undergraduates to learn about original sources under the guise of a little crime solving. “I thought that the best way to get undergraduates interested in going into the archives would be to give them a murder mystery,” he notes, adding that he hoped the course would fuel equal parts curiosity and skepticism in his students.

Packed with bribes, unreliable witnesses and missing evidence, the case’s obvious intrigue drew the young scholars right in. The New York Post would later make a playful comparison between Richard’s book and the game of Clue, presenting suspects like a lineup with Professor Plum, Miss Scarlet and the rest of the board game regulars. Richard chuckles when asked if he too sees the resemblance. “Yeah, because I have the butler! I have the maid. I have the mansion.” The folks with a bone to pick with Jane Stanford were many: a recently fired manservant, an overtaxed personal assistant, a few aggravated housekeepers, money-driven family members, not to mention a power-hungry university president.

“One of the most haunting images I have of Jane Stanford is her funeral procession, in which many of the people suspected of her murder, many of the people who covered up her murder, were the people who walked immediately behind her casket,” the professor shares.

But whereas his students left the mystery behind at the end of each quarter, Richard couldn’t let the case go. “It’s the kind of stuff that kept me awake at night,” he relays. “There still wasn’t evidence, at least to my satisfaction, that demonstrated who killed her, let alone why they killed her—let alone why the university would go to such lengths to cover up that she had been murdered at all.” After a couple of rounds, the class had run its course—but Richard trudged onwards.

In his dogged pursuit of answers, he returned to the archives time and time again. “Like most of actual life, it’s really boring,” he quips. “You have to sit down with a large collection of papers—99% of which have absolutely nothing to do with what you’re interested in—and you have to leaf through them. You have to be willing to follow up a whole series of leads, which mostly end up in dead ends.” But the professor made progress as he combed through old legal documents, faded newspapers and Mrs. Stanford’s letters (including some tense correspondence with the founding Stanford president, David Starr Jordan).

Richard’s experience as a professor—with intimate knowledge of the inner workings of university life and campus politics—guided him to a big breakthrough in the investigation. “If you’ve worked in universities for your whole life like I have, you know in each university, there are people in the administration who know where the bodies are buried,” he reveals. At Stanford University in the early 1900s, that man was George Crothers, a bureaucrat and lawyer on the university’s board of trustees. Though George had his suspicions about Jane’s demise, he chose not to show his hand during his lifetime. He did, however, write memoranda calling attention to the manipulative and narcissistic track record of one of the case’s prime suspects. “I knew that nobody had looked at them before because they were in perfect order,” Richard said of Crothers’ papers. “It was like breaking open a new deck of cards.”

Slowly, the bigger picture began to materialize. “I just kept following the strings,” Richard observes, “and over a period of about five or six years, I began to see the outlines of what had happened—and then it was simply making sense of it.”

In hindsight, Richard reflects, “The most interesting evidence I unearthed doesn’t necessarily go straight to the murder.” Instead, it helped him better understand the society that produced the killer—and why college administrators played along with the natural death theory. “A murder trial could reveal the controversies within the university, resurrect old scandals and reveal new ones,” he points out in his book.

Richard concedes that his focus on in-depth societal analysis probably wouldn’t fly with private investigators. “Give historians a crime, and historians want to use that crime to open a door to a wider world,” he notes. “Detectives just want to solve the crime. They would kick us off the case.”
Richard isn’t surprised that modern-day Stanford hasn’t weighed in on his tale of Cardinal crime, corruption and cover-up. He’s quick to add, “I had to be careful as a historian and not just collapse the present and the past. You don’t want to impose the university onto the university in the late 19th, early 20th century. I had to throw myself back into a university that occupied the same plot of ground as modern Stanford University—but which was a very, very different place.”

A note to readers: If you crave the adrenaline of shootouts and chase scenes down dark alleys, Richard might not be your author. “It’d be a lot easier to burst into a room with a pistol and solve the crime,” he jokes. “But, you know, I’ve never known a historian who has a chase scene.”

That said, he did turn to his crime-writing brother, Stephen White of the Alan Gregory mystery series, for help “plotting” the book. “When we [as historians] know something, we just reveal it,” he acknowledges. “In the introduction, we just tell you everything you need to know. My brother would say, ‘That’s not going to work here. You’ve got to wait.’”

Withholding info for the dramatic Big Reveal at the end is key. (Which is why we’d be remiss to unveil the killer’s identity here.)

As he digs up buried truths, Richard hopes his book fosters a deeper awareness of the Peninsula. “It’s a place with a really interesting past,” he reflects. “And even though that past can sometimes be a little sordid, it’s worth looking into… And it’s there whenever you scratch the surface.”

Essay: Hey, It’s Me

Words by Sloane Citron

For much of my life, I’ve wondered where my looks—the good, the bad, the ugly—came from. I didn’t look a thing like my mother or my father and except for my blue eyes—a common Citron trait—there was little I shared with my ancestors. I only knew one of my four grandparents, my mother’s loving elderly mother. But in her visage, or in the old black and white pictures of the grandparents I never met, I saw nothing of myself. I often thought, like many children do, that I must have been adopted.

I’m now a grandfather, though a young one, of seven grandchildren, the oldest soon to be four years old. Even as I have become the family patriarch, there is nothing looks-wise that ties me to my parents. Like my father, I do have good hair, still there and still mostly dark. When my dad died at 86, he had thick black locks. But the hair (and the eyes) were about it. Where did I come from? Who did I resemble?

I have a bright cousin named Peter Vardon, who lives near Washington, D.C. He retired a few years ago, and, like many others with time on their hands, he embraced a new pastime: delving into family history. His mother, Evelyn, was the sister of my father. Much of his research centered upon our grandfather, Julius Citron. Every family has a standout; he was ours.

It turns out that a researcher Peter had contacted for information was coincidentally writing a book about Julius. The two of them were able to share a great deal of information, and we were able to learn many new aspects about our grandfather’s life.

“In the emerging field of serology, Citron developed the world’s first blood tests that would shape the field of serology for decades. He developed the first blood test to diagnose syphilis that would remain in use for over sixty years, popularly known as the ‘Wassermann Test,’ and the first blood test to diagnose tuberculosis.”

My father, Julius’ son, was an extremely quiet man, the result, I believe, of his introverted personality and his hard youth, including escaping from Nazi Germany in the 1930s, right after his young mother died. My father shared little. We had books in our library that Julius had written but not much was said about them or him. While I was always aware that my grandfather had done something “important,” it wasn’t until cousin Peter got to work that I gleaned the actual details.

I did get a hint of his significance a few years ago, when I was hunted down and contacted by the Einstein Papers Project at CalTech. They asked if I was related to Julius Citron. I wrote back that I was his grandson and they responded with several questions, to which I knew almost nothing. They in turn sent me correspondence between my grandfather and the legendary physicist. When I questioned Peter about this, he told me that his mother would recall Dr. Einstein bouncing her on his lap when he came to see Julius back in Berlin.

“Devoted to the German Jewish community and a lifelong Zionist, Citron, along with friend Albert Einstein, led a committee of prominent Berlin Jews including Rabbi Leo Baeck, Judah Magnus and other leading citizens in support of the creation of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.”

I wish I had known Julius, and my other grandfather too. I missed out on having a living grandfather, something I see as an enduring loss. I hope that my little grandchildren—though they would not remember me if I were to pass today—would still have the imprint of the deep love that I have for them and for the time that we have shared.

“An American colleague wrote in 1910 about Citron that ‘He is a genial, earnest worker and a delightful gentleman, thoroughly interested in his work, an excellent teacher and in all probability one of the best laboratory men on the [European] Continent,’ a testament to Citron’s international reputation from a young age.”

When cousin Peter sent me over some parts of the manuscript, one thing startled me: a picture of my grandfather as the young man described in the previous paragraph—a picture that I’d never seen. It startled me because, well, it was me! Or mostly. I had only seen pictures of Julius as an old man, but this picture, when he was around 35, was like looking at myself at that age.

So now I know that I wasn’t adopted! Though I was not endowed with his intellect and talent, I do have Julius’ looks. My sons Joshua and Jacob are named after him, and Jacob (Coby), somewhat amazingly, lives right near Julius’ original Tel Aviv home, fulfilling his great-grandfather’s dream. Right now, I don’t see myself in any of my grandchildren, but maybe someday—when they are grown up—one of them will look at my picture as a young man and say, “Hey, it’s me!”

The Beat on your Eats: High Tea

Words by Johanna Harlow

As the weather starts to cool down, warm things up with high tea.

son and garden

Menlo Park

When visiting Son and Garden, expect flowers absolutely everywhere. Rosebuds on the fine china. Carnations on the danishes. Hyacinths beneath the awning of the wraparound porch. Blooming flower tea. And an entire photo op wall of silk roses. With a tea service as aesthetic as it is tasty, a wide selection of sweet pastries and savory sandwiches await. Seasonal autumn options mean that maple cakes, pecan nut tarts and carrot cakes will adorn your triple-tier stand. Doubling as a popular brunch spot, Son and Garden invites you back for decadent French toast filled with vanilla pastry cream and a flight of mimosas in multi-colored pipettes. 1195 Merrill Street. Open Monday to Sunday from 9AM to 3PM. High tea is $110 for two people.

leland tea company


Immerse yourself in vintage nostalgia at Leland Tea Company—where hand-painted folks from the ’30s and ’40s galavant on the walls, tables and counters, and Louis Armstrong’s trumpet plays the bright notes of “La Vie en Rose” in the background. Tea service offerings balance salad and sandwiches with homemade madeleines, scones and cookies—but most impressive is the loose-leaf tea menu. It’s as chunky as a novelette and ranges from Breakfast Club to Coco Blanc, Mandarin Green to Mumbai Chai. Narrow down your options by asking the owner (who has a flair for suggesting flavor profiles) or embrace the shop’s vintage vibe with a themed tea. You’ll find ones named after classy old films like My Fair Lady and It’s a Wonderful Life as well as iconic singers like Billie Holiday, Josephine Baker, and Ginger Rogers. There’s even a cheekily-named Grey’s Kelly. 1223 Donnelly Avenue. Open Wednesday to Sunday from noon to 5PM. Closed Monday and Tuesday except for reserved events. High tea starts at $19.

tea time

Palo Alto

For a perfectly lazy afternoon, we suggest sipping a cup of Caribbean Jazz or Casablanca Chamomile while lounging in wicker chairs on the umbrella-lined patio of Tea Time. Owned by the same folks as Lisa’s Tea Treasures in Los Altos, Tea Time takes pride in the details by dusting desserts with powdered sugar, doling out lace doilies and bundling teapots in cute tea cozies. Catering to both the sweet tooth and the savory seeker, the cafe offers chicken-apple-walnut sandwiches and vegetarian tartlets as well as cinnamon and cranberry scones. And if your visit inspires you to host your own tea party in the future? Purchase a teapot and cups from the shelves upon shelves displayed inside. 542 Ramona Street. Open Thursday to Monday from 10:30AM to 4:30PM. Closed Tuesday and Wednesday. High tea is $45 per person.

Hunt for Orange October – Half Moon Bay 2022 Activities

Words by Kelly Chamberlin

What does it mean to be the pumpkin capital of the world? For Half Moon Bay’s coastal region, it equates to producing 3,000 tons of pumpkins every year—and hosting an annual celebration paying tribute to that famous orange crop. And 2022 is especially notable because it marks the 50th anniversary of Half Moon Bay’s renowned Pumpkin Festival. If you’re ready to get your gourd on, here’s a sampling of the area’s many pumpkin-inspired delights, sights and bites.

Pumpkin Festival

Featuring live music, harvest-inspired arts & crafts, homestyle foods, contests and expert pumpkin-carving demos, the 50th Annual Half Moon Bay Art & Pumpkin Festival takes place October 15-16 on historic Main Street. The Safeway World Championship Pumpkin Weigh-Off kicks off festivities on Monday, October 10, on the IDES Grounds (735 Main Street). On Saturday, October 15, look for the Weigh-Off champion pumpkin and grower in The Great Pumpkin Parade, along with marching bands, classic cars, spirited floats and a procession of costumed characters.

Pumpkin Patches

Spread out along Highway 92 (San Mateo Road) and Cabrillo Highway (Highway 1), local pumpkin farms offer up a wide variety of colors, shapes, sizes­—and activities.

Andreotti Farms
In operation since 1926, this family farm turns into a giant pumpkin patch with an abundance of reasonably priced gourds to choose from. 800 Cabrillo Highway

Arata’s Pumpkin Farm
In addition to pumpkins, this family-friendly farm features pony rides, a petting zoo and the infamous Minotaur’s Labyrinth (a two-acre hay maze that changes every year). 185 Verde Road

Farmer John’s Pumpkin Farm
Look for more than 60 varieties of pumpkins and squash to peruse at this famous farm. 850 N. Cabrillo Highway

Lemos Farm
Through November 20, this family farm with year-round activities turns into “Halloween Palooza” with a haunted house, the Ghost Train, and of course, lots of pumpkins. 12320 San Mateo Road

Pastorino Farms
Through October 31, Pastorino’s transforms into a seasonal pumpkin farm with hayrides, train rides, ponies, a petting zoo and giant slides. 12391 San Mateo Road

Find great prices on pumpkins plus a not-to-miss corn maze, which spans over an acre. 12592 San Mateo Road

Seasonal Treats

Pumpkin Candy
This fall season, Small Town Sweets presents a wide selection of pumpkin treats including homemade pumpkin pie fudge, pumpkin spice malt balls, pumpkin spice caramels, pumpkin spice meringues and pumpkin pie saltwater taffy. 617 Main Street

Pumpkin Gnocchi
Sam’s Chowder House is cooking up a variety of festive specials this pumpkin season including house-made pumpkin gnocchi in lobster cream sauce and delicious pumpkin cheesecake with bourbon whipped cream and toasted pecans. 4210 Cabrillo Highway

Pumpkin Brew
Head to Half Moon Bay Brewing Company for its famous Pumpkin Harvest Ale, available on tap and in 16-ounce cans. This full-bodied amber ale is made with locally grown sugar pie pumpkins and roasted with a secret blend of spices added to the brew kettle. You’ll also find pumpkin-inspired soups and salads on the menu. 390 Capistrano Road

Pumpkin Goodies
Moonside Bakery and Café bakes up “Everything Pumpkin” including sweet loaves, muffins, croissants, scones, cheesecake, mousse cakes, French macarons and pumpkin-shaped cookies. You’ll find pumpkin pie, of course, and even pumpkin pancakes and pumpkin-seeded bagels. 604 Main Street

Pumpkin Ravioli
Head to Cal-Italian restaurant (and Half Moon Bay mainstay) Mezzaluna for homemade ravioli stuffed with fresh pumpkin and served in a sage and butter sauce. 459 Prospect Way

Pumpkin Pie
James Beard Award-winning Duarte’s Tavern, a family-run establishment since 1894, is serving up their signature pumpkin pie starting October 1. 202 Stage Road, Pescadero

Pumpkin Cheese
Harley Farms, home to award-winning goat cheese, is offering its seasonal Pumpkin-Spice Fromage Blanc, a deliciously creamy and light cheese with a subtle pumpkin tang. 205 North Street, Pescadero

Pumpkin Time

Photography: courtesy of Igor Porton, Kevin Henney, Sam’s Chowder House and Michael Biesemeyer, Half Moon Bay Brewing Co. and Laura Acton

Project Happiness

Words by Christina Chahal

One night at the kitchen table, Randy Taran’s teenager told her, “Mom, I want to be happy, I just don’t know how.” For Randy, that moment was a piercing wake-up call. Her mother had suffered from depression and as a young person, Randy didn’t have the resources to help her. Now, she was determined to do everything in her power to provide her children with the tools they needed to take charge of their own happiness.

As Randy started doing research and asking questions, she soon discovered that many families were dealing with similar issues—depression, bullying and stress. Coming from a film background, Randy channeled her energy into producing Project Happiness, a 2011 award-winning documentary bringing teens together with people like George Lucas, Richard Gere, neuroscientist Richard Davidson and the Dalai Lama to explore the nature of lasting happiness.

The film led to co-writing the Project Happiness Handbook in 2017 followed by a Science of Happiness learning curriculum that’s been used in over 120 countries. “Combining the best of positive psychology, neuroscience and mindfulness, the curriculum teaches people to actually change the neural pathways in their brains to be more resilient, no matter what life presents,” shares Randy. She’s also written a book, Emotional Advantage: Embracing All Your Feelings to Create a Life You Love.

“People need to learn to be their own coach, instead of their loudest critic,” notes Randy, who moved to the Peninsula with her family in 1993. “The good news is that this can be done. Happiness is a skill that can be learned. And by the way, happiness does not mean the absence of problems; it’s having the resilience to deal with them.”

Today, Project Happiness is a thriving nonprofit based in Palo Alto with millions of followers on Facebook and over 100,000 subscribers receiving daily happiness emails. “We like to say we are in the business of planting seeds,” explains Randy. “The ideas are universal and intergenerational. Especially in complex times, we all want to have happier and more meaningful lives.”

When it comes to finding happiness, what are some of the unique advantages and challenges of living on the Peninsula?

The Peninsula is such an amazing place to live. The beauty is incomparable, and we can enjoy being outdoors and close to nature pretty much most of the year. We have that all around us. But… this external sense of peace is often incongruent with the internal pressures that so many people feel: the need to excel, achieve, keep up with the Joneses. This area attracts Type A personalities, workaholics and perfectionists and that can come at a price.

After starting with teenagers, how did you decide to reach out to a broader audience?

We knew we were reaching kids, schools and community groups, but we wanted everyone to be able to access these science-based tools. So we went to social media and email with our daily “Happiness Vitamins.” We came up with the idea of delivering bite-sized daily boosts with different themes: Mindful Monday, GratiTuesday, Wellness Wednesday, Thoughtful Thursday, Freedom Friday, Social Saturday, Sunday Soul. Reading these every day and week is similar to a musician practicing their instrument or an athlete lifting weights—their skills inevitably get stronger. With practice, the brain’s neural pathways get stronger too. We now know that there is neuroplasticity—
in other words, the brain can change.

Are there themes that particularly resonate right now?

Lately, there has been a real interest in creating healthy boundaries and coming into greater alignment with ourselves. Also, as women come into their own, say in their late 30s, 40s, 50s or on, they may not have the same patience to put up with conditioned roles and responses. When we can say NO to things that are not meaningful, we can say YES to creating more space for a meaningful life. It’s OK to honor yourself and your needs. It’s OK to express emotions in a skillful way rather than keeping them inside. It’s OK to realize that much of the emotional static from others is a reflection of their own hurts—and it’s usually not personal. When we recognize that and take care of our own needs, everyone benefits.

Could you have imagined happiness would become your mission in life?

There’s a saying, “Life doesn’t happen to you—it happens for you.” I never expected to be on this journey, and I feel grateful to have stumbled upon this path. We are always being guided if we are open to the signs. As a dear mentor always said, “Trust and stay open.”

Benefits of So-Called
“Negative” Emotions

+ Anxiety: Wake-up call to make a shift
+ Fear: Alerts you to danger, protects you
+ Guilt: Brings you back to your core values
+ Anger: Protects your boundaries, reveals
that something is off

The Science of Happiness

+ Neuroplasticity means the brain is able to change and adapt as a result of experience.
+ With specific practices, we can train our brains to be happier. For example, people who have a gratitude practice can increase their life satisfaction 25%.
+ Mindfulness and meditation improve cognition and help reduce anxiety.
+ When we are less reactive, we tap into the prefrontal cortex, rather than the amygdala, and make better decisions.
+ Breathing is a powerful way to reduce anxiety and re-center. Check out the 4-7-8 Breath, and the Box Breathing (4-4-4-4) used by Navy Seals to restore calm.

How to Be Happier by the Day

Mindful Monday: For greater inner peace, have a mindfulness practice, even if only for a few minutes a day.
GratiTuesday: Keep a gratitude journal, gratitude jar or send a gratitude letter. Cultivate gratitude for small moments.
Wellness Wednesday: Give your body the fuel to function: energizing food, enough rest, exercise to get you out of your head.
Thoughtful Thursday: When you are kind to someone, it makes YOU feel good. Be kind to yourself too—be your own coach instead of your critic.
Freedom Friday: Boundaries are your friend. It’s OK to say no. Take care of your core needs: to be respected, loved and true to yourself. We can disagree and still get along.
Social Saturday: Surround yourself with people who elevate you and do the same for them.
Sunday Soul: Connect with your inner peace and strength. Connect with something greater. Create space for the whispers of your soul.

Diary of a Dog: Ellie Rose

For those who followed this year’s Platinum Jubilee in Great Britain, you should know there’s another royal lady to be found on the Peninsula. Although I’m a French bulldog, you can see that I’m holding court in San Mateo’s Central Park. The shaggy dog statue isn’t my only subject—I also play top dog to a warm-hearted pit bull and two more Frenchies. I have Bara to thank for recognizing my regal bearing and bringing me home to San Mateo, where I also enjoy spending time with Bara’s doting father, Ellis, for whom I was named, and Bara’s close friend and dog sitter, Jim. The second part of my name comes from Bara’s own, which means “rose” in Japanese—like that of the late princess Margaret Rose, sister of Queen Elizabeth. My royal status was established early by my affectionate but strong-minded personality. Some say I’m bossy—but I face an issue most other Frenchies don’t. I’m completely deaf. My color ‘pied’ is a lovely white with black spots and splashes, but missing the normal pigmentation can lead to hearing disorders. I make up for the loss by being extremely intelligent and a quick learner. My breeder recognized at once that Bara would be the perfect family for me since she’s a patient and experienced dog trainer and passionate Frenchie owner. Bara started me at once with hand signals and by 11 months, I was fully trained, gaining my AKC Canine Good Citizenship. After all, a queen needs to model proper manners. I not only know my commands but learned tricks as well—I roll over and melt hearts with my “looking sad” trick, which is all in jest since I’m a very contented pup.

Art and Wine Odyssey

Words by Sheryl Nonnenberg

With over 400 wineries in Sonoma County, a day-long trek in this sunny, rural community can often seem like a non-stop loop of sameness: fields of vines, well-appointed tasting rooms and measured sips of local varietals. A truly unique wine country experience awaits, however, with a visit to The Donum Estate. This 200-acre former dairy farm is a luxurious, multi-sensory haven for upscale art, wine and food, all within an hour’s drive north of the Golden Gate Bridge.

You get a sense that this is not just another winery as you veer off Highway 12 onto Ramal Road. Is that bright, shiny silver object on the hilltop a sculpture in the middle of verdant, flowing rows of grapevines? It is indeed and that is just the beginning of this art/wine odyssey.

We approach the large security gate and press the button, which results in a warm welcome and instructions to meet our host, Gabe Rodriquez, in front of the main building, referred to as The Home. As soon as we park the car, Gabe greets us with two glasses of chilled Chardonnay. He explains that our 90-minute “Discover Experience” begins with a brief tour of The Home followed by a specially-curated wine/food pairing.

A respite from the hot sun sounds like a great idea and we follow Gabe into the main room of the recently remodeled ranch-style house. The foyer is spacious and airy, thanks to a vaulted ceiling and a wall of windows that look out over the rolling fields. Gabe shares that the owners of Donum (Latin for “gift of the land”) are Alan and Mei Warburg, who purchased the estate in 2011. An art collector for many years, Alan is a native of Denmark; Mei is Chinese and an artist. They began collecting sculptures for Donum, with the idea of creating an open-air museum that would enhance the beauty of the estate, which is also a working ranch.

Today, with over 50 monumental works, The Donum Collection is recognized as one of the world’s most accessible private sculpture collections.

Image: Courtesy of Donum Estate

The couple’s combined backgrounds—East and West—are stamped in virtually every way on the Estate, from the Danish furniture in The Home to the internationally-known artists in their collection. It is reflected in the artwork on display in the main building, including an Andy Warhol portrait of Queen Margarethe II of Denmark and a very large Liu Xiaodong painting that makes a statement about the impact of pollution on future generations.

As we settle into the tasting room, Gabe describes the wines and food pairings we will experience, as well as the history of The Donum Estate winery, which earned organic certification this year. Donum produces single-vineyard, single-appellation Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines, with the main focus on the Pinots. An elegant table setting includes four glasses and small plates with tiny bites so exquisitely crafted they could be works of art themselves. We begin with a 2019 Chardonnay, paired with a chilled spring gazpacho. We nod in agreement when Gabe points out how the tangy dill complements the crisp white finish. This is followed by several more delightful pairings, including a smooth 2018 Chardonnay with popcorn panna cotta and a luscious 2019 Pinot with smoked salmon mousse on crisp crostini.

Image: Courtesy of Gregory Gorman

Although we had a private tasting, Donum is equipped to host both small and large groups, with gatherings of 40 or more accommodated in a patio area in the garden. As we take our final sips, I ask Gabe why the Warburgs are willing to open this beautiful estate to the public. “They just love the combination of wine and art and want to share it,” he responds. Gazing out the windows of this room, we see enticing teases: Pascale Marthine Tayou’s Mikado Tree, which looks like an accumulation of colorful pick-up sticks, is right in our line of sight, and to our left, a small building houses what must be one of the largest Louise Bourgeois Spider sculptures. It is time to don a sun hat and take the walking tour of the Donum collection. The Discovery Experience covers about two-thirds of the works; to see all of the pieces, visitors are advised to book the Explore Experience, which is conducted in an all-terrain vehicle and takes two hours.

As we walk past the large Yayoi Kusama pumpkin, installed in a fountain, Gabe conveys that many of the art acquisitions resulted from the Warburgs’ world travels, their interest in Asian history and their own personal relationships with artists internationally. The polka-dotted Kusama pumpkin is sited in front of the house because, as Gabe notes, “Donum is a place of nourishment, food, wine and good company.”

We head over to the specially-built structure that is home to the Bourgeois Crouching Spider. It is a cool 65 degrees in here in order to stave off rust on the large steel arachnid. A second Bourgeois piece, Mirror, created in cast aluminum, is installed on a nearby wall. Also here, a very large wall piece by Ghanian artist El Anatsui titled Rehearsal, which is composed of recycled materials like liquor bottle caps and makes a statement about waste, the environment and colonialism. We learn that the use of repurposed materials is a common theme in many of the sculptures in this collection.

As we walk past the winery building, the cutting garden, the lavender field and the fenced barn where goats and donkeys move in and out of the hot sun, several things become apparent. This is a working ranch/winery that can boast being both functional and aesthetically beautiful. The sculptures are sited to be a cohesive, organic part of the landscape—so no need for stands or labels.

But it is also clear that many, if not most, of the sculptures make a serious statement about the world today. Gabe imparts that the deliberate placement of three pieces, a Robert Indiana Love (created in red and yellow to reflect the wines produced here), The Words I Love the Most by Egyptian artist Ghada Amer, in which Arabic words relating to love are cast in bronze, and Richard Hudson’s three-story-tall, polished mirrored steel heart entitled Love Me, serve as a counter to many of the other message-laden sculptures. “Even though there are numerous pieces about struggle and oppression,” Gabe explains, “the messages in these pieces cut through it.”

We end our time at Donum at the base of Jaume Plensa’s Sanna, a stunning, monumental head of a young girl with her eyes closed. “In many ways, it references the experience of The Donum Estate—a sensory experience of food, wine and art,” Gabe observes. “Sanna was a traveler,” he points out, “and we enjoy greeting travelers from all over.”

Pan Am Flight 7: True Crime or Accident?

Words by Jordan Greene and Sheri Baer

On the morning of November 8, 1957, 36 passengers and 8 crew members boarded a long-range Boeing 377 Stratocruiser aircraft at San Francisco International Airport. With bags and suitcases packed for the journey, they hugged their loved ones goodbye and took off for Hawaii in what was supposed to be the first leg of a round-the-world flight.
But the plane never arrived.

To this day, Pan American Flight 7—called Clipper
Romance of the Skies—remains one of aviation’s greatest mysteries, and it originated right here on the Peninsula.

Not many personally remember the details of the crash, but there are a few who remain determined to find answers. Ken Fortenberry and Gregg Herken—two men motivated by personal connections to the plane’s disappearance—crossed paths online via a messenger board about 20 years ago. After independently researching the tragedy for decades, they’ve worked together for years since, chasing down potential leads and exhausting every possible library resource and archive.

Was it a mechanical failure? Sabotage? An explosion? Or an act of intentional mass murder-suicide that killed the 44 people on the plane, including 12 from the Bay Area? Having drawn their own conclusions, Ken and Gregg now share a resolve to create a memorial to honor the lives lost.
“To me, for these people, their last good day on Earth was in the San Francisco Bay Area and many of them lived here—this was their home,” explains Ken. “They got on a flight on vacation or business and halfway through the flight, they’re gone. I think that people’s lives are worth more than just a headline in passing.”

At 11:51AM, Pan Am Flight 7 lifted off from SFO. The weather was perfect—clear skies and calm seas. As the 36 passengers settled into their seats, the pilots announced a smooth and easy 10-hour flight to Honolulu. Flight attendants started roaming the cabin to serve champagne, caviar and a seven-course dinner. With tickets for the flight running around $300 at the time, the trip was costly, but a luxurious experience.
At 5:04PM, the pilots radioed to ground control with a routine position report, which they did every hour. But at 6:04PM, there was silence. No check-in. But also no distress call. More time passed, and still not a word. At 6:35PM, Air Traffic Control issued an urgent alert: Pan Am Flight 7 had vanished.

The next day, an intensive air-sea search began. Submarines, aircrafts and all ships near the last reported position of the plane scoured the area. It wasn’t until November 14 that a search plane spotted probable wreckage on radar, which led to the discovery of 19 bodies and debris floating in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, 955 miles northeast of Honolulu. Wristwatches that broke on impact helped pinpoint the moment the plane plummeted into the water, 5:25PM, 21 minutes after the plane’s last routine position report and about 90 miles off course.

Pan Am stewardresses Marie McGrath and Yvonne Alexander

As grieving families waited for answers, the Civil Aeronautics Board launched its investigation into what had happened to Pan Am Flight 7. It took until January 1959 to deliver a disappointing, inconclusive report: It could establish “no probable cause” for the crash.

Ken Fortenberry was living in a brand-new house next to plum orchards and a dairy farm in Santa Clara when he learned that his father, Pan Am 7’s second officer, was missing. Before relocating to Santa Clara, Ken’s family had moved from New York to San Mateo, where William (Bill) Fortenberry played an instrumental role in establishing Shoreview Methodist Church. “My dad loved California, absolutely loved it,” recalls Ken. “It was just a real special place to him.”

Six years old at the time, Ken woke up on a Saturday morning to find his house full of strangers. “I don’t recall specifically the moment my mother told us the plane was missing, but I do recall just being a kid and crying my eyes out,” he says. Ken remembers his mother saying, “Your dad’s a great swimmer, Son. They’re gonna find them somewhere.” His father’s body was never recovered.

Although 65 years have passed, Ken remains grateful that happy recollections also linger, including camping trips with his father to Yosemite and Clear Lake. ”He’d always talk about how proud he was of us three boys,” Ken says. “My dad was gone for lengthy periods of time flying, but when he was home, he was also home for weeks at a time. And those weeks were memory-makers for us.” After the crash, Ken’s family moved back to South Carolina to be closer to his mother’s family. As he grew up, he turned to old letters his dad had written from overseas. “He was a prodigious writer,” Ken notes. “And those letters became my dad talking to me.”

In 1957, Gregg Herken had recently moved to San Mateo from Denver and was having a hard time fitting in at his new school. “I had a buckskin coat and I thought it was the coolest thing, but it made me stand out,” he recounts. Marie McGrath, Gregg’s substitute teacher at Sunnybrae Elementary, quietly suggested to his parents that he “ditch the coat.” Not much later, Gregg showed up to school in a new San Francisco Giants jacket. “I wore that to school and suddenly, I was popular,” he reminisces. “I owe Marie McGrath for that.”

A Pan Am stewardess, Marie doubled as a substitute teacher, a common second career during aviation downtime. Gregg, who graduated from Aragon High School in 1965, recalls Marie sharing stories of her adventures and bringing food from the Clipper for a class luau. “She told us about Hawaii,” he recollects, “and for a fourth-grader who had just moved from Denver, this was very exotic stuff.” Marie also substituted at Abbott Middle School, where Gregg’s mom worked as a secretary.

Gregg was sitting in class when the principal announced over the PA system that Miss McGrath’s plane was missing. “At the time, I just imagined it flying into a cloud and not coming out again,” he remembers. “I’ve always felt grateful to Marie for what she did, for helping me adjust to my new life as a kid in California.”

In addition to William Fortenberry and Marie McGrath, who lived in Burlingame, the majority of Pan Am 7’s crew was based in the San Francisco Bay Area. “Pan American had a huge presence in San Francisco with thousands of employees,” notes Ken.

Through his research, Ken also came to know the backstories of Bay Area passengers. “They were all fascinating people,” he relays, as he summarizes some of the anecdotal details. Ruby Quong of San Francisco resigned her position as a registered nurse two days before the flight to travel to Hong Kong to care for her ailing mother. Edward Ellis, an executive with McCormick spices who lived in Hillsborough, was traveling to Honolulu to address a U.S. Chamber of Commerce convention. San Mateo machinery repairman Fred Choy planned to visit his seriously ill father in Hawaii. Louis Rodriguez, a San Francisco surgical orderly and father of three, was en route to his mother’s funeral. Pan Am pilot Robert Alexander and his wife and three children, who lived in Los Altos, heard Honolulu’s palm trees and lapping waves beckoning. “He was just a pilot on vacation,” Ken grimaces, “but they died. They all lost their lives.”

Extending beyond the Bay Area, Ken connected with a Michigan woman named Norma Clack, whose uncle was traveling with his wife and four children. “They were going back to Tokyo where he was an executive with Dow Chemical Company. They were all lost.” For years, Ken kept a picture of the Clack family on his desk: “Just to remind me, ‘You’re not doing this just for you, Ken, you’re doing this for these other families that have no closure.’”

Ken Fortenberry recalls the exact moment that triggered his maniacal campaign to find answers. When he was 13, he wrote a letter to the Civil Aeronautics Board, asking for updates on the crash investigation. “I got a bureaucratic BS response just kissing me off,” he recounts—essentially nothing had been done on the case in seven years. “I remember walking back to my house from the mailbox, just mad as hell. And at that point, I vowed as a kid that I’m gonna find out what happened to that plane if it takes me the rest of my life.”

Committed to a formidable goal, Ken faced a tough slog in the decades immediately following the crash. “You gotta remember that we didn’t have the Internet back in those days,” he says. Even tracking down an address was challenging, but Ken wrote every letter he could. “And long-distance telephone calls cost a fortune,” he points out. “I’ve been to every library you can imagine; I’ve been to archives everywhere and I kept every note I ever made on this thing from the time I was a kid.” Admittedly influenced by his childhood trauma, Ken ultimately became an editor and award-winning investigative journalist—with one constant thread: “Every spare moment I had growing up and even as an adult, I always researched this plane crash.”

Meanwhile, Gregg Herken launched his own obsessive investigation after starting work as a curator at the National Air and Space Museum in 1988. With the National Transportation Safety Board located across the street, he recognized an opportunity to discover what had happened to Marie’s plane. “I found that it was actually one of the outstanding aviation mysteries,” he says, before explaining that there were three prime suspects in the case: “One was the purser who was suicidal and who had left a copy of his changed will in the glove box of the car that he parked at the airport. The other was a passenger who bought a one-way ticket to Hawaii and three insurance policies on himself and was deeply in debt. The third was a problem with the propellers, which were prone to overspeed and had caused problems before.”

Reporters and Navy officers inspect debris recovered from the crash site

As their individual investigations progressed, thankfully so did technology. “Really, the advent of the Internet brought the story alive and made it much more possible to chase down leads,” underscores Ken. It also made it possible for the two Pan Am 7 sleuths to find each other. About 20 years ago, Ken posted a request for information on a messenger board. “And Gregg responded, ‘Hey, I’m interested in this case too!’” Gregg flew down to North Carolina to meet Ken, and “we struck it off from the very beginning and have been research colleagues ever since.”

Even as a 13-year-old, Ken thinks writing a book was always in the back of his mind. In 2020, he published the culmination of his life’s work: Flight 7 is Missing: The Search for My Father’s Killer. Over the years, he had waffled back and forth on the mystery, often for decades at a time. Initially focused on mechanical issues, he uncovered the story of William Payne, a former Navy frogman who had bought a one-way ticket and an excessive amount of life insurance before the crash. He also dug into the background of another potential suspect, Eugene Crosthwaite, a disgruntled Pan Am purser from Felton. With each new clue, Ken would find his perspective shifting. “One minute, I’d think it was an accident,” he acknowledges. “Next thing, I’d think Payne blew it up and then next thing, Crosthwaite blew it up.” In his quest for answers, Ken futilely reached out to Crosthwaite’s stepdaughter, Tania, who he says, “stiffed me for decades.”

And then he got a Facebook message out of the blue: “I think it’s about time we talk.” Ken flew to Houston to meet Tania the next day. “She pretty much laid it out that her stepdad was suicidal and out of his mind,” recounts Ken, who now blames Eugene Crosthwaite for his father’s death. “The information she gave me helped me paint more of a picture and I had a forensic psychologist weigh in on it. And he pretty much concluded what I did as well.”

However, Gregg, now a retired history professor living in Santa Cruz, reached a different conclusion. “I think it was a catastrophic mechanical failure,” he conjectures. “There was a similar incident a few years before with the same type of plane where the propeller spun out. They almost lost control of the plane but were able to make an emergency landing on an island. I think that something very similar could have happened in this case.”

Image: Courtesy of Ken Fortenberry

Having exhausted every resource available, the two are comfortably reconciled with the “agree to disagree” investigative outcome. “We have our opinions,” observes Ken, noting that no one will know for certain until they get to the bottom of the ocean and find the plane. “Gregg’s just a great friend and for him to be by my side all these years has been very special.”

As the wreckage of Clipper Romance of the Skies degrades on the seafloor, memories of the ill-fated plane also fade over time. With no burial site to visit, Ken and Gregg believe it’s imperative that the precious lives lost aren’t forgotten. “This crash did a lot to change safety regulations and expectations for aviation,” states Ken. “This was home to so many of them, and I just think their lives need to be remembered in some way.”

Ken created the Pan Am Flight 7 Memorial Committee with the goal of establishing a permanent tribute to the 44 victims. With GoFundMe and Facebook pages set up to educate and raise money, all that remained was finding an appropriate setting for the plaque. After tireless and often frustrating outreach efforts, the Memorial Committee finally found a warm reception in Millbrae. In late July, the City Council agreed to the placement of a memorial within the city, likely in Marina Vista Park, just across 101 from SFO. With the 65th anniversary of the crash being commemorated this year, Ken and Gregg eagerly anticipate the unveiling of a formal memorial, which will permanently cement the flight’s Bay Area ties. “I just feel so close to San Francisco, even today,” reflects Ken. “That’s where I left my heart. That’s where I left my dad.”

Spreading the Love: Nut Butters

Words by Anni Golding

When Guili Glassman, founder of Belmont-based Alma Superfoods, won a Good Food Award for her Aji Yellow Pepper & Cashew Butter spread earlier this year, it was a milestone for the Peruvian-born entrepreneur. “I felt so proud—I cried!” she recalls. She also felt honored to represent her culture and to be able, through her business, to tell the story of the diversity of Latin American ingredients. For Guili, that story began in her mother’s kitchen.

Guili’s mother, a self-taught cook who had an affinity for baking, ran a successful catering business in Cusco, and young Guili was her apprentice. “She was very determined with her business and very passionate,” Guili says of her mother. “She always strived to give her best.”

Although Guili inherited her mother’s passion for food and business, a love of science led her to pursue a university education in biochemistry and pharmacy. But as she completed her degree, Guili recalls, “it ended up that my love for food was stronger.” She enrolled in a hotel administration program to learn about food and beverage management and started building a career in hospitality.

A job opportunity with Hilton Hotels and a long-distance relationship brought Guili to San Francisco in 2006. She had met Jon Glassman in Cusco five years earlier, while both were university students and Jon was in Peru for an internship. They stayed in touch after he returned to the U.S., and a romance developed. In 2008, as the couple was preparing for their wedding, Guili received some heart-rending news: her mother had stomach cancer, and the prognosis was dire. Guili and Jon reorganized their wedding plans and were married in Cusco.

Losing her mother inspired Guili to learn more about nutrition and to augment her culinary education by earning a degree through Le Cordon Bleu. “I wanted to understand better the fundamentals of cooking,” she explains. “I knew I had the base from my mom, but for me, it also was kind of an homage to her to have this degree.”

By 2015, Guili was ready to start her own food business, which she initially named Chef Salud. (Salud is Spanish for “health.”) She had in mind a line of marinades, but as she was working on the business plan, research sparked other ideas. Deciding to focus not only on creating healthy products, but also incorporating the culinary heritage of Latin America, led to the idea of making spreads.

The company name, which had a lost-in-pronunciation problem (non-Spanish speakers heard it as “Chef Salad”) also got a do-over. The new name—Alma Superfoods—was inspired by Peninsula thoroughfare, Alma Street. Translated from Spanish, “alma” can mean soul, spirit, heart or nourishing. “I was thinking about feeling the soul of my mom,” Guili recalls. “And everything you do with heart and soul.” Superfoods signaled Guili’s commitment to healthful ingredients.

The idea to create nut butters from tree nuts, rather than peanuts, came down to a matter of taste. Peanut butter isn’t a common food in Peru, and Guili didn’t grow up eating it. It turns out she’s not a fan of the sticky spread. The taste of almond butter, on the other hand, “was a 180-degree difference for me,” she says. Guili began making her own nut butters at home, pairing them with different flavors.

Finding ways to add sweetness without added sugar was a priority. She turned to lucuma, a favorite fruit native to Peru with a low glycemic index, as a natural sweetener and found it to be a perfect pairing with almond butter. The combination became the prototype for a nut butter line that highlights Latin ingredients.

In addition to Lucuma & Almond Butter, the collection includes the award-winning Aji Yellow Pepper & Cashew Butter, Chipotle Pepper & Cashew Butter and Cacao & Hazelnut Butter. For Guili, aji amarillo was a natural choice for a savory spread, as the spicy yellow pepper is a fundamental ingredient in Peruvian cooking. Smoky, sweet chipotle pepper is featured in Alma Superfoods’ other savory nut butter. “I really enjoy the flavor, and it is kind of the representation of Mexican identity,” she notes. Rounding out the product line is the indulgent Cacao & Hazelnut Butter, a low-sugar take on Nutella®. Guili wants customers to think beyond toast when enjoying her products. “Nut butters are very versatile and easy to use,” she notes. “That’s why I really like spreads and dips; you can just play with them in so many ways.”

Currently, Guili is focused on getting her products into more stores. Production is still a hands-on affair, with Guili and an assistant making everything at Kitchen 519 in Belmont. Having honed the mission of her business during the pandemic, Guili is also working on a rebrand to identify Alma Superfoods as a Latina business “and emphasizing more about the culture and how these ingredients can be infused in food that people love,” she says.

Looking ahead, Guili envisions including jams and cherry coffee tea—a low-caffeine, eco-conscious beverage made from the skin of coffee beans—among Alma Superfoods’ offerings. “I have this idea to become the Whole Foods of Latin American ingredients and foods,” she shares. “I want to elevate the perception of the gastronomy and the ingredients.”
As to what she thinks her mother would say of Alma Superfoods’ success, Guili says, “I think, hopefully, she would be proud of what I’ve accomplished so far.”

Out in the Plein Air: A Painter’s Walk on the Wild Side

Words by Johanna Harlow

Look—now look again. The art of unseeing the supposed-to’s is imperative for artists… and something plein air painter Ellen Howard knows well. “I think as an artist, one of the biggest things to learn is how to correctly see,” says the San Mateo artist, who dedicates herself to capturing ever-changing landscapes as they unfold in real time.

Unlearn those “lollipop trees,” she advises, “Really quiet your mind down to actually see the exact shape of the tree, the exact outline. Nature is pretty irregular in a lot of ways. And that’s the beauty of it. You don’t always want something that’s symmetrical and perfectly done.” It’s a value reflected on her website: “I favor the irregularity of nature,” Ellen writes, “ragged rocks, knotty tree trunks, peeling bark and muddy waters of the marshlands.”

Ellen’s passion for painting “plein air” (French for “in the open air”) draws her to idyllic stretches of sand along Pescadero, shady sections of aspens in the Sierra and flurries of flowers at the Half Moon Bay Nursery—though today she’s ensconced in her cozy Art Bias studio in San Carlos surrounded by the painted memories of past excursions. “Usually, I go out to the field to get a composition and study the colors.” Ellen twirls her brush as she eyes her latest scene on the easel. “Then I come back to the studio and, if I like what I’ve done, I see if I want to size it up or change something from my photos.” Under her touch, a palatte awash with inky ocean blue, cerulean and sea surf white is becoming a Carmel coastline.

That artistic eye runs in the family. Ellen’s mom dabbled in watercolors. Her grandfather was a cartoonist. “He got offered a job at Walt Disney, but he ended up working for the airlines,” she says. Even so, he found ways to channel his inner creative. Ellen recalls marveling at his illustrations of people from around the world in traditional garb, sketches he made while traveling as a steward. He also did advertising. “He would draw a big jumbo airplane with a man sitting on top of it with a TWA hat,” she describes.

When Ellen joined the workforce, she didn’t start as a full-time artist either. Actually, her first career was in finance. But when her kids were older, she became the gallery coordinator at Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont. After that, she moved to the role of assistant curator at the Peninsula Art Museum. “So I kind of always had my hands in art, but I wasn’t exactly doing it myself, you know?” she shares, smoothing her black apron, speckled with paint.

That changed after she joined her friend for a painting class in 2007. Enchanted by the artform, she signed up for more. After a while, she began applying to shows. And receiving acceptances. And winning awards. Soon, Ellen’s work was getting featured in Plein Air Magazine and Fine Art Connoisseur. Today, her landscape paintings can be bought at the Holton Studio Gallery in Berkeley and Rieser Fine Art in Carmel. For the past five years, she’s also been included in the California Art Club’s Annual Gold Medal Exhibition (an organization she has recently joined as Vice President of Programming as well as co-chair for the SF chapter). “I wouldn’t have foreseen from my first art class that I would be in galleries and teaching and doing workshops,” Ellen smiles.

In addition to providing in-studio instruction (with offerings at Burlingame’s Art Attack! and an upcoming still life class at the new Burlingame Community Center), Ellen regularly invites students to join her in the field. Locations range from Filoli to Carmel to the Mendocino Coast. “I think art is very uplifting and it gets you out of your own way. It’s very meditative and I like sharing that,” she notes. “It’s also gratifying to see a student get a concept and progress in their skill level.”

Even now, Ellen continues to curate. She finds that two essentials of a strong show are finding a good theme and including a range of styles. “I’m thinking about artists that would have a different twist,” she explains. “You don’t want your exhibition to be the same. So an oil painter, a pastelist, a watercolorist. Architecture, figurative, landscape. I want a blend.” For a Pleasanton exhibition that’s currently underway, all works revolve around differing interpretations of life’s transitions—from the time of day to the shifting of the seasons to the stages of life.

Ellen’s own style has shifted recently. She describes one of her latest pieces, Vibrant Hues, as more impressionistic. “It was a marshland scene, but the trees were kind of blues and purples and it was more orangey and pink with the sunset. I kind of pushed the color a little bit more. So I’m trying to think of more innovative ways to represent nature.”

As for favorite environments? Ellen finds herself drawn time and time again to marshlands and ocean coasts. “I love painting with my shoes off and my feet in the sand,” she reflects, adding that she enjoys capturing “the energy of the waves.” Like her paintings Restless Waters and Winter Surge, which both capture a wave as it breaks on the rocks in a spectacular spray of sea foam.

And then, of course, there’s the light. “Seeing the light move across the land,” she describes on her website, “cascading off a mountain range, streaming through the leaves, dancing on the top of the waves and creating a beautiful ray of warmth in the sky and clouds is pure serenity.”

Capturing a moment in time isn’t easy, Ellen notes. Clouds shift. Shadows move. “You can be overwhelmed by the amount of information in the scene,” she points out. “You need to pick and choose the elements that will create a cohesive painting.” It’s also important not to chase the light, to keep your values consistent. “I like to take a photo of the scene, especially if I am painting clouds and they are moving quickly across the sky. Sticking to your original plan when you paint is important.”

It’s well worth the challenge, Ellen assures. “There’s just something about being outside, being in the fresh air,” she muses. “A photo is great to work with as a reference in your studio, but it makes a huge difference to actually go out and see what you’re looking at. The colors are truer when you’re out there in person. You can see the shadow colors better—how the light’s hitting an object.”

There are also fun interactions with the passersby her art attracts. “There’s so many times when I’m painting and I look down and there’s a seal watching me,” Ellen laughs. Nothing like an audience of otters and seagulls routinely checking in on your progress to keep you accountable.


Heritage Hunter

Words by Johanna Harlow

From the outside, PlaceMakers might pass as your run-of-the-mill San Carlos warehouse—albeit a welcoming one with a cheery coat of barn-red paint. But step inside and the first thing you’ll notice are the vintage chandeliers. Victorian brass with glass bells. Wrought iron wagon wheels with candles. Dangly tiers of teardrops. Crystal beaded domes. They collectively shimmer below the corrugated metal roof in all their stately grandeur like grand ladies at court.

When you manage to pry your eyes from the ceiling, you’ll find an entire treasure trove of salvaged building materials and artifacts (many of them antique) filling the space. Clawfoot bathtubs and stained glass windows. Boxes of keys and boxes of doorknobs. A turn-of-the-20th-century wrought iron Juliet balcony. A Victorian roll-top secretary desk. Enough doors to inspire a symphony of knocking. Together, these reclaimed relics rival the collections of many a history museum.

The visionary and mastermind here is Palo Alto native James Dawes. Founding PlaceMakers in 1995, James began offering a full range of general contracting services, spanning demolition to ground-up development. Inspired by the one-of-a-kind items he found on sites, James also decided to start selling salvaged materials and artifacts. Like hulking mahogany column pillars from a bank demolition. “I never know what I’m gonna find,” James chuckles. “It’s an adventure.”

Greatly influenced by his environmental studies at UC Santa Cruz, James was impacted by assigned reading like Martin Pawley’s Building for Tomorrow: Putting Waste to Work. He dedicated his thesis to building a house out of repurposed materials in Jamaica. “Everything is super expensive there because they have to import it,” James explains. “Everything comes in on the boat. So for people to build anything there, it’s really challenging.”

The PlaceMakers name actually maps back to his college years. “There was a lot of talk even then about not just making buildings, but making places, and the idea that place kind of incorporated stories,” he says. In other words, it’s never just a window or a door. It’s the feelings you attach to them. “Things are new for a day. And after that, the story starts,” he observes.

Over the years, James’ salvaging skills have elevated to an artform. When out in the field, his experienced eye seeks out specific qualities. “There’s the artistry and the craft with which it’s made,” James muses as he walks past retro sinks and wall sconces, ship lanterns and portholes, vintage coat hooks and numerous other artifacts weighty with the significance of their past lives. “Did the maker know what they were doing?” he asks himself. “Is it well done?”

He also looks for items with “energy” to them. “Like a piece of old-growth lumber that took a hundred years to grow, rather than the stuff at Home Depot,” he clarifies. “There’s actual, real energy there. That took a long time!” Just outside his showroom, James stores a fort’s worth of reclaimed lumber. Piled on towering racks, these include beams from an old copper mine, redwood from the historic Tunnel 13 railroad structure at the Oregon-California border and (rumor has it) timber from ballistic missile silos. “All that redwood that was once a beautiful forest is still out there but it’s got paint on it,” he notes. “It’s in walls. It’s bridges. You just have to know how to look for it. It’s there.”

“History is part of it too,” James adds of his search criteria. He motions to a door from the Hayes Mansion, the residence of the family that founded the San Jose Mercury News. He’s also salvaged finds from glamorous historical landmarks like San Francisco’s Le Petit Trianon and Hillsborough’s Carolands Chateau—as well as spookier spots like Santa Clara’s Agnews Development Center (formerly known as “The Great Asylum for the Insane”). One of his prized possessions (not for sale) is a hulking wraparound desk built from the cedar of a pipe organ’s swell box.

Unrivaled is James’ fondness for tile. Extracting them takes the right tools, a lot of coaxing and plenty of patience. “It’s very tempting to just try and pry or chisel them off,” he notes. “Anybody can take a light fixture off the wall or take a door off. But to get tile out is tricky.” In fact, he credits the material as playing a hand in his career path. After trying to sell vintage tile to a salvage yard from an early demolition job—and being offered a paltry 75 cents per piece—James decided to hold on to them. “That wouldn’t have even paid my gas and bridge toll to take them over,” he recalls. Later, at a tile lecture, the presenter informed him that his find was actually worth $20 to $40 a tile.

James is always on the lookout for ceramic gold by “the Greats” of the Arts and Crafts era. “Beginning in England in the late 19th century, there was a revival of hand-craftsmanship in direct contrast to what was considered ‘soulless’ machine-generated productions that were a product of The Industrial Revolution,” he writes on the PlaceMakers blog. Later, California tile makers followed suit. “We had a couple of top-notch tile manufacturers in the Bay Area, S&S being one,” remarks James as he picks up a yellow and turquoise tile and flips it over to reveal the S&S logo. “I actually bought this at a garage sale.”

He’s also a huge Pedro Joseph de Lemos fan. De Lemos not only handcrafted tile and designed the facades of many local buildings (including the Allied Arts Guild in Menlo Park), he also served as museum and art gallery director at Stanford University for nearly 30 years. What’s more, his Palo Alto home incorporated reclaimed materials from the college campus after the earthquake. “It’s an amazing story of salvaged materials,” James notes.

As he wraps up his walk-through of PlaceMakers’ carefully curated collection, James pauses in the shadow of a hulking 10-foot mahogany door from an 1800s mansion and brushes his hand across the wood. “The most incredible thing is, it never got painted in 140 years,” he marvels of this untarnished treasure. “People painted everything. I mean, at some point in a hundred years, somebody’s usually going to paint it white. But it made it.”

Landmark: Stanford Memorial Church

Words by Jordan Greene

Tilt your head up inside Stanford Memorial Church and you’ll discover Mary, Joseph, Sally and Billy—cherubs with faces resembling the children of university staff who lived on campus during the time the church was built. Jane Lathrop Stanford hired 28-year-old architect Charles A. Coolidge to design the church as a memorial to her late husband Leland Stanford. Construction began in January 1900 with the church envisioned as a nondenominational place of peace standing in the center of the university’s campus. An avid traveler and admirer of European art, Jane drew inspiration from the Piazza San Marco in Venice. After befriending the owner of A. Salviati & Co., a famous mosaic shop in Venice, Mrs. Stanford commissioned him to make a replica of Cosimo Roselli’s fresco of The Last Supper from the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican for the university’s new church. The mosaics were made in Venice, shipped by boat in pieces to New York and then by railroad to California. However, not long after the church opened in 1903, it was heavily damaged by the 1906 earthquake. To preserve the building, the church was disassembled. Each piece was labeled with a number, and the church was reconstructed section by section in a process that took until 1916 to finish. The 80-foot steeple that collapsed in the earthquake was never replaced. “While my whole heart is in the university, my soul is in that church,” Mrs. Stanford once remarked. Today, Stanford Memorial Church continues to play an integral role on campus as a time-honored setting for services, memorials, weddings and concerts.

Home Makeover Match

Words by Jennifer Jory

With experience in welding steel, sculpting, oil painting and drawing, designer Dawn Mitchell’s creative bent came full circle when she married her Aragon High School sweetheart, builder and craftsman Will Mitchell. Together, they make up a one-stop design-build team in San Mateo. As the Peninsula’s own home renovation couple, the Mitchells seem straight out of central casting; however, unlike trendy TV celebrity remodelers, they have been solving real problems for sophisticated local clients for decades.

When Dawn and Will sit down for dinner, the conversation often shifts into a brainstorming session about space planning or lighting ideas. They possess a tool kit of creative talents and ease of communication unique to married people in business. “She calls me several times a day,” says Will, without a hint of exasperation. “She can always get a hold of me. The first 50 jobs, she proposed a color palette that I would question. Now I just listen. Her choice always works.”

Born and raised in San Mateo, Will honed his carpentry skills while attending college. Meanwhile, Dawn pursued a fine arts degree at UCLA. As Will started to grow his business, WMM Construction, Inc. he began to lean on Dawn’s expertise. Soon, she launched Dawn Leslie Interiors. “I had so much creative energy! I had to put it somewhere,” Dawn recounts. “I was painting everything I could get my hands on and sewing draperies for clients.”

After their first of four daughters was born, Dawn began drawing plans for Will’s projects. “When we started working together, she introduced woven metal cabinet doors,” Will recalls. “The types of metal and applied mixed mediums she used in interior spaces were so unique.”

As Will and Dawn partnered to transform homes on the Peninsula for their clients, their household of four young girls in San Mateo’s Highlands neighborhood evolved quickly as well. Creative juices constantly flowed, and the kitchen table was full of sewing and crafts, in addition to school volunteer projects. “Everything was over the top,’’ remarks Will. “We built floats for Highlands community parades with butterflies waving 14-foot moveable wings.” They also constructed stage sets for San Mateo schools and 8’ x 10’ birdhouses draped with tenting for school fundraisers. All the while, Dawn sewed costumes for Borel Middle School and Aragon plays late into the night.

In their spare time, the Mitchells volunteer their professional skills, with Dawn designing rooms for the SolMateo Kitchen Tour and Will giving local churches a hand on mission trips. They recently enjoyed updating their own house, adding a deck and guest room that expanded and improved their use of space. “It was definitely a collaboration,” stresses Will. “We needed to go under the canopy of the oak trees and drop the deck down the hillside.” Even with a new granddaughter and another grandchild on the way, the busy pair enjoy talking shop over dinner. “We discuss projects at home and because we live together, there are no time constraints,” shares Will. “I tell Dawn, ‘Describe what you want and I will make it happen.’”

Hillsborough Team-Up

Dawn and Will recently completed a kitchen and master bath remodel for a Spanish Revival home in Hillsborough. In partnership with general contractor Loerke & Cresci, Dawn also designed the interior of the home’s new modern pool house.

pool house

Dawn chose neutral color furniture and bronze window trim, which effectively highlight the pool and landscape view from the inside. Folding doors open seamlessly to enhance the indoor/outdoor flow. The guest house offers a master bedroom and bunk room for four with drawers that pull out in between the bunk ladder rungs to maximize storage.

pool house bathroom

Playing off an aqua color theme, Dawn selected a Victoria + Albert tub in a vibrant turquoise for the master bath accented by an Ellen Gunn painting. “I found beautiful tiles and thought it would be fun to create a striped beach towel look on the fireplace and shower walls,” she says. “I combined marble limestone and turquoise glazed basalt.”


Will applied his carpentry expertise to combine an original kitchen, laundry and butler’s pantry into an expanded butler’s pantry and kitchen. To refresh the heart of the home, the custom cabinets by Village were painted in a high-gloss, off-white finish with walnut details and a laser-cut application. Will added an island, finished with the same Dolce Vita quartzite countertops used throughout the kitchen and accented by a long, traditional fixture with built-in task lighting overhead. The kitchen features walnut open shelves and herringbone tumbled smoke limestone flooring. Tabarka Studio supplied the terracotta tile with a textured Arabesque pattern behind the Crosswater London range. “It was a big transformation,” notes Dawn. “I wanted it to have a modern Mediterranean feel.”

Our Wild Side: Face to Face

Words and photography by Robert David Siegel

Every now and then, when I am out in nature, I lock eyes with a wild creature. Of course, these experiences are not what they seem. Animals see, perceive and think about the world very differently than humans. Even knowing this, such moments are quite magical and awe-inspiring. And I greatly value these face-to-face encounters.

Mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) are common on the Peninsula, and they have become habituated to humans. Though still wary, they can be approached with slow, non-threatening movements. Clearly watchful of the photographer, deer and other grazers have eyes that point sideways, so they are aware of possible threats in a wide field of view.

Most people identify this as a bee of some sort. It is actually a type of flower fly or more generally, a hoverfly. I first became aware of hoverflies from a student presentation in my “Photographing Nature” class. As one might expect, they are notable for their hovering in midair—often a few feet from where we are walking. They are quite ubiquitous around the Peninsula and beyond.

The Sierran tree frog or chorus frog (Pseudacris sierra) comes in a variety of colors and inhabits a wide range of elevations from sea level to 10,000 feet in the Sierra. Also true to its name, this is the frog that is often heard on the Peninsula. However, it falls silent when people approach, so it is most easily located by sight. To find them, it helps to think about where a frog might like to hang out.

The pallid-winged grasshopper (Trimerotropis pallidipennis) is a master of camouflage. Grasshoppers are generally sensitive to movement. We most often notice them when they jump or fly. By approaching slowly, low to the ground, I can often get a few inches away with my macro lens or even with a phone camera.

California newts are conspicuous, slow and clumsy, often stumbling over small bumps in the terrain. They appear to be quite vulnerable, but they have a secret weapon. They are among the most poisonous of creatures (when ingested) with a potent neurotoxin called tetrodotoxin—best known as the poison in pufferfish. If threatened, rough-skinned newts show off their orange bellies to warn would-be predators.

Insect eyes, like of this Pacific forktail damselfly (Ischnura cervula), evolved very differently from human and other vertebrate eyes. With faceted compound eyes composed of smaller, independent visual units called ommatidia, their kaleidoscopic view of the photographer must be quite distinct from what we are seeing.

Coyotes (Canis latrans) are common on the Peninsula in parks and open spaces and they will also wander through the suburbs in search of food. This coyote, near the Stanford Knoll, is proudly showing off breakfast. A close relative of domestic dogs (Canis familiaris), coyotes and other predators have eyes that focus ahead. But unlike humans, coyotes and other canids lack color vision and rely on smell to augment their view of the world.

Eastern gray squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis), including the black melanistic variant, are successful invaders that have displaced many local tree squirrel species. Like deer, squirrel eyes are oriented to the side. Though squirrels will often pose for photos, they will quickly scurry away when the photographer intrudes on their safety zone.

My remarkable encounter with this California towhee (Melozone crissalis) lasted for more than five minutes and was part of my motivation for selecting this Face to Face theme. Although the California towhee is disparagingly referred to as an LBJ (little brown jobbie), my experience left me with a new appreciation for the personality and subtle beauty of these birds.

The Pacific gopher snake (Pituophis catenifer) is a large non-venomous snake with adults reaching 4-5 feet or longer. Their size, coloration and even a tendency to raise and shake their tails may give a hiker pause. While the protruding forked tongue may look ominous, it is actually a powerful chemosensory tool that the snake is using to smell the environment.

Sunflower Fields Forever

Words by Sheri Baer

Summer slides into fall on the Peninsula, splashing the coast with sunflower fields forever… or at least over an acre and a half at Andreotti Family Farms. It’s peak bloom time for this Half Moon Bay family business, an agricultural legacy spanning generations.

As Frank Andreotti tells it, his grandfather, Dino Andreotti Sr., immigrated from Italy after being sponsored by a cousin. He found work as a laborer in Half Moon Bay and started farming this land in 1926. Planting artichokes, cabbage and broccoli, Dino and his wife, Julia, saved up enough money to buy the 80-acre farm in the 1940s. Soon, Andreotti became one of the first farms to join the Farmers Market movement, selling produce in San Francisco. In the 1970s, their son Dino and his wife Terri took the reins, specializing in winter vegetables—including 30 different varietals of pumpkins and edible squash.

“Our main income is growing row crops, vegetables, and then marketing them to restaurants, wholesale markets and to retail—to the local neighborhood farmers markets every Saturday and Sunday,” explains Frank, the next generation to take the helm.

Frank grew up here and still savors the sweet memories of his childhood. He remembers playing in the creek, taking the goats on walks and making pretend castles out of old wooden packing crates. “Growing up on the farm, there was a lot more freedom,” he reflects, adding that he relishes his role as a caretaker of the land. “What I do for a living, I don’t think of it as work. Since I was a little kid, I was told I was born with a green thumb.”

Or a yellow thumb, in the case of the farm’s brilliant rows of sunflowers, which have become a backdrop for countless outings, photo shoots and even proposals. “I’ve been planting sunflowers since I was a teenager,” Frank says of Andreotti’s now-famous fall crop. “My folks didn’t ask me to do it, but since I was planting the corn and the pumpkins, I thought I’d add some sunflowers to the mix.”

The idea of a u-pick (or photo op) field wasn’t even on Frank’s mind when he planted the first seeds. “It was just because I love sunflowers,” he says. “Now they can’t stop calling us: ‘When are the sunflowers going to be ready?’ ‘When is the season going to open?’”

The answer is September and October. Although the farm sells veggies year-round, fall is the most festive time to visit with expanded offerings. This includes not only the sunflower fields, but a corn maze, a pumpkin patch and a brimming farmstand of local produce. “We’re among the last family farms in the Bay Area that provide an atmosphere where the public can come out and experience life on a working farm,” notes Frank. “And I get to be out in the open and in the sun all day long, enjoying what I do for a living.”

The Pumpkins

Feelin’ gourd? Familiar with dozens of varietals of squash, Frank is a bit of an expert at what makes the ideal Halloween pumpkin. “You have to have a uniformity,” Frank advises, “a uniform pumpkin with dark skin—and then a strong handle. That’s what makes the pumpkin decorative. A pumpkin with a broken-off or stubby stem is not as attractive.”

The Farmstand

Though Andreotti Family Farms started out with artichokes, broccoli and cabbage—at one point committing all 80 acres to artichoke production—these days they offer an entire cornucopia of produce. “We started to diversify,” Frank explains, “like cauliflower, Swiss chard, zucchini, green beans, dry beans, fennel, different types of lettuce, celery, celery root, golden beets, red beets and all the varieties of different Halloween pumpkins and squash.” During any given week, Andreotti’s produce can be found at four farmers markets including the College of San Mateo and Belmont CalTrain Lot, along with the family’s Friday-Sunday roadside farmstand.

The Sunflower Fields

Is there anything as warm and welcoming as a sunflower? Andreotti grows numerous varietals (ranging from Mammoth Grey Stripes to Black Oil), each with golden petals like rays of sunshine. So go ahead and wade into the sunflower sea and load your arms with a bouquet worthy of the season. “They’re so vibrant,” Frank says of the farm’s acre and a half of blooms. “They bring out the yellow contrast against the green of the corn. It makes for a beautiful landscape.”

The Corn Maze

Ready for a challenge? Pit your internal GPS against the Andreotti 10-acre corn puzzle. “It’s all in my head,” Frank says of creating the seasonal maze of maize. “I get on my tractor with a flail mower and I just come up with a design. I don’t think it out—I know the lay of the land.” As the corn stalks stretch over your head, weave through the rows until you emerge out the other side, victorious. Usually. “I’ve had a couple customers in the past years who called my phone number and said, ‘Hey, we’re lost!’ But that’s what a corn maze is supposed to be about, right?” chuckles Frank.

800 Cabrillo Highway, Half Moon Bay

Perfect Shot: Wunderlich Meadow

“One of the favorite walks I take with my friend, Randy, is at Wunderlich Park in Woodside. We always do the Meadows Loop,” shares Menlo Park’s Robb Most. On a recent outing, Randy pointed out the interesting waves of grass, fog and hills, which inspired Robb to capture this Perfect Shot. “They say the best camera is the one you have and so I took it with my iPhone,” adds Robb. “It made me realize that I should look for photos even when I don’t have a camera in my hands.”

Image by Robb Most

Just In Time

Words by Sloane Citron

My brother-in-law, David, and his wife, Dalia, live in Re’ut in the center of Israel and have three strapping boys in a home dominated by sports, exercise and games. The kids always seem to be in constant competition, morning through night. We made it to the oldest boy Shai’s bar mitzvah but we didn’t make his brother Adi’s occasion. We were determined not to miss the youngest son Tomer’s event scheduled for July 18, 2022. Almost a year in advance, airline tickets were bought and hotel reservations were made.

Then, last December, my daughter Tali surprised us with the wonderful news that she was pregnant with her third child, the first two barely out of diapers. After a few doctor’s visits and some calculations, Tali’s due date was estimated to be July 12, which led us to wonder how this all might work out.

Of course, Tali and her family were going to miss the bar mitzvah, and so would her mother. But the rest of us kept our plans. My son, Josh, and his wife and children would be there as well as my daughter, Arielle, her husband and children, along with our Israeli son, Coby. I scheduled my own travel dates for July 13 to July 24.

A bar mitzvah in Israel is usually different than in the U.S. Since there is a general sense of living the religion and speaking the language (even among the secular), it is not the herculean effort that it is for a child here. Most boys read a bit of the Torah and then have a simple party right at the synagogue immediately after the service. But it is still an important milestone and we wanted to be there to support Tomer and to visit Coby.
With luck, I had successfully guessed the correct sex of my first six grandchildren, and I felt certain that Tali and Sam were going to have a girl.

Plus, with four grandsons and two granddaughters, the odds seemed slanted in that direction. The added importance in this was that if Tali had a boy, the bris (ritual circumcision) would be eight days after the birth (it’s always eight days, no matter what) and as an extremely important part of our tradition, I would want to be there as the sandek, the one who has the high honor of holding the infant during the actual event.

Tali and Sam enjoy having their children’s sex be a surprise so I knew that I would just have to wait until the actual delivery to know whether I would be on call for duty. But as I did the math, I calculated a real possibility of having to return from Israel prematurely. And in July, a flight back from Israel is a tough ticket to find.

With the unknowns of whether it was a boy and when Tali would deliver, it was an impossible puzzle to fully solve in advance and so the only thing to do was let fate take its course.

I left for Israel one day after Tali’s due date and though she was clearly ready and anxious to give birth, her body was not giving any hints that it was time. So I departed and wondered what would happen. We all started an enchanting vacation, sharing the country with the little children and visiting with our large family there. I called Tali often to see how she was doing, and she expressed her frustration of not going into labor, especially since her first two were early or right on time.

Each day that passed after Tali’s due date brought me one day closer to making the equation work. Though she was in misery, the odds were starting to work in my favor. I just needed her to give birth on July 17 and there would be no issues with being there for the bris. The 16th came and Tali could not believe that she still had no signs of an arriving child, now four days late.

Finally, the 17th came and with no delivery for my poor daughter, I was now assured that my original flight would work to get me home in time, though my money was still on it being a little girl. The bar mitzvah the next day was a memorable celebration and then, the next day, on July 19, a half-hour before Coby’s own birth date of July 20, Tali finally delivered her baby.

The rest of our time in Israel was terrific, and we left as scheduled on the 24th as planned. Then, on July 27, eight days after his birth, fulfilling the covenant that has existed for more than 3,000 years, I held little Noah David safely on my lap for the mohel to welcome him into our greater family, destined for a good life.

The Beat on Your Eats: Restaurants with Sea Views

Words by Johanna Harlow

For those who welcome surf and sand, head coastside for restaurants with stellar sea views.



There’s nothing quite like enjoying Rockaway Beach with your Oysters Rockefeller. Moonraker—named after the clipper’s sail—is sure to sweep you off your feet with its coastal views and contemporary seafood dishes. For crustacean devotees, take a crack at buttery lobster tails or Dungeness crab legs. As for cocktails, sip a Siren Song (blueberry vodka and fresh lavender lemonade) or savor a Pacific Sunset (vodka with passionfruit and guava sparkling wine). With respect to seating, we highly recommend sliding into one of the restaurant’s couch-like booth seats so everyone can face the window. Even the not-so-sunny days at this location are magical with moody skies complementing the waves as they crash dramatically on shore. 105 Rockaway Beach Avenue. Open Sunday 10AM to 2PM; Sunday to Friday from 4PM to 9PM; Saturday from 12PM to 9PM.

Cover Image: Courtesy of Jesse Meria / Image: Courtesy of La Costanera

la costanera

Half Moon Bay

How about adding a Latin American twist to your surf and turf? With lomo saltado, anticuchos skewers, aji de gallina and arroz con mariscos, La Costanera offers plenty of Peruvian classics. You might also opt for a cebiche tasting, which includes three variations of the country’s national dish. Whether comprised of sushi-grade ahi tuna, calamari, shrimp or another kind of fresh fish, the zesty marinade of lime juice, aji rocoto peppers and cilantro (also referred to as “leche de tigre”) accents everything effortlessly. Elevated on the second story with floor-to-ceiling windows and a glass-rimmed patio, La Costanera allows for optimal sea view soaking. The interior has a charm all its own with lime booth seats, illustrated pillars and playful light fixtures. 260 Capistrano Road. Open Thursday to Sunday 11AM to 9PM; Tuesday to Wednesday 4PM to 9PM. Closed Monday.

Image: Courtesy of Sheri Lewis

miramar beach restaurant

Half Moon Bay

Fun fact: The Miramar Beach Restaurant was originally built as a Prohibition speakeasy (and overseen by a redheaded madam nicknamed the “Boss”). With such a colorful past, it’s fun to imagine clandestine midnight meetings with rum runners—while dining on blackened Scottish salmon. With offerings ranging from calamari steak to Cajun lobster pot, sea scallops to prawn carbonara, there are plenty of ways to celebrate the ocean’s bounty. But before diving in, order the baby artichoke cakes as your starter. It’s hard to go wrong with cheesy, pan-grilled artichoke hearts with roasted garlic aioli on a bed of baby greens. Miramar Beach Restaurant is good any time of the day—but with live piano music and glass fire pits, it’s particularly cozy in the evenings. 131 Mirada Road. Open Monday to Friday from 12PM to 8PM; Saturday to Sunday from 12PM to 8PM.

Exceptional Saffron

Words by Anni Golding

Earlier this year, when Peninsula restaurateur Ajay Walia announced that he was closing his Michelin-starred restaurant Rasa and reopening it as SAFFRON Burlingame, the news reverberated around the Bay Area. Rather than a tragic ending, however, the rebranding has become another evolution in Ajay’s 20-plus-year career in food.

“I never, in my wildest dreams, ever thought that I would actually have a restaurant—or would have anything to do with a restaurant,” the New Delhi native shares. When Ajay was growing up, a culinary career was one of necessity, not choice. However, as a kid who loved food and the act of gathering to eat with his family—whether dining out or ordering in—meals held a prominent role in his childhood memories.

Ajay attended university in New Delhi, where he met his wife-to-be, Reena. His entrepreneurial parents, whose garment business produced clothing for Gap, Macy’s and Sears, hoped Ajay would join the enterprise, but Ajay had other ideas. He and Reena came to the U.S. for graduate school, earned MBA degrees and took corporate jobs in finance in Chicago. Ajay’s entrée to the restaurant business came through helping with finances and front-of-house work at a friend’s eatery during weekends.

Relocating to the Bay Area for a job with Oracle in 2000 brought Ajay’s “weekend vacations” to an end, but a passion for the restaurant business lingered. In 2002, the Foster City resident bought Pizza and Pipes in Redwood City, with the intent of converting it to an Indian restaurant and banquet facility. Just six weeks later, he began negotiations for a space in downtown San Carlos with plans for a second Indian restaurant. Ultimately, he decided to leave the Pizza and Pipes concept intact and focused on the San Carlos venture. Saffron Indian Bistro—named for the rare and precious spice—opened in 2003. “We wanted to present good-quality, cooked Indian food that’s flavorful, that’s fast,” he recalls.

He made the decision early on to eschew competing on price. “People have this misconception that Indian food needs to be cheap, and I think the culprit for that image is us—and when I say ‘us,’ I mean my people,” he explains. “We don’t give ourselves the value we should.” In addition to bringing respect to Indian cuisine, Ajay’s mission has included educating customers about food costs, although it’s been a slow process, he admits.

By 2013, Ajay had sold Pizza and Pipes and acquired more than a decade of restaurant experience. He used the mistakes and learnings from Saffron to do things differently in creating Rasa. He credits Reena with nudging him to open the restaurant and challenging him to grow—and makes no bones about how supportive she has been. “If she was not supportive, we would not be married this long,” he says, adding, “This has not been an easy business.”

Rasa’s elegant, modern take on Indian cuisine received accolades from press and diners alike. Ajay was elated when news came in 2015 that the restaurant had been awarded its first Michelin star. Keeping that star, which the restaurant did until it closed, became a heavier proposition as time went on.

The pandemic brought a shift for Rasa and Ajay. While Saffron weathered the crisis with a takeout-only approach, Rasa suffered. Beautifully plated fine-dining meals didn’t translate to cardboard cartons, and the dining experience couldn’t be packaged, so Rasa remained closed. Financial losses due to the closure and tensions within the business grew. And then Ajay’s father passed away in 2021. It was time to step back and process.

The decision to close Rasa was neither easy nor quick. “For me, that’s my biggest achievement ever—and the field I’m in, that’s the ultimate,” he notes. “And to give up the ultimate and then say, ‘Okay, well, I’m gonna start from scratch again’—you gotta be stupid,” he says with a chuckle, adding, “I just needed to do something that made me happy.”

Connecting with people through food has been core to Ajay’s professional success and personal satisfaction. “I thrive on that interaction with the guests,” he states. After much consideration, he realized he didn’t want to develop another restaurant concept. The decision to use the SAFFRON name and remake the Burlingame space became clear.

Saffron Indian Bistro had already received a makeover in 2021 when Ajay rebranded it as SAFFRON and worked with Stephanie Batties (of The Right Touch Design) and BPR Builders to implement a mid-century modern aesthetic. The renovation gave the 60-seat restaurant a comfortable chic look with white walls, wide-plank floors and touches of brass. Ajay happily eliminated the buffet and worked with his kitchen team to re-evaluate the northern Indian-influenced menu, cutting approximately 25% of the dishes and revamping recipes.

SAFFRON Burlingame is not a clone of the San Carlos restaurant, although the completely renovated interior incorporates a similar, neutral color palette with mid-century modern influence. Ajay is especially proud of the custom-made nine-and-a-half-foot chandelier that hangs in the front room.

The two restaurants’ menus are different enough to make apparent that SAFFRON is a brand, not a chain, and there is some crossover with what Ajay refers to as “iconic dishes”—Old Delhi-style butter chicken, masala shrimp curry, and lahsooni saag, for example—as well as traditional Indian breads.

Burlingame’s menu incorporates California influence and highlights southern Indian dishes, with a beets and berries salad, assorted dosas and Travancore Fish Moilee. Ajay emphasizes that the take is not Rasa revised: “We don’t want people to compare to the previous menu, because obviously, it’s a new kitchen team, and we’ve reworked every recipe.” Milk & Cardamom blogger Hetal Vasavada, whom Ajay has known for years, contributed two bespoke desserts to their sweets menu.


Both restaurants offer curated beer and wine lists as well as nonalcoholic drinks made with herbs and fresh fruit purées. Burlingame’s bar program also includes craft cocktails, like the butterfly-pea-flower-hued Maharani, and a Boston sour take called simply SAFFRON Sour.

Taking stock of his restaurant career, Ajay reflects, “You know, I’ve come back to where I started. And my goal when I started was: The food has to taste good. It has to look good. And at the same time, it needs to be honest.” With regard to “authenticity,” a word often used to evaluate non-Western cuisines, Ajay states that it’s subjective. “We want people to come with an open mind, and not the preconceived inhibitions of what we should be doing,” he says. “Just come, and have a good time.”

The Beat on your Eats: Mediterranean Restaurants

Words by Johanna Harlow

Opa! Catch a taste of the Mediterranean on the Peninsula.

capo mediterranean kitchen


For a contemporary casual experience, make your way to Capo Mediterranean Kitchen. One thing’s for certain: these folks know how to treat a squid. Expect perfectly crisped calamari strips lovingly tucked into po-boy pitas along with pickled onions, herb salad and creamy tzatziki sauce. Also be sure to try the harissa cauliflower (fried and seasoned with spices) as well as the vibrant pink beet labni, a feast for the eyes as well as the stomach. 2040 Ralston Avenue. Open Sunday from 11AM to 8PM; Tuesday through Saturday from 11AM to 8:30PM. Closed Monday.

Photography: Johanna Harlow / Cover photo courtesy of Capo

galata bistro

Menlo Park

For a plethora of tasty Turkish wraps, falafel and kebab options, Galata Bistro is just the place. Picturesque both inside and out, diners enjoy their meals out on the flower-box-lined patio or in the mural-decorated dining room with scenes of Istanbul. Chicken, lamb or ribeye kebabs are always fan favorites, but if you’re feeling adventurous, order the tender octopus served in a beautifully simple mixture of olive oil, lemon juice and oregano. There’s also a standout arugula salad adorned with pomegranate seeds, oranges, red onion, toasted walnuts and feta, then drizzled in lemon dressing. Don’t forget to conclude your meal with hot Turkish coffee served in traditional floral cups. 827 Santa Cruz Avenue. Open 11AM to 2:30PM, 4:30PM to 9PM.


San Carlos

At Pylos, Greek architectural accents set the ambiance straight away—but it’s the flavors that truly teleport diners to the shores of the Mediterranean. With authentic ingredients imported from Greece and Turkey, their offerings span from spanakopita to souvlaki. So start your meal by dipping fluffy soft pita into a zesty sun-dried tomato dip—then follow it with a flaming pan of saghanaki (fried Greek cheese with a golden crust and gooey center you won’t be forgetting anytime soon). These appetizers won’t make it easy to save room for the main course, but be sure to reserve room in your stomach for the lamb shank or lamb souvlaki. 621 Laurel Street. Open Sunday to Thursday from 11AM to 9PM; Friday to Saturday from 11AM to 10PM.

Images Courtesy of: Johanna Harlow / Capo

California Kahve

Words by Kate Hammond

For Molly Welton, life is all about connecting with people. Whether she’s catching up with the regulars at her coffee caravan at Ocean Beach or meeting guests at her new Menlo Park brick-and-mortar at the Park James Hotel, Molly brews up hospitality with each cup of coffee she makes.

Molly launched California Kahve in January 2021 after a four-year passion project of rebuilding a vintage caravan. She credits her husband with planting the idea after they visited five different cafés in an effort to satisfy Molly’s high bar for coffee. “I finally got a great latte and I was so happy,” recounts Molly. “And my husband said, ‘Why don’t you open up your own little mobile coffee setup like we saw in New Zealand?’ And I was like, ‘Oh, my God, maybe I can actually pull that off!’”

A new baby and a pandemic later, Molly opened California Kahve, a business that blends her love of coffee and people. Born and raised in California, Molly knew she wanted to use her home state’s name in her new venture. “I just love the word California. I think it’s beautiful,” she notes. “And then I was looking at the etymology of the word coffee, and ‘kahve’ is one of the earliest.” Putting the two words together, Molly says, sounded “musical.”

While actively running her popular caravan business (and attracting a cult-like following), Molly had an unexpected opportunity come her way in April 2022. The creative director of the Park James Hotel reached out, asking if she was interested in converting the property’s dining room into an on-site coffee shop during daylight hours. As a Burlingame native, Molly attended Burlingame High School and most of her family lives on the Peninsula, so expanding to this location felt like an obvious next step. The space’s inviting decor and expansive courtyard helped seal the deal. “I feel connected to this area already,” she points out. “This kind of feels like an extended part of my neighborhood.”

Although she had never worked at a cafe, Molly spent over 20 years in hospitality at luxury hotels that included the Four Seasons and Ritz Carlton. She fell in love with the buzz of hotel life—and her training taught her an essential ingredient for running her own business: connecting with the guests. “I think that’s why I’ve been successful in my mobile setup, because I say, ‘Hi, how are you?’ to every person who comes to the truck,” she shares. “Now they are all my regulars.”

Prior to opening California Kahve, Molly spent most of her time outdoors, hiking three to four times a week in places like Mount Tam and Muir Woods. She selected a redwood tree for her logo to express her love of nature.

Seeking a coffee company aligned with her values, Molly discovered Minnesota’s Tiny Footprint Coffee. She felt an instant infinity for the taste and Tiny Footprint’s carbon-negative mission.

“I always do a dark roast … I could never get behind a light roast,” Molly states, as she tamps down grounds beside a La Marzocco espresso machine. “People say that you cannot ever get a dark roast because you’re burning the beans, but my dark roast is more like a medium to dark.” Molly’s personal favorite is an oat milk cappuccino, both creamy and strong.

Aside from the classic coffee drinks, Molly serves up her own custom creations. The foam in her Wildflower Honey Latte comes dusted with petals, and her Marionberry Latte perfectly balances the sweetness and the tartness of the fruit. Matcha lovers will appreciate the Lavender Mint Matcha, made with homemade lavender mint syrup. “I started looking at how I can make really interesting, different kinds of drinks that no one was making because people love anything that’s new and shiny,” she observes with a laugh.

Molly holds a fondness for her first specialty drink, the Dark Chocolate Orange Mocha, which combines espresso, milk, fresh orange juice, cinnamon and nutmeg with a generous drizzle of TCHO chocolate and a decorative sprinkling of orange rind. She makes her own syrups, and no matter how creative she gets, she remains dedicated to organic ingredients.

Along with the specialty drink selection, California Kahve offers nature-inspired smoothie bowls. The Pacific Blue, tinged with spirulina, features a wave made of blueberries, almonds and coconut shavings. While The Redwood—an emerald green smoothie base of avocado, mango and spinach, then covered in layers of hemp seeds, cashews, kiwi, banana and fresh mint—resembles the forest floor. Molly’s baked goods are sourced from Amour Wholesale, a French baker in San Carlos, with vegan and gluten-free treats supplied by Miya Bakes.

Mapping to her original quest to find a great latte, Molly now strives to create the perfect blend of taste and beauty. “If the taste is there, it’s going to be there,” she explains. “But if you can really go overboard on the aesthetic, then they say things like, ‘Where’s this from?’ or ‘How did you come up with this?’ or ‘I’ve never seen this before!’ And then it becomes a moment that they’ve never experienced.”

And if there’s one thing travelers and coffee connoisseurs have in common, it’s that insatiable pursuit of the next experience. “You can see how they just light up because it’s so extra,” Molly says of the hotel guests and locals who visit her cafe. “It’s an extra touch that makes your day a bit more special.”

Getaway: Quaint, Quirky Cambria

Words by Sharon McDonnell

For a seaside village of about 6,400 people, historic and quirky Cambria on California’s Central Coast offers up an extraordinary range of things to see and enticing places to stay and dine. Off Highway 1, a half-hour west of Paso Robles and 200 miles south of Palo Alto, it’s an ideal spot to combine with a visit to nearby Hearst Castle, which reopened in May after a two-year closure.

Sights and Shops

An artsy spirit permeates Cambria, which is featured in the book The Most Beautiful Villages and Towns in California. More than 80 galleries, shops, restaurants and cafes—many in late 19th-century clapboard cottages—pack the East Village, with streets dating back to 1866, and the newer West Village. On Moonstone Beach, dramatic rocky ocean views unfold from a mile-long boardwalk. At Fiscalini Ranch Preserve, which has 17 trails for walking and biking, landscapes range from a Monterey pine forest and towering cliffs to wetlands.

Photography: Courtesy of Highway 1 Discovery Route (also cover photo)

A meandering stroll through the East Village reveals countless eclectic discoveries. Inside an 1890 blacksmith shop, Cinnabar sells folk art, home décor and jewelry from all over the world, including metal art made from oil drums in Haiti and ivory-like jewelry crafted from the tagua nut in Ecuador. Moonstone Redwood carries one-of-a-kind furniture and sculptures made from reclaimed or burned redwood. Amphora specializes in art pottery made mostly by San Luis Obispo artisans, along with other crafts like fiber jewelry and felt hats. For whimsical gifts (think: watercolor paintings, notecards, coffee mugs and pillows of hummingbirds and flowers), wander into Among Friends. To cover more territory, consider renting an e-bike at VeloCambria or book a horseback or vehicle tour at Clovell’s Clydesdales.

Where to Stay

On the same block as Moonstone Redwood and Amphora, you’ll find The Rigdon House, an 1880 turquoise clapboard house with 14 suites and a spacious patio. During a nightly Happy Hour, wines from Paso Robles, snacks like bruschetta with bacon/caramelized onion jam and specialty cocktails are served.

Photography: Courtesy of Jonny Valiant

White Water, Cambria’s top luxury lodging located on Moonstone Beach, features Scandinavian modernist design and panoramic ocean views from picture windows in the lobby. Named on the Conde Nast Traveler’s 2021 Hot List, the property offers 25 rooms with fireplaces and the only full liquor license for Cambria beachside lodging.

Built in 1927, Cambria Pines Lodge, the town’s biggest hotel, is a rustic-style lodge on 25 acres with expansive views of hills and valleys, a full-service restaurant, a fireside lounge offering live music nightly and an outdoor heated pool. The hotel is also dog-friendly, with a private onsite dog park and two charming outdoor cocoon-like wood-and-stone huts where guests can dine with their pets. A short drive (or a 250-step wooden stairway) from the East Village, this is also where you’ll find the Cambria Christmas Market, which runs November 25 to December 23.

Where to Eat

All things olallieberry—Cambria’s famous fruit, a cross between a blackberry and raspberry—are found at Linn’s, a fine-dining restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, from wild salmon topped with olallie-berry glaze and apple chutney to olallieberry pies, bread puddings, cream puffs and cakes. A second-floor nook, plumped with pillows and overlooking vintage bikes on the wall, is a choice place to sit. The Linn family, who opened a farmstand in 1979, followed by their restaurant in 1989, also own the casual Linn’s Easy As Pie Café, which serves pies of all kinds, and Linn’s Gourmet Goods, a specialty foods and kitchenware shop, which, of course, sells olallieberry jams, sauces, syrups and frozen pies.

Photography: Courtesy of Highway 1 Discovery Route

Open for lunch and dinner, Robin’s, whose owner is Singapore-born, has been a local favorite since opening in 1985. Along with a charming garden setting with mosaic-bedecked tables and a restored adobe house, you’ll find global fare like a Brazilian seafood coconut milk stew, Thai green coconut curry and rogan josh, an Indian lamb curry with almonds, tomatoes and yogurt. The Sow’s Ear, a dinner-only restaurant in an old cottage, has served specialties like lobster pot pie, fisherman’s stew and a house mac and cheese in two fireside rooms since 1986. Check out the ceramic pig figurines by the dozen in the window.

An 1877 dark-red farmhouse with front and back patios, Café on Bridge Street has won county-wide acclaim for its overstuffed hot sandwiches ranging from hot pastrami to a beef, blue cheese and mushroom melt. At Creekside Gardens, try Danish ball-shaped pancakes called abelskivers in its delightful patio.

The BIG Attraction: Hearst Castle

Nothing could be more of a contrast to Cambria’s folksy charm than William Randolph Hearst’s lavish European-inspired fantasy in San Simeon, located just six miles north. Spanning 68,500 square feet with 115 rooms, the legendary estate is known for its opulent twin-towered main building, sumptuous guesthouses, extraordinary art collection (25,000 artifacts) and acres of terraced gardens, fountains and pools. Yes, those are zebras you spot grazing during the 15-minute narrated tour bus ride up to the hilltop estate (Hearst once owned the nation’s largest private zoo with a menagerie that included grizzly bears, lions, orangutans and an elephant). The historic hilltop castle offers a variety of themed tours like Grand Rooms, Upstairs Suites (including the media mogul’s bedroom), Cottages & Kitchen and Architecture/Design. Staff dress in 1930s period attire for special evening tours in spring and fall.

For a perfect lunch afterward, order the cheese, charcuterie and olive plate with a wine tasting at Hearst Ranch Winery, just downhill from the Castle. Here, at this beautiful coastal tasting room, shaded by umbrellas, enjoy a final toast to a quaint seaside town and its extravagant neighbor.


Ready to Row

Words by Kate Bradshaw

From the outside, the Bair Island Aquatic Center doesn’t stand out much from the industrial marshlands of Redwood City. But pass through the center’s nondescript gate and a sensory-packed world awaits. The rhythmic sound of oars dipping in and out of the water. The satisfying pull of muscles stretching to achieve. The visual splendor of a color-splashed sunrise on the bay. Here, people of all ages rise at the crack of dawn to experience camaraderie and competition, row on world-class waterways and even sight the occasional baby seal.

And Bair Island Aquatic Center welcomes newcomers.
“We cater to every level,” says Sharon Wienbar, a longtime rower with the Center and board member of USRowing. “There are Olympians at our club and people who are holding an oar for the first time.”

Bair Island puts its finest hospitality on display when hosting one of its biggest annual events: National Learn to Row Day. Visitors who sign up have the opportunity to learn the basic mechanics and lingo of rowing, and then venture out on a boat for about a half-hour—all for free. Staff and volunteers bustle around in green t-shirts, helping more than 80 people through their introductory sessions.

Photography: Courtesy of Vicky Bialas

Overlooking the water, “ergs,” or rowing machines, line the aquatic center’s deck. Here, instructors guide beginners through each step of a stroke (or pull) of an oar—from scrunching up in the “catch” position to the “finish” position, legs extended, bodies angled back, oars against the chest. Later, from a motorized boat on the water, coach Jana Comstock shares insights with her group of eight participants, most of whom are rowing for the first time. “As you may have noticed,” she calls out, “rowing is hard.”

For many, that’s the appeal. At 48, Sharon launched her journey with the Bair Island Aquatic Center in a common way: with a Learn to Row class. The experience inspired her to join the club’s novice team and then continue working her way up. In the process, she learned to become a morning person and harness her height for maximum pull on a rowing machine.
Twelve years after Sharon’s first stroke in the water, she’s won national championship races and competes as part of the club’s coastal rowing team—an even more hard-core version of rowing that seeks out rougher offshore waters. (The sport will likely be added to the 2028 Olympics, and Bair Island Aquatic Center is a hub for it, she notes.)

Sharon has also built deep connections here, which she credits to a community of trust. “Rowers are generally good, clean-living people,” she says. “If you’re going to get up at four or five in the morning, you don’t do crazy stuff. You’re willing to work hard.”

Over time, rowers progress from novice to open and then competitive teams. They build muscle memory—through hundreds, then thousands of repeated strokes—in order to pull, “feather” or twist their oars and drive the boat forward in synchrony with their boatmates.

According to Sharon, rowing is the ultimate team sport. “There’s no heroic three-pointer at the buzzer,” she points out. “What makes the boat run well is when everybody goes together.”

Curiosity brings them in. Examples abound of people who choose to stay. Eileen Cheng, a volunteer at the center’s Learn to Row Day, explains that she first heard about rowing from her boyfriend, a coxswain (the person in the bow of the boat who steers and commands the rowers) for the Center’s competitive team. “I was hooked,” Eileen says of her own first Learn to Row class. Now, she’s captain of the center’s novice team.

According to Chris Flynn, director of operations and head coach of the competitive masters team, the aquatic center is the Peninsula’s largest rowing club and one of the few local places where the community can access aquatic sports. In addition to adaptive programs for visually impaired rowers and those with disabilities, the Center also offers youth club rowing, dragon boating, stand-up paddleboarding (SUP), outrigger canoeing and surfskiing.

Another big incentive to get out on the water here: special access to Bair and Greco Islands, federally protected habitats where rowers spot harbor seal pups, birds, dolphins and whales. “It’s an amazing place to row,” observes rower and coach Vicky Bialas, who adds that the Peninsula rowing ecosystem also includes clubs such as Stanford Rowing, Redwood Scullers, Palo Alto Rowing and Menlo College.

For rower and former Australian resident Frances Rubinstein, the sport is beautiful, but mastering it is elusive. Newcomers shouldn’t feel discouraged if they don’t ace the techniques right away, she says. “Don’t think you’ll get the perfect stroke immediately. Most of us are still working on the best stroke.”

Keeping it Fresh: Insights from Dr. Philip Pizzo

Words by Sheri Baer

Growing up in the Bronx, as the son of working-class Catholic parents who immigrated from Sicily, Dr. Philip Pizzo could never have imagined the twists and turns his life would take. “Nope! Not even slightly,” he attests. “I would say there probably were no predictors in my early life that indicated where I was going to wind up or how things were going to go.”

If anything, an expulsion from elementary school triggered deep concerns about a very questionable future. Through self-learning and a passion for reading, Phil successfully corrected his course and made a pivotal discovery. “On a personal level, I love change,” he says. “I love to learn and do new things. And so I’ve really relished changing directions on a regular basis.”
So much so that Phil has consistently and deliberately instigated change—becoming a model for risk-taking and even founding a Stanford program that encourages big leaps.

Phil’s insatiable quest to explore what’s next led to a storied career in medicine, research and academic administration. At the National Cancer Institute (NCI), he pioneered life-saving advancements in the treatment of childhood cancer and HIV. After two decades at NCI, he took the reins as the physician-in-chief of Children’s Hospital in Boston and then moved on to chair the Department of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School.

Photography: Courtesy of Stanford Medical Center / Cover: Courtesy of Saul Bromberger

Embracing upheaval again, in 2001, Phil switched up coasts to accept the position of Dean of Stanford University School of Medicine. And when he announced his plans to step down in 2012, Phil’s own search for his next chapter inspired the creation of Stanford’s Distinguished Careers Institute (DCI), a program that promotes mid-life reflection and recalibration.
Along the way, Phil authored more than 615 scientific articles and 16 books. As an advocate of lifelong learning, he also voraciously reads (or listens to) countless titles, while running 50 to 70 miles a week and logging two to three marathons a year.

Now 77, married to his longtime partner Peggy (an early childhood education and public policy expert whom he met as a college freshman) with two daughters and four grandchildren, Phil is leaving his role as founding director of DCI. Not to retire—but to attend rabbinical school.
After converting to Judaism with his wife (following a period of soul-searching and study), Phil’s next pivot will be training to become a rabbi. Embodying a lifestyle marked by steady waves of transitions, Phil’s approach represents the antidote to obsolescence. “It’s a function of being receptive to new things that enter your life, that allow you to rethink who you are,” he explains. “Sort of the path not seen but then chosen.”
Given that change is frequently a daunting prospect, PUNCH asked Phil to share some insights during a rare pause in his schedule.

Why did learning become such a powerful influence in your life?

Having grown up in an immigrant family, in a working-class environment, I kind of had to find my own way. I got into trouble in elementary school and got expelled and that was the beginning in many ways of my personal transformation. I remember the reflection on the event, which was, ‘Your life is not going in a very good direction.’ I knew the one way out was to learn, and so I began doing that. I found the community library, and that’s where, as a young teenager, I began finding my personal role models, who turned out to be people who made discoveries or who contributed societally in different ways. And that became the guidepost for things that continue to evolve in my life. So self-learning, self-guidance, were early elements for me in a very personally definitional way. Threading this through my life, whenever I’m facing a new challenge or interest, my first approach is to learn as much as I can.

Photography: Courtesy of Linda A. Cicero – Stanford News Service

What’s your personal prescription for implementing change?

I’ve become more methodical in my thinking, meaning I try to make a significant change every five and not more than ten years. Of course, you’re doing that anyway early on. When I began my work life, I kept saying every four to five years I’m going to shift the direction of my research in new and different ways. It’s probably a bit of just needing new stimulation and a new challenge, and it’s also motivated by not wanting to get stuck. I’ve watched so many people who stay very focused in a line of research or inquiry or academia, and they wind up over time defending what they’ve done because the world starts moving beyond them. My solution to that is if you keep moving on, you don’t have to defend the past because you’re always going to be creating a new future.

Given that you’re starting rabbinical school at the age of 77, what’s your take on the concept of retirement?

We’ve got our three-part narrative: you get educated, you work and then you retire. Retirement is something that needs to be rethought. It’s not that I’m negative about retirement. I think that people want to do something different but just pausing completely and not having anything that inspires you is not a prescription for a healthy outcome. We’ve also put the point of retirement artificially around ages that are no longer relevant. I think it’s more important to think about the life journey as being a continued set of opportunities that you do throughout your life until you can’t. And that’s the way I have tried to guide people, and in many ways, guide myself. If you don’t have a sense of purpose, then you don’t have a sense of direction.

Why are you such a strong advocate for lifelong learning?

This is a really critical thing for us to rethink. Is there a reason why we only think about education at the beginning of a life span as compared to periodically recalibrating people’s lives throughout its course? We should have that same renewal opportunity for older adults, so that they can take an acceptable pause and more deeply reconsider where they’re going and make choices that are meaningful. By rethinking the role of higher education and having opportunities for people to come back to school—whether it’s for a little bit of time or a longer time to renew their life experience and knowledge—we can prepare them for another set of opportunities. DCI and similar programs that are following it are prototyping the importance of lifelong learning.

Photography: Courtesy of Stanford University School of Medicine

How are the founding principles of DCI tied to longevity?

When I started this new program about life transition, it was parenthetically built upon what I consider to be the three fundamental pillars of longevity: renewing purpose, building community and recalibrating wellness. It’s very important to have a sense of purpose, to know what your direction is going to be and renew your purpose periodically. It’s critical to have a community, a group of people who support you and engage you and whom you engage with. And it’s critically important to focus on wellness from a physical, emotional and spiritual perspective. There’s a lot of data that supports each of those as independent contributors to healthy outcomes.

You seem to have a fearlessness when it comes to change. What’s your advice to people who are a little less courageous?

I think you’ve touched on a core issue, which is so true: People fear change. And so they get co-opted into avoiding it and wind up making compromises along the way. I’m always reminded of an incredible woman whom I met years ago, Elizabeth Glaser, who was a fundamental child advocate for pediatric AIDS. She gave me a picture with a quote that said, basically paraphrasing, ‘When you come to the precipice and you need to jump, don’t be afraid. Jump and you’ll have wings.’ I’m being a little supercilious, but in a way, I think you have to jump, you have to be prepared to take the chance. And if you do that, I think almost invariably, people land in new and in many cases, happier places.

Filmmaking: Creating Karmalink

Words by Johanna Harlow / Photos Courtesy of Karmalink, Miguel Jeronimo

When director and Peninsula native Jake Wachtel tells people he filmed his breakout movie in Cambodia, many ask if it’s a documentary. Not even close. Try Buddhist sci-fi mystery.

Now before your mind jumps straight to space sagas and CGI aliens, you should know that Jake’s film Karmalink is set in the not-so-distant future on planet Earth—a lower-income neighborhood in Phnom Penh, to be precise. And it’s a whole new flavor of sci-fi. While glossy-sleek, ultra-urban cityscapes can feel like a fever dream, Karmalink’s world seems much more plausible—and right around the corner. There’s something grounding in its depictions of drones, augmented reality and biotechnology alongside dirt streets, abandoned train cars and a community facing forced evictions.

Beyond the masterful juxtaposition, Jake’s story of a young treasure seeker and his adventurous friends reveals the cultural differences between Cambodia and Silicon Valley (Jake was born and raised in Menlo Park) as well as marvels at our shared humanity. “I really love near-future and plausible sci-fi as a way to expand our minds of what’s possible and point us to what’s going on in the present,” he shares. “And I think that there’s a great capacity in sci-fi to talk about socio-political issues.”

Photography: Courtesy of Miguel Jeronimo

Touted as Cambodia’s very first science-fiction film, Jake’s movie questions our preconceptions of where a sci-fi should be set. “Cambodia’s hurling headlong into the future,” asserts Jake, explaining that the country’s native digital fluency is exceptional. “There’s this idea of technological leapfrogging where people who aren’t beholden to older forms of technology can more readily embrace new technologies.”

After its world premiere in 2021 at Venice Critics’ Week, Karmalink made the film festival run and was released last month to streaming services. Heralding U.S. filmmaker Jake Wachtel’s “striking feature debut,” Variety describes Karmalink as a “magical spiritual mystery tour” that “takes viewers on a fascinating and frequently wondrous expedition to a place where science and metaphysics intersect.”

For Jake, filmmaking has always been about building bridges. As a young teen, he recalls bringing his new MiniDV camcorder on a trip to the rainforests of Ecuador with his grandmother. “The goal was to document what was going on,” Jake says, “but it also served as a means of connection with the kids in the village.” He recalls a group of Ecuadorians clustering around him to check out his camera—then getting invested in pointing out all the things he should film. “I guess I see in this moment the seeds for later explorations,” he reflects.

By his early 20s, Jake had become a citizen of the world, filming documentaries for NGOs and nonprofits in various countries. When an opportunity to teach film in Cambodia for a year with Filmmakers Without Borders presented itself, he jumped. “I was finding myself really hungry to dive deeper with a single community,” he shares.

Karmalink’s future stars—Srey Leak Chhith and Leng Heng Prak—signed up for Jake’s 2014 class and acted as the leads in the course’s final project: a superhero movie where Student Girl must defeat Dropout Boy and his diabolical plan to cancel school. Both were naturals on camera. And Leng Heng not only played the villain but also served as director. “I have this fun photo of him dressed in full Dropout Boy costume directing the other kids,” he laughs.

Fittingly, Jake also fell for cinema at a young age. At 13, right before attending Menlo-Atherton High School, he encountered the magic of Hitchcock’s psychological thrillers at the Stanford Theatre. “I just remember being so captivated,” he recalls. The vintage design of the venue—in addition to the organ player, lifting out of the floorboards like a rabbit from a hat—also left an impression. “I felt so transported and brought into these worlds,” he notes.

It wouldn’t be until the end of his first year in Cambodia, during a meditation retreat, that the idea for Karmalink first entered Jake’s mind. As the story began to take shape, the filmmaker found himself telling the tale of a young boy who recalls his past lives through dreams, then determines to hunt down the gold artifact he believes he hid long ago.

It would take several more years before production began in earnest. But Jake says he wouldn’t have it any other way. “It doesn’t really feel right to me to fly to a new foreign place and make a movie there,” he explains. “This connection to Cambodia arose organically. And it’s become a very deep and special place in my heart.”

Jake fondly recalls those early days of steeping in the local culture, of “getting used to the rhythms of the monks coming through in the morning asking for alms, and the giant pots of steaming corn that the ladies load on their bicycles to go sell in the market.” More than anything, he admired the beautiful sense of community. “Everyone knows each other,” he says. “Everyone’s looking out for each other.”

Even after deep immersion, Jack knew his perspective would be limited. However, with a roughly 90% Cambodian cast and crew, he had help navigating those nuances. “I tried to make clear to everyone, ‘Please, at any moment, if anything’s going on that doesn’t feel right or you have some ideas, let’s talk about it. Because I want this to really feel like your story, like this makes sense from your perspective.’” And even though Jake is proficient in Khmer, he had Cambodians translate the script in order to capture the subtleties of the country’s official language.

Although major changes were made to his screenplay after Jake recruited the help of Christopher Larsen (an experienced American screenwriter living in Lao), Jake found that the most significant changes weren’t plot points. “I think that, in a lot of ways, where the collaboration is most meaningful is all of the small details,” he explains. Like “how the family sits around dinner together; how they sleep together, curled up on the mattress. It’s a lot of stuff around how families relate to each other.” In one scene of the film, Leng Heng consoles his grandmother by taking her arm and massaging it. “I didn’t write that in the script,” Jake reveals. “I didn’t even know that that’s a very intimate moment in Cambodian family life.”

The film also explores Buddhism (Cambodia’s leading religion and beliefs Jake holds), and there’s a fascinating undercurrent on whether technology progresses or hinders the search for enlightenment. Intriguingly, in Karmalink’s future world, people can only access and view augmented reality by placing a dot-sized piece of tech in the middle of their foreheads—recalling the third eye or “eye of consciousness” said to reveal the world beyond one’s physical sight. “Buddhism saturates the fabric of daily life in Cambodia,” Jake shares. “It’s very common for people to remember their past lives. It’s not out of the ordinary at all.”

But like every story, this one carries universal themes as well. The strength of a tight-knit community, the bravery of big-hearted kids and the power of friendship are topics that transcend time and borders. So is the coming-of-age scenario. “It’s such a common and important story in cultures around the world: demarcating this passing from childhood to adulthood,” Jake notes. “It just so happens to be around the time when our brains really start to crystallize a lot more. We start being open to so many possibilities.”

The topic of memory and brain development is near and dear to Jake’s heart. At Stanford, he majored in psychology while minoring in film studies, delving into neuroscience and film theory, cultural psychology and the history of global cinema. He also worked in a lab for a season, researching the cognitive differences between monolingual and bilingual children: “I was manning an eye-tracking device that’s following the baby’s gaze, as they watch these videos and look around. We’re sponges from the get-go!” Needless to say, you should expect Karmalink to mess with your brain a little bit. But in a good way.

It would be at the intersection of these two studies that Jake came to a life-pivoting realization: “What makes us human is our empathy.” For the filmmaker, cinema is the ultimate empathy generator. “It can literally bring us into the lives of other people who live seemingly so differently from how we live.”

And it’s this mindset that makes Karmalink so powerfully collaborative. “I think a lot of people talk about the director needing to have the vision and telling people, ‘This is how it’s going to be.’ That’s not how I operate,” he chuckles. “I love that it’s this team project!” He smiles when he adds, “They say it takes a village to make a movie.”

Outstanding in the Field: Table-to-Farm Culinary Adventures

Words by Johanna Harlow

Rather than wonder about the origins of your entree, why not whisk your dining table away to discover the source for yourself? For Peninsula farm-to-table enthusiasts, Outstanding in the Field’s table-to-farm events are the ultimate foodie experience. Attend an Outstanding event in the summer or fall, and you might find yourself in the middle of a pear orchard or oyster farm. Or raising a toast to the harvest in a lush vineyard row, clusters of grapes enhancing your al fresco meal. Or savoring a fisherman’s catch at a pier, beach or dockyard.

Founder Jim Denevan and his team have collaborated with farmers and chefs to create next-level dining experiences since 1999. After its modest launch with a trio of NorCal dinners, the event has grown at an astounding rate. Over 1,400 meals later, the roving restaurant has brought four-course culinary adventures to all 50 states—and 20 countries. It’s even attracted the interest of documentarians along with a slew of media coverage. The meal has an unmistakable energy about it. But what ingredients make it magic?

Heading to Markegard Family Grass-Fed, a coastal ranch in Half Moon Bay, I spot Jim’s bus all the way from the Cabrillo Highway. It’s hard to miss the barn-red vehicle, roosting atop the nearby hill like a call to adventure. I arrive as the first guests begin mingling over appetizers—but when I join Jim inside his bus, sheltered from the sea breeze, our conversation doesn’t feel at all rushed. Jim has an unhurried, almost zen-like, calm about him and settles in for a chat about what sets Outstanding in the Field apart.

Photography: Paulette Phlipot / Cover: Courtesy of Emily Hagen – OITF

Charmingly Unrepeatable

It makes me smile when Jim mentions that his repeat guests return “ready for an adventure.” Out the window, I see our “dining room” one hill over. The 150-guest table unfolds in the distance, its crisp white tablecloth contrasting with its earthy surroundings. Jim likes to cause a stir, and this staging is the ultimate anticipation-builder. It’s also a reminder that, unlike the polished, streamlined consistency of brick-and-mortar restaurants, Outstanding meals and their many moving parts are unrepeatable. And that’s exactly the point.

“The art of it is to not decide too far ahead about what you’re exactly going to do,” Jim shares of his choice to engage with the land when determining table placement. He also enjoys teasing out the flavor of each event by pairing chefs with farmers, who work together to tie the menu to the local produce and livestock. Frequently, vintners, brewers, cheesemakers and fishermen join in the culinary collaboration.

Tonight, Indonesian chef Siska Silitonga will weave Markegard cattle and poultry throughout her menu. “We want to honor their land by allowing them to tell us their story through their food,” Jim explains. The ranch’s grass-fed beef lends itself to daging kalio, a heavenly coconut curry; chicken finds its way into yam sambal kemangi, served with stir fry egg noodles, peanuts and a spicy sauce that includes lemon basil from the nearby College of San Mateo Farmers’ Market.

Photography: Courtesy of Brighton Denevan

Chefs and farmers are encouraged to flex their personalities and interests. “I tell my staff, when we’re doing opening remarks, ‘Let the rancher talk about what they have experienced and what they know,’” Jim shares. “Doniga Markegard has a very powerful story about regenerative agriculture and the work to preserve the land. That’s specific to her. It’s her area of expertise.”

Chef Siska affirms to me later, “It’s the best collaboration I’ve had yet. In Indonesian and Thai cooking, we use a lot of shrimp paste and fish sauce. I was worried that they were maybe targeting folks who are not too excited by these flavors. But they’re the opposite. They said, ‘No, Chef, go crazy! You do you!’ It’s just so heart-warming to be allowed to cook whatever you want—the way you cook for your own people.”

It’s Jim’s mission to instill in diners a deeper connection to the “culture” part of agriculture—a sentiment explicitly expressed on the Outstanding website: “We aim to connect diners to the origins of their food while celebrating the hardworking hands that feed us.”

Over a decade after Outstanding’s launch, Jim still cherishes a memory from his very first feast. He recalls the farmer’s expression of satisfaction as he lingered at the table long after the guests had gone. It’s a reaction Jim has witnessed many times since. “We’re celebrating the place they work every day,” Jim remarks as he leans down to pull on his boots. These farmers experience what “you might call an invasion of interested people,” he chuckles, doffing a weathered cowboy hat before heading for the bus door.

Moments of Wonder

Before the meal begins, the horseback-riding Markegard kids demonstrate their herding skills by wrangling the family’s Belted Galloway cattle. Little moments of wonder (planned and unplanned) are characteristic of Outstanding events. “It’s just being whimsical,” Jim explains as we take our seats at the loooong table. Soon, big family-style bowls of rujak salad brimming with papaya, jicama, cucumber, mango, pineapple and a sweet tamarind/shrimp paste dressing begin circulating. “We’re just playing with the circumstances of the day,” Jim notes. “What kind of fun thing can we do?” His contagious seize-the-day attitude is one of the reasons regulars keep coming back: They want to find out what happens next.

Photography: Paulette Phlipot

At times, a farm tour or short trek to the dining area sparks that sense of adventure. Or perhaps it involves a night of glamping after the meal. Always, it incorporates the placement of the table. At an oyster farm in Quilcene, Washington, Jim’s “table reveal” was particularly memorable. “The guests came around the corner from the parking area and they were presented with a table that’s ‘floating’ in the water,” he recounts. Diners slurped shellfish in the shallows of the Puget Sound, their meal literally raised around their chair legs. The guest chef wore wellies. “I have scouted for a table on an iceberg in Greenland,” Jim adds. “It’ll probably happen someday.”

At a past dinner along this same stretch of Half Moon Bay, Jim recalls a group of spouting whales making a guest appearance. “Nature’s part of the event, which enhances the meal,” he affirms. Occasionally, he also situates a beachside table at the edge of high tide—just to see what happens. In the documentary, Man in the Field, the camera captures a wave crashing over the end of the table during the fourth course, soaking delighted guests. Undeterred, the farmer continues to pour from a bottle of red. “He’s not fazed,” Jim recalls of the man. “He’s like, ‘This is life, you know? I just got hit by a wave, but I’m just gonna enjoy this glass of wine.’”

A few times a season, Jim adds an art component to the meal. Not only an orchestrator of epic feasts, he’s also a renowned sand artist (as is his son Brighton Denevan). By molding or raking the ground into geometric patterns, Jim elevates his already photogenic events to the next level. “With each artwork, I am creating a temporary place,” he comments on Instagram. “The place didn’t exist in the morning and doesn’t exist after the tides come in.” The same fleeting, ethereal quality permeates his dinners—reminding guests to savor the present before it’s swept into the past.
Even sunsets are an intentional affair for Jim. He’s got an app to track the sun’s path, allowing him to align the event so that the sun disappears behind the barn or sets at the table’s head so every guest can enjoy it. “There’s some subtlety about those things,” Jim confides. “The guests don’t know that it’s been considered. They feel that it’s been considered, rather than it being super overt.” Tonight, the sun sinks into the Pacific just before dessert, bathing guests in honey-gold hues as silhouetted seabirds pinwheel overhead. Yet another flawless show by Mother Nature.

Photography: Courtesy of Lana Pulda – OITF

Humanizing Meals

Even beyond the environment, it’s the people who make each event special. Like the chef and the farmer, guests play an essential role in the evening. On the Outstanding website, Jim notes that, “Conversation at the table evolves naturally—each person contributing organically (to use the word) to a destination that is not predetermined. To get to the place of surprise and whimsy, we seek it out and give it room to happen.” Guests are encouraged to participate in the meal by bringing their own decorative plates. The result is a colorful tablescape and a representation of fellowship.

The long, family-style table also stands as a symbol. After experiencing an unsafe childhood, Jim feels an undeniable pull to these kinds of intimate gatherings. “I think probably for myself—or anyone who’s been through some challenging circumstances—I see the healing nature of a communal table and how people can connect and trust each other,” he muses. “They share the family-style platter and then consider, ‘Has everyone had enough? Are we sharing appropriately?’ There’s something really sweet about that.” That instinctive caretaking extends through the evening. It’s why, as the sun slips beneath the ocean, the Outstanding team goes around bundling chilly guests in blankets.

Jim sees this as a space to promote empathy, encouraging guests to “lead with their humanity.”

“It’s easier for people to find common ground,” he observes. “They’re at a common table. Their food comes from a common place.” It’s this kind of vision that keeps Outstanding’s authentic celebrations of life unfurling across vineyards and mountaintops, caves and creameries, farms and fishing docks.

By the end of the evening, conversations and wine have flowed. Plates have been emptied, stomachs filled. Jim serenely watches over diners as they bid new friends farewell and follow the trail of twinkling tea lights through the long grass and back to their cars. With the tip of his hat, he returns to his bus, thoughts already beginning to drift to the next feast.

Photography: Paulette Phlipot

Outstanding Tidbits

+ During the earliest events, Jim himself served as the chef. His brother, a farmer of organic apples and pears, hosted one of the first meals in his orchard.

+ Legend has it that Jim’s iconic vehicle once acted as one of Elvis’ old tour buses.

+ Man in the Field: The Life and Art of Jim Denevan was submitted for Best Documentary consideration at the 2022 Oscars.

High Flyers

Words by Sheri Baer

After being set up by their sisters, Marian Harris and Ross Ferguson found their relationship taking off in unexpected directions—not just ups and downs, but also in dives, loops and rolls.

Now a married couple, the Half Moon Bay pair represent the U.S. in international aerobatics competition, essentially the equivalent of Olympic figure skating in the sky. And yes, their love of flying played a defining role in their courtship.

When they first met in late 2011, Marian admits to being intrigued, but her interest skyrocketed when Ross started talking about a Cessna 150. “I was sitting there going, ‘What? You’re what? You can do what?’” she recounts. “And I thought, ‘Oh, you’re more useful now! Maybe I won’t kick you to the curb.’” Marian laughs as she recollects what passed through her mind next: “Or, hopefully, you won’t kick me to the curb!”

Obsessed with flying since childhood (her father had his private pilot’s license), Marian grew up around planes. She enlisted in the Air Force ROTC in college, hoping it would lead to an aviation career, but the timing was off for open pilot slots so she charted a different course. In 2000, a job with SAP brought her to Palo Alto and more than a decade passed. Then her ears perked up while out on a date with Ross.

Meanwhile, Ross grew up in Seattle in the shadow of Boeing but didn’t know anyone who flew. As a teenager, he spotted a $25 intro flight lesson sign and decided to check it out. “I got hooked and kept coming back for lessons whenever I could afford it,” he remembers. A seasoned commerical pilot by the time he met Marian, Ross reactivated his flight instructor ratings and taught her how to fly. And when Marian took her first solo flight in January 2013, their partnership began to soar to new heights.

As it turns out, both Marian and Ross had always been captivated by aerobatic flight. But even for Ross, it was an idea that never got off the ground. “I just always thought, ‘Well, I could buy one of these aerobatic planes but who would go out and do it with me?’” he relates. “I’d just be doing it by myself—it’d be a solitary hobby.”

But that thinking changed when he met Marian and learned about the Yak 52.

Built by the Soviets as a military trainer during the Cold War, the Yak 52 was designed to handle extreme aerobatic and combat maneuvers. About 1,800 were constructed, and after the fall of the Soviet Union, most ended up getting exported to the West. After learning that these agile, well-engineered aircraft were actually affordable, Marian and Ross each bought one and housed them in a hangar at Half Moon Bay Airport. “We were spending more time out here than over on the other side of the hill,” she shares, “so when there was an opportunity to move close to Half Moon Bay Airport, we jumped on it.”

Learning to fly aerobatic figures and sequences, which involves upset and unusual attitude recovery, is used to improve overall safety and create better pilots. “Some people compare it to a roller coaster ride,” Marian notes, “except it’s a roller coaster you’re directing—using skills developed through extensive training.”

Catching sight of a fellow pilot practicing, Marian and Ross step outside the hangar to follow the action unfolding in the sky. “He’s probably pulling around six or seven Gs, which means six or seven times the force of gravity,” Ross observes as he launches into the piloting equivalent of a play by play. “Everything starts and ends from level,” he explains. “This one is called a Humpty Bump. It’s just straight up and then straight down. When he comes out, we’ll see what he does next.” As Ross tracks the plane with his finger, the pilot takes his aircraft vertical and does a one and three-quarter roll. “And this is a Hammerhead, which is just a rotation at zero air speed,” Ross continues, “and then a snap roll on the way back down.”

Watching the aircraft seemingly hurtle to the ground, a question naturally erupts: “That looks terrifying! What does it feel like?” Without a beat, Marian and Ross respond in unison: “FUN!” Still, Ross acknowledges that about 80% of pilots get airsick the first time. “It’s uncomfortable at first and then you build up to it,” he says.

After they learned entry-level aerobatics, a friend and fellow Yak 52 pilot encouraged them to get more serious. “You’ve got the airplane, why don’t you go to the Yak 52 World Championship?,” he suggested and connected them with a highly-regarded coach from Kazakhstan for competitive solo aerobatics training.

Given that the Yak 52 design was “frozen” early on, all of the aircraft are virtually identical, making it a perfect candidate for a one-design competition. “It really levels the playing field,” notes Ross, who explains that competitors typically “arrive and drive” aircraft assigned to them versus having to ship their own aircraft to contests. “It basically takes the cost of owning the latest airplane out of the equation,” he says. The first Yak 52 World Aerobatic Championship (informally referred to as the YAK WAC) was held in 2008 and is hosted every two to three years by a different country.

After squeezing in training around their day jobs, Ross and Marian decided to go for it in 2017, traveling to Tula, Russia, with their Half Moon Bay teammate Brian Branscomb, to compete in the 5th Yak 52 championship. With thousands of spectators watching, the competition involves flying a series of sequences—typically four minutes in length—that include a mix of compulsory and “free” figures that the pilots pick themselves.

“The judges want to see the presentation right in front of them,” Marian explains. “That’s the real difficulty,” adds Ross. “It takes a certain amount of time to learn how to do the figures, but then you have to put the figures all together in this sequence and keep it within a little 1,000-meter aerobatic box. It’s like flying between a bunch of skyscrapers.”

The American team claimed fourth in their first Yak 52 competition. “If there was an award for the team who learned the most, we would have won gold,” Ross smiles. The couple flew in two U.S. contests after Tula and recently participated in another world championship in Torun, Poland. They hope to see more U.S. aerobatic pilots joining them at the next YAK WAC, date and location still pending.

The couple’s Half Moon Bay hangar is filled with flight memorabilia—tail feathers, trophies, medals and a striking collection of photos and flags. After earning her license, Marian learned that her great aunt was an original air racer in the late ’20s and ’30s. She proudly displays a black & white image of Elizabeth Kelley posing with Amelia Earhart and the legendary test pilot Pancho Barns. Also here are banners and flyers from their other commitments. The two pilots prioritize taking flight for “both fun and community,” which includes volunteering for the San Mateo Disaster Airlift Response Team, helping coordinate searches for entangled whales and hosting and supporting Young Eagle flights to introduce kids to flying and aviation careers.

Although they credit flying with bringing them together, “It’s a part of it, but it’s not everything,” Marian is quick to point out. But for now at least, they’re relishing every moment of each roller coaster ride in the sky.

Eye-Catching Design

Words by Jennifer Jory

From an early age, Heidi Lancaster always had a camera in hand—and today, this San Mateo photographer and mother of four is staying true to form. Heidi’s mission to freeze-frame the current styles in interior design and preserve this cultural moment keeps her behind the camera constantly. “The variety of architecture on the Peninsula makes design photography really fun,” she says. “I never know what I am going to shoot until I get there. The home has become so important right now and people are changing things up.”

Heidi looks at the craft of photography with an artistic eye and brings that sensibility to every shoot. “The interior designers in my view are kind of like artists,” she explains. “I am trying to capture their art in a moment of time.” She credits local designers with making rooms feel liveable and interesting by adding distinctive elements. “This is a very sophisticated area and people are wanting that extra touch of wallpaper that no one has seen,” she adds.

Photography: Courtesy of Bridget Lancaster

Although always drawn to photography, Heidi directly traces her vocation back to her children. Forgoing the portrait studios, she dusted off her Canon, propped her kids up on a blanket and began taking her own photos. Heidi’s friends took notice and started asking her to take pictures of their children and shoot their family Christmas cards. Soon, Heidi Lancaster Photography was born. But balancing work and family had her burning the candle at both ends. “I was editing into the wee hours of the night,” she recalls. Eventually, she started shooting a variety of subjects from products to events, and then one day a designer friend asked her to photograph a San Francisco apartment.

“I love design and using my tripod and it just clicked for me,” she remembers. As Heidi’s client roster of interior designers grew through referrals, her photos started gracing the pages of lifestyle and design publications. Popular home furnishing retailers like Serena & Lily and Pottery Barn began featuring Heidi’s images as well.

While she likens interior designers to artists, Heidi also dabbles in creating art with photography. She sells her outdoor art series—beach scenes from Positano to Malibu and a mountain sequence highlighting images of the Sierra—in boutiques and online. She also plans to release a selection of interior design art photography, such as the large unconventional photo of a colorful, modern boutique interior that hangs over her kitchen table. When she asked her family to vote on wall art for the kitchen, they unanimously chose this image. “I can stare at it and find something new every day,” observes Heidi.

When it comes to photographing a home, Heidi identifies three distinguishing elements of design. A room’s color saturation is the first, and she’s not surprised to see more color being added to homes. Next, Heidi points to the layering of patterns in fabric and wallpaper. “When the mix is done well and layered with a piece of art, it really stuns you and you want to take it all in,” she notes. Finally, balance creates a room that is pleasing to the eye, whether it is through repetition of items such as matching chairs or a color that carries through. “It is also important to have a place for the eye to rest in a photo,” she emphasizes.

In terms of design trends, Heidi sees a transition from minimalism to maximalism, a style that promotes “more is more” when it comes to colors, textures and layers. She appreciates both contemporary approaches as well as classic antiques that ground a room. “Mixing styles makes it feel like a home versus a staged house,” she imparts. “Antique furniture is like a coat from decades ago that you can throw on over a modern dress. You can put a modern vase on a desk from the 1800s and update it.”

Heidi emphasizes that homeowners want to put their own personality stamp on their interiors. “One of my clients is scouring the world for unique objects,” relays the photographer. “She is searching for light fixtures and elevated one-of-a-kind pieces. Reusing vintage pieces with a fun history is a sustainable practice showing up in design.” Heidi also underscores that with all of the layering and adding in of maximalism, people are still drawn to the relaxed, clean look in kitchens.


Raised in Marin, Heidi traces the influence of the outdoors as a thread running through her work today. Her father’s love for photography inspired her to pick up his high-end cameras and shoot everything she could. “I had such a passion for it,” she reflects. She took art classes throughout her education and spent time in the darkroom; however, landing a job with a wedding photographer elevated her skills to a new level. “I basically learned the business and ran it, working on lighting and shooting for three years,” she recalls. “The experience was irreplaceable.”

After college, Heidi worked at Citibank in San Francisco, where she met her husband Dave. Reflecting on what tipped her ultimate career choice, she says, “I liked the business world but when push came to shove, photography didn’t seem like work to me.”

Now, with a teenage son, two daughters still in college and one just graduated and embarking on a career in construction and design, Heidi relishes the immersive stimulation she encounters every day. “Someone asked me what my end goal was with my work,” she shares. “There is no end goal—it’s a passion. It’s the excitement of creativity and what comes next.”

Junkyard Artist

Words by Johanna Harlow

To Dan Lythcott-Haims, time is an artist.

After rediscovering photography in his late 40s, Dan began capturing shots of corrosion around scrapyards, forklift and heavy machinery rentals and auto salvage yards. “With the camera, I started to see the art in the world—and what I saw was the textures and colors and patterns and forms of decay,” shares the Palo Alto resident. “It sort of spoke to me as the art that nature and time have created.”

Dan appreciates that when elements interact on the microscopic level, they are capable of creating something exceptional on a larger scale. Rust deserves recognition because something miraculous happens when atoms on a piece of iron combine with water and oxygen to create something… more. “It’s grown into something kind of random and beautiful,” he marvels.

Similar to the transformation of a bronze patina, Dan has also developed with age. One of his big milestones was moving to his first studio at Art Bias (known as The Art Center of Redwood City back then)—because it meant recognizing himself as a professional artist. As the former creative director of Pandora’s design department, Dan’s mind has always been innovative, and yet… “I was always creative; I came from an artistic family, but I didn’t feel like I had whatever artists had,” he reflects about his early insecurities. Moving to a studio also meant invaluable mentorship opportunities. “I think my professionalism increased quite a bit while I was there. I was able to really talk to people about some of the business aspects of being an artist and selling art.”

Dan’s current studio resides at The Alameda Artworks in San Jose, and his work can be found at open studio events, exhibits and online. Previous solo shows include Schultz Cultural Arts Hall, Pacific Art League and the International Art Museum of America. In addition to being held in private collections, his creations grace the walls of local cafes.

It was through exploration at his first studio that Dan began branching out to three-dimensional art. After many photoshoot outings, he’d collected quite the assortment of bric-a-brac ranging from chains and barbed wire to washers and saw blades. “I had to do something with them,” he says. “I couldn’t just leave them. I wanted the work to come off of the flat plane of the photograph. I wanted to display them somehow.”

Soon, he started mounting his rusted gems on maple wood frames, “almost like I was presenting a jeweled object to the world,” describes Dan. “I would take a rusty nail or a rusted piece of metal and make it special by the way I was presenting it.” He allowed his pieces to evolve by intentionally leaving the wood unfinished, the color of the rust transferring to the frames over time. “Everything ages,” he observes.

One man’s trash truly is another man’s treasure—and over the years, Dan has found a gold mine in places like Alan Steel & Supply Co, a Redwood City supplier bountiful with pipes, i-beams, rolls of wire, gears and casters. “You can buy stuff by the pound, which is fun,” he grins.

One project of note is Dan’s Alchemy series. By weaving wire through perforations, he fashioned a kind of metallic textile. As he experimented with different kinds of wires and thicknesses to find the right look, Dan found a therapeutic trial and error element to the project. Old materials were too brittle for assemblage, so he found a copper wire that met his needs, then oxidized it with a vinegar spray, leaving it to soak for different lengths of time to create varied textures and shades of green. “Every piece is unique, even though the chemical reaction is the same,” he notes. “Technically, as my scientist mother-in-law would tell me, it isn’t alchemy, it’s chemistry. But the change that comes over the metals to me is magical.”

The Alchemy series was Dan’s first time using new materials. “I felt a little bit uncomfortable sort of ‘faking’ the rust, but I have met some artists and that’s what they do. They patina metal in different ways with different chemicals. So I realized it’s not fake—it’s just a different process.”

Despite all these assemblage and sculpture projects, Dan still makes time for photography. Like his Collections series, which features objects from flea markets around the Bay Area. “One of the things that I like about repetition—when I take similar or identical objects and repeat them—is that overall, there’s this emergent, organic quality.” He compares it to the ocean. “Every coral reef is unique, even though each polyp is identical.”

One of Dan’s favorite projects to date is a series of cages and keys from 2020—the largest of which holds 400 or so keys and stands at almost human-height. “I love the scale, the scope,” he says with a smile. “And it has some unexpected characteristics. It makes a beautiful noise when it’s bumped, all the little keys tinkling against each other. The visual of all the movement is wonderful and unexpected.”

Many have told Dan that the project has spoken to their feelings of isolation during the shelter-in-place. “Each viewer can find in it what they want to find in it,” he invites. But as for him… “The meaning is in the making,” says the guy who finds wonder in the junkyard.

Perfect Shot: Blue Hour at the Baylands

At the end of Marsh Road in Menlo Park, Bedwell Bayfront Park attracts many after-work walkers and runners as well as a varied assortment of sea birds. It’s also a favorite destination for Menlo Park photographer Jennifer Fraser, who captured this Perfect Shot of the post-sunset blues reflected in the water and sky.

Image by Jennifer Fraser /

Calling all shutterbugs: If you’ve captured a unique perspective of the Peninsula, we’d love to see your Perfect Shot. Email us at to be considered for publication.

Diary of a Dog: Muffy

News Flash: The Loch Ness Monster has moved to Los Altos! But don’t worry—I’m Muffy, and I’ve got things under control. Surprisingly not of Scottish descent, I’m a Chihuahua mix—at least that’s what Adobe Animal Hospital told my family after they rescued me 14 years ago from a Safeway parking lot in Campbell. I’m forever grateful and do my best to protect Ross, Elizabeth, Kathryn and Caroline each day. Any given morning, you’ll find me poolside, and although I may look relaxed, I’m constantly standing guard. When I hear any movement from the creature, I launch into action. Don’t let my tiny build of 11 pounds, gentle nature and cute chest curls fool you—I have a very intimidating bark and deep snarl. I run back and forth at lightning speed between shallow and deep ends to ward off the white tubular beast. Ross and Elizabeth call the monster ‘the pool sweep’ (I know, silly right?), and I keep it at bay while they work in the garden, grill up dinner or choose to risk life and limb by actually swimming in the water. The dreadful pool monster has taunted me ever since I was a young pup. I remember minding my own business, watching its long tail move swiftly through the deep waters, but as it turned to approach, our eyes locked and it boldly sprayed my innocent muzzle. Ever since—it’s been game on! So long as I’m on watch, family, friends and even ducks are welcome to stop in for a visit. I’m the ultimate backyard protector, so everyone is safe in my paws.

Landmark: Woodside’s Spring and Sprite

Words by Jordan Greene

As you drive past Woodside’s Village Hill heading into town, the lifelike Spring and Sprite will undoubtedly catch your eye. Installed in 2010, the two bronze sculptures of a majestic thoroughbred mare and lively foal welcome visitors and commemorate Woodside’s rich equestrian heritage. In 2008, Woodside’s town council voted unanimously to approve the statues, and a campaign was launched on Woodside’s annual Day of Horses celebration to raise the necessary $108,000 in funding. Crafted by internationally acclaimed Colorado sculptor Veryl Goodnight, the striking pair weigh in at 1,200 pounds and 300 pounds, about the same weight as live horses. Goodnight describes horses as her favorite subject since childhood and credits them with being her greatest teachers. A longtime symbol of the community’s culture, horses played a vital role in Woodside’s history—whether providing transportation, plowing farmland or hauling logs. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, Woodside became known for great estates with grand stables including Folger, Why Worry and Runnymede. Today, horses and riders enjoy convenient hitching posts and hundreds of miles of trails throughout the area. As Woodside’s official greeters, Spring and Sprite require regular upkeep. Once a year, the community gathers to “groom” the mare and foal. After a thorough washing, a thin layer of wax is rubbed into the horses to preserve the bronze color of the sculptures.

Traci’s el Alto Arrival

Words by Elaine Wu

For James Beard Award-winning chef Traci Des Jardins, Los Altos might seem like an unexpected destination for her eclectic new Mexican restaurant. After all, she made a name for herself running some of San Francisco’s most recognized restaurants like Jardiniere, The Commissary, Arguello and Mijita. But after a successful 30-year culinary career, Traci has observed a noticeable change in people’s habits.

Rather than make the trek to a fine dining establishment in SF, diners eagerly seek diverse restaurant options closer to home. Pair that reasoning with the rich agricultural history of Los Altos and the Spanish-style architecture of the building that Traci’s new restaurant occupies, and you get the perfect setting for el Alto, located adjacent to the new State Street Market.

The idea for the restaurant had been percolating in Traci’s mind for quite a while. She aspired to create a restaurant that would highlight her cultural identity without limiting herself to any one particular region of Mexico. Her close relationship with her Mexican-born maternal grandparents and frequent travels there as a child inspired her passion for the food she now serves at el Alto. “It’s really about connecting the cuisine with a better understanding of the culture,” she states proudly. “You travel to Mexico and see the variety of food preparations that haven’t been accessible in restaurants and realize it’s a hidden cuisine.”

The restaurant’s menu is full of seasonal ingredients and unexpected flavors like the chrysanthemum salad, duck leg with apricot mole, tamal with wild mushrooms and the pescado a la milbrasa, a fish entree inspired by Traci’s travels. “As a child, my winters were spent on the beaches of Puerto Vallarta. We’d have a firepit and gorgeous fresh fish and roast them with Mexican salt and lime,” she recalls. “Those are the things I try to recreate.”


Traci acknowledges that el Alto is not the typical Mexican restaurant people might be accustomed to, and that’s the whole idea. “The exposure to different flavors and the unexpected can widen the lens for how people see Mexican food,” she says. “I’m excited by the recognition Mexican food is getting right now on the world stage. People will want to discover how Mexican food can be elevated.”

El Alto’s comfortable, modern space is bustling and intimate all at once. The communal table for walk-ins and the large bar against the back wall create an inviting after-work destination. The restaurant’s large windows, along with its black and amber color scheme, also make el Alto ideal as a stylish yet casual date spot. An added enticement is coming soon: a speakeasy downstairs, featuring a curated selection of agaves, whiskeys and seasonal cocktails.

At one point in her career, Traci was running six restaurants in San Francisco simultaneously. Needless to say, transitioning to a smaller and quieter neighborhood like downtown Los Altos has been a welcome shift. “I don’t want to have that crazy lifestyle again,” she affirms. “I appreciate the change and slowing down. It’s been surprisingly fun. I’m delighted by the community’s response and how thankful and excited they are to have us here.”

Perfect Shot: Purisima Cloud Forest

After experiencing an amazing fog layer during an evening hike at Purisima Creek Redwoods Preserve, Palo Alto photographer Brian Krippendorf clearly didn’t get enough of the breathtaking vistas. “The next morning my cat woke me up early,” he says, “so I decided to go back.” From a ridgeline trail just before 6AM, Brian captured this Perfect Shot of towering coast redwoods peeking through a dense sea of clouds.

Image by Brian Krippendorf / @briankrippendorf

Calling all shutterbugs: If you’ve captured a unique perspective of the Peninsula, we’d love to see your Perfect Shot. Email us at to be considered for publication.

Architecture: Inviting in Serenity

Words by Sheri Baer

Visit Redwood City-based SDG Architecture’s website, and a quote from renowned Mexican architect Luis Barragán is the first thing that greets you. It speaks to serenity—making your home a calm, peaceful and untroubled haven.

“It resonated with me,” says SDG founder and principal architect Steve Simpson about the premise originally expressed by Barragán over 40 years ago. “It’s an elusive goal and it’s hard to get enough of any kind of serenity—more so now than ever.”

Although Steve believes that serenity is ultimately an internal pursuit, he embraces the idea that your environment and surroundings can play a role. As he frames it, architecture has the ability to provide a conducive backdrop. He cites his own home as an example. When he leaves the office after a frequently overstimulating day of problem-solving and navigating a maze of zoning ordinances, Steve can feel the tension slipping away as he pulls into Belmont. “When I go home, where I live is serene,” he notes, “and I think one of the biggest luxuries that anybody can have is just the ability to slow down, relax and enjoy life.”

When it comes to designing serenity-inducing settings, Steve relies on basic, centering principles. “In architecture, it’s about balance and flow and connecting the inside with the outside, particularly around here where we have beautiful properties and landscapes,” he says. “A lot of it is just keeping things simple. Often, that’s something that’s overlooked. When you can, just simplify, which is probably true in life too.”

Since SDG’s establishment in 1988, Steve’s firm has completed over 500 residential projects, with about 90% on the Peninsula—including Woodside, Atherton, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Menlo Park and Palo Alto. Specializing in new construction, with a smattering of remodels, SDG’s work ranges from estate-sized properties to smaller, suburban sites. For every client, the goal is to strike a balance in terms of design and flow while still optimizing for desired features and function. Understanding a client’s priorities—which includes how they define serenity—guides the design process.

A comfy reading nook. The perfect setting for a piano. A view out of the house to something that makes you reflect. “Sometimes,” Steve says, “it’s just a little surprise that you can add to a house.” As an example, he cites a property in Woodside where he situated a small private garden outside the master bathroom: “You wouldn’t expect it, but we’ve hidden this little almost-Balinese outdoor shower there and that can be just a moment of serenity.”

In the case of a Portola Valley project, an empty-nester couple felt a disconnect in the home where they had raised their children. “They wanted a house that was more in line with the next phase in their life,” Steve explains, “and it wasn’t going to be an older two-story house with the master bedroom on the second floor.” Rather, on their piece of property with expansive views of Windy Hill Open Space Preserve, they envisioned a new one-story house tuned to the outdoors, with an emphasis on energy efficiency and sustainability—and nods to serenity throughout.

“We rearranged the house and now every room opens up to the outside,” Steve relays. “The views of Windy Hill were facing the front, so in this case, which is unusual, we placed the master bedroom in the front.” Clean interiors that offset the client’s vibrant collection of Aboriginal art. A little music room. Italian-crafted kitchen cabinet doors that appear and disappear to hide any counter clutter. “We end up spending a lot of time integrating details into the design—like hardware and window coverings—that you don’t see until you need them.”

SDG partnered with landscape architect Cristin Franklin to transform the property’s thirsty lawns into stunning drought-resistant landscaping and a new pool area that delivers its own transportive experience. “Although it’s just a few steps from the house,” Steve points out, “it has this resort feel to it and becomes its own little destination.”

Steve takes immense pride in each completed project but says he gets the most satisfaction in the construction phase, watching the house take shape. That’s not surprising given his roots. Born in San Francisco, Steve grew up in Fremont in a family of builders—his father was a general contractor with his brother following suit. Although Steve’s studies initially took him in a different direction, he rediscovered his passion for architecture and ultimately opened his own firm.

Steve was living in San Francisco at the time but got some timely advice from a friend on the Peninsula. “He said, ‘Why would you try to set up business in San Francisco?’” Steve recounts. “‘There are tons of architects up there and not a lot of work [at the time], and down here, there’s a lot of work and not a lot of architects.’”

In 1988, Steve launched SDG Architecture in Redwood City, which was followed by his own move to Belmont. More than three decades later, working with a team of six, he’s appreciative of the evolution he’s seeing in Peninsula architectural projects. “The expectations have gotten higher, which drives everybody, so I think the quality across the board has gotten better,” he says.

At the same time, Steve acknowledges that building custom homes has never been an easy process, and recent supply chain issues have only made it harder. Not exactly serenity-inducing conditions for clients. His approach? “It’s a lot about setting reasonable expectations for how long it’s going to take and how much it’s going to cost,” he says. “There’s a lot of balance involved both in the house and how you approach it.”

And while Steve aims to create peaceful havens for all of his clients, he’s also pragmatic about how much he can achieve. “We can provide a backdrop,” he emphasizes, “but ultimately, serenity is kind of like happiness: You have to help yourself to get there.”

Eye for the Abstract

Words by Sheryl Nonnenberg

Sandy Ostrau says she did not set out to become an artist. A visit to her Palo Alto studio, where she has been preparing for a solo exhibition at Dolby Chadwick Gallery in San Francisco, would indicate otherwise. Sandy has enjoyed notable success for several decades, with gallery representation and sales of her work to both national and international collectors. But it all started with the humble crayon.

“I was the kid who would go home to color,” she laughs. “And I was good at it!”

Sandy relates that her parents encouraged her artistic bent and, as a result, “I was always making art.” As a child she took classes at the Palo Alto Cultural Center but when it came time for the Palo Alto High School grad to declare a major at UC Santa Barbara, she opted for art history. During her undergraduate days she took numerous figure drawing classes (“just because I liked to draw”) but steered clear of the painting studio.

Fast-forward to adulthood, marriage and children and Sandy was still doing art projects: “I painted furniture and textiles and, for a while, had a business selling silk-screen and hand-painted clothing to retailers like Nordstrom.” The business did well, but when she was ready to really expand, she decided to redirect her focus.

Throughout this time, Sandy took oil painting classes at both the Cultural Center and the Pacific Art League, where she had the good fortune to study under Jim Smyth and Brigitte Curt. “They were beautiful artists, great teachers and an exceptional find for a local art center,” Sandy says. She credits their teaching as providing the basis for her work with the figure and landscape, especially working in plein air.

“I really loved outdoor painting. You learn so much about how to distill a scene and it’s a great way to learn aspects of art making, especially materials management and how to mix colors.”

Sandy continued her studies with Smyth and Curt, even as she began to show her work in small group shows both here and in the Sea Ranch area, where her family has a second home. But she feels her evolution as an artist really took a turning point when she began to participate in Open Studios, which she did for seven years. It’s something that she strongly recommends to every artist. “Open Studios is a great way to get work out there and it’s a learning curve,” she says. While opening one’s home to a stream of strangers may not be everyone’s cup of tea, Sandy found it worthwhile. “I did really well and sold a lot of paintings,” she shares. “I have a great group of friends who were clients first.”

Although those early plein air landscapes found an eager market, Sandy was ready to evolve in her style and technique. She has always admired the work of Bay Area Figurative Movement painters (David Park, Nathan Oliveira, Paul Wonner and Richard Diebenkorn) who bucked the prevailing trend of Abstract Expressionism in order to return to the figure and representational art. Using a limited range of colors, brushes and palette knives, and a wet-on-wet painting technique, Sandy focused her efforts on work that integrated the figure into the landscape, but not in a literal way. “I am interested in getting to the essence in landscape and figure,” she explains.

Looking at the paintings that she has prepared for the Dolby Chadwick show, it is clear that the Bay Area figurative painters have been a major influence for Sandy. Does she mind if people see that reference? “Not at all,” she says. “All of those artists integrated the figure into the landscape in a way that is expressionistic, gestural but representational. They did it masterfully.”

In Sandy’s paintings, which are often large in scale and very textural, thanks to layers and layers of paint that have been added and removed, the figure (or figures) is generalized with no specific gender. She explains that she “doesn’t want to give too much information” and they are often placed in a location like a beach or pier, which serves as “a metaphor for the connection of land and sea.” In Simple Pleasures, a figure at the far left of the canvas looks out to sea but instead of a line demarcating the horizon line, there are rectangular blocks of purple, red, yellow and turquoise. It is a good example of one of the questions she asks herself, “How do you integrate a figure into blocks of color?”

And color is certainly a hallmark in Sandy’s approach. She explains that she really likes to examine how color contrasts work, citing the “push-pull” theory of Hans Hoffman. She is not afraid of adding or removing color and credits all those years of working outside for her ability to mix colors successfully, never working “out of the tube.” This is obvious in Fog Rolling Across the Pier, where squares and rectangles of both bright and muted colors are stacked along the horizon line, creating unexpected contrasts and juxtapositions. The three figures are so well integrated you might miss them, if you don’t look closely enough. That would be okay with Sandy, who says she wants people to bring their own references and experiences to the paintings.

Although she works mainly in the studio these days (and never from photographs), Sandy speaks with great fondness for her early days as a plein air painter. One of her favorite locations was Baylands Park, where she was a regular for years. “It has water, trees, horizon, distant hills and beautiful color changes,” she notes. She would paint quickly and the resulting plethora of canvases were stored in pizza boxes. Her son, she recounts laughingly, would exclaim, “Not another swamp painting, Mom!”
In addition to gallery representation, Sandy has also garnered interest in her work via social media, specifically Instagram. Clients as far away as New York City, Italy and Norway have found and purchased her paintings. Pre-pandemic, she also gave private lessons and taught in workshop settings. “Teaching allows you to isolate and define your process,”
she observes.

Sandy is clearly pleased, grateful and maybe a bit surprised at her success. “My original goal was just to pay for my paint supplies,” she adds. And what advice does she give to aspiring artists? “Affiliate with a local art center or school to keep honing skills and have a regular schedule to keep making art. You need to put in the time—miles of paint on canvas!”

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