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
hello@punchmonthly.com 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!”

The Beat on Your Eats: Health Food

Words by Silas Valentino

true food

Palo Alto

This is a stand against fake food. If you are what you eat then why be anything less than true? National healthy chain True Food arrived on the Peninsula at the Stanford Shopping Center and is gaining a following for its refined menu of all-American favorites. Each dish—from the pizza to the burgers to the grilled chicken parmesan and banana pancakes—are consciously-sourced and use seasonal ingredients to enhance your inner super powers. The eatery is predicated on the anti-inflammatory food pyramid created by its founder Dr. Andrew Weil, the famed doctor of integrative medicine also recognized for his girthy, grizzled beard. Swing by for the winter menu featuring butternut squash soup and edamame dumplings. 180 El Camino Real, Suite 1140. Open Monday through Thursday from 11AM to 9PM; Friday from 11AM to 10PM; Saturday from 10AM to 10PM and Sunday from 10AM to 9PM.

eats meets west bowls

Belmont

These carefully-concocted savory saucers are a love letter to Eats Meets West’s owner Alpa Bhas’s culinary ancestry. Her parents are originally from the state of Gujarat in India and immigrated to Panama before relocating to the United States. Her family experimented with spices and ingredients in the West to reflect home dishes from the East, and by the time she was six years old, Alpa was undergoing her education in cookery. She devised the menu using a five-step process: choose a bowl style, then select a base (brown or white rice or mixed green), pick a protein, then add veggies before topping in a variety of nuts or fried crunches. As she explains, “It truly is the flavors of the East with a zest of the West.”
1602 El Camino Real, Suite A. Open Monday through Sunday from 11AM to 8PM.

mendocino farms

San Mateo • Palo Alto

It’s about a three-hour drive from here to Mendocino County, where agriculture and untouched outdoors still reign, but the sandwich, salad and bowl marketplace Mendocino Farms is just a dash away. A couple of highlights on the menu include the Smoky Chicken Elote Bowl (al pastor chicken, smoky corn, guajillo broth and ancient grains) and Mendo’s Crispy Chicken Sandwich (air-fried chicken tenders, apple and celery root slaw with roasted garlic aioli on a sesame brioche bun). Co-founders (and husband-and-wife team) Mario Del Pero and Ellen Chen partner with regional farmers to ensure tasty food that also supports the local food economy. 1060 Park Place. 167 Hamilton Avenue. Open Monday through Sunday from 11AM to 9PM.

Sweet Crunches: Granola Maker

Words by Emily McNally

The passion for the carefully crafted recipe runs deep in Lindsey Mifsud’s family. “Food is my love language,” Lindsey says with a laugh. “I come from a big, Italian family and being in the kitchen talking and cooking always came naturally to me. If I care about you, I’ll drop off something sweet or make you a meal.”

Lindsey, a Belmont native, grew up as a multi-sport athlete playing soccer, volleyball and basketball at Notre Dame High School before committing herself to softball. After a college pitching career at University of Redlands in Southern California, she became a certified nutrition coach. Lindsey’s passion for food is grounded in the science of sustenance as well as flavors passed down through generations. “I can make something that is sugar-free and all-natural that tastes great and nourishes the body,” she says. “I want to be a voice and example for healthy eating.”

Given the family connection to cooking, there’s a poetry to the fact that Lindsey made her first batch of best-selling granola in her Nonni’s kitchen. “She had blood orange-infused olive oil and these dried apricots that she uses in her biscotti recipe,” Lindsey recalls. “I made it for her and she loved it.” As the addiction to her uniquely flavored granola spread among her friends and family, Lindsey began to envision bringing her delicious concoction to the larger stage.

“I was dreaming up ideas for logos and packaging, and then more flavor profiles started to come to me. I started to think this was something I could really grow into a business,” Lindsey explains with a wide smile. As the details crystalized in her imagination, she selected LL’s Kitchen for a moniker—using the initials of her first and middle names, Lindsey Louise—then secured a cottage food license and took to social media to test the market.

Her first Facebook and Instagram posts appeared in September 2020. “Initially, it was a lot of support from my community,” she recounts, “but pretty quickly I’d overwhelmed my parents’ kitchen and had to look for professional cooking space.” Lindsey moved her operation to San Mateo’s KitchenTown where she can prepare and cook 15 trays of granola at a time, making enough to fill 120 bags of granola a day.

Lindsey credits her competitive nature with centering nutrition in her life. Though fueling for athletics had long played a significant role, she had an awakening in her junior year of college when she returned to Redlands after a semester abroad in Salzburg, Austria, and had to quickly prepare for the upcoming softball season. “I realized that I had to stop swinging from restrictive diets to indulging,” she says. ”I really wanted to eat well to feel better and compete at my highest level.”

She began to cook for herself and her roommates, becoming known on her softball team as the resident expert on food and fitness. But the impact of sports on Lindsey’s life goes beyond an intimate understanding of nutrition. “Athletics is where I learned all of my really big life lessons,” she explains. “It’s where I grew up and learned to take responsibility for both myself and a team. LL’s Kitchen is my independence project, but I get a lot of support from my family. They are my team now.”

Though the casual consumer may consider granola healthy, Lindsey points out that it’s often loaded with refined sugar and additives, which she avoids.

“LL’s Kitchen uses all-natural ingredients and honey as a sweetener instead of sugar; even our fruit is unsweetened,” she says. “I add a variety of ingredients, like walnuts, pecans and pumpkin seeds to bulk up the nutritional aspect of LL’s granola.” Lindsey’s product line has grown from the original, and still best-selling, Blood Orange and Apricot, to include her grain-free option, Paleo, as well as Cherry Vanilla and Apple Cinnamon. The latest addition to her product line are granola bars, in flavors of Super Berry, Pecan Pie and Almond Butter and Jam. “People really love an on-the-go treat,” she notes. “I’ve been surprised by their popularity.”

LL’s Kitchen granolas are sold at Preston’s in Burlingame, but the bulk of the sales come from the online store and Burlingame’s Farmers Market. Lindsey fills the occasional bulk order for events or corporate gift baskets, but she likes the personal touch of selling directly to customers. “I’m hoping to find my way into more farmers markets in the coming months. I love meeting the people I sell to and forming those relationships,” she says. “That’s been the most satisfying aspect of the business so far.”

Because her business has grown so fast, Lindsey is still a one-woman show, doing all of the cooking, packaging, delivery, shipping and direct sales herself. Though she knows she can rely on that big family that has always been her supportive team, she looks forward to hiring some help and working on the thoughtful expansion of LL’s Kitchen. She hopes to own a cafe one day where she can sell other healthy baked goods as well as her granola, but she wants to move carefully to maintain the integrity of what she’s created so far. “I’d love to have my granola all over the place,” she shares, “but I care more about the personal touch.”

Standalone Chef

Words by Silas Valentino

Arriving home from school during the 7th grade, Charlie Parker wasn’t flipping on MTV like the rest of his generation in the 1990s. Instead, he was tuning into Great Chefs – Great Cities to find ideas.

“I’d walk home from La Entrada Middle School in Menlo Park, sit on a beanbag chair and turn that on,” he says of the program that’s part of the Great Chefs franchise on PBS. “Then I’d think, ‘Okay, what can I do with hot dogs?’”

Charlie’s culinary tendencies evolved and became both a passion and a chance for the youngest of three brothers to stand out. Once, Charlie joined his mom for a trip to Sigona’s Farmers Market where a bag of free passion fruit fostered his proclivity towards gastronomy.

“I remember how the person at Sigona’s didn’t know what passion fruit was and thought they were rotten,” he says now with a smile. “They gave it away to me for free and I went home to make a passion fruit tart for my family.”

By the time he was at Woodside High School, Charlie secured his first restaurant gig working the dishwasher at A Tavola in San Carlos, which has since become TOWN. When he and friends returned home from a night out together, he would whip up gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches that went beyond buttering each side of the toast. And in between playing on various sports teams, Charlie helped John Bentley out when his restaurant was in Woodside.

Charlie’s big break came when he landed a culinary externship at Manresa in Los Gatos, learning from David Kinch’s singular style of American cooking and ingredient-driven technique. He became sous chef and his career took off, placing Charlie in lauded kitchens throughout the state.
His restaurant resume includes Freddy Smalls in Los Angeles, Haven in Oakland and Piccino in San Francisco before returning home to take the helm at Menlo Park’s Flea St. Café and Mayfield Bakery in Palo Alto. When the circumstances of 2020 led to an upheaval in his industry, Charlie chose ambition over lethargy.

What began as informal meals that he’d cook for family and friends soon evolved into Charlie Parker Provisions: made-to-order unique dinners for pick-up or complimentary delivery available three days a week.

 

The menu adapts with Northern California ingredients. Charlie is prone to French- and Italian-based dishes that he tailors with what’s in season. For instance, this time of the year is heavy on seafood, truffles and mushrooms.
In early winter, Charlie was in his element, alone in his satellite kitchen putting together orders all by his own hand. He devised a Winter Green Salad (persimmon, ricotta salata, pomegranate, almond, avocado honey vinaigrette and mint) as well as an Alaskan halibut entre complemented by cauliflower, caper salsa verde, pickled celery and beet with a navel orange finish.

He works out of a shared kitchen inside Menlo Park’s Namesake Cheesecake. He met the owner Cherith Spicer through family right after her caterer split. Charlie took on the sublease and the two work independently but are fully supportive of each other.

“Her cheesecake is amazing—please write that in there,” Charlie urges. “It’s been a change to work independently and I can get hyper-critical of myself. Cherith is very good at lightening the energy and helping me focus on the bigger picture.”

For any chef, opening a brick and mortar restaurant is the ultimate crave. However, ask a chef about their work-life balance and they’ll likely guffaw. The woes of running a restaurant have intensified in the past year as help becomes harder to hire. Charlie’s provisional enterprise affords him autonomy in the kitchen like he’s never had before, answering only to his own creativity—as well as his nine-year-old son.

“I’m so happy to say that I have a great job where I can create my own hours so I can still find time to spend with my son and not feel like I can’t leave the ship,” he beams.

Charlie reserves Mondays for his day off. Otherwise, he’s up at 5:30AM and at the gym before the start of the hour. If he’s lifting weights, he’s likely listening to records from the Golden Age of Hip Hop (he cites The Low End Theory by A Tribe Called Quest as an all-time favorite) but when he’s back home perusing a cookbook, Charlie opts for jazz giants like Miles Davis and John Coltrane to play in the background and help him focus—after all, it’s all in his name.

Even as Charlie nurtures the growth of his take-out business, he’s simultaneously branching out into catering small events. He’ll serve as a personal chef for house parties that can range up to 25 plates. It’s good for business but more so a chance for him to escape the kitchen and embrace the front-of-house side of his craft.

“I know how to cook but what can I do to make this a heightened experience for the guests? The food is flawless but you also have to be an entertainer,” he resolves.

“I can be introverted and I’m not a showman but I provide guests with an education about where the dish came from. When I go out to eat, I love the confidence when someone describes the dish but I don’t like to feel bombarded. When it comes to talking about food, it’s natural for me.”

Charlie may detail for guests how he’s transitioning into traditional cooking that embraces simplicity. Whereas a younger chef might overdo garnishes to create a plate that inspires a showy photo, Charlie instead is exploring more soulful food with depth to flavor.

“It’s nice to slow everything down and bring it back to a more primitive state, if you will,” he says. “Doing this for people helps bring me to the truth. It’s what I like to do most—it’s good for the soul.”

Grilled Cheese on Sliced Sourdough with
Maitake Mushrooms and Meyer Lemon Pistou

Ingredients
2 large slices sourdough
1 maitake mushroom
(Remove the foot of the
mushroom and saute cap
with 1 Tbsp olive oil and 1 clove minced garlic until
the mushroom is golden
brown. Season with salt.)
½ cup grated Fontina cheese
½ cup grated white
cheddar cheese
½ cup grated Monterey
Jack cheese
2 tabs room temperature
butter
1 bunch Italian parsley
(stems removed, blanched
and minced)
1 large shallot (minced)
1 Meyer lemon (the zest)
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp champagne vinegar
Salt and black pepper
to taste

Directions
In a small mixing bowl, mix together the blanched and minced parsley, minced shallot, the Meyer lemon zest, champagne vinegar and extra virgin olive oil. Season with salt and black pepper to taste. Preheat the oven to 325F. Heat a medium-size saute pan over low heat. Spread the butter over the sliced sourdough bread. Mix the three cheeses together and assemble the sandwich with the buttered bread side facing outward: sliced sourdough, cheese mixture, sauteed maitake mushrooms, pistou, cheese mixture, black pepper and sliced sourdough. Lightly season the sandwich with salt and saute until each side is golden brown. Finish the sandwich in the oven for four minutes to make sure all the cheese is melted and the mushrooms are warmed through. Let the sandwich rest for a minute before serving. Slice into three pieces and serve with more Meyer lemon pistou on the side.

Landmark: Palm Drive

It’s one of the views most associated with Stanford University: iconic Palm Drive leading to campus. Originally planted in 1893, the one-mile stretch of parallel Canary Island palm trees creates a majestic path that opens up to views of Stanford’s Oval, Quad and Memorial Church. From 1886-1888, famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted developed the plan for Stanford University and encouraged Leland Stanford to take a Mediterranean-style approach to the campus. His last major additions to the plan included Palm Drive and the Oval. Stanford’s first president, David Starr Jordan, is credited with advocating for the specific style of tree to mark the school’s grand entrance. “These long corridors with their stately pillars, these circles of waving palms, will have their part in the students’ training as surely as the chemical laboratory or seminary room,” Jordan proclaimed in his 1891 Opening Day address. With more than 160 majestic palms lining the route, Palm Drive was initially a bumpy, pothole-ridden dirt road but in preparation for motorized vehicles, the street was resurfaced in an oil and gravel mixture followed decades later by asphalt-cement. As early as 1905, Palm Drive was beset by traffic issues, which led to restricting it to horse-drawn carriages, bicycles and pedestrians. The ban on automobiles and “gasoline bicycles” was lifted by trustees in 1914, and the street returned to providing a “frondly” welcome for Stanford visitors. Averaging 50 to 60 feet tall at maturity, many of the statuesque trees were originally imported from outside the U.S. and planted as seedlings—with donations and local neighborhood rescues contributing to replacements over the years.

Oasis of Calm: Watercolorist Tony Foster

Words by Sheryl Nonnenberg

It has been described as a “hidden gem” and an “oasis of calm in the midst of Silicon Valley.” It is The Foster, a 14,000-square-foot former industrial warehouse in Palo Alto that houses the work of just one artist, Tony Foster. But far from being a monographic museum, The Foster has a broader and very timely mission: “to inspire connection to art and the natural world.”
How the museum’s creator and staff have undertaken to achieve this lofty goal is a unique story and one that could only happen on the Peninsula, in the cradle of innovation. It is also a case study in how a nonprofit institution learned to pivot and adapt to the unexpected disruption caused by a worldwide pandemic.

The Foster is the brainchild of Jane Woodward, a lifelong Palo Alto resident and adjunct professor at Stanford University. Jane, a geologist, is also a founder of MAP Energy, an energy investment firm. During a visit to the Natural History Museum at the Smithsonian in the late 1980s, Jane first encountered a Tony Foster watercolor wilderness Journey—John Muir’s High Sierra. This led to her meeting Tony and she began to collect Foster’s artworks. Deciding that each of Foster’s Journeys, a series of artworks based on a wilderness theme, makes a more forceful statement when seen in its entirety, she embarked upon a plan to create a nonprofit museum to hold them intact and share them.

After acquiring Sacred Places: Watercolor Diaries from the American Southwest, Jane began to form The Foster in 2013, and the museum opened its doors to the public in 2016.

CAPTION: The Sacred Places gallery at The Foster in Palo Alto, CA. Photo by Eileen Howard. Courtesy of The Foster

Soon, school groups, senior groups, artists and naturalists were making appointments to visit and enjoy Tony Foster’s depictions of such far-flung places as Mount Everest, Costa Rica, Guyana, the Grand Canyon and the Andes. Educational programming that included lectures, art lessons and tours were in full swing, only to be curtailed by COVID in March of 2020. “Approximately 20,000 visitors came to the museum during the first four years,” notes co-director Anne Baxter. “We were rolling and building, so it was frustrating to have a seizure of all that programming.”

It was also a drastic change for the 75-year-old Tony Foster who, for 40 years, has been traveling the globe in order to create his watercolor diaries. A native of Cornwall, England, Foster started out as an art educator and Pop artist but soon discovered that his love of travel, passion for the environment and skills as a watercolorist could be combined. One of his first expeditions was to follow in the footsteps of Henry David Thoreau by walking and canoeing around the remote parts of New England. Interest in the resulting watercolors inspired him to continue his passion as an artist-explorer, and soon Foster had developed a network of fellow travelers, scientists and art collectors who wanted to help and sometimes join along. “Tony is charismatic and gregarious but also humble and kind,” observes Anne. “He has always attracted people who believe in him and support him.”

Fellow adventurers, whom Foster refers to as “companions,” do everything from arranging for equipment to setting up tents to making food for the group. Some are collectors who want to see and experience the landscapes Foster captures. Others are naturalists who just enjoy the challenge of living in the wild. For Foster, the objective is clear: “I have drawn my inspiration from the sublime beauty of the wilderness.”

Once Foster has found the desired setting, he sets up his work space and paints for hours at a time. Watercolor, because it is quick-drying and very portable, is his medium of choice. He has worked in some of the most adverse conditions—rain, wind, snow and sleet, and has even sketched underwater (he is a longtime scuba diver). Foster often completes his work back in Cornwall but never refers to photographs. Instead, he relies upon his detailed diary entries and the various souvenirs that he might paint, be gifted or gather onsite. These could be leaves, rocks, feathers or pieces of bone. Oftentimes, these small objects will be placed at the bottom of his framed work. They serve as talismans and reminders of the fragile nature of these locations.

Told by a New York City gallerist that his work was unacceptable because it was “just too beautiful,” Foster has embraced his role as chronicler of places that are awe-inspiring and worthy of saving for future generations. A look at the catalog, Exploring Beauty, reveals the extraordinary range of his representational skills. The Atacama Desert in Chile is a study of brown and ochre hues, a rugged landscape devoid of human interaction. In France, Mont Blanc takes center stage, snow-covered and remote, while the foreground is dotted with spring flowers and green hills. Even the frigid landscape of Greenland is lovingly portrayed in pastel hues, while Foster’s diary explains, “worked from 8:00am to 11:30pm, frozen and exhausted.”

CAPTION: Tony Foster with painting in situ at Point Sublime, Grand Canyon. September 30, 2004. Photo by John Frazier. Courtesy of Foster Art & Wilderness Foundation.

“His art is really a story, from the time he tears off the first piece of paper to the final brushstroke,” notes co-director Eileen Howard. She shares that a trip to Green River as part of his next Journey had to be postponed due to the pandemic but that Foster has found inspiration close to home. “He reconnected with beauty in his own backyard,” she says, “creating a series of Lockdown Diaries.” Another earlier project, entitled A Year in the Life of a Cornish Hedge, captures the seasonal changes of a spot he passes by each day.

The Foster staff has kept busy since the museum’s closure. Anne explains that Jane suggested pivoting to online programming, continuing many of their art lessons and lectures. “Tony was resistant to Zoom at first,” she recalls, but soon he was participating in a series of interviews (“Conversations with Tony Foster”) that can be seen on the museum’s website. In addition, Eileen shares that the museum is overseeing a Journey Exhibition Archival Project, in which every aspect of Tony’s 17 Journeys is being documented. They work from the art and artifacts collected during each trip, interviews, maps and Tony’s diary notes. Consultation with Tony allows them to record the ‘where, how, who and why,’ along with the effects of each one. Says Anne, “People love Tony and we also share his mission of protecting wilderness areas. That is the bigger mission.”

The museum is currently accessible by appointment, and The Foster staff is in the process of planning how to more broadly reopen the museum to the public and to ramp up its programming. They are also open to renting the facility to organizations aligned with their environmental mission. But first, the public needs to find their way to this industrial district in south Palo Alto.

Museum manager Deb Waltimire, who recently joined the staff after a stint at the Disney Family Museum, acknowledges, “We are a hidden gem in a commercial area.” Anne agrees, adding, “So much thought has been given to the experience here, the colors, the lighting, the displays. It’s a lovely, engaging mood.”

The staff has considered other potential sites but ended up feeling that they are right where they belong. “You don’t have to travel the world, but if you want to, come to The Foster,” encourages Eileen.

And what will the long-term future hold for this art museum with a mission? Anne speaks with assurance that The Foster will continue to protect and share Tony Foster’s Journeys and message. “We are really committed to that,” she asserts.

As for Jane, whose passion for the environment and conservation converged with the peripatetic Journeys of a watercolorist from Cornwall to create a truly unique institution? She hopes, “That we become better known as a hidden jewel museum here in Palo Alto—a place of beautiful art and peaceful reflection.”

Julia Morgan’s Western White House

Words by Eva Barrows and Sheri Baer

Driving through Lower South Hillsborough, it’s possible to catch a glimpse of the United States’ most iconic residential structure. Okay, it’s not the actual White House, but it does make you take a second look. What’s peeking through the trees on El Cerrito Avenue is an all-white neoclassical 25,000-square-foot Georgian colonial mansion that looks so much like the real thing that it’s called the Western White House.

This Hillsborough estate is legendary for being redesigned by one of California’s most distinguished architects, Julia Morgan, for one of the country’s most well-known families, the Hearsts.

But its rich history dates back even earlier. Originally constructed in 1878, the estate was purchased by the Crocker family, followed by Burlingame contractor Charles Lundgren, who deployed engineering wizardry in 1915 to physically move the mansion a half-mile to its current location. In 1930, George Hearst, the eldest son of newspaper baron William Randolph Hearst, tapped famed California architect Julia Morgan to redesign the property, after which the house passed through a series of owners, including the founder and developer of Foster City and a shoe tycoon family.

In 1997, financial services executive Shailesh Mehta and his wife Kalpa made the Western White House their home. When the property recently went back on the market, PUNCH seized the opportunity to learn more about its fascinating history and what it’s like to live on one of the Peninsula’s palatial—and most presidential—estates.

Constructed by prosperous families during the Gold Rush era, very few of Hillsborough’s legacy estates remain. Along with the Carolands Chateau built for Pullman railcar heiress Harriet Pullman Carolan, the Western White House is a prized reminder of the region’s Gilded Age architectural grandeur.

Not only did the Western White House start out in a different location, it started out with a different name. The original shingle-style mansion, Uplands I, was built in 1878 for one of the town’s founding fathers, William Henry Howard. At that time, the roof was steeply pitched with soaring chimneys and domed turret rooftop windows adding Victorian character. After George Hearst bought the property, he commissioned architect Julia Morgan to bring presidential grandeur to the Peninsula while she was in the midst of constructing Hearst Castle, his father’s San Simeon, California, estate.

Morgan was the first woman architect licensed to practice in California and the first woman to graduate from Paris’ prestigious Ecole des Beaux-Arts architectural program. She transformed the formerly dark Victorian into a light and breezy classical home fit for a U.S. president—complete with a rose garden, cherry blossom trees and oval office.
Situated on 2.9 acres and about half the size of its inspirational East Coast counterpart, the mansion boasts 24 rooms, including 11 bedrooms, 10 full baths and 4 half baths.

 

After residing in the Western White House for nearly a quarter-century, Shailesh and Kalpa Mehta were ready to downsize and enjoy a more travel-oriented lifestyle. Now living in Atherton, they’ve had time to reflect on their chapter in the iconic Hillsborough mansion, and Shailesh sat down with PUNCH to share some insights and memories.

What drew you to buy the property back in 1997?

There were several factors that played a role. We had a growing family, a son and a daughter. We were absolutely impressed by the grounds and the beauty—three acres of flat land with two sides bordered by a creek. It’s extremely private with fully manicured gardens and a big swimming pool, so the grounds were very impressive. The house was gorgeous, designed by Julia Morgan, the famous architect. It had very interesting previous owners, and security was terrific because the house is not visible from the street. Therefore, we felt that it would be a very safe and secure home.

How did you feel about living in a home known as the Western White House?

Actually, I have mixed feelings about it. On one hand, some people get very impressed that this is the Western White House; on the other hand, I thought it was a little bit of a loud statement for myself and my family. We’re not “White House-type” people. We didn’t buy it because of that name. We didn’t even realize until after we decided to buy it that this was how it was known. The story that I heard was that one of the Hearsts had an aspiration to be president of the United States and therefore the Georgian design that Julia Morgan chose was in line with the White House—the kind of remodeling she did to create the turret into an oval office, and the entry looks like the pillars, and it’s one of the rare houses that has the front and side and back all ornate. So it’s a really beautiful home, and it does look like the White House.

What did you enjoy most about living on the property?

I loved the layout. The house has a basement and three levels, and it has an elevator. There are four different floor plans: the basement, the first floor, the second floor and the third floor. We organized the house so that the first floor, the main floor, has the public rooms, so we had a living room, formal dining room, formal living room, a parlor, the oval office, and then a family room and a kitchen, and it was all public area, so when we had visitors or would host a social event, people could come and go. The second floor was all bedrooms, and we converted it to a private floor. The master suite is huge. It’s almost like half a floor with his and her bathrooms, the bedroom and an office in it. The third floor we made into an entertainment floor, so we had a game room, a pool table and a movie theater, and you can sit outside on the terrace. The unusual height is grandfathered, so you can see all the grounds and the trees. And then we had one guest suite on that floor. And the basement has all the utilities and services rooms, and there’s also a beautiful wine cellar and I built a big gym to work out. Even though it’s a big home, it’s a very practical and usable home. It doesn’t feel like a huge mansion. It’s warm, and you feel like you can live in it.

What struck you most about the historical nature and design of the home?

The experience was very unique in the sense that it’s a beautifully laid out house. There is not much square footage wasted the way Julia Morgan designed it. It has a rich history but it’s not an historical home, so we were able to make necessary changes, to bring things more in line with today’s requirements and current lifestyle than from when it was built. We were able to make adjustments without losing the character of the home. When we did this, we realized how well built the home was. The way she structured it, it was so solid. We were surprised by the width of the beams and she added layers of bricks between some of the sidewall to give it further strength and that’s why this house was never affected by any earthquakes. And the tiles! Julia Morgan loved using stonework or tiles from a quarry in Sacramento, I was told. Gorgeous, beautiful tiles. She had a very unique eye for stonework.

How did you experience the home as a family?

We have grown-up children and teenage grandchildren now, and they all loved it. We have four grandkids, and my grandkids were crying when we decided to move out. The house was always packed on weekends and holidays. We celebrated Thanksgiving, we celebrated Christmas, we celebrated Diwali, we celebrated so many festivals. My son lives in San Francisco with his family, so they would come and stay over the weekend. My daughter lives in Santa Barbara, and when they would come up, my son and his family would join, so the whole house was filled. The grandkids loved the pool and the movie theater. Not just for watching movies—they would make their own shows, magic shows and skits. The house has four different ways to go up and down, so they had a lot of fun playing hide and seek as they grew up. We have so many great memories. When they found out that we were going to list it, our two granddaughters hid notes under my pillow and my wife’s pillow that said, “Don’t sell! Don’t sell!”

Who do you envision being the next owner?

In my mind, properties like this are unique properties, and so the buyers are also very unique. It’s not your standard run-of-the-mill home on the market. There is a demand for houses, but for this kind of property, the demand is different and the buyer is different. I would say it’s a CEO or celebrity-type home or a sports athlete or an international buyer who wants an iconic property. People who want security and safety but still want to do a lot of entertaining, whether it’s political fundraisers or charity events. Some young couple might fall in love with this property, especially if they have three or four children. We always found it very lucky for us and our family. Some houses have good vibes when you are in them, and that’s the sense we had when we moved there.

Getaway: Russian River R&R

Words by Sophia Markoulakis

Highway 116 cuts through groves of redwoods and glistening fields of ferns with fresh dew. Winding our way through the intense greenery and towering redwoods of the Russian River Valley, we felt like we were entering Fangorn Forest, Tolkein’s mythical place where trees come alive and hobbits thrive.

The Russian River Valley and the towns that dot its landscape were established during the late 1800s when the San Francisco and North Pacific Railroad built tracks to transport lumber, and later tourists, down to San Francisco and back. For the last hundred years, as industries evolved, towns like Guerneville, Forestville and Monte Rio have seen their fair share of subcultures latch on in these parts, only to be uprooted by the next flock or fad. But, the pursuit of physical and spiritual wellness remains a big part of the Russian River Valley, and it tethers many members of these communities to the area. Although the meandering flow of the Russian River is a magnet for those looking to escape the summer’s heat, during the winter, the region tends to go dormant and allows visitors to see a more authentic Russian River Valley.

Wellness Oasis

The Stavrand Russian River Valley, a newly refurbished boutique hotel in the heart of the valley and minutes from Guerneville, provided us with the ideal location to explore the area and indulge in wellness offerings. The Stavrand’s new ownership is spearheaded by Emily Glick, a Kimpton Hotels veteran with a lifelong love of travel and exploration. Emily didn’t set out to acquire a property. She was seeking a creative outlet when COVID-19 forced the closure of the San Francisco Kimpton she was managing. The Spanish-Revival property, formerly the Applewood Inn, was on the market and too good to pass up. The Stavrand opened in September 2021.

The project encompassed an overhaul of all outdoor and indoor public spaces, including the 21 rooms that occupy three buildings—Belden, Cazadero and Armstrong. Belden, built in 1822, remains the most aesthetically tied to its past. Cazadero and Armstrong, built more recently, carry a coastal-warm California vibe with Talavera tile-surround fireplaces, natural fiber rugs, birchwood headboards and leather seating. It was important for Emily and the team to create a luxury boutique property that had all the amenities of a one-of-a-kind wellness experience, from outdoor private cedar-soaking tubs and s’mores-equipped fire pits to resort-like splurges including a private chef and the use of bikes and kayaks. “We used a whiteboard to work through how to be the best in every type of property—be it a boutique hotel, resort or even an Airbnb,” Emily says.

Our room, in the Armstrong building, had unobstructed views of towering redwoods from windows and a balcony and was outfitted with comfortable seating for two and enough room for morning salutations. A memory foam-topped king bed with luxury linens, a tile-surround soaking tub and warm wood floors tempted us to linger; but we had exploring to do before dinner.

Minutes from the property is the iconic Armstrong Woods. It’s hard not to notice remnants of the fire on the forest floor left behind from the August 2020 Walbridge Fire. But, the 1,400-year-old redwood Colonel Armstrong was saved and remains the park’s main attraction. As we explored some of the three trails that are currently open—the Pioneer Trail, Armstrong Nature Trail and Discovery Trail—we met up with a docent from the Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods, who shared his perspective that fires are necessary for the forest’s ecosystem.

We made it back to the property in time to enjoy a fresh blueberry cocktail that Emily was mixing up in the central courtyard, opposite the outdoor guest reception desk. We chatted about the history of the property and then carried our drinks up a string-lit trail to an upper meadow and enjoyed the sunset accompanied by a family of deer who seemed oblivious to our picture-taking.

Intimate Dining

Every night there’s a different three-course, wine-pairing menu and our dining experience was on par with the area’s most coveted reservations. The property’s seasonally-driven culinary program is rooted in a dedicated year-round orchard and vegetable garden that provides healthy fresh provisions from Chef Jeremy Clemens and his team.

Breakfast was just as stellar as dinner, and the vanilla-lavender bacon and a local egg scramble with house-made chili sauce was perfect fuel for our morning hike on the Pomo Canyon and Red Hill Trail. We started at the Jenner Beach parking lot and hiked the Pomo Canyon Trail to the fork, where you can either continue on or loop back to the beach via the Red Hill Trail. No matter which route you choose, you’ll have spectacular views of the ocean and walk through redwood groves.

Spa Spectacular

A well-earned spa reward was now in order, and we headed inland on the River Road and made our way to Forestville’s Farmhouse Inn and Wellness Barn. In 2021, brother and sister co-owners, Joe and Catherine Bartolomei, hired Irisha Steele to revamp the spa and its treatment menu. “I learned the essence of Sonoma County while building this out,” says Irisha, who last headed up the Remede Spa at Aspen’s St. Regis Resort. She sourced retail and treatment products locally and had Sebastopol-based Sumbody Skincare create a custom body oil infused with flowers and herbs that are grown on the property. “Our custom blend reminds me of Farmhouse first thing in the morning. I’ll wander with my cup of coffee and take in the scents. We were able to put that fresh forest smell in a bottle,” she says. “It’s very grounded and peaceful.”

I opted for Gems and Stones, which incorporates a therapeutic massage with warm basalt stones and cool gemstones treated with different infused oils. After 90 minutes, I felt simultaneously relaxed and rejuvenated, thanks to the circulatory effects of the cold and hot stones. It was hard to part ways with the Wellness Barn and its indoor-outdoor vibe, heated marble floors and cozy fireplace; but as with all escapes, it was time to relinquish ourselves to reality and return home.

Life Gaines

Words by Jennifer Jory

Light streams into PerformanceGaines on California Avenue in Palo Alto, illuminating weight racks and TRX equipment hanging from the ceiling. A kettlebell class is underway, and owner and fitness guru Christopher Gaines moves through the brightly lit studio to tailor the exercises and maximize their effectiveness. “Push your feet into the ground,” he instructs. “You’re trying to create an imprint in the ground in the shape of your foot.” After noting more solid stances, he calls out another adjustment. “Shoulders are ear poison,” he guides. “Bring your shoulders down and relax your neck.”
The cues flow naturally, which isn’t surprising. Chris earned a degree in Human Biology at Stanford, while putting his own body to the test playing both rugby for three years and football for one year at Stanford. After graduation, he honed his skills as the fitness and training coach for both Stanford’s Men’s and Women’s rugby teams before venturing out on his own.

A longtime Peninsula resident, Chris opened PerformanceGaines in 2009 to offer a blended approach of physiology, body mechanics and elite athletic training. A husband and father of three young children, Chris works with a team of like-minded coaches to provide personal training and personalized classes aimed at helping people achieve long-term fitness that impacts their everyday lives. He maintains that counting steps and exercise repetitions is less important than the quality of a workout and meeting a client’s unique goals. We stopped by to talk with Chris about his holistic philosophy and techniques and to get some healthy start tips for 2022.

What motivated you to become a personal trainer?

When I was a kid, both my parents were in the medical profession. My dad was a surgical technician and my mom was a medical transcriptionist. I didn’t have video games at home, so when I was bored, I would go to a bookshelf and look through the medical books. From then on, the human body has always been a passion of mine.

Why did you decide to open PerformanceGaines?

I wanted to bring my passion for movement to people who crave continual progress in their lives. I want to help people move, perform and live better even if they’re not competing at an elite level. If you’re going to spend time in your day working out, it should impact the way you live. The impact could be standing up with more ease or just being able to have kids jump on your back without worry.

Why is your approach successful?

The way I look at fitness is that there isn’t one solution that works for everyone. When working one on one, or even in a small group, our programs address what someone actually needs. In other words, what matters in their life today and the way they want to live tomorrow.

One of your mantras is, ‘When you change how you move, you change how you live.’ What do you mean by that?

The way you live relies on how you move, whether it’s your ability to do something or the ease with which you do it. Your experience during everyday activities impacts the enjoyment you get out of life. When there’s something physical holding you back from life’s activities, we work with you to figure out what’s getting in the way and what to do about it. This changes how you live—it’s personalized fitness that goes beyond the workout itself.

What kind of wellness practices do you advocate for long-term fitness?

There’s lots of research to show that movement is the best medicine out there for most everything. Some people come to us because they haven’t been able to reach a particular goal. Usually, this is because of a nagging issue, which leads to the loss of physical confidence. We help people focus on what’s not moving, so they can change that. Then we arm them with new knowledge and techniques that they can do right now. Through consistent practice, they’re able to approach their fitness long-term.

Have you faced any physical challenges personally?

For many years I lived with what I considered to be bad knees. I wouldn’t say I was miserable, but every day I was aware of what I couldn’t do because of the pain. Then I went to a kettlebell certification and began practicing swings everyday. One day, after practicing swings for a while, I demonstrated a squat for a client. To my surprise, for the first time in years, without pain. The kettlebell swings helped me unlock something in how I used to move that I hadn’t been accessing. To me, it’s not what you do but how you do it. What I care about is helping people find their own strength so they can feel more capable in their lives.

New Approach to a New Year

According to Chris, gyms usually see a surge in activity in January, but it typically wanes by the end of the month. “There’s this perceived expectation—because of an arbitrary date that aligns with the new year—that we should do something different,” he explains. “Instead, we need to consider what’s important to us personally so that it sticks.” Here are Chris’s suggestions for taking more ownership of your wellness journey in 2022.

Lifestyle: Instead of setting goals around what you think you should be doing, figure out what really matters to the way you live your life. To be successful, what you do inside the gym needs to have a meaningful impact outside the gym. It needs to have relevance in your everyday life.

Training: To build good habits, focus on the ‘Big Rocks’: Sleep, Mobility and Body Control. If you sleep well, you’ll be more likely to work out or eat a certain way. If you have the mobility to move through a full range of motion, you’ll likely reduce the chance of soreness or injury, which will increase your chances of working out more consistently. And if you demonstrate control—going slowly to really ‘own’ a movement—you’ll notice your progress more readily, enjoy it more and be more likely to stick with it.

Mindset: Remember, it doesn’t have to be perfect the first time you do it. Perfectionism is a procrastinator’s best friend—it’s a way to validate not starting or finishing something. You just have to start at level zero and gradually add intensity, load or speed. Over time, you’ll be surprised by how far you can go.

Diary of a Dog: Dre

Y es, I’m just that content. In fact, if you look up the definition of contentment, you’ll find my name: Dre. Okay, I’m kidding, but it’s only because the dictionary writers haven’t met me yet. If they had, they’d also include my name under the definition of “true mutt” because I’m believed to be a mixture of Dachshund, Beagle and Border Terrier with perhaps a dash of Corgi. It must be a winning combination because a photo of irresistible me is what brought me to my forever home. Four years ago, my family (Ben, Kelly, Kogan and Bo) had just moved to Menlo Park, and as Kelly tells the story, Ben was so excited about their new big backyard that he thought it would be “brilliant” to surprise her with a puppy. “Before I knew it,” Kelly says, “I had a two-month-old puppy and a four-month-old baby on my hands—I cried.” Just imagine that, crying with happiness at the sight of me! Kogan, who was four at the time, instantly fell in love and proclaimed me “Draymond Green,” after his favorite Warriors player. Draymond turned into Dre, and I grew up keeping a close watch on baby Bo. One time, he cut his finger and needed stitches and I felt so badly for him that I yelped and moaned right alongside him through the entire ordeal. Mostly though, I’m always smiling ear to ear. In fact, neighbors who pass us on walks take one look at my gleeful grin and always comment, “Wow, that’s one happy dog!” Content, happy Dre—that’s me, whether I’m officially in the dictionary or not

The Hanukkah Miracle

Words by Sloane Citron

My family, except for our son who lives in Israel, was finally all getting together to light the candles on the last night of Hanukkah, the holiday of the miracle. It’s called that because 2,200 years ago, after the Maccabean Jews regained control of Jerusalem and rededicated the Temple, there was only enough oil for one night for lighting the Temple lamp and yet it lasted eight nights.

The 14 of us planned to assemble early on Sunday afternoon after my daughter Arielle, her husband Danny and their two sons (one a newborn) flew in from their home in Los Angeles. It was a day that I had been looking forward to, since I knew that this year the two older grandchildren, having recently turned three, were mature enough to have some understanding of what we were doing, be able to sing the prayers and songs and enjoy opening their presents.

While the clean-up is a bit onerous and falls to me, I love the absolute commotion of these get-togethers. My wife was smart and ordered a bouncy house for the backyard, since, with six grandchildren, it was definitely a party. One family after another arrived, the kids streaming inside to see their cousins, their aunts and uncles, their safta and saba. The house reverberated with the cacophony of voices, screams and singing.
The bouncy house was a big hit, and the kids spent close to an hour cascading off the sides of the air-filled play towers, the netted walls and each other. An occasional collision caused some momentary tears before the affected were quickly back into action. Except for the newborn, they all loved rolling around, shooting balls into the rubber hoop and jumping into each other.

When the sun went down around five, we calmed the children down a bit and prepared for the big event—lighting the candles. There was one Hanukkiah for each family, four in all. Thanks to my kids and their spouses, their children already have a good grasp of the prayers and songs that are all part of the lighting ceremony. Seeing all nine candles (one is used for lighting) brightly burning, the overhead lights turned off for effect, was a spectacular sight and a special spiritual moment for us all.

One of the challenges for little Jewish kids is learning the difference between birthday candles, which, of course, they get to blow out, and the candles for Shabbat and our holidays, which decidedly they do not get to blow out. So there is a moment of indecision for the children when their initial inclination is to blow and their parents have to yank them away so that the candles can burn down naturally.

Once this was done, it was time for presents. We are not really a “wrapping” family and each family—oldest child Josh and wife Adara going first—took their turn handing out their gifts. This meant, though, that each child received six or more exciting new things to pore over, from books to stuffed animals to Paw Patrol backpacks and Thomas train sets. Of course, it was too much, but there was great joy in seeing their happy faces. Then it was time for dinner, which, because no one wanted to take away time from the gettogether, we ordered in from a local restaurant. Lots of salmon, salad and fries. Of course, we had latkes and applesauce, and dreidels and gold chocolate coins were flying everywhere.

Late that afternoon, however, before the candle lighting, we had decided to go on a walk around the block, a good way to have the kids burn off even more of their unlimited energy and a pleasant way to enjoy the autumn coolness. As we readied for the walk, however, my daughter Talia realized that she had accidentally forgotten to bring shoes for her youngest child Levi. I suggested she search her car to see if there were any hidden away, and after rummaging around she found one right foot shoe, but only that single one. My kids are easygoing about such things, which I think is a wonderful trait, and Talia and her husband Sam were fine with little Levi riding in a wagon with no shoes.

“Just wait a minute,” I told them, and I ran upstairs to our attic and pulled out the first cardboard box resting there, full of old children’s clothes stored for some 25 years. I dumped the entire contents onto the floor, and there it was, one—and only one—little shoe, a left-footed boys desert boot that looked to be about the right size. I grabbed it and ran down to the front yard and placed it, Cinderella-like, onto Levi’s foot, where it fit perfectly.
It was a magical moment, one that could not be planned or ever duplicated. We all laughed hysterically and agreed wholeheartedly that this was the true Hanukkah miracle of 2021!

Weather Whisperer

Words by Silas Valentino

If Jan Null is stirred from his slumber in the middle of the night due to the patter of rain outside, he can forget about catching any more Zs.
“For most meteorologists, when the weather wakes you up, you can’t get back to sleep,” he admits. “The worst is if it’s raining and I didn’t forecast for it …”

The meditative sound of falling rain is not the sonic of relaxation for Jan; instead, it represents infinite drops of data that he intently studies.
Through his efforts, Jan has become the go-to source for weather information in the Bay Area. If you’ve checked a weather report on the Peninsula in the last 47 years, there’s a good chance that Jan had some part in its analysis.

Following 23 years at the National Weather Service where he ultimately served as the lead forecaster for the Bay Area, Jan struck out on his own in 1998 with a consulting company called Golden Gate Weather Services.
Jan provides forensic meteorology services to assist legal and insurance professionals (his wife Susan Hollis jokes that he does “CSI: Weather”) and he’s been retained in over 600 cases while testifying in some 40 trials.

Elsewhere in his career, Jan established an oft-consulted weather index, created one of the first (if not the first) National Weather websites and he’s even renamed a regional wind pattern; following the 1991 Oakland firestorm, he dubbed what was once the Santa Ana winds as the Diablo wind to describe hot, dry wind from the northeast.

Impressive achievements all, but Jan’s proudest contribution is the decades of research he’s generated on Pediatric Vehicular Heatstroke, leading to countless children’s lives saved from overheating inside calescent cars.
As a devotee to data, Jan’s output for local meteorological research is essentially unquantifiable; however, he and his career are illuminating data points for understanding the weather, and how we’re always getting better at doing so.

“I’m coming up on 47 and a half years and probably the thing I’ve noticed that’s changed the most is the accuracy of forecasts,” he says. “Back when I started, there was only a three-day forecast and that was considered cutting-edge. Now we’re up to seven days in a forecast—we’ve gained a day each decade of my career!”

The daily routine of weather analysis begins at 5AM when Jan typically awakens and heads into his home office with a banana and a glass of juice in hand. His favorite coffee mug was from a swag table at a meteorology conference. It simply says “Integrity” and Jan takes sips with intention.
He combs his hair neatly to the side and cuffs both ends of his jeans. Sometimes he has a pair of Apple AirPods sticking out of his ears as he attends to the latest novel from Michael Connelly. Jan is an avid reader, habitually consuming two works of fiction at a time to help balance his day of reading scores of nonfiction journals and data sets.

In 1993, Jan was at the National Weather Service and noticed how the Internet was quickly integrating into daily life. He believed it was only logical for the weather to be on it as well and used HTML to develop a simple web page. It has since morphed to become what is now weather.gov.

“I have a communicator-slash-public service gene for sharing information,” Jan reveals of his motivation to create and share. “And there are a fair number of introverts in the weather service, so I’m the one who picks up when the media calls. I think at some point I’ve talked to every journalist in the Bay Area.”

Pronounced Jan with a hard J (as in, not Yawn), he’s a father of two kids who are both still living in the Bay Area, now with children of their own.
Over the course of his life, Jan has amassed each of the major regional area codes: 415, 510 and 650. He was born in Oakland, raised in Castro Valley and worked in Redwood City for the National Weather Service. He’s lived in Saratoga but recently relocated to Half Moon Bay.

After serving three years in the Army, including 11 months in Vietnam, Jan graduated from UC Davis in 1974 with a degree in Atmospheric Science. He’d go on to earn his master’s in 1992 from San Jose State University with a thesis titled A Climatology of San Francisco Rainfall. He’s been deciphering and communicating weather data to the Bay Area ever since.

“I learned early on that people’s weather memories are … suspect at best,” he says with a humble laugh. “I’ll hear how, ‘This is the biggest we’ve ever had,’ but if you look at the numbers, it’s actually the 20th biggest storm. This is why I quantify the data.”

To make sense of our storms, Jan developed the Bay Area Storm Index (BASI), which measures the strength of wind and rain events in the region. Each storm is rated on a scale of 10.

For instance, the atmospheric river in October 2021, when rain was persistent for days, was considered by some as the “storm of the century,” but Jan has the data to decipher between facts and hyperbole.

“The only 10 on BASI ever recorded was in December 1995 when there were 103-mile gusts on Angel Island,” he notes. “This past storm in October was a 9.7. There was a 9.8 before and now we’ve had three 9.7s. I’d call this past storm a ‘once in a decade’ storm.”

Since high school, Jan has celebrated his unique perspective for the natural world by capturing images or moments in time. On his Instagram profile, he shares what he calls his, “serious (okay obsessed)” amateur photography.
He began by shooting sports such as basketball using a Hasselblad (the same Swedish camera that the Apollo astronauts had) before upgrading to a Leica camera. He always keeps a camera nearby and while serving in the Army, he’d slip the Leica inside his munitions pouch.

Describing himself as a “snap shooter,” Jan finds an everyday moment in nature and begins tinkering with composition before he shoots. He remains an amateur (“I already have a good job. I don’t want a new job,” he reasons.) but this doesn’t mean he’s not published.

Upon their move to Half Moon Bay, Jan and Susan actively sought ways to give back to their newly-adopted community. One such method was to support the Coastside Women’s Club and the nonprofit’s annual holiday boutique. Jan donated 35 of his photographs that were bundled together in an anthology. All copies of Treasures of the Coastside by Jan Null sold out within an hour, directly funding scholarships for the local high school.

“It’s a very active community and it’s nice to be part of it,” he says. “We just finished a major remodel and apparently we didn’t get the memo that when you are older, you downsize … now we have a guest room for our grandkids.”

Last year, Jan gifted his grandson a rain gauge and as the rains kept coming down last October in that once-in-a-decade storm, to Jan’s delight, his grandson ventured out into the elements to collect his own set of weather data.

Getaway: Laid-back Livermore Valley

Words by Sheri Baer

“We call this our panoramic patio,” says Heather McGrail, as she pours the third entry on the tasting menu, a 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve. The first sips register well-rounded and smooth, as we relax into the expansive views and soft hilltop breezes. “Just northwest, you’ve got Mount Diablo, and then farther west, that’s obviously San Francisco,” Heather gestures in the distance. “When you look out to the northeast, you have the windmills and the Altamont Hills.”

As one of the owners of McGrail Vineyards and Winery, Heather’s roots run deep in Livermore Valley. Even so, it wasn’t her plan to stay here. “When I left for college, I was never coming back to this cowtown, those were my words,” she laughs. “And here I am, raising my three children here. But it’s changed so much—it’s amazing.”

Less than an hour’s drive (steering clear of commute hours) from the Peninsula, Livermore Valley is elbowing its way out of the shadow of Napa and Sonoma. Founded in 1869, this East Bay enclave is one of California’s oldest wine regions but struggles to get the attention it deserves. “We’ve really grown up as a wine country,” observes Heather. “We’re getting busier every day, and I think we’re at this beginning phase of a Livermore Valley wine renaissance.”

Photos: Courtesy of Wente Vineyards, Ron Essex Photography, Lukas Plato

The Allures of Livermore Valley

Recognized as the birthplace of both California Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, Livermore Valley attracted pioneers in the 1840s looking for ideal conditions for growing grapes. Local rancher Robert Livermore (for whom Livermore is named) planted the first commercial vines in the region, followed by notable early winemakers C.H. Wente, James Concannon and Charles Wetmore, who founded wineries in the 1880s. Steeped in viticultural history, Livermore Valley’s present-day enticements include tasting opportunities of over 30 wine grape varietals at more than 50 wineries, quaint downtown streets with boutique shops, miles of walking/biking trails winding through vineyards, an olive oil farm and a slew of restaurant, brewery and distillery offerings.

Ground Your Stay at the Purple Orchid

Although easily doable as a day trip, an extended stay in Livermore Valley offers a relaxing backdrop to refuel (not just on wine) and unwind. In this geographic oval bowl punctuated by seven cities (Danville, San Ramon, Dublin, Pleasanton, Sunol, Livermore and parts of Castro Valley), you’ll find familiar hotel chains and a sampling of Airbnb offerings, but Livermore’s Purple Orchid Wine Country Resort & Spa is the region’s sparkling gem. Surrounded by rolling hills and vineyards, Derek and Rhiannon Eddy play host at this 9,000-square-foot log cabin-style property set amidst beautifully landscaped grounds and acres of olive trees.

The couple put down stakes here 12 years ago as they contemplated starting a family. “We liked the small-town charm of Livermore and there’s really no place we’d rather be,” Derek says. “When we got here, the downtown was just beginning to come into its own and the wineries have continued to up their games and produce some world-class wines.”

As a popular wedding venue with ten guest rooms and suites, Purple Orchid books up quickly, so planning ahead is essential. Stays include a full breakfast as well as an early evening “Gathering Hour” featuring local wines and a cheese board accompanied by Purple Orchid’s own olive oil.

Wine Tasting With a Relaxed Vibe

As Livermore Valley looks to differentiate itself as a wine region, descriptors like “approachable,” “unspoiled” and “not stuffy” consistently get touted. “We take our winemaking seriously here, but we don’t take ourselves too seriously,” explains Steven Kent Mirassou, a sixth-generation winemaker from San Jose who uprooted to Livermore Valley to launch The Steven Kent Winery with his father. Now, with four separate brands, including the winery’s flagship Lineage, Steven partners with the seventh generation, his son, Aidan, to elevate Livermore Valley’s winemaking reputation.

“We’ve got all of the conditions that lead to potentially great fruit,” remarks Steven, as he savors a Cabernet Franc. “There is something immensely joy-producing and challenging about trying to make world-class quality wine.” In three distinct settings—The Cellar, The Salon and The Patio—The Lineage Wine Collection presents “experiences” for sampling both crisp whites and bold reds. “We like to teach about wine,” Steven says. “We like people of all experience levels to come here and grow with us.”

As the oldest continuously-operated, family-owned winery in the country, Wente Vineyards offers an expansive Tasting Lounge for exploring small-lot, award-winning wines. Murietta’s Well, named for a local Gold Rush bandit, is also part of the family’s estate. Murietta’s Well wine ambassador Suzie Sylvia moved to Livermore in 1988. “This used to be Timbuktu,” she comments, as she delivers a tasting flight and charcuterie board. “It’s exciting to see all the changes.”

With a large barrel room and picnic grounds, family-owned Darcie Kent Estate Winery offers sweeping views of the surrounding hills, along with artwork created by painter and fifth-generation vintner Darcie Kent. At McGrail Vineyards’ hilltop tasting room, Heather McGrail embodies the theme of taking the “snobbiness” out of wine tasting. The winery’s grassy picnic area is a popular gathering spot with events ranging from “Music in the Vines” to “Vinyasa and Vino.” “When you come wine tasting, it should be fun,” stresses Heather.

With more than 50 wineries dotting Livermore Valley, it’s still possible to drop in for tastings, but reservations are recommended if you have a specific destination in mind. For a scenic ride through rolling hills, oak trees and vineyards, bring your bike and explore eight miles of paved trails winding through 16 of the wineries. Or make the Livermore Wine Trolley your designated driver for wine tastings paired with savory bites and local insights.

Sample Estate-Grown Olive Oil

The same Mediterranean-like climate that nurtures Livermore Valley vines also provides the perfect conditions for olive trees. Established in 1881, Olivina has been owned by the Crohare Family since 1939. “We are just stewards of the land,” imparts Charles Crohare, who teams with his father to grow, harvest, mill and bottle California extra virgin olive oil on the historic estate. With 11,000 olive trees in production and a state-of-the-art Italian olive oil mill, Olivina opens its tasting room to the public every third Sunday of the month from Noon-4:30PM. “We love sharing our olive oil and the history of the land,” Charles says, as he pours a small sample with a peppery finish. Private tours are also available by appointment.

Foodie Culture and Other Libations

“We didn’t even have a Taco Bell,” exclaims Suzie Sylvia, when we ask how Livermore has evolved since she moved here. Today, Livermore Valley is a foodie and libation haven with an eclectic mix of restaurants, breweries and distilleries. Interwoven with boutique shops, downtown Livermore reveals lively sidewalk dining options, outdoor beer gardens, artisan coffee shops and bakeries. Upscale mainstay Zephyr Grill & Bar features classic and contemporary American cuisine. We opted for potato-wrapped halibut and a delicious grilled asparagus salad finished with a drizzle of Olivina olive oil. With both outdoor patio seating and striking indoor decor, Uncle Yu’s at the Vineyard is another local favorite, blending innovative Asian cuisine and a Wine Spectator award-winning list of 600 wines. We indulged in the Chef & Sommelier’s five-course tasting menu and smiled when the Wagyu short rib medallions came paired with a McGrail Vineyards selection.

Under the shade of terracotta umbrellas, we enjoyed a midday lunch break at Garré Café, surrounded by vineyards and gardens. Range Life, an inspired neighborhood spot owned by husband and wife team Bill and Sarah Niles, attracts devout fans. Situated in an historic brick carriage house, the locally and seasonally focused eatery has earned Michelin Bib Gourmand recognition.

Other tips we picked up: Posada for contemporary Southwestern cuisine, Sauced BBQ & Spirits for slow-cooked Southern barbecue and Bar Quiote for artisanal spirits and inventive gourmet hot dogs. Stop by Sidewinder Distillery for a craft spirits offshoot of Livermore winery Occasio, or if hops are more to your taste, local spots include Pennyweight Craft Brewing, Altamont Beer Works, Shadow Puppet Brewing Company and Homegrown Hops Brewing.

Add In Some Action

Wine taste. Eat. Wine taste. Eat. With all that consumption going on, Livermore Valley offers plenty of ways to expend some energy too. You’ll find numerous golf courses here including The Course at Wente Vineyards. Cap off a round with lunch at The Grill overlooking scenic golden hills and all the action on the 18th hole. Walk, bike, hike or jog through the 847-acre Sycamore Grove Park or explore a network of multi-use trails that traverse the area. Heather McGrail tipped us to one of her favorite hikes—a steep uphill trail that leads to panoramic views of Lake Del Valle. Keep in mind, Livermore sees spikes of summer heat, but it also gets breezes sweeping in from the Bay with temperatures that dip in the evening.

Accessible and laid-back, Livermore Valley is finally building genuine buzz as a wine and dine destination. “One thing people always say is they are shocked by just how close we really are,” says Derek Eddy at the Purple Orchid. Steven Kent Mirassou echoes the sentiment. “The beauty of this place is three miles off the freeway,” he points out. “And there’s a feeling that we’re on the cusp of things—Livermore has a sense of hipness and cool that it has never had before.”

Skyline Adventures

Words by Kate Bradshaw

Running along the ridge of the Santa Cruz Mountains from San Francisco to Los Gatos, Skyline Boulevard—or State Highway 35—offers some of the best Peninsula vistas around. Along the way, you’ll encounter old-growth forests, sweeping hills and valleys, ocean views and panoramas of Silicon Valley. State Highway 35 really is its own destination. Serving as a gateway to adventure, it offers day trippers abundant activities to explore while navigating its twists and turns.

Ride horses on the Beach

Near the northern terminus of Skyline Boulevard in Daly City, Mar Vista Stables offers visitors equine escapism in the form of beachside horseback rides. Beginning, intermediate or advanced riders can go for guided trail rides through Fort Funston and Thornton Beach.

“It’s a little bit of country life just outside the city,” says the ranch’s lead wrangler and weekend manager David Ingram, who goes by Wrangler D. “It’s a hidden gem for sure.”

There are about 30 horses on the ranch in total, and the team takes special care to match each rider with a horse whose temperament is a good fit. Reservations are advised for this small, family-run business and can be made by phone at 650.991.4224.

Hang glide or paraglide from the coast or the hills

Soaring above the grassy hilltops near Skyline Boulevard is not for the inexperienced or the faint of heart. But for those who do have the requisite training, there are several aerial thrill-seeking sites along the road: Fort Funston, Mussel Rock Park and Windy Hill.

Fort Funston is one of the premier hang gliding spots in the country, according to the National Park Service. To fly there, hang gliders must be members of the Fellow Feathers, have a current membership in the U.S. Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association and meet the requirements to be considered an intermediate hang glider pilot.

According to Evan Cohen, vice president of a local paragliding and hang gliding club, Mussel Rock Park sees a number of paragliders on days with good forecasts (those with westward winds of 8 to 20 miles per hour and no fog, he adds). Windy Hill is considered to be the most advanced spot in the Bay Area for hang gliding and paragliding. For those equipped with the training, experience, a permit and good weather, a good way to make the trip is to start at the bottom of Windy Hill, hike to the top and then paraglide back down to one’s car. Fair warning, the weather conditions are often fickle, cautions Evan.

Mountain bike through a redwood forest

Farther south from where Highway 92 connects with Skyline Boulevard, cyclists can take advantage of world-class mountain biking through a second-growth redwood forest at El Corte de Madera Creek Open Space Preserve. Or, as the local mountain biking community likes to call it, Skeggs Point.

According to Ergin Guney, who runs the mountain biking website bayarearides.com, the preserve has plenty of singletrack trails, root clusters and rock gardens to explore. “If you are descending a fire road at Skeggs for anything more than a fairly brief distance, you’re doing it wrong,” he says. To maximize fun, plan to go uphill on fire roads and downhill on singletrack trails, he suggests.

Less experienced riders should check out the less-technical singletrack Sierra Morena and Oljon trails, while the Manzanita, Resolution and Blue Blossom trails (going downhill) are recommended for more experienced riders.

Hike and taste wines from aN historic Peninsula winery

Launched in 1981 by surgeon and medical device inventor Dr. Tom Fogarty, the Thomas Fogarty Winery is now a boutique winery dedicated to sustainable viticulture. With a suspended redwood deck overlooking 30 acres of Chardonnay vineyards and views of the Bay, this popular event venue hosts about a wedding a week, according to Dushan Jefferson, the winery’s sales and hospitality manager. Those interested in pairing a hike with their wine tasting can attend a winery tour, which includes a hike through the vineyards with a guide and takes about an hour. Wildlife such as deer, mountain lions and bobcats are regularly visible in the spring and summer, Dushan says.

Visitors can also head toward Windy Hill, or for a less crowded hike, can venture a few minutes south by car to Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve to take in stunning vistas from Mindego and Borel Hills.

Go for a scenic drive and bring a picnic

For adventurers of the armchair (or passenger seat) variety, there’s plenty to take in by just going for a drive along Skyline Boulevard. As a motorist, the road has a special pace to it, unfurling in gentle turns with the landscape shifting every few miles to give visitors a new vantage point, of the Bay on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other. From north to south, coastal fog and eucalyptus groves shift to dense redwood forests, which then give way to grasslands dotted with old oak trees and wide vistas.

Consider stopping along the route at Alice’s Restaurant for a leisurely breakfast al fresco or grab lunch to go. Eat at public picnic tables, located at Windy Hill Open Space Preserve Anniversary Trail parking area or beside Alpine Pond at Skyline Ridge Open Space Preserve.

Gaze at the stars from the wilderness

One of the Peninsula’s top stargazing spots is at Monte Bello Open Space Preserve. Make sure to sign up for a permit allowing you to be at the park after hours at least two weekdays ahead of your visit. Bonus points if you backpack the 1.5 miles in to stay overnight at the preserve’s Black Mountain backpacker camp, where you can spend all night enjoying the constellations and wilderness. Don’t forget to layer up and consider downloading a stargazing app to help you identify stars in advance.

Photos Courtesy of: David Ingram, Robb Most, Lily Fogarty, Achille Bigliardi

Head of the Pack: Cyclist Linda Jackson

Words by Kate Daly

Linda Jackson is proof that you can be called a living legend even if you’re only in your 60s. She may split her time between homes in Menlo Park and Pescadero, but this summer you will find her on a global sprint as she accompanies the team of elite professional women cyclists she founded after ending her own competitive career.

A member of Cycling Canada’s Hall of Fame, Linda inspires women cyclists every day, especially the swarm wearing bright pink helmets and jerseys emblazoned with the EF Education-TIBCO-SVB logo. Her team is one of just 15 licensed to compete at the highest level, the UCI WorldTour, which is presenting the women’s Tour de France in July 2022—the first in more than 30 years.

In another first, Linda’s team will be earning what men do at the WorldTour level. Although women’s WorldTour teams are only obligated to pay women a predetermined minimum salary, team sponsors EF Education, TIBCO and SVB are matching the men’s significantly higher minimum. From July 24 to July 31, the Tour de France Femmes will be televised live, following cyclists as they race from the iconic Eiffel Tower, past charming medieval towns, through Champagne country and all the way to the summit of La Planche des Belles Filles in the Vosges Mountains.

Bringing the women’s Tour de France back “is a game-changer for women’s cycling,” Linda says. And she should know based on her own experiences of competing in a similar event, Tour Cycliste Feminin, back in the ’90s. However, Linda acknowledges that she wasn’t born to ride—in fact, it happened rather unintentionally.

Born in Nepean, Ottawa, Linda swam in high school and college, but after working at Morgan Stanley and then earning her MBA at Stanford, she switched to biking as an easy way to get around town. “I didn’t drive at the time,” she says. “At age 28, I commuted on my bike in jeans and running shoes.” Then, during a ski trip to Lake Tahoe in the early ’90s, she lost control on the slopes. As Linda slowly and painfully recovered from an ACL and meniscus tear (which required bone-to-bone reconstruction), cycling became a major part of her rehab routine.

As she grew stronger, she proudly remembers biking with a group of friends up Old La Honda Road in Woodside and being the first one to reach the top using flat pedals as opposed to clip-ins. After riding well in her first official race in 1991, Linda was hooked. By then, she was working for an investment bank, and her training included regular rides through the Los Altos hills to her office in San Francisco.

In 1993, at 35, she gave up her finance job to take a run at the 1996 Olympics. Initially training on her own and then with a few different teams, she earned a spot at the Summer Games in Atlanta. However, the international competition resulted in a heartbreaking outcome. “My parents were there to watch, and on the first lap of the road race, a woman wiped out and it was the domino effect,” she recounts. “I went flying into a mailbox.” Unable to shift gears with one arm, Linda had to pull out of the race and burst into tears during her trip to the hospital. About a week later, she competed in a time trial and came in ninth. Linda continued to rally back and won bronze later that year at the World Cycling Road Championships in Lugano, Switzerland.

 

The year 2000 ushered in big changes for Linda—she retired from pro cycling, got married and returned to a banking career. When a group of young women cyclists reached out to Linda to coach them, she decided to give up her six-figure salary and fully embrace her passion. Linda searched for team sponsors and organized galas and auctions at various clubs and private homes on the Peninsula to raise funds.

Today, Linda oversees a team of 14 women from six countries, and a staff that includes a director, high performance director, two mechanics, two soigneurs who provide massages and general care for the riders and a part-time nutritionist. With the exception of a 17-year-old junior road and cyclocross world champion from Great Britain who just signed up to join the team as a trainee, the cyclists range in age from 19 to 36 and include a doctor, a concert pianist and what Linda describes as “well-educated, well-balanced individuals who are interested in something other than cycling.”

Many of the women are based in Europe, but at the start of each season, they come together to train as a team with Linda. Last February, they spent two weeks in Spain, and Linda rode with them on what she calls the “easy day.” After getting hit by a car on Skyline Boulevard back in 2013 and suffering multiple injuries, she is understandably more cautious. “I swore I’d never ride again—it was too dangerous,” she says. But, within a month, she was back on a trainer. “I didn’t give it up but I was really afraid, especially on the descents.”

These days, Linda rides about 300 miles a week to keep in shape and admits to being a bit frustrated that she can’t do what she used to do, such as ascending Old La Honda in just over 16 minutes. Nowadays, it takes her more like 20. But rather than dwelling on her own performance, Linda finds fulfillment in discovering and supporting female athletes. Through her Silicon Valley Cycling Foundation, for example, she sponsors a development team in Seattle.

As Linda looks to the future, she believes that with women finding increasing equality in sports, “little girls can aspire.” Linda and her team will keep blazing that trail with their feet on the pedals and their eyes on the prize.

Fear Fighter

Words by Sheri Baer

A single innocuous goldfish—as in the orangey-yellow snack variety that wears shades and a goofy grin on the package. That was the culprit responsible for Tessa Grosso’s first trip to the emergency room. “Tessa was nine months old and crawling,” recalls her mother, Kimberley Yates, “and a kid spilled a bag of Goldfish crackers. Tessa picked one up and put it in her mouth before I could get to her.”

Rashy skin prompted Tessa’s food allergy testing at six months, so the Menlo Park family was already on high alert. “Dairy, wheat, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, shellfish … it was everything,” recites Kim. “They didn’t even have EpiPens for babies. I was given a syringe of epinephrine and we were just told to ‘avoid.’ But you don’t really understand how allergic they are or how dangerous it can be.”

At 22 months old, Tessa did more than cry over spilled milk. She nearly died from it. “She was completely lethargic in my arms,” Kim shudders, describing Tessa’s second trip to the ER and subsequent harrowing rescue. “That took us to another level for sure.”

Growing up in Portola Valley, as the youngest of five kids, Kim fondly recollects her own childhood—double scoops at Menlo Park’s Baskin-Robbins, hiking the Dish, playing tennis for Menlo School. Food allergies weren’t even on her radar until she met her children’s father, who was allergic to peanuts and tree nuts. They had Tessa—followed by two food-allergy-free daughters, Reese and Alyssa, within the span of three and a half years.

After the milk incident, the severity of Tessa’s allergies turned navigating everyday life into a minefield. “Our house was the only safe place for Tessa—no dairy, no wheat, no eggs, anything that would put her at risk,” says Kim. “Reese and Alyssa were amazing. They practically came out of the womb protecting Tessa and had to be incredibly responsible at a very young age.”

Despite the family’s hyper-vigilance, a restaurant substitution in a noodle recipe sent Tessa to the ER again as a second grader. And when Kim went away for a weekend, she returned to find out that Tessa had stopped eating. “In her mind, she was thinking, ‘If I don’t eat, I can’t die,’” recounts Kim. “And I just said, ‘Enough of this!’ I didn’t want to hear that there’s nothing we could do—just ‘Avoid! Avoid! Avoid!’ No matter how hard we tried, we couldn’t keep her safe enough.”

That was the turning point for Kim: the desperate sense of futility that flipped her switch from protective mother to mom on a mission and ultimately, to the founder of Latitude, a Redwood City-based company of food allergy clinics exclusively focused on diagnosis, prevention, treatment and long-term care. Given that more than 32 million Americans are diagnosed with food allergies including 1 in 13 kids, Kim knows first-hand that avoidance isn’t always a viable solution. “We’re trying to give people the latitude to live freely,” she stresses.

Which is all that she wanted for Tessa.

Back in 2009, at what felt like a peak of frustration, Kim heard a relatively new Stanford allergy and asthma expert, Dr. Kari Nadeau, talk about treating peanut allergies using oral immunotherapy (OIT). Nadeau explained that by regularly exposing patients to increasing amounts of food allergens, OIT could desensitize the body and protect against life-threatening reactions.

For Kim, it felt like a lightbulb—or even lightning bolt—moment. OIT represented offense—not just defense. “What can you do to help kids like Tessa who are allergic to multiple foods?” she asked Nadeau after the event. “I don’t know,” Nadeau responded. “But I promise you, I’ll figure it out.”
That set in motion a life-changing partnership—with Nadeau working the science side and Kim leading the charge to support her efforts. Coming from a background in software sales, Kim channeled her passion, drive and understanding as the parent of a food-allergic child into a challenging new calling. “Inspired by Tessa, Kari wrote the first multi-allergen clinical trial,” she says, “and I banded with other moms to raise the money for the trial and build a big community around Stanford and Kari.”

With the FDA’s approval and under Nadeau’s supervision, Tessa began receiving shots of Xolair, a drug that suppresses allergic reactions, and in 2012, her OIT treatment began. Starting with the tiniest amounts, the nine-year-old followed an “updosing” regimen every two weeks, progressing from allergen flours and powders to crackers, peanuts and M&Ms. For Tessa, eating “normal” was far from a treat—it meant overcoming the terror of eating the food that had almost killed her. “When we were walking in on that first day, I made a vow,” Kim remembers. “I said, ‘If this works, I won’t stop until everybody has access to it because nobody should be this afraid of food.’”

The groundbreaking trial resulted in Tessa becoming the first patient to be successfully treated for multiple allergens simultaneously, which fueled even more momentum. Drawing on additional community support, Kim and Nadeau teamed up to drive the creation of Stanford’s world-renowned Sean N. Parker Center for Allergy & Asthma Research. With Stanford focusing on clinical research, the pair recognized a bigger need for clinical care, which led to the founding of Latitude in 2018. “We follow evidence-based protocols that have been proven in clinical trials so we know that they’re safe,” explains Kim. “Our plan is to expand nationally through a mixture of building our own clinics and partnering with other allergist and pediatric practices.”

Now, as CEO of a company with five Bay Area locations and an impending expansion to New York, Kim is adamant about crediting the passionate army mobilized behind the food allergy fight. “I’ve had so many incredible people come into my life and say, ‘You can do this and we’re going to help,’” she emphasizes. “My motivation is for Latitude to be hugely successful so that we can change as many lives as possible.”

That “we” includes Kim’s now teenage daughters Tessa, Reese and Alyssa, whom Kim refers to as her partners in Latitude. “It’s been amazing to build this company with the girls,” she shares. “It’s been real-world training for them—all the things that you think about to open a clinic. They were involved in the branding process, the fundraising, they went with us to look at spaces. It’s been so fun for me to have them involved and I’m so proud of them.”

Originally diagnosed with more than a dozen food allergies before OIT treatment, 19-year-old Tessa is currently wrapping up a gap year, without constraints. Although it’s considered premature in the allergy world to use the word “cure,” Kim says it’s staggering to process her oldest daughter’s remarkable journey. “She’s the greatest poster child for this, right? Tessa just got back from Thailand—what peanut-allergic kid can go to Thailand on their own?” she marvels. “For all intents and purposes, Tessa eats freely, but she will always carry EpiPens because psychologically she knows that’s what saved her life.”

Reflecting back on Tessa’s early trauma remains heartbreaking for Kim. While she gets immense satisfaction in Latitude’s treatment of adults and teens, it’s the youngest food allergy patients who help mitigate the bad memories. “Treating the little ones is the best,” she affirms. “They’re never even going to know they have food allergies. Our goal is to treat them before the fear sets in.”

8 Enticing Beaches: An Insider’s Take On The San Mateo Coast

Words by Emily Mcnally

Although I’ve lived in Half Moon Bay, just down the street from Poplar Beach, for the last eight years, I’m barely considered a local in a town where families mark time in generations. But beaches have become part of my daily routine. I’ve learned whom to call when I find a beached seal (the Marine Mammal Center), how to spot a whale (look for flocks of seabirds over the ocean) and when to schedule our next boogie board or tidepool excursion (tide-forecast.com). The San Mateo Coast gladly welcomes visitors from all over the world to this unique stretch of sandy beaches, forested bluffs and rolling, green farmland. The ocean here is unpredictable and potentially dangerous, so always check safety conditions—riptides, waves and bacteria levels—before entering the water. What follows are highlights from some of my favorite spots (along with tips from other locals), but the mercurial coast is most rewarding when you’re open to what it presents at any given moment. A gusty day provides the thrill of frothing waves crashing over rocky outcroppings. A perfect calm interrupted by low-flying pelicans or the barking of distant sea lions crystallizes a memory. Unexpected delight is always more rewarding than any plan could possibly be.

Bean Hollow State Beach

Highway 1 (17 miles south of Highway 92)
Great for: tidepooling, wildlife, nature walks, romantic sunset viewing, leashed dogs
Amenities: small parking lot, portable toilets, picnic tables

Bean Hollow is made up of two small cove beaches that include Pebble Beach to the north and Bean Hollow to the south. They are connected above by a trail through coastal vegetation or by rock scrambling (preferred by many a kid) below. From above, enjoy the trails from which you can view groups of seals on the rocky outcroppings and rugged native plant life like yellow bush lupine, lizard tails and seaside daisies. From below, relish the seclusion of the sheltered beach while you watch the drama of the crashing waves. The tidepooling at Bean Hollow is excellent, allowing up-close-and-personal encounters with anemone, crabs and sea stars. Arcangeli Grocery Co. in Pescadero has all manner of picnic supplies, including deli sandwiches and addictive, freshly-made artichoke bread. Bean Hollow is a great spot for kids, but it may be best enjoyed as a romantic spot to cuddle up with a blanket in a cozy cove and watch the sun set.

“I love Bean Hollow for the sheltered beaches. It’s a great place for a romantic stroll at sunset.” – John McNally

Mavericks Beach

West Point Avenue, Half Moon Bay (5 miles north of Highway 92)
Great for: tidepooling, dogs, ocean views, expert surfing and spectating
Amenities: restrooms, free parking, trails

Located at the southern point of Pillar Point Harbor Beach is magical Mavericks, named for the famous big wave surf competition held between November and March when conditions permit. Because of the stretch of rock formations under the water, this is also a great spot to view a wide swath of creatures and plants in the intertidal zone. The beach isn’t large, but the views of crashing waves, sheltered by high bluffs, never disappoint. On the walk from the free dirt parking lot, nesting herons and egrets can be seen in the spring. I routinely visit this beach when I need to be reminded about how epic coastal beauty can be. Leashed dogs are permitted here and it’s a favorite spot of mine for an early morning walk with our family pup, Athena.

“I love Roosevelt Beach because it’s peaceful. Some beaches have powerful crashing waves, but at Roosevelt the waves are relaxing. My daughters love roaming around the little cliffs (mom-approved) and jumping off them.” – Rebecca Goodell

Gazos Creek State Beach

Highway 1 (23 miles south
of Highway 92)
Great for: beach hikes, birding, tidepooling
Amenities: free parking, restrooms

This wide, windswept beach brings the drama. With the picturesque Pigeon Point Lighthouse to the north and a creek running through it to the south, you can literally walk for miles. Birds shelter and breed near the pooling water of the creek flowing to the ocean, so snowy plover, gulls, migrating sparrows and low-flying pelicans can be counted on to make an appearance. This beach is not necessarily pretty in the traditional sense of the word and the surf here is notoriously rough, so don’t turn your back, but sometimes a wild, windy walk is exactly what you need to clear your head and open your heart. Highway 1 Brewing Company, along with a gas station, is located across from the parking lot, so you can fill your tank and your belly in one fell swoop.

Fitzgerald Marine Reserve

200 Nevada Street, Moss Beach (6.5 miles north of Highway 92)
Great for: naturalists, kids, tidepooling, hikers
Amenities: restrooms, a limited parking lot and picnic area, a small educational visitors center

When my kids were little, I took them to this tranquil, tucked-away beach almost every week. From the fairy forest of soaring cypress and eucalyptus trees on the bluffs, you can watch the antics of a large population of harbor seals. The extensive and excellent tidepooling here is not to be missed, with sea stars, sponges, mollusks, crabs and even the occasional octopus all representing. It’s not surprising that Fitzgerald is recognized as one of the best marine habitats in Northern California. Routinely manned by rangers, this is a wonderful place to really dig into the flora and fauna and learn about everything from the life cycle of a mollusk to the fragile ecosystem of the surrounding marshlands.

“I love Montara State Beach for the picturesque mountains, the sand, the crashing waves! It’s so beautiful. I love beach glass and occasionally you might see a few good pieces there too. Honestly, the prettiest and cleanest beach for miles.” – Christina Frediani

Poplar Beach

At the end of Poplar Street in Half Moon Bay (1.5 miles south of Highway 92)
Great for: gatherings, hikers, birding, leashed dogs, horses
Amenities: parking lot ($10 per day), portable toilets

When I see the triangle of cypress trees framing the place where sea meets sky, I know I’m home. Poplar is a wide, long beach, which extends from Half Moon Bay State Beach to the north to the southern rocky point where you can view the Ritz Carlton. It’s the perfect spot for animal lovers, with both leashed dogs and horses allowed. Because of its size and stunning views, Poplar is the ideal beach to bring a picnic, an umbrella for shade and a frisbee, volleyball or Spikeball set to make a day of it. Please watch the surf here! Riptides and rough waves can make this a dangerous beach for swimming or water sports, but if you get restless on the beach, take to the bluff trails above for some excellent birding. Peregrine falcons, red-shouldered hawks, ravens and herons all make frequent fly-bys. To grab arguably the coast’s best sandwiches on the way, hit up Garden Deli Cafe at San Benito House on Main Street. Because it’s so good, it’s always busy, but ordering ahead will streamline the process.

“I’m partial to our local treasure, Poplar Beach. As a local, I’m blessed to be able to visit any day of the week and any hour of the day. And it never disappoints, with beautiful views, whether from the bluffs, the sand, the water or even above the ocean from my drone.” – Steve Maller

Mirada Surf Beach

Magellan Avenue and Mirada Road, El Granada (3 miles north of Highway 92)
Great for: swimming, surfing, boogie boarding, kids
Amenities: parking can be found on Highway 1 (directly adjacent) or in the lot across the street from the beach

We informally call the beaches in this area “Swimmers Beach” (South) and “Surfers Beach” (North). Because the surf here is a little more predictable and there are fewer rocky outcroppings that can cause hazards, this is the best spot to take young ones eager to try their hand at boogie boarding, body surfing or just some low-key time in the waves. It’s often a little sunnier in the heart of El Granada, so that can be a perk if you’re hoping to warm up after some time in the water. It’s also a great location to watch serious surfers test their skills. If you get inspired, consider taking a lesson from Pillar Point Surf School or Blue Swell Surf School and enjoy the rush for yourself.

San Gregorio State Beach

San Gregorio Road and Highway 1, San Gregorio (11 miles south of Highway 92)
Great for: kids, driftwood, hiking, cave exploration
Amenities: picnic tables, BBQs, restrooms, large parking lot, bluff trails

There’s a fairytale quality to San Gregorio Beach that will immediately captivate you—from the towering sandstone bluffs inviting you into the lush fields of succulents and wildflowers to the driftwood structures meticulously crafted by mystery sculptors to the brackish lagoon created by the marriage between San Gregorio Creek and the crashing ocean. Explore the hidden mysteries in the caves north of the creek or examine the life cycle of the steelhead that breed in fresh water before making their way to the salty ocean. The lagoon can provide a fun, safe spot for young kids to splash around, but check on bacteria levels in the water that can make swimming unsafe. San Gregorio General Store, just a mile inland, is a great spot for snacks or a cup of coffee if you need to stock up before you hit the beach.

Photos Courtesy: Jennifer Fraser, Andrea Ou (Paws & Play Studio), Robb Most, Steve Maller

Morgan’s Murals

Words by Johanna Harlow

“Has anyone ever told you, you’re a little like Bob Ross?” Yep, Morgan Bricca has heard this line before. More than a shared crop of curls, the commonality between her and the iconic PBS art instructor likely lies in her artistic philosophy that painting should be a joyful act. Comparisons aside, Morgan’s canvases tend to be tens to hundreds of times larger.

As a Los Altos-based muralist, Morgan pours oceans of tropical fish onto bedroom walls and captures cranes mid-flight on restaurant interiors. Besides bringing vibrant murals to homes and businesses, she has completed a number of public art initiatives in the community. Her artwork can also be found at a couple dozen schools, 11 of which are located on the Peninsula. “Murals unlock a space,” Morgan believes.

With a career change as bold as her color palette, Morgan left IT at the age of 26, skipped the fine arts degree entirely and dove right into professional painting. Nearly 600 murals later, her work can be spotted on countless surfaces around the greater Bay Area and beyond, including China, The Azores and Guatemala. Though many of her projects are large-scale undertakings, she’s not above painting pink piggies in a little girl’s room. “I never thought, ‘I’m so above painting fairies in a bathroom,’” she shrugs. “Instead, I was like, ‘Be chained to a desk for a 40-hour week or paint fairies in a bathroom?’”

Unlike many in her field, Morgan prefers brushes to spray cans in order to achieve “that sort of painterly expressiveness.” She has a penchant for designing wildlife and landscape scenes. “Images of nature pull us out of the everyday business of our domestic lives and invite us to slow down,” she explains. “They transcend tribe or personal identity and help us appreciate a broader perspective of life and the place we live.”

Morgan is also fond of designs that defy boundaries with details flowing around corners or spilling off the wall entirely. “Murals aren’t contained, that’s the point, you know?” Her consideration of the space shows in other ways too. “You’re working with how the light is hitting, how people see it when they walk in the room, which way to slant the flower,” she observes. “Where is balance needed?”

When Morgan visits a pristine, white-walled home, she’s already putting a paintbrush to its rooms in her mind’s eye. “If they just put up a painting, it would still be so predictable. But if they had a mural, it would change the whole energy—finish it off in a way,” she notes. “It needs a little bit of chaos in it to make it interesting.”

“A little bit of chaos” is true of Morgan in the best possible way. Approach her on a job site and you’ll find paint splattering her clothes and car, a smudge of purple on her cheek, a streak of orange in her hair. And she likes to bring a touch of spontaneity to her projects when she gets to the detailing work. “I can’t always come up with my best ideas in my studio on my little iPad. The space inspires,” she explains.

Morgan is also an embodiment of the Bob Ross mantra: “We don’t make mistakes, just happy little accidents.” When challenges come her way, she tries to go with the flow. “It’s that attitude that makes life more fun: to just roll with it.” During one school project, Morgan recalls trying to load a gallon of paint into her car—only to spill cheery yellow across the parking lot. After a moment of stunned silence, Morgan hatched a plan. “I extended it out and I made it into a beautiful sun,” she recollects. This unexpected feature became a favorite among the teachers. “They thought it was art—like an add-on,” she chuckles.

With all her murals—be they public or private, commercial or communal—Morgan hopes to heighten the value of the space. “A mural is an identity statement that becomes part of the fabric of the environment,” she shares.

Applying this kind of “space-making” to public art, for example, gives people a greater pride in place (at the same time deterring tagging). “How is this place different from everywhere else that has a Starbucks on the corner and an Old Navy next door and then a Safeway on the other corner?”

Morgan asks. “Sometimes art can be that distinguishing thing. Many times it’s also the natural environment, but then sometimes art plays into that. So it’s giving a place a hook for humans.” Expanding on this, she adds, “I kind of like the thought that somehow mural art gives a space a soul … It’s the jewelry on the perfect black dress.”

Her largest mural to-date is a testament to this. Last summer, Morgan was hired to beautify a 140-foot-long retaining wall on the corner of Midfield and Havana Roads in a San Jose neighborhood. “It was a complete dead zone before,” Morgan notes, describing the area as an unofficial dumping zone. “Trash was piled two-thirds of the way up that wall!” After the mural’s creation, the area became a playful, safe hangout for kids, with drivers slowing down as they turned the corner to look.

When she isn’t up to her elbows in paint, Morgan serves as a resource for budding artists. Her podcast If These Walls Could Talk demystifies successful mural projects and explores the nuts and bolts of the process by interviewing fellow artists, art advocates and public art planners as well as sharing her own observations.

In a similar vein, Morgan published a book called The Mural Artist’s Handbook. Available on Amazon, it acts as an exceedingly practical guide to navigating the muralist profession—everything from how to protect paint from sun damage and finding funding to establishing a fair and competitive price metric with clients and investing time in promotional strategies.

A firm believer that creative careers can also be lucrative ones, Morgan doesn’t buy into the assumption that market-savvy artists are sellouts. “If you believe that what you’re doing is creating really beautiful, dramatic transformations, then helping people find you is a nice thing to do,” Morgan remarks. “I’m excited about what I do and I’m going to share that.” Plus, she’s pretty tired of the starving artist trope. “Who says artists have to be broke? That they have to be tortured? Let’s get some healthy artists going!”

Another piece of advice for young artists? “Start to place your art in the world,” Morgan encourages. “Start making art for people.” Creating in a vacuum limits your perspective, while feedback serves as an invaluable teacher. “It needs to resonate with other people besides you to have wings,” she points out.

As Morgan’s murals continue to sweep across the Peninsula, one never knows what delightful discovery lies around the next bend.

Scavenger Hunt: How many murals can you spot?

+ Adventure under the sea in the California
Avenue pedestrian underpass (Palo Alto)
+ Crack a vault outside San Mateo Lock Works
(San Mateo)
+ Dine on ceviche de pescado beside a fisher boy
in La Viga restaurant (Redwood City)
+ Meet a soccer girl outside Cranberry Scoop
(Los Altos)
+ Travel to China at the Crouching Tiger
Restaurant (Redwood City)
+ Hang with a Yosemite rock climber in Arrillaga
Outdoor Education & Recreation Center
(Stanford University)

The Beat on Your Eats: International Bites

Words by Johanna Harlow

For light international bites, nibble your way through these exceptional offerings.

palette tea garden

San Mateo

Make a quick stop if you must—but if you have the time to indulge in a full meal, this modern Chinese restaurant is well worth the visit. With a menu that encourages sampling, you might opt for taro puffs shaped like black swans, multi-colored palette soup dumplings presented in a bamboo steamer, seared black pepper Wagyu bao served on a bed of grilled onions or any number of other handcrafted dim sum and Canton-inspired bites. Kudos to the interior designer who had fun with this space. A ceiling in one room looks like the rippling surface of a pond, while a table in another features a miniature river and live fish. If you want to impress your date, here’s your spot. 48 Hillsdale Mall. Open Monday to Thursday from 11:30AM to 3PM and 5:30PM to 8PM; Friday from 11AM to 3PM and 5:30PM to 8PM; Saturday and Sunday from 10:30AM to 3PM and 5:30PM to 8PM.

stix korean corndogs

Burlingame

You might have been introduced to corndogs during the carnivals of your youth but have you tried Korean corndogs? This trending snack goes beyond basic breading, adding additional ingredients for extra oomph. That means your corndog might come coated in cornflakes, French fry chunks or even ramen. With a selection of dipping sauces served on the side, STIX Korean Corndogs serves up an adventure both in taste and texture. Balance out your savory meal with a sweet milk tea or croffle (AKA croissant-waffle). 1355 Broadway. Open Monday, Tuesday and Thursday from Noon-6:30PM; Friday through Sunday from Noon-7PM; closed Wednesday.

venga empanadas

Redwood City

Think of the empanada as the Latin-American cousin of the Italian calzone, its flaky crust concealing a tasty savory filling within. Located in downtown Redwood City, Venga Empanadas is a compact yet cozy restaurant blending Spanish, Argentine and South American cuisine. Take a peek into Venga’s well-stocked display case and admire row upon row of half-moon-shaped empanadas with neatly crimped edges—then go ahead and select one (or two, or three) stuffed with Argentine chorizo, five-pepper manchego, spicy beef or one of the many other meat and veggie fillings. Everything is made in-house—and the same goes for the soups and agua fresca drinks. 822 Main Street. Open Monday to Friday from 10AM to 3PM and 5PM to 8PM; Saturday from 10AM to 3PM.

Picnic ‘n Chill

Words by Christina Chahal

If you’re getting out and about this summer, you may have spotted an eye-catching twist on an old favorite: the picnic! Today, the reimagined picnic is an elevated, elaborate experience, complete with beautiful dishware and decor, perfect for socializing outdoors. Thanks to the creativity of party planners like Jocelyn Chin and Coco Chan of San Mateo-based Picnic ‘n Chill, the picnic is being transformed into an elegant way to mark life’s special moments. “A lot of people really enjoy what we do because we make it so lavish and luxurious that you want to dress up for it,” says Jocelyn. “It’s special.”

Launched during the pandemic to help out a friend whose wedding needed a venue, Picnic ‘n Chill picked up traction after going viral on TikTok and then being featured on Good Morning America and CNBC. Now, they are planning dozens of events per month and earning a nice income. “Our clients are mostly young professionals looking for a fun, safe and photo-ready way to celebrate,” adds Coco. “We take our picnics and events to another level.” In order to do that, the two learned how to make balloon arches and flower centerpieces, even enlisting their families to custom build low, portable picnic tables designed specifically for ground-level seating.

“We made our own picnic baskets and created our own conversation-starter card game. We pushed our limits and had to think outside of the box,” shares Coco. “We weren’t scared to try something different, and we also weren’t scared to learn how to do something we’ve never done before.”

Born and raised on the Peninsula, Coco and Jocelyn have been close friends for about five years, meeting through mutual friends and then hanging out every weekend. Before Picnic ‘n Chill, Coco worked at Facebook as an event coordinator and Jocelyn was a marketing associate at a startup. Jocelyn also owns her own Happy Lemon boba tea shop in San Jose. On their own time, the two close friends enjoy discovering new trends and share a passion for shopping and decorating. They love scrolling through Pinterest, making mood boards and cite Wifeoftheparty, Mindy Weiss and the Kardashian parties as inspiration.

The energetic duo also draws inspiration from their clients. “It’s really amazing being a part of someone’s special day—from weddings and birthdays to baby showers and baby’s first birthday,” Coco observes. Adds Jocelyn, “I love taking the stress away from the client and taking care of all the little details that they wouldn’t think of. It’s nice to see them arrive and actually enjoy the party.”

Their go-to location for picnics is Leo J. Ryan Park in Foster City, which has expansive grass lawns and views of the lagoon. And yes, they always get permits. A typical Picnic ‘n Chill table will have a table runner, either fresh floral bouquets or a pampas grass bouquet, flatware, chargers, plates, cutlery, hand-woven placemats, assorted candles and themed soft throw pillows. They have three different packages for a party of two and do special set-ups for large groups.

To make the events memorable, they provide the essential luxury items plus a long list of options such as a bubble machine, donut wall, sip ‘n paint kit, jumbo games and lots of customization. One client booked a 40-person picnic for her son‘s birthday party with a teddy bear theme, so they started with a color scheme of neutrals, baby blues and white, then made teddy bear balloon centerpieces and mixed them with handcrafted pampas flower bouquets. They added personalized menus for every person and included an eternity balloon ring, a dessert cart (handmade by grandpa) for the cake stand and a charcuterie board that spelled out the boy’s name. Also part of the fun: a photo gallery panel and a custom ball pit for all the kids.

As their business has grown, Jocelyn and Coco have added more options to keep up with the latest trends in event planning. For example, they came out with Picnic ‘n Cruise, a service where they decorate a Duffy boat on the Foster City inlets so clients can luxuriate out on the water.

Coco and Jocelyn partner with a chef and local restaurants to provide food selections and continue to build out their community. They even developed a ‘charpoocherie’ board with pet-friendly treats. The pair credit nostalgia with helping drive their success. Picnics, they say, are the perfect way to bring back your childhood. “As a kid, you grow up going to the park, celebrating the small things in life,” notes Coco. “What’s better than sitting on the grass with friends and family?”

Dining: The Sol of Cuisine

Words by Johanna Harlow

In the daytime, Quinto Sol sleeps. Come evening, this Redwood City dining room stirs to life—waiters bustling, diners laughing, hot plates of enchiladas rojas and chilled tamarindo margaritas circulating—but for now the tables and marble bar remain empty. Silverware gleams in expectation of hungry guests. Napkins sit folded like crisp cardinal hats.

In this quiet moment, owners Hector and Helena Sol reflect on their culinary journey. Though Quinto Sol soon turns 10, it is their “youngest child.” In fact, the couple have brought forth a trio of Peninsula Mexican restaurants into the world. “After so many years, I felt like I needed to give birth again,” Helena reminisces of its inception.

Their path to this point began decades earlier when the couple moved from Puebla, a state in the highlands of south-central Mexico, to the U.S. Helena already had experience working at her parents’ restaurant, and the young couple arrived with a determination to establish their own. They also wanted to provide a window into the acclaimed food scene of their homeland.

Residents of Puebla “are experts in how to eat,” declares Hector. If you’ve tasted Quinto Sol’s rajas poblanas (creamy, decadent chicken on a bed of roasted pasilla peppers, onion and garlic) or their ceviche de pescado (white fish marinated in bright acidic flavors and punctuated with a special blend of herbs), you’ll know this isn’t an empty claim.

“The staple of Puebla is the mole poblano,” Helena informs. “It’s a concoction of many spices and herbs that’s made into a sauce.” This rich, dark-flavored blend of sun-dried peppers, spices, nuts, seeds, herbs and cocoa is then poured generously over chicken.

When Hector and Helena opened their first restaurant back in the ’90s, they called it Palo Alto Sol—“sol” referring both to their last name as well as the Spanish word for “sun.” “We started from nothing,” recalls Hector. But Helena adds, “We started from the heart. So we started from much.”

“At that time, we had just one car,” says Hector, calling to mind how they would drive to the restaurant together (often with their young daughters in tow). “I told Helena, ‘We are just one person. We are together all the time.’ I could ask her, ‘How was your day?’ And she would say, ‘My day was being with you. I saw exactly what you saw.’” Helena smiles affectionately at this, “But we still had a lot to say, didn’t we? Even back then.”

Support from the community emboldened the couple to make plans for a second venture: Los Altos Sol. “We believed that we had the potential to do more,” Hector explains. What’s more, Helena’s gift (and passion) lies in hatching new endeavors. For her, there’s nothing quite like a shiny new venue in which to test new ideas and build. “I like to create,” she says. “I like to give birth.”

After months and months of kitchen and dining room renovations, they were fully staffed and eagerly awaiting opening night. Then, due to unforeseeable circumstances, the project flatlined. To lose it all before it even began was understandably devastating. “For me, it was like losing a child because we had put so much time into it, so much effort,” Helena says—not to mention most of their savings. “When the place was lost, it was basically two years of mourning.”

“It was meant to be that way,” Hector notes in retrospect, mentioning that his daughters were still young at the time. “It seems that for some reason—the universe or God—said, ‘You’re not ready for this yet.’” Hector took it as an invaluable (though painful) lesson, which primed him when a promising location became available in Mountain View.

 

Buoyed by affirmation from the community as well as a strong belief in their dishes, the resilient Sols leapt at the chance. They called their new venue Vive Sol (“Sun Lives”)—a fitting tribute to their will to carry on. “It was at the right time,” Hector says. “We had that desire to be alive and just keep building things.” So while Hector held down the fort in Palo Alto, Helena nurtured their latest endeavor. “She was like a little girl with a new toy,” Hector recalls with a grin.

“Once a place is done and everything is set, I want to move on and create something else,” Helena confesses. “I get restless.” This mindset would also spark the inception of Quinto Sol, centrally located across from Redwood City’s Courthouse Square and flanking Fox Theatre.

A number of factors remain the same across all three restaurants, Helena notes. “We kept basically the same sauces, the same philosophy, the same culture of eating in the restaurants, adding just a few things here and there.” There are also the stars: huge decorative metal light fixtures that bathe diners in a radiant glow. The couple bought these signature pieces in Guadalajara from an engineering student turned artist. They are twinkling reminders to keep reaching for big dreams.

Also imported from Mexico, a petrified tree stands at the heart of the dining room, wound in string lights. “For me, it represents the birthplace of my mother,” Helena explains. Speaking of family trees, Hector and Helena’s three daughters, now all grown up, have inherited the restaurant passion and profession from their parents—just as Helena did from their grandparents. It seems growing up in this world of kitchens and dining rooms left a lasting impression. All three girls teamed up with their cousin Victor Lopez to open Palo Alto’s Sun of Wolf.

 

The oldest of the Sol sisters, Alexa, also partners with Helena to keep Quinto Sol running smoothly. “My mom and my dad have two very unique ways of design, customer service and how they see the business,” Alexa notes. “I’m able to take a little bit of both of them, mix it together and be a support system.”

Her words highlight a key ingredient in Hector and Helena’s continued success. They complement each other—like a well-balanced dish satisfying the right blend of sweet and spicy or salty and savory. “Helena has her knowledge of what is supposed to be done in hospitality,” Hector praises.

“She didn’t go to school to learn how to treat people. Her approach is totally from her heart.” On the flip side, Helena credits Hector with keeping her grounded. “I don’t have that discipline, but he does. I’m usually riding up there,” she gestures to the stars hanging above her, “and he says, ‘Okay, you need to come down.’ He anchors me.”

Branching Out: Twig Artist

Words by Jennifer Jory

Dramatic twig sculptures dance throughout Paul Schick’s backyard workshop where he brings new life to foraged manzanita and redwood branches. To most, the large piles of sticks strewn about the garden might seem like a spring cleaning project, but to Paul they serve as his muse. “Look at this,” he exclaims, picking up a weathered branch. “It’s like a work of art in itself. It’s so sculptural with its various circles. I go nuts!” Paul’s passion for twig art has garnered demand from Hollywood and top designers for decades.

Paul greets me in a canary yellow shirt after work at his part-time job at Pine Cone Lumber. “A coincidence?” I question. He smiles, “Maybe not.” At 60, he enjoys working with his hands and often envisions artistic projects made of wood, while stacking lumber at the seven-acre lumberyard in Sunnyvale. After work, he performs more delicate tasks with his hands, sculpting massive wall compositions: redwood twigs forming waves, manzanita woven into webs. Not only is his raw material affordable, it also creates the ultimate sustainable art. While paints contain plastics and toxins, twig art completely decomposes.

A Los Altos native, Paul grew up spending time in the open spaces of the Peninsula where manzanita and redwood trees thrive. He describes his childhood in Los Altos as laid-back, frequently exploring the outdoors after school at Los Altos High. As a Boy Scout, Paul also enjoyed camping in the coastal forest of the Presidio in San Francisco. “I have so many good memories of going out in nature growing up,” he observes, “and my work is just a continuation of that.”

Paul pursued his artistic interests in Los Angeles, drawing inspiration from talented teachers and students at Otis School of Art and Design, where he earned a degree in illustration and communication design. As for early influences, he cites sculptors Deborah Butterfield, Andy Goldworthy as well as abstract painter and sculptor Charles Arnoldi, whose work can be viewed at the Anderson Collection at Stanford. “Arnoldi was painting twigs and creating twig sculptures,” he shares. “I fell in love with it—it just resonated with me.”

Paul recognized a clear creative path forward. After graduation, he followed his passion for fine art full-time and began crafting twig compositions and sculptures. Soon, he was selling out of a showroom in Los Angeles, and then his work started appearing on television shows such as Will & Grace. One day, Farrah Fawcett saw his work at Rodney Dangerfield’s home and gave him a call. “Farrah wanted a sculpture for Ryan O’Neal,” Paul recounts, “so I made a special one for him.” Paul’s installation sites range from the walls of Wilkes Bashford and Neiman Marcus to a Four Seasons Resort in Arizona. Several of his large sculptures grace restaurants and hotels in Las Vegas, including a 16-foot free-standing column at Wynn Las Vegas and another on display at one of Wolfgang Puck’s restaurants.

The creative process for Paul requires a good cup of coffee and a curated selection of twigs for the piece he envisions. After fumigating the wood with a non-toxic product to remove bugs, he begins sculpting and notching the twigs, tying them together with sturdy string. “I get a lot of manzanita from the Woodside hills,” Paul relays. “I am always looking for white birch, and if I see a dead branch or tree, I leave a note for the owners and sometimes people write back.” Paul also works with driftwood and took on the challenge of sculpting lanterns along with a perfectly-balanced and engineered five-foot driftwood seahorse for the Newport Beach Country Club.

Locally, Emily Joubert in Woodside showcases Paul’s sculptures as well as many of the Bay Clubs throughout the Bay Area and California. His art also decorates the walls at Fremont Hills Country Club in Los Altos and Foothill Tennis and Swim Club in Palo Alto. For one of Paul’s most unique projects, renowned SF designer Ken Fulk commissioned him to help sculpt part of a hobbit kingdom for a $10 million wedding in Big Sur. Paul often works on commission, and his sculpture and wall compositions range in wood colors from red to gray to brown. “It’s also fun to make pieces that aren’t commissioned,” he emphasizes. “Then I have absolute freedom to create whatever size and shape I want.”

As he wrangles and weaves his twig creations, Paul gleans inspiration from many sources including Palo Alto’s Gamble Gardens, architecture and music. He credits his wife Wanda for encouraging his work and lending a hand during installations. But he emphasizes that the twigs themselves are his ultimate muse. “I see the twigs as a creation from God,” he explains. “I fell in love with twigs and their 3D quality and it’s always rewarding when I finish a sculpture.”

Architecture: Mid-Century Crossover

Words by Johanna Harlow

Real estate agents Alex and Lily Wang see their fair share of homes. But the atrium at one particular Los Altos Eichler-style house grabbed their attention, inspiring them to buy the property and build their dream house around it.

Today, the remodel’s windows overlook a tranquil Japanese garden from all directions, making it the unmistakable epicenter of the property. Featuring a small stream (an enduring symbol for the flow of life and the passage of time) along with a striking cypress tree, the space appropriately resides at the very heart of this thoughtfully designed family home.

To actualize their vision, the couple turned to Ogawa Fisher Architects, a Palo Alto firm with a knack for California-centric design. “California is meant for indoor-outdoor living, lots of natural light, good flow and circulation within spaces,” notes Hiromi Ogawa, who heads the firm alongside Lynn Fisher.

When Hiromi and Lynn first met with Alex and Lily to discuss the project, a few expectations became clear. Beyond seamless indoor-outdoor integration, the couple desired an eco-friendly, functional design that maximized their space. They also wanted an open layout, which would lend itself to comfortable flow for gatherings. “We really believe in hospitality,” Lily emphasizes, adding that they also requested that the property’s garage be converted into an ADU with the intention of housing extended family. “In our culture and our upbringing, we believe in honoring and taking care of our parents when they’re older,” she shares.

Then there was the Japanese meets mid-century modern aesthetic to consider. “Mid-century modern actually has a history of crossover with Japanese design and an appreciation starting way back from Frank Lloyd Wright,” states Hiromi, who spent time living both in Japan and the U.S. as a child. She explains that many mid-century designers have taken trips to Japan for inspiration or referenced Japanese architecture and design as one of their influences. “So to us, the blend of those two are actually fairly straightforward.”

Two crossover features include big sliding doors as well as an intentional use of natural materials. “We really tried to bring some of these warmer wood elements throughout the house,” Hiromi says. “The wood ceiling actually doubles as a light shelf and even extends beyond where the roofs are so that it can provide this warm glow of light in other spaces as well.”

The indoor-outdoor flow is complemented by the overhang of the eaves themselves. Not only does it frame the views to the outdoors, notes Lynn, but “it also shades the glass from glare and heat and extends the room out into that outer zone.” Hiromi adds, “We strive to carefully compose the rooms, roof overhangs and space layouts to optimize the sun’s best attributes.” Yet one more facet in that house-to-garden transition ties in with the building’s nickname: Engawa House. Engawa refers to open-air walkways or porches found in traditional Japanese houses.

To optimize the view, the atrium can be appreciated not only from the living room, but also from the kitchen and the ADU. Each vantage point allows for a unique experience, Alex explains, mentioning how he and his wife hired a Hakone Gardens docent as their garden consultant. “He talked about looking at gardens from different views,” Alex recalls. “What kind of view do you want from each perspective? So you have three different perspectives—almost like three different gardens in a way.”

In retrospect, Alex and Lily express gratitude at the attentive guidance of the team at Ogawa Fisher Architects. With a barrage of decisions to be made and a budget to consider, remodeling can understandably be a source for tension among couples, Alex points out. But Haromi and Lynn escorted them gracefully through the process. “I don’t want to say marriage counselors, but they’re sherpas,” he describes, systemically guiding them section by section. “It was very well organized, very methodical—and yet at the same time, giving us the space to have our control, our input … our brushstroke on the project. So it was a really good match.”

The Ogawa Fisher team wholeheartedly agrees. “They really put their trust in us to do the right thing, to find the successful solution,” recognizes Hiromi. Lynn chimes in: “The magic happens in a project when those two pieces of expertise—them (the experts in the family) and us (the experts in architecture)—come together with a shared vision.”

Lily brings up another benefit of close collaboration: the chance to learn. “I really think it’s worth the experience and worth the investment,” she shares. “I feel like we’re paying for tuition almost.” As real estate agents, the couple are no strangers to fixing up homes for market, collaborating with handymen and contractors along the way. “But I would say this experience gave Alex and me more tools to serve our clients even better,” she affirms. As the couple dialogued with the team about the “why” behind each decision, they gained insights into design, art and problem-solving. “These people have been through schools, have been through real life experiences building homes, and they’re giving you the gold nuggets,” enthuses Lily, adding that it’s impacted how she regards other structures. “Now I can tell if it’s a custom-built home—whether it’s the texture of the wall or the height of a door.”

Alex and Lily have lived in their home for two years now. Their ADU has already been put to good use with both Alex and Lily’s parents coming for stays. They’ve also accommodated friends who had to evacuate during a fire in the Los Gatos hills. When they aren’t playing host, Alex rolls out a 12 x 12 mat to, as he puts it, “toss people around.” “I’m a big Brazilian jujitsu fanatic,” he grins. The ADU has also served as a home office and a hangout for their three kids. “So it’s a very, very versatile space,” Alex says.

As expected, the couple’s favorite moments involve their magical central garden. “I like the sounds of water flowing in the creek in the atrium,” muses Lily. Ogawa Fisher Architects also included a special spot in the kitchen so she can savor both her morning cup of coffee and the view.

Alex shares Lily’s sentiments and considers gardening a therapeutic ritual after a tiring day. “One of the things I noticed waking up the very first few days that we moved into the house was that I heard birds chirping that I hadn’t heard before,” he recollects. “I actually thought it was a Spotify playlist or something playing in the background. It’s the kind of thing that you don’t really notice until you have it.”

Perfect Shot: Shades of Light(house)

Built in 1871 to safeguard ships on the Pacific, Pescadero’s Pigeon Point Lighthouse is the tallest lighthouse on the West Coast. With the structures at its base converted into Hostelling International vacation rentals, it’s also a popular coastal escape. Photographer Gino De Grandis enjoys capturing the lighthouse in different seasons and times of day and snapped this Perfect Shot in “the magic, mirrored light as dusk fell.”

Image by Gino De Grandis / luiphotography.com

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

Diary of a Dog: Indie

Hello, my name is Indie! I’m a Chihuahua mix who was found with my littermates in a field in Reedley, California. Thankfully, a local rescue group called Copper’s Dream saved us and brought me to an adoption event at Unleashed in Menlo Park where I found my family, Josh and Suzanne. They are big fans of indie music and named me Indie because I’m unique and independent too. My most recognizable features are my white paws and large ears, which I keep in a one-up and one-down position. I like to think of it as if I am always giving a happy wave with my ear! My favorite outing is going to my neighborhood park with my bestie, Juno. I get so excited seeing my friends and getting snacks. I especially enjoy playing hacky sack (Josh is particularly good at kneeing the ball to me!) and chasing tennis balls. When I’m tired after a busy morning of running around, I enjoy wrapping myself tightly in a blanket and taking a nice long snooze. I also love my nightly walks but I won’t go unless we all go together. I’ve been told I have “herding tendencies,” but family is everything to me, so I would never leave Josh or Suzanne behind.

If you’d like to bring a fun pup like me into your life, check out coppersdream.org.

Landmark: Doran Memorial Bridge

Words by Kate Hammond

Driving along Interstate 280, you will cross the beautiful Doran Memorial Bridge spanning the Crystal Springs Dam. Located in Hillsborough, directly to the west of the “Flintstone House,” the 400-foot-high bridge was built in 1969 and holds the distinction of being the tallest bridge on I-280. Originally known as the San Mateo Creek Bridge, it was later renamed the Eugene A. Doran Memorial Bridge after the Hillsborough police officer who was killed in the line of duty during his early morning patrol near the site in 1969. Across from the bridge near the entrance to the Sawyer Camp Trail, a plaque honors Doran’s heroism. Renamed again in 2004, the landmark also honors Doran’s son who died in Vietnam while serving in the U.S. Marine Corps. Caltrans architect Warren S. Ludlow designed the bridge with help from renowned architect Mario Ciampi, who also designed the Berkeley Art Museum and the United Nations Plaza in San Francisco. The two used modified gothic arches and left the bridge a natural concrete color, contouring the surface of its piers to blend into the surroundings. Three days before the May 28, 1969 opening ceremony, more than 30,000 people crossed the bridge on foot on “Pedestrian Day.” The bridge has many accolades, including receiving a “most beautiful” designation from the American Institute of Steel Construction in 1970. The most scenic way to view the bridge is from below: Drive to the trailhead for the Sawyer Camp Hiking Trail to see the dam on the left and the bridge overhead.

Photo Caption: In addition to capturing the current image of Doran Memorial Bridge, Menlo Park photographer Robb Most snapped a “Pedestrian Day” photo back in 1969 with a Nikon camera his father brought back to him from Japan. 

The Steam Chocolate Mission

Words by Sloane Citron

When I go to visit my son, Coby, in Israel, I always make it my mission to get presents to bring back for the grandchildren. My daughters were once included in the gift category, but with seven grandchildren now, I’m good for only so much shopping.

Before my recent trip, my two oldest grandkids, Evan and Liav, both got it into their heads exactly what they wanted from me. They’re each three and a half and have clear and distinct preferences. I wasn’t sure where they got their big ideas, but they reminded me of them every day, whether on the phone or in person.

Evan, two weeks older than his cousin, has, like many three-year-olds, an obsession with trains. He always keeps one of his Thomas engines in his hands, sleeping with it and taking it with him to daycare. He loves to lie on the floor of his living room and make his trains go around and around his wooden track.

“Saba,” he told me, “when you go to visit Coby, I want a steam engine.” This was repeated ad nauseam, though I don’t think he has a true understanding of a steam engine. But his request was firmly on my mind, and I wondered if fulfilling it was possible.

Liav, on the other hand, cares more about putting on her dresses, playing with dolls and occasionally becoming a superhero. My daughter, Tali, must have influenced her, since there is no way she could have come up with her request on her own. “Saba,” she asked, “can you get me chocolate in a bag?”

I didn’t immediately understand what she meant, but then Tali reminded me about the bags of chocolate milk that they sell in Israel that the children all love.

My visit with Coby was wonderful and, as always, the time flew by. I looked wherever possible for a steam engine—in toy stores, the malls and in the open-air markets. But nothing fit the bill. I decided I needed to take another approach and looked on Amazon. There, I found the perfect train: a Brio steam engine that actually blows “steam” and has lights. Though I would normally want to buy this at Menlo Park’s Cheeky Monkey, our wonderful local toy store, I needed it to be at my home upon my arrival, so I ordered it online.

I wasn’t so sure about bringing chocolate milk on the journey home, but the day I was leaving, Coby picked up four bags of it and I figured that I would give it a try. I kept the bags in the freezer, and just before going to the airport, I placed them into a plastic container and then double-Ziploc-bagged it. My goal was to arrive home without finding chocolate milk all over my clothes and the other kids’ presents.

Apparently, air traffic is back. I got to the airport more than three hours before my flight—always wary of the time-consuming Israeli security—and yet only arrived at my gate with 45 minutes to spare. My bag was checked through United to SFO on the fantastic non-stop flight that departs daily just after midnight.

My 14-hour flight home went smoothly, and I comfortably made my way through customs and into the baggage area. Usually, my luggage is one of the first off, but I watched as one unfamiliar bag after another emerged onto the round conveyor belt. Since “many bags look alike,” I did take a good look at several that looked like mine, but to no avail.

When the conveyor belt stopped with me empty-handed, I knew it was time to go over to the line of people at the baggage claim desk. After waiting my turn, I showed the agent my claim slip. After looking into the computer for a few minutes, she shared the news with me that Israeli security had held my luggage. And then it hit me: “Chocolate in a bag!”

A day and a half later, my luggage was delivered to my front porch. When I came home from work, I quickly opened my bag, completely expecting the tightly-wrapped chocolate milk container to be gone, suspected of being some kind of semi-frozen explosive device. But then, there, under some clothes, I spotted a flash of plastic. I pulled it out, and, amazingly, it was still rather cold and went straightaway into the fridge.

The next day, I took the prized package over to my daughter’s home. No one was there, so I placed it in their fridge as a surprise for Liav. I wasn’t sure about the freshness of the chocolate milk after its long journey, but the next morning, Tali sent me the above photo. And Evan loves his steam engine, which remains firmly clutched in his hand day and night. Missions accomplished!

Life Lessons in Painting

Words by Sheri Baer

It’s 10AM on a Wednesday morning, and a brightly-lit 1,000-square-foot space tucked on Magnolia Street in Burlingame is buzzing with activity. The soundtrack to this scene is a playlist called “French Cafe,” an instrumental jazzy accordion mix evoking a cozy rendezvous in Paris. After setting up splattered easels on opposing ends of long tables, students squeeze out dollops of thick oil paint—from tubes labeled Burnt Sienna, Cobalt Blue and Cadmium Red—onto clean white palettes.

“I’m starting a new one today,” remarks Burlingame’s Penny Benjamin, who has been coming here for 15 years now. “I want to see how brave you are,” smiles Sheila Gordon, another longtimer from Hillsborough with a decade of classes under her belt. Penny reveals a photo of her daughter in a yoga pose with a serene expression, and Sheila counters with a watering can of colorful blooms on an antique chair. After donning paint-speckled black aprons, they head across the room to select their canvas sizes.

What’s happening here is known as Art Attack! With roots going back nearly 30 years to a Burlingame garage, this art studio has evolved into a beloved creative sanctuary on the Peninsula. At the heart of this impassioned community is Nancy Call Torres, who partners with her daughter, Audrey McInnis, and a small team of fellow art instructors to share their expertise and insights. “I really feel like I am a cheerleader for art,” Nancy enthuses. “I get so excited when I see somebody making progress or just being surprised by what they have done.”

Raised in Millbrae, Nancy remembers herself as a “creative kid” and credits her parents with nurturing her talent—by signing her up for art lessons with Burlingame’s Pat Frey and even encouraging her to major in art. “I really find that I get lost in it,” she says. “If I’m drawing or painting, it’s a place you can mentally just disappear into and get completely absorbed by what you’re doing.”

However, Nancy ultimately discovered that having a passion for art and making a living at it weren’t synonymous propositions. After graduating with a studio art degree from UC Santa Barbara, she got splashed by a harsh reality. “It’s really hard to get a job,” she states. “It was so disappointing to graduate and discover that nobody really wants you with a watercolor and oil painting portfolio.”

An art director suggested that Nancy take some classes in advertising, which led her down a more practical path–doing everything from paste-up work to sales. Painting, to her dismay, became something she occasionally did on the side.

In 1995, marriage and four kids later, Nancy found herself brainstorming for a way to bring extra income into the family. “Phlebotomy!” her daughter Audrey interjects with a laugh, and Nancy giggles at the reference. At the time, a neighbor was learning to draw blood for insurance companies and encouraged Nancy to join her. Knowing that Nancy was better suited to the creative kind of drawing, a friend offered up an alternative. “Why don’t you start a summer art camp for kids?” she suggested.

Forgoing the phlebotomist training, Nancy launched a three-week art program in the family’s Burlingame garage, which “grew and grew and grew until there were 40 kids a week coming to my house for nine weeks of summer.” Audrey, Nancy’s youngest daughter, was six when the “Nancy Call Torres Art Studio” began hosting students. “Basically my entire life, I had every supply I could possibly want at my fingertips and a designated place where I could get messy and create,” Audrey recalls. “It’s impossible not to get hooked on art when it’s that ingrained in your household.”

When a preteen-Audrey decided she was ready to start her own business, Nancy gave her the support she needed to launch an extended care theater camp. “I’m just so grateful for my mom,” Audrey reflects, “because what adult has that response to an 11-year-old to empower them in that way?” At the same time, Nancy continued to expand her own fine art offerings. As parents dropped off their kids, she’d hear wistful parting comments like, “I want a turn!” She responded by adding adult classes, which mapped to her belief that painting can be an outlet for any age.

 

In 2005, Nancy officially moved the renamed “Art Attack!” studio out of the family’s garage and into a Burlingame brick and mortar. In 2013, when Audrey returned to the Peninsula after college, she realized the career she’d always wanted was right by Nancy’s side. “It just felt extremely natural, kind of like a coming home,” muses Audrey. “That sounds very cheesy, but it’s also kind of literal since it started in my home and it’s with my mom.”

Although Art Attack! teaches other mediums, oil painting is the studio’s forte. “It’s something you don’t get to do everywhere, so I felt like it was a unique thing I could offer,” explains Nancy, who recalls her own journey to working with thick paints and turpentine. “When we learned with Pat Frey, you started with charcoal and pencil and pastels, and then when she deemed that you were ready, you got to do oil painting, so that was always our goal.”

Nancy decided to take a different approach. “It’s a little more like jumping into the deep end,” she chuckles. “It’s like, ‘Okay, here’s 15 minutes of charcoal drawing, and now you’re ready for oils.’”

Instructing students ranging in age from 7 to 87, Art Attack! teaches oil painting techniques while weaving in lessons about composition, design, color, value, perspective and shape. First-timers typically start with an apple. “It’s a simple shape, so it’s not intimidating,” Audrey says. “We talk about drawing what’s in front of you, drawing what you see, not what you think you know.”

 

A short charcoal study comes next, followed by a color wheel demonstration, which is Audrey’s favorite lesson to impart. “When you can mix a color really quickly, it feels like a super power,” she points out. “And it’s not that complicated—we’re just talking about six colors and how they interact. If you understand that and can hold onto that information, you can mix any color. Period.”

Six-inch-square paintings of an apple. Check! After that, the subject matter is left up to each student. “We don’t make everybody do the same still life,” relays Nancy. “We let the students lead their own journeys because they’re more likely to learn if they’re excited about it. We work with them to find out whatever it is that they want to do, but a version of it that we think they will be successful at and learn from.”

Having students work independently also eliminates any sense of competition or fear of being judged. “We definitely advocate for building each other up,” emphasizes Audrey, who notes that giving teens an inclusive, creative space to find community is especially meaningful.

In the Wednesday morning session, a mixture of reference photos—printed out with optional grids and Lightroom filters—get carefully scrutinized. Burlingame’s Adriana Higuera is painting a striking figure in a bright blue dress. Wielding a brush at the adjacent table, her daughter, Hillsborough’s Andrea Ballard, is interpreting an image of her husband and children fishing in Tahoe.

“We started here about three years ago when we wanted some mother-daughter time,” recounts Adriana. “When my grandson saw my first apple, he said, ‘Nani, why did you paint an orange floating down the river?’” Andrea laughs at the memory. “It’s nice to take a deep breath and do something fun and relaxing,” she adds, before applying a bluish-green wash to her canvas.

One easel over, Burlingame’s Jonathan Visbal mentions that his daughters came to Art Attack! when they were young. He grew up in a family of artists but had never fostered his own talent with intent. “My wife said, ‘You’re always threatening to go back and paint,’ so she got me this class,” he says. For Jonathan, a landscape of Milagra Ridge led to a portrait of his dog at Mavericks followed by a Tahoe sunset. Today, he’s trying to get the wheels right on his motorcycle coming across the Carson Pass on Route 88.

“Painting expands your neuroplasticity because it makes you think in a different way,” he shares. “I get really engrossed in what I’m doing and I look forward to coming here every week.”

As the ambiance of a French cafe lingers in the air, Nancy moves fluidly around the room, offering personalized one-on-one guidance. She pauses to take in the unfolding of a beach scene. “Pop in a shadow and you’ll know that there’s a rock there,” she guides. Seeing Penny struggling to capture her daughter’s expression, she observes, “It’s too smiley, try making it more neutral.” Penny blots with a turpentine towel and reapplies a few brushstrokes. “This is looking so much prettier,” Nancy praises. “You’re really getting to that peaceful feeling.”

Despite oil’s daunting reputation, the flexibility it offers makes it more forgiving. “Oil painting is unlike any other medium because it’s so slow-drying,” Nancy explains. “While they’re here, they can scrape and pull and blend and work with it in a way you don’t get to with acrylic or watercolor.”

Having taught thousands of students since 1995 (and with her own paintings now held in private collections around the world), Nancy is reminded daily that Art Attack! has become a Peninsula institution. “The kids who came to the very first week of summer camp ever are currently sending their children to classes,” she marvels. “They knew how much it meant to them, and now they’re bringing their kids in.”

With three grandchildren and an eye on retirement, Nancy makes a point of cherishing every moment in the studio. “This is like a dream getting to work with your own child, to be able to pass the business on to the next generation,” she reflects, as Audrey’s eyes mist up. And for anyone wavering about taking the artistic plunge? “I always say don’t limit yourself, don’t sell yourself short,” Nancy counsels. “If you have any inkling at all that this is something you might want to do, you should try.”

 

8 Rites of Summer

Words by Johanna Harlow

While the Peninsula is known for more than its fair share of sun, summertime kicks off even warmer, longer days and a host of familiar rituals. Whether you’re savoring u-pick berries or ice cream, make the most of the season’s sweet weather with PUNCH’s summer bucket list.

1. Shake your Groove Thing

From June to August, celebrate the sound of music at one of the Peninsula’s many outdoor summer concerts. Spanning Burlingame to Los Altos, options include San Mateo’s Central Park Music Series on Thursdays, Redwood City’s Music on the Square and San Carlos’ Music in the Park on Fridays as well as Belmont Park Boosters’ Summer Concert Series on Sundays. July also marks the third season of SF Symphony at Frost Amphitheater, presented by Stanford Live. The month-long Friday night concert series kicks off on July 8 with “Night in Bohemia,” featuring a Spanish-flavored cello concerto and Antonín Dvorˇák’s atmospheric Eighth Symphony. In partnership with SFJAZZ, Stanford Live also presents a selection of July performances beginning with “A Celebration of the Music of Linda Ronstadt” on July 9.

2. Take a Licking

For the real scorchers, fend off the heat with the ultimate taste of summer: ice cream. In San Mateo, Palo Alto and Los Altos, you can’t go wrong with one of Tin Pot Creamery’s delightfully unusual flavors—blue jasmine tea, maple crumb donut and snickerdoodle cookie among them. If you’re coastside, drop by Gulino Gelato in Half Moon Bay for enticing batches crafted from scratch daily. Or keep your ice cream company by giving it a nice cookie bed at Palo Alto’s Wildseed. Their pizookie, dotted with chocolate chips and served in a personal-sized skillet, will hit the spot for any occasion. For a delicious and healthy alternative, make your way over to Pressed Juicery in Burlingame or at the Stanford Shopping Center. Pro tip: Add a drizzle of almond butter, cocoa or raspberry puree over their already refreshing plant-based freezes.

3. Start Swinging

Summertime means it’s time to play… golf on the Peninsula. If you’ve never swung a club, it’s not too late to discover the storied history of the game and social camaraderie on the greens. Tee off your game by taking lessons, learning your pitching wedge from your putter and your birdies from your bogeys. You might choose to swing easy overlooking stunning vistas of the Crystal Springs Reservoir or the Santa Cruz Mountains at Crystal Springs Golf Club in Burlingame. Hit ’em long and straight at Palo Alto’s Baylands Golf Links with its 55 luscious acres of scenic wetlands. Set in the Peninsula’s scenic foothills, Stanford Golf Course also offers private and group lessons. Stop dragging your feet and learn what it takes to steer clear of the rough.

4. One Berry, Two Berry

One quintessential rite of a Peninsula summer is picking plump, sweet berries. So spend a morning combing the leafy green rows of our area’s u-pick farms for juicy gems. Craving blackberries? You’ll have to be more specific at Portola Valley’s Webb Ranch, which offers Navaho, obsidian, and prime-arc varieties (as well as olallieberries and marionberries). The ranch also boards horses, so you might spot a few riders and their equine companions out for a canter on the grounds. Be sure to make a reservation before heading over. To combine both coastal and strawberry cravings, set a course for Blue House Farm in San Gregorio. Fields of organic ripe berries await, along with three gorgeous acres of sunflowers, dahlias and delphinium.

5. Escape to the Sea

Is it truly summer until you’ve checked off a few beach days? You’ll find any number of stellar sunbathing and sandcastle-making spots up and down our coastline. To mix things up, take a bluff-top walk along Wavecrest Open Space Trail in Half Moon Bay. Also a birding hotspot, you’ll encounter seabirds and birds of prey alike soaring above its sea cliffs. Pupping season is February through July so visit Fitzgerald Marine Reserve over at Moss Beach for the fleeting chance to watch proud mama seals and their adorable blubber babies. To ensure front-row seats to some tidepooling action, check charts online and time your visit during negative tides (or at least below one foot). Hop rock to rock in search of sea pockets teeming with spiky urchins, aster-like anemones, feathery pink coralline algae and stubby-armed batstars. You might even get lucky and find a couple nudibranchs (colorful, bizarrely textured “sea slugs” that put their brown, land-bound brethren to shame).

6. Splash it Up

For a little water sport action, splash right in with Foster City’s California Windsurfing (which not only offers wind-propelled sailing via board, but also kayaking, paddleboarding and pedal boating, too). At Shoreline Lake Boathouse, sail, kayak or windsurf on calm blue waters with the ducks and the Forster’s terns. And if you’re a yogi, stow your mat and learn pigeon pose on a paddleboard with one of their SUP sessions. Care to take things seaside? Rent a paddleboard from Mavericks PaddleSports and drift with the otters out on Pillar Point Harbor.

7. Get Your Wheels Rolling

To bask in the scenery of summer, strap on a helmet and cycle your way along the region’s exceptional bike paths. Bike the Baylands to encounter undisturbed marshland. Home to 100 species of resident and migratory birds, the preserve’s skimmers and sandpipers are sure to keep you company along its 15 miles of trails. Thanks to the San Mateo County Parks Department, you can also partake in Bicycle Sundays on Cañada Road. With a four-mile portion closed to cars between the entrance of Filoli and Route 92, cyclists relish this two-wheels-only route between 9AM to 3PM. If it’s been a few years since you’ve sweated it out on your trusty old Schwinn, rent an e-bike to check out the sensation of a turbo-charged ride. Specialty stores like Menlo Park’s Pedego and Palo Alto’s E-Bike Annex are standing by to gear you up.

8. To Market, To Market

Summer fruits and veggies are back in abundance at the Peninsula’s cornucopia of farmers markets. Nectarines, peaches, plums and watermelons—yum! Seek and you shall find over a dozen options for fresh local produce and artisan foods. Check out Downtown Palo Alto’s offering on Gilman Street every Saturday from 8AM to Noon. Now touting four decades, the volunteer-run market is also a vibrant community gathering place. Meanwhile, the College of San Mateo promises seasonal fruits and veggies as well as local goods like artisan cheese, eggs and honey (Saturday from 9AM to 1PM). For a French-inspired market with fresh bread, crepes and macarons, stop by Bon Marché in downtown Menlo Park (Wednesday from 3-7PM).

Design: Naturally Appealing

Words by Jennifer Jory

Seed pods turned art. Chandeliers shaped like tree branches. Reclaimed walnut slab tables. Designer Kimberly Larzelere brings the outdoors inside with seamless style and an artful eye throughout the Peninsula. By incorporating materials such as wood and stone, Kimberly creates an organic feel in her room designs, many of which feature collapsing glass walls that join homes with the backyard. “I love the open floor plan with the interior opening to the exterior,” she notes.

Kimberly’s interest and ease with natural elements comes from a life spent outdoors as an avid cyclist, runner and hiker. “I also grew up living on a ranch with horses,” she adds. “As a kid, I competed in vaulting on horseback near Santa Cruz.” Her time outside has translated into a love for the diversity of materials in nature that she uses in her work.

A longtime local designer, Kimberly began her career as a kitchen and bath expert in Hollywood and then San Francisco, eventually opening a kitchen and bath design studio in Menlo Park. Her clients continually requested her expertise to redecorate their entire homes and soon her full-service studio, KL Interiors in Menlo Park, was born. “I love creating spaces that really function for families as their children grow,” she emphasizes. “People want to live in their houses, not just look at them.”

Two recent modern interior design projects in Los Altos and Palo Alto showcase Kimberly’s clean, classic style with a modern twist. “These projects feature indoor/outdoor elements that create durability,” she explains. “I am always evolving and developing my skill set. The environments I create tend to have calming color palettes with lots of organic materials and some mid-century influence—a recent aesthetic that I really enjoy.”

In Los Altos, Kimberly worked on an extensive remodel with a client seeking a mid-century, casual feel. “We remodeled the home by creating a really unique and durable space that made it functional for the family,” she says.

“We were able to transform the floor plans and existing space into everything the client wanted.” To add continuity between the exterior and interior design, Kimberly used board form panels on the pool waterfall to match the one on the fireplace inside. She also created consistency with matching steel beams on the outside of the house and in the living room, where she included an Eames chair and ottoman to inject mid-century character. And she deployed disappearing glass doors to open the remodeled home completely to the outdoors and pool area. By using a platinum wall-sized slab of stone rather than wall paper in the powder room and adding a concrete sink, she achieved a rustic, yet elegant feel. In the dining room, the light fixture over the table serves as a focal point with organic steel elements that look like tree branches.

In Palo Alto, Kimberly took on the challenge of designing the interior of a large new home from the ground up. To connect exterior elements of the home with the inside, she incorporated mahogany and steel used on the outside of the house and the floating staircase into the kitchen cabinetry and stove hood. “The client loves to cook and bake, making it very important that the countertops are hard-wearing, so we chose quartzite,” she relays. “When the kitchen was done, the owner was so happy that she gave me a cooking class and taught me French baking techniques.” In the living room, Kimberly selected art made from elements in nature such as found resin and poppy pods. In the dining room, a contemporary chandelier spotlights the reclaimed Northern California walnut slab dining table.

One of the quandaries Kimberly faced with the home was hiding a large air return vent directly off the entry. Her solution: camouflaging it as an architectural feature by designing a bench with decorative slats that allowed for air circulation. “A big part of my job is solving problems. I am type A and always on the move, making stuff happen,” she smiles. “I get materials on site and stay on or ahead of schedule—that is my M.O.”

Contrasting Peninsula design today with trends over the past decades, Kimberly sees a dramatic difference. “When we designed years ago, houses were more compartmentalized,” she reflects. “Kitchens were separated and you had formal spaces. Now, the cooks want to be included in the conversation. I go into some of these houses and knock down walls to create inclusive spaces.” As Kimberly sees homeowners ditching the living room for great rooms, she’s also factoring in the inclusion of one or two home offices.

To give back to the community, Kimberly volunteered her design skills to the Lucile Packard Stanford Hospital’s Ronald McDonald House expansion several years ago. She designed the workout room as a haven for families to relieve anxiety. “Working out helps me manage stress,” she says. “I wanted to help others find that same relief.” In her free time, Kimberly dabbles in her own home renovation and recently remodeled a rundown cabin in Arnold. “I took an old, disgusting house and made it into a modern cabin,” she reveals. “I also refurbished a dilapidated house in San Francisco, while trying to keep the character of the home intact.”

Now based in San Francisco with a Peninsula focus, Kimberly’s life outside of work complements her job as she enjoys hunting for new sources at artisans events throughout the Bay Area. Her love for traveling abroad also allows her to find one-of-a-kind treasures that she uses in projects. “My home is filled with art from a trip I took to Cuba,” she shares. “When traveling in Peru, I found pillows at a local market that worked for a recent project. Sometimes, the process is just as fun as the final product.”

A Perfect Putt: Custom Clubs

Words by Kate Daly

This entrepreneurial story begins in a small one-car garage in Mountain View in 1989, but it’s not your typical Silicon Valley tale. In this case, the man who successfully turned his hobby into an international business is still in control and enjoying the creative process decades later. That’s because he is the company: Kevin Burns Golf.

Kevin’s signature products are custom-milled putters, measured and designed to meet the specific wants and needs of individual golfers, whether they be pros on tour (50 winners at last count) or occasional players.

He buys the shaft and grips but makes every other part of the putter himself, using a biometric fitting process he patented and an enormous computer numerical control machine he operates at his office complex. Emphasizing quality over quantity, Kevin crafts thousands of putters every year for clients all over the world.

Growing up in Los Altos Hills, Kevin enjoyed playing tennis until he picked up golf at age 17, right around when he switched from St. Francis to Gunn High School. After majoring in business at Chico State, he went to work for his father’s insurance agency, Scurry-Burns & Co. Kevin describes his dad “as a craftsman who taught me a lot about woodworking.”

Sitting behind an office desk grew tiresome, so when the owner of Visual Golf in Palo Alto asked Kevin to help with repairing clubs, Kevin said yes and left insurance behind. And that’s when “my mother cried,” he recalls about announcing his life-changing career pivot. In 1989, he founded Kevin Burns Golf as a club repair company in the little garage at 811 Hope Street in Mountain View, while working on the side at the Palo Alto Municipal Golf Course (now Baylands.)

In 1991, frustrated by the quality and craftsmanship that he was seeing, Kevin started to focus on designing and manufacturing a better putter. Two years later, the money he and his wife saved to buy a house went towards purchasing his first mill. “I didn’t even know how to turn it on,” he recounts. “I hired a machinist to work with us for three years and he taught me everything, and now I do everything.”

 

Kevin’s big breakthrough came in 1996. As the first to insert copper into the stainless-steel putter heads, he made a name for himself at the Nissan Open in Los Angeles. PGA touring pro Craig Stadler got distracted talking to his college buddies and misplaced his putter during the tournament. He asked his caddy to fetch the one Kevin had showed off earlier. Millions of television viewers watched when Stadler used a Kevin Burns putter to sink the final shot and win.

In 1999, Kevin was the first to use tungsten to weight putters, and that same year, José Maria Olazábal won the Masters in Augusta using a Kevin Burns putter. In the early 2000s, Kevin partnered with Bridgestone Golf Japan, and then peeled off to develop the custom-fitting side of the business.

“It was a lot harder than I anticipated,” he reflects. “It took me 10 years to get it up and running.” Now Kevin Burns Golf is keeping him busier than ever. “During COVID, we were slammed; it’s been really good for golf,” Kevin notes. “And the word is out that I make really nice stuff.” Kevin was so busy handling orders that he had to stop taking new ones last fall so he could catch up. And like many, he has run into supply chain issues. Luckily, he stockpiled a shipment of 456 pounds of stainless steel a while back.

Kevin designed a machine with a biometric arm that reads a player’s putting posture, position of the head, eyes and spine and weight distribution to calculate the golfer’s set-up and style. Measurements in length, lie, loft and weight are all factored in when each putter is made. His putters range from $700 to $4,000 apiece.

Following the Mountain View garage, Kevin set up shop in Sunnyvale, and then in San Jose for 10 years. He moved the business to San Carlos closer to his home, and then to Santa Clara for a stretch. He established his current retail and workshop space in Hayward in 2020. That’s where Kevin does custom fittings, as well as at some mobile demo days at local courses such as San Francisco’s California Golf Club or on Zoom where he relies on his practiced eye rather than the fitting machine.

Up next for Kevin: setting up authorized fitting studios in Japan, Indonesia and Thailand. He’ll send the components to those locations and his five models of putters with different finishes will be assembled overseas instead of him having to do it all in Hayward.

Kevin’s son, Brendan, played hockey in Canada before college and is now a student at the University of Arizona. He’s already contributing to Kevin Burns Golf as chief operating officer, but Kevin remains the lynchpin to the successful family business. “I’m the designer and manufacturer. I’m 59 and I want to be out by 62, but…” he concedes with a smile, “nobody can do it better than me.”

Kevin recently upgraded his software and foresees adding more people, machines and robotics to ramp up production and speed up his current turnaround time of about a month. There is always one distraction, though. As the weather improves, he feels the pull to get out and play more golf, to see if he can reclaim his former handicap of five.

Day Trip: Sweet Home Saratoga

Words by Johanna Harlow

Seeking a day trip to de-stress? Find respite just south of the Peninsula with a quick jaunt to Saratoga, an idyllic town nestled along the emerald green foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains.

You wouldn’t guess by its real estate these days, but back in its frontier youth, the area functioned as a gritty industrial town with seven saloons. Over time, farmers coaxed fruit orchards and vineyards to bloom across its fertile soil. Edwin Sidney “Sunshine” Williams launched Saratoga’s annual Blossom Festival in 1900 to celebrate its bountiful harvest of cherries, apricots and French prunes. In recent years, a number of well-known creatives have called the area home, and big names like actress Olivia de Havilland, Men in Black screenwriter Ed Solomon and director Steven Spielberg furthered the city’s association with the arts.

With plenty of outdoor activities and no shortage of enticing restaurants, you’re sure to find your visit to Saratoga revitalizing.

Photography: Robert David Siegel

Hike

Get a strong start to the day by zipping up your jacket, grabbing a piping hot thermos, then setting out for an invigorating morning hike at Castle Rock State Park. As you wind along its woodsy trails, you’ll spot massive boulders peeking between California black oaks, knobcone pines and redwoods—almost as if tossed there long ago by some playful giant. Needless to say, it makes for quite the surreal landscape. Be prepared for steeper terrain—but also fabulous ridge-top vistas.

For a shorter hike, we suggest the mile-long Castle Rock Trail loop, which includes the park’s namesake, a hulking stone formation. For something a little longer, set out on the narrow but well-traversed Saratoga Gap Trail and make a right onto Ridge Trail where you’ll encounter the slowly eroding Goat Rock. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot a climber or two scaling the area’s Swiss cheese-like formations (also called tafoni).

Sip

For those looking to seize the day with a caffeine boost, stop by Tea Lyfe. With Vietnamese-Mexican fusion drinks that reflect the heritage of the couple who own the store, the menu features adventurous drinks like the Vietchata (Vietnamese coffee with Mexican horchata) and the Strawberry Lychee Mojito.

Alternatively, savor the sun-saturated patio of Sue’s Gallery Café with a cappuccino served in a glazed ceramic cup (crafted by Sue herself). If you’d like to take Sue’s handiwork home, rows of her museum-worthy plates, vases and oversized teacups are available for purchase. While Sue handles the art, her husband orchestrates the shop’s artful blend of Guatemalan coffee beans.

If you’re in a mind to unwind, forgo the espresso buzz and drop by one of Saratoga’s notable wineries. At Savannah Chanelle Vineyard, a glass of pinot noir pairs nicely with live music and foggy forest views. For a show with all the stops, The Mountain Winery boasts a spacious amphitheater and robust concert series. Upcoming performances include Fitz and The Tantrums, The Beach Boys and Smokey Robinson.

Wander

Not all who wander are lost—so let the paths guide you at Hakone Estate and Gardens. Spend a peaceful afternoon peering up at the thin, long shoots of the bamboo forest, ducking beneath wisteria-laden trellises, studying granite stone lanterns and lingering by star-leafed maples. If you take your time, you might even spot a koi or two drifting under the Shinto-style bridge or a blue-tailed skink sunning itself in the rock garden. To immerse yourself even more deeply in the experience, sign up for a tea ceremony and learn the graceful art and mindfulness of serving and drinking tea as well as the principles of wa kei sei jaku that guide it.

Villa Montalvo, a 175-acre park and arts center, also merits exploration. There’s an air of grandeur about this place—starting with the century-old mansion presiding over the estate and overlooking the two-acre Great Lawn where picnickers, sunbathers and bookworms fan out across its immaculate grass. The Italianate garden features statues, hedges and a classic column gazebo. Beyond lies the Lookout Point trail, progressing through majestic stretches of redwoods to a panoramic vista of Silicon Valley. Remarkable not just for its grounds, Montalvo Arts Center boasts the third-oldest residency program in the U.S. Montalvo has served as muse to artists, composers, performers and writers—and in turn, they contribute their disciplines to the park’s packed schedule of concerts and creative events.

Dine

As the sun starts to set, make your way over to Saratoga Village. The area’s historic downtown features a number of delectable dining opportunities, so we recommend taking a leisurely lap around the block to scout your options before committing.

Go bold at Flowers Saratoga, a place with powder-pink velvet booth seats and dramatic food presentation (think shortcake served in fishbowl globes of ice and Hummingbird cocktails sprouting a flurry of feathery plumes (not to worry, it’s actually pulled Turkish cotton candy).

In the mood for tom yum soup and pad kee mao noodles? For Thai cravings, you can’t go wrong with either Bai Tong or Mint Leaf Cuisine. Both are dramatically decorated: Bai Tong with intriguing artifacts and oil paintings; Mint Leaf with zebra print chairs, swaths of decorative curtains and a bold red ceiling.

To take it up a notch, pull out all the stops at the Plumed Horse. Enjoy your striped bass and souffle in a crocodile print chair near a cozy indoor fireplace or lounge under the chandeliers in the tent outdoors. The real showstopper here is the restaurant’s transparent corridor of wine, its glass floor revealing not one, but two stories of vintage bottles stacked floor to ceiling.

For a hands-on meal, visit La Fondue to dip skewered morsels into heated pots of cheese and chocolate. Matching the novelty of the dining experience, the eclectic ambiance includes Moroccan lamps, geisha murals, funky chandeliers and pop art wallpaper.

Photography: Courtesy Silicon Valley Shakespeare

Watch

For evening entertainment during the months of July and August, attend a Silicon Valley Shakespeare performance in Sanborn County Park’s tree-fringed amphitheater. To keep things fresh, this troop of thespians often adds contemporary twists to the bard’s Old English. Past playful themes have taken The Taming of the Shrew to the Wild West, The Tempest to the tropics, and Pericles: Prince of Tyre to outer space (light sabers and blasters included). They’ve even brought a ’90s battle of the bands to Love’s Labour’s Lost (think NSync vs. the Spice Girls). Productions take place under the stars—poetic, but also cold—so pack layers or a snuggly blanket.

After the applause fades away, it’s time to bring the night to a close and head home. Until next time, Saratoga.

Landmark: Sánchez Adobe

Words by Lexi Friesel

Did you know there’s a place in San Mateo County where the 19th-century chapter of your history textbook comes to life? Don’t let the straightforward architecture and modest sun-dried bricks of Pacifica’s Sánchez Adobe fool you. In truth, this old two-story Spanish building boasts a colorful (and scandalous!) history. Originally the site of an Ohlone village, the land on which the adobe now resides was claimed as a mission outpost by Spanish explorers in 1786. After an epidemic ravaged the area just six years later, the land remained abandoned for decades until the former mayor (alcalde) of San Francisco, Don Francisco Sánchez, was granted the parcel and utilized the area as a rancho to raise cattle. Although Sánchez might have resurrected the adobe, it long outlived him. As the 20th century dawned, the adobe’s owner converted it into the lively Hotel San Pedro, playing host to travelers disembarking from the Ocean Shore Railroad. Throughout the 1900s, the building donned many hats—ranging from an artichoke packing shed to a Prohibition speakeasy (with whiskey stills hidden in the artichoke fields) to a bordello to a hunting lodge. A much more family-friendly attraction these days, Sánchez Adobe hosts the annual Rancho Day Fiesta (mark your calendar for September 17), when visitors can experience life on a historic rancho through dancing, stamping leather, candle-making and other hands-on activities. A quilt show with live music is also held on the property each fall. Sánchez Adobe is free to visit Tuesday to Thursday from 10AM to 4PM, Saturday and Sunday from 12PM to 4PM.

Breakwater Barbecue

Words by Elaine Wu

Hailing from the San Mateo County coastal town of El Granada, Wyatt Fields is a self-proclaimed barbecue nerd. For the last ten years, he’s been devoted to his passion for better barbecue. But his obsession with open-flame cooking dates back to his middle school days when he went on a surfing trip down to Baja. “There was a rusty grill one of the dads was cooking chicken on and I loved everything about it, from the smell to the gathering of people,” Wyatt recalls. “At one point, he had to run out for something and left me in charge. That responsibility was something I loved and still remember. I flipped the chicken way too much but I didn’t burn it!”

That instant affinity led Wyatt to begin working in the food service industry as a teenager. Unable to afford formal culinary training, he learned whatever he could by doing just about every job in a professional kitchen. In addition to taking on roles ranging from butcher to bartender, Wyatt also interned with French chefs to learn the most refined fine dining skills. Through it all, he continued to obsessively research and test barbecue techniques, learning how to slow-smoke meat on an offset grill. “I’d always buy a big chunk of brisket and write the experience in my diary,” he shares. “Everything from the temperature to the fuel I used.”

In 2013, Wyatt formed his first catering company, offering what he called an ‘elevated barbecue experience,’ which hooked him completely. “The feeling of community is what originally drew me in,” he reflects. “It was just so awesome seeing the unpretentiousness of open-air cooking.” In 2019, recognizing the need for a barbecue joint along the coast, Wyatt set out to create a more permanent operation in his hometown, where he forged lifetime friendships and caught his first wave. For Wyatt, Breakwater Barbecue also represented a way to give back. “I grew up in this area and I want the community to feel like this is their place where they can share food with family and friends,” he says.

Located about 10 minutes north of Half Moon Bay, Breakwater’s space is cozy yet airy and includes a large counter so customers can see the butcher cutting the various slabs of barbecue meats. Time it just right, and they’ll even slice you a fresh piece to sample that’s warm, smoky and perfectly spiced. Wyatt’s brand of craft barbecue combines the best of everything he’s learned over the years. He doesn’t use shortcuts—from sauces to sides, it’s all made from scratch.

Wyatt’s hand-trimmed beef brisket uses a Texas-style dry rub, while his pulled pork uses a South Carolina-style mustard-based sauce. Brisket trimmings go into the sausages, which take three days to make. Wyatt sources coastal oak for the wood, using an offset stick burner instead of the more common electric smoker. “We’re doing barbecue the way it should be,” he asserts. “You have to watch the fire, monitor the temperature and really know your wood.”

Wyatt claims that making good barbecue is more a feeling than timing. “It’s not about fall off the bone, it’s about the pull of the meat,” he explains, adding that this labor-intensive process is not for the faint of heart. “If you don’t love barbecue, you have no place running a business like this.”
The result is handcrafted meats that are perfectly smoked, full-flavored and ridiculously tender and juicy. “People are noticing the difference. You come here and you realize that this is what barbecue should be,” Wyatt states proudly.

Currently, folks can grab a beer and watch a game in the restaurant’s corner bar area where Wyatt hopes to someday also offer fish tacos, taking advantage of the area’s fresh seafood. Special menu items like the smoked Gold Rush dry rub half-chicken or cider and herb smoked turkey breast are only available on weekends. Breakwater is open Thursday to Sunday 11AM-6PM, and Wyatt realizes some customers may be unfamiliar with the barbecue culture of selling until the meat is all gone. He recommends pre-ordering either online or by phone to avoid being disappointed.

“I know the term has been diluted, but in California where barbecue isn’t as big as it is in other parts of the country, it’s important to say this is ‘craft barbecue,’” he relays. “In Texas, they’ll frown if you say that. But what’s cool is that now people are seeking out the spots that are doing this kind of craft barbecue. I never thought in my wildest dreams I’d be here doing this.”

Cocktails: Artisanal Ice

Words by Sheri Baer

Whenever they’d hit the road for work, Matt and Gretchen Tucker pursued a common quest. “Every city that we visited,” shares Matt, “we’d always seek out two things: the best margarita pizza and the best cocktail that we could find in town.”

Be it London, Tel Aviv or New York, they tallied up memorable (and numerous) discoveries only to become disheartened each time they returned to the Bay Area. “We have good pizza here,” the Palo Alto couple concluded, “but the cocktail scene kind of sucked.”

It didn’t make sense to the pair. They’d watch local bartenders working their craft with high-quality spirits, mixes, glasses and garnishes—followed by a disconnect. “They would make these wonderful cocktails for us and we’d get all excited,” recounts Gretchen, “and then they’d pour them over cloudy blocks of ice.”

As devotees of expertly-crafted mixed drinks, the missing ingredient jumped out clear as day: crystal-clear ice.

After consistently enjoying stellar cocktails in Portland, the couple made a few inquiries and zeroed in on a common denominator: Chuck Hartz, the founder and mastermind behind PDX Ice. Chuck started out making ice sculptures in 2012 but evolved into cocktail cubes at the behest of bar and restaurant owners. “Chuck’s customers started asking him, ‘Hey, can I just get blocks of ice?’” summarizes Matt. “And he said, ‘I can do that and how about I cut those for you too?’”

A software executive, Matt met Gretchen (who got her BS in bioengineering from Cal) at Palo Alto’s Jive Software. Although frustrated by the cocktail scene in the Bay Area, they didn’t set out to run a cool side business. However, after a diligent search, they found no local vendors offering premium ice service. “It’s a lot of fricking work to make one of these ice cubes, so if somebody had already been doing it, we wouldn’t have started this company,” states Gretchen. “We just really, really like good ice.”

So much so that they partnered with Chuck Hartz to launch Blind Tiger Ice in San Mateo. “In Prohibition days, you might say, ‘Hey, let’s go meet at the blind tiger,’ which meant, ‘Let’s go meet at the speakeasy,’” explains Matt. “So that became the inspiration.”

Founded in 2018, Blind Tiger prides itself on pairing old-school craftsmanship with state-of-the-art technology to create the ultimate cocktail ice. After relying on Chuck’s expertise to get started, Gretchen and Matt ultimately hired former bartenders and “fellow ice spirits” to tackle day-to-day operations. “It is heavy, wet, cold, laborious work,” remarks Gretchen. “You have to love the end product to be stoked to do it every day.”

Enter Blind Tiger’s San Mateo studio (essentially an ice cave), and you’ll feel an unmistakable chill in the air. Huge tanks, called clinebells, provide the magic component in Blind Tiger’s crystal-clear cubes. When water is frozen unevenly (which happens with home fridges and trays), the dissolved minerals and tiny air bubbles become trapped and create cloudy ice, which cracks easily and melts quickly. Clinebells employ a technique called directional freezing, allowing Blind Tiger to freeze highly-purified water slowly from one direction.

“The clinebells push any impurities up to the top and we just cut off that layer with a chainsaw,” describes Andrew Rosewitz, who, along with Daniel Dobbs and Jack Ocampo, make up Blind Tiger’s “ice nerd” team. “Ice to a bartender is what fire is to a chef; it’s how you ‘cook’ your cocktail,” Andrew notes. “When we cut a cube, it’s a perfectly clear, tasteless product that’s going to melt slowly, contribute cold to the drink and nothing else.”

Each of Blind Tiger’s six clinebells have two tanks, which output two 300-pound blocks every three days. “After we hoist out the big blocks, we have fun with the chainsaws,” chimes in Daniel, just before he revs up for some carving action. “We cut them into more manageable pieces, either for the band saw or a sphere machine or nice slabs for the CNC to put design work on.”

The CNC, or Computer Numeric Controller, gives Blind Tiger the ability to customize cubes. The computer-guided drill bit cuts into the ice using designs created in CAD software–everything from initials and logos to whimsical images with seasonal hooks. Despite the BRRR!-eliciting conditions, the team warms up the space by keeping the mood light.

Consider the naming of Blind Tiger’s two walk-in freezers: “Walk-in Phoenix” and “Christopher Walk-in.” And then there’s the sphere-making machine dubbed “Ballsy.” If two-inch cubes are on the day’s order… “We’ll say we need 100 BFC’s,” shares Gretchen, “as in Big F***king Cube.”
In 2020, Blind Tiger Ice pivoted to include residential delivery, but Gretchen and Matt are toasting the return of Bay Area events and a vibrant bar and restaurant scene. “There is a resurgence of artisanal care around cocktails,” observes Matt, “and the ice is a key part of that.”

With a goal of making elevated ice easy, Blind Tiger provides crystal-clear cubes, spheres (the slowest-melting), Collins spears and custom cuts, along with specialty logo cubes and ice sculptures. Delivering to all parts of the Bay, the ice studio counts Ettan, 54 Mint, Fogbird Lounge, Cavallo Point and Hog Island Oyster Co. among its dozens of customers.

Simultaneously “growing two small humans” in tandem with their businesses, the cocktail-loving duo still make time for an evening libation—a Perfect Old-Fashioned for Gretchen and a Vieux Carré for Matt, each poured over a BFC. “The amount of effort and love that’s been put into every single cube of frozen water is remarkable,” reflects Gretchen. “We like to think that it improves every single cocktail that it’s in.” Cheers to that.

The Beat on Your Eats: Brunch

Words by Johanna Harlow

Munch your way through brunch with these beguiling breakfast spots.

foreigner

San Mateo

Downtown San Mateo’s New-American cafe, Foreigner, is attracting quite the flock of foodies. If roasted butternut squash tartine with pumpkin seeds, cream cheese and a balsamic honey glaze doesn’t make your stomach growl, what will? With tantalizing presentation and flavor to match, this brunch spot by day, dinner destination by night, knows the recipe for success. One fun item to order is the Sexy French Toast: homemade TCHO-chocolate banana walnut bread with seasonal fruit and a seductive drizzle of maple syrup. Doubling as a rustic/industrial coffee shop, Foreigner offers plenty of coffee options to accompany your meal. Like the visually stunning “healthy hue” latte flight. Colored with rosy beet, golden turmeric, blue spirulina and green matcha, these drinks span an entire pastel rainbow. 60 E 3rd Avenue, Suite 108, open Monday and Tuesday from 8AM to 5PM, Wednesday through Sunday 8AM to 9PM.

Photography: Courtesy of Mints & Honey (Cover Photo: Courtesy Foreigner)

mints & honey

San Carlos

Nothing goes half-done at Mints & Honey. So when you order the avocado toast, don’t expect an uninspired veggie-on-carb combo. Here, your thick slab of ACME bread will not only come with a generous slathering of avocado, but also adorned with stripes of spices, a mint leaf sprig and a pansy flower. Expect their other dishes to be treated with similar care. For the chance to get artsy yourself, opt for the toast or waffle samplers, which allow you to select from a bevy of yummy ingredients. You might deck your waffle in rose jam, honey, strawberries and ricotta. Or your toast with hummus, lox, prosciutto and fig jam. The possibilities are endless. 1524 El Camino Real, open Tuesday to Sunday from 8AM to 2:30PM; closed Monday.

Photography: Johanna Harlow

angelicas

Redwood City

To load up on hashbrowns and huevos benedictos, make a stop at Angelicas, an establishment known for its Latin twist on California cuisine. For warm, indulgent comfort food, consider checking out one of Angelicas’ specialty dishes: cinnamon pancakes drizzled with lechera, crowned with berry-apple compote and sprinkled with powdered sugar. Also… did we mention the ambiance? With a secret-garden-like courtyard blanketed with ivy walls and draped in string lights, Angelicas is truly a sanctuary for those lazy Sunday mornings. 863 Main Street, open Tuesday through Thursday and Sunday from 8AM to 2:30PM, 4 to 9PM; Friday and Saturday 8AM to 2:30PM, 4 to 10PM; closed Monday.

All That Jazz

Words by Johanna Harlow

Jazz singer Rebecca Dumaine knows a thing or two about finding one’s voice. Over the years, songs and self-discovery have gone hand-in-hand for the Menlo Park vocalist, whisking her along on a memorable and melodious journey.

Music runs deep in Rebecca’s family. “It’s in my bones,” she says, revealing that her dad, Dave Miller, followed in the fingertips of his concert pianist grandmother, tickling the ivories even as a toddler. After long days at the law firm, he would regularly decompress on the Steinway. “I fell asleep listening to him plunking the piano every night,” Rebecca recalls. He also ensured she grew up on a steady diet of Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole and George Shearing.

Even still, singing took a backseat for Rebecca when she left the Peninsula to study drama at Duke University, followed by a theater career in New York. And even though she sometimes sang in musicals… “They never really moved me,” Rebecca reflects. “I thought they were fun, but they didn’t do anything to my soul.” Precise and exacting, musical theater felt too constrictive. “Whereas jazz, you get to take a lot of risks. You can come in a measure late and then kind of make up for that. You can improvise. There’s just something much freer and more expressive about jazz.” She holds a particular fondness for bittersweet bossa nova.

A real eye-opener for Rebecca came when she studied and later taught the Linklater Technique, a method intended to free an actor’s natural voice. It helped her recognize that her forte as a singer didn’t need to be a boisterous vibrato. “I’m not a big Broadway belter. I’m not a Big Voice,” she notes. Instead, Rebecca began embracing a sound equal parts resonant, expressive and sincere—a style similar to Irene Kral’s buttery tones. “You just need to have your voice be the most expressive that it can be,” she finally concluded. “I can just be totally me.”

A pivotal turning point for Rebecca came after she agreed to sing with her dad and his instrumental trio on a gig. The experience felt like a coming home. “Something definitely shifted in me, back to jazz… Something happened in my body,” she recounts. Reflecting on its strong impact on her, she says, “All of these paths—voice training and acting—fed into this new thing around the time I was pregnant, the most visceral, primal experience.”

Upon moving back to the Peninsula, Rebecca began to regularly accompany the Dave Miller Trio. With a singer, the group procured regular restaurant gigs at Redwood City’s Angelicas and Menlo Park’s Bistro Vida. At first, Rebecca admits to playing it safe vocally. “I wanted to get it right… but that’s so boring,” she laughs. As she continued to grow as a performer, she gained confidence in this new environment, learning to engage the audience, experiment with her voice and “trust” the songs. “It’s kind of like immersing yourself in a new language, in a new country,” she describes. “You just have to go and make a lot of mistakes. And then, sooner or later, you’re dreaming in that language.” Numerous gigs and six recorded albums later, she’s certainly hit her stride.

Take scat singing, for instance. Scatting—a vocalist’s manner of spouting nonsense syllables in a way that imitates an instrument—is a joyfully improvisational act. It’s a technique popularized by Louis Armstrong who, after dropping his lyrics mid-song, started experimenting with his voice off the cuff. “It’s a fun, spur-of-the-moment dialogue,” Rebecca shares. “Jazz is very much a conversation—between the instrumentalists as well as the singer.”

On that same note, the father-daughter bond has become an integral part of Rebecca’s sound. “He’s my musical soulmate. We just get each other,” she shares, stating that they need only exchange looks to communicate. “I don’t even know how to describe it,” she muses. “It’s almost like we’re not father and daughter when we’re performing. It’s like he’s my buddy.” She smiles as she shares how they tease each other during gigs: “I’ll be like, ‘Hey, Mozart, too many notes. Chill out when I’m singing—and then you can go do all of your trills when it’s your solo.’ And he can be like, ‘Sure you don’t want me to count us in? Because last time…’ It’s just a blast! I love that level of comfort—that freedom and history.”

Other regular band members include Bill Belasco or Rob Gibson on drums as well as Andrew Higgins or Chuck Bennett on bass. Although Rebecca and her father regularly meet to arrange music, the other musicians tend to forgo practice runs before restaurant gigs. Riffing off each other, Rebecca explains, shows comfortability and trust. “I love being able to just say, ‘Let’s see where this goes today.’ It’s not this very rehearsed thing,’” she states. That said, they invest plenty of preparation before bigger venue shows such as at the former Savanna Jazz in San Carlos or The Sound Room in Oakland.

Beyond the playfulness involved in singing, Rebecca also thrills in the storytelling element, a value carried over from her acting career. “I let the words as well as the melody take me on my own journey,” she expresses. “I try not to force too much of a subtextual undercurrent to it. I try to live within the images that the song is providing me.”
A single word can provoke a number of responses, she asserts. “Even the word ‘clear’ has so many different images that come to my mind. It can be clarity of thought. It can be literally the clarity of color. It can be an openness in your heart.” When Rebecca recorded “On a Clear Day” for her newest album, fires had sent Northern California up in smoke… Needless to say, the lyrics conjured a visceral image.

This fascination with words extends to Rebecca’s work as a dialect coach. “I teach it, I sing it—I’m obsessed with language,” she grins. The vocalist has taught voice, speech and dialects—previously at NYU, SUNY Purchase, Columbia, The Maggie Flanigan Studio and The Actors Studio, and currently at Academy of Art University. She also acts as a dialect and vocal coach, both privately and at several schools (including Menlo Atherton High where her son is a student), and shares that she’s conversant in everything from the polished, clipped tones of the Queen’s English to the nasally twang of a Queens New Yorker.

A caged canary no longer, Rebecca’s musical journey continues as she weaves stories through song and embraces her strengths without reserve.

The Bravemaker

Words by Johanna Harlow / Cover photo: Courtesy of Erin Ashford

Actor, screenwriter and director Tony Gapastione doesn’t lob softball films out into the world. Whereas major film studios might play it safe with gratuitous action flicks and lightweight rom-coms, this Redwood City creative will always reach for meatier subject matter.

Take his feature-length film, Last Chance Charlene, the tale of a struggling screenwriter/actress who has recently lost her brother. The movie touches on hard-hitting subjects like the grieving process and the aftermath of suicide—but tough topics don’t scare Tony. “I’m passionate about that,” he says.

“Let’s get better at having hard conversations.” The mindset has paid off.
Tony managed to recruit Alley Mills, the well-known Wonder Years actress (and recent widow) as Charlene’s mother. Moreover, the film drew attention from Cinequest, earning it a debut in this year’s lineup.

The movie has also given Bay Area talent numerous opportunities to shine. “The big studios aren’t going to make these smaller films,” observes Tony. And because they prefer to play it safe with their investments… “They’re going to pass over and miss out on newer talent, newer voices.” But Tony is comfortable with risk. After all, pursuing a filmmaking career this far north of Hollywood isn’t for the faint of heart.

Photogrophay: Courtesy of Bravemaker

Perhaps another reason for the independent film’s success resides in how near to heart the storyline hits for its creator. Before screenwriting or directing, Tony concentrated purely on acting—but that changed after his grandmother took her life in 2012. “I was in a tailspin,” he says of the traumatic time. The following year, he dedicated some of the money she’d left him toward attending his first Sundance Film Festival. The experience was life-altering. “I was floored, inspired, weak in the knees,” he recalls. “I came back from Sundance 2013 going, ‘I can make a movie.’” That same year, he shot his first short film.

By 2018, Tony had formed BraveMaker, a nonprofit dedicated to elevating bold stories and underrepresented voices. “We curate and create original films in order to have community dialogues about life’s most meaningful topics,” he explains. With the aim “to ask questions that start good conversations,” he produced a number of memorable short films. Last Chance Charlene is the organization’s first feature-length project, with several more in the works. In July, the movie will also screen at BraveMaker’s annual Film Fest in Redwood City. Initially launched in 2019, this year’s event will feature Alley Mills, Jeffrey Lieber (co-creator of Lost) and Angela Harvey (a staff writer on Teen Wolf).

Beyond its entertainment value, Last Chance Charlene is meant to be a resource. Previously the pastor and creative director at Peninsula Covenant Church (a position he held for 20 years), Tony views filmmaking as another way to nurture souls. “Obviously, this is a different part of my story, but I believe this is my ministry,” Tony shares.

To that end, BraveMaker recruited grief consultants to shed light on the subject of loss and create companion guides for viewers of the film. “One of the things the grief counselor said is, ‘Charlene’s got way more levels of grief than just her brother,’” Tony points out. She’s also grieving relationship strains, the guilt of not being a present parent and rejections of her script. What’s more, the film shows the complex nature of grief with a sister, a wife and a mother all grappling with loss in their own individual ways. “There’s no right way to grieve,” Tony notes. “Charlene even says, ‘I don’t know how to do it.’”

Nowhere is this complexity more present than a scene in which Charlene overreacts to being duped by another character. “This is grief. It’s up, it’s down, she’s crying, she’s hitting her head,” Tony says. “It’s painful and it’s ridiculous all at the same time.” In this raw moment, Charlene’s friend Dino comes alongside her. He sees Charlene sprawled out on her back—and lays his head next to hers in a poignant act of solidarity. “I wrote him as a kind of symbolic brother,” Tony relays.

Photogrophay: Courtesy of Michael Dhanuwidjaja

That support system happened not only on-screen, but behind the camera as well. During filming, Tony recalls wrapping up a multiple-hour shoot—only to discover a glaring continuity error. Overwhelmed by the setback, he left the set to clear his head. “My assistant director Felipe Barandiaran was walking alongside me. And he’s like, ‘Okay, just breathe,’” Tony shares. “He said, ‘Okay. Let me tell you a story. In 1974, when Steven Spielberg was making Jaws, the mechanic shark wasn’t working, and this is what they had to do…’” It brought Tony’s stress levels right down. “We’re going to make it work,” he realized.

In turn, Tony supported his leading lady Allison Ewing as she tackled the emotionally-demanding role of Charlene. “Allison, as an actor, needed to find a way into Charlene,” Tony explains. As she grew in her understanding of the character, she brought depth to her portrayal. “I love watching what an actor does with my words. I like seeing how they take it beyond what I thought,” he shares. “In filmmaking, we often talk about how there’s so many different versions of the movie: the one you write, the one you shoot, the one you edit. There’s also the one that the actors bring to life and seeing how they bring nuance to the character and how they reinterpret lines.”

Photogrophay: Courtesy of Michael Dhanuwidjaja

So what makes it all worth it? Why keep plowing forward despite the challenges of indie filmmaking? Tony considers this, glancing around his studio/office, a love letter to the cinematic artform with decorative reels and film festival photos adorning the walls and a “make cool sh!t” mug flanking the Keurig machine. His bookshelves include The Subversive’s Guide to Independent Filmmaking, Creative Confidence, and The Reel Truth. “Stories change the world,” he replies. “And I think one of the ways they do it is through healing. Stories heal us.”

Catch A Wave

Words by Emily McNally

On a cool, sunny day at Surfer’s Beach in El Granada, Ella Catalano-Dockins, the owner of Blue Swell Surf School, gathers a group of beginners around her. “You have to believe you can stand up,” she encourages. “It takes confidence to make it happen.”

At just 20 years old, Ella is young to be heading up a business that teaches groups and individuals of any age to catch waves, but she has years of valuable experience behind her. A successful competitive surfer throughout her teen years, Ella started surfing for the Half Moon Bay school district when she was 11 and is a former instructor at Pillar Point Harbor Surf School.

Now, having launched Blue Swell Surf School with her sister Lily and her mother Cristina, she runs the only women-owned and -operated surf school on the San Mateo County coast. “I feel like that makes us special,” Ella states, adding that she is ready to share her deep love of surfing with a larger population. “I just start where people are comfortable and work from there. Surfing is for everyone.”

Ella’s coastal roots run both local and deep. “We grew up here. My grandparents still live in the house my dad was raised in. Montara Beach was our playground, and I remember my mom making me run up and down the dunes to wear me out when I was a kid,” she says. Ella adds that her mother is originally from Sarasota. “So I have beach people on both sides of my family,” she notes with a smile.

In spite of those early ties to beach life, Ella didn’t gravitate to surfing until she broke her arm when she was ten. “I couldn’t play softball anymore,” she recounts. “It was a year before I could hit a ball again, so I was bouncing off the walls.” Her dad sent her to the beach with Ion Banner, a longtime family friend and Mavericks legend whom she credits with helping shift her focus. “Anything new I’ve ever done on the water, from jet ski rescues to toe surfing, he’s been there to support me,” she says.

Ella grew her confidence in the water at Junior Lifeguards of Half Moon Bay, a demanding summer program where kids aged 9 to 15 learn the critical elements of water safety. “I learned all the important basics,” she summarizes. “How to rescue, doing CPR, what to pay attention to when you’re on the water, like swells and riptides.” As a young teenager, she critically put those skills to use: “I saved a guy’s life when I was 13. I still see him around all the time. I’m glad to know I can perform a rescue under real pressure.”

While attending Mercy Burlingame High School, Ella surfed for Half Moon Bay High under coaches Carrie Kemp and Mike Wallace. She was one of only two girls on a team of about 15. In her freshman year, she placed fifth in the state championship. “Everyone was a head or two taller than me. They were all seniors. The waves were huge and terrifying, but I would just go for it,” Ella recalls. “I’ll never give up that trophy.”

Ella compounded her success by winning first place in Pacifica’s Big Chill Out Longboard Contest in 2017 and in the Women on Waves Longboard Contest in Santa Cruz in 2018. But as she examined the life of professional surfing, she experienced doubts about her place in that world. “I just couldn’t figure out how to have enough money to stay in Portugal for two weeks waiting to surf,” she admits. “I’m a competitive person, but at the end of the day, I surf because it makes me happy.”

In the midst of juggling two jobs while attending Skyline Community College, Ella was alerted by the owner of The Mavericks Experience where she worked that he was ready to sell the surf school. He wondered if she’d be interested in purchasing it. Ella took the offer to her family. “My mom and dad have been in partnership running a construction company for years,” she shares. “They understood how to go about setting up a business.”

The basic elements came together quickly. Ella’s mother designed the website and suggested the name, and her sister created the logo and supports Ella in group lessons. She’s had the business up and running for private and group lessons since November and is planning a full roster of camps for the summer.

Though Ella pursued surfing ferociously, she has little interest in turning out professional athletes as an instructor. Instead, she hopes she can foster the same satisfaction she finds every day when she heads out with her board under her arm. “The most consistent thing in my life is that when I surf, I have a better day,” she explains. “When I see that joy in my students, it’s everything.”

Blue Swell Surf School’s lessons begin on the beach with basic stretches and a couple of practice attempts at ‘pop-ups’—a quick jump from belly to board to fully upright. Once in the water, Ella directs you into a wave and you get a shot at catching it. “You don’t realize how tiring it’s going to be until you’re in there,” she acknowledges. “The board is hard to control. You have to learn to work with it so you don’t lose your energy.” Under Ella’s expert guidance, over the course of an hour and half lesson, students start to feel that cresting a wave with the board still under them is within reach. “It takes time, but eventually, everyone will stand up,” Ella says. “And it’s the best when you give someone a chance at that thrill.”

According to Ella, aside from confidence, the most critical element for successful surfing is balance: “Moving a tiny smidge up or down your board can make a huge difference in your stability.” Now, as a student majoring in marine biology and a fledgling business owner, she recognizes the need to cultivate that same balance in her life. “I’m definitely juggling a lot of pieces right now,” she admits. But Ella keeps herself anchored to her deepest purpose. “When I surf, it makes me happy, and I leave my problems behind,” she reflects. “I have a love for the ocean that’s never going to end.”

Diary of a Dog: Worf

Blink all you like, but you’re seeing me clearly. I do indeed have two different-colored eyes—one haunting blue, the other warm brown. They are just one of my signature features, along with my impressive blue merle (multi-colored marbled) coat, fluffy tail and incessant, happy smile. By way of a more formal introduction, I’m Worf, a Cardigan Welsh Corgi, and I’m pleased to make your acquaintance. Don’t be fooled by my low-to-the-ground carriage. I’m actually quite agile and athletic, and in fact, my ancestors have been herding sheep in Wales for over 3,000 years. However, you can usually find me romping in Menlo Park with my beloved family Peter, Lava and August. Credit goes to August for giving me my name. He’s a Star Trek fan and was always impressed by Lieutenant Worf’s high sense of honor and strict warrior code on Star Trek: Next Generation. While there’s little chance of an alien invasion on the Peninsula, I’m always on alert for this long-handled aggressive broom that steals the delicious crumbs from the floor. It’s much taller than me, but I’ve learned I can slow it down by playfully attacking the bristles. I’m also quite serious about my role as official greeter at the park. Once I’ve completed my social duties, then I’m cleared to take off on rambunctious games of chase and roll with my buddies.

Perfect Shot: All Aglow at Martin’s Beach

“I have been immersed in photography since the age of 12 when my grandpa built a darkroom for me in our family basement,” shares Menlo Park’s Jennifer Fraser. The longtime Peninsula resident captured this Perfect Shot just south of Half Moon Bay. “I first visited Martin’s Beach as a teenager,” Jennifer continues. “My favorite time to visit is ‘the golden hour’—sunset—during a minus tide when all the sea flora is open to view.”

Image by Jennifer Fraser / jenniferfraser.zenfolio.com

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

Essay: Poof!

Words by Sloane Citron

The years of your children living at home slip by silently and stealthily like unopened bottles of champagne languishing in your pantry saved for special occasions that never happen.

It was a profound moment that is forever remembered when my oldest, Josh, was preparing to leave home for the first time. Josh was 10 and he was going to Camp Ramah in Ojai for four full weeks. It wasn’t just traumatic for me, either. All six of us gathered in the boys’ room, packing his large duffle bag, alternating tears and laughter as though he was being sent off to war instead of to sleep-away camp five hours from our home.

But still, there was meaning in that moment, the first time the six of us would be apart from each other for a significant period—not together celebrating Shabbat dinners, squabbling with each other in local restaurants or all sleeping under one roof, and we all felt the impact. It was, if you will, the first tear in the bubble that was our family.

We got in our Suburban the next day, a bright June morning, and made the drive south. Camp Ramah was a familiar place for us, since my wife and I met there during a college weekend some 17 years previously, and we’d all been there for one reason or another over the years. So, it was full circle for our children to make the trek back to the place of their origin. But dropping off our Josh was tough, and I vividly remember the first hour back on the road, the tears so dripping down my face that I could hardly see to drive. Blame some difficult childhood goodbyes.

The next year, the balloon leaked a bit more as both Josh and his sister Arielle headed to camp. Again, the tears flowing down my face made it hard to drive the first portion back north on Highway 101, but I understood that the four weeks would go by quickly until we were all reunited.

Eventually, all the children went to Camp Ramah, though Josh, not such a fan, went only for a few years and so there was never a time when all four were gone at once. By this time, though, I had grown accustomed to the short breaks in our family unity.

In the speed of a bull whip snap, though, came the big leave: college. Specifically (and he was always the front-runner), Josh leaving to go to UC Santa Barbara, his choice for higher learning. We drove our big Suburban down the coast again, this time, just west of Ojai, to the bright and beautiful campus. When we got Josh settled in his dorm room, I came to appreciate his choice. Below his room’s large glass window was a swimming pool with about two dozen students lounging, and in the near distance was the Pacific Ocean. Not too shabby.

Saying goodbye to Josh was another trying event for me, made harder still because this really was the end of the home life that once seemed as though it would last forever. But it very quickly did not last forever. I think all young parents can’t imagine the integrity of their family ending and yet, poof, it goes in a heartbeat, and leaves us wondering about the flash of time and what the hell happened.

The next year, dropping Arielle off at Berkeley was easier since we knew that she’d come home often, which she did. And eventually, Talia also headed over to Berkeley; though, because her high school love (and now husband) was at Stanford, it seemed as though she never left home, so frequent were her visits to this side of the Bay. My youngest, Coby, made the biggest leap, going to college—and then serving in the Israeli Air Force and staying in Israel.

Over the next decade or so, the children came and went, often without me even knowing when, where or why. I had the pleasure of having two of our married children spend months with us while looking for homes or going through home renovations, and that was a wonderful last gasp of the children sleeping nearby.

But now things are coming full-circle. The second oldest of my six grandchildren (soon to be seven), three-year-old Liav, now calls her mother’s (Talia’s) old bedroom, her room, and it is where she sleeps when she spends the night. There’s no putting back the genie, of course, but it’s pretty sweet when she sleeps over, and I get to read her the same books that I read to her mother, bless her, and say the Shema, just like I did with all the kids. There is a peace to it.

Time is fleeting and rigidly pushes against our hopeless attempts to contain it. We’re left to capture as much happiness and joy while our children are briefly settled under our roofs. In those years that feel as though they will last forever, it’s easy to be preoccupied with work, technology and outside interests. Better to put those aside and spend time with your kids. Poof. Trust me.

Interview with Anna Yen, author of Sophia of Silicon Valley

With all the speculation that goes into what actually happens behind closed doors at behemoth tech companies – from drone testing to #metoo moments and everything in between – it’s a treat to get a peek inside from someone whose actually been there. Enter Anna Yen.

Yen’s new novel, Sophia of Silicon Valley, is semi-autobiographical. The novel is fictionalized for a number of reasons, including the desire to have some creative license to weave into an entertaining yet impactful story. The characters and experiences are inspired by Anna’s real life at some of the largest companies in tech, investor relations and marketing.

Yen was born slightly south of the true Peninsula in Saratoga, but moved to Woodside as a teen and spent most of her life here since. Read on to see how Yen soaks up all the exciting energy for work and life she feels on the Peninsula. Read Sophia, on the other hand, to see how she substantively adds to the current social discussion about corporate ethics and responsibility at the same time she charms your pants off.

What has the local response been to the book?

If you read the Amazon or Goodreads reviews, the response overall has been quite positive. There are certainly some haters out there who claim that I couldn’t possibly live in Silicon Valley or criticize me for being insensitive to the Powell-Jobs family, but in fact part of the point of the book was to show the very human sides of these iconic people who changed the world. Many folks who inspired the book or know the characters who inspired the book have said I nailed it on the head and that it’s actually very accurate.

If the book does well, will you stop working in tech?

I currently work at an Investor Relations (IR) firm and I also just supported the Dropbox IPO.

No, I will not stop working in tech! I have always had a full-time job and love being in the midst of all the innovation that is happening. The buzz and energy of startup world fuels me – I suppose I am an adrenaline junkie! I wrote the book while I had a full-time job and it came out of me fairly quickly. Honestly, I wrote it as if I was just having drinks with a girlfriend.

What does YOUR Peninsula look like? What are your favorite things to do here? Go-to restaurants, activities?

I tried to move away from the Peninsula twice – once to Seattle (with Amazon) and another time all the way to Ireland (also for work). Both times, I came running home. I feel there is an energy on the Peninsula that is exhausting but in a good way. Silicon Valley is a place for vibrant people who are always brainstorming and moving forward.

I have so many favorite places but I have to say, Blue Line Pizza takes the cake…or should I say pie. It happens to be my sister’s restaurant, but I am not just biased… it is delicious!

I tend to be outside a lot – I love Lincoln Park in Los Altos – it’s at Foothill Expressway and Edith.

Ellen Pao became a household name after her landmark discrimination lawsuit against Kleiner Perkins and now running Project Include to help with diversity efforts in tech. You are a woman of color. Were you trying to make a social statement with Sophia’s character and/or were you cognizant of how you represented Sophia because she is a woman of color?

Traditional upbringing was an important part of the story because my culture was much of what shaped me and helped me not only professionally but through the challenges of life in general. I wasn’t trying to make a social statement but I do like to think that my representation of Sophia makes some contribution towards breaking down Asian stereotypes.

I grew up as a Chinese kid in a super white suburb. Growing up, I actually hated being Chinese but now I realize that all the things that I hated about that growing up are the same things that have made me successful now. (Things like lacking a real filter, being so hardworking, etc.)

What’s are the biggest similarities and differences between working as a writer and working in tech?

Well, the similarity is that in both jobs, my role is storytelling. My duty in investor relations is to talk about positioning.

The difference is being behind the scenes vs. being front and center. I have to say that I prefer the former. I actually considers myself very shy!

So many of the people and companies in your book seem to have real-life doppelgängers. Were you worried that readers would focus more on teasing out what’s fact and what’s fiction than on Sophia’s story?

I really didn’t try to hide the people that served as the inspiration behind these characters.

When I worked at Pixar, I described the character as wearing a black turtleneck. Same obvious description goes for my time at Tesla.

And look, I don’t bash these men. My goal was to show that there are many sides to these people – and all people.

Rapid Fire:

Name someone on the Peninsula who shaped you greatly:

Jane Ou – my accounting teacher at Santa Clara

No matter how busy you are, what do you always make time for?

My family (including my dog). Also, my hip hop classes at Groovitude in Palo Alto.

What’s your favorite TV show or movie?

Hard question! I could watch Thor: Ragnorok and Melissa McCarthy’s “Spy” anytime.

What’s the favorite piece in your closet?

A very old pair of Ralph Lauren black pumps that are sexy yet walkable.

What is the lesson you value the most:

Persistence!

50 Years of Fashion: Morning Glory

Words by Annie Barnett

In the windows of Morning Glory boutique, fashion-forward mannequins strike a pose, holding sway over Burlingame Avenue as they have for 50 years. Inside the store, creative energy reverberates from the artful displays and robust spring inventory. With a combination of hard work and business savvy, owner Paulette Munroe celebrates Morning Glory’s half-century reign on the Avenue—outlasting all other businesses as the oldest store along this popular Peninsula shopping street.

Morning Glory is the story of young entrepreneurs with big ambitions and an enduring community bonded over decades. “Often, half of our customers know one another,” observes Paulette. “It’s like getting together with your girlfriends every day.” She describes how patrons will come in to talk, see friends and find comfort in the camaraderie of the store. “If you’re having a tough day and you go in there, you end up feeling great,” shares longtime customer Judy O’Neal. “They are so supportive and treat you like family.”

In 1972, after graduating early from Burlingame High School, Paulette sold clothing she designed and sewed to the original owner of Morning Glory. Growing up as one of seven children each a year apart, Paulette’s industrious spirit found an outlet in sewing and she even made her own prom dresses. “We didn’t have a lot of money, but my mother taught us to sew and she would buy us all the fabric we wanted,” she recalls fondly.

When Paulette learned Morning Glory would soon be closing, she hatched a plan. “I talked with my father about buying Morning Glory with my sister,” she recounts. “I worked at a restaurant and my sister worked at a laundromat, and he agreed to match our savings with a loan at eight percent interest.” Before long, at just 18 and 19 years of age, Paulette and Maureen Monroe became the owners of Morning Glory, selling clothes by day while Paulette continued waitressing in the evenings as they built the business.

“People used to say we were a cross between Martha Stewart and U2,” laughs Paulette. ”I was one way and she was another, and it worked really well for a long time.” Maureen did the windows and books, and Paulette sewed all of the alterations, which she still does today as a complimentary service.

After 40 years, Maureen left Morning Glory to pursue other business interests and Wendy Thrasher, a longtime employee for four decades, stepped up to help with buying for the store. “It is like going shopping all day long and picking whatever you like,” Paulette smiles. “And you don’t have to wonder whether it fits or will look good on you.”

According to Paulette, one of the keys to Morning Glory’s longevity is loyal staff who have contributed to the business for decades: “They all stay a really long time and get relationships going with customers.” Adds Wendy, “I’m still helping one customer I’ve had since the ’70s.”

While many stores have cut back on inventory in recent years, Morning Glory has continued to maintain a large, carefully-curated collection, often with racks flowing out the front door. Whereas comfort has been the buzzword of late, this spring, Paulette sees a big shift away from athleisure to clothes for going out and even formal wear. “I think more people are trying to get out of their sweatpants because they’ve been living in them for the last two years,” notes Wendy. “They are trying to get a little more polished but still casual.”

Wendy recommends accessorizing with jewelry to help update an outfit. “The shipwreck look where you wear a ton of necklaces works,” she suggests. Another longtime employee Shannon Kane points out, “Florals are huge this season. People want bright, bold colors and something fun.” She also suggests pairing different jackets, such as a blazer or bomber, to dress up or down a dress.

Paulette and her sister Maureen celebrating Morning Glory’s 10th anniversary in 1982

Paulette’s 26-year-old daughter, Josefina Beto, is following the family clothing legacy with her own thrifting website that emphasizes reuse and repurposing. “She is part of the culture of not wasting,” explains Paulette. Josefina also helps out at Morning Glory and serves as a model for many of the store’s photo shoots. Meanwhile, Paulette is not slowing down and still revels in helping customers, even if that means alterations stretching into the evening. “Everybody is going to four weddings as they have been so backed up. Dressy dresses are huge for us right now,” she remarks.

 

Paulette says that one of her super powers is her ability to make decisions. “There is nothing in my life that I am indecisive about,” she says. Customers and friends will come into the store and rely on her sense of style when they need to find the best look for an occasion. In her spare time, she applies that same ability in making design decisions for renovations, which she has done for 11 different homes. “Wallpapering, sewing, building a house and decorating a store are the same thing—it’s all related,” Paulette sums up. “It’s all about being creative.”

Through changing fashion trends and economic cycles, Morning Glory continues to maintain its multi-generational appeal, catering to customers from 18 to 80. “Fashion isn’t like it used to be where you think one thing can be the look,” explains Paulette. “You have to have every look for everybody.” For over five decades, Morning Glory has done just that, drawing a steady stream of regulars along the historic avenue where Bing Crosby once strolled.

Exquisite Kitchens: Solmateo Tour Preview 2022

Words by Diane Eclan

If the kitchen is the heart of the home, then SolMateo’s Signature Kitchen Tour is a vital pulse supporting essential mental health services in San Mateo County. Commemorating its 40th tour on May 13, 2022, the annual self-guided 10AM-3PM event gives design enthusiasts the chance to tour five exceptional homes in Burlingame, Hillsborough and San Mateo Park.
SolMateo is a volunteer group committed to shining a light on mental health. “Our membership shares a passion to destigmatize mental health and support our neighbors,” explains co-president Jenny Smith. Since its inception in 1976, the nonprofit has raised over $2.7 million to help fill the funding gap for local mental health organizations including Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention Center of StarVista and Mental Health Association of San Mateo County.

After two years of virtual improvisation, this year’s tour invites guests to step once again into beautifully designed kitchens and gardens. “With each tour, we strive to highlight new architectural trends in the industry,” says SolMateo member and event chair Sara Furrer. “It’s a wonderful opportunity to spark ideas for your own property, spend time with friends and family and support mental health in our community.”
Tickets can be puchased in advance at solmateo.org or Draeger’s San Mateo—or the day of the event. Here’s a PUNCH preview of the inspiring design talents and homes included in this year’s showcase.

Courtesy of Dennis Mayer

Classic Colonial

Don’t let the classic Colonial exterior fool you. The glossy blue front door cheerfully welcomes you in. Access the urban farmhouse kitchen via the formal living room to the right or the cozy family room to the left. Warm hardwood floors lead the way and show off the beautiful white cabinetry, large center island, beverage bar and dining table. With glazed painted cabinets matching the beverage bar, the island is topped with white Caesarstone and has deep drawers for handy storage. The beverage bar is clad in Calacatta marble, offset by a backsplash of white arabesque tiles. Installed in the reverse, the farmhouse sink reveals a fluted apron creating visual interest and the large paned window above lets in lots of natural light. Bespoke vintage-inspired and salvaged lighting fixtures hang from the tongue and groove ceiling. French doors open to the back deck, seamlessly extending the entertaining space.

Courtesy of Dennis Mayer

Historic Tudor

This beautifully remodeled galley kitchen has kept its 1921 footprint but is ready for its 2022 debut. The original leaded glass bay windows were removed and meticulously extended to allow more natural light to flood the sink side of the space. A brass double gooseneck regulator bridge faucet with metal wheel handles is the star of the kitchen and an art form in its own right. Driftwood lacquered cabinets and drawers are inset with hand-applied antique brass strappings with metal handles and knobs. The countertops and backsplash are Calacatta ondulato marble. The large dual fuel range is topped with a hand-patinaed steel hood banded in brass to emulate the cabinetry strappings. Warm metals continue from the kitchen, around the corner to the breakfast nook and are found on the unique chandeliers above, as well as the supports for the bar’s glass shelving. Floor-to-ceiling French doors open to the stately backyard, leading down to a creek.

Courtesy of Dennis Mayer

Petite Tudor

In keeping with its original Tudor architecture from 1929, this remodel is a mix of rugged sophistication with exposed brick, dark wood doors and flooring. Wood crown molding draws your eye up to the large distressed beams flanked by antique burnished brass plantation chandeliers. The wood detail continues on the hood border over the burner and griddle gas range. Warm white cabinets, with gold oversized pulls and knobs, echo the metal from the carriage-style light fixtures. Additional natural light fills the room from a row of narrow windows above the cabinets. A unique column refrigerator and separate freezer are concealed with custom panels and topped with illuminated glass-front cabinets. A chimney, original to the home, was discovered during the renovation and is now the backdrop for the bar.

Courtesy of Dennis Mayer

Ranch with Adu

Accessed through the formal dining room, replete with an outstanding collection of Asian wall art and artifacts displayed on mahogany floating shelves, this rancher’s large open kitchen and breakfast room offer a juxtaposition of old and present day. The kitchen’s tray ceiling adds depth and dimension, beautifully framing the large island topped with walnut. The white cabinetry and green Costa Esmeralda granite countertops pop against a lively tile backsplash in Kermit green and blue. The abundant counter space, built-in cookbook shelves and integrated appliances make this a perfect environment for a home chef and family that likes to entertain. This beautiful home is tucked on a quiet cul-de-sac with an expansive backyard terraced up a hillside. Emerging from the tree line is a two-story ADU, designed to perfectly integrate into the landscape.

Courtesy of Bernard Andre

Modern Farmhouse

The kitchen in this re-imagined A-frame modern farmhouse is a delight for the senses with colorful peacock-blue lacquered lower cabinets and playful lighting fixtures. The space is anchored with a family room on one side and a dining area on the other. A large waterfall island with an undermount stainless steel sink, topped with Calacatta Michelangelo marble, is perfect for meal prep and surrounded by appliances with integrated glazed American walnut panels in glossy white. The white Swiss cross backsplash behind the range complements the panels and upper cabinets. Brushed gold hardware and faucets echo the interior of the large pendant lights above the island. The sliding glass doors in the dining room lead out to another entertaining space, surrounded by a pool, built-in firepit and tennis court.

Artful Confection: Chocolatier

Words by Eva Barrows

Ruler-straight rows of 21 flavors of ganache and praline-filled chocolates line the glass display case of artisanal candy shop Shekoh Confections. Chef and chocolatier Shekoh Moossavi’s confectionery creations layer crisp chocolate shells over creamy, delectable fillings. The former research scientist experiments in visually appealing flavor pairings, going through vigorous R&D sessions until perfection is achieved on the shelf and the tip of the tongue.

Shekoh Confections is the culmination of a longtime dream. After Shekoh’s second time training in Paris, France, at the L’École Valrhona chocolatier program, she returned to the Peninsula with the desire to open her own chocolate shop. “I love the way Europeans approach chocolate,” she says. “I threw myself into the culinary world in France and I learned a lot, not just how to do things but also how to run a business.”

Finding a suitable storefront space turned out to be Shekoh’s biggest challenge. After two and a half years of searching, she opened in March of this year on El Camino Real in Palo Alto. Intrigued by the handwritten “We’re open” on a chalkboard street sign, eager neighbors from the Stanford University area lined up to try her chocolates. Before long, Shekoh had converted a steady stream of repeat customers.

Four days a week, Shekoh whips up fresh batches of candy. She makes praline nut fillings in-house, including peanut butter, almond butter and lemon almond, then encases them in dark chocolate. Most of the chocolates in the display case are ganache-filled with flavors ranging from citrusy bergamot (Earl Grey) and Grand Marnier to burnt caramel and Persian saffron.

“I love the classics. I don’t care for trends,” enthuses Shekoh. “Classics are forever. I don’t like to put chili powder or bacon in my chocolate. I don’t like to put wine in the chocolate. I love drinking wine with my chocolate but not inside my chocolate.”

Shekoh also conjures other delicious sweets like handmade marshmallows and nougats. Dunking fresh rosewater- or cardamom-flavored marshmallows into Shekoh’s hot chocolate, house-mixed tea or coffee tantalizes the taste buds. And so does roasting them for next-level s’mores.
Shekoh’s chewy, nut-filled French Nougat Montélimar makes another great tea accompaniment. “Nougat is really delicious,” notes Shekoh. “It doesn’t have so many calories, so eat a piece or two or three.”

As a discerning artisan chocolate maker, Shekoh uses the highest quality ingredients and sources locally when possible. Raw Valrhona French chocolate, which can go for $180 to $200 a pound, is the chocolate base for her candies. Shekoh praises Valrhona’s mouthfeel and its high percentage of cocoa butter, which is ideal for candy-making. “I don’t believe you can have mediocre raw products and then make really good products,” she asserts. “Your raw products have to be really good before you can make anything else.”

Tapping into her Persian heritage, Shekoh features Persian damask rose, a small, flavorful and aromatic rose sourced from Canada in marmalade filling. California almonds, honey and Straus Family Creamery organic butter and cream from Petaluma add local flavor to her creations.

Shekoh’s scientific background in glaucoma research at the University of Miami informs her chocolate-making process. When developing new flavors, she tests the candy’s texture, color and quality, monitoring them over a period of time. “One marshmallow I made, I’ve had for two years, and I’m still looking at it. It’s not edible anymore, but I want to see what happens to it. I’m curious,” she says. “I want to see why, when, where, how. The more you ask these questions, the better you get at your craft.”

Shekoh experiments in the back of the shop on a stone table top where only candy molds and chocolate are allowed. “I dream about flavors, and then I do it. I do a lot of tests,” she says. Through trial and error, she decides how the candy will look, what color to paint it, which chocolate (milk, dark or white) pairs best with the ganache without overpowering it. “With chocolate, you have to add the scientific part to it and make sure when you make it that if it’s shiny today, it will be shiny tomorrow, and shiny for the next three weeks and even more.”

Not satisfied with her first career in science, Shekoh enrolled in culinary school at the Florida Culinary Institute. She didn’t intend on becoming a professional chef but something hooked her during her time in the kitchen. “Even before I knew I was going to change my career,” she reflects, “I had mentally already changed my career. I’ve always loved to cook.” Dazzled by other students’ flashy kitchen techniques, she let her teachers know she wanted to learn those skills. After graduating, she worked at the Ritz Carlton in Florida, where she learned from accomplished chefs from all over the world.

After moving to San Francisco, she learned about Northern California cuisine through her work in the high-end restaurants Acquerello and Gary Danko. “I chose those kitchens based on what I needed to learn at that step of my life and career,” Shekoh explains. “Once I learned what I needed to learn, I went on to the next step.” For Shekoh, that meant opening her first restaurant, Gervais Restaurant in Saratoga, followed by another restaurant, which ultimately led to her pastry and chocolate endeavors.

Ultimately, becoming a chocolatier was the perfect choice for Shekoh. She sees it as a neverending opportunity to learn something new. When she and her chocolatier friends in France run into chocolate conundrums, they message each other to help troubleshoot. “Even though they are all experienced chocolate makers, they still run up against issues,” she observes. “You can never perfect making chocolate.”

The Beat on Your Eats: Mexican Food

Words by Johanna Harlow

Be it with Mexican chiles, chipotle or chicharron, get inspired for Cinco de Mayo.

san agus cocina

Palo Alto

Make the acquaintance of Chef Manuel Martinez through San Agus Cocina. Both the menu and space reflect the chef’s childhood in Mexico City’s San Agustin borough, including a mural with sights and flavors from his hometown. Meanwhile, the menu is a love letter to Mexican street bites (antojitos), which means an abundance of taco options with meat prepared in a variety of tasty ways. There’s carne asada and birria (for beef lovers); al pastor, carnitas and chorizo (for those who prefer pork); chicken tinga and, if you’re feeling adventurous, lengua (beef tongue). All are served on picture-perfect wooden boards. 115 Hamilton Avenue. Open Sunday to Monday from 12PM to 9PM; Tuesday to Thursday from 12PM to 9:30PM; Friday to Saturday from 12PM to 10:30PM.

Photography: Courtesy of Dahlia Mexican Grill

dahlia

San Mateo

Dahlia—a restaurant residing in a former 1920s bank—has exchanged bonds for burritos in downtown San Mateo. A bold take on contemporary Mexican cuisine, the menu blends Peruvian, Argentinian and Nicaraguan techniques and ingredients. Visit in the evening for the sinfully tasty Devil’s Shrimp (sauteed prawns with habanero peppers) alongside a prickly pear margarita—or swing by on a Sunday morning for huevos rancheros and a pot of cafe de olla (traditionally brewed Mexican coffee with cinnamon, cloves and piloncillo cane sugar). Within, the muraled walls display giant dahlia flowers (which are not only the restaurant’s namesake but also Mexico’s national flower). 164 South B Street. Monday to Thursday from 11AM to 9PM; Friday from 11AM to 10PM; Saturday from 10AM to 10PM; Sunday from 10AM to 9PM.

Photography: Johanna Harlow

cafe del sol

Menlo Park

¡Bienvenidos! Café Del Sol (“sol” translating to “sun”) lives up to its name, radiating mom-and-pop coziness with sunshine yellow walls and a warm waitstaff. With its fresh take on classic Mexican recipes, you’ll enjoy a host of authentic options—right down to the chips and salsa (the green salsa and mango salsa both have their devotees). In homage to its locale, the Menlo burrito is a combination of chicken and beef bolstered with chipotle sauce, salsa fresca, sour cream and guacamole. You might also consider the tantalizing enchilada de mariscos (grilled seafood blanketed in an earthy adobo sauce and a drizzling of chipotle tequila cream). 1010 Doyle Street. Open Monday to Saturday from 10:30AM to 2:30PM and 4:30PM to 9PM. Closed Sundays.

Fogbird Takes Off: Cocktails & More

Words by Christina Chahal

It’s official: the Peninsula has a hip new cocktail lounge that will tempt you out of your cozy nest and into theirs. Perched on a section of San Mateo’s B Street that’s permanently closed to cars, Fogbird emerged phoenix-like in early 2022 with a fresh look, menu and logo—a seabird aptly called Buzz.

“If you know us, you know we love to throw a party,” say Fogbird’s founders, David and Susan Hunsaker. “Our focus is people feeling welcomed and if you’re coming into my space, you are my guest.” In that spirit, the Hunsakers designed Fogbird to be a warm space where you can connect with your people and, according to Susan, “Feels like ahhhhh.”

That ahh feeling is abundant at Fogbird, where you’re immediately enveloped by the light and airy ambiance, a look imagined with the help of designers Je Anne Ettrick and Laura Sears. The duo transformed the space from a dark, dusty tiki bar into a comfortably elegant lounge. Fogbird’s interior features soaring ceilings, an original brick wall and a nine-foot-high bar flanked by fern wallpaper from House of Hackney. The lounge seating is surrounded by living trees and plants. The Hunsakers get so many compliments on the paint scheme that they have the color on the tips of their tongues—Benjamin Moore’s Galápagos Turquoise—a nod to both the Pacific Ocean and the Northern California coast where they found the inspiration for their business.

“We love sitting on the beach in Carmel and watching the mist, that feeling of La Dolce Vita we experienced in Italy,” waxes Susan. “Places where time stands still and there’s that sense of beauty, both romantic and inspiring.” Their goal was to capture the outdoor spaces they love and bring that feeling indoors to Fogbird. “The essence of what we’re trying to achieve is respite,” notes Susan, “the feeling that you have no cares in that moment, a Fogbird moment.”

Creating a Fogbird moment starts with one of their signature tongue-in-cheek cocktails, like the Oaxacan After Midnight or the Swan Song. “Of our top sellers, 8 out of 10 are signature drinks; it’s a really well-rounded list, including classics too with their own little twists,” notes David. “Ultimately, we wanted it to be fun and thoughtful without being overly pretentious.”

To create the perfect bar menu, they put together a list of small bites like their top-selling warm artichoke dip and warm pretzel sticks. They also have a mushroom flatbread, everything chosen to go well with their drinks.

Fogbird’s cocktail program, created under the direction of veteran Bay Area bartender Nikki Molinari, puts emphasis on the details. With a lot of prep done in advance, the execution is fast so you’re not waiting a long time for that first sip. Nikki also utilizes modern techniques to amp up the natural flavors, such as the sous vide grapefruit used in the Fogbird Paloma. “I like the way chemistry has come into the bar scene,” notes Nikki. “In order to pull out the flavors you’re looking for, like with berries, if you cook them it tastes like jam, but with sous vide you get the freshness and fresh taste.”

Nikki describes Fogbird’s clientele as a broad mix of professionals who’ve moved to the area and are now going back into the office. “We notice a lot of overflow from the offices, a return to let’s-grab-a-drink-after-work, getting back into that routine.” Nikki also teamed with the Hunsakers at their previous hospitality venture, the much-loved and now shuttered 31st and Union restaurant around the corner. It was a labor of love that attracted a loyal base of patrons for almost a decade, and when it closed, David and Susan knew they weren’t done just yet.

“We realized we don’t need a lot of space, but we do need to be connected to our community,” relates Susan. “Fogbird’s both a business and a passion project.” It’s also a natural extension for the pair, who deeply embrace their entrepreneurial roots. “David and I are each third-generation entrepreneurs,” shares Susan. “Both of our dads owned their own businesses—it’s who we are and what makes us tick.” They say they learned a lot about business sitting around the dinner table, including the importance of “hiring nice people and treating them like family.”

At Fogbird, that entrepreneurial spirit can now be purchased by the can—a line of ready-to-drink versions of its best cocktails rolling out this year. Fogbird also offers both in-person and virtual cocktail classes, which they describe as perfect for corporate team building or as a unique experience to mark a friend or family celebration.

At work, the Hunsakers divide and conquer with David acting as the “front of the house guy” and doing 70% of the operations while Susan executes the marketing. Observes Susan, “We’re both wired really differently. Give David a huge checklist and it’s done in hours; give it to me and it’ll take to the next day.”

In addition to hospitality, Susan’s background is in education, executive training and coaching, and David worked in sales. They’re both California natives—Susan grew up in Belmont while David’s from Orange County—who met while at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. The Hunsakers have been together 25 years, living first in San Francisco in their 20s before raising their kids in Burlingame. If they’re not with their children or working, they say they love to travel, play golf and are more than a little obsessed with pickleball.

And right now, they’re embracing Fogbird’s launch and the promise of a successful flight. “It’s the culmination of the things that we’ve been working on for so, so long,” emphasizes David. “We feel like this is it, like we’ve got something really special to share, right here, in our own little corner of the world.”

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