Sam McDonald’s Redwood Sanctuary

The route to Sam McDonald Park is a winding one, twisting and turning from Portola Road in Woodside with a sharp left onto La Honda Road (Highway 84) to Pescadero Creek Road. The sheer act of navigating the tight curves causes one to slow down and absorb the passing scenery. Sunlight streaks down through endless groves of majestic trees, and on this particular morning, steam from recent rains rises from the pavement, creating a mystical, otherworldly effect.

Gently braking to execute a 15 MPH switchback turn triggers musings about making this passage in the early to mid-1900s. That’s when Sam McDonald motored this same stretch of road (under significantly rougher conditions) in a Model B Ford roadster, journeying to his sanctuary in the redwoods nearly every weekend for 40 years. 

For many, ‘Sam McDonald’ only resonates as the namesake of a San Mateo County park or ‘Sam McDonald Mall’  and ‘Sam McDonald Track House’ on the Stanford campus. But there’s a reason Sam’s name endures in perpetuity on the Peninsula. 

Courtesy of San Mateo County Parks

In the years he lived on this earth, between 1884 and 1957, this 6’4” man with a commanding presence earned the status of local legend. The grandchild of Louisiana slaves, Sam forged the way as the first Black person to own property in the redwoods and hold a major administrative position at an American university. 

Known for his warm heart, generosity and benevolent spirit, Sam helped shape the future of a world-renowned academic institution and secure the future of his beloved forest—which continues to inspire awe and wonder to this day. 

“See my surroundings. Living waters flow, vegetation grows, creatures walk, fly and creep about. Gaze upon these ‘lords of the redwoods’ in their heavenly ascent. You become possessed to feel as majestic as they when your vision rests upon their lofty pinnacles.”  

 — Sam McDonald – Sam McDonald’s Farm

Sam’s Start in Life 

In his autobiography, Sam McDonald’s Farm (a nod to Stanford University’s nickname), Emanuel “Sam” McDonald recounts his humble beginnings in this world—his surname McDonald was taken from the Scottish family that owned the Monroe, Louisiana, plantation where he was born. In 1890, when Sam was six, his family ventured west to Southern California where his father farmed sugar beets and continued to preach. It was here that Sam suffered the tragic loss of his mother. Sam was 13 when the McDonalds made the three-week trek north to the sugar beet fields of Santa Clara County. The first Black family in Gilroy, the McDonalds found employment on the Gubser farm, and Sam quit school in the 7th grade to bring in more money, milking as many as 20 cows a day. 

Courtesy of the Department of Special Collections, Stanford University Libraries

At the age of 16, Sam dramatically altered the course of his life. The McDonalds joined a caravan of families en route to the Pacific Northwest, and Sam found himself back on the trail with his father and brother, Jesse. But as he approached the Oregon state border, Sam had tremendous misgivings about leaving his treasured home. “I became grievously homesick; my mind was definitely made up to return to heavenly California,” writes Sam in his autobiography. “In October 1900, I was off to begin my journey, retracing the route so recently traveled by Father, Brother Jesse and myself. The very thought that I was about to touch the soil and breathe the air of the Paradise that I had resolved never again to desert created within me a spirit of great joy.” Sam’s father and brother continued on to Washington State, and Sam never saw them again.

“I was born in Monroe, Louisiana, on January 1, 1884, the fifth of seven children. My father, Reverend Peter Bird McDonald, was a Methodist minister before coming to California. His father was granted freedom by his young master, who inherited him with a number of other slaves. His father also purchased his wife for $500. My mother was two years younger than father, too young to remember conditions of servitude. She too was born under serfdom; her parents were slaves in Louisiana until the conclusion of the Civil War.”   

—Sam McDonald

Arriving on the Farm

On his own at the age of 16, Sam picked up odd jobs and work where he could—as a horse trainer for a while, and then as a river boat chore boy and galley hand. In 1901, he took a horse-drawn bus to San Jose, thinking he’d return to Gilroy, when he heard talk of Senator Stanford’s horse farm. Confident that he could find work there, he walked 18 miles north to Mayfield (later incorporated into Palo Alto), where he would soon become a teamster and a deputy marshal, rising quickly to become a prominent local figure. 

Courtesy of San Mateo County Parks

Founded in 1885, a year after Sam’s birth, Stanford University was also a fledgling youth at the time, and Sam and the school came of age together. In what would lead to a 51-year career, Sam’s first job at Stanford was working with a mule and plough to excavate land for the Museum. He hauled gravel to build campus roads and kept an eye out as night watchman on Senator Stanford’s stock farm. Sam helped construct Palm Drive in 1904 and watched Mrs. Stanford’s funeral procession in 1905. After the San Francisco Earthquake struck in 1906, he supervised student crews cleaning up and salvaging bricks. In 1907, Sam was officially hired as Stanford’s caretaker of athletic property and then promoted to the title he would hold until his retirement in 1954: Superintendent of Athletic Buildings and Grounds.

Creating a Stanford Legacy

For Stanford students, Sam became synonymous with the campus—and he made Stanford his home in every regard. At first, he created living quarters in the training house under the school’s original 12,000-seat stadium. Then, in 1909, he converted the Track House attic into his permanent Stanford address, and three generations of students knew they could always find him at the corner of Galvez and Campus Drive.

Sam shepherded a herd of sheep to keep the campus grounds neatly mowed and planted a campus garden that drew the attention of Mrs. Herbert Hoover. In his role as superintendent, he became a national authority on athletic fields and tracks, earning accolades for the replacement of Stanford’s Angell Field track and his signature method of mowing crisscross patterns onto football fields. In 1919, Stanford’s Convalescent Home for Children (the antecedent of Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital) was established in the old Stanford mansion on campus. Stanford became “the only campus with its own charity,” and Sam stepped up to adopt “Con Home” as his personal and philanthropic cause. A lifelong bachelor, he became a frequent visitor and “godfather” to the wards and referred to the children of the hospital as “my family.”

Courtesy of the Department of Special Collections, Stanford University Libraries

Already known for his barbecues and mass feedings of Stanford students and athletes, Sam was tapped in 1922 to head up the barbecue party and cleanup crew for “Con Home Day,” Stanford’s annual student fundraiser for the Convalescent Home. In 1950, Stanford officially changed Con Home Day to Sam McDonald Day to honor his tireless contributions over the years. This was just one of many tributes he received during his long tenure at the University. When Stanford dedicated Sam McDonald Road in 1939, President Ray Lyman Wilbur remarked, “If I had to run against Sam for president of the University, I’d be mighty afraid of the outcome.” 

“Mr. McDonald has been a fixed personage on the Stanford campus, particularly around the athletic fields and the Convalescent Home, for nearly a life span. Thousands have been cheered and helped by him. His pleasing personality, added to his devotion to his work, has given him an enviable place in the roster of Stanford personages. His friends are legion, for his service has been great.”  

  — Tully C. Knoles, Chancellor
College of the Pacific, Preface of
Sam McDonald’s Farm

Living Amongst the Redwoods

As Sam’s career took off, he saved his money and invested carefully. He bought property at California Avenue and El Camino Real and ventured into the backcountry with his horse and wagon. A deeply religious man, he discovered respite among the giant redwoods, which he called the “lords of the forest.” 

Courtesy of San Mateo County Parks

In 1919, Sam made his first purchase of land in La Honda. His grandmother was half Choctaw, and when he built a cabin overlooking Alpine Creek, he named it Chee-Chee-Wa-Wa, Native American for “Little Squirrel.” Sam posted his favorite sayings on the cabin’s walls, including “He who has 1,000 friends has not one to spare” and “May your blessings be as numerous as the sands in the sea.” He built a small beach and dammed up the creek, creating a pool he named Lake Moqui, after a Hopi princess. Although he maintained his apartment over the Track House, he began to divide his time between the Stanford campus and his cabin. As the years passed, Sam’s horse and wagon evolved into a 1931 roadster, and he became a familiar sight coming through the town of La Honda. 

“I have spoken now and again of my lodge Chee-Chee-Wa-Wa in the redwood forests of La Honda. This has been my home away from the campus for the past thirty-four years, and, the season permitting, I have journeyed there after a day’s work that I might rest and work and meditate and pray in the seclusion of nature’s sanctuary.”

—Sam McDonald  

Sam’s Final Years and Legacy

Described by friends as “happy, benevolent and generous,” Sam turned his home in the woods into a weekend and holiday retreat, hosting countless barbecues for Stanford faculty and sports teams. As he describes in his autobiography, which he completed in 1953, “Many are the friends who have honored this rustic dwelling with their presence, and likewise many are the days I have enjoyed my solitude embued with the peace and serenity of these surroundings.” 

By the time Sam retired from Stanford in 1954, he owned 450 acres and established the La Honda-Alpine-Ytaioa Reserve, which prohibited logging and hunting and provided “asylum to all wild creatures.” He also owned and operated the local water company and rented out a half dozen cabins on his land.

Courtesy of the Department of Special Collections, Stanford University Libraries

A Stanford University Hall of Fame inductee, Sam died at the age of 73 just before the 1957 “Big Game.” Having attended the Stanford & CAL Berkeley rivalry game for 50 straight years, his presence still enveloped the stadium. When the Stanford Band performed at halftime, it formed the letters S-A-M on the field. 

Upon his death, Sam bequeathed his property to the Stanford Convalescent Home for Children, requesting that the land be used as a park for the benefit of young people. With that intent in mind, San Mateo County acquired the land in 1958 and dedicated it as a park for public use in 1970.

Courtesy of San Mateo County Parks

Visiting Sam McDonald Park

Following Sam’s same curvy route up Highway 84, the entrance to Sam McDonald Park appears approximately three miles west of La Honda on Pescadero Road. Now an 850-acre facility, Sam’s namesake park expanded over the years, adding 37 acres of old-growth redwoods saved from logging by a citizen’s group and San Mateo County and an additional 450 acres acquired from Kendall B. Towne. From the parking lot (vehicle entry fee $6) and Visitors Center, you’ll see trailheads leading in all directions. Set your course—whether it’s Heritage Grove, Big Tree Trail, Ridge Loop or Towne Fire Road—and you’ll find towering redwoods, breathtaking panoramic views and verdant meadows. Also tucked amongst the miles of trails to honor Sam’s legacy: three hike-in Youth Camps, which are available for day or overnight use by nonprofit youth groups. 

Courtesy of Robb Most

Near the Visitors Center, we catch up with San Mateo County Park ranger Katherine Wright, who describes the unique nature of the park’s experiences. “There’s the giant redwoods, the old-growth forest, and then you walk up through some oak woodland and get up onto the highest part of the park where there’s grassland habitat and chaparral with amazing views of the ridgelines around you,” she tells us. “Sam McDonald features a lot of the different habitats that are in San Mateo County, and you can experience them all in one place.” 

A San Mateo native, Katherine spent a good part of her childhood camping in nearby forests. And like Sam McDonald, she now makes her home in La Honda. “I grew up hiking in the Santa Cruz Mountains,” she says, “and I feel like we have that similarity between the two of us, that appreciation for the redwoods.” As a ranger, Katherine works on interpretive programming, which includes helping visitors feel a deeper connection with Sam McDonald. “I knew I wanted to create a hike all about Sam McDonald,” she says, “because I was so inspired by his remarkable story. When he purchased the property, his only purpose was wanting to keep it just as it was. He wanted to create this preserve where he could attain the sense of peace and beauty that you wouldn’t normally get to experience anywhere else.” 

Courtesy of Irene Searles

Katherine leads Sam McDonald-themed hikes for groups of visitors and has made key highlights accessible anytime through the Outer Spatial app. Guided by her directions, we embark on a three-mile (there and back) walk from the parking lot starting on Youth Camp Trail, which unfolds like a woodsy narrow path through the forest. We wind our way onto Old Uncle Road and note the Youth Camp sites with picnic tables tucked into the groves below us. As we maneuver a series of elevations and descents, we begin to hear the tantalizing sound of trickling creek water. Passing behind a few private residences, we catch a glimpse of red paint through the trees. 

Chee-Chee-Wa-Wa. Sam’s cabin. Still there, tucked along the bank of Alpine Creek. Damaged by flood waters, the house is worn down and weathered by time but instantly evokes images from another era. It’s easy to imagine Sam hunkered inside on a cold spring night, jotting down his “chronicles” on a yellow pad, handwritten pages that would become Sam McDonald’s Farm.

Courtesy of San Mateo County Parks

There, behind the cabin, out back by the creek, Sam’s presence can be felt grilling up a barbecue to celebrate the Stanford football team after an exhilarating win. When Sam looked skyward, he found replenishment in the very same towering redwoods—as high as 280 feet, as old as 1,500 years. And while Sam only dwelled in these woods for a matter of decades, a fleeting blink of time to “the lords of the forest,” this man of noble heart and stature created a sanctuary where they could live forever.  

“It is wisdom itself to find happiness with one’s fellow man; equally so with nature, the bounties of mother earth, and the creatures that walk, fly, and creep, all begetting inspiration.”

— Sam McDonald 

Turning Time with Tom

The Greenmeadow neighborhood in south Palo Alto is a swath of homogeneous Eichler homes, but on a quiet court in the middle of the subdivision is a garage unlike any other on the block.

 Hoisting his garage door open, Tom Haines welcomes you inside his world. Neatly arranged without a square foot to spare are the machines he uses every day to breathe life into wood. There’s a belt sander, bandsaw, thickness sander, table saw and the focal point of his shop: a custom lathe.

 This machine tool is crucial to Tom’s craft: woodturning, or the action of shaping wood with a lathe. The lathe rotates a piece of wood about an axis to cut, sand, knurl, drill and ultimately, turn a log of wood into a work of art. Tom picked up the lathe from the San Jose Union School District some 15 years ago and being the habitual tinkerer that he is, he upgraded the tool to include a monitor screen that allows for precise cutting. It’s Tom’s own way of peering behind the solid walls of wood.

 The son of a carpenter and the father of a blacksmith, Tom has craftsmanship ingrained into his soul. He built his own furniture and sailed in boats made by hand all the while working a career in sales for Texas Instruments. Tom focused his attention to woodturning after a surprise gift from his children 20 years ago. Bowls of various sizes, chalices and even urns have swiftly emerged, each one turned and gorgeously designed in his home shop.

 As the conversation turns, Tom pauses to consider how his artistry contrasts with his craft. He rarely creates the same design twice—always leaning in deeper and challenging himself to carve more intricate lines or celestial, engrossing patterns. One bowl might look like an abstract rib cage forming a basin while another evokes a sombrero hat with a smooth finish. He’s created original analog clocks and ornaments reminiscent of Muscovite Russian architecture—so why not identify as an artist?

“Is this art or is this craft—that’s the big question,” Tom muses. “I like to think that I want to be an artist but what I probably provide best is a craft. People want salad bowls and that’s something I can do for them. But on the other hand, I always want to do something different. And that’s where I think I become an artist.”

On a recent afternoon, as the winds of winter blew through the neighborhood of Eichlers, Tom was in his backyard and attempted to switch on his propane patio heater. However, the pilot flame would not light.

Although nestled in his 80s, Tom didn’t hesitate to take the heater apart and examine the device himself. Piece by piece. He discovered a plugged hole, possible gunk from accumulated gas, and attempted to coax it out. When it didn’t budge, he retreated to his shop to produce a drill set. Cutting into the detritus and ultimately clearing it out produced a warmer patio, but it also led Tom to reflect on the changing world he’s borne witness to over the years.

“This heater was made to sell, not to be maintained. Can you imagine spending $150 and then throwing it away after a season—that’s ridiculous,” he declares.

“I’m old enough to have lived through World War II, where you couldn’t buy new stuff. You had to use everything that you had. If you had an automobile with dents in it, you still drove it. You couldn’t buy new tires so there was a tire recap business in my hometown of Minneapolis. We now live in a throw-away society.”

Tom’s talk isn’t grouchy or irritable; rather it’s plainly optimistic. He speaks less to what our culture has become and more to the untapped opportunities to be crafty if only we decide to get our hands a little dirty or swing a hammer around.

Although given that Tom is essentially the product of an artist and a craftsman, he clearly had no choice in the matter.

Born during the Depression, Tom had an innate sense for imagination. His mother had a creative eye and designed the interior of their home while also painting in oils. His father worked as an executive for the building engineering company Honeywell with a midnight passion for woodworking. 

In the basement of their Minneapolis home, Tom stood adjacent to his father as he hammered out furniture and cabinetry. Soon, Tom had his own miniature workbench outfitted with saws and his own hammer. (“I was pounding nails by age five,” he quips.) Together, the father and son duo built a desk of maple wood and Tom hasn’t stopped working with wood ever since. 

When he was 11, he attended a summer camp on Lake Minnetonka in Minnesota where he met his first love: sailing. Tom built his first boat at age 16: a little rowboat dinghy made of Douglas fir plywood to allow him to paddle out to his sailboat.

Courtesy of Tom Haines

He attended Cornell University to study mechanical engineering and finished his education as the captain of the sailing team. His first job was in thermal engineering in Syracuse, New York, where he designed air conditioners. During his free time, he made two sailing boats by the age of 24.

A career shift into sales took Tom to Dallas to work for Texas Instruments, just as the company launched its debut silicon transistors. In 1969, Tom arrived on the Peninsula after taking a sales position within the company in San Francisco. He remembers observing the psychedelic Sixties from afar; instead, Tom could be found at the Palo Alto Yacht Club. “I was focused on work and family,” he says of the time, raising a son and daughter. “I did buy a new boat called Faster Now, and then later another one named Titanic.” He laughs about the ominous boat name but becomes more serious when he divulges that he had to relinquish the Titanic two years ago.

“My first love was sailing but I had to let it go because of age,” he says. “It’s sad but I can always do woodwork.” 

Tom retired around 2000 and his son and daughter surprised him with a one-day class for learning woodturning from an accomplished turner in Sebastopol. “He no longer turns wood,” Tom says of his teacher, “and retired to get out of woodturning—I retired to get into woodturning.”

His first creation was a madrone bowl that often slipped out of his hands as he was turning it. “That bowl was on the ground more than on the lathe!” Tom admits. “If you don’t hold the tool right, it’ll dig into the wood and pull it off.”

After a couple of decades in turning, Tom recognizes the qualities in a log, branch or stump that make for an alluring piece of wood. He looks for burls, a tree growth in which the grain has grown in a deformed manner. He prefers interesting patterns in the burls, how the curling grain is exposed, and he always keeps his eye on the base of redwood trees where burls are often discovered.

 “I also have several boxes of flooring, which is a special hardwood. It’s thin pieces,” he says. “There’s a means of woodturning where you glue the segments together and stack them in rings to make a bowl or vase. That’s my plan for that.”

Tom’s phone is readily available for patrons curious about his turnings (His voicemail message begins with: “Hi, this is Tom. I’m out turning wood and I can’t take your call.”) and his work is exhibited in art studios such as the Main Gallery in Menlo Park and the Gualala Arts Center. He’s also a longtime member of the local West Bay Woodturners and runs the club’s website and newsletter while exchanging ideas with like-minded turners.

There’s an undeniable magic exposed in wood that Tom reveres as he’s turning. Wood doesn’t preserve forever and its ephemeral nature encourages admiration. He relishes in the smell as he cuts in, but once, while slicing into some juniper, the wafting vapors that were released caused him to feel sick. He now uses a face mask—living a full step ahead of society with his stock of N95 masks—to protect from harmful vapor and dust.

In the backyard of his Eichler, as the heat from his fully-functioning furnace keeps him warm, Tom expounds on the joys of woodturning. When he is read back a quote from a biography for one of his art exhibits, Tom smiles. Bashful, he says he couldn’t have described it better:

“Nature is a better engineer than any of us. Those tiny wood fibers are manufactured as if by magic from water, CO2 and sunlight. They are assembled with magic nature glue and presented to us in over 100,000 forms we call trees. I cannot do what nature does, but I can take joy in enjoying the product.”    

Methuselah Tree

If you’re venturing up to Skyline Boulevard in Woodside or catching a bite at Alice’s Restaurant, be sure to check out the Methuselah Tree, located across the road from El Corte de Madera Creek Open Space Preserve. The Methuselah Tree isn’t just any old tree. The gigantic redwood is estimated to be around 1,800 years old, which, according to Peninsula Open Space Trust, makes it “the oldest and largest living tree in the Santa Cruz Mountains,” outside of the trees in Big Basin State Park. Methuselah is instantly noticeable due to its enormous size. With a diameter of 14 feet and a circumference of 44 feet, it’s uniquely positioned on a ridgetop on Cal Water land and is accessible to the public. Methuselah is believed to have sprouted in 217 AD when the Ohlone were the only human inhabitants in the area. The massive old-growth tree survived centuries of earthquakes, intense storms and devastating fires—with fierce, lashing winds blowing off the tree’s crown and flames hollowing out a cave at its base. You can catch sight of Methuselah from Skyline Boulevard. Just walk down a short path to peer in wonder at this local majestic landmark.

Wire Weaver

Light reflects off twisted bronze and stainless steel, while shadows cast by the airy forms dance on the wall. Elegantly fluid wire sculptures, whether ceiling-suspended, wall-mounted or free-standing, command attention and instill wonder. Lace Four: No Loose Ends floats overhead, slowly turning with the room’s air currents. Curving ribbons connect in a voluminous spray of wire ends glittering under a spotlight while projecting an outsized shadow on the wall.

This is just one imagining of Peninsula sculptor Barbara M. Berk, who is currently in the final stages of executing a project for the Burlingame Public Main Library—her largest installation to date. Invited to create a sculpture to suspend from the atrium’s chandelier, high above the library’s central staircase, Barbara crafted a series of open spiral elements in three sizes.  

“Initially, it was quite daunting,” she shares. “The space is huge, the chandelier is only 55 inches in diameter and the total weight of the elements cannot exceed 15 pounds.” Given the project’s physical parameters, Barbara realized a single piece would either be too heavy or dwarfed in the setting. “Ultimately, I came up with the solution of suspending multiple elements at different heights, visually filling the space,” she says. 

Photography: Irene Searles

Looking back, Barbara originally ventured down a very different path. After earning her graduate degree in Russian history, she spent her early career working in advertising space sales for magazines in New York. “Then I discovered antique jewelry,” she recalls, “and while I didn’t know what I was looking at, the pieces spoke to me.” She learned more about antique jewelry and how to evaluate it, thinking she could become an appraiser, and enrolled in jewelry making classes to better understand how pieces are made.  

Relocating to San Diego for her husband’s biotech career in 1991 changed everything. A chance encounter with professor Arline Fisch, founder of the metalsmithing program at San Diego State University, prompted an invitation to attend Fisch’s graduate-level “Textile Techniques in Metal” class. “And that’s where the magic happened,” recounts Barbara. “I had been sewing since I was a young girl, making stuffed animals and my own clothes. But with Arline, I learned how to weave, knit, crochet, braid, twine and make lace with silver, copper, brass and titanium. And I learned that I loved working directly with metal—my fingers particularly liked weaving and lace-making.”

As she explored the possibilities of this new artform, Barbara wore her attention-grabbing silver and copper brooches at trade shows. “They really popped against my navy blue blazer,” she says. “I walked up and down the aisles, marveling at incredible gems, and the dealers only wanted to talk about my brooches.” Even facing sparkly competition, Barbara could see her creations were showstoppers—and she began to envision a future in metal.

Barbara founded Barbara Berk Designs in 1992 to create small, wearable sculpture in precious metals. A few years after starting her business, she moved with her husband to Foster City where they settled into a waterfront home. By 2013, in search of new challenges, she toyed with the idea of working in a larger scale, off the body. Needing more space, she rented a studio at the Peninsula Museum of Art in Burlingame. 

“I spent the first 18 months or so figuring out what direction I wanted to take,” says Barbara. “Since the metals I was most familiar with were too soft to sustain large work, I experimented with a variety of industrial metals, looking for the right combination of physical properties and working characteristics that would balance and reinforce the integrity of the textile structures.” She discovered that stainless steel and phosphor bronze were best for weaving and for implementing the 16th-century lace techniques she had explored 20 years before.

Barbara’s process entails creating a lace pattern on graph paper and securing it to a cork board resting on an easel. She then twists wires to the specific length she needs for the individual piece, attaches them with T-pins through the paper pattern into the cork and begins making stitches, one at a time, proceeding in diagonal lines to the bottom of the pattern. Barbara then curves, loops, twists, interweaves, sews and embroiders the flat lace “fabric” into a three-dimensional form.

Photography: Irene Searles

“I love working larger-scale,” she confides. “I’m no longer constrained by requirements of fit and comfort. I’m free to experiment, free to follow where my fingers and the metal want to go.” Other advantages: mistakes are no longer costly and she doesn’t have to map everything out in advance. “I don’t have to know precisely where I’m going before I start,” she says with relish. “The work is still meditative but it’s also liberating and fun.”

Barbara’s sculpture is included in the permanent collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and has been exhibited in museums and galleries both locally and across the country. Most recently, her stainless steel pedestal-piece Lace Twelve: Oskar Schlemmer’s Dancer was selected for On the Edge: The de Young Open, a juried exhibition of Bay Area artists celebrating the 125th anniversary of the de Young Museum. “It was a phenomenal boost at a time when I didn’t realize just how much I needed one,” reflects Barbara. “It was recognition, reinforcement, validation—something wonderfully positive during the depths of the pandemic last year.”

Barbara has since moved into a private studio complete with gallery space in an industrial section of San Carlos. Scheduling viewings by appointment, she is enjoying the additional square footage, the natural light, the high ceilings and the ability to fully display her work. That includes setting up a framework that mimics the outside rim of the Burlingame library’s chandelier, from which she suspends the lace elements.
  “It’s a very exciting time,” shares Barbara. “One-third of the open spirals are complete and hanging in the studio, and I can see the piece coming together; the spirals interact with each other—they shine and cast these mesmerizing shadows on the studio walls.”

Courtesy of Morgan Murphy

Designing Duo

A narrow Burlingame lot with neighborhood design constraints. Expansive but steep hillside acreage in Hillsborough. A San Carlos home accessed by a bridge. Even an historic one-room schoolhouse in Woodside. These are the design challenges Leslie Lamarre and Randy Grange of TRG Architecture + Interior Design navigate in their new build and remodeling projects throughout the Peninsula. “The goal in the end is that no one knows it was a struggle and everything looks great,” says Randy.

 Based in San Mateo, TRG represents a blend of the pair’s talents and backgrounds—Leslie’s interior design focus and Randy’s architectural expertise. As married business partners, the designing duo brings cohesiveness and convenience to their projects. “Having both architecture and interior design under one roof is not all that common,” Leslie observes. “And it’s super helpful. If we need an extra six inches for furniture in a room, I can ask if we can move a wall. If we weren’t working together, we would miss opportunities.”

 Early recognition (and their big break) came when Randy won the Grand Award in the national Innovations in Housing competition. One project led to another, prompting the couple to go all in and combine their talents to establish their firm in 1995. The business quickly took off with inquiries including a call from the Kingdom of Tonga requesting design services. They landed the job to design an addition for the King’s residence on the Peninsula. “We eventually took our family to Tonga as guests of the government architect to welcome in the new millennium,” Leslie reminisces.

Courtesy o TRG Architecture Interior + Design

 Growing up, Leslie honed her design skills working on constant projects at her family’s circa 1810 New England farmhouse with her do-it-yourself father. “We were steaming off wallpaper, painting and refinishing,” recounts Leslie. “It was kind of ingrained in me.” Leslie became interested in home remodeling and home decor and studied art history. Further down the Eastern Seaboard in Florida, Randy spent his youth designing and building kayaks and canoes from wood and canvas. He also enjoyed sketching houses and accompanying his archaeologist father on excavations.

 One summer during college, Leslie, a student at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, and Randy, a recent graduate from the College of Architecture at University of Florida, worked at a hotel on the coast of Maine. It was Randy’s sleek canoe that first caught Leslie’s eye. “There was this gorgeous canoe with varnished ribs and rope-woven seats,” Leslie remembers. “I fell in love with the canoe before I ever met Randy!” After years of a long-distance relationship, they both relocated to the Bay Area and tied the knot at City Hall in San Francisco. The couple eventually relocated to Burlingame and worked out of an old water tower they restored in their backyard until they expanded into office space in downtown Burlingame and ultimately to their current San Mateo office.

Courtesy of Bernard Andre Photography

 The professional and life partners embrace the wide range of projects offered by the Peninsula’s distinctive topography. “It is unique to have such a wide variety of landscapes as the Peninsula does,” Randy points out. To satisfy a client with a steep lot, for example, TRG harnessed technology to capture the home’s view at every turn. ”We built a 3D model of the home and put it into Google Earth,” recounts Randy. “The homeowner wanted to see what the view would be if he lifted his head up in bed.” Narrow lots pose another common design challenge, like ones in the couple’s hometown of Burlingame, which are 50 feet wide. “Most houses in Burlingame can only be 35 feet wide,” says Randy, “but the designs need to feel open, spacious and connected to the backyard.”

 When it comes to remodels, the phone at TRG didn’t stop ringing after their creative transformation of a tired ranch home in Hillsborough. “There are so many ranchers all over the Peninsula,” Randy notes. “We have many people who have a ranch house and they don’t know what to do with it. The key to fixing a house is figuring out how to flow through it.” To update the interior, Leslie added drama with a contemporary backlit panel system on the dining room ceiling made from 3-Form, an upcycled plastic.

Courtesy of R. Brad Knipstein

Randy and Leslie have also made their mark locally with innovative design solutions and as early adopters of green building initiatives. One project they call “Eco Resort” combined innovative energy-efficient strategies as well as sustainable materials. “The homeowners wanted everything sourced within 500 miles,” relates Randy. The project included solar panels, solar thermal and a geothermal system, which harnesses the constant temperature of the earth to reduce the energy use of a home. In 2010, the County of San Mateo awarded the Hillsborough home “Green Building of the Year” in the Residential category. Many of the green strategies used on the project have since been incorporated into the California State code.

 Looking ahead, the couple sees a significant movement toward the here and now. “There is a generational change and everybody wants contemporary,” Randy says. “It is okay to have something built that reflects the time we live in as long as it recognizes the fabric of the neighborhood.” When it comes to interior design trends, Leslie, a certified interior designer and certified kitchen designer, sees homeowners drawn to clean-lined furniture and simple, calming interiors. “Grays are still very popular and fit within the quiet realm, but we’re also seeing grays fading to whites; soft, clean lines and simple forms replacing ornate detail; quiet, serene interiors supplanting patterns that jump out,” she summarizes. “People are seeking a tranquil refuge in their homes.”

Despite a full slate of projects, the two still enjoy getting away with their grown daughter and son to their recently purchased fixer-upper “beach shack” in Santa Cruz. “This is our 26th year in business and we first fantasized about designing our own house when we were dating,” Leslie recalls. “I envision a crisp, clean interior with what I call a ‘California-fresh’ vibe—lots of natural light, white walls, warm wood tones and natural, organic elements. Randy is good about letting me run with the interiors.” 

Randy nods and smiles, adding, “That’s why we are a team.”

Courtesy of Bernard Andre Photography

The Beat On Your Eats

Good food and outdoor ambiance—just the right ingredients these days. 

Bistro Vida

Menlo Park

Slice off a piece of Paris in downtown Menlo Park at the beloved Bistro Vida. The long-time eatery worked with the city to build an exceptional outdoor dining space for customers to enjoy in both warm and cold weather, but for owner Ali El Safy, the ideal atmosphere isn’t complete without music. Expect to hear local and celebrated jazz singer Rebecca DuMaine on Friday and Saturday nights while Sunday afternoons feature standards from the young Almost All Khaki Band. The cuisine covers poultry, meats, salads and fruits de mer, leaving the sole missing ingredient: your good vibes. 641 Santa Cruz Avenue. Open for lunch Monday through Friday from 11AM to 2PM; for dinner Monday through Saturday from 5PM to 9PM; Sunday from 5PM to 8PM and for weekend brunch from 11AM to 2PM.

Courtesy of Coconut Bay

Coconut Bay 

Burlingame

Grab a seat at the patio, sidewalk or parklet and let a Thailand Fantasy (rum, lychee, pineapple juice, lime and grenadine) whisk any woes away. The contemporary Thai eatery Coconut Bay offers an outdoor oasis in downtown Burlingame surrounded by greenery and the sounds of Bossa Nova jazz. Looking for something new? Give the Exotic Lamb Curry a try with tender Australian lamb cubes in a mild curry with potatoes, onions and coconut milk. Or stick to the tried and true Siam Satay with either charcoal-broiled chicken or beef skewers marinated in Thai spices and dipped in peanut sauce. 1107 Howard Avenue. Open daily from 12PM to 9PM. 

Courtesy of Town

Town

San Carlos

The red-brick Tivoli Building represents the sleek revival happening on Laurel Street and at the centerpiece of the excitement is the chophouse Town. The beef is sourced from Rancho Alena Cattle Co., along with Midwest Black Angus and Wagyu from the famed Westholme Ranch in Australia. Town’s cocktail menu runs deep with house concoctions (try the Pomegranate Martini or Purple Haze) plus twists on old favorites. Town went to town on outside seating with suspended twinkle lights, 39 tables, four tall bar tops and a bevy of heaters. Sister restaurants include the Alpine Inn, Milagros and Nola so you know that Town is in good company. 716 Laurel Street. Open Monday through Friday from 11:30AM to 9PM; Saturday and Sunday from 10AM to 9PM. 

Shop the Dock

Although the calendar pinned up on a cabinet inside the kitchen of his boat clearly states that he’s to be on vacation this week, Giuseppe Pennisi smiles as he gets back to work.

In the wee hours on a recent Friday morning, Giuseppe steered his 65-foot trawling boat named the Pioneer to a dock at the Port of Redwood City. The boat is sustainably conscious and uses a net designed not to scrape the ocean floor or catch fish too small to eat.

The F Dock is where Giuseppe has sold freshly-caught bottom fish directly from the boat for the last six months through his business—Pioneer Seafood. As the sun starts to set following a day of torrential downpour, Giuseppe and a slim crew are still working to offload thousands of pounds of ice-cold fish.

 Giuseppe operates a crane to lift barrels of fish from the Pioneer onto the dock, where his crew receives them in blue bins mixed with more ice. Another member of the crew works a forklift to load up a truck as a radio suspended by rope off the ship plays upbeat 1980s classics.

Pretty soon a crowd forms, both to admire the spectacle but also to purchase fish that, until 12 hours ago, were swimming deep in the Pacific off the California coast. Customers read the post on NextDoor or catch Giuseppe’s update on his Facebook page, an active captain’s log that he updates regularly with photos, videos and announcements for when the public can visit the dock for fresh purchases.

While the F Dock is active with a flurry of fishermen, the patrons are patient and treated to one-on-one focus and geniality from Giuseppe. He offers to slice each fish into fillets and is happy to relay a favorite recipe for preparing the chilipepper rockfish.

Giuseppe is approachable and easy to share a laugh with. His boots are splattered with residue from a long day at sea (he caught nearly 10,000 pounds of chilipepper rockfish along with 700 pounds of petrale sole) and his sense of humor quickly rises to the top.

“If I didn’t love my wife and my kids, this would be the best job in the world,” he says of the long hours and demanding work.

“When I describe what I do, it’s something special. When somebody comes to the boat, they’re so excited about picking out the fish and they ask questions. They’re enthralled. They cook it and send us pictures. That puts on pressure to go back out fishing and bring joy to people.”

But conditions on land are proving difficult for the third-generation California fisherman. He’s watched an entire industry shift in his lifetime. Due to government regulations and pushback from environmental activists, Giuseppe says that independent fishermen like himself used to provide 90 percent of the fish consumed but now, decades later, it’s down to three percent, replaced by either foreign or farmed fish. The squeeze has left him feeling dismayed but not discouraged.

“This is kind of like my last gift,” he says of his business selling directly from the dock. “This comes from all the things I’ve learned. But this is not going to go on for another generation. This is over when I step off the boat.”

Giuseppe learned the trade from his father—who in turn, learned it from his grandfather who moved from Cecila, Italy, to fish in Monterey Bay—and grew up on the docks in Monterey and nearby Carmel Valley. His babysitters were fishermen who taught him Italian words and how to brew strong coffee.

Fishing and family were entwined, as was an aptitude for business. Giuseppe recalls a proud memory when he was a child on the Monterey pier presiding over the 5,000 pounds of red rockfish that his father had just caught. It was a sunny day on a weekend and someone asked if they could buy directly from Giuseppe. He sold a fish for 50 cents, then another and another. Before long, he and his brothers were hustling the entire wharf and hooking sales.

“I think by the end we only had 700 pounds of fish left,” he remembers. “When my dad came back he was so surprised, ‘What happened to all the fish?’ We had these coffee cans full of money. I think about that day a lot. The people were so excited to get the fish off the boat.”

By age 15, Joe was working on one of his father’s boats. He would eventually purchase a boat with his brother and they fished in the Bering Sea. He later worked for factory trawlers as well as a welder for a large fish company.

In 1997, Giuseppe met his now-wife Grazia, a Sicilian also from Monterey. They have six children together (Giuseppe has another child from a previous relationship) and the family lives in Chico. Giuseppe frequently makes the drive to the Redwood City docks and is sometimes away from home for weeks at a time.

“I struggle with that every day,” he confesses. “Sometimes I only see my family three days of the month. I balance all of this in my head when I look at all the people who come down to the boat and are so happy to have access to this really great product. When you look at the money, the danger, the government challenges—it’s a lot of weight. We’ve been hanging onto the bottom rung of this ladder for close to 30 years and I don’t want my kids subjected to these harsh rules.”

The difficulties haven’t kept Giuseppe from sharing the sea with his children. In fact, about a year ago, he was fishing with some of his children off the coast when an unexpected storm gathered. He had studied the weather reports predicting a calm day but soon conditions grew severe. Waves crashed on top of the Pioneer and water began pouring out of the electrical sockets on board. Giuseppe downplayed the danger to keep his children from worrying but said it took everything he’s ever learned to guide the boat to safe harbor in the San Francisco Bay.

It was an experience that nearly cemented Giuseppe’s discouragement of his children following in the family’s footsteps. However, he knows the lure of the sea and how a boat captures the imagination of a child.

“The kids will have eyes like hard-boiled eggs the minute they walk up the boat. When I see kids like that and people holding up a beautiful fish, it’s really a special and magical moment,” he says. “Even after all those sacrifices, when you see that person smile and how happy they get—there’s something good for your soul at that moment.”

Neighborhood Sensation

From the most westernly end of the Woodside Plaza shopping center in Redwood City, fairy lights strung over an outdoor dining parklet twinkle like a beacon. Step inside Redwood Grill, and you’ll likely see Renee Barton doing the restaurant owner’s version of a whirling dervish. “Thank you for holding,” she says, before taking a phone order for a rotisserie chicken with a side of whipped potatoes. “Order #85 called and asked for no caramelized onions on the Redwood Burger,” she clarifies to Chef Johnny in the kitchen. Catching sight of familiar faces in the doorway, Renee’s eyes light up with a smile: “How’ve you been? It’s so good to see you back.” 

As she tackles the dozens of details and decisions in her day, Renee is clearly in her element, exuding an almost unflappable calm. That’s because this rustic chic neighborhood eatery represents more than a business to her—it’s the fulfillment of a personal promise. 

A Peninsula native, Renee’s childhood memories are rooted in Burlingame, San Mateo, Belmont and San Carlos. “I grew up in the era of Marine World and celebrating birthdays at Farrell’s,” she says. “The neighborhoods were closely-knit and you stayed out until dark playing with your friends.” She laughs recalling one of her first jobs—working as a hostess at Burlingame’s theme restaurant Bobby McGee’s. “I had to dress up as Snow White, and I’d race into work wearing this gigantic dress with a bow on my head. Once I got a taste of that glamour,” she quips, “it was history!” 

Although Renee was passionate about cooking and even considered culinary school, she felt equally drawn to tech and finance. After graduating with an economics degree in 1994, she took a position at Charles Schwab but continued to pull night shifts in the restaurant industry. “It wasn’t the direction I went,” she says, “but I always loved the energy.” 

By 2001, Renee had progressed into investor relations for San Jose-based Power Integrations. She flew out to New York for what she thought would be a routine 8AM meeting in the World Trade Center. The date was September 11. “It was life-changing,” she affirms, about surviving the traumatic experience of escaping from the South Tower. “It makes you think about everything. What am I doing? What’s important? What’s not important?” (See sidebar below.) 

In the years that followed, Renee set her mind to living with purpose. She married the boyfriend she had been dating and they moved to Redwood City. She pursued a challenging career path that ultimately led her from being a CEO’s chief of staff to co-founding a startup. Two decades into her professional journey and with two boys added to the mix, she found herself reassessing her lifetime goals and what she still hoped to achieve. “There was always something in the back of my head, this pull from the restaurant industry,” she says. “And I thought, ‘If not now, when? There are no guarantees.’” 

Thinking back on her childhood memories, Renee realized what was missing from the Woodside Plaza area in Redwood City. “We were looking for a neighborhood restaurant,” she recounts, “and there wasn’t really one nearby—a place you could grab a glass of wine or a cocktail but still bring your kids or meet a friend—an easy, accessible place.” 

In the local shopping center, Renee spotted a vacant restaurant property, formerly Copenhagen’s, and recognized the value of a central, convenient location and bountiful parking. With the support of her husband and children, she made the pivot. “It’s quite the switch but I believe you have to follow your passions when you can,” she says. “Plus, I knew I could bring my business acumen to it. I didn’t just build it for the sake of building it—I saw there was a real need.”

After completely remodeling the site, Renee launched Redwood Grill in 2016 with the aim of bringing a casual, family-friendly restaurant experience to the heart of the community. “We’re tucked in the back a bit, and when you walk through the doors, it’s surprising to people,” acknowledges Renee. “We put a lot of energy into creating a rustic, warm vibe—a place you’ll see people you know, where you can catch up with friends and neighbors.”

For the past two years, Renee has partnered with executive chef Johnny Arreola to continue crafting what she calls “California comfort food with a twist.” Starters range from Lucy’s Grilled Avocado stuffed with shrimp salad to tongue-tingling Honey Sriracha Wings and Devilish Eggs topped with candied bacon. The Greens and Goats salad sprinkles in beets and candied pecans; toasted chickpeas add extra flair to the Kale Chicken Caesar. Mains include St. Louis Ribs, Rotisserie Chicken Breast and Grilled Salmon—along with a selection of Chef’s Tacos and artisan pizzas. 

“People really love our Redwood Burger and Crispy Chicken Sandwich,” notes Renee, “and they definitely go for the crispy Brussels sprouts tossed in truffle oil.” Redwood Grill also features a full bar with wine, beer and specialty cocktails. 

Renee recognized further untapped opportunity—and began envisioning more kitchen space for catering and a private room for parties and events. When additional square footage opened next door, she jumped at the chance to expand. The build-out began in late 2019 including plans for Redwood Market, an adjoining storefront for easy to-go pickup and grab-and-go menu items. “A lot of people don’t have time to sit down or wait for a to-go order,” explains Renee. “Being a busy parent myself, that’s what I needed.” 

Although Renee didn’t anticipate a pandemic unfolding in 2020, she was in sync with the changing times when Redwood Market opened last fall. As word of mouth spread, the Market kicked into higher gear, adding craft cocktails-to-go and even Redwood Grill’s own house-made sauces, dressings and rubs. “Our customers’ loyalty has just blown me away,” Renee says emphatically. 

Moving into 2021, Renee is looking forward to hosting Redwood Grill’s annual 9/11 commemoration honoring Redwood City’s Fire & Police K-9 Program, an event that will be especially meaningful in this 20th anniversary year. “It’s a positive way for me to remember,” observes Renee. “It was the biggest learning experience of my life and it shaped who I am today.” Renee can’t help but note the parallels to the current ‘unprecedented’ times. “It pulls a lot of the same emotions,” she reflects. “I absolutely think there’s relevance to what’s happening now—the way everyone is coming together.” 

20 years later

Remembering 9/11 • Renee (Sarrail) Barton 

On September 11, 2001, I woke up to a beautiful sunny day in New York. I was on a business trip and had scheduled the first meeting for 8AM at Oppenheimerfunds on the 31st floor in the World Trade Center’s South Tower.

We were just starting to wrap up when we heard a loud boom and the whole building shook. At the time, I thought to myself, ‘That was an earthquake, right?’ because I’m from California.

We didn’t have a straight look at the North Tower that got hit first, but all of a sudden it was like a dump truck threw debris past our window. Your mind is trying to process something that it just really can’t process. We had to push up against the window to look up and we could see a bunch of black smoke around our tower. I thought, “Oh no, maybe it was a bomb,” but we just didn’t know.

The alarm didn’t go off because our building hadn’t been hit yet, but we still started evacuating. I went right to the stairs, which was a very California thing: ‘Earthquake – Take the Stairs.’ I started to walk down and it was pretty quiet going down the stairwell, but when the door
finally opened after 31 flights, it was a completely different energy.

The first floor of the World Trade Center has big glass windows, and I started to go into a bit of shock because my eyes couldn’t believe what I was seeing. There was smoke and fire outside. It looked like a war zone out there, and the Port Authority is saying, ‘Move! Move! Move!’ It was a very long evacuation route. You have to walk down the escalator and then you’re under the building in the plaza underneath and then you go straight and then upstairs and then you finally get out. As we were walking down the escalator, the second plane hit our tower. It was just mind-blowing.

The building shook so hard tiles started to crack, and that was the moment of pure panic, when hundreds of people started running as fast as they could. What will always stick with me from that day is how everyone helped one another and acted selflessly. This giant group of people struck by fear and confusion rose to the challenge and were unwavering in their support of one another. No one was trampled; no one was left behind.

At that point we saw firefighters coming in and I’m doubtful they survived because I believe they were among the first ones in. They are true heroes. They knew more than we did yet they ran inside with steadfast commitment.

I finally got out of the building, but I couldn’t wrap my head in any way, shape or form around what was going on. I started the four-mile walk back to my hotel, and I was a few blocks away when the towers came down. I couldn’t see the towers but I heard a rumble that didn’t end—it just got louder and louder. When I finally got a view in that direction, all I could see was a 50-story black cloud. Fortunately, I was far enough away at that point that I didn’t get hit by any of the debris.

I started to get small tidbits. A taxi driver who was listening to the radio said it was a terrorist attack. I talked with my husband who was my boyfriend at the time and he told me, ‘They have hit the Pentagon.’ I stayed in New York for several days before getting the first direct flight from Boston back to the Bay Area.

For me, it was a life-changing experience. I have to live with purpose because there is this feeling that I got another shot.

Diary of a Dog: Stella

Can you imagine a more lovable face? Clearly, Maddie couldn’t. My distinctive looks immediately identify me as a purebred English bulldog, although I’m particularly proud of my spotted ears and beautiful brindle and white coat. After fostering seven other dogs from Humane Society of Silicon Valley, Maddie knew she was a goner the minute she met me. An aspiring vet, she describes me as her “first foster fail,” which I think is a good thing, as it means I now make my home in Palo Alto with Patrick and Carrie, along with their kids, foster-pro Maddie, Nick and Will, and two dog buddies, Penny and Sawyer. I admit I’m a bit of a prankster. I like to steal dish towels from the kitchen and hide my bowl in the backyard. I also like to race up and down the hall and chase my four-legged friends. But at the end of the day, I’m happiest getting a belly rub, sunbathing in the backyard or snoozing on the couch. I’m told I’m a bit of a snorer but I assume that’s just another charming trait. We recently had an extra bit of excitement. Nick goes to school at the University of Georgia, and Will won a contest to be a virtual fan for the University of Georgia and Alabama football game. I dressed up in my red jersey, and we got lots of airtime on ESPN’s Game Day. I know it was because the Georgia Bulldogs recognized a kindred spirit. Go Dawgs!   

Adulting Take Two

Julie Lythcott-Haims lives for the after-dinner-drinks discussion. The discussion that arises after the formalities are observed, after the small talk is exchanged, after one’s guard is lowered. These intellectual and emotional explorations naturally arise around the firepit in the backyard of Julie’s Palo Alto home. She likes to ask people who they are becoming—not in relation to a title or income—but what they are working on within themselves. As the firewood fuels the nighttime flame, the burning embers fuel introspection. Julie believes that beneath people’s performative façades, all individuals are a work in progress.

“We have had some of the most profound conversations around that firepit,” she fondly recollects. “That kind of interaction is the juiciest, most delicious form of human interaction I know.”

Julie—author of the 21st-century parenting manifesto and New York Times bestseller How to Raise an Adult and her award-winning memoir Real American—hopes that the honesty she unveils in her April 2021 release, Your Turn: How to Be an Adult, will inspire younger readers to dig deep in seeking their own personal and professional happiness. “Your Turn needed me to be vulnerable about things that I’ve done or things that I had happen to me,” she says. “There is a strength embedded in the tougher life experiences.”

Functioning as a sequel to How to Raise an Adult, Julie writes as a peer to the helicopter-parented Millennials and Gen Zers, who inspired her initial book. Written with a self-help structure, Your Turn is as much a cultural commentary on the modern American adult as it is a guide for navigating life’s inevitable hurdles. By recounting her own struggles, plus sharing profiles of acquaintances, Julie addresses a plethora of “adulting” challenges: career angst, personal identity issues, financial security, and more.

“In some ways it’s me trying to be a dean on paper,” Julie says, alluding to her 14 years working as a Stanford undergraduate administrator and advisor. “I want readers to feel like: ‘She gets me. She is thinking about me. She cares about me.’”

At Stanford, Julie observed the effects of what she calls overparenting: students with elite intellectual abilities psychologically crumbling under the weight of adulthood. She saw a revolving door of students visiting her office with confidence-crushing crises over issues that would have been viewed as minor setbacks to previous generations of students.

Based on the students she mentored and by analyzing her own overparenting tendencies, Julie realized that childhood had become too precious and curated: “A lot of activities, a lot of homework—but not a lot of watching adults do the work of living.” Your Turn is Julie’s attempt to remedy that, or as she puts it, “You grew up without having to deal with this stuff—here’s how I have dealt with it and here’s how others I know have dealt with it.”

Julie certainly encountered challenges in her own childhood. She is biracial and grew up with upper-middle class status—an uncommon mixture for the 1970s and ’80s. Her family constantly moved towns based on her prominent father’s medical appointments, including positions with the Carter administration. 

Because of these complicating factors, Julie’s sense of belonging eluded her. But she’s grateful to her supportive parents for giving her the leeway to wrestle with tribulations. Instead of coddling her, they also assigned Julie regular chores. By the time she reached adulthood, Julie felt adequately prepared for life’s numerous curveballs.

“I mean, there were plenty of things that I didn’t know how to do,” Julie says of her first few years out of the parental nest. “But my mindset was, ‘Oh s**t! I’ve got to figure this out…This is on me.’”

In chapter five of Your Turn, Julie describes a critical turning point in her own journey. About a year after moving out to Menlo Park from Massachusetts, she faced a personal existential crisis. Here she was, a 29-year-old Harvard Law School graduate. She worked at a prestigious Silicon Valley law firm. She received a generous salary. She was happily married to her husband, Dan. They were renting a house for the first time. Any outside observer would say, “She’s done everything right.”

Courtesy of Henry Holt & Co.

But inside, Julie felt deeply dissatisfied with her occupation and the lifestyle choices it forced her to make. Her suppressed feelings finally crescendoed one day as she broke down crying on her backdoor stoop. By society’s standards, Julie was a successful corporate litigator, yet this career choice clashed with her personal passions. 

As a child, Julie says she always wanted to help people feel belonging because she knew what it was like to feel lonely, to not “fit into a box.” The emotional epiphany on her stoop galvanized her to return to that mission. Her risky professional pivot paid off when she discovered a meaningful calling in university administration—helping students feel genuinely connected to campus.

“Humans need to feel a sense of belonging somewhere in order to be OK,” Julie asserts. “I am interested in being one of those humans who help others feel that sense of belonging, whether it’s to a university, to our community, to our planet or to this life.”

She recognizes that emerging adults today live under different circumstances than she did, and she made a conscious effort in Your Turn to wrestle with the challenges that 18- to 35-year-olds care about. For example, she devotes an entire chapter to mental health and wellness—confronting it rather than burying the discussion in a footnote. She also views Your Turn as an example of how to compose nonfiction in an anti-racist and inclusive manner.

“I do try to be deeply observant of what is happening in our culture, in our community, in our politics,” she says. “The topics I chose to cover are not the topics somebody might have covered 20 years ago had they written this same book.

Courtesy of Henry Holt & Co.

Julie is proud of her editorial evolution. Though she had the drive to write her first book, Julie admits that she had no confidence in her writing initially. She went back to school at California College of the Arts in San Francisco, completing an MFA in writing to craft her author-voice, which also forged her sense of belonging in the writing community.

“I think as writers, every piece of writing is evidence of our best in that moment,” Julie postulates. “But then the minute it’s done, we have evolved further. I can look back at my second book and say, ‘Wow, I can tell stories much more effectively now than I could then.’”

Julie exemplifies the takeaway message of Your Turn: true happiness is found doing something one loves, one has a talent for and where one feels belonging. As the book details, that sentiment is far easier imagined than accomplished. 

She reiterates that she is not an expert on the topics she writes about, but does see a throughline connecting her discussions of parenting, race and modern adult life. “What these books all have in common is tremendous empathy for my fellow humans,” summarizes Julie. “Each book is just rooting for humans to make it.” 

Perfect Shot: Biking Cañada Road

Captivated by “the division between asphalt and green,” photographer Gino De Grandis patiently waited to capture this Perfect Shot on an open stretch of Cañada Road along the Crystal Springs Regional Trail. The result is a peculiar perspective evoking a Hollywood backdrop. 

Image by Gino De Grandis / luiphotography.com

The Piper of Menlo Park

Although spring doesn’t officially begin until March 20, already there are signs: new buds in bloom, longer days and the increasing appearance of a certain neighborhood bagpiper. That’s right, bagpiper. His name is Ken Sutherland and he doesn’t have a set schedule, but if the weather’s good and inspiration strikes, you might be lucky enough to catch him.

A lifelong piper—Ken likes to say he’s been “playing the bagpipes since before the first moon landing”—he’s been practicing in and around his Menlo Park home for years. The pandemic only served to ramp up his productivity, as locals who knew of his talent urged him to join the global movement of musicians sharing their passion out-of-doors. Friends and neighbors of all ages now regularly gather for his impromptu performances.

“When a musician comes out and plays for other people, it’s really appreciated and loved,” notes Ken. “It’s a reminder to the neighborhood that we’re all connected. I’m just offering up something that I hope people are going to enjoy.” In turn, Ken is grateful for the kindness of his neighbors’ emails and words of appreciation. “It’s this great combination of the neighbors enjoying it and something to look forward to,” he says. “When you do something routinely that is enjoyable, you want to keep doing it, and so I found that I was playing nearly every day.”

Courtesy of Robb Most

Ken acknowledges that it takes a certain personality and confidence to play bagpipes in public. “You probably have to be a slight bit crazy,” he admits. “I don’t know of many shy bagpipers. When you’re going to play an instrument that you can hear a mile away, you have to be comfortable with being somewhat the center of attention.”

And Ken has rightfully earned his place in the spotlight: his prowess on the pipes is no accident.

With a desire to pass on the musical tradition of his Scottish heritage, Ken’s father, Jack Sutherland, was one of three members of the City of San Francisco Caledonian Pipe Band who recognized that without an organized local effort to train young pipers and drummers, this unique cultural art could eventually die out. So, in 1967, they assembled a small group of young pipers and drummers and started recruiting students—and Ken was a natural to tap. A year later, the Band was officially incorporated as a nonprofit educational organization, the Prince Charles Junior Pipe Band, with young Ken firmly in the fold.

Courtesy of Kit Warne

Currently Ken serves as Pipe Major of the Prince Charles Pipe Band (PCPB), a San Francisco-based group but with members throughout the region. Its mission is to teach youth and promote excellence in the art of Scottish bagpiping and drumming. The band competes in the U.S., Canada and Scotland and earned World Championship titles in 2000 and 2003. The current Senior Band has been the Western United States Pipe Band Association Champion for eight of the past ten years.

Ken is also lead piping instructor for the PCPB Junior Band with 12 students ages 10 to 17 now under his tutelage on the bagpipes. A different teacher instructs the drums. Ken’s goal with teaching is to “promote excellence,” he says, “in the way you play, your musicianship and the music that you put out. It’s a very demanding instrument, it’s very hard to play. We try to promote that higher level and encourage people.” And while Ken encourages achievement to the highest level possible, he notes that, “Even if you’re not the best technical player, the band will fit you in. We’re promoting a sense of family, we’re all looking out for each other.”

Born in San Francisco and raised in Marin, Ken met his wife, Sue, in the Prince Charles Pipe Band when they were both teenagers. They’ve lived in Menlo Park for 32 years, where they raised two now-adult children, John and Kathryn. The couple was gratified to see John carry on the Scottish woodwind family tradition, and John’s six-year-old daughter Avery recently declared that she wants to learn the pipes too. 

Courtesy of Daryl Shoptaugh

Even with his long history on the instrument, Ken put his playing on hold for 15 years due to work and family commitments. He picked it up again in 1998 and started competing, crediting his wife for lighting the fire. She challenged Ken and John to get practicing and enter a competition, with the first to win named family champion. They both took up the gauntlet, and Ken won on a technicality by one day. Today, the thrill of competing keeps Ken going, which requires practice and discipline.

“I’ve always told people that in order to get into bagpipe shape, you just have to play the bagpipes,” he says. “When you get to be my age as a musician, you’ve got to keep it up or else you’ll lose it because physically the pipes are so demanding.” Ken explains that the handheld instrument weighs about ten pounds and the reeds require a considerable amount of pressure. “I know people who are incredibly fit, aerobic workouts and all that sort of stuff, who would not be able to play,” he asserts. “They’d get winded.” 

Courtesy of John Sutherland

Ken says the popularity of playing bagpipes for ceremonial purposes arose from the influx of Scottish and Irish immigrants to the U.S., many of whom became police officers and firefighters and brought the piping tradition with them to their jobs. The bagpipes we typically see in ceremonies and events are of Scottish origin, even the ones played in St. Patrick’s Day parades. The national pipe of Ireland, the uilleann pipe, requires the player to be seated, so it’s believed that the portability of the Scottish pipes literally carried the day as the more commonly-used instrument.

You don’t have to be Celtic (or even Ken’s neighbor) to appreciate Scottish culture. In the Bay Area, the city of Pleasanton annually plays host to the Caledonian Club of San Francisco Gathering and Games, one of the biggest competitions in North America. In a typical year, tens of thousands of people gather on Labor Day Weekend for the big event. 

According to Ken, competitions keep both the culture alive and the bagpipers in line. “If three pipers get together,” he quips, “two will compete, one will judge and then there will likely be a fight over the outcome.” As for Ken, you’ll know when he’s playing—even from a mile away—whether he’s performing with the Prince Charles Pipe Band or in the Felton Gables neighborhood of Menlo Park.

Map to Treasure Island

Treasure Island, sequestered between San Francisco and Oakland with gorgeous views to accompany urban exploration, is too often forsaken. Much like a fly-over state, it’s reduced to drive-over status, most commonly visited by way of a quick turnaround for drivers who miss their exit.

Such a reputation is not lost on its inhabitants and business owners. “Everybody is like, Treasure Island—what’s out there?” says Linda Edson, owner of the popular Aracely Cafe located at the heart of the island. “Most people, like 95 percent of the time, say that they’re long-time San Francisco people but have never actually visited,” Linda notes. “They’re always interested and ask, ‘How did you end up here?’”

The current ambiance on the island, along with its conjoined counterpart Yerba Buena Island, is one of transition. There’s a curious duality observed while exploring the nearly single square mile encompassing both islands. They’re neatly cradled between the past and future to create a present in limbo; historic buildings shine with marvelous mid-century architecture while construction sites dot across both islands to indicate inbounding life and changes to come.

Only a short trek from the Peninsula, Treasure Island proves its mettle as a day-trip destination with tasty menus, sights to see and a rich history that lures you from one site to the next like an invisible tour guide.  

Courtesy of the Treasure Island Museum

 Drop Your Anchor 

Driving onto Treasure Island is a convenient approach with abundant parking located throughout. Since the island is small in size, it’s easy to find a spot to ditch the car to explore on foot.

However, for those who seek an extra thrill, the most thorough way to explore the island is on two wheels. Biking requires traversing the eastern span of the Bay Bridge and although you’re sometimes exposed to blustery winds and nearby traffic, the rewarding vistas merit the effort. There’s a free parking lot in Oakland’s Judge John Sutter Regional Shoreline park, an easy hopping-on point to the secure bike and pedestrian path.

 It’s a little over a two-mile pedal to get from the shores of Oakland to Yerba Buena Island and upon reaching the island, you’re met with a vista point next to Naval Quarters 9 that has historical panels introducing you to the island and the bridge’s history.

 It was originally “Emperor” Joshua Norton, a noted character of 19th-century San Franciscan culture, who first had the vision to connect a bridge between Oakland and San Francisco by way of Yerba Buena Island. His vision became a reality in 1936 with the completion of the Bay Bridge and although the western span of the bridge is named in honor of former mayor Willie Brown, credit should equally go to the eccentric Emperor.

 Yerba Buena Island offers easy 360-degree views of the Bay but it’s a short tour. The landmarks are few outside of the historic Yerba Buena Lighthouse and the Port of Trade Winds Beach looking out to Clipper Cove, where boat docks separate the two islands. After playing looky-loo on Yerba Buena Island, you’re ready to dip down to sea level to the pancake-flat Treasure Island.

 The main road that carries you on is appropriately named Avenue of the Palms after the perfectly manicured and tall Arecaceae that line the bayside stretch. The entire island is outlined by a pathway to encourage a stroll with picturesque views of downtown San Francisco, Marin County and the East Bay.

A Past with No Pirates

Don’t skip the Treasure Island Museum with its rotating exhibits and artifacts to honor the island’s past, which is culturally romantic while also militarily industrial.

 The artificial island was federally funded—apparently President Franklin Roosevelt was a proponent of the idea—and built between 1936-37 by the Army Corps of Engineers. One early idea for the island was to host a large airport.

 The Museum mentions that the island’s opulent namesake is thought to be attributed to the gold in the soil used for dredging to create the island. However, others insist that it gets its name from the novel Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, who lived in San Francisco in the late 19th century.

 Treasure Island hosted the 1939-40 Golden Gate International Exposition, a marvelous fair to showcase the city’s two new bridges, the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay Bridge. But the Navy quickly overtook ownership and converted it into the Treasure Island Naval Base. It was from here that many navy sailors destined for the Pacific departed and it was also a major communications center.

Congress awarded the publicly-held island to the city of San Francisco in 2008 for no fee and the island continues to adapt as it draws tourists (and locals alike) to its singular shores.

 Grub from the Galleys

There are a couple of options for dining including the bayside Mersea Restaurant that offers fish chowder, pizzas and a brioche-bun burger along with stunning views of the city. Near the center of Treasure Island is another culinary treat called the Aracely Cafe.  

Chef and owner Linda Edson was born in Argentina to an American dad and a French mom and cut her teeth at hot spots such as The French Laundry and Gary Danko’s. The menu at Aracely Cafe changes seasonally to allow Linda and Chef de Cuisine Ramon Villarreal to play around with flavors. For instance, the tri-tip sandwich has chimichurri, shishito peppers and Point Reyes bleu cheese. However, one item that never leaves the menu (due to demand) is the croissant French toast with dulce de leche cream cheese.

“Because I’ve traveled a lot, I get excited about all cuisine and like to make a mish-mash of everything,” Linda explains. “We try to introduce something that people normally wouldn’t have.”

Courtesy of Paco + Betty Photography

On the other side of the island is the Woods Island Club from Woods Brewery. In prior years, this craft brew factory was a haven for outdoor games and relaxation with a side of views but the team is currently evaluating its future plans on the island. In the meantime, the brewing and winemaking continues on Treasure Island and Woods beers are available at Aracely Cafe.

“When everybody gets here, they see how it’s so unique and undeveloped. You can see all three bridges with a lit-up skyline,” effuses Linda.” I always thought the Marina had the best views or maybe Lands’ End, but Treasure Island is on a whole other level.”

Courtesy of Woods Beer & Wine Co.

Fore! Playing Through

Shortly after midnight, lights pop on up and down the Peninsula as eager golfers arise briefly to book tee times. Golf’s recent surge in popularity here is underscored by data on the national level. According to the National Golf Foundation, play at public courses in 2020 was up almost 12% over 2019 while rounds at private clubs jumped by almost 19%.

Whatever your motivation—exercise, social outlet or even just a breath of fresh air—there are plenty of Peninsula options if golf is your game. We’ve compiled a list of public courses for golfers of various abilities along with inside tips from an (almost) bogey golfer who plays twice a week.

Note: It’s important to check course websites to confirm current policies and green fees as well as available services. And, for those newer to the game, looking at a course’s slope rating may be helpful; the higher the rating, the more difficult the course.

Courtesy of Ben Peters @TheGolfHawk

Crystal Springs Golf Course

playcrystalsprings.com
6650 Golf Course Drive, Burlingame

+ Par 72, from 5,666 to 6,550 yards

+ 4 Par 3s, 10 Par 4s, 4 Par 5s

+ USGS slope rating from 123to 131 for males; 120 to 135 for females

Crystal Springs Golf Course is the Peninsula’s oldest public course, designed by British architect Bernard Darwin in 1924. He believed that courses should have a natural design that follows the contours of the land. Most of his basic design remains, although some holes were rerouted in the almost 100 years since the course was built.

The course is not without its challenges given its up and down terrain. Less experienced golfers are advised to play from the middle or forward tees.

Know Before You Swing

+ On the front nine, your ball will roll toward the reservoir.

+ The Par 5s are medium length. If you can control the ball, you can get a decent score.

+ Lots of up and down; many golfers use a cart but it’s walkable if you’re eager for a workout.

Courtesy of Dave Sansom Photography – Baylands Golf Links

Baylands Golf Links

baylandsgolflinks.com
1875 Embarcadero Road, Palo Alto

+ Par 72, from 4,821 to 6,680 yards

+ 5 Par 3s, 8 Par 4s and 5 Par 5s—four sets of tees

+ USGA slope rating from 107 to 125 for males; 111 to 128 for females

Originally opened in the mid-1950s as the Palo Alto Municipal Golf Course, Baylands was re-designed by Forrest Richardson and re-opened in May 2018, as a links-style course with lots of undulation and very few trees. Nestled between San Francisco Bay and San Francisquito Creek, it’s a nice course to walk. The practice facilities are very comprehensive, including a driving range and large putting and chipping areas. The wide fairways are such that if you stay on the fairway, your ball should be in good position for your next shot. The greens are in great shape but finding a flat one is a challenge. 

Know Before You Swing

+ Some of the Par 3s are challenging, one with a pot bunker and others with sand traps in front of the green. 

+ Hole #3 (par 5) and Hole #15 (par 3) share a monstrous green.

+ Hole #14 alternates between a green on the right and a green on the left on different days.

Golf Club at Moffett Field

moffettgolf.com
934 Macon Road, Mountain View

+ Par 72, from 5,386 to 6,572 yards

+ 4 Par 3s, 10 Par 4s and 4 Par 5s—four sets of tees

+ USGS slope rating from 112 to 122 for males; 118 to 130 for females

Many who play the Golf Club at Moffett Field believe it’s one of the Peninsula’s best-kept secrets, given its location on NASA’s Moffett Field, leased by Google since 2014. 

Named the “Hill Course” in honor of Captain Arthur S. Hill, the commanding officer at Moffett when the facility opened in 1959, the original course was, in fact, very flat. It began as a 9-hole venue before expanding to 18-holes ten years later. In 2007, improvements were made to re-contour the terrain, restore bunkers and modify greens.

Another nice walking course, the fairways are relatively wide and the greens are in good shape. The half-dozen or so doglegs are part of its challenge, along with some Par 5s that are 500 yards. 

Know Before You Swing

+ Some of the Par 4s are as long as Par 5s on other courses.

+ Sand traps are well maintained; when you’re hitting your ball, you are not hitting out of dirt.

+ If you play in the afternoon, expect wind coming off the Bay.

Deep Cliff 

playdeepcliff.com
10700 Club House Lane, Cupertino

+ Par 60, 3,358 yards

+ 6 Par 4s and 12 Par 3s—three sets of tees

+ USGS slope rating from 93 to 94 for males; 89 to 92 for females 

Designed by Clark Glasson and built in 1961, Deep Cliff meanders on either side of Stevens Creek in Cupertino. A short course, it’s recommended by many course reviewers as a good starting point for beginners—and for those wanting to get in a quick round. Relatively flat, it’s a good course to walk, even on warm days. Fairways are narrow, and the trees get in your way if you don’t hit the ball straight. Greens are in good shape; they’re big and relatively firm. 

Know Before You Swing

+ Between hole #1 and hole #9 is a big lake with hundreds of golf balls courtesy of people who didn’t hit the ball straight.

+ Holes #11 and #15 have hard doglegs. 

+ Hole #7 is almost blind with the creek on the right and homes on the left; it’s easy to land in the backyard of one of them.

Courtesy of Half Moon Bay Links

Half Moon Bay Old Course

halfmoonbaygolf.com/the-old-course
2 Miramontes Point Road, Half Moon Bay

+ Par 72, from 5,319 to 7,001 yards

+ 4 Par 3s, 10 Par 4s and 4 Par 5s—five sets of tees

+ USGA slope rating from 109 to 135 for males; 123 to 137 for females

While the Ocean Course at the Half Moon Bay Golf Course gets all the hype—and it is stunningly gorgeous—the Old Course, designed in 1973 by Arnold Palmer and his assistant, Francis Duane, is considered the more challenging. Well before the Ritz Carlton Hotel was built between the two courses, the Old Course meandered through the Ocean Colony residential development. With houses hugging the course on both sides, it’s easy for an errant shot to land in someone’s backyard. The course includes several challenging doglegs, multiple water hazards and tree-lined fairways. The reward comes when reaching the 17th hole with its ocean view and culminates at the 405-yard Par 4 18th hole that’s on a bluff overlooking the Pacfic—considered one of the best holes in golf.

Know Before You Swing

+ This course requires your attention; not a course to be played hurriedly.

+ Approach your tee shot on the doglegs with caution as the pin location can be problematic.

+ The 18th is completely as advertised—it just takes your breath away.

private courses
(If You Can Swing an Invitation) 

Burlingame Country Club 

Opened in 1893, the 18-hole Burlingame Country Club in Hillsborough was the first country club in California, pre-dating the town of Burlingame. Designed by Robert Trent Jones, Sr., the course measures 6,289 yards from the longest tees; the greens are rye grass. Fun fact: In its early days, polo matches were played on private fields owned by members and fox hunts were regular weekend events.

Menlo Country Club

While the club was established in 1904, the first 9-hole golf course opened in 1912. Robert Trent Jones, Sr. carried out a renovation in the 1960s, with another renovation designed by Kyle Phillips occurring in 2014, increasing the par to 71 and the yardage to 6,800. Fun fact: The front nine runs around the perimeter of the property while the back nine runs in a variety of directions inside the front.

Stanford Golf Course

Opened in 1930, Stanford is one of about 30 college courses in the country. Pros Tom Watson and Tiger Woods both played on the Stanford golf team. A par 71, the course plays longer than its 6,778 yards. Fun fact: From the first hole, you tee off over Junipero Serra Boulevard to the fairway below, and from the 18th, you can see San Francisco on a clear day.

Los Altos Golf & Country Club

Tom Nicolls was the club’s first golf pro and chief architect of the course, which opened in 1925. The 18-hole, par 71, 6,534-yard course underwent a complete renovation in 2004, improving drainage with the addition of rye grass fairways and bent grass greens. Fun fact: During the ‘60s, club president Dr. Lee Shahinian planted 1,000 redwoods by hand, bordering the 9th and 18th holes, and added 500 other varieties across the course.

The Elm Tree

The towering elm is on the right side of the lawn near the street at my childhood home in Amarillo; it is, if you will, perfectly positioned to take on the role of first base. Its bark is etched with deep grooves and winding, circuitous paths. The mature tree’s solid trunk supports a large canopy of branches and leaves that blow and sway with the strong Amarillo winds.

The elm trees were planted about every 50 feet on the street lines when Charles Wolflin first thought to develop the area. He started with a flat, barren, dusty prairie, and saw that trees would block the Panhandle wind, provide shade on hot summer days and create a park-like atmosphere. He was smart, thinking that trees define a neighborhood, so before he even thought about building any homes, he planted thousands of Siberian elms. More than 80 years later, aside the stately Southern homes and the brick streets, those trees have honorably done their job.

When I last visited my home, which had been inhabited for almost 70 years by Citrons, but now is being enjoyed by a young family with several children, I noticed that they had done work to the home and landscaping. What had not changed was that towering elm, just as majestic and stately as ever. It got me to thinking about the role that tree had in my life.

Growing up in Amarillo meant that you didn’t spend much time inside your home. We were lucky to have a neighborhood full of kids, enough so that year-round we were outside playing football to basketball to anything that we invented ourselves. In a matter of minutes, we could assemble six or more kids, all ready for action.

When I was quite small, we played the forever popular Hide-and-Seek, and the elm was the perfect spot to hide since you could dart out from either direction if the seeker got too close. In the evenings we played Kick the Can, and the elm again served an outsize role in our efforts to, well, kick the can before being tagged.

Soon, the front yard became our baseball diamond. Although not deliberately, my Mom’s landscape plan had created the perfect baseball infield, with the elm taking the role of first base and two other planted trees correctly positioned to be second and third bases. “Home” was right in front of a bed of plants that curved around nicely to complete the field.

Our stadium was perfect for all iterations of ball, depending on the season and the number of kids playing. Sometimes it was kickball; other times it was bunt ball, where you could only bunt to get on base. One rule that made so many games possible was the home rule that you only had to throw the ball—whatever kind it was—at the elm and if you hit it, the batter was out. With this rule, we could even play one-on-one baseball.

In the wintertime, when we had a good snow, we often had great snowball fights. We might build some snow forts, as we called them, but when running wildly around the yard, the elm was the perfect defensive position. You could stand behind it making a couple of tightly compressed snowballs and then jump out from behind the tree and attack your opponent.

In the summertime, the cicadas screeched from early evening until nightfall, and we would find their empty shells all over the trunk. Sitting beneath the elm—with its graceful cover shading us from the hot Amarillo sun—was the perfect place to have private conversations. Sometimes it would be me and my brother Dan—our German Shepard, Tamby, panting on the grass next to us—talking about baseball or the vagaries of life. Our heart-to-heart talks under that tree, our backs leaning up against it just so, helped create the wonderful relationship that we share today, still having long talks about baseball and life’s challenges.

I was also known to have some sweet girl sitting with me beneath that tree, chatting about our teachers and our friends and the other nonsense of teenagers. With the sun slowly going down and the wind abating, it was a bit of magic to be there with a pretty companion who had my heart all aflutter, our backs pressed up against the solid tree. 

But it was also under that canopy of our elm on one frightful day that my girlfriend Armanda and I came riding our bikes back from Tom Maynard’s home and saw two girls standing beneath it in the shade, crying. When we asked, they told us the tragic news that my buddy and next-door neighbor David Ramsay, part of our neighborhood sports gang, had been struck and killed by a car. I can still view that scene under the tree with great clarity.

When I return to my hometown now, I park my car and walk the brick streets of the beautiful neighborhood that defined my childhood. And there in my old front lawn, just as strong and graceful as ever, stands my elm tree, as though patiently waiting for my return to remind me of the times we shared together, having given so much and never asking anything in return.

Historic Places Turned Public Spaces

What’s the oldest object in the room? While certain treasures can remain in a family for generations, sometimes it’s the room itself that’s everlasting.

 Like sparkling gems scattered across the Peninsula, captured in timeless grandiosity, historic estates hold court as preserved pillars of local culture. In sharp contrast with the modern and often mundane, they inspire us to marvel at their marble façades and elegant entryways.

 These estates were products of a post-Gold Rush era when industrial titans of the day, with surnames like Stanford, Ralston and Crocker, cemented their legacies in country homes—often one-upping each other in size and grandeur.  

Vestiges of a bygone era, some have been lost but others endure thanks to a newfound life and purpose. Presented here is a collection of the grand estates that have been reborn as schools, universities, clubs and gardens. Formerly exclusive enclaves, they invite us inside to celebrate their fascinating history and ageless beauty. 

Douglass Mansion/Menlo School

Menlo Park
words by Lexi Friesel

Courtesy of Menlo Park Historical Association

It’ll take more power than the shake of an earthquake to bring down the Douglass Mansion. Located on Valparaiso Avenue in Menlo Park, the grand white building is now part of the Menlo School campus, but it was originally the home of heiress Mary O’Brien Payne and her family. After the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, the Payne family hired renowned architect William Curlett to build a house on their property.

Construction of the home ended in 1914 and the finished product was a three-story concrete mansion with over 50 interior rooms, each filled with elaborate artwork and designs. 

Fourteen years after the untimely death of her husband, Mary Payne sold the mansion and land to inventor Leon Douglass for $600,000, earning the estate its namesake. 

Courtesy of Robb Most

In 1935, Douglass lost two of his daughters and subsequently moved to a more modest building on the property. Before the mansion was sold to Menlo School in 1945, the building served as a home for recovering patients from a nearby hospital during World War II. 

When the Menlo School first took custody of the building, its use shifted drastically to benefit the school. “[Douglass] was the center of campus,” says Judge Len Edwards, Class of 1959. “It contained the administrators, dances, kids living there and a locker room in the basement.”

In 1989, the mansion was severely damaged during the Loma Prieta earthquake and the school board planned to demolish the structure. However, after much resistance from the community, they instead built a new wing that stabilized the building and contains the library now called the Stent Family Hall.

Uplands Mansion/Crystal Springs Uplands School

Hillsborough

Courtesy of San Mateo County Historical Association Collection (72-575A.10)

The Uplands Mansion, a prime example of the Beaux-Arts Classical style, is a symmetrical work of art. Its five-part composition emphasizes the central mass of the building that’s adorned in double columns, archways and linteled openings. It’s no wonder that the estate owes its origins to one of the “Big Four” builders of the Central Pacific Railroad.

 In 1911, Charles Templeton Crocker (a scion of the Crocker railroad fortune) began construction—as a wedding present for his bride—decorating the mansion with materials sourced from around the world. The Carrara marble fireplaces are hand-carved while all the marble mantelpieces came from a Spanish castle from the 16th century.

The Italian Renaissance is reflected in the rose and Pomona green coloring on the wall coverings, remaining visible to this day, while a 16th-century, hand-carved ceiling embellishes the ballroom.

Courtesy of Robb Most

The estate’s 39 rooms, 12 bedrooms and 12 baths hosted countless soirees during the first half of the 20th century before the Crocker family sold it in 1942. It changed hands (including having Soviet Ambassador Andrei Gromyko as its occupant) before the trustees of the Crystal Springs School for Girls acquired the property and buildings in 1956.

Today, the mansion on a hill and ten surrounding acres serves as the focal point for a campus community of 350 students in grades six through twelve, producing an alumni of chess grandmasters and Rubik’s Cube aficionados.

What was once a gothic smoking room is now the head of school’s office while the ballroom, formerly an epicenter of song and dance, is currently used for quiet study.

W. H. Crocker Skyfarm Mansion/Nueva School

Hillsborough

Courtesy of San Mateo County Historical Association Collection (1614.5)

The Crocker family’s Skyfarm Mansion is currently the center of Nueva School but the elegant manor changed hands several times before becoming the innovative education hub it is today.

 In 1896, W. H. Crocker commissioned the creation of the Skyfarm Mansion as a wedding gift for his sister-in-law and her husband, calling it the Poniatowski House. The wood-frame building burned in 1928 while the family traveled in Europe. Crocker’s son William opted to design a new, fire-proof dwelling that used insulated steel to prevent another tragedy.

Courtesy of Robb Most

Resurrected in 1931, the current Skyfarm Mansion is an Italian-inspired marvel designed by San Francisco architect Arthur Brown, Jr. The star architect is noted for numerous Bay Area landmarks including San Francisco City Hall, Folger Estate in Woodside and the Hoover Tower at Stanford. (Coincidentally, he shares a name with a fellow prominent architect of the area, Arthur Page Brown.) The architecture celebrates the Georgian Revival Neo-Colonial style with a symmetrical façade, a hipped roof and rectangular windows featuring double-hung sashes.

 The house was donated for use as the Nueva School, a pre-K through grade 12 private institution founded in 1967 by Karen Stone McCown. The Skyfarm Mansion, considered a central part of the Nueva experience, is the school’s historic heart.

 It houses the pre-K through grade four classes, including a ballroom, kitchen and some administrative offices. Many concerts and other special events take place in the ballroom. The grounds around the mansion provide for a vegetable garden and fort building—exhibiting how some 125 years later, construction has never quite ceased on the premises.

Ralston House/Notre Dame de Namur University

Belmont

Courtesy of San Mateo County Historical Association Collection (597C.16)

William C. Ralston had a banner year in 1864. 

That’s when he founded Bank of California and purchased a home in Belmont from a man a named Count Leonetto Cipriani. Ralston made his fortune in the development of the Comstock Lode (the first major discovery of silver ore in the United States), and he admired the Peninsula’s tranquil setting. 

He quickly set out to create his own magnificent estate in Belmont and rise in the echelon of San Francisco’s high society.

It is believed that he commissioned the architect John Painter Gaynor, who later collaborated with Ralston on the Palace Hotel in San Francisco (several of the design elements of Ralston Hall Mansion were replicated in the design of the Palace). 

Courtesy of Notre Dame De Namur University

Ralston expanded the house monumentally, adding 50 bedrooms and installing parquet floors of walnut, maple and mahogany. Perhaps inspired by his luck in the Nevada mines, he chose silver-plated doorknobs for the entire house. 

The sprawling mansion featured a grand banquet hall, a Turkish bath and a ballroom with plate glass mirrors to emulate the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles.

Ralston drowned in 1875 and William Sharon took over his property and lived on the estate. The mansion then became a seminary for women and a mental hospital before becoming part of the Notre Dame de Namur University in 1922. The university was founded by two nuns who came from Namur, Belgium, to start schools on the West Coast.

For 92 years, the building housed administrative and faculty offices and served as a venue for a variety of university events. However, in 2012, due to safety concerns about the building’s ability to withstand another major earthquake, Ralston Hall Mansion was closed. Although a Save Ralston Hall campaign was launched, the seismic retrofitting and renovation project is currently on an “indefinite” hold.

Gamble Estate/Elizabeth F. Gamble Garden

Palo Alto
words by Gamble Garden

Courtesy of Gamble Gardens

Palo Alto was a little town of 3,000 when the Gamble family first arrived. The main house was built in 1902 and was originally home to Edwin Gamble, the son of the co-founder of consumer goods giant Procter & Gamble. The three-story house and carriage house were created by C. A. Bates, a San Jose contractor. Since the property was then outside the city limits, a special arrangement was made to have electricity extended to the premises.

Courtesy of Sinead Chang

 In 1908, Walter A. Hoff designed the formal gardens. Over the years, more small buildings were added to the property and the house was enlarged. Elizabeth Frances Gamble, one of Edwin Gamble’s four children, returned home after college and discovered her passion for gardening. Upon her death in 1981, at age 92, Gamble left her house and garden to the City of Palo Alto. Since becoming a public property in 1985, the gardens have been completely restored, with paths, irrigation and lighting added. Along with structural repairs to the older buildings, newer additions include a gazebo, tool house and horticulture office.

 Today, over 300 volunteers continue to care for the estate. Open daily during sunlight hours, visiting is free. The garden is closed for upkeep on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings from 8AM to 12PM.

St. Patrick’s Seminary and University

Menlo Park

Courtesy of St. Patrick’s Seminary & University

Although never a private estate, the St. Patrick’s Seminary and University deserves inclusion for being an architectural triumph reflective of the era. In September 1898, five Sulpician priests and 34 aspiring priests gathered in Menlo Park to establish a school with the intent to “create courageous men of reflection and action who live joyous lives as priests.” Those 39 forefathers inaugurated St. Patrick’s Seminary, a preeminent seminary on the West Coast and the only institution of its kind west of the Rocky Mountains at the time.

The second archbishop of San Franciso, Archbishop Patrick William Riordan, established the seminary and named it in honor of Saint Patrick of Armagh, the Apostle of Ireland. The name was a token of gratitude for the Irish laypersons and clergy who helped to fund and support the seminary. Although not Catholic, Jane Stanford was a benefactor and built a pipeline to carry water from Stanford across Palo Alto and San Francisquito Creek to the seminary.

Courtesy of Archives of the Archdiocese of San Francisco (AASF)

Architect Charles Devlin, known for erecting several San Francisco churches, was reportedly asked to create buildings that “expressed solidarity, continuity with Europe, geniality and upward mobility.” When the seminary opened, the layout included a red brick building of French Second Empire style with Romanesque detail that featured a west wing, administration wing, dining hall, kitchen and power house. 

However, the 1906 earthquake leveled the Romanesque arcade. Under Devlin’s supervision, the building was reimagined with a third story added plus a mansard roof. The seminary now stands as a hybrid of styles, joining Romanesque and Second Empire architecture in a timeless and everlasting union. In its historic setting, more than 120 years after its founding, St. Patrick’s continues its charter to prepare men to become Roman Catholic priests. 

Crocker Estate/Burlingame Country Club

Burlingame

Courtesy of San Mateo County Historical Association Collection (73-381.3)

The town of Hillsborough can essentially credit its incorporation to a country club. Several affluent early-day landowners established the still-active Burlingame Country Club in 1893 to attract real estate sales in the area that in turn, produced a population worthy of its own town.

The Club swiftly brought development of more estates and lavish country homes to the area. William Crocker commissioned a Second Renaissance Revival house he called “The Oaks” in 1895. This is just one of several homes that eventually were tucked into the Burlingame Country Club as clubhouses.

Courtesy of Robb Most

The architect behind one of the other clubhouses and bungalows was Arthur Page Brown, a renowned architect of the late 19th century who designed the Ferry Building in San Francisco and is credited with introducing the Mission Revival style to Santa Barbara. Brown died in 1896 due to injuries suffered in a runaway horse and buggy accident in Burlingame.

William H. Howard, a prominent landowner of modern-day Hillsborough and Burlingame, began selling off property in the 1890s. He sold his Uplands estate to Charles Frederick Crocker and then, in 1896, created Burlingame’s first subdivision. However, these lots failed to sell fast enough to prevent a foreclosure action with the Hibernia Bank, which was owned and operated by the Tobins, who were coincidentally fellow Burlingame Country Club members. Apparently, some disputes could not be settled on the golf course.

Alpacas by the Sea

Hailing respectively from North Carolina and Washington State, Ken and Victoria first crossed paths working at Acuson in Mountain View—Ken in sales and Victoria on the clinical side. “I moved to Montara because I liked to surf there,” Ken recounts, “and I just thought it was a beautiful place.” Victoria agreed, and when they married in 1991, they purchased four acres of coastside land so they could spread out a bit more: “We didn’t have any notion that we were going to be raising alpacas until the grass grew six feet, and we had to find a way to keep it down.”  

They first tried goats and then moved on to alpacas. “The goats were fun,” Ken recollects, “but once Victoria met the alpacas, she fell in love with them.” And, as the saying goes, one thing led to another. “Once we learned a little bit more about alpacas, we really got excited about them,” summarizes Ken. “We started breeding them and raising them and it took off from there—we started small, but it grew very rapidly.” 

Being early adopters of alpaca ranching led the Hibbits family into further expansion including boarding, showing, fiber processing and production. Victoria trained to become one of five people certified to screen alpacas being imported to the U.S., leading to assignments in Chile, Bolivia and Peru. Having studied alpaca phenotypes, Victoria applied her expertise to help other breeders make decisions about their herds. The pair also used insights gleaned from their research to advance practices on their own ranch—along with doing extensive consulting with folks just getting started. “The bottom line is that people just love alpacas,” Ken says. “When you have them and people see them, many times they want to own them, and so we’ve worked very hard trying to support people getting started in their own alpaca endeavors.” 

For the alpaca curious, Ken and Victoria represent a local treasure trove of helpful tips and experience. Like their larger cousins, the llamas, alpacas are in the camelid family, and their domestication began in pre-Incan societies in the Andes over 6,000 years ago. While llamas have primarily been used as beasts of burden, alpacas have been bred for their fleece. “They are descended from the vicuna while llamas are descendants of the guanaco. Both of these camelids still exist in wild herds in South America,” relays Ken. Victoria gestures to an alpaca with a soft peach-beige wash of color in the far paddock: “Do you see her? That’s the vicuna coloring. And her fleece is the absolute softest.” 

Alpacas come in a range of 16 shades from auburn to brown to cream but beyond their coloring, they generally look the same to the casual observer. Once Ken points out the differences, they become easier to discern. “There’s the Huacaya and they look kind of cottony while Suri fleece is corded and hangs off the alpaca parallel to the body,” he clarifies. Ken further illustrates the variations by comparing strands of yarn: “See how the Suri yarns really shine? Whereas the Huacaya is softer. Huacaya fleece is used more for garments worn close to the skin and Suri is used more for coats or shawls.” The yarns made from Alpacas by the Sea fleece are labeled with the name of the alpaca, the kind of alpaca and the number of animal shearings. Alpacas are sheared once a year in the spring to allow time to grow back their coats for warmth in the winter. 

Ken and Victoria have lived with alpacas for more than a quarter-century, and it’s clear that they have successfully expanded the definition of family. “The alpacas are woven into the fabric of our lives,” reflects Ken. “Our kids have grown up literally in the paddock with the animals and they’ve seen every phase from start to finish—breeding, life and death, full circle.” Assisted by their two children, McKinley and Sunny, and some local help, the Hibbitses describe alpacas as “easy keepers,” requiring little more than fresh grass and hay. Rather than tearing up grass roots as they graze, alpacas gently clip the tops, leaving a surprisingly even surface in their wake. As Ken explains, one of the reasons for this is that alpacas don’t have top teeth, only a soft palate, which creates that adorably characteristic split when their mouths move. Noting the dirt patches in the field, Victoria points to a white alpaca folding her legs under her. The bare spots make sense as the alpaca suddenly begins to roll. “Dusting is a way to dry out their coats,” narrates Victoria. “You can see where they create bowls in the ground; it’s their way to clean their coats and dry out any moisture.” 

As far as bad habits, alpacas are often gentler than their larger llama cousins, who are habitually labeled as more likely to spit when they are irritated or displeased. The Hibbitses are quick to set the record straight. “There are many, many llamas with absolutely wonderful temperaments,” Ken says. As for alpacas, spitting is mostly a matter of establishing dominance or defending territory, and they rarely spit at people. However, Ken advises, if you do see an alpaca draw her neck back and pin her ears to her head, take a few steps back—lest you get caught in the crossfire. 

Alpacas aren’t entirely defenseless, though. When they feel threatened, they take to the highest point in the pen and sound the alarm. “It’s sort of like a donkey bray,” describes Ken. “It really sounds more like a yell or a scream,” amends Victoria. “It’s an old behavior from nights on the Altiplano. When they hear that sound, every alpaca will stop and look.”

Courtesy of Alpacas by the Sea

Ken and Victoria have also been deeply involved in events held by the Alpaca Owners Association (AOA) and Ken is a certified AOA judge. When their children were old enough, they participated in showing alpacas in obstacle courses that included walking up and down steps and ramps and around cones. “It was a joy to do as a family,” Victoria says, gazing out at a paddock holding Vega and Pandora, a couple of alpaca gals who have become best friends. Though the couple is modest about their accomplishments, their walls are lined with photos of alpacas with blue ribbons—a testament to their success.

Even as they worked full-time jobs (Victoria is now VP of federal accounts for Change Healthcare and Ken is a product sales specialist for GE Healthcare), the couple kept as many as 95 alpacas on the ranch before scaling back in recent years to a tidy herd of 16 favorites. “We had it as a business, but now we’re really in it for the enjoyment,” Victoria explains, as she walks down the fenced corridor between the carefully designed paddocks they’ve tended for decades. “When our kids got older and went to college, it was time to downsize.” 

Courtesy of Alpacas by the Sea

Even with the years of intense alpaca ranching winding down, the pair can’t imagine life without the furry friends that have been at the heart of their existence. “They really are a part of our community,” Victoria says fondly. “In the evenings, alpacas run around to get their blood up before the long, cold night. Our neighbors will come out and watch them jump around. When a baby is born, everyone wants to know if it’s a boy or a girl and that it has arrived safe and sound into the world.” 

Ken says he still gets several calls a day requesting visiting information. Alpacas by the Sea has never been open to the public, instead opting for special visitation days. “We’d like to do farm days again, maybe four or so a year, when folks can visit, as soon as it’s safe,” Ken says, as he opens the paddock gate. He mentions that their daughter, Sunny, is mostly running operations now. “She may want to breed some animals herself and take it in a new direction,” he shares, “so we’ll see where that leads us in the next generation.” In the meantime, they’ll just continue to enjoy life with these gentle creatures. “When you have a rough day at work and you come home, the alpacas are the same; they are pleasant and peaceful,” Ken says. “They give so much more than they take.”

Landmark: The J. Gilbert Smith House

Known as the Valley of Heart’s Delight, Santa Clara County was once the largest fruit-producing and -packing region in the world, home to millions of fruit trees and the world’s largest commercial orchard. Recognizing the potential of the area’s rich soil, mild winters and long, dry summers, in 1901, a Stanford student and carpenter named J. Gilbert Smith purchased five acres, later expanded to 15 acres, along the unpaved lane that became San Antonio Road. He pitched a tent, planted an apricot orchard and constructed a two-story farmhouse from redwood delivered by wagon from the Santa Cruz Mountains at $15 per 1,000 board feet. That Craftsman-style home and adjoining orchard still stand among the buildings on the site of the Los Altos Civic Center. During World War II, Los Altos Grammar School used the house and orchard for air raid drills. Migrant farm workers helped harvest the apricot crop, and local children cut them for drying. Gilbert Smith died in 1966, and after the death of his wife, Margaret, the home and surrounding 1.3 acres were donated to the City of Los Altos. When the house was turned into the Los Altos History Museum in 1977, the Historical Association furnished the inside to look like a Depression-Era home. Docent tours are currently on hold pending county restrictions, but visitors may still stroll the always-open outdoor agricultural exhibit, which includes an apricot cutting shed and an historical tank house and windmill used to pump water.

The museum is planning to debut a 3-D virtual tour of the inside of the J. Gilbert Smith House on its website at losaltoshistory.org/
smithhouse
 

The ABCs of ADUs

A couple of years later, as his company prospered, John Geary was to remember that serendipitous conversation with his father one afternoon about accessory dwelling units.

The Sacred Heart School graduate was on the phone with his dad, a real estate developer, listening to grumbles about a stalled construction project near San Juan Bautista. John perked up when he heard how the city demanded that the project include a third more of the originally planned units. His father was perplexed about how to build more structures while keeping costs low.

John thought small. 

At the time, he was a 20-something-year-old working as a consultant in Chicago, but John and his colleague and friend Eric McInerney were exploring the idea of a joint venture. Although the roommates were not initially dead-set on launching a business of their own, they had complementary skills. Having met through their first job out of college, they became fast friends, with Eric exhibiting passion for architecture and design and John keenly focused on developing and perfecting a process.

This first-hand insight about the shift in the construction narrative in California grabbed them both equally.

“That’s when we had a lightbulb moment,” John says. “Traditionally, around housing, you’ll see a city ask for fewer unit counts—not more units. We then put on our consultant hats and asked: ‘What are ADUs?’”

 The duo analyzed California regulations for installing accessory dwelling units, often condensed to ADU, which is appropriate considering that they’re abbreviated living spaces. 

California, in trying to address the need for additional housing units in towns and cities where there is a lack of buildable land, saw the prospect for adding liveable spaces to existing properties. The state leads in ADU innovation and passed new laws in 2020 that require cities and counties to develop a plan to incentivize and promote ADU creation while also streamlining the process of permitting and installation.

Installed in backyards and typically one or two bedrooms with a full bathroom and kitchen, ADUs have become a tool for cities to increase the supply of affordable housing and are also a boon for homeowners to boost the value of their properties. Nicknamed “granny” or in-law units, ADUs can also serve as guest cottages or secondary suites since they’re permanent structures providing additional living space in the backyards of existing homes.

So, tapping into this trending-hot approach for creating additional housing, John and Eric founded Abodu, pronounced abode-du, in 2018, as a company to become synonymous with ADU. 

Based in Redwood City inside an open-floor building previously stacked with home appliances, Abodu transformed the space into a showroom where two examples of their models await walkthroughs and scrutiny. The company offers three models: a studio, a one-bedroom and a two-bedroom; prices start at $189,000 and range to $259,000. The company aims to replicate the ease of buying a prefab home with a keenly facile process for permitting and installation. 

“Why not make that even easier for the homeowners? If a homeowner wants to buy an Abodu, the permit is issued in a day,” John says, citing San Jose and Palo Alto as cities that have taken the lead in streamlining ADU permitting. “And there are more cities coming down the pipeline.”

Abodu homeowners on the Peninsula reflect a range of motivations—whether it’s a couple purchasing a one-bedroom unit to allow for extra workspace and a guest bedroom or a widow in Millbrae looking to enhance the value of her property. 

Abodu arrived just as California communities were stretching to reach their Regional Housing Needs Allocation targets, the state mandate that requires towns and counties to plan for the housing needs of residents. ADUs are instrumental for meeting housing demands in part because it’s the homeowner, not a mass developer, who builds them. This localizes construction while minimizing impact on neighborhoods. John calls it “subtle density” as he disarms worries about building in an established community. “ADUs are widely accepted because they’re not blocking views or taking up five acres to build,” he reasons.  

From start to finish, a typical Abodu project takes around four months. The construction of an Abodu unit occurs offsite in a network of factories across the West. The unit arrives at the property on the back of a truck while a crane awaits for the house hoisting. The unit is placed on a foundation before Abodu sends in a contracting team to fully install, electrify and activate the home.

Gawking at a crane delicately placing a dwelling unit into a backyard has become a spectacle in some Peninsula neighborhoods. It’s not unusual for folks to step outside onto the street to gaze at the bewildering display. “It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s an ADU! Thanks Abodu for dropping San Jose’s first pre-approved ADU downtown!” wrote Mayor Sam Liccardo of San Jose in a tweet last year, accompanied by a picture of a levitating Abodu.

John describes his company as a win-win-win for homeowners, cities and his business wherein needs are met while no party is exploited. It’s a company value worth promoting since Abodu is at the vanguard of the industry. Although the company is relatively new, it’s already an elder statesman of ADUs.

“As a two-year-old company, we’re already a dinosaur in the industry and the longest one working in the area. There’s no Walmart or 500-pound gorilla in the room to look at to emulate,” John says. “One of the biggest challenges we have to define is what does a company like this categorically look like? It’s small iterations as you go.”

When touring an Abodu unit, the company’s emphasis on design and livability reveals itself. There isn’t an unused square foot in the floorplan but the livable layout is not cramped or claustrophobic. The studio unit has a hideaway bed tucked behind the couch while the two-bedroom unit has more closet space than some San Francisco apartments. The windows are cut to maximize natural light while the appliances (even down to the minute level of the cabinet pull levers) are optimized for style and function.

It’s the homey touches that distinguish Abodu from creators of prefab tiny homes or basic converted living spaces. John explains how the company creates a home for the inhabitant and not necessarily the homeowner or builder. 

 “If a homeowner isn’t installing an ADU for themselves, it can be a baseline level of nice,” John says, justifying Abodu’s ultramodern design. “There had been a disconnect between purchasing an ADU unit and living in the unit.”

John’s early roots in construction uniquely prepared him for this career. His summer job in high school, when he didn’t have two-a-day football practices, was helping on construction project sites around the Peninsula—whether it was scooping up nails or clearing out drywall.

“What I loved was seeing all of these trades on site. You’d have several homes being built at once where there were ones already framed but needed plumbing, or homes that needed the electrician to come. It was really cool to see that progression; why does it take three weeks to go from framing to plumbing?” John says. 

His observation details a shift in the narrative for building on the Peninsula that spans generations.

“What’s fascinating is that my dad would talk about a project for five years because it took that long to get fully titled,” he says. “The fact that it only takes a day to get an Abodu permit is incredible.” 

Sparkle Sister

As Los Altos-based purveyors of exquisite gold and diamond jewelry, Prerna and Pratima Sethi believe that Valentine’s Day should be every day. They say there’s no need to wait for a holiday to pull out your favorite baubles. And since jewelry is one of the most reliable and fun picker-uppers, they subscribe to the motto, “Don’t be afraid to shine!” 

Of course, if you’re craving something new, the Sethis (pronounced Say-tees) have a few sparkly suggestions perfect for February, too. They describe their Sethi Couture P.S. Collection as “a nod to those we cherish and keep close to our hearts,” featuring a series of engravable pendants and charms. And their True Romance line is influenced by period jewelry that crosses cultural boundaries. “We focused on darkened metals and a palette of diamonds in champagne, green and burnt orange to reflect the patina of time,” notes Pratima. “These romantic pieces, with scalloped borders and rose-cut center diamonds, invoke nostalgia and a feeling of an heirloom worn and passed down through generations.”

With the goal of creating fine jewelry to celebrate women, older sister Pratima founded Sethi Couture in 2009. Younger sister Prerna joined her a few years later, and today the line is carried by over 100 stores around the country including Nordstrom and Shreve & Co.  

“When Pratima first launched the jewelry line, the main thing she noticed was a void in the market for rare and unusual natural colored diamonds for every day,” explains Prerna. “Everyone knew about the big pink Jennifer Lopez diamond and others like that, but many women didn’t even know that attainable diamonds came in colors other than white.” 

When the sisters were putting a concept together for their own collection, they kept that in mind. “I actually left the corporate world of Gap Inc. and joined Pratima to see if we could launch a brand that would truly be designed for the ‘Modern Woman,’” adds Prerna.

Sure signs of their success? The 2016 grand opening of their flagship store in downtown Los Altos. And Sethi Couture pieces have also been spotted on a who’s-who celebrity list that includes Taylor Swift, Halle Berry, Gwyneth Paltrow, Reese Witherspoon, Chrissy Teigen…and yes, even JLo. 

Pratima says proudly, “I wanted to design a collection of jewelry that highlighted and told the story of vintage cuts and natural color diamonds in a way that celebrated the craftsmanship and attention to detail that defined a time gone by—a time that became a source of endless inspiration.”

The sisters have a unique approach. They aim to help women tell their own life stories through their jewelry. Whether it’s a promotion, a marriage or a new baby, the Sethis design jewelry to spark joy with memories. For example, their signature line of stackable rings called Sethi Stacks was inspired when Pratima gifted Prerna with a set to commemorate a special moment.   

“Our ring stacks are like wearable art,” describes Pratima, “and that’s kind of our philosophy, really elevating the everyday by wearing that easy, casual kind of wardrobe yet adding our beautiful stacking rings.”

To create Sethi Stacks, clients show them engagement rings, wedding rings, or any ring they have sitting around unworn, and the sisters will design complementary rings to layer around them—adding dimension and glamour to important life events. Says Prerna, “You get to look at your hands every day and appreciate all of your special moments. We are really also ring stylists in a way.” They even hold trunk shows nationwide, where women bring in their rings to mix, match and leave with a plan to create their own singular ring stack. 

Since the Sethis sell both ready-made and custom work, many of their clients are looking for investment pieces, or to update their engagement rings. During this unusual chapter in time, they’ve also had an increasing number of clients who’ve been poring over their jewelry boxes and deciding that right now is the time to finally tackle a long-desired project, whether it’s to enhance or replace items they already own.

The seeds of Pratima and Prerna’s business were planted right here in the Bay Area. Born and raised in the South Bay, they graduated high school from Castilleja in Palo Alto. Both sisters attended UC Berkeley for undergrad. After college, Pratima’s professional career began in IT consulting and later moved into retail operations and merchandising at Louis Vuitton. She also earned an MBA from USC. 

Now, they both live in Emerald Hills—Pratima with her husband and two daughters, and Prerna as a newlywed. Not surprisingly, she and her husband designed their own wedding bands. The sisters utilize their California roots when designing their pieces, infusing them with shapes and tones found in nature.

The sisters also find abundant inspiration in India, family and sometimes both: their parents moved to the Bay Area from India and established a successful business selling rare and unusual diamonds here. As a result, the Sethis’ childhood included an education in the world’s most exquisite stones, antique cuts and rare natural color diamonds. Today, India serves as inspiration and industry: they visit yearly and have most of their jewelry crafted in their grandmother’s hometown.

Travels to India and also to Europe—Pratima’s husband is from Belgium—are a constant reminder to cherish the details of daily life. Pratima adds, “The reason that came about is from witnessing it through our travels, the way our grandmother serves tea, or how my Belgian in-laws use their beautiful china for everyday lunch.” Losing themselves in strolls through European and Indian architecture, the sisters come home refreshed and energized to infuse that beauty into their work.

Their admiration for good design also extends to those who design programs for good: the Sethis routinely partner with nonprofits such as Room to Read, No Kid Hungry and Project Hope with both monetary donations as well as mentoring. 

“As women of color,” notes Prerna, “really being able to help and mentor women to achieve more of a voice and exposure, and launch careers in things other than tech, is something that’s really important to us.” 

After all, the Sethis say, at the end of the day, “Jewelry is all about human connection.” 

The Beat On Your Eats

Wine o’clock is a happy time for many these days, so here are ways to liven up the party at home. 

Calave

Palo Alto

Known as a popular local gathering place, Calave is now a to-go venue for creating that romantic date night or fun family night at home. Founded in 2015 by co-owners Dave and Lori Villarreal and James and Becky Laden, Calave offers a selection of delectable bar bites and partners with unique labels and wineries to create its always-evolving wine list. Add Calave’s famous Truffle Oil Popcorn to a movie night or plan an intimate Valentine’s Day dinner featuring a carefully selected cheese and charcuterie plate paired with a bottle of Castello Di Gabbiano 2015 Chianti Classico. For a perfect finish, try the exquisite Valrhona Chocolate Lava Cake with a glass of Familia Zuccardi 2014 Fortified Malbec. See calave.com for the full menu of offerings. 299 California Avenue. Open Wednesday & Sunday 4-9PM; Thursday through Saturday 4-10PM. 

Courtesy of Paulette Philpot

Velvet 48

Burlingame

Burlingame’s premium wine bar run by 20-year wine industry veteran, Jason Cooper, is determined to keep a steady supply of fine wines flowing to customers. While indoor and outdoor table service is on pause, Velvet 48 is making its wine list of 1,000 labels (including many unique and hard-to-find bottles) easy to access and purchase with curbside pickup and free local area delivery. Visit velvet48.com to browse the full wine list with 25% off competitive retail prices and sign up to receive weekly 40-50% off email offerings. With promotions like “Pinot Noir Superstars” and the “Ultimate Champagne Six-Pack,” you can find plenty of reasons to put up a toast. 310 Lorton Avenue. Open Monday through Saturday with same-day delivery if ordered before 1PM. 

Courtesy of Vino Santo

Vino Santo

Redwood City

Tucked within the main throughway of Redwood City, Vino Santo is European dining with an emphasis on wine. To help simplify dining and at-home dates, Vino Santo offers their signature “SIP” three-course special (available Monday to Thursday) that begins with a house Caesar salad and ends with a classic panna cotta topped in a berry sauce. The entrée is a fettuccine pasta with rock shrimp, bay scallops, basil and sun-dried tomatoes in a lobster-based cream sauce. Sommelier hand-selected wines for sale include a 2018 Testarossa California Chardonnay and a 2016 Produttori Barbaresco from Piemonte, Italy. Call 650.780.0793 to place your order. 2030 Broadway Street. Open Monday through Saturday from 4PM to 9PM.

Zareen’s Turns Up the Heat

Despite it being a chilly, wintery weekday, Zareen’s Restaurant on California Avenue in Palo Alto surges with patrons awaiting orders of Pakistani and Indian food. Some warm their hands around paper cups of hot chai as they wait outside, while those congregating inside are enveloped by the aroma of frying samosas and simmering curry sauces. 

In a setting typically packed with diners and others eagerly waiting to be seated, customers standing in line for takeout are entertained by cutouts of comics and bouncy rap music from the native cultures.

So, what accounts for this cheerful bright spot on an otherwise quiet stretch of the restaurant district? Owner Zareen Khan credits the community she’s cultivated over the years with keeping her micro-chain of restaurants humming across three Peninsula locations. 

“Palo Alto and Redwood City residents have been insanely supportive,” Zareen says. “Especially right now.” That steadfast loyalty during the last year has changed her way of thinking about customer service. “I began to tell my staff that we are not just in the business of providing food; we are in the business of making somebody’s day better.”

Zareen’s culinary journey itself sprung from the desire to enhance her family’s days while she worked in tech for long hours. Wanting to capture the feeling she had growing up in Karachi, Pakistan, where family came together every night for dinner, Zareen began to prep and freeze food items like kebabs on the weekends to make weekday meals quick and easy.
 

“When I was working, I would always look for ways to make dishes that I missed after moving from Pakistan to America,” Zareen says. “I would try to recreate those recipes and build on them.”

In 2010, Zareen left the tech industry to explore her passions for cooking and teaching. Family and friends attended her cooking demonstrations and classes where they learned about Pakistani and Indian foods. Zareen also sold her frozen home-style entrees to working families, giving them quick access to healthy meals. When a tech company began offering free food to employees, Zareen landed her first catering job for a 150-
person lunch.

As her catering business expanded, so did her need for additional kitchen space. When Zareen leased her first restaurant location in 2014 near the Mountain View Google campus, she focused only on using the space for catering. But soon, the thought of running a restaurant took hold. 

“It’s so romantic to think of your own cafe or your own restaurant,” Zareen says. “I fell for that and decided to try it out.”

As it turns out, Google’s free food didn’t keep workers from lining up to get into Zareen’s new restaurant. She credits her success to the steps she took before opening the restaurant. 

“My name was already established within the community because of all the cooking classes and frozen foods,” she says, and although Zareen had name recognition, she didn’t realize what she was getting into when she opened up her first location. “I worked insane 16-hour days for the first six months. I remember sending an SOS text to my husband saying, ‘I really need help!’ Somehow, I survived with a four-and-a-half star rating on Yelp.”

A colorful wall menu at the Palo Alto location playfully helps diners decide what to order. One suggestion reads: “Gateway curries and kabobs for beginners” while another is for those looking for a taste of home: “What makes (desi) natives restless.” 

“We have food that is a little bit fusion, and it’s a good starter,” Zareen explains. “And then we have some seriously authentic food that people from Pakistan crave and love.” She tosses out words like brain, tongue and trotters while admitting, “Sometimes people find it to be a little bit of an acquired taste. I push the boundaries a little bit but not way out.”

Three of the most popular mainstream items she serves are the sweet drink Mango Lassi, Chicken Tikka Masala curry and Sabri Nihari beef shank, each of which has been declared the best in the Bay Area by many discerning patrons. Sabri Nihari is only served on weekends when 160 pounds of beef shank is slow-cooked for hours, rendering it tender enough to fall off the bone. 

Naan is made to order and tossed into the clay oven. Sides of Chicken Memoni Samosas filled with spiced minced chicken meat are deep-fried to crispy perfection and served with salty cilantro and sweet tamarind chutneys. A cup of Masala Chai Tea or Mango Lassi is always good to have on hand as an antidote to spicy curries.

In the midst of 2020, Zareen opened her third location in Redwood City. (“I know,” she laughs. “I have guts, huh?”) Zareen’s commitment to expanding awareness of Pakistani and Indian foods caught the attention of the San Francisco Chronicle, which put her restaurants on their 2020’s Best 88 Restaurants in the Bay Area list, and she’s received an unexpected stellar Michelin Guide review. 

“I feel like if I work hard and change the perception of people about where I’m from, and who I am as an immigrant, that would go a long way,” Zareen notes. “It’s like a melting pot here, and the community is always there cheering for you.”

Making Chocolate Magic

When it comes to pure imagination, forget Willy Wonka. Step inside the world of Timothy Adams. Bold striped walls of magenta pink and bright sky blue. Polka-dotted boxes. Champagne coupe towers. Leaping rabbits. A menu of luscious sipping chocolates. And a tantalizing display case of truffles so exquisitely crafted that they overload the senses. 

“It’s an inside-out candy box fantasyland” is how co-owner Adams Holland captures that first impression. “We want childlike delight when someone walks in here—you want to be inside the box.”

For Adams and his partner, Timothy Woods, this life-sized candy box, also known as Timothy Adams Chocolates, represents a blending of their first names and shared passions for the culinary arts, fashion and design. “We are really selling happiness,” says Tim. “Everyone can get one piece of chocolate—it’s a luxury item that’s approachable for everyone.”  

Going back 30 years, this sweet journey started in Fresno, where they were both working in restaurants. Within three months of meeting, they bought a house together and by 1995, just two years later, they had designed and launched their first restaurant, Echo. “It was farm to table before farm-to-table was even a term,” says Adams. “It was really a spectacular place with Tim in charge of this beautiful, beautiful menu.” For the next 10 years, the couple kept busy with Echo and design commissions—but on a trip to Amsterdam, they began to hear the call of the cacao bean. “We went to this chocolate shop called Puccini Bomboni,” recalls Tim,” and we fell in love with the chocolates. We just ate them all day long.” 

Timothy Woods (left) and Adams Holland are the culinary masterminds behind Timothy Adams Chocolates.

Eating chocolate. Talking about chocolate. Thinking about chocolate. Learning about chocolate. Tim gleaned inside tips from Puccini Bomboni, attended the Callebaut Chocolate Academy in Chicago and took classes from Alice Medrich, the Cocolat chain founder known as the “First Lady of Chocolate.” In 2006, the pair obtained a cottage industry license and officially became chocolatiers. After moving to the Bay Area, they initially sold to farmers markets and stores like Emily Joubert’s and Neiman Marcus. In 2014, a stop to check out a chocolate shop on Bryant Street in Palo Alto instead revealed a “Closing!” sign—which led to the brick-and-mortar opening of Timothy Adams Chocolates. 

What patrons currently see in the display case is the third edition of truffles produced in the store. When Timothy Adams first launched, they started with a hand-rolled approach, followed by a molded stage, similar in shape. And then in 2015, Tim and Adams began imagining their personal chocolate holy grail—the deceptively simple-sounding “button.” 

“We both have this addiction to fashion,” confesses Tim, explaining that it’s woven into every aspect of the store—whether it’s graphics resembling clothing labels, stitching patterns on the walls or the use of buckles on boxes instead of bows. For years, the couple assembled a vintage button collection, captivated by the intricate artistry and whimsy. The potential for a creative connection crystallized, but it wasn’t until the world slowed down in 2020 that they found the time to execute on their ultimate confectionary vision.    

“I took our button collection and I hand-illustrated everything in black and white,” Adams recounts, “and we sent the designs to our graphics person with our color collection.” With final artwork in hand, they tapped a team of culinary artisans to create silkscreens with tinted cocoa butter—each color a separate screen. “It’s really an amazing process,” he marvels.

Adams and Tim dove into reselecting chocolate vendors—narrowing samples from all over the world down to their top 20. “They all have different usages and ingredients, which you have to know before you even begin with the tasting,” says Adams. Nodding, Tim chimes in: “We want to be using the best all-around everything in what we’re doing.” 

The shop (outside of seasonal surges) produces about 1,000 chocolates a day—small batches of 45 at a time. Beyond the use of a tempering machine and an electric mixer for marshmallow, every recipe is mixed by hand with a wire whisk. Whiteboards at the back of the shop outline which flavors are getting made. “After that’s decided, we have to prepare all the chocolate molds where the silkscreens are placed,” relays Adams. “It’s the warmth of the couverture chocolate going into the molds that sets the pattern to the chocolate itself.” 

Tim reviews the recipes at hand. “We have quite a few different caramels going on,” he notes, before gesturing to a glistening tray of brittle. “There’s a pistachio praline. We make our nut pralines in the old French manner—we pound them and fold them into the ganaches.” Mint is on the agenda too. “We cover fresh spearmint with cream and soak it in the refrigerator for a minimum of 24 hours,” Tim reveals. “Then we strain the mint out and use the scented cream to make the filling.” 

How does a flavor find its vintage button match? Adams shares some of the thinking behind that process: “Hazelnut Praline has the crown on it and the Coffee Cream design is a little jarring, like a good buzz from a caffeine high. Orange just reminded me of citrus, we chose a more ornate image for the Passion Fruit and the 99% Dark Chocolate seemed heavy like the weight of an anchor.” 

Stepping into the store is like entering a couture shop. “Everything is handmade and every detail is attended to,” says Adams. “Your job is to stand on the other side of the case and make a few choices.” For patrons, the selection process can be paralyzing, frequently triggering a helpful series of questions and prompts: Do you know what you like? Should I help you select them or should I select for you? Do you like nuts? Caramels? Berries? Alcohol or family-friendly? 

For Valentine’s Day only, the shop offers an extra assist: a $38 pre-boxed 12-button offering featuring Raspberry, Passion Fruit, Rose, Madagascar, Salted Caramel and Crème Fraîche. “There will be a line out the door all day long,” says Tim. “At Christmas time, they buy multiple boxes, but at Valentine’s if they are buying multiple boxes, they have issues you don’t want to hear about,” he jokes. 

With popular chocolate-making workshops currently on hold, Tim and Adams remain focused on the online and in-store shopping experience. Also on the menu: coffee, tea, a create-your-own selection of decadent sipping chocolates, along with a carefully curated menu of “bubblies.” However, they’re the first to admit “our whole heart is into the chocolates, the buttons themselves.” With the shop going on its seventh year (and 30 years into their relationship), the pair continues to embrace a common vision. “We both always look for the magic in life,” reflects Tim, “and we also want to produce the magic.”

Our Wild Side: Birds and Bees

Here on the Peninsula, natural wonders come in all shapes and forms. Whether it’s in your own backyard or the habitats around us, you’ll find countless discoveries when you get out and explore. In honor of Valentine’s Day, we offer this timely tribute to “the birds and the bees,” along with some pro tips for capturing the action. 

This is a male valley carpenter bee (Xylocopa sonorina) captured in flight in the Stanford Arizona Cactus Garden. By comparison, the female is black, so these bees exhibit an example of sexual dimorphism of color. Along with the knowledge that these bees often hover near the same area, this photo required making sure that the light was on the bee, a high shutter speed, a fair amount of patience and a lot of luck.
This striking cedar waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum) is happily situated in a Washington Hawthorn tree on the Stanford campus. The waxwings arrive in a large flock to gorge on the red berries that remain after the leaves have dropped. Given the amount of fruit that each bird consumes, it is amazing they can even fly away. Although the birds are fairly jittery, if I am still, they will eventually return, largely ignoring my presence. In my explorations, I find it helpful to think of nature as a clock. Having observed them a year earlier, I specifically went back to look for the waxwings here.
This western honey bee (Apis mellifera) is collecting pollen from the flowers of the succulent Sedum dendroideum in Stanford’s Arizona Garden. As important pollinators and honey producers, honey bees benefit humans in many ways. They are also very willing photographic subjects—ideal for practicing close-up photography.
The spotted towhee (Pipilo maculates) is a year-round native in the Bay Area. They tend to be a bit shy, foraging among the underbrush. Occasionally, they will loudly proclaim their presence from the top of a fence or bush, allowing the prepared photographer to grab a photo.
Anna’s hummingbird (Calypte anna) is the most common hummingbird on the Peninsula. It is named after Anna Massena, the Duchess of Rivoli, and you can often tell when it is around by its distinctive vocalizations. I spotted this minute nest in a tangle of wisteria branches just outside my back door. It’s a structural wonder woven of soft fibers and lichen and will become quite crowded before the chicks fledge.
Although not strictly a bee, the European paper wasp (Polistes dominula) is in a closely related family of insects. Like yellow jackets, this very successful invader uses distinctive “aposematic coloring” to announce: “Beware of me.” These wasps form social colonies, but unlike honey bees, not all of the members are genetically related.
The American avocet (Recurvirostra americana) can be found along the shores of the Bay, often sweeping their long bills through shallow water to forage for prey. As mating season rolls around, avocets undergo an impressive change in the color of their plumage. Within hours of hatching, the “precocial” chicks are up and feeding on their own.

A New Day at Foothills Park

Midway along the Los Trancos Trail loop lies a park bench worth an introduction. It’s an invitation for respite conveniently positioned at the base of an impending switchback climb. A subtle touch, it’s one of many spots where the serene and varied splendor of Foothills Park coalesces into place.

Installed with thoughtful consideration of future hikers in mind, the scenic resting point is just one of dozens of park benches and tables scattered across the pristine 1,400-acre Palo Alto preserve. The bench’s wood, garnished with a patina of moss, is concealed under the shade of a bungalow-sized boulder. Whomever is the ephemeral recipient of this secluded seat is invited to gaze upon the winding Los Trancos Creek.

The forest floor, reflecting fallen foliage from the surrounding Blue Oaks, inspires deep breaths as a Cooper’s hawk glides above the canopy of treetops. It’s just a three-mile stretch to reach Highway 280 from here, but such proximity to the public is camouflaged by the wide brushstrokes of nature. Apparently, the road to paradise is called “Page Mill.”

Courtesy of Robb Most

As of December 2020, Foothills Park is fully accessible to Peninsula visitors. It’s nestled within the intersection of Portola Valley, Los Altos Hills, Pearson-Arastradero Preserve and Los Trancos Open Space Preserve. The storied park comprises diverse landscapes; you’ll pass through rugged chaparral, woodlands, verdant valleys, creekside trails, San Francisco vistas and even a body of freshwater called Boronda Lake. If you grew up in Palo Alto, perhaps this is where you learned to reel in large-mouthed bass or channel catfish from its crystalline waters.

It’s impossible to present the park without first mentioning its history; from 1969 until last year, only residents of Palo Alto and their guests had lawful access to it. It was debated for decades, discrimination lawsuits were filed and now the gates are open for all.

Courtesy of Robb Most

A cadre of dedicated locals called the Friends of Foothills Park met weekly to dig out invasive weeds for nearly three decades. Their efforts, alongside a commitment from City of Palo Alto park rangers, produced unspoiled acreage that beckons for picnics, overnight camping at the Towle Campground and hiking on a slew of perfectly-preserved trails.

 Grassroots Ecology, a nonprofit based in Palo Alto, manages a native plant nursery in a corner of Foothills Park and has been working to enhance the wildlife habitat since 2003. Deanna Giuliano, the nursery’s director, has witnessed 17 seasons of growth in the park and continues to admire its unique terrain.

“Floral-wise, the park is more intact than most parks I’ve seen,” she says. “A lot of the grassland in the area has invasive European plants but the park still has good native grassland. We’ve really focused on getting rid of the most destructive invasives such as yellow star-thistle, hemlock and Italian thistle.”

Courtesy of Robb Most

The park is home to a rare shrubbery called the western leatherwood shrub, which only grows in a few parts of the Bay Area. It’s deciduous in the winter before yellow flowers emerge prior to leafing around February. 

Found along certain trails in the park are the Pacific madrone trees, a jewel to behold in the dry chaparral countryside. These self-exfoliating hardwoods shed their bark throughout the year to produce smoooth hues of crimson, brown and clover that invite you to rub your hand across its polished finish.

 If you’re a first-time visitor, be prepared to explore the park via a wide range of scenic trails varying in difficulty. The longest, the Los Trancos Trail, is a roughly eight-mile jaunt that loops you through rolling hilltops, forested narrow stretches and a lush riparian section that borders a creek. The aforementioned park bench is located just before you veer away from the Los Trancos Creek ligament of this loop.

Courtesy of Jeanne Mankinen

The much shorter yet equally exquisite Fern Loop features steep elevations worth tackling to experience immersion within a dense ecosystem of ancient bracken. (Pro tip: Native, edible strawberries are often found along this loop, obscured under oak trees.) Trail courtesy is paramount so adhere to the marked areas to help maintain the park’s pristine condition. 

Claire Grist, a project lead with Grassroots Ecology, notes how Foothills Park has abundant wildlife and creates an important corridor between the Bay Area, Santa Cruz Mountains and the ocean. “Boronda Lake is great because it really draws in migrating water birds,” she says. “The red-winged blackbirds really love that area and you can also see a lot of dragonflies—and turtles!”

 Turtles, open valleys, accessible peaks and sweet, wild strawberries? A zealot might tell you that Foothills Park is just one apple tree away from becoming the Peninsula’s very own Eden.

Courtesy of Jeanne Mankinen
Foothills Park No. 3 by Alis Whitman
Last November, Alis Whitman celebrated the timelessness of Foothills Park’s scenic Boronda Lake. The educator and designer spent her formative years exploring the preserve while growing up in Palo Alto. Focusing on plein air painting during the downtime last year, Alis found herself back at the dock of her childhood lake at a time of transition. “I was learning how to paint water and cattails,” she says, “and while looking out from that boat ramp, I saw a maple tree with its leaves beginning to turn.”

Lady Cupid

The response to having your heart broken isn’t typically gratitude, but Menlo Park-based matchmaker Amy Andersen has a justifiable reason to thank an otherwise odious ex. Growing up in Mill Valley, she had never really ventured south of San Francisco, but meeting a venture capitalist at an SF networking event in 2000 broadened her perspective. “I started coming down to Silicon Valley and interacting with all his friends because he lived in Palo Alto,” she recounts, “and it dawned on me that there was something very strange and unusual with the social landscape here.” 

In short, she observed, there were a lot of eligible men and not a lot of eligible women. 

“His friends would beg me to set them up,” she says, even as her San Francisco girlfriends complained about not being able to find decent guys. “That’s when the lightbulb went off in my brain: What if I were to create these connections and bridge that gap?” 

The idea of professionally playing Cupid wasn’t a complete stretch for Amy. A self-proclaimed romantic, she drew inspiration from her parents’ long-standing marriage along with familial traits of business smarts and creativity. “I was always the connector type in high school,” she recalls. “I was never part of one clique; I loved to connect people casually—‘you two should meet’—just sensing that two people could be friends with each other.”

After earning a communications degree from USC, Amy explored paths in PR, finance and entrepreneurial ventures. The ex-boyfriend decamped in a brutal break-up, but the byproduct of the relationship—that scintillating spark of a business idea—clung tightly. In 2003, Amy decided to take the plunge, officially launching Linx Dating—with a name blending both aspiration and Silicon Valley practicality. “It represents linking two people together and the ‘x’ is like a big hug,” she explains, “plus, the domain was available!” 

Initially, Amy envisioned recruiting clients but then realized that a referral-based model was better suited for the discrete, highly-
personalized experience she sought to deliver. “When I look back, I had about five key people who were truly human connectors,” she says. “They referred key individuals who then referred more amazing people, and some very big names in Silicon Valley started contacting me; it became a spiderweb effect.”

Images of Old-World yentas aside, the simple definition of matchmaking, according to Amy, is connecting two people who would most likely not have the chance to meet otherwise. “There are so many individuals here who are looking for love and just haven’t found the right match yet,” she notes. As accomplished as her clients may be—including C-suite executives, academics, startup founders and even international royalty—there’s no guaranteed shortcut in the often elusive and frequently frustrating quest for love. “They are high achievers and have been very successful in their careers,” she says, “and they’re looking for that same success in their personal lives.” 

Through personal interaction, homework assignments and introspective exercises, Amy divines the must-haves for each client, what she describes as the core DNA or tenets of a relationship: “People share a lot about what they’re looking for and my process is extracting those fundamental things, almost like tweezing them out, ‘You need this, you need that.’” In the early years, Amy relied heavily on scientific metrics but after thousands of meetings, she fully embraces the intangible and less quantifiable aspect of love and attraction, crediting as much as 80% of a match-up to her highly-honed intuition and gut. 

Given Amy’s qualifications at playing Cupid, one might assume she’d be a ringer to score an easy win in the game of love. Not so. “Painful, it was so hard!” she recounts, when asked about her own single days. “I would think, ‘How ironic that the matchmaker doesn’t have a match.’” A consummate professional, she maintained strict boundaries with her clients, which left her to the online world of swipe left and swipe right. “I did Match. I did eHarmony. I did a plethora of different websites,” she says, “and as painful as it was, it was also very valuable. Even the heartbreaks were key because it’s what my clients go through, so I can say, ‘I got it, I get you, I’ve been there too.’”  

Coming from a pattern of steady boyfriends, Amy realized she didn’t really know how to date. “I was a klutz,” she admits. “I didn’t lead with the flirting angle; I led with business because I thought that’s what I should do to prove myself.” But she also encountered a good measure of turn-offs. “A lot of guys doubt themselves,” she says, “so I’d see a lot of peacocking, name-dropping and boasting.” 

After Amy purposely took a break from the dating scene, a friend reached out in May 2006 with an offer to set her up. She exchanged numerous emails with Alex Gould, a Stanford professor and Palo Alto entrepreneur, before they scheduled their “magical” first date. “I didn’t talk about work at all that night,” she recalls. “It was just easy and casual. No pretense. We talked about so many other things.” The couple became exclusive on their second date and Alex proposed nine months later. “When it’s right, it’s right,” Amy happily acknowledges. The couple married in 2008 and welcomed a son into their lives in 2014. 

Courtesy of Amy Anderson

From Linx Dating’s office in Menlo Park’s picturesque Allied Arts Guild, Amy remains committed to helping her clients find serious, lasting relationships. Representing both men and women, ranging in age from their early 20s into their 70s, Amy offers different tiers of membership (including packages starting at $2,500, $35,000 and VIP $150,000), along with a free “match applicant” level of participation. “This is an investment—not only financially but emotionally,” she points out, “and you need to be ready.” She doesn’t keep a full tally of matches made to date but clearly treasures her growing collection of wedding and baby shower invites. “I’m godmother to one of my Linx offspring, and I’m even going to be marrying one of my couples,” she says. “It’s just so sweet—it’s what I love.” 

However, Amy also emphasizes that there’s no guarantee—beyond the number of introductions she agrees to provide. “I can’t predict that I’m going to find you the right person,” she tells her clients, “but I’m going to do everything in my power to increase the probability of it happening.” After personally experiencing the challenges of online dating, she still encourages pursuing every possible avenue. “I tell them to put multiple irons in the fire towards that goal of finding somebody. You never know how it’s going to happen,” she says. “It could be from an app. It could be Linx Dating. Or it could be a serendipitous meeting at Starbucks.” 

As for final advice, Amy cautions against being too judgmental and quick to find faults. “My whole mission is to say there’s somebody really interesting across from you,” she says. “Slow down, pay attention and get to know that person so you can genuinely see whether that click, that chemistry, is there.” And even if your heart has been dealt some crushing blows, don’t give up—and don’t beat yourself up. “Those experiences are all stepping stones to eventually finding your right partner,” counsels Amy. “They make you wiser and give you clarity in terms of what you really need and what will make you happy.”

Diary of a Dog: Bubblegum

My name is Bubblegum. At just six pounds, I’m a small, sweet Terrier mix, utterly convinced that Peggy and I were fated to be family. We haven’t had an easy time of things, which is why we understand each other so well and know how to make each other happy. I’m about a year old now, and my earliest memories are of a shelter in central California. I don’t remember how I was injured, but I suffered a broken spine, sacrum and tail and was in terrible pain. Luckily, I was transferred to the Humane Society Silicon Valley (HSSV) where I got the care I needed to make me adoptable. After fostering me, Yvonne realized I would be the perfect fit for her mother-in-law, Peggy, who lives in Los Altos. Peggy uses a wheelchair and was afraid to get a pet because of her disability. From my own experiences, I understood that I needed to be extra cautious with Peggy, and I quickly figured out how to be playful and show affection without getting underfoot. Peggy’s caretakers, Finau and Paea, help take care of me too, and we have lots of fun together. Surrounded by so much love, I recovered fully from my injuries with one exception: my tail is crooked and sticks out straight. Even though it doesn’t really move, everyone around me knows I’m always joyfully wagging it in spirit. To find a pet that’s the perfect match for you, contact Humane Society Silicon Valley at hssv.org 

Inspired to Lead

Walk into the lobby of SD Mayer & Associates in San Francisco and you’ll be greeted by John F. Kennedy, Walt Disney, Muhammed Ali and even the Beatles. Bigger-than-life photos of 15 historical role models surround visitors with inspirational quotes and stories. “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives,” observes Jackie Robinson. “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new,” Albert Einstein asserts. “You cannot fail, if you resolutely determine that you will not,” counsels Abraham Lincoln.

This motivational meet-up with iconic figures is a window into the mindset of founder and managing partner Stephen Mayer. “I have all of their sayings in my head,” explains Steve. “They’re a great source of common sense and wisdom.” 

That internal soundtrack of stirring words keeps Steve on task as an author, entrepreneur, restaurateur, volunteer and Books Inc. owner, while maintaining his day job running an accounting and wealth management firm. “I never quit,” he says. “I just don’t know what it means and I can’t imagine quitting anything.” 

Steve’s attitude is the wind in the sails that propels Books Inc. to continue serving the community as one of the few independent bookstores left on the Peninsula. A San Mateo resident for over 25 years, Steve has a passion that extends beyond just selling books—he aspires to promote literacy and engage readers of all ages. 

Stories are the thread through Steve’s own life that have motivated him to dream big and do the right thing. “I am inspired by people making a difference,” he relates. An author himself, he has recently written a collection of narratives tapped from history and his own life: The Toughest Guy I Ever Knew and Other Short Stories, along with two other books passing on his financial expertise. 

Courtesy of Books Inc.

Early in Steve’s career, a mentor advised him to “plant palm trees,” couched as a reminder to embrace the long-term view. Steve took the suggestion seriously. “I was asked, ‘Have you ever sat under a palm tree?’” Steve recalls, before adding the follow-up query, “‘Do you think the guy who planted the seed ever sat under it?’ You have to do these things and they last a long time.”

This aphorism must have been on Steve’s mind when he met with Lew Lengfeld, the owner of Books Inc. since 1946. With origins dating back to a small Shasta City bookshop in 1851, Books Inc. had evolved into a sprawling chain and Steve could see that Lew needed help. ”I showed up at his warehouse and Lew was wearing pajamas, a tie and smoking a cigar,” remembers Steve. “I said to Lew, ‘You have more books in the warehouse than in the stores. We have to close the warehouse and get the books in the stores.’” Steve partnered with Lew to save the business and consolidate locations. “We moved from big shopping centers to neighborhoods and got very involved in the community,” he says, citing the nearly 1,000 author events staged every year. 

When asked why he continues to operate bookstores, Steve explains that it’s not about money. “What happens when everyone buys everything online and shops at the big stores and the neighborhoods become nothing like they used to be?” he questions. “When I go into Books Inc. and see a young mother and father picking out books and grandparents reading books to kids, it just makes sense.” 

Growing up in San Francisco with three siblings, Steve recounts how everyone in his family had summer jobs—washing cars, mowing lawns, delivering newspapers—working from eighth grade through high school. As a student at Archbishop Riordan High School, he remembers walking into the gym and encountering large bold letters stenciled on the wall: “A winner never quits, a quitter never wins.” The quote stuck with him and he strives to exemplify the sentiment. Case in point, he recently opened Scott’s Chowder House in San Jose despite the current challenges facing the restaurant industry. 

Steve’s strong work ethic persisted through college at UC Berkeley where he helped pay for school by working the midnight shift at UPS. He kept at the full-time work and school routine as a young CPA, also earning his MBA from Cal. “I obviously didn’t sleep much,” he acknowledges. 

In his book, The Toughest Guy I Ever Knew, Steve weaves together lessons about business and life. Including selections about legends such as Vince Lombardi, Steve Jobs, Johnny Cash and Rosa Parks, he also shares advice gleaned from his father David Mayer, a veteran and San Francisco police officer who inspired the title of the book. Steve recalls many family dinners with his father in uniform while on a break from walking his neighborhood beat. Another chapter describes the night Steve played high school football alongside Bill Blanchard, who was tragically paralyzed in the game. The principal’s advice that what matters most is not what you do for Bill in the next few weeks but over the long haul became a call to action for Steve. As a result, he stuck by Bill’s side until his recent passing.  

Taking his initiative further, Steve hopes to make an impact by promoting free financial literacy in schools through his foundation, 5 Buckets 4 Shovels. The foundation is named after Steve’s book 5 Buckets, 4 Shovels, a Beach and a Map, a practical guide in which he gives simple tools and advice for achieving financial security. In another recent book, he targets financial literacy for the younger generation. “People would tell me they wish they had a book to give them basics of personal finance when they were in high school,” says Steve. He answered the call with Adulting 101: A Guide to Personal Finance, which covers everything from getting a car loan to investing in stocks and creating a budget.

Courtesy of Patty Mayer

Steve credits his wife Patty and three grown children, Dylan, Kenzie and Nicola, with providing support for his many endeavors. In their San Mateo neighborhood, the Mayer house is known for the most elaborate Christmas light display every year and the family applies the same enthusiasm to local schools, nonprofits and sports teams. When Steve made the difficult decision to leave the CPA firm he founded to start his next company, he compounded the challenge by training for an Ironman Triathlon at the same time. Training up to 30 hours a week and working full-time, he began to doubt he could complete the event. It was Patty who convinced him that he had trained hard enough and he pushed himself to cross the finish line. 

After proving his Ironman mettle at 60, Steve doesn’t plan to do another Ironman—although he might consider a half. He continues his annual backpacking trips in the
Sierra, which he has done for the last 45 years, having traversed 3,500 miles over 375 nights. Moreover, his internal moral compass continues to guide him successfully through any bumps and curves on life’s trail. With a nod to former UCLA basketball coach John Wooden, he can’t resist sharing a final influential quote. “What’s important is what you do when no one is watching,” he imparts with a smile.

Perfect Shot: Reflection of Delight

For Renee Clark of San Mateo, no other spot on the map conjures joy quite like Poplar Beach. “When I saw a low tide coinciding with sunset,” she says, “I grabbed my trusty iPhone and my lensball and headed over the hill.” By getting low (Renee’s favorite angle), she captured this reflective Perfect Shot with “lots of bokeh,” referring to the soft, out-of-focus background created in photography. 

Image by Renee Clark @reneetakespics

The Dish

I stopped at the top of one of the steeper hills and saw a beautiful white-tailed hawk circling above my head. I watched the sleek bird silently gliding for 10 minutes, somehow assuming that my wife and daughters were doing the same thing. But they were not, and had continued their fast-paced walk. They were out of sight so I saw no reason to try to catch up. 

At one point on the way down there were two paths to take and à la Robert Frost, I took the path less traveled. This was a mistake, as when I made it back to the entrance at Junipero Serra Boulevard, the rest of my family was nowhere to be found. Since I had left my cell phone in the car, I was stuck—the result being that this particular outing is now permanently etched in my memory as the time I walked the five-plus miles home from The Dish.

For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, you should. Colloquially known as simply “The Dish,” the more accurate name is The Stanford Dish, which specifically is a 150-foot-diameter radio antenna located up in the foothills above the Stanford main campus. The nickname came about because it looks like, well, a dish. It was built in the 1960s with funding from the Air Force to help collect information on Soviet radar installations by somehow detecting radio signals bouncing off the moon. In more recent years, The Dish has been used to undertake such NASA functions as communicating with the Voyager craft. 

While this is all very interesting, today, when you say “The Dish,” you really mean a system of trails that provide—with some steep hills—a good solid workout. Once, it was just dirt paths with no restrictions, but a decade or so back, Stanford put down some parameters for using their land. This got some people upset, but it was, after all, their land. They put up fencing, paved the paths, prohibited dogs and developed some parking areas. 

On any day, rain or shine, hot or cold, people of every shape and size and age do The Dish. Some run it, others can barely walk it; some do it every day and others only occasionally. The terrain is beautiful and from certain spots you can see across the Bay; on some especially clear days, you can make out the familiar outlines of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge.

The Dish is part of the culture of my family. No one does it with any religious zeal, but some of us end up doing it at least a few times each month. While we boys in the family enjoy it, it is really the women who are more devoted. The guys mostly tag along, when we are permitted and/or invited. I’m in good shape but my female compatriots prefer to do The Dish at a rapid clip and sometimes I hold them back. I don’t understand the hurry, preferring to saunter a bit to take in the smells and sights of the area, always hoping to see a fox, a hawk or at least a lightning-fast jackrabbit. 

But I keep my ears open and when I hear something about “The Dish,” I perk up and make it my business to find out who is going and when and if I can join them. Almost always, they let me come along, although I always remember to keep my cell phone with me now.

I don’t love the “exercise” part of The Dish as much as I like spending time with my family and being outside. But it is a workout. Whatever clothing I start with is not what I end up wearing in the end. I do relish the slight burn I feel after completing the almost four-mile trek, up and down the hills. I immediately think that I can have a second helping of dessert that night.  

Of course, things are a bit different now with all these little third-generation “Dishers”  to push or carry up and down the steep parts of the trails. A couple of weeks ago, my son Josh and his wife, Adara, and their two-year-old and their six-month-old baby came with me on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. They brought their double-wide stroller, some serious snacks and all the other things needed for two little ones. 

We approached the hike with a bit of trepidation given the size and weight of the stroller. The first hill, which is modified now, was fine. But over the next hour, things got a bit tough. That stroller got heavier and heavier as we pushed it up and down the hills. It was a real effort. Sometimes I carried my grandson on my shoulders, and sometimes he walked, although I’m afraid that if he had walked the entire thing we’d still be out there.

By the end of the standard loop, Josh and Adara laughed and suggested that they didn’t imagine doing The Dish again soon with two children in tow. But The Dish is a seductive thing—the beauty, the air, the feeling of having accomplished something—and I just know that on a beautiful, cool day, the call to do it again will echo through their home and they will be back to enjoy its magnificent charms

Express Yourself: Dynamic Architectural Trends

“The mentality has changed,” observes architect Malika Junaid. “It used to be, ‘What’s the curb appeal? How will the house look when somebody drives up to it?’” 

Now clients have a different priority. “They want to do projects for themselves,” says the co-founder and principal of Palo Alto-based M. Designs Architects.

It’s a shift that was well underway, but Malika says that 2020 hammered in the final nail. “The mindset now is, ‘How will we live in this house? How will we entertain? What are we going to be using 24/7? What do we like?’ If you like cars, it’s, ‘I want to see my cars,’” she continues. “‘I want to see my kids playing while I’m working. I want to see the TV while I’m cooking. We want the indoor-outdoor feel because that’s how we live.’”

Courtesy of Harry Who

Heading into 2021, Malika, along with her business partner, architect Chip Jessup, are geared up and ready to tackle the demands of the Peninsula’s rapidly-changing housing market. “Things have changed dramatically,” affirms Malika. “We want to design what works for our clients and their diverse backgrounds and we want the challenge of designing any architecture style that comes our way.”

For M. Designs Architects, understanding how clients want to live is at the core of every design—and results from exhaustive interviews and programming meetings. “To really customize a house, we have to live their life,” Malika explains. “That’s how we get to know them.” 

It’s an exercise that’s deeply familiar to Malika. Through the process of designing her own family’s Los Altos Hills home, she and her husband, engineer/tech investor Junaid Qurashi, agreed that they wanted to push the envelope in every way. “My husband was my toughest client. He would say, ‘What else can we do? Come on! Be creative!’” she recalls. “We wanted to test-drive in our own home to see what we can be comfortable using in our clients’ homes.” 

Photography Courtesy of Scott Dubose, M. Designs Architects

Self-examination revealed their own design priorities: Ultra-modern and minimalist. An open floor plan allowing for a busy, interactive lifestyle. Cutting-edge technology. The kitchen as a focal point. Everything accessible and reachable. Sustainable finishes. “We didn’t want rooms that are used once a year,” adds Malika. “We want to use every inch, every day.”

Reflecting their distinctive personalities, the resulting multilevel enclave celebrates the power of automation, a shared passion for science fiction and “true” indoor/outdoor California living. Novel approaches range from a retractable kitchen tool/spice rack and a “wave of a hand” hidden appliance garage to a flight-deck inspired dining room and the breathtaking adaptation of an aircraft hangar door.  

The kind of nimble ingenuity required to deliver highly-customized, forward-thinking design aligns perfectly with Malika’s wiring. Growing up in Karachi, Pakistan, surrounded by “old, historic architecture,” she was always drawn to the fine arts—and enjoyed annual trips to Europe with her family. “We would go to all these museums and I saw that it was because of the architecture that they can define how people used to live,” she recalls. “There’s so much information in a building that you can learn from.” In seventh grade, Malika decided she wanted to be an architect but it would be years before she had a genuine role model. “In Pakistan or abroad, it was not a profession that a lot of women were going into at that time,” she says, describing the excitement she felt when the first Pakistani (and now iconic) female architect, Yasmeen Lari, came on the scene. “She did all these fabulous huge buildings in Pakistan, so she was definitely someone I started looking up to.” 

Photography Courtesy of Scott Dubose, M. Designs Architects

After studying architecture in Lahore, Pakistan, Malika transferred to a U.S. program in pursuit of the newest technology. Having attended high school in the U.K., she was heartened to discover a warmer reception. “The U.S. was perceived as open-minded and very inclusive, so that’s why I loved coming here,” she says. “It was a real eye-opener.” After initially returning to Pakistan to work, she moved to California in 2000 and married Junaid, a longtime family friend who had lived in the Bay Area since 1988. Malika took a position with Moyer Associates in Palo Alto, before founding M. Designs with Chip Jessup in 2002. 

“Chip and I were really in sync that everyone is so different,” she says. “Even spouses and siblings want different things, so you can’t keep designing the same thing or the same style.” Initially focused on major remodels, M. Designs currently has a mix of 80% new homes with about 20% remodels and additions. Although the architectural firm will take on intriguing challenges in other markets, the partners have a decidedly local emphasis. “The mindset of people here is just so fun,” Malika says. “Everybody is very collaborative and very creative.” Far from taking a hit in 2020, Malika says business is busier than ever. “The housing market here just went into super gear,” she relays. “Because of what we had already done with technology in our office, we didn’t miss a beat—we had zero downtime.” In response to dramatic shifts in client priorities, Malika is anticipating dynamic architectural trends continuing in 2021.

Photography: Courtesy of Junaid Qurashi

Creative Use of Space

The focus used to be on the main living area and bedrooms but now we look at how we can make your house your safe haven. We’re designing homes that make it easier for clients to deal with all kinds of situations. Although the kitchen was always a big part of the house, it has become a bigger deal now that people are spending 24/7 at home. We’re also seeing huge, huge demand for the home office. With people working from home, they need more elbow space, so there’s been a big change in the home office, along with study space for kids. With the new accessory dwelling unit (ADU) rule in place, we’ve been putting in ADUs at a crazy speed. We need to be very creative in the way we create space, to make enough room for everyone to have their own little nook here and there. 

Even Smarter Homes

In the Bay Area, I would say 80-85% of our clients are engineers or at least one spouse is in the tech industry. Everybody is used to going to their offices, which are very tech-savvy, right? Now they want their homes to be like that too. When we designed our home two and a half years ago, my husband came up with little off-market things here and there and he was very proud that everything in the house can be controlled by his Apple watch. Automation has made our lives easier—it allows us to use our brains for other things more, so the convenience is massive. Our clients want that futuristic house, and the big companies are starting to come up with systems. There’s tons of technology but it’s going to be a little while before everything is integrated in one place.  

Photography Courtesy of Scott Dubose, M. Designs Architects

Prioritizing Personalization 

We pride ourselves on giving 100% in trying to understand what our clients want and trying to deliver what really, really works for them. We sit down and ask all these questions: What they like, what they don’t like, how do they live, how do they entertain, which spouse wakes up before the other? Do they have health issues that we should be aware of? Do they have extended family that comes and stays with them for a long period of time? As an example, we just finished a Spanish Mediterranean remodel for a client who was born and brought up in the U.S. She is into a modern classic look but also takes pride in her Iranian roots. It was never a problematic challenge—it was a very fun challenge. How do we merge a modern theme with her cultural background inside an existing Mediterranean home? I know they’re very happy with the outcome. For another client, the husband is from India and the wife is from Europe, and they really wanted to bring both their personalities and their histories out in the house. It came out beautifully—it doesn’t look like two different things; it looks seamless.  

For Malika, it’s the personalization that ultimately makes a home feel like a home. Having designed the Los Altos Hills enclave she shares with her husband, two daughters, two cats, seven chickens and nine kois, she recognizes the unique blend of skills that creates a successful outcome. “I think architects are a mix of everything: We are psychologists. We are therapists. We are designers. We are artists. We are project managers. We are engineers,” she notes. “We need to wear different hats at different times in order to help our clients cross the finish line.” 

Frenchman’s Tower

If you’ve traveled Old Page Mill Road between Foothill Expressway and I-280, you may have noticed an unusual Gothic red brick tower with a crenulated roof standing about five feet from the edge of the road. Known as Frenchman’s Tower, this 30-foot structure was built by a wealthy French politician named Jean Baptiste Paulin Caperon in the 1870s. Escaping a shift in political power, Caperon fled to California from France and purchased 1,242 acres of land in what is now Palo Alto under the name of his deceased cousin, Peter Coutts. On his new property, Caperon built a dairy farm, summer cottage and this rather mysterious tower. Was it a library? Perhaps a water irrigation system? Numerous rumors swirled about the purpose of the tower—ranging from an armory to prepare for an enemy attack to a place to keep Caperon’s insane wife since there is no door. A more conventional theory is that the tower served as a marker for the property boundary. After politics shifted back to his party’s favor, Caperon unexpectedly returned to France and sold the tower as well as the land to Leland Stanford, who founded Stanford University on the property in 1891. In 1969, the tower was designated as a California Site of Historical Interest. Today, the still-visually-riveting tower is covered with graffiti and carvings and surrounded by a chain-link fence.

Courtesy of Robb Most

Exposing the Soul of Rock ‘n’ Roll

Somewhere at the crossroads of talent and luck is Steve Rapport, an Englishman on the Peninsula coast whose first job out of college was to capture rock ‘n’ roll from the front row. Looking back on an illustrious photography career full of insights and exposure, he’s finding new meanings in the negatives and b-rolls. And pinpointing the rapid start to how it all began. 

“Robert Plant playing at my university student union launched my career,” he says emphatically. 

Steve was surrounded by a flurry of music activity while attending the University of Warwick in Coventry, England, in the late 1970s and early 1980s when he photographed local bands like The Specials and The Beat. The night the Led Zeppelin lead singer came to town, Steve knew the performance was a big deal.

Iggy Pop
Vox magazine wanted a picture of Iggy Pop in his favorite bar, so Iggy took me to the Horseshoe Bar in New York City. It was a pretty rough neighborhood. He sat down and kept his shirt on. I like the fact that I’m the person who got a picture of Iggy with his shirt on. I think he’s drinking Rolling Rock. It’s just him being himself.

Although the lighting wasn’t ideal, Steve took a few photos and got on a bus to London with his black and white prints of Robert Plant. “I cold-called Sounds, and they put me through to the picture editor,” he says of the popular weekly music newspaper that focused on punk and heavy metal. Steve met with the editor and sold his first official photograph. 

He began receiving assignments to photograph bands around his college town, then in London, and eventually Steve traveled with rock ‘n’ roll musicians all around the world, always with his camera in tow. 

Steve recently opened (Mostly) Rock ‘n’ Roll Gallery, located steps from the ocean at Pacifica’s Rockaway Beach, to celebrate his sharp and vivid imagery of a decade up close and personal with rock ‘n’ roll royalty. His images often capture artists without flair and with full focus while the compilation serves as a visual vault for exploring a gone-but-never-forgotten era of music.

The gallery is tucked inside a mixed-use building of office suites where the mellow and psychedelic sounds of Oasis and the occasional song by The Cure entice visitors to check out Steve’s black and white and color portraits. “This is a great representation of my work,” he says of the collection. “It was a dream of mine.”

Joe Strummer – The Clash
Rolling Stone magazine asked me to photograph Joe Strummer running the London Marathon. So I drove up to southeast London in the rain. I parked the car, and there’s Joe Strummer standing by the side of the road. Then after he went off to run, I wanted to try and get a picture of him in the race. So I waited a couple of hours in the rain. I was just packing up to go when I saw Joe coming down the road.

Steve moved to the U.S. in 1992 and adopted Pacifica as his new hometown, leaving his photo library behind in a friend’s English cottage garage. With his photography career winding down in 1994, Steve worked as a web designer and has run his own martial arts school in San Francisco since 2001. In 2017, he was reunited with his rock ‘n’ roll photography archives and has been chipping away at scanning and restoring the prints and negatives ever since.

As he shared the images on social media, Steve discovered an enthusiasm for his work. “Things just kind of took off, partly because of the lockdown with everyone at home and partly because things are so sh***y here and in Britain, politically, and we are all looking back to the music of our youth,” Steve reasons. 

Annie Lennox – Eurythmics
This was for a magazine cover and it was taken at The Churchill in London. When I got there to take pictures, Annie was grumpy and wasn’t very focused. Her assistant said Annie had done interviews all morning and hadn’t eaten. I said, “Annie, take a break. Go get some food.” When she came back a half-hour later, she was the most beautiful I’ve ever seen her.

Many of the people who seek out the gallery are rock photographers or filmmakers. “A lot of bonding goes on in here,” he adds. People share their stories about drinking with Joe Strummer of The Clash, playing in bands or working for Winterland, Bill Graham and record companies.

Examining his photo collection through a more mature lens has given Steve the chance to honestly reflect on his photography skills. “Looking back now, I wish I’d had the same view of my abilities as a photographer then as I have now,” he admits. “I think I was a much better photographer than I gave myself credit for.”

Freddie Mercury– Queen
Live Aid was horrible for photos. It was daytime and I didn’t like the stage setting because it was very bland. I had seen Queen twice but I was not really a fan. But they just blew everyone away—they blew me away! Freddie Mercury was magnificent. Us photographers were divorced from our photos and donated them all to Live Aid. One of my photographer friends said he went to the Live Aid Foundation and they had all our photographs stored in a trash bag. All I have are duplicates from that day. There’s this scene in the Bohemian Rhapsody biopic where the camera pans across Wembley and you can see all of these photographers near the stage. You could make the argument that someone in that pit was playing me.

Surrounded by some of the best in the business and concentrating on doing his work, Steve never really dwelled on his talent. “And now when I see my old pictures like Paul Weller in The Style Council, Joe Strummer and The Clash, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and The Ramones, these are really, really, really good pictures,” he says.

Drawn to mid-century modernism, Steve’s photography epitomizes the less-is-more aesthetic. “I always thought I was kind of a boring photographer,” he says in jest. “My pictures are a bit dull because there’s nothing clever about them. But it turns out that’s my aesthetic.” 

Fans of Steve’s work have told him they think his subjects look relaxed, as if they aren’t posing. He takes these comments as compliments. “Having a lack of style really allowed people to express themselves instead of me interpreting anything,” he reflects.

Bono – U2
This was a week before Christmas 1982 and I had flown out to Belfast just as U2 were breaking through in the U.K.—but they were already huge in Ireland. I saw their show at a high school gym, and it was like a punk gig at the time. Bono had his boot on the speaker and people were hanging from everything. The crowd was way over the fire limit. The next day, we took the tour van to Dublin but stopped halfway in the countryside near that farmhouse so I could get that lovely evening light.

Steve finds that people are more connected with live concert photographs rather than intimate portraits. “People clearly have a much more emotional response to live pictures than they do from the posed or staged session pictures,” he says and explains that at a concert, several photographers snap tons of pictures that often look alike, but each session photo is unique. “No one else has that picture of David Bowie from the ‘Loving the Alien’ video.”

During his rise in the early 1980s, as Steve became known for his rock ‘n’ roll photography, he had an opportunity to take photos of the English pop band ABC during the shoot of their “Poison Arrow” music video. His photos were well received and more music videos followed. “Everyone made these videos with an eye towards getting on MTV, which became the new way to break into America,” he expounds.

Working on music videos required long days filled with lots of waiting around, but Steve explored and took advantage of the hair, makeup, wardrobe and well-lit sets. He captured seductive photos of Siouxsie Sioux and Kylie Minogue during her “What Do I Have to Do?” video.

David Bowie
This was on the “Loving the Alien” video set. It was for the cover of the single but it was after the shoot finished. It’s like two in the morning and Bowie had to put the makeup on again. We said to the crew, “We need to do these pictures for a single, who can stay?” Everyone stayed. People go the extra mile for Bowie.

One of Steve’s career highlights was photographing the momentous Live Aid concert held on July 13, 1985, where it’s believed that nearly one billion people from around the world tuned into the broadcast. 

“We were well aware during the day that it was a really, really historic moment. A hundred thousand people were there while a billion people were watching it live,” he says. He took photographs for Smash Hits magazine, which produced same-day coverage of the concert. Steve passed his film rolls to a motorbike runner, who whooshed them off to the lab for rush processing throughout the day. “It was hard to really enjoy the music when you are focusing on the pictures—which I suppose was true of everything I did,” Steve confesses. 

The who’s who of the era played at Live Aid and Steve remembers capturing Paul McCartney, David Bowie, Elton John, U2 and, of course, Queen. “Queen was phenomenal,” he says. “It’s pretty obvious that they were the highlight of the day.”

After a long day and countless rolls of timeless images, Steve swung by the Smash Hits office to see the layout. His photos illustrated a six-page feature plus the cover. 

“The cover picture was of the event organizer, Bob Geldof, with his fist in the air. In his book, Geldof talked about this one moment right in the middle of Live Aid when he was on stage and it suddenly hit him what was happening,” recounts Steve, as if finally realizing his place in the annals of rock ‘n’ roll. “That was my picture.”

Prince
Some photos, even the live ones, are just another day and just another job—except this is Prince. This was at Wembley Arena in August, 1986. I love that paisley tambourine and the smoke with the lighting. I do remember going to Warner Brothers before Purple Rain had come out and the head of press said, ‘Come and give this a listen.’ I was put in a room with this purple thing on the turntable, and I was mesmerized. Especially at the end, with the song “Purple Rain.”

Anne with an Eye

Expectations about a day in the life of a career interior designer might lean on more glamorous presumptions, but as Anne Mellenthin divulges, there’s an unforeseen mountain of logistics involved that goes well beyond just having an eye for things.

“Only 15 percent of design is choosing shiny objects,” she reasons. “The rest of the time is spent on ordering, tracking and expediting items.”

 As the interior designer works on a home, she is likely working from her own home in Menlo Park. Anne commands her roster of predominantly residential projects (with a few commercial ones tucked in between) from inside her home office where you’ll find jars of colored pencils, homework from the design classes she’s taking on the side at Cañada College and a container of afternoon relief: dark chocolate peanut butter cups from Trader Joe’s.

Nearby is a vision board she’s tacking together for her future now that her three children are grown adults. One prevailing theme: flexibility.

Mood board courtesy of Anne Mellenthin

Anne utilizes mood boards to help condense and center her vision. The website for her design business has a tab that showcases several examples of fashionably formulated boards where living rooms and bedrooms are neatly and poetically arranged in cohesive colors, shapes and tones.

She’s had years of practice. Before she was five years old, Anne remembers cutting out pictures from magazines to create scrapbooks (a precursor to the boards) where pages had themes such as “Chateau Living” and “Life in the Hamptons.” Pretty sharp detail for an adolescent eye.

While she doesn’t exclusively design in mid-century modern, she does appreciate an “indoor-outdoor feel.” For a closer look into her inspirations, see the list of video recommendations on her personal YouTube feed for chateau and English manor restorations. “It’s my unicorn,” she says, of tackling such grandiose projects. “I’ve even looked into certificates for historical restoration.”

Photography Courtesy of Anne Mellenthin

Anne strives to strike a balance between romantic and sober tones. “That’s the goal,” she says. “Very simple, not overdone but with bold gestures. Like a 60-foot window. Lots of light but dark, moody walls. It’s atmospheric and safe. Comfortable and a little bit dramatic.”

She notes a particular force of inspiration from her father-in-law, Mike, who lives in a Cliff May home in Los Angeles, built by the California architect famous for post-World War II modern ranch house designs. Uplit indoor trees, ceramic tile that flows from indoors to out and the use of adobe in combination with antiques from the Hearst family make for a sublime and luxurious environment. Everything has its place; even the firewood is tidily stacked outside.

Anne’s trade is not without challenges and she recognizes how homeowners can access just about anything online to build a beautiful home. “It’s incumbent to us designers to provide project management skills and scour for crafts that the client otherwise wouldn’t be cognizant of,” she says, adding that, “to make a pillow takes five different parts because you order the fill, fabric and trim.”

Photography Courtesy of Anne Mellenthin

 A maven of flea markets and thrift shops, Anne will hunt for furniture and home pieces either for her projects or to market through a side business she runs through Cherish and eBay. Reuse and recycling are key components for her business—she’s a GREEN-accredited professional as well as a LEED Green Associate—and she remains a champion of antiquities. She’s not afraid to beg a client to consider using antiques, items that offer Anne more than a sustainable quality.

“To me, I like to think that some man or woman stood over this piece and hand-carved the wood,” she says. “And now it has a patina. It seems like within each drawer and cabinet there are stories. Someone’s life is held in there.”

Photography Courtesy of Anne Mellenthin

Open the drawers of Anne’s own life and you’ll discover a destiny for decorative arts. Born at Stanford Hospital, Anne was the eldest of four and always flipping through copies of her mom’s Architectural Digest. She remembers taking her brother’s toy blocks to create a massive dollhouse, with furnishings and an upholstered couch to boot.

Anne’s innate curiosity led her to the Palo Alto City Library, where streams of light pouring in the window guided her through lessons from design legends like Billy Baldwin and Dorothy Draper. After graduating from Castilleja School, Anne attended Cal Berkeley, but without an interior design program at the university, she focused on political science and French. She studied abroad in Paris, spending days at the Victoria and Albert Museum (“My heaven.”) while fostering a gastronomical side passion through classes at Le Cordon Bleu.

After graduating from Cal in 1984, Anne managed a Williams-Sonoma store before focusing on raising her family. She returned to work, first as a landscape designer before clients kept asking if she’d take a look at the living room as well. In just over ten years of running her interior design business, Anne has completed over 75 projects from Los Angeles to
Seattle, with a focus primarily on the Peninsula.

Photography Courtesy of Anne Mellenthin

Anne is a member of the Woodside-Atherton Garden Club, a charitable nonprofit dedicated to conservation, and she’s in her 13th year as a reading tutor at Selby Lane Elementary School. She is an avid pickleball player and hiker of the western foothills where she’ll exercise another expression of her eye. 

“The first big purchase I made as a teenager was a Nikon camera after I worked at Peninsula Creamery and saved up money. I went to Keeble & Shuchat Photography in downtown Palo Alto. Those guys knew everything. Photography is a source of inspiration,” Anne says before taking it all in. “I’m visual! I love the sensory experience—clearly.”

Photography Courtesy of Anne Mellenthin

Drawing with Fire

Mirang Wonne didn’t set out to trailblaze a new form of artistic expression. Truth be told, it was a matter of self-preservation. In 2009, she began tinkering with a new medium—stainless steel wire mesh—for a solo exhibit, envisioning an installation involving translucent light and lanterns. “I started to work,” she recalls, “and the edges were so sharp, they really cut my skin.” Deeply passionate but not quite willing to bleed for her art, Mirang asked a sculptor friend for solutions. He suggested using a propane torch, and when he applied a small flame to the harsh material, “Whoosh,” the wire mesh edges softly melded and smoothed. But that’s not all.

“It also turned unexpected colors,” Mirang says, “and I thought, ‘Wow, that is amazing! Forget about the lanterns!’” 

Intrigued by the possibilities, Mirang began to explore an uncharted creative path. She quickly ruled out a welding torch. “You burn the whole thing,” she discovered, before experimenting her way to a finer blow torch tip, more like a jeweler would use. By 2010, Mirang was ready to exhibit the first works of her invented artform—which has evolved over time into a signature style of torch painting on stainless steel mesh. “There’s no instructions; nobody knows how to do this,” she notes. “Even the supplier asked me to send some images. They don’t understand what I’m doing. They were so surprised.” 

In a converted garage studio in Atherton, surrounded by canvases, paintbrushes in every shape and size and rolls of industrial mesh, Mirang dons protective eyegear and thick, black leather gloves. “This is propane and now this is oxygen,” she says, as she carefully adjusts two valves, triggering the eruption of a small flame from the torch in her hand. “You can adjust it to sharper or less sharp,” she explains. Turning to a screen of wire mesh suspended from the ceiling, she begins to draw with fire, a fluid weave of swirling, flowing red lines, which morph into shades of blues and browns as the amalgam of different metals react to the heat. For Mirang, it’s a deeply meditative process. “The bright tip of the torch seems to be alive,” she says. “The flame pulls my hand where it wants to go.” 

Photography Courtesy of Zha Zha Liang

This unique free-handed technique is a natural extension for an artist who has never felt constrained to draw within the lines. Born in Seoul, South Korea, as the youngest of six children, Mirang started elementary school two years early, and as her older schoolmates practiced origami, she enthusiastically wielded pencil and crayon—on any surface she could find. “I drew on the walls inside and outside of the house,” she confesses with a laugh, “and my parents never scolded me for my graffiti.” By about the age of six, Mirang knew she was going to be an artist: “I didn’t want to sit down. I always wanted to be doing something with my hands. I’d draw eyes and noses and I’d finish with my name, Mirang Wonne.”

Following accomplished BA and MFA degrees in painting from Seoul National University, Mirang earned a scholarship from the French Government Grant for Arts. She lived in Paris for nearly six years, completing a degree in mural painting and ultimately a PhD in aesthetics from University of Paris 1 (Sorbonne). After a brief return to Seoul to teach at her alma mater, she moved to New York, where she worked as a creative director, before getting married in 1984 and uprooting to her now longtime home on the Peninsula. 

The dramatic shift in scenery and priorities required a major adjustment. “At the beginning, I would wake up every day and see all this same blue sky,” she recounts. “I didn’t know what to do —everything felt so different from New York.” A son and daughter soon followed, and Mirang found herself devoting all of her energies to her young children. As years slipped by, she felt the essence of her very being slipping away. “I make art for me,” she says. “I have to work and without work, I’m so miserable. It’s like how birds have to sing.” 

Committed to rekindling her dormant creativity, Mirang secured space at the Hunters Point Shipyard Studios in San Francisco and settled into a routine: Drop the kids at school. Drive up to the former U.S. naval complex-turned-art-colony. In the decades that followed, she evolved her art through experimentation and instinct. After working monochromatic for a while, “Something inside me says I need some color, and then I think I’d like to see more depth, so I add a second layer so the lower screen will see through. And then I think, ‘What else can I do?’” she says. 

Although she still maintains her Hunters Point studio as a personal gallery, Mirang finds her home studio better suited for artistic exploration. About six years ago, her work with stainless steel mesh led her down yet another path: “Since the metal is silvery, it’s beautiful, but I thought, ‘What if I add pure gold to it?’” After months of failed attempts, Mirang successfully mastered the centuries-old gilding technique, applying 12k, 18k and 24k gold leaf directly to the metal screen—golden accents evoking botanic, arboreal and even oceanic themes. 

Since her very first solo exhibit in 1973 in Paris, Mirang’s diverse art forms have attracted private collectors, along with being collected and shown in numerous museums and public spaces such as Musee d’Art Moderne de Paris, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco Asian Art Museum,  Seoul City Museum, Triton Museum of Art in Santa Clara and the de Saisset Museum at Santa Clara University. Her de Saisset exhibit caught the eye of Stanford Health Care, which commissioned large lobby installations and major paintings for its new Stanford Cancer Center construction in San Jose. Mirang lost her husband to brain cancer in 2011, so the project came at a particularly meaningful time.

Photography Courtesy of Mirang Wonne

Mirang completed the commission in 2015, a collection of soothing four-season themed paintings and California Light, a freestanding 15-foot by 12-foot massive stainless steel mesh installation. Requiring 17-foot screens, the project prompted Mirang to cut up into her ceiling and install a pulley in the attic. With four overlapping torched panels, the final artwork couldn’t be fully assembled and viewed until it was completed. “It was impossible to see in my home studio, so it was such a scary moment,” Mirang says. “But the installation looks beautiful and I feel so good about it.” 

Although Mirang finds personal fulfillment in the creation of art, she embraces the free-flowing nature of interpretation. “There’s something very different between the artist’s and the collector’s view,” she observes. “Sometimes they see something very different from what I was thinking, and it’s the artwork talking directly to them.” With close friends beginning to retire, Mirang remains grateful to have an artistic outlet that sustains her—and the Peninsula’s natural beauty to inspire her. “I just want to say thanks to California and California sunlight,” she says. “I’m so lucky to live here. I tell my children to appreciate that they live in paradise.” 

Tidal 3672-2 Courtesy of Almac-Donald Felton

How Margot got her Morsels

The truth is, Margot Hirsch was destined to get into the food business; it’s just that it took a few decades for her intended fate to materialize.

She currently puts the Margot in Margot’s Morsels, bite-sized snacks made from handmade sourdough bread she coats in a variety of flavors: garlic, sea salt, parmesan and rosemary. If you shop at Draeger’s, Bianchini’s or Roberts Markets, perhaps you’ve noticed these curious crunches popping up throughout the last year.

While akin to croutons, these morsels are no simple salad topper. Try keeping the sound of crunches down while reaching for another handful. The munch is proving versatile as several of Margot’s more zealous customers have integrated them into recipes such as “Mac and Cheese with Zing” or “Michela’s Savory Bread Pudding.” 

For Margot, it’s a two-day process to bake and pack the snacks; however, getting to this point required a much greater investment in time. 

Margo’s first flirtation with food enterprising happened in the 1980s on an entirely different coastal seaboard. Margot was born in New York but by then she was living in Boston. The foodie had the idea of blending an ice cream parlor with a nightclub: 

“I wanted to start a nighttime dessert bar with music. I have a sweet tooth and I wanted a place with amazing desserts that also had an awesome atmosphere with wine and after-dinner drinks. I laugh now because I researched coffee a lot and this was in 1985… Starbucks came out and stole my idea!”

Jumping forward, after living in Portola Valley and Woodside for about a decade while working in sales, Margot’s hunger pains to launch her own food venture were not quelled. In fact, the daydreams were beginning to mesh with her day job.

“Food venture number two was a mix of my love of food and my sales background,” she begins. “Whenever you’re on a sales team, a lot of the team-building things you do are… not fun. I came up with an ‘edible event.’ It was a space where people could come together in a big kitchen and dining area to do corporate events. I got an SBA loan but then chickened out—I was doing it by myself so I pulled the plug.”

Instead, Margot joined the EdTech company Blackboard as its regional vice president for international sales before turning her focus to activism, establishing the Smart Tech Challenges Foundation in 2013 with a mission to address gun violence by fostering innovation in firearm safety.

But the bitter taste of an unchased dream remained. Fortunately for Margot, she was not alone the next time an edible idea struck.

“My husband Milt is incredibly supportive and Margot’s Morsels is a joint passion project. I may be making it but it’s his bread. We would never have started any of this if it wasn’t for Milt and his bread.”

Milt has been a serious bread-maker for close to 20 years. He studied at the San Francisco Baking Institute and learned from Tartine Bread’s Chad Roberts. When Milt bakes, he bakes. Sometimes more loaves than a single household can handle.

 To compensate for the leftovers, Margot and Milt began making croutons with the unused loaves, dousing them in garlic and serving them as snacks. After friends started giving encouraging feedback, Margot decided to refocus her attention in early 2020.

“I’ve always wanted to have my own business,” she told herself. “No guts, no glory—that’s always been my mantra, so I better step it up and live it. It’s time to go for it.”

They started exploring flavor profiles. Milt is passionate about parmesan cheese (“He gets 36-month-aged parm because he feels that it’s much better than 24-month-aged,” Margot notes.) and they began sourcing cheese from the same purveyors who supply the likes of Arguello’s and Gary Danko. Margot collaborated with KitchenTown in San Mateo for nutrition analysis and coaching, and by June, they were ready to test their product at farmers markets for pure objective feedback. 

“It’s like being in a live taste test,” Margot says of the markets. “I would hear things like, ‘My four-year-old son cannot live without his morsels.’ The great thing is that you get instant feedback and repeat business is indicative of how good the products are. What sustains you at farmers markets are your regulars; that’s at least half of my business. Michela is a perfect example; she said that she loved the morsels so much she made a bread pudding—who would have ever thought to do that?”

Margot now works out of a commercial kitchen where her lifelong dream is in full swing. She employs five part-time workers who help with cooking and packaging, sometimes producing upwards of 1,000 bags a month. She incorporates a social responsibility element into the business by working with a nearby nonprofit to hire folks with disabilities. Together, Margot and her team bake and package intermittently throughout the week; on Thursdays, she whips up hot chocolate with marshmallows as a special treat. Finally, Margot is running the show precisely as she always wanted.

“Being ‘the boss’ is totally overrated,” she deadpans. “I worked at Angel Investors with Ron Conway years ago and those were long hours and hard work. What I didn’t factor in is how much harder it is at this age; I’m schlepping 20 pounds of morsels! I just dropped eight 20-pound boxes of morsels at UPS earlier today.”

The reach of Margot’s Morsels expands every month as Margot flexes her techniques as a former Silicon Valley sales shark to nab more shelf space across the country. She recently landed a contract with the gift basket company Spoonful of Comfort and added markets in Georgia, Oregon and Wyoming to the list of retailers. Having successfully launched a growing business during a period of economic constraints, Margot gazes towards the future with optimism.

“I think you’re going to see a lot of new business out of 2020. People have to be resourceful; I had to find another way to make a livelihood, and I really believe we’ll see a positive side,” she reasons. “Food startups in particular will probably do well; everybody is home, and everybody is eating.”

Pizza on the Rise

I’m just crazy about pizza,” says Omid Zahedi, who owns Rise Pizzeria in Burlingame and Rise Woodfire in San Mateo with his wife Susan Payrovi. But that wasn’t always the case. 

Iranian-born Omid’s entrée to the pizza business came after his family immigrated to Orange County in 1979. His father had been a decorated colonel in the police force, but coming to America meant starting over.

“We ended up getting into the pizza business because my sister married a guy who had some pizza shops,” Omid explains, which led to his father opening his own. “I was this immigrant kid who was forced into these restaurants,” he says. Back then, he resented it.

While attending community college, Omid pursued his own pizza concept with a partner: “We were doing this uninspired fast-food pizza, and there was nothing special about it. It was just a way to make money.” Soured on the restaurant business, Omid pursued a career in finance instead. 

It wasn’t until years later that he rediscovered his love for pizza at L.A.’s Pitfire Pizzeria. “They were doing these thin-crust pizzas that were so much better than what we were putting out when I was a kid,” he shares. Inspired, he started making pizzas at home. Experimenting with dough recipes and incorporating topping ideas from restaurants he visited while travelling led to ordering a 6,000-pound brick oven. 

“We built it on my driveway and then couldn’t get it into the backyard,” he says. The solution? Put the oven on a trailer that he could haul in and out of the garage. “I used to roll it out on my driveway, invite friends over and make 30 or 40 pizzas. It was a passion, so it didn’t feel like work,” he recalls fondly.

When Omid and Susan moved to Foster City to raise their family—they now have three boys—driveway pizza parties became a way to connect with their community while raising money for causes close to their hearts: their kids’ school and the Multiple Sclerosis Society.

Determined to turn his passion into a brick-and-mortar business, Omid spent his weekends looking for the right location. In 2015, he and Susan finally found a home for their “fine casual” pizza concept on Burlingame Avenue. 

Working with architect Jim Maxwell, they gutted the space and created a family-friendly counter-service restaurant that features a covered patio with a fire pit. Rise opened in June 2016. From day one, “It was very busy—more than we could handle at first,” Omid recalls. 

The menu represents Omid’s love of pizza, inspired by favorite pies enjoyed at his favorite pizzerias. Double Pepperoni and Margherita are the biggest sellers, but Smoked Pancetta with Yukon Potato and Calabrese with Raw Honey also rank highly among customer favorites. 

A custom flour blend of organic whole wheat, organic rye, wheat germ, and two kinds of bread flour, in addition to the inclusion of a sponge pre-ferment, differentiate Rise’s thin-crust pizzas from traditional Neapolitan-style pies. The sponge—a mixture of water, flour and yeast that ferments for 12 hours—imparts flavor to the dough by souring it a bit. The dough-making process takes about 48 hours and includes multiple rises. “That’s where the name ‘Rise’ comes from,” notes Omid. 

Susan, a physician at Stanford Health Care, brings a health-focused influence to Rise. “Everything on the menu, she has input on,” Omid says. One thing she was adamant about: no high-fructose corn syrup. “That’s why there’s no Coke machine,” he points out. They also eschew GMO products and choose organic ingredients whenever possible. 

By 2018, Omid had left his wealth-management job to run Rise full-time. He was also considering replicating Rise pizzerias across the Peninsula. Scouting locations led him to a 6,500-square-foot vacant space at the San Mateo Caltrain station on B Street. Despite the building’s size, Omid was not impressed. “It was dark and dingy—an old, sad, closed-down restaurant,” he recalls, with one interesting feature: the second floor’s cathedral ceiling. A fan of design and architecture, he was intrigued by the detail, but it wasn’t enough to sell him on the space. 

“The only way I would take it—and I didn’t think the city would say ‘yes’—would be to eliminate the second floor,” he says. But the city agreed, and the project was a go. Envisioning a complete renovation, Omid again collaborated with Jim Maxwell; they looked to Denver’s Union Station for design inspiration. Considering the interior’s square footage, “We knew that pizza alone was not going to do it,” Omid says. He drew on another passion—grilling and woodfire cooking—to round out the concept. 

Two years in the making, Rise Woodfire opened in October 2020.The design is train station-inspired industrial chic with a touch of mid-century modern. With the 40-foot ceiling exposed, the main dining room is spacious and bright. The seating area’s tables and booths are ensconced between the open kitchen and a marble-topped bar that runs the length of the interior. Two hand-built Acunto woodfired ovens from Naples, Italy, are at the heart of the kitchen, along with a stainless-steel rotisserie. 

The “Train Car Room,” intended for events, has a tin ceiling and unique Italian wall art. A newly-constructed patio, designed with physical distancing in mind, has moveable wall panels and can function as an enclosed or open-air dining room. All-season al fresco dining is set up on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant with umbrellas and heat lamps. 

The menu showcases Rise’s pizzas while also including an assortment of wood-fired sides that can be ordered á la carte or as part of a large-plate meal of rotisserie-cooked meat, wood fired salmon or roasted cauliflower. Diners can also choose from a selection of salads, sandwiches, small plates and housemade desserts. 

The bar program includes six California craft beers on tap and a curated wine list of mostly California varietals. The evolving specialty cocktail menu showcases Rise Woodfire’s take on well-known tipples, such as the pretty-in-pink Mezcalopolitan that subs mezcal for vodka and pomegranate juice for cranberry. 

If Rise Pizzeria was a homecoming of sorts for Omid and his family, Rise Woodfire represents an evolution. “It’s an extension of who we are,” he says. “We want this to become a staple of the community, a place where locals and families can hang out. For now, we’re going to be focused on making this everything it can be—we’re just getting started.

The Beat On Your Eats

There’s nothing better than comfort food on a chilly winter day—coming to you in all shapes and ways.

Ladle & Leaf

Burlingame, San Mateo, San Carlos, Palo Alto, Los Altos

Inspired by the idea that soup nourishes the body and warms the soul, Jennifer and Steve Sarver founded the San Francisco Soup Company in 1999. When the company’s brick-and-mortar restaurants took a hit in 2020, the family-owned business pivoted to Ladle & Leaf, which offers an online ordering and convenient local neighborhood pick-up approach. Starting with more than a dozen signature soups including Grandma Mary’s Chicken Noodle, Organic Smoky Split Pea and Organic Southwestern Corn Chowder, Ladle & Leaf expanded its pick-up menu to include happy tummy entrees like Organic White Cheddar Macaroni & Cheese, Beef Short Ribs and Grilled Chicken Enchiladas, along with sandwiches/wraps, grain bowls, salads, sides and desserts. Visit ladleandleaf.com/pickup for the full menu, ordering instructions and Peninsula pick-up locations.

Courtesy of Proposition Chicken

Proposition Chicken

Menlo Park

This choose-your-own-chicken adventure begins with a decision: fried or flipped? The choice between a slowly-roasted rotisserie chicken or the signature herb and spice blend counterpart is further challenged again: sandwich or salad? From here, it’s up to you to choose your sidekicks, from fries to honey mustard wings to the brown sugar-caramelized Brussels sprouts. This SF-based micro chain recently opened its first pop-up and chose downtown Menlo Park as its fertile testing ground. Located within the Shiok! Singapore Kitchen, Proposition Chicken wants to remind you that you’re the master of your own dining destiny. Call it bespoke bock bock. 1137 Chestnut Street. Open Monday through Friday from 11AM to 2:30PM; 5PM to 8:30PM; Saturday from 5PM to 8:30PM and closed on Sunday.

Cuisinett

San Calos

Au revoir to your hunger pains. Geoffroy Raby had a vision to bring a new style of French food to the Peninsula. Forget what you knew about the cuisine, Geoffroy wanted to bring back the neighborhood café that he grew up in. At Cuisinett, located centrally downtown, the nine-inch quiches talk first with the choice of the forestière (spinach, goat cheese and mushrooms), lorraine (bacon, onions and gruyere cheese) or the provençale (zucchini, goat cheese and fine herbs). Other favorites include the bœuf à la Bourguignonne, slowly braised beef short ribs with red wine, or the cheese and pork pate trays. Come for the food, leave with comfort. 1105 San Carlos Avenue. Open for pick-up and delivery Tuesday through Saturday from 4PM to 8PM.

Lyfe-Changer

It didn’t start easy. Adam Azevedo was born with cerebral palsy, grew up around an abusive stepfather and experienced homelessness in San Francisco for several years. When he worked as a firefighter, he witnessed tragedies while battling wildfires and rescuing people after grim car accidents. 

Given his first-hand experience with some of the toughest challenges and suffering a human has to face, Adam could be excused for possessing a nihilistic attitude. But he remains unshakably enthusiastic.

“He’s basically my therapist, my nutritionist and my trainer all in one,” is how client Lauren Altbaier describes him. “The adversity he has overcome in his life is channeled into his motivation and care for others.”

As the founder and CEO of the San Mateo-based mobile physical training and wellness company Lyfe2U, Adam emerged from hardships with a newfound purpose: Inspiring over 300 clients to live their healthiest lives. 

It’s the same mindset he once used to push himself out of a vicious cycle of habits. Adam cuts a lean, athletic figure these days, but he still remembers stepping on a scale in 2006 and weighing 310 pounds. At the time, Adam was between stints working for Cal Fire, and still trying to work through the tribulations of his turbulent youth. In that moment—staring at the number on the scale—he realized he had to chart a more sustainable course for his life.

“I was drinking a little too much and eating unhealthily,” he admits. “I’m kind of an all-or-nothing type of guy, so I needed to go all-in on the other way.”

For Adam, “all-in” meant relinquishing drinking and reforming his diet. He says he cut off many friends who were poor influences on his lifestyle and then returned to the fire service. Pushing himself further, he completed a master’s degree in psychology from California Coast University in Santa Ana. 

Hearing the unfamiliar terminology his therapists used, Adam was naturally curious about the science behind the advice they gave him. Earning his degree was also an extension of his therapeutic process, satisfying a desire to know what was going on in his head and better understand the abusive treatment in his past.

But the most lasting takeaway from his studies was learning the art of motivation.

“The mind is like the doorway into the soul,” Adam says. “How do you affect the mind? You learn how the mind works, you learn psychology—if I could get people to change the way they think about things, then it would affect the way they live.”

Today, Adam tells his clients how bad decisions beget bad decisions, whereas good decisions build upon prior good decisions. As past-Adam neared the end of his master’s degree, he was taking his own advice to heart. With his physical and mental metamorphosis underway, he started helping other firefighters with unhealthy habits. He took charge of the firefighter fitness program for his district, writing comprehensive fitness plans for the stations.

His fresh joy for life carried over to his day-to-day firefighting duties. Once, when called to the scene of a suicidal person, Adam revived the victim through CPR. He then sat with the person and relayed his own life story.

“When you live right, life works out,” Adam says with a relaxed confidence. “When you eat right, you feel better. When you exercise and move right, you feel better.”

Adam greatly credits his close family for his turnaround. He’s known his wife, Lyndia, since he was nine years old. He says she has supported him through his darkest hours and that his goal for Lyfe2U is to grow the company to a point where Lyndia can retire from her job as a nurse. 

When the couple had their son, Rudy, in 2014, Adam says it was another transformative moment for him: His identity morphed from firefighter to “Rudy’s dad.”

“My whole goal in life is that he would never have to experience anything that I did as a child,” Adam says. “To make Rudy’s life better than mine—that’s all I really live for.” For Adam, the sentiment only intensified with the birth of his daughter, Neyali.

The idea for Lyfe2U came to Adam after his experience working as a personal trainer. Adam’s self-taught motivational skills and natural ability to build relationships set him up for success when he landed a job at a local Equinox gym. There, he learned the nuances of personal training and saw up-close how well his voice resonated with clients.

“One woman I trained had a goal to ‘feel comfortable’ in a gym,” Adam recalls. “Within two weeks, we’re doing pull-ups and lifting weights, and she had this look of empowerment in her eyes. I realized that through fitness, other than just getting buff or losing weight, I could really help change people’s lives.”

Adam launched his own gym and personal training service in 2018, and his community of support continued to grow. In 2020, as each Peninsula industry encountered obstacles, Adam was quick to adapt to his trainees’ demands for outdoor or virtual workouts.

“Ninety percent of my customers said, ‘I don’t want to give this up because it has become a part of my lifestyle,” Adam recounts. “As a trainer, that should be where we are focused. My goal for them is that in a year, they wouldn’t even need me.”

Working with his team of Lyfe2U trainers, Adam offers an array of health and fitness opportunities to match the needs of a diverse client base, whether it’s a young athlete, a 50-year-old seeking to regain his former “football body” or a 75-year-old working on balance. Adam’s retrofitted moving van now stores a jungle of gym equipment, which allows Adam to train clients in their driveways, yards or public parks. He also conducts virtual group fitness classes and nutrition seminars, as well as coordinating corporate wellness programs. 

Ultimately, he just wants to make healthy living more enjoyable for each client—however that manifests itself.

“My goal is that you’ll always feel better after rather than before,” Adam says. “In training, you hear all the time, ‘no pain, no gain.’ But that’s not my model. I want you motivated to work out the very next day.”

Given the success of Lyfe2U, Adam also started coaching other gym coaches and personal trainers on how to work with clients outdoors and at their homes. He relays how the personal and intimate relationships that he builds with clients are held with sincere regard and respect.

“I don’t take it lightly that someone lets me onto their property to help them exercise,” he says. “They let me use their restrooms and they let me meet their kids. With almost everyone I work with, I’ll work with multiple members of their family. This is a huge honor.”

Take, for example, the entire Altbaier family, all of whom have become Lyfe2U clients. For the last year, Adam has worked with Lauren on her strength and conditioning. After seeing Lauren’s progress, her husband Chad began joining them in their Burlingame driveway. Then Chase, their 10-year-old son, started doing speed and agility drills. “It’s become a real family affair,” observes Lauren. 

Heading into 2021, Adam continues to embrace what he calls “a complete transformation of perspective.” Whereas he used to wonder, “Why do all these bad things happen to me?” he now finds himself pondering, “Why is life so good to me?” It’s a mindset (and eventual reality) shift he tirelessly works to convey to his clients: “Life is way too great to not be lived to its fullest—I’m a perfect example of that.”

Adam’s 2021 Top Tips:

+ Be grateful. Expressing gratitude for what
you have helps you forget what you don’t.

+ Set realistic goals that start small and build
upon each other. 

+ Serve others by giving of your time,
talents or treasures. 

+ Move more tomorrow than you did today.

+ Embrace the feeling of an increased heart-
rate and sore muscles. 

+ Pick a fitness goal to achieve each month, e.g.
walk or run a mile, perform a 1-minute plank.

+ Drink fewer calories.

+ Eat more locally-grown seasonal foods.

+ Be creative with a variety of food choices.

Cross-Country Serenity

Against a bluebird sky that skiers dream about, I strap on my gear and begin striding through a stunningly picturesque frosty white meadow, before ascending a tree-lined trail up into the woods. A longtime downhill skier, I’ve always been curious about the cross-country experience, and with the sun sparkling off the snow, I register each breath of fresh air as I propel myself through an Aspen forest, lost in the beauty of my surroundings. Hoping for a great workout, I discover a backcountry immersion I rarely find on downhill skis. Well-marked trails keep me on track and eventually lead me back to civilization from my wilderness experience.

If you are longing for an easy, uncrowded escape to snow country, consider the benefits and tranquility of cross-country or Nordic skiing. Having originated in Norway out of necessity (think: efficient way to travel over snow-covered land), cross-country skiing is now considered one of the best all-around fitness sports with the bonus upside of blissfully peaceful scenery. If gliding for miles and miles sounds appealing, here’s a sampling of nearby winter getaways.  

Courtesy of Bear Valley Adventure Company

Bear Valley Bound

In just three hours on scenic roads through gold country, Peninsula snow seekers can arrive in Bear Valley’s white-blanketed mountains with acres of cross-country trails to explore. Recently ranked number two among the top cross-country centers in North America by USA Today, Bear Valley Cross-Country Center is a hidden treasure.

With over 3,000 acres and 38 trails, Bear Valley offers something for every level and age. “One of the unique aspects of Bear Valley is that it starts in a meadow, so all ability levels will be successful right out of the gate,” says Bear Valley Adventure Company manager Aaron Johnson. “We have one of the best trail systems in the world and I feel very fortunate to be looking after it.” 

Courtesy of Bear Valley Adventure Company

Nordic or cross-country skiing is a bargain at Bear Valley with day passes running at $35. Families can purchase inexpensive rental and lesson packages at the Bear Valley Adventure Company and spend the day exploring, then break for a warm nibble and local wines on the deck of the Meadow Cafe. Skiers can also opt to grab a picnic lunch from the cafe and enjoy the views trailside at one of the picnic tables or warming huts (pending restrictions). In addition, many trails are dog-friendly with the purchase of a $5 pass.

Snowshoers and sledders will also find plenty to do at Bear Valley. Snowshoeing has gained popularity with the ease of new lightweight equipment and access to cross-country trails. “If you can walk, then you can snowshoe,” explains Aaron. “Winter sledding enthusiasts flock to Bear Valley as well where they can sled and tube in a managed area but with many of the hazards mitigated.” 

Accommodations at Bear Valley are abundant in charm but limited in offering as many are Airbnb cabins with snowmobile service required due to unplowed roads. Just 15 minutes away in nearby Arnold, you’ll find Black Bear Inn, offering five well-appointed guest rooms with a full sit-down breakfast included daily. Further down Highway 4, the popular destination town of Murphys blends high-end western and wine country style with a mix of accommodations, galleries and tasting rooms.

Courtesy of the Hotel at Sugar Bowl – Vancefox.com

Royal Gorge Retreat

Just before Donner Summit on Highway 80, Royal Gorge Cross-Country Resort offers an alternative to the more populated Tahoe basin with 137 trails and a surface lift carrying cross-country skiers to the edge of the backcountry. As the largest cross-country ski area in North America, Royal Gorge’s groomed and tracked trails provide views and varied terrain that take skiers through meandering forests and past sweeping vistas. With warming huts (pending restrictions) peppered along the way, daily groomed tracks cross over 9,000 acres of Sierra wilderness.

“With the network of cross-country trails and the views available of pristine lands, you can be completely on your own and not see another skier,” emphasizes Jon Slaughter, Royal Gorge’s director of marketing. “One of our popular trails, Razor Back Ridge, takes you to a lookout over Castle Peak where you can see the actual Royal Gorge.”

Courtesy of the Hotel at Sugar Bowl – Vancefox.com

For a breezy day of exploration, start your ski trek at Summit Station at Royal Gorge Lodge. Ski across Van Norden Meadow for six kilometers and you’ll arrive at Sugar Bowl Ski Resort. Enjoy lunch on the sun deck—pack along a picnic or pick up to-go items—before returning across the meadow. With 30 kilometers of dog-friendly trails, Royal Gorge also welcomes canine companions.

Snowshoeing is another popular and entry-level way to enjoy and explore this winter paradise. Royal Gorge offers 60 kilometers of dedicated snowshoe trails. Guests can rent equipment and do same-day trade-in for skate skis, a more advanced form of Nordic skiing, or snowshoes for no additional fee. The Hotel at Sugar Bowl offers nearby slopeside accommodations for Royal Gorge skiers. Located at the foot of Sugar Bowl Ski Resort, the classic high-alpine lodge is a great choice for both convenience and ambience.

Courtesy of the Hotel at Sugar Bowl – Vancefox.com

Kirkwood: Off the Beaten Track

Peninsula adventurers can take the road less traveled and journey on Highway 88 to Kirkwood Mountain Resort, known for its abundant snowfall and located 45 minutes south of South Lake Tahoe. Just down the road, Kirkwood Ski and Snowshoe Center is nestled next to one of the last undeveloped meadows of its size in the Sierra. With over 60 kilometers of groomed trails, Kirkwood’s cross-country trails access the expansive Kirkwood Meadow ringed by mountains towering 2,000 feet above the valley floor. Skiers can bring their dogs on one of the designated dog-friendly meadow loops and stop for lunch at Kirkwood Village. The daily groomed two-mile loop trails are perfectly suited for beginners and afford stunning views and glimpses of Pyramid Peak in the distance.

Courtesy of Kirkwood Mountain Resort

Skiers can pick up day passes at the Ski and Snowshoe Center, which offers rentals, lessons and affordable day packages. The trails range from easy, flat to varied terrain in a large network of three different trail regions and typography. The Caples Creek system, for example, provides peaceful trails along creeks where outdoor enthusiasts can get a glimpse of winter wildlife. 

Courtesy of Kirkwood Mountain Resort

Just five minutes up the valley, the Lodge at Kirkwood offers a classic ski lodge experience with alpine-style residences in the heart of the village. Unfortunately, the 140-year-old former stagecoach stop, the Kirkwood Inn, will be closed this season, but be sure to catch this historic dining spot on a future trip. About 15 minutes from Kirkwood, the recently renovated Wylder Hotel Hope Valley (formerly Sorensen’s Resort) offers a mix of accommodations including bungalows and cabins, yurts, campsites and even a vintage Spartan. This popular destination offers tented, heated dining and take-out and their own network of cross-country trails steps away from the hotel.

Central Tahoe City Trails

If you are staying in North Lake Tahoe, the Tahoe Cross-Country Ski Area is nestled in the terrain above Tahoe City just two miles out of town. This community-based ski area offers 22 trails with 50 kilometers of Nordic skiing through pine forests and with views of Lake Tahoe. Many of the trails are groomed daily and all of the cross-country gear and lessons you need are available at the ski area—along with snowshoe rentals. In addition, parents who want to add extra fitness to their ski day can rent pull-behind sleds that tow young children behind them. Three warming huts will be available along the trails this season. However, you won’t find the usual beverage services, so it’s a good idea to carry supplies on your trek. Grab-and-go lunches are the current offering at the Free Heel Cafe at the lodge and guests can warm up next to newly installed outdoor fire pits.

Courtesy of Ren Fuller

Woodside’s Michelin Star

Spend time talking with Tim Stannard, founder and managing director of Bacchus Management Group, and a pattern emerges. His life is a series of pivots. 

The seeds of Tim’s career in restaurants were sown growing up in San Francisco. He was raised by a single mother who worked for one of the first restaurant groups, Spectrum Foods, which morphed into the Il Fornaio chain of Italian eateries. Tim and his brother would often tag along while she worked.

As an undergrad at the University of California at Berkeley, Tim set his sights on a career in academia. But his early exposure to the restaurant business and the proximity to Chez Panisse, where he dined when he could save up the dollars, continued to tug at him.

He put off grad school and got a job working for Doug “Bix” Biederbeck, at his namesake restaurant, located in an alley near Jackson Square. Bix was—and is—known not only for its food but also for the art on its walls, a soundtrack of jazz standards and one of the best martinis in the City.

“I bussed tables, was a food runner and a bartender and really got to experience all aspects of the business,” Tim says. “Even though I continued to think I wanted to be a college professor, I stayed working for Doug. I loved every minute of it. Grad school got put off, and I completely got the bug.”

Call it the first big pivot.

After a stint with the PlumpJack Group in a variety of management positions, Tim formed Bacchus Management Group and opened The Village Pub in 2001, taking over from Ralph Oswald, who had managed a restaurant of the same name in the same Woodside location since 1958. 

But it was not without another pivot. While Oswald’s Pub fronted Woodside Road, Tim moved the new Pub downstairs, so to speak, where it fronts a parking lot across from a creek. That now-fortuitous decision made 20 years ago is yielding an unanticipated benefit. As the county issued outdoor dining mandates, tables sprung up where cars once parked.

The Village Pub was going to be the group’s only restaurant. “I was firm about that,” Tim recalls. But it didn’t take long to pivot yet again. “Sometimes creative itches need to get scratched,” he explains, “and I got the opportunity to open a neighborhood pizza joint at Santana Row.” Tim opened Pizza Antica in three locations in 2003, 2004 and 2005. He also couldn’t get an old garage in San Francisco’s Presidio Heights neighborhood out of his mind. In 2007, he launched Spruce, which has garnered a Michelin star every year since 2011. 

Tim and his family moved from San Francisco to Woodside in 2012. “My son was getting older and needed more space to run around,” he says. And Bacchus Management Group continued to grow. 

The current tally is seven restaurants, eight counting Selby’s, which offered a daily family meal through last fall before shuttering with an anticipated reopening in spring 2021. “Selby’s was built for big celebrations and large groups of people dining together,” Tim notes. “When it’s safe for people to gather in groups and safe for our staff to serve large groups of people, we’ll bring Selby’s out of hibernation.”

Other Bacchus restaurants include The Village Bakery in Woodside (with its adjacent bakery and outdoor dining in front) and The Saratoga in San Francisco. And now 2021 marks a milestone year for Tim, with The Village Pub celebrating its 20th anniversary. His first restaurant was awarded its first Michelin star in 2009 and has held one ever since. 

That’s not the only thing The Village Pub has held on to. Many of its servers, bartenders and kitchen staff have been there almost since opening. “From the beginning, there was a strong belief in service and hospitality and an investment in people,” Tim says. 

The Pub interior may say “fine dining,” but the menu is more eclectic, including the eponymous Pub Burger. When Tim was planning the menu with Executive Chef Mark Sullivan, they agreed that they wanted to serve the entire community in as many ways as possible, whether patrons are stopping by to get a quick bite or celebrating a wedding anniversary or hosting a business dinner.

That meant having a burger on the menu. “I can’t tell you how many burgers I ate,” Tim recalls with a chuckle. “Ultimately, it was Mark with his house-made English muffin bun that proved the winner.”

While Tim is happy that the original concept has remained the same and that “The Village Pub has found its natural place,” he acknowledges that there has been incremental change over the years. Twenty years ago, the soundtrack was all about Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin and now it’s more skewed to his personal taste, “everything from The Rolling Stones to Louis Armstrong.”

A number of Tim’s pivots spring from personal lackluster experiences. A “really bad martini” was the inspiration for the ice-cold, served-at-the-table martinis at Selby’s. Then there were the repeated bad cups of coffee.

“There was a period when there wasn’t a lot of great coffee in the Bay Area,” he says. So, his longing for a “really, really good cup of coffee” led to the founding of Roast Coffee Company in 2006, which creates single-origin and blended offerings from farms around the world with master roaster Alex Roberts at the helm. Available locally at Roberts Market, it’s now served at all the Bacchus restaurants along with some high-end restaurants in the Bay Area.

Tim’s obsession with fresh, local and seasonal ingredients led to SMIP Ranch Produce, a 5½-acre farm located in the hills above Woodside. Everything is produced without synthetic pesticides, herbicides or fertilizers. Along with being served at the restaurants, the produce is available to the public through a weekly CSA program.

Pivoting extends to the art on Bacchus restaurant walls. “Look at the art at the restaurants and you’ll get a glimpse of my eclectic tastes, which evolve over time,” he says. “What I buy for myself often ends up on one of the restaurant’s walls.”

And it extends to Bacchus Events, which launched last November. “We’ve been planning this new catering company for some time,” he explains. “I’m very proud of how quickly the team shifted and is creating beautiful dinner experiences for guests to enjoy at home rather than the venues we’d identified.” Over the holidays, Bacchus Events hosted virtual cocktail parties, wine tastings and cooking classes. “You name it and we’ll Zoom it, until large groups can gather again,” he says.

Tim admits that it’s not always easy to pivot from one endeavor to the next. “I have two recurring nightmares,” he confides. “The first is that we hire, train and polish, and the opening day arrives and nobody comes. The other is that we open, and there are lines out the door but I’m the only one inside trying to do it all!”

With his exceptionally full plate, Tim does a good job keeping stressful thoughts at bay. That’s not surprising given that he named his company after the Greek god Bacchus, a symbol of revelry and chaos. “Managing chaos,” he muses. “That’s what it feels like to run a restaurant group.”

Happily Ever afterwards

Katie and Bob Hanson were at an impasse caused by the (out) growing pains of operating a flourishing business. Now the fate of their downtown Menlo Park shop rested on the outcome of a gyrating coin that had been flipped up into the air.

 This was around 2002 as their consignment shop, afterwards, was just beginning to add home furnishings and furniture into its stock after they had established themselves as purveyors of world-class labels in women’s and men’s designer clothing for the Peninsula since 1990.

 Their new inventory of plush couches and mid-century chairs required showroom space, which the Hansons sorely lacked in their prime downtown locale.

When the adjacent unit next to their store facing El Camino Real became available, they jumped to secure it—just as a neighboring business also expressed interest in acquiring the extra square footage. For the landlord, it was a conundrum.

“So, the five of us literally stood in the back parking lot and did a coin toss,” Bob recounts as he strides through the vast, expanded showroom. 

Which side of the coin did the noted sports enthusiast claim before the fateful toss? “Heads,” he says. “Always call heads.”

 When Bob and Katie opened the doors of afterwards 30 years ago, the La Honda couple was playing a hunch for a growing market in designer consignment clothing. Their premonition proved astute; gone were the consumeristic 1980s, replaced by households overinvested in nice clothing and items now in need of an outlet for secondhand sales.

 They were selling posh styles well before Poshmark and they weathered complications including several recessions, the advent of an online market and a rocky 2020 by relying on the aptitude of Katie and Bob’s salesmanship—and cemented by the rich relationships forged with their customers and consigners. 

“We’re very involved and love helping people,” Katie says. “They come in looking for a dress for their wedding or to wear at a Nobel Prize ceremony. Or maybe it’s a treasure hunt for them and they love to come in for the experience of trying things on and touching them. It is retail therapy.”

 The couple learned their trade after working as longtime managers and buyers at Ralph Lauren stores in the Bay Area, including the Palo Alto location, before deciding to strike out on their own in September 1990.

 “We were struck by the entrepreneurial spirit,” Bob remembers. “Gap started as a jean store and began small before growing the business. It wasn’t like they had a PhD in retail; we felt that after the market crash of 1987, it made sense to try.”

 The early 1990s was a fertile ground for consignment shopping, still a nascent concept for shoppers, especially in a well-to-do region such as the Peninsula. Speaking to the Almanac some years after opening afterwards’ doors, Bob described the shift in attitude and approach to buying clothes previously worn.

“It wasn’t acceptable to be seen in these kinds of shops, which were normally placed on back streets,” he’s quoted as saying. “We noticed our regular customers coming to sales. We began to see Mercedes and Rolls Royces at Costco and the Price Club.”

Speaking of their launch today, Katie remembers defending the usability of used clothing one customer at a time.

“There was no eBay, no internet; we didn’t have any of that,” she says. “The only thing you might buy used was maybe a car. I remember when a reporter came in one day early on and she was gruff and didn’t sugarcoat her opinion about secondhand—but guess what she walked out with? A pre-owned Hermes scarf.”

The Hansons have only enhanced their prowess with their expansion into furniture and home furnishings, attracting regional attention from interior designers and remodelers. 

 “I met a guy once whose specialty was marketing and he said that ‘value equals benefit minus price,’” Bob explains. “We’ve sold sofas for $8,000-9,000 dollars when the MSRP (or sticker price) was $20,000. Based on that formula, there was enough of a benefit to buy it. There are people who could order that couch for $17,000 and not blink an eye but if they see it here with our price, it’s a no-brainer of a purchase.”

 In the back of the store above the door leading out to the parking lot is a sentimental illustration of afterwards’ employee number one: Roland, a Bernese Mountain Dog who never missed a day of work until his passing in 2002. Katie met the breeder by chance one afternoon outside Cafe Borrone and it had been their dream dog breed since spotting a picture of a Bernese Mountain Dog in a Ralph Lauren press kit.

 Roland’s name is an homage to “The Song of Roland,” an 11th-century epic poem based on the Battle of Roncevaux Pass in 778. It is the oldest surviving major work of French literature and a reflection of the Hansons’ shared passion for the written word.

 Both Bob and Katie were English majors who met one afternoon in the spring of 1983 in Palo Alto. 

Katie grew up in Bakersfield and graduated from Cal Berkeley with a degree in English. She was taking night computer classes while working at Ralph Lauren Palo Alto when they first encountered each other. 

Bob saw her from across the store on his first day ever stepping foot onto the Peninsula. Born in Kansas and graduating as an English major from Kansas University, Bob worked for specialty clothing stores before Ralph Lauren offered him a job. His options for relocating also included Hawaii and Arizona, but after meeting Katie in the Palo Alto store in May of ’83, he swiftly chose the Peninsula.

 The couple have much in common. “I used to kid that if you fell asleep in Kansas and woke up in Bakersfield, you wouldn’t know the difference,” Bob jests. “It reminds me so much of being home.”

 The Hansons live amongst the trees in La Honda where cats, rabbits, horses and dogs are part of the family. Their three children are now grown and live locally; their youngest son is 20 and plays baseball for Cañada College when he’s not helping his parents at the shop.

 Following 30 years of connecting sellers with buyers, the Hansons remain an indelible resource for the community.

 “We put a store in a prime location and by putting it here, we were saying that this is okay. This makes sense,” Bob points out. “Consignors bring in things that are no longer needed, we provide them to customers all while maintaining a business. It creates a win-win-win situation.”

Louis Vuitton Part Deux

A friend to afterwards for many years, Sue Milani handcrafts furniture made of authentic Louis Vuitton and Gucci materials she stitches together to repurpose into couture furniture. Always one-of-a-kind, no piece is ever the same.

 “I noticed the consignment industry was growing and I thought, ‘Let me see if I can find consignment that does furniture.’ afterwards is one of the very few,” Sue says. “We came together and it was the perfect marriage. I’m all about high-end and my craftsmanship has to be impeccable. When you are in this kind of work, people expect the best and I follow the guidelines of each particular brand. I know the expectation of Louis Vuitton—the dos and don’ts—so I make a great effort to be respectful to what is required from these companies.”

Perfect Shot: The Path Forward

“The scenery and serenity of Woodside always lift my spirits,” says PUNCH reader Dennis Hancock, who enjoys exploring his neighborhood on foot. Dennis captured this Perfect Shot on Manzanita Way, where the treetops seem to form a natural tunnel around an equestrienne on the pathway. 

Image by Dennis Hancock 

Diary of a Dog: Rugby

My family consists of Abhiroop, Ruchika, Ayanna and Amaanya and I represent their attempt at ensuring some semblance of equity in two very important areas—gender and name. Abhiroop was tired of being the only male in our otherwise all-female Hillsborough household and Ruchika was tired of being the only “R” in the company of “A”s. Hence they have me: A male Goldendoodle named Rugby! I joined our pack eight years ago, and I’m proud to say I’m a natural (albeit a bit demanding) leader. I sleep on Abhiroop and Ruchika’s bed and when they stretch their legs and I get pushed, I make sure to communicate my displeasure. I love a good belly rub/scratch and know how to keep the spa services coming—I’ve perfected an expert blend of evil eye and pawing incessantly. Thankfully, my family thinks I’m adorable so it usually doesn’t take too much persuasion. That being said, I refuse to be treated as a 40-pound, four-legged, canine ball of fluff. If we have visitors and they try to relegate me to the backyard with the visiting dog, I make it amply clear that this is not acceptable. I wail, whine and telepathize, “WHY HAVE YOU LEFT ME WITH THIS UNCOUTH ANIMAL? I NEED TO BE INSIDE DISCUSSING POLITICS AND SHARING YOUR FOOD!” Next thing you know, I am back inside all cozied up where I belong. Every dog has his day, no doubt, but in our house I have every day

Important Stuff

The things we own—the stuff of our lives—can be beautiful, useful for their own sakes or they can serve to remind us of a time or place or person that was an important part of our lives. I doubt that many of us keep things that bring back bad times, as what, really, would be the point? 

When we built our home, I designed a small study for myself with a built-in desk, bookcases and cabinets, a worn leather couch and an Oriental rug on the cherry wood floors. French doors look out to our side yard with a small fountain and a brick patio. It’s less grand than it sounds but it’s my space. The bookcase is reserved for my treasures, each holding a meaning for me.  

I only knew one grandparent, a grandmother named Beulah. She read to me, taught me how to play cribbage and was a refuge for me when my parents split up. One book that she shared with me was a slim volume called Just Like Everyone Else, a square red book that tells a delightful story of a boy who is just like everyone else until he isn’t. On its opening page is a simple note: “To Sloane. Love, Grandma.” I have this standing up in my bookcase and see it every day. 

Several pieces of art lie in the background of the shelves. One is a lion print created by my sister Shelley when she was in college; she gave it to me when I was a teenager and it has traveled with me ever since. Another is a small pleasing landscape etched by my favorite artist, Luigi Lucioni. There is also a precious watercolor, done by my then eight-year-old daughter Arielle, of our family at the park playing on a swing set. I think she captured the spirit of our family better than any photograph.

Several framed photos—black and white and color—tell their stories: my father with his mother and two younger siblings in Berlin when he was about seven years old before they escaped Nazi Germany; my mother at age four with her quarter-sized violin in a string quartet with three older boys; daughters Arielle and Talia as children with their arms lovingly wrapped around each other; an eight-year-old Josh scoring a soccer goal and a ten-year-old Coby throwing a perfect strike; and, finally, a sweet shot of my brother Dan, my sister Shelley and me when I was around two years old. 

There is the baseball I caught at Kenny Holtzman’s no-hitter in Chicago and then got Ernie Banks to sign the next day. Though the ink has largely faded, the ball conjures up one of the best two days in a young baseball-loving boy’s life.

I ended up with the kids’ Hanukkiah from my family—a rare perk of being the youngest—and it sits there waiting to be used for the eight nights of Hanukkah each year. It’s solid brass with two lion heads on either side of a large Magen David. Each year, my own kids light it and now my grandchildren will continue the tradition.

And then there are the books, lots of them, each with a story. In addition to Just Like Everyone Else, there are some first editions by Steinbeck, Kipling and Updike, mostly presents from my family. There are faded copies of Kidnapped, To Kill a Mockingbird and Adam Bede, and there is my Dad’s copy of Kon Tiki, the book that first showed me the joy of reading. 

There are several of the books written by my grandfather, Julius Citron, who was an early immunology pioneer, whose work is still relevant today. There are my copies of The Lone Ranger and Young Razzle, early books that have traveled with me, and Herman Wouk’s This is My God, a book that inspired me to live a committed Jewish life.

My Dad’s Ricohflex camera, with its big, boxy shape, forms an interesting design element up there on the top shelf, though few would recognize it as a camera today. I don’t actually remember him using it, but it is now its own piece of art.

One of my favorite items is a sand-powered box trapeze circus acrobat, a bar mitzvah gift. You turn the box around a few times and then the trapeze artist, in a manner similar to a wound grandfather clock, flips for several minutes. It is mesmerizing to watch the little guy silently swing over and over again, the swish of a few grains of sand pushing him forward.

These and other books and objects on the shelves weave together to tell my story, filling me with comfort and gratitude. But the adventures continue, and I am constantly editing the shelves to keep the things up-to-date and fresh; for the past is great, but the future is grander.

Burlingame Eucalyptus Tree Rows

Motorists on El Camino Real notice something different immediately upon entering Burlingame. The road narrows and the fast food restaurants and businesses that line much of the highway suddenly give way to a residential street lined by towering 150-year-old eucalyptus trees. For over a century, these majestic trees have welcomed visitors to the
mid-Peninsula town. In the 1920s, a local newspaper declared: “The State of California, famed throughout the world for the beauty of its vistas, has no more inspiring portion of highway than Burlingame’s grand boulevard. In all the long stretch of highway from San Francisco to San Jose, Burlingame’s prospect of graceful sentinel trees is the one real beauty spot.” Planted in the 1870s by famed landscape gardener John McLaren, the tunnel-forming canopy of well over 500 eucalyptus and elm trees was designed to enhance the value of local landowners’ estates by creating a beautiful, wind-protected boulevard out of what was then a largely barren, dusty dirt trail. The resulting park-like, landscaped environment predates the earliest California Highway tree planting program by nearly 50 years. Despite development pressure—especially during the 1920s when newfangled automobiles cruised the highway in growing numbers—Burlingame residents continuously rejected commercial land use along their stretch of El Camino Real. By 1930, Burlingame had become the first city in the nation to enact zoning to protect a historic resource—the highway trees. The 2.2-mile grove, aka The Howard Ralston Eucalyptus Tree Rows, was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2012. To learn more about Burlingame’s famous trees, visit burlingamehistory.org 

Festive Winter Drinks

While traditions may take a few twists and turns this year, festive winter drinks are always a great way to get into the holiday spirit—whether they include alcohol or just some added fizz. As Peninsula restaurants whip up dazzling seasonal concoctions, recently-released cookbooks add to the mix with tantalizing beverages you can make at home. PUNCH photography director and food editor Paulette Phlipot curates a selection sure to infuse an extra element of joy into your celebration.

Burnt Lemon Vodka Tincture 

from Nourish Me Home by Cortney Burns with permission from Chronicle Books, 2020

Makes 4⁄₄ cups

6 lemons 

3 1⁄₄ cups vodka 

Quarter the lemons and remove the seeds. Over an open flame, char the lemons until the flesh is blackened; leave the skins as unburnt as possible to retain the essential oils. Combine with the vodka in a large jar or container. Seal and leave in a cool, dark place for three weeks to infuse. Strain and store in a sealed container. 

(Paulette) There are endless possibilities for what you can make with this tincture. Here’s a simple idea to get you started:

Burnt Lemon Rosemary Cocktail 

Serves 1

1 oz burnt lemon vodka tincture

1-2  tbls of rosemary simple syrup*

4 oz sparkling water

1 sprig of fresh rosemary 

Fill a glass with ice, add vodka tincture and simple syrup (stir the syrup well before using), top with sparkling water and stir. Garnish with rosemary.

*Rosemary Simple Syrup

6-8 cocktails

1 cup water 

1⁄₂ cup honey

8 sprigs fresh rosemary

Add honey and water to a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir occasionally while bringing to a boil. Once boiling, lower heat to a simmer and add rosemary sprigs. Simmer for 10 minutes, then turn off heat. Let it steep for 30 minutes. Strain the syrup to remove the rosemary. Once cool, place in a glass jar, seal and keep cool in the refrigerator until ready to use. Be sure to stir before using.

Grapefruit Soda with Chai Masala

from The Flavor Equation by Nik Sharma with permission from Chronicle Books, 2020 

My husband loves grapefruit, so one year I surprised him with a dwarf Ruby Red Grapefruit plant. The little plant is housed in a big pot only a few feet high but bears impressively large, orb-like yellow citrus that are extremely fragrant when sliced. Sometimes I collect the juice and stir it into a simple syrup made with chai masala (tea spices). I infuse whole spices rather than ground into the simple syrup to get a lighter flavor that delicately complements the citrus. 

The Flavor Approach 

+ The bitterness of grapefruit is complemented by a combination of spices. 

+ Aroma and taste molecules in the whole spices are extracted using a combination of heat and water. 

+ Club soda and grapefruit juice both provide acidity, while the soda’s carbonation adds the textural effect of fizz by playing with our receptors. 

+ The added sugar and the sugars present in grapefruit soda help temper the bitter tastants in the grapefruit juice. 

SERVES 8

1/2 cup sugar

2″ piece fresh ginger, peeled and cut into thin slices

1″ piece cinnamon stick

10 whole black peppercorns

2 whole green cardamom pods, lightly cracked

1 star anise 

2 1⁄2 cups fresh grapefruit juice
(from 2 to 3 large pink grapefruit)

1  4 1⁄2-cup bottle club soda, chilled

Combine 1⁄ cups of water and the sugar in a medium saucepan. Add the ginger, cinnamon, peppercorns, cardamom, and star anise. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and immediately remove from the heat. Cover with a lid and steep for 10 minutes. Strain this simple syrup through a fine-mesh sieve placed over a bottle or jug. Discard the spices. You should have 1⁄ cups of simple syrup. Refrigerate the syrup until chilled. 

In a large pitcher, combine the chilled simple syrup and grapefruit juice. Fill eight tall glasses with ice. Pour ⁄ cup of the syrup mixture into each glass, top with ⁄ cup of the club soda, and stir. Store any leftover syrup in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to one week.

MaskCarade

Created by: Virginia McVeigh, beverage director 

Named after owner Andrew Welch’s son, Asa derives its influences from generations of Spanish and Italian heritage, with an emphasis on family. Committed to sustainable sourcing and local organic foods, the California restaurant house’s cuisine reflects the Old-World style of Spain and Italy’s wine as well as their culture and the way people dine. With festive heated outdoor patio seating, dress warmly and bring an appetite. 

Inspired by organic apple and pomegranate trees, the cold of winter calls out for the warmth of cognac/brandy-based cocktails. MaskCarade is one of Asa’s featured winter offerings.

serves 1 

2 oz  Asa’s House-Infused Cognac*  

1 oz fresh lemon juice

simple sugar to taste

5 dashes Fee Brothers Fee Foam

Double-shake and strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with bitters, dehydrated apple and pomegranate arils (seeds). 

*Asa’s House-Infused Cognac

6-8 cocktails

Bache Cognac 

Combier Orange Liqueur

organic tart green apples

1 cup water 

1⁄2 cup honey

8 sprigs fresh rosemary

Aging adds complexity. We age ours three months but one month should suffice. Using the ratio ⁄₃ Bache Cognac and ⁄₃ Combier Orange Liqueur, make as little or as much as you like. Fill a container with thinly-sliced apples (with skin) and then add the spirits and the rest of the ingredients to cover the fruit and mix well. We store it in the refrigerator, but a cool, dark place is also fine.

Winter Citrus Cocktail 

Izzy’s is a second-generation family-owned and -operated dining destination that has been beloved throughout the Bay Area for over 30 years. Offering outdoor dining in tented, heated patio settings in San Carlos and San Francisco, Izzy’s serves craveable comfort fare, classic and inventive cocktails and high-quality wines with devoted personal service. Pickup and delivery options are also available.

Created by: Peggy Boston, beverage coordinator

Izzy’s always looks to the best seasonal ingredients for inspiration. Using flavors that are evocative of winter like pomegranate, blood orange and ginger brings a freshness to the cocktail alongside the beautiful colors it imparts. This drink is part of Izzy’s fall/winter cocktail menu and is also available as a festive cocktail kit, in large batched form, serving up to 10 people. 

serves 2

1 oz fresh lime juice

1 oz fresh blood orange juice

1 oz ginger simple syrup (can be found at premium food stores or can be easily made at home)

2 oz pomegranate juice 

1 1⁄2 tsp fresh grated orange peel

mint leaves

4 oz vodka of choice

*dehydrated blood orange wheels for garnish

Combine all juices and ginger syrup together and mix well to make winter citrus concoction. In a separate cocktail shaker glass, muddle 5-7 mint leaves. Add in winter citrus concoction and vodka. (This is great made without alcohol as well!) Shake vigorously and double-strain into two chilled cocktail glasses.

Drop in a blood orange wheel for garnish.

*Purchase or make dehydrated blood orange wheels for garnish ahead of time.

Sparkling Hibiscus Tea Fizz

Recipe by Julia Charles

Tea makes a good base for non-alcoholic cocktails, and cold-brewing the tea here rather than using hot water gives a smoother, more delicate taste. Top with sparkling tonic water for an elegant festive fizz.

SERVES 1

1 hibiscus tea bag

runny honey or agave syrup, to taste

well-chilled, good-quality tonic water, to top up

dried hibiscus flowers, to garnish

First, make the cold-brew hibiscus tea. Put the teabag in a measuring jug/pitcher, add ³/₄ cup cold water and refrigerate for a few hours or overnight.

When ready to make the drink, add a spoonful of honey or agave syrup to the jug/pitcher and whisk into the tea. Pour half of the hibiscus tea into a chilled flute glass, top with chilled tonic water and garnish with dried hibiscus flowers. Serve at once.

Random Walk Theory

This airy, contemporary Menlo Park tavern and restaurant offers an oyster bar, snacks, small plates, entrees, housemade desserts and breads, along with an extensive spirit, wine, beer and scotch selection. Specialty cocktail names are based on bank, venture capital and financing terms. Enjoy a late afternoon refreshment on the patio or in the rooftop bar, an elegant dinner with family and friends or private dining in the wine room.

Created by: A collaborative effort headed by former general manager Guilhermo Vidal

This is a very simple and easy drink to make. A number of local retailers carry the two spirits in this recipe—Spirit Works Sloe Gin and St. Germain—and they’re great to have on hand for your own creations. Not many places have a dedicated cocktail with Sloe Gin, which is a lesser-known style of gin. Spirit Works is located in Sebastopol and its Sloe Gin recipe has been handed down through the Marshall family for generations. It starts with their signature gin, which they macerate with sloe berries until the delicious fruit flavor and color have fully released into the gin. This vibrantly-hued liqueur features both bright berry and citrus notes, combining ripe sweetness with fresh acidity. The other main ingredient is St. Germain liqueur from France, giving a great balance to the cocktail. This drink is available anytime on our December drink menu. 

SERVES 1

2 oz Spirit Works Sloe Gin

1⁄4 oz St. Germain

1 whole lime juice squeeze

2 large basil leaves

Place one large basil leaf torn into pieces into mixing glass. Add all ingredients to mixing glass with basil leaf, add ice and shake all ingredients; strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with a whole basil leaf.

This drink is served up or on the rocks; the choice is yours.

Into the Woods

Michelin-starred Madera offers a menu of refined yet approachable dishes honoring the many culinary traditions of the Bay Area. Northern Californian cuisine with bold flavors is created on the wood-burning grill and hearth using sustainably sourced seafood and naturally raised meats, coupled with the bountiful harvest of the surrounding farming communities. A premier fine dining destination in Menlo Park, Madera welcomes hotel guests and locals alike and is open daily for breakfast, lunch, dinner and weekend brunch. 

Created by: Oreste Catenacci, lounge manager

This cocktail was created as a tribute to seasonal flavors, especially good after a walk in the woods around the Bay Area. Light, bright and a bit nutty, it’s a unique drink that takes on the flavors of the season. It will be part of Madera’s drink list for the winter time.

serves 1 

1 oz  plum brandy

3⁄₄  oz  Lillet Blanc

1⁄2   oz  Sweet Vermouth di Torino

1⁄2  oz  St. George Spiced
Pear Liqueur

1⁄4   oz  yellow Chartreuse

1⁄4   oz  maple syrup

spray of smoky whisky

1 skeleton leaf

Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass or a pitcher; stir all with ice until chilled. When it’s ready to serve, strain into a rock glass with ice. Garnish each serving with one skeleton leaf.

This drink is easy to pre-batch at home in advance. Keep it in a cold place so it will be ready to serve. It also works well in a pitcher.

10 Inspired Ways to Give Back

A year packed with extraordinary circumstances and challenges, 2020 perpetually reminded us of the need to give back. Keep writing checks or making online donations, but also don’t forget that your own special skills, hobbies and insights can make a vital difference in our Peninsula community. Here’s just a sampling of the countless ways you can volunteer (both virtually and in person)—throughout this holiday season and into next year. For more ideas, check out volunteermatch.org 

1. Write Meaningful Messages 

Every week, through the Meals on Wheels (MOW) program, Peninsula Volunteers delivers over 3,000 hot, nutritious meals, primarily to homebound seniors and adults with disabilities in San Mateo County. In addition to helping seniors who are unable to cook and shop for themselves, MOW also provides critical “Are you doing okay?” safety checks. As volunteers quickly observe, combating loneliness is a constant struggle. With that in mind, Meals on Wheels needs your help to promote sustenance for the soul—by creating handwritten, inspirational notes to accompany deliveries. The request is for anonymous/unsigned missives, written in large print (not in cursive). Think kind, sincere and upbeat messages and images. Cards may be mailed or dropped to this address: Little House, 800 Middle Avenue, Menlo Park, CA 94025. Look for additional guidance on note writing and other ways to get involved at penvol.org/volunteer

2. Be a Sweet Volunteer 

If your language of love includes buttercreams, ganache and fondants, your culinary skills are needed by underserved and at-risk children, whether they’re in low-income housing, foster care, group homes or shelters. Through the nonprofit Cake4Kids, volunteers in San Mateo and Santa Clara County make and deliver birthday cakes, cupcakes, cookies, bars and brownies, custom-made and baked with love. No set time commitment is required—you can bake one or even 10 cakes a year. Choose which child’s request to sign up for, based on the theme, type of dessert, delivery time and location. What inspires you? Whether it’s soccer balls, superheroes or Mickey & Minnie Mouse, you can help raise a child’s self-esteem by showing them that someone cares enough to do something special just for them. Volunteer orientations are currently being held online. Register to get started at cake4kids.org/volunteer

3. Become a Blanketeer

As Charlie Brown once famously observed, “Happiness is a warm blanket,” and Project Linus is on a mission to provide gifts of love, snuggles and comfort to children who are seriously ill, traumatized or otherwise in need. Since the South Bay chapter was launched in 2002, more than 100,000 blankets have been donated to local hospitals, family shelters, school health clinics, social services and parenting organizations. Chapter coordinators request that donations be new, handmade and washable. All kid-friendly styles are welcome, ranging from baby to teen sizes, including quilts, tied comforters, crocheted or knitted afghans and receiving blankets. No need to be a professional seamstress. One of the most popular, high-demand patterns is a no-sew fleece blanket, which is also a perfect fit for community service projects. Find everything you need to know along with the closest drop-off locations at sjlinus.org 

4. Help Others Cope with Grief 

Dealing with the loss of a loved one is staggering, and it’s not always obvious where to find support. My Grief Angels, a nonprofit community network and mobile app, creates connections so that no one has to feel like they’re grieving alone. Through education and the sharing of experiences, My Grief Angels promotes the understanding of different types of grief, how grief impacts our health, families and work, how others have coped and even ways to turn grief into something positive. In response to the
COVID-19 pandemic, My Grief Angels launched free Grief Support Online/Virtual Groups in English and Spanish at a dedicated site,
griefsupportonline.com. After participating in online facilitator training, you can help guide group discussions, which requires compassionate listening rather than providing advice. Also needed is help in spreading the word through communications outreach. Put your phone and email skills to good use contacting local hospitals, senior care centers, public health outlets and other organizations to better publicize this free service. Learn more at mygriefangels.org

Courtesy of Bay Area Tutoring Association

5. Make Time to Tutor  

For most, the idea of “distance learning” was a vague concept before 2020, but with schools switching to online learning and reduced schedules, many students from low-income and frontline worker families lack the tools and support they need to be academically successful. To help keep students on track and combat learning loss, Bay Area Tutoring Association partners with Bay Area organizations to provide the engine behind free and subsidized local tutoring programs. Spanning different grade levels and subjects, whether your speciality is math, computer science, digital literacy or grammar and reading, you can fill a need for 1:1 and small group academic support. Training is provided by the nonprofit, and with 90% of tutoring sessions conducted online right now, there’s plenty of flexibility to match up your schedule and skill sets. Go to bayareatutor.org/I_want_to_volunteer to find out how you can help. 

6. Care for Kittens 

Help turn a feral cat into a familiar one by caring for adoptable felines from the Peninsula’s Humanimal Connection. Started in 1988 by two local sisters, Humanimal Connection rescues homeless, unwanted, abandoned and sometimes abused and neglected kittens and cats. They need help in the morning and evening to clean cages and socialize with the cats and kittens. For the more ambitious, the nonprofit is in desperate need to expand its foster-network rescue group because they are currently at capacity. Typically, families foster a litter of kittens for at least two weeks. Each litter is different, some need socialization, some are without the mother cat and some require bottle-feeding. They will match your foster kitties to your personal capabilities. Humanimal Connection provides the food, litter, litter box, bedding and everything you need to foster the kitties. To expand your family by a few tails, email info@humanimalconnection.com to volunteer.

Courtesy of Linda Forrester

7. Lend a Library Box Hand

Access Books Bay Area is on a mission to level the literacy playing field—by transforming inadequate library spaces and providing high-quality books to students in low-income schools. But with many school and classroom libraries temporarily closed, Access Books is implementing a creative alternative: wooden lending library book boxes. Akin to a Little Free Library, these boxes are filled with inviting, gently-used books for school kids to borrow and return. So, calling all carpenters, artists and bibliophiles! Volunteers are needed to help construct, paint and install the library book boxes on Peninsula school campuses. You’ll be provided with instructions and a materials list. Since this is a hands-on assignment, you will need to have basic construction tools and expertise and cover the roughly $30 cost for materials. If you have the artist’s touch, volunteers are also needed to paint and decorate boxes. And, like-new or new book donations for children in grades K-8 are always welcome. Check out accessbooksbayarea.org to get all the details.

8. Organize a Donation Drive 

Be the leader of the neighborhood and the maven of NextDoor by organizing a campaign for one of numerous local drives benefiting our less fortunate neighbors on the Peninsula. San Mateo nonprofit Samaritan House is putting out the call for most-needed items, including breakfast food and cereal, kids clothing, baby needs and household cleaning items. They ask that you call 650.294.4331 before you make your drop-off. Catholic Charities needs help with baby items (formula, diapers and more) to give infants a safe and healthy start and snack & hygiene kits to provide essential necessities. To reach out for a complete list of needs and instructions, go to catholiccharitiessf.org/how-to-help/volunteer.html. And helping to break the cycle of homelessness is Life Moves, based in Menlo Park. By launching a fundraiser, you can help LifeMoves clients feel more at home for the holidays. Team up with family and friends to provide holiday meals, purchase gift cards and spread holiday cheer to our neighbors who need it most. LifeMoves makes starting a successful drive easy with a five-step approach at give.lifemoves.org/vf/LMHolidays

Courtesy of Friends for Youth

9. Be a Friend

Remember that someone who inspired you and helped you reach your potential? The Redwood City-based nonprofit Friends for Youth aims to provide our younger population with this crucial kind of mentorship. Friends for Youth organizes direct one-to-one, community-based mentoring services to low-income youth ages 8 to 17 in San Mateo County and Northern Santa Clara Counties. When local teachers and other youth professionals spot kids who are “at-risk” for academic or life skills failure, they refer them to the program. Friends for Youth matches you with a young person in need of friendship, and you set up your own schedule to meet. The current focus is on online engagement like virtual museum tours and video chats, with plans to return to sponsored activities once it’s safe to meet in person. Given that friendship goes both ways, the program takes pride in its 90 percent success rate of creating long-term mentoring matches. Check out friendsforyouth.org to learn how you can make a difference. 

Courtesy of Cass Cleave

10. Give the Coast a Hug  

Step aside, trees; there’s another natural beauty to embrace. Sea Hugger is a Half Moon Bay-based nonprofit focused on reviving our coastal environment by removing plastic pollution and encouraging systemic change. Sea Hugger’s goal is to create sustainable coastal communities that are no longer polluted by plastic—which clearly benefits all of us who bask in our Pacific splendor. On the second and fourth Saturdays of every month, Sea Hugger sponsors beach clean-ups at two beaches in Half Moon Bay: Dunes Beach and Surfer’s Beach. Looking at this month, that means you can join them at Dunes Beach at 10AM on December 12 or pitch in with the 1PM cleanup at Surfer’s Beach on December 26. The nonprofit knows how to find fun in picking up trash, like how they collected 1,272 cigarette butts last year and are now in the process of transforming them into a surfboard. Visit seahugger.org for a free parking pass, a link to sign a waiver and further information.

Floral Holiday Cheer

If you’ve glanced at the holiday window displays of Williams Sonoma over the years, you’ve already seen the artful work of local designer Jennifer Carruthers. 

Handcrafted aromatic bay leaf wreaths. Freshly-cut evergreen garlands accented with crimson pepperberries. Colorful eucalyptus and pomegranate centerpieces. 

“Whenever I make something for the holidays, I make it as if I am creating it for myself and make it as beautiful as it can possibly be,” says Jennifer. This mindset is the secret ingredient that sets her work apart as she weaves deep green magnolia leaves and olive branches into festive, eye-catching designs. A Peninsula native, Jennifer’s floral creations grace prominent retail displays, deck the pages of upscale catalogs and inspire lines at local farmers markets. 

A recent Sunday finds Jennifer in Burlingame, surrounded by hanging natural wreaths and freeze-dried rose arrangements. She looks at home engaging with her customers, as she’s done season after season. “It’s like a family,” Jennifer notes, as a group begins to gather at her colorful booth. “People come here to support local artisans.” Rarely missing a market in Burlingame or San Mateo on the weekends, she appreciates the personal connection that keeps her in touch with colors and styles that appeal most.

Growing up in Foster City, Jennifer channeled her early creativity into oil painting with weekly lessons stretching from second grade through high school. “I was the youngest member of the Burlingame Art Society,” she recalls. “I would enter my paintings in the San Mateo County Fair and even had a painting in a local museum.” The color and texture of oil painting appealed to her but Jennifer eventually replaced painting with floral design. “I am inspired by color and new materials.” she explains. “I have always been good with my hands and fell in love with working with flowers.”

While attending San Mateo High School, Jennifer honed her design skills working at flower shops and often donated her arrangements to a local church on Sundays. Admirers took notice of her artistic touch with blooms and began hiring her for weddings and parties. 

After high school, Jennifer ventured to Southern California where she earned a business degree at Biola College. Determined to make a career out of floral design, she returned to San Mateo and opened her own flower shop and greenhouse on 3rd Avenue. With soft music playing in the background, Jennifer found the solace and space to nurture imagination and experimentation. “I had a lot of time at my flower shop so I started putting dried flowers and wreaths together,” she says, which led to a professional epiphany. “People were more interested in the dried wreaths and flowers than fresh,” she discovered. “I decided to make appointments at Gump’s and Nordstrom. I walked in with all of these wreaths and it was instant orders. People even stopped me on the streets.” 

Working solo soon gave way to the demand of Jennifer’s growing business and she hired a team to help. With that, J Carruthers Floral was born. Orders came in from large retailers such as IKEA, which had not even opened on the West Coast at that time and Jennifer quickly scaled to needing a warehouse. Today, having perfected her craft over decades, Jennifer beams with satisfaction, noting that dried flowers have come full circle again as the mainstay of home decor and wedding floral design. “Dried flowers are making a big comeback,” she says, “and it’s exciting to see how people are responding.” 

Jennifer also takes pride in the fact that J Carruthers Floral maintains its local roots, with most of the flowers and foliage sourced from small farms in Half Moon Bay or Pescadero. 

“I like to support the farmers and give them a fair price,” she says. With such an abundance and variety of flowers grown on the coast, Jennifer regularly hangs and dries yarrow, statice and blue thistle in her workshop. “It’s fun to get the fresh flowers and greenery foraged in Half Moon Bay or brought into the San Francisco Flower Market,” she shares. “I enjoy spreading it all out and putting everything together to design extravagant wreaths that smell amazing.”

When it comes to decorating for the holidays, Jennifer recommends getting outside to find inspiration in nature. “I like to go on hikes and observe the greenery, pinecones, mosses and bird nests—think about bringing the outdoors inside,” she suggests. For modern homes, she advocates using foliage with a lot of texture and contrast and in traditional homes, she advises that displaying an arrangement with one pop of color works best. She also encourages visits to the San Francisco Flower Market, which is accessible to non-badgeholders during public hours. 

Jennifer continues to stay at the forefront of dried floral design but she’s confronted her share of challenges. As a recent cancer survivor, she credits her four sisters with providing invaluable support and help with the business. At one point, Jennifer recounts, her identical twin filled in for her at work and some customers never knew there had been a sibling switch. 

Happily greeting familiar faces in Burlingame, Jennifer meticulously wraps a bow around a rose arrangement as she soaks up the market’s energizing spirit. “I just want to be surrounded by my flowers,” she muses. “I love the holidays because people enjoy buying gifts for people they care about.”

Barefoot Elegance

Thinking back on her childhood in San Marino near Pasadena, Amanda Shoemaker Teal recalls buying new knobs for her dresser and dragging it out onto the lawn to refinish it. “What?” she queries with a laugh. “Not all nine-year-olds do that?” 

At the time, Amanda didn’t dwell on her early proclivity for enhancing decor. As the only child of legendary racing jockey Bill “Willie” Shoemaker, her world revolved around horses. “I grew up in a barn almost literally. I was a total racetrack brat,” she says. “My mom rode hunters and jumpers and her father played polo, so I was surrounded by horse people from all angles.”

Amanda accompanied her father on his farewell tour through Europe, Japan and Australia, which she now credits with sparking her love affair with everything design-related. “It opened my eyes to a lot of different cultures and styles,” she says. “The horse community is a small community so we always stayed in people’s homes everywhere we went, and I was able to see how people live in all different ways.” 

Courtesy of Amanda Teal

When she couldn’t accompany her parents, Amanda would stay with her Dutch grandmother, who also contributed to her budding aesthetic awareness. “The Europeans mix in such a carefree way,” observes Amanda. “She had this eclectic style, where she would mix mid-century things that she had clearly picked up in California with pottery from Japan and old heirlooms from Europe. I remember looking at all these treasures and while it was abstract at that point, I fell in love with the decorative arts.” 

With her family life wrapped up in her father’s career, Amanda pursued an equestrian path of her own. When she wasn’t in school, she’d be out riding hunters and jumpers, and in 2002, she moved up to Menlo Park to work for Millennium Farm. “I rode all day,” she recounts. “My mornings were spent riding and my afternoons were spent teaching little kids on their ponies and horses.” 

Amanda’s work led her to other barns, including Portola Valley Training Center, where she experienced a fateful encounter with Rebecca Bradley, a fellow rider who also happened to be the founder of a well-known San Francisco interior design firm. “Until I moved up here to ride, I didn’t even know design was a career,” Amanda says. “I’ve always had this love of it and I was always drawn to it, but it didn’t even dawn on me. I didn’t know any interior designers.” 

Now she was regularly riding with one. 

Amanda worked up her courage and shifted the conversation away from horses. “What a cool job!” she remembers saying, followed by the question: “How did you become an interior designer?” Bradley became Amanda’s mentor and encouraged her to pursue an interior design degree from San Francisco’s Academy of Art University, which led to an internship, followed by a full-time position. “It was the most wonderful crash course not just in how to design but also in the business of design because her office ran like a well-oiled machine,” explains Amanda. “She’s sort of a singular talent and I was able to learn from her on both sides of the process—the creative process and the business process.” 

Courtesy of John Merkle

In 2010, with her days of professional jumping behind her, Amanda decided she was ready for a different leap: launching her own firm, Amanda Teal Interior Design. “I started small like everybody starts, helping a friend whose mom wanted some pillows or whatever it was, and then I really started to get some traction,” she says. Ten years later, working with a highly-collaborative team in a Menlo Park office, Amanda specializes in whole home—remodel or new build—projects. “I’ve always been obsessed with this idea of barefooted elegance, which feels very California to me,” she says. “Real elegance is the balance of livability and sophistication.” 

Remembering the intense impressions she gleaned as a child through her travels, Amanda now recognizes the emotional impact of design. “You can walk in somewhere and think that it feels really good or really relaxing or kind of edgy,” she notes. “Design is transformative in the sense that it really affects how you feel.” As a designer, Amanda says it’s her job to figure out how clients want to feel and how they aspire to live—and then translate that into a physical environment. “I love connecting with my clients,” she says. “We end up spending a lot of time together, and you get this glimpse into people’s lives that you wouldn’t normally get.”

Raising two boys with her husband in Portola Valley, Amanda finds that she’s naturally drawn to working with families, which brings an inherent durability requirement. Her goal is to create high-end, highly-livable custom interiors, and she’s quick to clarify that high-end is frequently misconstrued. Rather than being synonymous with expensive, the concept equates to quality, craftsmanship and the integrity of how things are made. “It’s finding those special elements and adding things like texture and comfort,” she says. “People are just looking to have really lovely homes that feel comfortable. We all had that room when we grew up that no one was allowed to go into, and people don’t want to live like that. Everything that we do is about the quality and being able to sit down and put your feet up no matter what—because if it’s not comfortable, what’s the point, really?”

Courtesy of John Merkle

A decade into the launch of Amanda Teal Interior Design, she is gratified by her firm’s organic growth and how she’s now seeing clients return for a second and even third time. “We are kind of growing together as their families grow and change,” Amanda observes. “We’re creating the backdrops for them to have family memories for years to come.” 

Between the juggle of work and raising children, Amanda doesn’t find as much time to ride these days, which made an October 2019 trip to Argentina to ride at an estancia with gauchos especially meaningful. Her oldest son is now riding Western (“We’re adding a new discipline to the family repertoire.”) at Woodside Horse Park, but for now, Amanda contents herself with the occasional ride and the realization that the lessons she learned in her riding days continue to provide inspiration. 

“The discipline of riding taught me a lot,” she says. “The value of hard work—when you’re taking care of horses, there’s no time off; you have to be even-keeled and have a lot of patience, and I think I’ve brought all of those things with me into my design career.”

Amanda’s father passed away in 2003, and although he didn’t live to see her professional change of course, she’s confident that he’d be satisfied with the path she has chosen. “He was always proud of me, no matter what,” she reflects. “His thing was always, ‘Just work hard. Whatever you do, just work hard at it.’ He just wanted to make sure that I was giving my all to whatever I wanted to do.” 

Courtesy of Amanda Teal