Año Nuevo Escape

Before the first sighting, the peculiar sounds can be heard from as far as a mile away—vocalizations that are difficult to describe. We ask Año Nuevo interpretive specialist Sarah Mastroni to try.

“Sometimes they sound like flushing toilets to me. Sometimes it’s like a gurgling pipe sound,” she offers. “The juveniles sound like little screaming monkeys and then the females kind of screech also. They are a noisy group.”

The group Sarah is referring to is the colony of Northern Elephant Seals that haul out on the beach twice a year at Año Nuevo State Park (1 New Years Creek Road) in Pescadero. Like clockwork, Northern Elephant Seals return to this area to breed and to molt, drawing curious visitors from all over the Bay Area, across the country and even around the world. Located 35 miles south of Half Moon Bay, docent-guided walks start in mid-December and run through March. “It is the closest thing you can get to being on a National Geographic crew,” Sarah tells us. “The ability to see this unique group of large animals in their natural habitat is mind-blowing. This is not a zoo. We are inside the exhibit.”


To join the adventure, advance reservations are recommended to secure a spot. Public seal walks depart every 15 minutes daily—from early morning to mid-afternoon—with each departure time limited to 20 people. Weekends sell out quickly, so aim for a weekday for best availability. Even if you’re shut out on a prospective date, spots do occasionally open up, so it’s worth it to swing by and ask. Tickets run $7 plus fees, with a $10 parking charge per vehicle. Visit parks.ca.gov/?page_id=523 or call 800.444.4445.


When you arrive, check in at the Marine Education Center, where you’ll find natural history exhibits and all kinds of fascinating facts. Here’s one: Male and female elephant seal pups look alike when they’re born. As they mature, the males grow significantly bigger and develop a prominent “elephant”-like proboscis. Those description-defying guttural noises you hear? That’s the males inflating their fleshy noses to threaten and scare away rivals.

Come prepared for a three-mile (approximately 2.5-hour) moderate hike over varied terrain, including sand dunes. When your time slot arrives, you’ll be directed down a gravel path, allowing you to take in the first mile (and later return) on your own. As you bask in soul-replenishing coastal and freshwater wetland views, keep an eye out for Coots, Mallards and Black Phoebes foraging for food. You’ll meet your assigned docent at the staging area, which also offers one last bathroom stop before you officially head out.

On this particular day, the 11:30AM tour is led by Andrew Kaufman, one of more than 200 extensively-trained volunteers eager to share the natural and cultural history of the park. “Stay alert,” Andrew cautions our group. While there are generally designated routes and stops, Andrew reminds us that we are in another animal’s habitat. “I may have to call an audible,” he says. “At any point, we can be walking and stumble across a 2,000-kilo male 20 feet away.”

Año Nuevo offers the rare opportunity to observe hundreds of these spectacular mammals up close. As we pull up at an overlook, at first, they present like massive, motionless lumps dotting a stretch of sandy beach. Until you begin to notice small movements: over there, a pup nurses; across the way, a large male tosses sand onto his back; just yonder, a female rolls over, in a fluid ripple of lumbering fat. And, suddenly, an alpha bull bellows a warning and arches his back.

Through a mix of walking, talking and watching, Andrew conveys the wonder of this species over the course of the tour. “The physiology of the elephant seal, what they’re able to accomplish for their existence, is just extraordinary,” he says. “The lengths that they take to procreate and to get back here and the fact that they come to the same place… I marvel at them each and every time I see them.”


Although an Año Nuevo guided tour can be pulled off as a Peninsula day trip, it’s also the perfect excuse to plan a coastal getaway. Whether you’re taking Highway 92 to Half Moon Bay or winding your way along curvy State Route 84 to San Gregorio State Beach, you’ll feel like you’re lightening your load with every turn of the road.

Once you’re on Highway 1, keep an eye out for Pescadero State Beach. Veer off on Pescadero Creek Road for the scant two-mile stretch leading to historic Pescadero. The knotty-pine-paneled Duarte’s Tavern (202 Stage Road) is the town’s time-honored eatery. Save room for a piece of Duarte’s famous Olallieberry Pie with its flaky, buttery crust. Right next door to Duarte’s, you’ll find the cozy tasting room for Sante Arcangeli Family Wines (216-A Stage Road). Named after the great-grandfather of owner/winemaker John Benedetti, Sante Arcangeli specializes in small-lot Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, primarily sourced from the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Just down the road, you’ll find Arcangeli Grocery Co. (287 Stage Road), also known as Norm’s Market (Benedetti’s dad), which is managed by Benedetti’s brothers, Mike and Don. Three words are all you need to know: Artichoke Garlic Herb. Think fresh-out-of-the-oven crusty Italian bread laced with chunks of artichoke. Pro tip: Grab a loaf and a wedge of goat cheese (locally sourced from nearby Harley Farms Goat Dairy) and pair it with Sante Arcangeli’s crisp Chardonnay Integrato for a deliciously simple feast.

Six miles south of Pescadero State Beach, a treasured (and oft-photographed) landmark on the California coast comes into view, signaling another reason to stop. Constructed in 1872, the 115-foot Pigeon Point Lighthouse (210 Pigeon Point Road) was equipped with the most powerful Fresnel lens of the day, using 1,008 handcrafted, brass-framed lenses and prisms to project its beam up to 24 miles. The tower itself is closed to tours with restoration efforts underway, but you can see the Fresnel lens and other exhibits up close in the Fog Signal Building. The grounds are open from 8AM to sunset, offering stunning backdrops and scenery.

If you’re looking to extend your stay, four Light Station buildings make up Pigeon Point Lighthouse Hostel, offering bunkrooms and private lodging for couples and families. On a moody, drizzly day, it’s easy to look out at the fog-blanketed coastline and imagine the many shipwrecks that happened here, including the Boston-based Carrier Pigeon, a clipper ship torn apart on the rocks in 1853, giving Pigeon Point its name.

Complete the Escape at Costanoa

Less than a 10-minute drive from Año Nuevo State Park, you’ll find the eco-adventure resort known as Costanoa (2001 Rossi Road at Highway 1), a critical piece in the unplug and decompress equation. Overlooking a stretch of rugged bluffs, Costanoa offers a gateway to secluded beaches, four state parks and 30,000 acres of hiking trails.

What strikes us first is that there’s everything and nothing to do here. We take a deep breath and try to process the unfamiliar sensation of slowing the rush. We look over the trail map we are handed when we check in. The short trek to Whitehouse Creek Beach & Tidepools looks enticing—or perhaps the hike to Ohlone Ridge Lookout for sweeping views of Año Nuevo Point.

On Costanoa’s events calendar, we see offerings of complimentary yoga, a mushroom hike exploring the local fungi and guided bird-watching. There’s also kayaking, on-site horseback riding or mountain biking. The thought of a rare afternoon nap beckons too, especially when a light rain begins to fall.

Later that evening, we make our way to Costanoa’s Cascade Restaurant + Bar and settle in on two bar stools. Casually conversing with (and high-fiving) other patrons, we take in an epic 49ers win on the property’s only TV screen. We meet a San Francisco couple who share that this is their seventh Costanoa visit. With accommodations ranging from luxury lodge rooms with private baths to cabins and tent bungalows with well-equipped “comfort stations,” they say they make a point of switching up their experiences.

We talk with Craig and Tracey from Vallejo and hear about their memorable bike ride past artichoke fields. They also rave about a presentation they caught the night before when Katharina Pierini provided insights into trail camera footage of the local wildlife.

Sipping on drafts (we select a hazy IPA and a Kolsch-style ale) and nibbling on bar bites, we taste that delicious Harley Farms goat cheese again, this time with a balsamic reduction on flash-fried crispy Brussels sprouts. We savor Pacific mussels and manila clams, dipping crusty bread (and even french fries) into the white-wine garlic broth. And we glance, with full stomachs and envy, as farm-to-table specialties get carried by, ranging from diver scallops to mushroom risotto.

Be prepared for limited cell reception and spotty wifi, but calling Costanoa rustic would be a stretch—you’ll even find spa services here. Surrounded by every bit of nature’s bounty, it’s up to you to define “unwind” and choose your own path and pace. costanoa.com

Diary of a Dog: Annabelle

Feelin’ stressed? I’m Annabelle and I’m here to help! I was born on a ranch outside of Yuba City in 2008 alongside my 10 other siblings. Beth and Chris brought me home to Palo Alto and immediately noticed my calm nature. People really enjoy looking into my deep brown eyes and petting me, which makes me happy because I love to be petted. Beth thought I’d make a good therapy dog, so she helped me pass a series of tests so that I can share my chill vibes. Kids seem to know I’m a good listener and love to read books to me. I’m a frequent visitor to the East Palo Alto Library and Sand Hill School at Children’s Health Council. I also hang out at Palo Alto High School a lot where students can pet me during lunch or as they pass by Beth’s office. I don’t really like barking, so I’m pretty quiet for a dog. A while back, no one could find me when it was time for bed, and my family frantically searched the neighborhood, thinking I got out. (It didn’t help that I’m black and hard to see in the dark.) Luckily, Beth needed to grab something in the pantry, and when she opened the door, she discovered me sitting there. I accidentally got trapped inside, but I wasn’t worried. I waited patiently, knowing my family would eventually discover me. Here’s the good thing: When they did, I got lots and lots of pets.  

Portola Valley Vintner

Alarm bells sounded in the neighborhood when Courtney Kingston and her husband purchased a home in Portola Valley in 2003. The culprit: a sign declaring “the intent to sell alcoholic beverages.”

“We needed to reassure the Ladera Community Association that we were not opening a speakeasy!” she recalls with a chuckle.

The sign, though, was correct. This was the North American headquarters of Kingston Family Vineyards, which Courtney founded in 1998, and she would be fulfilling orders from her home office.

Courtney is the fourth generation to be involved in the dairy farm and cattle ranch that family patriarch, Carl John Kingston, started in the early 1900s. He left Michigan in search of copper and gold, joining the Cerro de Pasco Mining Company in Chile. While he never found the Mother Lode, he did acquire a large dairy farm 12 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean in Chile’s Casablanca Valley.

Courtney grew up in Princeton, New Jersey, and didn’t visit The Farm, as the family calls it, until she was in her 20s. “My father, CJ’s grandson, was born and raised on The Farm,” she says. “He saved up for his college education at Princeton by starting a pig business. While at college, he mowed lawns to help with expenses. From my dad—the lawnmower and pig farmer—I learned perseverance and humility and using what you have.”

While pursuing an MBA at Stanford University, Courtney wrote a business plan that laid out the steps needed to expand the offerings of her family’s farm by planting grapes on the western hills and starting a winery. She held true to the three family tenets that are passed from generation to generation:

Ask not what The Farm can do for you but what you can do for The Farm.

Don’t quit your day job.

Never bet The Farm.

Keeping those guiding principles in mind, Courtney worked in tech after getting her MBA, paying off her student loans. And before planting any grapes, she oversaw a variety of soil analyses—and talked to California vintners, large and small. Pinot Noir and Syrah were planted in 1998 in an area that had previously yielded mostly white varietals.

The Kingston vineyards now consist of about 350 acres of grapes that are used to handcraft small-production lots of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc, totaling about 5,000 cases a year. Most is sold direct to consumer through kingstonvineyards.com, although the wines can be found locally at Bianchini’s in Ladera and K&L in Redwood City. About the selection at Bianchini’s, Courtney observes: “Matt, the wine buyer, gives us great placement on a shelf below the butcher counter. They’re easy to spot when you’re buying meat or fish!”

While Kingston Family Vineyards has practiced sustainable farming for years, it is now in the home stretch to international certification for Organic Vineyard, a process that takes three years and will be attained in 2020. “Sustainable and organic—it’s about the long-term stewardship of the land,” says Courtney. “The land that has been in my family for 100 years.”

Chile is the 10th largest wine producer in the world with most of the production coming from 10 commercial wineries. “Being a small producer is rare,” Courtney says. “Plus, our focus on Pinot Noir sets us apart. We discovered that it’s great to be ahead of the market, except when you are too far ahead.”

HyperFocal: 0

Kingston Family makes two Pinot Noirs: the award-winning Alazan, and the more affordable Tobiano, which also has received accolades. Named after The Farm’s horses, the wines are made from blends of different blocks and different lots that are barrel-selected in the winery, just prior to bottling. Courtney calls Pinot Noir “the heartbreak grape.” “It’s difficult to grow and difficult to make—and all about finesse and not about power. The best thing about Pinot is that it speaks to where it’s from.”

Courtney admits that operating a family business is not without challenges. “The hard part is that it’s all-consuming,” she reflects. “The gift is that I get to talk to my father and brother every day.” It’s also clear that running a successful business isn’t the Kingston family’s only goal. “We strive to be thoughtful about increasing opportunities in the Casablanca Valley,” Courtney adds. “Our goal is to provide the team with growth opportunities and to focus on entrepreneurial businesses in Chile.”

Kingston Family Vineyards, which is an hour’s drive from Santiago, welcomes visitors with a variety of experiences—ranging from wine tastings to four-course lunches with wine pairings to gourmet picnics amongst the vineyard vines. Chef Elyse Guizzetti, a Blue Hill Stone Barn alum, sources ingredients locally and from the winery’s hillside garden. A beautifully-appointed new tasting room equipped with a professional kitchen sits on a hillside surrounded by grapes and granite sculptures. Future plans include luxury experience offerings around a new guest house, which will also be available for corporate events and retreats.

With her head and heart in two locations 6,000 miles apart, Courtney sees lots of parallels between Chile and California, saying that the Bay Area even smells like Chile. “There are the Andes in Chile and the Sierra here,” she says. “In both places you can ski and swim on the same day.”

And then there is the palm connection. “We even have a Palm Drive going into our farm,” she notes with a smile. “Although the palms aren’t as big as Stanford’s Palm Drive.”

Perfect Shot: Oy/Yo at Cantor

PUNCH photography director Annie Barnett captures one interpretive angle of the newest sculpture welcoming visitors to Stanford’s Cantor Arts Center. Artist Deborah Kass describes OY/YO as a distillation of everything she cares about—a blend of art history, popular culture and identity—in an unexpected form. As viewed from the steps of the museum, this Perfect Shot spotlights “OY”—a Yiddish exclamation of shock or dismay. From the opposite direction, that same word becomes “YO,” Spanish for “I” or a slang “hello.” 

Scraping the Sky

There’s a dry lake in the desert that Oleg Lobykin visits to solicit reaction to his sculptures. Since 2004, he’s attended the annual events there 12 times and in 2019, he debuted the largest sculpture yet from his repertoire: Talking Heads, an 18-foot stainless steel piece that, for some, might seem like a fantastical backbone glimmering in the northern Nevada desert light.

“Burning Man provides me with direct feedback. Within that kind of radical self-expression, people aren’t afraid to please you and they tell you what they really think,” he reflects from the serene calm of his backyard in East Palo Alto.

“They saw different things in Talking Heads. Some people saw corals or bones or faces. But for me, this work was just to spark somebody’s imagination. It’s abstract work. At Burning Man, people stopped and took pictures or climbed on it. I could see how they really interacted with it.”

Burly and benign, Oleg values such moments of untainted interaction between the world and his art. As a sculptor, he’s often removed from his work once completed. He no longer lives near the walls he adorned at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in upper Manhattan during the 1990s and his restorations of marble statues on Stanford’s campus are in pristine shape, no longer needing his chisel and care.

Not only did the placement of Talking Heads on the desert floor offer Oleg personalized feedback, but the piece also achieved his ultimate goal of sparking the imagination. Countless people interacted with the piece and sought him out afterwards to share their interpretations. The abstract sculpture is based on a balance between negative and positive spaces in conjunction with how the viewer interprets it through its high-polished veneer.

Oleg is driven by the exploration of such harmonious contradictions within the natural world—the space between chaos and order, light and darkness, good and bad. Born in Russia, Oleg has lived in the U.S. since 1989 and he even toggles between languages when speaking to his wife Kimberly (or when playing catch with his shaggy white dog).

Oleg managed to physically demonstrate the concept when developing Talking Heads last year. He began by carving shapes with his hands before running it through a 3D scanner. From there, he built the sculpture using the smaller pieces made of S-316 high chromium steel. The combination of using advanced technological tools like a 3D printer alongside sculpting, one of the oldest forms of art-making, deepens his investigations into harmonious dualities.

“If you don’t know what’s bad, how do you know what’s good? That’s what I call a harmonious contradiction,” he muses. “Art is a unique language; you can use it to explore deeper than you could with science. Art is a connection between the conscious and subconscious. People look at art but might not understand it. But if it produces a feeling or makes you think, then it still did something.”

The narrow brick path leading to Oleg’s home and studio in East Palo Alto is lined with his work. There’s a life-sized baby statue he carved in stone modeled after a small toy (he even replicated the “Made in China” imprint for laughs) and a stone placard reads: “Oleg Lobykin 1966 — 20?? Life is a dash between dates.”

He lives here with his wife and their 16-year-old daughter. He designed and made their backyard stone look-alike table and benches by hand and on the wall in his garage is a conceptual rendering of a local public art installation: a massive SF sign alongside Highway 101 that he envisions for the hillside near Hunter’s Point in South San Francisco. Inspired by the Hollywood sign and the Giants logo, the sign would honor a sustainable future with solar panels and would serve as a proper greeting for visitors as they drive into the City. It’s a lofty idea, perhaps stunted by its own ambition, but Oleg’s capacity for imagination extends beyond the physical world.

“I keep in touch with reality but I fly in the clouds,” he says. “I dream big.”

For the last two decades, Oleg has lived on the Peninsula, but he was born on the other side of the earth’s mantle in St. Petersburg, Russia. When Peter the Great founded St. Petersburg in 1703, he called the Western-leaning port city the “window into Europe”—a concept that would eventually find its way into Oleg’s idea box when he was contemplating ways to celebrate his hometown.

He envisions a stainless-steel monument in the form of a window frame he’d install off the city’s coast in the Gulf of Finland. The rectangle frame could tower as high as 600 feet and its reflective steel would mirror the sky and the Baltic Sea. He’s already constructed a few renderings of his vision and even put a model on display at Moscow’s Manezh Central Exhibition Hall and later in a scupture museum in St. Petersburg. However, when he met with city officials, they supported the idea but lacked the capital to produce it at this time.

“I just bring the idea and not necessarily the fundraising,” he says. “I was talking to my friend who lives in St. Petersburg and when he heard about my idea, he said that I needed to patent it. How can you patent an art idea? I record it and make it public so someone can be inspired by it.”

On the desert playa last August, one of the Burners who passed by Talking Heads and paused for a moment of reflection (and a selfie) was Menlo Park councilwoman Catherine Carlton. The work also caught the attention of a new arts commission, Menlo Park Public Art, which presented it to the city last October. The Menlo Park City Council approved the sculpture, making Talking Heads the inaugural piece of public sculpture art for the city.

With Talking Heads expected to debut somewhere in Menlo Park later this year, Oleg deserves a moment of reflection himself, but he just can’t seem to press pause on his imagination. After all, “My studio is my mind,” he says, before returning to his dreams.  

The Google Drain

Friends often ask me, “How’s it going at PUNCH?” I tell them that I’m proud of what we have accomplished, that the response to the magazine has been great and that we have a terrific staff.

What I don’t share with them is the dirty underbelly of running a small business: technology, or rather, the failure of technology. Even though I have a quantitative mind and can generally fix things, I find that I spend approximately 20% of my time dealing with the failure of technology. Some days, it’s all I do.

From our CRM to our copy machine to our cloud-based software to my always sensitive iMac, every day is a new adventure on what will not work and what will go wrong. The iMac I first bought was so filled with unfixable nonsense that Apple gave me a brand-new upgraded model as they wanted mine to study.

But of all the technology failures, a recent one was the most tormenting. When we first started the company, we couldn’t buy the domain punchmagazine.com so we settled on punchmonthly.com, which was descriptive and close enough. On the occasion of building our spectacular new website, we were finally able to buy punchmagazine.com.

In order to be consistent, we decided that our email should bear our names at punchmagazine.com, replacing our use of punchmonthly.com.

I went onto Google to G Suite (where you can set up mail with your own domain) and registered and set up an account so that all our email could be under that domain. Simple enough. We bought our staff boxes and boxes of new business cards with the change to
“name@ punchmagazine.com.” 

Shortly thereafter, the disaster started. Few people were receiving our emails! We discovered through some investigation that any email sent from our new accounts that went to recipients using either Gmail or G Suite was landing in their junk or spam folders. Conversely, any recipient who was not using a Google product (say, jim@hotmail.com) found their email from us where it should be, in their “in” box.

I started then what would be a three-month process of trying to fix this problem. After all, we had all those lovely boxes of new business cards just sitting there, ready to be cracked open.

My first session with G Suite help chat, with someone named Ernesto, lasted about three hours, and he gave me several tasks to complete: putting code into our email system; setting up an authentication system; and so on. I excitedly did this, thinking that this would solve our little problem and on we would go.

But I was mistaken and a bit crestfallen when we tested our email, and our sent messages continued to go to spam. The next Colombian I spoke with (I learned that’s where my team was located) could not fix the problem but promised to have a supervisor call me. I never received that call.

I was determined to fix this problem. Week after week, in Sisyphean fashion, I would find two or three hours when I could brace myself for the arduous process of working with one of my Colombian friends. Each one bravely said that he would fix the problem, and each would offer something new to try. But then I would test it and we would find our poor lonely test emails stuck in spam hell. More experts were promised to call me, and again I never received a call or an email back.

I kept telling myself to give up, to admit defeat, but I would not have it. I would see those boxes of business cards and decide to give it one more shot. I would find a clear afternoon, take a deep breath and push the “chat” button. Each time we would try new ideas, but nothing worked. I kept asking myself, “Why can’t Google fix this issue?”

Finally, after dozens of attempts and an incredible amount of practiced patience, I decided to give it one last shot: I went back onto chat with Norberto who, of course, could find nothing new to try but promised to put me on with a specialist right away, which, to my surprise, he did. After an hour with the bigshot specialist, he told me that he could not fix the problem. Unfixable.

I was beaten and quietly ended the chat. Technology failure had won. You would think that Google could fix this, but apparently, they are too busy building flying cars to make sure that G Suite works.

Yesterday was a day of catharsis. The burial, if you will. I cancelled our G Suite account (after Mr. Bigshot told me there was absolutely no way to get our money back) and, finally, I gathered up all the boxes of freshly printed business cards and, slowly, like placing earth on the top of a just-lowered casket, tossed them—one by one—into the recycling bin.

Peninsula Art Stroll

Up and down the Peninsula, tucked into every town, lie artsy nooks and destinations awaiting discovery. Some of them are in more traditional venues like galleries or centers—ranging to century-old Victorians and Spanish-style art guilds. View. Paint. Imagine. Draw. Soak it all in. Here’s just a sampling of ways you can encounter art on the Peninsula.


Although Burlingame is known as the City of Trees, the gateway to the north Peninsula is also home to a bevy of galleries and opportunities to create. The Peninsula Museum of Art (1777 California Drive) offers the chance to visit working artists’ studios, along with rotating exhibits. Now through May 3, through concurrent solo shows, explore the works of sculptor Tor Archer and painter Lynette Cook, along with Kamal al-Mansour’s mixed-media social commentary assemblages and Diane Komater’s witty wire portraitures. Andra Norris Gallery (1107 Burlingame Avenue) focuses on contemporary art while Kerwin Galleries (1107 California Drive) specializes in California artists active between 1880 and 1950. To discover your own inner artist, head to Art Attack (1810 Magnolia Avenue), where you’ll find weekly classes like Bottle and Brush. Taught by local artist Ellen Howard, it’s the chance to enjoy fine wine with a paintbrush in hand.

Photography: Courtesy of Studio Shop Gallery

Janet Martin couldn’t have foreseen the legacy she’d one day inherit from her parents after they purchased Studio Shop Gallery in 1955. Originally founded in 1915, Studio Shop is now recognized as the oldest gallery in the state. Specializing in fine paintings and sculptures by Northern California artists, Janet and her husband Carl offer customers the opportunity to “test drive” acquisitions for a week to ensure it’s the right fit in their homes. Twenty artists are represented on the gallery’s walls, including the South Korean-born and Paris-trained multimedia artist Mirang Wonne. Opening on March 6 with a 6PM reception is Unbound, a retrospective celebrating Mirang Wonne’s artwork, which hangs untethered to convention. “She uses a blowtorch as a paintbrush,” Janet says of the artist, whom she has worked with for the past decade. “Mirang’s medium is stainless steel mesh as opposed to painting on a canvas.” Color and textures create vibrant floral imagery; however, Mirang opts for mediums of the stainless variety to exhibit an industrial-yet-sophisticated beauty.

San Mateo

Peering over the interactive map that plots the public art pieces scattered around San Mateo on the city’s website reveals the fruits of the Art in Public Places Program, an ordinance passed by the San Mateo City Council in 2005. Eighteen pieces are currently installed—ranging from Jeppe Hein’s Mirror Labyrinth NY – for California at Bay Meadows’ Town Square to the illustrious El Camino Real Mural by Mona Caron, which stretches over 120 feet near the Hillsdale Mall. Visit cityofsanmateo.org/artinpublicplaces to plan your route, and keep watch for a new installation expected soon, destined for 3rd Avenue and visible from Highway 101.


The Manor House that contains the Twin Pines Art Center (10 Twin Pines Lane), just a short stroll from the Belmont train station around the Ralston Avenue bend, is as much a piece of art as the artwork it showcases inside. The tan, two-story Spanish marvel was built in 1908 in the wake of the Great Quake and the large, open windows draw sunlight into the historic venue. The Art Center features 11 resident artist studios with monthly rotating shows, such as the Burlingame art collective Art Attack showcase throughout February.

San Carlos

The artists behind Art Bias (1700 Industrial Road) appreciate the little wordplay in the San Carlos collective’s name. Not only are they partial to each other’s paintings, book arts, films, mosaics and various other mediums, they encourage public support. A buy us, if you will. Since originally forming as the Art Center of Redwood City and San Carlos in 1993, Art Bias has grown into a non-profit community center that offers affordable studio space, art classes, events and workshops. The center is in the process of expanding, upping the total to 49 studio spaces for active artists.   

Redwood City

On a shoulder off Main Street, under the canopy of pepper and elderberry trees, the Main Gallery (1018 Main Street) embraces the indefinite reaches of modern American art. The 16-member cooperative may showcase abstract paintings of sea stars in one exhibit before shifting to clay work of a glistening spinosaurus. Every six weeks, the Main Gallery refashions the interior of its century-old Victorian house into a fresh commemoration of style and form.

Photography: Courtesy of Robb Most

Menlo Park

With convenient three-hour parking near Santa Cruz Avenue, you have ample time to explore the bevy of galleries dotting the tree-lined street. In February, look for images of striking black silhouettes evoking moments in time at Art Ventures Gallery (888 Santa Cruz Avenue), courtesy of Yuri Boyko’s Transience exhibit. Across the street is Marcela’s Village Gallery (883 Santa Cruz Avenue), where Marcela de Alcazar herself may likely greet you to trade ideas about the local and Latin American paintings and crafts in view—before giving you a personal tour of the pieces stored in back. And to see a surprising side of Dr. Seuss, drop by Peabody Fine Art Gallery (603 Santa Cruz Ave), a family-owned business showcasing works by contemporary American artists including paintings, sculptures and drawings by the beloved children’s books author. A short mile away, you’ll find Menlo Park’s storied Allied Arts Guild (75 Arbor Road), an historic garden oasis offering artist studios, boutiques and dining.

Palo Alto

Swing by any of the numerous coffee shops along University Avenue and load up on caffeine to help navigate the diverse array of art galleries either centrally located downtown or worth the trek outwards. The Pamela Walsh Gallery (650 Ramona Street) is the latest fine art gallery to open in Palo Alto and in February, the exhibition Modern Portraiture explores the redefinition of portraits in the modern era from traditional renderings to sound. To catch Seeing Picasso: Maker of the Modern, get to the Pace Gallery (229 Hamilton Avenue) by February 16. Nearby Bryant Street Gallery (532 Bryant Street) has been displaying abstract and Expressionist paintings for over 20 years. Near Palo Alto’s southern border, discover the wonders of The Foster (940 Commercial Street), which shares artist-explorer Tony Foster’s powerful watercolor exhibitions of wilderness journeys. Mark your calendar for the volcano-focused Family Fun Day on February 8, inspired by Foster’s Fire and Ice journey.

Los Altos

The early ’70s ushered in an awakening of art in downtown Los Altos. After launching in Menlo Park in 1970, Gallery 9 (143 Main Street) opened its doors in Los Altos in 1973 to feature artwork from a cooperative of nine artists (hence its name). Celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, Gallery 9 now has about 30 artists working in various media including ceramics, sculpture and weaving. To mark the milestone, the Los Altos History Museum is hosting a retrospective Gallery 9 exhibit through March 8. The nearby Viewpoints Art Gallery (315 State Street) is owned and operated by 15 local artists who work in watercolors, oils and pastels. Viewpoints opened in 1972, suggesting that a minor renaissance sprouted in Los Altos 50 years ago.

Photography: Courtesy of Foster Art & Wilderness Foundation/The Foster

Behind the Lens

“It was so breathtaking, it stopped me in my tracks,” Michael Collopy reminisces. “It was really an epiphany moment.”

Hearing Michael’s words, it’s easy to imagine him as an awestruck college student visiting the Oakland Museum. The year was 1982. Raised in Burlingame, the Serra High School grad was wrapping up a fine arts degree at St. Mary’s College, intent on a career in graphic design.

That is, until Michael saw, really saw, an exhibit of Ansel Adams’ work. Increasingly frustrated by the technical nature of his own studies, he sensed a different calling, an alternate path. “I was so taken by Ansel’s pictures of Yosemite, the detail of his black and white images, the profoundness of his photographs—I knew I needed to be in something more creative.”

It’s a familiar trope in the art world: seeing something that changes everything. Ask any artist and they’ll share a similar moment of inspiration. But when Michael recounts his story, it takes an unexpected twist.

“A docent mentioned that Ansel Adams lived in Carmel Valley,” Michael continues. “So the very next day, I called up information, and sure enough, he was listed. I called him and his wife answered and she passed the phone to Ansel. I said, ‘I’m interested in photography,’ and he said, ‘Oh, that’s great. You can come down and have a glass of wine with me on Wednesday.’”

Ansel Adams, courtesy of Michael Collopy

That simple act of dialing 4-1-1 led to Michael being personally mentored by the legendary landscape photographer. “Ansel was such a warm-hearted individual and so willing to share his photography skills,” Michael reflects, before injecting a humorous side note. “The only thing I regret is not going back there and stealing the prints that he would throw away—they would be worth a fortune now!”

“Wow!” “Can you even imagine?” Even as these thoughts start to whirl about in one’s head, Michael is relating another remarkable encounter, connecting one extraordinary dot to the next. Yes, working shoulder to shoulder with Ansel Adams in a dark room. But also accompanying Mother Teresa through the streets of Calcutta. And playing word games with Maya Angelou after Thanksgiving dinner at her house. Through a series of stories, Michael traces his epic journey to becoming a world-renowned portrait photographer, an evolution of skills and relationships blossoming and compounding over time, with each and every focus of the lens. Astronauts. Athletes. World leaders. Seven U.S. presidents. Two popes. Dozens of Nobel Peace Prize laureates. Hundreds of celebrities. This is a life and career defined by not just one but countless life-altering moments of inspiration.

“Shirley MacLaine is such a great actress and a fantastic dancer. That was just one very brief moment in which she took her hat off and I happened to capture it. I loved her expression and how she fanned her fingers out. She was lovely to work with—not at all pretentious and just very endearing.”

Growing up on the Peninsula, Michael’s earliest memories were infused with art. With a graphic designer father and a ceramic artist mother, family outings frequently meant visits to museums or galleries and learning to appreciate all mediums of art. But even as he planned to follow in his father’s footsteps, Michael now recognizes the early breadcrumbs that would lead him on his own path.

“I would spend hours and hours at the Burlingame Public Library, looking at Life magazine and Look magazine and just going through all the photographs. At that time I was thinking I was going to be a graphic designer, but I was always very interested in drawing my heroes, mostly people from magazines,” he recalls. Michael also distinctly remembers learning about Mother Teresa in a Serra High School religion class. “We saw a movie on Mother Teresa, and it piqued my interest because I thought, how interesting that there’s a woman who is allegedly a living saint working in the world.”

Although Ansel Adams influenced his decision to pursue photography, Michael came to recognize his desire for a different subject emphasis: “After quite a bit of time working with Ansel and continually going back and forth to his house, I realized that there was no way that I could ever become a nature photographer. My real focus was people.” Thinking back on the magazine photographs that always captivated him, Michael set his sights on connecting with preeminent portrait photographer Richard Avedon. “It wasn’t as easy as just picking up the phone like I did with Ansel,” he recaps. “I saved my money and went to New York, and it took me a couple of weeks to get a short meeting—but that was the moment I needed to propel me to come back and start building a portfolio.”

Intent on photographing notable San Francisco figures, Michael’s zeal and earnest passion found receptive subjects willing to help him out—from famed philanthropist Louise M. Davies to Streets of San Francisco star (at the time) Michael Douglas. During these early years, he also recounts a chance meeting—inspired by his Serra High School days—that developed into one of his most meaningful relationships: “I heard Mother Teresa was coming to San Francisco and somebody I knew arranged a seat for me. I arrived late and walked into the cathedral basement and she was right in front of me as if we were meant to meet. We talked for a little bit and she gave me her business card—I thought it was very funny that Mother Teresa would have a business card.”

Mother Teresa, courtesy of Michael Collopy

Michael clearly made an impression. Mother Teresa invited him to visit her at the novitiate house where she was staying. “I rang the doorbell the next morning,” he says. “She answered the door and she said, ‘I’m so happy you’re here because you’re going to drive me around to all my appointments today.’” That day marked the start of a treasured friendship—and led to Michael’s 1996 release of Works of Love Are Works of Peace, a 15-year photo documentary of Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity work.

Self-trained and struggling to get his start in his early 20s, Michael pulled down whatever paying jobs he could find—including taking school portraits for a local company. Charged with snapping 1,000 photos in a single day (“It was, ‘Sit down. Look at me. Boom. Next.’”), he expressed dismay at the assembly line approach and was shown the door. Thankfully, he had secured enough experience to lock down his next gig with the Circle Star Theatre in San Carlos. That’s where he met Frank Sinatra, who later tapped him to be one of his photographers. “Let’s give the kid a chance,” he recalls Sinatra saying, effectively launching Michael’s career into a new orbit. “He was really kind to me and introduced me to his friends. Suddenly, I started working with people like Liza Minnelli and Natalie Cole and Ella Fitzgerald.”

Meeting Frank Sinatra sparked Michael’s interest in documenting early rock and roll, blues and jazz pioneers like Chuck Berry, Fats Domino and Little Richard. And thanks to a referral from Sinatra, Quincy Jones hired him to work on his illustrative memoir, which in turn led to photographing additional luminaries like Sidney Poitier and Clint Eastwood. “I never had an agent, so looking back, it’s baffling to me how it all worked out. I think if I were to pinpoint one instance, it was probably Sinatra because he was such a mogul in those years and he would introduce me to people,” Michael reflects. “If he liked you, he would definitely be very loyal to you.”

“I’ve known Carlos Santana for about 40 years. He’s kind of a spiritual prophet and you always get something from being with him—his humanity is infectious. What’s great about photographing musicians is that they will play for you, so you have this one-on-one opportunity to hear their music.”

Talking with Michael, it’s easy to see how loyalty and friendship played instrumental roles in his professional success. Technical skills and lighting are vital components but his affable, humble nature, warmth and humor distinguish him as well. Michael approaches every subject with deep research, learning everything he can—to discern the essence of a person—before the camera even comes out. “The greatest thing I ever learned from Ansel Adams was pre-visualization,” Michael explains. “In other words, you’re visualizing the finished picture before you even take it. It’s almost like a spiritual thing because it’s not something necessarily tangible.”

Given the choice, Michael prefers to photograph subjects in familiar settings, ideally in their own homes. Then, it’s about having a conversation. Asking questions. Drawing out stories. Getting a subject comfortable enough to reveal character and true emotion. “You want to make it a revelation of some genuine part of their personality, bring out that quality that is best about them,” he notes. “I try to treat each person with the utmost dignity and respect. With most people you have just a few moments, so it’s really about visualizing that image prior to going into it and then being open to what might happen.”

TIME. Rolling Stone. Sports Illustrated. People. Michael’s commissioned work can be found in almost every major magazine, on album and CD covers and in newspapers and numerous books. However, above everything, he has always felt a special affinity with the peacemakers of the world, dating back to his early fascination with Mother Teresa. “That’s really what drove me in getting involved with photography,” he says. “I always have a radar out for people who are doing good work that I feel should be documented.”

John Cleese, courtesy of Michael Collopy

In 2001, Michael published Architects of Peace, profiling 75 of the world’s greatest peacemakers—spiritual leaders, politicians, visionaries and activists—ranging from Nelson Mandela to Elie Wiesel to Cesar Chavez. In 2008, he founded the Architects of Peace Foundation to continue the work of illuminating lives to inspire social change. “Architects of Peace is my way of giving back to the community, to try to inspire students the way I’ve been inspired,” he says. In addition to being offered as a school curriculum, Michael’s Architects of Peace project is also permanently exhibited at sites like the National Civil Rights Museum and locally at The Hoover Institute at Stanford University and Santa Clara University.

“Sometimes when you bring a prop in it works and sometimes it fails miserably. I searched at Whole Foods for the proper green apple because I always like photographing against black or white. And I thought, we’ll see what he does with it. And so he just took it and I have this range of different expressions from him with this apple. Steve Wozniak was a lot of fun to photograph.”

Exemplifying the value of inspiration, Michael also works with Caminar, a San Mateo-based organization providing behavioral health and support services. As the teaching artist for Caminar’s Expressive Arts Program, he uses the therapeutic power of art to help clients in recovery from serious mental health issues. “It started out just teaching them photography with their iPhones and then integrated drawing and painting and music—in a safe and secure place to create and express themselves,” Michael relays. “It goes back to the years when I was working with Mother Teresa. It’s just been so rewarding to me, trying to give back in some way.” In 2019, in recognition of Michael’s passion to help others and inspire world peace, Serra High School awarded him the Junipero Serra Award, the school’s highest alumni honor.

Balancing his commitments to non-profit work with “making a living,” is a challenging and demanding endeavor, and Michael has integrated family time through all of it. He met his wife, Alma, in his Circle Star Theatre days, and they raised two sons as his business steadily grew. “When I did my second book, Architects of Peace, I traveled for five years almost straight,” Michael says. “I can go into a week thinking that I’m going to be home and then be off to New York or somewhere two days later. Having my wife be so supportive really has been the impetus for me being, if I can call myself ‘successful,’ successful.”

With 2020 underway, Michael anticipates an even closer partnership with Alma. She recently retired from her work at Ohlone College and is joining his efforts with the Architects of Peace Foundation. Next on the agenda? There’s mention of a session with Bill Nye the Science Guy and photographing three more Nobel Peace Prize laureates. Not much time for even a pause, let alone to fully process each astonishing dot that connected to the next to get him here. “It’s been such a remarkable blessing that oftentimes I think, ‘Is this some other person?’ You don’t see it as being yourself,” he reflects. “My wife and I always talk about what an extraordinary life we’ve had—I would never have thought that I would have been able to meet all my heroes.”

“Even before she was named Person of the Year, Greta Thunberg was on my radar, and I was able to get my request to photograph her to her father. I ended up spending a good part of a day with her in Los Angeles. She’s just an extraordinary young lady and one of my heroes. She reminded me of Jane Goodall. She has that same tenacity and conviction that nothing is going to stop her.”

Landmark: Carolands Gate House

At the corner of Ralston and Eucalyptus Avenues in Hillsborough, a charming French-style cottage catches the eye. Constructed in 1929 with detailed ornamentation, a slate roof and hand-painted overhead beams, the 1,000-square-foot Gate House marked the entry to the Carolands subdivision leading up to the Carolands Chateau. The Gate House originally housed a live-in attendant charged with greeting and admitting residents and visitors to the community. After being abandoned as a residence in the 1970s, the Gate House fell into disrepair. In 2007, Hillsborough residents Jim and Sally Meakin led a successful fundraising drive to restore the building and construction was completed in 2010. A familiar sight to passersby and students at nearby Crocker Middle School and North School, the historic bungalow now serves as a multi-use outpost for the Hillsborough Police Department.

80×80 A Year of Discovery

Two positions on her LinkedIn profile, the photographer and the homemaker, feed into one another like an ouroboros, the ancient symbol of a serpent consuming its own tail to illustrate wholeness.

Becky Logan first began photographing her world at age eight when she would toy with her mother’s mid-century Ansco Panda camera. In 1996, her focus would shift to becoming the home manager for “Hale Logan,” the Hawaiian-influenced home in Woodside that she shares with her spouse, Andy, and their two sons.

It’s a role she cherishes immensely. However, between preparing dinners and picking up the boys from Our Town rehearsals at Crystal Springs Uplands School, she felt the balance between her passions tilt to one side.

In 2015, the visual poet and artist decided to commit to her photography with unwavering focus. She developed a website portfolio, acquired a mentor and wrote a brief poet’s manifesto: “Through my work, I give voice and recognition to the unnoticed beauty around us by highlighting significant moments.”

Becky was poetically parched in the spring of 2017, in need of a project to fix her camera’s gaze, when her mentor Neal Menschel suggested that she explore a contained space for a full year. She didn’t have to look much further than her own backyard.

The 80-foot by 80-foot quadrangle along a slope contains a slice of the natural world that’s small enough to digest but teeming with life for the observational eye. Daisies, bluebirds, lichens, silver grass and a common garden hose began to transcend fleeting glimpses from the kitchen window. They became reflections of life’s impermanence, duly transformed by either a season’s warmth or chill. Becky’s backyard became Woodside’s very own Walden Pond.

By the following spring, Becky had amassed a collection of photography she then distilled into 45 complete interpretations where one half is a photograph and the other is a written poem, either by her own hand or from the pages of the poets who inspire her.

She published the 80×80 project as a book (both softcover and a limited-edition handcrafted version that she literally stitched together herself), greeting cards and rubber stamps. And while she’s progressed into new creative explorations like shooting in infrared, the lessons from 80×80 have not faded from the light.

“I think it just heightened what I already knew but moved it to the forefront: impermanence, chance and beauty in the minute. How do we remember that every day?” Becky muses. “We get so ambushed; you’re in traffic trying to get places. People’s houses are burning—life is heavy right now. We can retreat to the beauty of what’s around us. And that’s what feeds the soul.”

80×80 is dedicated to her sons, Hayden and Wyatt, as well as her husband, whom she met while pursuing her Fine Arts degree at St. Lawrence University in New York. Becky grew up in Atherton and was bred in creativity. Her father has published five books and worked for Intel before becoming a venture capitalist (she arrived at St. Lawrence as the only person with a Mac computer) and her aunt was an illustrator who published books about drawing. She’s a descendent of the 19th-century Impressionist painter Robert Monks.

Becky is the family’s photographer, a self-described generalist forever drawn to the natural world while always seeking new challenges for herself (namely: shooting portraits, her least confident genre of photography). She’s photographed wildlife across the continent, capturing brown bears in Alaska and following migratory bird routes from Oregon to Texas. A few years ago, she joined her father on a trip to Palmyra Atoll, a secluded nature preserve a thousand miles south of Hawaii.

When Becky began the 80×80 project, there was the excitement of spring with a flurry of activity and change. Then the seasons shifted and the dry weather created a barren field filled with dead grass. By winter’s arrival, the mornings offered a coat of ice that blanketed the backyard—or “winter’s frosty kiss” to hear it from Becky.

“There was frost all over these grasses—talk about impermanence, I had to act before it melted away,” she explains. “How do I grab and communicate what nature did with that blade of grass? You stand there, drink it all in and it’s so restorative. It’s what we should do all the time, to take a minute to look outside your window. What am I really seeing here?”

Sometimes everyday chaos became the product of beauty. To some homeowners, it might have just been the backyard hose entangled in a messy circle, but Becky looked closer, refocusing on the ripple of halos stemming from its center.

Her backyard has been extensively observed, but the Peninsula offers countless avenues for exploring the natural world. Recently, Becky felt the typical anxieties of daily life, so to find ease, she ventured up to Filoli in Woodside with her camera in tow.

“As I was walking out of the garden, I passed by this marble table covered with oak leaves that were drying out in the coolest shapes. The light was reflecting in a different way. I spent 20 minutes shooting the leaves on the table,” Becky recounts. “That’s what I love about photography—my intention was to photograph the house and garden but then that marble table dropped into my lap and I couldn’t miss it.”

Designing with Moxie

Their showroom is a lofty space with an upstairs library chock-full of all kinds of samples. It’s an inviting spot for clients to linger and dream about, yes, putting together the home of their dreams. In this age of endless online searching and researching, what Evars + Anderson offers, they say, is “the ability to come in and touch the fabrics, feel the wallpaper and even sit on the couches,” all while getting expert advice. Nancy and Dimitra provide practical answers to typical home furnishing questions like, ‘Where can I go talk to someone who actually knows what they’re talking about?’ and ‘How do I know what I need?’ and ‘Where can I sit on it?’

The question of sitting on it is particularly relevant because Evars + Anderson created their own line of furniture called MoxieMade to compete with the high-end chains. Instead of “ready to wear,” they refer to it as “ready to live.” Here’s how they capture MoxieMade’s key attributes: “Quality custom furniture that’s well-made, competitively-priced and stylish. It’s really functional and versatile. Each piece can be customized with fabrics, trims, sizing and wood choices.”

MoxieMade was born when Nancy and Dimitra saw an opportunity in the marketplace—fatigue with mass-produced furniture—and did what every self-respecting Silicon Valley resident is supposed to do: Start your own company to solve the problem. That takes moxie, which the two New Jersey natives have in abundance, thus inspiring the name of the furniture line.

“It feels substantial. I don’t want to throw other vendors under the bus, but sometimes the big chains’ stuff can feel really cheap, especially when you look inside,” says Dimitra. “Ours is really good quality and it’s similar in price.” Moxie is also Made in the USA.

The two principals and their team of showroom designers take a big-picture look at a client’s design needs and figure out a way to incorporate MoxieMade and other brands so that no project looks the same. They also subscribe to the notion that no project is too small—walk-in clients who are interested in just the furniture are also most welcome.

“We design from a love-centric place where we are looking at the client’s space and how they’re going to use it. How are they going to raise their family in there? How are they going to entertain friends?” Nancy explains. “We think about how we love going into our own homes as a sanctuary at the end of the day and we want to make sure that we’re designing and providing that for our clients.”

Nancy and Dimitra traveled very different routes before aligning in design. Nancy first caught the decorating bug in her 20s while living in Greenwich Village. She specialized in PR and marketing and oversaw Yahoo!’s first social media program before opening her own interior design business in 2006. Dimitra spent years in the fashion division of Chanel Corporate in New York City, running the merchandising of watches and fine jewelry for the company’s boutiques and specialty stores. After moving to San Francisco, she started up a design firm while undertaking the redesign of her own home.

The two fashionable Menlo Park/Atherton moms joined forces after hitting it off during a mutual friend’s 40th birthday trip to Los Angeles. As they snuck off to shop La Cienega Boulevard, they found themselves dreaming and scheming about a creative collaboration, leading to the 2011 launch of Evars + Anderson. “We probably approach ‘California Style’ a bit differently than most,” says Dimitra. “Our East Coast roots play a big role in our blending of California casual with a little more polish and refinement, while still being family-friendly.”

They also pride themselves on having the exact opposite of a cookie-cutter approach. “We love bringing in color, pattern and texture while layering in antiques and unique finds with newer pieces,” Nancy shares. “We don’t go for the ‘safe’ look and rarely use the same materials or decor elements twice—we like each project to feel unique and speak solely to each homeowner.”

Nancy and Dimitra say they’re always working to develop different levels of service for a variety of client budgets, with the ideal goal being for everyone to have access to a beautiful home. “We’re not necessarily here to save you money. We’re here to spend your money wisely, the money you were going to spend anyway,” Dimitra says. “Really, nothing makes us happier than when our client moves in and we get emails saying, ‘I cannot believe this is my home! I cannot believe I live here!’ If a client trusts the process, they can trust us because they know we care.” evarsanderson.com

Marvelous Marble

Cold as stone. Joe Concilla would argue it’s anything but.

“Stone has emotion to it. Some stones are calming. Others are sexy and exciting,” Joe observes. “Different stones have different emotions to them.”

Stone can apparently beckon too. While working on their San Carlos home remodel in 2002, Joe and Leslie Concilla found themselves driving back and forth to check out samples. “We knew that the Peninsula didn’t have anybody with a presence,” Joe recalls. “Everyone was in the East Bay or San Jose.” And while Michelangelo looked at a single block of Carrara marble and saw his David, Joe and Leslie took in the sleek, shiny slabs and recognized a business opportunity. “The level of service in the stone and tile industry was pretty mediocre,” says Joe, reflecting back on their experiences at the time.

Customer service was something the pair knew quite a bit about. After growing up in the East Bay and studying mechanical engineering at UC Berkeley, Joe accepted a sales job with Hewlett Packard and moved to the Peninsula. “Customer service was just ingrained in me. It was the HP way that you take care of customers, that you do the right thing,” Joe says.

Although Leslie initially started out in banking, she also ventured into sales and spent time at HP. The two married in 1991. As a sales VP, Joe found himself on the road three weeks a month. When the couple eventually added three young children into the mix, “It just got to be too much,” he summarizes. “It was a great journey while I was there, but after 20 years in tech, it was time to do something different. We wanted to open a business.”

In 2005, Joe and Leslie opened Da Vinci Marble in San Carlos, envisioning a boutique high-end store emphasizing customer service. “It kind of exploded much more than we ever thought it would,” Joe says, in a nod to the company’s current eight warehouses packed full of inventory. Fifteen years into it, Da Vinci imports and sells all types of stone and decorative materials and runs a cut-to-size custom business with a team that includes Joe and Leslie’s son Mark and over 50 employees.

Joe recounts a critical turning point in Da Vinci’s success—the arrival of the company’s in-house “Stone Master” Nasser Al-Robaidi. “My buyer is crazy fanatical about stone. If he sees a stone, he’ll know where it comes from,” notes Joe. “He has really helped me on the import side to get the quality material. There’s a limited amount of it, and just show up and take all the best stuff. It’s a process to get to know people.”

Italy is known for controlling the best quarries around the world, and Al-Robaidi spends about half the year traveling there, always on the hunt for a hard-to-find granite or dramatically-veined Calacatta. As for Joe, the previously beaten-down road warrior? He says making treks to places like northern Tuscany’s Apuan Alps never gets tiring. “The mountain range is gigantic and it’s solid marble. Everyone I’ve taken is always just awe-inspired,” he says. “How can we be walking on solid marble? The beauty is just unbelievable.”

From marble, granite and quartzite to onyx, limestone and travertine, even after 15 years in the stone industry, Joe acknowledges that the myriad of choices can be overwhelming. Asked to quantify it, he says that any given vendor might have 2,000 options—and almost every day, a new container arrives with approximately 80 slabs, each 10 foot by 5 foot and weighing about 800 pounds. “We try to curate the best products from the best lines and that’s what we hang on our walls,” Joe explains. “There’s so much inventory in so many different colors and so many new things coming out all the time. For the big homes, you have to have a designer to help you—it’s just too much.”

With that challenging prospect in mind, we asked Joe for some additional tips and insights.

How should stone be viewed within the context of design?

We called our business Da Vinci Marble because of all the connotations with Da Vinci and art. Stone, wine and art all go together. When you go to Italy, all the stone people are into wine and they’re into good food. The top restaurants will spend a lot of effort and passion going out and finding the best spices, the best meats, the best vegetables—all the best ingredients. If you’re a designer and you’re designing a house, it’s kind of the same thing. The stone is your palette and then how you put it together in the room is what makes it amazing. It really does make a difference in the overall look of the house.

After 15 years in the business, what are the trends you’re currently seeing? 

The trend is for linear—anything linear, anything gray, white, calm. White marble is still number one, popularity-wise. We probably have 80 different types of white marble. Quartzite is number two. We also sell a lot of limestone for bathrooms, flooring and exteriors. Absolute black is probably the most popular granite with different textures and finishes—that adds another dimension to the stone. In the past, we saw a lot of smaller-format mosaics; now we’re seeing big slabs everywhere. We’re seeing slabs on the walls, slabs on the floors, slabs that wrap around the fireplace. In the kitchen, waterfall is a great look and also countertop to ceiling instead of just to the cabinets. We’re doing a lot of carved vanities and carved bathtubs out of thick chunks of stone. And then outdoors—just everywhere outdoors.

What’s critical to know before making a selection?

You have to weigh the beauty versus the practicality of where you might use it in a house. You want to know the technical characteristics. The hardness will tell you whether it’s going to scratch easily. The porosity and absorption will tell you if it’s going to stain. And does it have calcium? Meaning, will it etch? If lemon juice or something acidic gets on calcium, it eats the shine away. You need to know that before you put it in your kitchen. All stones will etch, except for granite and most quartzites.

How is technology impacting the options that are available?

One of the hottest things in the market is quartzite. It’s a natural stone and behaves like a granite. Quartzites are beautiful and look like marbles but they’re very durable and won’t stain or etch in your kitchen. They didn’t used to be able to manufacture quartzites. They would crumble when they tried to cut them into slabs. But now they use new techniques and technologies with diamond blades and diamond wire, so there are all these new stones. Every time we go back to Italy, there are five to ten new quartzites available that have been quarried and discovered.

Harmonious Balance

The second-floor office of Sullivan Design Studio  (SDS) in downtown Menlo Park is typically tranquil on most Friday afternoons. Following the lunch hour, desk chairs might remain empty while a computer screen flickers with activity as an employee remotely accesses the machine offsite. Some of the dozen or so creatives work from home alongside their children or pets; others use the open time to schedule lighter meetings.

The full-service interior design practice was envisioned with an equilibrium in mind. When the company began in 2006, it was designed using a framework set by its founder, Linda Sullivan, who desired a business that adhered to a firm work-life balance.

“It was something I never had anywhere else,” Linda says. “I knew that if I offered a very flexible schedule, I would get more out of my design team than if I was standing behind them with a ruler. They would be happier while working and more refreshed on Monday morning. It comes from what I wished I had from other firms.”

In the same vein as form following function, Linda wants how we live to influence how we work. The subtle distinction also lends itself to how SDS approaches a new project for their clients, which begins with a formal questionnaire: Do you have children? Do you play sports or music? Will you use your house to entertain? Then they’ll start pulling back layers: Is wallpaper okay? Do you like electronically-operated window treatments?

Before the end of the initial conversation, Linda will jot down the client’s height to ensure countertops are compatible. She aims to understand clients on an intuitive level, leading to customized and tailored solutions for each individual project. It’s an instinctual approach that’s earned her the nickname “The Client Whisperer” among certain circles.

Whereas some firms may approach interior design with a more flashy attitude, Linda positions SDS to honor the project’s space as it stands and find a balance between the architecture, interior design and, in more recent years, the final decoration of the home.

“We’re not flamboyant and don’t pretend to be. There are other people who do that really well,” Linda says. “If we were a Hollywood celebrity, we’re more Jennifer Aniston than Katy Perry. Katy Perry is awesome but we love Jen. It’s design that’s very approachable and livable. It resonates in a very natural way that’s soft, detailed, well-crafted and timeless.”

SDS often gets referrals from local architects due to a holistic approach Linda acquired through her unconventional route to becoming a designer. She was already halfway through college when she discovered that her penchant for interior design was a viable practice.

Raised in San Carlos, Linda was naturally drawn to design and would spend the money she earned through paper routes and babysitting at the local fabric store. Her childhood friends were her first clients and their rooms became her first projects. However, Linda believed that architecture was the only route to take and began studying at the College of San Mateo, paying for her education through a job at the hometown architectural firm Stewart Associates.

Her mentor, John Stewart, taught Linda the fundamentals of architecture, including how to letter and draft blueprints. She was drawn to how people lived rather than what people lived in and she began taking classes in interior design at Cañada College. She knew she was taking the right courses when she earned her first A+. She transferred to San Jose State and graduated with a degree in interior design in 1989.

Linda’s first job after college was with Skidmore, Owings & Merrill in San Francisco where she worked on projects like renovating the Palace Hotel. After she had her two daughters, Linda couldn’t pull the 1AM late nights anymore and decided to strike out on her own. One of SDS’s first projects was designing a library in San Jose and soon she developed a strong relationship with architects, heightened by her background and deeper understanding of the process. Her clients today tend to be Stanford graduates in their 40s and one is on a first name basis with the 14th Dalai Lama.

Linda lives with her husband Dave and when they met as adults, they realized they had attended the same middle school in San Carlos. (They were walking partners during their 8th grade graduation.) When it was Linda’s turn to design her own home, she chose a comfortable abode in Redwood City with an abundance of natural light.

“I don’t think people put much thought into what is happening outside their homes,” she says. “If the shape and form are working well, then everything else follows. In a lot of ways architecture and interior design are in a blurred effect. It’s a harmonious balance.”

The Beat On Your Eats


Vesta’s sustainable and locally-sourced wood-fired Neapolitan-style pizzas have a fervent following. They are also the only pizza-centric restaurant on the mid-Peninsula to nab a spot on the Michelin Bib Gourmand list, an accolade given only to those serving high-quality food at a more affordable price point. The open-air dining room with its high ceilings can get crowded, but the wait is worth it for their famous sausage and honey pizza, an odd-sounding combination that absolutely works. Don’t forget to order the mixed mushrooms on grilled bread as an appetizer to share… or not.

2022 Broadway, open Tuesday through Saturday from 11AM-10PM.

Blue Line Pizza

If you’re a fan of the popular Chicago-style deep-dish pizzas at Little Star in San Francisco, pay a visit to their sister restaurant, Blue Line. Named after a train that runs through downtown Chi-Town, their cornmeal deep-dish crust pizzas have garnered plenty of awards. Thin-crust pizza lovers also have plenty of options with their New York-style pies (gluten-free options available) and organic salads. With seven locations across the Bay Area, the Peninsula is lucky to have two of them to call our own.

1201 San Carlos Avenue, San Carlos, open Sunday through Thursday from 11:30AM-9PM; Friday and Saturday from 11:30AM-10:30PM.

1108 Burlingame Avenue, Burlingame, open Sunday through Thursday from 11:30AM-9PM; Friday and Saturday 11:30AM-10:30PM.

State of Mind Public House and Pizzeria 

Just because State of Mind is a family-friendly pizzeria with pinball machines, arcade games and craft beers, it doesn’t mean the emphasis isn’t on the menu. Their food is made from scratch with pride using locally-sourced ingredients, including their slow-proofed, hand-stretched pizza dough. In 2017, State of Mind even won the “World’s Best Non-Traditional Pizza” award from the International Pizza Expo. The vast menu has something for everyone, including wings, salads, sandwiches and even a blistered shishito pepper plate.

101 Plaza North, open Monday through Sunday from 11:30AM-10PM.

Drops of Dough

Baking cookies was always an exacting obsession for Erin Aliaga. Growing up in San Luis Obispo, she spent her formative years trying to perfect a recipe but her cookies never seemed to please. It wasn’t that she lacked a baker’s touch—her older brother was an athlete with a sweet tooth who would often pay Erin $10 to bake him a cake—but her cookies never made the cut.

Years later, while Erin was raising her children in Hillsborough, her trepidation for baking cookies returned. “When my kids started elementary school, it came back. It was like, ‘Shoot, here we go again…’” she says. “I was constantly making cookies trying to get it right.”

But when she began experimenting with ingredients, namely a new brand of organic flour, the results began producing fans. Her son’s teacher started requesting batches and the positive buzz quickly spread across the playground.

“My youngest son came home saying he needed more. He said they were getting stolen—sometimes out of his hand while eating them,” Erin says. “That’s when things started to click. Maybe these might be getting somewhere.”

Around the same time, Erin joined with other parents in her neighborhood to fundraise on behalf of three families in Hillsborough with children who had contracted Osteosarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer. In three months, they secured almost $600,000 and donated the money to St. Baldrick’s Foundation, a nonprofit organization that raises funds for pediatric cancer research.

Erin wanted to continue this philanthropic mission after the donation but couldn’t repeat the same fundraising methods as before. Then the light in her oven switched on.

She envisioned a cookie dough company where a percentage of its dough sales is donated to pediatric cancer research—cookies for a cause. But a single person running a startup is a daunting task; moreover, Erin is an avid baker who doesn’t purchase pre-made products. As a consumer, she wouldn’t even be the type of person who would buy her own cookie dough.

Faced with these quandaries, Erin enlisted the help of her longtime friend Cameron Hecht, a fellow Hillsborough mother who used to run a flower shop in San Francisco. The two had met years previously at an Undisputed Boxing Gym kickboxing class and Cameron had been flirting with the idea of picking up a part-time job. Erin pitched Cameron on her vision and Drops of Dough was hatched.

“It’s not a hobby,” Cameron says over a recent afternoon lunch at Pizzeria Delfina in Burlingame. “It’s not just two moms baking cookies.”

Erin, seated next to her, nods in agreement. “We’re not fooling around here,” she adds. “We’re trying to raise money for cancer research.”

Launching last year and delivering its first batch in late summer, Drops of Dough is the Peninsula’s newest easy-to-bake cookie company and the only cookie company where 5% of all dough sales is donated directly to pediatric cancer research.

The packages come in 12-, 18- or 36-count using reusable bags meant to live in a freezer for up to six months for dough on the go. Chocolate chip is the initial offering (expect more flavors in the future) and they source their chocolate chips from Burlingame’s Guittard Chocolate Company.

The end result is a simple delight: sweetened chocolate chip cookies with a crispy outside and a gooey middle, just the right size for three or four bites of bliss.

Erin, who previously worked as an accountant for the Mariners Point Golf Center in Foster City, is a fastidious note-taker. While discussing her company’s origins, she pulls up the notes from their first tour of KitchenTown, the San Mateo-based food industry incubator they use, which provides food startups with a kitchen, advisers and a network.

Back on May 22, she jotted down all she could learn about the “cold chain,” a series of actions and equipment for maintaining a healthy low temperature for products from production to consumption. As it was her first venture into the food industry, Erin wasn’t going to miss a step.

Erin and Cameron signed a six-month lease with KitchenTown and began acquiring all the proper permits and food handler certifications. Erin also had to scale her ingredients since her batches would go from a dozen into the hundreds. “KitchenTown has a 140-quart mixer,” she says. “The one I have at home is only four!”

It takes them about four hours to produce 56 dozen cookies. “And that’s when we’re humming along, not chatting, until we start scooping,” Cameron clarifies while smiling at her friend. “I’m always dying to tell her something but we have to wait—that’s the hardest part of the job.”

Although they only work at KitchenTown twice a week, Drops of Dough is a seven-day operation. Erin recently tested their shipping process and was ordering tubs of ice cream from several companies to find ideas for how they shipped using their cold chain. (Her sons did not complain about a freezer full of ice cream.)

The duo recently secured their first contract with a local store to sell in the frozen food aisle (the Mollie Stone’s Market in Burlingame), but they hope to be as direct to consumer as possible and currently hand-deliver to homes within local area codes. They expect to begin offering nationwide delivery in early 2020. The duo were working in the kitchen on October 9 when an unexpected ding went off from their computer, indicating their first online order. “That was nuts,” Cameron says gleefully. “We didn’t even know the system was live! We were shocked and thrilled.”

Because it’s a company with a firm mission, Erin and Cameron decline to discount for friends, family and even themselves. They’re determined to raise as much dough as possible—using chocolate chip cookies as their way to chip in for a worthy cause.

Cook like a Caveman

“PALEO?!? You don’t mean that CAVEMAN thing, do you?”

Using catchy cartoon drawings, Michelle Tam breaks down Paleo 101 in the cookbook, Nom Nom Paleo: Food for Humans.

Confronted by a skeptic in a restaurant, Michelle’s comic strip likeness explains, “The caveman’s just a mascot. For me, Paleo’s not about historical reenactment. It’s a framework for improving health through real food.”

From her family’s home in Palo Alto, the self-described “foodaholic” is now a nationally recognized banner carrier for the Paleo diet and whole, nutrient-dense cooking. Michelle is the co-founder of Nom Nom Paleo, an educational guide to the diet that is based on foods similar to what could be obtained by hunting, fishing and gathering during the Paleolithic Era. What was on the menu 10,000 years ago? Think lean meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds.

Whether you call it Caveman, Stone-age or Paleo, from Michelle’s perspective, the point is less about following a strict diet than getting people to enjoy eating real, unprocessed foods and cooking for themselves.

“Anyone who starts Paleo, or a new diet that makes them feel good, can become evangelical, crazy and annoying,” she jokes. “After doing it for a while, all I really want is for people to cook their own meals and pay attention to how food affects them—and to make mindful choices of what they put in their mouths and find what works for them. Everyone is different.”

Originally from Menlo Park, Michelle grew up with the Cantonese expression “wai sek,” or “living to eat.” Michelle, a hospital pharmacist, and her husband Henry Fong, a lawyer, have two boys, Owen and Ollie. In search of a healthier lifestyle, the couple discovered the benefits of Paleo eating. Combined with CrossFit workouts, their fitness and energy increased, while digestive issues faded. They realized they were not only on to something for themselves, but also for their children. They decided to share their discoveries with others.

In 2010, blending Michelle’s cooking prowess and Henry’s creative chops, the couple initially launched Nom Nom Paleo as a website. Delicious food was always at the core. Thus, the name “Nom Nom,” or as Michelle describes it, the expression we say when eating “mind-blowing food.” Nom Nom Paleo was created to offer “shortcuts to deliciousness,” explains Michelle. “Cooking should be a non-negotiable life skill.”

Michelle handles the shopping, cooking and food inspiration and Henry is the photographer and illustrator of the incredibly affectionate cartoon depictions of the family, harkening back to his college comic strip Dorkboy in UC Berkeley’s student newspaper The Daily Californian. Michelle was one of his original characters. “It really is mom ’n pop,” Michelle notes. “We learned on the fly, and if we love it, we’ll put our all behind it.”

Seeing the positive response to the website and evolving with the times, Michelle and Henry created an app version of Nom Nom Paleo in 2012. Both a user and critical success, the app won two Webby Awards. Given the ever-changing nature of smartphone operating systems and maintenance costs, they decided to write a more traditional cookbook. Nom Nom Paleo: Food for Humans was published in 2013, followed by Ready or Not! 150+ Make-Ahead, Make-Over and Make-Now Recipes by Nom Nom Paleo in 2017. Both landed on The New York Times bestseller lists.

In a review, Robb Wolf, an optimal health expert and author of The Paleo Solution, summarizes, “Nom Nom Paleo’s lip-smacking recipes, zany humor and eye-popping style will prove to you that Paleo won’t just make you look, feel and perform better, you’ll eat better, too.”

Featuring a distinctive step-by-step, comic strip layout and animation that’s both captivating and kid-friendly, Michelle and Henry have now offered up over 250 Paleo recipes between their two cookbooks.

Michelle left her hospital pharmacist job in 2014 to completely focus on Nom Nom Paleo. Whether you’re already a fan or new to the Paleo diet, you can find a variety of options to source your next meal. In addition to the website, app and cookbooks, Michelle and her boys share weekly recipes on Facebook Live video (Wednesdays at 5PM). She also distributes a bi-weekly email newsletter and has a passionate base of over one million social media followers.

Intrigued by the idea of ancestral eating? Michelle’s advice is to start with one Paleo dish, learn how to cook it with fresh, natural ingredients and, most importantly, notice how you feel after your meal.

Nom Nom.

Borderless Eats

If he left Mexico City by 10PM, Manuel Martinez would arrive to his grandmother’s farm in the state of Jalisco by 6AM, just as the farmers took to the field and the day’s tortillas were sliding off the comal.

Growing up in Mexico’s capital, Manuel relished in such visits. After the long drive to the farm, he’d immediately join his cousins harvesting in the corn fields to help prepare meals. This became his first lessons in becoming a chef, teaching him that produce varies with the seasons and how fresh ingredients trump all.

Sometimes when he’s preparing pozole in the kitchens of his two popular Redwood City restaurants, La Viga and LV Mar, he’ll catch a whiff of flavoring that whisks him back to these roots. Manuel has lived in the Bay Area since relocating here as a young adult in 1996, but his Mexican heritage is the guiding force whenever the apron comes on. His life’s work has been to blur the border between the two culture’s cuisines.

“I was raised in the city where the diet was corn, chicken and beef—that was all of it. Seafood was a delicacy. When you’re here in California, with all this produce, you feel like you’re in heaven,” notes Manuel, with sincere appreciation.

“I follow seasons. That means Brussels sprouts, pears and apples for right now. And I like to make things that are not easy to do. I like to overcomplicate things. Other places just have green or red salsa, but here, every taco has its own salsa and topping—you’ll see 20 to 30 salsas. It’s like a salsa museum.”

In lieu of traditional culinary schooling, Manuel acquired his craft in the kitchens of several Bay Area mainstays with various ethnic backgrounds. He began by washing dishes at the Italian bistro Bucca Giovanni in San Francisco before becoming its sous chef. He then hopped over to the upscale New American eatery One Market Restaurant, where he learned about precision and organization in the kitchen. “That was my culinary school,” he says, of working at One Market.

Listening to the radio in the kitchen one afternoon, Manuel heard that a band he enjoyed was performing in San Jose that very night. He finished cooking, drove straight there and upon entering the venue, he saw someone dancing who immediately caught his eye. She introduced herself as Mayra and they exchanged numbers, talking on the phone for hours after his shifts at the restaurant. Mayra is originally from Oaxaca, a Mexican state known for its tamales, which Manuel soon adopted into his repertoire. The two married and are now raising their three children.

Manuel would go on to become chef de cuisine at Left Bank in Menlo Park and then honed his Mexican fusion recipes at Reposado in Palo Alto before a group of investors approached him in 2011 about becoming the opening chef for Palacio in Los Gatos. It was the first time he was fully responsible for a kitchen.

“I was free to do my cuisine without limits,” he says. “It was a great success but I had the feeling of wanting to do my own thing.”

A year later, La Viga Seafood & Cocina Mexicana debuted in Redwood City.

Manuel got the restaurant rolling using $30,000 and a melting pot concept—mixing his past and present to create a menu that, similar to the restaurant’s position off Broadway on the outskirts of downtown, is a little off the beaten path. The name is inspired by La Nueva Viga Market, the largest seafood market in Mexico that’s the equivalent of several football fields worth of seafood.

He serves caldo, a Portuguese seafood stew, but with a dash of his French-influenced flavoring, while the fish tacos pay homage to an Italian favorite. “Instead of a snapper, I went for the branzino, which is nice and flavorful,” he explains. “We don’t do that in Mexico but it’s a no-brainer in Italy.”

In November 2013, a year after La Viga’s launch, Manuel opened the doors to LV Mar Tapas and Cocktails a few blocks away. It got off to a rough start. In the beginning, the idea of the restaurant was modern Latin American cuisine with a fine dining, white tablecloth atmosphere.

“Through the process, we didn’t see a lot of people returning so we asked ourselves, what’s going on? We decided to rebrand and that’s when tapas and cocktails came in,” Manuel says. “We got rid of the tablecloths and added more inventive cocktails in a more casual setting. Then boom, this place took off.”

The adaptation quickly became a hit, earning Michelin Recommended in 2015, 2016 and 2017, and becoming a staple in the effort to revitalize downtown Redwood City. LV Mar remains light on its feet by adjusting to the seasons, regenerating the menu every few months. Currently, the cocktail menu offers the Cosmopolita, a rehash of the Cosmo that blends a rayu pomegranate-infused mezcal with the Portuguese sour cherry liquor Ginja9.

The tapas menu runs as deep as the food is rich; the Ceviche Mixto is served raw with lime-cured octopus, scallops and halibut whereas the Pancita de Puerco is a pork belly taco enlightened by caviar with a house salsa verde cruda.

Between his two restaurants, Manuel employs about 60 people and growth is always on his mind. He visited his mother and sister in Mexico City a few years ago where he was struck by the bounty of food carts.

“We just signed a lease in Palo Alto and we’ll be opening a place for street food in the spring. It’s a little place and it’s based on my hometown with those small plates I used to eat when I was little,” Manuel says with excitement in his eyes.

“You go to one corner and they have corn on the cob, and then you go to the other corner and they have tamales. It’s a really inspiring place because you don’t cook at home, you go out. And each corner has its own story.”

Sounds similar to Manuel’s menu where the story behind each flavor begins in Mexico and culminates on the Peninsula.

Hit the Field – Again

Taking a power shot into the back of the net. Driving to the basket. Spiking for the kill. Crossing the goal line for a touchdown. Heart-pounding adrenaline rushes. Teammates cheering. Camaraderie. For many adults, playing a team sport is just a nostalgic memory in the rear-view mirror of life, but here on the Peninsula, it doesn’t have to be.

Located in the Fair Oaks neighborhood of Redwood City, SportsHouse delivers the equivalent of an indoor mall for sports enthusiasts. The former warehouse turned multi-sports complex hosts a range of indoor sports and athletic programs for all ages—along with camps and about 1,000 birthday parties every year. Three cushioned turf fields (surrounded by eight-foot-high glass boards so fans can view all the action) and a row of basketball courts and partitioned-off volleyball courts convert into spaces allowing for even more games like flag football, pickleball and lacrosse.

By day, youth sports rule, ranging from indoor soccer leagues and baseball clinics to basketball training and local high school P.E. programs. But after 6PM, the adults come out to play. If you think you’ve still got game, we talked with SportsHouse general manager Joe Fernando about what it takes to get back out there.

What’s the story behind how SportsHouse came to be?

Starting in late 2010, we went through the permit process to turn this 60,000-square-foot former beer distribution warehouse into a recreation facility. In November of 2012, we officially opened and have been very successful. Coming out of the economic recession, people still needed recreation, and we realized that this could be a recession-proof business. With all the high-tech startup talk, a recreation business was kind of a secondary thought for a lot of people in this area. Fortunately, we saw the need for SportsHouse.

What need is SportsHouse filling on the Peninsula?

One question that was asked while we were in the planning stages was, why would you want to open an indoor sports complex where we have great weather year-round and the community can play for free outdoors? We learned there was a lack of field space up and down the Peninsula. Because SportsHouse is climate-controlled, our indoor temperature always stays right around 70 degrees and games won’t ever be rained out.

What advice do you have for adults looking to get back into a sport they haven’t played
for years?

First of all, don’t start out too quickly, but if you do, we offer free ice packs. All joking aside, we tell some players, “You’re not as young as you used to be.” We host beginner to advanced leagues to suit your physical ability. So whether you’re an amateur, former college or pro player, we offer soccer, flag football and basketball leagues for all different levels. Or if you just want to come in here to hone your own personal skills, we welcome you as a member.

How do adult sports teams operate at SportsHouse?

Our adult soccer programs, for example, are played by 120 individual teams a week. Up to 24 teams play per night, Monday through Friday, on our two fields starting at six o’clock and going to midnight. Each night, a different division plays. One night will be co-ed, another will be women’s and some nights will have different men’s divisions depending on the competitive level. There are six seasons throughout the year, and they sell out rather quickly. Over the years, we’ve been getting more popular, so we have a first-come, first-served system.

How are adult teams formed?

One example is our corporate division. It was designed to allow companies to sponsor employees through their wellness programs. We also have a free agent list that individuals can sign up for. When we find a team that matches their skill level, we can add them to that team. We created league divisions for the first-time soccer player to the collegiate player. If a team finishes in first place in a certain division, we’ll elevate them to a higher division and conversely.

What’s the difference between playing soccer inside rather than outside?

Inside, players have to get used to balls bouncing off of walls, so you have to be good at geometric physics to figure out how the ball is going to angle off a wall. The goals are smaller indoors and the only area that’s out of bounds is if the ball hits the upper net, and that’s when the play stops. The exciting part of the game is that it moves really quickly. One of our fields is 60 yards long, and the other is 50. A normal outdoor soccer field is more than double the length. If you ask soccer enthusiasts, indoor soccer is a different game than outdoor soccer. It’s a fun, faster type of game.

Does SportsHouse have any individual sport options?

A participant can drop in for $10 or they can buy a membership for $100 a year, which grants access to all of our fields at any time, depending on availability.

What’s an example of an unusual sport that’s played at SportsHouse?

Seasonally, we will host a Segway Polo league. Players ride a Segway and use a stick to shoot the ball into the defender’s goal. If you don’t like running, it’s a blast.

Resolution Reboot

Keto. Paleo. Whole30. Vegan. DASH. Mediterranean. Intermittent Fasting. Atkins. If eating healthier is on your list of 2020 resolutions, the list of fad and trending-hot diets vying for your attention can be both mind-numbing and stomach growl-inducing. And yet it’s likely that you don’t even know the half—one-sixth—or even one-twelfth of it. As a certified health coach, Michelle DeWolf is well versed on the pros and cons of 100 different diets. And while the right plan can serve a purpose, Michelle will tell you that the very thinking behind “going on a diet” is wrong.

“The definition of diet is to eat food, so we’re all on a diet,” she points out. “We can be on the Cheetos diet. We can be on the fast food diet. We can be on the grapefruit diet. It’s just about the choices we make.”

Guided by the conviction that there’s no “one size fits all” answer, Michelle helps clients examine their choices through a nutrition and lifestyle lens. Rather than fixating on a number on the scale, the ultimate goal is achieving a mindset shift to healthier, sustainable habits. It’s a process that requires opening a much bigger umbrella that also encompasses hydration, sleep, relationships, work-life balance, stress management, physical movement and self-care.

“Every person is different and every person needs something different,” notes Michelle. “Your body is pretty miraculous in that when you give it what it needs, it gets to do its great work; when you’re not giving it what it needs, it’s hampered.”

Michelle didn’t set out to become a pied piper for wellness. Growing up in the Redwood City/San Carlos area, she credits her single mom with helping her eat healthy at home, although admits to downing her share of junk food as a Woodside High School student. “Certainly like any other young girl, I had body image issues and beat myself up if I weighed this much or that much, but it wasn’t excessive,” she recalls. Other early influences? “Cooking,” she responds. “I’ve just always loved cooking.”

After earning an advertising degree from San Jose State, Michelle went on to found her own agency, Wallop Marketing Group, with a roster of high-tech and non-profit clients. After settling in Menlo Park, her interest in nutrition expanded in tandem with her family. “Someone said, ‘You should make your own baby food,’ and I said, ‘You’re insane. I’m not going to make my own baby food,’” she recollects with a laugh. “And then I did it one time and it was so ridiculously easy that I did it the whole time. People thought I was crazy, but if you make peas for dinner, you just blend a bunch up, put them in ice cube trays and you’re done.”

Getting her three kids to eat vegetables led to more experimentation and then volunteering to teach cooking skills in the classroom. Before long, Michelle’s phone began to ring. “I started having parents call me out of the blue and say, ‘Can you teach me how to do what you’re doing with your kids?’”

After-school cooking classes, summer camps and birthday parties followed, along with an invitation to teach healthy cooking classes at Williams-Sonoma—all of which blossomed into a full-blown business Michelle calls “The Festive Table.” This was her thinking: “I find that food is so fraught with drama and anxiety that I really want people to be coming to the literal and figurative more festive table every day. It should be a pleasure, not a stressor.”

Fully embracing her newfound calling, Michelle enrolled in a master’s program in nutrition, which focused on clinical settings with sick populations. Recognizing that nearly half of American adults have diet-related diseases like obesity or Type-2 diabetes, Michelle realized that she wanted to tackle issues earlier in the cycle—on the prevention side. That led her to a program in integrative nutrition coaching. “When people ask, ‘What should I eat?,’ it’s a really big question,” Michelle explains. “It’s so individual. Now I’ve got this broad swath of information and how it can pertain to each individual. I look at the big picture with a program that helps people step by step add these healthy habits.”

On any given day, Michelle might help prep a kitchen for a Whole30 program, devise an approach to get blood pressure or cholesterol in check and remotely check in with a college student navigating the minefield of dorm food. Included in her toolkit is a workbook she created called Reboot YOU! A Guide to Your Best Health and Wellness, which breaks down healthy habits into tips and steps, homework sheets and goal setting.

Heading into 2020, Michelle is also prepping for her annual health and wellness fair, Resolution Reboot, scheduled at the Allied Arts Guild in Menlo Park. “My idea for Resolution Reboot is that it’s on January 31st because everybody has set their goals on January 1st, and by the 31st, they’ve all kind of petered out,” she says. “People will say, ‘I’m going to join a gym, drink more water, run a marathon, get more sleep, go back to church,’ but doing all of those things at once is not realistic. Resolution Reboot is about realistic expectation-setting—where do you want to start, what is the one thing you can do today?”   

As she tosses out feed to a backyard chicken and two Welsh Harlequin ducks (a family endeavor that provides a steady supply of fresh eggs), Michelle expands on the idea of setting a vision for the future.

“What is it that you envision in your dream, even if you don’t know how to get there?” she muses. “My motivation is that someday I’m going to have grandkids and I want to be down on the floor playing with them, so I’ve got to stay strong and I’ve got to stay fit. Do you want to sail around the world? Do you want to live on a lake quietly and be able to kayak? It’s about making it attainable one step at a time. What’s the one step you can take today?”

Undersea Treasure Hunt

There’s nothing like the salty scent of sea air, the sound of lapping waves and the feel of ocean breezes gently caressing the face. Taking in the wonderland of tidal treasures at Fitzgerald Marine Reserve is a serene, peaceful, even meditative experience. For those above the water, that is.

“It’s a battle zone down there,” remarks San Mateo County park ranger Rob Cala, piercing any illusion of sea critters living in blissful harmony. “It’s just violence. It’s war. They’re all fighting each other and looking at each other thinking, ‘Nommy nom nom. Who can I eat?’ It’s pure survival.”

Educating visitors about that Darwinian intertidal smackdown is just one of Rob’s many duties in this Marine Protected Area established in 1969. And if he doesn’t have you enthralled at “Nommy nom nom,” just ask him to put a visit to Fitzgerald Marine Reserve into perspective.

“It’s Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea,” Rob pronounces with a dash of drama. “The bottom of the ocean is being revealed to us when the tide goes out—basically, we’re going to walk on the bottom of the ocean.”

Rob insists that “everybody knows about Fitzgerald,” and indeed, Fitzgerald’s acclaimed tide pools draw an estimated 100,000 people a year. Still, for many Peninsula residents, the existence of this coastline crown jewel may come as a revelation. While embattled intertidal inhabitants aren’t necessarily eager for more foot traffic, thanks to careful stewardship, Fitzgerald Marine Reserve continues to welcome curious, appreciative and respectful visitors.


Every season reveals its bounty, but winter is the clear winner for optimal low tide opportunities—low tide being the point when the most reef is exposed. If exploring the tide pools is your main objective, you’ll need to match up your schedule with the pull of the moon’s gravity. Go to tides.net/california/2193 for Fitzgerald Marine Reserve tide tables. With 0 being mean sea level, tides of 1.0 feet or lower are best, and below 0 opens up the entire intertidal zone—the area between high tide and low tide marks. (Visit during a 2.0 or higher tide and you’ll find most of the reef underwater.) Plan to arrive one to two hours before the low tide but no earlier than 8AM. Keep in mind, a conveniently-timed low tide on a weekend or holiday can attract as many as 1,000 visitors. Venture out on a less obvious day, and you’ll be rewarded with a more intimate marine life experience.


Start with a short stop at the Visitor Center, a small hut jam-packed with captivating sea life curios, photos and educational videos, much of it created or curated by Rob Cala.

“These two are cannibals. They’re checking each other out,” Rob tells us, as he provides real-time narration to a video clip of nudibranchs (think sea slugs) that’s playing on a screen. Eight years ago, Rob, a San Mateo County native, migrated his photography, video and filmmaking background into his dream job of being a park ranger.

Visitor Center hours vary, but you’ll always find a 13-minute intro video playing outside, along with brochures and laminated self-guided tour cards you can borrow and return. And don’t hesitate to chat with rangers or volunteer naturalists as you see them—they’re eager to advance Fitzgerald’s mission of educating visitors and protecting marine life.

Veer right from the parking lot and you’ll find easy access to a tide pool area beyond the main ramp. Veering left, you’ll encounter a footbridge that leads to trails through the oft-described enchanted Cypress Forest, an overlook at the top of the bluff (bring binoculars for better viewing of harbor seals and whales) and a stairway down to the beach and more tide pool adventures.

“Tidepooling consists of walking along a slippery reef, stopping and looking around and seeing what you observe,” counsels Rob. “The key to the tide pool experience is slow and steady and let things reveal themselves.” More valuable advice: Wear treaded shoes that can get wet and carefully watch every step. Black tar algae is called that for a reason!

Here’s a small sampling of the vibrant cast of characters you might see: Aggregating anemones that clone themselves. Ochre sea stars finally re-emerging after a decimating disease. Gumboot chitons, the ocean’s equivalent of foot-long pill bugs. Sculpin fish that dart about the pools. Kelp crabs munching on their favorite green seaweed. Colorful nudibranchs munching on each other. And, as many as 350 seals hauled up on the beach, with pups making an appearance from March to June.

“It’s all observation and slow exploration. There’s a bit of zen,” says Rob. “Even on a cold, foggy day, I’ll hear, ‘Oh my gosh! There’s so much color!’ That’s the magic of the tide pools.”


Depending on traffic, the route couldn’t be easier. Take 92 West to Half Moon Bay and when you hit Highway 1, turn right and drive 6.5 miles north to Moss Beach. It’s a quick trip, but there’s every reason not to rush. Once you’ve determined your ideal ETA at Fitzgerald, add in some extra padding so you can enjoy the journey.


Just one mile north of the 92/Highway 1 intersection, you’ll see Granola’s Coffee House (116 N. Cabrillo Highway, Half Moon Bay) on your left. This small cafe, known for its signature homemade granola, has a cozy dining area with comfy chairs and natural wood slabs for tables—along with a tricked-out airstream trailer for outdoor seating. Order up an espresso macchiato or one of Granola’s custom smoothies (from Blue Avocado to Nutty Banana) and chill for a while at this favorite local spot.

About four miles north of 92, you’ll see The Press (107 Sevilla Avenue, Half Moon Bay) on your right, another popular coastal hangout. Owner Angela Scatena arrives at 1AM to hand-roll, boil and bake fresh bagels from scratch. Open at 4AM, The Press draws its share of pre-dawn commuters and local fishermen—but later arrivals will still find fresh house coffee, all-day breakfast and delicious sandwiches validating the cafe’s slogan, “There is nothing that grilled cheese and tomato soup can’t cure.”

Just across the street, Pillar Point Harbor (1 Johnson Pier, Half Moon Bay) is one of California’s last working fishing harbors and the docks are packed with boats bringing back their catch. Dungeness crab is in season until May, and visitors line up to get it cheaper-by-the-pound directly from fishermen. The nautical-themed Princeton Seafood Company Market and Restaurant (9 Johnson Pier) will clean and cook your crab for $4.50—or for $10, they’ll crack and serve it to you right there. Owners Albert Dunne and Heidi Franklin also offer a mix of seafood favorites, including delicious bowls of creamy clam chowder.

Princeton Seafood Company shares a new outdoor patio with Joanne’s Ice Cream Cafe and Ketch Joanne Restaurant & Harbor Bar (17 Johnson Pier), both run by Heidi’s mom, Joanne Franklin. Established in 1974, Ketch Joanne is a coastside classic serving up stacks of pancakes and local catch throughout the day, along with cocktails at night.


Rather than rushing back from your tidal discoveries, cap off your day with spectacular sunset views. A half-mile Bluff Trail walk or one mile drive south will land you at Moss Beach Distillery (140 Beach Way, Moss Beach). Or drive four miles south to Miramar Beach Restaurant (131 Mirada Road, Half Moon Bay), a one-time Prohibition speakeasy that offers plenty of legal spirits. As the sun dips below the horizon, put up a well-deserved toast to the remarkable beauty and resilience of our intertidal friends.

Diary of a Dog: Charlie

Not many dogs start their lives known as the Bengal Tiger Dog of Sewanee, Tennessee. I got that nickname because of the stripes on my face.

My three brothers and I were dumped on the side of the road in Sewanee when we were eight weeks old. I was the one always on the lookout for help—even when my tummy rumbled and my skin itched from the fleas.

Help came in the form of a nice couple that just happened to be relatives of Nancy and George, the family I now live with on the Peninsula. They took all four of us in, and Nancy flew all the way from California to meet us. She had first pick, and, of course, smartly picked me. My brothers ended up with families in Philadelphia, Boston and New York.

While I always knew I was a Great Pyrenees, Nancy and George somehow mistook me for a mutt. Because they wanted to know what I was, they sent off a sampling of my slobber that proved I was indeed a Great Pyrenees.

I’m nine years old now and I like to bark at the wind and howl when I hear sirens. I pride myself on being adaptable and sometimes stay in SF with another family member, Chris, who takes me to work with him.

At 100 pounds, I’m a good-sized dog but I’m gentle with other animals. I live with two cats, one of whom, Bronco, likes to go walking with me around my neighborhood. She jumps over me and dashes under me. I’m patient with all of her antics, although, to be truthful, I think she’s a tad ridiculous.

Interview with the Interviewer

She drapes her left arm behind the back of her chair. The audience seated in rows facing a small stage at the rear of Kepler’s Books in Menlo Park takes note and settles in. With unwavering focus, Angie Coiro connects with her subject, which for tonight’s installment of the This Is Now interview series is author Tamim Ansary. He’s touring on behalf of a scholarly tome that recounts the last 50,000 years of human history, and Angie has just one hour to distill it down for her listeners, both in the room and soon on the airwaves through her syndicated radio show. Local affiliates are KALW San Francisco and KZSU Stanford.

Absorbing every word Tamim gives her, Angie sometimes rests her chin atop her two fingers in a pose of contemplation. Her eyes crease in a fixed gaze with facial expressions reacting to the twists and turns of her subject’s train of thought. When it’s time to ask a question, Angie often speaks with her hands, weaving conversational threads with a mid-air grace while the numerous rings on her fingers flash in the bookstore spotlights. Refraining from ever speaking over her guest, Angie is the antithesis to, say, KQED’s Michael Krasny, who has a tendency for such conversational divots.

But Angie would never make that comparison. Not because she worked at KQED for years during the ’90s and would sometimes fill in on Krasny’s popular Forum show, but because she’s just not one to throw shade. She may disagree vehemently with someone’s opinion, but instead of rattling off rhetoric, she’d prefer to have them as a guest on her show for an open interview, or, as she prefers to call it, a conversation.

Part of Angie’s magic is how she positions all the focus onto her subjects—even though Angie herself is brilliantly vivid, an astute lover of the colors blue and purple that add hues to her enchanting aura.

“There’s a shift in journalism now; it’s a lot more self-revelatory. Twitter has something to do with it. The neutral voice lies in the question,” she says, over a cup of black coffee in downtown Menlo Park.

“I never fully separate myself from my voice. I’ll disclose my bias while treating everyone with full respect, whether I agree with them or not. My most constant compliment is that I realize it’s not about me. People don’t show up to Kepler’s for me, they come for the guest. I know how to present them to the audience. I’m sitting in the chair for the audience.”

Angie is a surrogate for the lot of us, as she has been for over 30 years on the radio in Hawaii and the Bay Area. Angie moved to the Peninsula in 1986 and her resume reflects a career in the annals of popular local radio: ten years at KQED-FM and KQED-TV, the show Spotlight on KCSM-TV and a host for Mother Jones Radio on Green 960.

Angie now helms This Is Now, an interview series with headliner guests she began as an independent production in 2007 and then partnered with Kepler’s Literary Foundation in 2016 for frequent live interviews throughout the month.

Her guests vary with the subjects discussed, differing in content as much as the wardrobe worn on stage. Some guests don suits while others appear in jeans. (For her part, Angie always has a splash of purple either in her clothing or streaked in her hair.) She’s sat across from a slew of prominent guests on stage—Al Gore, Roxane Gay, Dan Savage, Congresswoman Jackie Speier, Dana Carvey and Mary Robinson, the former President of Ireland—however, big names don’t mean so much when you’re Angie and your goal is to nurture a live conversation.

“I was thrilled to interview Al Gore—yay!—but it’s an interview. I don’t think there’s anyone I’m so awed by that I’d be put off by it,” she reveals. “What makes me nervous about an interview is if I had trouble getting my mind around a book or topic. Tamim was an intimidating interview. It was a book that was very dense and I had to walk a fine line between discussing that fabulous minutia and showing people what his main concerns were.”

In preparing for her interviews, Angie digests the book through a close reading and by listening to the audio version. She’ll amass an internal database of the author and subject but the notecards she totes on stage typically have no more than three questions. It’s a method she carried over from her early years training to become an actor: learn everything you can about the character’s motivation and then throw it all away when you get under the lights.

Acting was Angie’s initial life motivation, a passion she inherited from her mother while growing up in South Bend, Indiana. The two would watch old movies on Channel 9 Chicago and her mom would test Angie’s knowledge of the silver screen stars. “We had a game,” she says. “My mom would tell me the real name of the star: Who was Lucille LeSueur? And I had to guess ‘Joan Crawford.’

Although she still carries a hint of a Midwestern accent, Angie always knew she’d leave her home state behind. After studying acting at Indiana University, she moved to Hawaii, where she began her first stint on the radio. She was considering taking a job offer in Boston when she visited San Francisco. One night during her stay, she was alone when it started to rain.

“I parked my car in the rain and I had no idea where I was. I parked under a bridge—the Bay Bridge. Is that the famous one? No, that one is orange…” she says, laughing at her neophyte self. “I walked by a doorman who yelled out if I remembered Gene Kelly. He then did a full Singing in the Rain dance. San Francisco has a more pervasive spirit. Everything is possible.”

Angie first lived in San Mateo, then spent 20 years in Redwood City before moving to San Carlos four years ago. She owns three cats including Miss Violet Devine. (“My companion for 19 years,” she says. “She’s been through everything with me.”) Angie took a blind date off OK Cupid ten years ago with a man named Bruce. Their first date lasted five hours, extending from a wine bar to a restaurant to a long stroll before ending up at Heidi’s Pie for a midnight snack. She and Bruce will marry this summer, and she recounts how she liked him immediately, partly because he had no knowledge of her prior to their meeting.

“It’s an awkward expectation when people have this whole impression of me,” she says. “In a very subtle way, I’m an introvert and that brings it out.”

A couple of nights after Angie’s conversation with Tamim she was set for an interview with a journalist who wrote a full expose on Uber. She works on her interviews up to the moment she hops up onstage and while her process may include blasting the radio on the drive over to Kepler’s, she has a favorite spot for curling up during one of her deep dives.

“I’m superb at making my space, my space. I went on Craigslist and found this immensely beautiful floral chair. You can sprawl on it; you can take a nap. I went to the Acme Stage Company when it was closing down in South San Francisco and found a throw blanket that matched it. On the blanket, someone had initialed “AC” on the tag. I threw my hands in the air!” she says with an exuberant grin. “Everyone sits at their desk at work, but I get to sprawl.”

Teaching the Teacher

When my children were young, I was their teacher. From sports to academics to our family traditions, they looked to me for guidance. I taught them how to throw and hit a ball; I showed them how to study and to write; I led them as we practiced our Jewish life. And I figured it would always be that way—me the teacher and my children the students.

In the last couple of years, though, I’ve found a new source in my efforts to become a better person, something where there’s endless potential. I study a Jewish area of learning called Mussar that’s been helpful in moving the dial, but the new source of wisdom and learning I’ve found is, to my surprise, my children.

These four kids who tore apart our home, snuck beer into our playroom with their high school friends and wrecked more than one car, have, as it miraculously turns out, some things to teach me. And the more I look, the more I seem to find.

Josh, my oldest, and his wife Adara bought a small home in San Mateo near Hillsdale Shopping Center. As they were searching for a home that they could afford, they came across one and asked me to look at it. I told them to forget it, that it was the worst home I’d seen. They soon bought it.

And then Josh, with no experience, began remodeling the home. He pestered me to help him when I could. Every weekend he’d tackle a new project, without bothering to realize that he had no idea what he was doing. Plumbing, electrical, woodworking—it didn’t matter. I kept telling him that he was going to kill himself. When he told me that he was putting recessed lighting in his kitchen, I thought he was out of his mind. But then, there they were, lights perfectly in place and working.

I’ve learned from Josh that I need to pay no heed to my ignorance and just assume that I can do whatever it is that needs doing. I’ve even fixed a couple of things on my car—now there’s a miracle! I just have to ignore the fact that I have no idea what I am doing and dive in.

Speaking of projects, it’s my nature to rush to get things done. I can’t check things off my list fast enough. Unfinished things make me nervous. My daughter Arielle, on the other hand, never rushes through what she is working on. She’s an interior designer and will work on a project with the patience of Job. If she needs one hour, she’ll spend three, making sure it’s perfect the first time.

When I’m rushing to get something done, I try to think of her. Slow down, I tell myself. Take your time. It’ll be fine. Take a look at it one more time and make it is as good as it can be.

When my daughter Tali walks into our home she’s always singing or whistling, always upbeat, always happy. She makes the room come alive. Though she’s a Berkeley graduate, she doesn’t spend her time worrying about the world; instead, she’s able to focus on enjoying life in the present in a happy, contented way.

I, on the other hand, can’t stop seeing the mess in everything, be it the broken sidewalks of Menlo Park, the horrific trash on the 101 or the Iranians trying to create a nuclear bomb. I’m trying hard to emulate Tali; trying to focus on the here and now, the beauty of what I have and the love all around me.

My youngest son, Coby, is a kind soul. He had a health issue growing up that, I think, made him especially sensitive to other people. He never speaks badly about anyone. He goes out of his way to do nice things for strangers. And he rarely complains about anything. He’s a true mensch. When I’m with him, I watch him to learn how I can be a better person. When we’re apart and I’m going about my life, I try to remember to ask myself how he might act in that situation. And, of course, I admire the heck out of him for being a disciplined and decorated Israeli soldier.

I never dreamed that my motley crew of kids would turn out to be some pretty good adults, and that I could, if I paid attention, learn from them. Who knew that this was a possibility? Until I took the time to see all the good qualities in them, I never imagined how much of a better person I could become by allowing myself to learn from them.

Of course, I hope that they’re still learning from me. It’s just that now it’s going both ways.

Perfect Shot: Jasper Ridge

Located about five miles from the Stanford campus in the eastern foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains, Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve is a Stanford University biological field station. Photographer Mary Fischer captured this Perfect Shot during a Stanford Continuing Studies nature photography workshop: “Walking down the trail, I turned a corner and saw the light filtering over a giant boulder with a stream running next to it. The moss with its greens and golds and the shadows of the leaves overhead created an abstract mélange of beauty. It gave me a feeling of another time and a connection to the earth with its layers of life.” Visitors can sign up for docent-led tours of Jasper Ridge at jrbp.stanford.edu/visit

Courtesy of Mary Ries Fischer / maryriesfischer.photo

Landmark: El Camino Historic Bells

Driving the Peninsula’s El Camino, glimpses of bells periodically catch the eye—whether you’re stopping at a red light by Palo Alto High School or passing the colorful signage welcoming you to Redwood City. El Camino Real, or the King’s Highway, traces its origins to the historic pathway started by the Franciscans in 1769 to connect California’s 21 missions and principal towns. In 1906, Mrs. Armitage C. E. Forbes led a civic coalition to install commemorative guideposts marking each mile of El Camino Real, each mission and select historical landmarks. Forbes herself designed a cast iron 85-pound bell and piping and created California Bell Co. to manufacture them. By 1913, 450 decorative bells lined the route, but within decades, most of the bells had disappeared and Forbes had sold off the company. In 2000, when Saratoga’s John Kolstad sought to secure one of the historic bells for his backyard, the owner of the defunct California Bell insisted he buy the entire company, including the original foundry molds and boxes of historic photographs. Although Kolstad only wanted a single bell, he agreed and proceeded to resurrect the business. Teaming up with Caltrans, California Bell now works with local cities to reinstall the original mission bell markers, with about 585 placed so far, from Los Angeles to San Francisco—with plans to cover the remaining areas of the original route. In addition to selling to cities and counties, California Bell also provides bells (even just one!) to individuals for their personal use. To learn more, visit californiabell.com

A Cookbook Author’s Culinary Adventures

On a back deck in the Skylonda neighborhood of Woodside, Erin Gleeson sits at a picnic table, a wool blanket draped over her lap to offset the chill of the morning fog. With a practiced gesture, she gently dips a brush in watercolors and gracefully letters “Schotel met Gegrilde Groenten & Kaas.” That’s Dutch for “Grilled Vegetable & Cheese Platter”—and it’s just one of 100 recipe titles she’s translating for the soon-to-be-published Dutch edition of The Forest Feast Mediterranean. As a New York Times bestselling cookbook author, photographer and artist, this is one small part of getting the job done.

The Forest Feast Mediterranean is actually Erin’s fourth entry in The Forest Feast collection of cookbooks. After moving here from New York in 2011, Erin and her husband Jonathan Prosnit found themselves drawn to a small Woodside cabin surrounded by acres of redwood trees. The woodsy scenery inspired Erin to launch The Forest Feast blog, which led to the publication of her artistically-rendered vegetarian recipes. “Through the artful element of the books I hope to help people live more creatively through cooking,” Erin says. “The recipes are like diagrams. I’m a visual learner, and so it felt more approachable to show pictures of everything along with handwriting and little arrows.”

When Erin’s husband was anticipating a three-month sabbatical in fall 2017, the two shared a similar vision for how to spend the time: rekindling their love of travel and city life. “After living in the woods for several years, we missed walking around, using public transportation and just the culture that a big city offers,” Erin says. Having played with the idea of a Mediterranean-style cookbook, Erin also had a third agenda—researching recipes, local dishes and ingredients. “I was looking for new inspiration, to branch off from the woods, and California cuisine is not too far off from Mediterranean cuisine. It’s a lot of the same ingredients that I already cook with, so it felt like a natural next step.”

Seasoned travelers, Erin and Jonathan charted out an extended journey through Spain, Italy, France and Portugal, factoring in one—rather, make that two—additional considerations. “Max was nine months old when we left and Ezra was three. It was actually a good time to travel with kids since the baby was really portable and they weren’t in school yet,” says Erin, summarizing how the couple evaluated the challenge. “We have tantrums at home. Why not have a tantrum in Italy?”

With afternoon siestas providing built-in nap time, the family explored countless restaurants and markets, with Erin documenting everywhere they went. “I was always trying to take note of what the traditional dishes were in each place and then imagining how I could make that vegetarian once I got home.” The Forest Feast Mediterranean was published in September 2019, with a German edition already completed and a Dutch one on the way. (From her previous cookbooks, Erin is also adept at lettering in Spanish, Italian, French, Portuguese, Polish, Chinese and Korean.) What’s up next? Erin cites a California road trip cookbook, exploring a potential vegetarian cooking show and developing a line of kitchen and home goods.

With so much to celebrate heading into the New Year, we asked Erin for some entertaining tips. She suggests a tapas-inspired holiday cocktail party and is sharing a handful of recipes for inspiration. “I like bar-style serving because it can be done in advance, which allows the host to mingle more,” Erin says. “Keep it simple, so you can stay present and have a good time at your own party.”

Gin & Tonic Bar: While in Barcelona, we kept noticing trendy cocktail bars that specialized in gin & tonics served in large stemmed goblets. A G&T Bar is a fun and festive way to start a party. Everything can be set up in advance and guests can serve themselves.

Stuffed Cherry Peppers: These add a nice pop of color to your holiday table. You can make them ahead and keep them in the fridge until the party starts. I like to grate the lemon zest over the top right before serving so that it looks fresh.

Burrata Bar: This is easily prepped ahead and, once served, everything does well at room temperature for the duration of the party. Set it out on a kitchen island or on a coffee table to create a place for people to be interactive and nosh over conversation.

10 Fresh Ways to Give Back

The gift-giving season is here, but giving back is something you can do all year round. And while you shouldn’t hesitate to pull out your checkbook or donate online to a worthy cause, there are also countless ways you can give of yourself. What do you care about? What’s your passion? With a little bit of hunting, you can find meaningful opportunities to help out close to home. Even setting aside a little bit of time can make a difference. Here’s a sampling of some hands-on ways to volunteer in our Peninsula community. For more ideas, volunteermatch.com is a handy resource for finding just the right fit for you.

  1. Make an Animal Friend 

    Pets In Need, Northern California’s first no-kill animal shelter, is looking for a few good neighbors willing to make a shelter dog’s day. Founded in 1965 and headquartered in Redwood City, Pets In Need also operates the Palo Alto Animal Shelter, a public shelter serving Palo Alto, Los Altos and Los Altos Hills. Through the Doggy Day Out program, volunteers take dogs on half-day field trips, whether it’s a relaxing morning at home, a visit to a park for playtime or even a hike on one of the Peninsula’s dog-friendly trails. At the time of the outing, volunteers are provided with everything they need, including food, treats, a leash and an “Adopt Me” vest for the dog. Visit petsinneed.org to register. (Slots are posted on the 15th for the following month.) You can also browse adoptable pets and learn about fostering—taking in cats, dogs, kittens and puppies that aren’t quite ready to be adopted. Pets In Need provides the food, supplies and medical care. You provide the love.

  2. Bake a Difference

    If the thought of icing a cake triggers euphoria, Icing Smiles needs your help. This nonprofit organization provides custom celebration cakes and other treats to local families impacted by the critical illness of a child. Whether you’re a professional baker or a hobbyist, opportunities include donating a dream cake (three-dimensional or carved), fun cake (single-tier) and custom decorated cookies. Families suggest a theme, and the execution is determined by the baker. Menlo Park volunteer Shoshanah Cohen has whipped up everything from alligators to unicorns and rainbows. While the designs can be complex, the mission is simple: Create a positive memory and a temporary escape from worry. Go to icingsmiles.org to join the roster of Sugar Angels donating their time and talent. To get added to the volunteer database, you’ll need to share an online gallery or attach a few photos of your work.

  3. Become a Weed Warrior

    Looking for a way to help the environment? You’re living in a globally recognized hotspot for biodiversity, but keeping our local part of the planet vibrant and healthy takes work. Grassroots Ecology engages over 12,000 people of all ages each year to keep invasive plants in check, grow locally native plants, support stream restoration and water quality monitoring projects and plant a diversity of species to feed wildlife. To see a calendar of upcoming activities and sign up, go to grassrootsecology.org. Whether you’re helping with habitat restoration at Byrne Preserve in Los Altos Hills or joining a team of Wednesday Weed Warriors at Pearson-Arastradero Preserve, come prepared to work outdoors; long pants and long sleeves are recommended along with sturdy, closed-toed shoes good for hiking hilly terrain. Gloves, tools and light snacks are provided as well as the opportunity to bask in the beautiful views around us.

  4. Horse Around with Kids

    Located in the training barn area of the Horse Park at Woodside, B.O.K. (short for Be Okay) Ranch helps riders regardless of special needs enjoy the physical, mental and emotional bond that develops with horses. B.O.K.’s equine-assisted activities include full-inclusion riding lessons, vocational programs and summer camps, all with the intent of encouraging a sense of well-being and accomplishment. For example, individuals who may have challenges with mobility can improve muscle tone, balance, core strength and overall body awareness while riders with limited expressive language can be inspired by interacting with horses. Volunteers assist with grooming, tacking, preparing students and horses for lessons and general stable management—with horse handlers, side-walkers and spotters helping out during lessons. Experience with horses or those with special needs isn’t required. Visit bokranch.org to fill out an online application and sign up for B.O.K.’s volunteer orientation and training. Volunteers are asked to commit to a once-a-week shift for a minimum of eight consecutive weeks.

  5. Rebuild a Better Peninsula

    President Jimmy Carter is 95 and continues to wield a hammer, partnering with Habitat for Humanity to build houses. In October, he generated headlines by returning to a construction site with a black eye just days after a fall. Not everyone can be The Peanut Farmer. But if you have any background in construction or are just all-around handy, Rebuilding Together Peninsula (RTP) is looking for volunteers. RTP provides renovation and repair services for the Peninsula’s most vulnerable homeowners—seniors, veterans, persons with disabilities, low-income families with children and community facilities. If you’re a problem-solver and experienced project manager, you can be a “Construction Captain,” meeting with homeowners or nonprofit managers to scope project requirements and determine effective repair methods. Lending a hand can also be as simple as raking, shoveling and doing painting prep work. The organization relies on individual volunteers to help prepare for National Rebuilding Day, the last Saturday in April, along with year-round repair projects depending on skills, interests and availability. Check out rebuildingtogetherpeninsula.org for ways to help build a more inclusive Peninsula for everyone.

  6. Share your Interests with a Senior

    Are you a local history buff? Would you enjoy sharing vacation photos from a recent trip? Do you love music, cooking or reading? A captive, kind and understanding audience eagerly awaits you. With the goal of helping aging adults maintain their dignity, independence and sense of usefulness, Peninsula Volunteers Inc. serves the mid-Peninsula and Silicon Valley through programs like Rosener House, Little House and Meals on Wheels. At Rosener House, an adult day program for those with Alzheimer’s and other dementias, any skill you’re willing to contribute can trigger access to memories and stimulate conversation. Teach a ukulele or art class or grab your band and perform at Little House, a senior activity center focused on health, wellness and social interaction. Pack food or deliver meals and a smile to homebound adults for Meals on Wheels. Learn more and fill out a volunteer application form at penvol.org. Ranging from one-time events to an ongoing commitment, you’ll find countless ways to get involved.

  7. Take Time to Teach

    You can spend 90 minutes a week stuck in traffic, so why not repurpose that lost time for some proactive education? As a volunteer for Citizen Teacher, a nationwide organization that’s recently teamed up with McKinley Institute of Technology in Redwood City, you’ll lead a 10-week apprenticeship on a topic of your choosing for an hour and a half each week. Welcome a generation of students into science, architecture, law, business and more. Throughout the country, Citizen Teacher has organized mentorships in documentary filmmaking, running for office, college prep, electrical engineering and pretty much any area of interest. You receive five hours of training on how to make your course engaging and keep students on task. Apprenticeships are taught between 2PM and 6PM, either during fall or spring semesters. Can’t commit 100 percent but still interested? Many apprenticeships are taught by teams of Citizen Teachers of two to four co-workers or friends. Everyone has something they can teach—what can you contribute? Visit citizenschools.org to learn how you can help students discover and achieve their dreams.

  8. Eliminate Illiteracy 

    If you can read this, then you can help. With programs in San Mateo, Menlo Park, Redwood City and East Palo Alto, Project Read is a volunteer-based literacy program serving adults, children and families. The award-winning organization provides literacy training and tutoring lessons designed to break the cycle of illiteracy by surrounding adults, youth and families with literacy services that promote a lifelong love of learning. In Redwood City, for example, one in five adults reads below an 8th grade level and more than 38% of school-aged children fail to complete the 12th grade. Within Redwood City’s North Fair Oaks area, there are few options available for after-school activities in supportive educational environments. Since 1987, Project Read has provided adult services to 400 adults in Redwood City, increased reading skills by an average of three grade levels in a single year and trained over 150 volunteer tutors. Tutors complete 15 hours of training prior to being matched with a learner. Projectreadredwoodcity.org and projectreadmenlopark.org are a few sites to help you get started.

  9. Offer Threads of Comfort

    Collecting, sorting, labeling and counting clothes may sound like a simple act of service but when volunteering with the Grateful Garment Project, it’s a deed that can significantly assist a person in their darkest hours. Every day in California, between 25 to 40 victims of sexual assault are provided with clothing and resources from San Jose-based Grateful Garment. The organization sources clothing from the public and is always in need of contributions. Donate a box of unused clothes or organize a drive in your community to gather garments for a person in need. When sexual assault victims seek medical attention and rape kits are performed, they are asked to surrender their clothing for DNA evidence—leaving them with little else to wear than a hospital gown. Grateful Garment is there with a warm response. Find out more ways to get involved at gratefulgarment.org

  10. Assist with Immigration

    If you think navigating the American legal system is difficult, imagine being a non-native English speaker. The Immigration Institute of the Bay Area (IIBA) is always seeking volunteer support, ranging from one-time events to long-term commitments. IIBA Redwood City provides immigration legal services, monthly citizenship workshops and free citizenship classes in San Mateo County. Everyone is welcome—from attorneys seeking immigration experience to law students looking for an internship to community members who want to help. The IIBA provides training and supervision to volunteers. Check iibayarea.org or call 650.780.7530 for specific volunteer opportunities at any given time. Examples include office assistance, Spanish-English translation support for the legal staff preparing immigration applications and volunteer teachers for IIBA’s Citizenship Preparation Class.


Back to Woodshop

The smell of wood as it burns seems to forever evoke a campfire. Even in the context of pyrography, where heated pokers decorate slabs of wood with artistic burn marks, the aroma calls to mind s’mores. “It smells like marshmallows,” observes Devon Kardwell, a middle school student from Menlo Park, during a recent pyrography class at Woodcraft in San Carlos.

Tom Smith, the course instructor, is by her side with pointers on how to carve intricate shapes by fire with the glowing tips called nibs. He explains how the three nibs—shaving, stifling and skewed—are used for shading in or outlining an image. Devon begins by writing a few words, “fire” and “punch” included, before using a piece of carbon-transfer paper to help trace an image of a blooming rose.

With a pencil sticking out of his ponytail, Tom moves over to a different craft table in Woodcraft’s upstairs classroom to demonstrate another form of woodworking: carving. He’s in the middle of, or about 30 hours into, carving a detailed dragon into a chunk of wood the size of a medieval chest plate. He uses a mallet to ever-so-lightly tap into the back end of his chisel, called a gouge, to produce thin wood cuts fainter than a pencil shaving, which he’ll then brush onto the floor. (Note: If your woodshop isn’t dusty, you own a storage room, not a woodshop.) In the wake of his carves with the depth of a pushpin are perfectly neat lines summoning a Tolkien dragon to life.

With another 30 hours to go, Tom’s dragon will become a vibrant three-dimensional piece of wood art, just in time for holiday gift giving.

In a region defined by wood—San Carlos is sequestered between “Redwood” City and Palo Alto, named after an historic old-growth sequoia—the Peninsula has nurtured woodworking as a trade, hobby and artistic expression for generations. Presently, one store has become a hub for veterans and neophytes alike, where beginners can take classes to learn the art of pyrography while seasoned chiselers can source a rare piece of Sirari Rosewood.

The San Carlos location for Woodcraft is owned by Charmaine and Eric McCrystal, a wife-husband partnership. They were inspired to open the shop after recognizing a lack of specialty tool shops on the Peninsula as they were in the process of remodeling their house in Redwood City some 20 years ago.

“We have tool, hobby and big box stores on the Peninsula but Woodcraft is a niche,” she says. “In the early 2000s, the Internet was not what it is now and the closest Woodcraft franchise was in Dublin. Eric and I would run over there to get all these specialty saws and tools and every time we’d drive back, we’d ask why isn’t there one on the Peninsula?”

Charmaine grew up between San Carlos and Redwood City (she remembers taking wood shop at Kennedy Middle School) and her family owned a local concrete company. Before opening up Woodcraft, Eric worked in tech sales positions that required a lot of travel and the couple desired work that rooted them at home. They opened Woodcraft in October 2004, first in an industrial sector of San Carlos near Highway 101 before relocating to its current address along El Camino Real about nine years ago. Tom, either instructing classes or working the floor, has been with them since day one.

The store, although part of a nationwide franchise, attracts a loyal local customer base with regulars who rely on Woodcraft for hard-to-find hand tools, power tools, accessories and up to 40 species of quality wood—not to mention the opportunity to indulge in some shared lumber camaraderie.

Charmaine says she’s watched the craft evolve from a male-dominated hobby into one that attracts both genders. Her most active customers tend to be Latino or folks from Southeast Asian countries. “They come from places where they still do craftsman’s skills,” she notes. One longtime customer will pop by every time he’s in from his home in Uruguay.

“People come here to get something more than a 2×4 you’d get at a Home Depot,” Charmaine says. “We’ll have a 2×4 made of maple or walnut or mahogany. At Home Depot, it’s building wood made for putting under the structure. You hide it. This type of wood you actually see, it becomes a piece of furniture.”

Woodworkers are craftspeople who deploy patience and planning for creating their masterworks. They also have a healthy knack for hoarding wood. “I don’t have wood scraps,” Tom defends. “I utilize everything I work with.” As for specific attributes that help distinguish woodworkers, Charmaine recognizes a few particulars.

“Woodworkers tend to love dogs. Not that they’re not cat lovers but we have customers who are crazy dog lovers who bring them into the store. They also tend to ride motorcycles,” she says, before pausing to laugh. “Dogs and motorcycles—woodworkers love dogs and motorcycles!”

Faux Real Trees

Thomas “Mac” Harman wants to make one point very clear. “I love real trees,” he asserts. “I’m not against them. Part of my job is to design trees that look just like real trees.”

As the founder of Redwood City-based Balsam Hill, the world’s leading retailer of artificial Christmas trees, Mac’s business is to capture every nuance of a natural Christmas tree, whether it’s the blue-green needles of a blue spruce, the gray tint of a noble fir or the dark green tips and silver undersides of a Fraser fir. Searching out flawless tree clippings, crafting foliage molds and perfecting needle coloration are all in a day’s work.

Mac didn’t start out with a passion for faux trees. Growing up in Cleveland, Ohio, he associated Christmas with a freshly-cut tree. “That’s what we always had in our family,” he reminisces. “I have all kinds of great holiday memories.”

As a geosciences major with a minor in environmental studies at Williams College in Massachusetts, Mac spent a lot of time “outside in the woods.” Also an avid skier, he always felt at home in the dappled shadows of evergreen forests. Woodsy influences remained constant—clearly evolving over time into inspiration.

On the business side, Mac found himself taking on a “practical” MBA after his father’s untimely death, leaving Mac (in his early 20s) in charge of a family manufacturing business while simultaneously working as a management consultant.

After Mac’s wife graduated from medical school in Cleveland, the two faced the daunting prospect of aligning her residency with his own plans to attend business school. He refers to what happened next as divine intervention: “We had to do the MBA/medical residency match and I think we calculated like a .001% percent chance of us both getting into Stanford—but we both got into Stanford.”

Goodbye Cleveland. Hello Palo Alto.

Initially focused on marketing in Stanford’s MBA program, Mac found his interests shifting to a different goal: starting a company. This was his thinking: “I don’t have a mortgage. I don’t have kids. My wife is working 100+ hours a week. This is a great time to take the risk and start a company.”

In January 2006, Mac did just that. But even while moving forward with a business concept, he found himself stewing on a different “crazy idea.” Visiting his in-laws during the holidays, he couldn’t help but notice their rather “anemic-looking” artificial tree, a necessity due to his brother-in-law’s allergies. “When we stayed at their house, I’d walk past it on the way to our room, and I’d think, ‘Why do artificial trees look so bad? We have CGI movies that are awesome. How come we can’t make a tree that looks good?’ That’s kind of what planted the seed in my head.”

After discovering that the technology existed to make artificial trees look better, Mac came across a stat that kicked that kernel of a seed into rapid growth. “I found out that about 80% of U.S. households that celebrate Christmas with Christmas trees use artificial trees,” he says. “And no one had really comprehensively tried to make the entire tree as real as possible.”

In June 2006, envisioning the venture as a seasonal side project, Mac connected with a Christmas tree factory in China and went over to redesign trees to his specifications. After ordering a batch, he returned to Palo Alto to execute a rapid-fire deployment of the rest of the business, including coming up with a name, graphics, photography and setting up a call center and website.

He did all of this in the guest bedroom of his two-bedroom Stanford West apartment.

“I tried to start in my garage so it could be like the HP story,” Mac says in retrospect. “But I couldn’t get the wifi to work.”

As for the name? That idea came to him as he was driving through rolling hills in Pennsylvania. Passing forested woods and farmhouses, Mac intuitively recognized the feel of the brand. Playing with the word ‘hill,’ he mentally ticked off different trees in his head, initially dismissing oak and Fraser. “Then I thought, ‘How about balsam? Balsam Hill?’ And it was just, ‘WOW! That’s a great name.’”

Between the Balsam Hill website that was up and running by October 1 and a pop-up store at Stanford Shopping Center, Balsam Hill did almost $3 million in revenue that first 2006 Christmas season. The company held its course through the 2008 recession. In 2009, Ellen DeGeneres used Balsam Hill trees to decorate her stage. “We were able to say, ‘As seen on Ellen,’” Mac shares. “That was something that really gave consumers confidence that they could trust Balsam Hill.” Since 2009, Balsam Hill has delivered double-digit growth and profitability every year. Mac’s seed of an idea turned into a full-blown successful business.

In 2013, Balsam Hill introduced its first catalog. “Direct mail is huge,” Mac says. “What we find is that the photography allows us to share new products with people in ways that we can’t do online.” Balsam Hill turned to Oakland-based Kuoh Photo + Creative to help evoke the essence of its brand, with a team that includes the creative director, an art director, a set stylist and producer.

Timing is critical. Putting out a holiday catalog means creating winter magic during a two-week photo shoot in June. “The catalog has a dreamy quality, and there’s always a strong color theme, palette or mood,” says Thomas Kuoh. “We’re shooting all over the Bay Area—we shoot in Napa, Sebastopol, Lafayette, Palo Alto.”

Over the years, Balsam Hill expanded into a broader range of holiday and seasonal offerings, including spring florals and fall décor, along with wreaths for every season. Flip through the pages of the Holiday 2019 catalog, and you’ll find everything from glowing pine cone garlands to golden tabletop trees to outdoor woodland evergreen foliage for accenting windows and doorways. At the heart of it all are still Balsam Hill’s artificial Christmas trees, with a life expectancy of up to 20 years, ranging from 4 to 18 feet, from slim to full, three different categories of realism and price tags running from $250 into the thousands.

And while not provoking allergies is a motivating factor for some families, Mac can easily summarize the biggest driver for sales. “At the end of the day, it’s convenience. With a real tree, there’s cutting the trunk off, getting it home, stringing the lights, the needles, the watering, the sap,” Mac says. “With an artificial tree, you still get the important part of the tradition, which is decorating the tree together as a family—we just enable you to get to that point a lot sooner. And you can set the tree up at Thanksgiving and take it down at New Year’s and it’s not going to become a fire hazard.”

With teams based in Redwood City, Boise, Annapolis, Ireland and the Philippines and working with 65 factories in eight countries, Balsam Hill’s products have turned up everywhere from Oprah and the Hallmark Channel to CMA’s Country Christmas and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Now in his 14th season at the helm, Mac says there are moments here and there that help him take it all in.

He recounts an early jet-lagged morning at an East Coast conference he attended with other CEOs last year: “I sat down and this guy asks, ‘What do you do?’ I said, ‘Oh, we’re in the holiday decorations business and we sell artificial Christmas trees.’ And he said, ‘Man, that must be tough. You have to compete with Balsam Hill.’”

Mac ends the story with a satisfied grin. Not bad for a “crazy” idea.

Los Altos Spanish Marvel

Here’s an interesting fact: Avocado trees are challenging to grow in Northern California and can live to be 400 years old. If you’re lucky enough to have a healthy avocado tree, the logical takeaway would therefore be… hang onto it.

That was a Los Altos couple’s plan when they started envisioning a rebuild of their 1950s-era 1,300-square-foot ranch home. In addition to preserving the property’s thriving avocado tree, they were also in full agreement on the style of their dream home: California Mission Revival, complete with rounded archways, white stucco exteriors and clay roof tiles. They knew the final design had to accommodate multi-generational living, allowing for privacy and all the conveniences making aging-in-place possible. And all of this needed to happen on a 65’x170’-square-foot lot.

Enter Matthew Harrigan, founder and president of Saratoga-based Timeline Design+Build. “‘Whatever you do, don’t touch the avocado tree,’ they told us,” Matthew says, recalling the early guidance that triggered immediate architectural design constraints. “Because of the narrowness of the lot, it really forced the dining room to be in the middle of the house with no windows, no light and no view.” A huge fan of natural light, Matthew refused to accept what seemed inevitable, drawing on decades of practical construction and engineering experience to find a solution.

It’s the kind of problem-solving that’s second nature to Matthew. Growing up in Mountain View, Matthew was 11 years old when his parents bought a new house and hired a handyman to put in built-in cabinetry and a deck. Determined to provide a helping hand, Matthew tagged along, learning how to use a table and skill saw. By 12, Matthew had moved on to building decks for the neighbors and at 14, he took out an ad in the Los Altos Town Crier to get jobs for the cabinet-making business he was running out of his family’s garage. When Matthew finally took woodshop at Mountain View’s Awalt High School, he was a bit more ambitious than his classmates. “People were making little cut-outs of ducks, and I built a huge table with turned legs. That’s kind of crazy,” he reflects. “I don’t think I even realized at the time how much more advanced I was. I’ve always had a passion for building.”

Matthew applied that passion to his studies—civil engineering at Santa Clara University and Electrical Engineering at UC San Diego, before attaining a certification as an Interior Designer and becoming a California-licensed general building contractor. Dismayed by the inefficiencies and disorganization he experienced on job sites in the ’80s, he decided to go into business for himself, founding Timeline in 1990. “I’m a very checklist/Excel/methodical kind of person. I felt if there was better pre-planning, we’d have better execution and a better end product,” he says. “That’s why I named it Timeline—to be organized in an efficient manner to get things done in a reasonable timeframe.”

To achieve that goal, Matthew’s firm takes a design-build approach. “For me, it’s very important that you have a coordinated effort between the interior designer, the architect and the builder, and so historically, we’ve done it all in-house. I’m a big proponent of design-build.” Over the course of Matthew’s career, Timeline’s team has completed over 700 residential projects, including remodels and custom homes. And that brings us back to that dilemma in Los Altos.

“I came up with the idea of opening up the ceiling to the second floor, and when I presented it to the client, they ended up loving it,” says Matthew.

Working as a team, Matthew and Timeline architect Ope Tani and Shlomi Caspi designed a 5,400-square-foot home anchored by the dramatic element of a central dining room opening up to a second-floor gallery. With large skylights piercing through the roof, natural light pours down into the atrium below. Completing the effect, Matthew commissioned designer Roy Johnson of Roy’s Lighting to craft a custom dimmable light fixture that felt authentic to the home’s Spanish colonial influences. “It’s the perfect light fixture,” Matthew notes. “It has two levels of lights with a remote control. That way, if kids are asleep upstairs and have their doors open, they don’t have to have light blasting into their rooms.”

Future-proofing the home to accommodate evolving family dynamics helped guide design considerations; Timeline knew the household could potentially expand to include more children and two sets of in-laws. “Having three generations live here was the objective—creating a house suitable for multi-generational living,” Matthew says. “Everyone has their privacy. The basement has its own unit. We have one guest room off by itself on the main floor and then three bedrooms on the upper level for the young family. With an elevator for aging-in-place and barrier-free shower designs, we’ve made a three-level home fully accessible.”

The Los Altos couple also knew the exact style they wanted for their dream home. “They both love mission-style architecture, and so that was definitely what it was going to be,” Matthew says. “They brought a real passion to it. They kept us on our toes because they probably have read more books about mission-style architecture than we have and they know everything about it.”

Dating to the late 1800s, California Mission Revival draws its influences from colonial-style Spanish missions in California from the 18th and early 19th centuries. The architectural movement calls for simple materials and simple lines: white stucco, red roof tiles, oak floors. “There are no crazy roof lines. It’s all gables and arches. Wooden beams. Wrought iron railings. And I just love the Saltillo tiles. They actually went down to Ensenada and got them custom-painted,” says Matthew, summarizing the home’s signature elements. “And covered porches to protect you from the heat and the sun, so that’s what we’ve got out back.”

Guided by the desired architectural style, Timeline set a goal of adhering to authenticity as much as possible, while still affording the homeowners the luxuries of modern-day living. Authentic touches include a small Juliet balcony over the entrance door, wood windows and ornamental medallions on the exterior walls that are also carried through in the home’s light fixtures.

As for modern-day concessions? Given the second floor’s gallery design, Matthew suggested overhanging the trim around the perimeter of the railing, allowing for LED downlights: “Since there’s not a hallway directly between the kids’ bedrooms and the parents’ bedroom, if the kids wake up in the middle of the night, they can safely follow the lights.” And while the loggia, the covered patio with archways at the back of the house, is stylistically appropriate, the addition of heat lamps opens up the possibility of year-round outdoor living.

Another challenge Timeline faced was making the new home look at home on a street predominantly lined with one-story ranch houses. Matthew believes his company met its objective. “When we were having the public hearing, one of the planning commissioners said, ‘That looks like the house that was there when it was all orchard,’” he recalls. “That was the plan, so we were successful. We wanted to give it a sense of history, a sense of age and place.”

With the last roof tile in place, Timeline celebrated that success with its client, marking the milestone with a shared open house for colleagues, family and friends. As Timeline prepares to mark its 30th anniversary in 2020, Matthew sees the project as a perfect reflection of the business he literally built: “It’s our job to dig out of the homeowner what their desire is, what their objective is, what their vision is and to take our expertise and bring that to life.” tldesign.net

The Beat On Your Eats

four seasons silicon valley

East Palo Alto

Let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow! The Après winter lounge pop-up is back at Four Seasons Hotel Silicon Valley. The outdoor terrace of the hotel’s signature restaurant Quattro is transformed into a winter wonderland with rustic wooden chalets, sleek fire tables and lighted alpine

trees. Executive chef Martin Morelli’s new Après menu includes decadent gruyere cheese and champagne fondue and family-style s’mores. Come prepared for a light dusting of snow every hour between 4PM and 9:30PM. On weekend evenings, Après screens fireside movies under the stars. Call 650.566.1200 to reserve a spot. For holiday dining at Quattro, Chef Morelli is offering a festive three- or four-course Christmas Eve Dinner and a three-course Christmas Day Feast. 2050 University Ave, Après is open through January 5, 2020.

rosewood sand hill

Menlo Park

Join jolly old Saint Nicholas for a festive high tea featuring warming beverages and a selection of specially-made tea sandwiches, cookies
and sweets. Rosewood Sand Hill’s Tea with Santa takes place in the hotel’s grand library, where you can relax and enjoy the festivities surrounded by cheerful holiday décor. During the event, Santa will invite the children to join him around the Christmas tree for a holiday story, followed by photo opportunities. Space is limited; call 650.561.1540 to make reservations. Fully decorated for the holidays, Rosewood’s Michelin Star restaurant Madera also offers an elegant three-course prix-fixe Christmas Eve menu along with a family-style Christmas Day Feast. 2825 Sand Hill Road, Tea with Santa held December 7 and 14, 1:30PM-3:30PM.


Half Moon Bay

At The Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay, the festive season kicks off in the resort’s lobby with hand- made gingerbread lighthouse displays by pastry chef Aurelien Revil-Signorat, inspired by the “12 Days of Christmas.” Enjoy breathtaking views and Holiday Afternoon Tea at The Conservatory featuring homemade pastries, savory tea sandwiches and bubbly champagne. At the hotel’s ocean cuisine signature restaurant Navio overlooking the Pacific, executive chef Jakob Esko will be presenting special seven-course tasting menus on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Expect dishes such as Scallop Crudo with blood orange and sunchoke chips and Striped Bass with sauce meurette, hazelnut and Brussels sprouts. Call 650.712.7000 to make reservations. One Miramontes Point Road, Holiday Afternoon Tea served Monday through Thursday, 3PM-5PM, December 1-January 9, 2020.

Happy Camper

When Greg Kuzia-Carmel was eight years old, he found himself on Cape Cod with his mother who was recovering from cancer— and three live Maine lobsters. So while she was napping, he cooked them all by himself.

“When she woke up, she thought she was dreaming,” says the chef-partner of the restaurant Camper, located in Menlo Park.

Given that early affinity for cooking, it’s not surprising that the Albany, New York, native enrolled at The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, where he graduated with a degree in Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management in 2006. Greg has worked in kitchens ever since, dabbling in restaurant consulting along the way.

Camper, with a name inspired by the notion of a “happy camper,” opened in 2018 with a bang and—high expectations. That was a natural leap given that Greg’s resume includes Quince and Cotogna in San Francisco and the 14-time, 3-star Michelin-rated Per Se in New York City.

“Working at Per Se, I was exposed to an incredible attention to detail,” says Greg. “That’s something I’ve carried with me.”

Managing partner Logan Levant articulates Camper’s initial vision: “We’ll be a neighborhood restaurant where you can go for everything from an early dinner with kids, to a celebratory meal, to a memorable private function, all with a high level of service in a relaxed environment.”

“We wanted to come in and shape the dialogue,” Greg says, reflecting on the early months after opening. “That left us with unknowns that proved tricky and challenging, but also an opportunity to alter the tune.”

The partners met when Greg was cooking a private dinner for one of Logan’s friends. “I was struck by his great personality and how good the food was,” she recalls. “We started talking and discovered we had similar goals about what we wanted to accomplish.”

Logan grew up in Southern California and owned Buttercake Bakery there for a decade. She discovered Menlo Park five or so years ago when her best friend moved here, and she came to visit. “I love that it’s a real neighborhood,” she says.

Logan now lives just blocks from Camper in a space shared with her two Newfoundland dogs.

“I feel very centered in the community. One of the dogs was at the vet and the mailman stopped me, worried when he didn’t see two dogs,” she recounts. “It’s also been great to interact with nearby shop owners and hear their stories.”

Greg and his wife live in San Francisco. About moving to the Peninsula, he says: “Working on it.”

Greg and Logan have successfully guided Camper’s evolution. The restaurant was initially open for dinner and weekend brunch, adding lunch, and then a happy hour was introduced on its first anniversary this past September. They’ve also built a robust private dining business, using a room that can be adjusted for size at the back of the regular dining room. Another project in the works is refining their wine selection.

Camper’s focus has always been about creating “a piece of home,” Logan says, and Greg adds, “We kind of cook for ourselves first. We want things to have a personal reference point and to offer an experience that communicates our spirit.”

While Camper draws both Peninsula locals and business travelers, it also aims to be a neighborhood spot that welcomes families. “What adventurous eaters those kids can be,” observes Logan.

Both Logan and Greg comment on the fact that the space that is now Camper has history, initially as Marché and then as LB Steak. “People come in and say they’ve celebrated big moments in their lives here,” says Logan. Before opening, they’d been warned that Menlo Park was “sleepy,” so the fact that they’re drawing a late-night crowd came as a surprise. “We’re excited to stay open to meet that demand,” she says.

Camper’s menu shifts with the seasons and can change as often as every two weeks, so anticipating the holidays requires getting into the right frame of mind. As Greg explains, it’s a bit like “method acting—detaching from the current time and getting in the holiday spirit—envisioning what our customers could enjoy eating when dining with family.”

Logan agrees. “I love the idea of traditions—new and old—and that people let us be a part of that,” she says.

Camper is open six days a week from 11:30AM to 10PM serving lunch and dinner with the small bites/happy hour menu offered from 4PM to 6PM. The restaurant, located at 898 Santa Cruz Avenue, is closed on Sundays. Camper will be open both Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve but closed Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.


Seltzer Sisters

By the time she graduated from the Roman Catholic college Elizabeth Seton in New York, Kathryn Renz had completed a childhood of Catholic schools and, while she was destined for a life of sisterhood, becoming a nun was not in the cards.

In Kathryn’s Redwood City office, a MAD magazine is tucked in the corner of the square shelves near a 2018 Rand McNally
road atlas that leans against an antiquated glass bottle, one of
the dozens of colorful and classic seltzer bottles she keeps, like the early-century Coca Cola relic from Clarksburg, West Virginia.

Inside this dimly-lit office in an industrial warehouse district, Kathryn presides over the only seltzer home and restaurant-delivery business in Northern California. The largest, perhaps, on this side of the country.

Kathryn achieved this feat after purchasing The Seltzer Sisters Bottling Company, Inc. in 2004. Founded in 1985, Seltzer Sisters was on the verge of fizzling out when Kathryn assumed control. She turned the focus to restaurants and bars, now comprising about 75% of the business, injecting momentum back into the company without abandoning her home customers. Many are transplants from New York themselves—the order sheet shows a lot of folks with the 212 area code—who continue to champion the tradition of seltzer.

The purchasing of the business came with the name, logo,
a bubbly website and slogan: To Pour is Human, to Spritz, Divine—a cutesy catchphrase Kathryn could do without.

“I’m not a fan,” she says. Why? She shrugs. C’mon sister, why?
“I have no sisters!” she comically retorts before leveling, “I don’t hate it. It’s just very kitschy.” (Kathryn also confides that her only sibling is an older brother, who still resides in New York.) As Seltzer Sisters approaches its 35th anniversary, Kathryn plans to roll out a new logo that will wrap around each of her five delivery vans.

Although she comes from a background in marketing, Kathryn’s advertising margins for Seltzer Sisters are quite slim. Her fleet of delivery vans do the work for her, such as the time a man chased her driver down to plead for selt- zer. Through word of mouth and customer delight, Seltzer Sisters attracts fans from across the entire Bay Area and beyond. Hollywood called in 2011 for 100 seltzer bottles to appear in the Water for Elephants adaptation and when entrepreneurs in Austin and San Diego recently needed guidance for opening their own seltzer businesses, Kathryn’s phone lit up.

She’ll tell you that seltzer drinking never went out of style because it truly hasn’t. With its environmentally sound practice of refilling bottles, seltzer continues to adapt to future tastes. Look no further than any of the families with weekly orders or follow San Francisco bartenders, who bring Seltzer Sisters service wherever they go.

Seltzer continues to grow in popularity as parents seek a healthier alternative to soda and it’s become a carbonic alternative for mixologists to craft cocktails. Chocolate milk, it turns out, comes alive when mixed with seltzer, becoming a classic treat called the New York Egg Cream.

The sparkling water, sourced directly from the much-heralded Hetch Hetchy system, is chilled and mixed with pure carbon dioxide to be pressurized in a bottle at 65 psi. The carbonic taste seems almost sweetened, although the nutrition label clearly shows zeros across the board.

Kathryn checks in mid-afternoon with her bottler Jim Coulter after
he finishes his daily duty of filling about 200 cases holding six bottles apiece. It takes him five hours in the warehouse and a close relationship with an early 20th-century Barnett & Foster bottling machine to complete the order. The machine has six faucets that pump 1.5 liters per bottle. One rotation around the analog machine takes about 50 seconds, giving Jim just enough time to load another round.

When Kathryn had the idea to approach restaurants and bars, she encountered an enthusiastic reception. “Within a month we
had 30 bars,” she says. “Within a quarter we had 100.” The seltzer is bottled and delivered to customers within a day or two, stretching as far north as Napa. Kathryn used to keep bottles at home in case a bartender had an emergency call over the weekend. She’s reluctant to name her biggest customers (“If I mention one, I’ll have to mention them all, so I’ll mention none,” she says coyly.), but an afternoon at the seltzer factory reveals a few notable San Francisco hot spots: The Slanted Door, State Bird Provisions and Coin-Op Game Room, to name a few.

The home delivery system offers a glimpse into the lives in the community and Kathryn cherishes the fact that she’s watched kids grow up through the years and glasses of seltzer.

“We have a unique connection with our customers. We know a little bit about everybody and it adds so much to be able to actually like your customers,” she says. “Some of these people I talk to on the phone I consider my friends but I’ve never even met them in person!”

Seltzer Sisters is at its peak for deliveries from March to November and the winter is an opportunity to recharge as bartenders switch to a warmer menu and hot tea trumps sparkling water. It’s also a season when Kathryn likes to give her six employees a break to be with their families.

Kathryn, a mother of four and a grandmother of five, lives in Pacifica, where she’s been since 1989. Her first career was as a corporate product marketing manager for the likes of Arrow and Avnet Electronics and she found herself drawn to California through business trips. She arrived in 1985 and worked in tech until the early 2000s when her division at 3M was closed. Through the tip of a friend, she learned of the Seltzer Sisters’ sale and made an offer. She liked that it was a business that celebrated her New York roots. Kathryn anticipates another few years before retirement and has already purchased a landing pad near Mesquite, Nevada. She then envisions a life on the road, traveling by RV to the corners of the country, maybe with seltzer within reach for when the moment calls.

“I think people see seltzer as a pick-me-up at the end of the day,” she muses. “Take a moment, have a glass and then carry on with what you have to do.”


Page 9

Crunchy Cookies

Treat yourself this holiday season. Find a reason to drive just south of the 84 junction on El Camino in Redwood City and look for a neon sign on the east side for La Biscotteria. Roll down your window, too. If you’re lucky, you’ll be greeted
by an aroma of freshly baking pastries so alluring, so foodie- fabulous—don’t be surprised if your car pulls itself over so you

can purchase some treats. Believe me, you’ll want to. La Biscotteria is an Italian-American family-owned business specializing in the most delectable biscotti and Italian bakery items this side (or even inside) of Naples.

Well-traveled regulars tell baker and owner Augustine Buonocore that his goodies are even better than what they’ve had in Italy, and one bite confirms it. His secret? Augustine credits his late grandmother’s recipes, chock-full of authentic, original ingredients. “All the recipes I have are over 100 years old. What makes my product unique is that I use pure essential oils for flavoring, like anise, lemon and orange, which are very expensive,” he says. “The heat doesn’t bake away the flavors, the aromatics.” It sure doesn’t. Biting into one of Augustine’s many flavors of biscotti, such as the white chocolate-dipped lemon, will spoil you from eating anything less. You can actually taste the lemon! And see the almonds! Heaven. Here, ingredients aren’t hidden, they are celebrated. That’s because they have nothing to hide.

La Biscotteria is proud to offer classic biscotti made with both good flavor and good nutrition in mind. In Italian, biscotto means twice (bis) cooked (cotto). Their fruity biscotti line features dried fruits, cranberry hazelnut, lemon verbena, among others, along with a serious crunch. They contain no preservatives, trans-fats, artificial flavors or GMO ingredients. You’ll find that their delicious, hand-crafted biscotti are a great après- shopping treat or stocking stuffer, the perfect dipping companion to a steaming cup of tea or a “tazza di caffe” in the morning. They even make a raisin biscotti, which pairs perfectly when savored with a glass of wine.

Cookies, cakes, cannoli—they’ve got all the good stuff, including homemade panettone. La Biscotte- ria suggests toasting this traditional sweet bread with butter or using it to make a unique and delicious French toast or bread pudding on Christmas morning. They also carry panforte. This chewy dessert is baked with fruits, nuts, spices, honey and a touch of cocoa powder. Sliced in wedges and served with coffee or after meals, it’s perfect for holiday parties and guests.

And there’s more.

La Biscotteria produces a few items only around the holidays, and you’ve still got time to place your orders. Ready to learn a little Italian?

First up, struffoli. According to Augustine and his wife and co-owner, Angela, struffoli are a Neapolitan tradition eaten around Christmastime that are basically little balls of dough fried, cooled and mixed with sugar, honey and a little lemon zest. “We put them in a little mound on a dish and eat them on Christmas Eve and New Year’s,” says Augustine. “No other bakery on the Peninsula makes struffoli. I haven’t seen them anywhere.” Crunchy on the outside and light inside, in Calabria, they are also known as “scalilli,” and in Abruzzi, “cicerchiata.” Take Angela’s advice and serve them warm.

Next, cuccidati cookies. These are traditional ‘pasta frolla’ or ‘short pastry’ cookies stuffed with figs, dates, raisins, orange and lemon peels, citron, roasted almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, walnuts, imported amarena cherries in syrup, honey, Italian spices, cocoa powder and dark chocolate. Whew! The filling is soaked in fine liqueur—Cognac and Grand Mar- nier—glazed with lemon sugar and sprinkled with nonpareils. Yum.

Another holiday treat are the special spiced ‘gingerbread’ brown biscotti called ‘stomatico.’ This nut-free biscotti is made with cinnamon, cloves, raw sugar, honey, ginger and allspice, formulated from Ange- la’s Calabrese Nonna’s recipe, and according to Angela, is traditionally known to soothe stomach ailments in both children and adults.

Torrone, the classic Italian nougat candy made of honey, sugar and egg whites, is also a holiday item. Augustine even makes a pumpkin biscotti and a pumpkin cannoli for the holidays, which he says was the first one around when he started making it 18 years ago. Augustine opened his bakery in Belmont in 1989 before moving it to Redwood City in 2003. He is a proud Redwood City native, with three generations in San Francisco’s Italian-American community. “My grandfather Ciro Di Palma came here from Naples at the turn of the century. He arrived in 1900 and was here during the 1906 earthquake,” Augustine shares. Augustine’s grandfather eventually became co-owner of the California Macaroni Company in San Francisco. “He lived in San Francisco and in the 1930s this was all country here in Redwood City. He would come here on weekends and he had his rabbits and his chickens and his garden and then he retired early and stayed here in Redwood City and I was born here.”

According to Buonocore family history, as a young boy, Augustine was often left in the care of his maternal grandmother, “Nonna Maria,” who ran the home, organized the social calendar and baked and cooked traditional family recipes from Naples. Nonna Maria’s family recipe book was passed down to Augustine, who follows the details of ingredients and preparation meticulously. Truly a beloved scrapbook, bulging with loose pages, tattered and worn, it is a compendium of family favorites, overflowing with authentic recipes. This journal of artisan baking is at the heart of La Biscotteria.

Augustine’s family emigrated from the Province of Sorrento, just south of Naples. Almond and citrus trees, grapevines and anise hedgerows are indigenous to the region and produce was available in abundance. Save yourself the airfare and set a course for Redwood City. Support your new biscotti habit and better yet—support a family-owned local business. Order online or show up early on Saturdays and take your chances.

Delight on Ice

The much-anticipated photos from Winter Lodge’s “Welcome to the Jungle” show just arrived. The ready-to-hang photos capture rosy-cheeked ice skaters in colorful glittering costumes posing with classmates on the ice. Linda Stebbins Jensen, executive director at Winter Lodge, predicts that a mob of students will gather around the photo display wall when they come in for class that afternoon. The skaters will jostle each other as they identify who’s made it onto the wall this year to join the ranks of skaters past.

The past stretches back a long way at both the oldest ice skating rink in the San Francisco Bay Area and the only permanent outdoor rink west of the Sierra. Wisconsin native Duncan Williams, an engineering professor at Stanford and San Jose State University, opened Winter Lodge in 1956 off Middlefield Road in Palo Alto. People doubted the feasibility of an outdoor rink in sunny California. “Duncan being an engineer, having come from a place where he really enjoyed the outdoor skating experience with his kids, said ‘Let’s try, I think we can do it.’ He definitely thought of this as an experiment,” says Linda.

The experiment worked. The original pipe system Duncan designed is still under the rink’s ice sheet. The pipes course with salt brine, keeping the ice hard enough to skate on. The Winter Lodge became a community gathering place for all ages to enjoy healthy outdoor recreation. When Duncan decided to retire and close the rink in 1983 due to the expiring property lease, a nonprofit formed and fought to keep Winter Lodge open. “Once Winter Lodge was up and running, there was no way the community was going to let it go,” remembers Linda.

Linda began to ice skate at Winter Lodge when she was 10 years old. “Winter Lodge is sort of my home away from home and it always has been,” she says. As her skating ability progressed, Linda began training for competition (something Winter Lodge doesn’t offer) at other rinks in the early ’80s. The likes of world champions and Olympic medalists—Sunnyvale’s Brian Boitano and Kristi Yamaguchi of Hayward—were on the same local training circuits as Linda.

Linda’s skating skills earned her an offer to perform with Disney on Ice, but she decided to attend college and coach at Winter Lodge during school breaks instead. Her degree in public relations and later her master’s in public administration prepared her to become Winter Lodge’s executive director in 1986: “It was just the perfect job for me—being able to put my degree together with my passion and be back home where I learned to skate and be with some of my friends I had worked with all those years.” Partnering with Winter Lodge’s newly-formed nonprofit organization and the local community, Linda was able to bring the beloved institution back from the brink of extinction.

Set back from the street, Winter Lodge is surrounded by towering eucalyptus trees that provide both enchanting seclusion and engineered shade to protect the ice. Skaters enter the clubhouse with its cabin-feeling wood panel walls and vaulted ceiling. The clubhouse offers skate rentals and a place to warm up around a crackling fireplace. After lacing up, skaters exit the clubhouse, heading to either the small indoor practice rink or the main outdoor rink. Spectators select a cozy couch, bench or picnic table to watch the activity out on the ice from the extensive lounge area around the outdoor rink.

One of the largest skating schools in the U.S., Winter Lodge’s team of 24 coaches teach 1,000 students per session with fall, winter and spring sessions taking place during the skating season. Even with the school’s emphasis on recreation, students challenge themselves to move up in skill level and gain confidence on the ice. All skaters have the common goal of becoming performance-ready for the annual year-end spring show.

Assistant director and coach Karie Nanez started skating at nine years old when her aunt, a coach at Winter Lodge, introduced her to the sport. Karie became a professional figure skater, traveling with Warner Brothers on Ice and Nutcracker on Ice. She credits the non-competitive environment at Winter Lodge skating school for her success. “For me,” she says, “I was able to get to those higher levels because there wasn’t the stress of having to constantly be trying to do better than the person I was training with.”

Both kids and adults can learn how to skate at Winter Lodge. Basic skills classes take a newbie from never skated to gliding over ice and becoming comfortable making turns. Students maneuver on the ice with classmates of the same age group. Learning to skate requires a lot of focus from children as they try to remember the names of each move and get the footing right at the same time. Adults, Karie says, tend to analyze the moves and want to know how each one breaks down.

After students master the basics, they can continue on their ice skating journey, learning choreography set to music. Working through freestyle levels, skaters can try out for Theater on Ice training, Jazz and Synchronized performance teams. Skaters who spend a lot of time moving up through skill levels tend to form lifelong friendships with their teammates. “The skaters meet a whole set of friends here that they wouldn’t necessarily have at school. So if they’re having a bad day at school, they come here and it’s a home away from home,” Karie shares.

Along with offering regularly scheduled public skating sessions, Winter Lodge also accepts reservations for larger groups and private parties, including epic Broomball matches on Fridays and Saturdays. Think hockey in sneakers, with up to 20 players slipping and sliding as they whack a rubber ball around the ice. Wednesday nights are also special. The public skating session from 8PM to 10PM is reserved for adults only, offering a unique date experience on the ice. “What a healthy alternative to a bar,” observes Linda. “It’s just a nice place for people to be out with friends and happen to meet someone.” Couples glide across the ice under the rink’s strands of golden-hued twinkle lights. In the winter months, snow flurries are always in the forecast, falling lightly on the ice to create the perfect romantic backdrop.

Generations of Winter Lodge skaters, especially those who’ve met their significant others on the ice, or have put in lots of hours with a performance team, have a habit of coming back to say “hi.” They check in with past coaches and introduce new family members to the ice they love. “He’s here with his granddaughter,” Linda notes, as a man with a little girl and her mother enter the clubhouse. “His daughter was one of our regulars in the show and stayed in it year after year, and now this is her daughter.” All smiles, the young girl runs out to the lounge area with her grandpa to greet Linda. This is her first time at Winter Lodge, and she’ll be back in a few hours to try skating. But for now, she’s content to search the photo wall for her mother’s picture

Thrive Center Getaway

Home court tip-offs tend to be at 7:30PM, giving us Peninsula folk more than enough time to leave work or school behind, nab a seat on CalTrain and land in Thrive City to cheer on the professional sports team that unites the entire Bay Area.

The Golden State Warriors unveiled their new home this season: the Chase Center, a $1.6 billion state-of-the-art arena that moonlights as a concert venue and, from a bird’s-eye view, could be mistaken as a plump, rotating ninja star. With countless motion lines carved into its eggshell-white edifice reaching over 12 stories high and sharp edges that slice through the gusty bay shore winds, the Chase Center is the product of a legendary team backed by “We Believe” investors.

An arena of this stature couldn’t land along the southern flank of San Francisco without making a splash. What was previously the flat Mission Bay, a dried-up swath of marshland once used for dumping debris after the 1906 earthquake, became the hot new thing when multiple medical centers for the University of San Francisco and Kaiser Permanente sprouted up in the early 2000s. Soon, the apartment complexes arrived and the neighborhood facelift reached a new benchmark when the ribbon was cut on the Chase Center in September.

New neighbors Kaiser and the Warriors teamed up to transform the 11-acre square surrounding the arena into Thrive City, a neighborhood the size of a city block designed to attract sports fans, foodies, socialites and urban explorers alike. The Chase Center may be the main attraction but around its circumference are new and classic restaurants as well as charming boutique hotels waiting to accommodate your next staycation.

A neighborhood envisioned with the future as its fulcrum, Thrive City is just a weekender duffel bag away.

The Center of a Dynasty

In the week leading up to the NBA season opener against the Los Angeles Clippers in late October, local headlines described the upcoming Warriors season with more self-deprecation than the usual tenors of excitement for describing the three-time champions. “Strap in, Warriors fans. This season will test your faith,” opined Ann Killion, sports columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle. Sure, both superstar fan favorites are out with injuries for likely the whole season (praise be to the toaster signer: Klay Thompson and prayers be to Steph Curry’s left hand), but if fans are to make peace with a potential adjustment year, luckily it coincides with the debut of the most exuberant arena to ever join the league.

The Chase Center’s bells and whistles haven’t ceased ringing since Metallica and the San Francisco Symphony performed together on its opening night. Approaching the hoop-shaped behemoth from the west side, fans are met with a flashy video board fueling excitement with action clips of Curry fanfare. The west plaza features photo opportunities from atop a wide spiraling staircase, which calls to mind the Red Steps in Times Square, alongside soon-to-open restaurants such as Gott’s Roadside and a food hall by Michael Mina. Inside the arena are plenty of dining options including Peninsula favorites Sam’s Chowder House and Tin Pot Creamery.

To accommodate the boundless confusion fans will feel for experiencing a brand-new arena, the Chase Center went on a hiring spree of ushers and staff (their numbers will rival the amount of opposing team fans who attend a game on any given night). Bounce from staircase to escalator until you land in your cushioned seat. Immediately, the NBA’s largest scoreboard begins to lure eyeballs to its 9,699 square feet of electrical spectacle to guide the game.

A sports arena built for a modern San Francisco would be remiss if it lacked technological advancements fit for a spacecraft. Remember that classic racing game you watch on the scoreboard where fans cheer for a vehicle of a specific color? At the Chase Center, there’s an app for that. Fans are encouraged to download the Chase Center/Warriors phone application to partake in their own game-time games, like the one where they choose a car on their device and through repeated taps on the screen, a speedier digital race car emerges from the pack. (Blue smoked red by a mile at the Lakers pre-season bout on October 18.)

Another feature on the app is the section dedicated to detailing concerts and events hosted at the Chase Center. That massive scoreboard that hovers above the court retracts, disappearing into the heavens of the dome, leaving unobstructed views for up to 18,000 concertgoers.

The Chase Center was properly laid out so there’s not a bad seat in the house (even the nosebleed section offers fine views of the stage or court) matched by an acoustic design that delivers power without the hearing loss. When The Who took the stage in October, with Palo Alto’s Loren Gold behind the keyboard, the rock and roll behemoths performed heavily without exploding eardrums. Moreover, once the game buzzer rings or the lights go up after the encore, spilling out of the arena is swift and surprisingly smooth. Our trepidations of a traffic-congested nightmare was merely mongering.

Eats, Drinks & Mission Bay

News of the arena broke in 2012 back when Mission Bay typically connoted a hospital visit. But the area already had its fair share of charming restaurants, most notably The Ramp, located a block from 1 Warriors Way. A former bait shop at the edge of the bay, The Ramp emerges from the water as the de facto pre-game or concert dining hub.

Views of U.S. Navy ships complement a menu of simple favorites: the fish tacos feature grilled tilapia and corn tortillas topped with mango jicama salsa while the spicy black bean burger is served with chipotle horseradish aioli. A full bar is replete with tropical cocktails—the BananaRama mixes banana Bacardi, Malibu rum, orange juice and pineapple juice with a splash of grenadine, a drink that inspires the use of public transportation instead of a car. The weekend brunch menu runs until 3:30PM and offers homemade doughnut holes—the French variety, arriving with a side of chocolate fondue.

If too stimulated by a game or concert to head home right away, The Ramp is also the city’s premier salsa dance club with frequent weekend parties. Mind their online calendar since winter events are on the lighter side.

Another kitchen that’s benefiting nicely from the Chase Center’s arrival is the Mission Rock Resort, home to an unmissable oyster happy hour and seafood staples such as Vongole and the Mission Bay Cioppino, which unites clam, salmon, mussels, shrimp, Dungeness crab and calamari in a tomato-based stew.

If it’s drinks you seek and you’re out on a weeknight, look no further than the mirthful School Night, located a few blocks from Thrive City at the edge of the Dogpatch. Open explicitly Monday through Friday, as the name suggests, School Night specializes in hand-crafted pisco, agave, and whiskey cocktails. Peruvian bar manager Enrique Sanchez hand-crafts the rotating menu, devloping his style since pouring his very first pisco sour at a family gathering when he was a lad of 14. He’s since had years to experiment and perfect his creations.

If pisco is your poison, give the Prom Date a taste (pisco albilla, amontillado, nonino, Peychaud’s bitters and absinthe) or embrace the agave within the Detention, which melds mezcal, orgeat, lemon, angostura with habanero. Whiskey lovers have four options to select from, including the curiosity-piquing School Nurse, a mix of bourbon, lemon and vanilla with a red wine splash.

Extend your Stay

The rejuvenation of South of Market and China Basin, the neighborhoods just above Mission Bay separated by the slim Mission Creek Canal, began in 2000 with the construction of the Giants stadium, now called Oracle Park. However, it wasn’t until 2017 that the area’s first hotel went up.

The casual and clever Hotel VIA, a 159-room boutique, was the vision of two Los Altos brothers and a pair of consultants from The Cupertino Inn who sought to celebrate the area’s tech character without sacrificing warmth and hospitality.

“We looked around this neighborhood where all the high-tech companies reside,” explains Jerry Leap, Hotel VIA’s director of sales and marketing. “We knew that building a small indie hotel had to be at the forefront of technology but hospitality is all about the face-to-face interaction. We walk a fine line of being technically advanced but without taking out any of the humanity.”

A human touch is found throughout the hotel, from the pieces of chocolate awaiting you in the room to the sophisticated interior design where light fixtures near the elevator resemble diamond icicles and patio furniture looks dipped in gold. With tones reminiscent of fresh snowfall, the rooms and suites feature modern furniture with accents of blue in the sofas and lounge pillows.

And in a unique twist uncommon for an independent inn, Hotel VIA has an app all its own. Designed to expedite check-in, the app also provides a map of the neighborhood, fully stocked with restaurant and bar recommendations.

Around the corner is another option for a cozy night. The bright rooms at the Hyatt Place San Francisco/Downtown offer views of the twinkling city below. Currently in development is the hotel’s rooftop terrace (slated to open in summer 2020), which will not only offer a gorgeous view of downtown San Francisco and Twin Peaks but a peek into Oracle Park as well, located just across the street. The brick edifice matches the neighborhood’s character and the spacious suites come with separate lounge areas to maximize relaxation.

Both hotels are a brisk 15-minute walk to the Chase Center (or a fifteen-second walk to Oracle Park), establishing either venue as an ideal hub to charge your batteries for a Thrive City getaway.

Perfect Shot: Pescadero Sundown

Our December Perfect Shot is the perfect reflection of 2019 drawing to a close. Burlingame photographer Susan Munroe was curving along Highway 1 on a Tuesday evening near Pescadero State Beach when the sunset demanded a detour. She pulled off and spent the next 20 minutes admiring the day’s end, allowing the moment to celebrate her home and roots. “The way the clouds filtered the sun on the edge of the cliffs was unusually serene,” she notes. “There was a slight chill in the air as the waves rolled across the unmarked sand. I’m grateful to live in this beautiful place.”

Image Courtesy of Susan Munroe / Susan-Art.com

Family Trees

During the off-seasons, Santa’s Tree Farm and Village is perceptively more relaxed. Save for the thousands of pines and firs bristling in the wind, not a creature is found stirring, not even a mouse. The Elves Workshop, located in the heart of this holiday hamlet nestled within the hills that roll into Half Moon Bay, is dormant—for now.

Santa is expected soon, arriving the weekend before Thanksgiving. Until then, this workshop stores his throne, stock loads of tree stands and twine and a motorized trolley train that was made using a repurposed airport baggage carrier. Further examples of homemade holiday craftsmanship are evident in every piece of snow-white trim that lines the building tops or the wooden red and white candy canes used as a handrail for a staircase.

A map of the village is posted outside on the workshop wall and from this perspective, Santa’s Tree Farm and Village looks like a golf course. The 487-acre farm includes 70 acres for six species of Christmas trees: Douglas, Grand, Concolor and noble firs, Redwood and Monterey pines. The property is split by Highway 92 where a sharp turn on a y-shaped intersection reveals a gravelly road leading into the village. A sign reminds visitors that this a choose-and-cut operation (saws and Christmas cheer supplied) with the welcoming motto: “For those who truly believe.”

When the first trees sprouted here in 1972 (originating in 1969 as a Future Farmers of America project), a dairy farm was transformed into a holiday village. Folks from every corner of the Bay Area flock here to spend an afternoon hunting for the perfect pine to build their Christmas around. They come with picnic spreads and an unwavering sense of the season, spending hours to indulge in the offering of hot cider and original puppet shows. The farm is free to roam and trees are priced according to species, not size, averaging between $60 and $75 each.

It takes a family to raise a village like this and that would be the Sare family. Dan grew up on the farm and planted Monterey pine Christmas tree seedlings in high school for a class project. Several years after establishing the business, he met Natalie from Pescadero, who answered a help wanted ad to work on the tree farm. They married in 1992 and their son, Mike, soon followed.

Today, the Sares run the Christmas village together. On a recent morning, Dan was out with his three full-time employees for maintenance on the various structures and to inspect this year’s crop of trees, which can take a dozen years to grow.

Since 2009, Mike has written a fresh puppet show using pre-recorded audio and hand puppets. Past favorite editions include “The Day Rudolph Went Missing” and “Santa Claus Who?” in which Santa develops amnesia and thinks he’s in a band. He also designs t-shirts for the village, finding one from a previous year that’s in forest green with the words “Christmas isn’t Christmas without Family” written in white.

Natalie answers the phone and runs the operations, coordinating with Mr. and Mrs. Claus’s PR for their arrival and organizing the 20 or so volunteers who help out on the busy pre-holiday weekends.

“This morning, I was talking to the mistletoe kid whom we’ve used ever since he was 12 years old,” she says. “I still want to support him because he’s so wonderful and hardworking. Now he’s getting ready to go off to college.”

When the gates open in late November, the village erupts with visitors through the weekend before the Big Day. That’s five weekends straight of holiday hustle. “We’ve been told we’re not just a place to go to but a destination,” Dan says. “A customer said it was like coming to Disneyland.”

Much of the property is open for visitors to explore and picnic at their leisure; a popular meadow for lunch is in the village’s North Pole, past the wooden Gumdrop Pass Covered Bridge and at the end of Candy Cane Lane. One area that’s private is the family home, a cream-colored one-story house with a brick chimney and a rain chain. A tree with ornaments and lights will soon decorate the living room and the Sares switch off each year who gets to choose it.

Instead of pen marks on the wall when he was growing up, Mike’s height was graded by the trees outside. “I’d say, ‘You’re about the same height as a three-year-old fir,’” Natalie tells him, and, like any 26-year-old, Mike smiles politely as his mom gushes with tales of his childhood.

The Sares keep in contact with other tree farmers and belong to several associations. Their trees are well respected in the field, receiving accolades from the California Tree Growers Association for their noble firs. They’ve won “Best Fir Tree” multiple years in a row. The coastal climate and terrain is suitable for growing these species but maintaining thousands of trees a year requires time and hard work.

The process starts on December 26 when they tally how many trees are missing and what to put back in. The first three months of the year are for irrigation, working alongside the rains, and in March they begin fertilizing. By summer, they’re pulling weeds and pruning the bottom of each tree. “That’s labor-intensive work,” Dan says without a hint of fatigue.

Type “Santa’s Tree Farm and Village” into YouTube and you’ll find a grainy homemade video of a family on a tree hunt in December 1989 next to a compilation of media clips from throughout the years.

The farm attracts news stories and the Sares are sometimes called for their take on holiday trends. Recently, a reporter asked Natalie how the new line of artificial Christmas trees sold through Amazon is affecting their business. Rather than look at the downside, she takes a broader and brighter perspective. After all, this is a village for those who truly believe.

“They wanted to know if it took away from our customer base and it absolutely does not,” she says. “I think it’s helpful for the people who can’t get out to the tree farm. It’s all worth it as long as it’s satisfying the needs of people so they can celebrate Christmas.”

Diary of a Dog: Ollie

Good day! What’s cracking? By way of a more formal introduction, my name is Ollie. I am a Welsh Pembroke Corgi, and I was born in Swansea, Wales. As Welsh lore tells it, Corgis were once the steeds of fairies, and I’m working hard to be legendary in my own right.

My family is originally from Menlo Park, but Butch, Judy, Jacob and Jill moved abroad back in 2011. They brought me home in 2017 and we lived just outside of London. I grew up exploring the canal paths along the Thames. Lots of pubs have gardens, and when Butch and Judy would enjoy a pint, I’d come along and get a treat.

Blimey! That’s what I barked when I found out we’d be leaving my beloved England. My family moved back to Menlo Park in 2018 and it definitely took a while to adjust. When we first went to the park, the other Corgis stared at me. You see, I’m much bigger (about 50%) than the typical Corgi here, plus I have a striking tail that I constantly wag. (Most Corgi tails get docked in the U.S. so I don’t adhere to local fashion.)

My favorite event is Corgi Con San Francisco. Twice a year, over 1,000 Corgis and Corgi lovers meet up at Ocean Beach near the Cliff House. I love chasing balls, and I make a point of always bringing the ball back to someone I haven’t met. If I give them just the right look, they’ll toss the ball and flash me a smile. You should try it sometime. It’s a great way to make friends.

Toy Story 4

If you’re business-focused, this is Q4, but for everyone else, the last few months of the year are for the holidays. Independent toy store owners are somewhere in the middle. After all, isn’t their business to help supply holiday cheer?

Although gifts aren’t the reason for the season—the original Christmas presents of gold, frankincense and myrrh were more symbolic than practical, especially for a newborn child—the exchanging of gifts is a tradition that begins with a visit to the little shop around the corner.

Here on the Peninsula, we’re treated to several: Talbot’s Toyland in San Mateo, Ambassador Toys in Palo Alto,  Adventure Toys in Los Altos and Cheeky Monkey in Menlo Park. The owners champion the power of playtime as much as they do one another, referring customers to each other’s stores or collaborating over large toy orders to split the cost. Together, they forge ahead, embracing the pros and woes of running a toy retail in the age of delivery.

“So many people come in to use our store like Amazon shopping. They take photographs and say, ‘I can find it cheaper online,’” says Linda Kapnick of Ambassador Toys. “I don’t think customers understand the level of work it takes to put that toy on the shelf. With all the research and curation, toy stores are a little bit like a museum.”

Talbot’s Toyland

When Santa Claus arrives at Talbot’s Toyland on Black Friday each year, he does so in style, appearing on the back of a San Mateo Fire Department truck. Hundreds of folks show up to greet him, in a tradition that still packs an emotional punch for the toy store’s general manager.

“I call it a ‘very magical Santa arrival,’” Keith Schumacher says. “I get choked up; I’m 43 years old and it’s really him! We get people every year who complain about the line for Black Friday because the kids actually get some face time with Santa. He asks about how they get along with siblings. It’s not [in a reference to The Christmas Story movie] ‘You’ll shoot your eye out, kid!’ and then get the boot on top of the head.”

The 30,000-square-foot toy hub in downtown San Mateo approaches Christmas with fastidious care. Need help hiding gifts from the kids? The store offers up the top of its warehouse as a hideout until Christmas Eve.

And beginning last year, Talbot’s introduced a giving tree inside the store where philanthropic patrons can purchase an ornament representing a different toy to provide homeless families with gifts through the Menlo Park organization LifeMoves.

“Giving back, that’s what people don’t realize with the Internet shopping,” Keith explains. “The little independent toy store sponsors Little League teams and gives back to schools. You just don’t get that from Amazon.”

Keith has watched Christmases come and go, along with their fads. He said the last hot item was the Kendama, a Japanese spin on the old ball and cup toy, which sold thousands in one holiday season. Popular toys won’t pop until as late as November, which keeps Talbot’s on its toes, tracking trends like a stockbroker on IPO day.

“When Tickle Me Elmo came out, we were in New York at a trade show and didn’t think it would do much. The guy at Tyco said it was the hottest of the season but we heard that 90 times already,” Keith remembers. “We probably ordered 40 and were going to get rid of them until we decided to wait until Christmas. The minute Rosie O’Donnell squeezed the toy and Elmo said, ‘I love you!’, it became the hottest new thing.”

Ambassador Toys

When Linda Kapnick began envisioning Ambassador Toys 22 years ago, opening first in San Francisco before landing at Town and Country Village in Palo Alto, she designed her store with both the child and parent in mind. She said the Bay Area circa 1997 was lacking independent toy stores, leading her to consider what was missing.

“Toys “R” Us was a difficult place to go into as a young mother—it was a cavernous warehouse. I thought there are so many beautiful places for adults but nothing for children,” she says. “Looking to the future, we wanted to bring ideas to children of the global community and create an environment for education—plus fun.”

Learning with playtime became integral building blocks for Ambassador Toys, which specializes in items that stimulate the scientific, technological, engineering and mathematical minds. “Long before the whole STEM movement, I had what we called the Space Room, which was all about science,” Linda says. “It’s where we put the glow-in-the-dark stars, science kits and all things NASA.”

The San Francisco location is larger than Palo Alto’s, which allows Linda to globetrot without moving, dividing the West Portal store into continents featuring toys from far-away places. Working with a smaller size at Town and Country allowed her to focus on providing more books and board games, an activity she’s seen remain stable amidst eye-grabbing video games.

Ambassador Toys outlasted the 2008 financial crisis and is rolling with punches from Amazon and e-commerce. But adapting a timeless practice like playtime into the new millennium didn’t come without challenges. It’s why Linda has only admiration for her independent cohorts.

“I have respect for anyone who gets into this. Back in 1997, I considered Talbot’s to be the Wizard of Oz—it had such a reputation! I didn’t want to go there because I was going to get scared,” she says, laughing. “I don’t want to pull back the curtain, but it’s a wonderful place with wonderful people.”

Adventure Toys

The holidays don’t officially kick off in downtown Los Altos until Adventure Toys reveals their annual window display. Taking cues from the Macy’s windows in New York, store owner Leslie Chiaverini spends the last weekend in November decking the walls with lights and seasonal flair. This dedication repurposes Adventure Toys as a town square or gathering place for families.

“We’re part of the community in many ways,” Leslie says. “Not only are the tax dollars supporting schools, but we also provide a social environment. Parents see their neighbors in here and you’ll oftentimes hear, ‘Hi, how are you?’ five or six times in a day.”

Adventure Toys began as a mother-daughter venture in 1986 before Leslie purchased the store alongside her own mother in 1999. She’s since assumed full ownership and developed the store with a focus on educational toys and games.

“I do my own buying and that becomes the differentiation from other stores,” she says. “We may have many of the same products but we actually do have different clientele. The store becomes more curated because we’re buying what we like and what we think our customers would want.”

This equates to educational fun such as Legos, Ravensburger puzzles and Playmobil sets. Leslie likes to offer games because they teach kids how to win or lose, and how to be a good sport. The store promotes science kits that teach children to learn by doing. She recently noticed how manufacturers will slap a STEM sticker on just about any product with hopes of convincing parents it’s educational. She’s carved out a more refined educational niche in the local toy shop scene and the other stores are her compadres, Leslie says, not competitors.

“I’m personally friends with Anna and Dexter at Cheeky Monkey. We go out to dinner together when we’re at toy shows and we’ll share orders to get free freight to keep costs down,” she says. “It’s nice during the holidays to call them; I once called Talbot’s for wrapping paper! I think it’s important to support each other. There’s a community within our own group of stores.”

Cheeky Monkey

Anna Chow, who owns Cheeky Monkey Toys alongside her husband, Dexter, has developed a simple technique for understanding the world at large.

“My basic philosophy is that you can tell the state of the world through the sales of Whoopee cushions and finger paints,” she reveals. “When things get stressful, Whoopee cushion sales fall off because we lose a sense of humor. Now, finger paint is popular because it’s a little messy.”

The Chows have a front-row seat for observing a world in flux through their downtown Menlo Park toy shop. They’ll notice how hot toy trends begin on the East Coast before reaching the West (middle America is last in line) and they’ve recently bolstered their inventory for small items fit for a care package. The tween-age market is currently devouring things like the plush toy Squishmallows or the kind of pom-poms you hang on a bag.

The Chows watched as the toy store juggernaut Toys “R” Us ceased operations last year and then disrupted the toy ecosystem. “Toys “R” Us infused a lot of money into the toy industry and would purchase a lot of toys from a lot of manufacturers,” Anna says. “Now they don’t have that channel. A couple of smaller manufacturers went under because Toys “R” Us owed them money and they had no capital.”

Cheeky Monkey began in 2000 in a smaller unit down Santa Cruz Avenue and the Chows took over in 2002. They have since quadrupled their store’s size after moving to their current location in 2007 where they designed the space to have easily-accessible sections. “With a store this big, we don’t want it to feel too cavernous,” Anna says.

They’ve created a playful ambiance that might borrow inspiration from toy store giants of the past, while remaining a store uniquely their own.

“FAO Schwarz created the experience and that’s what we hope to do here,” Anna says. “We’re more West Coast and have fun as opposed to white gloves holding the front door open. We’ll get down on the floor and play.”

Our Wild Side

Katharina Pierini enjoys her modest, private lifestyle. Her quaint one-room cabin in Davenport is situated deep in the hills south of Half Moon Bay. She works full-time as a groundskeeper for UC Santa Cruz while also finishing up a degree in linguistics.

Nothing about her background suggests she is one of the most prominent trail camera photographers in Northern California.

“I’m just an example of what a regular person who’s passionate and interested can do,” she says.

Katharina has documented wildlife in her area using trail cameras for over four years. At first, the photos and videos were just for her enjoyment, but after creating an Instagram account to share her captures with coworkers, Katharina’s notoriety soon ballooned. Her trail camera documentation of wildlife along the Big Basin ridge offers a peek into a rarely-observed ecosystem.

Trail cameras—also known as game cameras—are typically employed by biologists or hunters attempting to monitor the activity of animals in an area. Katharina’s work shows that these cameras are capable of more than just observational footage. The composition of her best photographs and videos are equivalent to point-and-shoot wildlife documentation, where the photographer can actively control the elements of the shot.

By no means is Katharina’s work a product of luck—she spent years perfecting the art of the trail camera shot. Rather than spreading out her cameras over her property to maximize the quantity of shots, she scouts out the best locations to place cameras by identifying subtle, animal-made paths using Google Earth. Katharina then sets up multiple cameras in a spot where animal paths intersect the unregulated, human-made trails connected to her property.

Her placement of each individual camera is meticulous.

“I crawl on the ground,” Katharina explains. “Walking towards a camera to see when it triggers and make sure there is enough room to walk towards it before it starts recording. I’m not just shooting for the animals, I’m looking at the background, too.”

Even with such extensive preparation, Katharina says that editing is still a huge part of the process.

“For each good centered shot there are hundreds and hundreds—probably thousands—of partial shots,” she says.

Besides the patience required to manage all the cameras, she must maintain all the trails that connect to her cabin. To keep these steep and rugged trails accessible, Katharina drives her dirt bike up and down the trails and hacks away at underbrush with a weed-whacker or a small chainsaw.

Katharina is approaching 12,000 followers on Instagram and she delivers weekly presentations at the Costanoa Lodge in Pescadero. She is routinely asked for advice on trail camera photography by park rangers, university biologists and the general public. For Katharina, this kind of attention is foreign to her typical way of life.

For her first public presentation of her work, Katharina says she was so nervous to speak that she created a video compilation to cover the entire length of her speaking commitment. She has since overcome her stage fright, but Katharina says she still has reservations about her relationship with the public—especially when it comes to interacting with her online followers.

“I’m walking this really odd line, where I poke my head out a little bit and I’m like, ‘Here I am. I’m doing something cool,’ and then I almost immediately recede,” she says.

Her followers are all over the political and social spectrums. Katharina recalled how shocked she was at the backlash she took from some of her conservation-oriented followers after she replied with a simple “Thanks” to a compliment from a hunter on one of her posts.

“I want to remain in touch with everyone,” she says. “I feel like it’s much more conducive to everything if you don’t shun people you disagree with.”

Katharina says that while she is not in favor of outright extermination of mountain lions, she is keenly aware of the danger they pose. Several times she has checked camera footage only to discover that a mountain lion passed by the same spot minutes before her. But Katharina does not let her trepidations about these predators get in the way of enjoying this hobby and the natural world.

“A lot of people feel like they don’t belong out in nature because they have a little fear,” Katharina says.

“I have not seen an animal yet that isn’t a little bit fearful. So your belonging in nature has nothing to do, as far as I am concerned, with some fear. You’re an animal, of course at night you don’t want to be out there alone—why would you? Now, if you can reach this ‘zen’ place where you’re ok with life and death and everything else and you’re not afraid, then good for you.”

Born in Switzerland, Katharina moved to Italy with her family when she was nine. In 1985, she spent five weeks at UCSC as a part of an English language immersion program where she was awestruck by the prevalence of wild animals in the area such as seals, whales, foxes, coyotes and bobcats.

She acknowledges that while Europe is beautiful in its own right, the continent lacks the raw, unhindered, wild ecosystems of America. So when she turned 19, she bought a one-way ticket to California and has called the Santa Cruz coastline home for almost 30 years. “I lived for the idea of heading West,” she says. “And now I feel like I’ve done it.”

The footage Katharina collects demonstrates a relatability found between our world and in nature. She enjoys watching the circle of life unfold on her cameras in little moments: playful skirmishes between young animals, predators stalking prey, power struggles between birds at the watering hole. She says the footage demonstrates that these animals have stories—good and bad—just as every person has their own story.

“It’s a little window into the world,” Katharina says. “And to follow it, is to make peace with it.”

The Beat On Your Eats

alice’s restaurant


While breakfast is always on the menu, the once-a-month brunch special at Alice’s Restaurant began 11 years ago as a response to the financial crises to offer locals a fairly-priced meal and it has since become a destination for breakfeasters across the Bay Area. This iconic institution at the crossroads on Skyline earns its place on the calendar every Wednesday on the first of the month. From 8AM to 9:30AM, brunch favorites—pancakes, eggs, coffee cake, oatmeal, French toast and more—are available for $10 a plate, all you can manage to eat. 17288 Skyline Boulevard, brunch is available the first Wednesday of the month 8AM to 9:30AM; Alice’s Restaurant is open Monday through Wednesday 8AM to 9:30PM; Thursday through Saturday 8AM to 9PM; Sunday 8AM to 7PM.

esther’s german bakery

Los Altos

You know you’re in for high-quality goods when a baker’s website is equally directed at both regular customers and wholesale restaurant orders. It suggests how Esther’s German Bakery is in such demand; eateries and cafes across the Peninsula jockey for their pretzels, challah bread and crunch sticks called “knusperstangens,” which are layered dough twists topped with seeds, cheeses and onions. The bakery imports their all-natural ingredients direct from Germany and every crunch and bite of their bountiful brunch is from goodies made by hand that very morning. 987 North San Antonio Road, open Monday 7:30AM to 5PM; Tuesday through Friday 7:30AM to 9PM; Saturday 8AM to 9PM and Sunday 8:30AM to 5PM.

apple fritter

San Mateo

Portland can keep its Voodoo Doughnuts because we have our Apple Fritter Eatery, which approaches doughnuts and other breakfast delights as opportunities for innovation—as they have with their signature Donut Sandwiches such as the Bok Bok, which builds a fried chicken sandwich around jalapeños, cheese and a fried egg slid in between a glazed doughnut. The remaining brunch listing sports classics such as M&M pancakes and a veggie grilled cheese but as the top of the menu states clearly: “Life is too short to not eat what you want to eat.” 1901 South Norfolk Street, open Monday through Friday 6:30AM to 2:45PM; Saturdays and Sundays 7:30AM to 2:45PM.

Taste of Aloha

Sipping from a tiki cocktail glass while listening to a Hawaiian musician effortlessly singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” in the style of the late Israel Kamakawiwo‘ole, you’ve forgotten that it’s a chilly mid-fall Peninsula evening. Eyeing diners wearing floral-print Aloha shirts, you recall an intense overhead sun, cooling trade winds and warm ocean waves experienced on Hawaiian vacations past.

Noelani’s Island Grill has been virtually transporting diners to paradise since 2013. To fulfill its motto, “Sharing a Taste of Aloha,” the San Carlos restaurant located on bustling Laurel Street combines friendly service, inviting ambiance, island-inspired food and tropical drinks and Hawaiian music. Thrilled to bring joy into people’s lives through her restaurant, owner Noelani Maestrini says, “Sometimes people need an escape, and they come here, and you serve that beautiful tropical drink, and they just go ‘Aah.’ Something as simple as an orchid or a drink umbrella can really brighten someone’s day.”

An open-air outdoor lounge area at the front of the restaurant facilitates drinks with friends, old and new, with an indoor dining area providing the backdrop for Hawaiian musical performances. At the bar, miniature Aloha State license plates decorate the chair backs. While waiting for your drink order at the bar, thumb through a Hawaiian/English dictionary to translate a word or two. The newly-enclosed back patio is an oasis for private parties or overflow seating. Reminders of Noelani’s home state, like the Hawaiian island chain cutout above the kitchen’s swinging doors, can be found throughout the restaurant.

Growing up in Hilo on the Island of Hawaii, Noelani has been working in food and hospitality as long as she can remember. Her parents ran a bakery pizzeria where she spent her formative years helping out in the kitchen. “I was this little girl wearing just a diaper sitting on a bucket watching my mom bake bread,” she says. When Noelani was older, she helped her mom make deliveries of macadamia shortbread bars and pies to local supermarkets and hotels.

Looking to explore beyond the islands, Noelani moved to the Peninsula in 1998 to attend Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont. She worked in local restaurants like Piacere Restaurant in San Carlos and developed a following for her bartending skills. When Noelani decided to open her own restaurant, naming the place after herself was a sound marketing move. Meaning “Heavenly Mist” in Hawaiian, “Noelani” sounds elegant and is easily pronounced by English speakers. Noelani and her husband Marco Maestrini assumed full ownership of the restaurant two years ago. Marco works in the background as the financial backbone and support system for the restaurant, while Noelani is the face of the operation. They live in Menlo Park with their two-year-old and enjoy quick access to ohana living nearby.

In creating the menu for the restaurant, Noelani based the food dishes on what she grew up eating. She’s reinvented local Hawaiian dishes like short ribs, chicken katsu and poke bowls. “I make the recipes my own with something different or just make it the best katsu you’ve ever had.”

Mochiko Chicken, a Japanese-influenced Hawaiian dish, uses Mochiko rice flour for breading. Noelani was inspired by this island favorite and updated the recipe to create her signature Shaka Chicken. “I took an existing food item and just twisted it, whether it’s how we marinate the chicken that eventually gets battered and fried, or then taking it up a notch to sprinkle it with Furikake seasoning and drizzle it with our house sauces,” she explains. The entrée, along with a scoop of white rice or Spam fried rice and a scoop of potato macaroni salad, rounds out an ono Hawaiian plate lunch.

Noelani thrives at the bar, her personal niche where she uses the same approach to crafting tropical cocktails as she does with the food menu. She didn’t invent the Mai Tai, but she’s certainly exceeded expectations with her full-kick version, the Kona Plantation Mai Tai. Ordering refills of the potent fruity-sweet, rum-heavy drink is maxed out at three drinks per person. The Volcanic Eruption, a bar favorite, is a drink Noelani created from scratch for Skyy Vodka’s liquid chef competition. “The ingredient that makes it special is on the rim, Li Hing Mui powder,” she says. The powder is a mix of sugar, salt and plum, a sweet-savory island craving that’s arrived on the mainland, thanks to Noelani. Along with an extensive list of tropical cocktails, six draft beers are on tap with labels from Kona and Maui.

Under the haze of a tropical drink buzz and a satisfied tummy, it’s time to leisurely enjoy a Hawaiian dessert. The Big Island Pie is a layered ice cream treat available by the slice or full pie in vanilla, a weekly special flavor or popular Kona coffee ice cream. The pies are handmade in-house and require several steps to assemble the Oreo cookie crust, layers of ice cream and chocolate fudge. Warm, sugar-covered malasadas, Portuguese donuts, are an understated choice that pairs nicely with a scoop of pineapple coconut ice cream.

If the island-inspired food and drinks don’t get you thinking of Hawaii, the live Hawaiian music will. Seven different Hawaiian musicians trade off serenading the Thursday through Saturday evening dinner crowds. Noelani credits local Hawaiian musician Steven Espaniola with bringing music to the restaurant in the early days. Impressed by the already flowing island vibes, Steven decided to enhance the immersive experience through his and other musicians’ performances. Hawaiian slack key guitar, ukulele and falsetto are all musical delights one might get to hear during his sets.

JD Puli, another Hawaiian musician, has been performing at Noelani’s since 2015, once or twice a month with a regular slot on first Saturdays. “I always enjoy bragging about Hawaii. Being able to share Hawaii through music is just amazing and a big blessing to me,” JD says. JD plays the backing music for hula dance troops, and his hula friends often follow him to Noelani’s to hear more of his smooth-soaring vocals and to dance. “Sometimes there are 20 hula dancers in the aisles, and the wait staff has to maneuver their way around them to serve the other guests,” says JD. “When there’s a hula going on, that gets a big reaction. Everybody breaks out their phones to record it or take a picture.”

Conversations are sparked and memories of Hawaii shared at Noelani’s Island Grill. “Oftentimes I walk by a table, and I can hear them talking, and they’re talking about Hawaii. It’s always neat to see,” says Noelani. “I’ve been able to take the hospitality industry that I love and turn it into a business to share with people where I come from and surround myself with the things that I miss.”

Root Down Farm

Happy, healthy turkeys, chickens, ducks and pigs. That’s the uncompromising goal that Dede Boies of Root Down Farm has set for herself, and it’s obvious from first glance that it’s working out. As we walk to the turkey enclosure, we pass pigs wallowing blissfully in mud pools, chickens scratching about in the sun and ducks playing in a blue paddling pool. The enclosures are widely spaced, and there’s the scent of warm vegetation in the air.

“Turkeys are a noisy, friendly, curious lot,” Dede tells us as we approach their enclosure, before conversation is all but drowned out by excited unison gobbling. Two hundred and fifty turkeys actually don’t look like a huge flock even from close up, but the noise they make is cacophonous. When we go in, the last few birds sprint out of their house to join us, and the whole group remains gently clustered around Dede as we talk.

These heritage birds are surprisingly beautiful. Most are dark-feathered, shining with well-being, with blue heads and pastel pink wattles—worlds different from their plainer wild cousins.

Like all Root Down Farm animals, their home is a fenced, transportable enclosure complete with a house-on-wheels that is moved to a new area of pasture every other day. They have water, shade and abundant space to roam—with a diet of organic, non-GMO grain and zero hormones. As November draws to an end, Dede will personally drive this year’s turkeys to a specialist processing plant to become the stars at local Thanksgiving tables. Untill then, they’re living a blissful life.

At the 62-acre farm she leases in Pescadero and shares with her wife and one-and-a-half-year-old toddler, Dede has spent the last six years pursuing her mission: to humanely raise the healthiest animals in a natural outdoor setting while respecting and supporting the ecosystem. “The animals clear the land but also give nutrients back to it,” notes Dede. She does all of this and more with just a single full-time helper.

“It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” she admits. “Animals need to eat; they’re not like broccoli that you can leave for a day or two. But it’s rewarding. If it weren’t for my wife and baby, I’d probably work 24/7. They keep me from overdoing things.”

Between May and November every year, Dede raises a single batch of slow-growing heritage turkeys for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Year-round, she raises heritage cross and heritage chickens, as well as Berkshire and Berkshire cross pigs, selling the meat at local farmers markets and to restaurants and online grocery stores. Reflecting more specialized demand, she also raises groups of Pekin ducks about four times a year.

Dede’s focus on slower-growing breeds is intentional. Unlike commercial birds that mature very rapidly, heritage breeds and heritage crosses have time to develop naturally and as a result are healthier, stronger, and consequently, tastier.

While Dede breeds some of her own piglets, sourcing the remainder from a local breeder, her poultry doesn’t come from her own eggs. “Other people do that really well,” she explains. “I raise chicks in batches of 500 every two weeks. For me to produce that many on the same day on a regular basis I’d need a lot of different infrastructure.”

Dede is particularly excited about this year’s class of turkeys. Not only is it the biggest flock so far but these noisy beauties are also the strongest and healthiest birds Dede has ever raised.

“We sourced them from legendary breeder Bill Niman,” Dede tells me. “On the day they were hatched he hand-picked each poult especially for us from a few different heritage breeds and we brought them to the farm the same afternoon.”

Turkey poults are delicate creatures initially, so they spend their first three weeks under heat lamps in the barn alongside the baby chicks. They then move to their outdoor houses where they have between 4,000 and 8,000 feet to roam within an electric fence. The house and enclosure are moved every other day. This not only provides new plant and insect fodder, but also allows the pasture to recover and for the soil to enrich itself from their droppings.

“Turkeys are truly magnificent and entertaining creatures,” muses Dede. “As a group they are constantly echoing every sound they hear—from a motorcycle to a sneeze or a baby cry. They really thrive in the outdoors and do an incredible job foraging.”

With such a lot of land and so many potential predators, it’s surprising not to see more cages and fencing. Instead, Dede relies on two white Pyrenean-mix livestock guard dogs, bred for the task of keeping animals safe at night, that she has raised since they were puppies alongside their future charges. They are super-friendly yet extremely effective livestock guardians.

“This is the most effective and humane way to acknowledge we’re in nature and there’s a lot of wildlife that wants to eat what we’re raising,” observes Dede. “The dogs do an amazing job at night.”

Not surprisingly, Dede’s pasture-raised Thanksgiving turkeys are in high demand. Orders and deposits are taken online at rootdownfarm.org and customers attend one of the two open farm days the weekend before Thanksgiving (this year November 23 and November 24) to pick up their orders. “You can come to the farm even if you haven’t ordered a turkey,” says Dede. “There’ll be animals around, apple pressing, produce from other local farms. It’s become a holiday tradition for many people.” Visitors can also look forward to being greeted by Dede’s patchwork-mix dog Oaty, who does a fine job of herding cars and people into the proper places.

Dede is quietly passionate about the ethics and stewardship of her way of livestock farming. “It’s hard to be a consumer these days,” she observes. “We live in a reality where people eat meat but I want the animals to live the best life possible.”

make it

Spatchcocked Turkey

Dede Boies’ favorite turkey recipe is this spatchcocked version. It accommodates turkeys of all sizes, cooks quicker than whole birds at about six minutes per pound and is especially delicious using heritage breeds.

For a 12-pound bird


• Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Stir together a mixture of melted butter, salt and pepper in a small bowl.

• With kitchen shears, cut out the backbone. Set aside for stock.

• Place your hand on one side of the breast, close to the breastbone, and push down firmly until you hear a crack. Repeat on the other side.

• Spread the turkey so it’s lying fairly flat. Remove any large pieces of fat.

• Brush with half the butter mixture.

• Turn the turkey breast-side up and brush with the rest of the butter.

• Place the turkey on a rimmed baking sheet on top of a few sprigs of fresh herbs (your choice of parsley, thyme or rosemary).

• Let stand for 30 minutes.

• Roast, rotating baking sheet halfway through and basting twice, until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh reaches 165 degrees, about 72 minutes.

• Leave to stand for 20 minutes before carving.

The Zen of Pies

The KitchenAid Spiralizer makes quick work of prepping a crate of apples. The appliance spins a green apple, peeling away the fruit’s skin in corkscrew fashion, revealing juicy white insides while simultaneously slicing the apple into rounds. Apple pieces begin to fill up two food storage pails, already far along in the journey to becoming pie filling.

Pacifica-based Shampa’s Pies, located one block from the ever-churning ocean, opened in 2014. Balmy sea spray and the scent of seaweed hangs in the air. Waves pound against the boulder-constructed seawall at the end of the street, emitting a rushing roar on impact. The constant busy whirring of machines inside the pie shop mimics the motion of the nearby ocean.

Pastry chef Haruwn Wesley’s willingness to try new things led to his mastery of both making mouthwatering pies and boogie boarding over ocean waves. An unusually hot day at Stinson Beach coupled with progressive curiosity prodded Haruwn to move from the safety of shore to tackling big waves in Hawaii on a foam core bodyboard. “When I first saw these guys out in the water, I thought they were nuts, not knowing what priceless joy and beauty it is being out there,” Haruwn recalls.

Life’s current also carried Haruwn to his professional calling. The San Francisco native’s visit to see his girlfriend in New York City turned into an unofficial ten-year education in the food industry. “I stumbled into the culinary world,” Haruwn says. Starting out washing dishes, he worked his way up to sous-chef, where he ran the cooking line at restaurants. Disenchanted with preparing meat, Haruwn’s interest in baking began to take shape.

Assisting an Irish soda bread maker, rolling out dough for Danishes and attending a pastry workshop readied Haruwn to become a pastry chef at Manhattan’s 21 Club. The executive pastry chef of the upscale former speakeasy expected Haruwn to be a quick study, only showing him how to do something once. “I had to get it, and I did,” he says. Upon his return to San Francisco, Haruwn dabbled in other fields, becoming a longshoreman, electronics technician and Unix analyst. “I missed the Zen moments of baking,” he says.

Haruwn’s late mother-in-law Sheridan Coles encouraged him to start his own baking business. Her family nickname, “Shampa,” a combination of “Sheridan” and “gramps,” became the name of his pie shop. “I decided to specialize in pies because it’s a beautiful thing,” he says, while waking up some chilled pumpkin filling with a 12-inch wire whisk. “A lot of people think the deep-fried bar at McDonald’s is a pie. Or pies from the frozen section at your local grocery store. Those aren’t fresh pies. Fresh is better.”

Fully embracing Pacifia’s small-town vibe, the pie shop is getting new flooring and counter seating installed to encourage customers to stay a while and enjoy a cup of coffee with a slice of pie. Haruwn also makes the farmers market and festival rounds—whether it’s Pacifica’s Fog Fest or Filoli’s Harvest Festival—baking up to a thousand-plus pies to sell out of Shampa’s Pies booths. “I meet new and old customers, friends from all walks of life and children,” he says.  “At the Mountain View Art and Wine Festival, people came just to support me. I was so honored.”

Pumpkins and California’s waves both get bigger in the fall, and Haruwn gets excited about both. He gauges swells, tides, currents and sandbars to determine the best water conditions for boogie boarding. Wearing a wetsuit and fins, he swims out to where the waves are breaking at one of his favorite surf spots like Ocean Beach or Fort Point in San Francisco, or Gray Whale Cove in Half Moon Bay as often as possible. “I do some of my best thinking sitting out there between waves with the sand, blue sky, the movement of the ocean and dolphins swimming by,” he says.

Haruwn returns from the oven at the back of the pie shop. “Doesn’t get any better than this,” he says, holding a tray of just-baked pumpkin pies, the first batch of the season. The sweet smell of sugar and spice accompanies the pie’s flaky, golden-brown crust, with creamy pumpkin filling. An eight-inch-tall sugar pie pumpkin sits on the wood countertop. The variety is naturally sweet and grown especially for baking. To transform raw pumpkins into pie, Haruwn slices them in half, roasts the halves, scoops out the seeds and turns the sweet insides into filling, which is then poured into pie crusts and baked.

Shampa’s Pies keeps several pies on the menu all year, like chocolate cream and apple cobbler, rotating in seasonal fruit pies like cherry and peach. Fruit used in the pies is organic and locally-sourced. The pie crusts are made with non-hydrogenated palm fruit shortening, a healthier alternative to lard. The pie shop makes vegan, gluten-free and dairy-free versions of the pies upon request, making it possible for more people to enjoy them. “I learn everything from my customers. They tell me what they like and what they don’t like,” says Haruwn.

The solitude Haruwn experiences boogie boarding ocean waves and working by himself baking pies brings him the same sense of peace. “Boogie boarding helps clear my head and mind,” says Haruwn, as does the placement of apples on the Spiralizer, pouring of filling and plastic wrapping of pies. Returning customers say that the made-from-scratch pies they get from Shampa’s bring back memories of good times. Haruwn expresses his inner peace through his TLC-infused pies. “This is my humble way of helping the world be a better place,” he says with a smile.

crusty bliss!


make it

Shampa’s Orange and Apple Cranberry Sauce

Makes 2 cups


  • Juice from ½ large orange (save orange peel)
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 tart apple, peeled, cored and diced (Granny Smith works well or any tart apple)
  • 3 cups fresh cranberries washed; discard soft berries
  • 1¼ cup sugar
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp ground cloves
  • ⅛ tsp ground ginger


Using a potato/vegetable peeler, peel the outside of the half orange shell, take care to avoid the white membrane interior. Dice the orange peel and place in a saucepan with the water. Boil for 10 minutes and then drain and set the cooked peel aside.

Chop the apple into small pieces (approximately 1/4-inch cubes) and place into a saucepan. Add the rinsed cranberries and diced orange peel, orange juice, sugar, cinnamon, cloves and ginger.

Place over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Then reduce the heat to a simmer and partially cover the pan. Simmer for 10-15 minutes until the apple is soft and the cranberries have burst.

Transfer to a serving bowl and cool before serving as a side dish or topping.

Bay Trail Treks

Did you know that you can walk or cycle around the entire San Francisco Bay? Well, not quite all around yet. Currently, 350 miles of the Bay Trail are completed out of an eventual 500, which will pass through 9 counties and 47 cities across 7 toll bridges.

Four segments of the Bay Trail, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, are here on the Peninsula, stretching from the Brisbane Lagoon to Mountain View. But in a sampling of our fellow Bay Trail walkers, most people seem to stick to the portion of the Trail that’s closest to their home geographically. We think they’re missing out.

Venturing to segments a bit further afield, you’ll discover the Bay’s rich historical past, walking or cycling through a variety of landscapes, most with spectacular views. And you just may stumble upon some new and delicious eating spots.

NOTE: We walked these segments. Cyclists can cover much more ground. The BayTrail.org website offers bicycling route suggestions.

Byxbee Park up and around Baylands Nature Preserve (Palo Alto)

4 miles

If Seal Point and its art is our new discovery, the sculpted earth and conceptual art at Byxbee Park and the Baylands trails are very familiar, as these parks often default as our ‘go-to’ place.

We usually aim for a four-mile loop, hiking up, down and around the crushed oyster pathways, keeping to the higher trails. And while you can’t really get lost, given the location by the Bay, it’s easy to get on a trail that takes you the “wrong way,” meaning not where you intended to go. Snap a photo of the map located near the restrooms to help navigate the winding paths, or download one from the Baylands website before you head out.

The ambitious can add a lot more mileage; there are a total of 15 miles of trails in Baylands, covering almost 2,000 acres of mostly marshland. note: The trail around the perimeter of Baylands is dirt, which quickly turns to mud after heavy rain.

BONUS: These parks are perfect for general aviation enthusiasts as you can watch small planes and helicopters as they head to the Palo Alto airport to land.

Keeping with the aviation theme, head to the Abundant Air Cafe, located at the Palo Alto Airport (1901 Embarcadero Road #103). Felipe’s Famous Fiesta Chicken Salad with its “highly secret fiesta sauce” has been a long-time favorite.

Sierra Point to Oyster Point (Brisbane)

8 miles out & back 

NOTE: There’s some interesting Bay history on this paved path between these two Points.

The area around Oyster Point once was the home of a thriving oyster fishery, which flourished from the late 1800s until the early 20th century. As the population grew in the surrounding area, so did the pollution in the Bay, which adversely affected the oysters. By the 1920s, the local oyster population in the Bay was in decline, with farming moved to more northern counties.

Oyster Cove took on a decidedly different look during World War II. Today, it’s easy to spot where 48 Liberty Ships were built. The purpose of the “ugly ducklings,” as the cargo ships were called, was to supply the Allied Forces with food and supplies. A historical plaque in the area notes that they had to be launched sideways due to the channel’s narrowness.

An eight-mile outing works up an appetite, so a stop at Little Lucca in South San Francisco (724 El Camino Real), for what many people believe are the best sandwiches on the Peninsula, is always in order. Expect a line, so patience is required, but the garlic sauce is famously good and the sandwiches are huge!

Fisherman’s Park (Burlingame) to Coyote Point (San Mateo)

4 miles

NOTE: A bonus loop around Coyote Point is this segment’s added attraction.

Starting at Fisherman’s Park, there’s a long open stretch, marked Promenade Trail by the County of San Mateo.

This area was once the site of a big amusement park called Pacific City, which lasted only a year, from 1922 to 1923. It featured a fierce roller coaster and a huge ferris wheel, but according to a historical marker, people were put off by the smell of sewage (being dumped into the Bay in those days) and the winds.

To enjoy the 670-acre Coyote Point Recreation Area, continue on the Bluff Trail, which takes you up and around the Bay side of this pretty park. Kids enjoy the Magic Mountain playground and the CuriOdyssey Museum, the latter of which gets very busy on weekends.

You’ll descend next to a little marina before picking up the actual Bay Trail, which passes through a large eucalyptus grove adjacent to the Poplar Creek Golf Course. Return along the flat stretch to Fisherman’s Park.

New this year at Coyote Point—seven fitness stations along the Bay Trail. All stations accommodate more than one person, except for a single-user rowing machine, so you can pause for some strengthening work with your walking companion.

A favorite local eatery nearby is Nini’s Coffee Shop (1000 N Idaho Street, San Mateo). Tucked away in a residential neighborhood, it serves yummy breakfasts and lunches with indoor and pet-friendly outdoor seating.

Bayside Joinville Park up and around Seal Point Park (San Mateo)

4 miles

Discovering these adjacent Shoreline Parks along the Bay Trail, we could only think, “Why didn’t we know about this?” This being the very cool Seal Point Park, a former landfill, that’s now home to a collection of public art.

This is also good bird-watching territory. You can walk the boardwalk along the Bay Marshes where you might spot the endangered California Clapper Rail.

The Seal Point Plateau advertises a “wind walk,” with the art installations engaging with the wind in various ways. There’s also a three-acre off-leash dog park.

We parked near Bayside Joinville Park, crossing J Hart Clinton Drive to get to the Bay Trail leading to Seal Point and then Ryder Park. There are various loops you can take up and around Seal Point before heading back to the parking area.

As with Coyote Point, Nini’s is the best dining option.

good to know

+ Retail shops to buy Bay Trail maps are listed on baytrail.org

+ Except for dirt pathways on the Baylands perimeter trail, the four segments highlighted are either paved paths or crushed oyster, making them good for outings even in rainy weather

+ These segments all allow leashed dogs

+ Ample free parking, making for longer or shorter out and back. Again, see baytrail.org

+ Restrooms at adjacent hotels in northern segments of Bay Trail and at Coyote Point, Seal Point dog park and Byxbee Park

Charming Capitola

Just an hour from the hubbub of Silicon Valley, Capitola is a delightful oasis on Monterey Bay overflowing with opportunities for enjoyment in a uniquely relaxed atmosphere.

Nestled at the end of a peninsula, bisected by Soquel Creek, the small, welcoming community of Capitola has maintained its distinctive character despite influxes of surfers, tourists and day-trippers thanks to thoughtful curation of local historical spots and landmarks.

Capitola Village by the Sea is one of the oldest vacation retreats on the Pacific Coast. Santa Cruz County pioneer Frederick Hihn bought the land in 1856, and in 1882, Hihn built cabins, a skating rink, a hotel, a theater and a bandstand. It soon evolved into a premier coastal resort.

Today, whether it’s kayaking, surfing, paddleboarding, fishing, biking, beach volleyball or just doing nothing, Capitola Village offers something for everyone. Unique shops beckon everywhere you look. Jewelry, art, souvenirs, sports gear, funky swimwear and casual clothes mingle with bars, restaurants and coffee shops, with a helping of ice cream and saltwater taffy thrown in.

The boutique Capitola Hotel on the Esplanade is a great spot to base your stay. Just steps from oceanside eateries, this ten-room hotel features relaxed décor, comfortably sized rooms (the Martinique on the ground floor is pet-friendly), luxe linens and locally-made soaps and lotions. There’s a flower-filled private terrace complete with a firepit where guests can enjoy complimentary breakfast, all-day coffee and tea, afternoon cookies and weekend cheese service. The hotel also offers wine and wellness packages. Alternatively, there’s the Mediterranean-style Capitola Venetian Hotel featuring a variety of suite sizes, some with ocean views, intricate wooden carvings on each door and a history dating back to its construction in 1925 as California’s first condo resort.

Drop your overnight bag and head out. Looking for a gentle hike? You can download a walking guide from cityofcapitola.org. Cliff Drive has stunning views of the Pacific where beginner surfers thrash about like seals and, for the fit and adventurous, several long flights of steps will take you down to the beach. If cycling’s your thing, there are lots of places to rent a bike—the Family Cycling Center, Bicycle Trip Capitola or Capitola Beach Company (also rents surf and paddleboards) are just a few. Want to try your hand at surfing or paddleboarding? Capitola Surf and Paddle has you covered as well. Or go to O’Neill Surf or O’Neill Wetsuits to get kitted out by the iconic firm founded in 1952 by the legendary Jack O’Neill, inventor of the wetsuit.

Coming down from the cliffs, stroll out onto the Capitola Wharf to take in views of Monterey Bay and the jewel-like Venetian, or scan the horizon for whales. Fall is peak whale-watching season and it doesn’t hurt that the weather is at its best now. Fancy fishing from the pier or a boat? Capitola Boat and Bait on the Wharf has all the gear plus a fleet of distinctive orange-hulled boats for hire.

Quench your thirst or have a bite at the character-drenched Wharf House Restaurant at the end of the pier. Specializing in seafood, this friendly and atmospheric restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and also serves up stunning Monterey Bay views and seasonal live music.

There’s so much to know about old-time Capitola. Entry to the Capitola Historical Museum at 410 Capitola Avenue, open Thursdays through Sundays from Noon to 4PM, is free. Download a pdf of the Companion to Capitola booklet from the museum’s website or pick up a printed version onsite for a small donation. The museum’s 2019 exhibition Capitola Obscura lifts the lid on 20 little-known facts about the village and is well worth a visit.

Your walking guide will take you to as many of the beautiful old buildings as your feet can handle. Or you might like to meander along the Riverview Pathway bordering Soquel Creek, taking you past historic cottages and lush greenery. After that, maybe it’s time for a glass of something? Armida Winery showcases small-lot wines from Noon to 6PM at its Stockton Road tasting room. If beer is your preference, the Britannia Arms on Monterey Avenue or East End Gastropub at the Kings Plaza Shopping Center have you covered. For margaritas, look no further than Margaritaville on the Esplanade. In fact, you can find everything you want on the Esplanade: food, wine, beer, shopping, views.

In the mood for something a little different? Shadowbrook at 1750 Wharf Road is a Capitola landmark. Opened in 1947, the restaurant still reflects its beginnings as a home in the Swiss chalet style. It’s been expanded multiple times over the years and today Shadowbrook’s many dining areas cascade down the hill to the side of the creek. Shadowbrook offers a wide range of American dishes including vegan and vegetarian options plus an extensive wine list. But the food is almost secondary to the atmosphere. It starts at street level: a cable car takes you down the hillside, passing lush vegetation as you go. A giant Douglas fir grows through all levels of the restaurant; waterfalls and natural materials are everywhere. You’ll need a reservation (apart from bar areas) as the place is always busy. Shadowbrook is open for dinner only Mondays through Saturdays and from 1:30PM to 10PM on Sundays. If you’re staying in Capitola Village, the restaurant will send one of their vintage taxi cabs to pick you up and take you back free of charge.

With so many dining options within a few paces of the Esplanade, you could be forgiven for staying put. But you can’t visit Capitola without a trip to Gayle’s Bakery and Rosticceria on Bay Avenue. This legendary all-day cafe provides a lengthy menu of sandwiches, salads, house-made bread and cakes, hot and cold blue plate specials, eat-in and food-to-go options. Take a number when you walk in and browse the long counters for savory (left side) or sweet (right side) delights. The super-efficient announcement system ensures that you’ll hear when it’s your turn. There’s almost always a line, but the wait is worth it.   

If a little retail therapy appeals, browse nearby neighbors including Many Hands Gallery featuring works by local artists, Pacific Trading Company for casual women’s clothing, Lina Floral Design for flowers and gifts, and Petite Provence with its colorful array of authentic French table linens and home accessories. Also found at Petite Provence, local artist Sally Bookman’s visual memoir of the area, Sand Between Your Toes, effortlessly evoking every childhood memory of beach holidays and capturing real characters and landmarks in her distinctive watercolor style.

Capitola has a special, laid-back appeal. Compact though it is, somehow it makes space for everyone to enjoy the views, the sense of history and the opportunity to relax and revive.

Perfect Shot: Arastradero Wild Turkeys

Photographer Frances Freyberg typically enjoys the views of Windy Hill as she’s hiking the Bowl Loop Trail at the Enid Pearson-Arastradero Open Space Preserve in Palo Alto. However, Frances found another reason to be captivated when she encountered a flock of wild turkeys at the western edge of the 644-acre preserve. Although this Perfect Shot captured the turkeys gobbling contentedly in the preserve’s wooded grasslands, they are agile, fast fliers—unlike their domesticated distant relatives.

Image Courtesy of Frances Freyberg Photography/francesfreyberg.com

calling all shutterbugs

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

Father Time

If visitors from out of state casually announce they’ll return to Woodside Priory School for next year’s auction to attain one of your handmade grandfather clocks, it’s probably safe to receive their remarks lightly and without expectations of a follow-up.

But Father Martin Mager’s handiwork is timeless. His ornate timepieces speak for themselves—sometimes literally, at the top of the hour, through the melodic steel plucks of the Westminster Chimes. Therefore, it wasn’t inconceivable, sometime in the late 1980s, that the couple from Arizona returned to the Benedictine college-preparatory institution the following year to place the winning bid on the towering timekeeper. Fr. Martin himself drove the clock to Arizona to set it up, the final and personalized touch he applies to every clock he makes.

On the clock’s face, beneath an illustration of the constellation which slightly shifts by the days and hours, is its name:

The Priory No. 6


Made in the USA

Sometime around 2015, Fr.

Martin received a phone call from a furniture consignment store owner in Oregon. “Are you the guy who builds clocks?” he was asked. The Arizona couple had since divorced and Priory No. 6 had somehow migrated to the Pacific Northwest. Fr. Martin decided it was worth the retrieval and alongside Tim Molak, the Priory’s head of school, the duo drove north to meet the seller somewhere around Salem. Their meeting place was far from suspicious but, then again, anything can happen in a Denny’s parking lot.

“I kept saying, if anyone sees this, we’re going to jail,” cracks Fr. Martin about the nature of the transaction. “The clock comes out and we gave him the money. It was so funny; it was like a drug deal. We didn’t even stop for a sandwich!”

Priory No. 6 now stands proudly in the dining room of the King St. Stephen Monastery at the top of the school’s 40-acre campus nestled in the timbered vale of Portola Valley. The clock is restored and awaits its next journey across state lines; it’s destined for St. Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire, where Fr. Martin earned his bachelor’s degree and where he first found the inspiration for becoming a Benedictine monk.

The son of a Catholic butcher who instilled a penchant for scrumptious craft ale, Fr. Martin was born in 1934 in Newark, New Jersey. He gravitated to the church after college, drawn to the lifestyle after being inspired by teachers in high school and college. “I liked the way they respected their students,” he says. “The way they engaged in manual labor with vigor. And the balance of their lives… pray, work and be human.” Fr. Martin arrived at Woodside Priory in August 1975 where he taught, among other subjects, social justice, ethics, art and photography.

Fr. Martin launched every photography class at the start of the year with the same assignment: Go out and shoot the alphabet using only nature, architecture and 24 frames of film as your resources. (With respect to the 26 letters of the alphabet, he’d exclude the I and O.) “How do you get a G?” he ponders today. “The idea was to get students to begin asking how they see and find stuff.”

However, there was one interest that frequently led him back into the airy woodshop on campus that’s part of the school’s hands-on learning center. There, you’ll find pictures of previously completed clocks hung on the shelf like trophies, halfway-constructed dulcimer instruments and a small tablet of plywood with “save for doorframe job” scribbled in Sharpie. This is where Fr. Martin created over 50 wooden pews now used daily in the campus chapel among countless refurbishing and handyman projects.

Fr. Martin is a woodworking autodidact, learning from a few mentors or YouTube, and in turn, he guides students through projects reflecting their own interests such as longboards and musical instruments. He relies on Woodcraft in San Carlos for securing specialty tools and, when it comes to projects, “If it’s made out of wood or has strings on it, I’m there,” he says.

“I see working with wood as this: Wood was something that was alive, as a tree,” he explains. “The beauty of a tree is we’re touched by it and then it’s cut down. When you reconfigure it into something like a musical instrument, it has a second life. That’s how I look at it.”

Fr. Martin made his first clock in 1982 and is currently on number 36. The grandfather clocks are sold in the school’s springtime auction and are often the fundraiser’s pièce de résistance. The process for creating each clock by hand can take him up to 200 hours over the course of a year. Fr. Martin lifts inspiration from the Shakers and the clockmakers of early colonial America, however, with a modernist twist such as golden finials. He always begins with the side walls before building up to the bonnet, ensuring a sturdy base that can outlast tremors.

Although Fr. Martin spends so much time with each clock, his musings refrain from contemplating the ticking of time in exchange for considering more practical functions for these heavy, adorned centerpieces.

“I never thought a lot about time in terms of clocks but it occurred to me that a clock is not so much for telling time, rather, it’s a statement,” he says. “These grandfather clocks came out in the Colonial Period. Colonial homes had center hallways and people would gather around the clock to make important decisions. It’s more than just a timepiece; there’s a social dimension.”

Fr. Martin retains visiting rights for each of his clocks (either to help refurbish them or to allow him to marvel at some of the details he had forgotten over the years) and likens his creations to the scores of students he’s taught and mentored through the school.

“When you work with something for the amount of time you do, you put yourself into it,” Fr. Martin says. “Once it goes to the auction, you have to let it go; it’s like saying goodbye to your students. And then you look forward to the next one.”

Before he chisels, before he lathers a piece of fresh mahogany with a finishing, Fr. Martin turns on his version of a radio. It’s an outmoded iPhone equipped with Pandora where stations for bluegrass and country provide aural company. The miniature refrigerator in the corner holds a few bottles of Blue Moon Belgian ale and a flashing digital clock on the shelf reads 2:15AM, even though sunshine permeates the entire room. “Nobody cares about that,” Fr. Martin quips, as he returns to his workbench.

Fr. Martin recently received a few slabs of handsome black walnut pieces from a church friend, which he’ll use for the walls in next year’s clock. He usually begins the process deeper into the school year but this autumn he decided to get a head start. Fr. Martin knows that if he applies a finish to this wood, it’ll grow darker and more distinguished with time. Luckily for him, time is his specialty.

Diary of a Dog: Norman

My name is Norman. I’m a Basset Hound and I live in Redwood City with Michele, Jay and David and my fellow Bassets, Bonnie and Charlie. I’m probably 13 or 14 years old, although that’s a guess. When I was quite young, some kind police officers found me wandering in a field and connected me with Golden Gate Basset Rescue. Michele was looking for a young companion for her elderly dogs, Bobby and Harry, and chose me to add some spring to their step. The minute Michele brought me home, I snuggled up with her son David on the couch and I’ve been the happiest of hounds ever since.

Today, I’m thrilled to have Bonnie and Charlie in the family too. They are very lively, but I think I can teach them a lot. For example, I’m an expert counter-surfer. I have amazing reach for a dog with such short legs. I’ve been known to spread a single box of cake mix to places that you can’t even imagine. Sadly, Michele and Jay have started pushing everything edible to the very back of the counter so that I can’t snag an unplanned snack.

I am also a master of the ‘Basset 500.’ This is a very special Basset Hound tradition: a few moments of crazy time every day when we zoom around the house and garden as fast as our little legs will carry us. Today I’m a bit older and slower, but I’ve trained Bonnie and Charlie well and they’re clocking record times.

I’m howl-at-the-moon grateful to Golden Gate Basset Rescue for sheltering me and placing me with my wonderful family. They are always looking for foster help and forever homes for hounds, so visit ggbassetrescue.org to learn more.