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PostHeaderIcon World Wrap Cooking Competition Coming Soon

Looking ahead to cooler days, the changing colors of the autumn landscape and the bounty of locally-sourced farmers’ market produce, plan to save the date for the 39th annual Sonoma County Harvest Fair in Santa Rosa. Three full days of celebration welcome you from Friday, Oct. 3 through Sunday, Oct. 5 at Sonoma County Fairgrounds.

Admission is free when donating four non-perishable food items for the Redwood Food Bank, or $5 for others and children age 12 or under enter free.

Visitors arrive from local regions and from many distant countries to savor the daily grand tasting experience of food, wine, craft beer and cider.  Chef demonstrations and workshops pique the curiosity of culinary aficionados, while another focus of the Harvest Fair highlights local and artisanal products from the county’s bounty, and the lively World Championship Grape Stomp.

Among the many and varied events within the Harvest Fair, one not to miss is the second annual World Wrapped Cooking Competition on Sunday, Oct. 5 at 1 p.m. Home cooks, “Foodies” of the adventurous type, will be selected by a poll from entries on KZST Radio 101.1 FM Facebook page.  Each one chosen will be paired with a professional chef and will be challenged to create a totally new, unplanned, tasty La Tortilla Factory wrap, combining ingredients revealed to them from a mystery basket, only after the timed countdown begins.  Each amateur contestant is allowed about 40 minutes to produce their wrap-inspired creation before it is set before the judges, a panel of local food experts.

Sequestered within the mystery basket, locally-sourced ingredients will be disclosed, to be integrated into the prize-seeking wrap offerings, courtesy of La Tortilla Factory, Oliver’s Market, Petaluma Poultry and Clover Stornetta Cheese Farms.

Jenny Tamayo, digital marketing coordinator for La Tortilla Factory reports:  “La Tortilla Factory tortillas and wraps are a versatile blank canvas for cooking inspiration. The World Wrapped Cooking Competition is the ideal platform to see the creative ways contestants use our products, and the other local mystery box ingredients.”

The three chosen finalists utilizing their own cookware and only the foods provided at the start of the cooking competition, may submit either an appetizer, an entrée, or a dessert of their choice.

Sonoma County Fairgrounds Manager, Tawny Tesconi says, “We’re excited to collaborate with La Tortilla Factory once again…an adrenaline-packed opportunity for home cooks to demonstrate their cooking prowess.”

Tesconi adds, “Using quality local, Sonoma County ingredients, their dishes and creativity shine.”  As a family-friendly event, the professional chefs serve to cheer the novice chefs to success.

Last year’s winner, Jessica Bode, will sit on the panel as a guest judge this year, relating that her participation in last year’s contest was “a blast” and she has a sense of “honor” in being selected the winner.  Relying on her British/Japanese heritage, she entered her “Euro-Asian Wrap”, starting with a La Tortilla Factory low-carb flour tortilla.  Layers of seaweed nori, sushi rice, deep-fried fish, pickled carrots, green onion, and an Asian tartar sauce, spiced with sesame oil and shallots complimented the flavors.  She was awarded the grand prize of $1000 and perks from the event sponsors.

Santa Rosa’s KZST Radio personality, Brent Farris, will act as emcee of the gala affair, while several Sonoma County celebrity chefs will mentor the contestants, without direct interaction in the cooking process.

As a reward for attending the Harvest Fair, La Tortilla Factory will be handing out packages of their new La Tortilla Factory Organic Whole Wheat, Burrito size tortillas upon exiting the fair—while supplies last.   A goal espoused by the company is:   “We encourage people to share the way they use them at home, by posting an original recipe on our Facebook page.”

The hours of operation are: Friday: gates and marketplace, 4 -9 p.m.; tasting pavilion is open from 5-8 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday: gates and marketplace 10:30 a.m.-5 p.m.; tasting pavilion is open from 1-4 p.m.

Fees for the tasting pavilion:  All Inclusive:  $55 each, or presale discount of 2/$100.  Designated Driver Tickets (excludes alcohol tasting) $20 each for food tasting only. To buy tickets online, go to  www.harvestfair.org.  Box office purchases on the day of the event are available at the door: 1350 Bennett Valley Road, Santa Rosa, 95404.  For questions:  707-545-4200.  Parking fees are $6-$8.  Disabled parking is available.  A link to view the parking map:  sonomacountyfair.com/docs/Grounds_Parking_Map-13.pdf

Sonoma County Fairgrounds is located at 1350 Bennett Valley Road in Santa Rosa, 95404. Phone: 707-545-4200

Karen Balch is a freelance writer, retired nurse who enjoys cooking. She writes regularly for allnewsnoblues.com.


PostHeaderIcon Yosemite Adventures: All You Need for Summer Fun in Park

ANNB: How long have you been a climber and an outdoor enthusiastic?

MJ: My parents took my brothers and me camping when we were young and I was involved in scouting. But I became much more enthused right out of college in 1994 when I got a job as a reporter near Yosemite, learned to climb and fell in love with the place.

ANNB: Did you really draw from 20 years of experiences for this book? How did you possibly keep track of them all?

MJ: I write notes about the climbs I do and keep a journal on backpacking trips. That provided a good start, but once I got the contract to do the book, I revisited lots of places to get the details and pictures right before the deadline. That involved hiking and skiing about 200 miles in Yosemite last year.

ANNB: What makes Yosemite so special?

MJ: Incomparable scenery, easy access and limitless opportunities for outdoorsy people who climb, hike and ski all make it special. The people there do also, definitely. I meet visitors there from all over the world and they tend to be friendly and great folks.

ANNB: There are so many special and unique places in Yosemite; how did you manage to fit them all into your book?

MJ: You force me to admit that they're not all in the book! I chose 50 favorites out of hundreds of experiences I've had there. I tried to help readers experience Yosemite in a broad way, like I have, in all seasons, with multiple activities and levels of difficulty and throughout the whole park, not just the valley. There are plenty of other adventures besides the ones I chose. I'd be very happy if people used my writing to get started exploring Yosemite and then branched off to their own discoveries.

ANNB: Your bio is very interesting. You say "Johanson writes with the sensitivity of a starving gorilla using a chainsaw to open a can of soup.” So wrote a disgruntled reader. A Tea Party leader called Matt’s commentary “hack garbage” and ESPN turned down his work as “too pro-Giants.” which points out, what some might call, failures. Why do you do that?

MJ: I guess because I thought those complaints were funny and didn't take them too seriously! Teachers and writers both need thick skin. Besides, I consider it an achievement to get the Tea Party annoyed at me.

ANNB: You teach high school journalism. Do your students ever ask for tips on writing books?

MJ: A few have but mostly we're busy producing the best newspaper we can together. For each of my books, I've asked the kids to help proofread and credited them in the acknowledgments. They definitely earned that because they caught quite a few typos and slip-ups, and I think being involved has been fun for them.

ANNB: How do you possibly manage both careers?

MJ: Well, I work way harder at the teaching! Writing is more of a hobby for me and I only do projects that I think will be fun. But when I do write something, I drive myself a little crazy to make it the best I possibly can. There are several photos in the book that took a full day of hiking each to get, and a few of them took several days of hiking or skiing.

ANNB: Where can we meet you, buy the book and have it signed?

MJ: I'm talking about the book at Castro Valley Library on May 18 from 2-3 p.m., at Lafayette Library on May 22 at 6:30 p.m., and at Pleasanton Library on July 6 from 2-3 p.m.

ANNB: You have written other books. Tell us a little bit about that.

MJ: My old friend Wylie Wong and I collaborated on the first, “Giants, Where Have You Gone?” It's a collection of “where are they now” stories about old Giants players. That paved the way for “Game of My Life: San Francisco Giants” and “Yosemite Epics.” But “Yosemite Adventures” is the book I've always wanted to do the most.

ANNB: What's up next for you?

MJ: The best bet is another guidebook of favorite Sierra Nevada outings, though I'd also like to write another baseball book if the right opportunity comes along.-- KB


Signed copies of Matt's books are available at www.mattjohanson.com


PostHeaderIcon Shrek: The Musical Opens Saturday in Livermore

Tri-Valley Repertory Theatre presents: Shrek: the Musical opening Saturday, July 19, and running through Aug. 3 at the Bankhead Theater in Livermore. Performances are on Friday and Saturday nights at 8 p.m. and at 2 p.m. on Sundays. Directied by Carol W. Hovey, the choreography was handled by Kevin Hammond and the vocal direction done by Sierra Dee. The musical director is Jo Anne Fosselman.


Based on the DreamWorks animation motion picture and the book by William Steig, the music is by Jeanine Tesori and the producer is Kathleen Bredveld.  Suitable for all ages, Shrek brings the hilarious story of everyone's favorite ogre to dazzling new life on the stage.


In a faraway kingdom turned upside down, things get ugly when an unseemly ogre, not a handsome prince, shows up to rescue a feisty princess. Throw in a donkey who won't shut up, a bad guy with a short  temper, a cookie with an attitude and other fairy tale misfits, and you've got a big mess that calls for a real hero. Luckily, there's one on hand...and his name is Shrek.


The cast is as follows: Shrek: Dane Lentz, Princess Fiona: Catherine Williamson, Donkey: Aaron Porchia, Lord Farquaad: Chris Olson, Pinocchio: Burton Thomas,Gingy/Featured Dancer: Dominic Dagdagan, Dragon/Shoemakers Elf/3 Blind Mice: Danielle Pierce, Teen Fiona/Humpty Dumpty: Christine Curulla,Teen Fiona/Ugly Duckling: Claire Shepard, Young Fiona/mice: Emily Joy Kessel, Young Fiona/mice: Juliana Morrow, 3 Blind Mice/Dragonette/Queen Lillian/Rat: Katherine Stein, 3 Blind Mice, Dragonette/Rat: Tosca Maltzman, Dragonette/Wicked Witch & Mama Ogre: Nicole Squires, Straw/King Harold:Ron Pickett, Sticks/Knight: Jeremy LaClair, Bricks/Knight/Rat: Matthew Busbee, Papa Bear/Papa Ogre/Knight: Mark Flores, Mama Bear: Chelsea Ashton, Sugar Plum Fairy/Bluebird: Suzie Shepard, Fairy Godmother/Rat: Amanda Ross, Peter Pan/Deer: Eric Gateno, Big Bad Wolf/Rat: Brian Olkowski, Little Red Riding Hood/Rat: Izzy Shepard, Baby Bear/Grumpy, mice: J.D. Cerruti, Captain/Bishop/Villager/Rat: John Holst, Young Shrek/Mice:Dylan Cazin, Thelonius/Guard/Knight: Jeffrey Warner, Featured Dancer/Villager/Rat: Heidi Amstrup, Featured Dancer/Villager/Rat: Meghan Hornbacker,Featured Dancer/Villager/Rat: Kelly Lotz, Featured Dancer/Villager/Rat: Max DeSantis, Featured Dancer/Villager/Rat: Michelle Roque.


For tickets, go to the Bankhead Theater box office at 2400 First Street in Livermore or call 925-373-6800, Tuesday through Friday from noon to 6 p.m,. or Saturday from 3 to 6 p.m. More information vist www.mylvpac.com -- KJB


PostHeaderIcon A Good Habit: Nuns on the Bus

An online campaign is underway to raise funds for an independent documentary film about Sister Simone Campbell and a group of Roman Catholic nuns, who toured the country in 2012.

Award-winning filmmaker from SUNDANCE Productions, Melissa Regan, reports filming the “troublemaking nuns for two years, since the first day of their bus tours.”  Passionate and inspiring in their quest to generate interactive dialogue and dynamic involvement in  areas of inequity in our society, the concerns of the Sisterhood are relative to poverty, healthcare, immigration reform and overall “democracy that truly serves ‘we the people’.”

In her newly released book, A Nun on the Bus:  How all of us can create Hope, Change and Community, Sister Simone chronicles the 2700 mile trip across 9 states in 2 weeks, advocating for the true cry of the people and advancing a mission for economic justice.  Building upon the precept that change is the only constant in life, the nuns took up the cause to speak out for those who have been silenced.  With a starting point in Iowa, the heartland of solidarity that once defined our society’s ideals, “The people and their stories drove them onward”, admits Sister Simone.  Forming prayer groups, rallies and small town meetings, their outreach became a galvanizing strength for positive action.

So passionate in her commitment to share the American story of a fragmented nation with compartmentalized citizens, incongruent with our Constitution, Sister Simone became a presenter at the Democratic National Convention. Rallying support against budget cuts to strategic programs for the disadvantaged, her first-hand account delivered a powerful message. She is Executive Director of NETWORK, founded in 1972 by 47 nuns on a shoestring budget, with their work over 4 decades described as “toiling in the trenches of Capitol Hill”.  The 2- person Washington office operates to lobby for harmony between Federal policies and social justice.

Financial help is needed to finish and release the film in the amount of $50,000 by June 20th.  Over 150 persons have donated thus far, reaching an estimated 30% of funding goal, with timely update posts on Facebook and Twitter.  Proclaiming that no donation is too small and the goal direction is in the need to get all of us talking, Sister Simone’s agenda is calling for Pentagon reform.  Paramount is action, through “Faith, Family and Fairness” to shine the light on hard-working Americans, calling for budget cuts in the upper echelons.  Support for low-income earners, raising minimum wage and revising the income gap are urgent problems in our midst.

Donations are tax-deductible and enticing rewards are being offered, including DVD’s, a Sister Simone ringtone, your name in the film credits, dinner with Sister Simone and the filmmakers, and more.  Encouragement to spread the word to friends, family and networks is another way to “get on the bus” and help bring the goal to fruition. According to Director/Producer, Regan, “American politics is gridlocked, the wealth gap continues to grow, and our economic choices are held hostage by polarized debates about social safety nets vs. free-market rugged individualism.”  Called “radical feminists” by the Vatican, the movement spearheaded by Sister Simone and her entourage is bringing a joyful voice to the national debate of unresolved, overdue social concerns and the on-going rhetoric that derails true reform.

The wide-spread mission is that this project will “spark an urgently needed national conversation and tipping point for action and inspire people of any religion—or no religion at all—to take bold steps toward reclaiming our common values as a nation.”  Standing up for what we believe in and taking bold steps in aligning our values with our politics is well-deserved.

This poignant documentary film by Epiphany Productions is about courage, democracy, persistence, community, faith, laughter…and nuns in action.  For completion, 150 hours of footage editing is the next step, before release of this independent documentary film via television, internet, theaters and national community engagement campaigns.

Contact:  https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/nuns-on-the-bus-the-movie.


Karen Balch is a retired nurse, freelance writer, avid traveler, who earlier in life was schooled by nuns. She writes regularly for allnewsnoblues.com


PostHeaderIcon Last Chapter: Pony Express Bike Ride

It's time again for the next, and last, chapter of the Pony Express bicycle adventure. I'm not one to shout out like this but many have expressed an interest in my goofy journey and some have even enjoyed the travel blog. Who knew? So, here it is again.

In case you missed it...during the past 2 summers I've spent 15 days and 1480 miles following the historic Pony Express trail alone on my bike. It's a bit roundabout and not at all direct as it runs 2000 miles from Sacramento, Calif. to St. Joseph, Missouri. After 2 weeks of pedaling I've reached Scottsbluff, Nebraska...just across the Wyoming border. Most of those days spent riding through the endless mountain passes and valleys of California, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming.

The last week of riding, Phase 3 as it's called, takes me across Nebraska and Kansas, America's Central Plains, to finish in St. Joseph, Missouri, the terminus of the old 1860s route and home to the Pony Express Museum.

The plan is to cycle the 630 miles from Scottsbluff to St. Jo' in 6 days with overnight stops in small towns along the way. The Platte River will be my guide, as it was for the real Pony Express riders, for the first 3 days. Beyond that various other river valleys will eventually lead to the Missouri River and St. Joseph.

Six days on a bicycle crossing Tornado Alley at the height of tornado season sounds dubious, but I have a strategy: I'll begin riding each day at sunrise to finish by early afternoon and, with some luck, before the severe weather gets cranked up.

This adventure is solo and unsupported and has already offered its share of difficult challenges and fantastic triumphs. Turns out riding across the country alone on a bicycle is a wonderful way to take it all in. My view is a different one. I am not “seeing” the country from 37,000' nor from an air conditioned car driving down the interstate, Unstead I am experiencing it all from back country roads at 15-20 mph where the scenes, sounds, scents, weather, creatures and the occasional local make every mile memorable. I now look forward to seeing what Nebraska and Kansas have to offer.

I will dust off the blog and add some more daily highlights. If you're interested you can follow along through June 8 at http://bensponyexpress.blogspot.com. -BC



PostHeaderIcon Cake4Kids: Sweet Surprise for Needy Kids

For needy families who are worried about finding food or housing, birthday celebrations are low on the priority list. Yet for kids who regularly do without—without new clothes, without a meal, without a stable home—the small gift of special attention and a sweet treat goes a long way towards recouping a little bit of normalcy and a treasured feeling of joy. An army of volunteer bakers devotes themselves to giving kids that special attention—Cake4Kids.

Libby Gruender founded Cake4kids in September 2010 after reading about an organization in the South that provided birthday cakes to needy kids. For one girl who received a cake, the deceptively small gift was overwhelming, and she burst into tears. “I’ve never had a birthday cake,” she cried to the volunteer who presented it to her.

Instantly, Libby knew she wanted to provide that service in her own community. She called on a group of friends, who called on other friends, and Cake4Kids was born. They recruited local agency partners to screen and identify needy kids, and opened for business across the South Bay.

The small initiative was a runaway success, and expanded rapidly. The group quickly found that it filled a role for kids in need of special attention in the midst of trauma and hardship, for volunteers who wanted to do something simple and tangible in the lives of those kids, and for avid bakers who had run out of baked good recipients—like Jeaninne Frank of Danville, who says she ‘needs’ to bake in order to relax. Her husband and kids could not keep up with her prolific baking output, so she signed on with C4K.

“There is only so much you can bake for local firefighters and police,” says Franke.

Today Cake4kids includes active organizers and volunteer bakers in the peninsula, South and North Bay areas. The process of vetting partner agencies is formal and includes verification of nonprofit status as well as disclosure of financials. Once accepted, partner agencies fill out detailed questionnaires for each cake recipient on a monthly basis, as birthdays come up—from age and gender, to favorite flavor, color, and suggested cake designs. The volunteer bakers deliver the cakes to the agency, and remain anonymous cake angels to the beneficiary.

Says Trish O’Dwyer, lead operations volunteer, “We want to protect the confidentiality of both the kids and the bakers, and let the kids enjoy the celebration with their case workers and families.”

Baking expertise is not a prerequisite for interested bakers, as C4K provides basic foolproof cake recipes as well as decorating classes. Driver’s license and insurance information is required from volunteers, as is mandatory attendance at an orientation session. Bakers cover their own costs.

“The most important aspect of a Cake4Kids cake is not that it be expertly decorated, but that the child’s name be spelled accurately and legibly, and that the cake be made with love,” says Board Member Julie Eades.

All ages of kids are served—from one to 21 years old. In 2013, three hundred volunteer home bakers baked and delivered 1,000 cakes in the South Bay alone. Today, Cake4Kids wants to expand into the East Bay area, particularly Contra Costa and Alameda counties, as well as San Mateo County. Volunteers are particularly needed to help recruit new child and family organizations, who can connect the massive cadre of bakers with a steady stream of cake recipients.

One new recipient agency in the East Bay, Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency (BOSS), serves homeless children and families in shelter and housing programs in Alameda County.

“Homeless kids do a lot of waiting in line for institutional meals—whether at the shelter or school lunch program,” says BOSS Development Director Sonja Fitz. “Having a beautiful cake made just for them is unforgettably special.”

If you are an agency serving foster or at-risk youth and would like to learn more about receiving cake donations for your kids, contact Trish at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . To donate or volunteer, visit www.cake4kids.org. --SF


Sonja Fitz works as the development director for Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency in Berkeley. She write's regularly for allnewsnoblues.com.


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