Berkeley Activist Shares Positive Spirit
Humanist Hall is a Humanist Church in downtown Oakland, founded in 1935 and conceived in that decade's enthusiasm for socialism as the answer to poverty and economic depression. An unassuming brown shingled building on a relatively quiet strip of 27th Street, overlooking its warm and simple sanctuary is a depiction of the earth and a paraphrased quote by Thomas Paine, “The World is my country, to do good is my religion.”
It is a fitting setting for last month's launch of a new do-good enterprise by long-time social justice activist and former executive director of Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency (BOSS), Boona Cheema, along with co-founder and fellow BOSS alum, Janny Castillo.
Cheema retired from the helm of BOSS, a large East Bay homeless services organization, in February 2013. but continues her social justice activism on Bay Area Boards, including Just Cause and Western Regional Advocacy Project)—though retirement is definitely a relative term.
Along with Castillo and local artist Damon Guthrie, Cheema envisioned the new venture as a catch-all service to help individuals, organizations, and communities design multi-media products and services to share their messages or solve community problems.
“My vision for boonachepresents is that (Castillo) and I can model a presence in the community which is conflict free and thrives on compassion,” she said.
It is a model the long-time activist is passionate about, having championed work in peaceful communication and compassionate social activism throughout her four decades in BOSS, and her whole life. Her family were refugees across the new India-Pakistan border when she was just 2 years old: social activism is in her DNA, as the daughter of a Sikh family in which all members—political father and brother, sister working in U.S. AID, community involved mother—were actively engaged in the social justice.
“Relationships are important to me,” she said. Boonachepresents is designed to support and nurture many of the relationships she spent forty years cultivating in the East Bay, as well as develop new ones. “The community needs to smile more and work with good-natured, informed, and very creative people.”
Special events, trainings, consulting work, audio-visual production—the boonachepresents team are a Jack-and-Jill-of-all-trades, eager to share their positive activist spirit in a new way in the community.
“It is my dream to help make the dreams of others come true using our experience and creativity,” says Castillo. “We bring the community’s ideas to divine fruition.”
Formerly homeless herself, Castillo sought assistance in BOSS and was taken under the wing of Cheema, who helped her buy a computer and start her own graphic design company. Castillo eventually went to work for BOSS, and honed her skills in graphic design, video production, photography, and multi-media work. Today, she works at St. Mary’s Center as well as boonachepresents. She also conducts spiritual readings and Reiki healings, and coaches her granddaughter, an aspiring photographer.
As a sampling of what the dynamic duo have to offer, the March 10th event proffered international foods and décor, warm-hearted multi-cultural networking, Indian dance (by Priya K. Nykan, www.indiandanceartist.com), and an inclusive non-denominational spiritual invocation as the venture-launching red ribbon was cut by boona’s 90-year old mom visiting from India.
Artwork from a soon-to-be released children’s book written by cheema and illustrated by Damon—boombin and lama—was on display at the launch. The book is the first in a planned series of eco-educational children’s books, casting Cheema's long-time travel companion Teddy Bear boombin as the protagonist.
boonachepresents is targeted to individuals and organizations alike—anyone who wants a highly creative and uniquely personalized rendering of their project, with the soulful spirit that is the defining M.O. of the trio: the company’s slogan is “at the heart of our presentations is your essence”. To showcase your essence, visit www.boonachepresents.com. --- SF
Sonja Fitz writes regularly for allnewsnoblues.com.
This Wine Packs a Punch
Napa Valley, with its peaceful winding roads, grassy hillsides, turreted castles and often hoity-toity Tuscan-style villa wineries, is ground zero for destination fine wines. It's famous for places such as Chateau Montelena and its vast grounds, Tres Sabores, with its wine cave, and chateau-esque Beringer Vineyards, which officially kicked off the Napa wine tourist industry when it celebrated the end of Prohibition in 1934 with public tours.
But the combined hard work of wine-making, including climate, growing practices, and the guiding hand of the winemaker, isn’t just done in wineries that produce hundreds of thousands of bottles of wine yearly and make millions doing it.
Wine-making is also done in small cellars or in cold, shared warehouses on residential streets throughout the region. There are no gift shops or luxurious water fountains on the grounds. In fact, there are rarely any grounds at all. The winemakers don’t come from family money but rather have day jobs and a staff of one, maybe two, including a cousin who helps out from time to time. Like the speakeasies of the Prohibition Era, they like to keep their secret, their secret. Though unlike the establishments of the 1920s and early 1930s, their secret is completely legal. And a whole lot of fun.
Punch Vineyards is one such secret. Owned by Berkeley native Lee Nordlund, Punch’s Cabernet Sauvignon has competed with the proprietors of those villas since its first vintage in 2007 by consistently scoring high marks by industry critics. Punch’s 2012 Chardonnay selling out in a month this year shows an emerging cult following.
A visit to Punch Vineyards cellars in a residential Napa neighborhood shows Nordlund’s and his wine-making is more microchâteau-- referring to a place making deep, fine modern wines in small lots, mostly in the Right Bank of France, than garagiste, a term for hobbyist home-based winemakers derived from the Bordeaux region producing vins de garage or “garage wine.”
Wine barrels stacked to the rafters and the heady smell of wine aging in flavorful French oak greet you as soon as you walk into the cellar. When you taste, unadulterated black and purple fruit lingers on the palate.
Its 45 barrels of mostly Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc and Chardonnay are lined up in the 3,200-square foot cellar Punch shares with other wine-making tenants.
“We put all of our money into the bottle,” said Nordlund, “Not real estate.”
That money buys sought-after grapes because Nordlund and his winemakers are industry insiders. Punch’s director of wine-making Miguel Caratachea, who earned an enology (wine-making) degree at UC Davis, and consulting winemaker Steve Lagier understand the reward of pristine fruit that gives each Punch varietal clarity and depth. They have access to lesser-known vineyards, or they know when to be the first to swoop up fruit at famous vineyards before bigger vintners can claim it. Punch also seeks out grapes grown on sloped vineyards at higher elevations, with hillside climate and topography leading to more intense fruit.
“Pure fruit gives an impression of sweetness with a finish that is crisp and long,” said Nordlund, who likes to have fun by teasing about the trend of “oak-a-hol.” Some winemakers mask wine blemishes by overly-imparting toast and other wood flavors from new oak barrels or using overly ripe fruit or adding sugar during fermentation – equaling higher alcohol. Though their customers may claim to like a “strong” wine, the fruit doesn’t necessarily shine.
Punch puts on the gloves with its fruit-forward balance. At a benefit for the Family Service of Napa Valley late last month, Punch, at $35 a bottle, was tasted next to Opus One ($235 per bottle retail), Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve ($135), and Staglin Family Vineyards ($190). Nordlund said Punch was perceived of similar quality and smoother textures than some of these labels.
Nordlund knows – he has worked for and learned from some of these labels. His experience includes positions at Robert Mondavi and Beringer Estates, along with acting as the estate director of Mount Veeder Winery and Franciscan Estate. Punch wants to make fine wine accessible to all – now selling its Cabernet Sauvignon by the six-bottle half-case. (Punch is usually only sold by the full case). Single bottles can be found at Beltramo’s in Menlo Park and select Andronico’s. Punch's motto is made "By Insiders, For Insiders." For more information about Punch, go to www.punchvineyards.com.--LM
Leslie Mladinich, a 20-year industry veteran, is a former full-time newspaper reporter whose most recent freelance writing and editing includes blog and newsletter articles for UC Berkeley Haas School of Business. She has a growing wine background from sensory analysis, Wines of California, and viticulture classes completed at UC Davis Extension and Las Positas Community College in Livermore. In addition, she pours in the tasting room at Mitchell Katz Winery. Find more of her wine writing at www.ofwanderandwine.com and journalism and professional communications work at www.lesliemladinich.com. This is her third contribution to allnewsnoblues.com.
nousDECOR.com Design Site Goes Live
Like many things, nousDECOR.com was born out of one woman’s frustration with not being able to find what she needed when she needed it.
The idea for the web site, which went live this week, was born out of Heather Gillette’s passion to make her first home – a custom-designed rustic horse barn in the hills of Woodside – a unique and beautiful space inside and out.
Gillette, 43, had an ornate 1950s French gilded chandelier that was gifted to her and she wanted to match it with two other fixtures to display in a long alley in the barn.
For a month, she scoured ebay, Esty, and mainstream online retailers and even set up an Internet feed for alerts to possible matches.
“It was really, really time consuming,’’ she said.
She eventually found one she liked on eBay Germany and another on Craigslist but was left with an annoying pang of dissatisfaction: there had to be a better way to find and buy furnishings online. And what if they were searchable by specifics, such as size, color, price and category?
That’s when she decided to build nousDECOR.com, a place where amateur designers and professionals alike can glean inspiration for decorating just about any room within just about any budget.
“It became so evident how disjointed the process is to decorate a space and how frustrating it can be, so we built nousDECOR to bridge that gap,’’ said Gillette, who honed her startup skills as a founding member of the YouTube team in 2005 when the company skyrocketed from a few thousand to millions of users within a few months
Dorothee Fisher, also a YouTube veteran, is the chief marketing officer and co-founder of the company.
Pronounced “new,” nous is the French word for “we,” and Gillette said the company name underscores it’s commitment to helping anyone take their design dream and make it a reality, regardless of budget, time or expertise.
The women also want their site to convey a new outlook on interior decorating and reflect all the new items that can be discovered through the site’s search tools
Given that the size of the global furnishings and home décor market overall is predicted to reach $700 billion by 2017, the market opportunity is huge for nousDECOR, financial experts agree. What’s more, online retail sales are growing at a rate of 3 times greater than brick-and-mortar sales
Here’s how it works:
Shoppers can peruse thousands of images of rooms and home décor products for inspiration and then use the site’s “mood board” builder and search engine to find their items.
Looking to revamp a tired living room?
Pair a $9.99 blue surf velvet pillow from World Market with a $2199 microfiber sectional sofa from Macy’s with a tray cocktail table from Contemporary Furniture Warehouse for $619.00 and create a fresh space. Users can also add to their mood board items they already own and want to use in their decorating.
The site also allows other users to give designers feedback and ideas and offers content and advice from in-house designer Mark Cutler, who the Robb Report recently named as one of the top 40 designers in the county.
Another notable feature is the automated recommendations for “Same Look Different Price” feature. It shows alternative furnishings and decor items from popular retailers such as CB2, as well as flash sale and one-of-a-kind sources such as Etsy, One Kings Lane and Touch of Modern.
“(Consumers) can find similar items but in the price point that is comfortable for them. Every single one of these items links to a checkout,’’ said Gillette.
There are similar sites, such as Polyvore and Houzz, but Gillette said nousDECOR adds another level to the design process. “Unlike other sites that are out there, we provide more than just the inspiration. We provide the inspiration and the products and all the resources that you to translate that inspiration into reality,’’ she said. KJB
Pack Up the Moon Dispatched to Bookstores
The latest release, Pack Up The Moon, from Internationally best-selling romance novelist, Rachael Herron is on bookstore shelves nationwide.
When she isn't writing, Herron works as a dispatcher for the San Ramon Valley Fire Protection District, where she handles 911 calls for police and firefighters. In her daily work, the Oakland resident is often not far from tragedy, and while pursuing her novel writing career, she spins a riveting yarn.
The theme of Herron's most recent novel evolves three years after a horrible tragedy took the son of artist Kate Monroe, tore her family apart, leaving her to pick up the pieces of her life and move on. At a gala showcasing of her triumphant return to the art world, Kate's world is rocked again when the daughter she gave up for adoption 22 years ago introduces herself.
Pree is the child Kate never knew and never forgot. But Pree has questions that Kate isn't sure she's ready to answer. For one thing, she never told Pree's father, her high school sweetheart and ex-husband, Nolan, that they had a daughter.
For another, Kate hasn't spoken to Nolan for three years, not since the accident which took their 9-year-old son from them. But to keep Pree from leaving forever, Kate will have to confront the secrets that have haunted her since her son died and discover if the love of her family is strong enough to survive even the most heartbreaking of betrayals.
A product of National Novel Writing Month, (NaNoWriMo) Herron wrote a book during the month of November, 2006. NaNoWriMo challenges writers to put down 50,000 words in 30 days, about 1666 words a day, with the goal of completing a book.
To become an author had been her life-long desire since childhood, writing stories through grade school, high school and into college. With a bachelor’s degree in English from Cal Poly and a masters of fine arts from Mills College, she had the credential, but Herron admits the month-long writing marathon really shifted her into high gear.
Still, she has learned to pace herself in sensible intervals of writing and taking breaks into the reality of life: walking her dogs, knitting, napping and spending quality time with her wife, Lala. Ever eager for new adventures, Herron is taking on the accordion as a challenge, and can strum along a songfest on the ukulele.
Herron is also passionate about knitting and that passion is evident in many of her books: How to Knit a Love Story, Wishes and Stitches, How to Knit a Heart Back Home and A Life in Stitches. The colorful book covers display balls of yarn and knitted pieces, finished or in progress. The prolific writer also authored a collective of books, the Cypress Hollow series.
The significance tempts one to research the definition of YARN: a lengthy, continuous string of wool or cotton (maybe even acrylic), used to knit or weave. Or an alternate translation: a narrative of adventures, a tall tale. Example: A storyteller who spins yarns will keep an audience riveted, a clearly conceived connection. The optimistic quote professed by Herron is “When life unravels, there’s always a way to knit it back.” .
From her early days in the dorm at Mills College, she connected with a group of young crafters and described knitters as creative, examples of generosity in sharing, helping one another and warm, like a sweater pulled around her. A peek into her memoir reveals her expression “My life can be measured in lengths of yarn: what kind I held, at what time.”
On her blog, yarnagogo.com, Herron offers to teach at writing conferences and seminars. Her expertise is an outreach to aspiring writers, advising them of how to advance into the world of writing, finding an agent and the discipline of a day at a time composing, editing and rewriting. “Write a little bit every day and make friends with other writers …. they’ll be your salvation.”--KRB
Karen Balch is a retired nurse, freelance writer and avid reader. She writers regularly for allnewsnoblues.com.
Food Writer Wants to Become the iTunes of Recipes
Nadine Argueza grew up on a farm in the Philippines. Amazing recipes full of fresh local ingredients filled her childhood. “Any time our family got together there was always great food,” she remembers fondly. So it was only natural that a meandering path away from the Philippines and through college and a new life in the Bay Area sent her, ultimately, back home—into the realm of food, love, and the intersection of the two.
Nadine entered UC Berkeley as a nutritional sciences major. New to Berkeley, she wanted to learn more about her community and joined UC Berkeley’s Bonner Program, which connects activist-minded college students with local nonprofits in need of assistance. “I wanted to know why parts of Berkeley and Oakland were more dangerous to go to—why the inequality,” she says.
As a soft spoken but curious and empathy-driven Bonner Leader, Nadine recruited volunteers and helped with outreach for Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency, a nonprofit that helps Alameda County residents overcome homelessness and rebuild their lives. She saw how food was part of that inequality—poor neighborhoods with a liquor store on every corner and fresh produce nowhere to be found, or in limited quantities at exorbitant prices.
As she interacted with fellow UC Berkeley students, faculty, and community members from around the world, her interest in diversity blossomed. “I veered off my original path into cultural anthropology,” she says. The course study required a lot of interviews. She enjoyed connecting personally with people and eagerly absorbed their stories. Gradually, she found that while studying the systemic causes of inequity was interesting, but unsatisfying. “I was more interested in fighting inequity through tangible goals that could be achieved in small steps.”
She wasn't quite sure what those steps would look like, but a campus Iron Chef competition gave her a clue. “I won first prize,” she smiles. “And I thought, I may have something here.” She started a food blog, gave cooking classes to friends, and began catering friends’ events. Her blog started getting readers and comments from around the world. Realizing she had a growing audience, she wanted to see if she could make a d
“What excited me most,” she says, “was not the numbers of people who were reading it, but how engaged they were.”eeper impact.
Nadine Cooks is the first in what she plans as a series of self-published kindle cookbooks. Released just before Valentine’s Day, it is full of romantic recipes. Part of the proceeds will be donated to typhoon relief in the Philippines. Her second, currently being written, will be a more comprehensive cookbook, with food stories, memories, and recipes from people in different fields—with a focus on young entrepreneurs. Part of the proceeds will be donated to charities fighting poverty.
“I want to become is the iTunes of cookbooks,” she proclaims. Her website offers some free recipes and some for sale, and uses the Tom’s of Maine model of donating 50 percent of what she raises to charity.
To get there, she’s focused on growing her business—increasing her participation in local food journalism, beefing up her catering service, and bringing her cooking classes to a wider audience. She recently teamed up with CHAA (Community Health for Asian Americans) to offer free cooking classes on-site, and hopes to apply for grants.
“I realized that the best way I could make significant change was to make personal connections,” she smiles.
Connect with Nadine at facebook.com/nadinecooks -- SF
Sonja Fitz works as the development director for Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency in Berkeley. This is her second story for Allnewsnoblues.com.
Vegan Iron Chef Plants Biz In Bay Area
Purple eyeglasses and a facial piercing give Karine Brighten the vibe of a young woman at home in creative pursuits. But it is not music or art that consume her thoughts, it’s food. Plant-based food, to be specific, and sharing the joys of a plant-based diet with others.
Brighten has been vegan for nine years. Originally from Canada, she was studying criminal justice while her husband attended law school when his studies on animal rights and factory farming turned both of them away from meat. At the time, it was an ethical decision that affected her shopping habits and dinner plate, but not her professional life.
Yet after earning her criminology degree and going to work in the field, she found she just wasn’t passionate about it. Hoping to put her strong organizing skills to good use, she enrolled in an event planning program. “It sounded fun,” she smiles.
After completing the program, she found an internship in Petaluma with a group called Daily Acts, where she helped with fundraising over the summer and got the itch for working in nonprofits. She worked for a while post-internship with a large Canadian event planning company but the itch remained, so when the couple moved to California so her husband could pursue his Ph.D., she decided to start her own business. She enrolled in a three month program in Oakland for women entrepreneurs, Women’s Initiative, and straight out of the box, she landed big vegan event planning contracts. “They were all just people I knew. The timing was right.”
The timing was right. Over the last several years vegan eateries and lifestyles have not only gained acceptance, they have flourished. From the upscale Millennium in San Francisco to Souley Vegan, a neighborhood soul food joint in Oakland near Jack London, to the growing number of vegan Chinese, Ethiopian, Indian, and fast food restaurants, vegans are no longer huddled by the salad bar at omnivore haunts. They want their own venues, their own chefs—their own places to eat, drink, and be merry.
Recognizing an untapped market, Karine threw herself into the world of vegan celebrations. “First I did a walk in San Francisco to support Farm Sanctuary,” she remembers. She planned the opening for Berkeley’s Nature’s Express, then organized the opening of Cinnaholic in downtown Berkeley. Along the way, she earned her Green Business certification—all Karine Brighten events are sustainable and eco-friendly. “It’s really, really important to me,” she says.
As her reputation in the vegan event planning world gained a foothold, Karine heard about a group in Portland that had put on a vegan version of the hit Food TV program Iron Chef. “I knew I had to do a local version,” she smiles. The First Vegan Chef at the First Unitarian Church of San Francisco was a huge success that sold out weeks beforehand.
More than 250 people turned out to watch vegan chef luminaries such as Chef Eric Tucker of Millennium, Phil Gelb vegetarian chef and caterer, and winning Chef Lisa Books-Williams, who wow’d the judges with creative raw concoctions including ‘Luscious Live Dumpling filled with a Cashini Mirepoix and Wilted Greens.’The event had been billed as the first such bash, but she had to ask herself, was it lightning in a bottle that drew a vegan-curious crowd who would not return, or was there really a longing for this kind of showcase for plant-based gastro-glitterati?
"It turns out there IS such a longing: the 2nd Annual Vegan Iron Chef thrilled a room full of vegan gourmands on March 23rd at SOMArts Center, with guest chefs Jay Astafa from New York City, Bay Area raw food chef Jillian Love, and Chef AJ of Los Angeles. Chef Astafa won with creative dishes such as cauliflower encrusted in ramen powder with umeboshi-chrysanthemum sauce and fresh pappardelle pasta, burdock cream sauce, braised cabbage and garlic-rice cracker 'Parmesan' crumbles."
As she continues to push forward, expanding her vegan event-planning empire, the hardest part, according to Brighten, is just finding the gigs. While her dream business is a list full of vegan animal rights causes 'celebre', the fact is most nonprofits do a lot in-house, she says, to save money. “I get a lot of wedding requests,” she adds."
Weddings are a great venue, she admits, because you get to expose a lot of non-vegans to plant-based eating, and for Karine Brighten Events to succeed, she knows she needs to pull in both the converted and the curious. Something food competitions excel at.-- SF
Sonja Fitz works as the development director for Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency in Berkeley. This is her first story for Allnewsnoblues.com