2020: Chill — A Bay Area News Group Premium Edition

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A BAY AREA NEWS GROUP PREMIUM EDITION 2020

Bay Area News Group $4.95


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JANE TYSKA/STAFF ARCHIVE

HOLIDAY FUN, INDOOR PROJECTS AND OUTDOOR ADVENTURES

M AG I CA L L I G H T S H OW S

M E R RY CRAF TS

SMALL S P E C I A L PA R T I E S

1 2 BAY A R E A OUTINGS

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PAGES 10 & 12 & MORE

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W H AT M A K E S S C R O O G E T I C K?

SEASONS STREAMINGS

FA B U LO U S WINTER HIKES

C H A L L A H & H O L I DAY BREADS

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CREDITS C O V E R I L L U S T R AT I O N B Y D AV I D E B A R C O SECTION EDITOR

DESIGN

PHOTO EDITING

COPY EDITING

Jackie Burrell

David Jack Browning Chris Gotsill

Mark DuFrene Laura Oda

Sue Gilmore

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Let it

G L OW, Let it

G L OW, Let it

G L OW Holiday lights are burning bright in spite of the pandemic blight

BY M A R T H A R O S S

Every year since 1992, Alex Dourov has joined a rare class of Bay Area enthusiasts who create bright, brilliant and over-the-top displays of holidays lights at their homes or in their neighborhoods. Dourov still plans to go over-the-top this year at his Livermore home. He wants to give his East Bay community something to be cheerful about at the end of an otherwise grim 2020, overwhelmed by the COVID-19 pandemic. “We not only want to bring back a sense of normalcy, but to ramp it up a bit,� says Dourov, who is modifying his show to promote outdoor safety in line with Alameda

The historic Filoli estate and gardens greet the holidays each year with twinkling lights and festive illuminations. ANDA CHU/STAFF ARCHIVES

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County public health guidelines. “There are so many concessions we’ve all had to make the past eight months.” His sentiment is widely shared. The founder of the popular California Christmas Lights website, Dourov says owners of the vast majority of the 350 homes listed on his site have said they are sticking with the decorating traditions beloved by their families, their neighbors and, in some cases, their entire towns. The properties, neighborhoods, parks, gardens and public spaces showcased here plan to go forward with their popular annual displays — with coronavirus safety concerns, of course, in mind. Visitors will be reminded to wear masks, when necessary, and maintain social distance. The grand Filoli estate in Woodside has extended its hours so guests can space out the timing of their visits, while other locations, such as San Jose’s Christmas in the Park, pivot to drive-through events. “People need something cool to see this year,” says J.R. Mattos, who is engineering Christmas in the Park’s move from its longtime walk-through display downtown to a mile-long car route through spacious History Park. “The synchronized pixel light show will be the biggest expansion to Christmas in the Park in 40 years,” Mattos says. “We’re basically doubling the size of Christmas in the Park.” Mattos is wearing both public and private hats as an illumination impresario this season. As in years past, Mattos and his family will transform their San Jose apricot orchard into a winter wonderland that is expected to be so grand, it will be featured on the ABC reality TV show, “The Great Christmas Light Fight.” Sadly, not every homeowner or public venue wanted to go through with a light show during the pandemic. Notably, Deacon Dave Rezendes announced he was cancelling his Casa del Pomba, or “House of the Dove,” display at his Livermore home, which has been a Bay Area tradition for more 6

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than 35 years. Bob Widmer also decided to cancel the “Widmer World” display at his Pleasanton home, where crowds were invited to walk around his property, including into his back yard. But more than 70 homes in a north Fremont neighborhood will go forward with their annual “Crippsmas Place” display — on lanes and cul de sacs, including Cripps Place, hence the name — which also raises funds for local nonprofits. Resident Kate Amon, the president of their Crippsmas Place organization, says organizers have been working with police and city officials on making safety modifications, which include forgoing carolers, candy-cane handouts and a crowd-mingling Santa. Dourov will block off his driveway to prevent crowds from congregating there, and he’s reworked his display so guests can’t push buttons to move certain figures or get dusted with faux snow. But from the sidewalk or their cars, visitors can still see signs blazing with “Noel” and “Peace on Earth” and twinkling figures of candy canes, nutcrackers and reindeer in his front yard. Dourov is on several national Facebook groups for enthusiasts

Above: At Ruth Bancroft Garden’s “Garden of d’Lights,” plants are illuminated in fantastical ways with specially programmed lasers and thousands of LED lights. COURTESY OF KELLEY LOTOSKY

Left: Alex Dourov, the founder of the California Christmas Lights website, goes all out on his holiday display each year. COURTESY OF ALEX DOUROV

who like to share tips on how to build intricate displays. This year, they’re also discussing ways to keep their displays safe. But Dourov said the overall sentiment remains: “Everyone says they are doing more and offering bigger shows to give people something to look forward to.” The nine Bay Area homes, neighborhoods and venues in this sampling have announced they are offering dazzling light displays this season. Unless otherwise indicated, you can visit most of these nightly, after sundown and at no cost. 1. A L E X D O U R OV ’ S K N OT T I N G H A M C I R C L E E X T R AVAG A N Z A

The show by the founder of California Christmas Lights offers a mix of old-school decorations that he’s accumulated over the past 28 years and high-tech lightand-sound effects that he continues to update. Guests can listen to music from the sidewalk or on 107.9 FM from their car. When and where: 5 to 10 p.m. from Nov. 28 through the end of the year at 467 Knottingham Circle in Livermore; http:// californiachristmaslights.com. BAY AREA NEWS GROUP

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2. M AT TO S O R C H A R D LIGHTS More than 90,000 LED lights will cover 30,000-square-feet of apricot trees in the Mattos family’s San Jose orchard. The winter wonderland theme continues with a display of falling snow, Santa and his reindeer flying off a roof, a candy shop and toy soldiers guarding the North Pole.

When and where: 5 to 10 p.m. from Nov. 29 to Jan. 1 at 1545 Stone Creek Drive in San Jose; www.facebook.com/ MattosOrchardLights/. 3. C R I P P S M A S P L AC E

For nearly 60 years, residents in this north Fremont neighborhood have lit up their yards, raised larger-than-life plywood cutouts of favorite cartoon characters and used the show to raise money for worthy causes. People from outside the neighborhood are encouraged to drive in, and everyone can donate either in person or via Paypal to six organizations, including the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and local groups that support families, foster children, wildlife and breast cancer support services.

Every holiday season since 1967, Fremont neighbors have hosted an elaborate light display, dubbed Crippsmas Place, that raises money for charity. ANDA CHU/STAFF ARCHIVES

When and where: 6 to 10 p.m. from Dec. 14 to Dec. 25 on Nicolet Avenue, Cripps Place and surrounding streets in Fremont; www.crippsmasplace.org. 4. H I S TO R I C E S TAT E L I G H T S I N WO O D S I D E

The century-old Filoli estate in Woodside is expanding its hours this season, with the stately mansion and world-renowned, English country-inspired gardens open daily and nightly through January. The ballrooms and other rooms in the mansion feature elegantly decorated Christmas trees, but what’s especially magical at Filoli are the lights arrayed around the extensive garden, where Santa will be available for socially distanced selfies. You can also take a break by visiting a new outdoor holiday bar set up in the Woodland Garden Court. The bar serves wine, beer and cocktails, as well as warmed 8

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mulled wine, spiced cider and hot chocolate. When and where: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily, with evening hours and separate admission from 4 to 8 p.m., Nov. 21 to Jan. 3 at 86 Cañada Road, Woodside. Filoli will be closed on Thanksgiving Day,

J.R. Mattos transforms a San Jose apricot orchard into a winter wonderland. COURTESY OF J.R. MATTOS

Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve. Admission is $15-$38, https://filoli.org. 5. S AN JOSE’S CHRISTMAS I N T H E PA R K

Moving to the 14-acre History Park means San Jose’s holiday


ty Park, but families can still enjoy a 1.5-mile drive through a fantasy land with lights, animated figures and a 90-foot twinkling tree. When and where: From 6 to 10 p.m. nightly from Dec. 4 to 30 (closed Dec. 25). The route starts at 333 Blossom Hill Road in Los Gatos. Find information about ticket prices and reservations, which must be made in advance, at the parks department website, www.parkhere.org. 8. L I G H T S I N T H E CAC T I

The Ruth Bancroft Garden’s world-famous collection of unique and gorgeous cacti and other succulents and drought-tolerant plants is presented in, well, a new light. For “Garden of d’Lights,” visitors can socially distance as they meander along the paths of the 3.5-acre garden in Walnut Creek, where plants are illuminated in fantastical ways with specially programmed lasers and thousands of LED lights. When and where: 5:30, 6:30 and 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings from Nov. 20 through Dec. 20 at 1552 Bancroft Road in Walnut Creek. Tickets are $8-$20 and must be purchased ahead; www.ruthbancroftgarden. org/lights2020. tradition can become a safe, drive-through experience. Visitors will still see favorite displays — and Santa will be there — but the show, engineered by local illumination engineer J.R. Mattos, will incorporate spectacular new light-and-sound effects, including a “snow tunnel.” Reservations and tickets are required in advance. When and where: 4 to 10 p.m. daily from Nov. 27 through Jan. 3 at History Park, at the corner of Senter Road and Phelan Avenue in San Jose. Tickets are $10 per car from 4 to 5 p.m. and $20 per car after 6 p.m.; www. christmasinthepark.com. 6. OA K L A N D ZO O L I G H T S “G LOW FA R I ”

The Oakland Zoo has always hosted one of the Bay Area’s most

Above: The Oakland Zoo presents “Glowfari,” featuring larger-thanlife animal lanterns. OAKLAND ZOO

Left: Santa shooting hoops and a ship firing cannons are displayed at the Fantasy of Lights holiday light show at Vasona Lake County Park in Los Gatos. LIPO CHING/ STAFF ARCHIVES

unusual holiday displays. This year, the zoo presents “Glowfari,” featuring larger-than-life animal lanterns. Families can take a socially distanced stroll to meet magnificent, glowing elephants, giraffes and a 15-foot-tall penguin. Proceeds from Glowfari help the zoo’s operating expenses, which were affected by its closure from March to July. When and where: 5:30 to 9 p.m. from Dec. 6 through Jan. 5 (closed Dec. 24 and 25) at 9777 Golf Links Road in Oakland. Admission is $11-$12; www.oaklandzoo.org. 7. LO S G ATO S ’ FA N TA SY OF LIGHTS

The Santa Clara County Parks Department has canceled the walk-through option for this beloved show at Vasona Lake Coun-

9. SA N M AT E O C O U N T Y F E S T I VA L O F L I G H T S

Sound technicians, lighting designers, event producers and many others are working together to put on a drive-through show at the San Mateo County Event Center. Visitors can cruise through a mile of interactive displays, arts installations and larger-than-life candy lands. Producers say the show will offer families and small groups a fun, safe way to celebrate the holidays, while putting hundreds of people to work in economic hard times. When and where: 4:30 to 9:30 p.m. Nov. 27 through Dec. 20 at 1346 Saratoga Drive in San Mateo; Information about tickets and reservations, which must be made in advance, are pending. BAY AREA NEWS GROUP

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WINTER PROJECT

Clap if you believe in Tinkerbell lanterns Tinkerbell Lantern Materials A Mason jar with lid (or any glass jar with a lid and smooth surfaces) Scissors Light-colored tissue paper in two or three colors White pencil or crayon Black construction paper A paint brush you don’t mind getting gluey, preferably one made of foam Small bottle of Mod Podge craft glue 1-foot length of ribbon Battery-operated tea light or string of battery powered lights Directions Wash and thoroughly dry your Mason jar. Using scissors, cut out 30 small pieces of tissue paper — 1½-inch squares or other shapes. Using a white pencil, draw a fairy on the black construction paper freehand or find one you like online and trace it onto the paper. Make sure your fairy can fit in the jar. For a large jar, the fairy should be no taller than 4 inches. For a regular-sized Mason jar, it should be about 3 inches. After the fairy is drawn, cut it out. Using the brush, apply a layer of Mod Podge on the inside of the jar, where you want to apply the paper fairy. Place the fairy against the adhesive, pressing down to make sure it sticks. A pencil or popsicle stick is useful, if you have a hard time getting your hand in the jar.

BY J E S S I CA YA D E G A R A N

C

aitlyn Nichols has one of the coolest jobs in the theater world. As prop master for Playful People Productions, the nonprofit San Jose theater company geared toward kids and families, she gets paid to tinker and craft. Add to that her role as a general technician at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom Park — she’s the Muppet doc and helps Tinkerbell fly — and you can see why we’re a bit starstruck. Now the San Jose native is showing us how the tiny fairy can light up our homes and backyards with a Tinkerbell Lantern, a popular craft she’s done with PPP families over the years. It makes a wonderful gift for anyone, who believes in magic — including you. All the craft requires are a few simple materials, including a Mason jar, construction paper, craft glue and a battery-powered tea light. Gather your materials, then trace, cut and glue. Decorate the lid of your jar with faux flowers and rhinestones or just keep it simple and bask in Tinkerbell’s mesmerizing, 3D glow. “It’s a visceral thing,” Nichols says. “You can see the lights and the color, and as cheesy as it sounds, it is a little jar of hope. Doing an art project helps you step back from the crazy of the world and live in the moment.”

A Mason jar and some pixie dust are all prop designer Caitlyn Nichols needs to create a fairy light. DAI SUGANO/STAFF

Brush a thin layer of Mod Podge over the exterior of the entire jar. Place tissue paper shapes on the jar, creating a stained glass effect. Don’t worry if the tissue paper overlaps. Some overlap means that when the light shines through you will get a beautiful 3D effect. Add another, slightly thicker layer of Mod Podge to help any overlap stick down and create a top coat that seals your jar. Let dry for 30 minutes, preferably in a sunny place. Tie the ribbon around the top of the jar right under the lip. Make a bow. Let dry for another 30 minutes. Place your light source in the jar and put on the lid. Enjoy. CAITLYN NICHOLS, PLAYFUL PEOPLE PRODUCTIONS, HTTPS://PLAYFULPEOPLE.ORG

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WINTER PROJECT

No two snowflake cards look alike BY M A R T H A R O S S

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hen Krupa Paranjape’s mother taught her to embroider as a child in India, she would make Paranjape rip out the stitches if they were not precisely lined up in the front and the threads were not neatly formed and tied off in the back. Fortunately, Paranjape’s directions for how to make beautiful but simple holiday cards, embroidered with snowflakes, are far more forgiving. The front of each card features a single snowflake created using a basic stitch and white embroidery floss. The Mountain View textile designer’s directions then have you affix a piece of card stock to the back of the embroidery to hide any flaws. She only cautions people to be gentle with the paper; you can’t pull or tug on it as you would fabric. The snowflake figure is in keeping with Paranjape’s interest in creating designs that are straightforward but striking. She specializes in embroidered or hand-painted pillows and textiles that feature singular images inspired by nature, especially the birds, flowers and butterflies she sees enjoying the garden of her Mountain View home. “My favorite thing to do is to spend time in my garden,” she says, “and a lot of birds come and visit our patio.”

Embroidered snowflake holiday cards Materials Carbon paper to transfer the pattern A blank greeting card Card stock or plain paper to cover the back of the embroidery Piercing needle Piercing mat (cork or foam can be used) Embroidery needle Scissors Embroidery floss (white or ecru DMC) Double-sided tape and regular tape

Krupa Paranjape's snowflake embroidery holiday card DAI SUGANO/STAFF

Directions Trace a snowflake figure on the back of a sheet of carbon paper to create a pattern. Use a red pen to mark the points on the pattern where the needle will go in, i.e., at the ends of each line in the design. Set the card on the piercing mat. Center the pattern over the card and use a piercing needle to prick holes into the card at the red dots, holding the needle as perpendicular as possible to make sure it enters the paper straight. Remove the pattern. Thread the embroidery needle with the floss. (Make sure the threaded needle fits through the pierced holes so the paper doesn’t tear.) Don’t knot the thread, just secure the end to the back of the card — but outside the stitching area — with a small piece of tape. Begin embroidering, following the dots and applying the principles of a basic back stitch, i.e., stitching from point 2 back to point 1 and then from point 3 back to point 2 to create a line of visible stitches. When done, snip the thread and secure it on the back with more tape. Cut a piece of card stock the same size as the card’s front. Using double-sided tape, secure the card stock to the card to hide the stitches. —KRUPA PARANJAPE

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Itty-bitty festivities Small-scale holiday parties can be a big blast to throw

BY J E S S I CA YA D E G A R A N A N D L I N DA Z AVO R A L

W hen it comes to holiday gatherings, there will be no turkey feast for 40 this year. No elaborate cookie exchanges or lavish office parties with big, communal eggnog. Yes, 2020 will be the strangest holiday season ever. But last we checked, merriment is not a numbers game; it’s a state of mind. And with a little help from some of the Bay Area’s up and coming caterers, even the tiniest gathering can be a brilliant success. San Francisco chef and caterer Andrea Lawson Gray began getting requests for tiny parties just a few months into the pandemic: a 50th birthday with the social bubble, an anniversary celebration for two. She quickly learned how to downscale once-typical wedding receptions or tech company soirees and make them safe and

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Tony Santos elevates a holiday spread with braised short ribs and garlic mashed potatoes.

NHAT V. MEYER/STAFF

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socially distanced for these times. “We’ll be doing a lot of holiday parties outside with heaters this year,” says Gray, who is the co-founder of Private Chefs of the SF Bay Area, a collective of nine chefs who specialize in 31 types of cuisine and have a combined 70-plus years of experience in restaurants, including several with Michelin nods. “We’re not doing buffets or shared plates, of course.” What they are doing – and with great success – are small plates, passed appetizers and portioned mains that dazzle just as much as that centerpiece bird. “You can do duck, which is ideal for two people, or goose,” Gray says. Crab or lobster always feel decadent and are the holiday go-to for many families. Chef-caterer Tony Santos, who runs the temporarily closed Tony Caters cafe at The Tech Interactive museum in San Jose, has found a novel way to address the company parties that won’t be held this season at The Tech or anywhere else. He’s created Tony’s Holiday Pantry boxes — a full meal for two that just needs reheating — that Silicon Valley firms and others can order for their employees at home. (And if some staffers are working from out of state, Santos is shipping boxes of sweet treats and other goodies.) For those small at-home family gatherings, Santos suggests dressing up comfort food in small, partylike portions. More courses equals more festive fun. “I think people are trying to make the holiday as special as they can,” he said. Rayane Abi Abboud and Jill Egi of the Left Bank Restaurant Group’s Vine Party Design agree that this year, it’s all about creating what they call “memorable moments.” After years of specializing in huge corporate catering events for 500 to 800 people, they pivoted this year to creating Left Bank packages for celebratory occasions at home. Besides special meals from the Santana Row restaurant in San Jose, they line up virtual sessions with chefs, sommeliers and bartenders – for families, small groups and corporate clients. It doesn’t take much to dress up your home holiday feast, they say. Use festive dinnerware and linens and think about printing out menu cards. “That’s a cute little touch,” Abi Abboud says. If your family or bubble is a group of grazers, forgo a traditional meal for a hearty cheese and charcuterie board, like the showstoppers Karla Ahmed builds. Ahmed, a Castro Valley paralegal, started Brie Grazing Boards back in February, and the intense FOMO brought on by her bewitching Instagram page fasttracked the business. You’ll now spot those boards around Livermore, including at Arroyo Cellars. For safety, equip guests with their own tongs to grab meats and other goodies. “You’re just being extra cautious and responsible,” she says. “I like reusable bamboo or palm leaf tongs, which you can find on Amazon.” She also suggests handing out “mini wooden honey dippers for drizzling honey atop your brie and apple slices. Kids love them like party favors.” And we could all use a party favor this year.

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APPETIZER

Andrea Lawson Gray’s Molletes Gray is the collective’s resident expert in what she describes as Californio cooking, a mix of modern California and traditional Mexican cuisine. Her molletes, a bruschetta-style, openfaced sandwich topped with chorizo or bacon, homemade refried beans, cheese and a fig salsa, is the perfect opening to a cozy, informal gathering. They can be served whole, though that’s a hefty starter. Best to cut into slices. To build them, Gray starts with bolillos, the crusty oval Mexican rolls found at most panaderias. She slices them lengthwise, toasts them in a hot pan and tops them with a schmear of beans followed by the chorizo or bacon (if using) and Oaxacan cheese. Pop them under the broiler until they reach melty goodness and finish with a scoop of drained fig or pico de gallo. Slice or halve and serve.


Chef Andrea Lawson Gray makes molletes — think bruschetta, but with Mexican flavors — for parties, topping the bread with refried beans, chorizo and a lively tomatofig salsa.

Molletes with ‘Higo de Gallo’ Serves 6-12 Ingredients 6 bolillos (Mexican rolls) or French bread rolls Butter 2 cups frijoles refritos (see recipe below) 1 large chorizo link or four bacon strips, optional ½ white onion, chopped 8 ounces shredded Queso Oaxaca or mozzarella Higo de Gallo (see recipe below)

Directions Cut rolls in half crosswise. Spread butter on cut sides. Working in batches, place the bread buttered-side down in a hot skillet to toast. Repeat with remaining rolls. Warm the refried beans and set aside. In a separate skillet, sauté the chorizo or fry the bacon. Transfer meat to a plate. In the same skillet, saute the onion in the rendered chorizo fat, bacon fat or oil, until onions are translucent but not browned. Crumble or chop the meat and stir it into the onions. Place bread on an ovenproof serving platter or baking sheet. Spread a generous portion of beans on each piece, top with the onionchorizo or bacon mixture and sprinkle with cheese.

RAY CHAVEZ/STAFF

Place under broiler until cheese melts and starts browning. Serve as is, topped with Higo de Gallo or Pico de Gallo, or sliced into smaller servings.

Frijoles Refritos Serves 6 to 8 Ingredients 2 teaspoons lard or oil ½ onion, finely chopped 1 jalapeño, minced, optional 1 small clove garlic, minced 2 cups cooked Rancho Gordo pinto beans, drained and stock reserved (or canned beans) ½ to 1 cup bean stock ½ teaspoon salt, or to taste ½ cup Cotija or queso fresco

Directions In a hot skillet, warm the lard or oil. Add chopped onion and cook for four minutes, or until lightly browned. Add jalapeño and continue sautéing for about 30 seconds. Add garlic and saute for 30 seconds more. Add the cooked beans and ½ cup bean stock. Cook until beans start to simmer. Turn off heat. Using a potato masher or the side of a wooden mallet, smash the beans to your desired consistency, adding more stock, if needed. (Or use a food processor and pulse to desired texture.) I prefer to leave some beans whole or partially whole. Others prefer a smooth purée, which is also fine.

“Higo” de Gallo Makes 2 cups Ingredients ½ medium red onion, finely chopped 4 tomatoes, finely chopped 4 fresh figs, finely chopped 4 tablespoons fresh chopped cilantro 1 or 2 jalapeños, veins and seeds removed, minced Juice of ½ Mexican lime, optional Salt to taste

Directions In a small bowl, mix all the ingredients. Refrigerate for up to four days or freeze for up to six months. Drain off any excess liquid before using the salsa to top your molletes. — CHEF ANDREA GRAY LAWSON, PRIVATE CHEFS OF THE SF BAY AREA

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CHEESE & CHARCUTERIE

Karla Ahmed’s grazing boards Ahmed’s paper cones and boards — served on handmade Bay Area Redwood slabs — brim with cheeses, charcuterie, seasonal produce, dried fruit and unexpected snacks, like yogurt pretzels, making them irresistibly bright, comforting and kid-friendly. “Building a board as a family is actually a great activity,” Ahmed says. “Everyone can put their favorites on there.” She suggests starting with edible greenery – ideally, kale or chard. Pile on sliced citrus along the edges. After that, place two or three cheeses on the board along with meats, like salami or charcuterie. Fill in the gaps with nuts, pretzels and dried fruit. For a pop of holiday red, she suggests quartered pomegranates or sugar-dusted cranberries. To get the sugar to stick, use a touch of honey or simple syrup.

Brie Grazing Board’s DIY Charcuterie Board Serves about 4 Ingredients 1 bunch kale 1 orange, cut in half, then sliced 4 ounces Marin French Cheese mini Brie 4 ounces Trader Joe’s Holiday Goat Cheese Log 4 to 6 ounces manchego 4 ounces Trader Joe’s Unexpected Cheddar Cheese 8 to 10 ounces charcuterie meats 1 bunch grapes 3 Persian cucumbers, cut in strips or coins 1 pomegranate, quartered, or apple, sliced but not separated Handful of cranberries 4 figs 2 ounces dried apricots Handful of nuts Fresh rosemary and thyme sprigs to garnish Local honey, like Gerard’Z Honeybees Peanut butter pretzels Dark chocolate Extra treats, like chocolate-covered raisins or Pocky sticks Crackers, like Rustic Bakery Rosemary & Olive Oil Flatbread, for serving Directions On a wooden slab, cutting board or tray, lay down large pieces of kale as a base, with leaves extending out to form a border. Arrange citrus around the edges. Place the four cheeses evenly apart on the board. Place the charcuterie, fanning them out, rolling them or creating other interesting presentations. Separate grapes into clusters and place them around the cheeses, along with the remaining fresh fruit and cucumber slices. Fill in empty spaces with dried fruit, nuts, fresh herbs, chocolate and pretzels. Serve with plenty of crackers. — KARLA AHMED, BRIE GRAZING BOARDS

Brie Grazing Boards founder Karla Ahmed makes cheese, charcuterie and fruit platters on redwood boards, sourced from a local company, to display Brie, berries, cucumber, citrus, fruit and nut crisps and condiments, such as avocado honey and rose-infused jam. ARIC CRABB/STAFF; COURTESY BRIE GRAZING BOARDS

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Bourbon-Braised Short Ribs Makes 16 small plates

Paul Miller, head chef at Tony Caters, prepares decadent braised short ribs with garlic mashed potatoes. NHAT V. MEYER/STAFF

MAIN COURSE

Tony Santos’ Bourbon-Braised Short Ribs with Garlic Mashed Potatoes

Ingredients 4 ounces beef base, such as Better Than Bouillon ½ cup cabernet sauvignon or your favorite red wine 5 cups water, divided use 3 pounds boneless beef short ribs, divided into 3-ounce filets Canola oil, salt, pepper ½ yellow onion, cut in large dice 2 carrots, cut in large dice 1 stalk celery, cut in large dice 2 cloves garlic, minced 1 tablespoon tomato paste 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard ¼ cup brown sugar ¼ cup Worcestershire sauce 1 tablespoon cornstarch, optional ½ cup bourbon 1 bay leaf Garlic mashed potatoes (see recipe below) Herbed gremolata (see recipe below) Directions In a large container, combine the beef base, red wine and 2 cups water. Add the short ribs, turning them so they’re well coated. Cover the container and transfer to the refrigerator. Let marinate overnight.

Remove meat from marinade; discard marinade. Pat meat dry, season generously with salt and pepper, then sear in a hot pan with canola oil until deeply browned on all sides. In a Dutch oven, saute the onion, carrot and celery until lightly caramelized. Stir in the garlic, tomato paste, Dijon, brown sugar and Worcestershire. Mix a tablespoon of water into the cornstarch to make a slurry, then add it along with the remaining water, bourbon and bay leaf. Nestle the short ribs filets into the pot until submerged. Bring to a boil, then cover and transfer to the oven to cook until completely tender, but not breaking apart, at least 90 minutes. Remove short ribs from the braising mixture. Discard the bay leaf. Use a blender or immersion blender, to turn the braising liquid and veggies into a luscious sauce. To serve, spoon about ¼ cup of mashed potatoes onto each small plate. Top with one short rib, spooning some of the thickened sauce over it. Garnish with herbed gremolata. Note: If any short ribs are left over, they can be sautéed the next morning into a hash with cubes of potatoes and topped with a fried egg. They’d also make an amazing quesadilla filling for lunch the next day.

Heat oven to 300 degrees.

Over his career, chef-owner Tony Santos of Tony Caters has segued from hotel chef to corporate chef, restaurant owner and caterer, but there’s been one constant: You can always count on his menus to feature an awesome braised or smoked meat dish. For small, at-home holiday season parties, he suggests an impressive but easy to make dish that will be plated in individual portions. And nothing says comfort like braised short ribs. These beauties are marinated in red wine overnight, then braised in bourbon, but don’t worry about any boozy effect. “The alcohol is pretty well cooked out,” he assures. He’s nestling 3-ounce portions atop garlic mashed potatoes and adding gremolata for a little zest. You can go with even smaller bites if you like — that way there’s room for other party courses. And a bonus: leftover short ribs.

Garlic Mashed Potatoes

Herbed Gremolata

Ingredients 8 cloves garlic ½ cup olive oil 3 russet potatoes, peeled and cut into large dice ½ to 1 cup heavy cream, adjust to reach desired consistency 3 to 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, adjust to reach desired consistency

Ingredients Zest from ½ a lemon 1 clove garlic, minced ¼ bunch parsley, minced 1 sprig thyme, minced 1 sprig rosemary, minced

Directions Combine the garlic cloves and olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pot on the stove, and simmer for up to 20 minutes, until the garlic softens and becomes spreadable, like roast garlic or a garlic confit.

Directions Combine all ingredients in a small bowl. — CHEF TONY SANTOS, TONY CATERS

Boil the potatoes in water until just cooked through. Mash them with the cream, butter, all the garlic and 2 tablespoons of the garlic oil. (Save the remaining oil for another use.) Add salt and pepper to taste.

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Chef David Bastide of Left Bank puts the final touches on a Holiday Pear Tart. KARL MONDON/STAFF

DESSERT

Left Bank and Vine Party Design’s Holiday Pear Tart In a year like this, dinner must be capped off with a special dessert. Chef David Bastide, the director of culinary operations for Left Bank, came up with a festive, fruit-forward idea — a tart that he laughingly said one of his longtime servers called “Christmas in my mouth.” You’ll know what that means the minute you bite into the baked pears that have been poached in winter spices and red wine. If you’re already a masterful from-scratch pie baker, you can impress your family and social bubble with your kitchen acumen. Or you can take the easy way out and still rake in the compliments: “If you aren’t comfortable working with dough, you can use premade tart shells,” Bastide says. “It can be a lot quicker and definitely less intimidating.”

Holiday Pear Tart Makes 1 tart, or several individual tarts Poached pears: 4 Bosc pears, not too ripe 1 bottle red wine, minus a glass for you 1½ cups sugar 2 star anise 1 clove ½ cinnamon stick Pâte sucrée dough (or use a pre-made pastry crust): 8 ounces (1 stick) butter ½ cup sugar 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour 1 egg Just a touch of vanilla extract Pinch salt Filling: 2 tablespoons brown butter solids from a stick of butter(see instructions below) 1½ eggs (see instructions below) ¼ cup sugar 1 tablespoon flour Just a touch of vanilla extract Slivered almonds, optional Creme Chantilly (sweetened whipped cream with a touch of vanilla) Directions Peel the pears, cut them in half and cut out the cores. In a saucepan large enough to hold all the pears, combine the red wine, sugar and spices. Bring the mixture to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Add the pears and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, turning occasionally, until the pears are tender but not falling apart. Remove the pears from the liquid and allow to cool. Continue to simmer the liquid until it thickens and is thick enough to coat a spoon. Set aside. Meanwhile, combine all the dough ingredients in a bowl, mixing until just combined. Refrigerate the dough for 30 minutes to an hour. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Roll the dough out and fit it into your tart pan. Place a sheet of parchment paper or foil in the bottom of the crust and add pie weights or dried beans, so the crust stays flat during baking. Blind bake the tart for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from oven and lower heat to 350 degrees. For the filling, melt a stick or two of butter in a skillet, continuing to cook and stirring occasionally as it gradually browns to a hazelnut shade. Watch carefully near the end, stirring all the while — the time between almost there and burned is swift. Remove skillet from heat and continue to stir for a minute more. Let cool. Then strain and measure out 2 tablespoons (1 ounce) of brown butter solids — beurre noisette — for this recipe. (Use the clarified butter you drained off for cooking. Use any leftover brown butter solids for spreading on toast or adding to steamed vegetables and other dishes for a pop of flavor.) Crack one egg into a mixing bowl. Crack a second egg into a small bowl, beat it with a whisk and add half of it to the mixing bowl, along with the sugar, vanilla and flour. Whisk to combine, adding the browned butter at the end. Now to put the tart together: Slice and fan the pears and arrange in the partially cooked tart shell with space between the slices. Pour in your brown butter filling. Add slivered almonds on top, if you wish. Bake at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted. Let cool before slicing. Serve with crème Chantilly and reserved red-wine syrup. — CHEF DAVID BASTIDE, LEFT BANK

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Deck the Halls’ Puerto Rico Egg Nog San Francisco mixologist Shaher Misif is a bit of a holiday cocktail expert. He’s the brains behind Deck the Halls, the holiday-themed bar that pops up every winter at Shaher’s 1217 Sutter in Lower Nob Hill. And while Misif is not yet certain if an in-person Deck the Halls will return this year — keep an eye on that at www.instagram.com/deckthehallsbar — he does know one thing: You need to make coquito for your family or social bubble. The coconut-based nog is simmered with cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and anise — and it’s vegan, so everyone can partake. “It’s the perfect cocktail...it can transport you to a beach in Puerto Rico and ring in the winter season at the same time,” says Misif, who kept his bar and restaurant open through June to feed essential workers. Make a pitcher and keep it in the fridge, where it will remain stable for more than a month. We doubt you’ll let it last that long, though.

Coquito, or Puerto Rican egg nog, is made with coconut milk, so it’s vegan. Drink up. COURTESY DECK THE HALLS

Coquito, Puerto Rican Eggnog Makes 1 pitcher Ingredients Whole spices like cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, anise, to taste 6 ounces water 6 ounces raw sugar, or to taste 24 ounces coconut milk 24 ounces coconut cream 12 ounces dark rum Ground cinnamon for garnish Directions In a large pot set over medium-high heat, lightly toast whole spices until aromatic. (If you only have ground spices, simply skip this step and add the spices in step two.) Add water and bring to a simmer. Add sugar and stir until it dissolves. Stir in coconut milk and coconut cream. Bring the mixture back to a simmer, lower heat and let simmer for 30 to 45 minutes. Let mixture cool to room temperature. Stir in rum and let it sit in your fridge for 12 to 48 hours. The longer it sits, the better it tastes. Remove whole spices and serve neat or over ice in a coconut shell or glass. Garnish with a sprinkle of ground cinnamon. — MIXOLOGIST SHAHER MISIF, DECK THE HALLS FOUNDER

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Velvety lemon curd is a tart-sweet holiday treat Lemon Curd Makes about 2½ cups Ingredients Zest of 2 Meyer lemons 1½ cups sugar ¾ cup Meyer lemon juice 5 large eggs 3 egg yolks 9 tablespoons unsalted butter

Directions Rub sugar and zest together to release the lemon oils into the sugar. In a heat-proof bowl, combine the sugar and zest mixture, the juice, eggs and extra yolks. Place bowl over a pot of simmering water and whisk contents continuously until thick. Once thickened, whisk in butter, a bit at a time, until combined and silky. BY J E S S I CA YA D E G A R A N

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f you live in Oakland’s Redwood Heights, you must be thrilled to call Lisa Chan a neighbor. Chan is the pastry sous chef at San Francisco’s Michelin-starred State Bird Provisions, where her laminated brioche scones and creme fraiche ice cream sandwiches are legendary. Although she returned to work part-time in September, Chan spent the bulk of the pandemic figuring out how to make ends meet — and keep baking. In the spring, she launched a cottage business, Sweet Wheezy Treats, making sourdough focaccia, spiced lemon cake, peanut butter cookies and other treats for delivery in the neighborhood.

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A jar of homemade Meyer lemon curd makes a perfect gift, says State Bird Provisions pastry sous chef Lisa Chan. ANDA CHU/STAFF

Word spread on Nextdoor, and Chan found her baked goodies selling out fast, so she launched a website, with new menus posted Wednesdays for pickup or delivery the following week. And she added more items that can be enjoyed throughout the week, like this silky Lemon Curd, which costs $5 a jar and is made with Meyer lemons from her neighbors’ trees. “I like making curd because you can add it to so many things,” Chan says. “You can lighten it with cream. Layer it into cakes or put it on ice cream. I know people who have it right out of the jar. And it makes a lovely gift.”

Strain curd through a fine mesh strainer into a clean bowl. Nestle the bowl in an ice bath – a bowl filled with ice and water – and chill until cold, stirring occasionally. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to five days.

— Recipe courtesy of Lisa Chan, Sweet Wheezy Treats, https://sweet-wheezy-treats.myshopify.com


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S TO R Y B Y J I M H A R R I N G TO N

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I L L U S T R AT I O N B Y SARAH COLEMAN


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or millions of listeners, the soundtrack to the holiday season has changed very little over the years. We love Vince Guaraldi Trio’s “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” but it’s good to mix in some newer material every now and again. So here’s a playlist refresh with 12 of our favorite seasonal offerings from the 21st century. “I’LL BE HOME FOR CHRISTMAS,” DIANA KRALL

The Canadian jazz vocalist-pianist has delivered so many great albums during her career, but her 2005 “Christmas Songs” is chock full of winners to satisfy die-hard jazz fans and seasonal listeners. This is the song that always stops us right in our tracks. “O HOLY NIGHT,” PHIL WICKHAM

The platinum-selling singer-songwriter from San Diego, known for such popular songs as “This Is Amazing Grace,” delivers a stirring version of this classic on 2010’s “Songs for Christmas.” Wickham’s vocal work is transcendent.

“THE HANUKKAH WALTZ,” BÉLA FLECK AND THE FLECKTONES

Fleck and company won a 2009 Grammy for best pop instrumental album with their jazzy holiday offering, which is full of virtuoso musicianship and ambitious arrangements.

“WHAT CHRISTMAS MEANS TO ME,” JOHN LEGEND FEATURING STEVIE WONDER

This fun, upbeat number kicks off Legend’s 2018 “A Legendary Christmas” in high style, with harmonica work from the one-and-only Wonder, who also recorded it on his 1967 “Someday at Christmas.”

“MARY, DID YOU KNOW?” DOLLY PARTON

Try this lovely cut from “A Holly Dolly Christmas,” which just hit stores this fall. It’s Parton’s first holiday album in 30 years, an all-star collaboration with Michael Bublé, Billy Ray Cyrus, Miley Cyrus and Willie Nelson.

“SANTA’S COMING FOR US,” SIA

We dig pretty much everything this singersongwriter has done, including her 2017’s “Everyday Is Christmas.” The album opens with this groovy retro number, which has a fun music video featuring Kristen Bell, Dax Shepard, J.B. Smoove, Susan Lucci and Henry Winkler in a campy, 1950s setting.

“WHAT CHILD IS THIS?” CHRIS TOMLIN “8 DAYS (OF HANUKKAH),” SHARON JONES AND THE DAP-KINGS

One of the best Hanukkah songs of the last 10 years, this one’s delivered with passion and plenty of horn power by Jones and her mighty Dap-Kings on the 2015 “It’s a Holiday Soul Party.”

This Christian music artist, who topped pop charts with 2013’s “Burning Lights,” is in impressive form on 2015’s “Adore: Christmas Songs of Worship” and this song is memorably poignant.

“O COME, ALL YE FAITHFUL,” BAD RELIGION “8 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS,” DESTINY’S CHILD

The fun and addictive title track to this R&B group’s 2001 seasonal affair is an unabashed ode to commercialism, as Beyonce, Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams celebrate a season filled with expensive gifts.

Yes, that Bad Religion — the SoCal troupe that has produced some of the finest punk rock of the last 40 years. The group behind “We’re Only Gonna Die” and “Misery and Famine” is an unlikely suspect to deliver a seasonal outing, but we’re fond of its 2013 “Christmas Songs” EP.

“HAVE YOURSELF A MERRY LITTLE CHRISTMAS,” LAUREN DAIGLE

Daigle handles this strikingly tender version of the holiday classic with such exquisite care on 2016’s brilliant “Behold: A Christmas Collection.” Consider it further evidence that Daigle – the multiplatinum singer behind the Grammy-winning single “You Say” – has one of the best voices in music.

“JOSEPH’S LULLABY,” MERCYME

Millions know this band for the uplifting single “I Can Only Imagine,” which inspired the 2018 box office smash of the same name. This beautiful piano ballad hails from 2005’s “The Christmas Sessions.”

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HOUSEBOUND NO MORE B Y C H U C K BA R N E Y, J I M H A R R I N G TO N , J E S S I CA YA D E G A R A N A N D L I N DA Z AVO R A L

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ou’ll have zero houseguests this holiday season because, well, no one will have houseguests this year. But that’s no reason to stay home. How about treating yourself and your COVID cohabitants to staycation tours of the Bay Area? We’ve got plenty of ideas for socially distanced fun, from a giant Ferris wheel in the middle of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park to leaf-peeping at Saratoga’s Hakone Gardens, bike rides on Benicia’s waterfront and more.

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Experience Golden Gate Park — and all of San Francisco — from high above on the new SkyStar Observation Wheel. The long-awaited attraction has finally opened in time for the park’s 150th anniversary, with 36 gondolas and one million LED lights for nightly illumination. And social-distancing protocols are fully in place. Standing 150 feet tall, the Observation Wheel was installed in the Music Concourse in March, just as everything shut down. Last month, the SkyStar opened at last. The enclosed, temperature-controlled gondolas boast unparalleled views from downtown San Francisco to the Pacific Ocean and are sanitized between each use. Each ride provides four rotations and lasts 12 minutes. The Wheel harkens back to the California Midwinter Fair of 1894, when the 120-foot tall “Firth Wheel” dazzled visitors in Golden Gate Park. Details: Tickets are $12 to $18. A longer ride and VIP experience in a specially designed gondola is $50. One household per gondola, and reservations are required. Music Concourse, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco; www.skystarwheel.com. 2. D R I V E T H R O U G H C H R I S T M A S I N T H E PA R K

No way was the South Bay’s most popular Christmas tradition going to take this pandemic year off — not after 41 years of creating memories. The organizers have switched up the format and the location for social distancing and added even more sparkle. Instead of bundling up to stroll The 150-foot-tall SkyStar Observation Wheel glows on opening day for the six-month delayed sesquicentennial celebration for San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. KARL MONDON/STAFF

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Get out and about for a dozen fun things

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downtown San Jose, you’ll be loading into the car and heading to the city’s History Park for drivethrough festivities, complete with music. All of your favorite characters and scenes will be on display, and History Park’s light tower, vintage buildings and trees will be aglow, too. Details: Tickets are $20 per car to drive through from 5 to 10 p.m.; $10 during the 4 to 5 p.m. “twilight” hour. Prepaid reservations are required. Three weeks, Nov. 27-Dec. 17, at 635 Phelan Ave., San Jose. Go to www. christmasinthepark.com to pay and reserve a 15-minute time slot. 3. P LU G I N TO YO U R P E DA L P OW E R

Why be bogged down by four wheels when you can enjoy the enormous sense of freedom that comes with two? Turns out Benicia is a great place to pedal your stress away. Recognized by the Amgen Tour of California and Ride Chronicles for its superb bicycling, the waterfront city offers an impressive range of routes — from low-stress, family-friendly paved trails to steep, challenging hills for more experienced cyclists. Start with a downtown tour that takes riders back in time with 28 CHILL

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At Saratoga’s Hakone Gardens, the leaves begin turning coppery hues in late autumn, and serenity descends as the weather chills. LAURA ODA/STAFF

glimpses of historic California architecture, vintage homes and the Benicia Arsenal (a former military post now filled with artists’ studios). You might also want to trek to the Benicia State Recreation Area, 438 acres of marsh, grassy hills and rocky beaches along the Carquinez Strait. And after the ride, recharge at one of Benicia’s cafes, perhaps with a ham-and-cheese croissant from One House Bakery. Details: For inspiration, check out these Ten Great Bike Rides and Walks in Benicia at bayareane.ws/BeniciaBike. 4. L E A F P E E P AT H A KO N E GARDENS

Most people think of visiting this gorgeous Japanese estate for cherry blossom season during the spring. But late November and early December are wonderful times to catch the fall colors at Hakone, when the majestic maple trees turn fiery shades. The century-old, 18-acre garden and estate was created in 1915 as an authentic replica of a samurai or shogun’s estate. A San Francisco couple, Oliver and Isabel Stine, commissioned the estate after seeing the Asian garden displays at that year’s Pan-Pacific Exhibition. It’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Perched high above Silicon Valley in the Saratoga hills, the gardens offer a serene respite from the hustle and bustle of the holidays and the angst of everyday life. Take a leisurely stroll by the koi ponds, the moon bridge, bamboo gardens and other sights at Hakone, which include a reproduction of a 19th-century Kyoto tea merchant’s house and shop.

Details: Tickets $8-$10. Open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekends at 21000 Big Basin Way, Saratoga; www.hakone.com. 5. G E T T I N G LY AT T H E ACA D E M Y O F S C I E N C E S

The California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park reopened late last month,


5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays. Nightlife runs from 6 to 10 p.m. Thursdays. 55 Music Concourse Drive, San Francisco; calacademy. org 6. S IP ON A F R U I TCA K E F L I P

Time to soak up some holiday spirit. And world-class cocktails. Now in its seventh season, the Christmas-themed pop-up bar known as Miracle is back in Northern California beginning Nov. 27 and running through December at three locations: Paper Plane in San Jose, Pacific Cocktail Haven in San Francisco and the Red Rabbit Kitchen and Bar in Sacramento. Toast the season with overthe-top merriment, including festive new cocktails, like the brandy-based Fruitcake Flip, Jingle Balls nog with cognac and gin-centric Jolly Koala laced with pine-cardamom-sage cordial. And brace yourself for holiday décor a la Twerking Santa. Prefer Christmas with a tropical twist? Rum Rum Rudolph awaits at Sippin’ Santa, the tiki-themed pop-up bar coming to The Jungle Bird in Sacramento and Kona’s Street Market in San Francisco. Details: November 27 through end of December at locations in San Jose, San Francisco and Sacramento. Call the bars directly for reservations, hours of operation and COVID-19 protocols; www. miraclepopup.com. 7. L I G H T U P YO U R L I F E

welcoming visitors back after a seven-month hiatus. Guests can check out some of their favorite attractions, including the T. rex, the Osher Rainforest, the Shaker House earthquake simulator and “The Swamp” exhibit, with its colorful fish, snapping turtles and Claude the Albino, the science museum’s most famous resident. And Nightlife, the science museum’s Thursday night events for

guests ages 21 and up, is back, too. Don’t miss the new “Venom: Fangs, Stingers and Spines” exhibit in the aquarium wing. It may sound menacing, but no need to fear. The exhibit provides some cool (and safe) opportunities to learn about more than a dozen of the most venomous creatures on the planet, including the Okefenokee fishing spider, wingless female wasp, lionfish and bark scorpion.

The California Academy of Sciences reopened its doors and exhibits such as the Flooded Forest to guests last month. JEFF CHIU/ ASSOCIATED PRESS

The rainforest and earthquake simulator require timed reservations, and other pandemic-related safety precautions are in place, including reduced capacity and advance purchase-only tickets, so book ahead. (Morrison Planetarium and the Discovery Tidepool will open at a later date.) Details: Tickets are $28-$36. The museum is open from 9:30 a.m. to

In a year that has been so full of darkness, IlluminOdyssey Outdoors offers a great opportunity to see the light. The annual display, normally held indoors, is moving outside this year and adhering to COVID-19 protocols. Organized by the CuriOdyssey science museum and zoo in San Mateo, this dazzling exhibit invites children and their families to experience the beauty and science of light as they wander through radiant gardens and a bay view grove alive with beams of brilliance and various sparkling creations. After experiencing IlluminOdyssey, Don’t be surprised if your BAY AREA NEWS GROUP

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spirit brightens and your face is aglow with astonishment and awe. Details: Tickets $16-$19. Seniors and children under 17 months are free. Reservations are strongly recommended. Open Friday and Saturday evenings through the holiday season at 1651 Coyote Point Drive in San Mateo; www. curiodyssey.org/activities. 8. H O P O N L I V E R M O R E ’ S WINE TROLLEY

After being parked for six months, the Livermore Wine Trolleys are back in business, ferrying wine lovers from chardonnay to cabernet — without the need for a designated driver. The Sip & Savor Wine Pairing Tour is a seated outdoor experience at three properties, Concannon Vineyard, Las Positas Vineyard and Garre Vineyard and Winery. Naturally, the trolleys are operating at partial capacity, so there’s plenty of distancing between “social bubbles.” And if you want to really splurge, you can rent out the entire trolley for a Lights of Livermore tour that takes you and your bubble through brightly decorated Livermore and Pleasanton neighborhoods, as you sip wine along the way. Details: $149 per person for the Sip & Savor tour, which includes food and wine experiences; $900 to $1,170 for the entire trolley for the holiday lights tour, which includes a private tour for social bubbles of up to 18 people and four bottles of wine. www. livermorewinetrolley.com 9. F E A S T O N ‘ F L AVO R S O F P H OTO G R A P H Y ’

It’s only natural that a region in love with food would be home to highly sought-after food photographers, whose stunning imagery takes us from the kitchen to the plate and beyond. A collection of 30 CHILL

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their captivating work is currently on display at The Gallery at Palette, a new contemporary art space in San Francisco’s SoMa neighborhood. “Flavors of Photography” explores the aesthetics of cuisine through the eyes of 19 Bay Area food photographers, including Caren Alpert, Nader Khouri, Soraya

Matos, Aubrie Pick, Sara Remington and Eric Wolfinger. The exhibit’s 85 images, which are all for sale, capture each visual artist’s perspective — be it on ingredients, cooking or eating — and our intimate relationship with food. Hungry for more? Stay and dine at chef-owner Peter Hemsley’s adjacent restaurant, Pal-

Christmas in the Park was held in downtown San Jose last year. This time around, it will be a drive-through spectacle of lights. NHAT V. MEYER/STAFF

ette, or catch The Gallery’s next exhibit, “Abstract by Nature,” an exploration of identity featuring Korean-American artists Jun Yang and You Been Kim. It runs Dec. 4 to Jan. 30. Details: Open from 4 to 9 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday until Nov. 28 at 816 Folsom St., San Francisco,


charms of the whimsical structures that make you feel like you’ve stepped into a fairy tale and learn more about how and when they were created. Along the way, you’ll meander through fragrant gardens, hidden pathways and countless nooks and crannies often missed by visitors. During the leisurely, two-hour guided stroll, you’ll also hear the rollicking stories of Carmel’s early days, learn about the local work of famous architects Bernard Maybeck and Charles Sumner Greene and visit fine art and photography studios. Details: Tickets for the tours, led by “passionate Carmelites,” are $15 to $30. Check www. carmelwalks.com for available dates and times. 1 2. S T R O L L T H R O U G H A BA N C R O F T L E G ACY

with Medallion.” Also on display is a collection of the painter’s personal items, including prosthetics, jewelry and clothing, which have never before been shown on the West Coast. Details: Tickets are $20-$35. The exhibit is open from 9:30 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday (members-only on Wednesdays) through Feb. 7. The museum is at 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco; deyoung.famsf.org. or you can make an appointment by emailing info@palette-gallery. com; www.palette-gallery.com. 1 0. P E E K AT T H E M U S TS E E F R I DA K A H LO E X H I B I T

The reopening of San Francisco’s de Young Museum means one of the Bay Area’s most highly

anticipated exhibits of the year — “Frida Kahlo: Appearances Can Be Deceiving” — is finally here. It’s a must-see for fans of the iconic 20th-century artist. The exhibit, curated by Circe Henestrosa and Gannit Ankori, features 33 Kahlo paintings and drawings, including “Self-Portrait with Monkey” and “Self Portrait

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Ever find yourself on the quiet streets of Carmel, yearning to know the stories behind those storybook cottages? Lace up your sneakers and join the folks on one of Gael Gallagher’s Carmel Walks tours. It’s a chance to delight in the

Nickolas Muray’s 1939 photo “Frida in Blue Dress” is on display at the de Young Museum as part of the “Appearances Can Be Deceiving” exhibit. FINE ARTS MUSEUMS OF SAN FRANCISCO

Renowned California gardener Ruth Bancroft, an early proponent of drought-tolerant plants, left a 3.5-acre legacy when she died in 2017. She had filled her family’s former orchard in the heart of Walnut Creek with rare and beautiful succulents – the world’s largest such collection. Every season brings new blooms, so fall and winter are terrific times to head here for some fresh air and a self-guided tour. Which do you find more attractive, the Aloe rubroviolacea or the Lobelia laxiflora? You’ll learn plenty about these hardy plants that thrive in our Mediterranean climate, and you might find enough inspiration to head home and start transforming your garden. And here’s a bonus: Well-behaved dogs on leash are welcome here. Details: Admission is $8-$10. The garden is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday (closed holidays) at 1552 Bancroft Road, Walnut Creek; www. ruthbancroftgarden.org. BAY AREA NEWS GROUP

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ea Redmond has been making things her entire life. As a child, she could be found in her room making little toys and trinkets, fashioning shells and twigs and leaves into physical manifestations of her imagination — and her grandmother taught her to knit when she was 8. While studying continental philosophy, art and environmental studies in college, she realized that all the things she had been making were infused with the ideals and dreams of a future she wanted for the world. “It’s about making connections between people and place,” she says. Redmond opened a studio in Oakland — temporarily closed now by COVID-19 — where she makes the most delightful objects and encourages others to join her on flights of fancy. She’s postmaster of the world’s smallest post office, which features tiny letters written to order. She makes hand-bound books from sugar packets and creates decks of “lively matter” cards that send players on “grand adventures of the ordinary.” “I have a deep joy in making things,” Redmond says, “and giving them to people. People who know me say that spending time with (me) is like a kindergarten show-and-tell all the time.” Almost 10 years ago, Redmond began knitting what she calls “sky scarves,” pieces of wearable art that document the weather for an entire year. The scarves are knitted one row a day in hues that match the colors of the sky. A dark gray for a stormy winter day, brilliant blue for sunny days and a mix of blue and white representing the clouds scattered against an otherwise unencumbered sky. She shared her design and finished scarf on Ravelry.com, a social networking site for fiber artists, and it was an immediate hit. Hundreds of knitters took up the call and began knitting the sky. Now there’s a book, “Knit the Sky” (Storey Publishing, 2015),

which features not only the sky scarf but dozens of other Redmond projects that focus on connecting us with people and places. Earlier this year, the New York Times reported on a growing movement of knitters, who are chronicling climate change by knitting scarves that reflect daily temperatures, from frosty blue to fiery red. The Times credits Redmond with starting the whole thing. “I don’t know if I did,” Redmond says, “but I’d like to think that I did.” The temperature scarves are not the only reworking of sky scarves. Some knitters have begun making baby blankets that reflect nine months of sky hues. Others embellish their sky scarves, incorporating beads to signify rain, for example, or charms to mark birthdays and holidays. “It’s like knitting meets journaling,” Redmond says. Redmond says the only addition she’s made to her sky scarves are on days that she forgets to knit a new row. She could check the weather report and catch up. Instead, she adds a different colored row, a reminder to pay more attention to the world around her.

The Sky Scarf Materials Yarn in typical sky colors — light blue, dark blue, white, dark gray and light gray, or colors of your choice Knitting needles Directions You can find the pattern in Redmond’s book or download it at www.leafcutterdesigns. com/creative-knitting-projects. But the basic instructions call for simply knitting a row of garter stitch each day, using a shade of yarn that matches that day’s sky. Feel free to choose your own sky hues and include as many or as few as you’d like. Pay attention to gauge, Redmond says. If the yarn is thick, you can end up with a massively long scarf. Redmond uses two strands of lace-weight yarn for each row. If you prefer thicker-gauge yarns, consider knitting a 3-month scarf.

Lea Redmond’s “knit the sky” scarves started an international trend of knitters who chronicle the weather and climate, day by day, in their art. COURTESY OF LEA REDMOND

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A new pandemic panic strikes: How to draft that (cheery?) holiday letter B Y J OA N M O R R I S

This year has been unique in its collective misery. In case you’ve been living in a cave for much of 2020, we’ve all been living in caves for much of 2020, and that could make writing the annual holiday newsletter a bit challenging. No amazing vacations, no graduations or weddings to attend, only raging wildfires, civil unrest and politicians running amok. We know devoted newsletter writers will be stymied on how to compose those normally cheery and positive missives, so we’ve decided to give you a little help with our MadLibs-style holiday newsletter. You can go joyful, or you can go full 2020.

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Dear (Family, Friends, Fellow Survivors): Another year has (a. sped by b. limped along c. swallowed us in unimaginable horror), and we wanted to (a. share b. sound off c. weep uncontrollably at) the news of how our (a. family b. neighborhood c. band of apocalyptic survivors) has been doing. The year started off (a. great b. as usual c. in the blissful ignorance of not knowing what the rest of the year would bring). It promised such (a. adventure b. love c. opportunities to work dozens of jigsaw puzzles again and again, until the images wore off, and we were left to assemble solid white pieces). Our early 2020 vacation to (a. Europe b. visit the family c. the backyard) was fantastic and (a. provided us with great memories b. allowed the kids to collect an excellent assortment of souvenirs c. was the last time we’d see anyone without a mask for months). March brought devastating news that the coronavirus had crept into our country and that we were now in the middle of a pandemic. We faced the news with the spirit of the pioneers who settled our country and (a. gracefully accepted things were changing and we would need to hunker down b. decided to clean out the attic and reorganize every closet in our home, then dust all the rocks in our garden c. went a little crazy purchasing 275 packs of toilet paper, 500 gallons of hand sanitizer and getting banned for life from Costco). Spring brought good news that our oldest son had been accepted to college and would be attending university (a. later this year b. early next year c. in his bedroom). Our high school-aged daughter was excited to (a. make the cheerleading squad b. pass all her courses with top grades c. get access to all of her online classes, most days). They were both a little sad that they couldn’t (a. attend a formal graduation b. enjoy prom this year c. leave the house without hazmat suits). Hubby continued to work hard (a. at his job; b. trying to find a new job c. attempting to teach the cat to talk, the bird to fetch and the dog to purr). As for me, I’m finding fulfillment (a. doing volunteer work where I can b. making up new recipes for tuna salad c. learning to swallow the fear and anxiety that would cripple an otherwise healthy person). The rest of the year provided (a. so many happy moments b. opportunities to study Greek and learn to plait sheaves from the wheat we grew in the backyard c. endless hours of pondering the meaning of life). Through it all, our little family has (a. grown closer in quarantine b. stopped speaking to each other c. finally mastered Zoom.) Although that once-in-a-lifetime cruise to exotic ports had to be (a. postponed b. canceled entirely c. never spoken of again), we did manage to keep our spirits up with (a. short daytrips and hikes, safely practicing social distancing b. ordering one takeout meal a week to help our favorite local restaurants c. pretending to vacation from different rooms and areas in the house while fighting back tears and cursing the fates). It’s been hard, but we’ve been thankful (a. for the company of each other b. that toilet paper eventually came back in stock c. that we had a contentious presidential election to keep our minds off our problems). As this long year comes to an end, we wish you and yours (a. a bright holiday season b. a new year that isn’t quite as dark c. good luck with whatever new disaster awaits us in 2021.)

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THE INSIDE SKINNY ON

S crooge HOW T H E

D ick ens D I D H E G E T T H A T WAY ?

BY ANGELA HILL

DAVE RHEAUME / GETTY IMAGES

T

he worldwide legions of Ebenezer Scrooge fans think they know their idol merely as the perennial anti-hero of their favorite holiday classic, Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” He’s that, for sure. But a deeper investigation by this news organization has uncovered raw, revealing data, exposing factoids about Scrooge that will haunt your dreams — or at least make you sound like a giant, jovial nerd at holiday parties. What we already know: Scrooge is a jerk. He hates Christmas, thinks it’s a big waste of time and money and goes around bah-humbugging it. Until, that is, three ghosts show him how much they scare, forcing an epiphany and turning him into holiday-loving goo like a sticky figgy pudding. The result is more than a century and a half of stage, then screen, productions of his life story and famed one-night turnaround. Yet anonymous sources like Mister Magoo and Scrooge McDuck — whoops! — have recently come forward to reveal a more complex, multifaceted and often multi-faced side to the stingy, stuffed shirt, stick-in-themiserly-mud Scrooge and the tale that made him famous. So here you go. Hold onto your night cap:

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AG E R E V E A L E D

He’s 234. Yes, though Dickens created him in 1843, Scrooge’s birthday, according to fandom. com, is Feb. 7, 1786, and there’s no record of his death, making him older than dirt. But, hey, he doesn’t look a day over 233. IDENTITY THEFT

Dickens describes Scrooge as “a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint … secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster.” But who is he, really? Theories abound about Dickens’ inspiration for the character. Some say Scrooge might be based on Ebenezer Scroggie, a real-life Edinburgh merchant whose gravestone described him as a “meal man” or corn merchant, but Dickens may have misread it as “mean” man. Or he might have used political economist Thomas Malthus as a model. Malthus was well known for his callous attitude toward the poor and the “surplus population.” Then again, maybe it was John Elwes, a noted British eccentric and miser. Too bad we can’t ask Mr. Dickens, unless he comes back as a ghost on a cold winter night ... SPEED WRITING

Dickens had such a clear picture of his antagonistic protagonist, he penned the 66-page novella in only six weeks. And just six weeks after its publication, the book was adapted for the London stage, taking off in multiple productions and spreading to New York and beyond. P SYC H OA N A LYS I S

One of Scrooge’s modern-day body-doubles recently came clean on some of his character’s inner secrets. Yes, American Conservatory Theater’s James Carpenter, who has played Scrooge in 13 years’ worth of ACT productions, 38 CHILL

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feels he knows him better than most anyone. “Scrooge is very alive to me. A real person,” Carpenter says. “I think he’s become dead inside. He’s closed so many doors in his life, he’s got this huge amount of unaddressed emotional baggage, and it all catches up with him in one night. He has shut out humanity.” Carpenter’s favorite line to utter in the play? “I will see you first in hell!” (spoken by the jerky, pre-epiphany Scrooge, who’d rath-

San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theater has staged the Charles Dickens classic, “A Christmas Carol,” every year since 1975. COURTESY OF KEVIN BERNE

er die than have Christmas dinner with his nephew). “It’s such a great line,” Carpenter says. “Always gets an ‘ohhhh’ from the audience.” PAN D EMI C? BAH HUM B UG!

In this unusual year — and for the first time in ACT’s 44-year history of the production — “A Christmas Carol” will be an online “radio show,” which will run Dec. 5-31 and make even better use of

Dickens’ narration and atmospheric descriptions than the play typically does. “A Christmas Carol: On Air” will feature the delightful music, spooky ghosts and cast that have made it a beloved Bay Area holiday classic — plus there will be an activity book, virtual listening parties and a Humphry Slocombe Ice Cream flavor created just for the show. It’s a creamy, crème fraiche ice cream with a raspberry-jam swirl inside housemade sponge cake. The flavor is named “Victo-


San Francisco’s Humphry Slocombe has created a “Victoria Sponge” ice cream as part of the pizzazz surrounding the A.C.T. radio production. HUMPHRY SLOCOMBE

A.C.T.’s James Carpenter will reprise his role as Ebenezer Scrooge, the miserly Brit who has a change of heart one night in the Dickens tale. COURTESY OF KEVIN BERNE

the year the stage trap door caved in on opening night. “The whole trap door — that had Scrooge’s bed on it — just collapsed. They had to run the curtain down and cover (the hole) with plywood.” SPEAKING OF HUMBUGS

What are they? No, not bugs that hum a catchy tune. According to Merriam-Webster, they’re “something designed to deceive and mislead,” “nonsense, drivel” or a British hard candy, usually peppermint-flavored. Regardless, “Bah humbug” is known as Scrooge’s catch phrase. Yet in the book, he says it only twice. Clearly, that was enough. LIFE — EVEN FICTIONAL — GOES ON

We usually think of Scrooge in his pre-reformation, miserly ways. But the San Francisco musical “Scrooge in Love!” which had its world premiere at 42nd Street Moon in 2015 and has been a smash hit since at San Francisco’s Gateway Theatre, took the story a little further. Set a year after the Dickens tale, a reformed Scrooge searches for his lost love, Belle, as he revisits the past, present and future all over again. BY A N Y OT H E R FAC E

ria Sponge.” (Whew, we thought it might taste like Tiny Tim.) IN THE BEFORE TIME

In previous years at ACT, the in-person shows have involved 75 pounds of paper snow per run, 337 scenery, lighting and sound changes, and a cast of nearly 50 people, including kids from the Young Conservatory program. There have been a few mishaps along the way. Carpenter recalls

A sleigh-full of actors — and even a few actresses — have played Scrooge or Scrooge-like characters in myriad stage, movie and TV versions. The first ever Scrooge movie was titled, “Marley’s Ghost,” a short British film made in 1901 that only lasted a few minutes. In the 1930s, the great Lionel Barrymore brought Scrooge to life on the radio. Then Basil Rathbone took off his Sherlock Holmes hat and Scrooged it up on television in the 1950s. Who could forget the classic “Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol” in 1962? It was the very first animated holiday program produced for TV with Jim Backus (you BAY AREA NEWS GROUP

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“Chrismas Carol” variations abound, including the 1988 “Scrooged,” which starred Bill Murray as a selfish, cynical television executive. PARAMOUNT PICTURES

Above: Michael Caine hammed it up with some lovably fuzzy characters on “The Muppet Christmas Carol.” TERRY O'NEILL

Right: A.C.T.’s “A Christmas Carol” will come to life this holiday season as a radio play, with James Carpenter in his 13th outing as the miserly lead. COURTESY OF KEVIN BERNE

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“ Scrooge is very alive to me. A real person. I think he’s become dead inside. He’s closed so many doors in his life, he’s got this huge amount of unaddressed emotional baggage, and it all catches up with him in one night. He has shut out humanity.” American Conservatory Theater’s James Carpenter, who has played Scrooge in 13 years’ worth of ACT productions

know, Mr. Howell from “Gilligan’s Island”) voicing a bumbling, near-sighted version. (James Carpenter’s favorite version, by the way.) Albert Finney was Scrooge in 1970, and Marcel Marceau in 1973 (was it a silent film?). Henry Winkler was Scrooge-esque as Benedict Slade in “An American Christmas Carol” — think The Fonz in really bad oldage makeup. George C. Scott played one of the best Scrooges in a rich TV version in 1984. Things started to get a little, um, creative after that, when Bill Murray played a crabby TV executive haunted by three ghosts in 1988’s “Scrooged” (made even weirder with Buddy Hackett as himself, playing Scrooge in a film-within-a-film). Daytime diva Susan Lucci played cold-hearted department-store magnate Elizabeth “Ebbie” Scrooge in “Ebbie.” Vanessa Williams followed as Ebony Scrooge in “A Diva’s Christmas Carol.” Michael Caine had a ton of fun, starring alongside Kermit in “The Muppet Christmas Carol.” And in 1999, Patrick Stewart was a wonderful Scrooge, but it was hard not to expect him to tell the ghosts to “engage.” S U R P LU S P O P U L AT I O N O F A DA P TAT I O N S ?

Many more versions were just plain wacky. There was “Rich Little’s Christmas Carol,” in which comedian Rich Little plays W.C. Fields playing Scrooge. In “Bugs Bunny’s Christmas Carol,” Yosemite Sam took on the role. And of course, Scrooge McDuck, Donald Duck’s rich, stingy Scottish uncle, stars in “Mickey’s Christmas Carol.” There’s a “The Jetsons” version, a Scooby-Doo “Scroogey Doo” version, a Barbie version and a Smurf version with George Lopez as Grouchy Smurf. Smurfs? Really? If Scrooge were alive — and real — that would probably kill him.

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Streaming tutus, online tales will boost our holiday spirits

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B Y R A N DY M C M U L L E N

W

hoa! Faster than you can say “visions of sugar plums danced in their heads,” the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered theaters earlier this year and now has upended the holiday arts season. Digital Scrooges, Nutcrackers and George Baileys will be the stars of our seasonal entertainment this year. Here are some of the top virtual holiday productions headed our way. “A Christmas Carol on Air” American Conservatory Theater, which has been serving up the Dickens classic for 44 years, is presenting a radio play version this year. The production features the same adaptation of the Dickens story by Paul Walsh and Carey Perloff and most of the same cast, including James L. Carpenter as Ebenezer Scrooge. There will be live “listening parties” Dec. 4 and 23, and certain ticket packages include a book full of activities and games for the family. And — bless us, every one — Humphry Slocombe Ice Cream will be selling a “Christmas Carol”-themed concoction through December inspired by Victoria Sponge, the classic British dessert. Dec. 4-31; $40-$60 per family; act-sf.org. “A Christmas Carol” Manuel Cinema’s streaming version of the tale has less to do with tradition and everything to do with theatrical ingenuity. The Emmy Award-winning troupe combines shadow puppetry, film, sound effects and theater in its productions and will present the world premiere of a pandemic-themed streaming “Christmas Carol” Dec. 17-19. Accessible via Cal Performances at Home — calperformances.org — for $15-$60, and Stanford Live — live.stanford.edu — which is free for members (a Stanford Live membership is $100). “Great Russian Nutcracker” “The Nutcracker” ballet is a staple of the holiday arts scene, and its absence from the live stage this year is hurting dance companies and fans alike. But Moscow Ballet’s opulent annual touring production will be available as a virtual show streaming Dec. 19-Jan. 1. And Oakland Ballet is planning an “At Home Nutcracker” on Dec. 20. Find details about the Moscow Ballet ($25 to $70) at www.nutcracker.com, and Oakland Ballet at oaklandballet.org. Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir Concert The award-winning chorus’ annual holiday show may be going virtual, but it should still be as uplifting as ever, with a concert delivered on Zoom featuring songs that artistic director Terrance Kelly believes have the power to bring people together. The Dec. 5 event includes a “backstage” performance by Kelly at 6 p.m.

The Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir follows artistic director Terrance Kelly, left, during a concert at Sweetwater Music Hall in Mill Valley in 2018. RAY CHAVEZ/STAFF ARCHIVE

and choir concert at 7 p.m.; $25-$75; www. oigc.org/oigc35. “Three Decembers” Opera San Jose is presenting a newly filmed and fully staged production of Jake Heggie’s chamber opera “Three Decembers,” with a libretto by Gene Scheer adapted from the Terrence McNally play “Some Christmas Letters.” The cast includes star mezzosoprano Susan Graham and Opera San Jose resident artists Maya Kherani and Efrain Solis in the story about a famous actress and her two adult children and the family secrets consuming all three. The production, filmed in OSJ’s Fred Heiman Digital Media Studio, is available to stream beginning 10 a.m. Dec. 3. $40 per household, $50 includes access to an OSJ virtual gala (Dec. 3 only); operasj.org. “Pride and Prejudice: A New Musical”: TheatreWorks Silicon Valley staged the world premiere of Tony-nominated composer Paul Gordon’s adaptation of the classic Jane Austen novel as its holiday show last year. The production, a hit with critics and at the box office, is now available for streaming on Amazon. Free for Amazon Prime members; available for rent or purchase $3-$20.

“It’s a Wonderful Life Radio Play on Zoom” Contra Costa Civic Theatre’s annual adaptation of the iconic Frank Capra movie about love, loyalty and redemption for the holidays gets the streaming treatment. Nov. 27-Dec. 20; ticket packages $20-$50, ZuZu’s Petals not included; ccct.org. Chanticleer’s Christmas Salon The Bay Area men’s chorus is known for, among other things, its legendary holiday concerts. On tap this year is an intimate Christmas “Salon” performance at San Francisco’s Trinity St. Peter’s Episcopal Church to be streamed Dec. 11 ($100). Other virtual concerts are planned for Oakland (Dec. 12), San Francisco again (Dec. 13) and Sacramento (Dec. 15); www.chanticleer.org. New Year’s Eve at Home If you are already thinking about what you’ll be streaming on the last evening of this most unforgettable year, we salute you. Here’s an option: Cal Performances at Home is offering a New Year’s special show with artists and performers featured in the company’s 202021 season at 8 p.m. Dec. 31. Tickets are $15$98. Find details at calperformances.org.

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Millions tune in to Hallmark to turn on

the

holiday warmth R

B Y C H U C K BA R N E Y

uthie Caitham’s driver’s license and other official documentation insist she resides in Vallejo. Ah, but when fall and winter roll around, Caitham proudly proclaims that she dwells in “Hallmark Land.” “It’s my happy place,” she says. “And in these crazy, hateful times, I want to live where people care for each other.” Don’t check your GPS. Hallmark Land isn’t a spot on a map, but a powerful head rush of feel-good vibes, romantic happily-ever-afters and relentless outpourings of holiday cheer that emanate from the sleighload of made-for-TV Christmas movies annually offered by the Hallmark Channel and its cable sibling, Hallmark Movies & Mysteries. “I can’t help it. They just warm your heart,” says Caitham, who has been known to watch 35 or more of the festive flicks at this time of year. And that doesn’t include reruns and/or the vintage Hallmark movies she owns on DVD. Clearly, she’s not the only one mainlining this televisual comfort fare. What began as a modest TV experiment has become a full-blown, twinkle-lit, pop-cultural juggernaut enjoyed by millions and mimicked by other outlets like Lifetime, Netflix and UPtv. Between 2002 and 2008, the Hallmark Channel produced no more than six holiday films per year —

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Janel Parrish and Jeremy Jordan lead the cast in the Hallmark Channel’s new “Holly and Ivy.” © CROWN MEDIA UNITED STATES, LLC

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Above, Lucia Micarelli and Michael Rady star in the Hallmark Channel’s new movie, “The Christmas Bow.” Below, game designers Mallory Jansen and Tyler Hynes team up in Hallmark’s “12 Dates of Christmas.” © CROWN MEDIA UNITED STATES, LLC

and only one in several of those years. In 2010, that number jumped to a dozen, and by 2017, it was up to 20. This year, across a schedule that kicked off before Halloween, the two Hallmark networks will combine to gift fans with 40 new original yuletide movies — matching last year’s output, which cumulatively drew 70 million unduplicated viewers. Don’t be surprised if the audience grows even bigger this winter. After all, 2020 has been marked by political and social turbulence and a health crisis that has left so many of us anxious and stressed. Hallmark holiday movies, with their abundance of comfort and joy, surely will be counted on to deliver some much-needed relief. “Our movies are rooted in warmth and positivity, meaningful connections, family gatherings,” says Michelle Vicary, the executive vice president of programming for Crown Media Family Networks, who hopes it’s a “winning formula” that will bring viewers “much-needed levity and holiday cheer at the end of a tough year.” Those scenes of meaningful connections and family gatherings? They now come when holiday gatherings across America figure to be greatly downsized – or curtailed altogether. And Hallmark’s largely predictable storylines? They arrive amid highly unpredictable times. The Hallmark formula is simple, on the surface at least: Give the audience what it wants, including familiar plots stuffed with unlikely romances, holiday homecomings, charmingly snow-covered hamlets and life-affirming tales of redemption. And by the end of two hours, good triumphs over evil, the requisite love connections are made, Scrooge-like tendencies are squelched, Christmas is saved from ruin, and everything is tied up in a big, bright, beautiful bow. Last year, that bow also wrapped up two Hanukkah movies, Hallmark’s first. Along the way, Hallmark capitalizes by going against the grain — offering a cozy alternative to the dark and edgy dramas BAY AREA NEWS GROUP

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that are lathered over much of television and populating its casts with people in their 40s and 50s, a demographic underserved by the broadcast networks. And many of its go-to leading ladies, like Lacey Chabert, Candace Cameron Bure and Holly Robinson Peete, have become part of the seasonal TV family over the years, making visits as regularly as Charlie Brown and Rudolph. “We are honored to work with some of the best talent in the entertainment industry,” says Vicary. “They each have amazing bodies of work with loyal fan bases who also loved the (previous shows) in which they starred. Many of our stars tell me that when they are recognized in public, they are thanked by viewers for the Hallmark Channel movies they make. That makes me so proud.” Of course, the holiday films have their Grinchy detractors. Critics call them “corny” and “sappy.” Late-night comedians and “Saturday Night Live” have gleefully mocked them. Even Caitham glumly reveals that her husband “rolls his eyes” when the holiday onslaught begins. (He undoubtedly will be getting a lump of coal in his stocking). Vacaville resident Lisa Rico used to be among the naysayers. That was until early this year, when a longtime friend, Debbie Segura, was in the final stages of a battle with terminal brain cancer. During the months before her death, Rico would drop by and spend some TV time with Segura, who only wanted to watch Hallmark movies. “It was a really lovely and calming experience,” Rico recalls. “They made her feel good. And considering that she was in so much pain, that’s really saying something.” Rico soon came to believe that such films “serve a beautiful purpose.” And since Segura’s passing in April, Rico has often found herself watching more of them — with an 8-by-10 photo of her pal perched right near the TV. “I’m still watching them with her,” Rico says. “So often this year, Hallmark goes all in on the feels in “Christmas With the Darlings.” © CROWN MEDIA UNITED STATES, LLC

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I just can’t bring myself to watch the news. The world is so dark and depressing. So I go and find the Hallmark Channel. There are times when you just want to tune out everything else and watch someone fall in love.” Obviously, many fans — socalled “Hall-markies” — will be yearning for the same thing, as their favorite channels unleash a blizzard of films that includes cheeky titles like “On the 12th Date of Christmas,“ “Jingle Bell Bride” and “Never Kiss a Man in a Christmas Sweater.”

“ So often this year, I just can’t bring myself to watch the news. The world is so dark and depressing. So I go and find the Hallmark Channel. There are times when you just want to tune out everything else and watch someone fall in love.” Vacaville resident Lisa Rico

In addition, the 2020 slate appears to be more diverse. It features a gay couple trying to adopt (“The Christmas House,” starring Jonathan Bennett and Brad Harder) as well as a woman who discovers via a DNA test that she’s Jewish (“Love, Lights, Hanukkah!” with Mia Kirshner, Ben Savage and Marilu Henner). “This year, our holiday table is bigger and more welcoming than ever,” says Vicary. “The movies reflect our most diverse representation of talent, stories and families.” Hallmark is also expanding its holiday empire with, among other things, wines, books, a new Monopoly game, “Countdown to Christmas”-themed tea tins, special apparel and, of course, enough reruns of past classics to keep viewers experiencing a potent case of mistletoe merriment through January. That’s all fine with Caitham, who encourages others to jump on the Hallmark bandwagon. “If you need to take a break from reality and go to fantasyland and feel good about the world,” she says, “this is for you.” BAY AREA NEWS GROUP

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A choose -your- ow n

romance

See if you can create a holiday movie that out-smarms Hallmark’s cheesiests BY C H U C K BA R N E Y

T

he people who make Hallmark’s heartwarming holiday TV movies openly admit that there’s a certain check-the-box formula to the process. It’s the rare genre where repetition and predictability — along with a sugar high of an ending— are totally welcome. So that has us thinking: Why don’t we take a crack at creating our own? After all, the folks who write the scripts for these festive flicks reportedly earn $50,000 to $60,000 a pop (plus residuals). To craft a do-it-yourself Hallmark Christmas movie with all the trimmings, simply choose one item from each of the following categories and string them together in a sustainable narrative. For filler, toss in a cookie-baking scene, a frantic sled race or a bloodless snowball fight. Now grab an eggnog-based cocktail and get to it:

To start, you’ll need a vaguely familiar actress — preferably someone from a TV series once available on VHS and who isn’t currently committed to “Dancing With the Stars”:

Set the wheels in motion

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Give her some character

2

Now assign some attributes and maybe a career path. She can be ...

4

Your main character needs to encounter some unforeseen obstacle. So now she finds herself ...

Make that love connection Worried that your story is getting too sappy? Just go with it and have your leading lady fall in love with ... sensitive, outdoorsy type in plaid A flannel Her old crush (and/or an abandoned puppy) The family she once walked out on A single dad and his adorable kid Life in a quaint, snow-covered hamlet

3

Provide an idyllic, Christmasy setting

Sorry, Bedford Falls has already been taken. These are the choices you’re left with:

n unlucky-in-love big-city ad exec A A jaded, commitment-phobe writer or reporter A romance-starved wedding planner The Grinch-like CEO of a toy company A single mom at a crossroads in life A disheartened lawyer stuck with the wrong guy

Lacey Chabert (“Party of Five”) Candace Cameron Bure (“Full House”) Maureen McCormick (“The Brady Bunch”) Danica McKellar (“The Wonder Years”) Holly Robinson Peete (“21 Jump Street”)

I nheriting her grandpa’s run-down Christmas tree farm (or corner store, or local newspaper) Stranded in a blizzard while trying to get home for Christmas Butting heads with a former high school rival (or long-lost crush) Freaking out over her entry in the town’s gingerbread-house contest Meeting an angelic stranger who knocks some sense into her head Inexplicably becoming the governess to a princess

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Pick a leading lady

quaint, snow-covered hamlet A in Vermont A quaint, snow-covered hamlet in Colorado A quaint, snow-covered hamlet in upstate New York

5

Tack on a cheeky title

6

Viewers judge a holiday movie by its name. Have some wordplay fun along these lines: “ A Turn of the Scrooge” “Where There’s a Will, There’s a Sleigh” “The Plight Before Christmas” “Will Yule Love Me Tomorrow?” “It’s a Blunder-ful Life” “All I Want for Christmas is Hugh”


WINTER PROJECT

Bring the outdoors in | with a succulent dish garden Sarah Bartley, of Lafayette, a volunteer at the Ruth Bancroft Garden, adds soil to a succulent dish garden she is making in Walnut Creek. DOUG DURAN/STAFF

A Succulent Dish Garden Materials Ceramic dish with a drainage hole (shallow pots are recommended, and the drainage hole is essential) Roll of drywall tape Potting soil for succulents and cactuses An assortment of succulents, perhaps including cactuses Chopsticks or skewers Top dressing (usually a light-colored gravel) Directions Cover the drainage hole with a piece of drywall tape, which will keep the soil from spilling out, but let excess water drain. Fill the dish about two-thirds full of potting soil. Remove plants from their plastic pots and gently remove any soil that clings to the roots and plants.

B Y J OA N M O R R I S

Alice Kitajima has spent most of her career working at botanical gardens, including at Walnut Creek’s Ruth Bancroft Garden, where she’s the program director. But she says she’s never seen the public fall so in love with succulents. The plants have become wildly popular, and they’re a great way to bring the outdoors in. Part of the plants’ appeal, she says, is that succulents come in a huge variety of types, sizes and shapes, and they are extremely forgiving, making them good “starter” plants for beginners. The Walnut Creek garden offers classes so you can create a dish garden at home. The class, which is done virtually these days, includes a kit with all you need, access to a YouTube instruction video and advice for taking care of your garden as it grows. If you can’t get to their garden shop to buy yours, here’s all you need to know to create one for yourself — and maybe a few more for holiday gifts. (And you’ll find more succulent gift ideas to make with kids or grandkids on the next page.)

Arrange the plants, keeping in mind the design elements of fillers, spillers and thrillers. You want some things in the foreground, the middle and the background that are focal points. Taller plants (thrillers) often go in the back, while plants that might grow or drape over the side of the pot (spillers) go in the front. Fillers go in the center and to fill in bare spots. Use your chopsticks to help in placing the plants just so. Once you’re happy with the design, fill the rest of the pot with soil, leaving space for the top dressing, and tamp down the plants so they are securely in place. Add the top dressing, which will help keep the soil from drying out and provide a nice contrast for your plants. Add a holiday ornament, if you like, which can be changed out to reflect the season or holiday. Water well and place near a window that gets lots of light or in your yard. — RUTH BANCROFT GARDEN, WWW.RUTHBANCROFTGARDEN.ORG

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WINTER PROJECT

Three pots, plenty of whimsy B Y J OA N M O R R I S

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t’s a bit of paint splashed artistically onto a clay pot, with a bit of whimsy added in, but Marie Gelin says it could spark a connection to nature in children. Gelin, the children’s education manager at Walnut Creek’s Ruth Bancroft Garden, says painting pots is not only fun for children and adults alike, but it could be a gateway craft. Kits sold through the garden include a 2-inch succulent. For many children, it may be the first living plant they’ve ever cared for. Pot painting at the garden has long been popular, Gelin says, but in recent months, as parents reach out for activities to entertain their children or grandchildren, it has become even more so. “Now that everyone is looking for things to do, this is an activity that children and parents can do together,” Gelin says. “When you take a child to a museum, you often have to bribe them with the promise of getting something at the gift shop, and you end up buying something cheap that goes into the corner. This is something better than that.” Here are the basics for this craft project, plus how-tos for three especially fun projects, including a Cactus Grinch.

Basic materials Terra cotta pot Acrylic craft paints in different colors Paper plates Brushes Newspaper to protect surfaces Plants or seeds Potting soil (If you’re planting succulents, you’ll need a special soil for them) Clear spray acrylic Directions Wipe the pot clean. Pour paint onto paper plates, paint the base coat and then the design. Let dry, then spray it with a clear spray acrylic – in a wellventilated area or outdoors – to seal it. Once the pot is dry, fill it two-thirds full. Add the plant, then fill the rest of the pot and water thoroughly.

Cactus Grinch

Reindeer

Penguin

Materials 3-inch clay pot 1 foam brush Green and red acrylic craft paint Black marker 7 white pom-poms Glue Small cactus or other plant

Materials 3-inch clay pot, foam brush, glue Brown acrylic craft paint Googly eyes Red pom-pom 4-inch square tan felt

Materials 3-inch clay pot, foam brush, glue White and black acrylic craft paint Googly eyes 1-inch square orange felt Piece of scrap fabric

Directions Paint the pot brown. Let it dry. Then glue on the googly eyes and a pom-pom nose. Draw two antlers on the felt, cut them out and glue them to the pot just inside the rim. Then add a plant.

Directions Paint a white oval on the pot for the penguin’s face; paint the rest of the pot black. Let dry. Then glue on the googly eyes.

Directions Paint the base of the pot green and the rim red. Let it dry. Use the black marker to draw vertical lines. Draw spines on the lines. Then add Grinchstyle eyes, a nose and a mouth. Glue the pom-poms on the red rim. Plant a cactus or other succulent in your pot.

Small succulents, paint and a little inspiration turn terra cotta pots into whimsical creations at the Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek. DOUG DURAN/STAFF

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Cut a small triangle from the orange felt to use as a beak; glue it in place. Cut a length of scrap fabric to use as a penguin scarf, about ½-inch wide and long enough to wrap and tie around the pot. Plant a succulent. — RUTH BANCROFT GARDEN, WWW.RUTHBANCROFTGARDEN.ORG


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Seven

fab hikes Deliver food to the body and soul BY M A R T H A R O S S

One thing that has sustained Bay Area residents through a difficult year of pandemic and political upheaval has been our access to some of the most gorgeous nature in the world. Nothing can calm the mind or nurture the body like a stroll through lush redwoods or a hike atop a ridge offering panoramic views of valleys, forests, bay and ocean. Our appreciation for the beauty of our parks, beaches and open spaces only grew when we were told to temporarily stay away due to COVID-19 restrictions or when wildfires broke out in August, blanketing the region in smoke, burning trees and destroying historic buildings in Big Basin Redwoods State Park. But nature comes through, with Big Basin’s scorched redwoods offering a testament to resilience. Scientists say the centuries-old trees have already begun their recovery and will sprout new leaves as early as this winter. Bay Area residents can continue to find a sense of healing and renewal, as wildfire season recedes, and a growing number of local, The lush and deeply shaded Old Tree Trail awaits at La Honda’s Portola Redwoods State Park. NHAT V. MEYER/STAFF

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state and national parks reopen and make themselves available for hikes and other ways to enjoy time outdoors. In this challenging year, it’s best to call or check websites before you go to make sure parks are open and learn about any safety restrictions or parking lot closures due to COVID-19 or wildfire damage. Visits to some sites may require advance reservations. Above all, be a good citizen and wear a mask or have one handy to pull up when you pass other nature lovers on the trails. Here are seven stellar trail options, plus suggestions for where to refuel apres-hike.

Redwood trees tower over the Old Tree Trail at Portola Redwoods State Park in La Honda. NHAT V. MEYER/STAFF

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OLD TREE AND P E T E R S C R E E K LO O P, O R TO L A R E DWO O D S P S TAT E PA R K

The narrow road leading to this 2,800-acre park drops from Skyline Boulevard into a lush and deeply shaded redwood forest in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Even on trails near the visitor center, expect near silence as you follow meandering creeks and pass through groves of ancient, towering trees. We have two favorite trails here, starting with a 1.2-mile roundtrip hike that leads to Old Tree, which is more than 300 feet tall and estimated to be more than 1,200 years old. This hike spotlights majestic trees with charred trunks that survived forest fires centuries ago — and which continue to thrive. The Peters Creek Loop — a more strenuous 11.9-mile round trip — winds among some of the region’s oldest trees. www.parks.ca.gov/ Apres hike: Portola Redwoods State Park is fairly isolated, so you’ll need to travel back a bit into civilization for a post-hike meal. The closest option is Alice’s Restaurant, a favorite destination for hikers, bikers, artists and entrepreneurs. It serves gourmet burgers, scrambles, housemade pies and local wines and beer. Open daily at 17288 Skyline Blvd. in Woodside; www. alicesrestaurant.com. 56 CHILL

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TO M A L E S P O I N T T R A I L , MARIN COUNTY

Want to feel like you’re traveling to the top of the world? That’s the sense offered by the 9.7-mile roundtrip hike to Tomales Point, just north of Point Reyes National Seashore. The hike starts at Pierce Point Ranch, a historic dairy, and follows the crest of a peninsula that narrows the further north you go. The Pacific roars hundreds of feet below on mostly open, sandy bluffs as you pass herds of grazing tule elk and take in spectacular 360-degree views on non-foggy days, including of the ocean to the west, Tomales Bay to the east and the coastline stretching north to Bodega Bay and beyond. www.nps.gov/pore Above: Alice’s Restaurant in Woodside.

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Top: The moon rises near Pierce Point Ranch near the beginning of the Tomales Point Trail at Point Reyes National Seashore in Inverness. JANE TYSKA/STAFF

Après-hike: Due West Tavern took over from a longtime Olema roadhouse just off Highway 1. The tavern serves classic roadhouse fare, but with a contemporary, farm-to-table ethos. The burgers, fried chicken sandwiches and Hog Island oysters are prepared with


San Ramon teens Mathieu Doring and Aidan Jenkins hike along the Rocky Ridge View Trail at the Las Trampas Wilderness Regional Preserve in San Ramon. JOSE CARLOS FAJARDO/STAFF

is open for lunch on weekends and dinner daily at 10021 Coastal Highway in Olema; https://olemahouse. com/due-west-restaurant/

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E AG L E P E A K , L A S T R A M PA S REGIONAL WILDERNESS

Need a good hill workout? Follow a trail that starts at the end of Camille Lane, a cozy residential street between Alamo and Danville, then climb up — and then up even more, through meadows and oak forest, until you’re staring across the San Ramon Valley to Mount Diablo. As you climb the trail higher still, you can see the Tri-Valley to the south and Suisun Bay to the north. The 1,400-foot climb leads to 1,720-foot tall Eagle Peak, one of the three summits in the East Bay Regional Park wilderness; www.ebparks.org. You can also take a half-mile side trip to visit the grounds of the Eugene O’Neill National Historic Site. The Nobel Prize-winning playwright wrote his bestknown dramas while living at this gracious estate, known as Tao House, from 1937 to 1943. Advance reservations are needed to visit the house itself and take a self-guided tour. Observant hikers on Point Reyes’ Tomales Point Trail may spot tule elk. JANE TYSKA/STAFF

produce, meat, seafood and dairy sourced from local farms and purveyors. Prefer take-out? Pick up lunch and to-go snacks at the adjacent Due West Market, which is open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The tavern

Above: Hikers make their way up the Trapline Trail at Las Trampas Wilderness Regional Preserve in San Ramon. Below: The Silver Lupine flower grows along the Rocky Ridge View Trail. JOSE CARLOS FAJARDO/STAFF

Après-hike: A local favorite, Alamo’s Peasant’s Courtyard is known for its all-day offerings of breakfast, lunch and dinner classics, from Eggs Benedict to French dip and chicken parm, and its picturesque courtyard, surrounded by redwoods. Open daily from 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. at 3195 Danville Blvd., Alamo, https://rodneyworth.com/peasants-courtyard/ BAY AREA NEWS GROUP

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Portraits of George Floyd, left, Oscar Grant III, right, and other victims who have been killed by police are part of the public art installation at Albany Bulb along the waterfront trail in Albany. RAY CHAVEZ/STAFF

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A L BA N Y TO R I C H M O N D BAY T R A I L

For much of the 20th century, the best views of San Francisco Bay belonged to factories and shipyards, all off limits to the public. That changed in the 1980s, when more than 40 local governments came together to create some 500 miles of hiking and bicycle trails to link existing parks, restore wetlands and form a perimeter around San Francisco and San Pablo bays. More than 18 miles of the Bay Trail run from the “Albany Bulb” to Richmond. You can pick up the trail at any number of locations. The flat trail offers killer views of the San Francisco skyline, the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz and the Marin hills, as well as reminders of an industrial past. Richmond’s Craneway Pavilion, for example, once housed the largest Ford assembly plant on the West Coast. In non-pandemic times, it’s a scenic venue for concerts, conventions and weddings. https://baytrail.org/ The Rosie the Riveter World War II Homefront Historical Park, which has been closed during the lockdown, is next door.

Half the fun of hiking the Albany Waterfront Trail, which stretches from Albany to Richmond, is seeing the art installations at the Albany Bulb. RAY CHAVEZ/STAFF

Après-hike: Point Richmond locals frequent Little Louie’s Cafe, some taking their dogs to the back patio to enjoy time with friends or read the newspaper, while digging into special egg scrambles or panini. Open for lunch and dinner daily, starting at 7 a.m. 49 Washington St., Point Richmond; www.littlelouies.com

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BAY R I D G E T R A I L , P R E S I D I O, S A N F R A N C I S C O

This sprawling park at the northwest corner of San Francisco covers 1,500 acres and centuries of history, from its days as the home of the Ohlone people through its stint as a U.S. military base. But even with such an expanse of geography and time, the Presidio is manageable for all levels of hikers. The 2.5-mile Bay Ridge Trail takes you from Pacific Heights to the Golden Gate Bridge in a little more than an hour. Well-marked routes through the park lead to a variety of landscapes, from hidden forest groves to Crissy

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Above, left: Barrett Stewart, 7, of Bishop, checks out another public art installation at the Albany Bulb. Above, right: Families frolic on the shores of Mountain Lake in San Francisco’s Presidio. . RAY CHAVEZ/STAFF, KARL MONDON/STAFF


The Park Trail overlook at the Presidio offers expansive views of Crissy Field and the San Francisco Bay.

Field’s sunny esplanade and mysterious Fort Point, made famous in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Vertigo.” https:// www.presidio.gov/trails Après-hike: As of press time, several Presidio restaurants were still temporarily closed due to COVID-19, but the Presidio Cafe serves all-day comfort food — fish tacos, chicken salad and quesadillas — which can be enjoyed on a large patio overlooking the Presidio Golf Course. Open from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily at 300 Finley Road in San Francisco, www.presidiocafe.com.

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E Q U O I A AU D U B O N T R A I L , S P E S CA D E R O M A R S H N AT U R A L PRESERVE

This 1.5-mile round-trip trail offers a gentle stroll through the largest coastal wetland between San Francisco and Monterey counties. The 235-acre preserve lies across Highway 1 from Pescadero State beach and is home to several habitats, including tidal estuary, freshwater marsh, dense riparian woods and northern coastal scrub. The preserve is also a birders’ paradise, with more than 200 species known to hang out there. Access the

KARL MONDON/STAFF

At the Presidio, interpretive signs on the Mountain Lake Trail engage visitors of every age. KARL MONDON/STAFF

trail from the central Pescadero State Beach parking lot via a walkway under Highway 1 to the lagoon. www.coastsidestateparks.org Après-hike: Duarte’s Tavern, the historic Pescadero tavern, is a short drive away. It’s famed for its olallieberry pie, artichoke soup and seafood dishes. Open from noon to 3 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, until 7 p.m. Friday through Sunday at 202 Stage Road in Pescadero; www.duartestavern.com. BAY AREA NEWS GROUP

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WINTER PROJECT

Customize a handmade necklace with your own personal story

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BY MARTHA ROSS

O

ne of the reasons people delight in making their own holiday gifts is the personal touch. Martinez artist Joy Broom’s “wearable art” necklaces take the idea of making meaningful gifts in an interesting direction. Her necklaces are made of strings of sturdy paper rounds that are decorated on each side with the maker’s own drawings or cutouts from old photos, mementos or books with sentimental value. Broom’s necklaces are an extension of the art she’s created over the last 30 years. She loves to deconstruct and rearrange old family photos, personal artifacts, historical curiosities and scientific objects into extravagant mixed-media paintings, drawings and dioramas. Broom’s aim is to give these objects new life while honoring the past. A sewing machine is the only special equipment required to make the necklaces, the retired Diablo Valley College instructor says. “People can use papers from old photos or scrapbooks,” says Broom, speaking from her art-filled home studio. “I like to use pages from an antique dictionary, but people can use any damned thing they want.”

Wearable art Martinez artist Joy Broom creates wearable art necklaces from disks of paper, decorated with drawings, photographs and ephemera. RAY CHAVEZ/STAFF

Materials ¾ to 1-inch circle template, like the lid from a bottle or small jar White gel pens, fine point Black card stock or sturdy pages from a black photo album (not construction paper) Old photos, book or dictionary pages, scrapbooking papers, etc. Glue stick Matte Mod Podge sealer Scissors Black marker Masking or painters tape Black thread Directions Using the circle template and a white gel pen, trace 26 or more rounds on the black card stock or photo album paper. Use the white gel pen to fill in the rounds with your own drawings. Or decorate them with circular cut-outs from photos, book pages or other paper mementos, using a glue stick to attach the cut-outs. Brush a thick coat of Matte Mod Podge over the decorated rounds to provide a protective sealant.

After the Mod Podge dries, carefully cut out the rounds. Pair two rounds and glue them together, with the decorated sides visible. Touch up the outer edges with a black marker. Repeat with the rest of the rounds. Tear off a length of masking tape 28 inches or longer. Rub the sticky side on your pants to reduce its stickiness. The tape will be used to hold the rounds in place as you sew them together Lay the tape flat, with the sticky-side up. Keep the tape taut as you place the rounds — evenly and touching edge to edge — across the top half of the masking tape. Fold up the bottom side of the masking tape about ¼ inch to secure the bottom of the rounds for sewing. Using black thread and a sewing machine, slowly sew a line up the center of the rounds from top to bottom. Finish by stitching the top and bottom rounds together along that center line to form a necklace. Peel off the masking tape carefully and slowly, so as to not tear off the decoration. Finish the necklace by brushing on another coat of Mod Podge along the stitching on each side of the rounds. — JOY BROOM

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Holiday breads

to brighten your Christmas and Hanukkah at home S TO R Y B Y J E S S I CA YA D E G A R A N PHOTOS BY ANDA CHU

Chef Aliza Grayevsky Somekh crafts modern Cali interpretations of Israeli classics, like these artfully decorated — and delicious — personal-sized challah breads.

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f the Great Yeast Shortage of 2020 taught us anything, it is that bread-baking adds meaning to our lives. At a time when our hands needed something to do besides wring with worry, we took to sourdough baking like bees to honey. We had the time, we wanted a distraction, and we needed to feed our families. So we cranked up the oven — in a heat wave-ridden summer no less. Now, as temperatures drop and holiday traditions shift, it makes sense more than ever to bake and break bread with loved ones. Whether you’re craving savory, decorated challah rolls, Swedish cardamom bread or statuesque, fruit-studded panettone, these simple holiday recipes from Bay Area bread experts will add depth and deliciousness to your pandemic-era celebrations. Almost everyone who grew up in a Jewish home has a challah story to tell, whether it was the portion of dough you learned to set aside as a symbolic offering to the poor or the chocolate chips you snuck into your loaf at camp. During Shabbat meals growing up in Jerusalem, Aliza Grayevsky Somekh always sat next to her mother, who would say the blessing over the challah and proceed to eat the bulbous brown crust pieces while making piles of the sweet and fluffy insides for her daughter. “It’s this unspoken thing, and we still do it to this day,” says Somekh, a chef and founder of Bishulim SF, which caters Shabbat dinners, gift baskets and pop-ups. “I think I pick my friends

Left: The flavors of her Israeli childhood inspire Bishulim SF chef Aliza Grayevsky Somekh.


based on what part of the challah they eat.” Today, the iconic, braided egg bread is a central part of Somekh’s contemporary Cal-Israeli cuisine. Taking a cue from trends happening in Israel, Somekh, of Oakland, creates challah rolls — perfect for these personal-sized times — topped with seeds and herbs. Her full-sized loaves are often braided with chives or scallions or the creases stuffed with mozzarella balls and cherry tomatoes. She’s also been known to make pink challah with beet powder and green challah with matcha. Skip the egg wash — brushing with water instead yields a hard, dark crust — and Somekh’s foolproof dough recipe becomes vegan. Over the years, she has used it to make everything from babka to the curry-filled balls she calls Jerusalem-stuffed bagels. That’s another Israeli trend. The shape is up to you.

“I love making flower shapes and rolls,” she says. “That’s the one we used to take to school when we were kids.” By contrast, Andrea Potischman came to panettone on a personal dare. After mastering sourdough, New York-style bagels and Japanese milk bread, the former chef wanted to demystify the expensive, elaborately wrapped, Italian domed bread that appears in gourmet markets before Christmas. And she wanted to make it accessible for the busy home cooks who follow her blog, Simmer + Sauce. “It is a diva bread,” says Potischman, of Menlo Park. “Even a lot of Italians don’t want to tackle it. It has a lengthy rise time, traditional height — always taller than it is wider — and a particular texture that is soft and crumb-like on the inside and darker and harder on the outside.”

Somekh braids her challah into familysize loaves for Shabbat or smaller, personal-size versions for gifts.

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Challah Rolls Makes 6 to 8 rolls Ingredients 500 grams or 1.1 pounds all-purpose flour ¼ cup sugar 1 teaspoon salt 1 tablespoon dry yeast 1/3 cup vegetable oil 1½ to 2 cups lukewarm water 1 egg, beaten, for wash Topping: Sesame seeds, poppy seeds or sunflower seeds, optional Decorations: Try green onions, chives, olives, sage, mozzarella balls or cherry tomatoes Directions Using a stand mixer, combine the flour, sugar, salt and dry yeast. Using the hook attachment, mix in the oil and gradually incorporate the water. You may need less water so start with 1½ cups and add as you go. You want enough water to create a soft, but not too sticky dough. In case you’ve added too much water, add a bit of flour. Remove dough and knead for 10 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic. Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl (oil the top of the dough as well) and cover with plastic wrap and a towel. Let the dough rise on the counter for about an hour, or until it doubles its size. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Uncover the bowl, deflate the dough with your fist to remove the air, then cover again and let it rise for another 20 minutes. Divide the dough into 6 to 8 equal parts, depending on whether you want small or larger rolls. Roll each ball into a snake and shape your rolls as you wish. For instance, you can tie it in a knot and then wrap the ends around the base. Lay the rolls on a baking tray lined with parchment paper, cover with a towel and let rise for 15 minutes. Remove towel and gently brush the roll with egg wash and scatter the chosen toppings. If you want to decorate your challah rolls, you can weave some of the herbs into the challah. You can also place a few tomatoes, olives and mozzarella in the creases. Bake the rolls for 30 minutes or until golden on both top and bottom. Let the rolls cool and enjoy. Challah rolls will keep in a zip-top bag or other sealed container for 1 to 2 days. For longer storage, cool and store in freezer for up to two months. — ALIZA GRAYEVSKY SOMEKH, BISHULIMSF

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Somekh weaves scallions and herbs through some of her challah loaves and adorns others with tomatoes and mozzarella, too. An egg wash turns the bread golden brown in the oven.

Add in the pricey pan required to bake fruit-studded panettone and the arcane rituals — some bakers hang the dough upside down for hours to prevent cave-ins — and Potischman knew she needed to gently nudge this diva off her pedestal. After 10 panettone tests, she nailed a recipe made with a mix of dried apricots, raisins and just enough rum. The amount of orange zest is up to you. “If it’s too zesty, I don’t like that,” she says. “I like savory more than sweet. That’s very personal.” Her two biggest tips for success: Proof your dough overnight in a cold, closed oven. And use a springform pan lined with a tall collar of parchment paper stapled in place. From there, have fun. “Italians traditionally eat panettone in the morning with coffee or in the evening with muscat, but because it is a tender, brioche sweet bread, it actually makes a fantastic French toast,” Potischman says. “You can also make mini versions in muffin tins and give them as gifts.” Ralf and Ben Nielsen know all about bread gift-giving, too. In the days leading up to Christmas, the Danish brothers sell thousands of loaves of housemade Dresden Stollen, Swedish Cardamom Bread and other

European breads at their Copenhagen Bakery & Cafe in Burlingame. “Christmas Eve is the biggest day of the year for us,” Ralf says of the bakery’s 40-year history. “It’s a zoo in here.” With the Swedish Christmas Fair — one of their biggest customers — canceled this year due to the pandemic, the brothers are bracing for customers coming to the shop in droves for their sweet bread, which is typically eaten on Christmas morning with butter or cheese. Though many bakers like braiding this aromatic dough, the Nielsens’ version is oval, and it’s made with butter, egg, milk powder and cardamom. For added texture, baker Ben says home cooks can hull their own cardamom pods, then grind the seeds to get a mix of fine and coarse bits — and a flavorful crunch in every bite of bread. And if you decide to buy instead of bake, the Nielsens recommend you stop by early. “It’s always smart for people to pick up their bread in mid-December and freeze it for a few weeks,” Ralf says, so you don’t go holiday bread-less.


Simmer + Sauce blogger and former chef Andrea Potischman made loaf after loaf of panettone, the traditional Italian holiday bread, to finesse her favorite. Rum-soaked raisins and dried apricots and grated orange zest are key to panettone’s distinctive flavor.

Panettone (Italian Christmas Bread) Ingredients ¾ cup raisins 1/3 cup dried apricots, finely chopped 2 tablespoons rum 2 tablespoons hot water 3¼ cups all-purpose flour 2/3 cup sugar ½ teaspoon active dry yeast ½ teaspoon salt 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon orange zest ½ vanilla bean, cut lengthwise 3 eggs 2/3 cup warm water 1 tablespoon honey 10½ tablespoons unsalted butter, softened 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted Directions In a small bowl, combine the raisins, apricots, rum and hot water. Allow the fruit to soak at room temperature until plump and most of the liquid has been absorbed, 1 to 2 hours. In a kitchen mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, add the flour, sugar, yeast, salt, orange zest and vanilla bean seeds; mix on low speed until well combined. In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs, warm water and honey until well combined. Panettone is a classic Italian Christmas bread that requires an overnight rise in a cold oven.

With the mixer on low, add the egg mixture

to the flour mixture, then mix on medium to blend. Add the softened butter and mix until incorporated. Increase the speed to mediumhigh and beat until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 8 minutes. Drain the fruit. Using a wooden spoon, fold the fruit and the melted butter into the dough. Place the dough in a large mixing bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a cold oven with the door closed for 8 hours. Line the sides of a 7-inch diameter springform pan with a piece of parchment paper to make a collar that stands 8 inches high. Tape or staple in place. Once the dough has risen, place it on a lightly floured surface and fold the dough into itself forming a large ball. Place the dough seamside down into the prepared baking pan. Place the pan in a warm place on the counter and allow to rise for about 3 hours. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Place the panettone baking pan on a baking sheet and transfer it to the oven to bake for 1 to 1½ hours, until lightly golden brown on the outside. A skewer inserted in the center should come out clean. Allow to cool completely before slicing. — ANDREA POTISCHMAN, SIMMER + SAUCE

ANDREA POTISCHMAN

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Ben Nielsen, co-owner of Burlingame’s Copenhagen Bakery & Cafe, makes hundreds and perhaps thousands of loaves of Swedish cardamom bread during the holidays.

RANDY VAZQUEZ/ STAFF

Swedish Cardamom Bread Ingredients 16 ounces water 1 egg, beaten 2 ounces yeast 4 ounces sugar 1½ ounces salt 2 ounces milk powder 4½ ounces butter 2 pounds bread flour 1½ ounces crushed or ground cardamom 1 beaten egg for the egg wash Crystal sugar for decoration

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Directions Heat oven to 375 degrees. In a large bowl, mix all the ingredients — except the egg wash and crystal sugar — with your hands, kneading for 8 to 9 minutes. You can test to see if it’s enough with the “window pane test,” stretching a small ball of dough until it becomes thin and almost translucent, but doesn’t break. Cover the dough with a clean cloth or dish towel and let the dough rest for about 30 minutes. Divide the dough into three to four loaves. On an oven-safe tray, knead dough into round loaves, seam sides down. Let the loaves proof in a room-temperature oven for another 30 minutes or so.

Beat egg and brush dough with egg wash on the top and sides. Sprinkle with crystal sugar. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until light golden brown. Let cool on rack. Bread will stay fresh on counter for up to two days. Or you can store in zipped plastic bags and keep in the freezer. — BEN NIELSEN, COPENHAGEN BAKERY & CAFE


Loaves aplenty: Bay Area bakeries have your holiday bread all wrapped up B Y L I N DA Z AVO R A L

Here’s where to find the best stollen, panettone, challah, babka and fruitcake at Bay Area bakeries and specialty stores. Celtic Tea Shoppe: Traditional fruit-filled Christmas puddings and yule cakes will be baked onsite. Order online at www.celticteashoppe.com; pick up at 4432 Pearl Ave., San Jose, or scheduled drop-off spots. Copenhagen Bakery: Stollen made with golden raisins, almonds and citron (marzipan optional) and challah. 1216 Burlingame Ave., Burlingame; www.copenhagenbakery.com. Draeger’s: The stores will be baking braided challah (plain, sesame or poppyseed) and stollen filled with walnuts, marzipan and candied fruit. 4100 Blackhawk Plaza Circle, Danville; 222 E. Fourth Ave., San Mateo; 1010 University Drive, Menlo Park; 342 First St., Los Altos; www.draegers.com Greenlee’s Bakery: This bakery, which dates back to 1924, will be baking marzipan-filled stollen and traditional fruitcake. 1081 The Alameda, San Jose; www.greenleesbakerysj.com Esther’s German Bakery: As they have for years, the bakers at Esther’s will again be making their traditional fruit-studded stollen. 987 N. San Antonio Road, Los Altos; www.esthersbakery.com Frog Hollow Farm: This Brentwood-based orchardist’s fruitcakes are baked with locally grown, organic dried peaches and pluots, then soaked in rum. Order online or check retailers at www.froghollow.com. From Roy: This panettone-only San Francisco bakery will make traditional candied orange and chocolate varieties this season. Order online at www.thisisfromroy.com. Grand Bakery: They’ll be baking round challah plus a version with raisins, along with honey cake. Available at several retailers, for home delivery or order and pick up at 3033 MacArthur Blvd., Oakland. www.grandbakeryoakland.com Hopkins Street Bakery: Braided challah is available every Friday year-round and round raisin challah during the holidays. 1584 Hopkins St., Berkeley; www.hopkinsbakery.com June Taylor: Local jam specialist Taylor’s team will make

Christmas cakes with dried local fruit and St. George’s plum brandy. Order at www.junetaylorjams.com for delivery or curbside pickup in Berkeley. Manresa Bread: Head baker Avery Ruzicka will offer two types of panettone — cherry-ginger and triple chocolate orange, as well as chocolate-orange babka. 195 E. Campbell Ave., Campbell; 276 N. Santa Cruz Ave., Los Gatos; and 271 State St., Los Altos; www.manresabread.com Market Hall Foods: Find challah, French celebration/honey cakes, local fruitcakes and imported panettone, struca and lingotto, including dairy-free olive oil versions of the Italian sweet breads. 5655 College Ave., Oakland; and 1786 Fourth St., Berkeley; www.rockridgemarkethall.com Peters Bakery: This bakery, established in 1936, will be baking marzipan-filled stollen, traditional fruitcake and Pfeffernüsse. 3108 Alum Rock Ave., San Jose; www.petersbakery. com Primrose Bakery: Look for German stollen, Swedish tea rings and traditional fruitcake this season. 350 Main St., Pleasanton; www.primrosebakery.com Robert Lambert: This Northern California pastry chef bakes liquor-doused artisanal fruitcakes filled with locally grown fruit and nuts in three varieties — white, dark and winter. Order online at www.robertlambert.com. Seven Hills Baking Company: This bakery, located inside the new Castro Valley Marketplace, will be making panettone. Challah is available every Friday. 3295 Castro Valley Blvd., Castro Valley; www.castrovalleymarketplace.com Sweet Sicily Bakery: This shop will again be baking traditional panettone with candied fruit this holiday season. 1280 First St., Gilroy; www.facebook.com/sicilysweetsicily.org Tal’s Patisserie: Yule logs will come in three flavors — chocolate mousse, bourbon caramel or vanilla — and in two sizes. Challah and chocolate babka also available. 304 Sycamore Valley Road, Danville; www.talspatisserie.com

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WINTER PROJECT

Presto! From wood slab to cutting board — and it’s no magic trick BY M A R T H A R O S S

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rtist and entrepreneur Michael Veneziano has worked with wood in one way or another since the early 1980s. The Berkeley native and certified arborist ran a tree company whose crew spent their days removing plants or climbing into a tree’s uppermost reaches, trimming or cutting away dead branches to improve the tree’s health and beauty. Since retiring from the company, Veneziano has been running Ponderosa Millworks in West Oakland, where he salvages rough logs from urban trees around the Bay Area and works with the aesthetics of their natural color and grain to transform them into distinctive furniture, housewares and sculpture. “As an artist, I work in any and every medium: ceramics, metal and painting,” Veneziano says. “Just whatever seems interesting. But wood is gorgeous. Nature takes care of it.” Running a millworks means he has a lot of wood slabs of all shapes and sizes lying around, which he says, can form the basis of easy-to-make holiday gifts -- cutting boards. As Veneziano explains it, you don’t need to be an arborist, artist or carpenter with decades of experience. All you need is the wood, a sander and mineral oil — and the patience to sand the wood until the surface is velvety soft and totally smooth.

Easy Cutting Boards Materials Slab of wood of any size or type, but hardwoods are preferable Sander and sandpaper with different levels of coarseness, starting with 80 grit and then increasingly finer, from 120 to 150, 180 and 220 grit. Food-grade mineral oil or another colorless, odorless, flavorless oil specially blended for cutting boards Directions Take a slab of wood and sand it on both sides and the edges, starting with the 80-grit sandpaper and using increasingly fine sandpaper to take the wood from rough to super smooth. Coat the slab with mineral oil on both sides and the edges and let it sink in, recoating it as needed until the wood stops absorbing it. Let it dry overnight. —MICHAEL VENEZIANO

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A former arborist, Michael Veneziano of Ponderosa Millworks shares his simple directions for a DIY wood cutting board.

Derrick Hubbard carefully sands a slab of wood. ANDA CHU/STAFF


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