Juli Boggs, no relation.

independent media updated on an irregular basis, largely uncategorized

Sacramento’s Food Network: The chefs behind the farm-to-fork dining scene


On any busy evening at Mulvaney’s B&L the dining room staff plays what they call the Rockaway Game. “Who’s at table 12? Where are they from? Who are they connected to?” Chef Patrick Mulvaney explains. “In Rockaway Beach we say, ‘I was out with Joe yesterday.’ ‘Oh, Joe from 98th?’ ‘No, Joe who has the sister Louise who lives on 104th.’ ”

The NY native who’s built a reputation as one of the most reputable restauranteurs in Sacramento knows the importance of building community, and how Sacramento, in terms of the restaurant-world, is still a very small town. In fact, the pedigree of dozens of successful Sacramento businesses from Bacon & Butter to Hook & Ladder can be traced back to young chefs cutting their teeth in Mulvaney’s kitchen. Expand that to the kitchens of the Paragary Restaurant Group under the eyes of Executive Chef Kurt Spataro, and Randall Selland’s family-owned and operated endeavors at The Kitchen, Selland’s Market Cafe, and Ella, and the world gets even smaller. You can trace Mulvaney himself to the early days at The Kitchen working alongside Selland, just as he rubbed shoulders with Spataro at the beginning of the Paragary empire, when the eponymous restaurant was a single location bubbling with potential on the corner of N st. and 28th in midtown.

Mulvaney sits in a sweatshirt and checkered chef pants at a white-clothed high-top surrounded by the polite and busy quiet of the Mulvaney B&L dining room. Cooks stand around a large counter chopping vegetables in the nearby open kitchen as servers adeptly glide between empty tables preparing to open the restaurant for mid-day business.

“When people ask now in 2015 what I thought about my dreams and whether they came true, I say that the original goal was 24 seats, menu on a chalkboard, 11 wines all available by the glass— and in that sense clearly we were a total and abject failure, right? Cause we do a lot more than that,” Mulvaney explains. “But the second hope was to open a space where people would come, community would come, to discuss the issues of the day- and potentially invite me in to those discussions- and in that sense it’s been wildly successful and a really great vantage point from which to watch the growth of Sacramento over the last ten years,” he says, gesturing to the clean and humming room around him.

A lot of the growth in the Sacramento restaurant scene has come from the ranks of the B&L’s own kitchen, from Adam Schulze now working as the chef de cuisine at Rick Mahan’s midtown restaurant The Waterboy, to Ginger Elizabeth who started her company with little more than a metro rack in the B&L kitchen, waking up at 4 A.M. to make toasted almonds and chocolate bars before she had a shop of her own.

“There was a point when we were out one night at someone’s new restaurant opening, an industry night, and [I was] chatting with the new owner,” Mulvaney describes. “He just looked like he was beat to death, and he was saying, ‘I’m just so tired’ and ‘When’s it gonna end?’…and I said, ‘Hey, you know, look at who’s here. There are all these people, all restauranteurs, and we’re here [to support you]…’ And then I looked again and realized that there were eight different restaurants represented and out of those eight people, six of them [had] worked for me,Mulvaney says, eyes smiling.

There’s pride in local chefs seeing their protégés take on larger responsibilities in the community. “I always knew that I would have my own restaurant and I always assumed that everyone else [wanted that] too…it never occurred to me that there are people that don’t,” Mulvaney says. Executive Chef and Owner Randall Selland who entertained behind the counter of his fine-dining flagship restaurant The Kitchen for 22 years has seen more chefs than he can recount go off to high-level positions around the world as well as here at home. In Sacramento, Selland watched as Chef Billy Ngo left his station at The Kitchen to open lauded contemporary Japanese restaurant Kru, while Michael Thiemann left his post as Executive Chef at Ella to pursue his own bourgeoning ventures with business partner Matt Masera: the gourmet vegetarian favorite Mother, and its soon to open meat-centric sister next door, Empress Tavern.

“It’s just funny when people leave us,” Selland muses. “I get calls from media saying, ‘Oh, tell me about the big blow out fight you had with these people,’ or, you know, they think something happened, and I say, ‘Well, they came and said they had an opportunity and asked us what we thought, and we say, “if you have that great of an opportunity then you should go do it,” ’ ” Selland explains.

Striking out on your own isn’t easy though, as any chef will tell you. It takes drive, passion, “a good business plan,” Selland’s wife and co-owner Nancy Zimmer suggests. But even with those tools, it’s hard to know exactly what to do when you’re calling the shots. Mulvaney takes his role as a mentor for new business owners seriously, remembering his own confusion when opening his first restaurant. “When you own your own place,” Mulvaney says, “you’re standing on the front of the boat looking out at the ocean, and there’re no fucking roadsigns in the ocean. So our job as owners is to help people navigate those things.”

The tight relationship of the dining community in Sacramento has helped many new restauranteurs to navigate those turbulent waters, pulling on the collective knowledge of a business community that can feel a lot like family. “The restaurant community here is very closely knit and very tight,” Mulvaney nods.

Randall Selland began The Kitchen with his wife Nancy Zimmer in 1991, going on to open Selland’s Market Cafe in 2001 and Ella in 2007. As a result, Selland and Zimmer have carefully built up a restaurant empire run by themselves as well as their son Josh Nelson and daughter Tamera Baker who oversee the staff and team at all locations. Selland credits the “family feel” that extends to all of their employees as the cornerstone of their success over the years. “A lot of time people will open multiple units and they lose something along the way, [but] our aim is not to lose anything,” Selland explains, “and we think we’re accomplishing that by what people tell us about our staff at all our restaurants- they say, “Wow, they’re so nice,” [and] I say, ‘Well…they’re just an extension of the family.’ ”

As Sacramento impatiently prepares to rise to the rank of a world-class city, many local chefs are wondering how the dining scene will adapt. Kurt Spataro has been overseeing as many as 14 locations with the Paragary Restaurant Group as a partner and Executive Chef, and has seen the Sacramento scene change from a couple of brick-oven pizza places to a city that’s challenging itself to innovate and grow faster than ever. “This whole farm to fork thing, that in and of itself is cool,” Spataro says, “but the most important aspect to me is the way that it’s sort of created a camaraderie, allowed the chefs to kind of band together. I think we’re still competitive, but there’s also sort of a feeling of brotherhood and we’re sort of all in it together, and we’re representing our city as a group. And there’s pride associated with that.”

Randall Selland is hoping to see the dining scene rise to the occasion that’s being presented as well. “I’ve had calls from a couple of nationally known [Chefs] saying ‘We’ve got your name, we’ve heard about you…tell us what’s going on because all we hear is that we have to come to Sacramento.’ ” Selland says. What the city needs now is to not let up.

Mulvaney can’t help but wonder how the younger generation of restauranteurs will approach the opportunities at hand. “My hope when you asked, ‘Who worked for you and where did they go?’ is that I start to think, ‘How is Billy Zoellin doing with the people who work for him [at Bacon & Butter]? How is Adam Pechal doing with those folks?’ ” Mulvaney says, “And the example that you follow is Paragary’s, right? How Kurt [Spataro] and Randy [Paragary] have held and grown their empire by supporting good people. And now, though I’m not doing it in restaurants that have my name on them, I’m doing it with a community that’s mine. So it’s very important for us that as our community within the community expands, that the people that are doing it have support from those who came before them.”

As Spataro notes though, it’s not always the teacher that does the teaching. Mentoring goes both ways. “A lot of people have come through our restaurants and moved on and done other things and hopefully they’ve taken the best things that I or we have to offer,” he says, “but it goes both ways, you know? [It’s] immeasurable what I’ve learned from these guys, what I continue to learn…it’s funny. As the skill level rises and some of these guys return to your kitchen they’re sort of teaching you, which, I think that’s the way it should be.”

*As appears in Edible Sacramento May/June 2015 issue.

The Millennial’s Guide To Real Estate

Featured image

After a six months search for an apartment in midtown I’d reached the end of my renter’s rope. Whether San Franciscans were flooding our sleepy cultural-hamlet or if I’d just been out of the market for too long, a novella-sized stack of denied applications told me everything I needed to know. Renting sucks and it was time to buy.

I thought that would be the hard part, just deciding to do it, until I found out that house-buying is exactly as competitive as apartment-renting. It’s a war against time, where “war” means hemorrhaging money instead of blood, attracting bondsmen like starving sharks- though honestly my bond guy has proven very reasonable and I’d be happy to make a referral anytime.

It all begins benignly enough with the Open House. This is how I’ve spent my weekends for months now, cruising up and down tree-lined streets like a property predator, e-braking my Honda Civic at a glimpse of any “open house” placard set in a front yard, those white balloons beckoning to passersby like a ruse.

I park the car and step purposefully into the brightness of a stark home that is not my own. Staged furniture stands like a sentinel in every room, goading you to consider where a couch could fit or what would perhaps make a delightful home office. It is important to not be swept away by the crushing flow of hugely expensive possibilities such as knocking out a few walls and installing sky lights. You must quiet your mind of uncountable HGTV reruns and home improvement Pinterest boards, instead turning your vigilant eagle eye to sagging rooflines and peeling paint suggestive of far deeper damage than even your eagle eye can see. You do not want to be the fool that gets stuck with this place. I know because I’ve made mistakes.

It started with a hundred-year-old “charmer” in North Oak Park. After reaching an agreement we set to work arranging for the inspections, and within a week it was determined that the roof, the foundation, and everything betwixt were equally doomed. Even the towering oak tree in the backyard would have to go, its roots wrapped around the deteriorating sewer lines like a wrestler in full-nelson, necessitating specialists and their merciless, “indeterminable” quote for the full price of repair. The house seemed to be standing only by virtue of good weather, the next rain (should there ever be any again) slated to take it down. I walked from the deal and threw my lot in for a handful of other properties, but so far I’ve been shut out. What is a hapless millennial set on home-ownership to do?

While the siege of slum lords and billionaire investment groups threatens the affordability of our livelihood here, I will not allow their rampage to discourage me. Sacramento is my home, and it is here that my home will be found. Also, still looking for leads on an enthusiastic realtor.

*as run in Sacramento News& Review Feb 19 2015

No Pants Required: A Style Guide for The Hip and Lazy

I’ll admit I’ve let some things go over the years. I’m still a gym junkie, yes, but when it comes to personal style, black jeans and ankle boots are about as hip as I get. There’s so much going on in the world, how can I find time to worry about my wardrobe? That said, I did put aside some time this new year to do the thinking for those of you who feel similarly burdened. What resulted is a short list of items combining flexibility with powerful statements in what are otherwise hugely un-versatile pieces.  Read on to see my 2015 Winter/Unemployment style guide as run in the SN&R’s recent Guide to Vice and Laziness.

When you find yourself facing the mirror with several wool scarfs wrapped around your head and a neon ski jacket flapping open over your long since un-funny Christmas sweater, the essential winter fashion question looms heavily: Yes, I am warm, but is this cool? Of course, you can always play it safe, but even well-trod styles hold some risk. The black pea coat, while classic, speaks volumes about our inability to stray from strict fashion norms and thus our creative ineptitude in everything in life. Likewise, leggings under knee-length dresses promise only the inevitability that your dress will end up tucked into the waistband in the back just when you thought everyone was laughing at your jokes. Clearly, the perils are many when striking out into the world of fashion, but SN&R has a few suggestions to get you on your way to bold statements that sacrifice only a fraction of your dignity.


Betabrand Dress Pants Sweatpants combine the questionable luxury of sweatpants with the pretend formality of dress pants so that you can maintain your slacker lifestyle in public and not fool anybody. Whether you’re taking bong rips in bed or getting ready for a conference-room Powerpoint presentation, you can rest (or work) assured that you do not need to change your pants. Styling tip: pair with tuxedo t-shirt.

dress sweatpants

Because high heeled shoes are uncomfortable and Crocs aren’t really shoes, the Women’s Cap Toe Wedge by Crocs shouldn’t even be possible, but there they are, glimmering like fashion-forward, office-appropriate moon boots. The winter corollary to the very poorly thought out “high heel flip flop,” these probably feel like walking in 10% Earth gravity or on a trampoline or like the ground is made of unstable sponge cake. Brilliant, dangerous, or dangerously brilliant?

Screen Shot 2015-01-16 at 12.12.26 AM

A SAZAC kigurumi animal suit (also searchable by “hot unisex adult onesie”) is the Japanese cross between the furry fan’s fursuit and a Snuggie®. Half footsie pajama, half lifestyle declaration, the kigurumi is limited only by your willingness to wear it in public. Typically available in any animal character real or imagined, a kigurumi suit goes effortlessly from weird-whatever-you-do-at-home to is-this-some-kind-of-joke at your favorite restaurant or bar. Recommend to buy in bulk for all your friends.


After a hard day of drinking, or whatever it is you do to get yourself through the long dark winter, passing out comfortably literally anywhere is a key priority. That’s why I’m super excited about these wearable Marvel Adult Sleeping Bags by Selk’bag USA, Inc. complete with zip-removable booties and insulated hood with draft protection to protect against rainfall. With a variety of super hero options to pick from, you can sleep soundly knowing that no one is going to fuck with a passed out individual in a Captain America body-shaped bag. Real buyer comment from site: “I settled on Incredible Hulk but would have been pretty happy with any of the styles.”


How Craft Beer is Finding Its Place at the Tasting Table

Hello again, world! This summer I had the pleasure of working with Edible Sacramento magazine to do a piece on some local food-stars in Sacramento called Community Tap & Table. The organization is run by Emily Baime Michaels and her husband Darin who teach cooking classes with beer pairings out of their home. They recently came out with a cookbook about food and beer called A Year In Food and Beer which I highly recommend. Read on to see the article and learn more about CT&T as well as how to hold a proper beer tasting party for the holidays.

A salty hot afternoon of sunburns and beach volleyball? There’s a beer for that.

Sweatshirt clad in the Sierras gathered around a crackling winter fire? There’s a beer for that too.

In fact, since the number of craft breweries began springing up  a few years ago, there’s a craft beer for just about any situation you can imagine, and that goes for food too. Where once wine and cheese pairings were the only coupling to be found, more and more restaurants and connoisseurs are enjoying the flexibility and variety that beer offers to complement everything from steak and seafood to roasted veggies and sweet desserts.

Emily Baime Michaels and her husband, Darin Michaels, are two Sacramento locals reaching for a local brew over a glass of wine with their home-based organization Community Tap and Table—a self-described cooking, eating and drinking hub. The two didn’t meet over drinks, but it wasn’t long before their common interests and respective backgrounds—Emily with her love of cooking and Darin as a beer distributor—resulted in a project where they could share their interests and meet other likeminded eaters along the way.

Several years ago, Emily had taken a class with Georgeanne Brennan in Winters, “where you would come up to the farm and go to the Davis farmers market and shop for ingredients and go back to the farm and cook….” Emily’s idea was to offer a similar style of locally sourced ingredients for cooking classes and include wine pairings, but Darin had a different idea for which their endeavor is now known: beer pairings.

In the beginning Emily and Darin were holding six to 10 events a month, teaching everything from how to cure your own artisan bacon to making chèvre from fresh goat’s milk, but eventually scaled back the offerings to make room for their day jobs. The result was enough time to research and write what is now a compendium of their favorite recipes, A Year in Food and Beer. The book comes complete with unique, seasonal recipes and beer pairing notes, along with everything a consumer needs to know about beer tasting vocabulary and stemware to proper serving techniques and how to pair the right beer with recipes of your own.

Though the Community Tap and Table schedule has become more manageable in recent times—“it’s minimal compared with what it was before,” Emily says—they still look forward to their most popular yearly event, the 12 Beers of Christmas. As Emily tells it, 12 Beers is their holiday party gone wild, with guests crammed into the kitchen whipping up 12 different courses like barbecued oysters, pomegranate polenta and rosewater pavlova while Darin distributes the corresponding brews from his post at the beer fridge.

Though the days of the keg and Solo cups are gone and done for,

the brew-centric party model remains a great way to explore new flavors or introduce less experienced friends and family to some of your favorites. The Michaels have some easy pointers for hosting a beer-tasting party, noting that it’s not so important to have a particular type of glass for every style of beer offered, as this likely means renting glassware and washing lots of dishes. Instead, opt for service in tulip glasses, the best compromise that allows the aroma of the beer to reach your nose instead of “escaping” straight out the top of ye olde quotidian pint glass.

When serving beers, place them at separate stations, the bottles in ice buckets, and allow guests to help themselves in an established order from the lowest-bitterness (IBU) beer to highest. Provide a pitcher of cold water to be poured into glassware between tastes with a bucket for the rinse water. Put some tasting notes about the beers alongside each table to help your guests discover and describe what it is they’re tasting. Take it even further by masking the bottles in bags for a “blind taste.” Those guests who thought they’d never touch anything but pilsner may find a brown ale to their liking after all.

By the numbers, plan for each guest to try three to four ounces of each beer, and that four to eight beers will be available. A 12-ounce bottle will provide three tastes, and a 22-ounce bottle will offer six tastes. You may also want to provide a low-alcohol option for those guests interested in a full pint of something that won’t leave them too tipsy to enjoy themselves.

When it comes to the final washing up, forego the dish soap. “Aside from maybe a lipstick smudge, there’s nothing in a beer glass that needs that kind of washing,” Darin says, noting that any soapy residue in a glass will affect the drink, making the beer fall flat. Instead, rinse the glass out, give it a wipe with a glass cloth and let air dry.

These pointers and more can be found in the final chapter of A Year in Food and Beer, and while 12 beers for 12 courses in the tradition of Community Tap and Table may be a bit ambitious on your own, that’s where the beauty of beer comes in. All anyone’s going to remember is your great success.

Autumn Beers orange and gray

winter beer guide

Finland’s 100,000 year recycling plan

I know, it’s been months. You thought I was dead, you’d thought I’d given up, but it’s not true. Look, here I am! Bored in these dog days of summer to the point where I am actually (gasp) working on my nuclear book again (applause). While writing a book is something I have no idea how to do, I do understand the sort of short form journalism I’ve been creating for a while now and figured that blogging my research as I go may help me to develop an idea of how it can all come together in a longer form. Maybe this book will come from a compilation of ideas, all tied up with a pretty ribbon. Or maybe this book will come about from conversations and revisions and comments. Whatever this book comes out to be, if it comes out to be, this is where I know how to start…

This summer while traveling through France (yep, that’s partly where I’ve been instead of at the writing table), I met an American artist who clued me in to a documentary called Into Eternity by Michael Madsen that explores the unprecedented way in which Finland is dealing with their nuclear waste and attempting to answer some unanswerable questions along the way.

into eternity

The documentary (which you can stream for free on YouTube) follows the building process of a nearly two thousand foot deep geological repository for Finland’s nuclear waste. At the end of the ten year digging process their used fuel will be bundled up and stored in casks at the repository’s deepest point, the tunnels capped off, and the site completely hidden. The site, on the property of one Finland’s two nuclear power plants, is called “Onkalo,” Finnish for “hidden,” and is being built to last for the lifecycle of the fuel- 100,000 years. One hundred thousand years?! And I’m stressed out about turning 27 next week.

onkalo still

Onkalo has brought up many issues that seem more like thought experiments than practical engineering quandaries. How does one best secure a site for such an unimaginable length of time? They’ve made it self-contained so it will not require upkeep or oversight, they’ve argued about what possible languages or runes to leave as warning markers at the entrance or whether to leave nothing at all, instead hoping that it remains hidden and forgotten forever. They have even built the tunnels to retain their integrity through the added stress of the next ice age which they figure is due in another 60,000 years.

The construction which began in 2004 has already reached its final depth of 1,710 feet, and regulators are now applying for licensing to begin constructing the repository which, once built, will be large enough to store fuel for the next 100 years until its final encapsulation around the year 2120.

onkalo depth

Innovative? Yes. Daring? Yah. But all of that just for Finland, and the estimated cost: €818 million.

Finland as a nation does not rank incredibly high on mega watt (MW) capacity, the amount of electricity that they generate by nuclear power, compared to other developed nations with commercial nuclear programs. But the 2,752 MW they did put out in 2012 made up 32% of their total electrical production, which is a fair percentage. So if the Onkalo repository is their answer to dealing with spent fuel waste, what answers will we arrive at for the United States with our 102,136 MW capacity (ranked the highest output in the world in 2012 while making up just 19% of our total electrical output).

source: http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/spiegel-interview-with-energy-commissioner-oettinger-fukushima-has-made-me-start-to-doubt-a-754888.html

source: Spiegel Online International http://tinyurl.com/nucleargraph

While researching nuclear waste issues in the past I had read suggestions of blasting it into space, burying it deep at sea, and hollowing out mountains with almost equal skepticism, but a three mile long tunnel in the earth built to last 100,000 years has seriously upped the ante on what options are realistically on the table. It may be time to take a trip to the United States’ own controversial repository Yucca Mountain, the outdoor adventure you’re not likely to find in any issue of Backpacker magazine. Roadtrippin’ Nevada, anyone? We can swing through Vegas on the way.

Space Rock and Terrestrial Tripping: The Space Project


This month I’ve been reading Andrew Chaikin’s phenomenal book A Man on The Moon, an ultra engaging account of the Apollo space program based on in-depth interviews with 23 of the first NASA astronauts. The stories are detail-laden and fascinating, conveying the immense amount of groundbreaking work that went into getting humans to the moon and, even more, what it took to get them back. What’s most interesting though is how floating in the vastness of space and looking back at the Earth so profoundly affected the souls and minds of those who saw it. The photo “earthrise” taken during the Apollo 8 mission was the world’s first glimpse at just how infinitesimal our planet really is, and how interconnected we all are on this pale blue dot.

But even as those in space look longingly back at Earth, we still look to the stars. I’m not sure what’s out there to explore, but just as some men are pulled to the sea as Ishmael recounts in the first pages of Moby Dick,

“Why is almost every robust healthy boy with a robust healthy soul in him, at some time or other crazy to go to sea? Why upon your first voyage as a passenger, did you yourself feel such a mystical vibration, when first told that you and your ship were now out of sight of land?”

so are many of us pulled towards the heavens. Maybe in both cases what we go great distances to discover is ourselves.

yuri gagarin

April 12 has been marked as the International Day of Human Spaceflight. The United Nations General Assembly declared the observance in 2011 in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the first human in space, Yuri Gagarin, on April 12, 1961. In celebrating this year, the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (Uh, what? New dream office!) will be releasing their third edition of a series of messages from astronauts to future generations. Together, the messages create a sort of autograph album with photos of the space explorers alongside scanned images of their handwritten notes to inspire future explorers.

the space project

April 19 marks the release date for a new compilation from Lefse Records entitled The Space Project. The release features artists using sounds collected from the Voyager I and II space probes, the crafts released in 1977 to photograph Jupiter, Saturn, and their moons, and which are now navigating the depths of space some 12 billion miles from home. With contributing artists including Beach House, Youth Lagoon, Spiritualized, and Jesu, the songs vary from thematic, atmospheric pop to long, meandering electronic bits where the Voyager sounds figure prominently. Of course, “sounds” is a little misleading. Within the vacuum of space the only sound is silence, so the audio was created by “translating” the space probes’ recordings of electromagnetic radiation fluctuations put out by the stellar objects into their magnetosphere. Just as each planet, moon, and asteroid is different in size, mass, and elemental makeup, so the “sound” they radiate is unique.

The 14-track compilation is being released on Record Store Day as seven separate 7-inches, one each for the celestial bodies of Jupiter, Miranda, Neptune, Uranus, Saturn, Earth, and Io. The Space Project will be available for purchase individually on vinyl, CD, and digital download, and also as a limited run 7” box set that I am deeply coveting.

Stream the whole album now at NPR’s First Listen, giving special attention to Youth Lagoon’s “Worms” and Spiritualized’s “Always Together With You” performed under the moniker The Spiritualized Mississippi Space Program.


The Yisrael Family Farm with Edible Sacramento Magazine

As promised, here’s the full text to the Yisrael Family Farm piece as published in the Spring edition of Edible Sacramento magazine.

Yisreal Farm

It wasn’t about celebrity chefs, it was about home cooking. It wasn’t about sustainable caviar, it was about sun-ripened tomatoes. It wasn’t about “foodie,” it was about food. When the Yisrael’s learned this past summer that the Sacramento Farm-to-Fork week’s Tower Bridge dinner would be selling tickets with triple digit price tags, they took action to show that a celebration of good food did not require city permits or gilded pomp and ceremony.  Instead, they hosted a farm to fork dinner at their own Yisrael Family Farm, pre-empting the Tower Bridge dinner by a week. For only $20 a seat, they helped to serve a five course vegetarian dinner with their own produce to a garden-full of farmers, musicians, activists, and neighbors seeking to share the bounty of a grassroots movement right where it was planted.

Driving down 44th street to Roosevelt avenue in the Oak Park neighborhood of Sacramento, the landscape is a familiar urban scene. Large trees tower over struggling yards with chain-link fences, liquor stores advertise lottery tickets and Marlboros, and the empty schoolyard of the newly closed Fruitridge Elementary sits eerily quiet on a weekday afternoon. It does not look like a neighborhood hiding a family farm, but behind a fence being slowly engulfed by a thriving hedge of yellow flowers, a canopy of citrus trees proves how looks can be deceiving.

It’s here that you’ll find the Yisrael’s tidy homestead, a half-acre lot where a small house, some 30 fruit trees and 100 square feet of bio-intensive raised beds are nestled efficiently away. Behind a group of towering palms, an enormous pecan tree whose bare branches arch out like a firework is loaded with clusters of nuts that will be gathered as they fall to the ground in the coming week. Farther back, the family’s chickens scratch around the now-dormant fruit trees, a neighborhood cat eyeing them hungrily from the 12’ clapboard fence set against the property line. Near the vibrant orange trees facing the street, they’ve even carved out room for a future food forest, a form of promiscuous agriculture where plants such as berry vines, nut trees, and edible plants are allowed to grow and intermingle as they would in nature. It’s on this piece of land that Chanowk and his wife Judith have sown their livelihood. It’s where their three children are homeschooled, taught to raise food and cook everything from Ethiopian to Italian; where seeds are saved and replanted in the spring. Just as importantly, it’s where an example is set. It’s here that a community can see that health and fresh produce are not exclusionary luxuries, but the rights of every person, beginning in their own backyard.

Mr. Yisrael, born and raised in Oak Park, was working in the tech sector when the economic recession hit home in 2008. Struggling to stay afloat in a realm that seemed more disconnected from reality than ever, he realized that his survival could be buoyed by a single thing: his ability to lead a self-sustaining life. Starting out with no knowledge of farming he applied himself to community courses and agricultural books, learning to grow food and failing, he says good-humoredly. Over time though, his gardens flourished and today he alongside his wife, children, and a revolving group of community volunteers are busy cultivating compost, clearing a space for vermiculture worm-bins, and working towards a bio-dynamic certification.

With many of their garden beds fallow for the winter, Chanowk and Judith are taking their message to city hall, working with community groups like Sacramentans For Sustainable Community Agriculture on legislation to change city ordinances that would allow for “urban” gardens in residential or commercial zones to vend their produce, a practice that is currently prohibited. They also open the farm up for workshops like canning and soap making, as well as anything else an interested community member proposes to host or teach.

For those people marooned in a sidewalk-locked apartment or longing to put their backyard to more use than the wilding of weeds, the Yisrael’s empowering example is showing Sacramento that anyone, regardless of space or experience, can take an active role in their food, be it learning how to glean local fruit, preserving tomatoes from the farmers market, or growing their produce themselves. Knowledge, just like farming, begins with a single seed, and the time to learn and grow yourself is fertile.


For more info on the Yisrael Family Urban Farm, or to check their upcoming workshops and volunteer dates, check out their website here.

James Beard Eat Your Heart Out: Forays into Food Writing with Edible Sacramento

Good news! A couple of articles I was working on over Christmas have finally come out in the Spring issue of Edible Sacramento magazine and they look great. I worked with an awesome photographer Debbie Cunningham and received helpful feedback from the editors at Edible, making this one of the most enjoyable publishing experiences I’ve had from beginning to end. The magazine can be picked up at Corti Brothers for a couple of bucks in Sacramento (and probably other places around the Sacramento/Napa Valley area though I don’t have a definite distribution list yet). In the MEANTIME however, you can view all the articles online in a handy flip-through edition that gives you a good feeling for how it all fits together page to page, though it can be a little cumbersome if your computer isn’t quite up to date. I’ll post some easier read-through links to the Olive Oil and Yisrael Farm pieces below along with some page shots for your complete viewing pleasure. Also, I just made up the term “page shots.”

See the flip-through edition of Edible Sacramento’s Spring issue here or read on for text-based links to the articles.


The first piece I worked on was a feature about an old Italian family up in the foothills of Amador County who have had an actively-harvested olive orchard for about 100 years. Recently my family began to help with the harvest which inspired a lot of research into the world of olive oil and thus the feature was born! This was one of the longest pieces I’ve worked on and it felt great to devote so much time to researching and rewriting and reshaping- all the re’s. Magazine writing gives me the liberty to be a little more “literary” with my pieces which was a real treat compared to my usual weekly news bits for the SN&R. The photographer Debbie did a really wonderful job with all the shots for the Olive piece, and the layout looks pretty fresh too. You can read the article in full here, or scroll down to see page shots of the layout.






The second piece I worked on was in a section on edible gardens and local agriculture in Sacramento. My bit focused on the excellent Yisrael Family Urban Farm in Oak Park whose tagline is “changing the hood for good.” Though their space is small, they’re ultra engaged in community building and education and they’re doing great things for Sacramento urban ag and food education. I look forward to getting back out there to help whenever I’m in town! Here’s one page from that spread, but because the read-through link to the article cuts off the end (some technical issue) I’ll go ahead and post the contents of that piece in a separate post to follow.




Thanks to The Cuneo family, the Yisrael family, D. Cunningham, and the Edible team for working with me. I hope to have more pieces out for your reading enjoyment soon!

Zen, snot-rockets, and ibuprofen: a journey of yoga in Sacramento

I’ll admit it, I’m a weekend warrior when it comes to enlightenment. Usually I seek this redemption at the end of a particularly long weekend, one that requires some sort of atonement for too much alcohol and not enough sleep. This is all too apparent as I stand flop sweating in the midst of a Zuda Yoga Power Vinyasa class one Sunday, detoxing “craft cocktail” out of every pore as I struggle to still my quaking quads; my knees are bent deep in a position I call “the punisher” but the world calls “Warrior II.” The instructor walks between similarly grimacing students and poses a question to the hot and desperate room. “It’s easy to breath deeply in a restful position, but can we take a few deep breaths when things get tough? How do you react,” he asks with a dramatic pause, “under pressure?” Taking the cue, an assistant hits play on the stereo and the opening notes to David Bowie’s “Under Pressure” pulse through the room, the mass of students collectively collapsing from tense poses to relieved laughter.

At Zuda Yoga, the Power Vinyasa classes held in their heated studios are so popular that instructions to extend your right arm to the right, “which is going to mean resting it on the person to the right’s shoulder, and extend your left leg to the left, resting it on that person to the left’s hip” are pretty standard in a room holding upwards of 60 students. “If you’re wondering what’s going to happen next, there’s going to be a lot of this,” instructor Matt Tucker says, but he isn’t joking, and while it’s hard to feel confident in a room full of women wearing brand-name stretch pants and un-ironic sweat bands, a class at Zuda means getting comfortable because there’s no room not to be.

This is yoga, American style, where even the most ancient of soul-seeking traditions becomes clothed in spandex and promises a tighter, lifted ass. Even Abercrombie & Fitch jumped on the bandwagon with their “perfect butt” yoga pant collection, though the only real connection to Hinduism is that their products are made on the Indian subcontinent, as ruefully noted by an October 2013 Elle article sub-titled “Nirvana Is The New Black.” Many of those devotees who have seen yoga through its various incarnations since it really took hold in the U.S. in the 1970’s bemoan the recent commercialization of what has become a $10.3 billion a year industry according to the most recent Yoga In America study, though the fact is, the commercialism isn’t all hype. In today’s high-tech, overdrive environment, droves of people are discovering yoga as a soul detoxing panacea to lives rife with tweets, traffic, and social anxieties.

Last year, Forbes named the SF Bay Area the top yoga “city” in the U.S. with residents there 59% more likely to practice than the national population, a trend that seems to be naturally expanding to Sacramento. Take a ride through the grid and it seems pretty obvious. The city blocks are inescapably punctuated by yoga studios offering classes, workshops, and lifestyle accouterments, but what are they really selling, I often wondered. How can there be so many studios in town, and can they really be that different from one another? Unable to tell my Vinyasa from my Bikram, I decided to investigate, perusing issues of Yoga Journal and dropping in on classes throughout the city to see if I could tap in to what’s captivated Sacramento and simultaneously making good on my new year’s resolution to be able to wrap my legs behind my head- a killer party trick if there ever was one.

Unfortunately the process takes a little more time than I’d initially been led to believe, a couple classes being insufficient for meeting my Gumby goals. But how was I to know? Do an image search and it’s clear that the “yoga body” is misleadingly marketed as aggressively as any other beauty form these days. The yoga woman we strive to be is slender, strong, financially successful while shunning material possessions, and may be actually glowing. It’s an ideal that many women long for without the critical eye we reserve for the air-brushed images of fashion magazines because it claims to be based in discipline rather than brand names or beauty creams, though it certainly has those things to sell.  In a way, downward-dog has replaced the Nike swoop and namaste is the new term for “just do it.” Distinguishing between the inspirational and unrealistic is a battle all its own.

“The implication that rippling abs can be yours with a couple of yoga classes a week…[is the creation] of corporations who want you to buy all the necessary yoga accouterments your yoga body needs,” says Danielle Olson on her health and lifestyle blog Body Divine Yoga. While yoga can offer these benefits, Olson asserts that it takes time and dedication to attain them, achievements that the manufacture of a false ideal ultimately undermines while sweeping away the greatest merits yoga has to offer.

Heeding these words I decide to give the zen approach a try, slipping into the cozy but comfortable Yoga Shala through its inauspicious entrance at the side. Here yoga men and women radiate a “born again” enthusiasm. They were once as I was, dropping in on the occasional 30 Days for $30 challenge at various studios through town, only to quit sore and exhausted two weeks later, and then they found Shala. Or Yoga Shala found them, enfolding all into that promising haven of flexibility and strength that turns the dabblers into the disciplined. Wednesday evenings at Yoga Shala are for the growing group of Kundalini lovers, a branch of yoga focused on energy balancing and meditation where mouth-breathers are spurned. Kundalini, the tentative yogi should know, is not for the allergenic, as attempting to breath through a single nostril while stuffed up may actually kill you, if not from lack of oxygen then by humiliation when you blow an unintended snot-rocket at your instructor’s yoga mat. Their Vinyasa offering, while excellent, isn’t much easier. Throughout the week, classes are filled by advanced and dedicated students where the standard pose is complicated and the variation is proof that yoga may actually take a lifetime to perfect. As we take the final savasana, or corpse position, the lights go down and the teacher prompts us to clear our mind, but I don’t like being told what to do and I’ve got a lot to think about. Yoga Shala leads its students in the kind of yoga I long to do, the kind of yoga I would love other people to see me doing, the problem is it’s some next level shit and I haven’t got that game, but more obstructing is it’s really expensive.

At most studios, paying a drop-in class fee from $15 to $20 can feel a little un-zen, but in Sacramento, high-minded community organizations are helping to strike a balance. Sacramento-based operation Yoga Across America (YAA) is one of many groups that’s made delivering yoga’s benefits to students and in-need communities their primary goal. Under an umbrella of organizations, YAA offers free and donation-based classes on military bases for veterans and service personnel, as well as in high schools, food banks, shelters, and public parks, granting access to health and fitness to those who have typically had the least access of all. Every Saturday, YAA’s arm of Yoga In The Park holds free community classes in McKinley Park at 9AM, by summer in the open field and by winter in the park’s heated Clunie Center. On Wednesdays you’ll find their similar offering in Oak Park’s Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services at 6:30PM.

Elsewhere in Sacramento, the future of yoga is still unfolding. Practice Yoga located alongside a busy stretch of 16th Street, is busy bridging the old and new, offering traditional Hatha classes that help to reinforce students’ knowledge of fundamentals and then, when students feel they’ve hit a wall, letting them strap a harness to it and keep practicing.

Practice Yoga’s paradigm-changing Yoga Wall is a comfortable and modern version of a slightly older system that connects harnesses to recessed hooks in the wall, suspending students in cushioned slings that look like playground swings. Imagine playing on a swing set: Sitting on a swing, you hold onto the chains, leaning back so far that you could wrap your legs around the chains and hang upside-down hands free, the swing seat holding you firmly around the butt and your head, presuming the swing were high enough that you wouldn’t hit it on anything, dangling freely toward the ground, the playground now upside-down in your vision and your hair standing on end as you scream, “Look at me! Look at me!” Imagine this and you can very well visualize what happens to me at my first Practice Yoga session.

Half acrobatics and half Vinyasa, the mid-week Yoga Wall Masala class has myself and a large group of first-timers calling on our inner possums, hanging in deeply relaxing inversions before rolling around in our slings to perform variations of previously innocuous yoga poses. For much of the 90-minute session I work on gaining confidence in the harness, my watery vision focused on the instructor hanging calmly upside-down on the opposite wall, his legs crossed in a comfortable position as he demonstrates the upcoming set of moves while promising that I will not fall.

With a morale boosting bowl of chocolate candies near the door and a view of the gleaming and cake-like Governor’s Mansion right outside the floor to ceiling windows, the studio’s still been slow to catch on in town according to Jim Cahill, the owner and instructor. Despite the classes’ ready accessibility to any skill level, they have remained the territory of the athletic thrill seekers and fringe fitness lovers, though “anyone can do this,” he assures. “I’m 55 and I have never felt better.”

Cahill’s not too concerned. When the yogis inevitably grow tired of the repetitive Bikram and Power Flow classes so ubiquitous in Sacramento, his studio will be waiting, offering the next variation in a 5,000-year-old practice that never gets old.

Sitting at home with a bottle of anti- inflammatory three weeks into my yoga foray, I’m still searching for an easy definition of the experience. Is this a consumer trend, is it a lifestyle, is it the sort of thing you can pick up and put down at different stages in your life, like an old friend you only call for kind words during breakups and moments of bleak, personal turmoil? Maybe yoga is simply whatever you need it to be, and what it means to a devoted and mystical yogini is quite different from, but equally valid to, the infrequent student dropping in on a class out of the blue.  Maybe the greatest flexibility yoga provides is its ability to be all of these things to all of us, or maybe I’m just validating my own selfish ends. Human pretzel, you are a harsh mistress.

*A version of this article ran in the SN&R on Feb. 13, 2014 entitled “Yoga, Sacramento Style.

The year end list

This year my top 25 albums list was shortened to top 5, which soon turned into a series of top 5 music-related lists, the following of which I feel most strongly. It is my hope that by January 1st 2014, all of the following concerns will be totally irrelevant because they will not exist in the realm of popular culture, at all.

Top 5 trends that 2013 should put to bed

  1. Dubstep and trip-hop tracks: if it’s made to sound good while you’re high on cocaine and half naked in a club, it’s probably not good “cleaning the kitchen” or “hosting some friends for some beer and snacks” music.
  2. Alternative spelling for already bad band names: This isn’t twitter, you can use as many characters as you want. You don’t need reduce your band name to Ths-MSKSXXX.
  3. Witch-core, dark wave, chill-mambo: Whatever it is that used to be “goth rock,” just call it “goth rock.” If you’re wearing black lipstick your “ambient ghost folk” label isn’t fooling anyone.
  4. Nicki Minaj: Any song featuring Nicki Minaj just got that much worse. I know she looks like she’s made of sex and sugar, but she sounds like a revving lawn mower motor and she must be stopped.
  5. Mega summer festivals: When did seeing all 500 of your favorite bands play 22 minute sets to 100,000 people for the price of a $400 weekend pass become more ideal than catching them one at a time at a mid-level club where you can see and hear, and the only $15 beer is a 500ml import?

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