The fruits of their labor

Midtown Association abruptly terminated its contract with Unseen Heroes, a local events company that popularized the Midtown Farmers Market for almost six years. Photo courtesy of Unseen Heroes

Midtown Association splits with Unseen Heroes, a Black-owned events company that operated Midtown Farmers Market for more than 5 years

On any given Saturday morning, rain or shine, the Midtown Farmers Market is filled with as many as 90 vendors selling fresh produce, artisan goods and wares that stretch over two city blocks in the heart of the Lavender District.

But it wasn’t always that way.

Unseen Heroes, an award-winning events and marketing agency in Oak Park, was hired by the Midtown Association to run the day-to-day operations. With that contract, Unseen Heroes says it not only introduced its extensive list of diverse vendors to the market, but also grew its social media presence from 253 followers to more than 31,000 on Instagram. As years passed, the market eventually expanded from one to two blocks to accommodate the growing list of vendors, who sell everything from fruits and veggies, to empanadas and handmade jewelry.

So it was a shock to Unseen Heroes’ co-owner, Roshaun Davis, when he received an email from the Midtown Association’s executive director, Emily Baime Michaels, stating the contract between the two organizations was being terminated as of June 1. Unseen Heroes’ last day operating the market is Saturday, June 27.

“These relationships are ours. We built these relationships, we leveraged our relationships and had people come into the market that would not necessarily have even done business with Midtown [Association],” Davis says. “It was just that bewilderment of like, ‘How are we going to make this work?’ For us, it’s always been community first, so we didn’t want to pull all the vendors away from the market.”

SN&R asked Michaels why Midtown Association made the decision to split from Unseen Heroes during the height of farmers market season. She says it was due to “18 months of performance issues.”

“The majority of the performance issues are ones that they themselves actually document on worksheets that they turn into us every month that talk about the performance of the market,” Michaels says. “Our market manager that works for Unseen Heroes, their responsibility is to fill out how many vendors we have, whether we have all their insurance on file, whether we posted correctly on our social media—all of the pieces that come with running the market, and consistently, those were not being completed.”

Unseen Heroes’ farmers market manager, Hope Rodriguez, says that’s not true.

“I’ve only been with this organization six months, and since I’ve been here, a big part of my job was making sure that the insurance situation was met. And I’m very on top of paperwork and making sure that permits are filed—and that everything is filed to a ‘T,’” Rodriguez says. “I can’t speak to what they did before I came on, but what I know from starting January forward, everything that I’ve done has been to a ‘T.’”

Under the contract, according to Davis, Unseen Heroes received 75% of market profits and Midtown Association accepted 25%, plus sponsorship monies of as much as $30,000. When negotiating a potential new contract with Michaels, Davis says he was offered 5% of the market’s profits, but under the conditions that he would not speak to the public about the deal and would also have to sign a 30-mile non-compete clause. That would mean Unseen Heroes wouldn’t be allowed to hold such events as Gather, its annual community party in Oak Park.

“For us, our relationships are still our relationships. A lot of those vendors did not come to the Midtown Farmers Market. They came to Gather to be in Gather and we said, ‘Hey, we have another opportunity for you to make money and get out in front of a different audience. Why don’t you come over to the Midtown Farmers Market?’” Davis says. “That’s where a lot of people came from, and that’s how they started the market was through us in that way.”

Rodriguez, who says she has operated various farmers markets for the last five years in Hayward, Vacaville and in San Rafael, says that the Midtown Association chose to hire a woman with no farmers market management experience to replace her.

Michaels told SN&R that she’s confident her team will be able to take over and run the market successfully.

“I’m not in a position where it’s appropriate for me to speak on any of my employees’ behalf about their personal information, but I am comfortable to say that we are more than competent to continue to run the market,” she says.

“They can’t stand behind Black Tuesday because they’re not standing behind a Black-owned business currently. You can’t post something and say you’re supportive of the current movement, but not be aware of the decision you just made to destroy a Black-owned business.”

Hope Rodriguez, farmers market manager

Robert Cao, owner of Wheel Lemonade, a longtime vendor in the market, told SN&R that he was disappointed to hear of the split. He says Unseen Heroes took a chance on him when he first opened his small business. Now he owns a brick-and-mortar.

“It upsets me to hear how the Midtown Association (MA) has dropped Unseen Heroes,” Cao said in a written statement. “It just doesn’t seem right that you just release someone (UH) after all the hard work they did planning, promoting, and popularizing the current MFM. … Unseen Heroes is also a small business, so I am sure they are affected by the economic effects of this pandemic.”

On recent Instagram posts, the Midtown Farmers Market blacked out its page for Blackout Tuesday in support of Black Lives Matter and also posted in support of the LGBTQ community.

But Rodriguez argues that those posts run counter to how the Midtown Association is treating Unseen Heroes, which is Black and Latina owned.

“Again, they can’t stand behind Black Tuesday because they’re not standing behind a Black-owned business currently. You can’t post something and say you’re supportive of the current movement, but not be aware of the decision you just made to destroy a Black-owned business,” Rodriguez says. “I mean, this was their chance, especially given the times we’re in, and it’s not even to say that they should’ve hired me. … but they could’ve hired a Hispanic, they could’ve hired a Black person, or any person of color, or a gay person for that matter, but they didn’t. They chose to go with what they know best, and it’s the white woman.”

One recent Saturday, the Midtown Association passed out letters to each vendor notifying them that they were taking over the market in-house and a new farmers market manager would be coming on board.

Some vendors turned to Unseen Heroes for answers. So Davis says he sent out a statement to clear the air, which was met with an email from Michaels on June 9.

“Good afternoon Roshaun, we have prepared a counter offer that laid out terms not far from your request in efforts to support your business and then received a copy of the UH letter issued,” the email said. “This by your own authorship has ended our ability to find a common space to work together.”

When SN&R spoke to Michaels on June 17 and asked whether Unseen Heroes would be compensated for its part in building the market throughout the years, she said an invitation is still out to them.

“I’m not sure if that’s something that they’re going to accept or not. We also asked if they would like to move into a role of creating video content to tell the stories of our small business owners for the impacts of COVID … so that conversation is still open at this time,” she says.

But Davis told SN&R there has been no communication on an offer between Midtown Association and Unseen Heroes.

“There is none,” he says. “There’s pretty much been no communication on the negotiation side, just the back and forth between the day to day operations of the market, which have been, in lack of better words, volatile.”

When demonstrators are marching through Midtown in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, the decision to break ties with a Black-owned business doesn’t sit well with Davis.

“Back in the day, it was the slaves out in the fields doing the work and then turning that work in so that the white slave masters could profit. It just feels like we’re running in that same operation,” Davis says. “We’ve done the work, boots on the ground, day in day out for the last five to six years. Now that it’s profitable and they need that profit, and they feel like they have the authority to just take it away without any sense of equity at all. That’s just reminiscent to another time in history.”


Cumbia with a Twist

La Mera Candelaria rejects the status quo—with danceable beats


Stephani Candelaria longs for a stage.  Photo by Harmony Gerber

Latina singer-songwriter Stephani Candelaria fondly remembers sleeping backstage at the age of 5 inside the clubs where her mother, a salsa singer, would perform well into the night. Candelaria, now 27, credits her mother as one of her biggest inspirations for her own musical ambitions, motivating her to move from the small California mission town of San Juan Bautista into the Bay Area to pursue music at 19.

“It was definitely not your average childhood, and there are pros and cons to having that,” Candelaria says in a recent phone interview with SN&R. “But I would not change it for the world because I don’t think I’d be here making music if it hadn’t been for those experiences of watching my family give everything to their craft.”

Now, Candelaria has formed her own Los Angeles-based band that challenges the norms of cumbia and the Latin music industry at large: La Mera Candelaria (translation: The Real Candelaria). Next Friday, they’re coming to Old Ironsides, where they plan to unveil a new single titled “Yo Tambien”—a response to the #MeToo movement.

Candelaria sings: “Yo soy la trabajadora, que no puede ni hablar (I am the worker who can’t even speak) / Porque si el jefe es el culpable, quien me puede ayudar? (Because if the boss is the one at fault, who can help me?) / Yo tambien soy sobreviviente (I, too, am a survivor) / Yo tambien soy fuerte y valiente (I, too, am strong and brave).”

Candelaria formed La Mera Candelaria shortly after relocating to Los Angeles in 2015. She recruited a group of musicians who use percussive instruments like congas, tambora, claves and güira with bass and cuatro-style guitars to create the band’s fusion of genres: They collide the steady, danceable beats of cumbia with the more laid-back and buoyant vibes of Son Cubano.

“It’s not strictly cumbia that you would hear on the radio,” Candelaria says. “It’s cumbia with a very Caribbean style and instruments that you wouldn’t typically find in a cumbia band, and I think it really gives us some good edge, especially in LA where there are more than 200 cumbia bands.”

Candelaria says she always wanted to start a band of her own, even when she fronted the popular Bay Area alternative Latin group La Misa Negra for a stint. She longed to perform her original songs that explore themes of feminism and the place of women in the music industry, especially within the Latin community. …

READ THE FULL STORY: CUMBIA WITH A TWIST. Published in the Sacramento News & Review January 11, 2018.

The Paprika Steeper

Mark Lastuvka came to Sacramento from the Czech Republic, and now rises early to cook goulash at La Trattoria Bohemia

The scent of tonight’s dinner specialtandoori-spiced halibut—wafts from the kitchen. Lively convers


Owner Mark Lastuvka holding beef goulash on the patio of La Trattoria Bohemia in East Sacramento.
Photo by Scott Duncan

ations fill a warmly lit dining room with not an empty seat inside La Trattoria Bohemia, a Czech and Italian restaurant that opened in East Sacramento 17 years ago.

In the center of the merriment sits restaurant owner Mark Lastuvka, enjoying a glass of red wine with his girlfriend. A friendly chef, he’s passionate about the quality of food he serves his customers, whether it’s the Italian handmade ravioli, pizza and lasagna or the Czech dishes of his childhood, including beef goulash, chicken paprikash, handmade späetzle and schnitzel, which he made all the time as a kid. The Czech dumplings are his top-sellers.

Lastuvka’s place is one of a kind—the only Czech restaurant in Sacramento.

“I come every morning and I cook. Today, I did beef goulash and Bavarian goulash and soup,” Lastuvka says. “Goulash takes three hours, so you have to come in the morning and start it because it takes all day to prep. The goulash, I needed to twist it a little bit and make it for here to get people used to it, because it’s different in Czech. But now it sells very well.”

In Lastuvka’s goulash, he says, he uses precise portions of meat and vegetables, whereas in different regions of Eastern Europe, a homemade recipe would incorporate just about anything.

Lastuvka moved here from the Czech Republic in 1990. While taking English classes, he met two men who offered him a job washing dishes at Roma II Pizzeria on Folsom Boulevard. There, he met owner Maria Guerrera and learned the essentials of authentic Southern Italian cuisine over the next decade.

“She’s like my mother,” Lastuvka says. “My mom is back in Czech, so Maria became my friend and mother, and she helped a lot.”

Lastuvka was working two jobs, seven days a week, split between an early morning construction job and Roma’s on the weekends. Understandably, he started to get tired. So he decided to bring a little taste of Czech to Sacramento …

READ THE FULL STORY: THE PAPRIKA STEEPER. Published in the Sacramento News & Review November 30, 2017. 

Art of the Dead

Local artists cope with the passing of loved ones and make a living through Day of the Dead


John S. Huerta by his altar in his studio. Photo by Lisa Baetz

Artist John S. Huerta’s vivid memory takes him back to a time when he and his younger sister were playing outside in the canopy of Tempe, Arizona’s heat. The siblings were running around when his sister suddenly stopped. They heard a rattling sound. Within seconds their grandfather ran around the corner of their home, slid down to the ground and picked up what resembled a belt. It turned out to be a rattlesnake.

“He killed it. He slammed the head of the rattlesnake on a rock,” Huerta says.

Sitting in the living room of his home in Natomas, Huerta points to a vibrant acrylic painting of a man with long, black hair and a single rattlesnake playfully coiled around his neck. Huerta created the artwork, titled “Snake Charmer,” to honor his late grandfather, and it’s one of many of his originals that ornament his walls.

“In the eyes of that one it shows strength. That snake’s not giving him fear whatsoever,” Huerta says.

Throughout his life, Huerta has turned to art to cope with the losses of his dear family members, the most difficult being his younger sister Rosemary when he was 35 years old. Overwhelmed with grief, he turned to Día de los Muertos and his array of paints.

For Huerta and a few other artists in Sacramento, the holiday represents a way of life as well as a livelihood.

Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is widely celebrated in Mexico to honor loved ones who’ve passed. The holiday begins on November 1, a day devoted to deceased infants and children, and continues November 2 to celebrate adults. Revelers decorate handmade altars with photographs, candles and offerings like grandpa’s favorite tequila or a mother’s favorite dish.


Lila Solorzano Rivera poses with her artwork. Photo by Randy Rivera

“It’s a fun, festive holiday,” says local artist Lila Solorzano Rivera. “We bring memories of the people that have passed away. We drink. We party. We dance. We tell stories. It’s not sad. It’s not a funeral. We give to the dead, we put pan de muerto, or we make their favorite meals and we put it out on an altar because we believe the spirits come back and they celebrate with us for a couple nights and it’s really nice.”

To Huerta, Day of the Dead artistry is part catharsis, part career.

“Painting is very therapeutic for me to deal with the passing of my family members,” Huerta says. “When I explain to people why I do it, then they associate it with a loved one who’s passed, and then they get it. Maybe a color or a certain flower or certain eye colors, anything can signify someone who made an impression in your life who was important to you.”

Huerta has worked as a full-time artist for eight years, and his paintings pop off the canvas. His skeletal figures, outfitted in strikingly colorful dresses and mariachi uniforms, sell for upwards of $5,000. Huerta also uses bold colors to depict deceased artists like Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera and musicians like Selena and Prince. …

READ THE FULL STORY: ART OF THE DEAD. Published in the Sacramento News & Review October 26, 2017.

Rock & Roll: WSCXGP

The party’s on at NorCal’s biggest cyclocross event


Digging through the sand at WSCXGP III. Photo courtesy of Jeff Namba

Cruising down the American River Bike Trail behind Cal Expo in August of 2012, Matthew Hargrove and his then 8-year-old son Jack heard the distant sounds of punk rock blaring from an empty field. A small group of people was gathered there with bicycles. Intrigued, the father and son decided to check out what the group was up to out in the middle of nowhere. As they rode up to the fellow cyclists, Hargrove recalls, they were greeted with, “Hey! You’re here for cyclocross!”

Having never heard of “cyclocross,” a sport that blends road- and mountain-biking with criterium racing, Matthew and Jack decided to stick around.

“Before we even stopped our bikes, we had people who were happy that we were joining them,” Hargrove says. “That was how this all started. That small group was putting together free cyclocross races just to get people excited about it.”

The following week, Hargrove and his son were back out in the field with their new friends. Soon they were volunteering during newly organized cyclocross events, known then as GHETO races, which stood for “Go Hard Every Time Out.” As an avid record collector, Hargrove began bringing his favorite vinyl to spin for the cyclists during the dusty competitions.

Six years ago at the GHETO races, Hargrove met professional cyclocross athlete Emily Kachorek, her husband Pete Knudsen and race organizer Marty Woy. Together, the four would later form the Northern California Cyclocross Association and organize the first West Sacramento Cyclocross Grand Prix, a homegrown cycling race now in its fourth year that has developed into one the largest cyclocross races on the West Coast.

“That little core group of people are part of this huge international race we’re putting on,” says Hargrove, now WSCXGP race director. Jack occasionally takes over DJ duties.

“It was DIY,” Hargrove says. “We weren’t in a garage putting a band together, but we were out in a field putting races together. As we get to higher levels, we’re trying to figure out ways to keep that spirit alive within our race. So, we’re insistent that we have local music playing there, and that’s a nod to our DIY roots.”

Cycle culture

Heard from a distance across the Tower Bridge, echoes of upbeat punk rock music battle against the rowdy sounds of cowbells as they swell and fade to a steady stream of boisterous cheers. What sounds like an all-out party happening down by the river is actually last year’s WSCXGP.


Emily Kachorek is ranked No. 64 in the world in her sport. Photo courtesy of Jason Perry

Each year, hundreds of cyclocross athletes from across the country are invited to suit up and pedal hard on a 2-mile mixed-terrain course right along the city’s River Walk Park. As with all cyclocross tracks, this course makes use of the park’s natural features, so riders will race through the difficulties of fine sand, speed up on paved roads, adjust to the track’s many loose and hairpin turns, and overcome obstacles—a cyclocross-course component where riders hop off their bikes and carry them over barriers before hopping back onto their saddles to brave the course ahead.

Cyclocross tests the aerobic endurance of each rider throughout its course. It’s a sport for men and women, amateurs and professionals. Even kids even get in on the fun during WSCXGP.

Organized and co-hosted by the city of West Sacramento, the Sacramento Area Bicycle Advocates and, of course, the Northern California Cyclocross Association, the WSCXGP kicks off cyclocross season, which runs from September through January. …


Shock Rock Lives Up to Its Name

Self-proclaimed “rape rock” band sparks a protest


Protest flyer, left. Mentors flyer, right. Images Courtesy of Sacramento Punk Shows

Promoter Nikki Knight openly shares that she lives with severe post-traumatic stress disorder, a condition she says stems from being sexually assaulted in the past. She says she uses humor to fight her monsters, and she’s helped by the music of shock rock band GWAR and, as contradictory as it sounds, “rape-rock” outfit the Mentors.

“I have flashbacks all the time, so when I make my monsters look like bumbling idiots, like the Mentors look like idiots on stage, it’s this whole menagerie of images that make me feel stronger … smarter and [more] confident than my rapist,” Knight says.

Knight, an independent promoter with SpewLine Productions, originally booked the Mentors at On the Y on Labor Day, September 4—but she canceled the show due to threats that the venue would be set on fire if the show persisted.

The show’s protestors made it known that rape jokes aren’t funny anymore and certainly not welcome in their city.

Before the scheduled performance, about 50 demonstrators across the street from the venue chanted, “No Trump, no KKK, no fascist USA” between speakers stating statistics about rape in America. The group included surf-punk band Las Pulgas and activists such as Mone’t Ha-Sidi, a local burlesque dancer and founder of BlackArtsMatter.

Formed in the late ’70s, the Mentors claim to be the founders of the “rape-rock” genre. The group launched its “Anti-Antifa Tour” at the start of September with dates booked in Oakland, Portland, Modesto—and Sacramento.

Under the Trump administration, clashes with similar themes have come to a head across the country. Right-wing groups protest under the banner of free speech, while leftist movements aim to quash racist values. This debate once again came close to home last Sunday at UC Berkeley: A conservative student group re-invited ultra-conservative commentator Milo Yiannopoulos to the Northern California campus, amid protests.

That’s after demonstrators at UC Davis shut down a scheduled speech from Yiannopoulos in January before it even began. The protesters blocked the entryway to the venue and chanted, “Say it loud, say it clear, racists are not welcome here.”

The Mentors’ controversy predates current cultural divides: Its vulgar and sexually violent lyrical content has upset listeners on the left and right. The group gained mainstream attention in 1985 when Tipper Gore’s Parents Music Resource Center worked to censor lyrics laced with violence, drugs or sex.

The band’s ditty titled “Golden Shower” sports lyrics like, “Listen little girl; it’s near the hour / Come with me and take a golden shower / Listen little slut, do as you’re told / Come with daddy for me to pour the gold …” These words were read aloud on the Congressional floor and ultimately put the founders of “rape rock” front and center within the music censorship debates of its time. …

READ THE FULL STORY: SHOCK ROCK LIVES UP TO ITS NAME. Published in the Sacramento News & Review September 28, 2017.

Best Spot to Carve with the Pros

28th and B Street Skate Park


Sacramento’s rich skateboarding culture dates back to the early ’80s, when official, dedicated skate areas operated between levels of scarce to nonexistent. And skateboarders who went rogue were either ticketed by police or, in some cases, arrested, according to 28th and B Street Skate Park staff member, camp instructor and professional skateboarder Matt Rodriguez.

He recalls a time when a then-empty plot of land at 19th and R streets was repurposed into a local skate park by a crew of skateboarders, who cleaned the area of debris, poured concrete and eventually earned the support of the city. But it was short-lived. In the end, the land was sold, and it now houses a busy grocery store and shopping plaza. On the flip side, it also led the city to open the 28th and B Street Skate Park near Sutter’s Landing Regional Park.

For a $3 admission fee, any skateboard, Razor scooter or pair of roller skates (sorry, no bikes) can glide and grind on every curb, half-pipe and rail built by longtime skateboarders who paved the way for the indoor skate park.

“When it comes to skating, the more different types of terrain you have to ride, the more fun,” Rodriguez says. “There’s a good variety over here. It’s a homegrown-style park.”

For the past 17 years, Rodriguez has spent time skating inside the large warehouse. He also worked as one of the park’s instructors, guiding the city’s next generation of skateboarders at various skill levels.

When school’s on break during the spring, summer and winter seasons, young and eager skaters ages 5- to 18-years-old are taught the basics of proper foot placement and push technique, while also learning about the roots of the sport in California during a five-day camp.

“It’s super fun getting to know all the kids and see who’s up and coming. We like to tell them stories of where skating comes from and how it’s not always about learning new tricks,” he says. “It’s about being self-propelled and awakening your individuality, and learning that skateboarding is, first and foremost, a culture with a long history.”

Published in the Sacramento News & Review’s Best Of 2017 Issue.

Best Meat and Gravy Heaven

Bud’s Buffet


On a warm Wednesday afternoon, the savory aroma of roasted meats lures hungry foot traffic off the busy sidewalk on 10th Street and into a line that stretches from one end of the eatery back to the front door. Inside Bud’s Buffet, the ambience is reminiscent of a lunchtime cafeteria, what with its loud chatter, modestly decorated dining area and fast-paced assembly line.

Since 1988, this old-fashioned lunch spot has been revered for its thick portions of peppery pastrami, baked ham, barbecued pork, and corned and roast beef (just to name a few) packed into soft French rolls. Here, the menu is simple: specialty deli sandwiches, cold Italian pasta and macaroni salads, and hot daily lunch specials that rotate during the week, like lasagna and spaghetti served with side salads, or chopped steak served with Bud’s signature mound of mashed potatoes and gravy. Recommended on the specialty hot sandwiches menu: the spicy “Diablo” with roast beef, melted pepper jack cheese, housemade chipotle sauce and jalapeños. Or, try Bud’s classic Reuben with deli-sliced pastrami, Thousand Island dressing, sauerkraut, spicy brown mustard and Swiss cheese.

Despite its lunchtime rush, the steady ebb and flow of customers makes this afternoon lunch stop a quick place to enjoy a filling meal, but bear in mind Bud’s is only open during the workweek from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Published in the Sacramento News & Review’s Best Of 2017 Issue.

Culinary Dreams

Community kitchens support local food and drink artisans in
America’s Farm-to-Fork Capital


Sacramento artisans thrive in the Farm-to-Fork Capital. Photo by Debbie Cunningham

On a hot Saturday afternoon, ice-cold drinks and root beer floats are served inside the Burly Beverages Gift Shoppe & Tasting Room, an old-fashioned soda fountain located in the Del Paso Heights neighborhood. Rows of specialty sodas, seltzers, and cocktail essentials line the shelves, and co-owner and founder Gabriel Aiello welcomes guests from behind a sleek corner bar lined with black and chrome bar stools. The doorbell rings, and Aiello opens the door for two women so they can taste the variety of small-batch soda flavors Aiello’s seasonal menu features. For Aiello, this brick-and-motor location was once a simple dream. Still, the challenges that keep many small-batch culinary businesses from realizing their dreams are very much a reality.

With more than 11,000 small family farms in the Sacramento Valley, local culinary artisans are able to draw much inspiration from the abundance that surrounds them year round. That vast foundation allows them to create new ways to savor the region’s lush bounty of fruits and vegetables.

Whether they operate a food booth, run a pop-up supper club, or are a small-batch producer, independent culinary business owners share a passion for sourcing homegrown ingredients and highlighting the authenticity derived from their handmade goods. Still, the expense of launching a culinary dream — especially in its beginning stages — proves difficult for many small producers. So they turn to commercial kitchens and rent space as a more cost-effective approach to sharing their handcrafted goods with the masses. Yet with the growing number of culinary artisans in a booming agricultural economy, kitchen space is extremely limited, which often hampers these budding businesses with a farm-to-fork ethos. Nevertheless, the drive for homemade taste and DIY spirit persists. …

READ THE FULL COVER STORY: CULINARY DREAMS. Published in Edible Sacramento’s Fall 2017 Issue.

Cooking with Precision

Local MasterChef Junior competitor adds chemistry to his kitchen experiments

adamWhile some youths ask their parents for bats and balls, 14-year-old Adam Wadhwani recalls a time when he asked his mom for a blow torch, CO2 cartridges, and a set of sharp knives.

For most parents, that would be a strange and tall order to fill, but for Wadhwani’s mother, Emel Wadhwani, these gadgets were simply kitchen tools that propelled a then-9-year-old boy’s culinary interests to a level where dishes mirrored restaurant-quality fine dining.

“As a parent, you are sometimes jolted into realizing that your kid does have something special going on, and you need to really support him,” Emel says. “When he got interested in food, it wasn’t just an attempt to create delicious stuff, which he does very well. But he was also interested in the technique and the technology and the equipment that goes with it.”

Top 40

At the edge of 12 years old, Adam and his mother flew to Los Angeles to try out for the FOX television show MasterChef Junior, hosted by world-renowned chef Gordon Ramsay and award-winning pastry chef Christina Tosi. More than 4,000 young chefs between the ages of 8 and 13 auditioned for the series in order to earn a spot in the Top 40 and the chance to win the $100,000 grand prize.

Adam garnered a place by baking chocolate cupcakes filled with strawberry compote and topped with a buttercream frosting that was infused with smoked cinnamon and nutmeg. His cupcakes not only earned him a signature white apron, but this Sutter Middle School student also received a high five from the famously ill-tempered Ramsay.

“A lot of what compelled me about MasterChef was getting to be around other kids who enjoyed the same thing I did … and with professionals who knew what they were doing and could help guide us to make us better,” Adam says. …

READ THE FULL STORY: COOKING WITH PRECISION. Published in Edible Sacramento’s Fall 2017 Issue.

For the Love of Cheese


For Greater Sacramento’s resident cheesemongers, every cheese tells a story. From its funky flavor profiles to the creameries and farmers who spend decades perfecting their cheese recipes, every detail is essential. Amid an abundance of well-stocked cheese collections throughout the region, edible Sacramento stepped behind the counter to turn to three cheese experts for tips, tricks, and tales. These pros not only carry great respect for cheesemakers, but they also aspire to eliminate the intimidation factor that naturally follows such boundless selections … no matter how you slice it.

A homegrown devotion

Growing up on a small, organic pear farm in Mendocino County, Calif., allowed Rebekah Baker to see the personal connection between produce and its cultivator from a young age. With these experiences at her core, Baker believes the best part about having worked in the cheese industry for the past decade is the variety of narratives that follow every decadent wedge she tastes.

“Behind every incredibly delicious cheese, there is a story. There’s a cheesemaker. There’s a company. There’s a family. There’s a town. There’s a dairy animal that made that milk,” Baker says. “When you taste a really excellent cheese, you know there was someone somewhere along the line who has an intense passion about what they’re doing.”

Baker’s worn many hats within the cheese business, from cheese buyer and specialty associate at Whole Foods Market in Santa Rosa, Folsom, and Roseville, Calif., to Nugget Markets, where she was the corporate director of specialty cheese for three years. Now, she works for Tony’s Fine Foods in West Sacramento as the category manager for cheese. Baker’s dedication to the world of cheese is measured in both years and the countless hours she studied to earn the elite certified cheese professional title from the American Cheese Society.

For Baker, the only wrong way to enjoy cheese is to not eat it. From her experience, tasting cheese is the quickest way to find the one that tickles all the senses. A turning point in her career was when she sampled a five-year-aged Gouda that gave Baker her wow moment.

“It was just the craziest dark, caramel color, and it had these lighter flecks of crystals throughout, and the texture was very firm,” Baker says. “The flavor just blew me away with its burnt caramel, whisky, and cherry notes. When I first tried it, I stopped talking and just tasted for like five minutes. The flavor lingered and kept evolving and changing.” …

READ THE FULL COVER STORY: FOR THE LOVE OF CHEESEPublished in Edible Sacramento’s Summer 2017 Issue.

Eat on the Street

Uncovering Greater Sacramento’s Mexican street food


The most authentic flavors of Mexican cuisine are not always tasted in full-spread dishes accompanied by rice and beans or served in a restaurant setting. Instead, the essence of traditional Mexican fare is found streetside, served near parks, in alleyways, and on the busiest corners of the city.

Street food is simple. It’s savory tacos garnished with cilantro and chopped onions and served from a small cart near Southside Park. It’s crunchy chicharrónes, fried pork rinds spiced with lime and chili sauce. It’s the comfort factor present in each bite of an elote, corn on the cob rolled in crema, chili powder, and Parmesan cheese and enjoyed on a stick.

These curbside treats, with their savory and spicy flavors, originate from some of the oldest regions in Mexico. Street food may be straightforward, but it’s served with a story and spiced with love by people who savor authenticity.

eloteWrapped in tradition

When Yolanda Yanez was a little girl, her mother taught her the traditions of tamale making in Michoacán. Back in those days, tamales were made by the dozen. Now, Yanez and a small team — which includes her husband, Pedro — prep and steam between 400 and 1,000 tamales in one day.

In her family-run business, Yanez also enlists the help of her sons, Andres and Valente; her daughter, Julia; and Andres’ wife, Sandra, who all are regular faces during every farmers’ market location in the Sacramento area. The markets run from May through October, when Yolanda’s Tamales are sold in bulk.

Tamales start with masa, a corn-based dough that traditionally is made of lard, salt, and baking powder. The masa is spread onto a cornhusk before it’s filled with a variety of meats, chiles, cheeses, or vegetables. Once the tamale is assembled, it’s folded tightly and steamed until the masa is firm. …

READ THE FULL STORY: EAT ON THE STREETPublished in Edible Sacramento’s Summer 2017 Issue.

Sister, Sister

The McKeever sisters contribute to the arts in Sacramento and beyond, each in her own way.


When Nicole McKeever listens to music, she sees herself dancing. She feels her legs move instinctively to the steady rhythms and imagines the myriad ways she would interpret the music through choreography. In her words, that’s just how her brain works. For McKeever, 34, movement is art, and dance in particular is a medium that inspired her to achieve her childhood dreams.

Nicole’s younger sister, Natalie McKeever, also captures the art of movement, but in her own way. Instead of creating dance steps to cadence she uses photography and stop-motion film techniques to illustrate movement and transforms the ideas that dance around her mind’s eye into mesmerizing video installations that she’s exhibited in galleries in Sacramento and abroad.

The McKeever sisters are bonded by their love for the arts and their Irish heritage, which naturally introduced the pair to the competitive world of Irish dance. With the support of their parents, Natalie and Nicole were encouraged to explore the gamut of their individual artistic talents from a young age whether it was through dance, paint or film. What followed: the successful careers of two imaginative sisters who continue to influence the world in their own rights, but in the end it all comes back to dance. …

READ THE FULL STORY: SISTER, SISTERPublished in Sacramento Magazine September 1, 2017.

The Masked Musician

Anonymous artist El Gato shrouds his alter ego in the guise
of a villainous cat

El Gato

Photo by Shoka

My instructions were: “Meet at the Pre-Flite Lounge at 8 p.m. Tell the bartender, ‘Eight lives down, one to go.’ He’ll know what to do.”

I entered the back-alley bar prepared for a rare, face-to-face interview with an elusive Sacramento musician known as El Gato, who refuses to share his real name. I recite the strange message to the bartender who lightly taps the bar in approval before he texts someone to signal that I’ve arrived.

After a few moments of silence, the bartender leads me to a back door labeled “employees only” and into a dimly lit parking garage. He departs, but I’m not alone.

Instead I’m joined by a headless mannequin that hangs by a rope and the aroma of exhaust fumes. Sitting behind a fold-out table is El Gato, his face concealed by a tight, black mask …

READ THE FULL STORY: THE MASKED MUSICIAN. Published in the Sacramento News & Review on July 13, 2017.

Shade from the Audience

Local musicians share the sometimes uncomfortable lessons
of performing in Sacramento as nondudes

Women and nonbinary-identifying musicians in Sacramento have noticed that the way audiences treat them before and after they perform can feel like the difference between night and day. Oftentimes, an air of acceptance comes only after sharing their kickass musical talents, they say. SN&R asked five artists about their experiences in the local music scene, and their responses just might raise some eyebrows.

Even so, the musicians pay it forward to their community: As a bonus, they also shared with us their favorite local albums or musicians of 2016. …

READ THE FULL STORY: SHADE FROM THE AUDIENCEPublished in the Sacramento News & Review’s “Music” Issue June 8, 2017.

Wicked Good

Devil May Care Ice Cream owner Jess Milbourn scoops up nostalgia and other delicious childhood treats


Across the I Street Bridge in West Sacramento is Devil May Care Ice Cream, a little red parlor that aims to rekindle a time where a scoop of the frozen confection was the ultimate childhood treat. Inside, ingredients from local companies like the Allspicery and Burly Beverages line the shelves. Canisters of cardamom, cinnamon and vanilla bean pods sit near bottles of root beer, ginger beer and orange soda syrups used as twist on the classic float. Much like the name of his business, owner Jess Milbourn says he approaches his recipes with a fun and reckless attitude because at the end of the day—it’s ice cream. But, don’t diss vanilla. For Milbourn, it’s not only his favorite flavor, but also the most misunderstood.

“It’s such an underrated flavor, but why is it any more plain than chocolate? I put more flavor into my vanilla than my chocolate,” he says. “Vanilla uses two different vanilla beans with some extract, and it just accents everything so well.”

With more than 30 years of experience as a chef and graduate from the Culinary Institute of New York, Milbourn opened the small shop last November and introduced ice cream combinations like coffee and donuts made from Camellia Coffee Roasters and old-fashioned glazed donuts from City Donuts just up the street.

Classic flavors like vanilla and chocolate, cookies and cream, and peanut butter and fudge also make regular appearances on the menu, but his latest creation made with chamomile and kumquat is truly unique. Floral aromas are met with slightly tart pieces of kumquat. The combination tastes of honey, but with a light and sweet finish. A native of West Sac, Milbourn recalls picking chamomile with his grandmother along the river as a child. It’s also where he returns to source the wildflower.

It’s not just a nostalgia trip though, Milbourn says. The greatest feeling he says is seeing his customers smile.

“I get to have kids come in and eat their first ice cream cone and look like that,” To demonstrate, Milbourn shares an Instagram photo of a boy holding a cone with a huge smile on his face.

“It’s the coolest thing. Kids are happy and families come in for celebrations. People come here to celebrate and enjoy life,” he says. “That’s the most soul-satisfying thing is to see happy people, especially the kids.”

Published in the Sacramento News & Review’s “Summer Guide” Issue May 25, 2017.

Ceramic City

Every year Davis becomes a mecca for clay fanatics

lindseydillon.jpgThere comes a time each year when hundreds of professional and budding artists visit downtown Davis to transform retail spaces and offices—even a historic mansion and log cabin—into dozens of pop-up galleries for an entire weekend. All of this hustle and bustle celebrates the boundless possibilities of one medium: clay.

Twenty-nine years ago, gallery owner John Natsoulas founded the California Conference for the Advancement of Ceramic Art. Since then, the annual symposium has grown to host more than 50 colleges and universities from Southern California to Southern Oregon. It’s fitting, as ceramic art went from a primarly crafty medium to a well-respected and sought-after form of expression right in the heart of this active college town. …

READ THE FULL STORY: CERAMIC CITYPublished in the Sacramento News & Review April 27, 2017.

Filipino Flavor

Olla Swanson cooks up family traditions


Home cooks bring a certain finesse and authenticity to the dishes they know well. In many homes, you’ll find no recipe books sitting on the kitchen counter, no second-guessing of measurements, and often the simmering and spicing of home-cooked meals solely depend on the cook’s palate, which continuously assesses all the familiar flavors lightly bubbling on the stovetop until they’re just right.

All of these methods ring true for Olla Swanson, a seasoned home cook who was taught how to make rice properly by her mother at age 4. Her advice: Wash it three times.

Growing up in a large Filipino household, Swanson inherited the natural ability to cook traditional-style Filipino dishes from her mother, Olivia, and her Aunt Lupe.

“When I was growing up, my mom and my Aunt Lupe between them had eight children, and we all grew up together in this big house, and there would be so much food,” Swanson says. “I like how Filipino food makes me think of community and all of us eating together, especially if there’s a big party. Also, it’s hard to find. The only way you can get it is if you make it.”

Under the moniker The Olla Factory, Swanson now serves the Filipino dishes of her childhood during a rotating Monday popup dinner series at Sacramento’s Old Ironsides restaurant, to crowds she hopes will discover a love for these foods that meant so much to her and her family. …

READ THE FULL STORY: FILIPINO FLAVOR. Published in Edible Sacramento’s “Cooks!” May/June 2017 Issue.

Gardener’s Almanac


Turning the soil, caring for seedlings and tasting homegrown bounty is what gardening is all about. For Judith Yisrael, growing nutrient-rich food for her family and her surrounding community is an everyday way of life. She is the co-founder of Yisrael Family Urban Farm, a half-acre plot of land in the Oak Park neighborhood where she and her husband, Chanowk, work hard in the soil and in the community. In January, Sacramento County’s board of supervisors unanimously passed the County Urban Agriculture Ordinance, a law that will allow residents to legally grow and sell crops, keep bees and even raise chickens and ducks at home. For the Yisrael family, the news means they will open and operate an urban farm stand selling organic fruits and vegetables to their neighborhood.

“Remember, we’re not just growing food when we’re talking about urban agriculture,” she says. “We’re actually growing community, we’re growing hope and we’re growing health.”

With a passion for growing herbs, vegetables and colorful flowers, Yisrael thinks about how to create biodiversity in her garden by the use of companion planting, which she says is a natural system where the plants and insects take care of themselves. She makes homemade soaps and salves and infuses oils with ingredients from her backyard bounty, and she still found time to help Sacramento Magazine with a month-by-month guide for our readers with a green thumb. …

READ THE FULL STORY: GARDENER’S ALMANACPublished in Sacramento Magazine April 1, 2017.  

Carving a Niche

The Proletariat will offer a taste of JerseySouth

The historic Sacramento Tofu Co. building at 1915 6th St. is taking on a new role thanks to the owners of the Southern-inspired restaurant South, located in Sacramento’s Southside Park. New Jersey native Ian Kavookjian and his wife, N’Gina, plan to launch their Garden State-inspired deli, The Proletariat, in August.

“One of his biggest complaints about California is there’s not really a lot of delis that are reminiscent of the delis that Ian grew up [with] on the East Coast,” N’Gina says. “That’s something that he definitely wants to recreate in Sacramento, so he has a little piece of home here.”

The Proletariat predominantly will be a breakfast and lunch spot, and the menu still is in the development stage, but customers will be able to stop by and grab freshly prepared sandwiches and salads, an assortment of deli-sliced meats and cheeses, as well as house-made pastries and desserts. The more-than-3,000-square-foot space also will house a bottle shop serving beer and wine during happy hour for guests to enjoy in house or to purchase bottles to take home after a long day’s work.

The downtown eatery also will sell some of South’s tasty menu staples behind the deli counter, such as its popular meatloaf.

“What I like about a good deli is variety,” N’Gina says, “especially when you look in the case and you see so many beautiful, house-made items. I like being able to get a sandwich and taste the quality in the bread, the meat, and the cheese. It’s the simplicity of really great ingredients speaking for the food, as opposed to piling a bunch of stuff on and giving it a crazy name.”

Published in Edible Sacramento’s “Fresh Start” March/April 2017 Issue.

Training Ground

The Oak Café preps the new bevy of top chefs


On the culinary television show Top Chef, a recurring challenge for the competing chefs is to group into teams to open a new restaurant with a cohesive theme and vision in just a matter of days. Sacramento’s American River College Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management program does something similar each semester with its four-star restaurant, The Oak Café, except every week the menu is refreshed.

Each week, the new menu of appetizers, entrées, and desserts is made from scratch with locally sourced ingredients from Del Rio Botanical in West Sacramento, Soil Born Farms in Rancho Cordova, and ARC’s horticulture department gardens. The variety of cuisines served at the restaurant includes anything from classic French to Cuban or American Southern food, according to program department chair Brian Knirk.

“One of the most important things that our students learn is attitude and respect for the kitchen and the ingredients,” Knirk says. “But what we also try to instill in them is an understanding of the details required to make food great and the process by which you achieve those outcomes.” …

READ THE FULL STORY: TRAINING GROUNDPublished in Edible Sacramento’s “Fresh Start” March/April 2017 Issue.

Hard-Hitting Spectacle

The versatile group behind Kill the Precedent puts the ‘or’ in hardcore


Photo by Carlos Almanza

As one of Sacramento’s most versatile bands, Kill the Precedent does not define itself by a specific genre. Nor does any label dictate which sound the group will confront next—and they like it that way.

The seven-member-strong crew attributes its diverse sound to an abnormal writing process: It begins with one member named Tapeworm. Members of the group also refer to the septic invertebrate as the “man behind the curtain.” Like some twisted Wizard of Oz, Tapeworm creates the skeletons of what will gradually evolve into music that’s both magnetic and complex.

After recording distorted guitar riffs, electronic effects and even some experimental noise, he emails the bare-bones track off to drummer Sgt. Pepper, who then adds a layer of hard-hitting percussion. This method continues until two guitarists, one bassist and two vocalists finish the song before the band even steps into the same room together. This has been their process for 10 years—and it works. …

READ THE FULL STORY: HARD-HITTING SPECTACLEPublished in the Sacramento News & Review February 16, 2017.

JR De Guzman Chases Laughs Through Song

The Sacramento comic sets sights on television and an international fanbase


There was a time when JR De Guzman felt like he wouldn’t get back onstage.

“I got off after two minutes and thought about maybe never doing it again,” he says.

Still, it was just the beginning of his musical comedy career. Bombing for comics is inevitable, but now, De Guzman is busy riding comedy highs after appearances on Kevin Hart’s Comedy Central show Hart of the City and MTV’s stand-up and sketch comedy series Acting Out.

“It was the best feeling in the world to see Kevin Hart laughing at my jokes,” De Guzman says. “That was so validating. I have this dirty Christmas song and he was like dying.” …

READ THE FULL STORY: JR DE GUZMAN CHASES LAUGHS THROUGH SONG. Published in the Sacramento News & Review’s “Comedy Issue” December 14, 2016.

How to be Funny, According to Lance Woods


Lance Woods chases the next laugh like it owes him money. Over the last six years, the Sacramento comedian has performed alongside big names like Dave Chappelle and Tony T. Roberts, and even visited Okinawa, Japan, to perform for the U.S. Marine Corps. His ability to bring the audience into his world of hilarious and relatable stories seems effortless. Still, Woods admits it wasn’t always so easy to get five minutes on stage. Here, he gives advice on how a fresh face with a couple of clever punchlines should get started. …

READ THE FULL STORY: HOW TO BE FUNNY, ACCORDING TO LANCE WOODS. Published in the Sacramento News & Review;s “Comedy Issue” on December 15, 2016.

No Thanksgiving plans? These bars can be
your family


Illustration by: Serene Lusano

Whether it’s lack of time, money or patience for Uncle Joe’s off-kilter remarks, sometimes it’s tough to make it out of town to celebrate Thanksgiving. If you’re a student stuck in the dorms or just taking a big pass on this year’s family festivities, consider these alternatives when it comes to Turkey Day. Here are four trusty watering holes staying open with a hot meal waiting with all trimmings and none of the family drama. …

READ THE FULL STORY: NO THANKSGIVING PLANS? HOLIDAY GUIDE. Published in the Sacramento News & Review November 24, 2016.

Luis R. Campos-Garcia, Papier-Mâché Skeleton Artist


From Mexico City to Sacramento, Luis R. Campos-Garcia, known in the art community as Lurac, is the mixed-media artist behind the 6-foot-tall, multicolored skeleton structures that welcome hundreds of attendees each year to the Souls of the City event. Organized by Sol Collective and the Sacramento History Museum, the Día de los Muertos celebration is the culmination of interactive workshops that range from classes on crafting sugar skulls and print-making to art exhibitions. Campos-Garcia is also the art director and curator of the collective’s gallery and works in varied mediums like acrylic paint, graphic design, photography and drawing. …

READ THE FULL INTERVIEW: 15 MINUTES WITH LUIS R. CAMPOS-GARCIA. Published in the Sacramento News & Review November 3, 2016.

Checking in on Common Core


With technology’s vast expansion over the last decade children swipe, type and independently research information on the web at younger and younger ages. This is also true within the classroom as the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) initiative relies heavily on computer knowledge to effectively navigate and complete a new era of educational curriculum throughout California. …

For Wendy Aiello, a third grade teacher at Diamond Creek Elementary School in Roseville for the last 15 years, Common Core is kid-oriented, hands-on and also gives the kids multiple strategies for problem-solving.

“With these programs, they have kids draw things and part of my job is to walk around and say, ‘Oh my gosh! Look how so-and-so solved this problem.’ Then I bring them up in front of the classroom to show others what they did,” Aiello says. “It’s one of my favorite subjects to teach now. We’re teaching kids the ‘why?’ of it. Not just formulas or memorization. It’s not so bad.” …

READ THE FULL STORY: CHECKING IN ON COMMON COREPublished in Sacramento Parent Magazine August 1, 2016. 

Help Children Prepare for a New School Year


When the school bell chimes on its last day before summer break, kids, teens and teachers alike all breathe a little easier. Summertime means ocean view vacations, late-night slumber parties, and video game marathons fueled by pizza and sugary snacks. Still, all good things must come to an end and what better way to prepare your child for the new school year than with these helpful back to school tips provided by educational experts? Whether it’s enforcing an earlier bedtime or simply keeping your child’s mind active, Sacramento Lifestyle’s tips will prepare children (and parents) for the upcoming school year. …

READ THE FULL STORY: BACK TO SCHOOL TIPSPublished in Sacramento Lifestyle Magazine August 1, 2016. 

Happy Mother’s Day!


A personal essay where I contemplate my journey from party girl to motherhood. …

READ THE FULL STORY: ON TINY HUMANS AND BIG LOVEPublished in the Sacramento News & Review May 5, 2016.

debbanksHow She Rides:
Meet Debra Banks

On average, Debra Banks rides 13,000 miles per year all on her trusty bicycle. She pedals so much, in fact, that Banks also earned a Mondial Award from Randonneurs USA, which means she’s circumnavigated the entire planet—all 40,000 kilometers of it—on her bicycle. Banks is also the owner of Rivet Cycle Works and crafts custom bike seats for when you need real support for a 1,200 kilometer ride. …

READ THE FULL STORY: DEBRA BANKS, LONG-DISTANCE BIKE RIDER, SEAT MAKER. Published in the Sacramento News & Review, April 28, 2016.

Art’s Utility Player


Gioia Fonda’s upcoming “Give a Fork” installation aims to start a conversation on food deserts, hunger and solutions.

Polish your grandma’s treasured silverware; straighten—or don’t—the contorted cutlery caught in the garbage disposal; whatever your approach, artist Gioia Fonda wants Sacramento to give a fork. Ten thousand forks, to be exact. …

READ THE FULL STORY: ART’S UTILITY PLAYERPublished in the Sacramento News & Review, March 24, 2016.

15 Years of mewithoutYou

mewithoutYou-Piano-Submerge-aPhiladelphia post-hardcore five-piece mewithoutYou will celebrate its 15th year together this year, continuing to log thousands of miles touring across the United States. Vocalist Aaron Weiss, alongside brother and guitarist, Michael Weiss, started the band in 2001, signing with Tooth and Nail Records later that same year. The band—which also includes drummer Rickie Mazotta, bassist Greg Jehanian and guitarist Brandon Beaver—continues to craft dramatic, sometimes experimental, soundscapes that echo the singer’s trance-like vocal angst. The band’s recently released sixth album, Pale Horses, not only challenges mewithoutYou to revisit the band’s natural tendency toward the more theatrical, aggressive musical performance, but also revives the emotional honesty found in past albums. Submerge recently caught up with mewithoutYou vocalist and founding member Aaron Weiss to discuss how he developed his eccentric, spoken-word vocal style, what inspires the band’s performances night after night and mewithoutYou’s religious-based labels. …

READ THE FULL INTERVIEW: ON A PALE HORSE. Published in Submerge magazine, June 22, 2015.

Dog Party Comes of Age on their Fourth Release

Dog-Party-S-Submerge-Mag-CoverWith 25 states logged over the course of four U.S. tours, Gwendolyn and Lucy Giles of the rock ‘n’ roll duo Dog Party, say a typical evening for them on tour consists of two, sometimes three, sets per night. Still, this pair of die-hard musicians says tour is what they look forward to every year. From the debut, self-released album Dog Party in 2009 with its more innocent, yet catchy punk rock attitude, to their Asian Man Records-backed third album Lost Control, Gwen and Lucy continue to evolve their garage and punk rock styles. Now, the sisters look forward to their latest release, Vol. 4, due June 16, 2015, on cassette through Burger Records, and LP and CD through Asian Man. …

READ THE FULL STORY: THE MUSIC MATTERS. Published in Submerge magazine, June 8, 2015.

The 5th Annual Submerge Bicycle Mural Tour Reveals New Pieces of Art Lurk Around Every Corner

bicycle_coverPump up those tires and grab a few homies because the annual Submerge Bicycle Mural Tour is back again. This time, we feature pieces so fresh the paint fumes still kick. Some murals stretch across entire alleyways, like the sideshow circus at 23rd and S streets that showcases the incredible tattooed lady and a pair of magnificent gray elephants dressed in red-and-gold garb. Whether a mural was scarred by tags, or simply begged for a new perspective, these walls do talk, and speak to the creative minds of Sacramento artists who answer with cans of paint. So, plan for a leisurely and artistically pedal-driven bike ride through the ins and outs of Midtown and its surrounding areas. Discover the latest, most eye-catching urban street art created by some of the best artists in the city and beyond. More importantly, May is Bike Month, so log some easy miles through the hidden alleyways and bustling streets that lead to more colorful destinations. …

READ THE FULL STORY: STREETS OF COLOR. Published in Submerge magazine, May 26, 2015.

Sacramento Chefs and Farmers Share Tips on How to Use Every Last Bit of those Summer Vegetables

waste_notFarmers markets are popular with just about anyone looking for fresh, locally grown produce. So fresh, in fact, that many times the fruits and vegetables displayed in mounds at merchant tents are often picked from the field the previous day. … Even though many farmers market fiends challenge themselves to cook what they bring home each week, too often stems, leaves and rinds end up in the garbage. Chefs and farmers alike, however, say these overlooked pieces have tasty nutritional value. Executive chef Jon Clemons at The Porch Restaurant and Bar says he likes to think about creative ways to use the entire vegetable. He and his staff use a variety of techniques to transform rinds, cobs and even buckets of green tomato odds and ends into delicious fare. …

READ THE FULL STORY: WASTE NOT, ENJOY MORE. Published in the Sacramento News & Review, July 23, 2015.

Ax murderers, Charles Manson and ghost dogs—is this historic Midtown mansion the scariest, creepiest haunted house in Sacramento?

Photo by Salvador Ochoa

A stone lion’s head hovers over a wide entryway, solemnly watching passersby, some of whom, catching sight of the house just beyond, slow their pace to examine the gothiclike structure that’s sat unoccupied for more than 20 years. But drooping palm trees and an iron gate edge the perimeter, keeping the curious away as it guards one of the largest, oldest mansions in the historic Boulevard Park neighborhood. Located on the corner of H and 22nd streets, it’s considered one of the most mysterious and perhaps the most haunted house in Sacramento. Indeed, this mansion conveys a spooky sense of intrigue thanks, at least in part, to its yawning emptiness. The home, now owned by a Northern California-based family trust, was built shortly after the turn of the century, and in the years since it has inspired countless stories—some grislier than others. Most have one thing in common: They are, at least according to the house’s current deed holder, decidedly untrue. …

READ THE FULL STORY: THIS OLD HOUSE. Published in the Sacramento News & Review, October 18, 2012.

Gioia Fonda transforms gutter garbage into art

gioiaOrdinary hurricane fence morphs into happy orange flowers, familiar green baskets that once held strawberries transform into whimsical city skylines and forks found abandoned in Sacramento’s gutters glisten brightly. These are Sacramento City College assistant art professor Gioia Fonda’s recycled treasures. And her art. “I feel that people aren’t being as creative as they could be with their trash,” Fonda says. “There are possibilities in objects. A lot of things could be repurposed.” …

READ THE FULL STORY: POSSIBILITY IN OBJECTS. Published in the Sacramento News & Review, April 22, 2010.

Dale Smallin, who recorded the wild cackle at the intro of the classic Surfari’s hit ‘Wipe Out,’ now enjoys a mellow life in downtown Sacramento

daleResting underneath a green awning outside downtown’s Capitol Park Cafe, Dale Smallin inhales one last drag of his Pall Mall red cigarette as the hectic traffic of Ninth Street whizzes past. Partially relying on a wooden cane, Smallin slowly enters the cafe for his daily meal, greeting the waitress, Sally, by name. Determined, he heads straight to his usual spot, second table on the right, and politely waves away her offer of a menu. He has it memorized. To many customers in the cafe, Smallin is an ordinary man enjoying a ham grill with fries. And although his days may appear routine, Smallin’s memories of youthful endeavors are tales of rock ’n’ roll history—and one unforgettable laugh. Smallin was manager of the surf-rock band the Surfaris, known for their 1963 hit “Wipe Out.” And Smallin’s voice was responsible for the maniaclike cackle that taunts listeners in the song’s opening moment. …

READ THE FULL STORY: AN UNFORGETTABLE LAUGH. Published in the Sacramento News & Review, March 11, 2010.