Get Inventive: Enter Local Recipe Contest

Got leftovers? Then it’s time to put a few extra items hanging around your kitchen, or liquor cabinet, to good use and enter a special recipe contest … You could win $10,000.

East Bay resident and food afficionado Lisa Schiffman, who runs a food-focused website, and Scharffen Berger Chocolate of San Francisco are hosting their annual recipe contest, which is great way to have a bit of fun with the extra ingredients, treats or liquor you’ve got on hand.

But you need to get going, since January 3 is the deadline to enter the Chocolate Adventure Contest.

Choose one adventure ingredient — or more — that intrigues you, says Lisa. If you’ve never thought about using, say, fresh mint leaves or rice flour in combination with Scharffen Berger chocolate, why not give it a try?

Your recipe doesn’t have to be complicated, but it must be thoughtful, explains Lisa.

A previous winner used just four ingredients: fresh pomegranate, Scharffen Berger 70% cacao, wasabi paste and cocoa powder. Another reinvented a classic chocolate shake — by including ancho chile pepper, coconut milk and black sesame seeds.

The contest has two categories — sweet and savory. And the judges cast a keen eye primarily on three criterion: spirit of adventure/creativity, taste, and ease of preparation, according to Lisa.

Past winners include a software engineer from Silicon Valley, an elementary school teacher from the Midwest and a paralegal from the East Coast.

Last year, Martina Nemling, who works in the corporate marketing department of Alameda-based Peet’s Coffee & Tea, won the grand prize in Beverage with her Thai Confusion cocktail.

So you could combine your New Year’s Eve festivities with some recipe-making fun.

Good Luck & Happy  New Year!


New Coffee Shop Opens at High and Encinal

Five months after the Crosstown Coffee House & Community Center closed its doors at High Street and Encinal Avenue due to a dispute with the landlord, High Street Station has opened at the popular site. The new spot is open from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., weekdays and weekends.

Pictured below are co-managers Susan Timney (right), Lynda Kretlow (left) and David Parkin (center). Thanks to the efforts of many friends and family members, the three officially started serving coffee in the restaurant on December 19 with a “soft opening.” 

The 19th is a good omen, they say, since the 19th Hole bar did business in the same site for 42 years — attracting local sports figures, VIPs and other celebrity types.

The official opening of High Street Station is set for 3 to 5 p.m. on Saturday, January 30. Musicians like jazz bass player Jake Sampson will provide entertainment.  (He recently played at the coffeehouse with a friend on December 27.)

“We should be getting a piano and hope to encourage more musical participation from the talented teachers and students next door at the Alameda School of Music,” Timney says.

The shop includes memorabilia like a black-and-white image of two gentlemen driving a classic car, one of whom is supposedly a previous owner of the building, and information on Alameda sports legends and sport heroes’ connections to the Island.

“We will increase our hours as we get busier,” said Timney, who is an active member of the Alameda Elks Lodge.

She and Kretlow spent the last four years improving the Elks’ breakfast program, which supports local charities and organizations and is held on the second Sunday of every month — drawing between 150 and 300 guests.  Both have extensive experience in the food and beverage industry.

Kretlow still works at the Sir Francis Drake Hotel in San Francisco in the catering department, while Timney cut her teeth at the Hyatt hotels in Union Square and by the San Francisco airport.

The co-owners have applied for a license to serve beer and wine on the premises. For now, though, it’s coffee, tea, homemade lemonade and other non-alcoholic beverages that are offered, along with pastries, bagels, sandwiches, salads, fruit and more.

Locals like Pat Lamborn are glad to have the convenience of such a restaurant in the area. “I can’t wait until they get to serve wine,” said Lamborn. “And I’m really happy that a coffeehouse reopened here. A lot of work was done on the place. I really hope they make it.”

The new managers are eager to get visitors, parents, kids, musicians and others actively involved in the coffeehouse, which has some board games, foosball tables, flat-screen television sets and a Wi-Fi connection.

“We hope to be here for a long time, and we are very open to suggestions,” says Timney.


Thompson Avenue: See the Lights on Foot

There are lights, Santas, inflatable polar bears, carousels and even cartoon characters from Europe – like Tin Tin- to see on Thompson Avenue during the holidays.

The festive neighbors living in the area (near High Street) have also taken a bit of poetic license, mixing up animals from warmer climates, like flamingos,  into the North Pole scenery.

On nearby Fernside Boulevard, neighbors have taken the temperature-friendly California/tropical theme quite seriously — decorating a whole yard with happy, active creatures.    

For those strolling around the light show, the outdoor event would be even more festive without the fumes of cars driving by.  The sidewalks are full of visitors, many with young children in strollers, and the carbon footprint left by all the vehicles moving at a snail’s pace down the street doesn’t add to to the spirit of the season.

So, give the Abominable Snowman and his other pals a break. Leave the cars at home — but be sure to bring the kids and the camera!  


Thanks for Making Shopping Easier

The Safeway in Alameda Towne Centre is always packed — but at least the staff are full of smiles and good cheer.

Chenda, for instance, was kind enough to pose for a picture in her Santa hat during a break on Christmas Eve.

Thanks to the positive attitude at all of the checkout counters and throughout the aisles, shoppers were also in good spirits. The lines moved quickly as everyone picked up the last goodies to share over Christmas.

Paul Randell, an assistant manager who frequently works in the checkout area, says that the popular grocery store does close to $200,000 in daily sales.

The grocery store employs 267 people who work in the deli, meat and fish counter, checkout and other parts of the store.

Smaller Safeway stores in the Bay Area, like in Oakland’s Montclair district or Albany, do about $60,000 in daily sales.

It takes a lot of friendly, hard workers to keep the inventory up to date and the lines moving. And I’m sure I speak for many Alamedans by saying, “Thanks for lightening our holiday shopping load (and stress).”


Giving a Holiday or Year-Round Delight

Yolanda, the owner of Shear Delight & More salon and children’s clothing store, is wrapping up her 11th annual toy drive for kids staying at the Midway Shelter for abused women and their families.

This year, collections haven’t been as great as in years past. So, if you still have time to buy a toy — especially for kids 4 and younger — go ahead and drop it off unwrapped at 1505 Park Street.

One special item needed by those staying at Midway are nightlights that have Disney or other kid-friendly characters on them.

Cash and other monetary donations are also taken for the shelter. “Some people have justed walked in to give us $100 after going to the bank,” Yolanda said.

Yolanda sells pre-used cloths to moms and others in need. And she donates her overflow to the shelther each two weeks. Some of the clothing is also given to young mothers who are attending Alameda or Encinal high schools.

The consignment shop gives some store credit to those community members who donate clothes and other items to the shop.

Shear Delight & More has lots more than clothing on its shelves. There’s makeup and hair products, and the salon offers a full array of spa and other services, like haircuts and facials.

And if the holidays of ’09-10 are too hectic, try and stop  by during the year with donations or play to join next year’s toy drive.

Thanks, Yolanda, for keeping the holiday spirit alive day after day, month after month and year after year.


Alameda Museum Gears Up for Jan. 2 Sale, Talks

The Alameda Museum is planning an interesting estate sale for after the holidays: from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, January 2.

A local family that includes three generations is selling furnishings and objects that date back to the Civil War (1861-1865).

At the same time, the museum is having a clearance sale of its own items, says curator George Gunn.

Also on the 2010 agenda for the museum is an exhibit on Neptune Beach (1917-1939) and several lectures on local architecture and development; see page 8 of the group’s latest online newsletter.

A talk on bungalows is set for March 25, a lecture on the Alameda Naval Air Station takes place April 29; and a presentation on glass panels in Alameda is set for May 10.  The events take place on Thursday and start at 7 p.m. at the museum, 2021 Alameda Avenue.


Marion Mulvany Holt Residence – Part II

Back at 2927 Gibbons, the tour continues with a few more glimpses of one of several columns that visitors admired during the estate sale held December 11-13 in the former residence of Marion Mulvany Holt and other fun details.

The home’s Spanish feel is strong, but so is the sense that you are in a castle of sorts as you walk down small staircases to the historic ballroom or upstairs to the bedrooms.

In the ballroom or basement area, visitors were treated to lots of objects that the X- and Y- generations of today would consider pre-historic: a dictaphone, record player and such. Many individuals checking out the dictaphone did not realize that this ancient device was the predecessor to today’s tape recorder (digital or otherwise).

And upstairs, the home’s popular reindeer dominated the Christmas decorations. Apparently some years ago one of the deer was taken, creating quite a stir around town — but it was returned, after lots of publicity (and probably a few jokes); proving just how many ways the holiday spirit can be experienced in Alameda.

And for more images and thoughts on the Mulvany Holt home, see Therese Long’s blog; many thanks for her tip that I pay the historic property and its contents a visit.


Marion Mulvany Holt Residence: Part I

Last weekend, many of the objects in the home of the late Marion Mulvany Holt were up for sale at her former residence at 2927 Gibbons Drive at Northwood.

It was an amazing affair, as residents from around the Island and curious visitors toured the 1928 Spanish Revival home that had at least 10 rooms and had been occupied by the same family for 80 years.

While Marion was the philanthropist, her father — John Jacob Mulvany — had been a very successful banker. And some community members say he was one of the driving forces in getting the naval base at Alameda Point. He also invited prominent Republicans, such as former President Richard Nixon, to visit.

There is so much history in the place; you can feel it — and see it.

The details in the home are stunning, like this decorative ceiling in the main living/greeting area upstairs, where much of Holt’s jewelry and special items were sold — like old silver-plated lighters and real metal matchboxes from the ’30s and ’40s.

Upstairs, there were many historic lighting fixtures and many of Holt’s party dresses and other clothing to browse through.

In Part II, more on the home and its history will be explored.


Celebrate …. While Spending and Consuming Less!

Second Home, on Santa Clara Avenue in Alameda, is like an almost-always-open estate sale.

You can find antiques, knickknacks and a bit of whatever.

And, during the holidays, you can find that fun Christmas-themed object that might help brighten up a table or add a bit of life to an entry way — at a good price and with a carbon-friendly footprint (i.e., it’s one less item and/or item with packaging going into a landfill.)

I recently bumped into Alameda resident Therese Long at Second Home; she loves looking for special objects that can improve a room or a special residencial spot and posts such hunts and their resulting finds on her La Dolfina blog.

She agrees that, when you can’t make it to that sought-after estate sale or antique show, or even a good sale at a boutique or furniture shop, Second Home is a great option.

So, when you’re budget is tight, but the table isn’t quite right…. here’s the place for you.


Alameda Library: Special Programs Slated

There is plenty of history to explore in and around Alameda — even during the pre-holiday hustle and bustle.

And two local history buffs are willing and able to help residents and visitors navigate the Island’s interesting past: Eric Kos and Dennis Evanovsky, who will be presenting the second of three programs at the Main Library this Wednesday, December 16,  from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.

This week, their talk will focus on the development of the area, including the establishment of Alameda, Encinal and Woodstock towns  and their unification in 1872. Central historic figures that will be discussed include Gov. Henry Haight and A.A. Cohen.

Evanovsky will have a few local history and architectural books for sale that he plans to autograph.

For younger audiences, the library is hosting a children’s program this Friday, December 18, at 3:30 p.m. Alex Ramon, Zingmaster or Magician, of the Ringling Brothers Circus.

Try and take a shopping or party break to check out the good entertainment at 1550 Oak Street.