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PostHeaderIcon Vegan Iron Chef Plants Biz In Bay Area

Purple eyeglasses and a facial piercing give Karine Brighten the vibe of a young woman at home in creative pursuits. But it is not music or art that consume her thoughts, it’s food. Plant-based food, to be specific, and sharing the joys of a plant-based diet with others.

Brighten has been vegan for nine years. Originally from Canada, she was studying criminal justice while her husband attended law school when his studies on animal rights and factory farming turned both of them away from meat. At the time, it was an ethical decision that affected her shopping habits and dinner plate, but not her professional life.

Yet after earning her criminology degree and going to work in the field, she found she just wasn’t passionate about it. Hoping to put her strong organizing skills to good use, she enrolled in an event planning program. “It sounded fun,” she smiles.

After completing the program, she found an internship in Petaluma with a group called Daily Acts, where she helped with fundraising over the summer and got the itch for working in nonprofits. She worked for a while post-internship with a large Canadian event planning company but the itch remained, so when the couple moved to California so her husband could pursue his Ph.D., she decided to start her own business. She enrolled in a three month program in Oakland for women entrepreneurs, Women’s Initiative, and straight out of the box, she landed big vegan event planning contracts. “They were all just people I knew. The timing was right.”

The timing was right.  Over the last several years vegan eateries and lifestyles have not only gained acceptance, they have flourished. From the upscale Millennium in San Francisco to Souley Vegan, a neighborhood soul food joint in Oakland near Jack London, to the growing number of vegan Chinese, Ethiopian, Indian, and fast food restaurants, vegans are no longer huddled by the salad bar at omnivore haunts. They want their own venues, their own chefs—their own places to eat, drink, and be merry.

Recognizing an untapped market, Karine threw herself into the world of vegan celebrations. “First I did a walk in San Francisco to support Farm Sanctuary,” she remembers. She planned the opening for Berkeley’s Nature’s Express, then organized the opening of Cinnaholic in downtown Berkeley. Along the way, she earned her Green Business certification—all Karine Brighten events are sustainable and eco-friendly. “It’s really, really important to me,” she says.

As her reputation in the vegan event planning world gained a foothold, Karine heard about a group in Portland that had put on a vegan version of the hit Food TV program Iron Chef. “I knew I had to do a local version,” she smiles. The First Vegan Chef at the First Unitarian Church of San Francisco was a huge success that sold out weeks beforehand.


More than 250 people turned out to watch vegan chef luminaries such as Chef Eric Tucker of Millennium, Phil Gelb vegetarian chef and caterer, and winning Chef Lisa Books-Williams, who wow’d the judges with creative raw concoctions including ‘Luscious Live Dumpling filled with a Cashini Mirepoix and Wilted Greens.’The event had been billed as the first such bash, but she had to ask herself, was it lightning in a bottle that drew a vegan-curious crowd who would not return, or was there really a longing for this kind of showcase for plant-based gastro-glitterati?


"It turns out there IS such a longing: the 2nd Annual Vegan Iron Chef thrilled a room full of vegan gourmands on March 23rd at SOMArts Center, with guest chefs Jay Astafa from New York City, Bay Area raw food chef Jillian Love, and Chef AJ of Los Angeles. Chef Astafa won with creative dishes such as cauliflower encrusted in ramen powder with umeboshi-chrysanthemum sauce and fresh pappardelle pasta, burdock cream sauce, braised cabbage and garlic-rice cracker 'Parmesan' crumbles."

As she continues to push forward, expanding her vegan event-planning empire, the hardest part, according to Brighten, is just finding the gigs. While her dream business is a list full of vegan animal rights causes 'celebre', the fact is most nonprofits do a lot in-house, she says, to save money. “I get a lot of wedding requests,” she adds."

Weddings are a great venue, she admits, because you get to expose a lot of non-vegans to plant-based eating, and for Karine Brighten Events to succeed, she knows she needs to pull in both the converted and the curious. Something food competitions excel at.-- SF

Sonja Fitz works as the development director for Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency in Berkeley. This is her first story for Allnewsnoblues.com


PostHeaderIcon Thrifty Finds at Savers

We all know there are thrift stores and then there are thrift stores, with a wide variety of differences.  On a scale of keeping up with the values and the sensibility of shopping for gently used or repurposed items in a world of high tech, high definition and high end price tags, innovation and practicality of best value commerce makes sense and more cents!  In business for 60 years, originating with the San Francisco store,

SAVERS is the largest for-profit thrift chain, with 315 locations in the U.S., Canada and Australia.  Their slogan, “Good Deeds, Good Deals” is founded on the “Nifty-Thrifty” virtue that Ben Franklin espoused, and expresses their two-fold mission:  alliances with non-profit organizations and proceeds going directly to local community donation centers.

Operating like a swap station, the concept of interactive business takes on new meaning.  A donation center is located on site of the discount establishment, receiving clothing, household goods, books, toys, furnishings, bedding and more.  For each bundle of donations, a coupon for 20 percent off the next purchase is exchanged to the customer for use within the store, along with a tax receipt.

Each shopping day differs, with thousands of new discoveries daily. Fabulous finds range from collectibles, unexpected treasures, to wearing apparel varying from designer to vintage values.  Some portion of the inventory is comprised of tag-on, never used, new items.

Orange tagged items indicate a 50% discount, every Tuesday Seniors are given 20% off purchases and seasonal rewards and other incentives are promoted.  The “Thrift Cycle” of SAVERS defines a higher purpose with core values of “giving back and providing opportunities.”  When you donate and shop at SAVERS, you support local non-profits, and recycling benefits the planet, sparing landfills.

Upon entering the store, one cannot help but notice how clean, well-organized and easily defined the areas of merchandise can be recognized.  Observing a mature couple comment, while visualizing the expansive array before them, she could be heard saying “Oh my, we’re going to be here awhile.”  He responded with a resounding “OH, yeah!”  The convenience of shopping carts and roll-around baskets allow for gathering all the fabulous finds on your ultimate treasure hunt.

Locally, there are 7 stores within a 50 mile radius:  Berkeley, Dublin, Milpitas, Redwood City, Vacaville and 2 in San Jose.  In Dublin at 7117 Regional St., SAVERS is located in the former Mervyn’s building. Business hours are:  Daily 9 – 9, Sunday 10 – 7.  Phone:  925.551-0945.  The Dublin outlet partners with Epilepsy Foundation of America.

Founded on a mission of teamwork, the Bellevue, Washington based organization employs 20,000 workers, offering “a culture and a conscience” unique in the industry.  Worldwide, new emerging markets in struggling countries gain benefits from having a resource available to supply them with saleable merchandise. What doesn’t sell, of the highest quality goods, in the U.S. outlets is sent to developing nations around the globe, to offer in their marketplaces as affordable, useful items.  Last year’s sales yielded sufficient revenue to contribute $180 million to fund programs and services to 160 non-profit partners in the U.S., Canada and Australia.--KRB

Karen Balch is a retired nurse, freelance writer and thrifty shopper. She writes regularly for allnewsnoblues.com.


PostHeaderIcon Locals Seek Help for Philippines Relief


A group of local volunteers will fly to the Philippines to assist with disaster relief on Dec. 1 and seeks community support for a mission of mercy.

Following the super typhoon Haiyan which devastated the Philippines and claimed more than 5,200 lives earlier this month, Castro Valley native Dan Johanson will lead the group that aims to provide support to the island communities of Leyte and Samar.

“We intend to reach the most underserved locations where relief has yet to arrive and to bring resources to bear that will allow needy families to regain their livelihoods and begin to rebuild their lives,” Johanson said.

Most of the group hails from Castro Valley and Hayward and several of the volunteers are affiliated with First Presbyterian Church of Hayward, including Rev. Toby Nelson.

The volunteers are bringing supplies to help the Filipinos of Leyte and Samar revive their fishing and agriculture industries, which are the communities' primary means of support. They will also deliver and help to install solar-powered communication equipment to help local leaders coordinate aid and development on the remote islands which may not regain electricity for a year, Johanson said.

Despite the outpouring of international support since the typhoon struck, the needs of Leyte and Samar are dire, Johanson said.

“UNICEF, the Red Cross and the big organizations are effective in providing a certain bandwidth of support but we are attempting to reach the smallest, most needy communities," he said.

Johanson lived in the Philippines for more than ten years and founded Badjao Bridge, a nonprofit organization that provides poverty relief to the impoverished Filipinos known as the Sea Gypsies on the island of Panglao.

Volunteers are paying about $2,000 each for expenses of the 11-day effort. They would welcome donations.

"Our overhead is minimal and our donations are completely used for the purposes of relieving the greatest amount of suffering that people are enduring right now," Johanson said.

Badjao Bridge is accepting donations through its web site, www.BadjaoBridge.org.--MJ


PostHeaderIcon Dusty Paws Saves Four-Legged Friends

An adorable black basenji dog mix was on the green grass amidst the busy activity at Lake Chabot on a recent Sunday evening. With a broad smile stretching across his face, the eager pooch was jumping up and down to catch everyone’s attention.

Charlie was found near Los Banos in Central California and is just one of the many animals that have been rescued by Dusty Paws, a non-profit organization that rescues cats and dogs and tries to find homes for the furry creatures.

Paulette Murillo, a Dusty Paws’ volunteer, explained how Charlie was found with a broken leg and is now awaiting surgery. However, it’ll be an expensive operation costing several thousand dollars and will require fundraising.

Dusty Paws has never said no to any expenses, whatever the circumstances.

“Dusty Paws was first founded in 2007 in Castro Valley and has saved 400 dogs and cats since,” said Murillo.

An all volunteer effort, Dusty Paws’ mission is to rescue strays and take in animals from often overcrowded shelters.

Six years after the organization was launched, the group has sheltered 70 dogs and eight cats.

The process to find and rescue these animals can vary, but it always involves the dedication of more than 20 volunteers in the organization. Some animals have been rescued from shelters days before they were scheduled to be put to sleep, while others are strays.

Not only do the volunteers actively take care of the animals, but they are also responsible for fundraising and adoption events. Bake sales and dog washes are just two of the ways Dusty Paws raises money for animals like Charlie. Dusty Paws also operates several adoption events a year, where people can come and meet the animals Dusty Paws strives to save.

Charlie was as sweet as affectionate as could be, even with a badly-set leg. He jumped on the table to give kisses, enjoyed romping around as much as possible, and desired a lot of love.

To find event dates or to support Dusty Paws, visit the group’s web site at www.dustypawsrescue.net.--- Lauren Jelks and Grace Moon



PostHeaderIcon New Novel Set in Oakland

The Bay Area is the background setting for many novels and increasingly Oakland and Berkeley are also places where novels are set. All News No Blues sat down with Oakland author Renee Swindle to talk about her new book. Here is what she had to say:

ANNB: "Shake Down the Stars" deals with a woman trying to overcome the death of her daughter by drinking and sleeping around.  Where did you get the idea for that story line?

RS: I start with character and voice when I write, so I guess you can say I let Piper, the narrator of the novel, dictate the heart of the story.  When I started "Shake Down the Stars" I saw a woman standing alone in a room while her family celebrated an event in another part of the house. Why was she alone? I wondered. Why was she drinking? Over time it came to me that (the character) Piper had lost her child five years before and was extremely lonely and somewhat ostracized from her family. I didn’t necessarily want to write anything depressing or heavy, but I stayed with Piper because I wanted to see if she’d find happiness again.  I honestly didn’t know how the novel would end. I also loved her crazy family and friends and her smart voice.

ANNB: How did you decide to set parts of the novel in Oakland, West Oakland and Rockridge?

RS: Setting the novel in Oakland was a no-brainer.  I live in a neighborhood much like Piper’s where there’s a mix of races and socio-economic classes. It made sense that Piper would also see different neighborhoods. She teaches in West Oakland, for instance, and is related to family members who live in the hills.  I loved portraying the economic diversity I see here.

ANNB: When did you first start writing seriously?

RS: I earned my MFA in creative writing from San Diego State University. I had no idea if I could make it as a writer, but I wanted to see if I could get an agent before I took on a full-time job.  After graduating, I spent a year working as a substitute teacher by day and writing by night. I think that year was when I first began taking myself seriously. I was serious enough to live on the cheap and work my butt off trying to write and teach, anyway. I signed with an agent a year later, and she sold the draft of the book I’d been working on which turned out to be my first novel, "Please Please Please."

ANNB: Are parts of the book based on your own life? The lives of those you know?

RS: I enjoy writing stories that keep the reader turning the page and surprised, and this specifically means avoiding writing about my very boring life. I save writing about my own life and people I know for my journal.

ANNB:  Tell us about what message you were aiming to get across in this book and if you feel you were a success.

RS: I hope readers learn that it’s possible to find happiness again, no matter what they’ve been through; that if you’re the outsider of your family, you can create a loving family from friends; and that humor is the antidote to many a momentary problem. The narrator of "Shake Down the Stars" is an amateur astronomer and so I also hope a takeaway from the novel is that the night sky is wondrous and amazing. Thankfully, there’s been a very positive response.  Both readers and reviewers have said they laughed and cried while reading the novel, which is perfect and for what I secretly hoped.

ANNB: Your first novel, "Please Pease Please," was an Essence Magazine/Blackboard bestseller, and was published in Germany and Japan. How did that exposure change you as a writer?

RS: Looking back, I think I thought I needed to become someone else as a writer. I wrote two more novels after Please Please Please (this explains the ten-year delay between books), but my agent couldn’t sell either book. I wrote those two novels while doing my best to sound and write like anyone except me. I’m not sure who I was trying to be,but writing those two books helped me discover my voice—or come back to my voice, is probably a better way to describe what happened.  After writing two books that didn’t sell, I basically told myself to forget about trying to be someone else and write the story I wanted to tell in my own voice. After writing those books, I discovered my ability lies in humor and telling a fast-paced narrative—at least I hope so—even if the story is sometimes dark or sad. By the time I started Shake Down The Stars, I knew I wanted to write something that used humor while also telling a compelling story.  I wanted to write in a style that felt comfortable and honest instead worrying about proving myself.

ANNB: You taught a course titled Developing The Novel for UC Berkeley extension. Have any of your students published anything we might recognize?

RS: I now teach privately and a handful of my students have signed with agents and are in the rewriting phase before the agents approach publishers.

ANNB: What do you love most about Oakland?

RS: There are many places in the world I want to visit, but Oakland’s diversity of people and neighborhoods will always win me over.  I truly love this city.

ANNB: Do you plan to set other novels in the Bay Area? What is a great place to set novels?

RS: My goal is to write stories I don’t see out there much.  I like characters who aren’t perfect and who make mistakes.  I like to write with humor. Oakland inspires all of these things.  I hope to write about the crime and poverty, the art scene, the hipsters and gentrification. Oakland isn’t perfect (what city is?), but there’s so much to do and explore.  I plan to write many more novels set in Oakland.

ANNB: What's next for you?

RS: My next novel, "A Pinch Of Ooh La La," comes out IN July 2014. It involves a woman who owns a bakery in the Temescal District of Oakland.  It’s another novel that’s both funny and moving—at least I hope so.--- KB


PostHeaderIcon Early Alert Canines: Diabetic's Best Friend

From its inception in the spring of 2010, innovator and program director, Carol Edwards projected a mission for Early Alert Canines, (EAC)  the Concord based, incorporated non-profit organization, “to improve the health, safety and well-being of insulin-dependent diabetics through partnerships with certified low blood sugar alert dogs”, free of charge!  EAC is one of only a few centers who train dogs for juveniles at least 12 years old and adult diabetics of all ages.

There are serious risks when a normal blood sugar level of a Type I Diabetic takes an unsuspected sudden decline and is not detected and corrected within a brief time.  Because the service dog has been thoroughly trained to react to the diabetic’s shift in blood sugar level in any given situation, even during the hours of sleep in the night, an Early Alert Canine has earned the reputation as a Diabetic’s Best Friend.

The young dogs, ranging in age from 18 to 24 months old, are received through Guide Dogs for the Blind and Canine Companions for Independence. Several phases of training, over months, begin with presentation of scent samples and teaching the alert technique to the dog.

A phase of 4 to 6 months of transitional training follows, living in home with a diabetic, then returning at night to their volunteer foster home.  Mostly of the labrador and golden retriever breeds, “their life-saving responsibilities will be scent-oriented”, reports staff Registered Nurse, Hilary Freeman.  Their incredible sense of smell and their desire to be people-pleasing in a well behaved manner, afford these intensely trained service dogs the skills to perform a highly specialized function, motivation to initiate the alerting action.  “A diabetic alert dog is trained to recognize the biochemical scent that a diabetic’s body emits as the blood glucose begins to drop”, she adds.

EAC trains full-access service dogs and skilled companion dogs, and while both are “fully trained in medical alerting, companion dogs are not granted the same public access rights as service dogs," according to the Americans with Disabilities Act.  Skilled companion dogs are available to families of underage (less than 12 years old) children with diabetes, who have not yet reached a level to independently handle a service dog in public venues, and others who require the alert skilled companion dog only within the home setting.

With each placement situation, an intense team training period is initiated by staff from EAC to assist in forming a bond with the partners.  One week is provided for a skilled companion dog, working mainly in the home, and a 2-week period of Team Training takes place for a Full Service canine. Subsequently, periodic post-placement follow up continues, to evaluate and ensure success in the partnership.

Eligibility to receive an Early Alert Canine is based upon a process, which includes an application with a fee of  $100, an interview and a home visit to determine needs of the client, who must be insulin-dependent for a period of at least  one year and compliant in attempting to manage the diabetes. Full-access service dogs are reported to reach near 100 percent accuracy in alerting the diabetic client, after partnership of just a few months.

What type of canine would be suitable as an early alert dog? Some defining terms appear in their description:  career-trained, responsible work ethic, socially adapted, high intelligence, even temperament, life saver and life changer.  Certainly these are a tribute befitting the most loyal and coveted best friend!

Training Supervisor, Maureen Lynch Vashel has an extensive history of caring for and bonding with wagging tails, from a childhood 4-H puppy trainer to a licensed instructor at Guide Dogs for the Blind, to years as a consultant at Diablo Doggies, and on to Early Alert Canines, where she shares her enthusiasm of spreading good will day after day.  Other staff members include a registered nurse and a research assistant in pediatric endocrinology.

As a non-profit organization, funding is generated through grants, donations, fund-raisers and the help of volunteer assistants, who can serve in many positions.  Foster homes are also in need.  For further information, contact:  www.earlyalertcanines.org or call:  925.349.5190.

Karen Balch is a retired registered nurse, freelance writer and avid dog lover. She writes regularly for All News No Blues.

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