Free trees, where to get Christmas dinner, Three Fat Guys Santa

Tory and Jesse Crowder started Operation Christmas Tree in 2020 after they paid a lot for a Christmas tree, watched their daughter's joy at "helping"|

Tory and Jesse Crowder started Operation Christmas Tree in 2020 after they paid a lot for a Christmas tree, watched their daughter's joy at "helping" decorate it, and worried about families that had suffered through recent years of fires and Covid.

Jesse works at Haystack Farm in Sonoma, where hundreds of pounds of vegetables, fruits, and flowers are picked or gleaned every week solely to give to those in need. Nothing, absolutely nothing, is ever sold. The entire spirit of Haystack is to share and give to others.

At a dinner honoring the volunteer gleaners at Haystack, organized by Chef Duskie Estes of Farm to Pantry, Tory and I happened to sit at the same table as she was wondering how and where she could make her idea of getting and giving even more Christmas trees away a reality.

Last weekend their website,, became a reality, thanks to the Crowders, Estes, and Haystack Farm's friends and helpers. A year ago, the Crowders delivered 214 trees to Sonoma County families, many of whom had never even had one.

They also realized that most of the recipient families couldn't buy decorations, so this year's 1,000 trees come with lights, ornaments, and more, and even some presents and hot meals, thanks to donations from around the county. All of this earned the Crowders the Press Democrat's North Bay Spirit Award last year.

This weekend, people can enjoy choosing a Christmas tree with gifts of lights, decorations and even a special CSA box of vegetables provided by FEED Sonoma, of which Paul Wirtz of Paul's Produce in Sonoma is a member. FEED Sonoma (Farmers Exchange of Earthly Delights) is a cooperative of about 30 small Sonoma County Farmers. Estes' Farm to Pantry used money from a successful fundraiser to purchase boxes of produce from FEED Sonoma to give with the Christmas trees.

This year tree recipients also received packs of "Santa Snacks" of donuts, Christmas cookies, brownies, cupcakes, Rice Krispy treats, candy, hot chocolate, hot cider, and coffee from "Santa's Sweet Shoppe" in a white tent. According to Tory Crowder, the package even includes an excellent Spanish and English recipe book.

Saturday included a one-time visit from Mr. and Mrs. Claus (aka Kelly and Steve Bacho), who happen to be Jesse Crowder's relatives and bring Santa happiness for free in the spirit of Operation Christmas Tree.

The original 800 Christmas trees, some of the most beautiful and highest quality we have ever seen, were quickly spoken for, so the Crowders have ordered more.

To sign up for a tree that might be available, go through the websites of La Luz, Burbank Housing, Celestina, Corazon, La Familia Sana, and Catholic Charities.

Winter Wine Fest

This Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 11 and 12, brings Sebastiani Vineyards & Winery's Winter Wine Fest with some interesting wine pairings. Foley Family Wines now owns Sebastiani.

Watch for fresh oysters with their Carneros Rosé, along with "hearty food bites paired with their newest release of red wines" and live music. Guests will also get to sample a barrel tasting of their Cherryblock Cabernet Sauvignon with winemaker Mark Bearman. Festive décor is promised. Prices range from $50 to $75 depending on club memberships at Foley's "sister wineries," 1 to 4 p.m. both days. Reserve at or 933-3230. 369 Fourth St. E., Sonoma.

Community Breakfast returns this Sunday

Last Sunday's Community Breakfast was postponed until this Sunday, Dec.12, so gear up for a hot one at St. Francis Solano's school grounds. Last week's breakfast was delayed a week so the Knights of Columbus could treat Aunt Momo to their holiday dinner in return for all she does to help raise funds for scholarships.

Aunt Momo, her brother Brendan Roche, and the Knights of Columbus crew will offer Egg Nog French Toast this Sunday along with scrambled eggs, link sausages, sautéed vegetables, sautéed potatoes, fruit salad, Momo's version of beignets, and loads of decaf and regular coffee, tea, and hot chocolate. $10 adults, $5 children, $25 family. 8 to 10:30 a.m. Park on the playground off Church Street and Third Street West.

Three Fat Guys Santa and Cab

Santa Claus will visit the Three Fat Guys tasting room on Tuesday, Dec. 14, for a free visit for the whole family (or by yourself for a chat). Enjoy plentiful cookies, candy canes, cider and wine. No reservations needed. 4 to 5 p.m., 20816 Broadway, Sonoma.

Also at the winery, Cuts N Cabs Holiday Edition rolls around on Friday, Dec. 17, where Erik Lowe of Belfare catering will grill New York steak ("the cuts") with rosemary fries paired with a glass of their 2019 Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon made by local Jim McMahon. Dungeness crab appetizers and sticky toffee pudding for dessert cost extra, along with additional wine, all served in the tasting room's fun and casual backyard. Club members $50, others $60. 6:30 p.m. Reserve at

Sonoma Overnight Services presented Kathy Ostram the 50,000th meal delivered to food insecure people in Sonoma Valley this year, at the Springs Community Center on Highway 12 on Wednesday, Dec. 01, 2021.  The need for food in the community has grown more in recent years due to the effects of the pandemic on families and the economy. (Photo by Robbi Pengelly/Index-Tribune)
Sonoma Overnight Services presented Kathy Ostram the 50,000th meal delivered to food insecure people in Sonoma Valley this year, at the Springs Community Center on Highway 12 on Wednesday, Dec. 01, 2021. The need for food in the community has grown more in recent years due to the effects of the pandemic on families and the economy. (Photo by Robbi Pengelly/Index-Tribune)

Grateful Sonoma Overnight Support

At about 11 a.m. last Wednesday, Sonoma Overnight Support (SOS) served its 50,000th hot meal since Jan. 1, serving about 11,000 more meals in 11 months than they did in all of 2020. From Jan. 1 to Dec. 1, 2020, SOS served 33,057 hot meals, compared to 50,000 meals in the same period in 2021.

At about 2 p.m. the same day, Vanessa Alvarez of Elaine Bell Catering drove up to SOS at the Springs Community Hall in a box truck to deliver about 600 hot dogs and 125 hamburger patties plus buns, condiment packages, individual packs of Lay's potato chips, 60 pounds of Ranch Baked Beans, and prickly pear lemonade. The hamburgers were served the next day, Thursday. All this as part of Sonoma native Elaine Bell's celebration of her company's 40th anniversary, which she started at age 25 by hauling her kitchen stove into Beaulieu Vineyards' vines to cater her first meal.

All of this generosity and giving coincided with the fifth anniversary of the passing of SOS founder Elizabeth Kemp. Full disclosure: I serve on the board of SOS.

Holiday Tea

Some of us long for an authentic Afternoon Tea in the English tradition, especially if you have ever experienced one.

Afternoon Tea is often served at a table lower than a dining table to people sitting in comfortable chairs in the afternoon. In contrast, High Tea is served at a dining table and consists of slightly more substantial food between 5 and 7-ish p.m.

You won't find either type in Sonoma, but you do have a chance to enjoy it at the Marin Art & Garden Center (MAGC), whose Executive Director Antonia Adezio, has lived in Sonoma with her family for many years.

Afternoon Tea at MAGC is put on by San Francisco's Crown & Crumpet and consists of three assorted tea sandwiches, two warm savories, fruit scones with clotted cream, jam, seasonal fruit curd and seasonal sweets for each person.

All of this comes with a glass of sparkling wine or sparkling cider, a Christmas cracker (a fun pull-apart containing a popper, silly riddle, and a paper crown), a treat to take home, crafts and a special menu for the kids. $95 adults, $55 kids. Part of your fee goes to Marin Art & Garden Center, an outstanding example of environmental preservation founded by Caroline Livermore. Check out for date and time availability through Dec. 23.

Wine Women has a new president

Wine Women's board of directors has selected Ashley Burnett to be the organization's next president. Its mission is to foster talent, connect women in the wine industry and provide educational opportunities.

Founded in 2015, its originators were then-Sonoman Christine Mueller, who served as president of the organization from November 2015 through December 2021, Marcia Macomber, Jackie Egidio and Ellen Reich Luchtel. Much to our loss, Mueller has moved back to her home state of Wisconsin, where she has completely restored an old home – one of her life goals. Burnett succeeds Nicole Cummings of Cakebread Cellars, who served as Wine Women's president for two years.

Dining out on Christmas Eve and Day

Some of us prefer to celebrate Christmas out on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, while others hope for cracked Dungeness crab, turkey, ham, canned baked beans and brown bread, or prime rib at home.

Some restaurant owners have decided to close over the holiday period to give staff, and themselves deserved time off, while others are offering special menus Christmas Eve and Christmas.

Here are the specials we have in as of my Tuesday deadline. Others will come soon. Be sure to read next week too. This time they are in alphabetical order.

Café La Haye

Saul Gropman offers a four-course Christmas Eve takeout menu. After the last pickup on Dec. 24, Café La Haye will take a vacation and reopen on Jan. 11, 2022.

The first course includes broiled Oregon Bay shrimp cake or Paul's Produce mixed lettuce salad. The second course brings potato leek soup, followed by main course choices of Wolfe Ranch quail, Ora King salmon, or marinated filet mignon, all of which are gluten-free. Dessert selections include a gluten-free chocolate silk cake with pecan fleur de sel crust or Yuzu citrus cheesecake. $75 per person. Order at or call 935-5994.

Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn

The Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn will be serving a four-course dinner on Christmas Day, always an elegant and fun occasion. It starts with housemade terrines, charcuterie, and local cheeses, followed by a choice of roasted chestnut soup or green salad with Laura Chenel goat cheese and pumpernickel.

Third-course selections include Fra' Mani ham, grilled Niman Ranch tenderloin, Mary's dry-aged duck breast, seared Alaskan halibut, or wild mushroom pasta with egg, asparagus and black truffle.

Sides served family-style will be whipped Yukon Gold potatoes, roasted root vegetables, bacon glazed Brussels sprouts, heirloom beans with wild mushroom ragout, and roasted heirloom beans with blue cheese and walnuts.

The final course is dessert, and good luck with choosing between a dark chocolate Yule log, gingerbread pecan pie, raspberry cheesecake, or warm apple crumble with chestnut ice cream. $125 per person. Children's menu available. 1 to 7 p.m. Reserve at 935-2415.

Glen Ellen Star

Ari Weisswasser is offering a four-course Christmas Eve Pickup Menu that includes Snake River Farms beef Wellington with pomegranate Bordelaise; housemade pull-apart rolls, Spigarello Caesar salad; au gratin potatoes; creamed Arrowhead spinach, sticky toffee pudding and housemade vanilla maple bourbon ice cream. $75 per person, two-person minimum.

The vegetarian entrée will be a mushroom and winter root vegetable pot pie; sautéed cremini, King Trumpette and oyster mushrooms cooked with celery root, leeks, potato, carrots, vegetable stock and cream. A la carte, no sides included. $65, serves six. Select pick-up time when you order. 343-1384,

Tips Roadside

Tips Roadside's takeout on Christmas Eve features Tony's glazed spiral ham and/or prime rib, roasted garlic marble potatoes, green bean casserole, cranberry walnut salad, and brioche dinner rolls. Dutch apple pie is extra, and you can get three pounds of prime rib instead of ham for $35 extra or smoked prime rib for $125 extra. $200 for dinner for four before add-ons. Pick up Christmas Eve from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Order at or call 509-0078.

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