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Kathleen Hill: Congressional chocolates, Noche, mask mandate and Kevin McNeely

U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson, pictured here in 2019, recently picked up some specialty Wine Country Chocolates. (Photo: Erik Castro/for The Press Democrat)
U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson, pictured here in 2019, recently picked up some specialty Wine Country Chocolates. (Photo: Erik Castro/for The Press Democrat)

So much was going on in Sonoma yesterday, Thursday, Aug. 5.

There was the Valley of the Valley of the Moon Garden Club meeting, the City Party, and the Sonoma Valley Woman’s Club wine tasting.

But Thursday morning brought Congressman Mike Thompson to Wine Country Chocolates’ chocolate tasting room in El Paseo off First Street East.

Owner Betty Kelly made Congressman Thompson “some chocolate disks with the Democratic Party logo and a blue ribbon,” hoping “he would like to use them for fundraising or other purposes.” Apparently Thompson is also going to pass one of the disks on to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

So far Kelly has no intention of selling these from her shop, but if she does she will give equal chocolate time to Republicans.

Masks are again required for indoor spaces. Layla is pictured here in May. (Photo: Erik Castro/for The Press Democrat)
Masks are again required for indoor spaces. Layla is pictured here in May. (Photo: Erik Castro/for The Press Democrat)

What does the new (again) mask rule mean?

If we are supposed to wear masks inside, whether vaccinated or not vaccinated, what does this really mean, say, in restaurants, tasting rooms and bars, if anything?

While restaurants are still allowed to open inside, does this mean we revert to some people putting on a mask only when they enter a restaurant?

We only have to wear masks inside, but not while eating or drinking. Some people put the masks on to enter the establishment, and as soon as they sit down with a glass of water, they remove those masks immediately.

How often do restaurants, tasting rooms and bars have employees tested for COVID-19 and what percentage have been vaccinated, both in the front of house and in the kitchen?

Fundraisers are back

It is definitely fundraising season in Sonoma during which several nonprofits are trying to make up for the funds they couldn’t raise last year during the official pandemic.

La Luz Center’s Noche events are always a wild affair, with Summer of Love set for Saturday. [Robbi Pengelly/SIT]
La Luz Center’s Noche events are always a wild affair, with Summer of Love set for Saturday. [Robbi Pengelly/SIT]

Noche in the Summer of Love

La Luz and Marcello Defreitas have done it again. And it is bound to continue to be “the party of the year,” at least among fundraisers.

For several years and throughout his presidency of the La Luz board of directors, Defreitas has created spectacular events and this one will uphold his reputation.

This year’s invite reads: “Tune in, get groovy, take a trip to a human Be-In. Join the revolution with compassion, awareness and love. Be sure to wear flowers in your hair. Peace.” For those who don’t know or remember what the “peace” reference was about, it was about getting the U.S. military out of Vietnam. Wear your bell bottoms (if they still fit your bottom), love beads, tie-dye, and go as “1967 Bohemian,” which just seemed rather normal at the time.

Noche in the Summer of Love on Saturday, Aug. 7, will have a sub-theme of “Let the Sun Shine In,” the most memorable song from “Hair,” one of the first rock musicals of the 1960s. Either experience for the first time or relive all the upbest “Age of Aquarius” music of Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin and Jimmy Hendrix, all in the after dinner show put on by Gregangelo Velocity Arts & Entertainment.

To be held and staged at an appropriate outdoor location in Sonoma Valley with vaccinations required, the event will begin with Elaine Bell’s hors d’oeuvres of English cucumber rounds, cherry tomato bruschetta, mini shrimp cocktails, pigs in a blanket and mini crab cakes.

At the same time there will be a Summer of Love Grazing Station with 1967 décor and classic spinach dip, cocktail Swedish meatballs and retro-deviled eggs with stuffed seafood salad and smoked sturgeon.

Meanwhile, guests will find their tables full of mini stuffed potato skins with Vella cheddar, crispy prosciutto and scallions, a garlic herb cheese log with Laura Chanel goat cheese, crusty baguettes with sweet butter and mixed spiced nuts.

Once guests are seated, they will be served several dishes “family-style,” which means platters or bowls of food that are passed around a table.

Those will include braised short ribs with cabernet and cocoa nibs, petrale sole meunière with brown butter caper sauce, summer ratatouille ravioli, roasted mixed potatoes with garlic and thyme, and whole roasted rainbow carrots.

The finale will include a “parade of desserts” to include dark chocolate cupcakes with fun ‘60s and ‘70s decorations. $350.

Kevin McNeely is this year’s Muse at the Sonoma Community Center. (Photo by Robbi Pengelly/Index-Tribune)
Kevin McNeely is this year’s Muse at the Sonoma Community Center. (Photo by Robbi Pengelly/Index-Tribune)

Sonoma Community Center honors Kevin McNeely

Sonoma Community Center’s annual Muse event is a very big deal in Sonoma’s cultural history, and it is a true honor for someone to be named the Muse, dead or alive. And we have had both.

This year’s Muse is Kevin McNeely, who is very much alive and lives well, riding one of his gorgeous motorcycles to work, enjoying Sonoma’s agricultural bounty through good food and good wine, and supporting the arts of all kinds.

After serving on the Sonoma International Film Festival’s board, McNeely, a native of Minnesota and longtime New York resident, became its executive director in 2008 and has kept the festival alive and expanding with co-director Ginny Krieger and crew ever since. He currently serves as SIFF’s artistic director.

McNeely’s commitment to education and his passion for film were the impetus for the creation of the Media Arts Program at Sonoma Valley High School. Starting in 2002, Sonoma International Film Festival and nonprofit partner Sonoma Valley Education Foundation have provided more than $650,000 in resources to enhance the student filmmaking program, including building a state of the art production services studio at the campus.

Since taking the helm at SIFF, McNeely expanded the programming to include international film, including supporting new filmmakers with awards and travel stipends, hosting illustrious film industry executives and actors for educational talks and panels, and introducing a culinary and wine component to the festival to engage local businesses.

McNeely and wife Rosemary, also an active Sonoma arts patron who teaches art through the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art’s children's program, moved from New York to Sonoma in 1992.

McNeely is also a Trustee for the Manitou Fund. According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune newspaper, the Manitou Fund was founded in 1966 by McNeely’s father, Douglas G. McNeely, and held $1 billion in assets in 2019.

Past Muses have included M.F.K. Fisher, Robert Lynch, Jack London, Alma Spreckles, Nicholas Carriger, James D. Zellerbach, Count Agostón Haraszthy, Chuck Williams, Mary Ellen Pleasant, Holly and Steve Kyle, Carol and Sam Morphy, and Jack Lundgren.

Fans of caterer Cristina Topham and her Spread Catering will enjoy her Swiss-themed menu for the Muse dinner on Saturday, Aug. 14. While Kevin McNeely’s name doesn’t sound Swiss, the dinner is also a nod to his alma mater, Franklin University Switzerland, located in Logano. Currently his daughter, Hannah Rose, attends Franklin, an interesting liberal arts university that incorporates travel with international students and studies.

The evening begins with passed appetizers of smoked black cod blini with trout roe, stuffed mini marble potatoes, and malakoffs (Swiss fondue fritters) with housemade pickles and mustard.

Dinner offers a pickled roasted beet salad with local greens, Chevre cheese and candied local walnuts, followed by a choice of braised Berkshire pork belly or paprika dusted pan-seared salmon served with knoepfle (Swiss spaetzle) and summer vegetables.

Dessert will bring quark and peach Streuselkuchen with brandy crème Chantilly and toasted hazelnuts. $225. 5 p.m. Lots of wine and beer. For sponsorships contact Beth Fox at Beth@sonomacommunitycenter.org or tickets at sonomacommunitycenter.org/muse.

Apologies to Jacob of Jacob’s

Based on some inaccurate information, I wrote last week that Jacob Begorgis was moving to Sweden.

He would like everyone to know that he did sell his Jacob’s Restaurant, but not the buildings where it is located, which he still owns. And he is, indeed, going to Sweden to relax and see his two sons, daughter and wife Helena. Helena will come back to Sonoma with Jacob where he looks forward to getting back in the wine business and pursuing other ideas and ventures.

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