Wed10222014

News

Council hosts study session on downtown parking garage

Council hosts study session on downtown parking garage


Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
The Los Altos City Council continues to explore options to address parking constraints in the downtown triangle.

The Los Altos City Council last week held the first of two study sessions to discuss the potential construct...

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Schools

LAHS Science and Technology Week features medical examiner

LAHS Science and Technology Week features medical examiner


Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
A Los Altos High School student learns how to use robotic surgical equipment at the school’s Science and Technology Week event last year. Students can also attend hands-on presentations at this year’s event, w...

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Community

Ahoy, matey: Pirate Manor ramps up Halloween display

Ahoy, matey: Pirate Manor ramps up Halloween display


Town Crier File Photo
Pirate Manor is once again scheduled to arrive in the front yard of Dane and Jill Glasgow’s home on Manor Way in Los Altos, just in time for Halloween.

Although not the Walking Dead, pirate skeletons have been brought to li...

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Sports

Lancers rule the pool against Spartans

Lancers rule the pool against Spartans


Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
St. Francis High’s Eric Reitmeir launches the ball over Mountain View High driver David Niehaus (2) and goalie Kenny Tang. The host Lancers won Friday’s non-league game 9-3.

There wasn’t a lot on the line Friday when ...

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Comment

Reeder, Fung for El Camino HCD: Editorial

The good news for the El Camino Healthcare District (formerly the El Camino Hospital District, for those still getting used to the new name) is that there is a contested election Nov. 4 for the district’s board of directors. Three candidates are runn...

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Special Sections

Plant-based diet offers benefits

Plant-based diet offers benefits


Photo by Ramya Krishna
Los Altos resident Nandini Krishna prepares a meat-free dish According to author Caldwell B. Esselstyn Jr., M.D., a plant-based diet can help prevent cancer.

Shirley Okita of Los Altos has found that adhering to a mostly plant...

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Business

New shop offers haute couture for girls

New shop offers haute couture for girls


Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
The Girls @ Los Altos at 239 State St. offers clothing lines such as Nellystella as well as toys and other items for girls.

Cecilia Chen opened The Girls @ Los Altos as a tribute to the party dress. Whether it’s for...

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Books

Helping kids catch a few Zs: Local dental hygienist pens meditative bedtime book

Helping kids catch a few Zs: Local dental hygienist pens meditative bedtime book


Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
Mimi Sommers, who works at a Los Altos dentist’s office, recently wrote a children’s book.

A local dental hygienist recently published a book that aims to ease parents and children during a sometimes anxious e...

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People

BARBARA DARLING MERIDETH

1946-2014

Born in Palo Alto, raised in Los Altos, retired in southern Oregon. Survived by Peter James Merideth, sons Matthew, Jacob and John Merideth, the loves of her life.

She was a housewife who took great pride in her home, her surroundings and...

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Travel

Falling leaves: Four places in California to see autumn colors

Falling leaves: Four places in California to see autumn colors


Courtesy of Castello di Amorosa
Castello di Amorosa in Calistoga, above, boasts a beautiful setting for viewing fall’s colors – and sampling the vineyard’s wines.

Yes, Virginia, there is fall in California.

The colors pop out in...

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Stepping Out

'Sleepy Hollow' awakens at Bus Barn

'Sleepy Hollow' awakens at Bus Barn



Los Altos Youth Theatre’s production of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” a musical based on Washington Irving’s classic story, is set to run through Nov. 2 at Bus Barn Theater. The cast comprises 27 young actors, directed by Cindy Powell. Courtesy o...

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Spiritual Life

Magazine

Local events add color to autumn calendar

Local events add color to autumn calendar


Van Houtte/town crier Visitors make their way through the Children’s Alley.

As Los Altos’ signature Chinese Pistache trees exchange their summer green for vibrant hues of yellow, orange and red in the fall, an abundance of local events also ad...

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Ancient stories, modern rituals mix in St. Nicholas


Image courtesy of stnicholascenter.org
St. Nicholas is remembered today in spicy winter cookies. Photos courtesy of stnicholascenter.org .

Cloves and nutmeg, cinnamon and mace, ginger and cardamom – spices can signal the season of Advent just as surely as holiday albums and festive domestic greenery.

December is a month for gingerbreads, and many countries have done their part to contribute subtleties of texture, sweetness and aroma to the genre.

The speculaas, or spiced biscuit, has reached local markets in the form of Trader Joe’s “cookie butter” but has origins in Germany, Belgium, France and the Netherlands.

This brown cookie, sometimes stamped with the figure of St. Nicholas, resonates with ritual and magic that make it a fitting highlight of the season.

Growing up, I would taste such a cookie exactly once a year – after receiving it, heart aflutter, from the hands of St. Nick himself.

Nicholas’ story dates back to a third-century village on what became the southern coast of Turkey. As the story has it, Nick was a wealthy orphan who used his inheritance to assist those in need. He became the Bishop of Myra. Legends of his deeds (before and after his death) recount his provision of dowries for three young sisters menaced with slavery, and his supernatural rescue of a young boy kidnapped by pirates. Venerated as a saint, Nicholas inspired December traditions for young people that appear in American homes to this day.

Nicholas’ feast day itself, Dec. 6, often passes unremarked in the United States. But in Europe it serves as something of a “First Christmas,” a day for presents and games celebrating the early days of Advent. He’s still seen as a gift-giver – pitching sweets in an open door (or down a chimney?) and leaving presents in shoes or stockings left out at night.

When viewed as a generous member of a community rather than as a distant sprite lodged at the North Pole, St. Nick provides a more human picture of magnanimity and shared celebration. This isn’t to say he can’t be awe-inspiring.

As a young girl, I would gleefully await the appearance of the Bishop of Myra at my church. Each year a gigantic-seeming man in ornate embroidered robes, crowned by a miter and wielding an elaborate wooden crozier, would appear, bearing a basket of gingery cookies to share with his flock.

I was convinced that the man hiding behind an elaborate beard was indeed the local bishop, taking a break from his weighty church business to mingle with the children and impersonate his ancient predecessor. Years later I learned that whichever priest was available donned the bishop’s clothing and assumed the St. Nicholas role. This doesn’t take the shine off my memories of seeing an important man take time for cookies.

At my childhood church, parishioners mixed batches of cookie dough at home and then gathered in a kitchen to bake with the church’s distinctive, ancient-looking cookie molds – a kind of carved stamp against which you press the dough, creating the embossed figure of St. Nick. Sunday School parents originally organized the tradition as a way to celebrate rituals and reflect on the stories behind the season.

If you host a baking party to try the recipe below, you might also appreciate a pot of Dutch Bishop’s Wine to warm you while you work. I don’t think that was a tradition in our church’s kitchen, but it could be in yours.

For more information on St. Nicholas and additional recipes and traditions associated with his story, visit stnicholascenter.org.

St. Nicholas Cookies (Speculaas)

• 1/2 cup melted butter

• 2 cups brown sugar

• 1 tablespoon vanilla

• 1/3 cup milk

• 1 egg, beaten

• 4 1/2 cups white flour

• 1/2 teaspoon salt

• 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

• 1 tablespoon cinnamon

• 1 teaspoon ground ginger

• 1 teaspoon nutmeg

• 1 teaspoon cloves

• 1 teaspoon anise (optional)

Cream butter and sugar well, using heavy-duty mixer. Add egg, milk and vanilla. Sift dry ingredients together and add slowly to creamed mixture. Work in last portion by hand. Dough should be firm but not crumbly or sticky. If for some reason you get a batch that is too dry and crumbly, beat in milk, 1/2 tablespoon at a time.

Roll into 2 1/2-inch thick log and chill thoroughly.

To bake, preheat oven to 350 F.

Divide dough into 12 equal portions and roll each into a smooth ball. Spray cookie mold lightly with oil. Press ball into mold, working from center of mold out. Make back smooth and edges even, approximately 1/8-inch thick. Carefully peel cookie from mold and place on large, greased cookie sheet. Alternately, roll out dough and use a cookie cutter to create St. Nick silhouettes.

Bake 15 minutes. Cool on rack.

Makes 12 large cookies.

Bisschopswijn (Dutch Bishop’s Wine)

(Adapted from “Roots in Holland”)

• 1 bottle red wine

• 1 lemon

• 1 orange

• 20 cloves

• 2 tablespoons sugar

• 1 cinnamon stick

• Pinch of mace and/or saffron (optional)

Wash lemon and orange. Stud each with 10 cloves. Put all ingredients in pan. Cover and simmer gently 30-60 minutes, tasting for preference. Serve in heat-resistant glasses.

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