Solar Cookers International to hold annual gathering at Sierra 2 Aug. 14

Angelina Seda is 87 years old and lives in Kenya. Eight of her nine children have died, one is bedridden and she is raising an orphan grandchild with no money and no income. But thanks to local relief efforts from Solar Cookers International, Seda says she can eat hot food now and her life has improved for the better.

Headquartered in Sacramento, SCI facilitates humanitarian and environmentally focused partnerships around the world through a database of connections. As an umbrella organization to numerous groups that try to spread solar cooking worldwide, SCI helps facilitate partnerships.

Elmhurst resident Ilsa Hess has been solar cooking on and off for 20 years. Using a variety of cookers, including the dashboard of her VW Beetle, she’s tried making everything from cornbread to muffins, steamed vegetables, and chili.   She remembered watching a wacky morning show years ago where they would cook turkeys in cars. “They actually did it in an old Cadillac. That sucker cooked! It’s so hot out there … I don’t know why it’s taken so long to get this together,” she says. But on a hot July day, she put out two mason jars filled with half a russet potato each on her car’s dashboard between a reflective car sunshade and the window. She put the thermometer in the jar. Before she closed the door, the thermometer read between 70-75 degrees Fahrenheit. Within a few minutes after shutting the door, it read 100. A few hours later, she went out to check on the progress. The heat was holding steady at Went out at 2 p.m., 175 degrees no matter how hot it got outside. “The potato was still cooking!” she said.   Talk about free energy!   Hess said out of all the cookers she has tried, her favorite remains the fold-up Cook-it, which you can get through Solar Cookers International. A friend of hers let her borrow a big box cooker. “I tried to cook muffins, but they released a lot of moisture. I thought it would be the god of all cooking gods. But it’s so heavy and I was blowing my back out. For what it’s doing, it’s not that awesome.”   With the Cook-it, she has found that if it’s hot enough outside, by noon her food can be all done.   While SCI recommends black enamel pans, Hess said the glass jars work well for her because she can actually see when something is done.   Solar cooking definitely has a learning curve. Different factors like the time of day and the wind can be an issue, she said.   Sometimes when cooking vegetables in a solar cooker, she has noticed the flavor change. “It will dry out and taste weird,” she said. But when cooking chili, that’s something that needs to cook for a long time. “It could sit there and simmer all day …  It’s hard to boil a large pot of water. You can combat that by separating the beans into multiple jars to help get things moving and presoaking the beans helps.”   For the interested, Hess recommends beginners purchase a solar cooking cookbook.  “Someone has done all the trial and error!”   As a vegan, she has gotten a vegan solar cooking cookbook, but she said the recipes were fancier than she wanted. “It was hippie wheat germ! I don’t make that. Wheat germ almond crust pie – that just sounds nasty.”   So Hess went rogue and started making her own personal cookbook. Here are some of her recipes:  	 Solar Chili 1 14oz can diced tomatoes 2 cans water 1 medium bell pepper cut into 1/2 inch cubes 1/2 cup corn (optional) 2 tsp salt 1/4 cup chili powder 1 Tbs cumin 2 tsp coriander 1 tsp red pepper flakes 1 tsp oregano 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper 1 tsp onion powder 1/2 tsp garlic powder 1/4 cup ketchup 1 cup of your favorite beans, drained (either dried beans pre-soaked overnight or canned)  Open can of diced tomatoes and put into a very large canning jar. Refill the empty can of tomatoes with water and put in a total of two cans of water. Add all other ingredients.  Shake vigorously.  Place in a solar oven and cook for at least 4 hours in high sun (between 10am and 2pm).  You can leave the chili in the cooker all day since it will not burn.  Be aware that the longer the chili cooks, the softer the beans will become.  -  The key to steaming veggies is to not let them overcook. It will make them taste weird. I just wanted to stream the yellow squash and it came out perfect! Just put the food on the dash and the thermometer already says 100 degrees! I've been checking the temp and it's staying at a solid 175 even with the reflectors behind the jars. Two of the jars have chunks from one big russet potato and the third is dried mano coba beans and water. Looks like they are cooking well!  Rosemary potatoes  5 small potatoes (any kind) 1 tsp olive oil 1 TBS dried rosemary  Wash potatoes being sure to scrub away any dirt.  It's okay if the potatoes are still damp.  Put all potatoes into a very large canning jar.  Add olive oil then rosemary.  Put on the lid of the jar and shake to combine.  Place the canning jar into a solar cooker and cook for at least 3 hours in high sun (from 10am to 2pm).  It is okay to cook for longer, but be aware the potatoes will start to become very soft and may fall apart a little bit.   The experts If you are interested in trying solar cooking for the first time yourself, you may be wondering whether it is best to build your own solar cooker, or to buy a finished solar cooker commercially. Take a look at how solar cookers work to help understand the principles of solar cooking. Building your own solar cooker can be fairly easy and inexpensive way to go. Various types of solar cookers that are available to build are listed at build a solar cooker off the website, <www.solarcookers.org>. You will find information there comparing the advantages and disadvantages of each style of cooker. There are also many solar cookers available commercially. Commercial cookers are typically well made, and waterproof. The location of the retailer will be important to consider to avoid high shipping costs.   Once you have decided on a cooker, you will need to find appropriate cookware. Thin-walled dark enameled metal cook pots work well. They are good at heating up quickly. Cast iron pots also work, and are typically preheated in the solar cooker before cooking. The advantage of the heavier pots is that they will help maintain an even cooking temperature if the sun is occasionally blocked by clouds, but most solar cooks seem to use the enamel pots. Because dark cooking pots work the best in solar cookers, it is important to remember to use a nontoxic paint for the exterior cook pot surface if you choose to darken your own pots.  Consider the type of foods you will be preparing in your cooker. Solar panel cookers and solar box cookers are simple to use, and are best at baking and slow cooking, similar to crockpot cooking. Parabolic solar cookers will require frequent reorientation to the sun, but have the ability to fry foods and cook food on a griddle. Cooking guidelines will explain the best way to prepare specific food types. There are also many recipes of proven approaches to great dishes, but basically, most any recipe will work with the right solar cooker, by simply allowing for more cooking time. Most solar cooks will advise to not add much extra liquid when cooking, as you might do with traditional stovetop cooking. The natural juices of the food are retained when solar cooking. Courtesy of www.solarcookers.org

Elmhurst resident Ilsa Hess has been solar cooking on and off for 20 years. Using a variety of cookers, including the dashboard of her VW Beetle, she’s tried making everything from cornbread to muffins, steamed vegetables, and chili. She remembered watching a wacky morning show years ago where they would cook turkeys in cars. “They actually did it in an old Cadillac. That sucker cooked! It’s so hot out there … I don’t know why it’s taken so long to get this together,” she says. But on a hot July day, she put out two mason jars filled with half a russet potato each on her car’s dashboard between a reflective car sunshade and the window. She put the thermometer in the jar. Before she closed the door, the thermometer read between 70-75 degrees Fahrenheit. Within a few minutes after shutting the door, it read 100. A few hours later, she went out to check on the progress. The heat was holding steady at Went out at 2 p.m., 175 degrees no matter how hot it got outside. “The potato was still cooking!” she said. Talk about free energy! Hess said out of all the cookers she has tried, her favorite remains the fold-up Cook-it, which you can get through Solar Cookers International. A friend of hers let her borrow a big box cooker. “I tried to cook muffins, but they released a lot of moisture. I thought it would be the god of all cooking gods. But it’s so heavy and I was blowing my back out. For what it’s doing, it’s not that awesome.” With the Cook-it, she has found that if it’s hot enough outside, by noon her food can be all done. While SCI recommends black enamel pans, Hess said the glass jars work well for her because she can actually see when something is done. Solar cooking definitely has a learning curve. Different factors like the time of day and the wind can be an issue, she said. Sometimes when cooking vegetables in a solar cooker, she has noticed the flavor change. “It will dry out and taste weird,” she said. But when cooking chili, that’s something that needs to cook for a long time. “It could sit there and simmer all day … It’s hard to boil a large pot of water. You can combat that by separating the beans into multiple jars to help get things moving and presoaking the beans helps.” For the interested, Hess recommends beginners purchase a solar cooking cookbook. “Someone has done all the trial and error!” As a vegan, she has gotten a vegan solar cooking cookbook, but she said the recipes were fancier than she wanted. “It was hippie wheat germ! I don’t make that. Wheat germ almond crust pie – that just sounds nasty.” So Hess went rogue and started making her own personal cookbook. Here are some of her recipes: Solar Chili 1 14oz can diced tomatoes 2 cans water 1 medium bell pepper cut into 1/2 inch cubes 1/2 cup corn (optional) 2 tsp salt 1/4 cup chili powder 1 Tbs cumin 2 tsp coriander 1 tsp red pepper flakes 1 tsp oregano 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper 1 tsp onion powder 1/2 tsp garlic powder 1/4 cup ketchup 1 cup of your favorite beans, drained (either dried beans pre-soaked overnight or canned) Open can of diced tomatoes and put into a very large canning jar. Refill the empty can of tomatoes with water and put in a total of two cans of water. Add all other ingredients. Shake vigorously. Place in a solar oven and cook for at least 4 hours in high sun (between 10am and 2pm). You can leave the chili in the cooker all day since it will not burn. Be aware that the longer the chili cooks, the softer the beans will become. - The key to steaming veggies is to not let them overcook. It will make them taste weird. I just wanted to stream the yellow squash and it came out perfect! Just put the food on the dash and the thermometer already says 100 degrees! I've been checking the temp and it's staying at a solid 175 even with the reflectors behind the jars. Two of the jars have chunks from one big russet potato and the third is dried mano coba beans and water. Looks like they are cooking well! Rosemary potatoes 5 small potatoes (any kind) 1 tsp olive oil 1 TBS dried rosemary Wash potatoes being sure to scrub away any dirt. It's okay if the potatoes are still damp. Put all potatoes into a very large canning jar. Add olive oil then rosemary. Put on the lid of the jar and shake to combine. Place the canning jar into a solar cooker and cook for at least 3 hours in high sun (from 10am to 2pm). It is okay to cook for longer, but be aware the potatoes will start to become very soft and may fall apart a little bit. The experts If you are interested in trying solar cooking for the first time yourself, you may be wondering whether it is best to build your own solar cooker, or to buy a finished solar cooker commercially. Take a look at how solar cookers work to help understand the principles of solar cooking. Building your own solar cooker can be fairly easy and inexpensive way to go. Various types of solar cookers that are available to build are listed at build a solar cooker off the website, . You will find information there comparing the advantages and disadvantages of each style of cooker. There are also many solar cookers available commercially. Commercial cookers are typically well made, and waterproof. The location of the retailer will be important to consider to avoid high shipping costs. Once you have decided on a cooker, you will need to find appropriate cookware. Thin-walled dark enameled metal cook pots work well. They are good at heating up quickly. Cast iron pots also work, and are typically preheated in the solar cooker before cooking. The advantage of the heavier pots is that they will help maintain an even cooking temperature if the sun is occasionally blocked by clouds, but most solar cooks seem to use the enamel pots. Because dark cooking pots work the best in solar cookers, it is important to remember to use a nontoxic paint for the exterior cook pot surface if you choose to darken your own pots. Consider the type of foods you will be preparing in your cooker. Solar panel cookers and solar box cookers are simple to use, and are best at baking and slow cooking, similar to crockpot cooking. Parabolic solar cookers will require frequent reorientation to the sun, but have the ability to fry foods and cook food on a griddle. Cooking guidelines will explain the best way to prepare specific food types. There are also many recipes of proven approaches to great dishes, but basically, most any recipe will work with the right solar cooker, by simply allowing for more cooking time. Most solar cooks will advise to not add much extra liquid when cooking, as you might do with traditional stovetop cooking. The natural juices of the food are retained when solar cooking. Courtesy of www.solarcookers.org

As in Seda’s case and that of other women around the world, solar cooking is about women’s issues. If a woman doesn’t have to spend hours a day walking to collect firewood, she could use that time growing crops for her family, or spending time with her kids, visiting her relatives or starting a business, Solar Cookers International Executive Director Julie Greene, said during an interview in the backyard of her Pocket area home.

Greene’s advocacy with solar cookers began after she read a Parade article about SCI’s involvement with a Jewish World Watch refugee camp. The inspiring article led her to buy one of the low-end SCI solar cookers, a Cook-It. With it, she did demos for her kids’ classes, which among things like learning more about the organization made SCI to become her favorite nonprofit for many years.

Greene loves her job because she feels like what she does matters. “I am lucky because I get to talk to people directly. John said to me (he’s our partner in Kenya), he said for you, in the States, it’s for emergencies only but for us, it’s a matter of life and death. I think of that almost every day,” Greene said.

Greene said a lot of the work SCI does not only educates people on how to solar cook but also how to find materials, which are natural to the people’s environments. “What happens if something breaks? There needs to be enough knowledge, enough materials,” she said. “And in places where there are no stores, people are always looking for cookers that could be made of local materials such as cardboard and foil,” Greene said.

The array of issues solar cooking impacts spans the gamut of women’s, health, poverty and the environment.

Women’s issues
Besides the mere time savings a woman has for other things when cooking with the sun, their own personal safety is guarded, explained Greene.

“Women who are in refugee camps and are in a hostile environment, in some places where they leave the camps and walk 20 or 30 kilometers to collect firewood, they are raped, attacked or beaten as a warning to anyone else that they cannot take the scarce trees. ‘We don’t have enough for us.’ It’s understandable. People want to protect what little they have,” she said.

Similarly, for those who live in the desert and rely on finding twigs for firewood, having thousands of refugees from the camp collecting the twigs that the local people cannot even find, this causes a lot of tension.

“So to be able to provide a woman at a refugee camp with a solar cooker means she’s safe,” Greene said.

Health issues
Besides helping to prepare food, the solar cookers have been used to pasteurize water.
In 72 water samplings in Kenya, 52 of them had E. coli, so SCI representatives taught people how to pasteurize water in a Cook-it. “It kills Giardia. It kills cholera, Hep A and rotavirus and all these things we are really familiar with,” Greene said.  “We’ve been told the children stop complaining that their tummies hurt,” she said. Many people in Kenya believe that water is a gift from God and therefore drink from swamps and streams.

Environmental issues
With depleted forests in Kenya due to increased population, many of the indigent would focus on the environment if their needs weren’t so great. “So if (SCI) can provide people with these (solar cookers), there are so many benefits,” Greene said.

Come see for yourself
SCI is currently getting ready for its annual Shine On! gathering at Sierra 2 on Aug. 14 and the general public is welcome to come celebrate the global importance of solar cooking. There will be plenty of food, wine, music, cooking displays, and more. If you are a supporter or simply want to know more about the importance of solar cooking, join SCI at the Sacramento Sierra 2 Community Center on Aug. 14.

Solar Cookers International is headquartered in Midtown at 1919 21st St. Suite 101
Sacramento, 95811. For more information, visit www.solarcookers.org

IF YOU GO:

WHAT: Shine On annual SCI gathering (open to the public)
FEATURING: Dinner, wine, sun-baked desserts, Girl Scouts solar cooking display, silent auction, solar cooker sale. Monica Woods, News10 Meteorologist will MC. The event will also feature Julie Greene and Allart Ligtenberg, inventors of Trekkers’ Cooker backpack used at the summit of Mt. Everest
WHERE: Sierra 2, 2791 24th St., Sacramento, 95818
CONTACT: 452-3005
WHEN: Wednesday, Aug. 14, 5:30 – 8 p.m.

Explore, taste East Sac with Edible Gardens Tour

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How many times have you walked past a home garden overflowing with ripe fruits, luscious berries and leafy vegetables, wishing you could sink your teeth into just about everything?
Soroptimist International of Sacramento, Inc. (SIS) is giving you the chance with the 2nd annual Edible Gardens Tour. The tour will take visitors through six different edible gardens in East Sacramento.

Get growing
Susann Hadler, who has lived in East Sacramento for more than 30 years and chairs the Fund Development Committee and Edible Gardens Tour for SIS, said an edible garden is balanced landscape that combines edible plants, such as fruits and vegetables, with purely ornamental plants.
“You’re incorporating plants that you can actually eat into your landscaping,” she said.
For example, one of the gardens on this year’s tour is the home garden of interior designer Amanda Fossum.
Fossum was inspired by the Edible Gardens Tour last year to not only do more with her garden, but also become part of the tour this year.
“I thought if we could show what we’ve done in just two years of owning our house, it would encourage other people to start their own gardens or even be on the tour themselves next year,” Fossum said.
Fossum’s garden includes a covered patio, fire pit and raised beds made from recycled cedar and redwood. It also extends from the backyard to the front.
For the second year of their garden, Fossum said she and her husband decided to “double down” and plant as much as they can. The garden’s bounty includes four different fruit trees, zucchini squash, watermelon, cantaloupe, two different varieties of tomatoes, lettuce, herbs, peppers and cucumbers.
Another garden on the tour this year will feature what Hadler called a “sustainable English cottage garden.”
Hadler said the home itself looks like an English cottage with gardens in both the front and backyards featuring sunflowers, artichokes, tomatoes, beans, strawberries and blueberries. And then there’s a more whimsical garden that features a two-story chicken coop and raised beds for growing vegetables and herbs.
Also on the tour for 2012 is the Science Alive garden at Theodore Judah Elementary School, which features edible gardens, native plant gardens and a butterfly pavilion.
“What they have done is amazing – they’ve really taken science out of the classroom and put it in what you could call a living laboratory,” Hadler said. “They’re excited about being one of the featured (gardens).”

Coming up green
Although edible gardens are the focus of this event, the main purpose is for SIS to raise money for its philanthropic endeavors. SIS is a service club for professional business women whose mission is to improve the lives of women and children.
Last year, Hadler said their first-ever Edible Gardens Tour saw about 600 attendees and raised almost $10,000 for the Guardian Scholars Program at California State University Sacramento.
The program provides a campus-based program to support current and former foster youth successfully complete a college degree. The funds raised also went toward scholarships SIS gives out each year to high school and college students.
This year, funds raised through the Edible Gardens Tour will again go toward scholarships, as well as two main charities, Hadler said.
The first is the Children’s Receiving Home Independent Living Program for Foster Youth, which Hadler said focuses on helping foster youth become independent members of the community once they become young adults.
“There are programs that they go through that guide them on such things as renting an apartment, how to go to the DMV to get your driver’s license, and how to make sure you’re getting the right cell phone contract,” Hadler said.
The second charity is the Lilliput Children’s Services Emergency Kinnect Program.
Hadler said this program provides clothing, toys, formula and diapers to children to have been removed from a home due to an emergency situation until they can be placed in a stable environment.
Fossum said she is proud to be a part of this year’s Edible Gardens Tour to help support SIS in its fundraising efforts for others, and she benefits as well.
“I’m considering opening my own small business right now, so in terms of having other women in the community as a support network, I think it’s a great organization,” she said.

corrie@valcomnews.com

‘Meals for Health’ program at Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services a resounding success

During April, Whole Foods Market partnered with the Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services and EarthSave to teach a group of low-income Sacramento residents a healthier way to eat. Participants celebrated with a “graduation ceremony” on May 7.
Whole Foods Market partnered with the Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services and the non-profit EarthSave organization to sponsor a “Meals for Health” program that taught low-income Sacramento residents how to improve their lives through healthier food choices and exercise. / Valley Community Newspapers photo, Susan Laird

Whole Foods Market partnered with the Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services and the non-profit EarthSave organization to sponsor a “Meals for Health” program that taught low-income Sacramento residents how to improve their lives through healthier food choices and exercise. / Valley Community Newspapers photo, Susan Laird

The “Meals for Health” educational program involved lectures from national leaders in the “plant-strong” and “whole foods” areas of nutrition and exercise, physician supervision and boxes of healthy foods. It was an inaugural program at the food bank that organizers hope to learn from…and to hopefully “roll out” nationwide.

According to EarthSave, which provided the curriculum for the program, “hunger and obesity are often flip sides of the same malnutrition coin. Both hunger and obesity can be symptoms of poverty. Obesity, heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, bowel diseases, arthritis and a host of other degenerative conditions are rampant in communities experiencing food insecurity. Being poor and having serious health problems create nearly insurmountable obstacles to success.”

EarthSave is a nonprofit non-profit organization dedicated to helping people “make food choices that promote health, reduce health care costs and provide greater health independence.”

Participants learned from national nutrition leaders and speakers on topics such as “The Starch Solution,” “The Amazing Digestive System,” “The Pleasure Trap,” “How to Eat Whole – and Why Should I?” and “Healthy Living Made Easy.”

The results from the four week program were astonishing.

Not only did every single participant graduate from the program (organizers had anticipated up to a 30 percent dropout rate) – they thrived. On average, each of the 21 participants:

  • Dropped 30 points in total cholesterol
  • Dropped 21 points in LDL (bad) cholesterol
  • Dropped 7 points in fasting blood sugar
  • Lost 17 pounds
  • Dropped 10.4/10.3 points in blood pressure

Dr. Donald Forrester, supervising physician, noted that all participants had improved skin tone, a reduced (or eliminated) need for medication, a better sense of balance and an overall better sense of well-being. Several participants, who started the program on canes, graduated on their own two feet – no walking aids necessary. One diabetic observer, who followed the guidelines for the program along with the participants, dropped 100 points in fasting blood sugar – without medication.

“No one had any complaints about the program,” Forrester said.

The Sacramento Whole Foods Market located at the corner of Arden Way and Eastern Avenue donated over $5,000 worth of whole food products that participants learned how to prepare and enjoy.

“Whole Foods Market is an active participant in the local community,” said Christina Clarke, marketing team leader for Whole Foods. “Our core values at Whole Foods Market include caring about our communities and promoting the health of our stakeholders through healthy eating education. The Meals for Health Program is a great way for (us) to support community members and show our commitment to promoting healthy eating education.”

“Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services is thrilled to partner with Earth Save on the wonderfully successful and impactful Meals for Health program,” said Kelly Siefkin, communications director for the facility. “The results participants earned through modifications in their diet are tremendous. We hope to teach many individuals who access programs at Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services about the benefits of eating a plant-based diet and the simple steps they can take to positively impact the health of their family.”

Leaders at EarthSave concur.

“I want to thank you for all sticking with it,” John Robbins, founder of EarthSave, told the graduates. “It’s your example that will speak to people. You are now on a pathway to health and increased opportunities. Once your eyes are opened to something – you ‘can’t not see it.’ Eating healthfully is one of the most compassionate things you can do for yourself.”

For more information and videos about the Meals for Health program in Sacramento, visit EarthSave’s website at www.EarthSave.org.

Now open for business: Sugar Plum Vegan Cafe

There are several reasons people choose to go vegan. Some are driven to it due to food allergies; others do it to stay away from processed foods; and some just think it’s wrong to use animals as a food source. Thanks to a new vegan cafe in midtown near East Sacramento, there might be many more vegans in our neighborhood.

During the nearly two weeks since the Sugar Plum Vegan Cafe opened at 2315 K St. in midtown, business has been good for co-owners Khyem Amri and Melissa Wilhelm. (Photo by Benn Hodapp)
During the nearly two weeks since the Sugar Plum Vegan Cafe opened at 2315 K St. in midtown, business has been good for co-owners Khyem Amri and Melissa Wilhelm. (Photo by Benn Hodapp)
The Sugar Plum Vegan Cafe opened as a rousing success on March 14 during Second Saturday festivities. Co-owner Khyem Amri said that the line was out the door with folks ready to try all manner of baked goods and other vegan delicacies.

During the nearly two weeks since it opened at 2315 K St. in midtown, business has been good for Amri and his wife Melissa Wilhelm. Together, they hope to bring a taste of something of which Sacramento just doesn’t have much.

The idea, however, did not materialize overnight.

Khyem and Melissa met in a farmer’s market in Brentwood three and a half years ago. Melissa, who is the head chef and baker at the Sugar Plum, was there selling some of her vegan delights. Khyem remembers his initial reaction to seeing Melissa that day.

“I had just gotten out of a relationship, so I tried to ignore what I was feeling when I saw her,” Amri said. “But I couldn’t ignore the fireworks.”

He helped Melissa develop her business, which was a vegan food company called Jivana Vegan. They were a natural fit as far as business went, as Melissa did all the food preparation while Khyem drove the attention-getting portion that got people to stop at their booth. Eventually they went on to sell their products in a much more lucrative Los Angeles farmers’ market where they soon quadrupled their profits.

 

Sugar Plum in Sacramento 

One of the early signs that they might have a chance at starting a restaurant was when one of Melissa’s gluten-free carrot cakes took a silver medal in a culinary competition. Impressive considering it was the only vegan entry. While still in Los Angeles, Melissa became pregnant with the couple’s first child. The business went on hiatus and the two thought about where they wanted to raise their son. Amri, who grew up in Sacramento and graduated from El Camino High School in 1999, suggested moving back up north.

Both have held a number of jobs since the birth of their child, but a fortuitous meeting set in motion what would one day become the Sugar Plum Vegan Cafe.

Melissa spoke at a meeting for the Sacramento Vegetarian Society and was immediately approached by an investor. They found a place in midtown that could accommodate all they needed and six months later, they were moving in.

The two-story Victorian house-turned-business was formerly a restaurant that featured Mediterranean cuisine. A temporary sign hangs above the entrance, making it difficult to know the café is there unless you knew beforehand.

“I think people are finding us pretty well,” Wilhelm said. “We’re working on a permanent sign to put out front.”

Since the opening, there has been little rest for either of them, but both are quick to acknowledge that being too busy is better than not being busy enough.

Moving back up to Sacramento allowed the couple to be close to Amri’s family and they saw it as an ideal place to raise a child. But they also saw it as an opportunity to open up a place in an area brimming with vegans, vegetarians and quality-conscious foodies. In fact, the Sugar Plum is the first vegan bakery in Sacramento.

So far, it looks like the cafe might have found a permanent home.

“There are a lot of excited vegans around Sacramento,” Wilhelm said. “There have been a lot of curious people coming in because they want to try a healthier way to eat.”

Unlike vegetarians, vegans choose not to eat any animal products in food preparation – no milk, cheese or the like. It is a lifestyle choice for a growing number of people who are worried about what they are putting into their bodies.

Wilhelm went over a number of things having to do with veganism and why it may be a good idea for people to consider it as an alternative.

“Everything is fresh and organic,” she said. “There are no preservatives or pesticides, so obviously that is good for your health.”

 

The Menu

While you may notice that everything on display in the front of the store is of the dessert variety, the cafe does have a lunch and dinner menu featuring panini sandwiches, salads and nachos. They also recently featured a Portobello mushroom meatloaf.

The most popular lunch/dinner item is the nachos, according to Wilhelm. It consists of corn chips topped with black beans, olives, vegan meat alternatives, vegan cheese, avocados, salsa and vegan sour cream. A plate of them will cost you $11, but will comfortably serve three.

As far as the dessert menu is concerned, the Sugar Plum has your sweet tooth covered. The cafe features 12 different types of dessert items ranging from cinnamon rolls to cookies, cupcakes and muffins, all made fresh daily.

Also on the menu are a number of gluten-free products for people who have problems digesting it.

The cafe also features a catering service for all kinds of private functions.

 

Visiting the Sugar Plum Vegan Cafe

The Sugar Plum Vegan Cafe is located at 2315 K St. Business hours for the café are Mondays, closed; Tuesday through Thursday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Fridays, 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.; and Sundays, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. For more information, call (916) 706-3302 or visit sugarplumvegan.com. Free wifi Internet access is available.

 

E-mail Benn Hodapp at benn@valcomnews.com.