A Japanese Oasis

Hidden just under your nose as one of the Central Valley’s best-kept secrets is the Shinzen Friendship Garden in Fresno’s Woodward Park.

By Will Freeney | memo247365@gmail.com

Have you ever thought it would be nice to get away, to find beauty and serenity that takes you outside the mundane surroundings and events of your daily life in Fresno? Sure, we are blessed with the majesty of the Sierras nearby – in Kings Canyon, Sequoia National Park, and Yosemite. Yes, the lulling rhythm of waves breaking gently on sandy shores can be enjoyed along the Central Coast just a few short hours away. What if you really need a getaway, though, and don’t have hours or days to get to your getaway? What if you are sated with the Sierras and the coast and really desire something more exotic?
The answer could be as close as Woodward Park. Tucked away in the center of the park, easily overlooked if you drive through on your way to one of the many other features of the park, lies Shinzen Friendship Garden – an oasis of elegant natural beauty. Japanese gardens offer a very different form of landscape enhancement than, say, traditional English gardens. The controlling principle in Japanese gardens is beauty and serenity as opposed to the order and uniformity of English gardens. The result is a pocket of tranquility, a place to relax while treating the eyes to a wide array of botanical wonders and enhanced landscape features.

Shinzen Friendship Garden offers all of this, and its origins lie in the pursuit of that central element of its name – friendship. Following World War II, many American cities fostered sister-city friendships with Japanese cities, and Fresno was one of them – choosing Kochi, Japan as its sister city. The most common translation of Shinzen is “goodwill,” which reinforces the emphasis on friendship. Shinzen literally means “before god,” which can indicate an altar or place of spiritual attention. Once there, you will see how the garden evokes that kind of serenity. The vision for the creation of Shinzen Friendship Garden was born in 1967 and fostered by the donation of land for Woodward Park by Ralph Woodward. The nascent concept was nurtured by the Woodward Park Japanese Development Committee, led by Ben Nakamura. The actual design of the park was accomplished by a succession of contributors – Kodo Matsubara, Paul Saito, and Shiro Nakagawa, with assistance from the City of Fresno. The garden itself reached maturity with its incorporation and dedication in 1981. A Board of Directors for the associated 501(c)3 oversees maintenance and management of services and programs.

In addition to the original features of the garden, the Clark Bonsai Collection has made its home in Shinzen Friendship Garden since autumn 2015. This collection of over 100 miniature trees is an amazing testament to the horticultural art of bonsai, but it is also a “living museum” offering lectures, training, and workshops in the pursuit of bonsai.

There is no better time than now to experience Shinzen Friendship Garden. It is springtime when the garden’s year-round beauty is augmented by many fragrant and colorful blossoms. Springtime also marks the seasonal shift in the Friendship Garden’s hours of operation. From April 1st through September 30th, the garden is open not only on weekends and holidays (10 am – 7 pm) but also on weekdays Wednesday to Friday (10 am – 7 pm).

Lastly, but most importantly, the advent of Spring is marked by the celebration of the Spring Cultural Festival this April 15th from 10 am to 4 pm. Performances start at 11 am, with Koto (traditional Japanese stringed instrument) in the Tea House and Lusheng/Fashion Show/Dance in the Main Garden.

The performances continue in the main garden throughout the afternoon, with a varied assortment of regional dances, including Hula (Hawaiian), Khymer (Cambodian), Teocalli (Aztec), Polynesian, and Tounkara (Malinese). Simultaneously, there will be a Tea Presentation in the Tea House at noon, followed by an Ikebana (formal flower arrangement) presentation at 2pm.
In addition to expanded awareness of Japanese culture, visitors to Shinzen Friendship Garden during the Spring Blossom Festival this April can expand their knowledge of relatively recent history – McLane High School’s current Art Venture Project, “Gaman: Enduring the Seemingly Unbearable with Patience and Dignity — images and stories of the incarceration of Japanese-Americans at Manzanar” will be on exhibit throughout the day.

Should you become hungry in the midst of all this aural and visual stimulation, lunch will be available from 11 am to 2 pm, provided by Taste Catering. For those for whom no outing is complete without an opportunity to shop, the Spring Cultural Festival will be offering a wide array of unique and artful products from independent vendors: Contours in Clay, Fresno Gift Pic, Designs by Camille, North American Satsuki, Bonsai Center Naturals, Hilda Vandergriff, Wired Stone Creations, Chieko’s Art, Pastimes Pottery, Partners N Art, Beasley Ono Garden, Soaps N’ Stuff, and Lady Heather Soap Company.
So, mark your calendar. Dedicate your Saturday afternoon to experiencing new sights and sounds in an exquisitely exotic locale virtually in your own backyard. The cost of admission ($5 for adults, $1 for students, seniors, and children 4-14) plus parking ($5 per car, $3 for seniors) is well worth it. For that price, you can experience that alternative getaway and absorb new cultural experiences along with your serenity – and without the jet lag and expense of a trip to Japan.

If – as likely will be the case – you are charmed by the Shinzen Friendship Garden and stimulated by the abundance of cultural and historical education provided at the Spring Cultural Festival, you can look forward to more events later in the season.

The Toro Nagashi (Floating Lantern) Festival takes place late in the summer at the conclusion of Obon. Obon is a traditional Japanese celebration in which the souls of the ancestors are honored and are believed to return. Toro Nagashi, in which lanterns are set afloat on a nearby body of water, represents the return of the ancestors’ souls to the afterlife. The release of several hundred lit lanterns on Woodward Lake, in this case, will be both a solemn and joyful spectacle well worth experiencing in person and will be held at the Woodward Lake shore adjacent to the Shinzen Friendship Garden on August 11th.
Additional events this year include Art & Music in the Garden on May 5th. For upcoming details on these events and for comprehensive information about Shinzen Friendship Garden and the many opportunities for meaningful getaways that it offers, consult their website (www.shinzenjapanesegarden.org) or give them a call at (559) 840-1264.

Under Your Nose – Fresno Water Tower

By Will Freeney | memo247365@gmail.com

Water towers are a universal fixture of the American landscape – providing a clean, gravity-fed water supply for the communities they serve. Their design has changed over the years, and various communities have used them as a means of advertising their presence, their town motto, and in some cases their whimsy. Nowhere, however, has a water tower been envisioned and manifested with such elegance, forethought, and unique style as the Fresno Water Tower.

As you criss-cross downtown Fresno, going about your business, pre-occupied with which one-way street you can take to get where you’re going and where you can find a vacant parking space, you might overlook the Fresno Water Tower. It is not exceptionally tall by modern standards, and in fact, the water tank was disguised by the third-floor level walls of the tower. Perhaps you did look over at it in passing and think, “Hmm, what a quaint adobe cylinder, here on the edge of this park.” (Eaton Plaza)

The water tower’s history goes all the way back to the 19th century chronologically and all the way back to Germany geographically and Chicago financially. Fresno Water Works was established in 1876 by partners George McCullough and Lyman Andrews. They, in turn, sold it to a group of Chicago investors for $140,000 in 1890. In 1893 that company hired George Washington Maher to design an elegant new water tower for the city. Maher provided a design that was inspired by a water tower in Worms, Germany.
G.W. Maher designed what you can see today at the corner of O Street and Fresno Street. His plan called for the lower interior portion of the tower to serve as a library. Although that function was never pursued, the original structure matched Maher’s blueprint in every other detail.

The tower consists of two portions: the upper of the three-story levels contains a 250,000-gallon tank, which weighed over two million pounds when full (the tank was decommissioned and emptied in 1963). Throughout its entire height, the tower consists of two walls. In the lower 30 feet of the tower, the outer wall is separated from the inner wall and slopes inward to join it at the 30-foot mark – creating a wraparound tunnel at the base and providing cantilevered support for the structure. Above that point, the inner wall slopes together to form the domed ceiling of the lower room while the outer wall continued upward to mask the water tank.

The lower portion, below the tank, is an open two-story room with walls that slope to a dome at 45 feet above the floor. Originally, there was a spiral staircase in the center, providing access to the second story balcony. All of this was included in Maher’s plans. At some point, the spiral staircase was removed, but it can be seen in the short-lived 1986 television series, “Fresno.”
The history of ownership and use of the water tower is as complicated as that of its design. The city of Fresno acquired the water tower in 1931. Its use as a water tower had been abandoned by 1963 when the water tank was emptied.

Subsequently, it was used by the city as a parking meter and water meter repair facility. In 2001 it was repurposed as a visitor center operated by the Fresno Convention and Visitors Bureau. The water tower’s latest chapter began in October 2014, when the Fresno Arts Council took over the operation.

Under their auspices, it still functions as the City of Fresno visitor information center – with a wide array of complimentary brochures and maps regarding local points of interest. The water tower now also functions as the Fresno Arts Council gift shop and gallery.

The FAC Water Tower gallery is an official ArtHop venue, with a featured artist of the month showing their work. There is also a wide array of local artists with longer-term exhibits in the Water Tower, including many well-known Fresno-area artisans as well as budding younger creatives. The products offered range from paintings in all media to photography to ceramics and textiles. There is also a sizeable selection of books by local authors about local topics – including the esteemed native son, William Saroyan.

All of this, plus the assistance of volunteer docent/curator/cashiers, is available inside the Fresno Water Tower, Tuesday through Saturday, from 10 am to 4 pm. The next time you have some time downtown, take the time to witness the unique architectural history and the accessible contemporary art residing at the southwest corner of Fresno and O Streets, adjacent to Eaton Plaza.

Give Back for 2018

by Lisa Talley | lisa@fresnoflyer.com

Charging through the holidays and finally making it out to the other side means we can finally take a breath and put our focus on the new year ahead. But what does that mean, exactly?

For each of us, that path looks a little different. There might be some similarities as we’ll all be looking for new ways to improve ourselves and the life we provide for our families in some way, but what we choose will ultimately be a culmination of experiences we survived throughout 2017.

It goes without saying that the nation has been hit with some unbelievable changes and more tragedies than we’d care to admit over the last year. The repeal of DACA and Net Neutrality, the natural disasters that seemed to hit in relentless stride, shootings, violent treatment of protesters… the list goes on. The world could use a little peace, and so could we. But pushing the entire planet into a monumental achievement like world peace is a little unlikely, instead, bringing some harmony into our own lives is a more feasible task.

But what if we could provide that sort of healing transformation for someone else?

Every year, we put the focus on ourselves or our immediate family, but if 2017 was proof of anything it was that we all need each other. Perhaps this year would be a good time to think about what we can do for one another, rather than only what we can do for ourselves.

Make it a personal challenge to connect with one cause, whether it’s donating your time, your efforts, or even some blood – look towards 2018 with a goal to uplift communities, both man, and animal-kind.

Below is a list of local organizations and charities throughout the Central Valley that make it their business to lend a helping hand to those in need.

Central California Blood Center – is committed to saving lives and improving patient care by providing a safe and abundant blood supply for the patients and families in the communities they serve. www.donateblood.org/donate-blood

Habitat For Humanity – They facilitate a partnership among families who demonstrate need, the ability to pay the mortgage, and a willingness to partner in the construction of their home. This partnership also engages community supporters who join the families in the home building process and provide both financial and in-kind support for building supplies and materials. www.habitatfresno.org/volunteer

Valley Animal Center – Nonprofit no-kill dog and cat adoption center. Their mission is to assist with and provide for the health and welfare of the animals that have been abused, mistreated, abandoned, and injured; to promote the bond between animals and people; and to instill an appreciation and respect for all living creatures with whom we share this earth. www.valleyanimal.org/volunteer

Central Valley Community Foundation – For more than fifty years the Central Valley Community Foundation has been a trusted partner in philanthropy in the Valley. Founded in 1966, they provide giving options for individuals, families, businesses and other foundations to invest in programs that address social and environmental needs. www.centralvalleycf.org

Yosemite Ridge at Camp Wawona Inc – The mission of Yosemite Ridge is to enrich the lives of children and families who have chronic or life-threatening illnesses by creating a camp experience that is memorable, exciting, fun, empowering, physically safe, and medically sound. www.guidestar.org/profile/20-1105731

Hinds Hospice – Here to help those living with a terminal condition, their caregivers and those who have lost a loved one. In addition to providing hospice care services in both the Hinds Hospice Home and in a patient’s own home environment, they also offer an extensive bereavement (grief) support program through the Center for Grief and Healing, specially trained pediatric hospice and skilled nursing teams, a perinatal hospice and infant loss support program, “Angel Babies/Bebitos Angelitos,” a formal physician education program, global outreach, and four thrift stores throughout the central valley. www.hindshospice.org

Alliance for Medical Outreach & Relief – a Community-based non-profit that strives to ensure equality. They build alliances with other organizations working in areas of concentrated poverty to create a safety-net of medical, social and youth development resources, tailored to the specific needs of each community they serve. www.amorelief.org

Valley Teen Ranch – their mission is to provide hope to vulnerable children, youth, and families through life-changing relationships and experiences. Programs include: Residential Group Home, Foster Family & Adoption Agency, and Transitional Living. www.valleyteenranch.org/volunteer

Angels of Grace Foster Family Agency – agency that provides a place of refuge and healing for foster children. A place where they can receive the nurturing and care that they need from professional social workers and trained foster parents. www.angelsofgrace.com

Break the Barriers – Celebrating awareness and victories of all abilities, ethnicities, and ages through exceptional programs, outreach, and inclusion education. With performances, assemblies, conferences workshops, and clinics, Break the Barriers will promote integrated sports, health and fitness, performing arts, and aquatics programs. www.breakthebarriers.com

San Joaquin Parkway & Conservation Trust – the mission is to preserve and restore San Joaquin River lands having ecological, scenic or historic significance, to educate the public on the need for stewardship, to research issues affecting the river, and to promote educational, recreational and agricultural uses consistent with the protection of the river’s resources. www.riverparkway.org

Catholic Charities – Catholic Charities Diocese of Fresno is a Community Benefit Organization serving the needs of those in crisis with sites in Fresno, Merced and Bakersfield. www.ccdof.org/volunteer

Reading and Beyond – goes where families are, offering holistic, research-based programs at multiple sites throughout Fresno and Madera Counties. www.readingandbeyond.org

United Way Fresno and Madera Counties – (UWFM) brings resources together to address the most urgent issues the community faces. Through unique partnerships and approaches, UWFM mobilizes resources beyond the dollars that are pledged through their fund-raising efforts. www.uwfm.org

Fresno Arts Council – “enrich people’s lives through the arts.” FAC sponsors, promotes and encourages the arts throughout the city and county of Fresno and acts as an umbrella for artists and art organizations from all cultures and disciplines through advocacy, education, programs and services. www.fresnoartscouncil.org

Marjaree Mason Center – provides emergency and longer-term Safe Housing, along with a wide variety of support services for victims of domestic violence in Fresno County. www.mmcenter.org

Comprehensive Youth Services – is dedicated to providing a full range of prevention, intervention, treatment and educational services to help abused and at-risk children and their families. www.cysfresno.org

Resources For Independence – Encouraging people with disabilities to be in control of their lives and live more independently through a diverse range of choices and opportunities. www.ricv.org

Fresno Barrios Unidos – goal is to provide young people with the skills and opportunities they need to thrive in their communities and give back. Their approach is holistic, culturally sensitive, and inclusive of all. Fresno Barrios Unidos transforms communities by empowering youth and families through advocacy, education, and wellness. www.fresnobarriosunidos.org

Rape Counseling Services of Fresno – The mission of RCS Fresno is to end rape and sexual violence and empower survivors while supporting safe, consensual relationships. www.rcsfresno.org

Youth Leadership Institute – builds communities where young people and their adult allies come together to create positive social change, to challenge and improve the society in which they live as it relates to educational and health inequities, substance abuse, predatory financial practices, public housing, youth voice, and many other issues. www.yli.org

Arc Fresno – Arc Fresno empowers individuals with developmental disabilities to attain greater independence by offering everyday life experiences in a supportive community. www.arcfresno.org

Kings Canyon Veterinary Foundation – mission is to provide the appropriate medical, surgical and preventative care for all veterinary patients presented regardless of the owner’s ability to pay reasonable charges for services. Limited only by available funds. www.kingscanyonveterinaryfoundation.com

UFW Foundation – The United Farm Workers Foundation’s mission is to open the doors of opportunity to working people and their communities. Goals are to Foster communities that engage immigrants as active and informed participants. Reform the immigration system to access legal status for immigrants, and a clear path to citizenship. Lead a national network of farmworker serving organizations to influence policy and expand services at the federal and local level. www.ufwfoundation.org

Valley Center for the Blind – assists blind and visually impaired persons in experiencing a more independent and opportunity-filled life. These efforts are achieved through specialized methods of training and education provided by our professional staff. www.valleycenterfortheblind.org

Stone Soup Fresno – to nurture leadership that will create positive change for Southeast Asian refugee families to move forward and find their voices and places in America. www.stonesoupfresno.org

Turning Point of Central Cal – The mission of Turning Point of Central California is to provide public benefit through helping people develop skills, motivation, and resources to become productive members of society; healthy in body, mind, and spirit. Reducing social problems through providing each program participant the opportunity to establish a healthy and productive life. www.tpocc.org

Cultiva La Salud – dedicated to creating health equity in the San Joaquin Valley by fostering changes in communities that support healthy eating and active living. Cultiva La Salud is among a growing number of programs in the nation who use a policy and environmental change approach to help community members gain access to healthy food, beverages and safe places to be physically active. This unique program is being carried out by diverse partners in eight counties of the Central Valley (Kern, Kings, Madera, Merced, San Joaquin, Stanislaus, and Tulare). www.cultivalasalud.org

West Fresno Family Resource Center – To empower and support the West Fresno community to achieve optimal health and well-being. Activities through education, outreach, counseling and advocacy in the areas of prenatal education, school readiness, health insurance access, diabetes and chronic disease management, mental health and workforce development support. www.wfresnofrc.org

Fresno Center for New Americans – provide services to the growing needs of Southeast Asian refugees (Cambodians, Hmong, Lao, and Vietnamese) in Fresno County. These immediate services included education, employment linking services, social integration, health education, and housing, Refugees from many parts of the world also accessed our services. Through our Russian speaking staff members and on-call workers, we have been able to provide services to Russian, Somalis, and Middle Eastern refugees. www.fresnocenter.com

The Discovery Center – Park and Museum on 5 Acres – educational history and science center offering children a hands-on learning experience to stimulate a passion, curiosity and wonder for the environment and physical sciences.  We deliver science successfully to thousands of children each year in a variety of ways, including field trips, camps, outreach, birthday parties and more. www.thediscoverycenter.net

Community Food Bank – is dedicated to ending hunger in the Central Valley. They provide food to more than 200 agencies in Fresno, Madera, Kings, Kern and Tulare Counties and serve over 280,000 people each month totaling over 38 million pounds of food. www.communityfoodbank.net

Community Action Partnership of Madera County – are committed to finding the ultimate solutions for poverty while working effectively with local officials, the private sector, and representatives from low-income target areas. Helping people, changing lives and making the community a better place to live by providing resources and services that inspire personal growth and independence. www.maderacap.org

Dark Chocolate Lovers Unite

by Lisa Talley | lisa@fresnoflyer.com

The door opens, and within seconds the air explodes with the intoxicating smell of chocolate. It ripples and swarms, and finds the intricate crevices of the human sensory receptors, cramming in its rich and inviting aroma. It instantly inspires a slew of pleasant childhood memories.

“It’s not exactly Willy Wonka… but welcome to our factory.” The charming, yet humble introduction by Elisia Otavi, chocolate maker and founder of Raphio Chocolate.

It may not be an expansive playground of wild colors, weird contraptions, and physics-defying candy, but there’s no question that there is a hint of magic in the air. And in all honesty, what’s the most important thing to any chocolate lover anyway? The chocolate itself, of course.

Inspired by her sons, Raphael and Rio, Elisia wanted to make a chocolate bar that she would be confident to serve them. No fillers, no preservatives, no artificial flavors, just healthy chocolate.

Seems a little like an oxymoron, but real chocolate is actually good for you.

“Doctors do recommend eating dark chocolate every day, the only rule is that the chocolate has to have at least 72% cocoa content. Meaning, the percentage amount of cocoa in the bar eaten,” Explains Otavi.

The entire Raphio collection contains a minimum of 72% with some going above and beyond to the 82%, 92% and even 102% cocoa levels. What’s more is that each batch of chocolate is made from scratch using less than five ingredients, most of which (if not all) is organic, a significant departure from the more common and commercial brand of chocolate we often find in the grocery store.

Real chocolate is made from cacao beans, which are found in cacao pods, which grow on cacao trees. Cacao beans essentially consist of cacao powder and cocoa butter – and when ground or milled over a period of time that cacao butter melts and mixes with the crushed beans developing into the smooth, melted chocolate consistency we’re all so familiar with. However, most commercial dark chocolate makers press the butter out and replace it with an oil substitute.

“Cocoa powder is what remains after the process of pressing the cocoa butter out of the ground cacao beans is complete. To make chocolate from the cocoa powder, the large commercial chocolate producers typically add the oil substitute in place of the highly-prized cocoa butter, such as soybean oil, palm oil, canola oil, or some other cheaper vegetable oil. To mix them, they add soy lecithin as an emulsifier which is a waste product… and other products to stabilize the chocolate,” Otavi further expands.

During this part of the commercial process, the chocolate tastes so bad that the chocolate producers have to add a significant amount of sugar and vanilla extract to cover up the flavor. The over processing of the bean removes the chocolate from its natural state and in doing so, eliminates any health benefits that were initially present.

Labeled ‘Single Origin Artisan Craft Dark Chocolate,’ Otavi is present through the entire process of ‘bean-to-bar’ for all of Raphio’s products. Hand-selecting the cocoa beans, the flavors are brought out through the roasting – to which Otavi will taste the beans herself. Afterwards, the beans then go through a few days of continuous grinding where the level of organic cane sugar is determined and added. Directly following is an aging period, and lastly, depending on the type of bar, the chocolate will achieve its final flavor profile before being molded in their signature Raphio shape. That’s it. No fuss, no muss.

One of the truly unique characteristics of Raphio Chocolate is that the chocolate isn’t always the same, meaning that the flavors can change from batch to batch… and it’s how Elisia Otavi prefers it.

“Just like wine and coffee, the soil, climate, rainfall, and other environmental factors do play a role in affecting the flavors of the cacao beans which are grown on the trunk of the cacao tree. The different flavor notes in my single-origin chocolate bars are pretty distinctive depending on which country and region the tree is grown,” she offers.

On the wrapping of every bar, handwritten on the back of the label, is the batch number. Because of the above factors, the chocolate can take on a myriad of complex flavors – however subtle – that change from batch to batch – much like wine. As with coffee, flavor profiles will bloom during the roasting process, allowing any natural toffee or nutty notes to come to the front. Otavi isn’t interested in deconstructing the bean to force a flavor that never existed in the first place for the sake of maintaining one flavor and one flavor only, as a craft chocolate maker she’s focused on harnessing the true characteristics of the cacao for a rich experience every time.

Visitors can also get a closer look at the chocolate making process by taking a tour of Raphio Chocolate’s factory. Bonus: there’s a tasting at the end.

The Chocolate Factory Tour

Could you blame us for taking the tour? Talking chocolate just isn’t the same if it isn’t coming from the first-hand experience. Fortunately for us, Elisia and her husband invited us to their factory to get an inside look at how their chocolate is made.

Near the corner of Barstow and First, in a quaint and unsuspecting suite, is Raphio Chocolate. You can spot them by their signature and ornate logo design displayed in the window.

Otavi takes us to the back room – a quick two room jump from the front door – where the smell of chocolate seems to be bursting at the seams. There, she walks us through her roasting process and then proceeds to hand us each a single bean.

Somewhat like a walnut, the bean cracks under the pressure of our fingers. A light shell fragment away from the more substantial pieces of the bean and we’re told to eat one of the more solid parts. It was almost like eating a chocolate covered coffee bean – chocolate notes were present, but a prominent bitterness immediately overtook the sweetness. This – in its near unaltered state – was the authentic taste of chocolate in its purest form.

Otavi takes us through the separation process where the beans are crushed, then separated into cacao nibs (the inside of the bean) and cacao husk – the outer shell of the bean which is not thrown out. Instead, it’s used to create a sort of loose leaf tea – this helps to ensure that Raphio Chocolate’s process is virtually waste-free.

The next room – moving closer to the front – holds the grinders. Want to know where all that explosion of chocolatey goodness in the air is coming from? Here. The room with the grinders. *tip – try not to drool.

This is the stage where Otavi decides the percentage of cacao by adding the organic cane sugar to the mix. However, if it’s the 102% cacao, no sugar is added, and the ‘chocolate-making’ ends here.

The next step was what I found the most surprising – I assumed that after the mixing, the chocolate would be molded, chilled, and packaged, however, it wasn’t. The chocolate first goes through an aging process. Again, the comparison to wine deepens.

Chocolate, as Otavi explains it, will continue to develop specific flavors and change profiles during an aging process that is anywhere from 2 – 4 weeks. Huge blocks of chocolate line the shelves of their grinding room, patiently waiting to be plucked from the stack and molded for public enjoyment.

Once a block of chocolate is ready, it’s taken through a tempering process to achieve that beautiful, glossy finish with a crisp, familiar snap when broken.

And now we’re on to the tasting.


(the only bar in the Raphio line with 72%, 82%, 92%, and 102% cacao)

We start with a sample of the 72% cacao. It is reminiscent of most craft dark chocolate I’ve tasted, but the Ecuador carries a nuttiness that pushes back the bitter bite of the cacao.

Next up, the 82% cacao. As a dark chocolate lover, this hit the sweet spot (figuratively) on the spectrum of punchy cacao with a full body of flavor that teeters on the edge of being coffee-esque.

*tip – rinse with water between each tasting

We’re on to the 92% cacao, and we’re getting closer to that real original flavor. The punch hardened on the taste buds and stayed on my pallet long after the chocolate has melted. Definitely a great way to pack a lot of flavor into smaller portions.

102% – this is not for the faint of heart. No sugar, no sweetness, just pure cacao. If you like your whiskey neat and your beer sour, this is for you.


Coming back down to the 72% line was a near shock in terms of the difference. For me, it almost widened my pallet – jolting it awake if you will – to the depth of flavors present in the other bars.

The Peru line held a sweetness closer to that of brown sugar mixed with a little bit of fruit, complimenting the cacao by using its bitterness to give the bar its full breadth of flavor.


At the time of my writing this, this bar was out of stock on the Raphio website. The Nicaragua steps closer to the brown sugar with a more profound range, without any fruity notes to combat the cacao.


A personal favorite. Where the other bars stayed true to the round, full-bodied flavor of the cacao, the Tanzania bar shared the spotlight equally with its different characteristics.

*tip – do not chew the chocolate, but let it melt on the tongue

The cacao hits the taste buds, but almost immediately backs off, what replaces it is something akin to honey. The melting chocolate coats the mouth with a roughly similar consistency, but as quickly as it arrived, it disappears, and the honey has transformed into an unfamiliar fruit. By the time I think I’ve figured it out, the cacao reappears and finishes the experience.

Peppermint, Coffee, and Clementine Olive Oil

New to the Raphio line is the inclusion bars utilizing additional flavors. Peppermint – using organic candy canes – is here just in time for the holiday season. Coffee – featuring coffee flavors from locals Kuppa Joy Coffee and Clementine Olive Oil, another collaboration with the local company, Enzo Olive Oil Company.

The Clementine was a pleasant surprise, hearing the words ‘olive oil’ doesn’t inspire a clear direction of how this flavor is going to fit with the dark chocolate, but one taste explains it all. The bright citrus cuts through the cacao and a symphony of orange flavor bursts in the mouth.

It’s clear how this bar won Gold in the International Chocolate Salon as well as Gold in the Best Chocolate Bar category. Their Coffee bar also took home a Bronze.

But of course, each person’s pallet is going to be different, and you’ll have to do a little bit of tasting on your own to find your perfect dark chocolate adventure.

Raphio Chocolate, the locally owned and operated artisan craft dark chocolate company, invites you to take a tour, partake in a tasting, and experience a time-honored treat in a delicious yet healthy way.

Follow them on Facebook and Instagram @Raphio.Chocolate to stay up to date on tours, news, and giveaways. A full location of where to find their bars and cacao products for purchase can be found on their website www.RaphioChocolate.com.

Relentless. Tenacious. Monsters.

The Fresno Monsters Hockey team is coming back strong for the 2017-18 season.

by Lisa Talley | lisa@fresnoflyer.com

The Fresno Monsters are currently 6-6 for the 2017-18 season. The Tier II Western States Hockey League (WSHL) team opened the season with a three-game series in Lakewood, CA on September 28 against team rivals, the Long Beach Bombers. A quick look at the stat sheet and it would be easy to assume that things are sailing into a repeat of last year’s disappointing season for the Monsters with an ending 25-22 record… but anyone making that assumption would be wrong. So very wrong.

Looking past the next two games, this time against the Valencia Flyers, the Monsters rose to the occasion after a 2-8, 2-5, loss and hit hard in the third set with an impressive 11-3 win. That’s more than enough to turn heads because luck doesn’t bring an 8pt lead – that’s the signature of dedication and hard work.

The Monsters took to the start of the season with only 12 players – a staggering number compared to the 20-25 on the opposing teams – not reaching a full roster themselves until well after the start of the season. And although it’s arguable that the increase in numbers for the team played a significant role in helping to boost the Monsters’ performance for game three against the Flyers, it would be short-sighted. Anyone looking for a sense of what the core spirit of the team looks like this year only needs to look closely at the opening games in Lakewood – where the players showed grit and determination.

“That weekend, those guys showed me a lot of character, a lot of passion, a lot of heart. The 2nd game we lost with 2 seconds left, the 3rd we missed the net with 15 seconds left after we pulled the goalie. That 3rd game we kept pressuring and I’m thinking we’re going to collapse, we’re going to get so tired in the 3rd period, but these guys kept coming and coming – it showed me what kind of character we have in that locker room, and they made this coach very proud,” says Head Coach Kevin Kaminski.

Each game in the first series the Monsters lost by a single point, by a few mere seconds, and all with only 12 players taking the brunt of every other shift.  Even still, the team powered through, holding their ground with resolve, skill, and willpower; it isn’t difficult to imagine how different those games would have been had the team arrived with a full roster.

The following three-game series against the San Diego Sabers showed an upswing as the Monsters dominated 2-1 through the weekend with a 5-2 start, an impressive 6-0 second game, and a 1-3 loss with the Sabers pulling the win in the third set.  The most recent series against the Phoenix Knights at the Monsters’ home venue, Gateway Ice Center, showed not only the fans but the league that the team means to finish big this season. October 19, 20, & 21, the Fresno Monsters swept the weekend with a notable 6-3, 9-3, and a demolishing 11-0 to round out the three-game sweep.

Team Captain, Cody Key, is optimistic about the team’s performance moving forward, “The guys this season have a lot of heart, a lot of drive, so I think this year we have a good [team] to go all the way.”

Bringing back a number of players this year – defensemen Daniel “Goodie” Goodwin (20) and Logan Domagala (19),  as well as veteran Cody Key (20) – the team has also signed on several new talent both national and international – Fresno native and forward, Daylon Mannon (18), goalie Adam Barvik (20) and defenseman Ondrej Gabrhelik (20) both from the Czech Republic. Players from Canada, Hungary, Latvia, and Slovakia also round out this year’s  talent.

The incorporation of international players brings with it the addition of different styles of hockey and provides yet another active layer in the team.“The European guys, they bring a different kind of hockey out here to the states… they’re more skilled in that they do a lot of finesse with the puck. All the guys from the states, they bring a gritty attitude to the ice. It’s good to have it all on the team,” says Key.

As it stands, however, the season’s top scorer (at the time of this article) goes to a local. Daylon Mannon – debuting both with the Monsters and the league this season – holds the title with the 18 goals and 16 assists for a total of 34 points over the course of 12 games.

“I couldn’t do it without my teammates, Cody Key, Rudy, and my defense, honestly,” says Mannon of his success through the start of the season, “I talk a lot to the vets on and off the ice, they tell me what I should and shouldn’t do because of [their experience]”.

The Monsters’ identity and the foundation are rooted in a strong work ethic and unity. As stated by Kaminski, “a relentless work ethic and a physical brand of hockey.”

“Here in Fresno everyone bonds together becomes a family. We sacrifice our bodies and put ourselves on the line day in and day out for each other,” Key adds.

Defenseman Logan Domagala is holding down the ice as an enforcer for the Monsters with a total of 44 minutes in penalties so far – a responsibility he shares with fellow defenseman Daniel “Goodie” Goodwin.

Although fighting in hockey has changed over the years as the game has put more emphasis on speed and skating ability, throwing off the gloves is still a very present element.

“It happens. When you’re down by a lot or have a [teammate] get run – cheap shotted or whatever it may be, you have to protect your young guys and your goal scorers. Some of us just have to do it,” shares Domagala.

The Fresno Monsters, established in 2009, has a reputation for being a strong contender in the WSHL. Fresno alone stands as a city with a long hockey tradition dating all the way back to 1940 with the Fresno Falcons – one Taylor Cup and eleven years as champions in two different leagues – the Fresno Monsters, after the Falcons folded in 2009, picked up the torch without a blink and have been charging ahead ever since. Only the 2016-17 season last year stands out as a slight hitch in their stride. However, it was also that same year the team underwent some major changes.

After a six-season run coaching the WSHL Monsters, then head coach and general manager, Bryce Dale stepped down from his position in March 2016. Three months following, in June 2016, owner, David White sold the team to the Central Valley Community Sports Foundation, led by Jeff Blair.

Massive changes to shoulder for a team ramping up to a new season.

Coming in to replace Bryce Dale as head coach and general manager is former NHL enforcer, Kevin “Killer” Kaminski. With an 11-year professional career, the past Washington Capitals Center is known for his hard-nosed style of play, and he’s bringing it to the ice here in Fresno.

“I pride myself and the team on work ethic, tenacity, playing physical and [having the team] demand that out of each other,” says Kaminski of his coaching style, “Talent is great, but when you combine that talent with a work ethic you [have] a special kind of player.”

And a special kind of team, no doubt.

Retired in 2001, Kaminksi left the NHL due to concussions and a debilitating injury when he caught a hockey puck to the right side of his face that resulted in “2 plates, 12 screws, and 140 stitches.” All telltale signs of his signature fearless and aggressive style of play which is evident in how the Monsters tackle each game. However, his experience also brings a honed awareness of the toll the sport of hockey takes on an athlete.

“It’s a long season. [As a] players coach I know when to push them and when to give them a day off or 2,” says Kaminski.

Building a cohesive team, according to the head coach, requires not only demanding strong performances but also reminding everyone to have fun. Because that’s what it’s all about, “to go have fun and score some goals.”

The success of the Monsters is significantly reliant on the eye and precision of the head coach’s ability, the steadfast leadership of the team captain, as well as the skill, unity, and determination of each player. And the devotion of the fans.

“This is a mad-house, [other teams] don’t like coming to Fresno,” shares Domagala, “You wouldn’t expect Fresno to be a hockey town, but it definitely is.”

“You can say that we have the rowdiest fans in the league,” adds Goodwin.

Between the signs, the various props, cheering and heckling towards the opposing teams, the Fresno Monsters are immensely grateful for the support of the fans who show up to every home game.

“It intimidates a lot of other teams when they come to our barn because we get so many fans in here – it puts us a step ahead. I appreciate our fans and hope they keep coming out,” continues Key.

Both Key and Goodwin “age out” this year as the WSHL league eligibility caps at age 20. Each player hopes to leave a legacy of hard work, strong leadership and to set the standards for new players coming through the ranks of what it means to wear the Monsters jersey.

“Be strong and level-headed, keep your composure, and go hard. Do your best and leave it all on the ice,” shares Goodwin.

The team has their sights set on driving deep into the playoffs and punishing the opposition for a chance at the Thorne Cup. If the Monsters continue to perform in the manner with which they’ve been handling the last few games, and judging by the scope of talent, focus, and determination of the players led by Kevin “Killer” Kaminski, the odds are that fans will see them in the finals by mid-April 2018.

Storming the ice, the Monsters bring speed and aggression to the game. It’s a sight every spectator should experience first-hand, as the arena only allows for the smallest separation of plexiglass between fan and athlete. No high rise or expansive rows to shy away to, fans are face-to-face with the action, which often means being less than 2 feet away from a flying puck or a 180-200lb player slamming the opposition. Fans don’t just watch; they’re part of the battleground.

The Fresno Monsters full schedule of games is available on their website www.FresnoMonsters.com along with stats, news, and tickets to the games at the Gateway Ice Center.

Follow them on Facebook @FresnoMonsters, Twitter and Instagram @WSHLMonsters.

Fresno Greek Fest

Now one of the largest Greek Festivals in CA, the Fresno Greek Fest draws visitors from across the state and beyond. Always the last weekend before Labor Day, it begins Friday evening and runs through Sunday evening. Each year the parishioners meet at the first of the New Year to begin planning improvements and crafting the game plan that will feed and entertain a crowd that has grown to over 24,000 in attendance.

While most visitors would agree, “it’s all about the food”, the festival truly offers something for everyone.  A good starting place is the docent-led tour of the St. George Greek Orthodox Church. Recently renovated stained glass, murals, and iconography are stunning and it is truly one of the architectural and cultural treasures of Fresno.

The Main Hall features a variety of Greek standards such as moussaka, spanakopita, and lamb shanks, while the Mega Tent has offerings to please any palate. Gyros, feta fries, souvlaki, loukaniko (a homemade Greek sausage made with orange peel-delicious!) plus Greek salad, appetizers and so much more make for difficult decisions. But leave room for the pastries! There’s a myriad of choices- from traditional Baklava to Galaktoboureko,( a filo-wrapped, custard filled piece of heaven) or the “can’t eat just one” loukoumades (a puff of golden dough topped with nuts and honey) along with a cup of Greek coffee!

Baklava – One of the many traditional desserts to try at Greek Fest

Mindful of the potential for valley heat streaks, shade and misters are in abundance. Food booths have been streamlined and offer multiple Greek delicacies, cutting down on time spent in lines. Parents have a wide variety of play area choices for children and even a convenient beverage booth close by.

Then it’s time to dance off the delicacies! Fresno’s Greek Fest features two bands-the HoHLax trio, direct from Athens, Greece playing authentic acoustic and bouzouki music on the patio and the Olympians, an enormously popular Greek band playing Greek folk, classic and Modern Greek music. Dancing demonstrations will help you get into the rhythm and everyone dances with everyone!

Did we mention shopping? The Agora, our outdoor Greek market offers art, jewelry, clothing, collectibles and so much more. A second Agora, featuring hard to find Greek ingredients, is located in the Main Hall. In ancient times, the agora was the central marketplace in most Greek city-states. Typically the agora was located in the center of town. Governmental buildings, such as the council building and courts, surrounded the agora in Athens. The agora was more than a marketplace. People came to the agora to discuss politics, meet with friends, as well as buy items from the market.

The Taverna, a popular meeting place for the younger crowd, has a wide selection of Greek spirits-wines, beers and of course, Ouzo! Grab a refreshment! Watch a cooking demonstration, listen to a Byzantine chant or just people watch. It’s a wonderful way to make new friends or reconnect with old ones!

Great care goes in to planning for the comfort, entertainment, and safety of festival goers. 24-hour security, cooling areas, and thoughtful choices for entertainment help festival goers to come be “Greek for the Weekend” and to invest in the community!

Proceeds from Fresno Greek Fest are dedicated to food pantries, food banks, soup kitchens and other charitable destinations.

The event takes place on August 25 and continues until the 27th. Admission is only $6. Seniors (65+) and kids under 12 are free. For more information about discounted tickets, the schedule, and volunteering, please visit:


**Festival hours are Fri: 4p – Midnight, Sat: 11a – Midnight, Sun: 11a – 6p

A Foodie’s Review – Rocket Dog

By Saeed Alkurdi

The hotdog, the bratwurst, and the sausage. The centuries-old tradition of stuffing meat into the shape of a tube combined with spices and sometimes, strange and wonderful cheeses before it hits the grill, oven, or pan continues to be a wonderfully basic and satisfying meal. Alone, a sausage or hot dog sandwiched in a soft, fluffy bun can be a completely blissful exercise in simplicity but with the addition of the right toppings, the hot dog or bratwurst experience is elevated to heights never imagined. Enter Rocket Dog Gourmet Brats and Brews.

Nestled near Shaw and Blackstone in Fresno, Rocket Dog celebrates the hotdog and its cousins in all their forms and glory. For example, ‘The Danger Dog’ is loaded with things like bacon, cheddar cheese, and Sriracha. Or ‘The Firehouse’ topped with house-made chili and made complete with corn chips, cheddar cheese, and red onions… it’s enough to make any hotdog lover’s heart skip a beat. As if these weren’t enough, Rocket Dog also offers things like house-made potato chips and a fine assortment of craft beers, common domestics, and local brews.

The atmosphere is casual and inviting, a place to have a truly relaxing lunch or an early dinner. The wait staff is friendly and knowledgeable about the menu as they were willing to make recommendations on what to try and what’s currently popular. The restaurant is clean, modern, but as I mentioned, casual.

I order ‘The Firehouse’, ‘The Gangnam’, and sweet potato fries. My food arrives fifteen minutes later and the presentation is fantastic. The food looks hot, fresh, and perfectly cooked. I bite into The Firehouse and the first thing I taste is the chili, which is smoky and rich. The bite continues into the all-beef hotdog that has a wonderful snap to it with a great meaty flavor. The crunch of the corn chips hits in symphony with the broiled bun everything is piled upon, and it all manages to hold together with zero signs that it will split or come crashing down into a mess. Every bite of the dog continues to display the flavor its creator intended for us to taste, and it’s delicious. In between bites of the hotdog and sips of beer, I manage to eat a few sweet potato fries which are coated in honey and cinnamon. This is a combination I’ve never encountered before, but after having experienced it I now wonder how I could ever go on without it, it was a spectacular addition to the dish.

Next, I bite into The Gangnam and the flavor is spot-on-good. The chicken sausage is light, juicy, and seasoned well making for a flavorful experience. The toppings of pickled veggies, jalapeños, and cilantro are bound together with the very mild Sriracha mayo. The heat in this dish is what I would consider a ‘small bite’ and doesn’t overpower the array of flavors. However, halfway through devouring The Gangnam, the bun splits and the contents spill onto my plate. It’s a small inconvenience so I press on with a fork to finish the dog.

At the end of the meal, I sit and reflect on what Rocket Dog Gourmet Brats and Brews has been able to accomplish. The hot dog is still considered the most basic of dishes and yet, this restaurant with the help its staff has created a much more elevated experience of a longtime favorite.

Saeed is a local ‘foodie’ always on the hunt for the next great find of the Valley’s best-hidden gems. Twitter / Instagram: @kurshjak