Community and Comfort Food: Ed’s Mudville Grill, Clayton, California

Sports jerseys brighten the interior of Ed’s Mudville Grill in Clayton, California (Laurie Snyder, ©2019-present).

A winner since its debut in the 1990s, Ed’s Mudville Grill couldn’t help being a San Francisco Bay Area success story. Following two years of planning and preparation by Ed Moresi and his wife Stephanie, the popular sports bar opened in Clayton, California in 1994. Ed Moresi, who had previously spent nearly 20 years at Skipolini’s Pizza, understood the restaurant business inside and out. And his wife Stephanie and their sons Dominic and Nicholas instinctively knew how to make their customers feel like they were part of their family — a tradition which continues today under the leadership of Dominic, who took over as general manager in June of 2007. (Baseball-loving Nicholas was signed the year before by the Houston Astros.)

A quarter of a century later, customers are still greeted warmly by wait staff as they step onto the old West-style boardwalk that rings the perimeter of the Mudville Grill and its adjacent businesses, and are ushered to indoor or outdoor tables, depending on individual diner preferences and seating availability. Patrons include kids popping in after school for fries and a coke, families sitting down for solid, healthy dinners or, later in the evenings, singles swinging by for nights out with their pals.

A large, diverse menu with appetizers ranging from Bavarian soft pretzels to calamari, macho nachos, and potato skins; chili burgers, onion rings, and other old-school sports bar standouts; brisket and pulled pork sandwiches from the grill’s smokehouse menu; and healthier fare such as salmon sandwiches, salads and turkey burgers, keeps customers coming back again and again — and again. Even soccer moms can depend on support — thanks to a “Little Leaguer’s” menu that serves up “Eddie Spaghetti,” grilled cheese, chicken strips, and tummy-warming mac ‘n’ cheese.

Giant Dawg with onions and peppers, fries, and a Stella Artois beer, Ed’s Mudville Grill, Clayton, California (Laurie Snyder, ©2019-present).

So, when The Contemplative Traveler©™ paid a visit to Ed’s Mudville Grill one recent afternoon, she wasn’t looking for mindful dining so much as relief from the relentless sun. Utterly parched, she opted for inside seating and immediately ordered a tall, cold glass of Stella Artois, a pale, Belgian beer which remains one of the most popular thirst quenchers worldwide since it was created by Sebastian Artois. A Brew Master with the Leuven Brewers’s Guild, Artois had presented the smooth, golden lager as a Christmas gift to his fellow Leuven residents during the early 1700s, christening it “Stella” (the Latin name for “star”).

Surrounded by large screen TVs while seated directly to the right of a small shrine to baseball great Joe DiMaggio (and increasingly refreshed by each sip of her Stella as she mulled over the grill’s surprisingly large number of appetizers and entrées), The Contemplative Traveler©™ quickly got into the sports bar spirit of her visit. Ordering from the menu’s Dawg Pound section , she selected the Giant Dawg, a half-pound, bacon-wrapped Wrigley-style hot dog, which came with grilled onions and peppers on the side, as well as fries. Thanks to the staff’s efficient food preparation and service, the dog presented the perfect, bite-after-bite snap, offering up a juicy inside with rich flavor amplified by the bacon, grilled onions, and peppers. And the fries had that “stadium fry” taste that makes even the heartiest of sports fans forget there’s a game in progress. But it was the amount of food, deceptively small on the large platter, which delivered the biggest surprise. Huge and rib-sticking, the portion sizes created the pleasant, “I’ll just linger over my comfort food, resting between bites while I watch the game” experience that truly is only ever found at a Cheers type of establishment where “everybody knows your name” and the owners and their staff are “always glad you came.

If You Go:
Ed’s Mudville Grill
6200 Center Street
Clayton, California
(925) 673-0333

Hours: Typically open daily by 11:00 a.m.

Cost: Appetizers range between $6 and $11; salads between $6 and $15; sandwiches between $8 and $13; and burgers and other entrées between $12 and $16.


Wednesday Wisdom: Mindfulness and Surprise

A seemingly bland, dry California landscape, unless you look closer. (See photo below.)

“[T]he best landscapes, apparently dense or featureless, hold surprises if they are studied patiently, in the kind of discomfort one can savor afterward.

Only a fool blames his bad vacation on the rain.”

— Paul Theroux, Dingle



This California landscape wasn’t bland at all, but dotted with Oenothera speciosa (pink evening primrose). All it took to shift perspective was a bit of mindful exploration combined with patience.

Photo (top): Dry, seemingly bland landscape along the Black Diamond Trail near Clayton, California (Laurie Snyder, ©2019-present; all rights reserved).

Photo (bottom): Oenothera speciosa (pink evening primrose), a plant not native to California, was found recently along the Black Diamond Trail near Clayton, California. A perennial herb, it can grow quickly into large colonies of groundcover (Laurie Snyder, ©2019-present; all rights reserved).



#TravelTuesdays: Travel as Fuel for Creativity

Hiker, Tall Slot Canyons, Paria Canyon Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, Bob Wick (U.S. Bureau of Land Management, public domain).

“The nearest thing to writing a novel is traveling in a strange country. Travel is a creative act — not simply loafing and inviting your soul, but feeding the imagination, accounting for each fresh wonder, memorizing, and moving on. The discoveries the traveler makes in broad daylight — the curious problems of the eye he solves — resemble those that thrill and sustain a novelist in his solitude. It is fatal to know too much at the outset: boredom comes as quickly to the traveler who knows his route as to the novelist who is overcertain of his plot.”

— Paul Theroux, Dingle


Photo: Hiker, Tall Slot Canyons, Paria Canyon Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, Bob Wick (U.S. Bureau of Land Management, public domain).



#TravelTuesday: A Brush with History — The Final Resting Place of Frances E. Wilder

The graves of Frances E. (Donner) Wilder and her husband, William, are located just off Donner Pass at the Union Cemetery in Brentwood, California (Laurie Snyder, ©2019-present; all rights reserved).

Walking along the pathways of the historic Union Cemetery in Brentwood, California one warm, summer afternoon, The Contemplative Traveler©™ was immediately struck by the number of old, but well-preserved gravestones — many of which document the resting places of pioneers who trekked across the United States in search of fame and fortune during America’s Gold Rush era, including Joseph Carey (1833-1910), the owner of the second business established in Brentwood (Carey and Davis Blacksmith, which opened in 1874), Henry Wilkening (1835-1883), a German immigrant who founded the town of Byron, California in 1878 and who then became that town’s first official resident, and George W. Knightsen (1843-1931), a native of Maine who founded the town of Knightsen during the late 1800s.

Even more noteworthy, however, is a grave which often is overlooked by most who visit this small cemetery. Marked with a simple, heart-shaped headstone, it is located in the cemetery’s interior along “Donner Pass” — a significant clue to the life story of the individual buried here — a woman whose name will forever be linked to one of America’s greatest tragedies — Frances E. Wilder, who was a member of the ill-fated Donner Party of the mid-1840s.

The Donners’ Story

Born on July 8, 1840 in Sangamon County, Illinois, Frances Eustis Donner was a daughter of Salem, North Carolina native George Albert Donner, Jr. (1784-1847), who would later captain a wagon train which became snowbound in the Sierra Nevada Mountains while en route to California during the winter of 1846-1847, and Tamsen Eustis (Dozier) Donner (1801-1847), a native of Newburyport, Massachusetts. Frances’s siblings included William Donner (1812-1867), who had opted to stay in Clear Lake, Illinois rather than traveling with his parents, and Sarah Donner (1815-1849), who also remained behind in Illinois after marrying and beginning a family there with John Torrence in 1837, as well as the siblings that also made the trip with Frances and their father: Elitha Cumi Donner (1832-1923), Leanna Charity Donner (1834-1930), Georgia Anna Donner (1841-1911), and Eliza Poor Donner (1843-1922).

Frances, who was nearly seven years old at the time of the Donner Party tragedy, was ultimately rescued as part of the third relief attempt to reach the stranded survivors, as were her younger sisters, Georgia Anne and Eliza. Their older, half-sisters, Elitha and Leanna Charity Donner, had been rescued previously as part of the relief party which departed from Alder Creek in February of 1847 under the leadership of a Captain Tucker. According to a later account by Leanna who had, by the time of this quote, wed and begun her own family with John Matthias App (1821-1918):

“Never shall I forget the day when my sister Elitha and myself left our tent. Elitha was strong and in good health, while I was so poor and emaciated that I could scarcely walk. All we took with us were the clothes on our backs and one thin blanket, fastened with a string around our necks, answering the purpose of a shawl in the day-time, and which was all we had to cover us at night. We started early in the morning, and many a good cry I had before we reached the cabins, a distance of about eight miles. Many a time I sat down in the snow to die, and would have perished there if my sister had not urged me on, saying, ‘The cabins are just over the hill.’ Passing over the hill, and not seeing the cabins, I would give up, again sit down and have another cry, but my sister continued to help and encourage me until I saw the smoke rising from the cabins; then I took courage, and moved along as fast as I could. When we reached the Graves cabin it was all I could do to step down the snow-steps into the cabin. Such pain and misery as I endured that day is beyond description.”

According to C. F. McGlashan, who chronicled the Donner Party’s experiences in his 1879 book, History of the Donner Party: A Tragedy of the Sierra:

“Mrs. Tamsen Donner was able to have crossed the mountains with her children with either Tucker’s or Reed’s party [earlier attempts by party members to leave the area in search of a safer place to lodge]. On account of her husband’s illness, however, she had firmly refused all entreaties, and had resolutely determined to remain by his bedside. She was extremely anxious, however, that her children should reach California; and Hiram Miller relates that she offered five hundred dollars to any one in the second relief party, who would take them in safety across the mountains. When Cady and Stone decided to go, Mrs. Donner induced them to attempt the rescue of these children, Frances, Georgia, and Eliza. They took the children as far the cabins at the lake, and left them. Probably they became aware of the impossibility of escaping the storm, and knew that it would be sure death, for both themselves and the children, should they take them any farther. In view of the terrible calamity which befell Reed’s party on account of this storm, and the fact that Cady and Stone had a terrible struggle for life, every one must justify these men in leaving the children at the cabins.”

Departing for California several weeks after their older half-sisters, the young girls endured a brutal trek. Per McGlashen, “The parting between the devoted mother and her little ones [was] briefly described by Georgia Donner, now Mrs. Babcock”:

“’The men came. I listened to their talking as they made their agreement. Then they took us, three little girls, up the stone steps, and stood us on the bank. Mother came, put on our hoods and cloaks, saying, as if she was talking more to herself than to us: ‘I may never see you again, but God will take care of you.’ After traveling a few miles, they left us on the snow, went ahead a short distance, talked one to another, then came back, took us as far as Keseberg’s cabin, and left us.’”

Frances, Georgia Anne and Eliza Donner finally arrived with other members of the third relief effort in Sutter’s Fort in April of 1847. Their tattered clothing quickly replaced by Captain John A. Sutter, they were then fed by others who hoped to ease their suffering; however, the three little girls remained in the dark for some time regarding their parents’ fate. Eventually told about the deaths of their parents, they soon found surrogate parents in Christian and Mary Brunner, a Swiss couple residing near Sutter’s Fort, bringing them “bread, butter, eggs, and cheese,” according to McGlashan. Realizing that Georgia was the weaker of the children, the Brunners brought her to their home for a week, during which time they rendered care which greatly increased her strength, enabling the little one to safely return to Sutter’s Fort. They then did the same for Eliza Donner; when Georgia Anne fell ill, however, they began making plans to return Eliza in order to bring Georgia back to their home. Fortunately, that plan was revised when Eliza pleaded for the compassionate couple to keep the girls together. They then continued to house the two orphaned sisters until Hiram Miller was appointed as their guardian. But more heartache was ahead, according to McGlashen:

“The little sisters were then again separated. Frances had found a home in Mrs. Reed’s family. Georgia was to go with grandpa [Christian Brunner], who was about to remove to Sonoma. Eliza went to her eldest sister [Elitha], who was now married and living on the Cosumnes River. Here she remained until winter. Then, hearing that Mr. Brunner’s family and Georgia desired her return, she became so homesick that her sister consented to her going to them. Fortunately, they heard of two families who were to move to Sonoma in a very short time, and Eliza was placed in their charge. This journey was marked with many incidents which seemed marvelous to her child-mind. The one which impressed itself most forcibly occurred upon their arrival at the bank of the Sonoma River. She was told that Jacob would meet her here and take her to grandma’s [Mary Brunner], and was delighted that her journey was so nearly over. Imagine her disappointment at finding the recent rains had raised the river until a torrent flowed between her and her anxious friends. For days Jacob sought the slowly-decreasing flood and called across the rushing stream to cheer the eager child. Finally, an Indian, who understood Jacob’s wish, offered to carry her safely over for a silver dollar. Never did silver look brighter than that which Jacob held between his fingers, above his head, that sunny morning, to satisfy the Indian that his price would be paid when he and his charge reached the other bank.

After seven years in the care of the Brunners, Georgia Anne and Eliza Donner finally were absorbed into the Sacramento, California household of their elder half-sister, Elitha, and her second husband, Benjamin W. Wilder, who were able to offer the girls access to better educational opportunities. Frances Donner, who was also a beneficiary of their support, was able to attend St. Catherine’s Academy in Benicia, California.

Gravestone of Harriet E. Wilder, granddaughter of Donner Party leader, George Donner, Union Cemetery, Brentwood, California (Laurie Snyder, ©2019-present; all rights reserved).

On November 24, 1858, Frances Donner then began her own family, marrying William Rhoades Wilder (1823-1888). Georgia Anne Donner subsequently followed suit, marrying Washington Alexander Babcock (1832-1894) on November 4, 1863. The last of the four Donner children to wed after surviving the tragedy, Eliza Donner was married on October 10, 1861 to Sherman O. Houghton (1828-1914), a former mayor of San Jose, California who went on to become a member of the U.S. Congress (42nd and 43rd sessions).

Ultimately settling in Point of Timber in Contra Costa County, California, Frances and her husband, William Wilder welcomed the arrival of five children: Harriet Eustis (1859-1881), James William (1863-1944), Frances Lillian (1867-1943), Asaph (1870-1948), Susan Tamsen (1878-1921), and Georgia Elitha Olive (1882-1950). Like her mother and grandmother before her, Harriet, who had been born in Byron, was also a victim of tragic circumstance. After falling and breaking her leg while climbing a tree in 1881, she died from complications related to her injury on March 12 of that year, and now rests at the Union Cemetery in Brentwood, California. She was just twenty-one-years-old at the time of her passing. Her brother, James, went on to become a farmer in Byron and to marry Della Forest Berry (1875-1964), with whom he had the following children: Delmer W. Wilder (1910-1993), Donner James Wilder (1911-1997), Della (Wilder) Clark, and Doris (Wilder) Shera. Frances Lillian Wilder, the next youngest child of Frances and William Wilder, was known to family and friends as “Frankie,” went on to marry George Erastus Church (1870-1949), and welcomed the birth of daughter Frances Eliza Church (1907-1980). Susan Tamsen Wilder, the penultimate of Frances (Donner) Wilder’s children, also ultimately wed and began her own family, marrying August Alexson (1878-1959); their children were: Alma F. (Alexson) Woodruff (1903-1990), Clinton Lowell Alexson (1905-1931), and Loy E. Alexson (1906-1982). Sadly, tragedy also touched this branch of Donner descendants when Clinton L. Alexson, the son of Susan Wilder and grandson of Frances (Donner) Wilder, was killed in a fiery, head-on crash with a parked roadster near Tracy, California on August 14, 1931. He, too, was buried near Donner Pass at the Union Cemetery in Brentwood. Georgia Elitha Olive Wilder, the youngest child of Frances (Donner) Wilder, went on to marry Carl Edgar Causey (1877-1942), and ultimately relocated with him to Guilford County, North Carolina.

Gravestone of Frances E. (Donner) Wilder, Union Cemetery, Brentwood, California (Laurie Snyder, ©2019-present; all rights reserved).

Eulogized by local newspapers upon her passing on November 21, 1921, Frances E. (Donner) Wilder was described by editors of the Oakland Tribune as follows:

“Mrs. Frances E. Wilder, one of the few remaining survivors of the ill-fated Donner party, of whom so many perished miserably in the deep snows of Sierras, and which forms one of the saddest chapters in the history of the West, died at her home here [Byron, California] Monday morning at the age of 82 years. The funeral took place Wednesday and was attended by the whole countryside. The floral offerings were beautiful. Elder Santee of the Seventh Day Adventist church of Lodi preached the funeral sermon at Odd Fellows’ Hall.

Deceased came to Byron, October 10, 1866, and has lived here continuously, rearing a large family. Two daughters and two sons survive her — Mrs. George Church, Mrs. Carl Causey, William and Asa Wilder. The Wilders acquired more than 50 years ago a quarter-section of land adjoining the town of Byron, which deceased kept for her children, deeding it to them before her death. Three remaining sisters of Mrs. William Wilder, all daughters of Captain George Donner, are living in California, as follows: Mrs. Eliza P. Houghton of Los Angeles, aged 78 years; Mrs. Leanna App of Jamestown, Tuolumne county, aged 86, and Mrs. Elitha C. Wilder of Bruceville, Sacramento county, aged 89. Mrs. Mattie Lewis makes the fourth living survivor of the party.”

What Happened to Frances (Donner) Wilder’s Other Siblings?

Settling further south in the community of Mountain View in Santa Clara County, Georgia Anne (Donner) Babcock and her husband, Washington Alexander Babcock (1832-1894), had three children: Henry A. (1864-1924), Frank B. (1866-1929), and Edith M. (1868-1919). Georgia (Donner) Babcock and her family subsequently relocated to Saint John in Whitman County, Washington. More open than many of the other survivors of the Donner Party about the cannibalism which had occurred during long, harsh winter that plagued the stranded travelers, Georgia Anne corresponded regularly with McGlashen, who incorporated multiple quotes from her in his book. According to McGlashan:

“The Donner families, at Prosser Creek, were, if possible, in even a sadder condition. In order to give a glimpse of the suffering endured in these two tents, the following is quoted from a letter written by Mrs. W. A. Babcock (Georgia A. Donner, now residing at Mountain View, Santa Clara County): ‘The families shared with one another as long as they had anything to share. Each one’s portion was very small. The hides were boiled, and the bones were burned brown and eaten. We tried to eat a decayed buffalo robe, but it was too tough, and there was no nourishment in it. Some of the few mice that came into camp were caught and eaten. Some days we could not keep a fire, and many times, during both days and nights, snow was shoveled from off our tent, and from around it, that we might not be buried alive. Mother remarked one day that it had been two weeks that our beds and the clothing upon our bodies had been wet. Two of my sisters and myself spent some days at Keseberg’s cabin. The first morning we were there they shoveled the snow from our bed before we could get up. Very few can believe it possible for human beings to live and suffer the exposure and hardships endured there.'”

Eliza Poor (Donner) Houghton, the youngest of the siblings of Frances (Donner) Wilder and Georgia Anne (Donner) Babcock, appears to have fared better, adjusting quickly to life in Washington, D.C., where her husband Sherman Houghton was serving in the U.S. Congress. Their children were: Eliza P., Sherman O., Clara H., Charles D., Francis J., Stanley W., and Herbert S., who was just 20 months old when he died on March 18, 1878. An active member of the American Red Cross, Daughters of the American Revolution, and the Native Daughters of the Golden West, Eliza (Donner) Houghton later returned to California with her husband, making a life near Los Angeles with him. In 1911, the same year in which her older sister, Georgia Anne, passed away, she published her own account of her family’s tragedy, The Expedition of the Donner Party and Its Tragic Fate. Eliza P. (Donner) Houghton died in Los Angeles on February 19, 1922, and was interred at that city’s Angelus Rosedale Cemetery.

Her older half-sister, Elitha Cumi (Donner) Wilder, who had gone on to marry Benjamin Wilkinson Wilder in Sacramento County, California in 1853 and raise six children of her own — Susan Wilmarth (Wilder) Stevens, Edward Wilder (1853-1918), Olive Ann Wilder (1860-1950), James Allen Wilder (1862-1919), George Donner Wilder (1866-1902), and Elitha Ellen (Wilder) Walther (1869-1935) — died the following year in Sacramento. Following her passing on the Fourth of July in 1923, she was laid to rest at the Elk Grove Consumnes Cemetery in Elk Grove, California.

Leanna Charity (Donner) App, the other of the two older Donner children to be rescued during the earliest Donner Party relief attempt (and the one who described herself as “so poor and emaciated that I could scarcely walk”), defied the odds and became the last of the Donner siblings to die. After a long, full life in Tuolumne County, California with her husband and four children — Rebecca E. (App) Burrell (1854-1935), Leonard Frank App (1856-1962), John Quincy App (1864-1957), and Lucy Evan (App) Heiskell (1868-1957) — she passed away at the age of ninety-five, and was interred at that county’s Jamestown Cemetery.



1. Leighton, Kathy, Sharon Marsh, Maureen Murray, and Barbara Russell-Cambra. Byron-Brentwood-Knightsen Union Cemetery District, Brentwood, California. Brentwood, California: The East Contra Costa Historical Society and the Byron-Brentwood-Knightsen Union Cemetery District, 2003.

2. McGlashan, C. F. History of the Donner Party: A Tragedy of the Sierra. Truckee, California: Self-published, June 30, 1879.

3. Farmer Burned to Death in Smashup (death report of Clinton L. Alexson, grandson of Frances (Donner) Wilder and great-grandson of George and Tamsen Eustis Donner). San Francisco, California: The San Francisco Examiner, August 14, 1931, p. 10.

4. Burns, Ric. American Experience: The Donner Party (multi-part documentary series with teachers’ guide). Boston, Massachusetts: WGBH-TV, 1992.

5. Houghton, Eliza P. (Donner). The Expedition of the Donner Party and Its Tragic Fate. Glendale, California: The Arthur H. Clark Company, 1920.

6.Woman Survivor of Donner Party Dies at Byron (obituary of Frances E. Wilder). Oakland, California: Oakland Tribune, November 27, 1921, p. 22.



#MeditationMondays: The Common Denominators of Compassion and Respect

Many of us have heard it said before that, regardless of where we were born on this Earth or whom we choose to worship (or where, if at all), humans are more alike than we are different. A profound—and important—way in which this is true is our shared ability not just to demonstrate compassion and respect, but to inspire others to do so as well.

One need only look at the many expressions worldwide of “The Golden Rule” to find proof that we each have it within us to make the world better by how we choose to behave toward our loved ones, co-workers, and strangers each day. As we transition from summer to fall to winter, pick one of these variations of the rule and use it as the foundation for your meditation focus each week; then try each of the other variants during subsequent weeks, being mindful of how you are interacting with the individuals you encounter each day, as well as how you might have responded differently to create more positive and productive exchanges:

  • Buddhism: “Hurt not others in ways you yourself would find hurtful.” — Udana-Varga, 5:18
  • Christianity: “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you.” — The Bible: Matthew, 7:12
  • Hinduism: “This is the sum of duty: do naught unto others which would cause you pain if done to you.” — The Mahabharata, 5:1517
  • Islam: “Not one of you is a believer until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself.” — Fortieth Hadith of an-Nawawi, 13
  • Judaism: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor: that is the whole of the Torah; all the rest of it is commentary.”— Talmud, Shabbat, 31a
  • Taoism: “Regard your neighbor’s gain as your own gain and your neighbor’s loss as your own loss.” — T’ai Shang Kan Ying P’ien

Source: “The Golden Rule,” Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding, 2014.




Channeling Your Inner German at Speisekammer in Alameda, California

Bratwurst Gegrillte with two large sausages, sauerkraut and mashed potatoes, Speisekammer, Alameda, California (Laurie Snyder, ©2019-present; all rights reserved).

What does a native Pennsylvanian do when she’s far from home and in need of serious comfort food? Well, if her ancestors were German—like those of The Contemplative Traveler©™—she heads to Speisekammer in Alameda, California. Launched by Cindy and Peter Kahl shortly after the dawn of the 21st century, the restaurant quickly became one of two major “go-to spots” in the San Francisco Bay Area for Germans, German-Americans and homesick Pennsylvanians who were in need of Gemütlichkeit and good food. (The other—Suppenküche, a German fine dining experience in San Francisco’s lower Hayes district which was previously co-owned by Peter Kahl—first became a Bay Area foodie favorite during the 1990’s.)

Speisekammer remains a beloved and busy restaurant in Alameda because the Kahls know both how to draw customers to their tables and how to keep them coming back. A native of the Schleswig-Holstein region in Northern Germany who earned his chef certification from the Berlin Restaurant & Hotel School and who became a respected chef in Berlin prior to his immigration to the United States, Peter Kahl and a former business partner opened Suppenküche shortly after Kahl arrived in the Bay Area. At roughly the same time, Cindy Kahl was making her first impressive mark on the Bay Area’s dining scene with her 1991 launch of Café Du Nord, which subsequently garnered numerous awards under her management, including being named San Francisco’s Best Bar in 1999 by Rolling Stone Magazine. A native of Berwyn, Pennsylvania (a state known for its longstanding German cultural heritage and spiritually satisfying cuisine), she graduated from West Chester University of Pennsylvania, and is now a Sommelier 1st Level with The Court of Master Sommeliers.

This superstar duo then came together to open Speisekammer in Alameda in January of 2002. With a pleasant, open-air biergarten, an annual Oktoberfest celebration, World Cup soccer viewing on big screens, and live music every weekend, the wheelchair accessible restaurant quickly became a bustling, but always welcoming and cozy place to bring friends or make new ones.

With that in mind and not in the mood for a crowded dining room experience on the day of a recent visit, The Contemplative Traveler©™ opted to check out Speisekammer’s off-peak service. Arriving about 30 minutes after the restaurant’s lunch service had ended, she was greeted warmly by the wait staff on duty and advised that she could select items from the Biergarten Menu, which is used between lunch and dinner. Described by the staff as smaller than the restaurant’s main meal menus, the Biergarten fare was still diverse enough that the Pennsylvania-born Contemplative Traveler quickly realized she’d need to ponder which offerings would best help her channel her “inner German” before actually making her selections.

Her reflection was powered by a stein of Schlenkerla Oak Smoke Doppelbock, a smooth, multilayered malt with a gorgeous dark amber color, and also by German dinner rolls with a side of herb butter. Mid-sip of her Schlenkerla, it became clear that serious, rustic comfort food would be in order—and that it would definitely need to involve potatoes. The natural choice was Speisekammer’s Bratwurst Gegrillte, which was served with sauerkraut and mashed potatoes. The bratwurst had the perfect “snap” when biting into it, the juices immediately filling her mouth with their rich pork flavor. The authentic sauerkraut was also gratifying, its slight sweetness serving as the perfect complement to the grilled sausages. (She’d ordered two, but the portions were so generous that one would have been filling enough.) As for the mashed potatoes? Deeply, deeply spiritual with perfect consistency and texture.

Speisekammer’s soothing version of warm chocolate cake with ice cream and strawberries (Laurie Snyder, ©2019-present; all rights reserved).

She then passed over the threshold between “memorable meal” and “dining nirvana” with the arrival of dessert—a small, personal chocolate cake. The flavor and heat of the rich, warm cake contrasted in unforgettable ways with the taste, texture and temperature of the cake’s ice cream and strawberry toppings.

Each sip of dark amber beer and every bite of each dish were worthy of reflection and gratitude for the many hearts and hands who made the meal possible—from farm to kitchen and from kitchen to table. It was truly one of the more mindful dining experiences had by The Contemplative Traveler©™ in recent memory. For that reason and many others, Speisekammer will always hold a special place in her heart.

The tab for the main item, Speisekammer’s robust Bratwurst Gegrillte with two large sausages, sauerkraut and mashed potatoes, was $18.50. (For those interested in a smaller meal, Speisekammer also offers a satisfying, one-sausage option at $13.) Dessert was a very reasonable $6.

Upcoming Special Events at Speisekammer:
Oktoberfest 2019 will be a “don’t miss” event, and will be presented on three Sundays during the fall with great food and music between noon and 6:00 p.m. But get there early because the restaurant is not taking reservations for this special time:

  • September 22 (Gruber Family Band);
  • September 29 (Polkageist); and
  • October 6 (Der Brassworks Oktoberfest Band & Golden Gate Bavarian Dance Club).

For more music events this fall, visit Speisekammer’s website.

If You Go:
Speisekammer Restaurant
2424 Lincoln Avenue at Park Street
Alameda, California
(510) 522-1300

Reservations are recommended for regular dining times; call the number above, or book online via OpenTable:

  • Lunch: Served until 3pm.
  • Biergarten Menu: Available between Lunch and Dinner.
  • Dinner: Tuesday, 5:00-9:00 p.m.; Wednesday through Saturday, 5:00-10:00 p.m.; Sunday, 4:00-9:00 p.m.

Photos: Laurie Snyder, ©2019-present. All rights reserved.


Exterior sign (side), Speisekammer, Alameda, California (Laurie Snyder, ©2019-present; all rights reserved).









Biergarten and front entrance, Speisekammer, Alameda, California (Laurie Snyder, ©2019-present; all rights reserved).















SuperSoul Sunday: The Kindness of Strangers

“The impact someone we don’t even know can have on us is incredible — no matter how brief the interaction. A nugget of wisdom shared in passing, a word of encouragement when we need it most: They can leave a lasting impression.”

— Oprah Winfrey, in The Oprah Magazine, August 2019





Photo: In 1961, American actor-comedian Danny Kaye reunited with Boonting, an ailing boy he’d met seven years earlier in Thailand while serving as a UNICEF ambassador (Fine-Kaye Collection, U.S. Library of Congress, 1961).



Wednesday Wisdom: It’s the Journey That Matters








“What interests me is the waking in the morning, the progress from the familiar to the slightly odd, to the rather strange, to the totally foreign, and finally to the outlandish. The journey, not the arrival, matters; the voyage, not the landing.”

—Paul Theroux, Travel Is a Vanishing Act




























































































Photos: ©Laurie Snyder, 1999-present. All rights reserved.

  1. Carefree on a Summer’s Day, Louisiana, 1999.
  2. Calcasieu Parish Courthouse, Lake Charles, Louisiana, 1999.
  3. WIldflowers (Indian Blanket), Louisiana, 1999.
  4. Daiquiri Shack Drive Through, Lake Charles, Louisiana, 1999.
  5. Dog in a Bar, New Orleans, Louisiana, 1999.
  6. Bull’s Eye, Louisiana, 1999.
  7. Accessible Irony, Louisiana, 1999.
  8. Unique Gifts, Louisiana, 1999.
  9. Family Togetherness, Louisiana, 1999.
  10. Persistent Disunion, Louisiana, 1999.
  11. Dying Breath, Louisiana, 1999.
  12. Contemplative ‘Gator, Louisiana, 1999.
  13. Progression of a Sunset 1, Lake Charles, Louisiana, 1999.
  14. Progression of a Sunset 2, Lake Charles, Louisiana, 1999.
  15. Progression of a Sunset 3, Lake Charles, Louisiana, 1999.



Mimi’s Cafe: A Comforting Start to a Rainy Day

Crispy bacon and roasted potatoes with two eggs, over easy, at Mimi’s Café, Antioch, California, April 2019 (Laurie Snyder, ©2019-present).

“My favorite meal would have to be good old-fashioned eggs, over easy, with bacon. Many others, but you can’t beat that on a Sunday morning, especially with a cup of tea.”

Gary Oldman


Start that meal off with a blueberry muffin and replace that tea with a great cup of coffee and you have the quintessential recipe for banishing the blahs of a rainy day. That’s what The Contemplative Traveler©™ chose to do one Sunday earlier this year.

Her venue of choice? Mimi’s Café in Antioch, California.

Mimi’s Cafe in Antioch, California on a gray day in April 2019 (Laurie Snyder, ©2019-present).

The service was friendly and efficient. The muffin was so huge that it inspired The Contemplative Traveler©™ to take a reading break before proceeding on to the main event — two eggs over easy with roasted potatoes and crispy bacon.

Each was done perfectly, which is no mean feat when you consider that The Contemplative Traveler©™ has the same exacting standards for bacon as the prolific filmmaker David Lynch “super crispy, almost burned, snapping-crispy bacon.” (Were she dining with Mr. Lynch, The Contemplative Traveler©™ would hasten to add, with a smile, “Burned. Not a hint of fat. No, really, I’m serious. Burned. Please? Thank you.” Were her best friend also dining with the pair, she would helpfully point out, “She’s not kidding. Extra-crispy. If it’s limp, she’ll send it back.”)

The Contemplative Traveler©™ is not an unkind or obsessive person. Far from it. It’s simply that the sight of hungry diners struggling to lift flappy pieces of bacon from plate to mouth is just sad. When prepared properly, however, bacon can become, as music icon Katy Perry once called it, “the meat candy of the world.”

And meat candy it was this day in Antioch. The food at Mimi’s was done so well and was so tasty, in fact, that it generated a sigh from The Contemplative Traveler©™, and then another, and another. Before long, the gray clouds were banished — inside and out.

And that’s the wonder of sitting down for a meal at Mimi’s. Yes, the restaurant is part of a chain — but it’s part of a chain of good restaurants — restaurants that, day in and day out, create consistent, reliable dining experiences for patrons who just want good food at reasonable prices — and at a pace that allows time for relaxation and reflection.

Because a bit of mindful, contented eating is a good thing now and again.


Why, yes, that blueberry muffin at Mimi’s Cafe WAS nearly the same size as a mug of coffee!



Meditation Mondays: Appreciating the Power of the Sun

The Hymn to the Aten

You rise in perfection on the horizon of the sky, living Aten, who started life.
Whenever you are risen upon the eastern horizon you fill every land with your perfection.
You are appealing, great, sparkling, high over every land; your rays hold together the lands as far as everything you have made.

Since you are Re [Ra], you reach as far as they do, and you curb them for you beloved son.
Although you are far away, your rays are upon the land; you are in their faces, yet your departure is not observed.

Whenever you set on the western horizon, the land is in darkness in the manner of death.
They sleep in a bedroom with heads under the covers, and one eye does not see another.
If all their possessions which are under their heads were stolen, they would not know it.

Every lion who comes out of his cave and all the serpents bite, for darkness is a blanket.
The land is silent now, because he who made them is at rest on his horizon.

But when day breaks you are risen upon the horizon, and you shine as the Aten in the daytime.
When you dispel darkness and you give forth your rays the two lands are in festival, alert and standing on their feet, now that you have raised them up.

Their bodies are clean, / and their clothes have been put on; their arms are [lifted] in praise at your rising.

The entire land performs its work; all the cattle are content with their fodder, trees and plants grow, birds fly up to their nests, their wings [extended] in praise for your Ka.
All the kine prance on their feet; everything which flies up and alights, they live when you have risen for  them.
The barges sail upstream and downstream too, for every way is open at your rising.
The fishes in the river leap before your face when your rays are in the sea.

You who have placed seed in woman and have made sperm into man, who feeds the son in the womb of his mother, who quiets him wiith something to stop his crying; you are the nurse in the womb, giving breath to nourish all that has been begotten.
When he comes down from the womb to breathe on the day he is born, you open up his mouth completely, and supply his needs.
When the fledgling in the egg speaks in the shell, you give him air inside it to sustain him.
When you grant him his allotted time to break out from the egg, he comes out from the egg to cry out at his fulfillment, and he goes upon his legs when he has come forth from it.

How plentiful it is, what you have made, although they are hidden from view, sole god, without another beside you; you created the earth as you wished, when you were by yourself, [before] mankind, all cattle and kine, all beings on land, who fare upon their feet, and all beings in the air, who fly with their wings.

The lands of Khor and Kush and the land of Egypt: you have set every man in his place, you have allotted their needs, every one of them according to his diet, and his lifetime is counted out.
Tongues are separate in speech, and their characters / as well; their skins are different, for you have differentiated the foreigners.
In the underworld you have made a Nile that you may bring it forth as you wish to feed the populace, since you made them for yourself, their utter master, growing weary on their account, lord of every land.
For them the Aten of the daytime arises, great in awesomeness.

All distant lands, you have made them live, for you have set a Nile in the sky that it may descend for them and make waves upon the mountains like the sea to irrigate the fields in their towns.
How efficient are your designs, Lord of eternity: a Nile in the sky for the foreigners and all creatures that go upon their feet, a Nile coming back from the underworld for Egypt.

Your rays give suck to every field: when you rise they live, and they grow for you.
You have made the seasons to bring into being all you have made: the Winter to cool them, the Heat that you may be felt.

You have made a far-off heaven in which to rise in order to observe everything you have made.
Yet you are alone, rising in your manifestations as the Living Aten: appearing, glistening, being afar, coming close; you make millions of transformations of yourself.
Towns, harbors, fields, roads, waterways: every eye beholds you upon them, for you are the Aten of the daytime on the face of the earth.

When you go forth every eye [is upon you].
You have created their sight but not to see (only) the body . . . which you have made.

You are my desire, and there is no other who knows you except for your son (Nefer-kheperu-Re Wa-en-Re), for you have apprised him of your designs and your power.
The earth came forth into existence by your hand, and you made it.
When you rise, they live; when you set, they die.
You are a lifespan in yourself; one lives by you.

Eyes are / upon your perfection until you set: all work is put down when you rest in the west.
When (you) rise, (everything) grows for the King and (for) everyone who hastens on foot, because you have founded the land and you have raised them for your son who has come forth from your body, the King of Upper and Lower Egypt, the one Living on Maat, Lord of the Two Lands (Nefer-kheperu-Re Wa-en-Re), son of Re, the one Living on Maat, Master of Regalia, (Akhenaten), the long lived, and the Foremost Wife of the King, whom he loves, the Mistress of the Two Lands (Nefer-nefru-Aten Nefertiti), living and young, forever and ever.


Translation Source: The Literature of Ancient Egypt: An Anthology of Stories, Instructions, and Poetry (translations by R. O. Faulkner, Edward F. Wente, Jr., and William Kelly Simpson). New Haven, Connecticut and London, England: Yale University Press, 1973 (currently out of print).

Image: Relief of Akhenaten, Nefertiti and two daughters adoring the Aten. 18th dynasty, reign of Akhenaten, Tel-el-Amarna (public domain).

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