Monday, 22 July 2024


UPPER LAKE, Calif. – An Upper Lake man under federal indictment for marijuana-related charges was released from federal custody following a Wednesday detention hearing in San Francisco.

Thomas Lee Carter, 59, was released on a $200,000 appearance bond, according to US Attorney's Office spokesman Jack Gillund.

Gillund said Carter's release was secured by property at 1622 Hunter Point Road in Upper Lake.

Carter was arrested by Drug Enforcement Administration agents on Sept. 1 on allegations of possession with intent to distribute marijuana and violation of previous release terms, as Lake County News has reported.

He had been arrested on another count of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute marijuana and two counts of distributing or possessing with intent to distribute marijuana in August 2009 along with several co-defendants. Carter also was released last year on a $200,000 bond secured by the same Hunter Point Road property.

The government is alleging he is part of distributing marijuana in Lake County, as well as San Diego and Los Angeles.

According to a redacted complaint filed by the US Attorney's Office, DEA Special Agent Brandon Burkhart stated that two sources had come forward in June to accuse Carter of growing marijuana, which would have violated the terms of his release.

Burkhart was involved in the August 2009 arrests and, previous to that, had provided evidence against Upper Lake marijuana grower Eddy Lepp, now serving a federal prison term.

Both of the informants were said to be former employees of Carter, who also runs a construction company. One had left after a disagreement, the other after being treated unfairly, according to Burkhart's statement.

One of the informants claimed to have seen Carter grading an area in Upper Lake in June with no grading permit issued, with the informant stating that he believed Carter was clearing the land to grow marijuana. Burkhart's affidavit also included the allegations by informants that Carter was affiliated with illicit grows

In August a deputy sheriff and a county probation officer took part in an overflight of Upper Lake around Carter's various properties, and they recorded coordinates for several marijuana grow locations and observed marijuana plants growing on parcels near Carter's residence, the documents stated.

Burkhart reviewed the GPS coordinates and found they fell within the lines of Carter's properties. He also compared the photographs taken of the area to GPS locations and identified a garden with 85 to 100 plants. He later took part in an overflight himself and saw what he believed were the same marijuana plants.

He stated that he believed Carter was planning to distribute the plants and he requested Carter be arrested and that searches take place of five locations.

Federal public defenders Barry Portman and Geoffrey Hansen filed documents that challenged Burkhart's assertions, stating that Carter denied knowing marijuana was being grown on the property

They also pointed out that one of the informants was a convicted felon, which they said led to questions about his prior conviction status. The other informant has two prior convictions and currently grows marijuana, they stated.

During the Sept. 1 raid, 70 marijuana plants were found at 1545 Hunter Point Road, owned by Carter but leased to another individual and located three miles from his residence, where no plants were found, according to the defense motion.

At another Carter-owned property leased to a couple 29 plants were found, the attorneys stated. Carter, who denied knowing of that grow, was not charged for those plants.

Carter's attorneys also asserted that Carter had complied with his pretrial directives and has been regularly drug tested, with no dirty tests submitted. A pretrial services officer who visits Carter regularly “has found no evidence that Mr. Carter uses, possesses or sells marijuana,” the filing stated.

In a followup filing on Tuesday, the defense attorneys demanded to be able to cross-examine the informants as part of a hearing on whether or not to release Carter, who they said had a Sixth Amendment right to confront the witnesses against him.

Despite the government's arguments to keep Carter in custody, the hour-and-a-half-long hearing Wednesday morning resulted in his release. His wife, Jamie Ceridono, is ordered to sign onto the bond on Sept. 14, according to court documents.

Carter and co-defendants Brett Bassignani, Scott and Diana Feil, Steven Swanson and Mark Garcia are scheduled to return in January for continued proceedings in the case arising from the August 2009 arrests.

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Loren Hanks and Karen Brooks are the Republican candidates seeking to win the congressional and state Assembly seats, respectively, for the North Coast in the November 2, 2010, election. Courtesy photos.

LAKEPORT, Calif. – Two hopeful “citizen legislators” are challenging the region's incumbent state and federal representatives for a shot at putting to work their vision of how to govern the region.

Loren Hanks, a major in the Air Force Reserve who is running for the First Congressional District seat currently held by Congressman Mike Thompson, and Karen Brooks, who is seeking the First State Assembly District seat Wes Chesbro has so far held for a term, were in Lakeport last week, hosted by the Lake County Republican Party.

About two dozen people came to hear what Hanks and Brooks had in store should they buck tough odds to win the federal and state seats, respectively.

Hanks and Brooks, both Republicans with that party's nominations, have been traveling around the North Coast, speaking to voters, knocking on doors and trying to win over the heavily Democratic area.

Strong Republican-run campaigns are known to the area. One example – Lake County's own Rob Brown finished second to Patty Berg in the 2002 Assembly race, with an 8-percent difference that amounted to less than 10,000 votes, a thin margin of victory in what's been considered a Democratic stronghold in recent years.

This year, the campaigns of Hanks and Brooks are gaining some momentum from what Hanks called “a reinvigorated silent majority,” some of which has been given a voice in the Tea Party.

But they're facing unique challenges that come partially from being outside of the political machine, having smaller war chests than their opponents and what some people in the room at the Republican Party event blamed on a liberal media bias that favors the Democratic incumbents.

Hanks, a military reservist since 1984 who has worked in intelligence and counter intelligence, said he wanted to start looking at the government and its problems from within. Born in Washington state, his family moved to California when he was a child, and he's since lived in Sonoma, Humboldt and Marin counties. Hanks said he lives today in Sonoma county.

When he decided to run, “It seemed to me that the gravest threat we had was a Congress that was not providing advice and consent and, quite frankly, an administration that is inexperienced and immature and has made some very bad decisions.”

He proposes to hold three, two-year terms and then step aside, with another citizen legislator on deck to take over from him. That's the better alternative, he suggested, than establishing term limits in the US Constitution, a document he didn't want to see changed or altered.

“I think we've got a shot at it this year,” he said, explaining that the Tea Party is “an amazing wild card” that the Democratic Party leadership initially discounted.

Hanks wants to see legislation revamped so amendments unrelated to the main bill can't be added. In addition, he wants to see citizen summary sheets that include the bill's intent, cost and constitutional authority, as well as the legislation's expiration date.

Pointing to Thompson's $1.5 million war chest, Hanks said he has been paying for his campaign out of his own pocket, and wants to see the kind of large spending that's typified congressional runs ended.

After walking portions of the district and hearing peoples' concerns, Hanks believes the race against Thompson is winnable through grassroots efforts.

“Let's start a movement here,” he said.

Brooks wants to take back state government

Brooks, like Hanks, has been spending a lot of time on the road to canvass her prospective district of 400,000 residents. The Humboldt County resident has driven more than 35,000 miles in doing so.

She said she finally had it and had to stand up, leave her family, home and business, and run for state Assembly.

“It's not because I have the money to do it,” she said, adding, “We just feel like this is our stand,” and as she's listened to peoples' stories around the district, “We know that it's your final stand, too.”

When Brooks found out that no one was going to run against Chesbro, “something just clicked” and she decided to run, springing the news on her family after dinner on a Sunday night following her husband's and son's return from a ski trip. Her husband didn't take the news well – he didn't speak to her for three days – but eventually he agreed to support her effort.

Brooks said there is a reason citizen candidates don't stand up – it's hard and they don't have a political machine behind them.

But Brooks, a businesswoman who prides herself on asking no one for handouts – not even her parents when she worked her way through college – was up to the challenge.

It's been an eye-opening experience being on the campaign trail, Brooks said. She's encountered many people home and unemployed as she's knocked doors during the day. She's also come upon plenty of marijuana grow houses.

She said the state is stealing dreams and livelihoods by overregulating businesses. Brooks, who assesses businesses for a living, said the biggest barrier for business owners is what the government will do next.

She would like to see the “alphabet soup” departments like the Air Resources Board and the State Water Resources Control Board go away, and also have a review of how the state handles worker's compensation and education.

Both candidates fielded questions from the audience, discussing everything from bringing funds to the district to immigration.

Brooks talked about public-private partnerships as a way of meeting needs. “Looking at the government to solve our problems, those days are over.”

She also anticipated the next few years will be even rougher economically, and said she has told faith-based organizations and service groups to be prepared to step up. “That's how we're going to ride this thing through.”

Hanks took the opportunity to criticize Thompson for reportedly having stated he was proud to be a member of the Democratic majority that would bring “fiscal sanity” to Congress. But Hanks alleged that it's been on the Democrats' watch that the national debt has risen from $8.6 trillion to $13.4 trillion.

He said he would like to share the video of Thompson's remarks on his Web site, but campaign laws prohibit it. “Look at this entrenchment that we've allowed these people to have.”

Hanks noted that such rules are discouraging for those wanting to run for office. “I did this against a lot of advice, let me tell you.”

They were asked about what can be done about the media, which one woman in the audience noted was one of their biggest enemies. Brooks said the media has let the country down by failing to expose corruption and ask tough questions.

Hanks said his effort with the media is a “work in progress,” with his message getting out in some outlets. Mainly, he's focusing on the Internet and radio as important avenues.

The candidates also were asked about how to fix infrastructure like roads and what to do about border security.

Hanks said he is a proponent of the border fence, adding that as for immigration policy, “The front door works just fine,” but people must be required to follow the rules.

Brooks said she supports guest worker programs, but doesn't want to see bad behavior rewarded. She's also a “tough love proponent” who wants to help people who truly need it, not those who use the system.

Both also expressed their support for the Second Amendment, and plans to cover their districts in person if elected.

Hanks said later that he thought it was “a real solid event.”

He's also looking forward to having more town halls and would like to host a telephone town hall at a future date to be determined, with what he guarantees will be unfiltered questions. The Hanks camp also is pushing for a debate with Thompson.

Lake County News has extended interview invitations to both Chesbro and Thompson regarding this fall's campaigns.

For more information about the candidates, visit Brooks' Web site at or her Facebook page,; and Hanks' site at or Facebook page at

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Follow Lake County News on Twitter at and on Facebook at .

A Cal Fire helicopter picks up water from Clear Lake to drop on the fire near Sandy Lane in Lakeport, Calif., on Sunday, September 5, 2010. Photo by Steve Bartholomew.

LAKEPORT, Calif. – A quick response and plenty of defensible space are credited with knocking down a fire near several residences in Lakeport on Sunday.

The fire on Sandy Lane in Lakeport was reported at about 3:30 p.m., according to radio reports.

It initially was reported to be threatening three structures, with power lines down.

Lakeport Fire Protection District Chief Ken Wells said the fire was put out in about 45 minutes.

“It didn't take long at all, actually,” he said.

In all, it burned between three and five acres, Wells said.

Wells said three engines from Lakeport Fire responded, along with an engine from Kelseyville, three Cal Fire engines, a US Forest Service engine and a hot shot crew, and an inmate crew from Konocti Conservation Camp.

Two air tankers were dispatched but they didn't end up making drops, he said.

A Cal Fire was seen dropping water from the lake on the fire.

The fire area was surrounded by driveways and residences where Wells said there was “very good defensible space” thanks to homeowners cutting down weeds and keeping the areas around their homes free of debris.

“Cal Fire is still investigating the cause,” Wells said.

About three to four hours of mop up were reportedly necessary.

In other fire news around the county, a travel trailer was reported to be on fire in the Middle Creek area shortly before 11 p.m., and in Lucerne a pile of leaves caught fire behind a trailer at Country Club Mobile Home Park shortly before midnight.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Follow Lake County News on Twitter at and on Facebook at .



Smoke from the fire was visible across the lake in Lucerne. Photo by Tera DeVroede.

LAKE COUNTY, Calif. – A Friday evening power equipment failure led to a wide-ranging power outage and a sewage spill.

Cal Fire and Northshore Fire Protection District firefighters responded to a report of a blown transformer on Sulphur Bank Drive and Highway 20 just after 8:30 p.m. Saturday night, according to radio reports.

A small fire was triggered but quickly put out, and Pacific Gas and Electric was called in, officials reported from the scene.

PG&E spokesman Brandi Ehlers said the equipment failure led to a power outage that ran from 8:41 p.m. to 11:55 p.m. Friday.

She said approximately 4,009 customers in Clearlake, Clearlake Oaks, Clearlake Park and Lower Lake lost power.

Businesses in the area either closed early or tried to use candlelight, according to a report Lake County News received from a community member.

The outage also led to an issue for the Southeast Regional Wastewater Collection System in Clearlake, according to Special Districts Administrator Mark Dellinger.

Dellinger said the loss of power caused a backup on Lakeshore Drive in which two manholes discharged.

He said 70 gallons of sewage was discharged, and all of it was contained and removed.

No sewage flowed into Clear Lake, Dellinger said.

“We were directed by Lake County Environmental Health to disinfect and post the area affected by both manholes,” he said.

Dellinger said the health department later directed that the signs be removed, which took place on Tuesday.

Special Districts sent the spill notification to the state, as required, on Saturday, he said.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Follow Lake County News on Twitter at and on Facebook at .

Lisa Kauppinen caught a Cal Fire helicopter picking up water to fight a fire burning a home in Spring Valley Lakes, Calif., on Monday, September 6, 2010.



LAKE COUNTY, Calif. – Labor Day, which signals the close of summer, proved a busy one for local firefighters.

On Monday, firefighters from Cal Fire, Northshore Fire Protection District and Lake County Fire Protection District responded to mid-afternoon blazes, one involving a small amount of vegetation, the other burning a home.

Just after 1 p.m. firefighters were dispatched to a fire on Morgan Valley Road and Stanley Lane, according to Lake County Fire Protection District Battalion Chief Willie Sapeta.

Firefighters arrived at the fire, about four miles out Morgan Valley Road, about 10 minutes after it initially was dispatched, containing it by 1:30 p.m., Sapeta said.

Seven engines from Cal Fire and Lake County Fire responded, he said, along with two crews and two battalion chiefs.

In all, it burned about four acres, he said.

“There was one structure threatened but no damage to it,” Sapeta said.

He said firefighters had an hour and a half of mop up before getting back in quarters shortly before 4:30 p.m.

“The cause is still under investigation,” he said.

At about 2:45 p.m., a modular home was reported on fire at 3078 Wolf Creek Road in Spring Valley, said Northshore Fire Battalion Chief Pat Brown.

A Spring Valley fire engine arrived first on scene and reported heavy smoke coming from the home's attic, Brown said.

The next two vehicles to arrive were a fire engine and water tender from Northshore Fire's Clearlake Oaks station. Brown said those firefighters couldn't stop the fire because it was burning in the attic space.

“It pretty well ran the attic,” he said.

The next two engines to arrive had to do an 1,800-foot-long hose lay because, as Brown noted, “The hydrants are just too far apart” in Spring Valley. Each engine has about 1,400 feet of hose.

In addition to needing to stretch hose, the water had to be pumped because the home sat up above the road, he said.

Northshore Fire sent a total of four engines and a water tender, while Cal Fire sent a full wildland response of five engines, plus a helicopter and hand crews, Brown said.




Denise Johnson shot this picture of a modular home on fire in Spring Valley Lakes on Monday, September 6, 2010.



“We had some issues when we first got there,” he said, noting, “The ceiling did collapse on the first team in.”

However, he said no firefighters were injured.

They were able to save a lot of the home's contents, and Brown estimated 50 to 60 percent of the home was actually lost.

He said the fire is under investigation by the county's arson task force and the sheriff's office, with the building being turned over to the sheriff's office after the fire was put out.

In other news this weekend, a drowning was reported to have taken place in the Clearlake Park area on Saturday.

Sapeta was able to confirm the drowning but he said he was not on for the call and additional details weren't immediately available Monday.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Follow Lake County News on Twitter at and on Facebook at .

A variety of produce entered in this year's fair competition. Photo by John Jensen.





LAKEPORT, Calif. – If you've not managed to make it to this year's Lake County Fair, there's still time.

The event, which kicked off on Thursday, enters its final day on Sunday, with a full lineup of events to appeal to all ages and offer “Fun for the Whole Herd,” as this year's theme suggests.

“It's been going quite well,” Fair Chief Executive Officer Richard Persons said Saturday evening.

He said attendance appears to be up from last year.

The fair was bustling Saturday evening after a busy day that included the annual Junior Livestock Auction.

The hot weather cooled and yielded to a pleasant night set against the backdrop of the brightly colored midway, with the music from a concert by local favorites The Lost Boys rising on the air.

At the same time, at the main grandstands racing fans watched side-by-side mud drag racing, and radio-controlled cars raced in one of the nearby livestock barns.




Local bakers put their best cakes forward

LAKE COUNTY, Calif. – The wind picked up, the clouds moved in and the temperature dropped on Tuesday afternoon as a high pressure system began moving into Lake County, bringing with it a chance of rain Wednesday and into the evening with much cooler-than-normal temperatures expected.

Daytime high temperatures yesterday reached the mid-80s around Lake County, but the National Weather Service in Sacramento has dialed down the forecast with the arrival Tuesday of an unseasonably strong low-pressure system.

Average temperatures for this time of year should reach in to the upper-80s, but Wednesday's forecast high is predicted to only top out in the upper 60s, with a 20-percent chance of rain into the evening before 11 p.m., with mostly cloudy skies.

A red flag warning was issued for Wednesday in the Sierra Nevada mountains and Nevada due to high winds with this low pressure system.

Thursday should be slightly warmer as the low pressure system moves out, with daytime highs in the mid-70s, with temperatures climbing back in to the 80s by the weekend.

For up-to-the-minute weather information, please visit the Lake County News homepage.

E-mail Terre Logsdon at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Follow Lake County News on Twitter at and on Facebook at .

The Department of Veterans Affairs published its final regulation Aug. 31 for compensating Vietnam veterans with ischemic heart disease, Parkinson’s disease or B-cell leukemia, or their surviving spouses.

Veterans diagnosed with these diseases only will have to show they stepped foot in Vietnam sometime from Jan. 9, 1962 through May 7, 1975, to qualify for service-connected disability ratings and compensation.

The first batch of payments will be made immediately after Oct. 30, when a required 60-day review period for Congress will expire.

As many as 93,000 veterans and survivors who filed claims previously for these conditions are in line for retroactive payments. Another 60,000 claims have been filed since Oct. 13, when VA Secretary Eric Shinseki announced that these diseases would be added to the list of ailments VA presumes are caused by wartime exposure to Agent Orange. VA projects that at least 150,000 more claims will be filed over the next 12 to 18 months.

In publishing the regulation, VA revealed that the price tag for adding these diseases to its Agent Orange presumptive list could be at least 50 percent higher, over the next 10 years, than the $42.2 billion VA uses.

VA calculated the lower estimate by applying incident rates for these diseases in the general population to the Vietnam veteran population. But Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), chairman of the veterans’ affairs committee, noted that Vietnam veterans are older. At his request, VA “age-adjusted” the incidence rate for heart disease alone and the cost jumped by $24 billion.

That figure would be even higher but VA officials, using newer data, lowered the average expected disability rating for heart disease from 60 percent down to 50 percent for Akaka’s age-adjusted calculation.

The resulting 10-year estimate of nearly $67 billion also doesn’t reflect the higher incidence of disease expected among Vietnam veterans due to Agent Orange. Still, VA officials said they remain satisfied with their original estimate of $42.2 billion.

The Akaka’s higher cost projection is sure to be raised at a Sept. 23 hearing where his committee will examine how the Agent Orange Act is being applied, and whether a finding by scientists of “limited or suggestive association” between these diseases and herbicide exposure is sufficient evidence to award disability compensation to any ailing Vietnam veteran.

To stop payments, both the Senate and House in this election year would have to pass a joint resolution to block the regulation. President Obama then would have to sign the resolution, after his own Office of Management and Budget spent the past two months studying the VA rule before finally approving it. So VA officials are preparing to make payments.

Here’s a rundown of how payments will be handled for categories of veterans and survivors. This information came from an interview Sept. 1 with Thomas Pamperin, associate deputy under secretary for policy and program management for the Veterans Benefit Administration, and Diana Rubens, associate deputy under secretary for field operations.

RETROACTIVE PAY – Because of a 25-year-old court ruling, Nehmer v. Department of Veterans Affairs, VA must review claims previously filed for these diseases and make payments retroactive to the claim date, or to the date of the Nehmer ruling, Sept. 25, 1985, whichever is later.

The 93,000 veterans and survivors so far identified as having filed a claim for one of these diseases don’t need to file another, said Pamperin. “We are going to review those cases on our own…back to the earliest date they claimed that disability -- but not earlier than Nehmer -- and will award benefits from that date.”

If the veteran is deceased, VA will award back pay to the surviving spouse. If no surviving spouse is found, the National Veterans Legal Services Program, which litigated the Nehmer decision, will help to identify someone else who might be eligible for the benefits.

Besides disability pay, back payments could include Dependency and Indemnity Compensation for the widow, enhanced burial benefits if a veteran’s death was due to a service-connected condition, and 36-months of education benefit to a spouse or a child, no matter what age the child is today, if the veteran was 100-percent disabled at time of death.

If veterans or survivors are worried the VA will not identified them as eligible for retroactive payments, they can file a new claim, Pamperin said.

“We are doing a data run against our corporate record, and some of these corporate records are limited to six diagnostic codes. So we’ve done the best we can with the resources we have to identify people,” he said.

Diana Rubens said 1000 staffers at 13 regional officers, including 326 specially-trained rating specialists, are working only on Nehmer claims, which can involve complex calculations and long searches for next of kin.

RECENT CLAIMS – 60,000 veterans and survivors who have filed claims for the three diseases since last October also will receive Nehmer protection in that payment will be made back to the date of the claim.

Every VA service center and regional office is working to develop and process these claims for payment sometime after Oct. 30.

“Our goal is to spend the next couple of months setting up as many claims as possible for payments as quickly as possible,” Rubens said.

FUTURE CLAIMS – If veterans or survivors planning to submit a new Agent Orange claim can show they had one of these diseases diagnosed on or before Aug. 31 this year, and if they file their claim before Aug. 30, 2011, it will be payable back to Aug. 31, 2010, the date the regulation took effect. Otherwise, payment date will be the date an approved claim was filed.

Pamperin advises veterans to gather medical records from private doctors so VA won’t need to schedule new exams to confirm their diseases.

To comment, send e-mail to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or write to Military Update, P.O. Box 231111, Centreville, VA, 20120-1111.

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Veggie Girl Esther Oertel takes on underappreciated okra in this week's column.


It’s quite possible that okra is the most maligned vegetable on the planet. So much so that I hesitated to do a column devoted to it for fear of the collective groan that such writing might produce.

But I decided to be brave. If you’re not so sure about okra, read on. Perhaps you’ll develop a surprising appreciation for this underrated, sticky little pod.

We can trace okra’s roots to Africa. More specifically, it originated in what is modern day Ethiopia, Eritrea and the Sudan, and was first cultivated in Egypt. Wild okra still grows wild along the Nile in its upper regions and in Ethiopia. It has not been found growing wild outside Africa.

It was brought from Ethiopia into Arabia, and from there it spread throughout Africa, around the Mediterranean, and eastward to India. African slaves brought okra into the Caribbean and southern U.S., where it remains popular today.

It’s also a popular component of the cuisines of the Middle East, Greece, Turkey, India, South America and, of course, Africa.

Due to increased interest in American regional foods, okra has gained more respect as a vegetable in the U.S. in recent years.

Okra is the seed pod of a plant with heart-shaped leaves that is related to cotton, hibiscus, hollyhock and cocoa. Often growing up to 6 feet tall, its yellow flowers are considered beautiful and resemble hibiscus blossoms. For this reason, it’s also grown ornamentally.

The seed pod is long, slender and ridged (though some varieties are smooth), with a pointed tip, and a little cap where it attaches to the stem. It’s most often bright green, but a less common type is deep red in color, turning green when cooked. Like a peach, the pod is covered with light fuzz.

Okra is unique in that it contains mucilage, a slimy, gooey substance that is apparent when the pod is cut. It is this quality that results in okra’s many detractors; however, okra’s slime makes it a wonderful stew thickener (think gumbo), and it contains an array of health benefits.

To minimize sliminess, okra is often cooked whole for minimal periods, such as a quick stir-fry. Cooking with acidic foods like citrus (such as a few drops of lemon juice), tomatoes or vinegar also helps.

Alternatively, okra may be sliced thinly and cooked for long periods of time, such as in a stew or soup, to dissolve the mucilage.

Okra’s characteristic taste is similar to eggplant (some say with a hint of asparagus), so it can be used to replace eggplant in many recipes.

It is hard to think of okra without thoughts of the deep-fried version popular in the South. Young, tender pods are dipped in egg, breaded with cornmeal and fried.

In addition to sautéing or stir-frying okra, it can be steamed, baked, boiled or stewed. It also can be used raw in salads. Remember to avoid long cooking times (which encourages sliminess) unless you are making soups, stews or gumbo.

Perhaps the quintessential okra dish is Creole gumbo, a stew originating in Louisiana made with a strong stock, meat or seafood, onions, celery, carrots and okra, which adds thickness, thanks to its mucilage.

Okra is quite popular in India and Pakistan, where whole pods are typically sautéed in curry and served as a side dish. The Pakistanis have their own version of deep-fried okra, stuffing it with a combination of spices before frying it, then topping it with fresh cilantro (or coriander, as it is called there).

Interestingly, the seeds of the okra pod can be roasted and ground as a coffee substitute, something that can be done at home with mature okra seeds, a roasting pan and coffee grinder. Aficionados claim it tastes quite a bit like the real deal.

Okra, a summer vegetable, is in season now and may be available at local farmers’ markets. Otherwise, most supermarkets stock fresh okra.

Okra is at its best when young and tender, and pods should be no more than 3 to 4 inches long. Larger, mature pods are extremely tough. Okra should be bright green in color with no black spotting, which indicates lack of freshness.

Okra does not store well, so should be used as quickly as possible. At best, it keeps for a couple of days, and should be stored in an open paper or plastic bag in the warmest part of the fridge. Severe cold temperatures will speed okra decay. Do not wash until just before use, as sliminess will result.

Now for its many health benefits.

Okra is low in calories and high in dietary fiber. It’s rich in vitamins A, C and K, as well as B vitamins, calcium, manganese, magnesium, zinc and folic acid. It’s so full of folic acid that it’s a recommended food for pregnant woman, as folic acid aids in the development of the fetus.

Among green vegetables, it’s highest in the flavonoid antioxidants beta carotene, lutein and xanthin, which aid in cancer prevention.

In addition to being a powerhouse of nutrients, the health benefits of okra’s fiber and mucilage are in and of themselves amazing.

Okra’s fiber helps stabilize blood sugar by curbing the rate at which it’s absorbed. As well, okra fiber feeds needed good bacteria (or probiotics) in the intestinal tract, contributing to its health. Because the fiber in okra is combined with mucilage, it’s less harsh on the digestive system than, for example, wheat bran.

Okra’s mucilage helps regulate cholesterol by binding it and evacuating it from the body. It does the same with the toxins contained in bile acid. The mucilage coats and calms the digestive tract.

Are you ready to consume this mighty little pod yet? I am. The recipe I offer today is a simple one which may be good for those who are new to okra’s taste. In it, the flavors of okra, green beans, tomato and onion combine in a dish that may be served warm or cold.

Okra and green beans

1 pound okra, uncut

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 medium onion, diced

1 pound fresh green beans

2 large garlic cloves, crushed, then chopped

1 cup water

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon ground pepper

1 six-ounce can tomato paste

Wash okra pods and trim stems; do not remove caps. Rinse well and drain. Wash beans and cut into 3-inch lengths. Combine water, tomato paste, olive oil, onion, garlic, salt and pepper in a sauce pan and mix well. Heat, stirring frequently, until the mixture comes to boil.

Add okra and beans and additional water if necessary to almost cover vegetables. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer gently until vegetables are crisp-tender, 20 to 30 minutes.

Serve it warm or cold. Serves six.

This dish also can be oven-baked. Instead of simmering, lightly cover with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Esther Oertel, the "Veggie Girl," is a personal chef and culinary coach and is passionate about local produce. Oertel owns The SageCoach Personal Chef Service and teaches culinary classes at Chic Le Chef in Hidden Valley Lake. She welcomes your questions and comments; e-mail her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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HOPLAND – Mendocino Sheriff's deputies have arrested a Hopland man who they say attempted to set his home on fire in order to kill his wife and himself.

Steven Chiriboga, 50, was taken into custody in Sea Ranch on Monday, according to a report from Capt. Kurt Smallcomb.

At 4 p.m. Saturday deputies were dispatched to 13865 Mountain House Road in Hopland regarding an attempted murder and arson in progress, Smallcomb said.

When they arrived at the scene the deputies observed that the residence was completely engulfed in flames and firefighters were in the process of putting out the blaze, according to Smallcomb's report.

Smallcomb said deputies contacted the victim and learned that Chiriboga had allegedly led his 50-year-old wife into the house where he had opened the kitchen gas lines. He then is alleged to have set fire to the residence and grabbed and prevented his wife from leaving while the house continued to burn.

The couple's neighbors were able to break into house, which Chiriboga had been previously barricaded shut, Smallcomb said. Upon entering the house the neighbors were able to drag Chiriboga and his wife out of the house.

Chiriboga then fled the scene in his Chevy Silverado pickup truck prior to the deputies' arrival, and Smallcomb said a be on the lookout was issued for his arrest.

On Monday Mendocino County Sheriff's detectives trying to locate Chiriboga learned – with the assistance of the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office – that he was somewhere in the Sea Ranch area of Sonoma County, according to Smallcomb.

Smallcomb said Chiriboga was located driving his pickup in Sea Ranch and a traffic stop was conducted.

Chiriboga was arrested without incident and released to the custody of Mendocino County Sheriff's detectives, who Smallcomb said transported Chiriboga to the Mendocino County Jail where he was booked on charges of attempted murder, corporal injury of a spouse and arson, with bail set at $1 million.

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Byron Whipple of Lakeport, Calif., died when his boat crashed into a structure at the Lucky Four Trailer Resort in Lakeport on Saturday, September 4, 2010. Courtesy photo.



LAKEPORT, Calif. – A well-known local businessman lost his life in a Saturday evening incident in which his boat ran aground and hit a deck.

Byron Whipple, 54, of Lakeport died as a result of a crash.

Lt. Brad Rasmussen of the Lakeport Police Department said the incident occurred just before 8 p.m. Saturday at the Lucky Four Trailer Resort, located at 1060 N. Main St.

Rasmussen said four Lakeport Police units along with Lakeport Fire Protection District responded to secure the scene.

While the Lake County Sheriff's Marine Patrol responded to the scene police and firefighters provided medical aid and removed Whipple's body from the boat, which Rasmussen described as a deckboat. He said police also assisted with interviewing witnesses.

“There were numerous citizens in the area that witnessed the incident,” Rasmussen said.

Witnesses reported that Whipple, who was alone on the boat, was approaching the shore at full throttle – estimated to be between 40 and 50 miles per hour.

A large group of about 40 people was holding a get-together at the resort when they saw the boat barreling toward them and they ran to get out of the way, according to one witness account shared with Lake County News by Donna Queenen.





Byron Whipple's boat, where it came to rest under a deck at the Lucky Four Trailer Resort in Lakeport, Calif., following the fatal collision on Saturday, September 4, 2010. Photo by Donna Queenen.




The boat came aground and went up underneath a fixed deck that Queenen said had people on it.

“No one else was injured,” said Rasmussen.

Based on witness statements, there is concern that Whipple may have had a medical emergency beforehand. His head was reported to have been down, leading to speculation that he may have had a heart attack.

Lakeport Police Chief Kevin Burke said he'd never seen such a crash. He confirmed that police had received reports about a possible medical issue, but said it's still too early to know what may have happened.

Rasmussen said the Sheriff's Marine Patrol is the lead agency in the investigation, however Sgt. Dennis Ostini, who supervises the marine patrol, couldn't be reached for comment Sunday.

Whipple, a licensed real estate broker, has since 1992 been the owner/broker for City Center Realty, located in an ornate blue Victorian at 975 N. Main Street.

According to the biography on his Web site, Whipple – who held a bachelor's degree from California State University, Sacramento in real estate and land use affairs –was a past president of the Clear Lake Board of Realtors, a California Association of Realtors state director for many years and a past president of the Greater Lakeport Chamber of Commerce.

“He was a gentleman who never stopped caring for his community,” Lake County Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive Officer Melissa Fulton said Sunday.

Fulton said Whipple had been an avid ski racer and an excellent athlete but was severely injured many years ago in a ski racing accident. His biography explained he was a former USA Water Ski Racing Team member.

Whipple would have to use a wheelchair for the rest of his life following his accident, but it didn't prevent him from being active. His biography noted that he continued to enjoy bass fishing and had a “vast knowledge of the lake and its shoreline.”

“He did not let his disabilities caused by the accident keep him down, in business or in life,” Fulton said. “His resolution, in spite of those disabilities, to be a contributor to family and society is a lesson for anyone who suffers setbacks such as he did.”

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An artist's concept of Solar Probe+. Courtesy of NASA.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration's daring plan to visit the sun took a giant leap forward on Thursday with the selection of five key science investigations for the Solar Probe+ spacecraft.

Slated to launch no later than 2018, the smart car-sized spacecraft will plunge directly into the atmosphere of the sun, aiming to solve some of the biggest mysteries of solar physics.

Thursday's announcement means that researchers can begin building sensors for unprecedented in situ measurements of the solar system's innermost frontier.

“Solar Probe+ is going where no spacecraft has gone before,” said Lika Guhathakurta, Solar Probe+ program scientist at NASA headquarters. “For the first time, we'll be able to 'touch, taste and smell' the sun.”

Last year, NASA invited top researchers around the world to submit proposals detailing possible science investigations for the pioneering spacecraft.

Thirteen proposals were received and five have been selected:

– The Solar Wind Electrons Alphas and Protons Investigation (SWEAP): The most abundant particles in the solar wind are electrons, protons and helium ions. SWEAP will count these particles and measure their properties, even "sweeping up" some of them in a special Solar Probe Cup for direct analysis. The principal investigator is Justin C. Kasper of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Mass.

– The Wide-field Imager for Solar Probe Plus (WISPR): WISPR is a telescope that will make 3D images of the sun's atmosphere similar to medical CAT scans. WISPR can actually see the solar wind, allowing it to image clouds and shock waves as they approach and pass the spacecraft. This telescope is an important complement to the spacecraft's in situ instruments, which sample the plasmas that WISPR images. The principal investigator is Russell Howard of the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, DC.

– The Fields Investigation for Solar Probe Plus (FIELDS): This instrument will make direct measurements of electric and magnetic fields, radio emissions, and shock waves which course through the sun's atmospheric plasma. FIELDS also turns Solar Probe Plus into a giant dust detector, registering voltage signatures when specks of space dust hit the spacecraft’s antenna. The principal investigator is Stuart Bale of the University of California in Berkeley.

– Integrated Science Investigation of the Sun (ISIS): The ISIS EPI-Hi and EPI-Lo instruments will monitor electrons, protons and ions which are accelerated to high energies by shock waves in the sun's atmosphere. These are the very same particles that pose a threat to astronauts in space, disable satellites, and ionize Earth's upper atmosphere.

– Solar Probe+ Observatory Scientist: This was a proposal not for an instrument, but for a person. The principal investigator, Marco Velli, becomes the mission's observatory scientist. In the years ahead, he will become deeply familiar with the spacecraft and its construction, helping to ensure that adjacent in situ instruments do not interfere with one another as they sample the solar environment. He will also guide the mission's "big picture" science investigations after Solar Probe+ enters the sun's atmosphere.

“The sensors we've selected to ride aboard Solar Probe+ are designed to solve some of the biggest mysteries of solar physics,” said Dick Fisher, head of NASA's Heliophysics Division in Washington DC.

Why is the sun's atmosphere is so much hotter than its surface? And what propels the solar wind?

“We've been struggling with these questions for decades,” said Fisher. “Solar Probe+ should finally provide some answers.”

Solar Probe+ will likely discover new mysteries, too, in a realm that no other spacecraft has dared enter.

At closest approach, Solar Probe+ will be 7 million km or 9 solar radii from the sun. There, the spacecraft's carbon-composite heat shield must withstand temperatures as high as 2000 degrees C and survive blasts of radiation that would quickly disable other missions.

From these near distances inside the sun’s atmosphere, the solar disk will loom 23 times wider than it does in the skies of Earth.

“What will we find there?” wondered Guhathakurta. “This is truly unexplored territory.”

By design, Solar Probe's winning instruments are sufficiently versatile to investigate many different kinds of phenomena. Whatever comes along – be it electric or magnetic, high- or low-energy, wavy or turbulent – they should be able to measure it.

“The possibilities for discovery,” she said, “are off the charts.”

The Solar Probe Plus mission is part of NASA's Living with a Star Program. The program is designed to understand the aspects of the sun and the Earth's space environment that affect life and society.

The program is managed by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., with oversight from NASA's Science Mission Directorate's Heliophysics Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., is the prime contractor for the spacecraft.

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