You could almost forget that they’re trying to raise money and assume Planned Parenthood of Santa Barbara, Ventura, and San Luis Obispo Counties is only hoping to have a great time. You’d certainly be forgiven for thinking their Choice Affairs events like C’est Cheese! C’est Sublime! (April 19), Foodie Fetishes in the Montecito Foothills (April 22), and Decadent Tea & Handsome Hardcovers at the Simpson House Inn (May 27) are merely occasions to delight in delectables.
But they are also actually a way to fund educational programs. “Thanks to our generous donors and supporters, all the cost of the events are provided by the hosts,” said Christine Saunders, the woman humorously billed as the Grande Decaf MoCa (that’s Mothers of Choice Affairs). “That means almost all the money raised goes to client services, mostly educational programs in schools, group homes, prisons. Last year we had 64,000 contact hours in education.” Over the 18 years of Choice Affairs, Planned Parenthood has raised more than $900,000.
The ability to raise such a huge sum of money isn’t surprising when you look at the caliber of the Choice Affairs program. While there are events such as trips to the new Broad Contemporary Art Museum (April 26) and a kayaking adventure in Morro Bay (June 7), the heart of the program seems to be all stomach. Even that Broad trip includes a lunch stop at one of Los Angeles’s hottest new restaurants, David Myer’s brasserie Comme a.
Closer to home, we get to see how arts can influence each other. For instance, Jeff Shelton’s Architectural Whimsy Tour (May 17), featuring Shelton himself as your tour guide, stars food that tries to match his off-kilter brilliance evidenced in the Ablitt Tower House, among other projects. “I love Jeff Shelton’s work,” Eileen Randall Cook of Bella Dolce Bakery, who will be providing a dessert buffet, exulted. “I can tell that his style is based on eclectic Spanish buildings of Barcelona, not just the Santa Barbara version of ‘Spanish.’ So I am going to look over the buildings on his Web site and stare at the Cota Street Studios for a while for inspiration. I will draw from his use of color, space, and whimsy and translate that to something made with sugar!”
Sugar and cocoa will be the stars at the event Food of the Gods (June 3). Cohosted by Christine Saunders, the afternoon will celebrate the history and contributions that Central and South America made to our love of chocolate, all at a George Washington Smith house in Hope Ranch. When asked, “Why chocolate?” Saunders said, “Why not? We’ll get to have lunch out by the pool and eat chocolate in every form we can think of, starting with mole chicken. And then guests go home with a gift box of chocolates from The Chocolate Gallery.”
After such richness, it might be hard to imagine a tea can be decadent. But then Judy Egenolf, host of the Decadent Tea event, explained: “When you sit in the Simpson House’s beautiful gardens, you start in a very relaxed and pampered mode. Then comes the selection of teas, a select, opulent, and glorious list. But the real kicker is when they place the three-tier silver server at your side. There are lovely savories on the top-all the favorite sandwiches and cheese puffs. The middle layer is loaded with a variety of sweet breads, beautiful berries, and varying surprises depending upon the season. The bottom layer-be still my heart-carries the cookies, chocolates, and other serious sweets. My favorite part of the meal is the separate plate of the best scones I’ve ever eaten. The pace of the tea is relaxed enough that I have been known to eat every morsel.”
In addition to the tasty treats, two authors will discuss their books: Sandy Hill, author of Fandango, a compendium of recipes and party tips, and Janet Penn Franks, author of Santa Barbara County Wineries. You might even learn something as you, in an ever so genteel way, pig out.
If you hope to learn how to provide yourself with pig-out opportunities, Foodie Fetishes is for you. Laurie Tilson has a Montecito kitchen so magnificent it’s already been the subject of an Indy story by J’Amy Brown last fall. This time the afternoon will star chef Roberto Cortez, who put together a special chef’s dinner for Blue Agave this summer and has a client list featuring the likes of Antonio Banderas and Melanie Griffith. “It’s great working with [Cortez],” Tilson said. “He loves to have fun and encourages his audience to do the same. He’s extremely talented but very down to earth. The menu will consist of appetizers, but I don’t know specifics. He provides recipes and discusses each one, and then we taste. It’s as much a social event as it is educational.”
Planned Parenthood Choice Affairs take place March 29 through June 24 from Ventura to San Luis Obispo. Phone ordering is not available, but to request an order form and informational booklet, call 963-2445 x146.