About Karen Pierce Gonzalez

Karen Pierce Gonzalez’s fiction and non-fiction work has appeared in The San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Magazine, North Bay Biz Journal, Verde, Big Blend Magazine, and Zahir: Unforgettable Tales as well as other literary magazines and newspapers.

A former journalist and author of Family Folktales: What Are Yours, and Family Folktales: Write Your Own Family Stories, she has facilitated many folklore and fiction writing workshops in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Other writing credits include Editors’ Choice Award, Farmhouse Magazine; First Place Creative Prose,  National League of American Pen Women, Essay Award, California Writers Association, a Pushcart Prize nomination and more.

She earned a Bachelor of Arts degrees in Creative Writing and Anthropological Linguistics/Folklore from Sonoma State University in California. Her folklore research credits include “Sonoma County Scarecrows: Scarecrows as Folk Art”.

She is also CEO of a boutique public relations company and publisher of FolkHeart Press. Both are located in Northern California.

Writing and Art Samples

Articles, Reviews, and More.

Sunday Brunch

By Karen Pierce Gonzalez

Arm in arm Katarina and Gerry walked silently through the park towards a bench that sat in the early morning sunlight.

"Come on now, Gerry. We'll just have to adjust. No other choice, you know. We both loved Mona and that will go on," Katarina spoke first, breaking the quiet between them.

"It's only been a few weeks," Gerry replied. The loss strained her. "It was hard to see the urn, and know that Mona was somewhere in all that dust." Her free hand flitted out for a moment like a bird's broken wing then returned to her side.

Katarina tightened her grip upon Gerry's arm. The two faced one other. Katarina started to speak, then hesitated. She stared up into her friend's tired green eyes. The lines beneath them were getting deeper. Used to be such a strong-boned face Katarina thought then reached up to touch her own face. She automatically examined her hands for traces of finely ground face powder.

"Just think, Gerry, of the possibilities. Mona maybe will come back in a new form! I bet she'd figure out a way to do it, too!" The absurdity of Katarina's comment caught Gerry off guard; unexpected laughter rippled out.

"Sure, Katarina, sure ... maybe she already has," Gerry looked around her, "maybe she's one of those fat pigeons on the walkway, just waiting for two old ladies like us to feed it!" Then she caught sight of a young couple beneath the umbrella-like shade of a nearby Willow tree. She carefully raised a forefinger and drew an imaginary line to the tree's trunk.  "Katarina, do you see what I see?" She asked the smaller woman whose pixie head swam above her coat's wide and high collar.

“Are they? No. They're awfully close ... do you think right here in the park? Oh my, it's hard to tell from here." Gerry, whose sense of sight was sharper than Katarina's.

 “Gerry, do you think they really are …?" Unwilling to admit that she couldn't see that far away Katarina suggested Gerry get a closer look. As her friend set off in the tree's direction, she settled into the curve of the bench and stared at her brown shoes until she noticed a shiny plump pigeon standing only inches away.

"Don't come here," Katarina muttered. "I don't want to be bothered. Go away ... I don't have anything!"  She watched the bird meticulously peck at its feathers. A chill came over her as the bird stared at her, its blue-black eyes piercing right through her.

"I don't have a thing for you ... maybe later, ok?"

The bird just stood there.

 "Mona?" Katarina mustered up the courage to whisper, "Are you Mona?" Half-frightened by the possibility she quickly looked away.  Why was Gerry taking so long?

Near the tree, Gerry jumped when the young man rushed out from beneath its protective limbs.  "Are you a spy or just nosey?" Flustered, Gerry started to apologize then turned around and headed as fast as she could back to Katarina.

"Between that impertinent young man and that damn sun slicing up my view, I couldn't make out what was going on." She spoke between breaths.
"Hmmmm" Katarina's attention was divided between listening to Gerry's report and watching the pigeon waddle back to where the other birds were. “It’s time to go.” She stood up and linked her arm again through Gerry's.

They merged onto the park's pathway. Newly expanded, it led them towards the downtown area where for years the three of them enjoyed Sunday brunch. Without exchanging so much as one word, they walked through the low-ceilinged bistro’s revolving glass doors. 

"Shouldn’t we find someplace new?" Gerry hesitated as they stepped onto the lapis blue carpet.

"We have to go on."

The hostess asked where Mona was as she led them to a table set with peach and lapis blue pin striped napkins folded to resemble three pronged crowns. When Katrina said, “she’s gone” the young woman nodded over her words. “A vacation? Lucky… I’ll tell the waiter to bring your Trinities.” She returned to her hostess stand.

"Let’s not bother explaining,” Gerry tried to smile as she eased herself into the chair.

 “When our drinks come, let’s toast Mona shall we?”

“It’s her drink, after all.” Gerry replied as the waiter appeared with a basket of rolls and butter and the champagne, cherry juice and ice cube concoction Mona introduced to the place when they first came there.

Under its influence, Mona told the bartender and her friends the Trinity was a perfect blend once the ice – the Holy Ghost part of the Holy Trinity she named the drink after - melted. She also explained that if she were a part of the trinity would have been the Holy Ghost. "Because," she whispered," it’s free.”  Unlike the rest of the trio, it could become part of anything, anywhere.

Gerry fingered the rim of her glass.  "Mona and her religious nonsense! Say, Katarina, do you remember when she left the Church?"

Katarina grinned. "Let's see, it must've been, oh, ten years before the Church even knew she was gone."

"She had to leave… prayer could never satisfy her. If you ask me, unlike you and me, the rules held her down.” Gerry tapped one finger on the table.

The women toasted their friend then sipped their drinks. Katarina frowned.  "Mona had a mind of her own and wanted to use it. No place for that in the pews. I think she was happiest, most at ease with herself without the rules ... more ..." Katrina fell silent without finishing her sentence.

"Awful.’’ Gerry grimaced, then quickly added, "The drink, I mean. Not enough champagne.” She looked at the waiter but could not get his attention. He was leaning into the hostess’ words.  Gerry was about to get up when she noticed the flush on Katarina's face.

"Now, Katarina, don't get flustered. This was her drink and somebody’s changed  it!” For the second time she walked towards a young man and woman huddled together.

“Excuse me, there’s something wrong with our drinks,” she said.

“I’ll be right over.” The waiter shooed her away.

“Well!” Gerry raised her eyebrows in surprise as the pair reclaimed their conversation. “No respect,” she huffed and sat back down. “This is no way to be treated. Mona wouldn’t have stood for it. Neither should we.” Gerry seethed.

With a thin-lipped smile the waiter came over and asked in his mechanical voice, "Can I help you?" Feet placed firmly together, stomach pulled in, he glanced past them as he waited for their response.

"Do you have time to help us?” Gerry glared as she continued, “Either my taste buds are failing me or that drink was diluted." She pushed her glass away. Katrina did too.

“Diluted? No.” The waiter pulled back his shoulders. “The bartender just put in more cherry juice. He figured less alcohol would be better.”
“Better?” Gerry snarled. “We aren’t dead and we sure don’t need you or anyone else telling us how much alcohol we should have! Of all the nerve.”
Katrina reached across the table and grabbed hold of Gerry’s shaking hand. “You know, Gerry, the weather outside is perfect. Why stay here where we aren’t wanted?” Her words lightly soothed Gerry twitching lips.

"You’re right. This was Mona's favorite place and she's dead!” Midair, the words caught them both.

Unaware of having crushed her cloth crown napkin, Katarina reached her other hand out to Gerry. In a complete grip, their fingers meshed, bridging each other’s gaps.

“Are you ready to order brunch?” The waiter asked.

"Yes, I believe we are!" Gerry snapped. "I'd like a ... well-done Sunday afternoon with a dear friend. What will you have, Katarina?"

 Katarina inhaled just enough air to extend the elastic waistband of her dress. "The same. But let’s add a few  of these French rolls," she hesitated, “You see, I met this pigeon in the park today. I think it could’ve been the Holy Ghost," Katarina's face lit up.

"Really?" Gerry grinned. “Let’s find out, shall we?” And as easily as they had come in, they went back out through the revolving glass doors.

 Distilled Spirits

Alcohol -fermented beverages - have been around ever since people learned to process wheat, barley rye, grapes and other grains and fruits.  Here are a few folkloric words of advice about drinking it:

What butter and whiskey won’t cure, there’s no cure for.
= He who drinks water does not get drunk.
= To drink beer in a shop denotes prosperity.
= Drink is the curse of the land: it makes you fight your neighbor, it makes you shoot at your landlord, and it makes you miss him.
= If it’s drowning you’re after, don’t torment yourself with shallow water.
 = Spilling wine is a bad omen.

Interesting lore about specific drinks:

= Mimosas – a mix of champagne, wine and citrus fruit juice were invented circa 1925 in the Hotel Ritz Paris and was most likely named after yellow Mimosa flower.
 = Gin was known as London’s Demon drink. The city had many gin houses in the 18th and 19th century, because it was cheaper to make than beer and could get you drunker more quickly.
 =Whiskey is the Gaelic word for "water of life."
= Grog, a diluted version of rum, was created by Admiral Vernon, Commander-in-Chief, West Indies Station, so that his sailors wouldn’t get so drunk while at sea.
 =Wine was said to have medicinal qualities for ancient Persians when it was discovered that discomfort and fatigue of a Persian woman were relieved after drinking a jar of fermented grapes.


Isalene's Rose Petal Jam

By Karen Pierce Gonzalez

     I have been making platters of sweet candied fruit for years. I take them to the children after school. They must spend all day in class learning how to read and write and I know they love the quince and jellied orange peel rewards. They always empty the trays I bring; their little hands eagerly reaching out for all they can hold. 

     It has been this way for a very long time and I am glad to see the children happy. I especially like watching little Asher’s round, smooth face. He has his mother’s deep-set black eyes and his father’s thick-lipped grin. This young boy is proof that my rose jam is perhaps the sweetest. It is what brought his mother out of her shell and into the arms of his father who only dreamed from a distance about making her his wife. It wasn’t until after they tasted the jam that they discovered their happiness together. Although it took some time for her to be able to return his gaze, it took less time for her to say yes. But I did not start out making the fruit for them. I first made it for a man whose love I fed.

     My hair was still chocolate brown then. I wear it now woven into a bun beneath a scarf. My eyes were bright with hope. Today they squint against the day’s brightness and can see best only what is right in front of them. Ah, but if I close my eyes and think only of those days, I can remember the sun’s warmth on my face and how I would wait for him to appear. My skin tingled and my palms grew moist with anticipation.

     I saved a few fruit pieces just for him. Closing his eyes, he would taste them, one at a time. Each time, telling me how delicious it was. My lips grew moist just watching him.

      “There is no one in all of Turkey like you, Isalene,” he’d murmur, “no one.”

     But that was long ago and since then he has left this place for another. Why think of it now? The hot Mediterranean sun overhead quickly dries my palms and I can barely make out the schoolhouse before me. Hadn’t it been on a day such as this that he told me goodbye? That day my heart broke into many small pieces. Sometimes, I can feel the scars. They are what I have left. 

     “I have good news,” he began, the words moving quickly.

     “What is it, Raphael?” The children were already gone and I brought out what I saved for him.

      A stout man whose high cheekbones rose above his beard, he took the tray and motioned for us to stand in the shade of nearby trees. Curious, I followed him.

     “Isalene, you really are a help,” he said. “The children are so much more willing to practice spelling new words now with the promise of your quince and orange treats when they are done.”

     Was he praising me because he suddenly saw what I was doing? Had my rose petal jam found love in his heart for me? As he spoke, a flush washed over me. I was sure my face was red, so I looked away just as I am doing right now. What right had I to think that he would be interested in me? I was plain and did not have a dowry. There were many others he could choose from. And yet, because of the jam, I hoped.

     I first made the trays of fruit as a reason to see him almost every day and that was what I wanted more than anything else. He was older than I, much older, but I didn’t care. To me he was more handsome than any of the young men in our village. When he first arrived, already a widower whose wife died before she could give him children, he barely spoke to me. Not that I didn’t try to get his attention. It just wasn’t easy because women of my age did not talk to men their families  did not approve of. Without family, I could not gain anyone’s permission to speak to him. For me there was only an orchard of skinny trees that was long neglected. It was in tending those trees and making something of the fallen, ripened fruit that I found a way to reach him.

     “For the children,” I explained at the start, hoping he couldn’t hear how fast my heart was beating. He grinned, and, as time went on, our visits grew longer.  Often he’d engage me in debate about what lesson plans children should be taught in school. Then we would talk about the students and how, as a child, he’d been slow to learn.

     “If only I’d known someone like you,” he winked at me and laughed. Those days seemed easy and full of promise. I believed back then that it was only a matter of time. Through the eyes of memory I remember our standing that day beneath the trees that lined the schoolyard. My pulse raced as I waited to hear his news.

     “I am leaving ....” he paused to nibble on a bit of quince.

     “Leaving? Is it your family?” I took a step forward. He went  to visit them in the fall. That’s when I gave him the rose petal jam, believing it would remind him of me. At the time, I did not tell him that it was sweet enough to soften even the hardest of hearts.

     “Yes, in a way it is family, Isalene.” At that Raphael brought his gaze directly to me. He cleared his throat. “I am getting married.”

     Without thinking, I reached out for the tray and grabbed it back, holding it before me like a shield. But it did no good. I could not ward off his words. And I could not hide the cracks that began to appear in my heart.

     “Isalene, are you all right? You’ve suddenly gone pale.”

     I couldn’t even move. What happened? My mind moved swiftly over the possibilities. Had he shared the jam with someone else? Perhaps the rose petals I picked in the morning soured.

     “Isalene, can you hear me?” Raphael reached out for my hand but I would not let him touch me. He stumbled over his own words. “I… I have said nothing until I was sure. She … she makes me very happy.”

     Then he dropped his voice to a whisper, “Oh, Isalene, I am sorry, I… I had no idea,” he asked me to look at him. I only shook my head. He started to speak again but then said nothing; the weight of his silence touching the tray between us.

     At times I must blink to drive away the moisture that appears in my eyes. It is a sign, I am told, of growing old. In the opening and closing of my eyelids, I sometimes forget what I was thinking. And, standing here, waiting for the children to finish their lessons, this can be good. Back then I thought I would never forget the way my throat closed, not letting a sound escape. His efforts to comfort me were lost, too. Hearing him say that I and my fruits would be greatly missed did not touch me with tenderness. They could not erase the pain of my tightened face.

     Sometimes, like today, I remember more than I want to. I can see again the way the sun ran its warm fingers through his dark hair as he bent down to pick up the fruit that fell from the tray.

     Much time has passed since then and now there are wrinkles where once the skin was supple with youth. When I look down at the faces that smile up at me I wonder who among them will blossom in love? Who will miss the beating of their own hearts? Searching their bright, shiny eyes, I tell myself not to forget how tender the heart can be.

Rose Petal Jam

2 cups of rose petals (deep red and very fragrant)
2 cups water
2 ¼ cups honey
Juice of a lemon

Wash and drain freshly picked rose petals. Cut in ¼-inch strips, removing the base of each petal. Gently cook in water approximately 10-15 minutes until tender. Strain the liquid and put the petals to the side for later use. With the liquid make a syrup by mixing 1 cup of rose petal liquid with honey.

Cook to a soft-ball stage. Add drained petals and cook over low heat about 15 minutes longer. Pour into sterile jars and seal with wax. Do not store in direct sunlight.

Dreamland Cafe Hearts

By Karen Pierce Gonzalez

Dreamland Café Hearts exist because of me. I hadn’t known I was going to be the one who put them on the menu. I might have been more careful; might have not just gotten on the road in the black of that long-ago night when I first set out for Dreamland, Texas. In a hurry to be of help, I had no idea I’d be the one to do what Aunt Ellie couldn’t.

“Just take a right,” the man told me when I first pulled in to Hackley unsure about which road to take next. I  left my map at the last gas station, some 40 miles back. I could’ve called my aunt for directions, but I didn’t want her to think I was lost. She already worried about me wasn’t supposed to be part of the plan.

When the man leaned in through the car window to tell me to turn right – not left – at the next stop light, I got the creeps. Staring into his unkempt black beard, I knew there was no way I was going to follow his advice; he was probably making it up. At the intersection, I turned left.

An hour later I was back in Hackley, more than ready to take that right. Nervous about taking too long to get to Dreamland, about not getting there soon enough, I tried to laugh off the mistake. “That’s life” I imagined myself saying to Aunt Ellie when at last I pulled up into the Dreamland Café parking lot. I repeated the phrase several times, each time imagining the quick nod of her head. It comforted me.  So did the sign: Welcome to Dreamland.

“When you get into town, just ask anyone where the café is. I’ll be there waiting,” she promised. 

It's been a few years since I’ve seen her. With a buzz cut if light purple colored hair and a diamond stud in my nose, I wondered what she’d think. Maybe it wouldn’t surprise her. She knew that like her I didn’t follow the rules. That’s why she married Uncle Adler. She was supposed to marry someone her own age, not a man 20 years older who loved cooking breakfast.

I no longer looked like the little Goldilocks she used to tell me I was. God, how I loved her visits. Every morning I’d wake to her humming in our kitchen. She made her crazy Dreamland griddle cakes stretched out thin and powdered with sugar to look like snowflakes. Arranged just so on my plate, they melted in my mouth.

The only one of mom’s three sisters who knew how to relax and take it easy, she was a lot of fun. We’d stay up late at night and tell each other secrets while my mom cleaned the kitchen then went to bed.

“I’d always liked the good-looking ones with fast cars,” she'd  lower her voice. Those words made more sense to me than my mom’s “Be careful and say no.”

I always hated to see her go.

“Can’t stay, honey. Got to make sure your uncle doesn’t burn the café down,” she’d say with a wink. Truth was she was crazy about Uncle Adler. Nothing like the boys she dated, he had a quiet ease she didn’t want to be away from for more than just a short while. “When you’re older come out and stay with us.”

I did just that the summer before my last year of high school. I jumped into my car as soon as I could after hearing that Uncle Adler  died. He’d been in an accident while on his way to pick up a new refrigeration unit for the café. Didn’t see the other car had crossed the line until it was too late. Late night phone calls to our house and whispers between my mom and my other aunts told me that the death was hard on Aunt Ellie. “Maybe too hard,” my mom muttered more than once. “She’s not eating or sleeping. If she’s not careful, she’ll lose the café and then what?”

When I finally got into town, I asked again for directions. This time, though, I asked a woman standing outside the post office. She said it was an easy place to find and she was right. From the parking lot, I could see Aunt Ellie through the kitchen window. She was cooking griddle cakes.

“I make them in almost any shape,” she explained after giving me a stack of pancakes that looked like flying saucers. She’d become a griddle cake artist of sorts and was knee-deep in special-orders. People wanted them for birthdays, anniversaries, baptisms, and high school graduations. But there was only one shape she said she wouldn’t ever make again. Heart was Uncle Adler’s favorite.

If someone asked her for that shape, she shake her head, take a deep sigh and say, “I can’t do that.”

I helped wherever I could. I mixed the batter and wiped down the cast iron griddle between orders which were always flying in. At night, we were so exhausted we didn’t talk the way we used to when she’d visit. Even though I’d tell jokes, she wouldn’t laugh. And when I asked her to tell me a secret from high school, she said she couldn’t remember any.  She cried and I sat there quietly. I know she liked my company because she told me she slept better with me there.

After a few weeks, she asked me to cook simple silver dollar circles. She layered three of them with fresh fruit and cream as a birthday dessert for diners.  Then she let me try my hand with more difficult shapes; ones that built into edible castles. We were becoming a great team.

One night after watching her glue griddle cakes with jam, butter or honey and toothpicks, I casually asked if I could try my hand at making a heart. She looked the other way as I stumbled over the words. In the silence, I marched over to the griddle and carefully poured enough batter for one small heart. It was lumpy. I asked what I should do to stop it from cooking unevenly. She hummed a silly tune and went out to check on café guests. I tried cooking one after another but couldn’t stop them from falling apart when I tried to turn them over.

Aunt Elle walked back into the kitchen, looked at my batter-streaked face and at the heap of pancake pieces at my side and laughed.  “If you’re flipping ‘em, you might as well flip ‘em the right way,” she walked up to the stove and held out her wrist. “Like this.”  I followed her instructions and eventually could cook plump golden-brown hearts that didn’t lose their shape. On the anniversary of my hundredth perfect one, she agreed to add that shape to the menu if I was the one to cook it.

I’ve been making heart griddle cakes ever since. And she’s been making store front pancake sculptures that get lots of attention. Her favorite one – her Leaning Adler Tower of Buckwheat – took days to make. A vacationing food magazine editor took photographs of it for his national magazine. The coverage brought more people to the café. She’s hired more servers and has more time now to be creative.

I finished my last year of high school in Dreamland and promised my mom that after that I’d take night classes at the community college.  I enrolled in an art class where I create griddle-cake designs for Aunt Ellie. She loves to try them out at night while we talk in the kitchen after everyone’s left. 

I hope one of these days she’ll try building something with griddle cake hearts.

 Griddle Cakes

Griddle cakes, also known as pancakes, hot cakes and Johnny cakes are thin, flat, round cakes prepared from a batter, and cooked on a hot griddle or in a frying pan. Historical evidence suggests that varieties of pancakes were probably the earliest and most widespread types of cereal food eaten in prehistoric societies. Dried seed flours mixed with the available liquids like milk and eggs were baked on hot stones or in shallow earthenware pots over an open fire to make a nutritious meal. There are many varieties.

Here are a few:

  = Netherlands’ pannenkoeken are eaten at dinnertime. The egg-based batter can be filled with sliced apples, cheese, ham, bacon, candied ginger and molasses. 

 = Yaniqueques or yanikeke are a Dominican Republic corn flour version. This fried bread is a popular beach food.

 = A flapjack is a thick small pancake, served in a stack with syrup and butter. The word flapjack refers to a flat tart or pan-cake.

= Mexican hotcakes are often made with cornmeal — as well as, or instead of wheat flour. Popular breakfast items they are often sold by street vendors in cities and during local celebrations. Hotcakes are topped with different sauces such as condensed milk, fruit jam or cajeta (a sweet goat milk spread).

= In India, this hand held treat known as Pooda can be made either sweet or salty.