Theirs is not an easy task. Karen, a very young-looking 55 year old and for 30 years a registered nurse in emergency rooms and ICUs, was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease three years ago. The disease attacks individuals in different ways with hers more aggressive than others. Troy does the heavy lifting, including setting up the Farmers Market booth, but Karen still has the strength and mind-set to create some of the best bakery goods on the market.
Take her granola. Always a healthy foods advocate, she was concerned that buyers at the market would fill their bags with fruit and vegetables, but then turn to some of the higher calorie products in booths alongside. Using whole nuts and special grains and herbs and berries from her own garden, she has turned the gray tasteless, birdseed-looking granola seeds into bags full of tasty granola bars that look much like the commercial brands but without the salts, processed sugars and preservatives found on grocery store shelves. Teenagers and their parents are now among her best customers, snacking on the chunky, flavored granola instead of sweets.
Besides the bags of granola, Olivero makes stratas, a layered breakfast casserole, with blueberries and various cheeses, as well as kisch-like fatadas. Both can be found at coffee shops near Farmers Market. Another specialty from Karen's kitchen is cinnamon-honey butter and pesto, a flavored butter with roasted garlic, basil, olive oil and a bit of parmesan cheese. Meadowlark Dairy carries these products, all with the Sunday Morning Bakery label attached.
Karen Olivero grew up in Hayward in a family that enjoyed cooking and baking. She remembers her father going out each Sunday morning to buy pastries as her mother made special breakfasts. After graduating from San Jose State with a nursing degree, Karen kept those traditions. Her husband recalls frequent dinner parties where Karen's creative meals were always the star. Even while working long and late hours in John Muir Hospital's emergency room and later in the ICU ward at San Jose Medical Center, good cooking and baking offered her a respite from difficult work days.
Karen slowed down a bit in 2000 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Those were tough days, Troy recalls, with chemotherapy, radiation and seemingly endless tests. But she beat the cancer, recovered and went back to work. Then in 2007, she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. Fortunately it was not related to the earlier cancer and was caught before it had spread. As Troy put it, if you have to have cancer, the thyroid keeps it contained and can be totally removed.
Three years ago, Karen was reaching for a bag of brown sugar in her Pleasanton home and noticed her fingers twitching. That got worse. In tests at the Center for Movement Disorders at UC San Francisco Medical Center, doctors told her she has Parkinson's. Although there's no known cure for Parkinson's at this time, new medications can treat the symptoms and these enable Karen to continue the hectic pace she's always enjoyed, especially in her garden and kitchen.
As for that brown sugar on the top shelf, Troy does the reaching along with whatever else it takes to keep Karen active. "She's always actively looking at recipes and ingredients to make her friends and customers wanting more. I fell in love with her a long time ago because of her work ethic and I want to see her continue doing what she can," Troy said.