Food cult

May 1st, 2005 § Five comments § permalink

An article in today’s New York Times describes Berkeley as “a province where terms like ‘natural,’ ‘grass fed’ and ‘locally grown’ carry the same significance as ‘psalm,’ ‘covenant’ and ‘Eucharist’ in other parts of the world.” I can’t argue with, or complain about, that.

Right now, rather than enjoying the bounty of springtime farmers’ markets, I am feasting at an endless buffet of obligations, requirements, and responsibilities. Graduate school, I will not miss you. If I finish all my requirements on time, though, I can still enjoy apricot season and try, for the first time ever, to cook fresh morels. We’ll see how May goes.

Has any duck been doing you dirt?

March 27th, 2005 § Four comments § permalink

I didn’t have much time for fun during spring break—or “spring work,” as I’ve been calling it—but I did manage to reread McTeague, one of my favorite novels. It’s filled with evocative descriptions of San Francisco in the 1890s, such as this one of Polk Street:

It was one of those cross streets peculiar to Western cities, situated in the heart of the residence quarter, but occupied by small tradespeople who lived in the rooms above their shops. There were corner drug stores with huge jars of red, yellow, and green liquids in their windows, very brave and gay; stationers’ stores, where illustrated weeklies were tacked upon bulletin boards; barber shops with cigar stands in their vestibules; sad-looking plumbers’ offices; cheap restaurants, in whose windows one saw piles of unopened oysters weighted down by cubes of ice, and china pigs and cows knee deep in layers of white beans. At one end of the street McTeague could see the huge power-house of the cable line. Immediately opposite him was a great market; while farther on, over the chimney stacks of the intervening houses, the glass roof of some huge public baths glittered like crystal in the afternoon sun. Underneath him the branch post-office was opening its doors, as was its custom between two and three o’clock on Sunday afternoons. An acrid odor of ink rose upward to him. Occasionally a cable car passed, trundling heavily, with a strident whirring of jostled glass windows.

On week days the street was very lively. It woke to its work about seven o’clock, at the time when the newsboys made their appearance together with the day laborers. The laborers went trudging past in a straggling file—plumbers’ apprentices, their pockets stuffed with sections of lead pipe, tweezers, and pliers; carpenters, carrying nothing but their little pasteboard lunch baskets painted to imitate leather; gangs of street workers, their overalls soiled with yellow clay, their picks and long-handled shovels over their shoulders; plasterers, spotted with lime from head to foot. This little army of workers, tramping steadily in one direction, met and mingled with other toilers of a different description—conductors and “swing men” of the cable company going on duty; heavy-eyed night clerks from the drug stores on their way home to sleep; roundsmen returning to the precinct police station to make their night report, and Chinese market gardeners teetering past under their heavy baskets. The cable cars began to fill up; all along the street could be seen the shopkeepers taking down their shutters.

Between seven and eight the street breakfasted. Now and then a waiter from one of the cheap restaurants crossed from one sidewalk to the other, balancing on one palm a tray covered with a napkin. Everywhere was the smell of coffee and of frying steaks. A little later, following in the path of the day laborers, came the clerks and shop girls, dressed with a certain cheap smartness, always in a hurry, glancing apprehensively at the power-house clock. Their employers followed an hour or so later—on the cable cars for the most part whiskered gentlemen with huge stomachs, reading the morning papers with great gravity; bank cashiers and insurance clerks with flowers in their buttonholes.

At the same time the school children invaded the street, filling the air with a clamor of shrill voices, stopping at the stationers’ shops, or idling a moment in the doorways of the candy stores. For over half an hour they held possession of the sidewalks, then suddenly disappeared, leaving behind one or two stragglers who hurried along with great strides of their little thin legs, very anxious and preoccupied.

The description continues through nightfall, if you’d like to keep reading.

Bling bling

August 19th, 2004 § Three comments § permalink

Now that I’m an Oaktown resident, I feel a certain responsibility to bling up my bicycle. I can’t decide, though, whether to start with spinner wheels or neon lights. (Don’t miss the video of the wheels!)

Sandbagged

August 16th, 2004 § Four comments § permalink

If you’re looking to get snockered, but you’re on a budget, I highly recommend the Anchor Brewing tour. For the low, low price of nothing at all, not only do you get to see how they make Anchor Steam, you also get some very generous samples of each of their six beers. Perhaps too generous. Three pints of beer is rather a lot to consume in 45 minutes, especially at 2:00 in the afternoon.

You gave igneous rocks to your enemies? How magma-nanimous!

June 21st, 2004 § Four comments § permalink

Yesterday several friends and I visited one of the East Bay’s fine parks, the Robert Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve. Volcanic? It’s a trifle hard to imagine, but 10 million years ago, there were several active volcanoes in the East Bay. One of them formed a peak in the Oakland hills called Round Top. The park has several trails, one of which goes around the base of Round Top and another of which leads to smaller hills and meadows. As we walked the trails, my housemate Suzanne, who majored in geology, taught us about the different rock formations in the park. Even she had trouble telling rhyolite apart from basalt, though. (Here’s one thing I learned: “Basalt” is pronounced “buh-SALT,” not “BAY-salt.” Maybe everyone else knew that already.) Also, my brother’s housemate Lisa taught us about plants. I can now identify barley, wild oats, lupines, wild mustard, madrone trees, and the implausibly named sticky monkey flower (its leaves have sticky bottoms; I don’t know what monkeys have to do with anything).

On our way back to Berkeley, we stopped at the Gateway Emergency Preparedness Exhibit Center & Garden, although I prefer to think of it as the Most Pointless Thing in the Entire East Bay. It’s a small, expensive-looking structure, designed by survivors of the 1991 fire in the Oakland Hills, that’s been plunked down next to Highway 24—not exactly a prime location for a park. The structure has a deck big enough for 100 people, although it’s hard to imagine why even one person would visit. We stopped only because we were so baffled by its presence. A platform extends from the deck towards the highway, offering scenic views of, well, traffic, as well as a power substation. There are placards around the deck’s edge with tips on preparing for earthquakes and fires, including detailed instructions for bolting one’s house to its foundation. Presumably visitors are meant to take notes.

We quelled our confusion by visiting Crepes A-Go-Go, where I devoured a Nutella and banana crepe, and Mod Lang, where I found an Iron & Wine cover of the Postal Service’s “Such Great Heights.” And that was my exciting Sunday. Today I am finishing Crime and Punishment and biking to Rockridge. Oh, the spoils of being turned down for all the summer internships I pursued.

Pho oey

May 1st, 2004 § Comments off § permalink

What is it about the Bay Area and overhyped Vietnamese restaurants? Example one: Tu Lan in San Francisco. People claim it’s the best Vietnamese restaurant in the city. It’s certainly cheap, and the food is more or less okay, but it’s hardly spectacular. Example two: Vi’s in Oakland’s Chinatown. A friend of mine had raved about it, and it’s listed in Zagat’s. I went there with some friends last night, though, and had an utterly forgettable meal (although, again, it was cheap).

People, the Bay Area has much better Vietnamese food than this. Spend a couple more bucks and go to Le Régal in downtown Berkeley or Battambang in downtown Oakland. (Battambang is actually Cambodian, which is sort of a cross between the best parts of Thai and Vietnamese food. The service is spotty, but the food is worth it.)

I know what I did this summer

July 11th, 2003 § Four comments § permalink

I would write about all the interesting things I’ve been doing, but I’m too busy doing them. Here’s one recommendation, though: 826 Valencia in San Francisco is the city’s only independently owned and operated pirate supply store. Also, they offer free writing classes and tutoring for kids. It is a strange and wonderful place. Go there.

And for those of you who rely upon me for your amusement: If I ever open a fitness center with a religious theme, it will be called Pontius Pilates.

Chez Panisse

May 25th, 2003 § Two comments § permalink

In honor of my brother’s graduation from UC Berkeley, my family ate at the Chez Panisse Café on Saturday night. Sweet merciful Jesus, what a marvelous restaurant. The food is fantastic, completely unpretentious, made with incredibly fresh seasonal and locally grown ingredients. And the Arts and Crafts furnishings are perfectly in keeping with the food–understated and beautifully made.

My brother let me sample his first course, a plate of baby squid baked in a wood oven with hot pepper sauce and rosemary. It may well have been the best squid I have ever tasted. For the entree, I ordered the duck leg with pork crépinette and fava bean toast; the earthiness of the fava beans went brilliantly with the duck. My dessert was three tiny scoops of an utterly revelatory Meyer lemon sherbet that I intend to make this summer as soon as possible (happily, the recipe appears in Chez Panisse Fruit).

Oh, and there were other starters and entrees, and a delightful Pinot Gris from Oregon, and these tiny olives the likes of which I had never seen before, and delicious artisanal breads, and possibly centaur musk.

Have I mentioned how happy I am to be moving to Berkeley?

Deputy assistant flâneur in training

May 15th, 2003 § One comment § permalink

I will be leaving Sunnyvale during its most beautiful season. Irises line the streets, bowing under the weight of their fussy petals; California poppies burst forth from the sidewalks in happy profusion. Fortunately, I’m told they also have flowers in Berkeley.

On my walk to the library this evening, I saw a cream-colored cat trotting down its owners’ driveway, head down, thinking important cat thoughts. When it noticed me, it made a bashful face, and its trot turned into a slink. “I’m sorry, sir, I didn’t realize it was you.”

Produce versus knick-knacks

June 1st, 2002 § One comment § permalink

An open letter to Sunnyvale city officials:

Okay, so you felt it necessary to hold your Mediocre Art and Indifferent Wine Festival this weekend. Fine. Not my cup of tea, but it seems to be popular.

But was it really necessary to cancel the Saturday farmers’ market just so you could fill another street with worthless crap? I could really use some fresh cilantro and a loaf of olive bread; however, I have no need for neon-colored children’s clothes, soft-focus pictures of sea otters, or a ceramic jar with the words “Dad’s farts” etched into the side.

Thanks for your time.

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