Author Archive

Same Same But Different

Tuesday, July 17th, 2007

Look, I’m just like Mario!



Except for the beard, the yellow socks, the ball cap, the barbecue, the food empire and the desire to be at a NASCAR event.

Ambulent and Opinionated

Sunday, July 15th, 2007

I have to say that it is pretty sweet not to have to drive around here. I’m really enjoying walking the dog, walking to the grocery store, walking to the movie theatre and the restaurants. Lately, we have been walking down to the BART station (Bay Area Rapid Transit) to take a trip across the bay into the city for dinner. Not only do we not have to sit in surly Bay Bridge traffic or the aggravating construction traffic on the other side, we are both able to drink with dinner and do not have to rock-paper-scissors for who has to drive home.

The week before last, we met a couple of Marc’s Scottish cousins (second cousins? cousins once removed?) who were in town with a performance group on tour. Luckily, they were able to meet us for dinner one night, and luckily, we were able to meet them on time, given the unexpectedly long trek through Pacific Heights to the restaurant. (Two miles of walking is alot longer than it looks on Google maps.)

We went to Cafe Kati, which is one of the places on our master list of Restaurants In Which To Eat While We Are In The Bay Area (RIWTEWWAITBA). In the reviews, it is said that this restaurant is one of the few that actually live up to the claim of creating Asian-fusion cuisine and I think I get the point. Our dragon roll appetizer was good, but the calamari was lovely and different, in a crunchy, tempura-esque kind of way; my black sesame-crusted tilapia with fennel salad was brilliant. Plus, I loved that it was an intimately small place; the coziness and the good service made the food even more savoury.

Although, there is something to be said for a big, boisterous dining room. Last week, we slid into town to meet Roger (my friend, the United auditor) for dinner at LuLu Restaurant. Turns out I had my days mixed up which is too bad for R. because he missed a good meal. I chose this place because it is the mother of the off-shoot-store-front sandwich shop at the Ferry Building Market, at which we had some delectable sandwiches a few weeks earlier. However, I have to say that though the meal was good and the atmosphere was amiable-loud, the food was relatively tame. They serve things “family style” so we shared fennel-scented, wood-oven-roasted pork loin (though I couldn’t taste the fennel) and quail roasted with peaches and red rice. The quail was more interesting than the pork but neither was really remarkable; the best part of the meal was the Oregon Pinot that we chose: Calera Mount Harlan Cuvée 2004. Aromas of quince and violets.


When I finally did get my days sorted out and was able to meet Roger, I picked out First Crush. In my humble opinion as a nobody, I think this place thinks it is classier than it really is. Nonetheless, the peppercorn-crusted duck that I had was confident and superb- confident in that it was cooked to perfect doneness and superb because it was. I tasted Roger’s braised lamb and that is something I will return to have my own plate of. The bad news is that Marc didn’t come, but the good news is that now he and I will have to go back, not only for the lamb, but for the wine tasting flights they have on the menu.

This week, we didn’t have to walk or drive in order to get our hands on the Best and Most Ultimate Burger. cimg6881-320.jpgAny burger can be good, but one topped with melty perrano cheese, heirloom tomato, caramelized onions and applewood smoked bacon is breathtaking. That’s right, breathtaking. This drippy, juicy, sloppy, melty, gorgeous burger will remain at the top of the chart until challenged by a worthy opponent. I don’t see one on the horizon.

Local Omnivore

Wednesday, July 11th, 2007

I learned a new word yesterday. A”locavore” is someone who only eats food that has been produced and procured locally, typically within a 100 mile radius. The idea is that food transported over great distances is lower in quality and stamps a larger carbon footprint than the locally grown, fermented, concocted or processed version; locavores vote with their forks by supporting local producers (all the rage) and contributing less to the causes of global warming.

Though I can’t find the word in the dictionary, there are apparently varying degrees of such an eater: a “strict locavore” is someone who won’t touch oil or vinegar with a 10-foot pole if it doesn’t fit the criteria, and the “wild card locavore”, who will make concessions for things like sugar and coffee and other far flung, foreign luxuries. Regardless of the degree of locavore, it is such a romantic and impractical idea. Who would honestly cut sugar and coffee from their diet if it wasn’t grown locally? You can’t tell me those people aren’t cheating. Plus, a locavore living in an area that actually cannot produce things like “fruit” or “vegetables” would have rather a hard time trying to make a go of it. The idea irks me because it seems like one more thing or practice that is available only to a lucky few, like driving a Prius. I find it hard to give those drivers, and locavores, too much credit for doing their part because their contributions are luxuries, not necessities. If truly inspired by the need to limit the effects of global warming, wouldn’t a locavore’s efforts be better applied to petitioning a mass transit system to go hybrid or convincing their employer and co-workers to reduce electricity consumption? That a locavore would be lauded as a crusader against the production of greenhouse gases is laughable.

At any rate, it got me to thinking about our most recent meals and how close they come to being locavorous (now I’m inventing words). Almost all the food we buy is local by default because it’s California and there is almost nothing that won’t grow here. However, even with these exceptional circumstances on our side, we do not qualify as locavores.

First, there is the Crab, Mango and Avocado Salad with Citrus Dressing. cimg6806-320.jpgBecause we can’t afford to pay $35/lb for fresh lumps of crab meat, we bought some canned stuff from India. The mango came from Mexico. The honey came from Austria and the olive oil is strangely somehow a “product of California and Tunisia”. (what?) Everything else – which is just the veg – was locally grown. Incidentally, though this sounds like it would be nothing but delicious, it was kind of bland.

Second, there is the Spicy Sesame Noodle Salad with Chopped Peanuts and Thai Basil. cimg6811-320.jpgSesame oil from Taiwan, soy sauce brewed in Wisconsin, kosher salt from Minneapolis, balsamic from Italy, and vegetable oil from Nebraska. I can’t figure out where the sugar came from and the Chinese noodles were actually made fresh by the Berkeley Bowl. Had I not made a point of looking for this information, I wouldn’t have given it a second thought. And yet, look how far all this stuff came just for me to make a salad! It’s actually pretty impressive. The salad itself made a great lunch but next time we’ll make it spicier.

Last, there is Green Herb Risotto to which we added grilled shrimp with marjoram and fresh tarragon. cimg6817-320.jpgExcept for the organic, free-range chicken broth (Oregon), the rice (Argentina) and the olive oil (California and Tunisia), it was made with local ingredients. Lucky for us, our kitchen is practically in the ocean and is next door to Napa valley; this meal would have been far more foreign had we made it in Calgary. The improvised shrimp was the best part.

Now that I’ve actually taken the time to find out where my food comes from, it becomes clear that it would take considerable effort (relative to the amount of greenhouse gases that would not be produced) to become a locavore, even in the food-heaven of the Bay area. I will not be drawn into this romantic trend. And I will never give up coffee.

For the record, lately we have been walking more and driving so little that we’ve used less than half a tank of gas in six weeks. Does that make us less culpable in the battle against global warming? Possibly- but you can be sure we’d be driving alot more if we weren’t lucky enough to be in a position to have the option not to.

How To Slay

Saturday, July 7th, 2007

There is almost nothing that the internet cannot teach. Want to learn how to play guitar? lose weight? speak elvish? repair a barbeque? prune a tree? drive a stick shift? cook a hot dog using LED lights? In my case, I take advantage of this all-knowing, all-seeing, teacher to learn about cooking and, most recently, how to clean and filet a fish.

On purpose, we recently bought a whole, uncleaned pacific red snapper at the market. When the seafood counter lady asked us if we wanted it cleaned and scaled and we said “No, we want to learn how to do it”, she gave us a funny look. Why wouldn’t we want her to take care of the messy parts, with the proper fish-innard-specific impelements that she had, rather than take it home whole and clumsily use the internet to guide us through the process using makeshift tools? Now, we have learned that the answer to the cleaning and scaling question is “yes, thank-you”.

At any rate, we took him home and decided to turn him into Pan-Fried Red Snapper with Chipotle Butter on Pecan Barley Salad. As so often happens, I was the one designated to do the ruthless work involving seafood; previously, I was the one who lost the coin toss and had to slay a live lobster with a chef’s knife before it got sauteed. Though this snapper was dead, and had been for awhile, he still resembled the swimming creature he once was. My first step was to wave him around in the sink for while, playing with the fins and gills and determining how he might once have moved. Then one of the spiky fins jabbed me and I lost interest in playing and was more motivated to filet him.

cimg6696-320.jpgAfter some initial searching online, this project divided itself into two parts: 1) scaling & cleaning, and 2) boning (shouldn’t it be “de-boning”?). I’m impressed with how many people have taken the time to publish the directions on how to do the first bit, and I found a great one, with pictures, on ehow. The bit about “slitting from gills to vent” was a little vague considering my knowledge of fish anatomy is also quite lean, but the internet once again helped me solve that problem (and provided a brief description of what a fish is, in case that, too, was beyond my scope: “Fish are animals that are cold-blooded, have fins and a backbone”). After making a mess using the back of a knife to scale the fish in the sink, and then having to use a surprising amount of effort to ‘slit from gills to vent’, I closed my eyes and dug around in there to get all the squishy bits out. Marc could barely watch. Sammy watched with great interest.

On to the next step, boning. Again, ehow guided me through this process and my favourite part of their instructions was the beginning where it listed the Things You’ll Need: ‘a fresh fish’. I think the word “mangled” best describes what I did to this animal- did I mention that I have no boning knife? Two almost entirely boneless filets were indeed produce, but they were wee and there seemed to be a fair bit of flesh left on the carcass. But I accept that this is a skill with a learning curve so am relatively satisfied with my first fish butchering.

cimg6705-320.jpgAs for the meal, I’m not sure it really did the snapper justice. The chipotle butter was a little too overpowering for a white-fleshed fish and the barley salad a little too mild. This didn’t stop us from consuming every last drop of melted butter but I doubt we’ll make it again. Similarly, I doubt the cleaning and/or scaling will happen again any time soon, but fileting seems like something I should know so I’ll practice. And if ever I hit a snag, I know my ubiquitous teacher will bail me out.


Thursday, July 5th, 2007

The fireworks started on July 3rd. Just past twilight, there was a distant exhibition that we could see from our living room window distracting us from “Rome” on HBO. This, I later learned, was the annual Point Richmond fireworks display and which triggered a bunch of other people in the area to start setting off their own. For a few hours that evening, we could hear random fireworks in the neighbourhood and this extended all the way through the day and evening of the 4th, punctuated by the campus clocktower striking noon to the tune of the Star Spangled Banner.

Our original 7/4/7 plan was to make a pseudo barbeque dinner- pseudo, because we have no barbeque, a situation which simply must be remedied. We didn’t go with the classic ribs ‘n beer with apple pie, rather, Marc picked out Barbecued Pork Sandwiches with Pickled Red Onion and Eggplant Caprese with Grilled Tomato and Basil Vinaigrette. Both of these recipes called for grilling which meant that our wee George Foreman grill would be called into service. Later in the afternoon, though, we decided to extend the menu to include Lime-Basil Margaritas and, because we buy so many strawberries now that they’re in season, some strawberry shortcake for dessert.

Both Whole Foods and the Berkeley Bowl were packed on July 3rd when we went out for groceries and we came to understand it was because everything would be closed on the fourth. This made our inspired little menu additions perhaps a bit risky, given that we didn’t have tequila or cointreau for the drinks or any form of cream for the dessert. But there is always someplace open on the holidays, and in our case, it was the Andronico’s down the street; I love it when a plan comes together.

The “starter” of Lime-Basil Margaritas turned out to be exceptional. We tampered with a recipe for Chile-Pineapple Margaritas (yikes) and concocted a brilliant, refreshing, barely-hinted-basil drink. Just so I don’t forget, for a yield of two: 2T. cointreau, 1/2c. tequila, 3-1/2T. fresh lime juice, 3T. basil-infused, 1:1 simple syrup, mountains of ice.

cimg6781-320.jpgThis smoothed the way for the “barbequed” pork tenderloin, which had been soaking in the flavour of smoked paprika for the previous hour. Marc finished baking the ciabatta he had started earlier in the day for the buns and I pickled the onions in orangey vinegar. While the sandwiches were manifesting, we remembered to make the caprese which was a dead simple job of grilling a bit of eggplant, laying it down with sliced heirloom tomatoes, and fresh mozzarella, with a topping of a quick grilled-tomato vinaigrette. As a stretch, I suppose this salad could qualify as a yankee-themed “red, white and blue” meal because of the red of the tomatoes and the white of the mozzarella on the blue plates, but the best representation of this theme was the dessert.

cimg6791-320.jpgI threw together some pre-margarita biscuits to be the bottom of this classic version of strawberry shortcake. I think every other time I’ve tried this dessert, it was made with white cake and Cool Whip™ which doesn’t even come close to the true incarnation. Plus, strawberries, when they’re fresh and not picked under-ripe and shipped across half a continent, taste so much better. I added a little balsamic vinegar to the strawberries and sugar mixture, which juiced itself into a pulpy, perfumed compote and put a bit of extra-high-fat sour cream into the chantilly. Piled up high, these shortcakes were a fantastic celebration of American-ness and a perfect opener for the fireworks over the bay.


The Sandwich That Landed on my Keyboard

Sunday, July 1st, 2007

photo-2.jpgBaking fresh ciabatta started the morning well and set me up to make a wicked sandwich for lunch. Taking a cue from the balsamic and dijon glazed ham, I finished the carmelized onions with balsamic vinegar and dijon before taking them off the heat. I picked up the grocery store’s featured parrano cheese, which they described as a Dutch cheese in an Italian style. Tasted like cross between gouda and swiss to me. Stacked up with leftover baked ham and pan grilled, it was a melty, salty sensation.

Jan’s away for the weekend with the camera, so I thought to use the iSight camera in my MacBook to document the meal. You can see where this is going. I, more concerned about the angle of the camera than the angle of the plate, watched the screen in horror as the sandwich slid off the plate, out of the camera shot, and onto my keyboard. Like looking in a true mirror, I wasn’t quite able to coordinate and tip the plate to avoid disaster. Did I mention I fried it in butter?

In anycase, the keyboard seems to be fine except Sammy keeps staring at it and slobbering.


Friday, June 29th, 2007

cimg6715-320.jpgMarc found a recipe that called for chayote just so we could taste what it’s all about. It turns out that it tastes fine – sort of like a cucumber – but the Shrimp and Sweet Potato Cakes with Chayote Slaw and Chipotle Sauce was one A+, 5-star, put-a-fork-in-me-I’m-done kind of appetizer. The sweet potato – baked, and then mashed – was a terrific medium for holding together the shrimp and panko, etc. But what really added the “+” to the “A” was the chiptole tartar sauce. Little bit of caper, mayo, chiptole, wow. It kind of oozes over the warm shrimp cake and onto the slaw; it is worth the thousand calories per bite. We were absolutely melting over this and Sam, living better than half the free world as he does, got up from his late afternoon nap in order to eat some shrimp cake. He said it was a flavour-storm.


We went out for pizza this week and found, quite possibly, one of the top contenders for best pizza in the world. (The best – in my book – still stands at Alegretto in Valparaiso, Chile. Their goat-cheese pizza was so good we went back twice in 3 days.) I suspect that Gioia’s puts grams and grams of salt into their sauce because it was marvelous. However, I will withhold final judgement until we try the pizza from The Cheeseboard Pizza Collective, also recommended as “the best”. Tonight, perhaps, we shall see.

Land of Gin and Pride

Wednesday, June 27th, 2007

I am starting to realize that there is almost nothing that California cannot do, except offer good universal medical insurance and reduce the volume of cars on the freeway. But whatever, they make a pretty smooth gin.


On a unrelated note, we missed the pride parade this weekend in San Francisco. I was looking forward to it but it completely slipped my mind. I am told that it was far more commercial this year than it has been in the past, as evidenced by this paragraph from an article in the Examiner:

“The event was nothing if not star-studded. George Takei, the actor who played Mr. Sulu on the original ‘Star Trek’ series and who revealed his homosexuality in 2005, rode with the Google contingent in Sunday’s parade. “

If Google has a contingent in the parade, I think it’s fairly safe to say that it has gotten commercial.

Newly Eaten

Monday, June 25th, 2007

Strange New Ingredients With Which We Cooked Last Week:

1 – organic goji berries (a.k.a. Tibetan wolf berries; Tibetan wolves must be crazy for them)


2 – vital wheat gluten flour
3 – epazote leaves (in the picture)
4 – tomatillos


5 – smoked Hungarian paprika (which I’ll admit, isn’t really strange or new, but rather unusual)
6 – gnarled-looking heirloom tomatoes
7 – chayote
8 – purple potatoes

Some Direct Results From Having Experimented With Above Ingredients:

1 – Chicken with Tomatillo Sauce and Braised Fruit


2 – Peel and Eat Shrimp with Barbecue Spices


3 – Skewered Honey-Glazed Scallops with Peach Salsa


And this is just the tip of the iceberg; we are eating like kings out here!
We do other stuff, too. Like, walk the dog, shop for groceries, walk the dog to the grocery store for shopping. We showed up at the Berkeley Bowl last Saturday before it opened, hoping to beat the rush, only to find the parking lot full already and a queue at the door. A queue at the grocery store! Love it.

A Culinary Day Trip

Wednesday, June 20th, 2007

One of the best things about staying here in Dreamville (aka. Berkeley) is its proximity to überDreamville. Just a quick trip on public transit across the bay and we’re in within reach of the Ferry Building Market.cimg6596-320.jpg

This is the market to end all markets; big, crowded on the weekends, expensive, touristy and overflowing with delicious, pretentious food- my favourite. First things first, though: if we were going to make a trip all the way across the Bay, we were going to first visit Marc’s all-time favourite coffee place, the Blue Bottle Company on Linden. A mere slip of a place, it serves coffee and espresso-coffees from freshly roasted and ground-to-order beans. We made quick work of finding it again and slurping down a delicious macchiato and cappuccino. (Sidebar: it turns out that there is a café 5 blocks from our house that sells this very coffee, about which we knew nothing until last weekend. We plan to be regulars.)

From there, it was a long-ish walk down Market street to the Ferry Building so we stopped, briefly, at Crate & Barrel – just briefly- just to see what they had on sale. An hour later, we continued the journey, with nothing to weigh us down but a mental list of all that we saw that we “needed”. Seriously considering starting an heirloom cast-iron frying pan.

Finally, there was the Ferry Building. We needed lunch, we needed oysters, and we needed to browse the food stalls and kitchen store. Lunch was most critical so we ate at the first place we saw that wasn’t – for the moment – overflowing with customers, Lulu Petite. Marc ordered a duck confit and arugula sandwich and I had a ham & provolone melt with truffled honey. We also had some sort of extravagent sparkling pomegranate juice and it was all extravegently delicious.

Next, we tried to visit Hog Island Oysters for a little oyster sampler but it was egregiously busy and there was a waiting list to sit at the bar, so we walked over to the seafood company and ate two each, raw, barenaked and juicy, from the kid selling them at the little table out front. Even that kid was busy, taking money in between his concentrated shucking.

The food stalls were a little too busy to peruse, even for us, so we instead inspected all of the products on offer at Sur La Table. Unfortunately, we could not justify buying all the things we wanted – what with the fact that we are leaving in a couple months – so settled for just an oven themometer and a promise to return if/when we can really do some damage.