Monday, June 29, 2009

Corn on the Cob

They say it's summer and now I believe it. There have been berries, bouts of poison oak and now this.
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Corn on the cob. I get moist eyes just thinking about it, less so this one. Reminds me of being a kid, getting braces, and not being able to eat it off the cob. Waiting for corn season to arrive again has included a similar yearning.

For this simple pleasure, a simple recipe:

Take one teaspoon of chili flakes and another of salt. Crush together in your mortar and pestle. Set aside.

Take one pat of butter and mix with one clove of garden and a nibble of cilantro, Set aside.

Steam, boil, or grill your corn and then rub your ingredients on your corn until you've burned little fingers. Enjoy.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Golden Boy Pizza

As a rule, I mostly avoid everything in North Beach in San Francisco. It's a strange strip where busloads of tourists go, to sit at a side walk cafe, gawk at movie extra Italians and eat some incredibly mediocre food. Anyhow, I ask my friends and co-workers before I set foot in any establishment in the area. Golden Boy Pizza is the place I was recommended, so I want to point there as well.

Golden Boy feels dirty, friendly and unpretentious. I struck up a conversation with the women next to me at the counter seating, and the guy behind the counter. I sheepishly pulled out my camera and everyone was super excited, which was a surprise. Maybe being off Columbus street proper decreases the influx of tourists.
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The honest truth is that I was unmoved by their cheese slices. "Is this it?" I asked myself when the slice arrived and after my first bite. Well, at least it's pretty cheap.

But really, the reason i was there was for the garlic and clam pizza. Covered in loads of parsley, garlic and clam, this slice will kick you in the complacent pants.
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While I won't call it an absolute must or really fantastic pizza, it is a very nice and somewhat unique combo that I will happily eat again on my way to and from work. If you're in North Beach, give it a shot.

542 Green Street
San Francisco, CA 94133
(415) 982-9738
www.GoldenBoyPizza.com

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Wild Berries

A friend was kind enough to take me hiking the other week and it was one of the more pleasant experiences in recent memory. If there's one thing that needs to change about my life, it is that I need to get out of the city more often.

We went to the lovely Point Reyes, for a hike over the hills, up the beach and back again. Trees, sun, sand. It is at times like these that the silly primitivists start making a lot of sense to me.
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As is my weakness as a photographer, I hardly captured our hike, which was in fact stunning, and spent my time capturing what we ate along the way.
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I love street eats, but equally so wild ones. We were met with the most wonderful salmon berries all along our hike. A number of times we stopped and grazed.
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Also, for the first time in many years, I was able to sample the wonderful wild strawberries of the west coast.
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It takes a sharp eye and a bit of patience, but these little sweet fruits are a nice rewarding treat along the trail. If this isn't your cup of tea, eat your damn powerbar and move along.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Reasons Not to be Miserable: Ba Le

What? Banh mi at Ba Le.
Where? Chinatown, Downtown Oakland.
Why? Do you have to ask?
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And to think, I almost thought that the reason we like these things so much is the fact that they taste like something familiar, but with a twist. They are excellent on their own merits.

One grilled pork banh mi: $2.25.
One can of young coconut water. $1.00

The verdict: Almost too good to be true.

Ba Le
(Oakland Chinatown)
812 Franklin St
Oakland, CA 94607
(510) 465-3522

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Squid Three Ways

When cooking food that is outside the everyday meal plan, it's hard to decide whether to go for some kind of well thought out strategy, or as is my habit, to just wing it. I bought a pound of squid at the store the other day and decided to have myself a little feast. I might add that it was a feast because nobody would come over.

The first dish was me simply winging it. Well sort of. I ate at a rather upmarket restaurant the other week where I sampled an avocado and grapefruit salad. I got to thinking that this dish could be much cheaper and easily adapted to be like a Thai yam, or spicy salad. Also it made me think of the wonderful Pomelo Salads I used to eat on a regular basis. At the store I picked up avocado, grapefruit, peanuts and cilantro. At home I had fish sauce, sugar, and chilis.

I'm terrible about recipes so I just threw it together. I used:

half an avocado
a quarter of a grapefruit (I prefer and have used pomelo before, but was foiled at the store. Pomelo is better)
something like a tablespoon? of fish sauce
a few pinches of sugar
three or four Thai chilis,
crushed peanuts
and several cilantro leaves.

The result:
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I don't know what it is. Call it fusion if you like, because you won't get this in Thailand, or in Thai restaurants around here.

Next, I was inspired to make a squid laap. I've made laap one or twice before, but never with squid. Once again I just winged it. I found recipes online, and used what I had to make my own. I didn't write anything down, nor was i careful. Sorry folks, this is just how I cook, except when I'm baking.

I used:
four small squid
a teaspoon of toasted jasmine rice, pounded into meal in a mortar and pestle
a few sprigs of mint and cilantro
a few chilis
shallots
most of a stalk of lemon grass
a squirt of lime
a pinch of sugar
a slosh of fish sauce

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No, it's certainly not right, but that wasn't my intention. Maybe I've got this all wrong, but the way I approached this is one reason why I am at times wary of many fusion restaurants. To me it often seems like it is fusion simply because certain ingredients are unavailable, the chef doesn't care or is limited for some reason, or the customer doesn't know any better.

Last, I played it safe and followed some more concrete directions. I made pat krapao pla-meuk, or holy basil with squid. Probably my favorite Thai one plate meal. I followed the directions from here, and here, and once again, changed things a little bit. This is really one of the easiest Thai dishes there is, so I recommend it.
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The next day i had some leftovers, as cooking for one is not one of my skills. I repeated the third dish, this time adding a fried egg and was once again in squid heaven.
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When I was hungry in Thailand and or doing large amounts of exercise, this dish or a variation is what I would turn to. It's perfectly edible when you have been lazy as well.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Colonial Donuts

Now this hurts. After mediocre Indian/Pakistani food in San Francisco followed by Hennessy in a Park, we went on a great search for fried food. A friend knew of an all night doughnut place in Oakland near Lake Merritt so away we went.
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If you didn't know, I like donuts. There's something about fried food. Just about every culture's got fried dough in their repertoire of foods that can ruin your stomach for the evening. Most of the time though, it's all good.

We went to Colonial Donuts and it was a good scene. A group of men of various ages were playing some serious chess, intermittently trash talking one another. People were studying, and some of Oakland's "Finest" came in for what it is they are known to eat. Sometimes stereotypes are based on some form of truth you know.

We ordered a butter milk glazed, and a French style with maple glaze.
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The butter milk glazed was respectable, but hit the gut like a ton o bricks. I'm still wondering what kind of long term damage it may have done. And the French style or whatever it was tasted of fish.
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It was difficult
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to finish.

It's late at night, you're hungry, where you gonna go? Unfortunately, it looks like there aren't always a lot of choices. I'm willing to give them another shot. You probably can't do any better or worse than Colonial Donuts at 3 AM.

Colonial Donuts
3318 Lakeshore Ave
Oakland, CA 94610
(510) 893-2503

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Poppies, Oakganistan, or How I Spent my Summer Vacation

A few weeks ago some lovely flowers appeared in the garden.
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I was intrigued.
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I couldn't take my eyes off these flowers, but pretty soon things became clear to me.
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Then I realized that I had an addiction.
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Every stage of these poppies intrigued me.
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Now I spend afternoons shooting these flowers, trying to observe them from a different angle.
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No wonder so many people like to grow them.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

On LA

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I spent some time in LA last week and it's difficult for me to know where to begin. It's kind of a large place (snark), my visit lasted a matter of days, and to be honest, I was on something of a vacation. Maybe this is a lager problem about simply visiting a place and trying to make sensible observations outside of the merely superficial. While it took an outsider, the Frenchman Alexis DeToqueville, to offer some very astute observations about American society, how can a pleasure tourist really offer much of anything after a few days?

I've long had harsh words for the city of Los Angeles and maybe people who take issue with that have a point. My friend's great uncle, an octogenarian professor emeritus, who I was lucky to have shared breakfast with said it best: LA is a great place to live, a terrible place to visit. Maybe he's onto something.

So let's cut to the chase: visiting ain't the same as living. Seeing must see sights, iconic locales, and ogling the exotic population just doesn't get to the heart of a place like the commitment of living in a place until these tokenistic sense experiences no longer titillate. It takes time, effort, and even frustration to begin to see a place for what it really is. A visit full of fancy dining, foofey drinks, and simply consuming offers questionable rewards to the consumer and to the reader. Just so we're clear: what follows is pictures of my food and drink in LA, and not a lot else. And I'm comfortable with that.

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The only way to cover Los Angeles is by car and that is why I have included the above photo from the front seat of a private vehicle. It seems like many people see most of their city in this fashion. I was doing it just like the locals! Really quite an authentic experience!

I will compliment Los Angeles on something: there's a little bit of something for everyone. In the state of California you have huge and diverse communities providing what they do best. LA is a great example of this: There is the largest populations of Koreans outside of Korea, and a large population of Armenians for example. In LA there's certainly lots to see and do. I could just do without all the driving.

Knowing what you do about this blog, it's probably no surprise that I tracked down a taco truck near the place I was staying. Actually it was more like a trailer, but who's counting?
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There are great blogs dedicated to finding the best tacos in far-flung regions of Los Angeles, but going for what was close made the most sense. We walked and were met with the usual suspects.
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As usual, I made a familiar order of tripas. A Mexican coke does in fact taste better that it's American cousin. Real sugar tastes better than corn syrup. If you don't agree get a new mouth.
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I got to dress my own tacos so went a little crazy with the radishes, and was mid taco before the limes made their appearance.
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Now I could have eaten every meal at taco trucks, but I already eat at taco trucks at home so we branched out. Some meals captured, some only placed into the unreliable memory banks.

There was a years in the making trip to Korea town for some soon-dubu.
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The banchan was a tad lackluster, but the stew was nice. This was a branch of the international BCD chain. I reckon you get the same stew here, or in Incheon. Or not.

BCD Tofu House
3575 Wilshire Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90010
http://www.bcdtofu.com/

We ventured to the divey and somewhat depressing Canters. My friend and former Canters employee sure was stoked to be there again. My extended family of the Jewish tradition hails from Southern California, so visiting these delicatessens has always been one of my associations with the area, thus it's hard for me to pass up.
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I got a hot corned beef that made me queasy after the first couple of bites. Seeing how the first few bites were my weekly allotment of animal fats, you can probably understand. I'm never sure if I should recommend a sandwich like this to anyone. It was great though.
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Canter's Delicatessen
419 N Fairfax Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90036
(323) 651-2030
www.cantersdeli.com

After leaving Canters we were treated to a celebrity sighting. Seeing Andy Dick made it feel like I was really in LA. If you aren't familiar with Andy Dick, his name says it all.

A visit to the excellent Museum of Jurassic Technology was followed up with some nice samosasas and masala chai down the street. We sat outside and watched the cars go back and forth.
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A trip to Japan town provided me with silly snacks and trip food. A pop into a mochi shop and I was presented with a couple of lovely birds. They were filled with bean paste and looked even cuter after biting off the heads.
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For my trip further south, I grabbed a lunch box at a Japanese grocery store. As you know, I love train rides and train snacks! While I waited in line for my train a Japanese woman kept trying to get a look in my bag. She held a hot dog in one hand, her suitcase in the other. She finally asked me where I had been shopping so I showed her my lunch. I almost offered to share it with her.
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I enjoyed a nice lunch as I headed further south to visit my extended family.

I spent years telling people that I didn't like Los Angeles. "Oh, you just need to get to know the neighborhoods," they would gasp. They have a point. There are some nice neighborhoods with nice density of places to frequent. I daresay more so than where I live. But my opinions about LA haven't changed that much. Yeah, it's a fascinating city with a large and diverse population with a little something for everyone. It could certainly never be called boring. But it is a sprawling shambolic mess wholly reliant on one of my great foes, the automobile. In my daily life I walk, ride my bicycle, and when I need to, take public transit. I have lived like this for years and don't plan on changing anytime soon. While you could live like this in the Los Angeles area, the cards are certainly stacked against you.
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I had a lovely time with my good friends and if you have friends or someone to show you around, I definitely recommend a visit. I'll probably be back soon. However I still hope Los Angeles, and a lot of California for that matter, would just fall into the ocean already.

PS: I love you J and A.