Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Goodbye Thai... Tea

The other afternoon, with a heavy heart, we just about finished our stash of Thai tea. Since moving away from Thailand about eight months ago, we've more or less been without anything Thai. A quick explanation of my feelings on this issue can be read here.

Before leaving Thailand, our friends in Saraburi bought us a bag of Thai tea and a sock for brewing. Seeing the end of this bag arrive gave me pause. It's not that we can't buy the same or a similar product here in Oakland, it's that we can't enjoy it with our friends in Thailand at some morning market or side of the road somewhere. Our location has changed, and we've moved on. Once and a while this fills me with great sadness.

This tea here was a bit unorthodox, but it was still wonderful. While the tea and coffee sock works fine, I use a french press for the tea, as it works just as well and clean up is very easy. Instead of the traditional sweetened condensed milk, I used what I had: a dollop of sweet whipped cream went into each glass.

After a very strong glass of tea, I did something questionable: I brewed a second press with the same tea. This time I used lots of sugar and fresh Meyer lemon from the tree in our back yard.

It tasted something like a hot version of iced lime tea from Thailand. It tasted great, but no matter how good it was, I dare say it did not nor will it ever be quite good enough.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Taco Truck: El Ojo de Agua

Today I continued my taco quest at the excellent El Ojo de Agua. If you're a BART rider you're in luck because this truck sits just a stone's throw away from the Fruitvale station. On this day I walked about eight miles before eating. A good idea before eating such caloric fare.

As is my habit, I ordered tacos de tripa. While the tripa itself was not better than what I recently had at Tacos Sinaloa, the toppings and condiments more than made up for it. Let's have a look.

My stomach made nervous sounds upon the realization of what was in store. The tacos were topped with the tripa, red and green salsas, fresh onions, cucumbers and radishes, pickled carrots and jalapenos, and the highlight, whole grilled onions. The generous toppings and condiments put El Ojo de Agua high on my taco truck list. It belongs on yours as well.

El Ojo de Agua
3132 E 12th St
Oakland, CA 94611
(510) 535-9310

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Requiem for a Drink

News broke the other day of a settlement between Miller/Coors and a number of state attorneys general who pressured the beverage giant to cease the production of a certain caffeinated alcohol beverage. Teenagers all over the country were in a state of panic. Some of us well into our twenties took the news the hardest. Evenings fondly remembered, barely remembered, and mostly forgotten came flooding back in a wave of emotion and nausea not felt in some years. This news was cause for one last hurrah with our good friend Sparks.

Sparks, for the uninitiated, is a caffeinated alcohol bevearge. Make that a very strong caffeinated alcohol beverage. It contains: Caffeine, taurine, guarana, ginseng, PCP, and some other top secret ingredients. Once consumed, you understand why the can looks like a giant battery.

We decided the most fitting place to make our purchase would be Williams Liquors. We braved the terrible cold and felt mildly intoxicated before even entering the store. Those lights are hypnotizing!

Sparks, at two bucks a can, is quite a bargain. More caffeine than a latte at Starbucks, and more alcohol than a tall can of Budweiser, means that you actually save money when consuming this beverage. I now see the powerful foes this drink was up against.

Sparks looks like Minute Maid and tastes like sweet tarts. It tastes vile and burns on the way down. It was far worse than I remembered, but the effects reminded me of the lure. In the words of the dearly departed Joey Ramone, my brain was "Hanging upside down." I'm a slight but full grown man and this orange concoction was turning me into a different person.

We raised our cans: "Death to Sparks! Long Live Sparks!" We stumbled out into the night one last time saying goodbye to an old friend, and our once taken for granted youth.

For more essential commentary about the demise of sparks go here. Friend, journalist, and frequent Sparks consumer Casey Jarman eulogizes our friend far better than I ever could.

Get yours while supplies last.

Friday, December 19, 2008

American Fast Food

Some months ago while watching a couple of Japanese students excitedly buy hot dogs on the UC Berkeley campus I got to thinking. I realized that this American fast food staple, is the kind of food that I and many other Bay Area bloggers ignore and or even turn our noses up at. Most blogs round these parts are about local, organic food eaten by the Bay Area's comfortable. You're more likely to read gushing posts about relatively expensive "farmers market goodies!" replete with gratuitous food pornography than write ups about the stuff eaten by regular folks. Just so we understand each other: I've done posts about my garden vegetables, my fancy juicer, and my obsession with coffee. I do love all of these things, but I'm also interested in other aspects of American food culture besides my personal tastes and outside my immediate comfort zone.

People the world over often associate American food with fast food. While I've tried to convince many people there is in fact more to American food than this, you can certainly understand why people think this way. Fast food giants like McDonald's and Burger King first caught on in America, then branched out to many many other countries. While I don't really have a problem with fast food, I do find it discouraging that the fast food giants have often all but snuffed out their more unique predecessors. The fast food you get on the west coast of America, is the same all the way across this massive country, and often much the same across an ocean. Needless to say that it wasn't always this way, and in a few places, you can still get a glimpse of what things used to be like. That's what I want to look at today.

In Oakland, California there are a few old time fast food joints are still holding on. It's like a step into the past. The sign from above belongs to Giant Burgers. A fast food joint from maybe the 50's or 60's that still displays their sign advertising their 1/4 pound burger. This was obviously put up before the quarter pounder became the norm, and long before the double quarter pounder began killing people or at least making American people fatter than other people.

I often wonder how this 24 hour a day joint stays open. They probably do well with the late night crowd.

Giant Burger
22nd and Telegraph Avenue
Oakland, CA 94612

Giant Burgers has a number of locations.

Here's another Giant Burgers on 25th and San Pablo. The menu includes all your favorites plus barbecue items such as hot links and ribs.

Giant Burger
(between Athens Ave & Mead Ave)
Oakland, CA 94612
(510) 452-2984

Another curiosity on upper telegraph in the Temescal Neighborhood is Original Kasper's Hot Dogs.

Original Kasper's closed in 2003 for maintenance and has remained closed ever since. This odd little building and business served the good folks of North Oakland for over 60 years. Closing their doors has made us all poorer.

NPR's Living on Earth did a story about Kasper's back in 2003 and it's a fascinating story that gives a lot of insight into some Oakland history, class and racial issues, and a little philosophizing on the value of food made with love and care. I urge you to have a listen, and I challenge you to not get just a little nostalgic. You can find the audio program on this page. Look for "Ode to a Hot Dog Stand."Link
There exists another local fast food joint that I pass quite frequently. This place is called Caspers. Not to be confused with Kasper's with a K. Caspers has been in business since 1934 and it's a wonder that they have survived. Somehow they've carved out a niche and have nine stores in the East Bay. I recently visited Casper's on 55th and Telegraph in North Oakland for a hot dog.

Here's what the official website has to say:

Caspers Famous Hot Dogs®, the family-owned, quick serve restaurant company, has been a hot dog lover's favorite since 1934. The award winning Casper Dog with its signature "snap" is a tasty, old-fashioned style hot dog made from a street vendor recipe. Garnished with freshly cut tomatoes and onions as well as mustard and relish, this affordable delicacy is handcrafted on a feather-light, steamed bun.

I'm no expert on hot dogs or the condiment scheme, but this dog did have a lot of toppings. I found the dog a bit more rubbery than "snappy" and question whether you can call this a delicacy. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the the old fashioned interior, the simple menu, and time warp experience. A dog and small Pepsi came to $4.44.

Casper's Hot Dogs
5440 Telegraph Ave
Oakland, CA 94609
(510) 652-1668

To see some of these good old American fast food joints still open is a wonder to behold. While old mom and pop restaurants, drive in movie theatres, and a slew of small old timey businesses have closed, monolithic corporate establishments have often taken their place. If you're a hot dog, hamburger, or general fast food fan, do yourself a favor and try out one of the little guys if you can. Time is certainly running out.

A now closed Caspers just up the street from the recently reviewed Tacos Mi Rancho.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Accidental Tripas or Tacos Sinaloa Revisited

I went wandering around East Oakland this weekend to take pictures. I often return to East Oakland to capture this vibrant, gritty, and diverse neighborhood. On this day I failed to get many photos but I did get some tacos. The weather was also turning south, so when my hunger crept up on me I took refuge at a favorite taco truck and was reminded why it is a favorite.

I heartily recommend you visit Tacos Sinaloa, which you can read about here. This time around I went with the tripas, which is quickly becoming my go to order. I don't really know what it is about tripas. If it's done right, you get a rather complex richness that you just don't get with any of your other standard meats. And because this is tripa, you get a little something else that's kinda hard to explain. Those of you who eat innards on occasion know exactly what I'm talking about!

Tacos in Oakland: $1.25. Tacos with tripa: $1.50. The extra quarter is worth it. You owe it to yourself.

Tacos Sinaloa
2138 International Blvd
Oakland, CA 94606
(510) 535-1206

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Acme Supreme Juicerator

As I spend more and more time locked away from the world in my cute kitchen, safe from the crazies outside with their baseball bats, handguns, and mental instability, it is certainly comforting to be surrounded by friendly kitchen equipment.

Meet the Acme Supreme Juicerator.

You read that right. It's actually called the Juicerator. Have a closer look.

The Juicerator is like a dream. It weighs about a ton. You could likely drop it from your roof maiming or killing passersby or destroying motorized vehicles, and your juicer would have nary a scratch. It's made almost entirely of metal, meaning very few parts to wear out or simply break. This thing is nearly indestructible. It also makes killer juice.

Older household goods were made to last while the newer stuff is made to die. How else can a company hope to get repeat customers? This here juicerator is several decades old. I assumed that they didn't make em like this any more. But digging a little I learned that the juicerator is still in production, I believe in its all metal form. It will cost you a few hundred bucks though. It makes short work of fruits, vegetables, and the fingers of children young and old. Take these carrots for example.

79 cents a bag makes for a deliciously cheap cup of juice. Place a carrot down into the top slot

onto the spinning toothed blade.

A spinning metal mesh basket separates the juice from the pulp with centrifugal force.

It takes about a minute to devour a bag of carrots.

There really is nothing like fresh juice. Once you try it, it gets very hard to pay an arm and a leg for the inferior pasteurized stuff, or the very expensive fresh glass in one of your local juice shops.

My mother taught me about how the vitamin A in carrots is good for one's eye sight. She's right of course, but maybe more importantly, carrot juice is the best thing you've ever tasted. I recommend you get your hands on a juicer, buy a few carrots, and make some carrot juice. It will help you see who or what's coming your way on the increasingly dangerous city streets. Watch out!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

A Thanksgiving Post

Thanksgiving is perhaps my favorite holiday, and it's one I have rarely visited the last number of years. Regardless of its nasty association with the murder and destruction of the original American population, Thanksgiving is simply a great time to see friends and family and enjoy a meal (or three) together.

My Thanksgiving was spent in my home state of Oregon where I was able to see some old friends.


It was really quite lovely to see everyone.

The food was also quite nice. My mother baked her ultra traditional Thanksgiving Challah bread. No Thanksgiving meal would be complete without it.

It is a real highlight for me. It's good fresh and leftover as toast, French toast, or even as a sandwich.

There was turkey. Both wild...

and domesticated.

There were mashed potatoes

cranberry sauce,

roasted vegetables,

a child's nightmare, otherwise known as Brussel sprouts

plus a lot more. I got tired of taking pictures in poor lighting, so I put my camera away and visited with family and friends, old and new.

If that's not something to be Thankful for, I don't know what is.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Of God and Liquor

"I have seen the sleeping knights of Jesus
Gazing out across the open sea
I have seen the sleeping knights of Jesus
And they look extremely tired to me.

Dying of starvation in the gutter (in the gutter)
That is all the future holds for me (holds for me)
Or alcoholic poisoning in the toilet of my choice
That's all there is as far as I can see..."

-Robyn Hitchcock

On my many walks and bicycle rides around the East Bay, I am time and again drawn to the many old-timey signs on the Churches and liquor stores. I have to admit I am both drawn to and repulsed by both of these institutions. Churches for their architectural splendor and their ability to turn people into monsters; liquor stores and their ample alcohol with its pleasant intoxicating effects and its ability to turn people into monsters.

Last week I happened across a man splayed out upon a bench at a BART station. He had imbibed a bit too much, vomited, passed out, and pissed himself. The paramedics were called. At least he only did it to himself. Many others just like this man might find themselves behind the wheel of a car where they injure or kill themselves, or someone else's son or daughter. Or maybe they'll simply return home and hurt a loved one. Similarly, earlier in the month our good friends at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints encouraged the people of California to pass a ballot measure that writes discrimination into the state's Constitution. This institution of good will and morality encouraged mistrust and discrimination of a minority group.

They don't make them like they used to. The sign on the Pentecostal Church at 38th and Telegraph almost looks older than the church itself. Does Jesus save only Pentecostals? Or Pentecostal Churches? Or maybe only this particular church?

I'm an Oregon native. In Oregon, the sale of liquor is controlled by the state and liquor is only sold in special liquor stores. Conversely, liquor stores in California do not sell only liquor. It's just the common name for convenience stores. Many of the liquor stores in this area are owned by immigrant families carving out their own piece of the American dream. There are a lot of stories in these places.

The All Nations Church of Christ is a small attractive church on the South Berkeley/North Oakland border. I like their cross.

Williams Liquor, only a few blocks from my humble abode, has a sign that lights up in the evenings. It's really quite a sight to behold. Many a thirsty traveller has felt relief upon spotting the flickering lights.

Lily of the Valley Baptist is a small and unassuming church on San Pablo Blvd. in Berkeley. Their sign which may or may not light up at night is more visible than the small cross.

While liquor and organized religion often provide us with comfort and solace through tough times, they can at times reveal our most appalling selves. With Thanksgiving right around the corner, let's forget about all that and be thankful for their aesthetically pleasing qualities here in the East Bay. I don't know why so many of these old signs still exist, but I'm certainly grateful for them.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Taco Truck Mi Grullense Revisited

Let's make this one short and sweet. I revisited Mi Grullense for a shot at tacos this time. Once again, the truck nearest the Goodwill entrance was the busy one so I ordered there. I ordered tacos de carne asada and received the satisfaction that I have come to expect from the local taco trucks.

I can now recommend that you visit Mi Grullense.

In tight economic times, $1.25 tacos and goodwill shopping seem like a no brainer. Also, If you have any work you need done on your house, there are day laborers milling about as well.

Mi Grullense
2925 International Blvd
Oakland, CA 94620

Friday, November 14, 2008


Fall foods are always a greatly appreciated arrival, and this year is no exception. But the topic of today's post is not about a favorite fall food from growing up, but a more recent one. I didn't taste my first persimmon until moving to Busan, South Korea in the fall of 2004. I was at first intrigued, unsure, and then hooked.

I ate the firm variety, called Gam in Korean. I also ate the soft ones, called hong-shi. The persimmons growing on the trees in the neighborhoods by my apartment is one image I will always remember. For months they were sold at stores, in the alleyways, and out of the backs of trucks. When the season wound down, those same truck sold truckloads of dried persimmons.

I returned to America and kind of forgot about persimmons. I moved to Thailand where persimmons are sometimes sold as an "exotic" fruit on the streets or stores in Bangkok. This kind of fruit I would often refer to as status fruit. Besides eating persimmons briefly in Vietnam, I always ate whatever was available locally, and it certainly wasn't persimmons.

Since moving to the State of California, I've enjoyed the expected berries, stone fruits, and recent apples. How delighted I was to learn that in fact persimmons are an abundant fall/winter crop. I'd had no idea.

I hit up the Old Oakland farmers market every week and buy many pounds of fruit. Persimmons are a welcome re-addition to my normal diet.

Today I bought three pounds of firm fuyu persimmons, and six soft Hachiya persimmons.