Monday, September 22, 2008

Taco Truck: Mi Grullense

If you were to ask me what has been more important to me in the recent past: finding food, or making friends, I would have to choose the former. This explains the sad state of my social life, and the increasing tendency to relate to snacks more so than people. This may be an early warning sign of a descent into madness where sandwiches begin speaking. Anyhow, a lazy Sunday meant nothing better to do than a bike ride over to the Fruitvale area. A large Latino population, a heavy police presence, and a smattering of taco trucks.

I rode past Tacos Sinaloa and after passing on another truck, I settled upon Mi Grullense.

You might think that this was a poor choice based upon the lack of a crowd. Well, the good folks at Mi Grullense keep two trucks in this Goodwill parking lot. Due to impatience, I chose the not busy truck. People continued to choose the busy one.... Was this a mistake?

If you've ever had a good torta, or Mexican sandwich, you know the hunger that I had on this day. You might think I'm crazy for I carry a 2006 calendar/business card from an especially excellent torta vendor in Mexico City. It was that good. Good bread, Mexican cheese, avocados, special sauces, joy. Back to the present: People ahead of me were ordering tacos. Against my better judgment I went for the torta. I asked the guy behind the grill what the best choice would be. He seemed rather amused that I would ask such a question. I got the bistec. Patrons were using the hoods of their cars or the backs of their trucks. My order arrived and I found a place on the curb.

Ok. So far so good.

Here the alarm bells went off. This bread was far too soft. I opened up the sandwich and it simply put, it was a mess. More like a sloppy Joe than the tortas of my dreams.

I hardly know where to begin. The meat was more like a puree. I would have expected something more like a flat piece of meat. The flavors were sort of there, but the flaccid sandwich just sort of fell apart on me. Why oh why did I not get tacos?

This place deserves another shot. Maybe a sope, some tacos, or perhaps a burrito. Avoid the tortas.

Mi Grullense
2925 International Blvd (In the Goodwill Parking lot!)
Oakland, CA 94620

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Wat Khun Samut or The Sinking Temple

Here's a post I stated writing a long time ago but never really finished. I do think it's worth sharing:

With the continuing humanitarian crisis in Burma at a high boil, now seems like a good time to share with you a trip I took to Wat Khun Samut, often referred to as the "Sinking Temple".


A good friend M was in town for a long awaited visit. M was interested in some of the bicycle rides E and I had taken around Bangkok and was keen on giving riding in town a go. A couple months previously, we had ridden out towards the ocean only to stop at wat Krabeu. This time, we would not rest until we made it to the ocean. We decided to go pay a visit the the famous sinking temple Wat Khun Samut. Seemed easy enough, as long as we could tolerate the heat, the traffic, and the distance. It looked to be about 50 Kilometers to the shore.

We set out and quickly were in Phra pa daeng, a green protected area directly across from Khlong Toei, the large port on the Chao Phraya. We got our bikes onto one of the small boats and ended up on the other side of the river happy to go for a refreshing ride. Here's a few older phots to give you an idea.
Looking back
Bikes in Bang Kachao

We stopped for a snack and ate it at one of the local wats.

The ride took us from the green protected area, back out into the sprawl. We rode under the rather impressive if not scary mega bridge. I never tire of taking pictures of this thing.

It's a monster that spans the river, covers an immense swath of land, and moves untold numbers off in different directions over this dytopian landscape.

We rode along with cars, buses, and large trucks which was frankly quite unpleasant. A good thirty kilometers from this location, you find yourself in another world entirely. You're in the tidal flats, surrounded by some kind of palms, and aquaculture. There are some great dining opportunities out here. There are a host of fresh seafood lunches, many offering fresh crab. Unfortunately, enjoyable dining was not in our plans.

We found ourselves somewhat lost, so we asked around and found ourselves a boat to more of less the middle of nowhere.

Or at least it seemed like the middle of nowhere. We told people where we were going and they directed us to the right dock, where a man happily drove us at incredible speeds toward our destination.

He pulled up at some dock near what looked like fish farms.

This cracked and thirsty piece of land looked like a road where you might meet your end. It was certainly hot. I was expecting to come across the forgotten corpse of some unlucky explorer from a bygone era.

Anyhow, we were heading toward the ocean where the sinking temple was supposedly located. We found a path and followed it toward the ocean.

At this point I could only guess at what I was looking at but would later learn that I was looking at a late in the game effort to hold back the sea.

Saplings struggle to survive as the tide tears away that land as the tide comes in and goes out.

We arrived at the temple and started to poke around. There were some new structures, but the real point of interest was the sinking temple that has been featured in many international newspapers.

It's hard to see it, but the wat has sunk and they have build a new walkway and floor to house the Buddha images inside.

These photos are of rather poor quality and don't accurately portray just what has happened here, but the temple has sunk dramatically. When the tide comes in, the ocean lets itself in, and there's nothing anyone can do.

While snapping away photos I was approached by man I believe was the abbot. He was a tad standoffish at first but he soon opened up and wanted to tell us about his temple and his work. A man of immense warmth and few teeth, the abbot spoke no English and eagerly told me things that were at times hard to decipher. He would excitedly tap me on the knee to tell me some fact, opinion, or tidbit about his life.

I asked about how far the ocean had come in, and to my surprise, the answer was two kilometers! An entire town was submerged, and all that is left is this wat. The last holdout has taken it upon himself, with a little help, to try and stop the ocean's incursion by replanting the area's once abundant mangroves. How does one do that you ask? Baby mangrove trees of course!

We were give a quick lesson and aplanting we went!

Here's M and our new friend replanting the mangroves!

Is it too late?

As I mentioned earlier, this wat has been profiled in newspapers all over the world and one of the first culprits is global warming. Now, I am certainly not a skeptic when it comes to global warming, but this is certainly the lazy persons answer to the problem. People destroyed the mangroves due to the practices of shrimp farming. It was discovered far too late that the mangroves are in fact vitally important. Yes, ocean levels are rising, and some land is receding, but mangroves provide a barrier to incursions by the sea. During storms the mangroves provide a buffer to the ocean's destructive path. This simple concept was witnessed during Hurricane Katrina and during the recent Typhoon that struck Burma. Fewer or no mangroves meant the ocean had a free pass. Habitat destruction made a natural disaster all the more disastrous.

There have been some rather fascinating articles of late about the possible future flooding of Bangkok as well as other low lying metropolises. It makes for fascinating, albeit troubling reading. For more information about Wat Khun Samut, go here, or here.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Send Gifts

A package arrived on Thursday from my wonderful grandparents. It said "Perishable." This was a good sign.

Let's cut to the chase.

Three large Reed avocados greeted me. They are huge.

I used one this Friday evening. As I was all alone, it was a simple affair. My trusty tortilla press helped me quickly produce a vehicle for the enormous bowl of guacamole. Why are you still buying tortillas? Get a tortilla press now!

I don't follow recipes for this sort of thing. Avocado, onion, garlic, tomato, lime, salt, pepper, and mix. Use whatever proportions you like.

I'm reminded of a time when I would have killed for an avocado or a burrito. Oh wait, I guess I did... Maybe my readers in America will find this post dull. It certainly is light on content! But I wonder what the international readers think? Writing about Thai snacks, I used to get a lot of comments like "Wow, it looks so amazing!" Or: "I would love to try that someday!" Etc. I assure you, this is no less less good than some "exotic" treat from the streets of some "exotic" land. It's all about perspective I suppose. Although, the street scene here is admittedly dull. I also baked a strawberry pie today. That was pretty swell too. I going to get fat.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Coffee Anyone?

Here are all of my coffee makers. That would be two french presses, a couple of Italian moka pots, and three Vietnamese presses. I don't own use a machine, nor do I use paper filters. If I want my coffee to taste like paper, I can throw some in at the end. Anyhow, drinking too much coffee seemed like the ideal way to spend my Sunday Afternoon. Decisions decisions... I made Turkish coffee of course. I lack a cezve, but I made do with a saucepan.

First, I ground the coffee as fine as possible. Very fine. Just about killed my grinder. It takes at least a couple of spoon fulls per small cup. I throw it in with a little sugar, bring just to a boil so it gets all foamy, and them decant. What could be easier?

Maybe it's not obvious, but this is one very strong cup of coffee. I might regret it in the middle of the night.

When finished, they say you can "read" the coffee grinds. It's like using a crystal ball, or voting in America. Nobody really believes in it, but it sure is fun.

Oops. I think I did this wrong, but this mess still does does evoke some unpleasant images. What does my future hold?

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

For Yazoo


I received sad news on Monday that my parents' precious greyhound Yazoo had woken up ill and died all within the course of a few hours that morning.

For those of you without any knowledge of greyhounds, they are strange creatures. A prime example of human cruelty and selfishness. Born and bred for racing, they are kept in small cages, only allowed out at race time to run around the track. They are treasured for their speed, at least until they slow down a little. They are destroyed without a second thought. There's always another faster dog.

When I first met Yazoo he was a recently retired, rescued racing dog. I thought he looked like an alien. Or maybe a misshapen cow. He was scared of everything. You see, being caged up his entire life meant the world as we know it was a mystery to him. He'd never seen cars, sidewalks, or sliding glass doors. I derided my sweet parents for willingly bringing this inept creature into their home.

I never lived in the same house as Yazoo, but with each passing visit, I continued to warm up to him and considered him an integral part of the home I grew up in. He was a sweet, dopey animal. His teeth, the few that he had, often chattered, whether from fear or anticipation of some treat, I was never certain. Sometimes his tongue would fall out of his mouth owing to his lack of teeth. While caged up, greyhounds often chew their cages out of boredom or nervousness. This in conjunction with poor diet, means poor teeth are a common trait of former racing dogs. Near the end of his life, Yazoo had very few of them left. That didn't keep him from asking for treats. He usually got what he wanted.

We'd run around the backyard together. He ran a lot faster than me. Afterwards, he'd return to his bed inside the house, and lay down spent after the mini race, his day simple yet complete. He wouldn't spend his time alone chewing on a metal cage, but happily surrounded by his people, occasionally gumming the treats we gladly gave him.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Seven Bridges Cooperative (More Green Coffee Beans)

Owing to the absolutely deafening response to my recent post about green coffee beans, here's another coffee themed post.

A trip to Santa Cruz Last weekend took us to Seven Bridges Cooperative. They specialize in Home Brewing Supplies, and home coffee roasting. For now, our current beer brewing plans are dormant, but our coffee roasting and brewing is at a high boil. After a quick browse, we became the proud owners of a green bean sampler pack. Ten half pound bags of green beans for the magical price of $26.50. A great deal for great coffee, and a great way to sample a large variety of beans.

The poor economy has lead to the closing of hundreds of poorly performing Starbucks. When times improve, don't return to the cold embrace. Stay home, roast your own coffee, and use all that extra money to spend more quality evenings at the Olive Garden.

Seven Bridges Cooperative
325A River Street
Santa Cruz, CA 95060

Friday, September 5, 2008

Old Oakland Farmers Market

Every Friday morning until the early afternoon the Old Oakland Farmer's Market provides truck loads of excellent, diverse, and relatively inexpensive produce to the diverse populace of Oakland. A welcome relief really. I go to Farmers Markets all over the area and often leave with a funny taste in my mouth. Well, erm, actually the samples I eat do taste good. They seem expensive, a middle class indulgence, a crass recreation and fetishization of a pastoral fantasy world. Many conversations with vendors turn into conversations one might get at a wine tasting. Nothing is just everyday food anymore. Everything is a delicacy. I love to enjoy my food as much as the next, but sometimes I feel like I'm stepping into an exclusive club.

I had not intended to do a write up for this weekly affair so the photos are certainly lacking. But this morning, like many others, I got a great feeling of community. It's a market where people of all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds can and do mingle and shop. There's a lower ratio of the convenience, prepared food to produce that one can run into at some other markets. Although, if you like, you can still spend close to ten bucks on a crepe. There are piles of produce and not just what one would find at the local Whole Foods. There are your everyday, and excellent tomatoes, stone fruits, berries, and squash, but there is also a large contingent of Asian vendors selling what one might see on the other side of the world, but grown here in the state of California. You can buy Italian, Thai, and holy basil. There are stands dedicated entirely to Vietnamese greens. In the midst of crumbling downtown Oakland, it feels like things are flourishing.

Today we didn't buy much really. Our weekly CSA box in conjunction with our garden haul leaves us needing very little, but we're planning to shop here in the coming weeks. Something of great interest caught our eye though. A small, busy stand was selling "banana dates." Seemed more like under ripe dates to me. I asked for a sample and was very pleased to get a fibrous and sugary treat. The stand was absolutely mobbed with people of various Asian descent. Maybe this is familiar to them...

Here they are in our kitchen. The owner procured a riper version that was fantastic. He told us to come back in a couple weeks and they would be plentiful. We will be back.

Anyhow, we were hungry so we broke down and bought some Tamales at All Star Tamales.

Now, I was very hesitant. I know a lot of places to buy cheap tamales off the street in San Francisco or in East Oakland without much fanfare. They may in fact be illegally sold, but that doesn't concern me. The restaurant lobby would like for you to be very afraid. Anyhow, I was pleased with what I received. A very competent chile and cheese Tamal.

Far too much packaging really. It's already wrapped, why the plastic? My only complaint in terms of ingredients was the lack of lard. Now I don't usually demand such things, but it's a given that if you eat one of these things in a heavily Hispanic area or south of the border, lard is included. It also adds a richness that can never be achieved otherwise. No matter.

Two tamales for $5 isn't too bad. I'm accustomed to paying about five pesos, although it's been a few years and corn prices are way up.

On the way home, Asian people kept pointing at my bag of dates. Did they think it was longgong? Did they recognize this date? I don't really know because I cannot find anything about them online. In a few weeks I'll go back and sample some more mature dates. Until then, there's work to do.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Slow Food, Expensive Food, Affordable Food

The slow food convention was in town last weekend, and I couldn't afford to go. What I did do was read articles about the festivities. Sounded like a mixture of education, action, and hedonsim by the Bay Area's comfortable. The Slow Food movement has attracted a lot of excitement as well as a fair bit of criticism. Some deserved, some simply inflammatory. I like a lot of the ideas, but feel its current practice is less than inclusive. I'm not an expert, so if any of this sounds off base, it is your duty to steer me toward understanding.

I came across this article in the Wall Street Journal the other night. The article asks whether the author can make a cheap, earth friendly, slow food meal for two for only twenty dollars? Gee, only twenty bucks? That's way out of many peoples' budgets. If twenty dollars is a cheap home cooked meal, I'd hate to see their average meal cost. I don't really think these people are elitist per se, they are just very disconnected from reality. Maybe I've got this all wrong, and the article is not reflective of any sort of Slow Food reality. Correct me if I'm wrong.

One of the constant questions raised at the convention, if my reading is correct, is why is slow food so expensive? The answer is that food is artifically cheap. Although I agree with this, it says nothing of those who cannot willingly pay more to feed themselves or their families.


Although I have stated before that I don't want to turn this into a "what I cooked for dinner" kind of blog, in response to the article, a quick pictorial is in order.

I was craving pasta, didn't want to buy any, and had some time on my hands. I looked up a few recipes and got an idea of the process.

I started with two cups of whole wheat flower. You can use white of course. We use very little white flower in this household.

Make a well and add three eggs.

Slowly mix the ingredients together, and need for eight to ten minutes to activate the glutens. If it's dry, add a little water, and or a little oil.

Cover for ten or fifteen minutes with a damp towel. Rest time! I separated my dough into three equal parts. You can do whatever you like.

I had little space, no pasta machine, and no rolling pin. Whatever. I rolled it all out using a bottle. I covered the flattened sheets with flour, rolled them up, and cut them.

Unroll, and you've got pasta.

Allow to sit for twenty or thirty.

I boiled it up for a few minutes and then we had beautiful, delicious pasta. I added pesto that I made from the basil in the CSA box from the other day.

We also threw together a salad of cucumbers, tomatoes, and raw zucchini. A couple glasses of wine and we had a brilliant meal for two. Gourmet I dare say. The price? About five bucks for two. We put the remaining fifteen towards caviar.