Thursday, April 30, 2009

Cheap Breakfast

If you've followed this blog for a while, you will likely have noticed the slow progression from street food to the trend toward kitchen creations. This isn't the direction I had wanted to go in, but time and again I have run into both my underemployment, the general cost of things, and the huge difference in price between eating in and eating out. After a number of years overseas, I guess I had forgotten about the very big difference. After mediocre breakfasts costing upwards of twenty dollars for two, or coffee and pastries for around ten, I've had to just mostly give up. I roast coffee, brew beer, bake desserts and entertain. What else is there really?

As a response to the previous post here's breakfast from the other morning.

Polenta and an egg on top. Easy schmeazy! Boil polenta with stock from the left over veg trimming from the week. Top with fried egg and a little cheese. If you've thought ahead, you've roasted coffee and your breakfast is perfect. Steal a piece of fruit from your neighbor's tree and you've entered the realm of the gourmet.

Total cost? Maybe a dollar. Now you can afford your medications. Maybe.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Broke at the Farmers Market

Here's a recent breakfast from the Temescal Farmers market in North Oakland.


Two coffees and two danishes ran us nine bucks. A reminder why I don't eat out as much as I used to and why poorer folk often eat fast food. It would have taken another tenner to fill the tanks for a day of moderate energy expenditure.

The coffee this morning was impressive. So impressive in fact that I rushed home and roasted my very own Kenyan AA Auction Lot #526 Tegu. In my sampler pack from Sweet Maria's Coffee, a pound of green beans is the same price as two cups of coffee at the farmers market. My advice to you is this: support your local roaster when you can, in this case Blue Bottle (see previous post), and roast your own at other times. Throw your TV out the window and dedicate an evening a week roasting your own. You'll be glad you did, plus your house and clothing will take on an intoxicating aroma.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Blue Bottle Coffee

Here's an unpublished post from back in July. Guess it got lost in the shuffle (with a lot of others). I think of it as spring cleaning.

We recently ventured to the Temescal Farmers Market in Oakland for the reported excellent coffee and nice produce.

We were met with crowds of young families, baby-mobiles, and the appearance of affluence. The line at Blue Bottle Coffee was long. Very long. N informed me most passerby usually remark "Is it really worth it?" Well, was it?

Blue Bottle Coffee brews every cup individually for a fresh cup every time. Great idea for great coffee. Now, how about weening people from their disposable cups and plastic lids? People love carrying around their cloth bags as opposed to plastic for their produce. It's pretty silly to see one of these fine folks mindlessly throwing out their cups. Also, who wants their coffee to taste like paper?

I ordered an espresso. Two bucks.

E had a macchiato. Two seventy five.

Now I know what some of you are thinking: Foam art, argh! Well, you are drinking a rich person's beverage. Drinking an almost three dollar coffee beverage has its detractors. Oh: this drink was reportedly excellent.

N had soy something with a silly name. Two seventy five.

This was very good. A little bigger than a machiato, a little more milk, but still a strong cup of very good espresso.

I like Blue Bottle Coffee. They are nice people. They make good coffee. My only complaint is that a few bucks gets you a cup that you can stand around in a parking lot with. In this case it was the DMV parking lot. Not normally a place any rational person would pay to hang out. Actually, this sounds like someone's version of hell. However, you will not likely find a better cup of coffee.

Friday, April 24, 2009

La Villa Fresh Mex

While college campuses often have cheap eats, it's rarely food to write home about. While this may be sound advice wherever you are, cheap tacos canceled out any misgivings I would normally have.
While waiting for mon petit ami, I spotted La Villa Fresh Mex. They had a taco special on. From 4-8 tacos are a dollar apiece. This is a great price for tacos around here, so I dove right in. Tres tacos de asada greeted me and they weren't too shabby.
The meat was lean and not too chewy, the salsa rich and spicy, and the serve yourself condiments were fresh enough.
While La Villa doesn't win any awards, three bucks for a plate of tacos is a deal if i ever saw one. The frat boys, girls in ill fitting shorts, and homeless people I ate with seemed to agree.

La Villa Fresh Mex Taco Stand
Telegraph Avenue and Bancroft Way
Berkeley, CA 94720

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Happy Hour Doldrums

Who doesn't love happy hour? Nobody you might say. After a hard day of work, or maybe a day of no work at all, what better pastime is there than pickling your underutilized brain and body with a strong concoction, and maybe even a snack? Well, the miserable business owners in the East Bay (read: huge suburb of San Francisco) seem to be against happy hours. And no, one dollar off a five dollar pint of beer doesn't count.

The small group of people I know here are mostly students, artists, underemployed, or totally unemployed. I'll let you guess where I fit into all of this. If it isn't painfully obvious, we are not a rich bunch, but we do like to eat and drink after a day of something. So, being the generous guy I am, I invited some folks over to my house for my own happy hour. And happy we were.

I already had a basket of lemons, and old half empty bottle of vodka, and a yard overgrowing with mint. I went out back and the slaughter began.
I found an old honey jar and filled it with the mint.
Next I added almost a cup of sugar,

two cups of vodka, and the juice of several lemons.
I placed the concoction in the fridge to chill and get minty.

Two hours later my friends arrived and boy were they thirsty.
Luckily my abuelita arrived just in time with the nicest sopes you ever did see.

Ahem. Actually, I made the sopes.
For a few hours we forgot our cares, prior engagements and medications.

Sunday, April 19, 2009


Not being settled for the last number of years had meant that certain culinary adventures were either difficult or altogether impossible. One particular hobby not enjoyed for nearly five(!) years was the art of brewing. I hesitate to call it art from my level of experience, but it is a beautiful thing nonetheless.

Brewing is actually very very easy. It's up to you how fancy you want to make it. In this household, we've not ventured far from the simple path. This is for several reasons: general inexperience, the time and effort involved, and the excellent brew that can be made from the simplest ingredients.

I was going to write up a nice how-to guide until I realized that the very same home brew instructions we have, dated 2002, are still online at the brew your own website. Look hither for the very same directions that we have always followed.

One thing that I have always derived a lot of pleasure from in the DIY spirit one feels from making beer. Why pay top dollar for very nice beer when for an afternoon's rather enjoyable work, you can have a couple of cases of equally delicious and cheaper beer? To make forty something beers can cost as little as thirty bucks.

Once our beer was finished fermenting, we needed to bottle it. Our bottles are a collection of empties from our house. The easiest way to collect empties is to simply have a party at your home. If any of your friends have expensive taste, you might get a snazzy bottle or two.

I'm a rather large fan of bottles with their own reusable caps. Some wines and fancy beers sport these type of devices. If you have guests or attend a party these are the kind of bottles I like to break out.

We also came into some Red Stripe bottles right before brewing. I like the feel of these type of bottles so I knew we had to use them. This also gave me an idea for a name for our beer. Seeing as our beer is somewhat darker than Red Stripe beer, I decided that the perfect name for our brew would be Brown Stripe!

After a long day of menial work, or maybe for a festive occasion, there's nothing like reaching into the refrigerator and pouring a nice tall glass of Brown Stripe.

Friday, April 17, 2009

One Big Asparagus

Oh ho ho ho oh what a big one
I've never seen one as big as that before
Oh ho ho ho oh what a big one
It must be fourteen inches long or more!

- Judge Dread


Vegetable fertilization is a growing pass time round here. From garden to table in a matter of minutes is rather exhilarating. I can't afford to eat in most buzzed about Bay Area restaurants that serve up fresh/local/humane etc, but I can occasionally splurge on some nice produce. Or maybe if I'm lucky, I can find the above right in my own backyard. The other week, one and only one huge asparagus graced the garden. This called for some rather non-drastic action.

Pristine ingredients need very little help. A quick chop,


into the pan with a little oil, garlic, and salt and it was ready to top a salad for two.

There's nothing else to say really. This isn't rocket science, but it is delicious.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Happy Easter (A day late)

With all the religious holidays in the world, it's nice to know that there is one holiday that I can easily celebrate without thinking about any of the reasons for its celebration. From an outsiders perspective, in America that is, Easter has little or nothing at all to do with an implausible resurrection. This is about jelly beans and chocolate.
Maybe the Zoroastrians could learn a thing or two about attracting new converts. Using the tooth fairy as a model is a good place to start. Create a furry little animal or other jolly and lovable character to draw attention away from all the other claptrap and you'll snare the younger generation before their critical reasoning skills develop. They'll never stop to think about anything at all if presents, candy, and revelry is involved. Hell, I come from a Jewish family, and I love Easter! That pesky Easter bunny must have hidden those eggs somewhere...
Happy Easter! What's it all about? Who cares, there's chocolate.

Monday, April 6, 2009

The Joy of Pie

I baked a delicious strawberry pie this weekend and got to thinking. With this pie and many other creations, all I ever need is the trusty Joy of Cooking. Honestly, there's little else I need. I often turn to the internet for little details here and there, but for the most part, I either make things up as I go or I use the Joy. Now I know many of my blogging peers might call me crazy, but I have little need for most cookbooks.  Am I nuts?
It might have been even better had I not dropped the entire bowl of freshly whipped cream on the living room floor. Oh well, the pie was great without it.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Pupusas on Foothill Boulevard

Has it really been three months since I last regaled you with a tale from tacoland? Well, excuses are a dime a dozen so let's dispense with the nonsense. The last few months has seen me dressed in a lab coat trying to perfect the art of making fine coffee. When the clouds lifted and my mood settled, I realized that there was in fact a larger world outside my door, even if it still scares the bejeesus out of most sane people. Nevertheless, it is time to revisit the eastern side of town where there are honest folk making an honest buck serving some fresh and cheap fare.

The last time I found myself delirious and hungry in East Oakland I was meandering along on Foothill Boulevard looking for something but nothing in particular. Low and behold there was a Pupuseria. Pupuserias are nothing out of the ordinary, but of special interest was the pupuseria in the parking lot of the pupuseria. What a novel idea. Seen above is the pupuseria, not the pupuseria in the pupuseria's parking lot. I pulled up to the bar, ordered a couple of pupusas with beans and chicharon.

What you see is what you get and what you get is what you want. Pupusas, curtido or cole slaw, and picante. Made to order, fresh on your plate, and incapable of breaking the bank regardless of your appetite.

My advice to you is this: stay home and cook your loved ones a meal, stop driving, ride your bicycle, and throw all of your trash on the ground. Seeing as eating out is forgivable in the modern age, if you slip up and you must eat out, visit your local pupuseria. You'll be glad you did.

Pupuseria Lupita and Tamales Mi Lupita (in the parking lot)
34th Ave. and Foothill Blvd.
Oakland, CA 94620