Monday, March 29, 2010

Passion Fruit in Oakland

I spent a bit of my day today at the Lake Merritt Gardens as I often do on Mondays. It's been beautiful lately and the flowers are out in full force. When I'm not eating tacos or thinking about the end of the world, you just might find me taking pictures of flowers. Strange, I know. To get an idea of what I'm talking about, go here. While I don't necessarily encourage you to go to the gardens for all your fruit and herb needs, there is an amazing amount of stuff there. Come at the right time and you just might get yourself something, just don't tell anyone I told you.

Today, the biggest surprise was what I spotted on a fence, growing like a weed.
Actually, I thought it was just an inedible wild cucumber. However, I was curious so I cracked one open to learn that it was in fact a passion fruit. Now, I've lived in the Bay Area for close to two years now, and after much searching, this is the very first edible passion fruit I've come across. I've found ornamental seedless varieties, but this was the real thing.
I picked another and took it home. Upon cutting it open I was very pleased to see that it was completely full of the delicious fruit.
I considered a smoothie, juice, or a cocktail, but decided a simple fruit and yogurt combination was best.
Beautiful, but only one problem: a rather tart passion fruit atop plain yogurt needed a little something sweet. I looked in the fridge and procured an agave maple syrup blend. Perfect.
Get yourself down to the Gardens at Lake Merritt. While you might not find any of these passion fruit on your visit, I can assure you that these pleasant gardens are the real reason to visit.

666 Bellevue Ave
Oakland, CA 94610

Sunday, March 28, 2010

A Self Indulgent Birthday Post

My long birthday weekend began with two of the very best things in the world:
Excellent Nicaraguan rum, and the previously promised fresh strawberries. A pie was made and the yearly reinvigoration continued with the familiar flavor of a perfectly baked pie. Every taste brings back good memories of summers past.
The festivities included a trip to my favorite beach in the East Bay: Middle Harbor Shoreline Park. Our posse cycled through Oakland and arrived at this always eerie, always beautiful park.
We brought a made from scratch green curry. Others brought bread, cheese, fruit, olives, wine, and beer. We ate, drank, and were generally merry. As the sun went down we contemplated the end of our youth and the end of civilization. A cheap bottle of champaign was opened and we toasted to nothing in particular.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Mariscos La Costa

A recommendation online for a great, cheap locale for ceviche and tacos gave life a brief spark of meaning. My current furlough from work and a beautiful day meant it was time for a leisurely ride across town to put on the feed bag. I called a fellow taco lover and off we went.

We wanted to check out the reportedly excellent ceviche at Mariscos La Costa. Granted, the pulpo, or octopus ceviche was suggested, but I wanted to start simple.
We got ourselves a round of the pescado, or fish ceviche tostadas. Refreshing, limey, and great for a hot day. I let my companion take the lead and order us a round of lengua and al pastor tacos.
In his words, perfectly serviceable. These are dollar tacos folks. What more is there to say? You will not find a cheaper taco, but you might want to.

This was all very cheap. Two ceviche tostadas and four tacos came to a grand total of $9.50. This is a great place to go if you want a lot of food, but don't have a lot of money. I'd like to return soon for some of the higher ticket items.

Mariscos La Costa
3625 International Blvd
Oakland, CA 94601
(510) 533-9566

But we wanted more, and I wanted to show my friend better.

We cycled down road for about five minutes and did a bit of a repeat. Two ceviche tostdas, and this time, two fish tacos. I'll say no more about the second establishment, as I've mentioned it before. You be the judge.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Overheard at the Farmers Market

So, what do we need?
So we came here and the one thing we needed they don't have!
Well, we can just swing by TJ's (Tradrer Joe's) on the way home.

It's the middle of March. It's getting beautiful here in Northern California. There are a variety of excellent greens available. Asparagus is here! The berries are on their way! And the people behind me at the farmers market are dying for eggplant. It's going to be a couple months folks! They talked about what they wanted to eat during the week and it dawned on me what their problem was. They were talking about what they wanted, not what there was.
Ok, well actually, you can get anything you want here in America at any given time. We are a big melting pot so we get to have just about anything, anytime, anywhere! Also, we're pretty rich. That's why you can get raspberries in the middle of winter. Thanks Chile! But really, even with the popularity of farmers markets, people by and large don't have any concept of things coming into season, being really really amazing for a a few weeks or months, and then kissing it goodbye until next year. Maybe I know this because I grew up with a garden, or because of living overseas and only being able to buy what was being grown nearby. It seems simple, but it's not a concept many live by even in the sunny state of California.

This Friday, I'm going to the best farmers market in Oakland, and if there are strawberries, I'm making pie.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Pupusas in the Warehouse District

LA offers a lot of fancy dining for fancy diners and those with money to burn. Phooey to that. I did have an excellent coffee at one of the premier coffee shops for a small fortune, but only after they fucked up my order three times. Yeah, they made their coffee with a clover, they had an array of excellent quality beans, and I was fairly impressed. But I also considered throttling the cashier, hostess, and people sitting inside and out. Does great food and drink have to be so goddamn exclusive and intolerable?

I think what excites me the most about LA is the vibrant, diverse communities, not the hipness factor. If you want it you got it, but no thank you. From experience, the best food is often found in tight, cramped, humble places where neither writers for Sunset magazine nor aspiring actors spend their afternoons. Oh never mind.

While driving through the warehouse district I perked up when I saw a lively Sunday market. It was exclusively patronized by Latino families and there was a diverse spread of food and housewares on offer. We spied several juice vendors so we ordered a round of fresh squeezed orange juice right on the sidewalk, as it should be. This juice was less than half the price of the passed on juice at breakfast. I dare say it was probably fresher and better.

Moving on, we headed for food. Many comals were frying up a variety of masa based treats. I spied quesadillas, gorditas, and huaraches. I'd usually be willing to sell plasma for a fresh huarache but I gave them a miss. The most popular item being consumed were pupusas so we found a stall and dove right in.
A round of cheese pupusas for four came to eight bucks.
On walk back to our ride, we came upon a sweet couple from Mexico selling flan. The couple, from Jalisco , talked me into buying three for five dollars. A sweet deal if I ever saw one. We schlepped them back to the house where we fattened up with flan and coffee.
The whole lunch and subsequent dessert was one of many reminders that wherever you are, great food need not be eaten in fashionable or comfortable restaurants. But you already know that. Looking back at a weekend in LA my favorite food by far, no surprises, was found on a sidewalk.

Monday, March 8, 2010

I Went to LA...

... and all I got was this picture of the LA river.
Oh, and a plate of chilaquiles.
LA is too overwhelming to tackle in a couple of days. Too many square miles, too many carbon emissions, too many broken dreams. I'm repulsed by the glamour, intrigued by the history, lured by the grit, and excited by the food. Is there a better place in America to get lost and eat Mexican fare?

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Mushroom Hunting

Last weekend I was lucky enough to take part in an outing to pick chanterelles. It may have been late in the season, but boy did we do well. I took a lot of photos so I'll only give you the condensed version here.
You could add this post to the reasons to live in Northern California file. Mushrooms are delicious, expensive, and not too tough to find if you know what you are doing.

Of coure, you need to be careful. There are a lot of innedible and downright nasty varieties.
Really, I mostly just looked, as I think mushrooms are beautiful.
But it's not only about the mushrooms.
Spring is here and the meaningless of life seems like a distant concern. The trees are blossoming and life seems not so bad.

We heard a lot of frogs, and even saw this one. Beautiful.

But I suppose most of you are interested in mushrooms.
We found a lot.
This wasn't all of them.
My haul was considerable. Here they are resting. Some are missing as they havealready been cleaned and chopped.
I didn't do anything fancy with my mushrooms. I just sauteed them and added them to pasta with cream, asisgo and prosciutto. No complaints.
The next morning it was eggs with chantrelles and proschuto. That night risotto. Tomorrow, it's savory crepes. I just might tire of these beauties. Probably not though.

For a look at the whole set, go here.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Jake 1995-2010

I said goodbye to my favorite cat yesterday. Actually, my parents did for me. You see, Jake was my cat when I was fifteen years old. You can do the math yourself but he was a couple months shy of his 15th birthday and just missed my 30th. As you can probably guess, Jake was around for a lot of big events in my life even though I wasn't always living with him. It's strange to think of him as no longer around, and going home won't ever be the same

Maybe I should be happy that I'm only mourning the loss of an animal friend, not a blood relative. Unfortunately, the decline of our family pets only reminds us of the inevitable passage of time.
As we see our pets grow old we pause and think about our own mortality. When I first held Jake, he was a very small kitten and I was a messed up fifteen year old. We were quite a pair. Now I'm a fair bit older and still pretty confused. Well I guess that analogy fell apart. Anyhow, maybe I should be grateful that when the time came, a veterinarian could simply inject him with some drug so he could drift off to sleep peacefully and painlessly, surrounded by the ones who loved him. I can only hope to go in such a way when my time comes.

Jake now resides under the ground in the backyard of the house where I grew up. His body will feed the worms and nourish the soil for the future. There is no heaven for people or cats and that's just fine by me. Jake was my favorite cat in life and that's all that matters.
Goodbye Jake, I'll miss you.