Why does being healthy get to be a luxury?

All through high school, I was that annoying vegetarian who pushed her beliefs about animals as food on everyone. I showed grotesque videos sent to me by PETA, and asked my classmates, “Don’t you realize what is happening to the animals before they are placed, clean and tasty, on your plate?” “Don’t you care?”

I haven’t stopped worrying about this reality with animals, but I now realize how complex the issue is. I’m no longer a vegetarian, but I am a conscious (white) meat eater. I look for organic free-range chicken and eggs, but I can afford that.

I don’t say that to brag about my financial situation, (I’m a college student who happened to find a very generous college.) I say that because that right there is my biggest frustrated with the food political reality in our country. Eating food that is good for you is expensive, and thus, only something people with higher socioeconomic status can do. Processed foods, low quality meats, highly sprayed fruits and vegetables; that is what is cheap and readily available.
Wasn’t it a reality that once upon a time, being poorer meant living outside of the big cities and growing your own vegetables and raising your own meat? But because of a million factors, industrialization and where jobs are for example, cities are the place to be. And from someone who knows, apartments and chicken coops don’t mix well.

But thanks to processed foods and antibiotic and hormone filled meat, people are getting sick; constantly, everywhere you look. I get emails about some kind of disease-curing walk or run at least once a day. It’s insane. But then again, the economic status will divide the sick as well. Can you afford the best oncologist if, heaven forbid, cancer was to come knocking at your door? If you are in the Lamorinda area, I would guess that answer is yes and good for you.

But what about your neighbors outside of this wealthy area? Preventive actions like eating well aren’t available, and now nor is proper health care to take care of what has transpired in people’s bodies.

I don’t know the answer, but I will continue to battle with issue. One thing I do know, however, is that I will no longer push my beliefs about vegetarianism and eating a certain way on others. It’s a luxury to be able to eat well, and while I do think this needs to change, it’s a bigger issue than I ever realized.

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Interview with Beryl aka Mom aka Bear aka wonderful kick-starter to my love of food.

The assignment was to interview the one who cooked for you most as a child. That would be my mother. Home cooked meals by her mostly, then my dad more as we got older, and always, always vegetarian. She claims she has never liked to cook, but I have learned healthy and long-lasting lessons about food from her regardless. Oh, and as a side note, I really love my mom. 

Me: What did I hate to eat when I was little and how did you deal with that?

Mom: You didn’t hate eating anything. You didn’t. You ate anything there was to eat. I barely remember but I maybe if there was ever an issue, we just said you had to eat it anyway and you did. We served what we served and that was that. I don’t remember there ever being issues with that.

Me: What did I love eating?

Mom: Rice bites! We have a picture of you as a baby, crawling, sneaking to the cupboard for rice bites. And we’d find you with your face in the bag.

Me: Did you cook different things when you were married than after?

Mom: Completely. I didn’t know how to cook before I was married. I knew how to make three things and I worked evenings so I ate at the hospital mainly. And if I wasn’t at the hospital, I ate out.

Me: What were the three things?

Mom: Oh jeez, umm, I made hot dogs and beans, chicken…I had kind of a butter garlic chicken, and…there was a third thing…well I ate a lot of tuna. I can’t remember what the third thing was. I did know how to make lasagna, although I don’t remember ever making that for myself. Wanna know what I cooked after I got married. Well, after I got married, because my husband was/is a complete and total vegetarian, I had to learn how to cook from the beginning. And how I learned how to cook was I was on bed rest at the very beginning of our marriage. For 3 ½ months. So Ken (brother) bought us Quick and Easy, Tom (husband) bought the rest and I would lay in bed and pick the recipes and write out shopping lists and Tom would shop and cook them. And then when I was off bed rest, I just kept going with recipes. Still, to this day, I can’t open the fridge and figure out what to cook, ever.

Me: What is your favorite meal to make?

Mom: Easy. You want specifics? Umm, I really don’t enjoy cooking and I really don’t have to do it anymore. Umm, something I know how to do. A recipe I’m familiar with. Oh, I love making that chickpea, garlic, and spinach pasta dish. I do love that one. Pasta is one of my favorites. Pesto pasta is easy and fun.

Me: What were my table manners like as a kid?

Mom: Good. I don’t remember there ever being an issue. You guys were really good, good eaters, good manners. I mean, we took you out to eat all the time because we ate out constantly. You never got up, ran around…I don’t remember ever correcting you at the table.

Me: What did your parents cook?

Mom: Nothing. Well, I remember one thing my dad cooked, chicken cacciatore. I can count on one hand the number of meals my mom made. I remember eating out a lot with my mom, I remember what restaurants we went to and what I ate there. Umm, what my mom cooked. She made a flank steak for birthdays, twice baked potatoes, hot dogs and beans. Hebrew National hot dogs, that was a big one. And the green can of beans, oh the sweetness, oh I can still taste them…yum! I don’t remember rice, or vegetables. It was definitely not her forte. A long line of non-cookers and you girls broke it! You both love to cook! Thank heavens.

 

Ever been Epicurious in a Garden?

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Epicurious is a curious word. It sounds like bicurious to me, probably because I’ve never seen curious with a prefix attached to it. But regardless, to be epicurious in North Berkeley is pretty awesome. There is a building for curious people like you, and in it is a small but diverse selection of food for your purchase and consumption. Sushi, soup (soop), Mexican food, chocolate (like I didn’t know existed), and Argentinian gelato. Diverse, right?

The first thing that caught my epi-wandering eye was the brightly colored susi. Karala is the second venue for a very successful sushi restaurant on Ward Street in Berkeley. According to our very epi-knowledgable tour guide, Karala (unsquared) is so busy (and unreservable) that you have to get there 30 minutes before they open and stand in line with the hopes you will get in that night. So, briliantly, they decided to open a second location, and do only take out. Sadly, we didn’t sample any of their sushi so all I have to go on is the visual display we passed by on our way to Soop. Electric orange salmon pieces sit cozily beside soft pink fish with a pile of ginger in the corner, anticipating the moment of union that will surely bring pleasure to the lucky recipient. Another colorful to go box had bright orange and white shrimp standing in contrast to the bright green cucumber and yellow egg near it.sushi 2 So many colors, you know it’s gotta be super fresh.
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Soop was one of the venues we did sample, and happy was I about that! Thai Red Lentil with Coconut Milk was the official sample with the tour, but they were willing to let us try others. The red lentil was very flavorful yet simple. With only lentils, coconut milk, lemon grass, lime juice, and salt, it had the traditional Thai taste with the lemon grass and the texture I more often associate with Indian dal. Dal was a common meal my vegetarian father would make, but often lacked flavor and had to be drowned in soy sauce. So this soup was exciting in the memories it evoked from my dad’s cooking without the blandness. I also learned something about myself (somewhat of a duh epiphany if you will): I love bright food! I mean, it makes sense. Food should be pleasing to all the senses, and I realized I really love colorful food. This soup definitely fit that criteria.
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soup menu
We also visited a chocolate shop, Chocolate Alegio. The chocolate was fun to taste because it was more pure and dark than most commonly sold chocolate. But by the extravagent setup of the shop, you knew the prices would be high. Again, pretty colors, and delicious samples, just not the prices that would be responsible for a college student.
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The final place in this wonderous garden was Lush, Argentinian gelato. It was gelato as I have tried before, especially creamy. I learned that it’s made with milk, not cream, but tastes extra creamy because it is churned slower and for more time. Fun fact. I got the Marscapone Balsamic that was exotic and intruiging in a sample, but far too powerfully vinigery in a full cup. Tummy ache ensued after that one 😦
But I will soon be returning to this condensed food lovers haven. The taquiria had a chile rieno advertised out front that sounded magical. That and their homemade chips we watched being cooked looked (vibrantly) orange with the just the right amount of shine to them. It seems like a great place to bring a group of people to; everyone could find something they would enjoy.

Chopped, SMC style– Squid, Hazelnuts, and Orange

Wait, seriously? I have to combine squid, hazelnuts, and orange to make something edible? I wasn’t thrilled by what I pulled from the bag of student-generated ingredients, but my protests were met by a complete lack of sympathy from a professor, (who here shall remain nameless).

“Your boyfriend is a chef!” she replied to my “SQUID?!” comment.

Oh well, she had a point. So home I went, to propose this challenge to Keegan, in hopes that he would have some brilliant, chefy ideas.

Without more than 10 seconds to think, Keegan says, “Let’s make hazelnut-breaded calamari with some sort of orange, sriracha dipping sauce.” God I love him.

And that is exactly what we did.

We began with hazelnuts, pieces of stale sourdough bread, salt, paprika, and flour all blended together in our snazzy, fire engine red Vitamix.

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This quickly turned into this:

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Next, the squid was chopped into calamari-recognizable shapes, tubes and octupus-little things. These piece were placed to soak in buttermilk. Apparently, the acid in the buttermilk helps break down the protein in the meat to make it more tender

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Next, we had to get a pot of oil nice and hot, 360 degrees to be precise.

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The soaked squid went into the breading bowl and I tossed the pieces about until they were sufficiently coated. And into the flaming hot pot of oil they were placed (or more like dropped and ditched). Seriously frightening experience for me who has an extreme fear of spattering oil from some unknown and denied childhood traumatic experience.

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Each piece took about 30 seconds to fully fry, although the pieces that spent a bit more time in the oil were less chewy and more crispy…makes sense.

As for the sauce: orange juice from three California naval oranges, white miso, a bit of cooking wine, lots of sriracha, some salt and sugar, a bit of honey, thickened with some corn starch…and BAM! Orange sriracha dipping sauce. The orange flavor stayed strong and fresh (like only fresh squeezed juice does), and the sriracha added spice as well as it’s own flavor.

(We had more fun plating and taking pictures of the calamari than cooking it, or eating it for me…so bare with the many photos :))

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Red Obsession

I’m obsessed, and completely head over heals in love. With winter comes this stunningly vibrant fruit with seeds of glistening red juice just waiting to burst; on your hands, shirt, in your eyes, nose, anywhere. It would be enough for me if it was just a tasty fruit, and it definitely has that criterion covered. Tart and exciting, but also sweet, leaving you digging for more. But the beauty is what adds this additional layer of love for me. Pure passion red seeds stand out, and the juices that release maintain this purity of color. They are everything I desire in my life…or, to be less dramatic, in a fruit.

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Japantown, 68 degrees and sweet

Can I start by saying I love sushi? I really do. I even go for the raw fish every once in a while, (when I know it’s fresh). But our experience in Japantown wasn’t what I was expecting…I guess expectations bite me in the butt again. I suppose I expected a different experience because in the Mission, there was every type of food presented to us. So, I figured Japantown would be similar in its diversity. But it was pretty traditional in maintaining the purely Japanese cuisine. That is, except for the last place which was Southern Indian and mind-blowingly delicious. We tried many dishes, from chocolate/banana fish pancakes (Taiyaki) to red bean mochi to soba noodle soup, and much more. It wasn’t a bad tour, and only one place was terrible to the point of inducing nausea. But for this post, I will focus on my one favorite stop.

YakiniQ cafe located on Post Street in Japantown looks like a modern chic cafe from the outside. The only real “catchy” thing is the café sign looks like it’s made from bamboo. Oh, and they advertise sweet potato lattes on their chalkboard sign. Wait, what? Sweet potato latte? Apparently, this is a popular drink that was made for the owner when she was a little girl in Korea. The sample we had was just milk, sweet potato puree, and a little sweetener. The manager, Ray, told us you could also order it with espresso which is how I will do it when I go back.

Sweet pot latte

The other impressive thing about this café is the selection of pastries. Everything you could dream of is at this café, and Ray told me they are a mix of house made treats and locally baked goods.  The assortment of macaroons in itself took up an entire shelf in the display case, with obscure flavors like green tea, earl grey tea, passion fruit, rose, champagne, and pistachio. I foolishly didn’t sample any of the treats because I didn’t want to get full too early, but I now wish I had tried one of each. I’ll be back soon.

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I suggest you try this little coffee shop, because it’s so much more than that. Go play a game of chess with their resident wooden game set, or read a book from one of their many bookshelves. It’s a pretty neat little place.

S’mores or Flaming Balls of Terror??

Road trip with the sis. Route: up California coast, all around Oregon, then back. On our way back, before hitting Crater Lake, we spent the night at La Pine Campground off Hwy 97. For the first time in a week, it was below 90 degrees at night and we were finally going to have a campfire, damn it. The marshmallows and graham crackers had seen the world with us, but now it was finally time to devour those puppies.

So there we were, feeling so good about ourselves, roasting marshmallows. I had just told her to not pull out her marshmallow from the fire so fast, acting like the older sister I am not. It wasn’t two minutes after I made this bossy comment when my own precious marshmallow caught fire and in my panicked state, I thrust it fiercely from the fire. Now here I was, not only a complete hypocrite, but also sitting pretty while a flaming marshmallow came hurling at my head.

This ball of fire landed perfectly on the fragile baby hairs located above my ears and as I began screaming, imaging my head going up in flames, my heroic, life-preserving sister swatted the marshmallow out of my head, sacrificing the skin on her own hands to save me. The now extinguished burnt sugar ball flew out of my hair and landed on my sister, converting the panicked me into a laughing uncontrollable maniac. Sticky goo was covering everything and my baby hairs were only holding on by gelatinous sugar glue.

My pants and camp chair were done for; the situation had proved too much for my bladder to withstand. I managed to walk my burnt, sticky self to the showers and wash myself off, taking out chunks of fragile hair with sticks of white marshmallow crisps. I was humbled, almost set on fire, but humbled no less. Life is more important than a perfect marshmallow, and a sister that will risk life and limb for you is one to cherish. Image

Local…Mission…Eat

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Most people know the Mission in San Francisco as a primarily Latino community. So, if told they were going on a culinary excursion in the Mission, they would assume they would be eating Central American food, maybe a little South American cuisine thrown in there as well. And I was just that person. I’ve been to the Mission, but the only time I really explored the area was on a field trip for a Latin Dance class I was taking. So, naturally, we explored the Latino-based restaurants and shops. This culinary tour through the Mission was wonderfully nothing like I thought it would be. An entirely homemade California eatery, a miniature cupcakery featured on Cupcake Wars, a pop-up cafe/restaurant by Food Network renowned Chef Manny, a Jewish Deli, an obscure ice cream shop, a 98% homemade sausage joint, and, well, of course, a taqueria…all this in the Mission? I never would’ve guessed!

I also wouldn’t have guessed that I would fall head over heals in love with the first place we went to.

Titled Local Mission Eatery, or LME for short, this restaurant is truly, in my opinion, doing it right. Before even entering the building, our tour guide Stephanie told us that the place was remolded using original wood from the original building. Oak and redwood were maintained and incorporated into the new edgy design. And edgy it was! The first thing I noticed when walking in was the wall of plants.

Growing in what looked to me like a hanging shoe rack were various green leafy plants. Some had petit little leaves and remained contained in their little plant bjorns while others ran wild and draped like ivy almost to the ground. Image

To the left of the restaurant was above mentioned wood, but utilized in a much more artistic and creative way that I had envisioned. Cut into small squares, the different shades of wood created a symmetrical quilt like look on the wall, and above the quilt were various black and white portrayals of the Mission. And I was barely 4 feet into the restaurant!

ImageAs I walked further back, I noticed a bookshelf covered with understandable items like homemade jams, pickles, hot sauces, butters, and books. Books? In a restaurant? I was surprised. Stephanie explained that they have a book exchange, bring a book, take a book, take a book, read a book, put back a book. Image

A very cool idea for libraries but this was the first I had seen a restaurant adopt this idea. It’s a brilliant idea for a place that wants to be homey, comfortable, and gather regulars…and it’s what they are doing for sure.

Above the bookshelves is a glass window into the walk in refrigerator. Nothing hidden, secret, or mysterious used in this kitchen no way.

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Which brings me to the philosophy behind this place, a philosophy you can kind of sense from the appearances, but even more so upon researching the eatery and reading their blog. Do it!(http://www.localmissioneatery.com/blog). Instead of explaining my interpretation of their intentions with this eatery, here is a quote from their blog. And the name of the game is LOCAL.

“Local is, in every way, a product of its place,local in every sense–local farmers and local tastes, local vendors and local artisans, local community and local people.”

Damn. That is cool.

When we finally got to tasting this local, brilliantly philosophized food, we were presented with grilled cheeses. Grill cheese? you may say withyour nose turned up at the thought of a common child’s sandwich. Grill cheese, I would respond with reverence. Panorama bread (from SF, but Chef Chad assured us they were working onperfecting their own recipe), homemade apple butter, and Wagon Wheel cheese from Cowgirl Creamery in Point Reyes makes for a trio just familiar enough to bring back happy childhood memories but unique enough to feel special, like someone did trial and error to find the most full-flavored creation.Image

So don’t be like I was and think the Mission is solely Latino food, you would be missing out on brilliant places like this one and so many more. Places are doing it right, go find them!