Category Archives: Shopping

Springtime’s bounty

baby potatoes from the garden!

Ohhhh! After a long winter (and this year, despite my love for this year’s prolonged cold weather, even I must confess it was a looong winter), Spring fruits and vegetables are a welcome sight! I can’t wait until tomatoes come into season–but for now, I’m very happy with what’s coming out of the ground these days.

My garden, much more sparse than last year (because of my hunt for the gopher), is still bringing me great culinary delights.

I mean, check out the potatoes in the garden–in my overzealous search for gopher tunnels, I decided to uproot a potato plant. Surprise, surprise! Baby potatoes! Of course I snatched all the baby potatoes right away.

potato plant with potatoes

I had no idea that the potatoes were anywhere near ready for harvesting. These potato plants are just the best find ever, first having sprouted from potatoes I’d thrown into the compost pile and now blessing me with unexpectedly early baby potatoes.

The potatoes, by the way, were so delicious. I’ve never had potatoes fresh out of the ground before and I am going to plant some more. If there was ever an excuse to gorge oneself on carbs, this is it–a fresh potato straight out of the soil is a piece of heaven, I think.

In the springtime, we eat a good number of baby veg, little miniature delights, straight from the soil. Not just potatoes. It’s our impatience, and my curiosity–what *is* lurking beneath the soil? I have to know. So I’ll pull out a baby carrot, or in this case, a baby cherry belle radish.

Cherry Belle radish

I paused to take a photo, but then hurried back into the house where I rinsed the red globe, and took it out to show my husband who was washing cars on a sunny Saturday afternoon. “Mrmmm! Bring it over!” He ate it right up. He loves radishes, and he’s the reason I planted a few this year.

“How was it?” I asked.

“Yummy!”

And what my garden does not produce, I seek out at the store. This morning, finding myself in a remarkably calm and optimistic mood (maybe it was finding the radish in the garden), I chanced the crowds at Berkeley Bowl, a market I normally avoid on weekends. It’s CRAZY on weekends there. If you can find a parking spot, you still brave the crowds inside. I mean, there’s a reason for those crowds (the diverse and high quality produce, nevermind the meat and seafood counter and wide variety of baked goods) but it’s still maddening to shop there.

fresh cherry belle radishes from the garden

Still, I decided to head on over. I had a hankering for some fresh produce. I hadn’t been to the Bowl in months, and I was getting sick of the apples and oranges and other usual suspects at Andronico’s and Whole Foods. The Bowl didn’t let me down.

It was there, while browsing the aisles, having parked my shopping cart at the end that I realized how happy and content I was feeling. (you’re crazy if you want to actually stick with your cart the entire shopping time there–you’re better off parking the cart occasionally and then roving the aisles, especially in the produce section). How long had it been since I’d gone grocery shopping by myself, as an act of luxury?

It had been MONTHS. I found myself beginning to imagine the foods and dishes I would make out of the ingredients before me, I found myself delighted at finding Haydn mangoes (not just Tommy Atkins), at the amazingly red and plump flats of strawberries!

And…I discovered ramps. Ramps! The Bowl had ramps! I’ve been reading a lot about ramps these days, and was dying to try them. But they’re not too easy to find in the Bay Area–they’re wild leeks local to the Appalachians.

ramps!

I quickly grabbed them. I found my hand sullied with dirt, they were so fresh. The Appalachia (or what other far away place these ramps came from) was on my hands, and though I would normally wipe the dirt quickly away, I let it linger as I shopped.

When I got home, I used the ingredients to make a spring pasta–not a primavera, but my own “hacked together” (as they say in high tech) version: ramps, morel mushrooms, peas, and asparagus.

ingredients for Spring pasta

Aren’t they beautiful? I also saw fiddlehead ferns at the Bowl–I regretted not grabbing some of those to make a perfect Spring vegetable bouquet.

Just chopping them up and sauteeing them together made me feel more alive, healthier. It has been a long winter, and I’ve missed my vegetables.

Spring pasta with ramps, asparagus. morels, and peas

Blue Bottle Coffee

Blue Bottle Coffee

I am a coffee lover who does not drink coffee.

At one point in my life, I drank over six cups of coffee a day (plus espresso!), with a particular penchant for Peet’s Major Dickason’s blend coffee. After Peet’s, I fell in love with Royal Coffee in the Oakland Rockridge neighborhood (it now has the unfortunate name of “Cole Coffee”–say it real fast, sounds like COLD coffee, doesn’t it?).

But after I quit drinking caffeine a few years ago, I couldn’t find a decent decaf coffee ANYWHERE. And I’m stuck with decaf, because caffeinated, regular coffee has the kind of effect on me now that I’ve always envisioned CRACK would have–bouncing off the walls, nonstop talking, speeding thoughts, insomnia.

Every now and then, I indulge in decaf coffee from Cole Coffee, but it’s just not anywhere near the same–the taste is lacking. I miss the coffee ritual, I miss the roasted smoky taste. I miss the hint of the sugar, the cream swirling in the black coffee, turning it into a mocha brown. Mrmmm. I miss coffee.

Last week, however, I visited a friend of mine, who offered me some decaf coffee. I said yes out of courtesy. She poured me a cup. The coffee was secondary, I thought. We started chatting, immersing ourselves in a deep conversation about philosophy, writing, reading, sickness and recovery. I sipped the coffee.

And stopped the conversation. “R–,” I asked, “What is this coffee?” It was the BEST coffee (decaf, or caffeinated) bar none, I had EVER tasted. It was AMAZING.

Blue Bottle!” she answered.

Ah, I replied. The mythical Blue Bottle Coffee. I had heard about it, smelt it in the Ferry Building once. I had no idea they made a decaf coffee so marvelous.

My friend remarked on how wonderful it was–and how, most importantly, she could buy it online. At which point, I hurriedly scribbled that fact into my notebook, went home, and bought some straight away. The day it arrived, on my doorstep, I was greeted with the heady roasted scent of coffee–freshly roasted. I carried the box into the kitchen, trailing a wonderful odor that I felt was so rich and heavy that I believed the molecules were dropping to the floor.

Blue Bottle Coffee ship orders out by the pound, once a week, from Oakland (so if you’re in the Bay Area, you’ll get the coffee the next day)…in whole bean form only (but if you’re a coffee snob, you won’t be surprised by that requirement).

Their other coffees, I can only imagine, must be even more amazing. But I? I’m giddy with my decaf noir from Blue Bottle.

Safeway vs. The Farmers’ Market

Sam over at Becks & Posh has conducted an inquiry: How does shopping at the Farmers’ Market compare with Safeway, in terms of financial cost?

The results are surprising and dramatic.

UK Montage

British cookbooks!

A few years ago, I went to England and practically starved (if not for afternoon tea and the fish and chips in between, I would literally have starved)–the good news was that I lost seven pounds during my four day stay. I came home and told my husband that “England is a miserable place!”

He didn’t believe me, being an Anglophile himself. “I’ll take you and you’ll love it.”

He was right. It is now one of my favorite places in the world, London one of my favorite cities that I have visited multiple times now. I love England–and not just for its culture and architecture and beautiful parks and its sights, either. I love England for its (get ready now) food. I think I now gain a few pounds when I visit London.

I thought I’d list a few of the food highlights of my visit…

cheese and onion pasty

Pasties! This delicious pastry/lunch-you-can-hold-in-your hand was a new discovery for me–found on a frantic search for lunch near the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Center across the way from Westminster Abbey (talk about the incredible juxtaposition between a high tech conference and staring out the windows to an old historic church across the circle).

I loved them so much, we had pasties two days in a row for lunch–the first day, I fetched cheese and onion pasties at Stiles at Sutton Ground Market. The second day, I did a taste test, with Cornish pasties from Stiles, and cheese and onion pasties from West Cornwall Pasty Company further down the street. (Stiles won).

Now I am addicted to the suckers, and am secretly glad that no one makes pasties in the Bay Area. I did look up a few recipes and was horrified at the lard content–now I’m more than secretly glad that they aren’t as easily obtainable around here.

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this week’s notable eats in vignettes

notable eats, originally uploaded by c(h)ristine.

I thought I’d share the rest of my notable eats this week.  Plenty of my meals and food experiences make it onto the blog as features.  But there are plenty of meals that slip through the cracks–hence, this post that aggregates the “honorable mentions.”

Images 1-9, starting from top row, and going from left to right…

1. Jia jiang myun, a Korean-Chinese noodle dish with black bean sauce, was my favorite dish while growing up. When we got assigned to write about “our favorite food” in elementary school, everyone chose pizza and spaghetti and hamburgers except for me. I chose jia jiang myun. It’s as the East Bay Express calls it: the spaghetti and meatballs of Korea. You can get some at Yetnal Jia Jang, Korean Noodle House in Oakland’s Temescal district. Located on Telegraph Avenue at 44th St., the restaurant is run like a true bare bones neighborhood joint that reminds me of pho restaurants: fast turnover on the tables, lots of noise, super casual and jovial atmosphere. Plus one waitress serving every customer, if that gives you any idea of the vibe! There are several dishes there–the hubby and I had the fried mandoo, jjam bbong (a spicy seafood noodle dish) and the jia jiang myun. They do jia jiang myun best.

2-5. Salt House is a new restaurant created by the folks over at the super popular Town Hall. The San Francisco Chronicle reported on its highly anticipated opening just a couple months ago. Funny thing–we couldn’t get into Town Hall so we ended up at Salt House (we didn’t know the two were related when we made this split decision).

I’m not too fond of salt–so I was curious, in an on-guard sort of way. The place reminds me of SOHO in Manhattan: brick facade, industrial interior (the place used to hold a printing press), trendy decor. The sign for the restaurant is inches off the ground by the front door. The floral decor is a huge bouquet of cotton buds. There’s a gigantic chalkboard with the seafood menu. Despite my affinity for more plush and traditional decor, I liked the look.

But what about the food? It was good. I decided to embrace Autumn and ordered everything duck. The foie gras torchon was paired with clementine–very refreshing. Though the torchon itself was good but not remarkable, I’ll remember the clementine pairing for a long time to come. I liked their duck confit. Others at the table ordered a beet salad as appetizer, and they raved about it. I took a taste, and was a little turned off by beets slathered in a cream/mayonaise-y sauce. I like beets. I don’t like them with mayonaise. I had the upside down pineapple cake for dessert. I likee.

The hitch at Salt House is the service, and from all the other reviews I’ve since read, I’m not alone in this observation. It’s too early on in the restaurant’s life to slam them too much for it (there has to be an adjustment period), but they’ve got some ways to go. The biggest bumble: our entrees were late coming out. We wouldn’t have noticed (so immersed were we in our conversation), but the floor manager came out to interrupt our discussion to tell us, “I’m sorry your entrees are taking so long. They’ll be out shortly.” Oh. It was nice of her, but we wouldn’t have noticed otherwise. And then we REALLY noticed that our entrees were late.

The other notable bumble is the fact that when it came time to ask for the check, we couldn’t find our server. In fact, we couldn’t find ANY servers. After craning our necks a bit, we noticed the servers were all crowded in a doorway by the kitchen, holding wine glasses. We guessed that someone had sent a bottle of wine to the kitchen and they were sampling the goods. I’m all for that, but did they ALL have to go at once?

But the service, when it was on spot, was friendly and I could see the potential of what might be someday.

6. Sciroppo di Rose: Rose Syrup. Impulse buy of the week (you know about my other impulse buys). I was standing at AG Ferrari’s checkout counter when I noticed this slim, beautiful bottle.

rose syrup!

I am a HUGE fan of rose flavored anything. The other week, my hubby went to organize our pantry and walked out, with a bemused grin, holding 4 bottles of rose water in his arms. “Why do you keep buying rose water?” I guess I’m of the camp that thinks you can never have enough rose water…

So of course I picked the bottle up. The syrup inside shone in the afternoon sunlight, reflecting a color that reminded me of the red flaming autumn leaves outside. The liquid traveled in the languid manner of maple syrup as I read the ingredients, which included cane sugar, lemon sugar, and rose petal extract. I *had* to have this.

Later that day, I mixed a beverage of club soda, lemonade, and this very rose syrup. It was a delicious and unique combination. I’m now thinking of potential cocktails.

7-9. Homemade sashimi and sushi dinner. Sometimes, you just wanna eat freshly prepared sashimi while sitting in your pajamas on the couch. Really. I went to one of my favorite places for fish in Berkeley, the Tokyo Fish Market (located at 1220 San Pablo Ave., between Marin Ave. and Gilman Ave.) and picked up some sashimi grade toro, maguro, and hamachi. While there, I noticed the fresh wasabi root next to the tobiko.

Seeing the fresh wasabi root was like noticing a unicorn. Well, not really THAT awe inspiring–more like noticing a hawk circling in the sky. I had never seen rare fresh wasabi before and my impulses kicked in again; I bought half a root, and then walked over across the parking lot to the Tokyo Fish Market Gift Shop for a wasabi grater (I bought the boxed wasabi grater you see here):

fresh wasabi root!

I couldn’t wait to grate the wasabi and taste it. This is remarkable because I normally HATE wasabi. I normally eat sushi and sashimi plain, without any soy sauce or wasabi. The fresh wasabi was nothing like the green paste I abhor: it was slightly sweet as well as hot–the taste more complex and delicate. For instance, the sweetness of it reminded me of radish. Of course, since this was grated and not from powder, there was also a slight texture to the fresh wasabi paste, too.

This wasabi made dinner so special. I made some carrot sushi rice, a recipe I obtained from a friend of mine, and used it to stuff inari. The most decadent part of all of this was sitting on our couch, in our pajamas and bare feet, chowing down on all this good stuff.

What were YOUR notable eats this week?

rose's carrot sushi rice!

Check out counter: miscellaneous impulse buys

an alternative to M&Ms: chocolate covered sunflower seeds, originally uploaded by c(h)ristine.

 

I have had my fair share of impulse purchases, especially when it comes to food items. (“What…is THAT?!”–and off it goes into my cart). This has led to some wonderful discoveries: harissa, many different chocolates and cheeses, and orange blossom water come to mind. I’m sure there are more but they have become so much a part of my pantry that I’ve forgotten when they were incorporated into my staples.

One item I discovered this week was chocolate candy covered sunflower seeds at Trader Joe’s:

chocolate covered sunflower seeds

These candies are a combination of the familiar and the new. Kind of like M&Ms except that instead of peanuts, you are eating sunflower seeds! The taste of sunflower seeds are so distinct and different from peanuts but very yummy. And the small size of these candies are so charming! You’re eating them by the handful instead of one by one.

Hrm. I just got an idea: maybe they would go well in cookies? I’ll have to try that out.

But then there are the impulse buys that I would rather forget. Like this package of dried dragon fruit:

dried dragon fruit

Not yummy. Tastes like paper with only the faintest hint of how delicious this fruit really is when uh…fully hydrated. As Melanie, one of our fellow food bloggers on Muffin Top remarked after peering at it (and witnessing my grimacing face), “Some things aren’t meant to be dried.” You said it, sister!

dragonfruit cross section

See how much more appealing this fruit is when fresh? It tastes like kiwi and the seeds provide an intriguing texture (like kiwi). Seeing as how rare dragon fruit is in the United States, I was hoping to capture some of that yumminess in dried fruit form. No dice.

Then…there is just the really perplexing:

why does japanese curry have cheese and peanut butter in it?

I bought this package of “House Vermont Curry,” a variation on Japanese curry because its tagline is “with a touch of apple and honey.” Hey, I am known to put a handful of sugar into stews and curries, so the apple and honey did not seem odd to me at all; in fact, it was attractive to me. And the did not taste odd either. It was just fine.

But then I looked at the ingredients list while waiting for the curry to simmer. Turmeric, oil, sugar, salt…fruit paste (okay, yah apple and honey)…CHEESE (?!)….PEANUT BUTTER (?!!?)

Um. Why does Japanese curry have cheese and peanut butter in it?

Hello Kitty Pop-Tarts


hello kitty meow-berry poptart
Originally uploaded by c(h)ristine.

I saw this at a grocery store while away at a writing retreat. What on earth…? I snapped a picture–and then my friends urged me to BUY some. “How could you not fancy a taste?” they asked. So I bought a box.

What do Hello Kitty Pop-Tarts made of “meow-berries” taste like? I took a bite. The answer: they taste like SUGAR. (I guess that’s what meow-berries are, sugar).

And now I am reading Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and I am more scared than ever of anything that has to do with sugar and corn (especially high fructose corn syrup). I keep thinking that one bite of pop-tart will be the DEATH of me!