When I was a little girl, I begged my mom to take me to the restaurant in the bright pink house covered with whimsical hearts and smiling gingerbread men. Little did I know that menu items such as squab cassoulet, jambalaya, and sautéed quail were what awaited me at T.J.’s Gingerbread House. I made do with endless refills of lemonade; simply happy to be inside the pink oasis, self-described as “a fairytale come true”. While the pink exterior is long gone, this well known corner on the edge of West Oakland is bringing the fairytale back in the sweet form of cupcakes, Angel Cakes to be exact.
I tend to romanticize the past. When life feels particularly hard, I daydream of a time when existence seemed simpler. I think of picnics on rolling green hillsides, a rocking chair on a porch, reading a book by a fire. I imagine children playing freely on a span of lawn, dinner from the garden in the evening, a carriage ride to the general store. I suppose I live in denial that I could be without internet, iPhones, and Instagram. Last Friday was one of those days when the end of a hard week was a welcome sight, and the urge to spend a few hours alone on the couch came beckoning. Instead I grabbed a cup of coffee and chose to spend some “me time” at a place I had read about yet never visited. I suppose it could have been my mindset, but as I wandered the Dunsmuir Hellman Historic Estate, I couldn’t help but think how things seem to have been so much easier 100 years ago. I think I forgot that being a member of high society doesn’t hurt.
I’m a beer girl. I always have been. Not to say I don’t appreciate a nice glass of wine, or a well mixed cocktail; but when it comes down to it, a pilsner in a cold glass is always going to be my go-to drink. At the start of the year I attended an Oakland Urban Path walk through the area of town once known as Brooklyn. I learned that Oakland has a history full of lagers and porters. From Oakland Brewery to the longstanding Golden West, our town was overflowing with producers of “steam beer.” Sadly, this part of our history fizzled out completely in the 1960’s as doors were closed and buildings were demolished. 50+ years later it is coming back. Linden Street Brewery carved the way, with respect for the working man roots of our past. Paying homage to old favorites, and reviving Oakland’s brew laden past, with a modern twist.
It’s a little white lie to call this Irish soda bread. Any true Irishman or Irishwoman will tell you that a traditional Irish soda bread is strictly flour, buttermilk, baking soda, and salt. There is even a whole website dedicated to the preservation of traditional recipes. In Ireland, you will often see it simply referred to as “brown bread”. As the rest of the world strives to honor the Irish on the day chosen to celebrate St. Patrick, many of us have taken the traditional and gussied it up. We owe Ireland an apology. I tried to stick to the classic version, I really did. However, my tendency to complicate things took over; my desire to do justice to the lovely sample of local flour I had been given by Community Grains got the better of me. So here sits a whole wheat Irish soda bread done my way; with a touch of honey, a shaving of butter, currants soaked in Irish whiskey, and chewy apricots scattered throughout. To the Irish, I say I am sorry.
Wheat. The idea of enjoying this foundational whole grain in as “whole” of a way as possible has appealed to me recently. So much attention is given to its fancier counterparts these days; farro, quinoa, barley, amaranth. While all these wonderful grains deserve a place in our diet, I have been interested in the classic version. When I think of wheat my mind conjures up ideas of midwestern fields, wispy wheat grass blowing in the wind, farmhouses, tall silos and mill stones. Flour dusted aprons, the smell of freshly baked bread, rounds and rectangles lined up on a bakery shelf. I love to bake, and I love to try to find new ways in incorporate whole eating into my family’s diet where I can.
My hike through Oakland’s Dimond Canyon last week put me in a melancholy mood. It was unexpected. Walking the amazing trails of our urban wildlands is one of the things I love and appreciate about Oakland; it’s how I decompress and unwind. Getting over to Dimond Canyon had been on my local bucket list for quite some time; I have not walked the trail along Sausal Creek for as long as I can remember. It had been on my mind since I had heard of a local documentary being screened around town, Trailhead. After a couple of recent trips into the Oakmore neighborhood, crossing over the canyon on the historical Leimert Bridge, I was inspired to move it to the top of my list. It coincided perfectly with a screening of Trailhead I was able to attend last Thursday. So Friday morning, I was able to spend some time exploring the area, and my concern with how it’s being treated arose.
I love pizza, I always have and I always will. I also believe that pizza can be part of a healthy and whole food lifestyle, I have proven that over the past year. My memory is filled with pizza related anecdotes. I used to wait tables at an iconic pizza shop off the Syracuse University campus where the owner slung doughs in the window for 40 years. I have eaten classic versions on the piazzas of Italy. I’ve grinned watching my son eat half a margherita at Boot & Shoe Service. I’ve had my eyes opened wide by squid, cherry tomatoes, and aioli on a version at Pizzaiolo. I have sipped a beer while eating kale & pancetta with my kids at Jules Thin Crust, pointing out the animals in the pictures draped across the walls. All these memories connect pizza to my heart and put a smile on my face. When I heard about a group of local Oakland guys bringing half-baked artisan pizzas to the doorsteps of our neighborhoods, I knew I had to give Pizza Matador a try.