Let’s be honest. The days dedicated to the celebration of food have gotten a BIT out of control. From popcorn to pickles, if there is a food you love more than anything else in the world, I’ll bet there’s a day somewhere on the calendar dedicated to its creation and all its iterations. A day to celebrate it…and perhaps eat it without guilt. If there is one sweet treat that deserves its own day, it is ice cream. In fact, it technically has an entire month. The warm summer month of July is known as National Ice Cream Month; its third Sunday is the day to raise your spoons in honor of its deliciousness.
For so many of us, ice cream holds a special place in our memory banks. I remember sitting as a kid in the old Ice House in Montclair with my cone of blue bubble gum…and a styrofoam cup to collect all the colorful balls. Just two weeks ago I watched my daughter sit in the sun at the Alameda County Fair with a huge swirl-filled waffle cone covered in sticky drips; her face covered in an even bigger sticky grin. I smiled and fought the urge to pull out the napkins until she was done. Fentons Creamery in Oakland is a place where many of us have made such memories. It has been in business for almost 123 years…and seems to me to be the perfect place to add one more memory this Sunday.
Do you ever look at someone else’s life with envy? Do you admire someone, driven by passion, who has taken what they love, followed the calling, and turned it into their profession? As someone who has never had a well-defined career, a title to easily slide after my name, I envy those who not only have that title, but wear it as a badge of honor because they are doing what they truly love. If I was ever to put the title “Farmer” after my name, many in my family would die of laughter. I do not have a green thumb; you could call it black. Things don’t stay alive in the dirt when I touch them. Not only that, I don’t like to garden, plant, pull weeds and so on. Yet when I am on a farm, I SO desperately wish I could be one of those people who loves it. To be a farmer would incorporate so many things that I DO love; early mornings, the outdoors, healthy food fresh from the dirt. If I could only get over the “don’t like to dig in the dirt for hours on end” thing I would be all set. I would be sold. To visit a lovely young couple from Oakland that has done it, turned their passion for fresh produce into a way of life that sustains them with their very own Happy Acre Farm, brought my envy bubbling to the surface.
Juice recently became a metaphor for me. That may sound funny, but a little spot in Old Oakland that popped onto my radar a few months ago ticked off a long list of things that have been top of mind for me these days. Whole and healthy lifestyle. Female empowerment. Immigrant success stories. Small businesses run by women. Opportunity for local youth. All of these things converge with the whirl of a blender behind the greenhouse glass door of Superjuiced. The organic juice and smoothie bar tucked inside the courtyard of the historic Swan’s Marketplace in Old Oakland brings these components together. It is proof that our city, our country, is unique and full of opportunity…with a rainbow of color to boot.
Eat Local. Eat Organic. Eat Sustainable. Eat Clean. Eat Whole. Eat Real. These edible catch phrases have become so commonplace that in many ways it is easy to mock them. When several come together on one package it can make your head spin. Yet as our culture becomes more and more educated on their value, we can set aside the light-hearted teasing and appreciate what it means. If we have reached a time when these terms have become more commonplace in the grocery store aisles, we are headed in the right direction; one towards a healthier lifestyle in favor of good food that is good for you. Oakland is fast becoming a hub of food culture that supports all of these phrases. Food artisans are tucked around every corner, eager to offer up their flavorful combinations. What is special about this movement is how it is being fostered from the ground up on a local level. It takes a lot to reach the point of success where one’s product name sits on a market shelf; if that is even the goal. For many just to make, create, craft and then share something that is both artistic and edible allows passion to thrive and grow. Food Craft Institute, itself a passion project born out of the wildly successful Eat Real Festival here in Oakland, is a unique place where those with the desire to take their artisan skills to the next level can come.
The tropics. White sand meets picturesque blue water. Palm trees heavy with coconuts, fields of sugar cane, sweet tropical fruit. A lack of seasons means flip-flops year round; a golden tan that never truly fades. So many of us daydream of a tropical island as our permanent home. There was a time in my life when I thought I was meant to be an islander; I was twenty. A year spent abroad on the shores of Australia had me convinced it was the way I was meant to live. Twenty years later as I approach forty, with two kids and a mortgage, it’s a daydream I sometimes still revisit; a “what if” that creeps in when days are long. As the depth of summer sends images of tropical locations across my social media feeds, I have been thinking about ways to bring its allure into my own life. What happened is I discovered the ways a couple of iconic Oakland names went after their own tropical dreams; the first of which was a man with a wooden leg who turned his Oakland watering hole into a Polynesian-themed empire.
It’s National Pollinator Week and I just read an amazing fact; one third of all agricultural output in the United States relies on pollinators. Isn’t that unbelievable? Without the help of pollinators worldwide, such as bees, butterflies, and birds, we wouldn’t have coffee. Or chocolate. Or tequila! It’s funny, my husband’s favorite beer is Pliny the Elder, an IPA named after the famous Roman naturalist and produced by Russian River Brewing Company. I therefore find it ironic that as I read about pollination today I came across a quote by Pliny the Elder, “Nature is to be found in her entirety nowhere more than in her smallest creatures.” Its profound and true. Seventy-five percent of all of the plants on Earth rely on pollinators. Yet as industry, population, and pollution increase, their colonies are being threatened and destroyed at a disturbing rate. Its something to think about as you watch a bee buzz from flower to flower. I chose to honor pollinators this week in my own way; a trip to our local urban farming store for a jar of their honey, produced by their own honey bees. A day later I have a pitcher of honey lemonade to enjoy on this perfect summer weekend.
I often forget how close Oakland is to the coast. Not just to any coast, to the amazing Northern California coast; to Highway One, teal colored water, rugged cliffs, and quaint coastal towns. I was determined to partake in berry picking season this year. I lived in Portland, Oregon for several years and used to always head to the farms just outside the city limits to pick red, purple and blue colored berries when the season hit. When I reviewed lists of recommended spots to pick berries in the Greater Bay Area, I knew the coast was going to be preferred over inland spots. What resulted was a family day trip to Pescadero last Saturday. An early departure meant no traffic. Blue skies equaled that teal-colored water. A list of recommended stops yielded delicious indulgence. Eighteen pounds of bright red organic strawberries meant I had work to do when we got home.
The donut. Or is it doughnut? Don’t fret, you can use either. If you want to be proper about it, doughnut was the word first used to describe these delectable fried dough creations. However, since its American variation “donut” has become mainstream since the mid-20th Century, this alternate spelling has made its way into the pages of Merriam-Webster. However you want to spell it, there is no denying its appeal. Most of us have childhood memories of the classics; lined up in a pink box, glazed and sprinkled to perfection. While nationwide chains have garnered the spotlight in years past, my vote will always be for the local shops that turn out small batches, crowded on trays behind glass for me to choose from. The question really becomes, do I chose an old-school classic in all its cake or raised glory or a new-school version in Cron’t or Naughty Cream-Filled form? You can’t really go wrong either way. The only thing that’s wrong is to let guilt get in your way. It has no place here.