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.
To experience pleasure through our senses is critical to health and well being. I know that I often take my five senses for granted. I try to focus on small pleasures in the form of sight, sound, taste, touch and smell; it is an exercise in slowing down. I move so fast on a daily basis, to take just 5 minutes can rejuvenate and reenergize me. Since I have been trying to focus on slowing down recently, lavender has been on my mind. It has always been one of my favorite scents; its ability to help with relaxation and sleep is why I use drops of its essential oil at bedtime. A recent trip to The Gardens At Lake Merritt with the kids was an opportunity to visit the lavender varieties in the sensory garden, and to allow all my senses the opportunity to find pleasure. While lavender’s scent induces calm and its little purple flowers add pops of color in perennial form, its flavor is a quality I hadn’t considered. Honey, tea and herbes de Provence are ways in which lavender can make its way to our palete, but I was curious about how to use it in baking. During my recent visit to Oaktown Spice Shop I saw bags of the little dried flowers and decided to try my hand at baked donuts.
As someone who loves food, loves Oakland, and loves inspiring local retail, I am ashamed to admit that I had not stepped foot into Oaktown Spice Shop before last week. As I have visited local restaurants and bakers over the past months, the shop’s name has been mentioned time and time again as the go-to spot for spices to bring amazing flavor to our town’s taste buds. Perhaps the idea of a shop dedicated to spices intimidated me. While I know it’s an artful combination of spices and herbs that make me pause during a meal to wonder how a flavor is achieved, I am still daunted by experimentation in my own kitchen, and cautious of the expense that a well stocked spice rack can bring. My visit to Oaktown Spice Shop has changed that. With surprisingly reasonable prices, a staff ready to help and guide your choices, and a website loaded with recipe ideas, Oaktown Spice Shop is a local gem that will be added to my shopping list.