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.
My son’s favorite book these days is Dragons Love Tacos. It has resulted in this often persnickety eater enjoying a soft taco on occasion. Much like the dragons in the book, our household is not one for spicy salsa. We don’t end up breathing fire, our taste buds just prefer the milder side. Ground turkey with pineapple salsa, grilled shrimp with marinated onions and tomato, and black beans with corn, feta, and cilantro are just a few of our favorite combinations. As we head towards Cinco De Mayo and celebrate Mexican culture through the country’s surprising victory over the French, tacos are likely at the forefront of many of our minds. Oakland is full of spots to enjoy tacos in authentic form. From carnitas to lengua, fish to carne asada; a warm blanket of corn tortilla and a shower of lime juice is the combination that makes them all devour-worthy. You can’t go wrong at any of the below spots. The hardest decision you face is whether to pair your selection with an ice cold Mexican Coke or a frosty Pacifico.
A historic Oakland establishment is closing on April 30th. Genova Delicatessen has been in business in the Temescal District of Oakland since 1926. A loved spot by many, patrons have lined up amongst the aisles for decades, watching the numbers tick by until they could put in an order for their favorite Italian deli sandwich. Genova has been a testament to how a business can thrive for close to 100 years; good service, good food, and a dedication to old world Italian roots. I decided to make a final trip on Monday, to brave the wait with two small children, to order a #9, and to say thank you. It was perfectly apropos that as I tried to explain to my four year old that the deli was closing and that we needed to wait our turn, he said, “but when they close the doors, who is going to open them again?”
I love bread. I love cookies. I love to bake. I admire anyone who has taken these same loves and kneaded them into a career that combines their own passion for flour and sugar with a business that brings fulfillment to not only themselves, but to the community around them. Matt Kreutz and Colleen Orlando have created this version of the American dream with Firebrand Artisan Breads. A wholesale brick oven bread bakery that has grown at an alarming rate in seven years, now encompassing a retail location in The Hive Complex on Broadway’s Auto Row in the Uptown neighborhood of Oakland.
Juhu Beach Club has been on my radar for quite some time. The name kept popping up on the Oakland restaurant lists that I love to peruse, and I became curious. When I heard the phrase “Indian street food” I shied away, unsure of what that meant and pretty sure my aversion to things hot and spicy would result in a dining out disappointment. Yet it kept calling out to me; rav reviews and a visit from Anthony Bourdain had me wondering if my wimpy taste buds might actually be in for a treat. I moved it to the top of my list. When I heard that this neighborhood spot has carved out a special niche for kids, I was sold.
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.
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.