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.
I have been thinking about my elementary school days lately. In a matter of months my son will cross the threshold into his Kindergarten classroom; I will likely be wiping tears away as I wave goodbye. It’s a big transition time for families; a time of growth, change, and celebration as a new normal settles in. While we still have summertime on the horizon and there is fun to be had, it’s hard not to think about what’s ahead. It makes me think about my own childhood days in the classroom. While time behind a desk was punctured with the fun-filled chaos of recess, it was field trip days that were always a highlight of the school year. During my recent wandering through Oakland’s Chinatown I stood in front of The Fortune Cookie Factory and thought about a field trip of my own a long time ago to watch fortune cookies being made; and of course being sampled by my eager little hands. I figured it would be fun for my equally eager grown-up hands to get inside and relive a childhood memory that was sure to end with the fun crack of a fortune cookie being opened.
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.
What do giraffes have in common with Mexico? It sounds like a trick question, or a goofy one-liner. If you ask Google, you are pointed to a rather interesting spiritual society called “Free Giraffes in Mexico”, a recipe for “giraffes huevos rancheros”, and an unfortunate story of a giraffe dodging traffic on a Mexican road while trying to make a run for it from a local circus. So the better question to ask: what do giraffes have in common with Mexico IN OAKLAND? The answer is a section of town with two busy thoroughfares that run in one-way directions under Hwy 580. Oakland Avenue and Harrison Boulevard transect a portion of the lower hills; parallel roads that connect the northern tip of Lake Merritt with the highway, MacArthur Boulevard, and the Oakland Hills. Therefore, people often move fast; too fast. The statuesque giraffes have been a part of this confluence of intersections for 32 years. Aztecali, a casual neighborhood eatery with home-style Mexican fare, has just joined the area this year. Both give cause to slow down and appreciate craft in two different forms; it makes giraffes and Mexico synonymous in my book.
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.
Hello Summer! Warm Days. Long Nights. The smell of the BBQ. Eating outside. Fingers sticky with watermelon; or an ice cream cone. There are so many things about the hottest of seasons that make memories so fond. Just last night my daughter and I enjoyed the longest day of the year taking a walk in flip-flops, picking blackberries, returning home to enjoy ice cream and slices of stone fruit pie on the back porch. As you look forward to these next couple of months, before Labor Day unofficially draws this time of year to a close, consider any one of the below as a great way to enjoy summertime right here in The Town. I know I will be crossing many of them off my own list, and hope to create lots more memories for the bank.