Who was Howard Gilkey? He was a little boy from Iowa who loved to collect seeds and bulbs. He was a California teenager who worked for a famous botanist, cross pollinating plants as a “bumble bee”. He was a U.C. Berkeley student who sold gladiolus bulbs to pay his tuition. He was a City of Oakland payroll clerk who designed Lakeside Drive in his spare time. He was a landscape architect who designed the Cleveland Cascade in 1923. He conceptualized the grounds of Highland Hospital. He consulted on the landscape and gardens of Mills College. He designed projects such as the Woodminster Cascade and Amphitheater, the original Lake Merritt Wild Duck Refuge, and the Arboretum at Knowland Park. He produced the annual themed California Spring Garden Show for 23 years. Are you surprised you haven’t heard of him? I know I was.
I consider myself a creative person; yet I can’t draw, paint, or sculpt. My children will ask me to draw a lion or a firetruck, and I actually feel embarrassed as their wide eyes watch my poor attempt in action. On the other hand, my husband can sketch any number of things in a matter of minutes and their eyes light up. I suppose I will stick to reading books and the occasional Lego build. I think my creative side is a bit more subtle. I’ve been told I have a decent eye with a camera. I can come up with clever ideas for a party; invitation, decoration, theme and the like. I think my brain tracks somewhere in the zone between left and right; at least an online quiz told me that once. Places like Flax Art & Design inspire the right side. I know better than to load my basket with brushes and paints, but I can still enjoy what I might be able to DIY out of a beautiful paper or ribbon.
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.
When I stumbled on information about the Schilling Gardens late one evening, a double dose of irony was at play. I had just finished reading a book I thoroughly enjoyed called The Forgotten Garden, the story of an abandoned girl at the turn of the 20th century and her connection to a secret garden inside a maze on the other side of the world. I had also just arranged my visit to Oaktown Spice Shop; since I am curious about connections to Oakland history, I spent a bit of time looking into Oakland’s involvement in spice trading, which didn’t turn up much. The name Schilling rung a bell; images of old red and white spice tins popped into my head. As I opened more windows on my screen and read article after article about this hidden treasure on the western shores of Lake Merritt known as the “Gold Coast”, I discovered that this once treasured oasis of a local spice tycoon is a shadow of its former self. Furthermore, its remnants may completely disappear as development encroaches on the lakeside community. I knew it was a story I had to share.
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.
It seems I am taking a bit of an unplanned hiatus this week. Its hard for me; my schedule didn’t allow for me to get posts lined up in time and my kids chose to be homebodies earlier in the week, despite my attempts at coaxing them out on Oakland adventures that I could share here with you. So I am going to take a bit of time to read a book, enjoy the gorgeous weather, and welcome the impromptu break.
I do have a couple of articles that have gone online this week that I invite you to read, and share if you are so inclined. I have lots planned for the coming few weeks with trips to Oaktown Spice Shop, Schilling Gardens, Flax Art & Design, and much more. Stay Tuned!
In the meantime….
I will see you next week!
Photo Credit: Adrienne Schell
As Monday got underway in our household, my son asked if we could go to Fairyland. While I know how blessed I am to be home with both my children on Monday and Tuesday, it is critical to all of our sanity to keep them moving and out of the house. Unfortunately, until summer officially hits and the school year fades into memory, Fairyland is closed on these two days. So as my brain churned away on how to spend the morning, I thought, “maybe we can SEE Fairyland from the Kaiser rooftop garden.” The garden has been on my radar for quite some time. The overcast morning would be perfect for snapping pictures. I had to pick sometime up downtown. So, why not go look? The answer to my question turned out to be no, you can only see the Fairyland sign. Yet we had fun exploring, snacking, and watching the family of ducks come and go. Once the largest rooftop garden in the world, this oasis amidst concrete gave us a fun family park trip to kick off the week.