Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Eating well at the Eat Real Festival

We celebrated the waning days of August by indulging in some good, fresh, delicious street food Sunday at the second annual Eat Real Festival at Jack London Square in Oakland.  It was a foodie's paradise and, for us, just another reason we love life in the Bay Area.

A delicious spin on
 macaroni and cheese
Eat Real is a social venture designed to inspire us to eat tasty and healthy food.  By wetting the appetite of thousands of foodies with small, affordable (everything was priced from $3 to $5) portions in a wonderful urban outdoor setting, filled with ample sunshine and a summer breeze, nobody went home hungry.

My wife and I certainly didn't.

The Eat Real Festival provided everyone who attended with an opportunity to support a lot of inspired culinary artisans. It was also a chance to learn about the craft of making food, and to sample a lot of tasty, fresh, handmade food ~ everything from fish tacos and paella to pork belly buns and gumbo.  Even vegan ice cream.

Food options at the East Real Festival were plentiful ~ there were nearly 100 different food vendors spread across the festival site ~ and in searching for something as common as a taco, one could choose many different variations, from Hawaiian to Indian to Korean.

BBQ pulled pork slider
and grilled sweet corn
from Jim 'N Nicks
During our two hours at the Eat Real Festival, we shared portions of falafel (Liba), BBQ pulled pork sliders and grilled sweet corn (Jim 'N Nicks), a chicken tikka masala burrito (Curry Up Now), macaroni and cheese (Homeroom) and cupcakes (Kara's Cupcakes). We also tasted wine from a local Oakland vintner (JC Cellars).  There were hydration stations that offered free cups of water.  Between us, we spent about $30.  Believe me, it was money well spent.

Kara's Cupcakes:
Fresh-baked, sustainable, yummy
While the Eat Real Festival is all about celebrating eating well, it's also about learning how to make some of the food that was showcased as well as growing it.  Throughout the three-day festival, there were demonstrations designed to highlight a "do-it-yourself lifestyle" as touted by the Eat Real website.

"Trailer Mac"
from Homeroom
For me, the highlight of attending the Eat Real Festival was the opportunity to savor a bit of good, classic comfort food from Homeroom, a new macaroni and cheese food venture that hopes to open a restaurant later this year in Oakland's Temescal neighborhood, serving ~ what else? ~ mac and cheese.  At Eat Real, the Homeroom crew served up a delicious helping of "Trailer Mac" consisting of two-year aged Spring Hill cheddar, sliced Prather Ranch hot dog, topped with crushed potato chips.

Like the rest of Eat Real, the mac and cheese at Homeroom was pretty awesome.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The ultimate gourmet food cart on wheels

Jon's Street Eats is part of a thriving crusade of street food proprietors in Emeryville and around the Bay Area that are in tune with our food-obsessed culture.  What makes Jon's Street Eats unique, though, is this: it doesn't operate from a bricks-and-mortar location, although in the future, it would like to. Instead, it's a traveling kitchen ~ the ultimate gourmet food cart on wheels.  And every week, the menu features something new and different.

Jon's Street Eats:
the ultimate gourmet food cart
Jon's Street Eats was started a year ago by culinary enthusiast and Oakland resident Jon Kosorek, a trained chef, with a goal of bringing quality, "real" food to the public at an affordable price.  According to Jon's website, the menu changes with the seasons and also is based on what's available. Plus, it's heavily influenced by the Bay Area weather which, for much of the year, is very mild and moderate.

This summer, Jon's Street Eats can be found most weekday afternoons from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. (or when the food runs out) in an office park at the busy corner of Hollis St. and Stanford Ave. in Emeryville.  (It also has a regular street date for lunch on Fridays in Alameda and for dinner on Saturday evenings in Oakland on trendy Piedmont Ave.).  It even provides a few tables and chairs and umbrella stands for patrons who wish to enjoy their dining experience al fresco.

A recent menu at
Jon's Street Eats
Except for bread, all of the menu items found at Jon's Street Eats are made from scratch and the menu, which can be found via Twitter feeds (twitter.com/jonsstreeteats), changes weekly.  One week, the main course may be BLTs using bacon Kosorek has cured himself.  Another week, it's grilled steak and corn salad or, perhaps, Ahi rolls and grilled peach salad.  Kosorek takes a creative approach in his presentation, turning a dish like macaroni and cheese into mac and cheese cakes ~ balls of macaroni and cheese, breaded with panko, then grilled and topped with a gremolata.

Additionally, sourcing from local, natural and sustaining producers is a serious deal with Jon's Street Eats, and much of the packaging and utensils used is compostable, which is appealing to the socially responsible and eco-conscious clientele that Jon's Street Eats attracts.

On a recent Thursday, my wife and I treated ourselves to a Jon's Street Eats lunch ~ and, simply, it was good, fresh and delicious.  We even got lucky by scoring a covered table in the shade that enhanced our experience.

The menu, posted on Jon's Street Eats Twitter feed and on a grease board propped against the portable kitchen truck, on the day we went included:

* Cuban sandwiches, consisting of house-cured ham and pickles, with mojo marinated pork, Swiss cheese and Dijon mustard, pressed in a sweet roll ($8.00).

* Grilled cheese sandwiches, consisting of house-pulled mozzarella with a tomato jam and basil, pressed between two slices of pan de mei; served with an herbed side salad ($7.00).

* Grilled corn, slathered in a lime aioli and dusted in chili flakes and shaved grana ($3.00).

* Melon salad, consisting of canari and honeydew melon tossed with olive oil, chili flakes, cotija and arugula ($4.00).

* Dulce de leche ice cream ($3.00).

Jon's Street Eats has a big social
media following.  It posts its menu
updates on Twitter, where it has
nearly 1,500 followers.
You can follow
 Jon's Street Eats at:

I ordered the Cuban sandwich while my wife chose the grilled cheese sandwich and salad.  Both sandwiches were pressed Panini-style and were sliced in half, allowing us to share and enjoy half of each sandwich treat.  The meat in the Cuban sandwich was tender, the cheese nicely melted and the bread was crispy.  The combined cost for our "Street Eats" was a reasonable $15.00, plus tip. We brought our own cans of diet Coke as well as some carrot sticks, fresh grapes and cookies, and created our own picnic experience.

While Jon's Street Eats is among the most visible traveling kitchens in Emeryville, there are others worth noting that operate on a regular schedule, including: Seoul on Wheels (Korean BBQ), Liba Falafel Truck (falafel) and CupKates (cupcakes).  Each has a loyal and devoted customer following.

A fast, fresh, quality gourmet meal
Among many who have commented about their street food experience on yelp.com, a couple worth sharing sum up the raison d'etre of Jon's Street Eats:

"There's something quite nice about frequenting a new place for the first time, and having the 'luxury' to actually converse and get to know your cooks personally..."

"I had the Grits & Greens, it was wonderfully prepared creamy polenta, grilled kale, a soft-boiled egg with cheese to garnish. The portion was perfect and (Jon's Street Eats) certainly has a following.  I'll be back."

While every week is a different taste treat at Jon's Street Eats, one thing is certain:  you will be treated to a fast, fresh, quality gourmet meal.  Bon appetit!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Issues: The nice little neighborhood magazine shop that feeds our hungry minds

Feeding hungry minds
It's encouraging to know that despite an increasing reliance of the Internet as a source for news and information, a medium that some predicted would cause the demise of magazines, our affinity with the printed word still exists.

No Kindles or iPads for us ~ yet.

We subscribe to two weeklies, The New Yorker and The Economist, and also to the Southern lit quarterly Oxford American.  Also, I like to read Monocle, a monthly published in London, and my wife enjoys reading Interweave Knits and other knitting magazines, too.

However, in our hectic, 24/7 instant information culture fed by Facebook, Twitter and all things Internet, it's a constant challenge for me to make quality time for reading magazines. Still, I find it important ~ not to mention relevant ~ and the opportunity to fit in 20-30 minutes of periodical reading while peddling a stationary bike is one of the things that stimulates me into regularly going to our local fitness center. Exercise for body and mind.

A nice little neighborhood
magazine shop
Fortunately, Issues, a nice little neighborhood magazine shop that's about a 10-minute drive from our house in Oakland, exists to feed my hungry mind.  While the shop is the size of your average living room, it's roomy enough to house 3,000 foreign and domestic magazine and journal titles on its shelves ~ everything from Dwell, Oprah and Lapham's Quarterly to Gastronomica, Living etc and Paris Vogue.  It carries an impressive selection of food, design, business and foreign affairs periodicals.  Earlier this summer, it was the place to find a variety of titles devoted to World Cup soccer and the Tour de France cycling race.  Also, Issues sells an assortment of local (San Francisco Chronicle), national (New York Times) and international newspapers (Guardian Weekly and Irish Times), artsy greeting cards, selected second-hand books and vinyl, too. 

The friendly and knowledgeable owners, Noella Teele and Joe Colley, left their jobs as record store managers to open Issues in June 2007, and, earlier this summer, the store celebrated its third birthday with a lively in-store bash.  Located just off trendy Piedmont Ave. (20 Glen Ave., Oakland), Issues sits a few doors down from a very popular Peet's Coffee and Tea, so it receives lots of foot traffic.  While their Facebook page has over 800 fans, their bricks-and-mortar store attracts a loyal and devoted clientele ~ reviews on the website yelp.com sing high praises for Issues ~ and it gives back to the community, too. Recently, Issues hosted the East Bay Vegan Bakesale, which raised funds for the Berkeley Humane Society and Walk Oakland Bike Oakland.

Window display at Issues:
Full of eclectic titles
I enjoy visiting Issues once or twice a month to peruse new and eclectic titles and, sometimes, just to absorb the colorful atmosphere.  There's always great music playing in the background that makes you feel welcome and makes stopping in a pleasant experience.  It's where I can always locate one of my favorite but hard-to-find periodicals, Monocle, a magazine devoted to global affairs, business, culture and design, as well as Paste, a music periodical.

Issues: A colorful atmosphere,
a pleasant experience
Recently, I engaged in a lively albeit brief conversation about my opinion of Monocle with another Issues customer while I waited to purchase the July/August issue. Noella and Joe joined in the discussion at the cash register ~ for a few fleeting moments we had become a micro-community of Monocle enthusiasts ~ and, as I exited Issues, it left me with a wonderful impression of the nice little neighborhood magazine shop that feeds other hungry minds, too.

Friday, August 13, 2010

This is summer? Our ridiculously cool weather and the pleasure of our gardens, part 10

"The coldest winter I ever saw was the summer I spent in San Francisco." ~ Often attributed to American writer Mark Twain

While much of the country east of the Mississippi River wilts in extreme heat and humidity, out west in the Bay Area, we're enjoying a very mild summer.  Since the Fourth of July, only once has San Francisco recorded a daytime high exceeding 70 degrees. Elsewhere, Bay Area temperatures have been well below average.  This is summer?

It must be summer in the City:
Morning fog over the
Golden Gate Bridge
On Wednesday, San Francisco endured a dismally cool and foggy day with a paltry high of 58.  Across the bay, it was 62 in Oakland, and equally dreary, too. Still, I guess, it beats the East Coast heat ~ even if it means dressing in layers and wearing jeans and hoodies. It's all in our attitude, right?

"It's been ridiculously cool this summer," KTVU-TV meteorologist Bill Martin said Thursday night, during one of his weather reports, which accurately describes this summer's climate throughout much of the Bay Area.

First Prize rose:
Cooler temperatures have
translated into fewer blooms.
Mind you, the Bay Area is made up of many microclimates, and the daily weather forecasts broadcast on our local TV stations and printed in the San Francisco Chronicle reflect this. On TV, the five-day or seven-day, long range forecasts means seeing temperatures in triplicate: one set of numbers for the coast (such as Stinson Beach and Pacifica), another set for the bay (San Francisco and Oakland), and a third set for inland (which is pretty much anywhere east of the Oakland/Berkeley hills). Typically, the coast is coolest, the bay a bit warmer, and inland is usually 10-15 degrees warmer than the coast, sometimes even hotter.  This summer, if you're willing to head east over the hills to the inland valleys, you'll find warmer temperatures in the mid-to-upper 80s.

Summer of Love:
Queen Elizabeth roses
While the cooler, milder temperatures likely rule out a leisurely day at the beach ~ and make going for a neighborhood walk a brisk affair ~ they've been a welcome relief at home and in our gardens.  The string of unusual summer temperatures means not needing to run our rose drip as often as usual. Also, it's giving budding rose blooms an opportunity to blossom for longer periods before fading.  A few mornings of light drizzle earlier this week came as a surprise, too, making rose colors appear brighter.

Oranje crush: an orange rose
Cooler temperatures have translated into fewer blooms for some of our rose bushes, like our Pristine and First Prize. However, for our Orange and Queen Elizabeth rose bushes, it's been a liberating experience filled with pretty swatches of pink and orange.

Regardless of our lackluster summer weather, our rose bushes still provide us with plenty of beauty and enjoyment. Happiness is shared.

A postscript:  Despite the fog and chilly temperatures, we recently spent quality time in our front yard trimming back our camellia and rhododendron bushes, something we do annually.  This allows for new growth and gives each a bit of breathing room from each other's branches.  Also, we trimmed our side yard and back yard lavender bushes, both which we planted ourselves a few years ago, and readied the east side of our house for the return later this year of our calla lilies. Finally, we groomed our iris bed, cutting back old growth from earlier this year.  The irises will return next spring just in time for the start of baseball season.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Validating our travel experiences

The 19th Century Scottish novelist Robert Louis Stevenson, himself a travel writer, once penned: "For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go.  I travel for travel's sake.  The great affair is to move."

And, if digital cameras had existed during Stevenson's lifetime, perhaps, he would have added to his travel experience by taking pictures, too.

The Eiffel Tower in Paris
Like Stevenson, I enjoy travel for travel's sake.  Europe fascinates me and I can't wait to revisit Chicago and New Orleans, two of my favorite American cities.  There's always a discovery, or two, awaiting me on each trip.  As someone who particularly loves urban travel, I look forward to seeing iconic landmarks ~ not just to admire and learn about them in detail, but to photograph them, too. Up close and personal, they are amazingly larger than life not to mention extremely photogenic, too.

Big Ben in London
For me, documenting iconic landmarks validates my travel. Just a few "icons" I've been fortunate to see and digitally document include:  The Eiffel Tower in Paris, Big Ben in London, and closer to home, the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.

Last weekend, perusing hundreds of digital travel photographs stored on my MacBook Pro reminded me of countless pictures I've shot of the Space Needle in Seattle, both during daylight and at nighttime. Because we have long-time friends living in the Emerald City, Seattle is a frequent and enjoyable travel destination for us ~ and the Space Needle, that iconic landmark of the Pacific Northwest, always is there to welcome us.

The Space Needle
at twilight, 2006
Although I've lost count, we've probably made at least 20 visits to Seattle over the past 15 years.  It's a relative short flight from the Bay Area to Seattle ~ about 90 minutes ~ and, a route well travelled by both Alaska and Southwest airlines. Many of our visits have coincided with attending Bumbershoot, Seattle's annual music and arts festival, held over Labor Day weekend on the Seattle Center grounds where the Space Needle prominently resides.

The Space Needle:
Seattle's iconic landmark
after dark
at Bumbershoot, 2009
Thus, photographing the Space Needle, which was constructed for the 1962 Seattle's World's Fair, is a long-standing tradition of mine whenever we visit.  It doesn't matter that the appearance of the Space Needle, whose top floor observation deck is 520 feet above ground (an antenna extends the height to 605 feet) and provides beautiful views not only of the downtown Seattle skyline but also of Mount Rainier, the Olympic and Cascade mountain ranges and of Elliott Bay and the surrounding islands, hasn't changed much.

A difference of 40 years:
The Experience Music Project
and the Space Needle, 2008
What does matter and makes a difference to me is this: There are so many different and interesting angles and locations to frame a shot of an iconic landmark, like the Space Needle.  Standing in line to enter the Sky Church of the Frank O. Gehry-designed Experience Music Project remains one of my favorite shots because of how it captured in one frame a difference of 40 years of Seattle architecture, the compression of space, and the appearance of a wisp of a cloud ~ and I decided to tilt the camera (something I don't often do) for a different effect.  That's what makes the discovery, and documenting it with a photograph, fun for me.

While a picture may be worth a thousand words, sometimes, it's the touch of a colorful, personal photograph that speaks more eloquently than any picture postcard can.

All photographs by Michael Dickens, copyright 2004, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2009.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

A Night at the Art Museum

Art museums fascinate me.  From the brilliance of their architectural design to what their symbiotic relationship with a city reveals, I love visiting art museums.  After I've spent time in one, I always leave feeling enriched from the experience ~ a sense of appreciation both for the artwork and its creative process ~ and I can't wait to return.

The British Museum in London
Since the beginning of this millennium, my vacation travels have provided me with many wonderful opportunities to connect with some of the great art museums of the world:  The Van Gogh Museum and Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam; the British Museum and Tate Modern in London; the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art in New York City; and the Louvre and Musee d'Orsay in Paris.  In the U.S., among the many museums I've visited include:  The Art Institute of Chicago, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, the Portland (Ore.) Art Museum, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.  And, I fond of the Walter Anderson Museum of Art, dedicated to the work of one of my favorite 20th Century painters, located in my adopted hometown of Ocean Springs, Miss.

The de Young Museum
in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park
Closer to the Bay Area, San Francisco is home to many first-class art museums, including the M.H. de Young Memorial Museum (50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive) in Golden Gate Park, commonly called simply the de Young Museum.  The de Young, which reopened its doors 2005 after an extensive renovation, is currently exhibiting Birth of Impressionism: Masterpieces from the Musee d'Orsay through September 6.  Then, from September 25 to January 18, 2011, it will host Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cezanne and Beyond: Post-Impressionist Masterpieces from the Musee d'Orsay.  

The Musee d'Orsay in Paris
The world's best cities deserve the world's best art, and the de Young Museum is the only museum to host and present two consecutive special exhibitions from the Musee d'Orsay.  Situated in Paris on the Left Bank of the Seine, the Musee d'Orsay is home of the world's finest collection of Impressionist art, and it is currently undergoing extensive renovations of its own.

Because I've always admired the colorful beauty of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art, especially paintings by Monet and Van Gogh ~ and with time running out to see the current exhibition ~ my wife and I made a date to visit the de Young last week and we became members.

It was time and money well spent.

Degas in The Ballet Studio
The cost of our year-long family membership ($95.00) includes free admission to both of the Impressionists shows and gives us a nice incentive to return more often, especially on Friday evenings when the museum's hours are extended until 8:45 p.m. and live music, cocktails and light snacks create a soiree atmosphere.  On the night we attended, Chanteuse Betty Roi and Her Kingtette entertained the lively gathering with popular Parisian songs.  Also, we were treated to "Degas in The Ballet Studio," which featured artist Jeremy Sutton portraying Edgar Degas as he painted dancers from The Ballet Studio.

If last Friday's crowd at the de Young was any indication, the Birth of Impressionism: Masterpieces from the Musee d'Orsay exhibition not only has attracted great attention from the local artistic community, it's also become a must-see attraction for summer tourists along with the Golden Gate Bridge and seeing a Giants game at China Basin.

Friday night at the de Young
During the time we spent tourist the exhibit salons ~ roughly an hour to view the nearly 100 paintings that comprise the show ~ I couldn't help but notice the positive atmosphere that lit up each room, filled with enthusiastic patrons gazing at this beautiful art from the 1860s and 1870s that was carefully arranged by topic rather than by chronology.  Rooms were painted in strong, dark hues to help set off various artists like Cezanne and Degas, and the paintings were hung a little higher than normal, enabling the large crowds better viewing opportunities.  The artistic brilliance of Manet, Monet and Renoir, among many, shown brightly ~ and the exhibit also provided an opportunity to see "Arrangement in Gray and Black No. 1," better known as "Whistler's Mother," the iconic painting by James Abbott McNeill Whistler, which received prominent placement in one of the galleries.

Among my favorite paintings exhibited were two by Claude Monet:  "The Regatta at Argenteuil" (1874) and "The Gare Saint-Lazare" (1877).  Not by coincidence, the exit to the exhibit blended into a Birth of Impressionism gift shop which enabled me to purchase refrigerator magnets of both masterpieces.

Thanks to a rare cultural exchange with the Musee d'Orsay and the French government, San Francisco, like Paris before it, truly is transformed into the City of Light.