The Cheese Board

I’m not a frequent consumer of pizza or cheese because of its generally suspicious place of origin. However, on occasion, I do like to spend some $$ on a hunk of cheese from a reliable source. I was probably a little to excited for the adventure to the Cheese Board Collective in the Gourmet Ghetto in North Berkeley. I have been to Cheese Board before, yes. It was to indulge in soft chewy rolls, or sweet and succulent muffins of sorts. I have also bought small bits of cheese from the bin of rejects that are to small and sad looking to sell at a full price. But being in Berkeley for 2 years and not ever having the pizza is not the least bit acceptable.

The pizza collective rotates between different pizza’s everyday, and the weekly menu is posted on-line, well, each week. Pizzas are always vegetarian (win!) with ingredients coming from places nearby, so its seasonal too. Only having one type of pizza means that when you get your slices, they are extraordinarily oven fresh. Like, you have to wait a moment to take that first bite, which can be torturous. But never fear, since mini pieces line your plate, and these mini pieces are from an older pie which is at good eating temperature.

Being very excited, I took out the surprise factor and looked up the flavor online. It just increased my anticipation because it included 2 types of mushrooms, and mushrooms are one of my favorite things. Here was the daily flavor:

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We got there relatively early (5PM on a Saturday) which meant that the line was short. Not that a long line would have detracted this excursion. One of my biggest pet peeves is when people go somewhere expecting to wait in line, and then complain about the line. Solution: don’t go there? Waiting in line for places like Ici or Cheese Board, or a select Food Truck is part of the experience. You get to people watch and you might make a friend or two while you wait. The Cheese Board also has live music more often than not, which makes waiting in line a pleasurable experience. Within 10 minutes we were at the register ordering 1/2 a pizza with the intention to have leftovers for the next day. Yeah right…

It was delicious. The crust was chewy enough, yet not to bread-y and thick, which tends to ball up in your throat as you swallow it. The mushrooms and 2 types of cheese were complimentary to each other. The asparagus was a reminder of spring. My one gripe however, was the excessive oil that seemed to emanate from the pizza. Not so much the natural oils that come from the cheese, but the excess garlic oil that was drizzled on top. In addition to pizza, they’ve also got beer, bubbly drinks, cookies, and some sauces. As you can see, beer was purchased, but cookies were not.

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Perhaps next time cookies will be purchased, since there will definitely be a next time. I want to try some of the more unique varieties of pizza they concoct, I’ve heard rumors about sweet potatoes and squash and corn, amongst other toppings.

Sketch Ice Cream

Since the weather has been so lovely the past few days, and my work load has not been to crazy, I have been getting on my bike quite frequently. I generally go down to the marina and bike along the trail (I saw a snake yesterday!). A few weeks ago, I notice a new ice cream place opened up, and I kept making mental notes to look it up online and maybe pop in for a taste, depending on what it was all about. The place is called Sketch Ice Cream, just incase you couldn’t tell by the title of this blog.

They make soft serve–different flavors every day–and they use Strauss Organic Milk. Thats a +1. And it made me really excited because I have not had soft serve in ages since it often seems to come from suspicious milk sources. They’ve also got homemade candies and caramels, and a small assortment of minuscule sized baked goods. They’ve also got “3 Buck Pucks” which is frozen yogurt in a cup that is frozen overnight to make a harder version of ice cream. When I walked in, I was taken aback by the lack of decor. I suppose I was expecting something more playful after reading the playful description on the playful website:

Reminiscent of childhood memories, candied treats, and dripping ice cream, we hope to provide you with a sensory experience… one that begins at the door with a warm “hello”

I was not really greeted with a warm hello, rather my interchange with the buddy at the counter was kind of awkward. I felt like he was distracted by something, and just not willing to help. The soft serve flavors they had on hand yesterday were: Rose Geranium, lavender, vanilla, and chocolate sorbet. I really wanted the Rose Geranium with the Chocolate Sorbet, but because those did not come out of the same soft serve dispenser, I couldn’t mix those together unless I got a large. Um, lame. I was a little disappointed by this, because I wanted chocolate pretty badly. I settled on a Small Rose Geranium because the flavor is slightly more unique then chocolate.

How was it? It was delicious. The rose flavor was just the right amount of sweet, and very aromatic. And the consistency was creamy and smooth, not at all icy. It was not tainted pink with artificial colors, so it looked like it could have been vanilla ice cream. It came served in a little paper cup with a metal spoon. I was surprised by the paper cup–I was expecting a “for here” reusable container. Below is a rather crappy cell phone generated photograph.

 

 

130504_0000After consuming the above portion in 15 minutes, I hopped back on my bike. After 2 minutes I had a very odd aftertaste in my mouth, which might have a few explanations. 1) I have not had dairy ice cream for a while and so it could have been the cream/fat content leaving a sheen on my tongue 2) the flavor itself might have left the aftertaste

Would I go back? hmmm…if I am in the area and really wanting ice cream, then yes of course. But will I go out of my way to get soft serve from there? hmmm…probably not. In a word, my experience was just…”meh”. For the fancy-ness it touts, it was just average and nothing really stood out.

 

Cute Animals and Veganism

I will start this post off with an assortment of cute animal pictures taken at Animal Place. Animal Place is a farm animal sanctuary that houses and rehabilitates farm rescues. I had the privilege of going on a tour, meeting the cute animals, and conversing with individuals who have a radically different view about food. After the cute pictures, I will elaborate on my experience and possibly, slightly, rant.

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Adorbs.

I think animals play a vital role in the food system. Granted, the industrial food system is broken (metabolic rift) and animals are exploited and unnecessary waste is created and there are too many antibiotics and pesticides being used. The food system I am talking about is a closed and sustainable system where animals (cows, pigs, chickens) live on a biodynamic farm that grows a variety of crops year round. Animals graze and animals poop and the poop is turned into nutrient rich compost for feeding the soil and keeping a harmonious balance. These animals would be living an animal-style life because they get to graze and wander around. They get fed and watered. They are not treated as machines, bred to produce beyond their capacity. Chickens, pigs, cows, etc get to express their intrinsic animal nature. These animals would also provide milk and eggs and at some point, even meat.

Despite being a non meat eater, I still think that eating meat is part of being human and being an omnivore [Yes, we eat way to much of it in the US and yes, we do need to cut back on meat consumption, and yes animals need to be seen as living beings because they are living beings] However, we have evolved and now live at a time where one can survive without eating the flesh of another creature. Those in a privileged position can make choices about what they decide to put into their bodies. And for those who are conscious about their ecological footprint becoming vegetarian is one of the most influential decisions one can make. But there are many who live in parts of the world where meat is a staple food and easier to obtain that fresh produce. Cold climates come to mind, or pastoral communities that raise animals as part of their livelihood. Where no produce grows it might be more efficient to be a meat eater since that meat is a local source of nutrition that conveniently turns grasses and hay that humans cannot digest into digestible meat. It is not culturally sensitive to assume that everyone in the world can be a vegan.

This view would have been rejected and torn apart had I brought it up at the animal sanctuary. They approach veganism and vegetarianism from a different lens: that of eliminating suffering and pain. I agree that animal welfare is important but I do not agree that all suffering can be eliminated (farmworkers anyone?) and I do not think that the world going vegan would solve environmental issues. Vegan alternatives are filled with strange ingredients and fillers and palm oil. Palm oil is a leading cause of clear cutting forested land which hurts animals, humans, and the environment. Isn’t real cream cheese from grass fed,  grazing cows much better for your body and the planet then fake cream cheese made from a variety of soy and oils? I would like to think that yes, it is, and I wish there was a way to measure the environmental impact of foods and their counterparts.

I was interested to learn more about the “veganic” farm that they had been cultivating. What is veganic agriculture? It means using absolutely no animal inputs. I can see how one would not want to use fish or chicken meal because both of those are biproducts of the industrial food system. But in a veganic farm, that also means using no animal poop. So, although there was an ample poop supply from the animals at the sanctuary, none if it was applied to the farm soil. They wanted to show that food can grow outside of an animal based system. So how is the soil kept fertile? Food scraps, greens, browns, cover crops, and kelp. I think that it is an interesting alternative, however I am hesitant as to how feasible it would be in a farm system that includes animals because, like I said before, I think animals and the land have an intimate relationship. It could be seen in the green pastures at the sanctuary: pastures for animals+animal poop=really green and lush grasses. See, animals are important!

Because animals are important, I think those who chose to eat meat need to have an awareness that eating chicken is, in fact, eating a chicken. I admire urban homesteaders and others who raise and slaughter their own animals because this breeds a deep appreciation for where flesh actually comes from. Furthermore, when the entire animal is used: the meat, the skin, and the bones, it is not treated like a piece of devalued trash.

I knew that many of these people had pets of their own. So the question is, what do the pets eat? I was shocked to find out that dogs and cats are put on vegan diets. I had an interesting conversation with a fellow who found it painful when his outdoor cat killed and ate a bird or a lizard or a rat. He explained that it was easy to make sure indoor pets cause no suffering to other living beings but it was difficult to ensure that his outdoor cats didn’t give in to their intrinsic predatory nature. Isn’t preventing your companion animal from eating their natural diet somewhat inhumane? Isn’t a vegan dog or cat like a cow or salmon eating corn? None of the above are natural.

What also bothered me was how, during the Q&A session, veganism was talked about as though it was the endpoint on a trajectory. The phrase “for those who are not vegan yet” was constantly being repeated. Implicitly it means that everyone would one day realize how enlightening a vegan way of life is. And, that everyone has the privilege of eating vegan. And that one day, I too might drop my farmers market cheese and replace it with a block of diaya. [Diaya and veganism have their place when the vegetarian alternative comes from a suspicious and inhumane source. And I realize that I am privileged to make the decision to avoid eating factory farm based foods]

In sum, if the goal of Animal Place is to convert omnivores and vegetarians into happy vegans, they are not going about it in a proper way. I like to think of myself as open minded and willing to listen to the points of view of others, but that was not the atmosphere being created. It was not welcoming to those who think of the food system as just that: a system. I felt uncomfortable bringing up my points of view that might come into conflict with what they believe because open dialogue was not welcome. I respect the goals of the sanctuary and I think it is important for people to realize how eating meat effects the planet, and it is important for people to know where their meat comes from. They kept talking about suffering, and I respect that that is the lens through which they approach their eating decisions. Ant yet, for individuals concerned with suffering I am surprised at how little they seemed to care about the farmworkers that spend hours in the fields in slavery-like conditions for them to have their kale salads. Fixing the food system requires fixing symbiotic relationships between plants, animals and humans. It requires better conditions for farm and kitchen workers. It requires respecting the flesh or animal bi-products that are being consumed, and consuming less of them in a more conscientious way.

Three Stone Hearth Tour+Lunch

On this lovely Sunday morning, I had registered for a tour at Three Stone Hearth. I originally heard about it in the documentary Edible City  and had been wanting to go there for some time. When I arrived, I was greeted by the most delectable scent: a combination of yeastiness and probably some roasted meat. The 3 tenants they follow are earth, health and heart; all intertwine in their business model and in how they source and prepare their food.

  • earth: being as sustainable as possible. food is stored and sold in reusable glass that customers return. using responsibly sourced meats and produce. taking care not to create waste, and to dispose of what is created in a responsible manner. using all parts of the vegetable and animal. 
  • health: nutrient dense foods. traditional processing techniques. fermentation. bone broths.
  • heart: 5 co-owner/founders. creating community. having classes and workshops open to the public.

I was a little start struck throughout the tour because Jessica Prentice, one of the founders who is featured in Edible City, lead the tour. It began with a “this is what we do” and ended with a walk through of the facility. They were roasting chickens and making broths. Canning pickled beets and unloading produce. The Kombucha brewing operation is intense, with huge vats of it fermenting oh-so-peacefully. Giant SCOBYs were floating on top of the different colored liquids. While it was all good and great, their products are out of reach for a large range of the population. It caters to those who can afford it. While the foods may be nutrient dense and you are getting more nutrients per dollar, for someone without many dollars it might not be the most filling thing to eat. That is nutrient per dollar=great deal, but overall amount of food per dollar=not so satisfying. I think this model could be used to create jobs and a sustainable food processing and distribution facility in areas that are dubbed “food deserts”. It would be such a great place to work, me thinks, especially as this is the only place with a business model like they have. What was also really interesting is that in order to start, they took out loans not from banks, but from community members instead. And they are currently working on a way to not use credit cards in their ordering system–its challenging. If they are hiring after summer, I want a job there.

Friday Adventure

The weather has been nice enough here in Berkeley, almost nice enough that I can go outside without a sweater, and enough nice that I can go riding my bike to the marina as I like to do. Plus, my academic workload is fairly light this weekend leaving me free to putter off and pursue things aside from school. (the downside of a light academic load=anxiety about NOT having anything to do, but thats a different story)

Anyways, I have always passed by the Takara Sake brewery/factory/building on 4th street, never bothering to read the sign that sits out front. There is always a sweet smell permeating the air in the area; slightly bready and fermentalicious. It makes my mouth water, and my stomach emit pangs of hunger. As per usual, I biked by it, saw the sign, smelled the smell, and kept going. But within 30 seconds of rushing past, I decided to park my bike and see whats up. 

The sign informs the public of tastings and the sake museum. What?! I opened the door to find myself in a very white landing with a staircase leading up to another very white and clean landing. Turn left to find myself in the tasting room, decorated with sake paraphernalia and a bar. Tastings are 5$, which I unfortunately did not do as I would have felt a little awkward tasting alone and then biking back home. The room is rather large and vast and very peaceful. There is also a window overlooking the actual bottling plant, where one can see sake bottles rushing by on a conveyer belt being filled with liquid and capped off. It was actually very relaxing watching the repetitive motions of both the machines and workers. I took a photo, but I don’t think they would appreciate me making it viewable to the public.

The museum was very informative. A giant poster lines the wall depicting the sake making process. It also correlates to the tools that fill the room: large vats, wooden containers, scrapers, stirrers, photos and other assorted wooden objects. see…(I asked about taking these photos. It was OK)

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tools hanging on the wall. used for mixing, mashing, scraping etc.

vats used for steaming rice

vats used for steaming rice

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I most definitely would like to return for a tasting and more education about sake because I don’t know much about the different types. It also smelled amazing in the tasting room and in the museum.

frigid bike ride adventure

It was rather cold outside, but after a little persuasion I decided to head out on my bike towards the marina. Possibly not the wisest decision as my throat is somewhat sore and swollen today and I feel a bit on the sickish side. However, upon smelling something quite delicious, we decided to follow our noses and find out what it was.

“that smells good”
“its coming from here!”
“lets find out what it is”
“you wanna?!”
“ok!”
“ok!”

So what was this place? It is called Vik’s Chaat and Market. It is an Indian food store with a cafeteria style restaurant cafe attached serving authentic Indian Street Food. I was please to find both Marmite and Vegemite in the shop in the mini-british foods section which I found rather ironic but not random given British and Indian History. Anyhow, they also had nuts and dried fruit, lots of spices and grains, assortments of chutneys and curries and breads and sweets. And all fairly prices.

Walking through the corridor leads towards the cafeteria looking place where they menu is posted in chalk above the order counter, but there is also a picture menu aka Indian food for Dummies (which yes, I looked at). Its got pictures, descriptions, and also deciphers the Vegan options, of which there are plenty. Around the perimeter of the room is where the cooking stations are and after you order you wait for your name to be called. Of course they have drinks such as chai and lassi, along with a sweets case.

I ordered Paratha, an Indian breakfast type food which was a massive pancake looking type thing with cauliflower filling and lots of spices. It came with a side of spiced/pickled vegetables (called achar, I believe?) Anyhow, it was hot and delicious, slightly crispy on the outside and steaming warm as I pulled it apart with my hands. I needed a tissue as my nose began to water from the spice combination, not because it was hot-spicy but because it was spiced-spicy. My friend got some burrito looking thing with chicken, and some hot chai. Despite being milk based, I tasted the chai and holy guacamole was it tasty. To bad there is no soy option. Anyways, I am eager to go back and try the other delights and delicacies that this place offers and to buy some stuff at the shop.

It is funny how I have passed by this place SO MANY times while riding but never bothered to stop because its just a small door in a warehouse looking building. But now that I know what lies behind the door…nothing will ever be the same.

last day of summer [break]

it is indeed the last day of summer break, and tomorrow the beginning of the end starts. That is, its the start of my final year as an undergraduate! woohoo! I could not be more excited. Well, actually, I could be more excited but I know how stressful times can get. But so it goes. My books are bought, my notebooks are blank and ready, my pens are filled. My brain is empty and somewhat soggy.

I have been filling my last few days of freedom in Berkeley with very good and very simple things that I enjoy doing. For example, laundry and cleaning my room. Kidding, I don’t enjoy all those things, but I did do them.
I had some much needed conversations with several friends and family.
I went to caltopia to get some free stuff. My best score was probably a shirt.

I rode my bike. I decided to go down to Oakland to Tip Top Bike Shop and Remedy Coffee, my favorite cafe in the area. At the Bike Shop, my plan was to simply fill air in my tires. However, upon speaking with one of the dudes at the shop and asking him about the crack in my tires, I had decided to go ahead and simply replace them. I could have gone a few more months on my old tires, but that was running the risk of explosion and then having to replace my tube along with my tire when the time came. I did not feel like dealing with this catastrophe during the school year; replacement felt like a good precautionary measure. After fixing my bike, I rode down to Remedy. Or, what used to be Remedy and is now an empty storefront with a “for lease” sign in the window. WHAT?!?!?! I was devastated. Asking a few locals in the area as to why they shut down, no one knew, but everyone was upset. It was (apparently) an overnight type thing.
Well, about a block away is Arbor Coffee, which had been on my summer list and I wanted to try. I hobbled over there to read for a bit and sip some coffee which was french press and pretty good. The atmosphere at Arbor is great. They have an assortment of mismatched furniture, everything from comfy couches, to large communal tables, to smaller single person worktables. The space is big and even when crowded with people it doesn’t feel like someone is breathing down your back. They’ve got a food menu too, with soups and salads and sandwiches.

I finished reading A Thousand Splendid Suns in about 2 days with snot dribbling down my chin and tears streaking my cheeks. That being said, might I recommend this book? It takes place in Afghanistan and follows the stories of 2 women as they grow up. Eventually, the 2 tales intersect during a time of war and turmoil. It reveals the human side and the human stories which the media often fails to acknowledge when they speak of Afghanistan and the terrorists.

I also did some cooking and baking over the last two days, knowing that time for extravagance will run out very shortly.
First off, a pasta dish. I sauteed 2 cloves of garlic in a bit of olive oil to brown them. I then added about 1/2 cup of balsamic vinegar and a teaspoon of brown sugar to make a reduction. It simmered for 25ish minutes until it became nice and syrup-like. I then added 2 chopped heirloom tomatoes and cooked them just slightly. I added this sauce to the cooked pasta, along with some fresh salad greens from the farmers market. The heat from the pasta and sauce wilted them ever so slightly.

I then made [veg] Mexican Hot Chocolate Snickerdoodles, recipe courtesy of the PPK. Chewy, chocolatey, with a kick from chipotle and extra cinnamon. Definitely an addicting cookie. It would be delicious turned into a sandwich cookie with creme filling. 

The roommate’s bananas were going very brown and about to be chucked. They had to be rescued and transformed into banana bread with some pumpkin seeds instead of walnuts, and a bit of silken tofu to retain moisture. It turned out very delicious. Its quite unfortunate the bananas had to meet their fateful end in this manner.

Because I have actually kept up this blog for a year or so, I want to somehow revamp it, and maybe start sorting and tagging posts into reviews, recipes, random thoughts, etc. I am still not quite sure how to sort them and how to make it work, but I have tagged this one with “food” and “reviews” and “excursions”. I just feel like all my posts would be tagged with the same thing, as generally those are the three things I write about. Maybe that means I need more specificity in my tags.