Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Oaklanders making Oakland better

Last night was a great two-fer. First up was a mixer at Disco Volante put on by the Ella Baker Center to let people know about their Soul of the City campaign. It's to encourage people to get involved in making their community a better place, something Ella Baker herself would have related to. Featured at the event were some folks from the Mandela Foods Co-Op, who are working to make West Oakland a better place by making healthy, local food available. (Speaking of Mandela Foods, they're hosting a cool event today from 3-5pm, Meet the Farmer. It's a chance to meet one of their suppliers, Maria Catalan of Catalan Family Farms, and hear her story of becoming the first Latina in the U.S. to own a certified organic farm.)

Then it was over to SomaR for an Oakland Grown mixer. Oakland Grown celebrates and supports local businesses and artists, and is led by always vivacious Tina Tamale. You should celebrate and support Oakland businesses and artists, too. Why? More of the money spent locally stays local, and stimulates the local economy. I did my part; on the way to the events, I stopped at Walden Pond Books (the EBX Best Bookstore of the East Bay for 2010) and spent way too much, buying various books on Oakland history.

It was great to meet some new people and catch up with others that I already knew, and hear about what's happening in Oakland. Alas, some of the discussion at both events (and a lot online) was about the senseless shooting near Jack London Square. It's not that Oakland hasn't had shootings before, but the randomness and viciousness of this attack made it shocking. Read more about one of the victims on Living in the O.

Not all the conversation was about the shooting, though. There was tons of energy and enthusiasm for Oakland. We talked about the great impact of the Oakland Running Festival, and the plans for next year's.

And I got to congratulate Becks for a well-deserved honor. She and other local bloggers are being given an award today by the League of Women Voters, recognizing their impact on helping increase civic engagement. Congrats to:
Read more in a recent LWV newsletter. Extra shoutout to dto510, who recently joined the Walk Oakland Bike Oakland board.

New folks I met included Paula Wirth, who was one of the photographers behind the Oakland Lost+Found photography show. Given our love of signs and photography, we had lots to talk about.

I apparently just missed meeting Susan Mernit of Oakland Local. Speaking of Oakland Local, check out the coverage by Amy Gahran about the CORE disaster training going on this weekend around Oakland. Do you have emergency supplies and a plan for the next big quake or whatever? (I'm looking at you, @das88)

Finally, not specifically about Oakland (but affecting Oakland), I met a rep of CodePINK, women for peace. They'll be marching from San Francisco to Sacramento May 1st-8th, to protest war spending and the lack of corporate responsibility. Wouldn't some of the billions being spent on pointless wars be better spent, say on schools, green energy, and a host of other things?

Oakland Local coverage of the Oakland Grown event, featuring photos by Paula Wirth.

Monday, April 25, 2011

signs: Cadillac building


I've been hoping they'd repair this sign so I could get a shot of it in operation, but given the state of the automobile industry that hasn't seemed likely for a while. Numerous auto dealers have moved from Auto Row or closed completely over the years, but this classic building has been occupied for some time. Today I had a checkup at the dentist nearby, and was a bit surprised to see the building getting a paint job (good) but saddened to see the sign completely gone. All the lights were on, but nobody was home to ask what's become of the sign or the future plans are. I'd love to preserve at least part of it. On the other hand, K would probably kill me if I came home with a 4-foot tall metal and neon letter.

no sign

Friday, April 22, 2011

food: Aunt Mary's Cafe

Aunt Mary's Cafe

Thursday K had an appointment at Kaiser. She doesn't deal well with medical procedures large or small, so I accompanied her and we planned to get some brunch afterwards as a reward. There are lots of great places in Oakland for breakfast and lunch like Brown Sugar Kitchen, Mama's Royal Cafe (I can't believe I haven't done a writeup of that yet), and others, but we wanted to try some place new. Consulting my map of Oakland restaurants, we decided to finally try Aunt Mary's Cafe in the Temescal.

It features comfort food with a southern twist, with the likes of biscuits, grits and skillet cornbread. There's also a southern bubble and squeak (with the option of substituting tofu for the eggs), basics like pancakes, and a variety of other breakfast dishes. Looking at the lunch and Saturday/Sunday brunch menu shows lots of other yummy-sounding options.

grits waffle

K had the roma tomato, chard and asiago scramble, while I went for the grits waffle (being vegetarian, I passed on the option of adding fried chicken) and a side of fruit. Both were delicious, and the scramble and fruit side were beautiful. The waffle comes with syrup or +$2 for maple syrup, or the choice of blue agave syrup. The waffle was very good, though I'd still give the nod to the cornmeal waffles at BSK which are similar.

The service was great, and the vibe of the space felt good. The walls were decorated with interesting art by East Bay artist Chris Fabbri. Some reviews mention the space can be too loud, but although there was a good crowd when we were there, it didn't seem overly loud to us. The cafe also features a small patio area facing Telegraph. It was a bit too cool yesterday to sit there, but that looks like a lovely spot for future visits.

In short, we both liked it. It's not my favorite Oakland breakfast / brunch spot, but it's got good solid comfort food, a nice vibe, and is an excellent choice when in the Temescal.

Aunt Mary's Cafe

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Habitat for Humanity Build-a-thon

2011 Build-a-thon

Saturday through Tuesday was Habitat for Humanity East Bay's annual Earth Day Build-a-thon. Hundreds of volunteers came together to frame 7 houses for deserving families at the second part of the Kinsell Commons project at Tassafaronga Village in the Woodland neighborhood.

I'm still tired after four long, physically demanding days, but it's a good tired. Read and see more photos at the Habitat East Bay Thrivent Builds blog. Also check out the nice video on Oakland North.

Many thanks to all who donated to support Habitat. Over $100,000 was raised to help build more affordable, green housing.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

signs: Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church

Mt. Zion

West Oakland isn't well represented in the Our Oakland signs feature. It's not for lack of trying, but there just aren't that many stores or other places with interesting old signs there. I know of a few, but I'm not in the area during good light that often. So when I had some time a couple weeks ago, I hopped on my bike and rode off to West Oakland to get some photos and hopefully scout out some more. First up is Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church. The church seems to still be a going concern, but the sign isn't in such great shape.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Numi Tea

tea garden

Not only is Oakland home to a number of wineries and an awesome brewery, it's home to an organic tea producer, Numi Tea. Numi has a lovely tea garden on site, as well.

You might have seen some of their teas in stores. Probably only 5 or 6 varieties; 10 or 12 if it's a well-stocked store. But Numi has dozens a varieties of teas: green teas, black teas, oolong teas, pue-rh teas, white teas, herbal teas, and sold both in individual packets for convenience and loose-leaf for lower cost and less packaging. If you're like me, you'll probably be overwhelmed by the options. The good news is that Numi knows teas, and can give you pointers on selecting ones you'll like. You can also learn about tea, how and where it's grown, the different varieties and the health benefits.

In many parts of the world, drinking tea is part of everyday life; in others it can be a cultural experience unto itself. At Numi's tea garden, you can relax and take part in the experience of tea drinking. The tea garden (and Numi's warehouse and production facility) is in Jingletown (aka North Kennedy Tract) between 880 and Coast Guard Island. (It's also near Irish Monkey Cellars and Stage Left Cellars.) An area filled with warehouses and converted lofts next to a freeway doesn't sound very relaxing, but inside the tea garden it is.

tea experience

Numi's tea drinking experience begins with selecting a seat, whether on one of the hand-made wooden stools, or near the softly falling water of the fountain. I decided to try a pu-erh tea. I actually spent a summer in the Yunnan province of China where it originates, but I can't recall specifically having had it (in defense of my memory, it was 20+ years ago.) I relaxed, listened to the fountain, and read my book. After a short while, my tea was delivered. Hot water was poured over the dragon/frog thing (which is for luck, I think), some hot water poured into the tea cup to warm it, and the rest poured into a clay pot for the tea to steep. The tray also has a timer with 3 parts, for 3, 4 and 5 minutes. Four minutes was suggested for my tea, so I flipped the timer and continued reading. The whole process involves waiting, which once you get into it, can be very relaxing. I read, I glanced at the timer, I listened to the sound of the falling water. After the tea had steeped, I poured it through a filter into a glass pot, and from that poured myself a cup. The pu-erh tea I had was very tasty, and the whole experience quite lovely and relaxing. I sipped tea, read, and relaxed. I'm honestly not sure how long I was there.

Before I hopped on my bike to head to my next destination, I purchased some loose-leaf teas that I knew my wife and I would enjoy: some of the pu-erh I'd just had, some Rooibos (from South Africa), and some Honeybush (also from South Africa). If you're a regular tea drinker, or just looking for a relaxing experience in Oakland, I highly recommend checking out Numi Tea.

loose leaf teas

Monday, April 11, 2011

blog pulse: Ghost Town Farm

Ghost Town Farm

Ifirst wrote about Ghost Town Farm a couple of years ago. Novella Carpenter is a celebrity in urban farming, in no small part because of her book Farm City and her connection with food author and journalism professor Michael Pollan. Not everyone is a fan, some because she raises animals for food, others because she's self-promoting. (BTW, the book is more about the story of her learning, and not really a how-to.) But you can't deny that she's helped popularize the idea of urban farming and the local food movement, and has made people in and around Oakland more aware of where their food comes from.

So it was a little surprising when I saw a blog posting "Farmstand Canceled Due to... the City of Oakland". At first it seemed like she was over-reacting. Maybe she needed conditional use permits and licenses and things to sell produce, but surely she couldn't need those things just to grow it? Well, turns out she does, at least according to current city of Oakland rules. As a result, there's been an uproar in the blogosphere and the dead-tree press, and not just here in Oakland. People are mobilizing to help her get things changed. And even if you don't believe in her approach personally, urban farming is back, and the city shouldn't make it harder for people to raise food locally. Check out this post on Pluck and Feather about the general movement to get the city up to speed, and sign the petition.

East Bay Express
Oakland North
Root Simple
Bay Citizen
Oakland Tribune
NBC Bay Area
SF Weekly
Grub Street
KQED blog
American Thinker
Chip Johnson
Ella Baker Center

Friday, April 8, 2011

farewell, Mom Green

Mom Green

Yesterday, Oakland said farewell to one of its heroes, Cora "Mom" Green. I blogged about her last year when Oakland Firefighters Random Acts gave Mom a lifetime achievement award.

Mom spent pretty much her whole life making the world a better place. Her family moved to the Bay Area when she was 11. After high school, she went to work at Alta Bates hospital, and eventually earned her nursing degree in 1965. Alta Bates was where she met Doug "Pop" Green, who was the head chef. They married, had a daughter and then moved to Oakland in 1972.

Mom was given enough awards to cover a wall, but she didn't try to get attention for herself. She and Pop volunteered in the community for years, and formalized their efforts in the 90s with the Mom and Pop Green Foundation. She was one of those people who just did things, and if she needed your help, she'd get it, forging relationships with various Bay Area companies, government entities, and sports teams.
"You can't help everybody, but you have to do what you can"
- Mom Green

OFRA Books and Balls

I was blessed to spend time with Mom some years ago at an Oakland Firefighters Random Acts event at Franklin Elementary School. If you look at the picture, you can see Mom on the back of the parade engine, along with various firefighters and Alison Barakat (better known as Bakesale Betty) distributing new playground balls to very happy school children.

last ride

In the last few years, she was slowed by cancer, but not stopped until recently. She died March 30th, 2011. Mom's last journey began at the C.P. Bannon funeral home on the Random Acts parade engine. A police motorcycle escort led the procession up International Blvd. past station 4, around Lake Merritt, and eventually to Bethany Baptist Church. Given how many lives she touched, it was no surprise there was a large turnout to say goodbye to Mom. Representatives of the Oakland police, firefighters, Oakland Raiders, various churches, and councilmember Desley Brooks all spoke about Mom and the impact she had. After a rousing service, Mom was carried to Rolling Hills and buried beside Pop. Family and friends then proceeded to the West Oakland Senior Center for a repast to reflect on Mom and share a meal.

Check out the nice piece on Mom KGO Channel 7.

Mom Green

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

photo journey 4: rhymes with...

The color that's a fruit. But not unique in that it has no words that rhyme with it in English (Welsh, yes).

The word had a long journey to get to English, but the color is ultimately named for the fruit:
Origin:1300–50; Middle English: the fruit or tree < Old French orenge, cognate with Spanish naranja < Arabic nāranj < Persian nārang < Sanskrit nāraṅga

This color photo journey has a little different design, and is different, too, in that the photos are in the order I took them.

Interested in colors? Check out the Oakland-based Hue blog.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Oakland wineries

tasting at Cerutti Cellars

Believe it or not, Oakland is home to a number of wineries. Obviously they don't grow their grapes in Oakland (though we have spotted one small vineyard in the hills near us), but instead mostly source them from the well known wine growing regions in other parts of California. On Saturday, K and I took part in the Passport to the East Bay Wine Trail 2011. Twenty one wineries from all over the East Bay participated, but to keep it manageable, they were giving tastings at 6 locations in Oakland and Alameda. Several of the locations were close enough to each other to walk, but there was also a shuttle bus to get between locations, particularly those in Alameda.

shuttle bus

We started at Cerutti Cellars, which was also hosting Andrew Lane Wines (Saint Helena) and Irish Monkey Cellars. That ended up being a great place to start, as it wasn't too crowded, and we got a chance to talk with various people including winemaker Bob Lynch of Irish Monkey. I especially liked the Irish Monkey wines, as they tend to be pure grape, e.g., their Merlot is made from 100% Merlot grapes, not blended with others. Despite the powerful flavor, I thought the Irish Monkey Merlot and Petite Sirah had some of the nicest finishes.

Then we shuttled over to Dashe Cellars and JC Cellars, which were hosting Aubin Cellars, Eno Wines (Berkeley), Stage Left Cellars and Tayerle Wines. Things were getting more crowded by then, so it was harder to talk with the wine makers. But there were also great snacks to take a break from wine tasting and ultimately substitute for lunch.

barrels at Dashe Cellars

To continue our break, we took the longer walk over to Urban Legend Cellars, which was hosting Adams Point Winery, Stomping Girl Wines (Berkeley) and Urbano Cellars (Emeryville). This location also featured live music and more yummy snacks. Adams Point Winery specializes in fruit wines and dessert wines, which was an interesting break from the plethora of reds, whites and occasional rosé. Unfortunately the space wasn't as well utilized here, so the stations for all 4 wineries were in one corner, making it difficult to move around and sample everything.

Finally, we walked over to Linden Street Brewery, which was hosting Periscope Cellars (Emeryville, but opening a tasting room at Linden Street soon). It was a nice change of pace, as with only one winery giving tastes there, the crowd was much smaller. We were able to sit and relax and taste things slowly. I also got a chance to chat with Tina Tamale, blogger, proprietress of La Borinqueña Mexicatessen, and general Oakland fan. La Borinqueña was providing yummy snacks to people at Linden Street -- not quite your usual wine tasting accompaniments, but a bit heartier fare and a great change of pace.

At this point, it was late in the day, we were tired, and the next shuttle bus to the Alameda stops wasn't due for a while. Add in that we wanted to watch the NCAA men's final four games that evening, and we decided to call it a day for wine-tasting. We were hoping to sneak in a dessert at Plum, but they didn't have space available, so we headed to Pacific Coast Brewing to have some dinner and watch the games.

For even more wine, beer and food businesses in Oakland, check out the Oakland Waterfront Food Trail Map. They've marked the ones which offer purchases on-site, but check first before planning a visit.

If you're coming from outside the area, another option is to take an East Bay Winery Bike Tour. For $89 (-$15 if you bring your own bike), you get bike and helmet rental and a guided bike tour to various Oakland and Alameda wineries.

Stage Left Cellars was voted best San Francisco (?) winery by the SF Bay List, and Dashe Cellars was #2.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

food: Plum

busy kitchen at Plum

I've been hearing about Plum since even before it opened. The reviews from people I know have been very positive, and when I asked some folks after the Running Festival where I should go for an upcoming birthday celebration, they all said Plum. The only negatives I'd heard were that it's expensive, and they automatically include a 16% gratuity. With that knowledge in hand, K made reservations for dinner last week and off we went.

In short, we loved it. The food was beautiful, locally sourced, and thoughtfully prepared. The service was great, and we were fortunate to be sitting at the bar so we could watch the food being prepared. While the dishes are small, they're made with unusual combinations of ingredients and end up tasting wonderful.

young carrots

K and I shared everything, and as suggested by the waiter, we ordered 2-3 appetizers and entrees per person, for a total of 5 dishes. We started with the young carrots (with brown butter, pickled garlic, breadcrumbs and wood sorrel) and the beet boudin noir (with brussel sprouts, juniper and kolhrabi), and loved both.

We also had an asparagus dish (which I don't see on the menu, so I can't tell you everything that went into it besides asparagus and mushrooms), which was also great. There was a mix-up about the asparagus order so we had a short wait until one was prepared, but it was worth the wait.

For our main dishes, we had some yummy halibut, and an amazing slow-cooked farm egg dish (different than the one currently shown on the menu, as that includes chicken). All of this was accompanied by a flask of red wine, which was a perfect compliment to the meal. (The flask was fitting because it was also Robert Bunsen's birthday.)

The drinks menu has beers (including some Linden Street Brewery beers), wines, Blue Bottle Coffee, and a variety of other interesting drinks. The wine list isn't huge, but there's a good assortment of sparkling, whites and reds to choose from.

asparagus with mushrooms

The only negatives were the price and the somewhat uncomfortable (but beautiful-looking) stools. The price wasn't too high for the dining experience they deliver, but it is high enough that we can't afford to eat there too often. It's perfect for a nice dinner or a special occasion. I highly recommend getting seats at the bar so you can watch the food being prepared. The seats there are hard, wooden stools, but you get a great view of the process. The other seating is mostly at communal tables, so you'll likely be seated next to someone you don't know. The reviews on Yelp are mostly the "loved it" or "didn't think it was worth it" variety, averaging 3.5 out of 5 stars. Things are generally more positive on Urban Spoon, where 81% liked it. SFGate food critic Michael Bauer gave it 3 out of 4 stars (excellent), and more recently named it one of the top 100 restaurants in the SF Bay Area.

In any event, we really liked it, and we'll definitely go again.

Friday, April 1, 2011

new Habitat homes beginning

cutting roof sheathing

Guess where I spent today? If you guessed across the street from the new East Oakland library, you're right! I spent the day at the Habitat for Humanity worksite which will be the site of the 2011 build-a-thon (it's not too late to sponsor me! Many thanks to those who already have.) It's literally across 81st Ave. from the new library and the two adjacent schools. I helped put the roof sheathing on the first house being built. Before each build-a-thon, we frame one model house, to try to work out any problems ahead of time. And yes, it was hot, or at least felt that way to me. Certainly not August/September heat, but plenty warm with the sun reflecting back up off the OSB we were nailing down. Between that and the ride home, I'm too wiped to head to to this month's Art Murmur, alas.