This past weekend was the Real Eat Festival in Oakland‘s Jack London Square. You’re probably thinking to yourself, ‘another food festival?’ Why, yes foodie friends, who doesn’t love eating good, fast, cheap food under blue skies and a bright shining sun. Given my limited budget and fluctuating waistline (I’m the maid of honor for my best friend’s wedding next weekend), I only made it out to the Saturday festivities. This time I got to be an attendee rather than a worker bee. Working food festivals is hard work, but a rush of fun! I got to see some familiar faces from La Cocina and Off the Grid, all hustling their products to the masses with their beauty and grace!
There were a ton of vendors bustling out a variety of hot, cold, packaged, and speciality foods. Lots of good beer, mixed drinks, and agua frescas by the lovely Hella Vegan Eats ladies (a La Cocina incubator program member).
Aside from the amazing variety of food available, there were food and cooking demonstrations, life-style booths spreading the word on urban gardening and farming, and live music.
The first dish of the day was from Chac Mool (another La Cocina incubator program member). Two tacos of carnitas (stewed pork) and nopales (sauteed cactus) on two freshly made corn tortillas. Yummy!!!
Next was on to Chop Bar and their whole roasted pig! I love me some pork, especially when it’s a whole roasted hog. Crunchy, succulent, and salty pig skin encasing a tender, juicy meat..mmm mmm oink oink… It was finger licking good!
Did someone say corn dog??? That’s right folks, next was Tante’s hand-dipped corn dog that was oh so delicious!
Having lived in England for several years, I tend to miss certain things, especially zebra crossings, rain in the summer, EastEnders, a cuppa, Sunday roasts, pints, and the English breakfast. Bacon, bangers (sausage), eggs, baked beans, toast, tomatoes, mushrooms, and black pudding (for the northern types) all fried/grilled into a greasy mess. Curing the worst hangover, nourishing the body for a hard days work, and clogging arteries for a lifetime.
I never stated, nor have others, that the English make good food, but they sure do make food that sustains the body. I mean beer was breakfast for many years. What we now know of as ‘The English Breakfast’, ‘fry-up’, or ‘full English’ is a fairly recent conception, consisting all of the above ingredients, really emerging as a national breakfast post WWII and getting serious in the 1960s with the help of bed and breakfast establishments. Bacon has been part of the English diet since the eighteenth century and was happily married to the egg, coining the term ‘bacon and eggs.’ A match made in breakfast heaven!
This isn’t your everyday kind of breakfast. I remember going to greasy spoons, or cafés (as they are called in the UK) and devouring a full breakfast like a champ. Always surrounded by working-class men, college students, the unemployed, and the recently hungover. Not a lot of women around, they were probably watching their figures somewhere.
Given my affinity for all things English, my ex-pat friend Martin graciously made me a full breakfast. Despite his current trend of vegetarianism, he banged it out like a true Englishman.
Summer has come and gone and all I can think about is how I’ll miss all the summer fruits. Nothing compares to freshly picked stone fruits. Their sweetness lingers in the air from miles away. Their firm yet supple flesh screams ‘eat me!’. I really do wanna shake their trees!
I remember driving through orchards in the Great Central Valley and being mesmorized by all the stone fruit trees, and especially by the amount of waste scattered upon the orchard floor. All I could think about was how sad the fruit must be, alone, bruised, neglected, and left to rot… I mean think about all the amazing things you could turn them into. Jam, pies, tarts, muffins, juice, cake, ice cream, and so on…
Amazingly enough, the peach and its less hairy sister, the nectarine, made their way to California all the way from China via the Spanish. Yes, those pesky bearded spaniards. Despite its delicate condition, the peach has travelled for thousands of years, and miles, to become a Californian agricultural summertime staple. I can’t imagine a summer without coddling a juicy peach with its sweet nectar running down my chin and drying up into sticky goodness!
Given that summer is quickly fading away into fall, I couldn’t help myself but make one last summer peach pie.
What wedding wouldn’t be complete without the holy matrimony of food and drink? On Sunday I had the pleasure of catering a wedding off Highway 1 at a beautiful sustainable farm called Pie Ranch. The sun was shining, the cows were mooing, the goats were neighing, the corks were popping, and the currying was finger licking good! The Bride and Groom were laid back and ready to have some fun at their farm style wedding. They had visited Off the Grid several months ago and fell in love with Azalina’s spicy Malaysian/Californian concoctions. Who knew Malaysian food at a California farm style wedding would pair so well.
Like most catering gigs, you’re always trying to beat the clock. Time seems to speed up when you have 130 hungry and merry (in all contexts) guests to feed. Our kitchen was outdoors and visible to the wedding party and natures guests, such as bees, flies, dirt galore, and a cat rustling around our feet…
And like any marriage, the road is paved with ups and downs… Our holy matrimony of food and drink took us down a heavily paved road of ups and downs. First, there was the unexpected propane fire during the preparation of cocktail hour hor d’oeuvres. Everyone stood in complete shock as the hose melted away from the stove and propane oozed out of the tank, catching on fire. Did I mention we were in an outdoor kitchen… We had to get the propane turned off. I grabbed a pair of kitchen tongs and bravely attempted to close the nozzle all while there was a huge flame burning right in front of me. This was not good. Finally, after what felt like FOREVER, someone grabbed the fire extinguisher and put out the flame. All while this is happening, The Talking Heads song ‘Burning Down the House’ is on repeat in my head. Once the fire was put out, we thought we were in the clear, however, this fire was out of control and came back for seconds.
After the fire fiasco, we calmly moved on to service hour. We had Mini Chicken Curry Bomb Sandwiches, 2 varieties of puff pastry, one filled with caramelized onions, brie, and figs, the second with curried yams and sweet corn. The bees and wasps were happy to have us around and made sure to stick right by our sides the whole time. Luckily no one was stung!
Next was dinner service. As I was cutting up the Lemongrass Barbecued Spare Ribs, a few wedding guests began talking about the cat under the table. The cat had been present the whole time, but this time something fishy was going on, or shall I say birdie… Like all good cats, this one decided to bring us a dying Quail and gnaw on it right under the table we were preparing food on. Now what does one do at this moment. Seeing that my hands were covered in meat juices and the other gals were plating food for service, we just decided to let the pussy cat be. Ironically, we were serving Quail eggs with the salad. I assume the cat was trying to complete the meal. The surrounding wedding guests found the cat’s antics amusing and felt obligated to be present to the end, of the bird’s life that is.
All in all, the wedding was a success! The bride and groom were the intellectual environmentalist type, which made our job a whole lot easier. No bridezilla over here, or cocktail napkins. I mean who needs napkins at a wedding anyway. We even got a round of applause during dinner. These guests appreciated a hardworking kitchen crew!