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Scene: the Mission District in San Francisco.

Location: the counter at Pizzeria Delfina.

Rationale: all the SF food bloggers rave about this place.

Ambience: great view of fresh ingredients and the line cooks working. Charming details like thin bread sticks and a plate from which I could pinch parmesan cheese, dried oregano on the stem, and red pepper flakes. Economical use of the small space made the restaurant feel cozy rather than crowded.

Cast of characters: me, kind waitress, friendly counter neighbors to talk with throughout the meal.

Food: broccoli raab pizza plus a slice of the salsiccia pizza and part of the insalata tricolore that my new friends shared with me.

Review: my broccoli raab pizza was good, just a little soggy I assume from the veggie's steam. Fortunately, it didn't permeate the crust--only the top part of the pizza was a little too damp. The flavors were interesting, though: nice cheesiness, yummy thin crust, and great to have a pizza with green vegetables. And it was beautiful to look at.

The sausage pizza, though, was so delicious. I loved the spiciness of the sausage and the great balance of onion, red pepper and tomato. This pizza guaranteed that I would return to Pizzeria Delfina.

And it was really delightful to go to a restaurant alone and end up meeting two interesting people who were so generous with their food and conversation.

Pizzeria Delfina

3611 18th Street

San Francisco, CA 94110

415/437-6800

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Recently, I took two of my nieces to San Francisco for a weekend. They have become experts on Korean pop music--mostly from reading tumblr blogs and watching videos on youtube--and their enthusiasm was infectious. They spoke with confidence about the companies that produce K-Pop, the bands, the cultural practices unique to this genre of music. Needless to say, my newfound enjoyment in Korean pop is linked closely to my love for my nieces . . . but I find that I also really enjoy its dance/movement and stylistic choices. Here's one of my favorite videos that my nieces introduced to me:

We listened to bands like Super Junior, 2NE1, and Big Bang all across northern Nevada and as we descended into San Francisco. We also went to the closest thing we could find to a Korean section of the city, namely Japantown. Oddly enough, I'd only driven through that area, never walking around the plaza, streets, or malls that are in that part of town.

The highlight of the entire trip proved to be lunch at a place called Seoul Garden. My nieces really wanted to try Korean barbecue and this restaurant proved to be a great introduction. We chose bulgogi (beef) and we all really loved it and the banchans that are served with each Korean meal, yes, even, nay especially, the kimchi. We also enjoyed the process of creating ssam: extracting the meat from the grill on our table, placing it on a big piece of romaine with some of the banchans, and then creating a packet of meat/veggies that we ate by hand. It was a fabulous meal.

If you'd like to know more about Korean barbecue, you might watch this Eat Your Kimchi video which features a pork version (start at about 2:25 if you want to go straight to the food portion of the video). You could also watch the series The Kimchi Chronicles on Hulu to learn more about Korean cooking.

Seoul Garden

1655 Post Street

(inside mall, second floor)

San Francisco, CA

As I planned a recent trip to Finland, I didn't necessarily think that the cuisine was a big draw. I'm happy to report that I was absolutely wrong. Finnish chefs are creating exciting food, riffing on traditional cuisine by combining classic ingredients with a contemporary twist. Mind you, I didn't read that anywhere, those are just my findings after about a week of "research."

My first night in Helsinki, I ate at my hotel restaurant because I was too tired and it was too late to find anywhere else. I ordered the potato pancakes with smoked salmon, creme fraiche (I think), and dill. The waitress brought out three tiny, beautiful pancakes. The salmon tasted like no other smoked salmon I've ever had: rather than the velvety texture I've come to expect, this salmon was tender with--I don't know how else to describe it--a little bit of crunch on the edges. I think this must have been lightly smoked and the result was divine. The delicate fronds of dill on top each pancake gave each a slightly herbal taste--and a beautiful appearance. I was wowed.

The next night, I met my friend Kris for dinner at the Elite, a restaurant she recommended. We were both delighted by a starter that we chose almost as an afterthought which combined reindeer sausage with some kind of creamy topping. Kris thought the sauce had chunks of apples in it. I have no idea what else it contained, but it provided such a nice contrast to the smokiness of the meat. This restaurant was the most traditional of the places I ate, and I enjoyed the meatballs I ordered as my main course.

While in Finland, I also traveled to Turku. I did do some reading about the restaurants there, but I also had great luck just choosing where to eat randomly. My first night there, I had a surprising salad that combined lettuce, 4 olives, slow roasted tomatoes, and pomegranate seeds with a light lemon vinaigrette. This was so refreshing.

The next evening, I tried Blanko, just a few steps away from Tinta, the restaurant I'd eaten at the night before. More lightly smoked salmon with a salsa verde, a Spanish tortilla, and a good salad. If I had to be hyper-critical, I'd say this meal seemed more mass produced and less nuanced than the other food I ate in Finland. Still, I enjoyed it a great deal.

These first two restaurants in Turku were ones that were recommended. The next night, I happened to choose to eat in a restaurant that, I found out afterwards, was associated with another highly respected restaurant. I ate at E. Ekblom (all three of these restaurants are on the river Aura on a lovely tree-lined street). At this last of my experiences eating in Turku, I again loved the food. I ordered hummus, which had a fresh taste and was topped with sliced pea pods and radishes. I'm pretty sure that it wasn't made with tahini, or at least not much of it. It was light and simple and so satisfying. I also had a fantastic leek quiche that was served with a fennel salad. I enjoyed the salad, although I have to admit that the tamari soaked fennel didn't quite go with the rest of the meal. Still, the food was so good here!

My last night in Helsinki, I arrived at Juuri, another place highly recommended by Kris, just after they opened, hoping they could squeeze me in (as Kris told me that one usually has to have a reservation). I was lucky enough to get in, and this was my best meal in Finland--best even though I was crazy about everything else I'd eaten on the trip. Juuri serves what they call, sapas, a Finnish version of tapas. They divide them up into fish, meat, and vegetable, and the restaurant staff recommended I order 5-6. I decided to order 4, but I actually wish now that I had ordered more. Each one was tiny, but perfectly constructed, a tribute to commonly used Finnish ingredients or traditional dishes. My sausage with vodka-infused mustard was divine. The pike cake with horseradish cream was clever and layered. The potato pancake with garlic butter and lovage was yummy and the fried willow herb was out of this world. In appearance, willow herb looks like tiny fronds of broccoli that have been oven-roasted. But the taste was much more delicate than broccoli.

At some point, I'll return to this post to edit, post links, and give the addresses of restaurants. But for now, I wanted to describe these culinary adventures while the memory is fresh. I am very impressed with contemporary Finnish cuisine and hope to learn more about its history and recent development.

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Two of my friends asked me recently when I would blog about food again. I guess it has been a couple of months since I did that--and I've had some good meals recently, too.

For instance, this weekend, I was in Berkeley visiting friends and doing research. Saturday night I had dinner at Zatar with Ben and Gigi. I told them I would cry if we didn't order hummus, so we did; the waitress teased us for licking the plate clean. We also shared the summer vegetable tagine which was out of this world and a chicken special in phyllo. Both main dishes contained the unexpected taste of cinnamon.

Then, yesterday morning I went with Jonathan to Brown Sugar Kitchen, a soul food restaurant in Oakland. I refused to have the unnatural combination of chicken and waffles. I'm sorry, there are some things that just shouldn't touch on a plate. The egg pie with veggies and mushrooms was delicious, though. I also liked their t-shirt with a waffle on it (though at first glance it could have been brains).

Both restaurants feature local, organic food--both have attractive interiors, both were packed, and in both I was in the company of good conversationalists.

I think I'm collecting restaurants I love in the Bay area . . . and I just added two more to the list. Happily, I'll be returning in a couple of weeks to attend the wedding of Steve and Rex. This time I'll try to remember to take pictures.

Zatar Restaurant
1981 Shattuck Avenue
Berkeley, California

Brown Sugar Kitchen
2534 Mandela Parkway
Oakland, California
510-839-SOUL (7685)

When I was in Norway, one of my less frequently requested presentations was on food. My first incarnations of this presentation were a little dry, so I decided I needed to augment this first draft with some humor. One thing I added was an excerpt of the following video:

Yeah, maybe I was a little desperate--but I have to admit that this video made me chuckle.

Fast forward to 2011. Recently, I went to Kansas City for the National Writing Project's Web Presence Retreat. We spent most of the weekend in the hotel's conference room, working with really smart people to create individual protected social networking sites housed at NWP Connect. I was excited to meet some of the people that I've been following on Twitter, people who are committed to teaching with technology and who have all kinds of good ideas about 21st century learning. Even though it was a working weekend, it was exhilarating to be in the same room with such innovative teachers.

Saturday night, we actually left the hotel for the first time in 24 hours. A group of over 20 of us went to Gates Bar-B-Q, one of the two best barbecue joints in Kansas City, according to locals Michael and Steve. I don't eat a lot of meat, so I was a bit flummoxed as I stood in line waiting to order. I can't remember who was in front of me (Anne Marie? Beth?), but I decided to order the ribs that one of the Gates employees recommended. The ribs were so good that I commented, "I like the idea of being vegetarian, except for the part where you don't get to eat meat," much to the delight of my twitter pal, MsEstep. I also really loved the green beans which were, I'm sure, meat-ified somehow. I'd post a picture but, for some reason, my computer wants to protect my most recent upload. Suffice it to say that the ribs looked like ribs . . . and tasted like the most delicious food ever.

So . . . back to the video. Although the video is definitely a parody of regional culinary differences, I think it still illustrates a passion for barbecue that I now share. Last night, I went to a barbecue at a friend's house and ate . . . a veggie burger. It was delicious--there's just something about the smoke from the grill that adds such a nice flavor to food--but a veggie burger isn't as savory and jaw-droppingly mouthwatering as Gates Bar-B-Q.

Gates Bar-B-Q
various locations (see website)
Kansas City, MO

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Last week I was in Berkeley for several days, working as a reviewer for the National Writing Project's Continued Funding Applications. This event was so well thought out--new reviewers were supported and mentored through the process of reading and writing responses to each site's CFA. Leaders emphasized the need to give feedback that would help each site to accentuate their strengths and follow the model of putting teacher expertise at the center of all we do. I have come to love all things NWP; I love spending time with positive, good hearted people who engage with current research about teaching writing and who are committed to making education better.

This post, then, is for some new friends that were intrigued when they found out that I like to blog about food. Kim and Amy had never heard of food blogs and were bemused when they found out that I have one (oooh, I guess "had" since this blog includes a little bit of everything). Anyway, here goes.

Berkeley has so many wonderful, organic restaurants. Since NWP provided food for breakfast, lunch, and one dinner, I only had time to fit in a few meals out. My first stop when I hit Oakland was Burma Superstar. I ordered "The Lunch;" the tea leaf salad wasn't as good as it usually is, but the samusa soup was so rich and flavorful--and the combination of chunks of samusa and falafel with cabbage created a nice depth to the soup.

After a long day's work, Friday night a group of us went to Venus, a restaurant that my friends Alex and Kyle recommended. I loved the interior of the restaurant which felt cozy and warm. My meal was good, but not great. I ordered short ribs, which were a bit too fatty though I liked the gremolata on top. I was much more enamored of the mashed yellow finns (potatoes), parsnips, and kale underneath the meat.

The real stand out of the meal for me was the toffee pudding which was rich and decadent with its topping of coriander cream. I shared with everyone, but the pudding was so rich that I still had more than enough.

Saturday night, my wonderful table leader Karen invited us to dinner. Her friend Pat really loves Five at the Hotel Shattuck, so that's where we ate. I decided to order the stuffed pepper and, oh, was it good! Filled with a combination of "ancient grains," pistachios and spinach and topped with ricotta cheese and romesco sauce, the stuffed pepper had a wonderful texture that was both chewy and silky smooth. I've never been a fan of stuffed peppers, but I am now. This meal was by far the best one of the trip.

To end my Berkeley food experiences, Joanne and I ate at Karma Kitchen (which runs out of the Taste of Himalayas restaurant on Sundays). My meal there was just average, but I loved the concept. Here's their description: "Imagine a restaurant where there are no prices on the menu and where the check reads $0.00 with only this footnote: 'Your meal was a gift from someone who came before you. To keep the chain of gifts alive, we invite you to pay it forward for those dine after you.'" A sense of giving permeated the restaurant, both from the volunteers who waited tables and the diners who felt part of a transitory community of givers. As I paid the check, I didn't care how much the food was worth, I just wanted to make sure this tradition continued.

As I drove home Sunday afternoon, I felt a glorious sense of well being. I suppose the beautiful weather and good food contributed to that feeling, but I also felt a sense of work well done and joyous camaraderie with like-minded people.

Burma Superstar
4721 Telegraph Ave
Oakland, CA 94609
510 652-2900

Venus
2327 Shattuck
Berkeley, CA
510-540-5950

Five
2086 Allston Way
Berkeley, CA
510-225-6055

Karma Kitchen/Taste of Himalayas
1700 Shattuck Ave
Berkeley, CA

I was in Orlando just before Thanksgiving for the annual meeting of the National Writing Project. My home for the meeting was the Disney Contemporary Hotel--which was actually pretty cool with its mid-century modern design and indoor monorail track. There were about 11 of us from the Fresno area who attended, so one night we all went out to dinner at Iron Chef Cat Cora's Kouzzina, one of the few places we could get a table for a large group. The restaurant is family friendly with an open kitchen and lots of shouts of "opa!"

As I do frequently, I ordered from the appetizer menu. I couldn't decide on just two, so I ordered an extra appetizer to eat as breakfast the next morning. The avgolemono, a creamy lemon chicken soup, was divine. Months later, I can still taste that soup. I also really enjoyed the saganaki, seared Haloumi Cheese with oregano and a grilled lemon to squeeze on top. Yes, the cheese and bread were breakfast, but I also tried it that night so I could taste what it was like fresh from the grill.

Avgolemono
Avgolemono

The other dish I ordered was Beets with skordalia (in this case, garlicky potatoes). Oh, yum.

Although these dishes seemed designed for a more mainstream crowd, I was glad to try a couple of new-to-me Greek dishes . . . I think now I need to try the real thing.

And Disney World? Well, let's just say that, although the conference was great, I grew tired of having everyone tell me to "have a magical day!" Good thing for those rollercoasters at Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studio--those rides took my breath away, made me hang on tight, and provoked all kinds of screams and laughter.

Kouzzina
Disney Boardwalk, Disney World

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Tonight, my friends Alex, Kyle, and I wanted to grab a bite to eat. I had checked my twitter feed earlier and learned that Dusty Buns, a traveling taco truck, was going to be in the Tower District tonight. A couple of months ago, I had read Joan Obra's column about Dusty Buns, but what can I say? I'm slow in getting things done--before tonight, I'd never visited the truck.

When we arrived, there was a long line. Our friends and fellow CSUF faculty Melissa and Michelle were there . . . and later on Randa, Russell, and Angelo showed up as well. While we were waiting, we made a recording to memorialize our (my?) excitement:

We ordered food, waited some more chatting with other people in line--and when our food was delivered, we hightailed it to my house in order to eat it while it was still hot.

I had "le grilled cheese"--Angelo warned me that I had to use "le" because "they" would punch me if I said I wanted "the grilled cheese." I ordered as Angelo instructed and wasn't punched. Thanks, A, for the tip! My sandwich isn't much to look at in this photo, but, oh, it was good. Bravo Farms aged cheddar, country-style bacon, an heirloom tomato slice, organic greens, and herb mayo.

Kyle had the Veg Out, a sloppy joe style sandwich made with squash, eggplant, olive tapenade, and parmesan cheese. Alex had one of the specials for the night: steak tacos with heirloom salsa. They both loved their food. We ordered one side of potato salad (with more bacon) and two Tasty Cakes (basically, pecan blondies) as well. Both were fantastic and not very expensive. Alex's food was the most photogenic of the evening, so here's a picture:

Our first visit to Dusty Buns was a huge success. As we devoured our food tonight, we wondered why Fresno, a city located in the heart of one of the richest agricultural areas in the nation, didn't have more restaurants that served only organic, local ingredients. It's really pathetic that the restaurants Fresnans get excited about are national chains like Tahoe Joes and P.F. Changs. The food prepared by Dusty Buns is so delicious--it's clear that it's not made somewhere else, frozen, and then shipped across the country. Dusty Buns Bistro is my new favorite Fresno restaurant, er, I mean taco truck.

Dusty Buns Bistro
locations change, check their twitter feed

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Time for a food blog entry! A lot of Fresnans love Don Pepe Taqueria. I went there many years ago--don't remember what I had, but I really didn't like it, so I hadn't been back, in spite of everyone's rave reviews. A few weeks ago, I decided to give it another try.

I'm so glad I did. The fish taco I ordered was really good: soft white fish, shredded lettuce, cheese, tomatoes, and crema. It was big and flavorful.

I'll be returning to Don Pepe!

In addition to another great fish taco at Las Barcas in Huntington Beach, CA, I also recently prepared fish at home. I have a great tapas cookbook by Joyce Goldstein which features an unusual fish recipe, white fish and pine nuts. I noticed it a few weeks back and decided to try it. Again, so glad I did. The fish was perfectly cooked, and the tomatoes and peas in the sauce complemented the fish well. This is a recipe that I'll be making again.

Actually, you should try the recipe, too. Here it is (with the adaptations I made because I didn't have everything the recipe called for).

Fish in Pine Nut Sauce (Merluza en Salsa de Pinones)

1/4 c. pine nuts
2 T. olive oil
1/2 large onion, finely chopped
1/2 t. paprika
1/2 T. finely minced garlic
1/8 c. bread crumbs (I used Panko)
1 can stewed tomatoes
1/2 c. dry white wine
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Nice piece of white fish fillet (enough for 2 servings)
1/2 c. frozen peas
1/8 c. chopped parsley

Toast pine nuts (8 minutes at 350 degree farenheit)

In a frying pan, heat 1 T. oil over medium heat. Add onion and cook until softened and translucent, about 8 minutes. Add the paprika, garlic, 1/2 of the pine nuts, bread crumbs, stirring often for 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes and cooking wine and cook for 5-8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until thickened. Season with salt and pepper and keep warm over low heat.

In another frying pan, heat 1 T. oil over medium heat. Sprinkle the fish with salt and pepper, add to the pan, and cook, turning once, until browned on both sides, about 3 minutes on each side. Pour the sauce over the fish, add the peas, and simmer until the fish is opaque throughout, about 5 more minutes. Transfer to serving dish and garnish with pine nuts and parsley. Serve at once.

I've tried a number of recipes from this cookbook--Tapas: Sensational Small Plates from Spain--and have loved them all. Make this recipe AND buy the cookbook!

Don Pepe
4582 N Blackstone Ave
Fresno, CA 93726
(559) 224-1431

There's something about me that loves being on the periphery. Yes, I also love those times that I'm in front of a class helping students learn, and I love the occasions that someone notices "me" and wants to know me better. I'm social, I love people, I love having fun.

But I need a lot of alone time, too. I need to be able to be unnoticed, to have the space to observe (people, nature, the world) and reflect in an interrupted manner. Sometimes, I need to not think, to not be conscious of myself.

When I go to the gym, I feel like I go in disguise. I pull my hair back, wear my glasses and no make-up. I don't initiate conversations--I just want to focus on exercise, on making my body stronger, on feeling my heart beat and being present in my body (as a former yoga teacher used to say).

And sometimes when I'm in a group, I just need time to listen to conversations swirl around me. Sometimes, I need to not say anything.

Sometimes when I'm alone in public, I feel most social. I make small talk with store clerks, smile at strangers--but I don't really want to engage in long conversation.

Yeah, I love people and I love you. But sometimes, I just need time to myself. No, I need time for myself.