Saturday, August 07, 2010

Street Food In Emeryville, Edible East Bay

All photos copyright 2010, Melissa Schneider and used with her permission.

I have a new article in the current issue of Edible East Bay. It talks about the way street food converted my office's lunchtime attitude from apathy to excitement. Yes, street food enthusiasm is not a new piece, but I hoped that the more personal spin would make it more engaging.

The street food scene has exploded in the Bay Area, especially in Emeryville, which opens its arms wide to any business that wants to set up shop. That not only makes it easy for trucks and carts to hang out their shingles, it ensures a hefty number of companies whose employees all get hungry. I wrote about Liba, Seoul On Wheels, and Jon's Street Eats.

Since I turned in my article, two more excellent food trucks, Primo's Parilla and Chairman Bao, have started parking near my work. If you want a quick bead on Emeryville food trucks, by the way, you can follow the Twitter list I made for myself.

In addition to the article, I've been asked to speak on the subject of Street Food at this year's Eat Real Festival in Oakland. Come out to heckle or cheer, but say hi either way.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Lack Of Mothering Yields Mother

Imagine pulling this slightly squishy, inch-plus thick disc out of a glass jar on your counter.

I had ignored my white wine vinegar for a couple of months, but it was nonplussed by the neglect. It continued to churn out the material that lots of people call the mother (I view the mother as the whole culture of bacteria in the liquid, and the sheet as a byproduct of the process and an indicator of the culture's health.) By the time I looked at it, it had created this monster of a wheel. And the vinegar underneath smelled perfect: I bottled off a half-bottle of it and refilled it with more white wine.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Just Food Benefit

My good friend Amy sent me this press release, and I wanted to pass it along to you. The Ashoka Youth Venture programs I've seen her organize have been really interesting: Grassroots food justice programs helping low-income neighborhoods in creative ways. Here's a link to the event information.

It is with great excitement that I introduce you to A Night to Benefit JUST FOOD- a fundraising event for JUST FOOD, a program that Ashoka’s Youth Venture San Francisco Bay Area will be launching this Fall in collaboration with the Earth Island Institute. JUST FOOD will support teams of young people as they start their own sustainable social ventures surrounding the theme of food justice, and connect them into a powerful global network. I hope that you will attend our fundraising event on July 30th at 6:30pm. Please see the attached 2-page invitation to register and to learn more about Mollie Katzen and James Berk, our two award-winning guest speakers for the evening.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Secret Ingredients

The best time to read Secret Ingredients: The New Yorker Book of Food and Drink may be just after you've finished taking a creative nonfiction writing course. While my professor assigned us a wide range of essays to ponder and critique, virtually none were examples within my genre: food and wine writing.

Secret Ingredients fills that gap. Every piece I've read — it is our current read-aloud book for road trips — seems to hit it out of the park. The very first essay, "All You Can Hold For Five Bucks," about traditional New York beefsteaks has colorful details, well-constructed scenes, good dialog, and a narrative flow that keeps you moving through it. And that piece is followed by another excellent one. And another.

The New Yorker has always been able to attract top talent, and so it's no surprise to find great pieces throughout this thick book, which spans not only the magazine's eighty-year history but a wide range of topics: from eating rats at restaurants that specialize in their preparation to eating at Fernand Point's La Pyramide at its height. There is a sprawling essay about Julia Child and a story by Roald Dahl. In fact, if I have a problem with this book, it's only that every entry reminds me of how far I still have to go as a writer.

But I do have one note of caution. Make sure you're well fed before you sit down to read the book. Because if you're at all hungry, as Melissa and I were on a recent road trip, this book will make you hungrier still.

Friday, April 16, 2010

TasteLive With Nautilus Estate

I pushed through the heavy doors into the lobby of Local Kitchen, a restaurant that sits on First Street just before a major Bay Bridge on-ramp. Horns honked as drivers fumed under the late afternoon sun. Cars jockeyed for what few inches they could muster from the thicket of steel and glass around them.

The restaurant lobby was cool and quiet. Thick, frosted windows made the evening traffic vanish. I wandered to a room to my left, and mentioned to the waitress that I was here for a tasting of New Zealand wines. I milled about with the other people in the room, who greeted each other like old friends. Maybe these were the Twitterers I was meeting? They were dressed well, but it could be, right? It's not like anyone knows what anyone looks like on Twitter.

I smiled as they looked at me askance and said hello. I'm never good at introducing myself to a bunch of strangers. None of them looked like Katy Prescott, the sales and marketing manager for New Zealand's Nautilus Estate. I had last seen her two and a half years ago when Melissa and I visited New Zealand. Maybe she had stepped out? Maybe I was misremembering what she looked like?

A minute later, the waitress I had spoken to came over and grabbed me. I was in the wrong private room.

Further inside the restaurant, in a walled-off area, Katy — obviously Katy, a pretty woman with short, dark-brown hair and a telltale New Zealand accent — was waiting for her guests. I was the first arrival. She shook my hand, and we exchanged European-style cheek-kisses. Wine glasses and Nautilus bottles sat on the long table. Each place setting had her business card, a name card, and a DVD of images from Nautilus's 25 years.

"I don't really know what to expect of this," she said. I couldn't help. I had never been to a TasteLive event before.

TasteLive is social media meets wine marketing. We would be tasting wines in one physical location even as other people across the country were tasting the same wines at their locations. Someone more cynical than even I might note that while TasteLive might be a good way to let consumers "directly interact with the producers," it is also a good way for lesser-known bloggers/tweeters to get the samples normally sent to bigger names.

I had seen these events happening in my Twitter feed. Wine bloggers from around the country would be filling up my Twitter client with comments about the flavors in the wine, what they thought of them, price points, and so on. Think of it as the Twitter equivalent of a wine tasting group. Except with bottle variation and shipping issues.

The other guests showed up. The first was Paige Granback, a tall woman with shoulder-length blond hair and a slight rasp in her voice. She obviously knew Katy, and I figured out why: Paige, now the eCommerce and Marketing manager for online wine shop JJ Buckley, was formerly at San Francisco's Jug Shop, one of the main American retailers for New Zealand's wines. Next was Thea Dwelle, an energetic woman who does social media consulting for the wine industry. Paige filled us in on the other guests: Leslie Sbrocco, a wine writer best known locally as the host of Check, Please!, was en route from Napa; Chuck Hayward, formerly the New Zealand buyer for The Jug Shop and now also at JJ Buckley, was in a meeting running late. Paige and Thea were veteran TasteLive participants, so Katy and I figured they'd guide us a bit.

The first wine, Nautilus's Sauvignon Blanc, came to the table, and everyone got ready. I opened my notebook. Everyone else pulled out their iPhones. I reached into my pocket for mine and found that it had just 10 percent battery left. My TasteLive performance was off to a grand start.

Katy's cable plus my laptop solved that problem. I scribbled notes in my notebook — pitch-perfect New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc with great balance and depth, zingy acidity, not too aggressive or green. Our two TasteLive veterans fielded questions from the distributed tasters and gave quick primers (good and bad) about the personalities of the people behind the twitter aliases, both those tasting along and those who were regulars but absent from the stream.

Then we moved on to the Pinot Gris. The Twitter stream commented on the creaminess and what food they were drinking it with. I scribbled notes in my notebook and worried about spamming my followers. Does anyone ever want to see constant updates from TasteLive participants if they themselves are not joining in? (Or, frankly, even if they are?) I never do when I see the events unfolding.

As Paige and Thea talked social media and as Katy poured the Pinot Noir (in addition to the three lots that went into the blend), I began to realize how far behind I am in this world. No matter that I've been blogging here for 7 1/2 years. No matter that I have a number of scalable websites and seventeen years of systems design under my belt. No matter that I have a solid command of a wide variety of programming languages and au courant technologies. When it comes to social media and its role in the modern world, I feel like a dinosaur.

Conversation quickly left the wines — did it ever focus on them? — and moved to the benefits of different Twitter clients, the promises of iPhone OS 4.0, and the upcoming Wine Bloggers Conference. Curious about what a social media consultant does, I asked Thea and got a quick overview: How to effectively communicate across the different networks of your imaginary friends. Is this something people focus on? Does it matter to their sales? Or their brand? (A question I've asked elsewhere.)

Leslie and Chuck finally arrived, and I found a way to retreat into my geekiness. Chuck and Katy were talking about the New Zealand wine industry and the wines in front of us as Leslie, Thea, and Paige discussed social media at large and industry gossip in general. I'm a geek — wine, technology, puzzles, you name it — and so I leaned over to Chuck and Katy and tried to absorb the knowledge of two people deepy enmeshed in New Zealand's wine industry (another topic that I've pondered before).

Melissa and I have noticed, more and more of late, that we don't get the new generation of bloggers. And I think that applies to social media as well. The young bloggers of today seem to be saying, "How do we fit this in the modern world, and how do we make it work for ourselves and others?" My generation of bloggers — and, to be clear, any number of people probably consider me a young blogger — simply wanted to write about our experiences, whether anyone was listening or not. Search engine optimization wasn't a buzzword when we started, though we all know varying things about it now. There was no WordPress: Blogger, LiveJournal, and TypePad were the solutions of the day. Easy access to tools and technologies mean that new bloggers have different concerns. Melissa and I sometimes feel like the young bloggers see their blogs as vehicles to a restaurant or a book deal or a foot in the industry and not as ends in themselves.

But at the same time, the current generation is imagining possibilities we mostly can't. They see opportunities to reach new audiences, to find new communities, to build networks of contacts and associates and friends. They see themselves as agents of change and, realistically, they probably are.

And where does that leave me, who is skeptical of social media and who writes in two increasingly archaic media: print and full-length blogs. I'm not sure. But I feel a sudden urge to change Twitter clients.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Conversion Limbo

This conversion from Blogger to WordPress isn't going very well. The main problem at this point is that Blogger's export of posts cuts off after about 3 megs, or about one-eighth of my content. Meanwhile, Google has taken away my ability to post via FTP (because I converted to a blogspot blog to help with the WordPress import.) While I'm working on dealing with these issues, I decided to do a temporary hack.

This site,, now puts all the content from my temporary site,, into an iframe. This is not an ideal solution, but it does allow me to post, which my limbo setup did not. It does, however, mean that my RSS feed is probably not updating, and it also means that links on this page will not change your browser's address bar. Sorry for the inconvenience, but I'm mostly very annoyed at Google and Blogger at this point. If you're going to cut off a bunch of your customers, you should make sure they can cleanly exit the service.

Don't understand my comment about the address bar? Here's a good example: a piece I wrote recently about the Vino-Lok closure for the San Francisco Chronicle. If you click on that link, your browser will still say you're at

I have not subsumed SFGate. Or any other link you might click on.

I'll get this dealt with as soon as humanly possible, but this at least gives me a means to post new content, which I do intend to do.

Thanks for your patience.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Do Wine Blogs Matter?

I wrote an article for the San Francisco Chronicle about wine blogs and their effect on the market.

I had hoped to make that announcement the new post on the WordPress version of this site, but the conversion looks like it will take a while.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Switching To WordPress

Just letting you all know that I'm finally moving my blog from Blogger (I know!) to WordPress. So the site may look funky off and on. Bear with me, please. Having programmer-friendly blogging software will be great (and, besides, Blogger is removing support for FTP publishing, which is how I push content to my servers.)

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Overnight Chicken Stock

I woke up this morning to the smell of chicken stock.

I stepped out of bed, walked down the hallway, and looped back into the kitchen. A pot sat over a burner turned to very low. In it, thin slices of translucent onion formed a mat on the surface of the liquid. A chicken wing tip poked through the surface. The liquid had dropped about two inches overnight. I placed a chinoise over a bowl and poured the pot's contents through it.

The chicken stock in the bowl was a rich, golden-brown color. Even at room temperature, a shake of the bowl produced a gelatinous jiggle instead of a liquidy splash.

This is my preferred technique for chicken stock now.

The technique came about by accident. I needed chicken stock for a dish the next day, and I only remembered late the night before that I had intended to make some. Having an excellent meal planning app doesn't help you if you forget to look at it.

I set up the chicken stock before going to bed, set the burner to low, and woke up early the next morning. That first batch had reduced down significantly overnight: I ended up with about 2 cups. But the stock was intensely flavored and thick. For the second batch, I planned the overnight steep in advance, re-upped the liquid in the pot before bed, and woke up to perfect stock.

I can't imagine going back to done-in-2-hours stock at this point. My technique may have been an accident, but it's hardly original. Michael Ruhlman, I realized recently, has a post on his blog about turkey stock done in a similar way. He uses the oven; I use the burner. Same difference.

The Technique
I usually start this a couple hours before going to bed so I can adjust the temperature as needed. This usually nets me about one quart of stock, but your mileage may vary.
Assemble your chicken stock the way you normally would. I collect bits and bones from the chicken we get every few weeks in the Soul Food Farms CSA. For a given chicken, I dice one onion and cut one medium carrot and one celery stalk into thick slices. I add the chicken pieces (some weeks, we get feet on our chicken, which is a bonus source of gelatin) and enough water to cover.

I know approximately where I need to set my burner for optimal results, but I keep an eye on it. For normal chicken stock, you want a bubble to appear on the surface every few seconds. For this chicken stock, you want about a 10-second interval. I keep an eye on how fast the liquid is dropping. You want about one quarter of an inch every hour. Just before going to bed, I top up the stock with more cold water.

The next morning, I wake up to heaven.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Bay Area Want Ads

Vegan/Gluten-Free In Bay Area
My friend Tim sent me a note a while back asking if I knew of any Bay Area wholesalers for vegan and/or gluten-free pastries. He'd like to be able to offer them at Zocalo Coffeehouse in San Leandro. I don't know of any, but perhaps some of you do. Write me or write him if you have suggestions.

Maxis Is Hiring
Maybe this would be better on my programming blog, but OWF has more readers. Maxis is hiring various sorts of online folks to fill some recently vacated slots, and I'd love for you all to have the opportunity to work with one of the best video game studios around. (Note that Maxis is in Emeryville, despite being owned by Electronic Arts in Redwood Shores.)

Here are some of the skills we're looking for. Write me if you're interested:

  • Database architect/performance/scalability expertise. Maxis isn't exactly a major financial institution, but we do have big, data-and-throughput-heavy systems.
  • Front-end web skills (JavaScript, HTML, CSS). You should be very comfortable with AJAX.
  • Outsourcing management - Got experience successfully managing outsourced development teams and getting high-quality work out of them?
  • General middle-tier web skills. Our most immediate need is for someone well-versed in PHP and MySQL. Again, experience building robust, scalable systems would be useful. As would a proven ability to create maintainable code with well architected public-facing APIs.