Egg on My Face

heavenlysugarbrownsugar

Egg on my face for not blogging for close to two weeks. A simple post about breakfast at Brown Sugar Cafe in West Oakland should have been easy to dash off. But this was no ordinary breakfast. Actually, it was lunch. And there were no eggs.  Unless you count the eggs used in Tanya Holland’s  crisp-on-the-outside-light-as-heavenly-air-on-the-inside  cornmeal waffles with brown sugar butter and apple cider syrup – yes, they are THAT good.  There were probably eggs in the batter Tanya uses to marinate that juicy,  crispy-coated goodness of buttermilk fried chicken that goes so well paired on the fork with a bite of waffle – mmmmm.

Who thought to combine these two foods? I’ve heard a couple of stories, but I like the one about jazz musicians in Harlem famished in the wee hours of the morning after a night of  playing and scatting and finally craving both breakfast and dinner.  Chicken and waffles would sure do the trick.

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There must also have been eggs in the bacon cheddar scallion biscuit I felt the need to order, and that was  so ridiculously redundant. At least Tracie had the sense to order a salad, because I was eying the BBQ shrimp and grits. That could possibly have just killed me. Thumbs up for Tracie who is the voice of reason among the three of us. Alyssa is more like me, and ordered a side of mac and cheese. That was awesome, too. And naturally we saved room for dessert. Strawberry rhubarb crisp and sweet potato pie. In the past, I’ve been ambivalent about sweet potato pie. For me, it’s like pumpkin pie, but not as good. I think it’s because every version I’ve had has been kind of gritty. Not so this version! Brown Sugar’s sweet potato pie is smooth and creamy with a delicious buttery crust and topped with fresh whipped cream. The tangy and sweet fruit crisp was also excellent, and inspired Alyssa to make her own version the next day.

ladies!!! desseart

When we arrived at Brown Sugar at about 12: 20 PM on a Wednesday, there was a forty minute wait. Tracie and Alyssa were on Spring break, and I had a little time on my hands, but we wondered about the hordes of other diners waiting for a table.  “Don’t they have jobs?”  Tracie asked.  Well, she asked the wrong person, because I was happy to take a survey to find out. This is the kind of behavior that mortifies Tracie. I think it makes her feel something like this:

eggonface

Well, from my informal survey, there are enough young software engineers and other hipsters working  from home, plus stay-at-home moms and tourists to keep Brown Sugar pretty packed on a regular basis. I can only imagine how crowded they are on the weekend.

I actually think we may have turned a corner with Tracie so that in the future she might be more accepting of what she affectionately calls my badgerific behavior. One of the diners I approached was a woman who was eating with a gentleman at the counter. They were both older (full heads of grey hair) and dressed very casually so I thought they might be retired.  It turns out the man recently moved to Sacramento from New York, and had heard of the restaurant, even before moving here. The woman lived in San Francisco and volunteered that she was in the neighborhood showing an apartment at 2:00 PM. It so happens, Tracie and Alyssa were considering moving to the East Bay, so I told her that we wanted to come see the place after lunch.

westoakland

Well the apartment turned out to be gorgeous. It was the second floor of an old Victorian,  with all of the original wood details, renovated with stainless steel appliances, washer and dryer in the unit and this fantastic spiral staircase. The tenants would also have access to a huge, enclosed yard. It seemed to be too good to be true, but it wasn’t. It was just a great find. Unfortunately, the landlord did not allow dogs, and Tracie and Alyssa have a little French bulldog. Alyssa explained that Brooklyn was small and well-behaved. Well, it was a no go. Apparently, the previous residents were  model tenants who would make jam for the landlord. The only reason they were no longer there was that they wanted to get a dog. The landlord was disappointed. She liked Tracie and Alyssa. So Alyssa mentioned again how well-behaved Brooklyn, but the landlord cut in, “Don’t you understand? My last tenants were great! They made me jam! What if they drove by and saw a dog? I’d have egg on my face!”  So much for my badgerific ways resulting in the perfect apartment for my friends. The story didn’t end there, either. The woman had a house she was renovating in San Francisco, and there, she would allow dogs. But in the end that didn’t work out either. I was disappointed  because had it worked out, Tracie might never have had to ask me that question again:

2egg on my face

Scrambled eggs all over my face. What is a girl to do. Goodnight, everybody. Deirdre has left the building.

http://brownsugarkitchen.com/

Secret Stairs in Berkeley

secretstairs

I consider walking and exploring great forms of therapy. I especially enjoy self-guided tours in urban areas,  so when I heard Charles Fleming talking on the radio about his book Secret Stairs East Bay (A Walking Guide to the Historic Staircases of Berkeley and Oakland), I ordered a copy. Each circular walk is calibrated by length, difficulty and duration, and also, the exact number of steps on each walk.  Fleming had previously written a book on hidden stairways in LA where many locals were less than thrilled with urban hikers in their neighborhoods. By contrast, he reports that East Bay residents seemed delighted with explorers taking an interest in their necks of the woods. This tidbit made me happy as I have just recently begun to embrace the East Bay as my home. I moved from Manhattan to San Francisco in 1999 and then to the East Bay in 2004. For most of that time I considered myself a New Yorker spending a little time on the Left Coast. Fourteen years later I am still here with no plans to re-locate, so I think I can start calling myself a Californian. Hmm. Seeing that in writing is unsettling. New York is one of the most vibrant cities in the world, and I have never stopped loving it. I suppose I can think of myself as having dual citizenship. There.  That feels better.

I just came across a photo of what appears to be a stairway to the sky in mid-town Manhattan. In fact, this “stairway” is actually private patios and gardens at a residential development called Mercedes House. Next to that photo are some steps near Holy Hill in Berkeley. Those are real and anyone can visit them.

MercedesHouse1      steps

When I lived in New York, I enjoyed many self-guided and  a few guided tours, of which there are plenty. But apart from Washington Heights and areas north of it, you won’t find a lot of stairways in Manhattan, unless you’re inside of a building. (This is part of what makes it such a great walking city). I grew up on the South Shore of Long Island – also very flat. Geologically, Long Island  is the result of  sediment deposits from melting glaciers. Most of the rocky debris formed the North Shore which is what makes it hilly, with stony  beaches. The South Shore comes from the melted “outwash plain” which resulted in all of those white sandy beaches on the Island’s South Shore. Great beaches – no hidden stairways. In the mid-90s I lived in Hong Kong for a few months. Now that’s a city of outdoor stairways! Hong Kong is so steep that several escalators are built into its rocky terrain:

hongkongescalator

The perfect excuse to crack open the East Bay guide book came with the arrival of my sister Melissa and her wife Jennifer last week. You may recall from previous blog that they were visiting from the East Coast. The delicious lunch at Vik’s Chaat Corner in Berkeley was, in fact, fortification for Walk #6 (Holy Hill): 1.5 hours, 2.6 mi, 244 steps with a difficulty level of 3.  When we finished our lunch, however, it was raining a little, so we did a little shopping while we waited for it to clear up. Then we optimistically headed to Holy Hill – a neighborhood north of UC Berkeley campus characterized by several theological institutions.

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We grabbed some good strong coffee from Brewed Awakening, a spacious college study spot, and set out to explore. Jennifer seems happy to be back in her old university ‘hood, and Melissa just seems happy.

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In days gone by, Euclid Avenue was home to a streetcar line. Many of the stairways on this walk connected residents to that line. The houses in this area are gorgeous, and the book discusses several individual homes and architects. The Berkeley hills are susceptible to fires, and many homes and apartment buildings in this area were destroyed by fire in 1923. The newer buildings are in keeping with the old architecture, however.

lovelypath  hillct

This delightful walk meanders through a beautiful hillside neighborhood, and is enhanced by Fleming’s historical and architectural descriptions. In addition to the charming stairways, there are several  hidden  paths on this walk. Had it not been for the book, we might have thought we were trespassing as several steps and paths are neatly ensconced between homes. In fact, some of these homes do not face the street, and are only accessible via these steps and paths. If you think you might be wandering into someone’s yard, just look for a street sign to be on the safe side.

We were so pleased with our walk that we decided to try another the next morning. This time, however, my five-year old son was going to be with us so I had to keep this in mind when picking a walk. I ended up selecting the shortest walk in the book – Walk # 7 (Berryman Station).

dommiestick

This 30 minute, 0.8 mi walk with 89 steps and a difficulty rating of 1.5 basically encircles Berkeley’s Live Oak Park.  This was perfect as I didn’t have to worry about streets and cars, and my son could run around and explore on his own a little.  The Berkeley Art Center lies on the perimeter of the park and I made a note to come back and visit.  My son had fun participating on the tour by counting the steps to make certain we were in the right place. Live Oak Park boasts a creek, a few bridges and a picnic area. There is  also a graffiti-covered wall which made me pine for New York. We came upon a plaque about the  Napoleon Byrne House, an 1868 mansion that once stood at this location and was home to “Nappy” Byrne and his family. They  traveled  from Missouri by covered wagon and are said to have been Berkeley’s first African American residents. Farther along on the walk is an interesting remnant –  part of a huge stone chimney which is all that remains of a 1915 residence destroyed by fire. My son liked this out-of-place structure in the middle of the trees and tried to open the big metal doors of what appears to be a working fireplace.

dommierunning       dommieruns

Well, my out-of-town visitors are gone, but my interest in stairway walks has been piqued. There is a soul food restaurant in Oakland that friends and I have been meaning to try, but we are a little nervous about the calories. A perfect solution might by chicken and waffles followed by an Oakland walking tour. Sounds like a good plan ….

Chatting over Chaat

viks

I just spent three lovely days with my sister Melissa and her wife Jennifer who were visiting from the East Coast.  I set aside my collages to play  host, not concerned that I would be without therapeutic activities.  One of my favorite forms of therapy is good eating,  so I was delighted when Jennifer suggested lunch at Vik’s Chaat Corner in Berkeley (http://www.vikschaatcorner.com/).

Jennifer had been to Vik’s as a grad student at UC Berkeley years ago.  Back then, it was nothing more than a nondescript warehouse on a commercial stretch of  West Berkeley. Well, much has changed on Fourth Street since the nineties.  Vik’s  moved to a larger, brighter warehouse in the same area which is now dotted with artist studios and “Build it Green Certified” apartments.  The area of Fourth Street a few blocks north is now a high-end shopping district characterized by several good eateries and stores such as Sur La Table, Anthropologie,  Kiehl’s and M.A.C. Cosmetics.  Vik’s  boasts a spacious, colorful dining area with an adjoining market place for all of your Indian cooking needs.

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Now that I think about it, I’m a bit surprised that Jennifer  even suggested Indian food  because the two of them  live in Jackson Heights,  Queens -one of the biggest Indian neighborhoods in New York.  On the other hand, they probably wanted to compare good Indian food on the other coast.

Vik’s  is not your run-of-the mill  Indian restaurant with “the best chicken tikka massala” around. In fact, you would not find that on the menu. According to some of our Indian friends, this is the only local restaurant that serves authentic Indian food. Order at the counter from the daily specials, and then wait until your name is called from one of the various open stations. We grabbed a mango and a rose lassi and waited. Here are Jennifer and Melissa, happy because they will be eating soon:

sissesandlassies

We decided on a Massala Dosa (a huge savory pancake stuffed with potato filling),  Dahi Padpi Chaat (Jennifer’s favorite – made with little dumplings (papdis),  potatoes and garbanzo beans smothered with yogurt and chutney), and Pani Puri,  my favorite, in part because it is so much fun to assemble.  I love puri,  a huge puffed up hollow bread that reminds me of a blowfish. This chaat consists of tiny, individual  puris. You poke a hole in them, fill them with potatoes and garbanzo beans, add a little tamarind chutney, and fill with spiced mint water. You then pop the whole puri in your mouth. Yum! Below you can see Melissa assembling one.

food  stuffing

After quickly devouring these three chaats, we were ready for more. We spied what looked like a colorful little pizza at a neighboring table, and  decided to try that one.  This chaat is called Uttappam and is a rice and lentil pancake topped with tomatoes and onion. I could not even snap a shot before Melissa pulled a piece off.

indianpizza

Vik’s has a large selection of Indian sweets, typically too sweet for my taste. Instead, we went to the grocery area and got a kulfi malai- a simple  Indian ice cream, which just hit the spot.