BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Wordless Wednesday: Turning Japanese

Kampyo Maki and Natto Maki

Starlight Roll

Shira Ae

Shattuck Roll

Tempura Avocado Maki

Goma Ae

Moon Garden

Cha-Ya Roll

Agedashi Tofu

Cha-Ya Nabe

Sake Photos Taken at Takara Sake, Food at Cha-Ya

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Embracing Imperfection

Rarely do New Year’s resolutions resonate with me. Striving to improve one’s health, wealth, or general shortcomings are admirable goals, but the annual effort always feels so contrived. The calendar shouldn’t be the push for these efforts; as is proven year after year, that reminder typically affects change for a month, at best.

2017, however, already seems different. High on my list of personal ambitions is to let go of the perfection fallacy and embrace the beauty in all that is conventionally deemed “ugly.” Beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder, and I’ve found a whole lot to love in the trend towards buying otherwise unloved, ugly produce. Lemons with blemishes; apples that are too small to meet a buyer’s standards; gnarled carrots that refuse to stand up straight. Otherwise delicious fruits and vegetables are discarded in favor of their immaculate, but often tasteless, brethren.

Imperfect Produce is making big waves in the supply chain to change all that. Delivering boxes on demand directly to consumers’ doors across the bay area, they’ve only been in operation for a little over a year and have already rescued well over 750,000 pounds of otherwise wasted food. Those numbers are no small potatoes (although they have plenty of those to share, too) and promise continue growing at a rapid pace, as they’ve recently announced plans to expand into Los Angeles.

This is where I need to go off script and say that this is not a sponsored post and I did not receive anything for free. I was simply inspired by the mission of this once-small startup, and am beyond thrilled to spread the Imperfect Produce appreciation. When I realized that their warehouse was just a short walk away, I high-tailed it out there to see where all the ugly goodness comes from, and I was welcomed with open arms.

Browsing through the line of workers busily packing food into their designated compostable boxes, the real tragedy is that among the immense stacks of produce, I could hardly pick out any truly unsightly specimen within. Perhaps it’s a case of excess supply or insufficient demand, but some of these were truly stunning edible gems, deemed unfit for sale for reasons no ethical eater could comfortably stomach.

Resolve to do more for the local community, your diet, and your bank account by simply eating uglier. You’ll spend a fraction of the cost that these fruits and vegetables would otherwise command at conventional grocery stores, and better yet, you’ll skip the lines at checkout. If that’s still not enough to convince you, go ahead and take 50% off your first box with the code “SPOON” at checkout. Pick exactly what you want from the current seasonal offerings and trust that no matter what it looks like, it will always be brilliantly fresh and delicious.

The delivery range is limited to us lucky Californians at the moment, but I think the overall message is one we can all get behind for the coming year. Celebrate all of life’s imperfections, no matter what form they may take.


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Silent Sunday: Street Smarts

Little Free Libraries are community-run and supported book sharing outposts that are popping up across the nation in mass numbers. The best map for finding these resources in the bay area is one created by an unaffiliated individual who lists all libraries, “official” or not. For more information about the movement, visit LittleFreeLibrary.org.


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Silent Saturday: Let’s Go Fly a Kite


If you’d like to unspool your own kite into these deep blue skies, it’s not such a wild flight of fancy; feel free to click on the last photo above to download the full size image. To save and enjoy it as your desktop wallpaper, right click the larger version, select “Set as Desktop Background,” and choose the “Stretch” option to best fit to your screen.


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Banh Mi and Banh You, Too

Please don’t call the authorities, but I think I may have just robbed a sandwich shop.

It was an accident, I swear. My intentions were good through the entire transaction, my demeanor nonthreatening, the cashier entirely unconcerned by my presence. It was all so mundane, so unremarkable that I might have forgotten the whole scene by tomorrow if not for that one sticky detail. All I wanted was a sandwich, an honest meal after a long day. Something easy and fast, unchallenging flavors to soothe the ache of comfort food cravings. Indeed, I got precisely that; a glorious banh mi, decked out in crisp pickled vegetables and beautifully burnished lemongrass tofu.

In five minutes flat, from the moment I burst through the door at Cam Huong, my order was ready, stuffed to bursting with bean curd still warm from the fryer. I raced home, cradling my treasure close to my chest, like a precious baby swaddled in deli paper. Only after I tore through the wrapping paper and took my first monstrous bite did I realize my potentially larcenous predicament. Checking my wallet, only three one-dollar bills were missing. That wouldn’t even be enough to cover the tip for most bay area meals. How could that possibly suffice for a full 8 inches of sub satisfaction? Even a prepackaged gas station peanut butter and jelly sandwich would command a 5-spot, at least.

I suppose this makes me a fugitive on the run now. I’m neither armed nor dangerous, but I do command a ferocious appetite, so if you ever need a partner in banh mi crime… I’d gladly become a repeat offender.


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Tamale Take Down

“They’re pretty good… But I’ve had better,” the woman sitting at a neighboring booth leaned across the table, whispering conspiratorially.

Seated in one of the most highly regarded vegan restaurants in the bay area, luxuriating in some of the most masterfully composed dishes around, this stunning utterance was enough to induce whiplash. Snapping back into reality out of a food-induced daze, it took a moment to re-focus and discover the source of such heretical words. A small woman with a kind face looked back at me, eyes gleaming with clarity- Or perhaps it was a hint of mischief.

The dish in question was a tamale, lavished with smoked black beans, spiced pepitas, and a luscious avocado crema. Impeccably plated with all the flourishes one would expect of a fine dining establishment, it was a sight to behold, and certainly no slouch in the flavor department. In fact, up until that moment, this could have very well been the pinnacle of tamale artistry in my opinion. Now that impression was suddenly questionable, an uninformed statement based upon only half of the story. I had to get myself these purported transcendent tamales.

I had to go to Flacos.

An east bay institution serving up an entirely vegan menu, the bill of fare is short and sweet. You won’t find any overstuffed “Mission-style” burritos or loaded nachos here, but real deal Mexican meals. Tacos slide out of the kitchen on handmade corn tortillas, thick and crisply toasted. Masa is made from scratch every day, and that dedication to the craft pays off in huge gustatory dividends. The scent of cooking cornmeal wafts out onto the street early in the day, tempting passersby even as breakfast time has barely ended.

Huarache is a regional delight that doesn’t make a big splash in most American states, which is a real shame given its fool-proof flavor combinations. Soft slabs of fried masa lurk beneath a veritable forest of romaine and cilantro, huge servings of refried pinto beans, and slathered with rich, creamy avocado salsa. It’s worth noting that the avocado salsa is available in both mild and spicy formats, but unless you’re a glutton for punishment, I would advise keeping it cool. The heat on the spicy rendition is no joke; I’ve seen grown men weep over their taquitos upon discovering this fatal flaw.

On cool, foggy days, nothing satisfies like a bowlful of pozole, a very simple soup of tomatoes and hominy. While it’s not quite on par with the other, flashier staples, it’s sure to hit the spot if you’re craving a bit of comfort.

But enough beating around the bush. The main attraction, the thing we’ve all been waiting for, the banana leaf-wrapped tamale is hands-down the single item you must order if you can only pick one. Though the mole, caper, potato, and green olive filling sounds like a discordant combination, suspend disbelief and give it a try. The reasons why it works so well remain a mystery, but you’ll never question it ever again. A true rarity in the crowded and heavily promoted bay area food scene, this particular promise lives up to the hype.

Tamales can be ordered a la cart or as a plate, complete with rice, beans, and salad. While you may feel more virtuous by selecting a fully balanced meal, the sides are nothing special. Get the most mouthwatering bang for your buck by doubling down on the tamales instead. It’s an easy choice that you’ll never regret, even for those with a penchant for fine dining. Flacos might very well hold the key to the best tamales you’ve ever had.