The Old Bowl


When I first moved to Berkeley — in the early 1980s — my roommates at the time were old (in their late twenties) and sophisticated (they knew their way around an artichoke). They shopped at this place they referred to as “the Bowl.”  I imagined it was named after a  big bowl of fruit, because that is what they usually brought home after they went shopping.  They also brought home this wonderful cheese I’d never heard of before.  It was called Havarti.

Berkeley was a paradise in those days.  Now you can buy havarti at Costco, so paradise is more widely available in America, which can only be a good thing.  I mean, even in this wretched economy, you can still afford the occasional good thing to eat and you have a much better chance of being able to find it than you did in the early 1980s. Cheese has a way of making the worst things seem a little bit better.  At least that is what we believe here in Berkeley, which is why I live here.

Anyway, it turned out that the Berkeley Bowl was actually an old bowling alley that had been turned into a fruit and vegetable market which also sold cheese (at a long, exciting cheese counter) meat, seafood and, sort of as an aside, things like recycled paper towels and earthy moisturizers made by people who lived in Ukiah.  To successfully shop there you really did have to have some skills, just not with a bowling ball.  Basically, you had to be aggressive with your shopping cart, and willing to snatch fruit out of the hands of elderly ladies who wanted it too.  But you’d go cart-to-cart with these ladies because you wanted those raspberries MORE, having grown  up in a place where fruit (and tomatoes!) just did not taste so real, and fresh and amazing, thus making your desire for them really strong.  At the time, I didn’t have a car, so I had no idea the real challenge of shopping at the Berkeley Bowl was finding a place to put it.

And now there is a SECOND bowl in Berkeley.  It opened today (it is called “Berkeley Bowl West”) and it amazes me that this could be so — mostly because this means there will FINALLY be a place to park at the Berkeley Bowl in my neighborhood because all the shoppers who wanted my parking spot will be at Berkeley Bowl West.  And I will not have to get into unseemly altercations near the apricots to score the perfect ones that have my name on them. Still, in honor of the time that has passed since I first discovered havarti and artichokes, the Bowl in my neighborhood is now called the Old Bowl.  (At least that is what I’m calling it.) I am now the old lady you have to face down to get to the apricots first.  (I will add that I am not really that old, and I imagine the ladies I thought were so old probably weren’t either.  It’s funny how perception depends a lot on where you stand.)

Summer’s almost here.  Three years ago, when I was just beginning to write this blog, I was up to my arms in raspberries, making jam. A day or two after I wrote about that, I was diagnosed with breast cancer and I haven’t boiled fruit and sugar together since then.  This is to say that my hiatus from jam is over.  Raspberries at the Old Bowl were .99 a basket when I was there tonight — I swear to God.  And the apricots, which are slightly more expensive, are so beautiful this year.

This weekend, it’s jam time.

Dear Anonymous Co-Worker,

I’d like to thank you for installing new batteries in the milk frother thing, apparently over the weekend, because I used that frother last Friday and it was its usual slothful self, which is to say the milk had no fear of it, not in the least. This morning, though, I stuck the frother into my milk and everyone in the kitchen jumped back, like they were afraid I might point the frother at them and suck them into its mighty wake. Now that’s how it’s REALLY supposed to be done. It was nice of you to sneak into the building over the weekend and juice up the Monday work experience. You rock, Lily

And that is all I have to say today. I’m busy crafting author interview questions. And making a list of authors to hit up. And considering whether the frother might be used as a hedge trimmer in a pinch. In fact, here are my preliminary author interview questions:

what car would you be, if you could be a car
"auto in disguise" does not mean: what car would you be, if you could be a car (in case you are wondering)

Summer Pleasures: Design Blogs and Iced Coffee

(This photo comes from Infusion Cofee & Tea — a great Philadelphia cafe.)

It’s very hot here in San Francisco today. I mean, relatively hot, if you really think about it, because it is obviously much hotter most places right now than it will ever get here. We are weather wimps in the Bay Area. Still, it is almost 100 degrees out there, or it will be soon and we are not in any way, shape, or form prepared for that. I have a big work project and am feeling such malaise — it’s the price of gas, I’m pretty sure that makes me feel very Ford and Carter-era today.

Back then, though, there were no design blogs, just a wild combination of orange and avocado and Nixon’s resignation to keep you from sinking into despair as the lines at the gas pump got longer and longer. (I know, I know — those things did not happen at exactly the same time. But I was a kid, and they all seemed to blur into each other.) Anyway, the answer to a little mid-summer malaise is, obviously, a summer pleasure, which I think of as something that doesn’t ask a lot of you, but does inject some life into your too-hot-to-move-very-fast day. Today’s summer pleasure is the design blog. These are blogs without a lot of words. There’s something beautifully orderly about these blogs — they don’t take on big things, but every once in a while, a photograph of a bunch of handkerchiefs somebody found on ebay makes everything in my life work just fine.

Here they are, in case you’re looking for that kind of thing. But really, come to think of it, all you really need is a couple of links — the first being one of my favorites. I like this blog because every once in a while this woman does something I love (in this case, it’s the recipe for iced coffee). Go over to the orange blog, and then just poke around in her blog roll. I mean, if you’re into pictures of fabric, and iced coffee and ebay coffee pots.

And an update on the author, author interviews: I’m putting together my first of these, which I think is best done in the form of a questionnaire, because then the writer gets a chance to think things over. Actually, how else would you do this? I guess I could try podcasting it, but man, that is so out of my league, tech-wise.

Now, go check out: How about Orange and then, while you’re at it, a little Design * Sponge

And here’s another, thanks to litlove:  tasting rhubarb.  Lovely images, fine writing.

And oh, oh, oh, how could I have not put this up too:  It’s Jana (of Jana’s Sketchbook) new blog:  A Postcard a Day

Tomorrow (or, you know, a few days) there will be more summer pleasures.

Heart the Capitalist Machine

You never know, when you move to a city, what it is about it you’ll fall in love with. I moved to Berkeley in 1982 because I wanted to go to graduate school at the university. I didn’t know it would smell so good because of a combination of star jasmine and eucalyptus, or that the fall would be hot and beautiful and seem to last forever and that summer would be a so-so season of fog so heavy you think it’s raining. Nor did I have even the slightest inkling that this is a place where people have strong opinions about food.

The other thing I didn’t know is that the kids who work in places like the Star Grocery, which is a few blocks from my house, would have strong opinions about pie crust, and pie crust makers. One thing I should have guessed is that Nick, the guy who owns the Star, would be totally fine about little expressions of disgust with the world as it is, which is to say the world outside Berkeley.

I Love the Farmer’s Market

The Civic Center Farmer’s Market (Wednesdays and Sundays) is one of my favorite things about working where I do. There’s no avoiding it (although who would want to?) because it’s right outside the entrance to the BART station. Just as there’s no avoiding the fact that it really, truly, finally is spring. Peaches are here! And how about that use of the word “rich”? 

It has indeed been a rich May around here.  When you look up from the peaches you can see the State Building, which is where I work, adjacent to San Francisco’s golden domed City Hall and the Asian Art Museum, which represents THE finest example of how to turn a grand library into a really beautiful museum.  One floor above the court where I work is the California Supreme Court, and haven’t THEY made this a richly happy month? 

If you happen to be visiting San Francisco on a Wednesday in the spring, all you have to do to check out these many riches is hop on BART and get off  at the Civic Center stop.  Buy some fruit, and maybe a tamale.  Go into the Asian Art Museum, which is ahead of you and on the right.  If you can’t afford to pay the entrance fee, you can ask for the red chopsticks pass, which gets you into the cafe, where you can have a cup of tea and sit on the lovely veranda overlooking the farmer’s market.  And you can still see the beautiful job they’ve done converting the library into a marvelous museum space. 

Don’t forget to visit City Hall — and the Main Library, which is across from the Asian Art Museum.  There’s cheap food to be had down Polk Street, which is officially “Little Vietnam.”  And in another three weeks or so, the Supreme Court’s marriage decision will be final, and they will begin to marry people at City Hall.  You can sit in the grass and congratulate people, while you’re eating your tamales, or your fruit, or your vietnamese food. 

Some people find this extraordinarily rich neighborhood a little scary.  The tenderloin is home to a lot of people who are right on the edge of being okay — and many people who’ve fallen off the edge.  And no, they’re not always pleasant.  But they’re part of who we are, and there’s no denying their existence around here, and that is as it should be, I think. 

Happy Mama Day!

Aw. William made me breakfast in bed this morning. He burned himself on the sausage, thus demonstrating his utter devotion to his mother, and his willingness to risk his life for her. (He would like to say that, in fact, there’s no way he’d risk his life for me. That’s my job. That’s why I get breakfast in bed. Because I would, in fact, risk my life for him. In a pinch, I’d ask his dad to do it. That’s why, on father’s day, he gets double breakfast in bed.)

Signing off for now, using William’s favorite phrase, “Burp you later, dude!”

Well Bead Me a Tiara!

Here’s a piece of surprising news — I am one of the six finalists for the Fabri Prize.  My guess was that was about as likely as my sons sitting down quietly in the living room one evening and beading me a necklace,  bracelet and matching tiara for Christmas.

They’d better get started, don’t you think?

Little House on the Prairie Report:  Oops.  I bought some perfume to celebrate.  In fact, I bought an incredibly beautiful Guerlain fragrance called L’Heure Bleue.  The blue hour.  That gorgeous, slightly melancholy time between day and night, when many things are still possible, even if many things have already occurred.  Which is how I think of these years, the middle of my life. 

Otherwise, it’s all food, all the time, including last night’s dinner which consisted of the loveliest lamb chops I’ve ever eaten.  Along with cous-cous that came in a box, rather than the bulk bin, and had a very tasty little flavor packet with some parmesan in it.  Everyone really, really liked that.

Now, we just have to get rid of the Halloween candy and move on.