Cover image: Alanna Hale

Who could have predicted that the price of toast would get so many people fired up? So when the editor of Edible San Francisco asked me to tackle the $4 toast saga under the premise of exploring the real cost of food I was happy to oblige.

It’s pretty clear that while some consumers are willing to pay more for organic greens, grass-fed beef, hormone-free eggs, local dairy, and sustainable seafood, many haven’t thought about bread, that humble kitchen staple made from that foundation food wheat, in quite the same way.

Josey Baker, the main subject of my cover story for the magazine “Burnt: A Heated Hullabaloo Over $4 Toast,” says it best: “People aren’t used to buying bread that’s priced appropriately because they’re used to buying factory-made bread using shitty ingredients, where the grains are grown by farms that are supported by hefty government subsidies. The public is lagging behind in seeing bread as an agricultural product.”

Baker doesn’t pretend to have all the answers here and neither do I. But it’s clear that a movement is building around growing quality whole grains and crafting breads for optimal nutrition and taste in an environmentally sensitive manner. And all that costs money. Local, stone-ground, heirloom wheat, which brings to mind Portlandia‘s over-the-top sketch on the provenance of food (is the chicken local?), is now part of the bread making discourse in Bay Area baking circles and beyond.  Who knows, artisan flour–cue eye rolling now–with a price point to match, may one day be as commonplace as heirloom tomatoes.

If you can’t get enough of this toast stuff, it would be remiss of me not to acknowledge two other recent additions to the oeuvre: Writing for CHOW, John Birdsall traces the roots of $4 toast to Japan (proving the Bay Area can’t claim credit for every food fad). And in a compelling and compassionate story about one woman’s struggle with schizoaffective disorder, John Gravois at Pacific Standard uses the controversy over the cost of bread as a jumping off point to explore how toast can offer comfort during challenging times.

For now, let’s give the final word here to the Brits, where tea and toast are cultural and culinary icons. The people across the pond, who brought toast to America, think San Franciscans are balmy for forking over so much for a slice. But too late folks: Artisan toast is already showing up on menus in London.

The bread that launched a brouhaha. Photo: Alanna Hale

 

 

 

 

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Juhu's Preeti Mistry Photo: Naomi Fiss

As some of my readers know, I moonlight as a guide for Edible Excursions, a culinary tour company that leads intimate groups of guests on gourmet walks in San Francisco, Berkeley, and beyond. In addition to feeding folks well and introducing them to a new neighborhood, we serve up a side of edible education in these three-hour tours.

This week mark’s the one-year anniversary of our launch of the Temescal Tastes Tour, which I designed, to showcase the diverse range of eating establishments in this thriving North Oakland community with a hipster village vibe. Temescal Tastes was dubbed best of the Bay’s neighborhood eat-arounds by San Francisco magazine last year. To celebrate our milestone, we took 26 college students on a wander through the ‘hood yesterday, a rare Friday jaunt for us, since we typically start the tour at the farmers’ market on Sunday.

The students were delighted to eat, of course, as part of a food writing class. They were also intrigued by the stories of the food professionals who took time out of their busy days to share their stories. Preeti Mistry of Juhu Beach Club‘s playful presence can be found in her food, her restaurant’s ambiance, and in her presentation to the group, who ate up every word about her winding path through the culinary scene while noshing on potato pavs. Jena Davidson of the Sacred Wheel Cheese Shop explained why she left the fine dining world to open a food-oriented corner store, even though she didn’t know a ton about cheese at the time. She served mac & cheese topped with their signature sweet cock sauce (that’s honey & Sriracha in case you were wondering). And Danny and Henry, cool caffeine geeks at Cro Cafe, patiently explained the nuances of all things bean related, while students soaked up the charm of their alley store and sipped on some freshly-brewed Sightglass coffee.

A highlight of the day: Alison Barakat (aka Bakesale Betty) making a personal appearance, blue wig and all, to talk shop with the class while they tucked into her fried chicken sandwiches, which have their own cult following. A long line of people by the store with no sign enjoyed hearing snippets of Barakat’s back story while they waited for their lunch. Details like how she arrived in Berkeley from her native Australia and landed a job as a line cook at Chez Panisse, where she first learned how to make buttermilk fried chicken.

Mani Niall of Sweet Bar Photo: Paige Hermreck

Today, I’m soft launching a new Oakland tour for Edible Excursions, this time in the Uptown area, which has rapidly earned a reputation as a dining destination. We’ll visit relative newcomers such as Stag’s Lunchette, Duende, Bar Dogwood, Sweet Bar Bakery, Two Mile Wines, and Plum Bar, as guests get a feel for the flavor of this entertainment district, which is experiencing a long overdue renaissance. Retail and residential elements are in the works, but it’s the food, drinks, and arts scene that’s creating energy and luring folks back to the neighborhood. And, as always, it will be the people behind these edible enterprises–as much as their well-executed dishes and carefully-crafted cocktails–that resonate with guests.

As I told the food writing students: It’s an honor and a privilege to showcase the people who produce our food. And it is.

You might also like:

A Culinary Confession
Any Females in the House? Oakland’s New Wave of Top Women Chefs
Mistry Revealed
Stag’s Lunchette & Bar Dogwood: Winning Combo in the Heart of Oakland
How Sweet It Is
Bay Area Food Tours: Behind the Scenes with Edible Excursions Founder Lisa Rogovin

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Apricot Pistachio Granola from Whole-Grain Mornings Photo: Clare Barboza

Granola has become my go-to breakfast. It’s filling, fast, and packed with all kinds of goodies that are good for you. It’s a great vessel for yogurt and fruit. And you can customize your own concoctions to suit your particular tastes.

My granola immersion began when I ghostwrote a memoir for a woman in the food world who has made big batches of the stuff for more than 40 years. Then came an adaptation of a recipe from Bon Appetite. Next up, my friend and colleague Megan Gordon got into the granola biz. I found myself eating a lot of Marge Granola bags.

And, of course, I’ve continued to play with combinations for this oaty-nutty-seedy baked breakfast dish. It’s my pleasure to share a couple of Megan Gordon’s favorite granola recipes from her new book Whole-Grain Mornings.

Find her hazelnut cacao nib version alongside my piece for Yoga Journal. Or try her apricot pistachio variation included in my Q&A with her for KQED’s food blog Bay Area Bites.

If your tastes tend to savory morning meals, Gordon has you covered: Consider her barley bowl or greens and grains scramble.

Either way, enjoy a wholesome start to the day.

 

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Jamie Oliver Tours Edible Schoolyard with Alice Waters

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Catching up with the Food Revolution campaigner, Jamie Oliver, over a bowl of black-eyed peas at the Edible Schoolyard.

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Oakland’s New Wave of Top Women Chefs

November 9, 2013 edible east bay magazine

Any females in the house? You betcha. Oakland is full of talented women chefs.

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Harvest Highlights

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Reporting news from the East Bay on oysters, urban farms, a bakery business with a conscience, a destination restaurant and more.

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Exploratorium Elevates Museum Eating Experience

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Chef Loretta Keller, the force behind the Exploratorium’s new culinary options, talks bee jet lag, living foods, and seawater cocktails.

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