Category Archives: Pencil: and City Life

I Still Love to Drink Coffee; I Just Don’t Want to Write About It

When I started this site – it was a much different time – I was in a much different place. By an unapologetic dedication, that place is still within the 415 San Francisco area code, but it was seven years ago. And seven years in your 30s, in a City, supporting yourself financially alone – is… and has been… intense.

This post isn’t about all that. It’s about, yet again, why do I insist on keeping this site live? I struggle with that constantly. It costs me money of course to keep it live, for the domain, for the space, but also costs me guilt. Guilt of hanging on to something I no longer want to be and sometimes have some shame around. I’m coming to terms with I could use food-drink and its culture, in unhealthy ways. I really don’t need to eat as many cookies and drink as much coffee I do. I don’t want to be a foodie anymore; I want to be a yogi who can enjoy the delicious things in life in tiny pieces, but without it taking up as much space. And then there’s the guilt of starting something and not finishing it in some way. I didn’t really have a goal, per se, of what that finish line looked like when it started, but I don’t want to be yet again another writer, with another half-deployed project. Plus it’s nice to look back at the small entries over the years, if for nothing else show a record of time itself. Plus, I’m a web-manager *master being the latest title, lol* and seeing the WordPress CMS change is a value in its own right.

And with that, I’ll leave it be. Walk away from entries for – who knows how long – and who cares. Here’s to continuing my path, on and offline, in the best way I can. Much love to the gifts of being, and namaste 🙂

The Mill: Carb Coffee Heaven and Hell in NoPa

DrugsInsideSignage
Please excuse regularly scheduled programing for some pseudo-soap-box themed dialog.

Not news: Coffee, and the foodie movement overall, isn’t new anymore. Artisan, third-wave, yada yada, yeah – it’s happened. But it’s not going away either.

I’ll admit my little coffee – food – thought blog here has gone through some serious doubts. Really? I’m still doing this? Dear, God, Why?! There are so many reasons not to:

    it’s boring: please see intro. paragraph. Fancy coffee isn’t wow-worthy like it once was.
    it supports a perspective that’s easy to hate: as this City, and world, become more and more economically divided, it’s becoming more and more difficult to enjoy anything except breathing without shouldering guilt no matter what’s in your bank account.
    I shouldn’t be eating cookies: seriously. I have a problem.
    I need to be doing other things: like burning the calories from my cookie. And making the world a better place. And doing my taxes.

Right. So. Uhm. Why again? My navel-gazing insight into why I still care while attempting to be conscientious.
The Mill Pros & Lows
Fancy coffee is still happening: when was the last time you heard a cafe closing due to not making their bottom-line work? It’s rare. I can think of one in the last five years I’ve been here (Brown Owl Coffee) and some of them are behind the new spot in the Castro (Hearth Coffee). The business makes sense because, I hate to say it, it works. Fancy coffee works here and just about everywhere else in America. You don’t need an i.d., you don’t need to get drunk, you don’t need to know anyone, you need $4 to sit down and chillax outside of your office – home – and often taxing life. Who can argue that? Which is what brings me to The Mill.

You go there to have $4 toast with homemade jam spread to its borders. And a hot cup of Four Barrel coffee. And enjoy it.

Why I Love My Local Garden Store

Sad plant

Overwatered every time


This is a post dedicated to the love of garden stores, specifically the Garden Guru feature through our local chain, Sloat Garden Center.

sloat_prosandlowsBeing a wanna-be urban farmer with an unhealthy appetite for houseplants, garden stores are a no-brain weakness. Walking into them and breathing can easily calm me down just the same as a professional massage. It’s no surprise when I’ve had access to a car, the first thing on my list is loading up on plants my typical carless existence can’t transport. Then cue the next problem: I live in a dark box, unofficially called the Cat Cave. BUT! Sloat Garden Centers know a few things about their customers (ie. I’m not alone) and they have special sections dedicated to our needs.

Sansevieria trifasciata, also known as snake plant, are a very hot seller for situations akin to mine – you’ve likely seen them around lots. Just don’t water them according to the Garden Guru.

I’m a bit perplexed as to why exactly I’m so impressed by this, given we live in 2014 and anyone can have just about anything ever – but for some reason, I *love* the fact I can email a local garden know-it-all my problems and s/he will email me back a solution! Please see below:

to: gardenguru@sloatgardens.com
subject: Leaf Problem

Hi!
Attached is a photo of a plant I have a few of here in my dark studio in the Sunset.

I’ve bought a few of them from your indoor-low-light section of your Sloat location. What is the problem? Too much darkness? I hope you don’t say that. I so badly want houseplants but have such little light to offer them …

Thanks for your help!
Catherine Cole

from: Garden Guru gardenguru@sloatgardens.com
subject: RE: Leaf Problem

Dear Catherine-
The Sanseivera leaf shows signs of a root rot disease associated with overwatering. This can be especially true in a low light area. Since these plants are in the Agave family, they can get by on minimal water. Watering once a month, if at all, in the winter is sufficient. Allow these plants to go dry and place in as much light as possible to heal them. Applying Actinovate in early spring will also help.

Thanks for choosing to garden with us.
The Garden Guru

A Thank You Note to a Mug of Love

More than Just a Mug

To you, dear Arbor Vitae mug, I say:

Thank you. Thank you for being the physical icon all these years representing that unforgettable senior year, proving that there is love, good people and good heart everywhere, regardless of how alone you are. It was 1999 and I moved for the fourth time in four years, putting me in a suburban High School of 1200+ knowing no one. The few friends I made at school were, well, awful. My pseudo boyfriend was a total pot-head, and my pseudo good girlfriend was too. I think they probably slept together also, although I didn’t feel the need to know that at the time. Long story short, I was incredibly disengaged, depressed, and hated every moment of school that year. So, I did what any lonely, closeted-queer, foodie would do: I got a job at the one local coffee house.
Arbor Vitae Java & Juice, on the Riverwalk, in Downtown Naperville.

Naperville is a fairly average, wealthy, suburban community. The crime-rate is low, the golf-club is packed and there’s a quaint “downtown district.” Arbor Vitae was located in such place.

I can’t decide what was more of a magnet, the coffee-gelato shakes they sold or the rainbow sticker in the window — both being unique to Naperville. I applied for the barista job and got it a week later.

What happened over the next 10 months saved me in more ways than one. I worked with a very kind boy, whom I later asked to my senior prom. We dated for a few weeks until I carelessly threw myself at the hot straight girl who we also worked with (sidenote: takes a long time to learn that lesson). I also got my first punch on my fag-hag card. The mid-thirties blonde gay boy we worked with took me to a Donna Summer concert in a gorgeous park and we drank boxed wine on our blanket. It was so fabulous. The Arbor Vitae staff was a motley crew of suburban outcasts that took care of each other and thank god they took me into their tribe.

The current status of Arbor Vitae can be summed up to this: fuck the suburbanites’ appetite for Starbucks. Yes, Arbor Vitae couldn’t compete with its corporate neighbor and closed approximately two years ago. My heart sank when I heard the news. I wrote the owners a letter, similar to this one now, sharing how much the place meant to me. I got no response, but am proud to say the mug and its fractured handle has been with me ever since.

Judahlicious: Sunset Vegan Heaven

Raw Vegan FlavorOutsideCounter

 

 

 

 

Judahlicious is very important to me. The Sunset is very important to me. But Judahlicious? Is unforgettable. Not due to the stellar juices, the “heart of darkness” coffee or cashew-based sauces, but because I was there when I received a very important phone call that was another crucial point along my second-life path.

My landlord called me to tell me I got my studio after my divorce. It was a sunny afternoon. I was alone then, like I am now, and like I am when I am often at Judahlicous. There have been many of Sunday mornings at that cafe, sucking down the hot coffee, waiting for my Acai bowl (they’re amazing), reading Twitter, and remembering that I can be here, in this City, in a happy, healthy cafe, with or without a partner. After 12 years with someone, it’s incredibly hopeful and crucial to have these moments. Because of its place on my life-journey, I also love bringing important people here – including my new girlfriend (BIG YAY!). That’s an epic other story, so for now, heartbreak and romance aside, I’ll explain its pros, cons and idiosyncrasies like any good food-blogger should.

Judalicious Pros and LowsSo why should you go to said cafe? Your own healing process will guide you to the right places at the right times, no question, however, even if you’re not in a place of pain, come here for the Acai bowl – I get the Jungle Style raw version. It’s huge, creamy with berry Acai, and super crunchy with spiced house-made granola. Pair that with their strong, deep coffee and you’ll be convinced your hangover can be cured with health-food. The waffle is equally as delicious, as is the Nahbo Taco and Dahnu Wrap.

And why shouldn’t you go? It’s not cheap. Spending more than $20 on a meal there can easily happen. It’s also not big. They don’t have any private tables inside. I’d guess the indoor seating capacity at 14 and once a mom, her stroller and her kids occupy one of the community tables, the space is more or less spoken for. They’re also kind of bad at maintaining anything beyond the counter. The food/drinks are consistently perfect, but they’re often out of coffee, or water, or water cups or numerous other things on the serve-yourself station.

Let’s just say half the time I get my coffee down the street at Trouble. No complaints!

McEvoy Ranch: Work Getaway Thankful

Let me begin with the obvious. Umm, wow; I haven’t posted a blog in s i x long (very long) months. Why the silence? It’s much too complicated to address at this time. But yes, she has a name. Perhaps at some point I’ll have the heart stamina to publish in some way shape and form the stories upon stories that have reminded me just how crippling love can be.

But until that point, I need to stick to something simple, something familiar, something I know I’m good at: appreciating the hell out of nature and the artisan food industry.

This entry highlights the magic of McEvoy Ranch, a 550-acre ranch of stunning countryside. The ranch’s main trade is producing top-tier olive products, ranging from extra-virgin olive oil to bath products. The estate also is home to some of the most jaw-dropping organic gardens, greenhouses, and villas I’ve come across. Oh, and, yah, that bright red piano in one of the meeting rooms? Was Elton John’s.

What on earth was I doing there this time yesterday? My beloved-employer, Chronicle Books, a community of people I grow to love more and more, is owned by the McEvoys, and thus, we had the lovely opportunity to have our work retreat there. The day was spent dreaming big, eating too many carbs, soaking up the pristine surroundings, and saying a lot of ‘wows.’

The take-away? While my personal life can surely get complicated at times, the serene beauty of the trees, paired with a re-newed commitment to do my job as best I can, are two simple truths I was meant to remember.

 

Cheers to You, Sutro Tower

 

 

 

 

If this City hasn’t been dubbed the ‘City of Views’ by now, it should be. And I can take the credit.

They’re everywhere – hard to avoid, really. Even on my fairly-flat MUNI ride in and out of the Sunset, they pop up – little windows into perspective – allowing you, the viewer to look inside yourself a little more by absorbing the City scape around you.

And the Sutro Tower is one of our SF’s best. The radio tower ejects out of Twin Peaks, giving the residents a friendly iconic touchstone, often orientating yourself to the rest of the landscape. While living in the Tenderloin, I grew used to the view west, seeing its silhouette at sunset often. Now it it’s due east and I often see its top half engulfed in the Sunset’s romantic fog.

I have yet to actually touch the tower, one of my many to-dos to check off someday, but I have made my way up to Twin Peaks a few times. I recently rented a car and shuttled a best friend up there. Luckily the day was clear and the City sprawled out of the car’s windows just as I’d hoped.

Some of Many Neighborhood Hidden Stairs

When driving up there you can’t park – likely a good thing, since it’d just end up clogged with cars but it does mean you have to be a bit more savvy at planning your view stops.

If walking – there are a few bus routes that get you close enough (here’s Yelp‘s help for that) and you get to snake through the Upper Market/Noe neighborhood on the way down.

Overall, not a bad way to spend an afternoon.

And as a bonus, here are some lovely time-lapse videos celebrating the tower’s iconic beauty. Enjoy!

Goodbye to You, Dear Life Raft

Awaiting Return in the Corner

Calling you an air mattress simply doesn’t do you justice. You are, and have been, the Life Raft on my ocean of despair.

You came into my life unwanted but required. She left on Saturday morning. The Friday night prior, her and I tried to inflate the one we inherited by accident from a friend of a friend. Turns out hosting 30+ visitors on that hand-me-down left it broken. The air just wouldn’t stick. I woke up that Saturday knowing the love of my life was removing my heart, soul and sleeping vessel. I’d start by trying to fill in the latter. Luckily my sister had you tucked into her storage locker. I strapped you to my back, and waddled down the block back to the Depression Station or later dubbed, The Crime Scene. The location in which my partner of 12 years told me she was ending our life together, was no longer “home.” “The apartment,” also sounded too normal. I cope by re-naming things apparently.

Once there – you filled my empty-bed hole beautifully. Your thick, solid, cord plugged into the wall and with a flip of a switch, you quickly came to life. Over the next four weeks, I’d come to know your buttons well. I’d deflate you entirely, move you across town, and periodically flip your switch just for an extra oomph.

But our relationship together, now, like many other things, has come to its end. I bought a bed from a very curious Asian man at the Bedroom Outlet. He thinks I’m an artist and peppered me with questions about my single status. I wanted to punch him like I’ve wanted to punch half of the human race lately. Questions aside, he gave me a deal on a mattress-boxed-spring set, including free delivery (!). Now it rests where you once were. Please, Life Raft, be assured your presence will be missed and remembered fondly. We were, like many other things, good while we had each other.

farmtable: Small, Superb and Sometimes Snobby

 

 

 

 

I admit I’ve been conflicted by this farm:table post.

First, the positives: Farm:table is the best coffee-breakfast-lunch cafe, without a doubt, in the lower Nob Hill/Tenderloiny area. (Over the past year and a half, I’ve gotten incredibly well versed in every nook and cranny of this particular neighborhood, considering it’s my home.) The coffee is Verve, a total fave, plus they have it on French press – oh, hell, more points scored with me again. It’s rich and buttery and with a touch of cream, you have a meal in a glass; properties I adore with the coffee stuff. They also have SUPER bubbly water that they make on the spot with an old-school soda maker. Again, major points with me in the beverage department. Teas are top notch and they also feature a fresh juice.

Love to Bread

The food menu is short, simple and highlights the stellar ingredients they pull in from the top-notch local vendors. Breakfast fare consists of three options: a cereal with luxurious yogurt and fresh fruit; dense whole-grain bread, smeared with Marscapone and seasonal toppings (think hazelnuts and heirloom apples); hard-boiled eggs with a baguette and seasonal toppings (think warm-bacon vinaigrette and chard). The assortment of baked-goods comes either from their tiny oven (they like to make pie) or from Black Jet Bakery. They often have egg sandwiches available also.

Lunch has a similar set up: three items (soup, sandwich, salad). One of my favorite farm:table memories was when I got two of their sloppy joes on challah bread to-go, brought them back to the apartment, and my girlfriend and I ate ’em on the fire escape. I think it was the second meal we had while living in the City. I was freaking out by how I much I loved the cafe and how we were ‘so set’ since it was just two blocks away.

Now to the not so positive…

Yes, it’s hilariously tiny. Reading the reviews on Yelp is pretty entertaining. This one might be the best. Yep; just one table. A small one. Saddle up and get cozy with your neighbor, whatever they’re reading, whatever they’re talking about and whatever they’re eating. You’re basically on top of each other.

And, whatever, it’s cash only, but I’m used to that by now and totally support it for small businesses.

So really – why don’t I go there three days a week? Why doesn’t my girlfriend (a full-time student who lives in coffee shops) go there every day? Because she basically got in a fight with the barista once over the fact she wasn’t willing to make her an iced Americano. I’d rather not get into it but let’s just say it got awkward. The girlfriend also tried to say, ‘Hi,’ to one of the owners when she saw him on the street and he totally ignored her. Ouch. Considering we’d been going there a ton, (always tipped well), saw him at parties, plus have MAD LOVE for their cafe and all the other coffee people in the area, she felt, well, dissed. That wasn’t the reason we’ve spent the last few months away – it was really the tense argument over the coffee drink. Plus, I’ve been solo a few times and have heard them be pretty harsh on customers after they leave…

Before I sign off on this, I need to say a few more things in the food-service-industry-attitude conversation. I get it. I’ve been there – and I DO FEEL you that dealing with public customers is terribly difficult. I’m not being sarcastic and I totally agree. Plus, coming from Portland, Oregon, this topic has been hashed out in great length considering that is the headquarters of over-qualified baristas. Do I expect you to be nice? Honestly, no. Do I expect to be friends? Uhh, no. Do I expect you won’t make fun of me, my girlfriend or my friends? Hell yes.

And will we – the customers with upmost appreciation for your products – continue to support the farm:tables of the world, while hoping we catch you while having one of your better moods? Survey says yes, considering the food-desert climate of our neighborhood. Lack of competition is on your side for now. We just passed it today.

“I miss it,” the girlfriend said.

“I know,” I said. “Me, too.”

The Patio: Peace Found Here

Eastward

This post is dedicated to my soon-to-be historic patio garden. We took a chance on pushing the rules of urban-living, and we lost. I’ve been instructed to dissemble the garden by Monday.

Below entry written, September 18, 2011:

It’s 5pm on a lazy Sunday. The day was spent slightly hungover due to drinking too much boxed-white-wine with friends the night prior. Casey and I talked architecture over a brunch of local eggs and greens. Then I wandered the neighborhood, slowly checking things off my to-do list – no commitments rushing me in any direction.

Now I’m on the patio. Or – as anyone else would say, ‘the fire escape.’ But am I escaping a fire? No; I’m soaking up the sun amongst my little outdoor garden and letting myself dream – these are precise activities of a patio – hence the more appropriate term.

South

If you’ve ever visited our apartment, you’ve come out here. It’s not optional. My goal is to insert a drink in your hand, and push you out our bedroom window so you can share in the magic.

Below are six stories of other urbanites’ patios. The couple immediately underneath us has a bold garden, complete with blood-red tomatoes and a little maple tree. We opted to bend the ‘no plants on the fire escape’ rule as opposed to blatantly break it. My two iron flower boxes are attached to the outside railing (with an absurd amount of zip ties), and thus pose no threat to an exit, should one be necessary.

These two boxes of nature, quite possibly, are my most adored plant life to date. Two Jasmine, one lavender, and a few asparagus ferns are stuffed into these three-foot beds, hundreds of feet above the packed urban earth. Between each box is a small, barely used bird feeder. The solid seed mixture dangles on a metal chain, begging for attention from our city’s flying species. For music, the patio features two different wind chimes, softly pinging a tune every few minutes.

Should you wish to enjoy the patio while dark, never fear, a string of Christmas lights weave through the railing – glowing the view just slightly.

The Lights

Thank you, as always, for letting me share a favorite piece of life.

Thank You Brown Rice,
for Being so Cold, Old and Boring

Note: This was written September 2010 – during an full-time employment lull.

There is a lot to be said for the lunch break. And this is about precisely that.

I remember vividly many a lunch days spent on the office-break-room table. Ahh, the thirty minutes of likely lunch bliss. If I was lucky, I’d be alone – alone and allowed to fall into my leftovers like a trance. I’d meticulously spoon out whatever glorious concoction was previous night’s dinner – find a non-plastic dish and pop it into the microwave for exactly one point five minutes, hoping the core would heat effectively – heating something twice soaked up valuable savoring time.

It’s been over nine months since I’ve worked in that office, yet I operate more or less the same. This routine found me and won’t let go.

And today? It’s brown rice. Nights ago it was sushi bowls. But now there’s no microwave. No co-workers. Just my granite counters and my snoring pug. And I love it just the same. The cold, simple crunch of brown rice doesn’t challenge me – it’s boring – it’s plain; there’s no special sauce or rare ingredient to appreciate or attempt to catalog away in my foodie memory.

It makes me pull my eyes from the screen and look at it, in all its predictability. And sometimes, that’s all you need.

 

It’s January in SF. And That Means…

Holy Christmas trees, Batman! While playing SF-Tour-Guide yesterday, I was aghast by how many freaking trees were on every bloody corner of this City. I had to make a photo collage outta this mess. PS. Does the City recycle/compost these bad boys? They must, ehh?

Glasses, Glows and Goes: Fave Fotos of Bar Coverage

Favorite Photos of a Barfly

Miraculously, I’ve landed a few freelancing writing gigs while I’ve been here, and one of them has been quite fun: I get assigned to bars all around the city while writing them up and taking lots of pictures. Being a total newbie to nearly everything, means I’m learning volumes. Such as, Oh, there actually is a HUGE nightclub scene here. And when I say “club” and “scene,” that means limos, bottle service, velvet ropes, guest lists and cover charges akin to my freelancing rate. These details typically don’t make there way into the vernacular of Portland, Oregon’s bar culture. Sure, maybe a scant few venues would try and pull that stuff off but they’d be scoffed at quickly and loudly. They run in a school of their own here and lucky me, I’ve gone to quite a few of them.

But Rosewood isn’t one of them.

Rosewood quietly sticks its wood door out along Broadway, just between the strip bar circuit and the tourist ridden Columbus Street. The bar manager was such a pleasure – she was so nice, so helpful and showed me the back patio which is typically only open for private parties. The tall bamboo mini forest back there definitely secludes you from the madness outside – I’m into it. The drinks? Meh. Nothing to write home about but if I’m in the area and need a sip of somethin’ I wouldn’t think twice about going there. (Rosewood: 732 Broadway)

800 Larkin was one of those bars I walked passed many, many times and finally went in. Man, that place is awkward. Did they get all their furniture from a leather factory close out sale? Their bottle wall still turned out okay in a photo though. (800 Larkin: 800 Larkin – shockingly)

Sugar Lounge was what introduced me to Hayes Valley. I like it over there, in fact, I’m going there in a few hours for dinner with my 10th out-of-town visitor in the past few weeks. Anyway, Sugar Lounge knows how to mix sugar and alcohol – it’s a glittery bar and has glittery drinks. (Sugar Lounge: 377 Hayes St.)

If Hotel Biron were to change its name to reflect its true nature, it would be, Fine Wine Cave with Dark Art. It’s a wine/beer/sake bar with well-curated art. The wines by the glass are killer and it’s just so cozy in there with the brick walls and couches. It’s small – like lots of things here, but if you need a little cheese, little glass of wine and have a little group with you (party of four or less), head there. (Hotel Biron: 45 Rose St.)

Shine is a decent hole-in-the-wall dance floor in a random part of town… not quite SoMa, not quiet Civic Center… it’s not that close to any other good bars that I’m aware, so that in itself makes it unique. It’s kind of a “club” without all of the clubby baggage I ranted about earlier. Yeah, there’s house music and cocktails, but no lines or massive cover charges. The final thing I’ll say about Shine is, they could be a little nicer. Attitude exists and when you work in the food/drink media, it makes your job harder. (Shine: 1337 Mission St.)

When I started following the opening of Jones, the word “club” got thrown around a lot in its marketing, which had me concerned (go ahead and call me a club-hater. You’re probably right). But, well, considering they opened a stone-throw away, I had to check ’em out. Wow. It’s freaking huge up in there. I asked the owners (who are the nicest guys ever) what the capacity and square footage was, but I forgot. Whatever, it’s big – two bars, a massive patio, dance space… the design is pretty minimal but lovely. What kind of crowd hangs there still remains to be seen, although, I’m guessing it’ll be the designer-label loving hip-hop esque dude. (Jones: is located at, wait for it, 620 Jones)