Brown Sugar Kitchen

I did not want any kind of grand celebration for my birthday last week (32, eek!), but I did really want to try breakfast at the Brown Sugar Kitchen in Oakland, so that’s what we did.

The restaurant is located in the middle of a warehouse district, but plenty of people knew where to find it. The place was already filling up at 8:45 a.m. The menu is short and sweet — mainly soul food goodies like grits and eggs, chicken and waffles and pork hash. We ogled the baked goods at the entrance — bread pudding, pie, and the like.

Mike had the pork hash, which was really strongly flavored, but perfect with two plain poached eggs.

I had a waffle with a side of bacon. The waffle was light but crispy from the cornmeal inside, and came with a delish flavored syrup. We also tried one of the buttermilk biscuits. Along with coffee (a rare treat for me these days) it was the perfect breakfast.

The Brown Sugar Kitchen has a sister restaurant in Oakland called BSide BBQ, which we also tried a few weeks ago. We decided it’s as close to upscale as you ever want to go with something like barbecue, but we really liked the brisket.

Mike had a pulled pork sandwich with coleslaw that was pretty tasty. The only miss was the lemonade of the day, which was flavored with mango, and just didn’t really work.

I think I’d like to go back and try lunch at Brown Sugar. They have some different offerings from BSide, and based on breakfast I’m willing to bet lunch is pretty darn good.

KC – DM – SF

Finally I am getting back to normal after an epic vacation to the Midwest, followed by an epic tour of San Francisco with my good friend Rachel, who was visiting from New York.

Of course I had to visit my sweet Charlotte.

I planned a trip home to Kansas for my Nana’s funeral. But I ended up adding on a cleanout of my other grandmother’s house — where we had an estate sale — a baby shower, and a trip to Des Moines to see my good friends. I do not know where I found the energy, but I managed to feel great the entire trip (as long as I got to sleep well at night).

I got to see most of my entire extended family and all my Des Moines friends, which made the trip so worth it. They even gave me a Fiat 500 to drive at the rental car place!

I also got to admire Erin’s Subaru Outback, which I think is the car we will be getting soon. As you know, I am in love with my Yaris, but it’s simply not big enough for two adults, a baby (and all that gear), plus two big dogs.

In Des Moines I even took a Nia class, which I needed more than I realized. I soaked up all the Midwestern things you don’t get so much out here, including a few rainy nights (I so love that sound of it hitting the grass), hospitality, good service at restaurants, trust of strangers, and last but not least, giant water glasses.

It’s probably silly to complain about a water glass, but they are seriously so tiny in restaurants here. And now that I’m extra thirsty all the time, I appreciate a big glass even more.

Oh yeah, I had to have some potato oles while I could get them. 🙂

The baby shower was a real treat. My sister pulled out all the stops to make food that a pregnant lady would love, including pickle bites, deviled eggs, and red velvet cupcakes.

My mom found some adorable vintage items to use as decorations.

And I loved our host Rae Ann’s idea to decorate with baby clothes that were also gifts.

I wish I had photos of our diapering-a-baby game because it was hilarious. At least I won my round!

I adore this photo. My mom, sister, and I with my grandma.

The next day I drove to Des Moines, where Brianne had gathered some of our friends at her adorable house for apple picking.

I got to hold my friend Arin’s new baby, Jonah, who is just the tiniest sweetest little guy.

I also got to meet my friend Karen’s new puppy Charlie (I’m in love with him!) and my friend Amy’s little girl, Linden (darn me for not taking pictures of them). I so wish I could have stayed longer. I miss those ladies so much, especially now that we are all going through such major life transitions.


It was nice to get back to California, though. Business has been busier than ever, so I can’t be away too long.

P.S. How cool is it that the electric car chargers at the Oakland airport are actually getting used?

Rachel came to visit the day after I got back, and we took her on a quick but totally packed tour of the bay area. She got Bette’s breakfast, Tony’s pizza, and fig bars at the Berkeley Bowl. Then we went into the city all day Saturday. We were foiled by a foggy Golden Gate bridge, but I think we did pretty much everything else.

We started out at the Ferry Building, where we got Vietnamese lunch from the Slanted Door’s takeout place.

Then we saw the sea lions at Pier 39 and took a streetcar back to our car. We stopped in the Mission for some shopping on Valencia, including Paxton Gate, which is the craziest store ever. It’s like part taxidermy, part science experiment, part secret garden.

Then we attempted to get some Bi-Rite ice cream, but were foiled again by a street festival and long lines. Fortunately, I remembered that you can buy it by the pint at the Bi-Rite market, so we did that and ate our ice cream in the grass at Delores Park.

After we rested our feet for a while, we grabbed some desserts at Tartine and then ate at a Mexican restaurant that I can’t remember the name of. We slept good that night!

Luckily, Rachel got a good bridge view the next day. Our doggies sure did miss her when she left, but hopefully it won’t be so long before we see her again.

It is so crazy to think that next time I do all these things I’ll have a baby with me. (By the way, you’ve got to read this.)

I was also thinking that I wonder if I will ever go to those small Kansas towns where my grandmothers lived again, now that they don’t live there anymore. So much is changing. Some chapters are closing and new ones are opening. I’m just trying to take it all in.

Road trip: Reno/Tahoe

Our friend Yvonne moved to Reno not too long ago, so we decided to visit her and see Reno and Lake Tahoe for the first time. Well, technically we saw Reno on our way out here in 2010, but we basically just drove through and stopped for a quick lunch. This time we saw a heck of a lot more, especially considering we were only there for about 24 hours.

We drove to Reno on Friday afternoon, which I will not do again. Traffic was horrible! But once we got to the mountains at sunset I got a little less cranky. It was beautiful up there!

We took the dogs with us so that they could see their friend Okie again, and meet Yvonne’s new dog, Bug. The dogs were like an instant pack, running around and wrestling with each other. They also managed to figure out how to open the sliding door and escape from the house, but blessedly they didn’t go anywhere.

Everybody on the bed!

Yvonne’s house is so cool. It’s full of midcentury stuff that I swoon over. I mean, look at this lamp!

Saturday morning we decided to go on a little nerdy historical expedition. We were looking for some wagon ruts that allegedly were used by the Donner party. And we actually found them.

It’s basically just a rocky path at this point, but cool nonetheless. On the way there we ran into a bunch of wild horses.

They had obviously been around people before because they were very curious about us and not at all afraid of the dogs. One even let Mike pet her.

After that we had to hit The Nugget casino in downtown Reno so I could try the famous Awful Awful burger.

And I can now confirm that it is both awful big and awful good.

It’s a nice peppery burger with enough sauce that it doesn’t get too dry. The only weird thing is that they give you a pound of fries, which no one can possibly eat in one sitting (at least without being in some sort of contest where you win a T-shirt).

Hey, I finally look pregnant. Kind of.

Our last adventure was to head up to Lake Tahoe so we could finally see what all the fuss was about. It was such a gorgeous day, and because it’s fall the traffic wasn’t too bad.

We walked the dogs around for a while. Poor little Bug is still a little skittish so we had to get him to relax.

We let the girls loose on the dog beach, too.

Yvonne got this great picture of all of us. Sadie was being shy.

I really enjoyed getting in a little bit of nature at the lake. The sky was so blue, I couldn’t stop looking up.

We would have stayed longer and explored some more of the Donner history, but we had to get home. The dogs were so tired from playing that they completely crashed in the car.

Now that we know what we’ve been missing, we’ll definitely be back.

Mac ‘n cheese, please

After Angeline’s, I cannot get enough mac ‘n cheese. It is definitely a big craving, of late. So I was fortunate to get to try it at a couple of new-to-me restaurants in Oakland.

First, we went to Chop Bar, which is in the Jack London Square area. It has this industrial chic look inside, and a gastropub-type menu.

Mike decided to try the oxtail poutine, which sounded so lovely and indulgent. But instead of the cheesy, ultra-rich concoction we were expecting, it was kind of skimpy with bland fries.

But the mac ‘n cheese side did not disappoint. It was gooey and cheesy with crunchy crumbs on top.

The best thing I ate, though, was the only thing I didn’t get a picture of, and that was the burger. It had bacon, avocado, and heirloom tomato slices, and was just heavenly. I would go back just for that. The bloody Marys also looked yummy, and you can get yours with bacon!

Our next mac ‘n cheese adventure came at Homeroom, which is an entire restaurant devoted to the dish. They have all different varieties of cheeses and add-ins, plus a few sides and desserts. The decor is sort of homey and vintage, and drinks are served in Mason jars.

I love this photo because it totally looks Instagram-ed, but it’s not!

I ordered the Trailer Mac, which comes with Niman Ranch hot dog pieces and potato chips on top. Our waiter recommended that we get ours baked with breadcrumbs, so I said OK. In the end I thought the breadcrumbs added much more than the chips. Either way – yum!

We also discovered a big list of Oakland restaurants to try, so we’ve been sampling other cuisines, too. When one of Mike’s map nerd friends was in town we took him to Cosecha, which is kind of like fancied-up Mexican street food.

The guacamole was excellent, and I liked the grilled corn with chile, lime, and cheese sprinkled on top.

I had a quesadilla with grilled chicken and hot peppers, and Mike tried a few different tacos. We decided our favorite was the braised pork taco.

Then last weekend we met a college friend of ours at the Thai Buddhist temple in Berkeley for brunch, of all things. The best way I can describe it is to say I think it’s the most Berkeley thing I’ve done since I’ve been here.

The temple is really just a house on a residential street that has a big ornate facade. But you go around back and there are all these stations serving curries, noodle soups, spring rolls, and the like. You exchange your money for tokens, and pay with those. We got there at 10 a.m., and by the time we left around 11 there were hundreds of people there and the line was all the way to the street. It is just the coolest thing.

Attempting to smile with a mouth full of curry.

We tried a few different curried stir-fries, Thai iced tea, and mango sticky rice. It was definitely a lot of rich food for so early in the day, but I loved it.

Every time I think we’ve settled into a routine, I realize there is so much more to discover around here. We’ve got at least 30 more restaurants on our list to try. Bring it on!

Dog beach!

Over the weekend we decided that instead of taking the dogs to the dog park like we normally do, we would take them to one of the dog beaches in the area. We picked Fort Funston because it was just over in San Francisco, and because it’s a well-known spot for hang gliding, which sounded cool (to watch, that is).

People literally launch off the side of a cliff and zoom around the beach overhead. It looked like a lot of fun.

It was a little treacherous to get down to the beach. We had to maneuver down this sandy path, and then of course maneuver up it on the way back. But it was totally worth it. The dogs loved it. And a day by the ocean wasn’t too bad for us either.

I didn’t think we could get Sadie to go in the water, but she dipped her toes in.

We found a stray ball, and she loved playing catch with it. Reggie is a big fan of water so it was no problem to get her in.

We probably could have stayed a really long time (the dogs seem to have endless energy when they have their freedom), but then Sadie discovered that she could chase birds down the beach and disappear from sight. So we had to call it a day. But I think we’ll definitely do this again.

Vegan soul food

I have been wanting to try Souley Vegan for a long time. So when a vegan friend of Mike’s was in town, we had the perfect excuse. As you can probably guess from the name, they serve all-vegan soul food in a big space in the Jack London Square area of Oakland.

I tried the southern fried tofu sandwich, which was really good. It can be tough to make a block of tofu taste good, but they managed it with a crispy cornmeal crust. Plus, the sandwich was big and hearty, much more than I expected. I could barely get my mouth around it!

Mike got the grits with gumbo and southern fried tofu, while our friends tried some of the other sides. The mashed potatoes and cornbread looked good — I’ll have to try those next time, along with the BBQ tofu — the mac ‘n cheese less so. Maybe that’s just something that is tough to make vegan. We loved the fried okra, but thought the sweet potato fries (really chips) were so-so. Their specialty lemonades and cupcakes looked really yummy.

Overall, I’m so impressed with an entire restaurant devoted to vegan food, although you definitely don’t have to be vegan or vegetarian to appreciate it.

Another must-try: Angeline’s

We are just on a roll lately with restaurants. Last weekend, Mike and I went to dinner with our friend Coulter, and we decided to try a new place in downtown Berkeley, Angeline’s Louisiana Kitchen. For some reason I had the impression that it was going to be more of a fast-casual type of place, but it turned out to be more like fancied-up New Orleans cuisine. We loved it.

I wish I had more than grainy iPhone photos of the food, but it was really dark in there. I had the gumbo, which was definitely the best I’ve had. Not terribly attractive, but it had a richness of flavor that I can imagine is hard to recreate.

Coulter had the fried chicken with mashed sweet potatoes. I was lucky enough to try a bite.

But the creme de la creme was the side of macaroni and cheese. It was incredibly rich and creamy, with crunchy parmesan breadcrumbs on top.

We were totally stuffed, but we made room for dessert — bananas foster bread pudding with rum-caramel sauce. I’ve never had bread pudding quite like it. It came in a block, kind of like the texture of cold polenta, but seared and caramelized like bananas foster. Didn’t get a picture of that, but highly recommend!

Even more good eats

I cleared out some photos from my iPhone and now I have even more good restaurants to share with you.

First is Daimo, a Chinese restaurant that’s right next to the pan-Asian mall in Richmond. We heard it was good and decided to check it out on a Friday night. Big mistake! It was mega crowded and totally chaotic. But once we got our food we were in love. So the next time we went there on a Thursday, and it was practically empty.

Chow mein with prawns.

Chicken with string beans.

I should have taken a photo of the potstickers, but we ate them too fast. There are definitely some more adventurous things on the menu we’ll have to try in the future. The best part is, when you’re finished with dinner, you can go into the mall and get a cream bun.

Another place we really liked was Everett and Jones barbecue in Oakland. We had so-so takeout at their Berkeley location, but decided to give the sit-down restaurant a try. It was significantly better. Service was a little iffy, but we loved the spicy barbecue sauce, the tender brisket, and all the sides.

I love how the potato salad tasted like pickle juice. Just like my grandma made it!

Plus, I am a sucker for a place that serves lemonade in Mason jars.

Also a sucker for a man in a plaid shirt. 

And lastly, we went to the Anchor Oyster Bar in the Castro for some seafood. You have to try this place. It is such a gem. It is absolutely tiny — one of the smallest restaurants I’ve ever been to. So you’re guaranteed a wait. But while we waited in the chilly weather a guy brought us samples of their tasty clam chowder.

So many people who had written their names down ended up leaving, so I think we got bumped way ahead on the list and didn’t end up waiting that long. The food was a little slow to come out, but it was worth the wait. And you have to give a little slack to a packed place with only 4 employees.

Mike got a combination of different types of oysters, huge shrimp cocktail, and a big bowl of clams in broth, all for $20. He had to get extra bread 3 times because he didn’t want to leave any broth behind (which was quite impressive to one of the waiters).

I had scallops over mashed potatoes and steamed vegetables. I never order scallops, but they just sounded good, and they were really good. We also got some crab cakes for an appetizer. Everyone else’s food looked good, too. You can tell they really try to stay seasonal and fresh and local with their ingredients.

I want to go back to all these places, but I’m actually more inspired to go out and keep finding more good restaurants to try. There are just so many around here! I could never get to them all. But I’ll sure try.

Some more good eats

I just found some old pictures on my camera that I forgot to share with you. The first one is from what has become one of our go-to restaurants in the East Bay, Talavera.

Their pumpkin seed mole guajillo (above) is to die for. I always get it with pork, sometimes in a plate, sometimes in a burrito. You can’t possibly eat one of their burritos in one sitting, so I always get to eat it twice! They also have great homemade chips and guacamole, homemade salsas, and horchata to drink. I love the pickled veggies they serve with everything, too.

The other photo is from Gott’s Roadside, inside the Ferry Building in San Francisco. I’ve always wanted to try it, so one Friday night we finally did.

I got a burger, Mike got a hot dog, and we both split onion rings and a shake. They were all delicious. I like that Gott’s cares a lot about how they source the food (how very SF), and I also liked how much outdoor seating they had. We were entertained by a car getting towed out front for parking in a bus zone, and then as soon as it was gone another car pulled into the spot.

Normally I’d say that if you were in the Ferry Building, try some of the more gourmet options like the Slanted Door. But if you’ve been doing a lot of walking/touristy stuff and just want to sit and eat something filling and good, you can’t go wrong with Gott’s.

An ode to rain

Yesterday I went to let the dogs outside, and it took me a minute to realize that I had felt a raindrop. Just a tiny one — spit from an overcast sky. But it hasn’t rained in so long, I hardly remember what it’s like. And it probably won’t rain, really rain, for several more months. Even though the weather here is darn near close to perfect, and I’m not complaining, it seems almost unnatural to live in a place with no rain in the summertime. Growing up in Kansas, summer was all about those dark, threatening thunderstorms that shook the house and lit up the night sky. It was all about rain that gushed and poured out of the sky and then disappeared and soon as it came.

In Iowa, rain was more of a constant in the summer. Yes, there were still thunderstorms, but just as often there was a kind of steady rain that kept everything green (kept those cornstalks growing higher) and raised the rivers enough to make us all nervous. There is something so romantic about being caught outside in a summer rain, and being cooled off by nature on a hot day. Then there’s that steam that hangs in the air after a rainstorm and that smell. God I miss that smell.

Thinking about thunderstorms makes me think about the night Mike and I first made a real connection. We were at a friend’s house party in late spring 2004, getting to know each other. We were all outside on the porch talking when the dark clouds started to roll in. The sky looked black and angry, and before long the tornado sirens went off. Of course none of us went inside. After the sun set, it just started to pour. Like rain so heavy it almost seemed fake. So what did we do? Ran in the street of course! Laughing and getting soaking wet.

I’ll always remember that night, too, because my friend Jennie was in town from Colorado, and we got to talking about how much she liked it there and how much I wanted to check it out myself. I had no way of knowing that that would be the night I started falling in love with my husband, or plotting a change in my career, or starting to figure out who I really was. I like to think that thunderstorm was Mother Nature smacking me in the face and saying, “your whole life is about to change!” And our response was to step off the porch and run in the rain.