ONE: Lunch at Bar Jules, where owner Jessica Boncutter was at the stove. While I sat at the counter and watched, she threw together a delicious springtime take on salad nicoise with preserved tuna, olives, potatoes, asparagus, red peppers and lots of garlic and olive oil. I was very taken with the whole event: the simple décor, the propped open front door, even the pile of oranges on the counter.
But I was also inspired by Jessica's presence. The fact that she was actually there, visible and involved, made a big impact on me. In these days of fast food chains and corporate restaurants groups, it's a rare and precious thing to have an owner roll up her sleeves, pick up a knife and start making lunch. The feeling it created is warm and intimate, like I've just stopped by her apartment (which is almost the case since she lives upstairs) and she's decided to whip up something yummy for us to eat.
TWO: Similarly, last Friday I arrived at Pizzaiolo, a pizza restaurant in Oakland's Temescal district, just as Rachel Saunders opened the door for her 8-12 noon Toast and Jam Breakfast. Rachel owns Blue Chair Fruit Company and every Monday through Saturday she's at the counter, making the toast and the (Blue Bottle) coffee and serving it all up on Heath Ceramic plates (local, local and even more local.)
She also makes of all her jams, many in small batches and based on what local fruit is available to her. It gives me hope that it's still possible for someone to have a wild idea, hang out a shingle and give it a go in the overpriced, seen-it-all Bay Area.
As I left Pizzaiolo, Rachel mentioned that she may have to stop working the Toast and Jam breakfasts soon as her business is growing. (The breakfasts will continue, just not with her at the counter.) This is good news, of course, as it means she is realizing some success. But it's also is a reminder to pause, notice what is important and appreciate it while it's right there in front of you. (Don't it always seem to go…)
THREE: Cooking with children. My friend Corona (along with her parents and her baby sister) stopped by for dinner last Sunday. I was making risotto and since Corona had spent almost half of her 6-year-old life in Italy, I thought I would benefit from her expertise and invited her into the kitchen.
Risotto, she informed me, was "rice with this gooey stuff all around it. It tastes really good!" And it yes, really did, even with most the peas scattered over the stove top and a slightly burnt crust on the bottom of the pot.
(Images: Dana Velden)