Grubbing up against strangers in Berkeley
I used to make fun of the Dairy Queen Mother for talking to strangers everywhere she went — in elevators, grocery stores, even movie-theater bathrooms. Actually, she still does it, and I still tease her about it, partly because she has no "psychodar" (sorry, Mom).
But when the subject is SOLE food, I'm finding it easier and more enjoyable than ever to meet random new people myself. A few months ago I overheard a man at the Saturday Berkeley farmers market talking to the Three Twins Ice Cream vendors about where he could source organic mozzarella for a new pizza place he was opening. I lurked and eavesdropped, then eventually interrupted, as I had missed the crucial details of where the restaurant was going to be. Turns out it's on University Ave. in Berkeley not far from where I work. I've only been to Bobby G's Pizzeria, as it's called, once and need to go back before reviewing, but it offers organic dough, a soy-cheese option for the vegans, and organic salads and some other SOLE-foody exciting stuff.
Though my brazen conversational tactics, I also met the guy and girl selling the Three Twins ice cream and of course mentioned this blog, as I talk about little else these days, except maybe pork. (Three Twins ice cream, by the way, is ridiculously, magically good — it's made from milk and cream from Straus Creamery.) Imagine my surprise when the young woman, Rachel, later e-mailed me an invitation to a potluck last month.
I thought I must be extra special to get invited on the basis of just that five-minute conversation, but obviously it's Rachel, not me, who's special. She moved out to the Bay Area from the East Coast to go to school about a year ago and decided the best way to make friends was to start hosting potluck parties under the umbrella of local, seasonal, and sustainable eating. Whenever she met someone, she'd invite them over; she now has upwards of 100 people on her Grub party list. The name and the concept are aligned with the ideas in the book "Grub: Ideas for an Urban Organic Kitchen" by Anna Lappe and Bryant Terry, but Rachel says she was throwing the parties before it came out. "The book just gave me both a great name and motivation that other cool people were doing things like this," she says.
This gathering was Rachel's first with a theme. From her e-mail:
Basically about half of us will bring something to dip and the rest will bring something to dip into. And while still doing our best to cook seasonally, locally and organically, I challenge you to think outside the box and get creative within the dip/dipper parameters.
If your LAST name begins with a letter from A to K, then you're bringing something to dip (for example: homemade cheese crackers, spiced oven fries, satay skewers, dumplings, biscotti...). If your LAST name begins with a letter from L to Z, then you're bringing a dip (for example: pumpkin hummus, almond butter from scratch, infused olive oil, chocolate pudding). If you're coming as a couple, please bring both a dipper and dip. As always, contributions of wine and cheese are much appreciated.
Appetizers like these are my favorite part of dinner, so I RSVP'd yes immediately. I wanted to make these spicy cheese crackers I had noticed in Food & Wine — the idea of making my own crackers seemed so, well, Martha — and I figured I would come up with something to put on them with whatever looked good at the market that weekend. I ended up going to the Temescal farmers market the morning of the party and being inspired to make egg salad, for a sort of bacon-egg-and-cheese dip.
I bought a dozen eggs from a new-to-me farm whose name I unfortunately can't remember right now, parsley, and what I thought were scallions but I later realized to be green garlic. To make the salad, I just boiled the eggs and chopped them — note the lovely yellow yolks — and put in a few big spoonfuls of organic mayonnaise and a teaspoon or two of mustard, plus plenty of salt and pepper and a dash of cayenne. I sautéed the green garlic in a bit of olive oil to take the bite off, chopped some mild red onions, parsley, and some celery from Terra Firma Farms that I've had for a while (wrapped in foil in the fridge, it'll keep for a month), and combined it all. I put half of it in a dish on a bed of lettuce for the vegetarian version, and then fried up some Fatted Calf bacon bits for the carnivores' bowl.
The crackers were not hard at all to make and were really snackalicious — the recipe is here. I used Spring Hill raw cheddar, which is a bit milder and smoother than I prefer. Next time I will also roll the crackers out thinner, and poke them with a fork before baking them so they won't get so puffy.
On the way to the party the Potato Non Grata, who is such a good sport despite being such a self-effacing, shy wallflower [wink], asked who was going to be there.
"I don't know," I said.
"Well, whose house is it at?"
"I don't know them, either," I explained, revealing that I met Rachel for half a second but I just knew that she was simpatico and so would be her friends lending their house for the party.
"OK then," shrugged my easygoing husband. "Let's hope they're not serial killers."
We had a really delightful evening, and obviously lived to tell about it. There were about 30 people crammed into a small, art-adorned Berkeley house, including a couple food bloggers I'd heard of but never met; wait and kitchen staff from Café Fanny, where Rachel works part time; some of her life-coaching classmates; and quite a few random people like me and the Potato.
Everyone was very friendly and easy to talk to, and the dips and dippers were eclectic and incredible: I particularly remember the sticky rice balls with spicy Thai dipping sauce, made by a woman who owns a Thai restaurant in Moraga; the dumplings, and the mini potato latkes; and for dessert, my favorites were the homemade dulce de leche, donut-like spirals with crème fraiche, and the Three Twins mint chocolate chip ice cream (with fresh mint).
I think everyone should have a Grub party, or get to go to one.
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