Tag Archives: road trip

Okie Food, Home

Note: There is an interesting follow-up to this post on my About page in the Comments. I can’t figure out how to move those Comments to this post. If you want to comment about Okie food, please do it here. Thanks! -mj

Might as well get this part over with: I’m a California Okie. Some of you may not know what that means. I’m not even sure myself sometimes. But I do know that people from the San Joaquin Valley who are originally from Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and even Illinois, ala the Dust Bowl, have a distinct culture. That means we talk funny, eat funny, have funny religions, and used to dress funny. Most of my family still speaks with a strong accent. Growing up I’d tell my friends that venturing into the Valley was like going to the south. It’s still true.

My family is from Texas, which means they are actually “Texies” in the Dust Bowl parlance. However, most people who were migrants simply got called “Okie” no matter where they were from; we have always called ourselves Okies though no one is from Oklahoma. You can trust me on all this information because I wrote my dissertation about it.

Okie foods are things like biscuits and gravy, pinto beans and ham hocks, skillet cornbread, tortilla pie (that’s probably a distinctly Texas dish, and besides I think my dad just made it up), red hots, peanut patties, lemon pie, walnut pie (I think of this as a California Okie adaptation), chow chow, all manner of pickles, black-eyed peas (which of course we had on New Year’s Day), fried okra, squash pancakes, fried pork chops, fried chicken, fudge, and lard. Some of these are just plain southern dishes, but some of them are distinctly Okie. Of the aforementioned, my single favorite dish is beans and ham hocks with cornbread and milk.

What is cornbread and milk? Cornbread and milk is sent from the Lord, and it is when you plop your warm cornbread into a big glass of cold milk, accompanied by your bowl of beans. I have so many fond memories of this as a meal. One old friend still talks about her first introduction to this meal at my house, and her total surprise. Try it some time. You won’t be disappointed. It goes hand in hand with two other Jennings favorites, popcorn and milk, and rice and milk (with sugar, naturally). Yum! Yum!

In fact, I should start posting some of my grandmothers’ recipes. Though maybe I should save those for the Okie cookbook that I should someday write.

All this to say that when I was home visiting the folks, we had a lot of great food made by the head cook, my dad. Here is my dad’s favorite breakfast, biscuits and gravy with Jimmy Dean sausage. (I should note that my dad feels my mom is the superior gravy-maker.)

If you want to make these biscuits, I believe it’s just straight from the Bisquick box recipe. If you want to make them fancy and impress all your friends, toss in some cheddar and scallions.



Filed under Cooking, family recipes

Vik's, Berkeley

Last stop on the road trip: home. Home as in where my parents now live, which is not exactly home since I didn’t grow up in their current house, but a kind of home since that’s where the ‘rents live. I guess I’m making that more complicated than necessary, but home is a special place for me, something I write a lot about. It’s more a state of mind, I guess.

Berkeley has been home for me, as both an actual place to live and a state of mind. Some heavy life shit has gone down in Berkeley for me. It’s a weird place, a place where my teenage memories merge into my young adult, mid-twenties memories, and now a place I have a completely different opinion about. Take Fourth Street. Uh, wow.

I should tell you that I grew up in the East Bay in the eighties. I later lived in Oakland, Berkeley, and the city in the mid-nineties. And I’m sure everyone says this, but trust us that it was a very different place then. Or was it? Seems like I get older and it’s either that shit changes dramatically, or I’m just getting older. For example, you used to be able to drive around Berkeley. Now? Forget it. I distinctly remember when it suddenly started taking forty minutes to drive from the south side of town to the north side. I am also of the pre-fire generation. I have fond memories of driving Tunnel Road beneath the tree canopy. Now it’s like a Big Box builder threw up on the hillsides. So it goes.

Forgive this incredibly roundabout way of talking about Vik’s, an inconspicuous Indian chaat place, a stone’s throw from Berkeley’s most obnoxious? pretentious? non-Berkeley neighborhood, the Fourth Street area. I could go on about that, but I’ll spare you.

So what is chaat? It’s Indian snack food, fried things, street food, little plates. All of those things. I should also mention that Indian is one of my favorite cuisines and about the easiest for the food-allergic. You’ll be seeing lots of posts here about Indian food.

Anyway, I took my family to Vik’s for lunch on a weekday. This included my parents, who are both around seventy, and my oldest sister and her children–one a teenager and the other a pre-teen. As soon as we walked in, I expected the outing to be a complete flop.

Vik’s is an incredibly chaotic and bustling place. Picture large painting-like menus painted on the walls, people everywhere, dirty tables, chairs akimbo, and loud overhead speakers calling out diners’ names to let them know their food is waiting at the miles long pick-up counter. Your sense of what each dish might be or taste like is completely muddled by all this activity. You can’t focus. You just want whatever smells so damn good.

I figured my relations would wimp out and want to go to McDonald’s. But I forget that they’re actually pretty good sports. They told me to just order a bunch of things–bring them food basically–and I was happy to oblige. I brought mango lassis, chais, and several plates of cholles, samosas, vadas, an enormous (gluten-free) dosa, and a seriously gigantic puri, the size of a hat box. Lots and lots of food, followed by several selections from the insane barfi case. Grand total? $48.

The best part, my family really liked it.

I could probably live off Vik’s if I ever moved back to Berkeley. It’s so cheap, so good, and so fast, it just can’t be beat.

Ah, home.


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Road Meals, Denver

I love road trips. I love not going to work every day. But eating on the road is difficult. In fact, I’d say it’s the biggest challenge of having food allergies. We drove for two days to get to Denver from Portland. To accomplish this, we brought along a cooler and some food we had made ahead of time like hummus, white bean dip, raw veggies, some raw crackers, and cans of tuna and olives. We also have an amazing thermos that keeps tea amazingly hot.

But when I’m out on the road, I want to eat. I want to explore. And I explore the world through my tongue. After a nice lunch of veggies and bean dip, I want a real dinner. I want to get out of the van. I want water served in a glass and a toilet.

On the journey to Denver, and it was a journey–they closed I-70 through Wyoming and we had to backtrack and reroute through Colorado–we ate at a decent Mexican place and a steakhouse for dinner. I find Mexican to be do-able if they serve something like pork adobada or carne asada. I have beans too. A steakhouse is also safe–steak and salad no dressing.

When we went sightseeing in Denver, we decided to lunch at the local health food store, Vitamin Cottage. Here’s what we had:

Denver Meal at Vitamin Cottage

This was the first time I had goat yogurt. Not bad! I’m convinced goat butter and goat milk are the most underutilized dairy products in cooking today. Man, they are fabulous! Tell me that goat butter on your baked sweet potato isn’t the best ever. But maybe I just haven’t had cow dairy in so long that I can’t remember. When I can eat sweets again, I am sooooo looking forward to trying goat butter chocolate chip cookies. Oh, and I promise that recipe is on its way to this blog very soon. After I get my road trip documented.

Outside of Vitamin Cottage we spotted this clever Homelessometer for Denver’s Road Home organization. You can deposit money in it. The text on the face of the meter explains how your money helps the homeless. Portland needs some of these.

Denver Homeless Meter

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Filed under goat/sheep cheese, Restaurants, Uncategorized

Restaurant Kevin Taylor, Denver

Every December 26th, my sugar and I make reservations for a spendy dinner as our Christmas gift to each other. Typically, we’re travelling, so past December 26th dinners have included Campton Place (SFO), Olema Farm House, and Mister A’s (San Diego), to name a few. This year, we found ourselves in Denver, where my in-laws have recently moved.

I didn’t have high hopes for the Mile High City, I must confess. My first two picks, Fruition and Frasca (in Boulder) were closed on December 26th. A tad disappointed, I made reservations for door number 3, Restaurant Kevin Taylor at the Hotel Teatro. I figured it would be good, but there’s just something about a restaurant in a hotel. This is crazy-thinking because I used to work in a hotel in Union Square SFO with a kickass and very well known restaurant, but what can I say, I’m weird that way. Also, there was so much hype about the first two, and I still want to find out if it’s deserved. Maybe next road trip.

In any case, holy foie, RKT did not disappoint. Not only was everything incredibly delish, but ordering was like a dream come true because I only had to ask for one modification: 86 the “cinnamon donut” (wheat bomb) served alongside my foie gras, which, by the way, was the best FG I’ve ever had, daintily mounted atop a mandoline sliver of magical pineapple. For an entree I had seared Australian barramundi, a white freshwater fish that reminded me of something my dad would catch fishing when I was little (except that it tasted good and wasn’t fried Okie-style in cornmeal). Last, and maybe even my favorite course, the cheese plate. I selected a sheep’s cheese (cana de cabra from Spain) and two goat cheeses (pantaleo from Italy, and miticana from Spain). The pantaleo was semi-hard, grainy, and salty–pretty yummy. The miticana was downright spicy on the finish, which completely tripped me out and made me feel so lucky to try it. And the best, the cana de cabra, was a little miracle: grassy, buttery, and like a field on a beautiful spring day. I’m planning to look for it in P-town. Keep your fingers crossed.

Having done this December 26th thing for eight years now, I can tell you that some meals come together and some don’t. RKT really knocked it out of the park. Everything was perfect–food, service, atmosphere, but especially the food, which is always the most important thing. I would go back tomorrow if I could.

When I get all down about my food situation and its unfortunate restrictions, I can think about RKT and be happy again.


Filed under goat/sheep cheese, Restaurants, Uncategorized

Annapurna's, Albuquerque

It ain’t easy being gluten-free. Or vegan. In Albuquerque, apparently many people are both.

At the local co-op, a bunch of deli items are both GF and vegan. I don’t really care about vegan, personally, but now that my allergy tests came back ixnay on the cow’s milk and eggs, vegan has a new meaning for me. That being said, Annapurna’s in Albuquerque’s University district is some kind of hallucination. Not only is it totally vegan, but many, many items are gluten-free. On the back of the menu is this incredible statement: “We use NO eggs, honey, wheat, refined sugar, corn, or peanuts. Our alternative sweeteners include maple syrup, brown rice syrup, and agave nectar. Please mention all allergies to server at the time of ordering.” And the best part: “Ayurveda recommends dessert first, so check our bakery case for today’s tantalizing options.” If that isn’t like dollar bills raining from the sky, I’m Miss America.

The friends we are staying with in town are vegans, so Annapurna’s fed us last night’s dinner and this morning’s breakfast. We would have eaten dinner there tonight, but they close at 2 p.m. on Sundays.

Owner Dasji Prakash, originally from southern India, spoke with us a while about how bad gluten is, how “heating” it is, and how so many Americans have candida because of our crappy diets (without me even mentioning candida first). Also, how he doesn’t cook with a lot of onions and garlic either.

What’s so amazing about all this is that the food tastes so damn good. The friend we are staying with in Alb attests to Annapurna’s authenticity: it tastes just like what he had in Kerala last year during his two-month stay. That and my own taste buds are good enough for me. I’m a devoted fan.

For dinner I had the South Indian Sampler, which included a small dosa, sambhar with idlis, and a vadai–a kind of crunchy fritter. For dessert, my pals ordered carrot cake and coconut tart. Below is a pic of the carrot cake. I’m still trying to stay away from sweets–so, for a special kind of torture, I smelled the cake instead of tasting it.

The bummer part of all this is that Portland, I now realize, isn’t doing a very good job with both gluten-free and vegan. I hope that will change very soon–this is someone’s golden opportunity.

Also, Dasji Prakash is currently working on a cookbook. So I’ll have to be happy with that when I’m back home again and away from his kitchen.

Carrot Cake Annapurna’s


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