Thursday, 29 September 2011

I didn't choose a drink, a drink chose me

Coffee in the States is great.  I mean it!  Although my preference is obviously for a cup of fine English Breakfast (Earl Grey on Sundays) the chance of getting a decent cup of tea outside of your own home is about the same as getting a death row pardon in election year.  It just doesn't happen around here.

On the other hand, between Blue Bottle in SF, Peet's Starbucks-from-Berkeley style, Walnut Creek's own Pacific Bay Coffee Company and La Scala (open until 1am), there is a wealth of choice for the discerning caffeine connoisseur.

There is also a huge intra-shop choice of beverages, from your cappuccinos and your lattes, through your caffe con pana and white chocolate ristrettos, all the way to a Godiva dark chocolate raspberry freddo or matcha green tea frappuccino.  This is how I first came across the dirty chai.

Although when we met it was called a chai tiger, and served in a lighthouse on the Pacific Coast.  But what's in a name?  The ingredients are a chai spice tea latte dirtied up by a shot of espresso, also importantly adding the caffeine element.  And by any other name, it certainly tastes as sweet.

Having forked over enough cash to stimulate the US economy buying these incredible inventions, I decided it was time to save money (plus claim the means of production in a usual Marxist manner) and create my own version at home.  I was inspired by finding a bottle of chai spice tea syrup at Cost Plus World Market, which I bought, proving that Marxism and capitalism are not mutually exclusive.

I was very scientific in my approach, even going so far as to use a tablespoon to measure the amount of syrup that would give the hot milk the correct delicious spicy bite.  It was a little sweeter than anticipated, which meant the embittering effect of the espresso shot was even more welcome than usual.  A final burst of steam power to add microbubble creaminess, and I had in my hand a drink not entirely dissimilar to a dirty chai.  A little extra experimentation and I could probably put Starbies out of business.

So yet another espresso drink is added to my repertoire, which now includes cappuccinos with badly formed patterns in the foam, macchiatos (put the espresso into the milk after, instead of before), filter coffee, that's it.  Next time: iced salted caramel mocha.

First of all, make sure you've got the appropriate tools for the job.

Proper science, that.

Only use the finest beans (apologies to Dana, who brought me these from Seattle and would not approve of their use in this drink).

The pull.

The cup was a little too tall for the steamer, but I improvised.

De-licious!  If only I'd saved my cupcake from the previous post...

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Only in Berkeley. As usual.

One of the persistent stereotypes the British have is that our former colony does not do political satire well. I've never held this view (have you read the Constitution? It's hilarious!)  But while they do have Stephen Colbert a lot of people think he's a real right-wing pundit, and there's no equivalent here to Private Eye, Chris Morris or, indeed, Jonathan Swift.

Which is why I was very interested to learn about a particularly edgy bake sale that was taking place on Berkeley campus today (thanks to Vince and Christine, who saw it on CNN, while in Germany.)

The campus Republicans, a rare breed, are demonstrating against a Californian bill to encourage positive discrimination in the Cal college system. Not by marching or leafleting, but by selling cupcakes price-dependant on your ethnicity. If you're a white male you pay full price, $2. Hispanic males pay $1, and prices drop to a meager 25c if you're Native American. Women get 25c off everything (Amanda, who says she's 1/32nd Blackfoot, would make a killing).

Very predictably, a large number of people are up in arms. Which is entirely the point, as the campus Republicans are very happy to acknowledge in the almost blanket media coverage they've been given since announcing it.

How could I resist a trip into Berkeley to see what happened? First, their advert stated "If you don't come, you're a racist!" Second, my ethnic minority nonimmigrant status should get me a sizeable discount.

I got to Sproul Plaza, and as usual the main challenge was finding which political demonstration was the one I wanted. Luckily the TV cameras showed the way, and I even got to stand next to some real news photographers. They had much nicer cameras than me.

As 10am approached the tension, and my hunger, increased.  Then the cakes arrived, and all hell broke loose.

The main problem was that no one could actually get to the table to buy anything.  The network cameras crowded in to catch every word of the sales people. Then the placards were handed out.  Then the opposition arrived.  Someone tried to buy every cupcake, but was refused.  There was some shouting about freedom of speech.  Not that many people seemed to get the joke.

Finally a small queue formed and pushed its way through the media mob, and so I joined.  When I got to the front a pleasant girl (Republicans can be pleasant!  Who knew?) asked what colour I'd like, so I went for a non-ethnically-biased purple.  I asked if there was a discount for British people, and was told I could pay "whatever I self-identified with".  Though my first reaction was to claim to be a female Native American, I honestly paid the white male price.

I was then followed from the scrum by a reporter for the SF Chronicle, who asked me hard questions like "do you know what the protest is about?" and "don't you think it's racist?"  I delved into my memory of listening to politicians being interviewed on Radio 4, and replied "you may very well think that, but I couldn't possibly comment."  Showed her!

In summary: this is Berkeley!  The point was further reinforced when yet another group of students turned up dressed as wizards demanding diversity for Hogwarts and "socio-magical justice".  All we needed was some nudity and every NorCal cliche would have been met.

And yes, the cupcake was delicious.  It tasted like freedom.

Show me the baked goods!

The cupcakes arrive, and immediately begin melting under the media glare.

Banners are all well and good, but you can't eat them.

This is the opposition table.  They didn't have cupcakes.

Not sure what her point is, but hey: freedom of speech.

How am I meant to get to the table through this lot?

Here's the Berkeley Republican student president.  I recognise him from CNN, and no doubt a bright political (or baking) future awaits.

Yes!  Finally!

At this point I'd lost track of who was demonstrating for and who was demonstrating against.

And then the wizards arrived, with their inflatable dragon.

Well, in the words of a lady at another famous political demonstration, let them eat cake.  And I did.


I met fellow ethnic minority member Angus for lunch, and we decided to wander through Sproul Plaza to see if the madness had continued.  It had, and had got even better!

A huge group of black-clad students was lying down, blocking access to everyone.  Once again it was hard to tell what their point was, but I think they were pro-bill (and therefore anti-cupcake).  It didn't seem to matter to the Channel 7 news copter that was buzzing overhead.  There hasn't been this much action since the tree sitters.

The main bake sale sign had been smeared with icing, either by someone taking issue with the demonstration or just unhappy with the taste.  With fewer news cameras blockading the table Angus easily got to it and bought a cookie, although he had to confirm that he self-identified as male.  It must be his accent.

We had to take the long route around the lying-down students, and passed several other groups (and the wizards again) who had cottoned on that giving away food tends to get you attention on a university campus.  Still, man cannot live by baked goods alone, and so Angus and I moved on to discuss politics at a local noodle bar.

Not so great at satire, but pretty good at puns.

Politically active, or just lazy?

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Match of the day

We've been kindly given a car by Shauli and Anat (while they're in Israel) and today put it to good use with a trip to the South Bay.  We popped in to see the Schwimmers, newly moved into their house in the Alameda, and then zipped on to catch Maya's soccer game as star player for the Scarlet Flames.

But who should be running around on the pitch, dressed in yellow and blowing a whistle?  Why, it's Elise, who obviously couldn't stand being left out of the Saturday activities.  I didn't indulge in the usual chants the British direct towards football referees, but clapped and cheered as Maya's team came out (totally impartial) winners.

Logan, so big now!  This isn't the Schwimmer's actual new house.

Down in Palo Alto, with Maya showing off the team banner.  Oh yes, it's all taken very seriously.

Ooooo, bit harsh there, aren't you ref?

I was being beaten a little too easily by a seven-year-old... showed her how the game should be played.

After all that effort, reward.

And, as everyone likes a baby, here's Naomi, the daughter of Danny and Yael, friends we randomly bumped into in a Palo Alto cafe.  How cute is she?!

Friday, 23 September 2011

Halloween is evil

We are now entering what is known in these parts as "Holiday Season".  This strings Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas together in a long splurge of consumer spending, eating, and general over-indulgence.  With so much packed in, it does have the happy side effect of not having to listen to Christmas tunes in shops from mid-September on, a British tradition.

Not that we miss out on advance money-grabbing, of course!  Wandering around Target the other day I came upon the 20% of the store already given over to Halloween goodies.  Of course, I quickly found myself in my favourite section.  The last report on this is apparently my most popular blogpost ever, according to the stats, proving that even my incisive, witty prose is no match for photos of dogs in costumes.

So here you go (warning: the final image should not be viewed by people of a nervous disposition).


Why why?

Why why why?

Hmmm, that actually makes some sense.

They now populate my nightmares.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

North of the Rio Grande

We made it back.  We were zipped through immigration in Texas so that we could catch our flight, but the official insisted on speaking to us in Spanish several times.  We have obviously become Chilean in our two weeks abroad.  At SFO we stepped off the plane and Hannah made a beeline for Peet's Coffee for a bran muffin and a large cup of the strong stuff.  You can take a girl out of California, but...

The chocolates and biscuits Silvi sent us with didn't even survive to San Francisco, and we popped the bottle of Chilean Champagne at lunchtime to alleviate some of our mourning for the country through alcohol consumption.  Always a constructive way to do things.

Massive thanks to Pete and Fini and Pepita, Raimundo and Tere and Teresita, and our wonderful hosts Ignacio and Silvi and Ignacito.  We have had a mind-bogglingly huge adventure through deserts, cities, coasts, earthquakes, Spanish, etc. and it was made what it was by the wonderful company and kindness to us by them all.  When California finally kicks us out, we'll head south.

Final, tearful (from us!) goodbye.  Ignacito is very relieved to get his bedroom back.

Back at SFO with coffee and muffin in hand.

Toasting a wonderful holiday with some Chilean bubbly.  Until next time...

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Viva Chile!

Our last day has arrived...

We started with a walk to the top of San Cristobal hill, which rises 880m right in the middle of Santiago and is the city's largest public park.  On the weekend it's a popular place for hiking, running, and cycling along its many paths and roads.  We managed to dodge a few near misses with bikes on the way up and were soon stood before the Blessed Virgin Mary where JPII had himself conducted a mass during his 1987 visit.

Tomorrow is Chilean Independence Day, which demonstrates our bad timing by leaving today, but we were kindly invited to Ignacio's parent's house to join in the pre-celebrations with a barbecue, empanadas, and tons of wine.  The whole extended family was there, with the good news that Ignacio's sister and brother-in-law might be moving to Berkeley to study!  Woo!

All too soon we said farewell (after the empanadas ran out), popped back to Silvi and Ignacio's to grab a shower and our luggage, then drove through the quiet streets to the airport.  We have a very quick transfer through Dallas, so might miss our connection.  Maybe they'll send us back to Chile!  We can hope.

Who should we see on our way to the hill?  Why, a young Michael Jackson of course!

Hmmm, not a great mix.

If walking to the top isn't enough for you, you can join a spin class once you're up there.

Looking down on the city, and the construction of their South American-record tower.

The Virgin.

The view from her feet.  Yep - smog.

We did it the active way: walk up, funicular down.

It's quite a long ride.

Then it was off to Ignacio's parents, and these tasty little treats.

Ignacito directs proceedings with his favourite toy.

Ignacio's sister Maca does her patriotic duty with a paper chain (but why the French colours?)

Silvi shows the plate of empanadas just for her.

Very impressive.

Modern Chilean family.

Happy birthday dear Chile!  But there should really be 201 candles.