Sunday, June 17, 2007

"Expect the Best": My new mantra -- which also involves sushi & chocolate

I was raised in the most Republican town in Northern California. Very early on in life I learned to always expect the worst. And guess what? The worst always arrived -- like clockwork.

Now I've gots a new view on life -- "Expect the best!" That's the new me. Do we have the most corrupt group of people in the history of the United States camping out in our White House? Does a man whose campaign contributions come from "Vulture Fund" beneficiaries and war profiteers sit in our Oval Office, gleefully wringing his blood-covered hands? Not to worry. Americans aren't dummies. Sooner or later they throw crooks in jail. "Expect the best!"

The State Department is keeping me from embedding as a progressive journalist in Iraq. Heck, this might be a good thing. Who needs to go over there anyway? It's hot and dusty and if I want to watch pathological killers blowing everything up, I can do that at the local cine-plex for only five dollars (I get the senior discount). "Expect the best!"

I live in a housing co-op that's run by a bunch of self-interested schmucks whose only goal in life appears to be to see how many of their relatives they can move in illegally. And because I'm a whistle-blower, they keep doing nasty things to me and it looks like it's only gonna get worse. "Expect the best, Jane." Yeah, right. But what if the schmucks and me meet over tea and they offer to give up their greedy ways and we patch things up? Hey, it could happen.

I gotta start imagining that good things can come my way and not just catastrophes. We can stop global warming. We can stop war. America CAN have better education and healthcare. People CAN get along. "Expect the best!"

So. Where does the sushi and chocolate come in? Good things are also happening to one of my daughters. After graduating from high school, she floundered around a lot -- many young people do. But now she's got her own apartment and a new job! I'm so proud of her. I gotta admit that I had expected the worst -- but now look at her! Hurray! And, even better, my daughter now works with food. "If you come over, I'll give you a free sample," she said last night. What can be better than that?

It turns out that my daughter works in a delightful little secluded indoor alleyway in North Berkeley's "Gourmet Ghetto" -- three doors down from Chez Panisse, only not that expensive. Let me take you on a tour.

Located at 1611 Shattuck Avenue, its entrance is innocuous. If you didn't know it was there, you might miss it. "OMG, look!" I exclaimed. "Kirala has a carry-out place!" The best sushi bar in Berkeley has just gone on-commando. Sushi-to-go! And bento boxes too. And udon.

Then there's "Soop," a specialty food bar featuring soups made right on the premises and served with a chunk of warm buttered corn bread. "Our soups are completely organic," the counter person told me, "except for the onions. We can't seem to get enough organic onions." Good to know.

Next comes Picoso, a small kitchen alcove that sells Mexican food with hand-made salsa. "And they make their own guacamole," my daughter whispered in awe.

Then there's a gelato counter named Ciao Bella that offers a whole rainbow of gelato flavors. I tried a scoop of their chocolate jalapeno and my friend Abhi tried their pistachio. Delicious. And the young lady behind the counter was very cheerful and helpful and funny. I left a whole quarter in her tip jar -- I was that impressed.

And way in the rear of this delightful food-court wannabe is a tiny little cubby that sells the best chocolate in the world. "Ours actually IS free-trade chocolate," said the proud proprietor of Alegio. "Would you like to try some of this dark chocolate imported from a co-op farm off the coast of West Africa?" Would I!

"Expect the best."

The whole alleyway smelled totally wonderful. Rich aromas battered my senses. Hey. Forget about blogging my poor fingers to the bone and substitute teaching at juvenile hall for a living. I wanna work HERE.

After you mix and match your meal from the menus of the various shops, you can carry it up some stairs in the back, to a small outdoor garden with picnic tables and a waterfall. At one table, I found a family of five happily eating their dinner. "We come here often," said the dad. "For perhaps $15 you can get a healthy gourmet meal and dessert plus a magical place to eat it in."

Oops, I almost forgot. Up above the waterfall is an old-fashioned Chinese tea shop called the Imperial Tea Court, modeled after the kind that Chinese poets used to frequent back in the day. they sell freshly-made noodles and every kind of tea. "And be sure to say that the noodles are hand-made," my daughter informed me.

"Expect the best."

The people who run these shops are mostly small-business owners, taking a chance on the American economy because they love to make and sell food -- and chocolate. I hope their efforts succeed.

My son and his significant other are expecting a baby on January 1 -- so 2008 looks like it's going to be a good year too. And I turn 65 in two weeks. You know what that means -- cheaper transportation rates, senior benefits and Medicare! Plus maybe we'll finally get a president in the White House who actually cares about America and not just about pulling off the biggest heist in the history of the planet.

Things are going to be okay. "Expect the best!"

PS: I really don't eat all that much chocolate any more. Since I started my new high-fiber diet, I've noticed that my legendary craving for sugar has gone way, way down. But unfortunately there's no fiber in chocolate. But maybe they could start making chocolate-covered salad? Chocolate-covered roast beef? Chocolate-covered All-Bran!