Monthly Archives: September 2009

I HEART Bakeman’s

If you work in downtown Seattle, chances are you’ve eaten in the subterranean cafeteria known as Bakeman’s. It’s known for its turkey sandwiches, fast service, low prices, total lack of ambiance and the cranky proprietor, Jason Wang, aka “The Sandwich Nazi.”

If you come into Bakeman’s, you better know what you want to order, and you better order it quickly. Otherwise Jason will call you out. Many people don’t like Jason’s gruff demeanor and says that he yells at people too much. One review I read claimed that Jason verbally abuses people. Puh-lease. Jason just says what everybody in line is thinking. “Hey, hurry up. Don’t you know what you want yet? People are waiting. I’ve only got 30 minutes for lunch!”

I recently went to Bakeman’s during lunch rush, got my food and when I made it to the cash register, I discovered that I didn’t have enough cash to pay. (Bakeman’s only takes cash or checks.) I fully expected Jason to upbraid me. Instead, he just said, “Pay me next time” and shooed me away. I came back later that day to give him money, and he seemed amazed–and true to form, a little annoyed–that I had returned.

The turkey sandwiches at Bakeman’s are delicious. I liked mine mixed, on wheat, just cranberry. (White and dark meat on wheat with cranberry sauce for those who don’t know the lingo.) But I enjoy the daily specials even more. They are often a real surprise and range from classics like meatloaf and mashed potatoes to more exotic fare like kalua pork and cabbage. And at $6.75, they are a great value.

I recently enjoyed roasted chicken breast with Israeli couscous at Bakeman’s. The chicken was moist and flavorful and the couscous was well seasoned. I would have never expected to see an upscale ingredient like Israeli couscous at a chipped-Formica-counter kind of place like Bakeman’s, but that’s why I love the place!

Chicken breast with Israeli couscous

Chicken breast with Israeli couscous


Filed under Reviews, So right

I am breaking up with Grand Central Bakery

I once dated this guy who loved art and literature, had a wicked sense of humor and was passionate about social justice issues. These are all great qualities. Too bad he was a total dick to me. It took me awhile, but I finally learned that someone who is interesting, smart and funny isn’t necessarily good boyfriend material.

This lesson applies to restaurants as well. Restaurants that have good food aren’t necessarily good restaurants. And it’s not good for you to keep going back to them. Case in point: Grand Central Bakery in Seattle’s Pioneer Square.

I work by Pioneer Square and often visit Grand Central for lunch. It has great baked goods and yummy soups, salads and sandwiches. You can sit inside in a charming historic building that was once a train station or outside in Occidental Park. It can be a lovely place to go for lunch.

I say it “can be” because nine times out of 10, something goes wrong with my order. Food will be missing, the wrong salad will show up, I order with a group and everyone gets their food but me, and when it does come, it’s 30 minutes later and everyone else is already done eating. The Grand Central staff are always very apologetic and eventually fix it, but why can’t they just get it right?

I went to Grand Central yesterday, and I ordered a whole Italian grinder, a mixed greens side salad and a chocolate chip cookie. I specifically ordered the grinder because I was in a hurry and that sandwich is pre-made. The cashier took my order, I paid and then I waited to pick up my food. The sandwich and salad came up right away, but I noticed that the sandwich was a half and not a whole. I politely informed the counter person that I had ordered a whole sandwich and not a half. She insisted that the order was for someone else and that mine would be coming up shortly. That sounded plausible so I hung around for another 10 minutes. But after countless calls of “Italian grinder and side salad?” to the crowd, soon it became aparent that it was indeed my order, and that they had gotten it wrong. Again.

It was not a huge deal, but I can’t overlook the frequency of botched orders anymore. There are many other restaurants where I can spend my time and money and not leave frustrated.

So goodbye, Grand Central Bakery. It was nice while it lasted.

UPDATE: Gillian Allen-White, general manager and co-owner of Grand Central Bakery, read my blog the day after I posted and sent me a very sincere apology. (Read it in the comments section.) I asked my Facebook community if I should take Grand Central back. Several people–including myself–were impressed at the prompt response to my post. Way to get your Google alerts and actually take action on them. Some thought I had already given Grand Central too many chances.

My decision is stick to my guns and not return to Grand Central, BUT I will not badmouth the cafe. Our breakup can be a healthy one with no bad feelings on either side.

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Filed under Reviews, So wrong

Food for Thought writing contest winner

Congrats to Juliette Kaplan, the winner of the Bumbershoot “Food for Thought” writing contest. Her poem below deals with food and identity and fitting in.

I was the kid
who brought her lunch
in sticky

Tupperware was not cool.

When people asked me,
“Where are your parents from”
Like a well-rehearsed robot, I would recite,
“My mom is from the Philippines,
and my dad is from the Former Soviet Union.”
I thought he was from the Ukraine
But I just said what I heard from my mom.
Needless to say,
they were foreign,
with no experience with lunch time protocol,
Operational standards,
Social responsibility,
Or Peanut butter and jelly.

Oh how I longed for gushers and handisnacks,
Dunkaroos and chex mix.
But no.
Why buy special food for lunch, when last night’s dinner waits to be re-warmed?

My food did not look like colorful plastic jewels,
or glorious, cheesy orange goo.
I wanted to eat commercials, my parents fed me…
Eyeroll, please!

My mother’s chicken adobo, that she marinated for days
in a recipe that endured Spanish colonization,
Japanese occupation,
and American immigration.
Babushka’s mashed potatoes and Russian meat patties
that lie somewhere between hamburgers and meatloaf…
“What are you eating Julie?”
The dreaded question.
“It’s called catletka, it’s this Russian thing,” I would grumble, as I bowed my head in shame.

Or maybe it was
Similar to a lychee fruit, it came in cans of heavy syrup
and was transferred to Tupperware
for me to carefully balance
so it did not leak,
and make me as sticky and unappealing to other kids
as my bulky Tupperware lunch was to me.

Oh how I longed for a nifty paper sack…
But why on earth would we buy paper sacks,
when we have plenty of plastic ones
from the grocery store?
Tupperware did not fit nicely
into nifty paper sacks.

Lines of children
with lunch boxes with Velcro
and Disney pictures and superheroes
and a plethora of nifty paper sacks!
And then me,
trying to hide
my crumply white plastic grocery bag-
The handles tied into… not even a friendly bow,
but stiff, alert rabbit ears,
conspicuous, and scared,
Giving me away!
So desperate, so uncool.

“There’s no microwave at school, DAD!”
A lousy and fruitless attempt to be sure,
How could they ever understand?
“That’s ridiculous!” he said,
“Is there a kitchen?
Then there’s a microwave!”

I hated my stupid Tupperware,
and my quick, covert trips across the cafeteria
with the regretful request
to reheat
my uncool lunch—
that was really last night’s dinner.

But at least I dodged
Direct exclusion
when the trading frenzy erupted—
Fruit-by-the-foot thrown across the table,
egg salad, on white bread
flying overhead.
My Tupperware-encased,
Preservative-free, non-English words, did not fly among these kids…
Oh Tupperware, you were the source of my social demise.

But I forgive you, Mom and Dad,
for the years of anguish I endured
in the closed mind of the American school lunch room,
unwelcome to aromas of heritage and love.
Because now I’ll take Tupperware,
With delicious delicacies from your respective homelands
over boring PB and J,
any day.

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Filed under Filipino food, Food and race

A touching lumpia story

This is an e-mail forward that I got from my colleague Gene who is Filipino like me.

This is for all the Filipinos out there, and those who are lucky enough to have Filipino friends, those who have Filipino spouses and those who have Filipino next door neighbors. The story goes like this…

The elderly man lay dying in his bed. While suffering the agonies of impending death, he suddenly smelled the aroma of his favorite food, Filipino lumpia.

Gathering his remaining strength, he lifted himself from the bed. Leaning against the wall, he slowly made his way out of the bedroom, and with even greater effort, steadying himself against the walls with both hands he inched his way to the kitchen. With labored breath, he leaned against the door frame and gazed into the kitchen. Were it not for death’s agony, he would have thought himself already in heaven. For there, spread out upon waxed paper on the kitchen table were literally hundreds of his favorite food, LUMPIA.

Was it heaven? Or was it one final act of heroic love from his devoted wife of 60years, seeing to it that he left this world a happy man? Mustering one great final effort, he threw himself towards the table, landing on his knees in a crumpled posture. Painfully, he reached up with his right hand and weakly groped on the table surface until he felt the oily warmth of one of his rolled favorite dish. His arthritic fingers wrapped around one, gingerly picked it up and brought it down. His parched lips slowly parted and as he slowly brought to his mouth, the wondrous taste of that lumpia already overwhelmed him, seemingly bringing him back to life. The aged and withered hand trembled on the lumpia, when he was suddenly smacked with a spatula by his wife.

“Get out of here!” she shouted. “These are for your funeral!”

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Filed under Filipino food

Bourlaug, who saved millions from hunger, dead at 95

Norman Bourlaug

This morning on NPR, I heard an interesting story about Norman Bourlaug, the winner of the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize. He died Saturday at age 95.

Bourlaug was known as the father of the “green revolution,” which transformed agriculture through high-yield crop varieties and other innovations, helping to more than double world food production between 1960 and 1990. Many experts credit the green revolution with averting global famine during the second half of the 20th century and saving perhaps 1 billion lives.

Borlaug was one of only five people in history to score the feat of winning the Nobel Peace Prize, the US Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal–placing him in the company of Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela and Elie Wiesel.

Googling for more information about Bourlaug, I came across a fascinating 1997 Atlantic Monthly article by Gregg Easterbrook–“Forgotten Benefactor of Humanity.”

Easterbrook starts the article by talking about the almost absolute lack of public recogntion in the United States of Bourlaug’s contributions to bettering the world and Western media’s role in this.

    Though barely known in the country of his birth, elsewhere in the world Norman Borlaug is widely considered to be among the leading Americans of our age…Yet although he has led one of the century’s most accomplished lives, and done so in a meritorious cause, Borlaug has never received much public recognition in the United States, where it is often said that the young lack heroes to look up to. One reason is that Borlaug’s deeds are done in nations remote from the media spotlight: the Western press covers tragedy and strife in poor countries, but has little to say about progress there.

Bourlaug’s methods averted mass food shortages and famine most notably in Mexico, Indian, Pakistan in the 1960s. In recent years, Bourlaug tried to bring high-yield agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa, but large-scale success eluded him. In the Atlantic Monthly article, Easterbook suggests that Bourlaug lost support because of opposition from environmental groups. Easterbrook is highly critical of this. I bolded a phrase which really struck me.

    Reflecting Western priorities, the debate about whether high-yield agriculture would be good for Africa is currently phrased mostly in environmental terms, not in terms of saving lives. By producing more food from less land, Borlaug argues, high-yield farming will preserve Africa’s wild habitats, which are now being depleted by slash-and-burn subsistence agriculture. Opponents argue that inorganic fertilizers and controlled irrigation will bring a new environmental stress to the one continent where the chemical-based approach to food production has yet to catch on. In this debate the moral imperative of food for the world’s malnourished — whether they “should” have been born or not, they must eat — stands in danger of being forgotten…
    …Borlaug’s reaction to the [environmentalists’] campaign was anger. He says, “Some of the environmental lobbyists of the Western nations are the salt of the earth, but many of them are elitists. They’ve never experienced the physical sensation of hunger. They do their lobbying from comfortable office suites in Washington or Brussels. If they lived just one month amid the misery of the developing world, as I have for fifty years, they’d be crying out for tractors and fertilizer and irrigation canals and be outraged that fashionable elitists back home were trying to deny them these things.”

Today more than 1 billion people–mostly in the developing world– suffer from chronic hunger. Who will continue Bourlaug’s work? And are there still those who oppose it?

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Filed under Essays

Happy birthday, dear…panda?

I just saw this photo on the Yahoo! homepage of a panda at a zoo in Taipei, Taiwan eating her birthday cake. Yes, you read that right–birthday cake, not bamboo.

Taiwan Panda

I wondered if giving zoo animals birthday cakes was a common practice, and thanks to the powers of Internet search, I can tell you that, yes, it is!

The Huffington Post has a slideshow of a hippo, walrus, cheetah and other assorted animals celebrating another year in captivity with cake (or cake subsitute).


Part of me thinks these photos are really cute, but another part of me is screaming, “Why do we do this?” Stop with the anthropomorphism already. It’s a nice photo op and publicity stunt for zoos, but animals don’t care about their birthdays.

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