How a camera saved a social worker from fast food, and other dietetic doings.
Thursday, May 12, 2011
Michelle Arnold knew she had a situation on her hands when the Jack in the Box drive-through staff knew her order before she made it.
“I work a lot of nights,” says Arnold, who works for the compassionate and crusading Court-Appointed Special Advocates (CASA). “I’m our [advocate] trainer, so training classes keep me in Salinas until 9pm or so, and not a lot of people are serving, and I don’t have energy to go home and cook.
“I pulled into Jack in the Box for the third time that week, and they knew me and my dog [pug Hong Kong Phooey] by name. It was time to change something.”
Her logic was simple: Accountability would be key. “If I had an audience – if someone was watching,” she reasoned, “I wouldn’t be eating this.”
So the Del Rey Oaks resident set up a blog and started taking pictures of every meal. The result: www.phoodfotos.com.
The entries are pretty entertaining, if you can stomach her shticky addiction to re-spelling everything with a “f” (fantastic is phantastic, freak is phreak, etc.).
“Hey,” she says, “If you can’t amuse yourself… ” She is further amused that people besides her college friends bother to check it out.
“I have subscribers who I’ve never met,” she marvels. “It’s nice to have a creative outlet.”
Arnold shoots with a Canon Rebel, and admits that she isn’t exactly on an award-winning plane of artistic prowess.
“I have no background,” she says. “I just like eating and taking pictures of things. Some of the pictures I take I’m half in the bag, some I’m exhausted.”
She does score some pretty nice shots, but frames aren’t the most meaningful things to emerge. A more diversified diet has appeared. “I was one of those people that orders the same thing again and again and again,” she says.
Reflective opportunities – which often come when we stop and take stock – might be the most fruitful outcome. Nothing could be much more fundamental than food, after all, which makes me think it’s an exercise any of us could benefit from over the course of just a couple days.
As Arnold says, “It’s very real life.”
I had her compile her phavorite Salinas phood outposts – which include Loose Caboose, Salinas City BBQ and Tacos Choice – and to select some of her top food shots, which range from a Lula’s Cholula truffle to honey chile chicken wings from Carmel Valley Ranch. Check all that out on the blog.
“I used to eat to live,” she adds. “Now I live to eat.”
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Never thought I’d fall for a taco truck that swore off grease and cheese, but thanks to saliva-inducing sleuthing by Weekly ag reporter Sara Rubin, the impossible is happening. I tried a torta de pollo ($4.50), colorfully topped with pickled jalapeños and carrots, avocado and lettuce. A little richness was missing, but wasn’t missed for long – kind of like a fleeting Coke craving after switching to Diet.
Let Rubin fill you in on the action:
Farmworkers suffer from disproportionately poor health according to some reports, and with a $25,000 grant from the California Obesity Prevention Program funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, the health department is trying to change that by focusing on taco trucks. In partnership with taco trucks and Reiter, a berry grower that supplies Driscoll’s with its Monterey and Santa Cruz County fruit, loncheras are experimenting with some drastic changes – like ditching deep fryers entirely – and some subtle ingredient choices to make their offerings healthier. Part of the grant is going toward tastings for 500 people at $1 per person, tweaking menu boards, promoting healthier items and finding smart substitutes that don’t sacrifice flavor. (Taqueria Hidalgo in Chualar makes tacos by dipping the tortillas in chicken broth instead of oil to keep them pliant without the added calories.)
Educating Monterey County farmworkers is part of the mission, but health department chronic disease specialists Angélica Chávez and Claire Richardson say this four-wheeled link is essential – there needs to be a place to get the grub health officials advocate.
El Rinconcito, named for Martha Rincón (who owns the truck with her husband, Martín Reyna), delivers classic favorites like tacos al pastor to Watsonville field workers. Their mobile business makes dozens of stops a day, sometimes for as little as 10 minutes and with as many as 80 hungry workers lining up for a meal. Chávez and Richardson consider El Rinconcito a model to imitate countywide. (Since El Rinconcito is rolling around the fields, the best way to find it to get your lonchera on is to ring 750-4644 for current coordinates.)
Frog’s leg soup was the best thing we tasted, with a fishy tilapia broth made slightly sweet with tomatoes, and a mild chile guajillo kick.
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Carmel Valley is evolving just in time for coming summer escapes. Corkscrew Cafe (659-8888) is starting a “Winemakers Uncorked” series, which its organizers (Walter and Sylvia Georis) are styling as “ a casual approach to wine tasting.” The complimentary tasting goes down every 4:30-6pm Sunday, light finger foods accompany and guests can sit down at a big “family table” with owners and winemakers for dinner. May 15 is Figge Cellars (224-4149) – which just opened an 18-foot-long Carmel tasting bar in Winfield Gallery on Dolores straight across from Cantinetta Luca, where Peter Figge’s team is providing a chance to taste his all-local, superb pours while cruising the gallery ($5/three tastes; $10/five; free/wine clubbers). Next up at Corkscrew comes Chesebro Wines May 22 and Rombi Wines May 29.
Joyce Vineyards, meanwhile, just opened a tasting room (659-0312) that one of my more stylish Carmel-savvy sources says is rather stylish itself, with a cool industrial feel and comfortable sitting areas – basically a great space for a party or some great wine tasting with a long bar – next to Parsonage’s tasting room across from the Running Iron. Oh for some big Black Mountain Chard out of Santa Lucia or the Franscioni Pinot. It’s open 11am-5pm Friday-Sunday.
And another newbie in the valley appeared just up the road, cozied next to the sheriff’s outpost: Kathy’s Little Kitchen (659-4601), serving modestly priced Mexican and American classics for reasonable prices that have inspired a couple of locals to flag it as a notable spot. There are big breakfast burritos ($4.50) and pancake-bacon-egg plates ($4.99), rolled taco combos ($6.25 with six), burgers ($3.99-$5.99), tortas ($3.75) and menudo on weekends ($4.59).
Back by the sea, Carmel Food Company (624-0300) recently debuted on Junipero between Fifth and Sixth in Carmel. Chef/Owner Sven Hoffman wants to do country-style European in harmony with SeafoodWatch guidlines. His menu looks as inviting as the dog-friendly feel and two patios: baked brie “Paris” with lingonberry compote and crispy parsley ($7), charcuterie and cheese boards ($13 each or in combo), Scottish smoked salmon sandwiches ($13), asparagus-artichoke-Gruyere crepes ($10), Hungarian beef goulash with créme fraiche, hangar steak with Belgian fries ($27) and warm Danish bread pudding ($7). 11:30am – 2:30pm for lunch, 5:30pm till closing Tuesday through Saturday.
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Sierra Nevada’s Quinn Gardner reminds me next week is American Craft Beer Week. He’s heading to Cannery Row Brewing Company (643-2722) Thursday, May 19, to help host “a celebration of all things craft beer… mix and mingle with representatives from each participating brewery and ask every question you’ve ever wanted to know about them, their beers and their history.” Sierra, Firestone Walter, Santa Cruz Aleworks, Uncommon Brewers and New Belgium rank among the featured guests offering $4 discount pints in souvenir glasses (to keep) while Mark Ayers and company craft beer-centric dishes to pair with them… TusCA at The Hyatt Regency Monterey (372-1234) is getting vigorous about its seasonal farm table tasting menus ($19.95/lunch; $29.95/dinner). This month green garlic stars in a Pismo clam bouillabaisse with chorizo and kale and tangelo upgrades the panna cotta with pistachio tuille… Happy birthday, frozen margarita machine. The game-changer just turned 40. The original now lives in the Smithsonian Museum’s American History wing. Its inventor, Mariano Martinez, lives much of the year in Pebble Beach. “I never dreamed I’d invent anything,” he says, but when Smithsonian recently ranked their favorite inventions, something called a light bulb got #1 and the margarita claimed #10. As margarita season arrives, I asked for his secret to a great margarita and his recommendations for good local examples. His response: “Using 100 percent blue agave tequila. Cointreau instead of triple sec. And agave nectar instead of sugar,” and Club Jalapeño, Rio Grill and Lalla Grill, respectively… My favorite kind of fast food, Babaloo Cuban Food Truck (262-4150), braked by the Weekly the other day before heading to the P.G. Farmers Market (4-7pm Mondays). The Lucy Lucy! with grilled chicken, avocado, Muenster and mango ($6) was pressed deliciousness and her pulled pork ($8 with rice and beans) was juicy and vibrant with a citrus spark… Never thought I’d describe a cupcake as a beast, but Mrs. Delish’s (612-1884) new cherry bomb is precisely that. One such explosive – with a crushed peanut surface, thick butter cream layer beneath, cherry center and surprising weight – made its way to my desk and stood no chance of surviving my mouth… “There are no rules for good photographs,” Ansel Adams once said. “There are only good photographs.”