To San Francisco with Pop

Today is my dad’s 83rd birthday. To celebrate, I am re-posting one of my favorites about one special day spent together in San Francisco. I am so fortunate to have a close friend with a generous soul and a wonderful sense of humor, all wrapped up into one amazing father. I will always cherish walking hand-in-hand to Baskin-Robbins or to dim sum with my dad, playing with words along the way (Pious Lee), and the heart connection we have always had. Happy Birthday, MannyB! The world is a better place with you in it! 

Caleb and Sadie’s grandpa or “Zadie” as we call him (Zadie is Yiddish for grandfather) was born and raised in New York. I was born and raised in San Francisco.

When I was six, my dad took me on a special father-daughter trip to New York City to visit family and retrace the footsteps of his childhood. This was also the first opportunity he had to introduce me to my paternal grandfather, who was very firmly rooted in New York and had never come out to California for a visit.

I know that this may come as no surprise, given that Anya is writing this, but we also went on an eating tour of the city. My fondest memories of this trip were spending extra time with my pop, who I have always been very close to, and of eating everything he introduced me to. We still have a photo of me at six on this trip. In one hand I am holding a slice of pizza, in the other a Nathan’s hotdog, and I am simultaneously sipping on a soft drink (there was likely a knish hiding behind my back). My dad and I recall this photo often, as it truly captured my excitement early on for all things ‘food’. Little has changed.

Perhaps, today was my chance to return the favor to my dad. I set aside this day to have a daughter-father excursion into San Francisco. I picked him up in the morning and we drove to Jack London Square where we parked and hopped on the ferry to The City. The ferry ride was beautiful and I truly enjoyed sitting next to my pop outside on the top deck. We talked about past and present as the fog breezed past us. Our boat passed the Oakland docks, then under the Bay Bridge on its way into our fair city.

From the boat, we walked over to the San Francisco Ferry Building just before lunch time. I was excited to share some of my favorite food things with my dad. I grabbed his arm and pulled him over to a salumi stall called Boccalone and ordered my favorite; a Muffuletta sandwich made hot to order, which we shared. I was pleased to see just how much my pop was enjoying it. Good taste runs in the family!

We brought more food outside to a bench in the sun. We heckled seagulls and laughed, while we watched the ferry boats coming and going.

Before long, we were on the ferry heading back to Oakland (much sunnier on this leg of our journey). I drove my dad home and we gave each other a hug and a kiss goodbye. Our sweet day had come to an end.

I will keep this memory close forever. Some time carved out of my busy full-time working, mother-of-two life, just to be with my dad. This was a rare opportunity to share my city and my food with him, as he had with me so many years ago.

Face Slapping Natural and Other Adventures

Caleb & MateoChrissy FieldMy dumplingsNow that the title grabbed your attention, you’ll have to read the entire post to understand its meaning (unless you’re impatient and must scroll down, which technically is cheating)!

On Sunday morning, Mateo and I knew that we needed to get our collective butts out of Dodge and find a worthy destination. We headed over the Bay Bridge to San Francisco and decided on a whim to spend the day, which was uncharacteristically sunny in early March, at Crissy Field in the Presidio.

On the way to the Presidio, we passed my favorite cheese store in the city, Cheese Plus. Screech, I pulled the car over and found parking in front of the store. After sampling several transcendent cheeses, we ordered delicious warm sandwiches filled with the highest quality meats and artisan cheese, and ate them outside at one of the cafe tables in the sun. A little cookie treat for dessert, then we headed off to Crissy Field.

Why we haven’t brought the kids to Crissy Field sooner, is beyond me. There are paths to walk, run, skate, bike, and scooter down, and plenty of beach access. It’s the breathtaking back drop that makes it especially worthwhile. The Golden Gate Bridge looms over the bay and was visible in almost every photo we captured.

It was getting late in the afternoon and rather than just head back to the East Bay, Mateo and I decided to keep the fun going and head out to the Pacific Café in the outer Richmond for dinner. I worked there almost 20 years ago and several of my old co-workers are still there. We were ushered in with the first seating and ate a satisfying seafood meal. The food there is so consistent – no fancy mumbo-jumbo…just fresh fish cooked to perfection. I love how unchanged the restaurant is, with its wood paneling, warm lighting, and most important – the free wine you get standing outside in line, befriending perfect strangers.

Pacific CafeAnya & SadieFollowing dinner, we drove down Clement St. and to our great surprise, found parking right in front of Toy Boat Dessert Café. Thank you oh benevolent parking gods and goddesses. Technically, there was no room left in our stomachs, but that didn’t stop us from sharing an ice cream sundae.

With bellies painfully full, we returned to the car and started to head back to the East Bay. While driving down Geary Boulevard, a storefront caught my eye and I pulled a sudden and startling U-turn, to see if my eyes had deceived me. Indeed they had not. There was actually a business titled Face Slapping Natural at Geary and Park Presidio. In the window (click on the photo below) was a difficult to decipher manifesto and photos of the owner. We passed on getting our faces slapped and headed back to our home.

This beautiful spring day ended on a most amusing note, and was filled with delicious family time, good parking karma, excellent food, and breathtaking San Francisco scenery. It was a day well spent.

Toy BoatSadie @ Toy BoatFace Slapping Natural StoreFace Slapping Natural 2

An In-N-Outing

In & Outing

Frankly, I can’t think of a better way to kick off the New Year than with a family hike on a crisp winter’s day to Tennessee Valley in the Marin Headlands, followed by a well-earned round of double doubles at In-N-Out!

It has literally been seven years since Mateo and I entered an In-N-Out and after all of the smack-talk we give fast-food to our kiddos, we thought it was about time we chill out and introduce them to our happy medium. To feel like we could justify a 1,000,000 calorie meal, we first set out on a long hike on the Tennessee Valley trail.

I loved how Caleb and Sadie ran up ahead finding walking sticks to drag through the puddles and potential poison oak disasters to stumble into. The fog very soon burned off and the warm sun cut through the biting air. The lunch bell finally rang in the form of grumbling bellies and we headed back to the car and on to our final destination, In-N-Out in Mill Valley.

We ordered, sat down, and waited in great anticipation for our warm cheesy burgers of double double goodness, a chocolate milk shake, and fries (my order, of course, was topped with melted American cheese). When our lunch arrived, we each pounced and gobbled our food down in record time.

Now, I won’t say I did not feel lethargic afterward, but Mateo and I had fun sharing the In-N-Out experience with Caleb and Sadie. A good time was had.

Truth to tell, I needed some fun this weekend. Just this past week, I found out that a childhood friend had passed away. I’m attending his memorial tomorrow and perhaps the hike and the heavy meal was exactly what I needed to ground and brace myself for the emotional ride to come (or rather, to continue). If nothing else, my friend’s passing is crucial reminder of the need for a seize-the-day approach to life. A wake up call to be deeply grateful for the beauty and love in our lives.

Tennessee Valley Outing

Ten Steps to Enlightenment

  1. Pile your family into the car and head off to Point Reyes early on Sunday morning.
  2. Smile as you listen to your children chatting happily in the backseat about nothing in particular.
  3. Thank the Weather Goddess for blowing the fog back out to sea, leaving you with blue skies and sunshine.
  4.  Pull into Point Reyes Station, then head on to the light house with way less than a quarter tank of gas.
  5. Pit stop at the Busy Bee Bakery for a delicious flaky croissant, a stretch break, and a deep intake of crisp autumn air.
  6. Back in the car, head out to the light house and take in the spectacular views of pastures, blue skies, and ocean in the distance.
  7. Take notice of your gas tank’s ‘empty light’ come on and proceed to panic slightly.
  8. Turn the car around about a half mile from destination; offer your kids a rain-check to visit the lighthouse at a later date, then head back to Point Reyes Station for gas and the promise of delectable treats to be had.
  9. Enter Cowgirl Creamery (aka “Anya’s Nirvana”) and purchase an outstanding assortment of charcuterie, bread, olives, stinky cheese, apple juice, and a half-bottle of chilled Chardonnay; and sit outside in the sunlight beneath an olive tree.
  10. Laugh out loud, then look at your family with loving eyes, and realize that life doesn’t get much better than this!

A Black Friday Hijacking

It began with one of my Irish Breakfast Tea-induced manic states, leading to a split second decision to bypass the Black Friday insanity and head to San Francisco for a family food adventure. On Friday morning, I lured my groggy family into our Camry with the bait of a delicious adventure ahead, and some bananas to keep them sated until we arrived at our secret destination.

The sun was shining, no fog was in sight, and the Camry breezed across the bridge traffic-free. While the masses were fighting over mittens in the malls, we reminisced about our Thanksgiving meal in Sonoma the night before and how special it was. The food was exceptional and everyone seemed to be in good cheer as we squeezed around my sister Niki’s farmhouse table.

We arrived at 23rd and Geary and I parked the car. I could tell that Mateo was beginning to register our destination as Ton Kiang Restaurant  — a Hakka style Chinese restaurant featuring some of the best dim sum to be had in San Francisco. We walked through the front doors and as I was eyeing a tray of golden-hued baked pork buns, I heard Caleb say, “Hey, Kevin’s here!” Kevin, my brother, who I had just seen the night before at Thanksgiving, was sitting at a large table with my sister-in-law Rebecca and their good friends. This was one of those cool psychic meet-ups that you can never plan for.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Before long, we were feasting on baked and steamed pork buns, ginger glazed foil wrapped chicken, shrimp dumplings, jook (rice porridge), and an assortment of other delightful dumplings. Our stomachs were now bursting at the seams and we had sampled much of what the restaurant had to offer…it was time to move on to the next adventure. Ocean Beach!

On this beautiful summer day in mid-November, we practically had the beach to ourselves. Mateo and I showed the kiddos where we met for the first time, which was right at the wall overlooking the ocean. We then walked to the water and plopped down lazily on the sand, where we made lame attempts at sand castle construction.

I then led the family on a this is where Momma grew up tour of the Richmond District, as Mateo rolled his eyes internally in the passenger seat (having received this tour one too many times). As we passed the elementary school I attended, I asked Caleb what he thought and he remarked “This isn’t a childhood I would want to grown up in.” He sees a very different San Francisco than the one Mateo and I experienced – one filled with dirty streets, cigarette smoke, graffiti, and impatient drivers quick to lay on the horn.

Before heading back to Mayberry, I pulled up in front of Cinderella Bakery on Balboa. This was a Russian restaurant from my childhood that specialized in delicious borscht, pilmeni soups, and piroshiki fried and baked. Clearly time has gone by because it is now a hip looking café, which thankfully still serves some of my favorite treats. Caleb and I bought a beef and cheese piroshki, frozen pilmeni (Russian dumplings to be cooked in chicken broth at a later date), and hamentaschen. As we drove home, I turned to Mateo and said “Ya know, pirshoshkis are basically just deep-fried beef donuts!” and we both laughed hard at the thought.

This was a Black Friday diversion worth remembering and just the type of family hijacking I enjoy orchestrating!

…Stay tuned as we cook up our pilmeni soup!

A Poem for Fall

A Poem for Fall 

by Mateo Soltero

breathing in

the damp scent of the season

we stand surrounded by

the high-piled displays

of colorful, textured produce

of Monterey Market

basil leaves and lemons

the delicate heirloom tomatoes

still on their vine

autumn produce – apples, pears, dark greens

outside is the annual mountain

of pumpkins – kids climbing all over

we sit back watching

watching Caleb and Sadie join

the patchless pumpkin patch

the October sun has cut through

the morning chill that floats

at the edge of the day

waiting to return at night fall

the public is out absorbing the season

and we are eating slices of Gioia pizza

earthy mushrooms and

sausage to make you speak Italian

the koi in the botanical garden beckon

and we lean over watching them swim

in captivating peace

the leaves are changing

Caleb is making music

gently on a set of small wind chimes

days like this

out with our kids, sampling life

they are magic

magic punctuated by

photo-worthy moments

we are as grateful to capture

as we are to experience

this life is our blank canvas

and we are leaving a trail

where we go

like paint strokes

like swaths of color across the day

Mission Possible

Our family awoke on Saturday with no particular plans for the day. Long overdue for a food adventure, we hopped on BART and headed for San Francisco’s Mission District. Mateo and the kiddos had never been to Tartine Bakery on 18th and Guerrero, and none of us had been to Bi-Rite Creamery. We had our Mission.

We arrived at Tartine and joined the long line of loyal worshipers, making conversation as the line drew closer to the long counter of countless baked delights. It was a simple decision…one double pain au chocolat, a bowl of bread pudding topped with summer fruit, and an artful latte to ooh and ahhhh over. We wanted to sample everything, but needed to save room for our next food destination. We were on a crawl. Well-sated, it was time to work up round two of our appetites. Off to the playground at Dolores Park, just three blocks away.

We walked past the San Francisco Mime Troupe (a permanent fixture at Dolores Park), up the hill past the taco truck and crowds of sun worshipers, and arrived at our destination. Perched on the top of the hill, the newly updated playground has a million dollar view of the San Francisco skyline. This is truly one of the best playgrounds we have ever discovered. Mateo and I were challenged to pull the kiddos away from the countless play structures when it was time to leave.

We headed back down the street, first to the famous La Cumbre Taqueria for an authentic Mission District burrito, larger than a newborn baby. Unfortunately, the food was a letdown. It would seem that they are riding on a reputation that was earned long ago, as our food was “meh” at best. However, it was hard to feel too disappointed with all of the wonderful food offerings surrounding us. It was time to crawl on to Bi-Rite Creamery for some soft-serve.

On such a beautifully warm San Francisco day, there was nothing more right than a swirl of chocolate and strawberry piled high on a soft-serve cone. Mateo placed Caleb on his shoulders, I pushed Sadie in her stroller, and we headed back to the East Bay with happy bellies and wonderful memories of our food adventure in one of San Francisco’s oldest and most colorful neighborhoods.

Oh Mexico

“Oh, Mexico
It sounds so simple I just got to go
The sun’s so hot I forgot to go home
Guess I’ll have to go now”

–James Taylor

Our family just returned from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. With the Pacific Ocean at our feet, the sun above our heads, and the lush mountains at our backs, we devoured our time together and all the delicious food we came in contact with.

We feasted on the freshest seafood (mariscos), cooled off with fruit filled paletas (popsicles), enjoyed mango on a stick, shrimp on a stick, juice from a coconut, flan, rice pudding, fajitas, guacamole, and the freshest salsa that tasted so right because we were eating it in Mexico…I could truly go on.

Caleb was particularly adventurous when it came to our food adventures. I’ve never seen him consume so many quesadillas and plates of coconut shrimp in his six years on this planet. Sadie was thrilled to have so many ripe avocados available to her. Mateo and I were clearly in food heaven too.

I can still hear Caleb and Sadie’s laughter as we all ran along the beach, the sound of the waves crashing on the shore below our condo, feel the sun on my face, and the bug bites on my legs. Our time together in Puerto Vallarta was muy delicioso!