Cheese Glorious Cheese!

We have a new family member, Pascal Tomini. He’s young, pasty, and a little high-maintenance. Pascal is the pet cheese I brought home from the fabulous cheese-making class I participated in at the Cheese Board in Berkeley.

As you can imagine, seconds lapsed between the time I heard about this class and when I registered for it. Any opportunity to stand in the back of the Cheese Board kitchen, with a collection of other cheese devotees, was a huge attraction. I own a book on home cheese making, but am intimidated by the step-by-step process. Having an experienced teacher walk me through each step would make it much more accessible.

On Wednesday evening after work, I met up with my friends Kerry and Jennifer at Cheese Board Pizza, just a few doors down from the Cheese Board (where the class was to be held). It was raining wildly outside as we sat inside, gobbling down delectable slices of pesto covered zucchini pizza, enjoyed with a glass of red wine. Live jazz music was playing at one end of the room, and the place was packed. I could have sat there all evening soaking up the cool Berkeley atmosphere.

It was time to head over to our cheese-making class. We grabbed our umbrellas and walked two doors down to the bakery. Once inside, we were offered white aprons and were ushered to the back of the kitchen where the class was getting underway. Our teacher simply donned a name tag that said “Cow”, so that’s how I’ll refer to her. Cow runs a cheese school called The Milk Maid in San Francisco and is an experienced cheese maker and instructor.

My friends and I stood around the large kitchen prep tables under soft lighting, surrounded by other participants who were as eager to learn the steps involved in cheese-making as we were. I was in heaven! The expansive cheese counter to my left, the large ovens that produce some of the best baked goods I’ve ever delighted in, to my right.

In front of us were cheese forms, a large cookie sheet, and a tiny tray with a sampling of various cheeses made from a variety of processes. Cow explained that we were going to learn how to make a crottin or tomini recipe (a lactic set cheese, best eaten fresh to moderately aged), and then she walked us through the basic steps for making ‘lactic set cheeses’. As I had hoped, the instructor demystified the process, making it accessible and exciting.

The experiential portion of the class involved ladling large curds of cow’s milk into my small plastic form and allowing it to drain over the cookie sheet. After listening to Cow’s clear instructions, we all went home with happy cheese-filled bellies, and our curd-filled cheese forms, soon to evolve into true aged cheese.

So, Pascal Tomini and I drove home together in the rain. I introduced him to the other family members, and then put him to bed on the kitchen counter. Excited to expose Caleb to the cheese-making process, I involved him the next day by having him gently remove the cheese from the form, then sprinkle both sides with salt. We carefully placed Pascal in a Tupperware container (lid not quite on) and then into the fridge.

Over the next few weeks, Caleb and I will follow his progress, turn him over daily, and take in deep inhalations of the promise of good cheese eating to be had.

Stay tuned…

Sam Wo Is Me

A moment of silence for the death of the infamous Sam Wo Restaurant in San Francisco’s Chinatown. On Friday evening, I read the obituary in the San Francisco Chronicle and am still grappling with the news.

My childhood memories are filled with visits to Sam Wo’s on Washington Street near Grant Avenue. I would usually go with my dad on one of his lunch breaks from work in the Financial District. We would come off the street, walk through the bustling and unsavory kitchen, then up the stairs to the second or third floor to be greeted by Edsel Ford Fong, an equal opportunity bastard, known as the ‘rudest waiter’.

Truth to tell, I was fond of Edsel. Who wouldn’t get a kick out of a waiter who yelled at patrons to hurry up and order, even though they had not yet received their menus? He would hand you a dish and bark at you to hand it to the table behind you because he could not make it through the crowds. On occasion, he would give us an untallied bill, commanding us to total it ourselves. The walls were covered with Polaroid’s of Edsel being kissed by some unsuspecting female patron, as well as sayings like “Be Specific like the Pacific Ocean!” Edsel riddled every sentence with “Check it out!” What’s not to love!?

Occasionally, we would see a cat run through the kitchen or a surly looking chef sneeze into a pot of boiling noodles as the cigarette in his mouth barely flinched. The food was appealing, but the kitchen was disgusting. For this reason, I got into the habit of asking the cooks to wash their hands before handling the noodle rolls. There was likely a sign in the back with my picture on it, with a command to spit in my food if I ask for hands to be washed!

As unsanitary as the 100-year-old restaurant was (and the main reason for its closure), it had huge appeal and was known for two dishes in particular, the barbecue pork rice noodle rolls and the fish salad. I was, and still am, particularly crazy about the rice noodle rolls – thick sheets of rice noodle filled with char siu (bbq pork), baked egg, and cilantro, then rolled into a log and cut sushi style into thick pieces – and always enjoyed mine with a combination of oyster sauce and hot Chinese mustard. This would definitely be on the top of the menu for my ‘last meal’.

My parents loved rice noodle rolls so much (dad still does), that shortly before my mom died, I ran out to Ranch 99 Market for the ingredients. Back in their kitchen, I lovingly prepared the dish from memory, and was so pleased to watch my mom savor every bite of my rice noodle roll re-creation.

Even though I’ve since moved out of the City, I have always known in the back of my mind that I could return for an order of rice noodle rolls, whenever my heart desired. After receiving the earth-shattering news on Friday, I had to do something to come to grips with my loss. On Saturday morning, I ran out to our local Ranch 99 for the ingredients once again.

Unfortunately, the rice noodles I purchased were stale and after steaming them, I was only able to rescue one sheet of noodle to make a single roll. With the remaining ingredients, I made a ‘deconstructed’ rice noodle roll salad, which I later brought to a potluck. The dish consisted of bbq pork slices, baked egg, cilantro, sliced rice noodles, and I tossed it with oyster sauce and a little hot mustard. It had all of the components and flavors of rice noodle rolls – Caleb loved it, and I would make it again!

It now sounds like the owners of Sam Wo’s are trying to work with the City to re-open the restaurant. They would have to spend much money to repair the ancient building and comply with health inspectors and the fire department. If they do re-open, I’ll be dancing in the streets, kissing strangers, and shoving copious amounts of delectable rice noodle rolls into my mouth. Just you wait and see!

My version: rice noodle rolls and noodle roll salad

Sprung!

Extended weekend. Treasured time with family.

Day trip into San Francisco. Lunch at Yumma’s on Irving for outstanding shwarma.

A visit to the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park. Rainforest, butterflies on our shoulders, dancing fountains, fish swimming overhead. Our children more interested in the mechanics of the elevator, than the wildlife surrounding them.

A stroll over to the Japanese Tea Garden. Cherry blossoms, evidence of spring, tea and treats, hopscotch over rushing streams, bridges, ponds, and koi fish.

Mateo and I shoot each other a knowing glance…It couldn’t get any better than this!

A meltdown or two. A visit to the playground, then off to the Pacific Café for dinner. Free wine in line. Sidewalk friendships made. Sourdough bread, clam chowder, and the best damn grilled salmon.

Another meltdown. This one, catastrophic. Time to head back to the East Bay.

I was so over winter. Grateful for the arrival of spring. Welcomed in just the right way.

Something to Chaat About

We may be house- and childcare-poor, but Mateo and I consider ourselves to be quite family-rich. World travel just isn’t in the cards for the time being. To seek out the exotic, we head out for good things to eat in our little corner of the San Francisco Bay Area. Today, we went on a lunchtime food adventure to Vik’s Chaat Corner in Berkeley.

Already apprehensive about bringing our kiddos to a “spicy food” restaurant, it didn’t help matters when as we were walking toward Vik’s, we witnessed a young boy retching violently into a potted plant outside the front door; his mother hovering over him (turns out this was not a bad omen, as his family was just entering the restaurant, not leaving). Mateo and I very quickly ushered Caleb and Sadie inside with reassurances that they would not meet the same fate.

Beyond the front doors and through the narrow Indian market leading into the restaurant, my senses were flooded with intoxicating Indian fragrances and the promise of exotic and delightful things to eat. We watched crowds of hungry people of all walks of life, flood the line toward the front counter. Mateo and an already weary looking Sadie quickly grabbed a table, while Caleb and I stood in line with great excitement. I was overwhelmed by all of the Chaat choices on the chalkboards above our heads. Chaat is a term describing savory snacks, typically served from road-side stalls or carts in India. We are fortunate to have in our midst, an abundance of restaurants featuring these delectable and most affordable treats.

Wanting to appeal to everyone’s food tastes, I ordered the vegetable samosa (fried puffed-pastry appetizer filled with potatoes, peas, onions, and spices), lamb biryani (seasoned rice entree with fall-off-the-bone lamb), a large cholle bhature for Caleb (huge puff of hollow, fried dough, larger than your head), pani puri (bite-sized crispy puffs, filled with curried chickpeas, yogurt, spices, and tamarind chutney), mango lassi (amazing tart yogurt and mango drink), and a handful of desserts of primary colors. Not knowing which desserts to choose from the expansive case filled with an overwhelming assortment of handmade treats, I asked the Indian man behind the cash register if he’d pick out some of his favorites. I’m not usually a huge fan of Indian desserts, but he did not let us down. After lunch, our desserts were gone in a flash.

I wanted to make my friend Simran proud by telling her that Caleb was venturing toward the spicier, more exotic food choices. Instead, he took comfort in the ‘tame’, as he hoarded the cholle bhature (fried dough), his mango lassi, and most of the dessert. Sadie only took bird-sized nibbles of the biryani as her eyelids got heavier with sleep. We’ll get there, I have no doubt. For now, my kids aren’t huge fans of the spicier foods. Give them stinky French cheese though and they’re the happiest little budding foodies.

We left Vik’s with enchanted taste-buds, full bellies, and a very tired Sadie-bug. We headed out to the parking lot feeling very satisfied and world-traveled. It was time to head home to put Sadie down for a nap.

Vik’s Chaat Corner is located at 2390, Fourth Street in Berkeley, CA.

No Dumpling Left Behind

On Sunday, our family needed to do something out of the ordinary. Our weekends have been feeling predictable and routine as of late, so we jumped in our car and headed over the bridge to San Francisco for an adventure.

Mateo and I both grew up going to Mountain Lake Park in the Richmond District and we thought it would be fun to bring Caleb and Sadie there. For the middle of winter, it was a beautiful, sunny day and it seemed like the perfect place to be.

Once we arrived at the park, our kids immediately took to the sprawling play structure. We then walked down to the little lake and shared our childhood memories of the park with Caleb and Sadie. It was really something special sharing a beloved spot from our childhood with them and watching them enjoy it as much as we had.

Goofing off and running around the playground earned us a good appetite, so we walked over to Clement Street. After first visiting Haig’s Delicacies (our favorite middle-eastern / specialty food shop), we stood in line at Good Luck Dim Sum and came away with a pink box packed with delicious dim sum. I enjoyed the standing in line part, to be honest. A bunch of dedicated dim sum devotees holding onto our little pink menus, all helping each other out with suggestions and helpful translations.

With dim sum in hand, the family trekked back to the park and found the perfect sunny spot on the grass for a mid-winter, Northern California picnic. The sun was out, the grass was dry, and we were surrounded by happy dogs, sunbathing twenty-something’s, and a few other families enjoying themselves as we were.

After pure enjoyment of our dim sum goodies (we’ll call it “No Dumpling Left Behind”), we opened up a package of fresh, marble halva that we purchased from Haig’s. My kids had never tried halva and loved it like I do. I took pleasure in their enjoyment of the rich, sweet, chocolate-infused sesame seed dessert.

Yes, I know, my family eats a lot of dim sum! I’m sure you’ve caught on by now. But, it’s so good and the kids love it. It’s an inexpensive and delicious lunch or dinner treat, and very accessible in the Bay Area. It was so easy to pick up a box of our favorite dumplings and take them to the park to enjoy with our kiddos. I would highly recommend partaking in a dim sum picnic some weekend soon! Keep a blanket packed in your trunk for such a wondrous occasion!

Chinese Food and a Movie!

I just can’t seem to stay away from Chinese food around Christmas time! I’m Jewish…it’s in my DNA!

We are in the middle of a family vacation from work and school. Yesterday, Caleb and I were in much need of some ‘us time’, so we grabbed our coats, jumped in the car and headed for College Avenue in Berkeley.

First, we enjoyed a tasty lunch at Shen Hua, where we feasted on pork buns, poststickers, and har gao (steamed shrimp dumplings). While delighting in our delicious dim sum, we sipped on ginger ale and gabbed about our favorite activities so far on our vacation, which has been full of cool plans such as a Christmas trip to Reno to see family, ice skating in San Francisco, a trip to Saul’s Deli to eat latkes for Chanukah, fun cooking experiments, trips to Lawrence Hall of Science, etc.

I savor this time with Caleb. Normally, the four of us hang out, involved in a fun family activity. Apart from our cooking adventures, Caleb and I rarely get time to just hold hands, be silly, and catch up.

Once we cleared our plates, we skipped and ran hand-in-hand over to the Elmwood Movie Theater where we watched the Muppets. Caleb sat on my lap for much of the movie, while we ate Raisinettes (Caleb’s first time eating them and he kept calling them “raisin-nuts”) and popcorn. I sat there spending more time hugging and nuzzling him, and enjoying the moment. The movie was fun too. Ask Caleb about Fozzie Bear and the ‘fart shoes’ and he won’t stop laughing!

If you haven’t already caught on, I’m huge on making memories for our kids. I want them to look back at their childhood and site the many memorable and delicious adventures they went on. One day, perhaps, they’ll take their kids on a ‘Chinese food and a movie’ adventure and tell them how fun it was to do the same with me when they were little.

We’ll follow up soon with homemade ice cream. Stay tuned!

Cha Cha Cha Siu Bao!

Freshly steamed pork buns

If I ever put the ‘What three foods would you want on a desert island?’ question to Caleb, his answer would simply be “three steamed pork buns!” Caleb is smitten with these Chinese barbecue pork buns (Cha Siu Bao). He inevitably orders them whenever our family ventures out for dim sum, much like I did when I was his age.

I recently promised Caleb that I would teach him how to make steamed pork buns. Not that I’ve ever made them myself, but I figured we’d take on a recipe together and see what happens. Hmmm…what was I thinking? I was daunted by this ambitious undertaking at first, but once I glanced at a recipe or two, I felt hopeful that we could create something that, at the very least, would slightly resemble (and hopefully taste) like what we so enjoy eating in dim sum restaurants.

Our family is enjoying a stay-cation this week; a restful (hah!) week off to do whatever we like in our own backyard. I woke up this morning with the inspiration to take Caleb on a shopping adventure to our local Ranch 99, a large supermarket stocked with everything ‘Asian’ under one roof. We had a ton of fun running around the store snapping photos of fish and crabs swimming around in tanks, of all of the Asian sauces you can imagine on one shelf, of dim sum prepared for takeout, etc. We also bumped into three local restaurateurs that we know in this small world of ours. They were so happy to see us and were tickled when we told them that we were shopping for ingredients to make pork buns.

I was proud of Caleb when he walked up to the butcher’s counter and ordered one pound of char siu (barbecue pork). The butcher smiled and chopped up the dark, hoisin glazed pork, which Caleb proudly walked away with. Once we had gathered up the remaining ingredients, we sat down on a bench outside the market, where Caleb devoured a warm baked pork bun that we had just purchased for a snack. We’ll just write today off as “Pork Bun Appreciation Day!”

Once home, Caleb and I prepared the dough, then put it aside to rise. After I chopped up the pork, we made the filling, which was easier than I thought, then added the meat. I tasted the filling and was surprised by how similar it was to classic pork bun filling. This filled me with hope that we might be in store for a delicious outcome.

After a few hours, we took our dough and had fun kneading it together. We rolled it into a log and cut it into 16 pieces, for larger buns. Caleb helped me spoon the filling into the center of our dough, and we each took turns twisting the filled dough into a bun. I placed the parchment squares on the bottom of each bun and we put them on a cookie sheet to await steaming.

I took the classic bamboo steaming baskets that we just purchased at Ranch 99, filled them with our handmade buns, and then placed them on top of a pot of boiling water. Once the steam was steadily moving through the baskets, I timed them and we waited.

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When we sat down for dinner and put the freshly steamed buns on the table, I couldn’t wait to eat one. Caleb was eager too. I honestly couldn’t believe how good they were. The dough was perfectly steamed and tasted much like the pork bun dough that I’m used to. The filling was full of flavor and although it didn’t have that almost-bright-red tint that the restaurant buns do, ours tasted better than most I have had. Truly. Caleb loved his pork bun and I think that he’s the best judge. I was very proud of our amazing homemade pork buns.

This was a fun (and successful) experiment with Caleb. I would call this recipe ‘doable’ with a five-year-old. Most definitely labor intensive, but all of the steps were pretty simple, resulting in warm and steamy barbecue pork bun goodness. Most importantly, I enjoyed our time together in the kitchen and how excited we both were to replicate one of our favorite dim sum treats.

I feel very fortunate that we live in a corner of the world where we can expose our children to almost every ethnic cuisine out there and can so readily purchase all the ingredients to make pork buns, or whatever else we like. I am also appreciative that we have so many wonderful ethnic restaurants within close proximity. How very convenient that the next time we’re in the mood for cha siu bao, we can just run out to our local dim-summery and enjoy delicious pork buns…prepared for us by someone else!

Off to take a nap now!

Recipe: Cha Siu Bao

Note: We skipped the step of preparing the roast pork and used real, already prepared char siu purchased at the market.

To San Francisco with Pop

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.

A Dim Sum Celebration

Last Friday, my Caleb graduated from his Pre-K program in Berkeley. Not to sound too much like a proud Jewish mother, but I’ve been waiting for this day for five years and was teary-eyed when it arrived. It feels like just yesterday when we enrolled our 5-month-old in their infant program. In the blink of an eye, he has transformed into an intelligent, creative, kooky and curious five-year-old, well-prepared to take on kindergarten.

In the early evening, following the sweet graduation ceremony, we took Caleb out to the restaurant of his choice. Not surprising at all, he chose dim sum at our local favorite, King Tsin on Solano Avenue in Berkeley – a very family friendly restaurant that excels at dim sum. We spontaneously invited another Pre-K family to join us…a lovely family from France who will be returning soon.

Caleb and his friend, Prosper were excited to sit next to each other at the round banquet table. Prosper’s parents were caring for his little brother, Gaston on one end and Mateo and I were feeding Sadie on the other. The centerpiece of our table was a Lazy Susan (this one was not so lazy and a dependable workhorse) topped with steaming plates and bamboo containers of freshly cooked dim sum. Yum!

Prosper and his family are pretty new to dim sum, so it was fun exposing them to some of our favorite choices. We kicked off our meal with a dazzling bowl of sizzling-rice soup, which I mainly ordered for the boys because it’s fun to listen to the sizzle when the waitress pours the fried rice into the large bowl at the table. Prosper called the soup “magic” because he liked the sound and enjoyed eating the large shrimp bobbing around. We also ordered pan-fried pot stickers, steamed spinach dumplings, shrimp dumplings, Shanghai dumplings, green onion pancakes, sticky rice wrapped and steamed in lotus leafs, and Caleb’s favorite…steamed pork buns (char siu bao).

Pork buns were my favorite as a child and I have fond memories of my father walking with me hand-in-hand to the local dim sum counter in San Francisco’s Richmond District. I would step up on my tippy-toes and order a “char siu bao” over the steamy counter…so proud that I knew how to ask for them in Cantonese. Once received, I would carefully peel off the white paper from the bottom and proceed to gobble my bun down. I loved the sweet, stewy barbecue pork mixture inside, and what kid wouldn’t like that sweet dough? It warms my heart that Caleb is just as crazy about pork buns as I was when I was a kid. Such good taste my child has!

Leave it to a Jewish mother (“Eat, eat!”) to order too much food at our dim sum graduation banquet, but we all did a more than adequate job of polishing it off. After the dinner, both families hugged, congratulated our little graduates, and packed the kids into our respective cars to head home for bedtime.

I truly love exposing Caleb and Sadie, and others to the wonderful ethnic foods available to us in the Bay Area. I feel spoiled and very fortunate to have such an abundance of delicious things so readily accessible. It was this way when I was growing up in San Francisco and I think it’s even better now, since the diversity of the Bay Area has expanded. A good life, indeed. Congratulations, my Caleb!

A Cooking Class Adventure with Caleb

Last Saturday, Caleb and I participated in a wonderful parent-child cooking class together in San Francisco. The class, Empanadas and Dumplings, was taught by our friends through the blogosphere, Simran and Stacie who write a fabulous blog that I’m fond of, called A Little Yumminess.

Caleb and I rode BART into the City and arrived at the 16th Street BART Station just minutes before our class was to begin. I practically covered Caleb’s eyes as we hurried past a gaggle of friendly neighborhood prostitutes and drug addicts. Good times! I wouldn’t have done a double take in my twenty-something days when walking through the Mission, but now that I’m a careful guardian of two young children, I feel incredibly protective and don’t want the world to appear seedy through their eyes.

We let the wind blow us up the street to a cozy studio space in the Mission District dedicated to bringing community and food together, called 18 Reasons. We walked in to find about eight other families sitting around a family-style table waiting for class to begin. Sprinkled around the table were little bowls of empanada and dumpling fillings such as chocolate chips (yes…I caught Caleb’s hand in there a few times), banana puree, apple sauce, diced apple, as well as more savory fillings like chicken, ground beef with onions, queso fresco, black beans, and creamed corn.

Simran and Stacie had pre-made the dough and provided us with little balls to roll out at our workstations. Caleb was a master roller and had even volunteered to help demonstrate how to make the dough in front of the class.

After making a handful of empanadas, Simran did her demonstration of “Easy-Peasy Dumplings” and we tried our hand at those. Very similar to the potstickers Caleb and I have made together, and very yummy.

Our favorite part of the class was when the pre-made empanadas came out of the oven and we all got to pass baskets of sweet and savory hot pockets of goodness. There wasn’t an empanada that Caleb didn’t like (although his favorite…wait for it…was filled with chocolate), so I feel very inspired to make these at home with him sometime soon.

As we were getting ready to leave to head back to the East Bay, Caleb asked me “Momma, what other fun things are we going to do now?” I was pleased to hear that my little guy was having such a good time and that my idea to take him to a cooking class in San Francisco was well received.

I really enjoyed my special date with Caleb – riding into the City, walking over to the class through my old stomping grounds, running to the class hand in hand as the wind was pushing us up the street, and sitting next to my sweet-pea around a huge table, surrounded by other parents who are also passionate about exposing their children to wholesome, home-cooked ethnic foods. I especially enjoyed, riding back on BART with Caleb’s head on my shoulder and hand on my lap. We had fun talking all about the food that we had made together and gobbled up during the class. This was definitely a memorable food adventure and I look forward to our next one.

Recipe: Chocolate and Caramelized Banana Empanadas (from A Little Yumminess)

Spring Pilgrimage to Japan Town

Growing up in San Francisco, when spring flowers began to bloom, my parents would take me to the annual Cherry Blossom Festival in Japan Town. We would eat our way through the people-packed streets, taking in parades, dance recitals, Taiko Dojo drumming, and other colorful fanfare. I’ve always loved the festival because it exposed me to other cultures, to food that I quickly grew to love, and to a community of people in San Francisco that are an interesting and integral part of its history.

I have eagerly awaited winter’s end. What better way to mark the beginning of spring, then to expose Caleb and Sadie to the Cherry Blossom Festival, which is all about welcoming the spring season at the first sign of cherry blossoms blooming on the trees. Mateo stayed home to study and I packed the kids and our day gear into the car for an eating adventure in the City. The traffic and parking gods were smiling happily upon us because we breezed into San Francisco and found a parking space just two blocks from Japan Town. Way!

Once we were in the middle of the festival, we quickly found our way to the rows of food booths. Not surprising, given that I was leading the pack. It was not yet noon and already long lines were forming in front of the booths selling meat on a skewer, fried-balls-of-goodness-topped-with-some-amazing-looking-sauce (sadly, I don’t remember what they’re called in Japanese), and my favorite…warm, red bean pancakes – imagawa yaki – made fresh to order.

I toured Caleb around the booths and showed him what his choices were and he chose hot dog sushi – musubi. I didn’t know there was such a thing, but leave it to Caleb to find this! They’re also made with Spam (gagging to myself as I write this)! He devoured this odd concoction sitting on the street curb and, in no time, was dragging me back to the booths for dessert. Caleb picked a coconut honey mochi cake and I gravitated to my childhood favorite, the sweet bean pancakes. Sadie enjoyed lumpia quietly from her stroller. We must have looked strange to her – stuffing our faces, while saying excitedly to each other…“try this!”, “no, try this!” What have I done!? I think I’ve created a foodie! Perhaps two!

Caleb is a musician at heart and he seems particularly fascinated by percussion instruments. I knew that he would be taken with the Taiko Dojo drumming at the festival. He was, and we enjoyed a spectacular performance by the group. Click: Taiko Dojo Performance

It was not long before we were ready to attack some more food, so from the drumming we wandered into the interior of Japan Town. Caleb had expressed interest in a tapioca drink and I needed a sushi fix. Once again, Sadie watched with amusement as Caleb and I shoveled delicious food things into our mouths.

Pretty soon, Caleb started to complain of a tummy ache, indicating it was time to head back home to the East Bay. We came, we saw, we ate, and ate, and ate. Our stomachs cried “uncle” and both kids looked ready for a nap. To home we went with a little ‘spring’ in our step.

Cannoli, Fortune Cookies, & Rice Noodle Rolls…Oh My!

Mateo and I are both natives of San Francisco. Although we live on the other side of the Bay Bridge now, we still love to visit our city. When we lived together in San Francisco, pre-kids, we would often go on walking adventures from one neighborhood to another. Eating delicious things along the way and taking good advantage of our hometown, rich in food and culture – many, diverse cultures.

Today was a gorgeous, sunny day and after a week’s worth of rain, it was time to get out of Dodge! Mateo and I were missing San Francisco, so we scooped up the kids and took them on BART for a walking adventure in the City. Let’s face it; any field trip with me is going to be an eating adventure too!

Chinatown and North Beach are two of our favorite neighborhoods. From the Montgomery BART Station, we walked up Grant and through the ornate, Oriental gate that leads you into Chinatown. Caleb stopped at every schlock store to try on a Chinese silk hat, paper umbrella, samurai sword, etc. We enjoyed every moment through Caleb’s eyes.

After a few blocks, we ducked into a Chinese bakery for steamed char siu bao (bbq pork bun) – one of Caleb’s favorite food things on the planet, and one of my favorites from childhood growing up in San Francisco’s Richmond District. With bun in hand, Caleb and family headed further down Grant toward North Beach. I smelled something sweet and amazing coming from another storefront, Mee Mee Bakery, and dragged Caleb inside. This tiny bakery has a retail counter in front and an old-fashioned fortune cookie machine in the back. I asked the owner if I could bring my son back to see how fortune cookies are made and he said “yes, but no pictures!” I asked why we couldn’t take pictures and he replied “company policy.” Okay, fine with us, we got to watch this old fashioned cookie making machine turn out a cookie every second. There was a vat of batter on the floor with a tube in it that sucked up the batter and blopped it out onto a heated metal square (looked like a mini crepe maker), then this contraption stuffed a fortune in the cookie and twisted it simultaneously. The cookies dropped into a bucket and were ready to be shipped out to local Chinese restaurants for post-meal consumption. Pretty cool!

We were out on Grant Street again and suddenly in the middle of a street fair stretching farther than we could see. I was excited that we might have walked into a Chinese New Year fair. I thought that Caleb and Sadie would surely love to see the dragons dancing down the street, dancers and marshal artists, musicians, and children dressed in beautiful colored costumes parading about. Instead, we happened on a commerce fair set up to help promote businesses in Chinatown. We pushed through the crowds and headed up Washington Street where I ducked into Sam Wo’s, a restaurant my family started taking me to from an early age. I grabbed an order of bbq pork rice noodle rolls and rejoined my family on the street. A rice noodle roll is a wide sheet of rice noodle that is filled down the middle with bbq pork, shreds of baked egg, and cilantro. The noodle is rolled up into a long roll, and then cut into one inch pieces – sushi style, best enjoyed with oyster sauce and a shot of hot Chinese mustard. There’s nothing quite like a bbq pork rice noodle roll and I am a sentimental fool when it comes to this treat from my childhood. I am so pleased and not at all surprised that Caleb is crazy about them too.

We finally made it to North Beach, where we headed for Washington Square Park for some time at the playground. On our way there, as we walked down Columbus Avenue, we passed the U.S. Restaurant, L’Osteria, Café Roma, and countless other North Beach establishments. Everyone and their second cousin was sitting outside on this perfectly sunny day watching the world go by, as they slurped up pasta drowning in rich sauces and sipped on espresso drinks.

Once at the park, Mateo chased Caleb around, while I pushed Sadie on the swings. We had such a fabulous time. It was at the playground that we saw this group of wild women pass us, all wearing different wigs in primary colors. They formed a pyramid on the grass and I just had to snap some photos. Just a bunch of fun friends getting together for a shower or a Sunday brunch…who knows.  It was definitely a Kodak moment!

It was too bad that we were already full by the time we made it to North Beach because I almost couldn’t resist a cannoli in the window of Victoria Pastry Company, a cappuccino from Café Trieste, a baked meatball sandwich on homemade focaccia at Mario’s Cigar Store, some sliced meats from Molinari’s, and the chocolate gelato at every other storefront on Columbus!

As we were leaving North Beach and heading back to BART, I ran into an Italian bakery on Columbus for an afternoon caffeine boost. Mateo and kids waited outside and began chatting with a group of Chinese visitors who were sipping on coffee on the sidewalk seating. They had been so taken with Sadie that they asked if Mateo would let them take pictures with her. It was a very sweet scene and Sadie went along with it. I offered her up for $500, but they just laughed and didn’t take me seriously. What!?

What a great adventure we had today! In just twenty-five minutes, we were in the thick of two wonderful neighborhoods in San Francisco, so rich with history, fabulous people watching, and amazing food. We returned to the East Bay in much need of a good collective nap, but were filled with such fantastic memories from the day. How fortunate we are!