A Day Not To Be Forgotten

Toward the end of this past holiday weekend, Mateo and I knew that, in lieu of a traditional family vacation, we needed to take our kiddos on an adventure. To end our three-day weekend on a high-note, we planned a fun and food-filled trip into San Francisco. First, we drove over to Larkspur from the East Bay, and after grabbing some drool-worthy pastries (man, do they know how to make a croissant!) from Rustic Bakery at Larkspur Landing, we walked over to the terminal and boarded a ferry headed to the City.

I won’t bore you with oodles of details (you can see from our photos), we got just what we needed – concentrated quality time together, spontaneity, laughter, and wait for it….good things to eat. After sampling cheese at Cowgirl Creamery at the Ferry Building – I now let Caleb do all the ordering and he went straight for the Redhawk – we walked over to Yank Sing for traditional dim sum. Playing tourist in our native city (at least for Mateo and I), we sampled everything we could fit into our bellies. After letting the kids chase each other around the courtyard for a bit, we headed back to the Ferry Building, then boarded our ferry.

With little energy left after a fun-packed day, Caleb and Sadie entertained themselves on the boat, by quietly drawing and reading. Mateo and I were sharing the same thought – how did we luck out with such amazing, funny, bright, and adventurous children?! What good fortune we came into.

 

Fairy Princess of the N Judah (and Other Tales of the City)

In our last installment, Sadie and Caleb were spared the wrath of the wild dingoes and dragged through yet another agonizing food adventure [insert tiny-violin concerto here]. Caleb had been dangling a rain-check over my head to ride MUNI around San Francisco…the time had come to cash it in. Funny how we frequently expose our children to exotic cuisine and enviable food adventures around the Bay Area, yet they nag and fantasize about riding the MUNI, which was not something Mateo nor I took any youthful pleasure in.

After driving in just after the lunch hour on Saturday, we pulled into a parking spot in front of Ton Kiang Restaurant on Geary for some of the best dim sum the City has to offer. Before Mateo could even take the key out of the ignition, the kids and I ran into the restaurant, up the stairs to the second floor, and began ordering and eating in a manic flurry of hunger and excitement. Mateo soon joined us and we dined on steamed and baked pork buns, char siu stuffed rice noodle rolls, pork shumai, foil-wrapped chicken, custard buns, and other delectable bites.

Sufficiently stuffed, we drove across the park to the Sunset District, parked and then walked over to a N Judah metro stop. On board, Caleb especially, could barely contain his excitement. Their enthusiasm was magnetic and other passengers fell into easy conversation with us. One young woman described Sadie, in her fluffy pink tutu, as “The Fairy Princess of the N Judah.”

Once the initial excitement wore off, we jumped off the train at Duboce park and walked over to a local playground. Eventually, we were back on the N Judah headed for Cole Valley. At Carl and Cole, we exited the train and headed over to Say Cheese, a sweet yet pricey cheese shop. After happily sampling our way across the counter, I settled on a large hunk of Challerhocker, a nutty Swiss alpine cheese. We brought the cheese and some chocolate over to what used to be Tasajara Bakery – now La Boulange, where we sipped on artful lattes and vanilla steamers for the kiddos. I treasure memories of going to Tasajara on Sunday mornings with my parents, sitting around drinking coffee milk, which felt very ‘adult’ to me, and eating a blueberry cheese Danish.

By the end of our day of traveling on MUNI and eating our way through some of my favorite neighborhoods, it was time to return back home. Rain-check redeemed, family happily fed, and kiddos wiped out from a day of adventure. Successful day? Check!

New Kids on the Block (Farm)

Saturday was gorgeous. Warm, sunny, blue skies – the perfect day for a food adventure! We woke up in the morning with a ‘let’s hit the road’ attitude and off we went down the coast to Harley Farms in Pescadero to meet baby goats (kids) and taste some gorgeous fresh chevre.

I was so excited to take Mateo and the kiddos to this goat cheese dairy, after having been there once before on a cheese tour. My only disappointment yesterday was that we were too late to take part in the tour, which gives you access to the goats, the milking parlor, and the cheese kitchen. Instead, we walked around, pet goats through the fences, and took in the rustic, old farm feel of this wonderful dairy. I was still able to introduce Caleb and Sadie to the cheese making process, albeit from afar.

Our favorite part was tasting the fresh goat cheese samples in the store. We could barely pull the kiddos out of there. At least by buying a tub of goat fromage blanc, I was able to entice Caleb to move on to our next adventure – lunch!

We drove back to the town of Pescadero, which feels set back in time and attracts lots of city folk on the weekend in search of a small town experience. We had heard about the artichoke, garlic, herb bread at Arcangeli’s Bakery in town and my foodie curiosity was piqued. While Mateo found a picnic table in close proximity to a live band playing classic rock tunes, I ran into the bakery and purchased a still-hot loaf. I then ran back to the table with the bread and a few other picnic ingredients, including our fromage blanc. We dove into a lunch time frenzy.

This may have been some of the best bread I’ve ever devoured. Still hot from the oven, the loaf was filled with large chunks of marinated artichokes, diced garlic, and fresh herbs. We excitedly shmeared the goat cheese on the warm pieces of pulled bread, then devoured three-quarters of our huge loaf. We ended the meal with an It’s-It ice cream sandwich, which the kids had never tried. The perfect Pescadero feast.

After a most satisfying meal, we headed back up the coast to a beach near Half Moon Bay, where we made a noble attempt at building sand castles. We then drove into San Francisco where our eating adventure continued. You find that shocking do you?

Sweet Dreams Are Made Of Cheese

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As we all learn one way or another, this life we were gifted with is extraordinarily precious. Time spent with those we love is fleeting, even though it’s hard to admit. I treasure perfect moments, which are the essence of life. Last night, an adventure into the city with my sister Niki, was filled with many of these perfect moments.

I recently asked Niki – big sister, second mother, and close confidant – if she wanted to join me for a cheese class in San Francisco. Apparently, I had her at cheese because recruiting her took no great coaxing.

Last night, we met just after work and immediately tripped over to North Beach to begin our cheese adventure. First, we enjoyed a simple Italian meal at L ‘Osteria Del Forno on Columbus Avenue in the heart of one of my favorite neighborhoods in San Francisco. Our Italian waitress hailed from the Piedmont region of Italy. I engaged her in a conversation about outstanding cheeses from her region, which is known for some exceptional ones.

Niki and I caught up over a lovely dish of burrata cheese laid out on a nest of arugula, beneath a drizzle of vinaigrette. I enjoyed a platter of thinly sliced prosciutto, white beans, shaved parmigiano reggiano cheese, and a drizzling of olive oil, salt and pepper. Talking with my sister over a rustic, Italian meal and a good glass of white wine (with North Beach buzzing just outside the window), was cheap therapy. I felt prepared to take on part two of our evening of cheese – our class at the Cheese School of San Francisco, Cheeses of the Loire Valley.

Our fabulous instructor, Colette Hatch, walked us through a spectacular plate of cheeses from the Loire region. Mostly goat. All delicious. We sampled: Couronne Lochoise, Pyramides de Touraine (one of my favorites; an ash covered, pyramid-shaped, well-aged goat wonder), Bucherondin, Le Chevrot, Tomme de Rabelais (transcendent; elegant, smoky, nutty, and rich – how I hope to be described in my later years), Tomme de Fontenay, Vandéen Bichonné, and Bleu du Bocage (the perfect example of a goat blue, which are hard to come by). The majority of the cheeses were made by the grand masters of affinage, Rodolphe Le Meunier and Pascal Beillevaire.

Having my sister join me for this class was a treat beyond words. I love that she so easily participated in a subject that I’m passionate about. This was an opportunity to share my pure enthusiasm for ‘all things cheese’ as she sat there alongside me, enjoying herself just as much.

The class wrapped up and Niki and I stepped back onto the city streets at dusk. As we walked to the car, then for the ride home, we talked excitedly about how much we enjoyed the class, eating a selection of phenomenal cheeses, and just how lovely it was to spend quality time together.

I went to bed with cheese on my mind and sumptuous memories of a succession of perfect moments spent with someone whom I love immensely. Did I mention the cheese?

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Four Friends and a Fondue Pot

SisterhoodMore than 25 years ago, my friends Sarah, Deborah, Virginia, and I began a tradition of gathering for cheese fondue, laughter, and close friendship. We call ourselves “The Fondettes” and we’re working on our soon-to-be solid-gold hit: My waistline’s huge and I’m gonna need some Lactaid…ay la, ay la, my waistline’s huge!”

I have known “Virg” since first-grade, “Sar” since second, and “Deb” since our Lowell High School days in San Francisco (I, of course am “An”). We began our semi-annual fondue gatherings toward the end of our senior year. Most of our mothers had a fondue pot laying around, long-neglected since the 1970’s and we quickly learned how to put them to good use.

With income earned from our first jobs, we would purchase bulk Swiss cheese from Safeway, cheap white wine (forget about adding the traditional kirschwasser – cherry liqueur), and a loaf of sourdough for our fondue feast. Sarah, who had worked at a Swiss-German restaurant in high school, introduced us to a nifty side dish, which we have since incorporated into our meal. The perfect fondue accompaniment consists of sliced kielbasa sautéed in orange marmalade until well-glazed. You can’t understand how good this is until you stab the caramelized kielbasa with a fondue fork and dip it into the cheesy fondue, along with a chunk of crusty bread…pure food alchemy! Sarah also started a tradition of being the first to grab the golden chunk of cheesy crust at the bottom of the fondue pot. We just leave it for her now!

Early on, we discussed our latest crushes, the challenges of living with difficult parents, and what classes we were loving or loathing. Today, bulk Swiss has been replaced with Gruyère, Comté, or Ementhaller; cheap Sebastiani with a lovely bottle of dry white wine; sourdough with an artisan batard; and yes kirschwasser! Emails go out, babysitting is arranged, and we sit around discussing love and marriage, the roller-coaster ride that is parenthood, and the careers we are loving or loathing. We laugh, occasionally cry, and rib each other like only old friends can do. I am convinced that the fondue is greatly enriched by a few tears and the presence of mirthful laughter!

We have each come to depend on these regular gatherings, which sometimes occur just for the sake of consuming fondue, and at other times to celebrate a birthday, an important milestone, or because we needed the comfort of good food and friendship to buoy us through many losses and life challenges. Last night, after making our busy-life arrangements, we gathered at Virg’s house in S.F. for our latest fondue feast. On this occasion, one of us had just lost a mother and we were all reeling from the loss of two high school friends.

Virg, who recently introduced us to the healing power of karaoke, busted out the karaoke machine after dinner. A smile is still plastered across my face as I think about this group of close friends now in our mid-forties, all of us mothers, wailing “Oh, no, not I, I will survive. Oh, as long as I know how to love, I know I’ll stay alive. I’ve got all my life to live, I’ve got all my love to give. And I’ll survive, I will survive, hey, hey!

The Fondettes-001

Fondue recipe (we substitute flour for cornstarch)

Kielbasa with marmalade: using one or two packages of kielbasa, depending on how many mouths you’re feeding, slice up the sausage into thin coins and sauté with several generous spoonfuls of orange marmalade, until well glazed. Place in bowl and set out on the table along with chunks of bread, and the fondue pot.

Taking It All In

Cherry Blossom Fest

Saturday was a full day in San Francisco. Our mission – to eat as much food and take in as much fun as possible!

We drove in to go to my favorite eating event, the San Francisco Cherry Blossom Festival. There, we watched Taiko Dojo drumming (I love the deep, tribal sounds that reverberate deep within), ate delicious sushi, sweet and salty mochi on a skewer, devoured warm, savory pork buns, and tapioca drinks (Japanese? I think not).

After taking in the street theater and plenty of good eats, we drove over to Alamo Square Park to visit the Painted Ladies and take advantage of the playground with one of the most gorgeous views of the city. Despite the high winds, we had a blast (ha!) pushing each other on the swings, playing chase, blowing on dandelions, and rolling down the grassy hills. My favorite moment was locking arms and legs with Caleb and rolling down the steep hill facing the world-famous Victorians, stopping just before a large pile of dog-patties.

Back in the car, we headed toward the Richmond District where we visited Chuck and Yvonne Cannon, who are old friends of my parents, and loving extended family. This past week, I experienced two big losses from my childhood in San Francisco: a mother of one of my oldest and closest friends (someone who I was very fond of and admired immensely) and an old friend from high school who I also admired. Visiting the Cannons, then heading over to Clement Street where we dined at Giorgio’s Pizzeria, then received our sugar-fix at Toy Boat, was good for me. Nothing like old friends and familiar stomping grounds to help heal from recent loss.

At the end of our long day, I asked Caleb to name his favorite part and he responded, “Spending time with my family!” I loved the good food eating, Taiko performance, hand holding, people watching, running around the playground, rolling down the hill together, laughing, and visiting, but as Caleb said, it truly was the ‘being together’ that felt so good.

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Grilled Cheese? Yes, Please!

What the world needs now is more cheese martyrs. A selfless crew of individuals like myself, willing to sacrifice their time and taste buds to bring attention to the plight of neglected cheeses. I can’t think of a tougher hardship than being trapped in a room full of curd-nerds, forced to eat freshly made, gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches, a plate full of artisan cheeses, and a selection of wines that paired beautifully with each cheese.

Last night, for the greater good, I participated in an outstanding class at the Cheese School of San Francisco, called “Grilled Cheese, Please!” Led by the inimitable, surprisingly funny, and most fabulous Laura Werlin. Laura, who is a consummate cheese professional, led us through an informative and entertaining two-hour session of cheese and wine tasting. Although I consider myself fairly knowledgeable when it comes to the subject of cheese, there was much to learn. I couldn’t have fathomed all of the sublime flavor combinations that can be had between two slices of quality bread.

The cheese selection included Redwood Hill Farm’s Goat Feta, Marieke Gouda from Holland’s Family Farm in Wisconsin, Pleasant Ridge Reserve from Uplands Cheese Co., two types of fromage blanc (goat and cow), Pt. Reyes Farmstead’s Toma (crazy about!!), Hook’s 5-year Cheddar, and Cabot Creamery’s Clothbound Cheddar (love!!).

We were offered four examples of gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches, each made with the cheeses I mentioned, as well as other surprising ingredients like sautéed leeks, sour cherries, spinach, basil, kalamata olives, bacon, avocado, and maple syrup. Go figure!

My favorite grilled cheese by far was ‘The Greek’, a riff on spanikopita. Buttery, golden-grilled multi-grain sourdough filled with sautéed leeks, spinach, garlic, and a meltingly good combination of the Redwood Hill Farm Goat Feta and the Marieke Gouda. Although the sandwich paired well with the Scharffenberger sparkling wine we were served, it was impressive on its own.

Caleb and Sadie will be thrilled when we start experimenting with the cheese-packed sandwich recipes I came away with. I also look forward to testing out my own grilled cheese concoctions, with a combination of cheeses and ingredients that compliment them. I think I could get used to being a ‘cheese martyr’. Somebody’s got to do it!

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

My Childhood | Your Childhood

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 Vivid mental Polaroid’s from my childhood have been paying me a visit lately. Growing up in San Francisco in the 70’s and 80’s makes for some colorful memories.

Sisters sunbathing topless on the back deck of our Richmond District home. Floating around in our home-made redwood hot tub with a life-jacket on that my dad required me to wear when he wasn’t ‘on deck’. Parents taking me, their youngest by 13 years, off to Europe to live in a small Mercedes milk delivery truck, which we traversed through numerous countries in over the course of one year. Its interior decorated with my three-year-old art work, a mattress in the back for my parents, a hammock over the front seat at night for me, and a wall with a hole in it separating the two, which I could barely crawl through.

Growing up at the San Francisco Jewish Community Center where my mom worked throughout much of my childhood – the smells of chlorine and baked chicken take me right back to the original building. Tap dance classes in the auditorium with Carol Butler.

Peace marches, folk concerts, and demonstrations. Delicious home-cooked meals by my mom that were my first exposure to really good food. Walking hand-in-hand with my dad to a local dim sum bakery where barely peeking over the counter, I’d pick out a steamed pork bun, and gobble it down on our way back home together.
Even as I’m writing this, more memories are flooding in and I can’t help but compare and contrast the childhood I had, to the childhood Caleb and Sadie are having. As they are growing up just across the Bay from where I was raised, I observe similar themes: close-knit loving family, delicious meals, Jewish community, arts and culture, and parents who want to expose them to as much good in the world as they can. I can’t say I’ve taken the kiddos to a peace march, but have brought them to many an AIDS Walk – a cause that is deeply important to me. I think my “Make Dinner Not War” bumper sticker is a left over from that time and it really reflects my desire to live in a peaceful world, where life revolves around the family table, and a difference is made, one well-cooked meal at a time.

Caleb and Sadie live in a big town, where I lived in a small city. They frequent farmer’s markets and block parties, soccer practice in the park and story time at the library, they go to Purim festivals at the North Berkeley JCC, and they are spoiled on some of the finest food, which is so readily accessible to them. They have a loving Jewish earth momma who blogs about their every delicious bite and food adventure. A doting father who runs them into Tilden Park at every opportunity to be at one with nature, a steam train, a carousel  and a steep grassy hill to roll down. They are surround by wonderful family members who respect who they are and what they have to say, and want to expose them to everything from Jewish holidays, to life on a Sonoma farm and pulling eggs from a hen house, to the correct way of ordering a burrito at a Mission District taqueria.

Where am I going with all this? Not sure! I have a stinky head cold and everything feels very circuitous to me at the moment. This is just a rich life they’re exposed to. I would never trade in my childhood memories – they are unique, eccentric, and reflective of the era in which I was raised – but, I rather envy Caleb and Sadie’s.

I’m Just Not That Into Sports

spicy wingsLet’s put it this way, when you’re talking sports at me, pick the sport, my mind transports me to a virtual cookbook, a stinky cheese I’d like to slather on baguette, or a hip pair of shoes I could purchase from Zappos. I might be making eye contact, nodding my head at all the right pauses, but you lost me at NFLblah, blah, blah.

Here’s where I contradict myself…as a San Francisco native, if you put my team in the World Series or the Super Bowl, suddenly I’m paying attention. At the very least, I’m offering to cook something thematic for the game viewing. In the case of Sunday’s big game, San Francisco 49ers vs. the Baltimore Ravens, I was locked and loaded – ready to cook something amazing!

Days ago, I began fantasizing about the perfect potluck offering to bring to my sister’s Super Bowl party; a recipe the kids could easily tackle (pun intended). Flipping through Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa Family Style cookbook, I came across an enticing photo of Buffalo chicken wings and the corresponding recipe. I have literally never tasted Buffalo chicken wings, only avant-garde riffs on the flavor combination, but suddenly I was salivating at the thought of warm, spicy chicken dipped in cool, creamy, blue cheese-laden dip.

After Caleb and Sadie grew tired of their morning-long-bunk-bed-fort-building adventures, we tuned into Lady Gaga and danced around the kitchen while preparing to make our spicy wings. In no time, the chicken was under the broiler, and we were whirling the dip in the food processor. Everything was looking very edible. We jumped into the car with our wings n’ dip and hit the road.

At the party, everyone had been huddled (I’m getting good at this!) around the television set for a while. It felt like time to break out the Buffalo chicken wings. I wish I had snapped a succession of photos of the serving platter over the course the few minutes it took for the chicken to completely vanish. The wings received rave reviews and everyone loved the blue cheese dip. Despite the 49ers defeat, I felt a little victorious.

Buffalo Chicken Wings

Barefoot Contessa Family Style by Ina Garten

For the wings

16 chicken wings (about 3 pounds)

¼ pound (1stick) unsalted butter

1 tsp cayenne pepper

4 tsp Frank’s Hot Sauce or 1tsp Tabasco (we used TJ’s Chili Pepper Sauce)

1tsp kosher salt

For the dip

1 ½ cups crumbled gorgonzola or other blue cheese

1 cup good mayonnaise

¾ cup sour cream

2 tablespoons milk

¾ tsp Worcestershire sauce

1 ½ tsp kosher salt

¾ tsp freshly ground black pepper

Celery sticks, for serving

Preheat the broiler. Cut the chicken wings in thirds, cutting between the bones. Discard the wing tips. Melt the butter and add the cayenne, hot sauce, and salt. Put the wings on a sheet pan and brush them with the melted butter. Broil them about 3 inches below the heat for 8 minutes. Turn the wings, brush them again with butter, and broil for 4 more minutes, or until cooked.

For the dip, place the blue cheese, mayo, sour cream, milk, Worcestershire, salt, and pepper in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steer blade. Process until almost smooth.

Serve the chicken wings hot or at room temperature with the blue cheese dip and celery sticks.

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.

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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!

Baking in an 80′s Timewarp

Alone at home today, enjoying a solitary baking session. My time traveling machine (Pandora) has transported me back to the mid-eighties, except I don’t have short, shaved hair, dyed primary colors this go-around.

Listening to Yaz on my 80’s station…Alison Moyet is belting out Situation. Just completed baking pineapple upside-down cake, which is cooling off on the stove-top. My house is filled with the fragrance of freshly baked cake…vanilla, spices, pineapple, brown sugar. I can barely hold back my excitement. I can’t wait to see what it looks like when I flip it over.

Now, the chocolate macadamia nut pie is baking and the scent of chocolate is filling the air. Thompson Twins are singing Lies, Lies, Lies and I’m feeling very content and fully in my comfort zone. Tears for Fears’ comes on, Head Over Heels plays, and the chocolate scent is intoxicating.

The time to flip the upside-down cake onto the serving dish has arrived, and I almost gasp as the finished product presents itself. Caramelized pineapple perfectly arranged. Melted brown sugar dripping down the sides of the golden brown cake. Morrisey is whining in the background, depressed as ever.

Talk Talk singing their eponymous song now and I am completely transported back in time. I pull the pie out of the oven and behold its dark hued beauty. I can’t wait to taste the combination of some of my favorite flavors…chocolate, salt, and roasted nuts. “Talk talk talk talk, all you do to me is talk talk!”

My family is bringing these baked goodies to a foodie potluck tomorrow in San Francisco. The theme is ‘luau’ and I thought to take full advantage of two of Hawaii’s most exported ingredients, pineapple and macadamia nuts. I can’t wait to see what the others bring. I’ll report more on that soon. New Order beats now; my body moves along to the Casio drumbeat.

Alas, it’s time to program my time-machine to transport me back to my present day, forty-something body. A much-enjoyed sojourn back to a decade that left an indelible mark on me. Now, back to work…lunch break is over.

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Note: I added about 4oz of melted semi-sweet chocolate to the pie recipe and omitted a little sugar.

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.

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!