Gorilla in the Mist

Caleb at Gorilla

Last weekend, with a day wide open for adventure, our family spontaneously made for the coast to the often fog-cloaked town of Pacifica. I’ve been hearing much buzz about Gorilla Barbeque, a small operation housed in an abandoned freight container. Clearly a local favorite, we joined the long line of shivering, yet loyal masses – those willing to brave the fog and crisp coastal breeze for a plate of ribs (and other barbecued meats such as brisket and pulled pork) and sides that warm you from the inside out.

20140626-163844-59924545.jpg

Caleb was so excited to order his helping of ribs that he spent our time in line rehearsing his order and bouncing it off me for feedback “I’ll have the kid’s special of pork ribs with a side of corn-on-the-cob! Does that sound right Mama?” Confident that he could deliver his lines without incident, I set him loose on the young, unsuspecting woman behind the counter. Before long, we were exiting the freight container, down the stairs and headed to a grove above the parking lot, bathed in…wait for it…fog.

Hungry and expectant, we sat down at a funky, rag-tag table and hurriedly opened our individual orders. In record time, we were making lip-smacking sounds and licking our fingers, while devouring perfectly seasoned pork ribs, slathered in award-winning barbeque sauce.

It’s rare that Mateo and Caleb get as excited about food as I do, but something about expertly made warm ribs devoured on a chilly day, made for their idea of a perfect culinary experience.

We will most definitely return.

20140626-160204-57724510.jpg

20140626-161754-58674298.jpg

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

Niki_Anya1

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?

Niki_Anya2

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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!