Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Touring


When our friends, Jeanne and Dorie, sailed into town on one of the giant cruise ships that often visit our fair city, we were excited to show them a little bit of San Francisco. They are Angelenos so, of course, we wanted to hit the high spots and hope to make them a little jealous. The rivalry between Northern and Southern California lives on!

We whisked by the terminal and picked them up for a drive through the Fisherman's Wharf area with its crowds of tourists and sweat shirt shops, where the tourists who expected California to be warm purchase their extra layers.

We took them to dinner at Scoma's on Fisherman's Wharf where we were seated by a window with a view of the very boats that caught our suppers - always fun!  Our rather gruff waiter (with a twinkle in his eye) took our orders and introduced us to his pretty granddaughter who was celebrating her 18th birthday at the next table. 

I don't need to tell you that Jeanne and Dorie's mixed plate of seafood was fresh and delicious, as was my order of sand dabs and My Beloved's luxurious plate of lobster ravioli in a saffron cream sauce, topped with salmon and a small lobster tail. The food at Scoma's is always good and the bonus is that they will park your car for you.

While we ate, we filled them in about the kitchen and bath remodel and heard about the day tour Jeanne and Dorie had taken to Alcatraz and Sausalito. They said they had passed the Crookedest Street but the bus couldn't fit down, so after dinner we drove down to give them that experience. The hydrangeas are not yet in bloom but our Angelenos seemed tickled with the experience despite the lack of flowers. We parked below the street and hiked back up to the base to take pictures, as all tourists must. I think it is a law.


I was amused to see the handmade and graphic "No Parking" sign on a red garage door (first photo) as we hiked up, and the decal below painted on the pavement, offering tourists a good vantage point for their photos. Of course, they all (we included) ignored the decal and stood in the middle of the street to take our photos instead of staying safely on the sidewalk. I think that's a law, too.


We still had daylight, so we motored on over to the Presidio for a minor history lesson, then strolled in Lawrence Halpern's beautiful garden at Industrial Light and Magic, admiring the statue of Eadweard Muybridge and photographing Jeanne and Dorie with Yoda.

The chilly wind picked up so we were all glad to jump back in the car for the ride to their ship, looming impressively over the Embarcadero. We parted with hugs and promises of future visits on warmer days, after the remodel when we can move back into our bedroom and they can have the guest room.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Passing A Torch

As we go through the construction process, we are enjoying getting to know Luis and Brandon, the guys whose hard work is making the project move along. We have known Luis for a few years, as he has worked on other projects with us, but Brandon is younger and new to us. Both guys work hard from early morning to late afternoon - they put our more leisurely schedules to shame.

Luis is a single Dad, so he works through lunch each day in order to be home when his three children get home from school. That's Luis above with his crowbar, taking apart our master bathroom. He's the guy in charge.

Brandon, on the other hand, does take a break at lunch and he is one of the few workers we have had in the house who has a true appreciation for the beautiful situation of the house. He pulls over a deck chair at noon, props his feet up on his cooler, and eats his lunch while enjoying the view. We are tickled by his enthusiasm for our neighborhood.


Ron is our contractor, for whom these guys work - we've known him through three previous projects, since the time he worked for a builder named Alex when Ron was learning the ropes of the construction business. Now, Ron has his own thriving business. We have great faith in him and we actually delay our projects until he has time to work with us.

This noon at lunch, we sat in the living room and listened to Luis working away on the bath while Brandon enjoyed his break, and we were struck by the continuity of these guys and their skills. From Alex, who taught Ron, from Ron who taught Luis, and now from Luis, who is teaching Brandon, come building skills, passing from one man to the next through the past 20 or 25 years. This model of apprenticeship is clearly an important one in this profession; the daily watching and seeing how seemingly impossible things are accomplished and the cumulative learning of skills and strategies.

We can imagine that there will be a day when Luis starts his own business, as will Brandon one day. There is a rather beautiful passing of the torch of skill and opportunity going on here before our very eyes.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Stone Soup

I'm sure you've heard the fable of the stone soup, in which a hungry traveler tricks the townspeople in a somewhat stingy town into contributing something to a pot of soup by saying the stone she added first is magic. Well, recently, we have come up with our own version of stone soup, in our neighbor's kitchen.

While our splendid new kitchen is in the building stages, our neighbor Doreen offered us the use of her even more splendid kitchen when we need it. What we have discovered is that it's more enjoyable to cook and eat together. She supplies the pots, pans, dishes and stove, and we supply the makings. She is a wiz at dessert, too, so she often contributes the sweet at the end of the meal. We don't impose on her every day but it's fun when we do.

This time, we made a fresh chicken vegetable soup. We started with a recipe from Sunset magazine which we had both seen and wanted to make. This soup. Doreen and I chopped companionably each of the ingredients, while My Beloved prepared a shrimp appetizer, and our Cora and Doreen's Sandy milled around our feet, hoping for spills. What emerged was a very fresh and springlike soup - I might have called it Zuppa di Primavera, except it had carrots in it.

We did do a few substitutions - snow peas for snap peas as my market didn't have the latter this week. Half-and-half for the heavy cream for a lighter finish, but we all agreed that we'd use the heavy cream next time, as directed. It was wonderfully colorful and fresh, with crisp peas, tender poached chicken, and a hint of licorice from the tarragon. Most soups are simmered for a long time to draw out all the goodies from the ingredients; this one's magic was all about the freshness of the vegetables - the crunch of the peas, the just-yielding firmness of the carrots.The wide noodles provided a little heft and the fresh parsley gave it an extra zing of green. It needed salt and pepper at the table but was otherwise quite delicious.*

Having eaten so healthfully at dinner, we felt we could splurge on Doreen's delicious peach pie with the cobbler top and a big scoop of vanilla ice cream. A great ending to our dinner of stone soup. We like our version of stone soup and are finding that, contrary to tradition, too many cooks actually enhance the broth.







*The recipe made a big pot of soup, so My Beloved and I finished it off a couple of days later. Reheated quickly in the microwave, the broth had had time to get to know the veggies and was even better. When I make this again, I will likely make it one day and eat it the next. The veggies were still al dente but that broth had gained depth and character. I'm also going to try a light sprinkling of Parmesan cheese next time.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Weekend Break(fast)

Aaaaaaahhh... Big *sigh* of relief. 

We have made it to the weekend and both members of the (very nice, very hardworking) demolition crew have gone home for a well-deserved rest. They worked like crazy all week and all we did was supply mid-morning coffee. Now, we have the peaceful, if dusty, house to ourselves and we can play around with making breakfast in our makeshift kitchen.

We peeled off the dust-covered drop cloths and began.

Nothing special, really, just bacon and eggs, but we are trying out our new toaster (the packers packed the other one because I didn't hide it in time), and setting up our coffeemaker for the first time in the living room. Nothing is where it ought to be, so it's all a bit of a puzzle, but we are enjoying the process of organizing as we go.

We had looked forward all week to a morning when we didn't have to be up, showered and dressed by 0730 but, of course, Murphy's Law dictated that we couldn't sleep later than 0600, so we got up anyway and began breakfast just as the dawn was breaking. Even had to turn on the light that My Beloved rigged for just such a morning.

As I was cracking eggs and flipping bacon on a table/counter that is too short for me, I mused that this must have been how Julia Child felt all the time, she being so tall and counters (especially in France) being so short. Belated appreciation for my own kitchen counters, ugly as they were, and renewed appreciation for Ms. Child, who must have done that amazing cookery in uncomfortable surroundings.

The yolks of the eggs were as bright an orange as the bowl I was cracking them into. The bacon sizzled quietly alongside. The toaster popped companionably and the coffee trickled musically into the pot. Leftover pineapple from the lunch Jan brought us last Thursday was served still in its plastic store container. 

The sun rose behind a bank of clouds that parted just over the city, bathing the buildings in pink light and leaving the Marin hills in shadow as we sat down to breakfast. 

The only sounds were those of newspaper pages being turned, coffee gurgling into the pot, cutlery clinking on a plate, and the crunch of toast. There was half a piece of bacon left for Cora, who snoozed peacefully through our breakfast, as content as we were with the morning break.


Monday, April 14, 2014

Lest You Feel Pity

Yes, we are surrounded by dust and demolition. Yes, we are finding that what we thought was a very comfortable guest room is, in fact, a little too small. And, yes, we wish we could wave a magic wand and transport ourselves into a wonderfully improved and finished kitchen and bathroom. No such luck. But lest you feel pity for us, it's not all bad.

For example, I do have a microwave oven and that goofy hot plate to use, and the first day of demolition was so warm we could eat outside on the deck. My trusty Weber grill produced some killer lamb chops and cousin Jan brought us lunch yesterday, wonderful rare roast beef sandwiches on Dutch crunch rolls. While she was at it, she brought us a roasted chicken and fresh asparagus for our dinner. 

So, the house may be swathed in drop cloths and blanketed with the dust of ages, and we may be closeted downstairs in the office to buffer the din, but there are fresh tulips and daffodils on the table and we are doing fine.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Away From The Noise

I don't want this blog to become an endless complaint about the noise of remodeling a kitchen, nor do I want it to become solely a restaurant review blog, but we are eating out a lot recently to escape the crashing, pounding, and general mayhem.

We were up in Novato, a little north of us, to retrieve some samples from the purveyor of counter tops, and we decided to stop for lunch at a new-to-us restaurant in the repurposed Hamilton Air Force base.  It is called Beso. They have a shady outdoor deck and a nice, varied menu. 

The harried waitress was having trouble keeping up with all the orders, but otherwise it was a very enjoyable lunch. We started by sharing a plate of truffle fries, which were simply splendid, crisp on the outside, tender on the inside and redolent from a table away of wonderful fungal deliciousness. 

We probably should have stopped there but My Beloved enjoyed his stir-fry kind of plate with beef and fresh veggies (he didn't eat the fries as it also came with rice - kind of a strange combo, but the part he ate was good), and I asked for the Asian chicken salad. It was certainly very generous, with a huge piece of sautéed dark meat topping the salad and a criss-cross of enoki mushrooms for decoration. Candied walnuts made a change from the more common almonds or cashews and the big slices of cucumber were a nice addition on a hot day.

We sat in the dappled shade discussing this and that ideas for the kitchen counters and enjoying the peace and quiet of this lovely location.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Stress Relief

It was a Hair On Fire Monday. We had a letter from the IRS telling us we owed $7K in back taxes for 2012. My Beloved was on the phone on and off all day trying to figure out if that was true as well as trying to settle this year's tax return. The worker bees were upstairs reducing our "cool, vintage kitchen" to rubble in preparation for building a new kitchen. Cora was literally dogging our tracks, frightened by the noise and the upset to her peaceful routine. It was downright hot, too, something we rarely experience here in the foggy, cool San Francisco bay area. And we are sharing an office, which our love may or may not survive. 

We had plans to pick up Naomi and Sam at their apartment so we could see their adorable baby, Izzie, before going off to Chez Panisse for their farewell dinner. We were running late and I was already "bedewing" my light clothes after my shower. Finally had to call and ask our guests to meet us at the restaurant, missing our Izzie visit. Damn!

So, with all that bouncing around in our heads, you can imagine what a pleasure it was to be greeted by a maitre-d with a serious calm, be escorted upstairs to the bar where our guests bought us a glass of prosecco, and be seated in the beautiful Craftsman-style dining room. Peace descended as soon as we entered the door.

The Monday night menu is not as fancy as the rest of the week, but they still gave us the little printed menus to describe the delights to come, and the service is always the very best, friendly without being familiar, unobtrusive and prompt. 

First, bacalao fritters with pickled spring vegetables. I asked what bacalao is - salt cod - and, in this case, made with local Pacific cod. Perfectly crisp and golden on the outside, sweet and almost like brandade on the inside. The little pickles of early vegetables were lovely with the fritters, very mildly pickled and still retaining their beautiful colors - radishes still bright red, carrots holding on to their lively orange.

Then a plate of paella cooked over a wood fire so the rice retained just a hint of smokiness and each shellfish was perfectly cooked. The shrimp were as rich as the lobster pieces, the chorizo finely chopped so it was a salty surprise here and there in the rice, and the tiny clams each contained a sea-flavored morsel. In addition to fresh spring peas, there were also tender fava beans throughout the rice. Slender asparagus and green onions had been quickly charred to bring out their flavors and there was a pool of beautiful, buttery, bright yellow sauce just in case the rest wasn't enough to thrill you. Every bite had something delightful in it and it was a feast for the eyes as well as for the belly.

Dessert was three kinds of cold citrus preparations, candied kumquat ice cream, blood orange sherbet, and mandarin orange granita all served together. One spoonful of creamy, rich ice cream studded with little, chewy, sweet-tart surprises was followed by one of tart, tingly sherbet that kept my tongue alive throughout. The granita was hidden under the other two, the sweet, crunchy finish, singing with flavor.

We sat and talked, sipping lattes and after dinner drinks, catching up with our young friends and their splendid plans. One of the things I most love about Chez Panisse is the feeling of leisure it gives you. Even after the bill arrives, there is no sense of rushing you out the door. Because their seatings, only two in the evening, are well spaced, you have time for chatting and relaxing and appreciating the meal you just enjoyed.

After dinner, nicely full, we walked down the street in the warm night air (a wonderful anomaly in our neck of the woods), still with ideas to impart and memories to share. Hugs and promises to keep in touch and they were gone to relieve the babysitter.  My Beloved and I drove home with the windows open, deeply content.


Monday, April 7, 2014

The Art Of Destruction

As I write, Luis and Brandon are upstairs creating havoc. They are deconstructing my kitchen amid lots of pounding and sawing, making the dust of ages fly as they take apart the old cupboards, pry up the hideous tiles that I have always hated, and carry away the sad, broken cooktop. While it looks like chaos, there is art to the work they are doing now.

We are pretty useless in this stage of the work, so we just come downstairs to our office with Cora, partly to escape the noise and mostly just to stay out of the way. Our contribution this morning was to show the guys where the bathroom is and to bring them a cup of hot, black coffee to fuel their hard work.

No cooking will happen today, even though we have a countertop stove. Instead, we are taking our young friends Naomi and Sam to Chez Panisse for a farewell dinner. Naomi has completed her Ph.D. in Classics at Cal and has accepted an exciting professorship at Harvard, so they will be moving to the Boston area in midsummer. 

Selfishly, we will miss their young presence, but we always knew that Naomi is a rock star of her specialty, so we knew it was unlikely that they would stay here. Sam is a shining star in his specialty, too, so they will go far, both physically and academically. 

There is an art to what happens in the kitchens at Chez Panisse, too, so it will be interesting to compare the art of destruction with the art of consumption, all in the same day.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Ready To Roll

Things are a little at sixes and sevens around here. 

The pictures still have to come down and the clock and sofa must be draped in drop cloths, but the kitchen is mostly moved into the living room where we will be cooking until the kitchen remodel is finished. We will also tape up a plastic drop cloth behind the white table to protect the wall from spatters. And we will likely think of ten other things we need in the "kitchen."

Demolition begins next week. Wish us luck!


Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Poutine

Every now and then, My Beloved and I like to venture into the big city for an evening. We did this more when I worked in the city but since I retired, it's a very special occasion. We had heard that the musical "Mamma Mia" was back in town and, it being one of my all-time favorites, we gathered up our pal Sari and cousin Jan to go with us. 

If you haven't seen "Mamma Mia" in live performance, you really should. I love the movie, too, (despite the gorgeous Pierce Brosnan's singing) but there is nothing quite so wonderful as a stage performance. The sets are clever, the music is lively, and there is something just plain awe-inspiring in watching the performers put themselves out there, risking it all just to entertain you. Their talent and courage make it a fantastic experience. If you aren't on your feet and dancing by the end - well, you just will be.

Anyway, we all went out for dinner before the show, trying a new-to-us restaurant called "Sauce" in the Hayes Valley section of San Francisco. It has a somewhat quirky menu with all kinds of interesting preparations. Sari enjoyed the beef short ribs presented as Beef Wellington topped with duxelles and wrapped in pastry. Jan and My Beloved had the butterfish special and both said it was yummy. I went for the Brussels sprout salad with chili-dusted pumpkin seeds, followed by poutine.

I had heard about poutine from my food blogs and from my older brother and his wife who recently spent a long, snowy weekend in the city of Quebec, Canada but I had never tried it myself. I have to admit that the idea of French fries topped with cheese curds and slathered with brown gravy sounded a little weird to me, but I learned early on that if Canadians like something, it's going to be good. Like everyone else in the world, I love Canadians and that admiration has never steered me wrong.

This is truly comfort food. It was fairly bland, pretty rich, and wonderfully filling. My plate was advertised as an appetizer but it was the opposite, an appetite appeaser. Rather than French fries, this presentation used russet potato skin spears that had been baked and lightly sautéed before the topping and slathering began. The unctuous cheese melted under its blanket of smooth gravy, oozing amongst the potato slices.

It would be great on a rainy evening or, better yet, a snowy one, perhaps after skiing when you are cold right down to your toes. After the winter they've been having in the northern tier of States this year, I'll bet a whole bunch of people have converted to poutine. Because we live in mild California and I hadn't been on the slopes all day, I was unable to finish my generous portion.

After dinner, we hurried down Market Street toward the theater, full of good dinner and anticipation, ready to be enchanted, to clap and laugh and dance to the music.