Sweet San Francisco

Kouign amann

Since the time I left, San Francisco has become a much sweeter place. I hope that’s just a mere coincidence, but I have been surprised at the spate of new bakeries and sweet stops that have sprung up in the last few years. How nice would it have been to have visited them all? However my euro-jeans are starting to buckle under the weight of all the butter (of course, all the chips and guacamole, and other Mexican food, had absolutely nothing to do with it) and after finding myself unable to power through an entire San Francisco burrito, I realized that I had lost my SF-cred and will likely be escorted back to the plane for my return flight, as I hang my head in shame.

Still, I did manage to sneak in a few places that are newer on the scene. One was 20th Century Café. My friend Heidi* had recommended the knish, which sounded like an unusual recommendation because that’s something you usually get at a savory place, or a specialty address (any old-timers remember The Knish Konnection in San Francisco?) But I had just scored the perfect Christmas present for someone back home (which was 25% off – go USA!) from the Timbuktu store (go San Francisco!), and when the map function on my phone (go T-Mobile prepaid SIM card plan, so I could use my iPhone while traveling!) showed that I was just a few block away, I hoofed it over there.

20th Century Cafe

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The Mill

cinnamon toast

Toast? That’s what a friend told me they served at The Mill. I’ve been passing by The Mill daily on the #24 line bus, and from the façade, it’s hard to tell what’s going on in there. So I wasn’t sure it was worth the bother to hop off the bus to see.

Then, yesterday morning, I got an SMS from a friend who was spending some time at The Mill while some messy home projects were being attended to (involving drywall dust, so I understand completely) and I hustled down there to meet up with her. When I walked in, I was surprised that it was such a huge, cavernous place; from the outside, it just looked like any other store front on Divis.

bread rack at The Mill

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San Francisco Favorites and Dining

egg tarts at Saigon

I’m almost over the nasty whatever-it-was that I picked up riding in the back of the plane, in seat 37E, to be precise, en route to San Francisco. It didn’t help that it’s been freezing cold here (36ºF!), with snow in some of the outlying areas up north. Help came to me via the Kabuki Hot Springs, a mellow Japanese spa in the middle of the city with hot pools, a cold plunge (um, no thanks…), and a blissful steam, which helped cleared my head. I still have a bit of laryngitis, but that’s perhaps a blessing to those around me.

Getting socked with that has kind of put a damper on my energy level, although I’m finally on the mend and trying to visit some of my favorite places, as well as hitting a few of the new spots in town.

apricots and pluots

The San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmers Market is a true “farmer’s market”, where farmers, cheesemakers, bread bakers, and others bring their wares – including a marvelous collection of dried cherries, apricots, pluots, and any other fruit you can imagine. It’s become quite the attraction and is extremely busy on weekends, and during the week, the restaurants are full at lunchtime with people eating grilled cheese sandwiches from Cowgirl Creamery, sandwiches on locally made charcuterie, and burgers made from sustainable, grass-fed beef. And when you’re done eating, anything left over can go right into the compost bucket.

It’s quite a sight/thrill to be surrounded by tangles of broccolini, bunches of spiky mizuna, lush bundles of dark mustard greens, kale in a rainbow of colors, and a bounty of fruits that even the most jaded Californian (and Parisian) can appreciate.

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Roam Artisan Burgers, Blue Bottle Coffee & Wooden Charcoal Korean Village Barbecue House

Korean soup

Now I know why they call America – The land of the free. I had a trifecta on my first day; The (normally pricey) watch repair place fixed my watch for free, with a “Merry Christmas!” as he walked onto the next customer, the mobile phone company not only gave me a new SIM card so I could talk and tweet away (which isn’t free, unfortunately) but gave Romain one, too, and last night as we were coming home from dinner, we passed by Boudin bakery, where the bakers were up baking loaves of sourdough bread.

The baker, wondering who the weirdos were (which was odd that he was watching us, because we’re certainly not the only weirdos in San Francisco), who were peering in the doorway. We told him we were just looking and I mentioned my other-half was from France, so he handed us a hefty bâtard of San Francisco sourdough. I dunno, maybe after the trip, we kind of looked bedraggled and in need of some nourishment.

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Judy Rodgers

I was deeply saddened when I heard that someone who happens to have been a culinary icon (and hero) of mine, and who I was fortunate enough to work with in the kitchen, is no longer standing behind her stove. This morning I learned that Judy Rodgers the chef-owner of Zuni Café, had passed. I was fortunate the work with Judy for a few years on and off at Chez Panisse. Judy was incredibly dynamic as a person; so much so that I think even she had trouble dealing with all her energy! She was also a dynamic cook. And like the best cooks, her food wasn’t ever about her: It was about the food.

The roast chicken with bread salad at Zuni was the most iconic dish she made and was always worth waiting for. (Although once we drank too many martinis from the bar while we waited for it, and when I got home, I realized that I’d skipped out on the bill! – which I did go back and pay the next day.) The Caesar Salad at the restaurant was the best you could get, as were the pillow-light ricotta gnocchi and the excellent hamburger, which was perfect in every way. Whatever Judy made, was the best. In fact, one of the best things I ever ate in my entire life was a simple salad she’d handed to me one night at Chez Panisse, composed of escarole, rabbit loin, potatoes, and garlic confit smeared on toasts, all tumbled together with a warm, mustardy-dressing. I never dreamed a simple salad could taste so good, and I still remember the exact moment when I put the first forkful in my mouth – it was so, so good, and I still think about it nearly twenty-five years later.

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Pierre Hermé Macarons

macarons

One of the things about living in a city like Paris is that you spend a lot of time – well, dealing with life. Bills to pay, paperwork to do, typos to avoid, stolen bikes to replace, smokers to dodge on sidewalks waving lit cigarettes (I got nailed the other day – ouch!), or buying a pair of shoes, can easily take up much – or all – of your days. It’s too-easy to get wrapped up in all that minutiae and let all the things you love to do get overwhelmed by the other things that tend to take over, if you let them.

I’ve let them and decided to do a little turn-around by revisiting the places and eating the things that I love in Paris. It’s easy to forget the pockets of wonderfulness that people see when they come here for a week – the parks, the boulevards, the chocolate shops, and just taking a stroll and getting some air (in between all the sidewalk maneuvering) and take in the city.

macarons

Macarons aren’t new. Macarons gerbet, or filled macarons are distinctly Parisian and have been around for about 150 years. True, they are available elsewhere nowadays. But like a New York or Montreal bagel, or Chicago deep-dish pizza, certain foods get designated with an appellation because they are so closely associated with where they were first made. (Bagels and pizza are from neither of those places mentioned, originally. And macarons, which were originally from Italy, then came to France and are usually available as simple, crispy cookies made with egg whites, sugar and almonds.) But that’s getting back into minutiae, a word I had to look up the precise spelling for, twice (more minutiae!) and I’m more interested in tasting pastries. So I took a stroll over to the relatively new Pierre Hermé macaron boutique in the Marais.

Macarons kind of had their day in the soleil. Everyone wanted to either make them, or come to Paris and sample them. For a while, almost every day a question or two would land in my Inbox from people who were making macarons, wondering why their macarons didn’t have the ruffled “feet”, or why their tops cracked – and could I diagnose them? Interviewers were astonished when they’d ask me what flavors of macarons Parisians made at home, and I responded that I couldn’t think of anyone that made macarons in Paris because no one had the space for a baking sheet on their kitchen counter. And honestly, it’s easier for people to get them at their local pastry shop or bakery.

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San Francisco Booksigning at Omnivore Books

Hey! I’ll be doing a booksigning at Omnivore Books in San Francisco on Sunday, December 8th.

ready-for-dessert

The shop is located at 3885 Cesar Chavez Street (at Church) and I’ll be there from 3 to 4pm. Copies of The Sweet Life in Paris, The Perfect Scoop, Ready for Dessert and The Great Book of Chocolate will be on available.

Stop by and get books signed for holiday gifts, or for yourself. And if you can’t make it, or live elsewhere, you can order a signed book to be sent to you. Contact Omnivore Books to make arrangements.

The Sweet Life in Paris (hi res)


Persimmon Margaritas

Persimmon margarita

A few years ago, I had a major emergency. To you it might not seem like one, but it was springtime and I was finishing a book and needed to retest the recipe for Persimmon Cake because I wanted to give it one last go before it went to the printer. Persimmons are fall fruits and it’s impossible to find them outside of their season. And as much as I searched and searched and searched, there were none to be found.

Persimmon margaritas

So I started keeping an emergency bag of persimmon puree in my freezer at all times. I don’t know why, because I haven’t had a persimmon emergency since them (but heck, ya never know!) But when I pulled open my freezer lately and saw that it had become a frightening mélange of plastic bags whose labels had fallen off, ice cubes that had landed in the back of the shelves (with some misc. crumbs) – and – of course – just out of arms reach, scraps of things like tomato paste and bacon cubes, bits and pieces of cakes (I think) and pâté (I think), and bread ends, (probably) I decided to put an end to the madness once and for all, and do a massive clean-out.

Persimmon margaritas

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