Beyond City Limits

I am becoming a “City Person.” Some people claim I’ve already achieved City Person status, but this point is debatable. I have to say, it’s hard not to be a City Person when everything one needs is right around the corner (or no further than a twenty-minute bike ride, at least). High-end taxidermic goods? Step this way! Pain au Chocolate? Walk 50 yards and take a left. The biggest and best used CD selection I’ve ever had the fortune to witness? About a block from my house, beetches. Ah, yes: San Francisco is indeed the finest city in our fair land, so leaving it for any length of time can be difficult. On occasion, though, I brave the trip.

One such occasion was Saturday’s rooftop BBQ, hosted by my friends Melanie and Phil. After five happy years together, Melanie and Phil got engaged last week(!) and threw a barbecue to celebrate not only their upcoming nuptials but the gorgeous summer weather we’ve had in recent weeks. That, and their apartment building — blocks away from Lake Merritt and with an excellent view — has a badass and accommodating roof.

H. and I arrived around 5:30 to find M. making final meal preparations. Earlier in the day, she and Phil had marinated rough-cut veggies, chicken, and beef for the creation of skewers: EVOO & herb-rubbed veggies, BBQ chicken, Greek chicken, and mustard beef. In addition, M. had whipped up vegan potato salad and a vegan chocolate cake, frosted with ganache and topped with fresh raspberries. To this bounteous feast, H. and I contributed a pumpkin pie, a batch of strawberry-buttermilk muffins, and a bowl of the two-bean salad I became so fond of in grad school. (Note: this batch of salad was gussied up with a few additional ingredients, namely finely-chopped radishes, fresh peas, and feta.) Oh, and a 12-pack of Tecate, whose contents were added to the foam cooler brimming with like beers and scant-spread ice.

M. put us to work creating veggie skewers while she and Phil took care of the meat. Slowly, guests arrived, spirits high and beers in tow. They settled on the couch, remarked on the spaciousness and beautiful light of M. & P.’s living room, which Hook described as “chalet-like” and another guest termed “Mock Tudor.” (Both, I think, were correct.) Finally, the food was prepped. We slipped on our coats, slung blankets over our arms, and trekked to the roof, taking the service elevator and a series of perilous staircases to get there.

The evening was already cool; I was glad for the coat M. had lent me. (True to form, I’d come underdressed in a 3/4-sleeve shirt and thin down vest. When will I ever learn to Layer Correctly? Oy!) We spread a blanket over the gravel-topped ground and P. lit the grill. We shivered in our chairs as the coals flamed, subsided, smoldered. On the lake, bordered by white lights strung high above the street, a few stragglers pushed rented gondolas. Gondolas? I thought, In Oakland? Yes. Just one more reason to get out of the city once in a while — you don’t know what you’ll see.

As Phil tended the skewers, we ate a first course of salads. M.’s potato salad was unbelievable — and I’m not a potato salad fan. Her secret? She uses four types of spuds, vegan mayonnaise, good mustard, and chopped cornichons. What I dislike about most other potato salads is their mayo-ness; I’ve never liked comercially-prepared mayonnaise, so it follows that I wouldn’t like salads constructed around that ingredient. M.’s salad had a bold flavor dominated by the mustard and pickles; I could scarcely taste the vegannaise at all. I’ll be getting the recipe from Mel, if she’s willing to part with it.

At long last, we had skewers! H. and I shared a number of veggie and beef kebabs, both of which were gorgeous: charred on the outside, hot and juicy within. The veggies were good; the beef were amazing. Allowed for hours to absorb the mustard’s flavor, the beef — just the slightest bit rare on the inside — was alternated with like-marinated pieces of apple and onion, making a simple, hearty, perfect autumn dish. And dessert? Oh, goodness. No true Midwesterners would host a BBQ without having several desserts, and M. & P. did not disappoint. M’s chocolate cake was dense and crumbly and the flavor of the bourbon she used in the frosting came through, slow and deep. Peter’s gluten-free fruit tartlets were decadent, the fruit fresh and the tart shells crisp and buttery, reminiscent of shortbread. (“I did use more butter to make up for the lack of wheat,” P admitted. YES.) And my pie? All I can say is that Peter, a native of Germany and heretofore a stranger to pumpkin pie, ate four slices. A lifelong pie fan, I ate only one. Before we settled in the living room for more beer and a rousing game of Cranium, the pie was gone, its tin scraped and sticky and knife-punctured.

Congrats, Melanie and Phil! As we Russians say, God grant you many years.


Mom’s Pumpkin Pie


3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
heaping 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
heaping 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
2 large eggs, blended with 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 can (15 oz.) 100% pure pumpkin
12 oz. half & half

unbaked 9-inch pie crush (store bought is good; homemade is better)


1. Mix together dry ingredients and set aside. Beat together the eggs and vanilla and blend with the pumpkin; fold this into the dry mixture, then gradually add the half and half. Pour pumpkin batter into pie crust.

2. Bake at 425 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 minutes. Reduce temperature to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and bake for an additional 40 to 50 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean.

3. Cool on wire rack for 2-hours. Serve immediately or refrigerate, but never freeze! (Freezing will evidently cause the baked pie filling to separate from the crust. At any rate, I don’t know why you’d want to freeze a pie this good.) This pie is best served with fresh whipped cream and coffee.




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