Category Archives: Eating Out

The Best Time of Year: “Heavily Salt the Butter” and other Street-Food-Fest Anecdotes

Every year around this time, I wish I were back in Minnesota. You see, it’s State Fair season, that time of year when typically moderate eaters incrementally ramp up their consumption in anticipation of the Big Day, on which a person is expected to horq snack foods in incomparable quantities.

Fortunately, I’ve found the San Francisco analogue to the great Midwestern snacktogether. For the past three years — since the fest’s inception — I’ve attended the San Francisco Street Food Festival. It’s come a long way since ’09; what then was a huddle of booths has become a sprawling, kimchi-rich gathering. Some estimates place this weekend’s attendance at 80,000.

This year, I invited my friend John to join in the narfing revelry. John, who operates NewTree Cafe, shares kitchen space with a gaggle of food-truck owners, and he knew the gents who gave us watermelon agua frescas and lamb tacos garnished with neon carrot shreds. The tacos were solid, but man: that agua fresca. Not too sweet and with a surprise of muddled mint buried beneath the ice, it was the beverage of my dreams. I’d drink agua fresca every morning, if I could.


Unsurprisingly, these two are the only photos I took all day: ooops! I fell victim to my own laziness and the lack of napkins (didn’t want to get pork belly all over my phone, yo), but don’t be alarmed: most of the comestibles we enjoyed were quite photogenic.

Take, for example, Three Twins’ ice cream sandwich: a thick disc of lemon-cookie ice cream bookended between two ginger wafers, each of which glittered with granulated sugar (or, as Truman Capote wrote about a very different situation, “twinkled like Christmas-tree snow”). Gorgeous, without a doubt, but I was so focused on eating that I failed to make a pictorial representation.

Other dishes weren’t as top-notch. Love & Hummus’ falafel wrap was so-so — the falafel was dry, and the affair had too much bread (harsh words coming from this carb fiend). The ribs we had, origin unknown, were strikingly bland, offering only the faintest back-of-throat heat. If I’m going to eat exceedingly fatty meat from a bone, I want that meat to taste like something.

Then there were the foods both delicious and unphotogenic; I’m thinking here of the Scotch egg, with its deep yellow runny yolk, its encasement of spicy sausage. Tasty, natch, but not so easy on the eyes.

My favorite dish of the day, however, was home-cooked. Late in the afternoon, needing respite from the sun and the hungry hordes, John and I retired to my apartment to drink PBRs in the cool of the living room. Our discussion of the proper way to make scrambled eggs prompted John to prepare some, stuffed though we were. Heating a pan, John added a slab of butter* and salted it. He added no milk to the eggs. I didn’t watch the entire demonstration — I was occupied by cutting toast into toast points — and before I knew it, I was faced with a plate of creamy, pale-yellow curds.

They were so salty and so delicious. I piled them atop the points — Josey’s raisin bread with more of the aforementioned butter — and sighed.

“So you don’t add milk?” I confirmed.

“Nope,” said John, “just heavily salt the butter.”

A few bites later, I acknowledged the obvious: my scrambled eggs are something short of masterful. My toast points, on the other hand, are par excellence.

***

*Organic, which I began buying at Ali’s suggestion. Might I just say that organic butter tastes leagues better than its conventional cousin? Doi, for sure, but I needed to put that out there: so long as I’m not living in the poorhouse, I will only ever again buy organic butter.

Road Trippin: What Are Your Ideal Snacks?

As I started my daily scroll through my G-Reader, I came upon this Blisstree post detailing food bloggers’ favorite healthy road-trip snacks. Really, I should have known better — the headline includes the phrase “No More Doritos,” which is unquestionably blasphemous. (It’s like, WHAT, are you going to take away my Jock Jamz and Gatorade water, too?) Still, being the semi-undiscriminating media consumer that I am, I clicked the link. BAD IDEA, Kate. Effing terrible idea.

The post begins with an irrefutably true statement (“Road trips are awesome.”), then moves into questionable territory: “Gas stations and truck stops offer a plethora of junk food…like you need sugar and salt-laden foods after sitting for hours in the car, yuck.”

Of course gas stations and truck stops offer junk food: DOI! They’re gas stations and truck stops — not, you know, highwayside Whole Foods. I was most certainly not on board with the judgey-mc-judgmental tone of the second part of that statement: “Like you NEED junk food, amirite, ladies?” Because, actually, I do need junk food for a long-ass road trip. Peanut M&Ms have saved my ass on more than one stretch of deserted highway.

Junk food — for me, at least — is emblematic of road trips. In my everyday life, I try to eat a balanced diet. I don’t always succeed, but dammit, I make an effort! Road trips, like trips in general, offer us a chance to break from our normal routines. No, I don’t regularly eat donuts for breakfast; yes, I will buy a breakfast donut if I stop at a Kum-N-Go in the middle of Iowa. Could I opt instead for a Luna bar and a sparkling water? Yeah, but I eat Luna bars most other days. Also, Luna bars sometimes taste like plastic. Also? Donuts are one of nature’s tastiest foods, and I challenge to a duel anyone who disagrees with me!

Some of my favorite road-trip memories are junk-food related. As a whippersnapper, I loved Burger King’s Whopper Junior. Go ahead and judge, readers: I don’t mind. I will take any/all heat for my avowed love of this sandwich (“sandwich”)! Whenever I took a road trip, I’d wait until 11:00 AM to eat, that being the time at which BK started offering lunch-menu items. Sometimes I’d eat in the car. Whenever possible, I’d park myself in the melmac-and-tile dining room of whatever BK I’d happened upon so I could really relish the Whopper Jr. experience.

I have similar feelings about Cheetos. When I was a senior in college, I dated a guy who lived about three two three? hours from Galesburg. Whenever I’d drive to visit him, I’d get a gas-station pumpkin-spice cappuccino and a bag of Cheetos. That particular flavor combination — ultra-sweet, moderately nutmeggy imitation coffee commingled with the distressingly salty Cheetos — brings me back: to Galesburg in September, to the flat stretch of highway between my podunk town and St. Louis, to Woody Allen and inexpensive Merlot and walks around Forest Park. I don’t drink gas-station cappuccino much these days — or ever — but now? I’m curious to see whether the drink would unearth more memories than those I’ve listed here.

Another point Carrie Murphy fails to address is the regional availability of certain foods. Dear readers, I’m sure you’re aware that your favorite food (junk or not) may only be available in certain localities. When my sis lived with me in Northampton, she grew to love this cornbread toasting bread — you know, sandwich bread flavored like cornbread. Guess what? It’s not available in the Midwest. Sis also loves Lays’ Limon chips, which are common in San Francisco and sold via Amazon, but aren’t stocked at her local Hy-Vee. When I studied in Berlin, I yearned for my beloved Cheetos; the nearest available bag was in Scotland.

This is the bread my sis loves so much.

When I visit Minnesota in a few short weeks, I’m going to eat the hell out of foods I can’t readily get here. What’s on my list?

  1. A kiddie-sized Dairy Queen Blizzard
  2. A danish from Uncle Billy’s bakery
  3. A veggie Chicago dog from Coney Island
  4. An orange scone from Panera
  5. Papa John’s Pizza

And so on.

I don’t feel one bit bad about this predicted junk-food binge. Part of a road trip is loosening up, letting one’s hair down, going with the flow, and all that other NorCal jazz. Yeah, I’m going to allow myself to become moderately sunburned! Why, yes, I’ll drink some daytime porchbeers, watch shitty TV, and drive when I can walk! Maple “syrup” made with HFCS instead of sap? Don’t mind if I do!

Food is so much more bound up with our memories — our perceptions of self — than we give it credit for. I was always the kid who got the cookie dough blizzard. I still am.

***
Image sources: [1], [2], [3], [4]
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Happy (Belated) Donut Day!

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Happy Day-after-National-Donut-Day, friends! And a fine National Donut Day it was here in SF: sunny, breezy, not too cool. Post coffee and pre acupuncture, I wandered through Noe Valley and snapped the above picture to document the lovely weather.

Confession: I almost didn’t partake in NDD festivities. I KNOW, I know: totally blasphemous thinking, but when I yawned and stretched and made myself coffee, I was more in the mood for a bagel than anything else. But you know about the bagel situation in this city; if you don’t know, rest assured that the bagel scene here is nonexistent. (Note: Haven’t tried bagels from Wise Sons yet, but it’s at the top of my to-do list.)

Like a champ, I rallied and headed to the Jelly Donut.

I knew before I reached the counter which donut I’d order. That’s one of my strengths, you know: Extreme Donut Decisiveness. As last time — as always — I selected the oblong buttermilk fritter cloaked deep in chocolate frosting. Here’s a visual:

Big as a lumberjack’s fist, this lit’l guy called to me from the display case, beckoning with a heavily frosted finger. The cashier threw in a few (three) donut holes for my snacking pleasure, and I was on my way.

I settled into one of my whiskey barrel chairs and ate slowly, using a fork and knife. Silverware wasn’t the best idea. The donut crumbled under the pressure of the knife, but no matter — I scooped up the frosting crumbles because, as we all know, frosting waste is to be avoided at all costs.

Another confession: I couldn’t finish my donut. (I’m expecting you all to be like, “What happened to you out there, Baumer?”) The truth is, the donut was just too much: too big, too sweet, too oily. Its frosting was half an inch thick, and as much as I love frosting, I love my tooth enamel more. To my credit, I ate about 2/3 before throwing in the towel. Alas! Next year, I’ll have my game face on and select a less formidable opponent.

I’ve gotta hop in the shower and prep for a picnic, but happy belated National Donut Day to you all!

Pizza Overload (or Total, Unabashed Laziness)

Friends, I did not think I’d hear myself say this, but I’m quittin’ pizza for a while.

Yeah. Let’s take a moment to process that statement, its severity.

Last week was the Week of Pizza, practically and theoretically*. If I were to be honest with myself and y’all — and, DUH, I’m gonna be totally upfront — I ate pizza on five occasions last week. FIVE. I’m embarrassed even to write that, but confession is a form of catharsis, is it not?

Gee, Kate, you might wonder, How were you able to eat so much pizza? Lemme break it down. One night, happy hour with Bree turned into many happy hours, and when I got home I ate half a leftover frozen CPK pizza (BBQ Chicken variety; not recommended). I heated these leftovers in the toaster oven so generously given to me by Sabina. But, unfamiliar as I was with the settings of said oven, I burned the hell out of that pizza. Did I eat it anyhow? Oh, yes I did: in secret and in shame.

The next night, lazy as I was, I ordered pizza and a Greek salad from Serrano’s. Which was much more food than I thought it would be — half the salad and two pieces of pizza left me feeling uncomfortable. Friday, I had pizza for lunch AND dinner. Sunday, after a day of so-called revelry, I horqed (oh god) the remainder of my St. Francis’ Chef’s Mess and a slice of SARAH’S LEFTOVER PIZZA.

When you’re eating your roommie’s leftover pizza, you know you have a problem. I staged my own intervention.

See that? That’s one of my lovely quinoa salad casserole things, a dish I make (almost) weekly because 1) It’s simple; 2) It’s delicious; and 3) It provides more nutrients than most ‘zas. I made this Quinoa Thing Monday night — an effort, however small, to right my seriously off-course eating habits.

This Quinoa Thing included the following ingredients: Quinoa, prepared per package directions; Bacon, pan-fried, cooled, and crumbled in at the end; Brussels sprouts and chickpeas, tossed in EVOO/maple syrup/s&p/red pepper flakes and roasted for half an hour; One Fuji apple, diced; Salt-and-pepper pistachios; and lemon-parsley vinaigrette adapted from one in this month’s Bon Appetit. Oh, and goat cheese, because I eat goat cheese every day of my lyfe.

Quinoa Thing is delicious and masquerades as healthy food. Sure, it’s got bacon, cheese, nuts, and oil, but it also has protein! And a vegetable! At the very least, it doesn’t have a crust. Monday night, I took pride in my Adultish dinner, and the pride has lasted this entire week.

*Lest you think I forgot about Theoretical Pizza, you’re wrong. Last week was Pizza Week because of what I ate (obvs), but also because  I was seeking comfort in all realms of my life. I burrowed in my bed, wearing my new AmApp hoodie. I listened to tons of Nite Jewel. And I leaned heavy on my oldest comfort food. Not the greatest week, to be sure, but hey! It’s a new week. Yes, it is.

Joy of Joys

I’ve been gone; I’m back now, if only brief & flittingly. I’ve got no real excuse for the non-posting, my only sort-of excuse being the visiting of family, the suddenly warm and breezy weather that makes me want to abandon all my formal tasks and just walk.

Though I wasn’t posting them, I gathered a lot of meals & stories these past few weeks, one of my favorites being a simple quinoa salad that I dressed up with a new vinaigrette. Besides the grain, the dish contained roasted chickpeas and sweet potatoes, bathed in olive oil, s&p; salt-and-pepper pecans; golden raisins; fresh snap peas, cut into sections; roasted grape tomatoes (not yet burst); a dressing of olive oil, lemon juice, s&p, dried tarragon, and fresh mint; and, finally, goat cheese, mixed in after the salad had cooled a bit.

Yes, I just spelled out the ingredients list for that salad, that’s how satisfying it was. I’m going to replicate it; I have just the sweet potato prepared.

My favorite story, though, is my first trip to The Jelly Donut. Since I first saw it, perched at 24th and South Van Ness, I’d longed to go. I put off visiting, in part out of fear that the donuts might not meet my expectations (what if they tasted like old grease?). Really, though, I enjoyed the longing: the anticipation of the day I’d cross the bootscuffed threshold and pause before the display case.

My history with donuts is a long one, more storied than you might assume. I’ve waxed nostalgic for Hans’ Bakery, the donut shop of my youth where you could get a glazed donut as large as a plate, its interior lighter than spun air. I’ve also mentioned my fond feelings for Swedough’s, whose burnt-orange decorating scheme and aging clientele make one feel as though they’ve fallen into a wormhole and landed in 1976. In both cases, I love these donut shops not simply for their wares (though DAMN, do I love donuts), but for the experience they provide: temporary relief from the exigencies of daily life.

My first Jelly Donut experience was wholly unexpected. Having eaten dinner and had a cocktail, Alex and I faced a long wait for the bus. Rather than sitting in the [relative] cold, A. suggested we get a donut. And, despite having just eaten, the lure of fried dough was irresistible: time and time again, I’d passed by that smudged plate glass, only to walk on past, but not that night. “OK,” I said, when I really meant, “Oh HELL yes!”

I knew immediately which donut I wanted: that one, the chocolate-covered behemoth pictured above. When in doubt, I opt for the largest-available, chocolate-frosted treat. (When not in doubt, I opt for the same thing.) My standby didn’t let me down. I undid the golden dough from the coils into which it had been fried, trying not to get chocolate all over my hands and face; mostly, I succeeded. Contrary to my initial prediction, the donut did not taste like old grease — in fact, it was airy and not-too-sweet, though the frosting may have given me insta-diabetes.

What I enjoyed most about the trip — indeed, what I enjoy about most donut jaunts — was occupying the dining room. Those well-wiped tables and serviceable chairs make me feel I could be just about anywhere. Donut places have about them a certain desolation, a silence that isn’t replicated in other establishments, even those with a similar price point and customer base. There’s a loneliness, a desire for a moment of peace and quiet; it’s reflected in the charred-coffee smell and the fluorescent lights’ flicker and the pleasant detachment of the woman running the till. It’s a mild, meditative disengagement from The Routine: a respite I’ll never give up, despite the barrage of bad news about refined sugars.

I don’t have a donut shop here (“my” shop). I love Bob’s, but it’s too far away to establish itself as a haunt. The Jelly Donut, though lacking some of Bob’s charm, has a solid product and a grittiness that resonates with me. It’s miles closer, too, and open late. I foresee more J.D. trips in the future: the late-night future, replete with unpopulated muni rides, wind-whipped scarves, adventure.

Meditations on Dim Sum

Another too-short weekend! I’m mightily glad the evenings are lighter — all the better for post-dinner strolls, my dear — but I have Strong Negative Feelings about waking up when it’s dark out. Once again, daylight savings has made this unenviable condition a personal reality.

Back to the start, though, the start being Friday night. Hit up Southern Pacific Brewing Company for burgers (I got the Black and Blue, as last time), Brussels Sprouts, and beers — or Manhattans, for those not in a beer-drinking mood. My Manhattan was on the sweeter end of the continuum; not undrinkably sweet, but sweet enough. Lesson learned: stick with beer. The burger and fries — oh, the fries! — were totally solid. The fries, slender and golden, were better than solid. They were impermeably good.

These are homemade Micheladas, created/enjoyed on Saturday night. They're not related to our trip to Southern Pacific except that these are alcoholic drinks, and we consumed alcohol at S.P. #tenuousconnections.

Southern Pacific may feel warehousey (which, duh: it’s in an old warehouse) and be packed with startup bros, but it’s meeting a critical consumer need: the need for good, decently priced food & drinks. Try finding that on Valencia, and ye shall be lost.

Saturday’s adventures took us to the Richmond, that infrequently visited land o’ yore. We’d planned to bike from our houses* to the ocean, stopping on the way back for lunch (ambitious!). As it happens, hunger waylaid us. (Are you surprised? We were not surprised.) We stopped at Good Luck Dim Sum — Alex’s favorite dim-sum joint in the city — for sustenance.

Full Disclosure: When Alex suggested dim sum, I made the “Hmmmmm” noise I make when I’m thinking “HELL NO!” but want to appear more open-minded than I’m actually feeling. Those who know me know this noise. Alex responded, “Wait, do you not want to go because you’re not in the mood for dim sum, or because you’re afraid of it?”

The latter, sadly. Prior to this weekend, I’d had dim sum once — and that was only by accident! I’m skittish about eating foods I can’t identify, foods with gelatinous textures, or foods that may or may not contain shrimp. BUT, in the spirits of Progress/Open-Mindedness/Overcoming Personal Failings, I said, “I’m scared, but let’s do it.” And we did.

What I liked most about this meal was the element of choice. Choice — choosing what I want to eat, how I want that food prepared, the fork I select, where I sit, etc. etc. ad nauseam amen — is one of my favorite parts of cooking and eating, and the choices available at Good Luck were damn impressive. As we waited to order, I gazed into the display case, admiring the tender coconut shreds blanketing the desserts, the golden symmetry of the sesame balls.

Perhaps I should modify that statement: I enjoyed the coupling of choice and excessiveness. I knew when I placed my order that there was no way I’d be eating all that food, but it was uniquely gratifying to carry that orange plastic tray, heaped with food, from the counter to the table, other diners looking on in curiosity or aghastness. The woman behind me in line actually said, referring to Alex’s order, “Oh, I thought that was for the two of you.” WHAT?

“Nope,” I said. Pause. Another pause. Woman looked a little nervous. “We do like to have leftovers,” I finally said.

Alex, looking so dapper and about to dig in.

My favorite bite, to be sure, was the sesame ball. I’m gaga for sesame: seeds, oil, whatever form I can get. It’s difficult for me to write about the ball because I have no basis for comparison, but I’ll say this: the interior bean paste kicked up the depth of flavor in a way that pleased me. Murky red, one shade darker than a kidney bean’s coat, the paste tasted ruddy. It tasted like it looked. Beautiful in contrast to the ball’s light exterior.

On the other end of the enjoyment spectrum was the scallion dumpling, the loser in my Personal Food Judgment Zone. I love scallions, and I love dumplings, so what could go wrong? MANY THINGS. I’ll break it down nice & simple: first, the dumpling’s skin was ueber-gelatinous, a texture that greatly displeased me. Second: the dumpling’s interior had only two visible ingredients: chopped scallions and shrimp (which were not listed in the item description!). Third: Well, I don’t have a third. I’ll just restate that the dumpling contained shrimp.

Scallions rock, but shrimp do not. Sorry, seafood lovers, but shrimp (to me) look like outsized bugs. Someday, I will try one, but that day is going to take weeks — months? Years? — of preparation. As it was, I was unprepared for shrimp and did not eat more than a nibble of the dumpling’s skin, and that was good enough for me.

Man, writing this is making me crave a sesame ball.

Dim sum. It’s not a Garky Tradition yet, but it’s on its way.

In other exciting news unrelated to everything I’ve just mentioned, my mom and sis are heading to town tomorrow (cascading applause!). Yep, We Three Troublemakers will be reunited and ready to nosh. Mom and I are going to bake Sys a special birthday cake, but we’ll undoubtedly sneak out for some treats, too: likely Papalote (sys’ favorite salsa in the city), Boulange (mom loves their breakfastssssss), and, if I have anything to say about it, MISSION PIE. It’s been a few weeks since I’ve had one of their scones, and I’m getting itchy for one.

***

*Well, from one of our houses, but just imagine us starting from a point directly between our two houses, if that is easier. Which it isn’t, because maybe you don’t know where Alex and I live? To simplify: we set out from Alex’s house.

A Clean, Well-Lighted Sandwich

It is Sunday night; I’m bundled in my favorite loungewear hoodie, sipping some ice water, and hearing the fire engines roar past. This past week was long (too long), and the weekend felt painfully short after such a hectic spell.

Still, I feel rejuvenated & ready to start my week. I had some gorgeous meals this weekend: brunch at Chow with Courtney, where I had mimosas and fries and a gussied-up peasant sandwich of ham, roast tomato, gouda, aioli, and a fried egg on grilled sourdough; dinner at Nombe with Alex and Willow and Joe, where our table spilled over with food: miso and bacon-wrapped mochi and a delicately gridded grilled eggplant, which was drizzled with miso. A chocolate souffle that really wasn’t, but that was a solid dessert nonetheless. My cutest meal was at Jay’s Cheesesteak 2, the Western Addition cousin to the Mission shop. Friday, I had plans to meet Sabina but no time to run home for food, and I found myself wandering Divis in search of a bite. I considered (briefly) Bus Stop Pizza, but reasoned that any pizzeria named after a bus stop couldn’t provide more than novelty. The brand-x sub shop next door was empty but for a forlorn clerk wielding a baguette. In light of my unwillingness to venture more than a few blocks from the Page, Jay’s became my last chance.

But what a phenomenal chance! I desired only the most basic food; if I’d had my way, I probably would have conjured up a peanut butter sandwich on thick, seed-crusted bread. Jay’s offered a close second: a no-frills BLT served on toasted baguette. It’s tough to tell in the photo above, but the cook made the bacon precisely as I like it: half a step too close toward burned. Nestled in its wreath of shredded lettuce and mayonnaise, crowned by tomatoes, that bacon was crisp salty satisfaction. (Sometimes, all it takes is salt.)

I felt ultimately cozy in that dim-lit shop, alone except for the cook, the clerk, and another diner, reading the Guardian and pausing, now and then, to take a thoughtful bite of fry. I’m already excited to go back — not as the result of a pre-planned trip, mind you, but the next time I find myself in the neighborhood, in want of a fine, simple meal.