Category Archives: Events

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.

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The Summer Scoop (or What I’ve Eaten for the Past Week)

Now that July is one-third over, I’m finally, officially in SUMMER MODE. Bring on the watermelon, the potato salad, the macaroni salad, not the egg salad, the hotdogs, the fluffy white buns whose interior texture mimics modified styrofoam! Bring on the funnel cakes and cotton candy: the inevitable gut rot.

Our July Fourth picnic (“Snax 4 America”) was a rollicking success. I was going to say, “To be fair, most picnics are,” but that’s not true. An overcast sky, an absent corkscrew, or a shortage of potato chips can turn a good picnic bad. We had a corkscrew, a jumbo size bag of Rip-L-chips, and a collective good attitude. Also, we had sunshine. And Tecate, and friendship!

Clockwise, from left: Trader Joe’s 100% pineapple juice (sold in overpackaged four-packs); Smirnoff marshmallow vodka; Rip-L-chips, which were two-for-one at my local Walgreen’s; Twizzlers; Trader Joe’s Good-N-Plenty-style candies; and the cocktail of the gods.

I discovered my new favorite cocktail quite by accident. The cocktail includes an adequate pour of chilled marshmallow vodka; ample soda water; and a splash of 100% pineapple juice. If you’re so inclined, add two ice cubes and a straw. Sarah and I sipped these marvels while readying for our picnic and listening to DadRock (i.e., John Cougar Mellencamp, more J.C. Mellencamp, Foreigner, CSNY, et al). If you add the proper amount of soda water, the drink is just the perfect amount of sweet; if you skimp, you will incur all the toothaches/headaches/stomachaches in the world. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

I have an ongoing, informal goal to bust out of the food ruts I settle in. I know, I know! I castigate myself far too often, and for what? Being a creature drawn to projects, especially of the self-improvement variety, I adopted this loosely formed resolution. This week, I actually stuck to it.

Friday, I made two new dishes: one I haven’t made for months, and one I have never made. Exhibit A: Black-bean tacos with mango salsa.

I know: this picture is exceptionally bad, even by my knuckle-draggin’ standards. I was hungry, though, and just wanted to eat! Had you been there in my living room with me, you wouldn’t have blamed me.

Preparing the black beans is the easiest: dump a can of black beans (liquid included) into a medium-sized saucepan. Add cumin, red pepper flakes, the juice of one lime, and two cloves’ worth of minced garlic to the pot. Stir occasionally, allowing the liquid to reduce. When the beans are the consistency you prefer, remove pot from heat.

The salsa, too, is easy. Peel a mango, cut it into strips of equal size, and dice those strips into tiny cubes. Halve a bunch of grape tomatoes. Mince shallots and finely chop parsley. Juice a lime. Combine all ingredients with salt and pepper, and you’ve got yourself a condiment.

The never-before-made dish was eggplant pomodoro, adapted from Eating Well’s recipe. I don’t remember the last time I bought an eggplant, but I snagged one last week because it was 99 CENTS! Duuuuuude: healthy food for less than a dollar! After the bargain rush subsided, I was like, “Damn, what am I gonna do with this eggplant?” Enter pomodoro. As luck would have it, I had tomatoes, olives, capers, EVOO, and the requisite seasonings on hand.

Aside from not having enough tomatoes — I’d used about half the carton making that salsa — I followed Eating Well’s instructions allllllllmost to the T. (Added more seasonings because I love me some spice.)

And? This dish was a winner! Hella quick to whip up, its flavor is elevated via the capers and olives. Moreover, the eggplant, cooked in a liberal amount of olive oil, was silky rather than tough n’ chewy. Finally, the pomodoro reheats well, which bodes well for an episodic kitchen slacker like myself.

There you have it: two new recipes and a picnic. Oh! And I visited Southpaw for the first time, too, but that’s another story for another day. Until then, keep on rockin’ in the free world. I’ll do the same, sandwich in hand.

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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!

Wine & Roses

Happy post-Valentines, friends! Did you wake up today with a sugar + oxytocin hangover? Have you hit up your local Walgreen’s to score some deals on discount candy? Are you glad you won’t see Sweethearts for another 11 months? Other thots about yesterday’s holiday?

Ours was a lovely, lovely V-day. Rather than battling the Marinafied crowds, we opted to prepare a picnicky dinner (eaten on the bed, natch). Bi-Rite was so crowded that we had to wait in line, as one would wait outside a club. (“I’m wearing jeans,” Alex quipped. “Do you think they’ll let us in?”) Made conversation with the woman in front of us, who lives in the same building as Robert Patterson.* “He’s just opened that new restaurant, and I can’t wait to try it out,” she said — a bit wistfully, I thought, or maybe with the tone of someone obligated to attend a niece’s piano recital. She promised she’d go soon.We waged an epic battle at Bi-Rite, dodging rampaging hippies just there to get farro, goddamnit, and canoodly couples practically making out in front of the olive display. (GET A ROOM! Next time, that is.) Forty-five minutes later, we were prepping dinner. On the menu: assorted cheeses and charcuterie; dates, which Alex pitted and sliced into wedges; olives; radishes, cleaned, halved, and served in a teacup; arugula, tossed with toasted breadcrumbs and the tangiest vinaigrette, sharpened with shallots and capers and grainy mustard; bread: a sweet baguette and a soft, flat loaf crusted in sesame seeds; German sparkling wine; and Boston Creme Pie, with the lightest filling and the most decadent chocolate shell. Membrillo, too, which I cut into thin slices and smashed into the bread before laying down sheets of Manchego.We ate near the heater, our plates and bowls balanced on small tables, our legs tucked beneath us. Watched the Maine episode of “No Reservations,” which I kept interrupting to ask, “Is that how it really is? Is this an accurate representation?” We let our stomachs settle before cutting one slice of the pie — a sharing slice — and finishing off the champagne and then, very late, rolling into bed.

I wished I could stay up late enough to extend the night through the morning, through the next day, into an ever-expanding experience that would not dilute, even with prolongation. That’s not how time works. Instead, I’ll keep the night’s memory as a talisman: a filament, a worn stone, a bottle filmed with the remnants of what it contained.

***

*I think. She just said “The owner of the ramen place on 18th,” that ramen place being Ken Ken and Patterson being Ken Ken’s owner.

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.

Resolutions: Check-In

We’re just over two weeks in to the new year, which seems the perfect time for me to check in on my New Year’s Resolutions (which you can find here). How am I doing so far? Not too bad, as you’ll soon see:

Resolution 1: Use More Smoked Paprika

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To date, I’ve used smoked paprika exactly once this year, and that’s only because I spotted the tin in my pantry and immediately remembered my goal. How did I use this wunderspice? I added it to a dish I made yesterday: tempeh and veggies simmered in coconut milk, served over udon. Typically, when I make this dish, I use good amounts of fennel seeds, cumin, black pepper, and curry; the smoked paprika lent the broth a fine orange color and added a bit of kick. I definitely gave myself a pat on the back for adding it.

Cubes of tempeh, waiting to be simmered.

Verdict: Though I’m technically making progress toward the achievement of this goal (that is, though I’ve technically used this spice ONCE), I could stand to take things up a notch.

Resolution 2: Continue Seafood Appreciation Project

Welp, I haven’t eaten any seafood this year, so this one’s not going as planned. BUT (silver lining), I’ve eaten a fair amount of Thai food since January 1st, and that food maybe probably contained fish sauce, so that’s a start?

Resolution 3: Eat Better Candy

Progress on this resolution is so-so. I haven’t bought any hella upscale candy (yet); to be fair, I haven’t been to the Ferry Building this month. But, I have branched out a bit from my Milky Way Minis routine. For example, I bought some soft peanut brittle at Trader Joe’s:Hardly gourmet, but it’s a change of pace, at least. (I am rationalizing: I admit.)

I’ve also purchased these caramel-filled Dove squares that are kind of delicious and sickening all at once (mostly the latter). OK, OK, these were a total Walgreen’s impulse buy, but again, they were something I’d never bought before and I wanted to give them their day in the sun. Help a sister out! Have a little mercy! I WAS BROWSING THE CANDY AISLE WHILE HUNGRY — what was I supposed to do?

In summary, it appears that I’m off to a slow start w/r/t the ole resolutions, but not to worry — I’ve got until March to abandon them completely. I kid! I have a genuine interest in using smoked paprika (and other spices unfamiliar to me), incorporating seafood into my diet, and eating more interesting candy — because lord knows I’m not going to stop eating candy. That, more than a giant asteroid hurtling toward the earth, would be a sign that the end is near.

 

Resolutions: Revised

Heyyyyyyyyy-o! A low-key day over here: had my weekly acupuncture, got lunch & hit the butcher shop with Alex, and did Piles of Laundry in preparation for the weekend. I have to say, I’m pret-ty excited for NYE and New Year’s Day dinners. For the former, we’re planning a mixed grill; for the latter, a leg of lamb. Tortilla might make an appearance, as might sweet potato walnut bread.* Yumyumyumyumyum! No better way to ring in the new year than with a three-day feast, yes?

This was one of the better feast images I found, so I'm going with it.

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Speaking of New Year’s: Resolutions: Have you got ’em? I didn’t, but then as I scanned my google reader and noticed that EVERY story is about the new year, I thought, “What the hell? Might as well make a few, myself.”

Mind you, I won’t resolve anything traditional: oh, noooooo. I won’t vow to banish bra fat, work out six days a week, volunteer with orphans, or any of that. Rather, I’ll set a few food resolutions to expand my cooking and baking repertoires and train some of the fussiness from my palate. In no particular order, these resolutions are:

1) Use More Smoked Paprika

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Whilst back in Minnesota, I picked up a tin of smoked paprika; I have yet to bust into it. My plan for the coming year is to collect recipes using this spice and sequentially test those recipes. My secret goal is to use enough smoked paprika to start a collection of the beautiful tins it’s packaged in. Heh.

2. Continue Seafood Appreciation Project

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All things considered, this year’s Seafood Appreciation Initiative went well, but I’ve got much work yet to do. Case in point: I may have balked when I learned that my udon (at Katana Ya) would be served in fish broth. Another case in point: I may have reacted squeamishly at today’s lunch when Alex noted that most of our dishes contained fish products.

To be clear: I want to like seafood. Indeed, I’m now a willing consumer of most mild fishes. Shellfish is another matter — I avoid that shit like the plague. I’d like to change, though, and the first step in changing is acknowledging the desire to do so, RIGHT?

3. Eat Better Candy

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Few people consider me a garbage disposal (I think?), but I remain woefully uncritical when it comes to candy. M&Ms, gas-station gummy worms, kind of stale Tootsie Pops — if it’s candy, I eat it. Sad but true — I’ve had a raging sweet tooth since I was a wee one. I’m not going to get rid of my sweet tooth (which, frankly, is a preposterous suggestion), but I’m going to clean it up, refine it — in a word, boboify it. Will Kate quell her insatiable honger for peanut M&Ms? That will be 2012’s great question.

There you have it: my food resolutions for the coming year. If I think of more, I’ll add them to this post, but three seems a reasonable number to start with. Wouldn’t want to overwhelm myself during the first two weeks of the year and forever abandon smoked paprika, would I?

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*If I can get my ass to the grocery store and bake a loaf, that is.