Category Archives: Weekend Roundup

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.

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.

With a Twist: Banana Chocolate-Chunk Muffins

G’day, Garkyfriends! Not sure how your week is panning out, but mine is A-OK, despite climatological gloom + a persistent headache. You know what, though? Gloomy weather makes working indoors seem like less of a task, and this headache will surely be dispelled with some ibuprofen + coconut water. Voila! Attitudinal magic works wonders.

These past few months, I’ve been really into buying flowers. Not only do blooms brighten the common spaces, but buying cut flowers seems like such an adult thing to do. I mean, it is an adult thing to do, but some actions — dry-cleaning delicate garments, scrubbing the bathtub, turning in early on a weekend night even though you don’t have to wake up early the next day — seem robustly more adult than others.

Fridays, returning from acupuncture, I stroll past a wholesale floral shop; it was there I got the red bouquet, plucked from a flimsy plastic bucket and cradled for the duration of my trip.

Friday flowers are becoming a ritual. Establishment and practice of rituals — small and large alike — is what drew me to writing. Likewise to cooking. I am, by nature, a collector, and these activities fortify my amassment tendencies.

Banana bread was my mom’s go-to baked good. She made it for PTA meetings and potlucks, gifting foil-wrapped loaves to the neighbors. As a kid, I wasn’t crazy about the bread — my extreme sweet tooth wasn’t sated by its subtle flavor — but I’ve come around. Flavorwise and associationally, banana bread is a gem. It’s quick to make, and it offers an outlet for the scratch-and-dent bananas that would otherwise land in the compost bin.

Instead of baking one loaf, I made muffins, which bake more quickly (20 minutes!) and are easier to store and eat. I made a few other mods to mom’s recipe, namely reducing the amount of sugar and oil, adding a bit more banana mush, and tossing in some coarsely chopped, sea-salt-flecked dark chocolate. This tinkering yielded delicious results.

Sweetish but not cloying, toeing the line of wholesomeness, these muffins are a new standby.

Banana Chocolate-Chunk Muffins (makes 12)

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • Two eggs, beaten
  • 1 1/4 cup mashed bananas (appox. two large)
  • 1 3/4 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar (I used Turbinado, but use what you have on hand!)
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • One high-quality chocolate bar, roughly chopped

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 350. Grease a muffin pan (or line each cup with cupcake papers — you do you!).
  2. In a medium bowl, combine oil, eggs, and bananas.
  3. In a large bowl, mix well all dry ingredients, including chocolate. Once dry ingredients are mixed, add wet ingredients, mixing just to combine.
  4. Spoon batter into the muffin pan, filling each cup only 2/3 full.
  5. Pop the pan in the oven, set your timer for 20 minutes, and clean up (or not). Muffins are done when a fork inserted into one comes out clean.

 

A Day In the Life

When I say I eat like a frat guy, I’m not kidding around. I thought of this a moment ago as my glance lighted on the plate that, just minutes earlier, had held BBQ-chicken frozen pizza and a s’mores Pop Tart. (Yep, it was that kind of night.)

As an ode to tried-and-true features in women’s magazines everywhere, I thought I’d post a tru-lyfe account of my day in food. Ahem!

I allllllmost bought these, but resisted. #admirablerestraint

8:30: Woke up; a bit rugged. Put coffee on before I showered and, post-shower, horqed said coffee and a small bowl of hippie cereal (feat. flax, pumpkin seeds, oats, etc.)

1:00: After a leisurely Target jaunt during which clearance wine, cat litter, and a king-sized box of Cheez Its were purchased, it was lunchtime. Klassy dames that we are, Sabina and I hit up the adjacent Hooters, where I enjoyed most of an order of boneless buffalo wings and half a plate of fries. Also a bloody Mary: Grey Goose and extra olives.

It should be noted that our lunch visit coincided with a casting call for the show “Bad Girls Club,” which I’ve never seen. Our waitress described the show’s premise as “ghetto girls fighting with each other.” I don’t understand the absence of an apostrophe in the title. Moving on!

6:00: Returned home, where Sarah, Brent, and Kent were sippin’ Tecates. In solidarity, I also sipped one.

6:47: Hunger strikes! Noshed Cheez Its while chatting with mother on phone.

7:47: Dinnertime. Rather than cooking Actual Food, I succumbed to my baser urges and popped in a frozen pizza. Ate half of said pizza while scanning my G-reader and listening to The Kinks. For dessert? A s’mores Pop Tart straight from the freezer. Frozen Pop-Tart filling has a consistency similar to that of saltwater taffy, which is one reason I like the treats frozen rather than cooked.

***

There you go: a day in the dietary life of Garky. I’ll admit, I wrote this post mainly to amuse myself, but if y’all gain secondary enjoyment from reading about my simple-carb consumption, all the better! Perhaps A Day in the Life will become a recurrent feature? We shall see.

PS: Totally listened to “A Day in the Life” while writing, natch. Hadn’t heard the song in years but man, has it held up.

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.

Pear and Poppy-Seed Muffins

Sunday morning. I’d slept a kingly, dreamless sleep — the sort that, if assigned a color, would be a velvet navy — and woke early to the full spring sun. I had a tour set for the afternoon, but the morning was mine to spend as I liked. I considered lazing in bed; I hit snooze a few times before rolling my carcass into being. Motivated by the weather (gorgeous), my sweet tooth (persistent), and an open quart of buttermilk (soon-to-expire), I put my laziness on hold and baked muffins.Not long ago, as Alex and I wandered the late-evening aisles at Safeway, I picked up a jar of poppy seeds. I had no real plan for the them, but poppy seeds don’t require a predetermined course of action; they’re a good thing to have around. Aside from Mohnschnecken* and lemon poppy-seed muffins, I couldn’t think of a recipe that called on poppy seeds as a main ingredient. (OK, that’s a lie: I recalled a citrus poppy-seed vinaigrette my mom made when I was a wee one, but said vinaigrette is a condiment rather than a main or dessert so it was excluded from my mental list.)So I let my cravings dictate my direction. I’ve had pears on the brain for a stretch, and pear poppy-seed bread pervaded my thoughtstream. Google yielded some decent results for my search, and I found this recipe for Pear Poppy-Seed Loaf from Living Tastefully.

I baked a proper loaf last week, and it was good, not great. The flavors were solid — the bread wasn’t too sweet and was heavy on the seeds, per my preference — but the chunks of pear called for in the recipe sunk to the bottom of the pan, yielding a loaf with fruit on the bottom. Meh! 

This time around, I made a few mods:

  • Instead of using chunks, I mashed the pear. (Fortunately, I had one pear leftover from last week’s baking session, and the lit’l dude was plllllllllenty ripe/easy to mash.) I used the same amount (1 c.) called for in the original recipe and added the mush to the wet ingredients.
  • Rather than baking a loaf, I made muffins (doi). A few bonuses here: muffins eliminate the need to, you know, get out a cutting board and SLICE when you want a snack, and muffins also require only half the cooking time of a loaf. #score #timemanagement
  • I added about half a teaspoon of Ceylon cinnamon. Couldn’t detect it in the final product, but I was comforted knowing it was there.

My verdict? Muffins all the way, baby. Using pear mash instead of chunks increased the lightness and moistness of the bread; true, the pear flavor was more diffuse, but the texture was loads better. In this instance, a mellower flavor was a trade I was willing to make for an airier crumb.

Yep: yesterday was a Total Baking Success. I’ve got muffins in the freezer, muffins in the fridge, muffins on my mind(!) If I can make it through this workday, I am going to eat the hell out of a buttered muffin served with some mint tea.

***

*My all-time favorite pastry, and one I  haven’t been able to locate in the U.S.

The Age of Arugula

It’s taken me a few weeks to realize this, but arugula has decisively replaced baby spinach as my green of choice. This shift in allegiance has benefits and drawbacks, as is only natural. Benefit: arugula is a springier green, frilly and tickly and with the sharp bite of pepper. Drawback: arugula does not have as much iron as spinach, and I need all the iron I can get.*

The takeover occurred slowly, as these things do; at breakfast yesterday, I noted with a start that it has been weeks — maybe a month? — since I’ve eaten another green.Still, I’m not concerned. I’ve got my jar of iron pills — dingy capsules that taste like dirt — and the full assortment of greens remains available, always. I actually love personal food trends (food gravitations) and what they might signify. I don’t believe, as some people do, that they hint at deficiencies that our bodies seek to correct; rather, I suspect they’re rooted in something murkier — a convergence of physical and psychological preferences, seasonal cues, social prompts, what have you. I’m not fully tempted to suss out the causes, not only because the causes might be unidentifiable, but because I’m content with this small, benign mystery.

I have a policy of heeding food gravitations. If arugula appeals to me, arugula it is! I know myself, and I know that I’ll eventually tire of the gravitation food.We’re still reaping the benefits of our V-day bounty: yesterday’s breakfast drew on a few leftover ingredients and a few freestanding ones. Clockwise from top: Josey’s wonder bread, buttered (and, post photo, slathered in Donna’s jam); bacon; and eggs with two cheeses and arugula.

The toast and bacon are self-explanatory. The eggs could stand for a tiny bit of elucidation, I think. Alex beat the eggs with salt, pepper, milk, and goat cheese and cooked them in the normal fashion — low & slow. When they were mostly set, he added some sheep’s milk cheese from Bi-Rite (name escapes me = ack! Where is my cheese journal when I need it?) and some washed arugula, letting the eggs cook until the cheese melted and the greens wilted.

I don’t have to tell you how this story ended. (Answer: with two clean plates.) Arugula and eggs are my new favorite pairing; the textural contrast between the two is pleasanter at breakfast than it would be later in the day, when my mouth has adjusted to the world’s input, and arugula’s peppery flavor is pretty damn hard to beat. Arugula: it’s what’s for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

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*As I discovered several months ago, when my doc revealed that my iron levels are pretty low.