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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!

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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.

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*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.

Blast from the Garky Past: Chicken with Bacon, Leeks, and Chives

Last week, nothing (healthy) sounded good to eat. Cheetos sounded damn fine; I’ll admit to having eaten a few peanut-butter-and-banana sandwiches, too. (These are a trending meal in meinem Haus.) Nothing wrong with PB&B — it features like, three food groups! — but it’s not the sort of thing I wanted to serve to Alex when he came to dinner. Necessarily, I put on my thinking cap and generated a slightly classier dinner idea.

When I’m low on ideas, I mine my personal history. During Thursday’s introspection session, I remembered a dish my parents used to make: sautéed chicken served with scallions and bacon over egg noodles. As a kid, I wasn’t much of a meat-eater, but I fiercely craved this dish; I realize now that the flavor combination of bacon and scallions pleased me greatly. Egg noodles, of course, are good in whatever form they’re presented (unless that form = “overcooked”).

I consulted the Almighty Intertron and found a similar recipe — a disconcertingly basic recipe, I should add — one that had seven ingredients (chicken, bacon, scallions, pasta, salt, pepper, white wine). Kids aren’t known for their refined palates: truth. Using the googled recipe and my Very Vivid Memories as inspiration, I began. Here’s the recipe I came up with:

Garky’s Chicken with Bacon, Leeks, and Chives (serves 4)

Ingredients

  • Eight ounces egg pasta — curlicues work best, if you’ve got ’em, but you may also use those wide, flat, yellow strips
  • Two large chicken breasts, totaling roughly one pound.
  • Four strips of bacon
  • A goodly amount of chives, minced
  • One bunch of leeks, chopped, cleaned, and patted dry
  • One bunch maitake mushrooms, cleaned and roughly cut
  • Two or three cloves of garlic, minced
  • Salt & pepper
  • Red pepper flakes
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • About two tablespoons white wine (chicken stock may be subbed)

Method

  1. First things first: set a pot of (salted) water to boil. Clean your chicken breasts, trim them of fat, and cut them into equal-sized chunks. When the water boils, add the pasta and cook until just done (between three and five minutes). Drain pasta, toss with a bit of oil, and set aside.
  2. In a rather large skillet, cook your bacon. Set bacon aside to drain and remove most (but not all!) of the fat from the pan.
  3. In the bacon-fat pan, cook your chicken. Add salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, chives, and white wine to the chicken and cook until just browned. Remove from pan/store in separate, heatproof dish.
  4. In that selfsame pan, saute your leeks, mushrooms, and garlic. (Note: it helps to start the leeks first, then add the garlic and mushrooms after a bit.) Cook leeks until they’re soft and gently brown. Remove from pan.
  5. It’s combination time! To your pasta, add your chicken and vegetables. Crumble your bacon — which should be cooled by now — and toss that in, too. Mix thoroughly and serve right away.

Raaaaaaaaaaaah! This dish nailed it. I’m glad I didn’t follow the internetted recipe as it was — the leeks and mushrooms added a level of earthiness I might not have appreciated as a tot, but that I sure as hell appreciate now. Garlic, too, was a good call; I’m totally befuddled by recipes that don’t involve garlic. Verdict: I will be making this dish again in the near future. (Note: Alex was also a fan — he took leftovers to work for a quik-n-easy lunch.)

After dinner, we found ourselves with a mad jones for ice cream. No, I’m not using the royal we — Alex also craved sweets. So we hit up our new go-to, St. Francis Fountain, for A SUNDAE!

That there is the Buster Brown: one gooey brownie topped with Mitchell’s vanilla, raspberry sauce, cronchy slivered almonds, and enough whipped cream to topple Paula Deen herself. ALSO: our server, maybe noting our Lady-&-The Tramp-type behavior, added two maraschino cherries so neither of us would have to go without one. All together: awwwwww! Thanks, beanied hipster dude!

This week, my goals are as follows: 1) Find and prepare another leek-centric recipe, because leeks are the shit; 2) Hit up St. Francis again; 3) Eat fewer PB&B sandwiches, lest I burn out on that delicious combination. Good day.

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.

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*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.

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.

Mac Attack

That looks like a proper mid-century meal, right? Be not fooled by the plate’s low-profile appearance: this dinner was inarguably beautiful.

I am not typically a “mac and cheese person,” which is to say I only eat cheese & macaroni when it’s prepared by someone else. This has always been the case, from the time I was a tot to the current day. Furthermore, I have limited experience with homemade macaroni and cheese, which (as I discovered this week) is an entirely different animal than its boxed mutation.

When he returned from Amsterdam, Amadeo brought Alex a selection of fabulous cheeses — gouda and pesto-infused varieties among them — from the city’s famed market. What to do with all that cheese? Alex wondered. The answer presented itself, as it often does, in the form of a Mark Bittman recipe. (Note: here is a link to Bittman’s recipe for Baked Macaroni and Cheese.)

Alex making roux: yeah, yeah!

From-scratch macaroni and cheese isn’t as difficult to make as you might think. True, it requires one to boil water, grate cheese, and make roux (a tricky but not impossible task). Even so, it’s totes manageable for a weeknight.As Alex prepared the mac, I took over salad prep. Above, you’ll see the salad (undressed): a simple assemblage of butter lettuce, English cucumber, halved tiny tomatoes, and paper-thin radish slices for pepperiness. In an old jar, I mixed a simple vinaigrette: oil and vinegar and Maldon salt and fresh pepper and lemon juice and a wee bit of fresh maple syrup, for the tiniest hint of sweetness. Fresh vinaigrette — so easy and so satisfying — is one of my current favorite things. In fact, I think I’ll make some this evening, just because.

Note: We didn't have any bread with dinner. In fact, this is Sam's loaf of bread, but Alex also got a loaf from Josey. At any rate, I thought you all would enjoy this photo of a beautiful, craggy loaf.

Macaroni and cheese with a fresh green salad: right now, I can’t think of a pleasanter, more balanced meal. With a dish as rich as the mac, you have to serve the lightest side dish; the tossed salad, with its oh-so-delicate butter lettuce, fit the bill. The relative acidity of the salad was a nice foil to our creamy main. When all was said and done, I didn’t even crave dessert; that’s the sign of a wholly satisfying meal.

I’m definitely coming around to macaroni and cheese — not that I had beef with it before, but it never fully registered in my food consciousness. Now, though, it has taken up permanent residence there, interrupting my daily thoughts with reminders of how good baked pasta and breadcrumbs are together.