Tag Archives: California

The Perfect Salad for Pizza in the Surprise Spring Sun

25 Jan

When you’re lucky enough to live in San Francisco, you’re surrounded by so many incredibly beautiful things and impossibly ridiculous characters, such rich history about which to daydream and mouthwatering  cuisine in which to indulge, that it’s easy to forget you can drive across that most iconic of bridges and end up in an entirely different magical world.

Califooooornia, CalifOOOOOORnia, here we COOOOOOOO-oooome...

Instead of towering Pacific Heights castles sweeping their money-scented shadows across the apartments forming their block-by-block stepping stones below, the well-to-do in this world keep small houses with big windows tucked into winding paths best reachable by bike-laden Subaru.

The further north you drive up the sun-dappled, zig-zag turns comprising this stretch of the 1, the further behind you leave the commuters packed like puzzle pieces onto Muni, the cars insistently blazing their impatient paths across traffic. Eventually, only the cows fanned out lazily across roadside pastures slowly chomp their big cheeks by way of greeting even such obvious foreigners on their muddy soil.

Identifying wild mustard: a skill you don't learn in the suburbs.

Moh and I set out on the well-worn path north one glorious recent Monday off (is it awkward to thank MLKJ?). While driving, I taught Moh two things: first and most importantly, “Hey Cow,” in which each competing passenger rolls down his window and shouts exactly that to collect a point for each lackadaisical bovine who looks at him. Yes, I’m a lucky lady – my boyfriend is quite the player. Secondly, I recounted my favorite California legend – that the brilliant yellow mustard snaking its way up the hillsides this time of year was scattered as seeds by the Spanish Missionaries who made their way up the coast hundreds of years ago. They would know their path back the next spring, from Sonoma to south of San Diego, by the “ribbon of gold” they’d left, now blooming, as a trail.

About an hour out of the city, conveniently rounding on late lunch time, we came to Point Reyes, or “King’s Point.” So, it seemed only appropriate that we eat like rural royalty. Dana had recommended Cafe Reyes for pizza and oysters. It was perfect in every way, from the wobbly plastic table  we sat at out back to the complimentary caramel and chocolate doily-shaped cookies we took too many of on our way out. We shared:

A dozen local oysters on the half shell. No cocktail sauce or horseradish to mask their salty sea bite, they were decadently briny and served with only the perfect champagne mignonette and juicy lemon wedges…

…a wood-fired pizza topped with a bright tomato sauce, thick slabs of golden mozzarella, a handful of silky mushrooms, clusters of chicken sausage laced with fennel and red pepper and a sprig of fresh rosemary…

… and a salad built to showcase the famous Point Reyes Farmstead Blue Cheese. Because blue cheese has such a distinct, sharp flavor, I was shocked to find how well it enhanced, without overpowering, the flavors of everything else we ate.

I would love to be able to recreate each and every incredible dish we ate, basking in the surprise January peek of springtime sun and a stolen Monday tucked surreally away from everything but each other.  But, I’m afraid all I can manage is a recreation of this salad, which goes perfectly with pizza.

Get everything as fresh as you can, and share it with someone who loves blue cheese almost as much as you love them.

the homespun edition


  • Romaine lettuce
  • Spring lettuces
  • The best blue cheese you can find, crumbled into little pieces
  • Slices of big juicy tomatoes
  • Little cherry tomatoes sliced in half
  • Ribbons of red onion
  • Dressing (I think it was ranch; TJ’s only had Caesar so my re-creation lacked a little kick. I’m sure making your own would do you well, but I don’t yet have the dressing touch)
  • Fresh parm to shave over the top
  1. Toss your salad.
  2. That’s all 🙂

Summer Tour, Part I: These are my confessions

13 Jul

Ahh, Los Angeles. City of angels, bleached Santa Monica blondes, David Hockney blues, perpetual freeway*, deceptively endearing man-boys in Dodgers caps (yes, it’s a weakness), and of course, the biz.

Lucky for those of us who shun the limiting, reductive and superficial stereotype of the toned, tan fit and ready for which this great state is famed (OF COURSE on purpose due to highly evolved moral ground and DEFINITELY NOT as a byproduct of our natural Irish coloring and propensity for carbohydrates),  there are purportedly more entertainers living here than in any other city at any time in history. This not only means lovely eyecandy is scattered about readily availalable for all to enjoy, but more importantly that the eyecandy need dayjobs. I think the abundance of LA restaurants comes from supply of waitstaff, not demand for feeding. 

Because the eyecandy are also patrons, menus at hotspots like Hugo’s are filled with fare more dressed to leave less impress on the figures of the diet-concious than to satisfy the appetitites of us happily impervious visitors. Well, when in Rome, I always figure.  In this case, Rome involves a penchant for kombucha (maybe for the secrently high alcohol levels that recently led Whole Foods to snatch the elixir from its stores – gawd, thanks for nothing, LoHo) and veganism that probably has more to do with the human than the animal body. So, on my most recent surprise visit to shenanigan the Telanor Kousman, as engineered by his equally handsome and accomodating brother Petros K, I “indulged” myself with this gem:

“GO GREEN FRITTATA: This wonderful breakfast full of protein, minerals, and iron will keep you going and going. Made with egg whites, chard, beet greens, kale, spinach puree, broccolini, zucchini, asparagus, quinoa, garlic, extra virgin olive oil. Topped with alfalfa sprouts and an apple-mango-mint sauce.”

It looks a lot more interesting than it tasted, which was a lot like it sounds – righteously bland. Oh well. At least it was a caloric wash. Plus, I saw the adorable Ben from Big Love (Douglas Smith). I mean, what’s a trip to LA without a spotting of a psuedo-celebrity whose real name you definitely didn’t know before you were then obviously forced to stalk them?

OK, so here’s my real confession. I come to love LA a little bit more everytime I visit. There is a freedom in the understanding that what’s on the surface is a shared cultural value. Elsewhere image is a dirty little secret – here it’s accepted currency.

Of course the real reason it grows on me is I love seeing my friends growing in fabulous ways, like Telanor and Petros settling in their gorgeous vintage apartment, complete with verandas and a black and white checkered kitchen floor. Or near-future breakout sensation Joel Perez, California-bronzed and beaming, about to leave on tour with the smash In the Heights and meeting up with his new castmates for an impromptu Musical Monday bar performance.

The Kousman in his kitchen, my favorite of his many natural environments.

Before hitting the 5 back to the Bay, the Unsinkable M, Joel and I join the Kousaki for a lovely dinner at the authoritative heavy woood table in their very adult dining room. Whole wheat pasta tossed with a light white white and garlic sauce, goat cheese, a florally juicy fresh-squeezed SoCal lemon far sweeter than sour, greens and a few shreds of basil, sea salt and cracked pepper.

Light, easy, delicious. Much like, maybe against my better judgement, I’m quickly coming to regard  this sparkling, sprawling complexity of a city.

*A city of contradictions, Los Angeles had the largest public transit in the country before GM bought it, poured kerosene on the street cars and burned them so that Henry Ford could “solve the city problem [the problem being THE entire POINT OF THE CITY, you a-hole] by leaving the city”. Although if you’re still reading this blog at all you’re aware I’m an unabashed proponent of rambling tangents and tenous connections, even I decided this bit of knowledge must be shared but relegated to a footnote. Also, footnotes feel fancy.

Boy-Crazy Lushes Brave the Fog(gy Bridge Cabernet)

30 Jun

Considering I spend far more time exercising my tastebuds than I do muscles besides my tongue, and let’s be honest, consume far more wine than any beverage that doesn’t flow for free from the tap (and some that do), it seems only right to devote some serious attention to this teeth/reputation-staining elixir. And so, it’s with pleasure that I introduce Wino Wednesday, a small space to celebrate the wonderful possibilities opened with the popping – or sometimes when we’re not so sauve, the mangling – of a cork.

It seems to me most writers share a soft spot for the literary lubrication alcohol can provide. Not only does a general booziness tend to slightly dull that little voice constantly droning its nasal drumbeat in our heads (who would ever want to read this crap, you dumb sack? etc.), it also tends to make meeting the wide range characters that drive a narrative that much easier. I’d like to make this proclivity more than just a byproduct but a subject – and do it in a way that doesn’t make the term “vintage” bring to mind a flabby prematurely aged man who smells like mothballs and spends more each month than my entire year’s salary on the wine cellar he definitely spends more time in than he does his wife. We’ll revisit him. From now on, he shall be dubbed Mothball Man.

The good people at Spencer & Daniel’s (Polk between California and Sacramento) do more than their fair share to aid this quest, which is why I love them. (Partly. Also because a couple of those good people happen to be cute. I’m talking to you, scruffy beard. I’ll refrain from hiding behind a display case to steal a creepy grainy blackberry photo only because getting a restraining order from here would truly hurt the caliber of Wino Wednesday.)

I'm using this bberry pic instead of pilfering one off Yelp because I think the ray of light shining like a beacon of alcoholic glory really casts this place in an appropriate light.

As a girl who hasn’t bought a full-price dress since she opened a Loehmann’s Gold Card, I love a good designer discount – and just like my favorite thrift store one block further south down Polk, S&D’s offers fabulous wares at more fabulous prices. All the tags at said thrift store, apparently called Fashion Exchange, read “Something Special” and it’s no misnomer – you’ll find Betsey Johnson dresses, Prada purses and Rock & Republic jeans alongside threads most popular with the local tranny hooker population. It’s a sight.  As seems to be the Polk Street shopping theme, S&D’s is not going for ambience – metal racks and cardboard signs equate decor.  The staffmember who rang me up told me the current owner has been there 15 years, having taken over when it was just a discount food, etc., bargain bank until some years back he decided to focus on wine.

Sometimes you’re lucky enough to find a current favorite – like the DeLoach Pinot Noir I love for $9. Apparently, Food & Wine named it a top affordable wine pick (thanks EShea!) and I usually see it retail in the high teens – though their flacks quoted F&W $13. But what I really love about S&D’s, moreso even than the discounts, are the hand-written staff pick tags pointing to their favorites by employee name, like you see in great bookstores. This is even better, because you can always read a page of a book and see if it suits you, but you can’t just pop off the cork, take a sip and decide you’ll pass.

So here’s who sold me this time:

I bet the cute one picked this. So cultural.

Cute, right? Here’s some more on Foggy Bridge, which is hoping to open the first visitor-focused urban winery in San Francisco this year, from their site:

There has been a trend towards overpowering wines that are made to satisfy wine critics, or simplistic wines designed to appeal to the mass market. Our wines are crafted from a different point of view — with our own sense of quality, finesse and taste — to be enjoyed alone or with a meal, with fine cuisine or with a pizza.

This was pretty much exactly our  impression of the 2005 “Tradewinds” Bordeaux-style Cabernet Sauvignon blend (69% Cab Sauv, 27% Merlot, 4% Petit Verdot; I paid $13 at S&D, listed for $26 on Snooth) before I ever read this. It was a hit.

The phallus. I mean bottle.

Look: I love the label itself – the image of the bridge is beautiful, and the overall look of the packaging is clean and sophisticated. A dark ruby color, the wine looks much darker than it tastes or feels. It’s a gorgeous shade that matches the label, and just to please my English major sensibilities, there’s even a fogginess to do the name justice.

Smell: Peppery, black currant. SECRET B.S. TRUTH: I don’t know what currant smells like. In fact, I’m not entirely sure what it is. Appears to be some kinda foreign raisin, but fancy. But there’s a fruity smell that’s much darker, heavier than a raspberry or even a jam. There’s also a nice woodsy aroma to it that reminds me of that cool, dank you smell you get at wineries themselves. Lightbulb moment! Oak.

Taste: “A high, solid note” – EShea. “More like a Pinot than a Cab” – Unsinkable M. Much less bold than a typical California Cab or any of the few Bordeaux-style blends I’ve had, this wine doesn’t hit you over the head. It’s extremely light, almost thin but not in a “flabby” way, as Mothball Man would say. It’s spare and clean but still full, with a brightness unmuddied by the heaviness or dullness I often taste in Cabs. There aren’t really any detectable tannins, leaving no aftertaste, but it does have a nice finish, kind of like the warm coating after you eat good chocolate. It gets more peppery as it goes, which I love (The Kousman has dubbed me his little peppermonkey, after all). Maybe the smoothness comes from the petit verdot – I think I’ve read this grape described as “velvety.”

Impressions: EShea pointed out this wine is like San Francisco itself in its light approachability – you expect it to be more intimidating as a city than it is, actually warm and welcoming once you give it a chance. To me, San Francisco is much more ostentatious than this wine – but it does remind me of a lazy, foggy afternoon by the Bay, not devoid of depth but certainly with no pressing concerns. I think it would be great with salmon or a light meat, but I think the thing I really loved about it is that it’s a Cab you don’t need food with to drink easily and enjoyably.

Does it make the grade? We all really enjoyed it. Definitely worth the $13 – probably wouldn’t pay the full $26 (though at this point in my life, there are very few bottles for which I would.) B.

NOTE: Eventually I’ll work out a signature Wino Wednesday rating. Systems are not exactly my strong point. If you have thoughts or suggestions, please share – I’d love to hear them! What do you look for in a wine? What do you wish you knew about one before you buy?

Where Words Meet Snacks

23 Jun

If at any given moment I’m not munching away on something savory, you can bet your likely thinner-than-mine-behind that I’m considering the food I just finished, where, how (sometimes with whom) I’m managing to satiate myself next, and/or the upcoming glutfest I have penned, not penciled, into a budget that would probably be better off without it.

Remember those old-timey brain charts? Thanks to the freshman psych course I took as part of the “find yourself” year I spent pretending it wasn’t inevitable I would end up an English major, I happen to know this is called phrenology.

To illustrate, here’s what a normal person’s phrenology chart looks like:

Normal person's phrenology chart (though admittedly "normal" is probably relative when you're a lady rocking the shaved head)

And here’s what my phrenology chart looks like:

My Phrenology

A peek into the terrifying mind of the consumption-obsessed

The rest of those gray blobbies? Things like friends (read: Facebook), work (read: office gossip), world issues (read: suburban guilt), blah blah blah… but I think you get the picture.

Seems to me like an apropros way to set the stage for our meanderings together – very crackpot Freudian, and this is all about fixation, right? (As you’ve probably surmised even at this early juncture, the food chunks of my brain have entirely taken over those pesky little science and math slivers. Sorry Calculus, you’ve been SERVED. Then I ATE you SAY something.)

Point is, I have always been completely and totally obsessed with food. This has had varying effects on the rest of my life thoughout my quarter century, but it wasn’t until I moved to California that I finally found some kindred culinary spirits, stopped feeling guilty about my gastronomic fixation, and now, two and a half years later, have decided to put that English degree to Internet-era use.

So, pull up a chair, grab yourself a bite (naturally, you’re in good company – I’ve been crunching my way through a handful of pistachios), and join me as I turn my insatiable appetite to epicurean topics from recipes to restaurant hype to reckless date-drinking  in what I hope will be a sometimes  informative, always silly exploration of all things edible.