Saturday, September 25, 2010


Last Saturday we awoke to a clear, crisp morning and hopped the trolley bus (which is different, and less expensive, than a trolley car) to the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. Our tight schedule didn't lend itself to a meal at any of San Francisco's legendary restaurants, but this magnificent market was definitely a culinary high point of the trip for me.
The variety and abundance were mesmerizing. There were so many things I simply had to buy, and try, because I'd never had the opportunity to come across them before, like these pawpaws.

My aunts joined in my glee, making some purchases of their own, and shoving greenbacks at me in anticipation of the meals I would prepare the rest of the week at Marilyn's house (or attempting to to equalize who paid for what). They really didn't need to do that. I'm not one to spend many vacation dollars on souvenirs, but I was definitely ready to spend here. When I found this heirloom tomato stand, I couldn't resist picking up one (or more) of each.
In addition to the arts and crafts area across the street, which we ran out of time to see, there were meats, and fish, and cheeses, and so much more I didn't photograph, getting swept up in the moment. Although I did snap these lovely flowers, which made me think of my visits to Pike Place market in Seattle when visiting my sister, who always bought fresh flowers.
We had gotten an early start that morning and planned on eating breakfast from some of the many vendors cooking at the market.
But after surveying a number of the options, my foodie heart could not resist . . . porchetta for breakfast. To be more specific, porchetta with onion marmalade, crispy pork skin, and herb-y greens on a San Francisco sourdough baguette!
When I saw a food truck tricked out in full rotisserie regalia and smelled the aromas wafting from it, I was smitten. I would love to have tried some of those potatoes bathing in the juices of the roasting pork, chicken, and sausage at the bottom of the contraption, but didn't want to fill up too early in the day.
There were long lines for some of the food trucks at Ferry Plaza. (Cincinnatians, just sharing a little perspective about our local food truck scene - if the food is good, it's worth waiting for. Just plan accordingly.) This line moved pretty quickly, and was convinced I'd the right personal choice as I got closer to my porchetta sandwich. (Hmm, where can I find an "I Heart Crispy Pork Skin" T-shirt like the one this staffer was wearing?)
We were lucky to get a seat, near a trio of street performers singing their youngster hearts out, then moved on to check out more of the market. We never did see it all. And by the time we went inside and discovered all the great vendors who operate on a more permanent basis there, including Cow Girl Creamery and an awesome-looking salumeria, the crowds had thickened and sadly we had to catch our trolley bus back to check out of the hotel and retrieve our car by noon.

But we had a terrific afternoon, taking in the Calder to Warhol exhibit at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. After we'd been through most of it, I was surprised to realize they don't seem to prohibit photographing most places inside the museum, so snapped this pic of the huge Calder mobile from the second floor looking down into the lobby, along with a few shots of SFMoMa's lovely rooftop sculpture garden.
After touring SFMoMA, we went across the street to Yerba Buena Gardens, a multi-faceted public facility that had that afternoon hosted a salsa-dancing event we heard from a balcony at SFMoMa. Too bad it was over by the time we emerged from the museum. I'd love to check out more of what Yerba Buena Gardens has to offer next time I'm in SF, and it was a great vantage point from which to see the facade of the SFMoMA (sorry I'm venturing into extracurricular territory for a food blog, but these are things you think about when you're an architect's kid).

Our Saturday that had dawned cool and crisp had warmed up significantly. Before we embarked on our three-hour drive to Marilyn's house, we were ready for some air-conditioning, a place to sit, and food! Setting the grazing trend that would continue through the week, we opted for the Thirsty Bear Brewing Company. No Chez Panisse, of course, but its Spanish tapas, home brews, and proximity half a block away were a much-appreciated respite before we headed up to the Sierra foothills. It took a little bit of explaining to convince my aunts to go with the three dishes we ordered (and the restaurant has now changed its online menu, so I may not be getting this quite right). But we started with a cheese plate accompanied by the house currant-rye bread, dots of concentrated green olives, and a fabulous preserved lemon rind.
Next up, a crisp flatbread with serrano ham, manchego, and figs.
And finally, prawns with garlic in pinot gris.
We SO lucked out on the weather in SF for our brief time there. An indelibly blue sky over the cityscape is etched in my memory after this visit. But as we crossed over the Bay Bridge leaving the city and looked across at the Golden Gate bridge, we could also see the fog SF is noted for. Only the very tips of the GGB were visible atop an amazing cloud of fog in the distance. My dear aunt Marilyn kept trying to find a place to pull off so I could take a photo, but in the traffic, we urged her on and talked her out of it. That's a sight that will remain in my memory for years to come, photographic evidence or not.

I'll be back with more food, photos, and maybe even some recipes from the rest of my California trip. Oh, yes, wine was also involved. Thanks to Marilyn and Jeanette and the rest of the family for a great vacation, and to my readers for your patience as I get these posts up.


Tuesday, September 21, 2010


I know, I know, 30 hours isn't much time in a city with as much to offer as San Francisco. But here's the story. My plans for the week included visiting my Aunt Marilyn, who lives in the foothills between Sacramento and Tahoe, a three-hour drive from SF. My Aunt Jeanette was also flying in to join us for the week. These two are a lot of fun - sort of like the big sisters I never had - and when you're vacationing with other people, and have lots of potential activities to fit into your allotted time, it's best to go with what works. What worked for us was to fly in to the San Francisco airport and spend our first day and a half there, packing in as much as we could.

We had several museums in mind, but when we started getting realistic about time zone changes and how long it takes to get between points A and B, we realized that by the time I retrieved my luggage from the airport carousel, at what was nearly dinnertime according to the time zone my stomach was accustomed to, we wouldn't have a lot of museum-going time Friday afternoon. Our solution was a visit to Golden Gate Park, and the first of many picnics.

Marilyn and Jeanette picked me up and we drove through the park and out to the beach near the Cliff House, which was so foggy I dispensed with taking any pictures. As we drove back into Golden Gate Park in search of sunshine and a pleasant place to picnic, we stopped at Queen Wilhelmina's Tulip Garden, over which towers this windmill. Wilhelmina's garden doesn't feature tulips this time of year, but the plantings sure were gorgeous.

Next we found a parking place and a picnic spot.

As we made our way to our picnic table, we heard music. At first I thought someone must have their car radio turned up awfully loud. But we were enjoying listening to "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," one of my favorite U2 songs, when it abruptly, and jaggedly stopped. Then started again. Then stopped, and started again. Marilyn had read that a peace rally was scheduled for Golden Gate Park the following day, and I surmised we were listening to a sound check, getting giddy at the idea we had happened on to a private preview performance that lovely afternoon. After we ate, I trekked up and over the hill. Sure enough, there were tents and a sound stage from where the music had emanated.
I held on to my delusions of being serenaded by Bono as long as I could. But I later googled for more information about the Power to the Peaceful festivities and could find absolutely no mentions that U2 were in town. According to the band's website, U2 were actually performing in Zurich that day. But while it lasted, it was a perfect fantasy for a perfect day.

After lunch and a bottle of wine, we had a short window of time before we needed to check in at our North Beach hotel and head for our sunset cruise on the bay. There is a hereditary strain of indecision on my mother's side of the family, and we debated what else to try to see as we moved the car to another spot in the park. We walked up to the Japanese Tea Garden, intending just to glimpse it from outside, when Jeanette, thankfully and impulsively, suggested we go in after all. Good thing I had cash on me, as my aunts had left their purses in the car. We didn't begin to see the entire garden, but what we did see was serene and inspiring, especially in the late afternoon light.

After that idyllic interlude, we ventured out into rush hour traffic, dropped our bags at the hotel, and hoofed it down to Fisherman's Wharf, just in time to make our sunset cruise.

I always love being on the water, and it's a particularly interesting vantage point from which to view a city as massive as SF. Our two-hour cruise took us past Alcatraz and Treasure Island and snug up against the Sausalito and Tiburon hillsides, before going out under the Golden Gate Bridge and back at sunset. We were also treated to a one-man blues band on the second deck, and heavy hors d'oeuvres from Boudin on the lowest deck - which were tasty, but not exactly photo-worthy after being plowed through by the other cruise-goers by the time we pulled ourselves away from the top deck in search of food and drink. We were lucky the fog had finally burned off an hour before we set sail, and I was glad I'd brought a couple layers of fleece. A bit windy and choppy at spots, but all things considered, a glorious night to be on the San Francisco Bay.

The sliver of moon you might be able to discern in that last shot would, of course, grow substantially during the following week of my vacation. What's not so "of course" about it for me was being able to see the moon and a sky full of stars every night for a week at Marilyn's place in the Sierra foothills, with little smog or urban lights to obstruct my view.

After deboarding the boat, my aunts indulged my request to check out Boudin, which was just across the parking lot from our pier.
Boudin is a bakery and restaurant known for its sourdough bread, which it fashions into various critter forms as well as baguettes, as I'd learned via the photos my sister and niece shared of their CA trip this summer to visit my nephew. I snagged a couple of theirs for an earlier post, but had fun checking things out myself now that I was there.

We thought about buying some bread while we were there, then settled on the idea that it would be fresher if we bought it the following day before heading up into the hills. Alas, our follow-up visit got derailed, but lots more delicious bread was in our future.

Reveling in the vibrancy of a city with so much going on after dark (and avoiding the Fisherman's Wharf T-shirt shops), we walked back to the hotel, making a stop at the Trader Joe's on our route so Jeanette could see what it's about, as a TJ's is set to open in Nebraska. Setting the tone for the rest of the week, we purchased some chocolate, an introductory 2-buck Chuck, and some more indulgent wine, then headed back to our hotel, where the beds and couch looked inviting indeed. It may have been only 9:30 California time, but it was after midnight for me and almost midnight for Jeanette, who'd risen crazy early to catch her 6 a.m. flight from Omaha. We needed to sleep and recharge for our Saturday morning trip to Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, which was all I'd hoped it would be and more. I have so many photos from that lovely experience that I'll be back with another post. Soon. I promise.

Meanwhile, because I can't get this song out of my head, I'll leave you with this U2 clip. I did find what I was looking for on my CA vacation, but I still love this song, even if Bono wasn't personally serenading me :)