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Thursday, September 9, 2021

Simple pleasures by the Bay

Simple pleasures by the Bay

It was a very pleasant weekend in our beautiful City by the Bay. The rain has at least temporarily stopped, meaning I may not have to build the ark I was planning to construct. It’s been a good news, bad news scenario lately – we need rain desperately, but why does it all have to fall in a two or three-week period? But this weekend was a nice one.


Saturday began with a trip to my favorite restaurant supply store, where I managed to find a few things that I’m lacking in my home kitchen. I picked up a new sifter (I’m beginning to get into baking, which is very scary), a nice big polyurethane cutting board that I’ve wanted for a while, a dozen “mini martini glasses,” which I thought would work great for amuse bouche courses, plus a couple other odds ‘n ends.


We then headed down to the Embarcadero. Lunch at Sinbad’s preceded our romp through the amazing array of shops in the wonderful Ferry Building Marketplace. Seated in the covered outdoor dining area, we were provided a view of the Bay that most of the world can only dream or read about. We were “between” the two bridges, so both the Bay and Golden Gate bridges were in view, as was the open expanse of bay and boats, Alcatraz, Angel Island, Sausalito, and the Marin headlands. This is a bit of scenery that’s hard to imagine if you haven’t been to the city and walked the Embarcadero. It’s travelogue picture-perfect, and on a clear day like this one, it’s breathtaking.


The Ferry Building shops are so cool, it’s hard to know where to begin. I suppose the best place to start is with your wallet. These shops are the Rodeo Drive of culinary treats. Amazingly diverse in their uniqueness and desirability, like a magnet in their appeal, and capable of draining anyone with less than a millionaire-level pocketbook to ruins. Quickly.


Let’s start with the Scharffen Berger chocolate store. Here’s a tiny alcove of a store, maybe 100 square feet total. I managed to pick up 5 bars of edible / cookable chocolates, and a couple of bags of “chunks” that will do double duty both in and on some cupcakes I have planned. Hang on to your wallet …


There are organic meat and sausage stores, with fresh fare from local farms and ranches. Several general store-type markets that have endless varieties of everything from designer soaps to rare imported Japanese noodles (had to spring for some real buckwheat sobas), and prime cuts of meat. If you’re in dire need of a real prime rib roast, filet, T-Bone or New York, with marbling that will encourage adult drooling on their pristine glass display cases, you’ve come to the right place. $34.95 per pound, and they’ll wrap it up for you.


Specialty shops abound … dedicated respectively to organic cheeses, exotic mushrooms of all shapes and forms, herbs (that you can buy and/or grow yourself), salamis, Italian delicacies, and a caviar store. Dining / snacking options range from the afore-mentioned Sinbad’s to several patio cafes specializing in American, Japanese, Mexican, and seafood cuisines, coffee shops galore, wine bars, and a gelato store that’s impossible to resist on your way out of the building. We were able to escape with our wonderful lunch experience, and a waffle cone of vanilla bean gelato (plus a couple of random samples here and there).


For the ride home, I opted to take the “scenic route,” vs. busy freeways. A right turn onto California, vs. crossing Market Street and getting on to 280, makes for so much better ride, particularly on a gorgeous day like this one. Out to the beach, past the newly remodeled Cliff House (doesn’t compare in character with the old one), along the Great Highway that fronts San Francisco’s Ocean Beach. We drove around Lake Merced which was full of runners and walkers, individuals and families, watching the little Sunfish and Flying Junior class sailboats tacking and coming about in the lake. I caught my first trout in this lake when I was about 10 and learned how to sail here while attending nearby San Francisco State University.


Heading up Skyline Boulevard (Highway 35) takes you past Fort Funston, which is a world-class hang glider locale. Today’s light wind and great weather brought them out for a spin off the cliffs and packed the parking lot with onlookers. I can’t imagine doing this, but it sure makes for a colorful sky, and gets lots of “ooooohs and aaaaahs” from the peanut gallery.


The decision to go “right” and down the coast, vs. the quicker freeway route, was pretty easy. Down the Coast Highway we cruised, past the surfing spots that first put knots on my knees when I was about 14 (several years ago). Sharp Park, Rockaway Beach, and Pedro Point. Pedro was our mainstay over the years, as it offered the easiest access and a relatively consistent break. Santa Cruz had better waves, but it was another hour south, and we were after all, poor teenagers with less than perfect excuses for cars.

The north break on the beach is still referred to by (us) old timers as Wander Inn, even though its restaurant namesake burned down over 30 years ago. Middle break used to be called “Wisby” after a long-defunct realty office located right off the beach. And the Point is the south break, as it’s located in a little cove near the looming Pedro Point, to the west.


Heading south takes you past the huge project of boring a tunnel through the mountains, in an attempt to eliminate a particularly treacherous stretch of road known as Devil’s Slide. Halfway over Devil’s Slide is a little beach known primarily by locals as a “nude beach” and the usual collection of gawkers and photo sharp shooters were lined up along the bluff trying to catch a peek. Cheap thrills, I suppose.


Over the hill, past Montara Beach (VERY unfriendly riptide) and the little Montara Lighthouse tucked neatly and unobtrusively into the coastline, and on down to El Granada and the wonderful Moss Beach Distillery, overlooking a former “smuggler’s cove.” I ran into actress June Lockhart on the deck of the Distillery many years ago, and she was absolutely elegant and gracious. My friend Marie recognized her and asked if she was who she thought … Ms. Lockhart’s answer was “Yes, it is I.” And I remember a big friendly smile from her. Totally “un-Hollywood” and unpretentious, and very memorable.


Continuing down the coast, we pass the sleepy little town of Princeton by the Sea. Idyllic at first glance, but home to Maverick’s and some of the biggest waves in the world, a quarter mile to the west. The former Shorebird, now the Princeton Brewery makes a phenomenal cheese bread (better than mine!), great calamari, authentic clam chowder (although it would lose in a showdown with Legal Seafood’s) local beers on tap, and one of the better martinis in the area.


A couple of miles south you pass the Miramar Restaurant, which has always been a favorite weekend destination for a snack and beverage, overlooking the Princeton Breakwater and beach. Then it’s onward to Half Moon Bay, and up through the twists and turns of Highway 92. This is the home of the annual Pumpkin Festival – an event that locals stay away from, fearing the inevitable several hours spent in traffic on the single lane each way that leads you to and from the coast. Like the Garlic Festival in Gilroy, it’s a good thing to stay away from unless you can walk to it.


Day two of the first clear weekend in way too long, found us at The Cow Palace for the annual Body Art show. The home of the Grand National Rodeo and countless music shows over the years was for this weekend, transformed into a huge collection of tattoo artists, piercings, and supplies. I’m on a quest for number 7 myself, and amazingly ran into the artist who did my first four. The last two were done by a different artist (Hawk) in Bend. So, I guess the good and bad news is that I’ve located the guy who can do more etchings for (on) me. The shop where he used to work had a T-shirt that read “Of COURSE it hurts!” But they’re fun, and people who get one, commonly get several. My seventh is likely to be a great blue heron, my favorite bird. Not sure where it’s going to live yet, but I’ll figure it out.


And to cap a perfect weekend, we just happened to be passing Joe’s of Westlake right around dinner time, and of course we had to stop. A bowl of their killer minestrone and an order of half spaghetti, half raviolis for me, and pastina and the incredible filet of sole with rigatoni for Risa. My favorite restaurant. You can get fancier food, certainly pricier food, but they’ve delivered the goods for over 40 years and they’re still packed all day every day. The downturn in the economy has not had a negative effect on Joe’s.

And to add to the pleasant quality of the weekend, I didn’t get bugged with anything work-related. No down systems, no problems, no issues that caused the Blackberry to go off at 3AM. An all-too-common occurrence. The weekend was wonderfully devoid of phone calls and focused almost exclusively on the sights and sounds of the Bay and ocean.


We live in a world of immediacy, where people are always “reachable.” There’s no longer a need, but more importantly an option to be out of touch with everyone who wants your attention for one reason or another. Even with my little blog entries like the one I’m writing right now … I’ll create it, edit and proof it, publish it, and it’s on your Blackberry, iPhone, or computer at the speed of light. And I suppose I’d like to think that at least some of the people who I send it to, actually read it. I know this because I get emails back within minutes sometimes, telling me that it was fun, odd, contained misspellings, or whatever. But the immediacy, and our expectations surrounding the term in 2009, is boggling, and in fact is such a paradigm shift in the way many of us are forced to live our lives.


I work for a large high-tech company with 15,000 employees, 10,000 of whom are at our local headquarters. Everyplace you go … elevators, hallways, cafeterias, meetings, and even to and from the parking lots, it seems that everyone is buried in their iPhone or Blackberry. Staying in touch. Sending and receiving who knows what, that’s critical to read and respond to on the way to lunch or to their car. I think it’s interesting that California had to pass a law making it illegal to “text” while driving. This is taking “ridiculous” to a whole new level. Drive the car, the message will wait.


So enough with the weekend Bay Area travelogue. Suffice it to say that my Saturday and Sunday was pleasantly devoid of phones and intrusions, and it made for a much more pleasant Monday. And with the Blackberry safely stashed in another room, I made a wonderful winter vegetable soup. The first night was great, tonight’s leftovers should be even better. This recipe makes plenty for a couple of meals and enough to freeze for another meal. For a single night’s serving, cut it in half.


Winter Vegetable Soup


1 lb each, boneless skinless chicken breasts and thighs

3 small (or two large) sweet onions, chopped

1 large leek, white part only, sliced thin

2 ribs of celery, sliced

2 carrots, sliced

1/2 head of green cabbage, chopped

2 cloves of garlic, chopped

2 28 oz cans of petite diced tomatoes

2 14 oz cans of cannellini beans (great northerns work too), with juice

2 14 oz cans of light red kidney beans, drained

1 large can of fat/salt free chicken broth

2 “chicken broth cans” full of water

1 tablespoon of “Better Than Bouillon” chicken broth concentrate

1/2 teaspoon of celery seed

1 tablespoon dried thyme

2 tablespoons of canola / vegetable oil

salt / pepper to taste



In a large stockpot, heat the oil over medium heat

Stir in the onions and leek, cover and cook for 5 minutes

Add the celery and carrot, cover and cook for 5 minutes more

Stir in the garlic, thyme, celery seed

Add the broth, chicken broth concentrate, water, tomatoes. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer

Add the chicken, cook for 10 minutes

Add the kidney and cannellini beans, and the cabbage. Return to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cook for at least 45 minutes

Adjust salt and pepper to your taste

Serve with a good sourdough like a Ciabatta, a mixed green salad, grated parmesan, a garnish of Italian parsley if you have some.

This soup probably took me 30 minutes of prep time, and total of an hour and half ’til it was on the table. I happened to have the time this night after work, so there was no rush. It’s likely that this could be done in about an hour if push came to shove, or even faster if you’re adept with a pressure cooker. But for a weeknight soup dinner with TONS of leftovers, what a great meal. Again, soup is a state of mind (thank you Kathleen) and you should experiment and have fun with it.


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