A Little Comfort: 20th Century Cafe’s Russian Honey Cake

It’s been a rough couple of months out there in the world. Sometimes the world of cooking classes and food blogging can feel a little frivolous in light of everything happening out there: hurricanes, violence, politics and most recently wildfires in our beloved Napa & Sonoma counties. But then again, when you think about it, there is a special kind of magic when people come together around food — sustenance for the body and the soul. So now’s the time, more than ever it seems, to invite a friend over for a cup of coffee and a slice of cake, or to make that big pot of pasta sauce and share it with a neighbor, or invite family around for dinner… or get involved with feeding and nourishing your community.

[Simran and I have found some opportunities to share and help recently and it feels pretty good! If you want to get involved with helping Northbay fire first responders and evacuees, here’s a resource we can recommend: SF Fights Fire. ]

For me, a little personal moment of comfort came recently in the form of Russian honey cake, from the 20th Century Cafe in Hayes Valley in SF. It’s their signature dessert and one that’s been on my list to try for far too long. What’s so cool about 20th Century Cafe is that the dessert menu focuses on sweets from Eastern Europe so there are lots of new things to try. It’s such a lovely little spot for a special after school treat. The honey cake was, as advertised, divine and I managed to get a bite of the deliciously delicate layers of cake and cream before my hungry tablemates made it disappear.

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this cake! — surrounded by poppyseeds from one of their housemade bagels which we also sampled.

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enthusiastic cake eaters

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going going gone!

[Upon returning home and finding myself a little obsessed with this cake, I found this video of chef/owner Michelle Polzine making it.]

We had delightful time of chatting and sharing delicious cake together, then decided to further lift our spirits by taking a short walk and visiting our gorgeous San Francisco City Hall. We often admire the beautiful exterior of the building as we pass by, but I realized the kids had never been inside. It really is stunning and made even more lovely by all the “just married” couples taking photos on the balconies and grand staircase. Being in the presence of so many happy new beginnings has a way of recharging your sense of hope in the world.

We took a minute to sit on the steps, and all found ourselves with big smiles on our faces — tummies happy and happy to be together enjoying something beautiful. And when I thought about it on the way home I realized that those smiles where what we were needing most of all.

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Sketchbook: Jane (San Francisco)

The scene at Jane (cafe/bakery/eatery on Fillmore St.) as sketched by 2 young patrons ūüôā


Jane Bar SF_by Luca_5-2017

Luca: “My dad took me and Matteo to Jane on a work meeting and this is what I¬†saw. (Just a small note… Aaron is my dad’s work friend). When you really look around you can see all sorts of things you didn’t see before. The most unusual thing I saw was a buffalo head hanging on the wall. I had a cinnamon roll and it was just how you would expect at a cafe… good!”

Jane Bar SF_by Matteo_5-2017

Matteo: “It’s yummy!”

 


More San Francisco Cafe Sketches

Sketchbook: Destination Baking Co., Glen Park / SF

Destination Baking Co_Glen Park SF by A Little Yumminess

A little doodle to remember all the yummies on our adventure to Destination Baking Co.¬†in Glen Park (SF)! Alas, we didn’t have time to try all of them, but we’ll be back.¬†The kids give a big thumbs up to the carrot cake.

Clockwise from bottom center: Lemon Curd Tartlet; Pecan Tassie; Yellow Cupcake with Chocolate Frosting; Banana Cream Tartlet; Carrot Cake; Marzarin Tarlet (Almond Paste and Raspberry Jam)

Sweet Treat: Souvla’s Greek Frozen Yogurt with Baklava Crumbles

Souvla Frozen Yogurt

Souvla’s frozen Greek yogurt with baklava crumbles is fun twist on an ice cream sundae.

After a very foggy summer in SF, it’s finally feeling like summer and I also finally¬†got around to trying the signature dessert¬†at the new-ish Greek rotisserie lunch spot Souvla in Hayes Valley. This sweet treat¬†is a winner all the way — from concept down¬†to the Greek coffee shop paper cups they serve it in —¬†velvety, tangy frozen yogurt (Greek yogurt of course) drizzled with a touch of honey syrup and baklava crumbles. So many things to¬†like all in one cup!¬†And yes…. Souvla’s¬†rotisserie situation did look pretty amazing¬†so next time you know I’ll be checking out¬†the¬†spit-fired meats, veggies and house-made¬†spreads!

Don’t you think this would be a fun & easy dessert to re-create at home using store-bought baklava and fro-yo? Not to mention a good excuse to drag out the ice cream maker and experiment with homemade frozen yogurt.¬†Unlike a classic ice cream which requires making a custard (pans, thermometers, multiple steps and a good amount of¬†precision), making frozen yogurt is really as simple as combining 5 parts yogurt with 1 part sugar (the sugar adds sweetness and also keeps the yogurt soft and scoop-able rather than icy), a pinch of salt and add-ins (if you like). Make sure everything is well chilled then dump it all in the¬†ice cream maker and let it churn away. Very doable and an excellent project for kids to try.

Here’s ¬†a basic frozen yogurt¬†recipe from Serious Eats and a slightly more involved one from America’s Test Kitchen (via the Splendid Table podcast).

Sketchbook: Portrait of Danny Bowien, Mission Chinese Food

Luca has gotten the portrait drawing bug lately, so I nudged him this last week to draw a¬†chef-y subject to add to his growing portfolio.¬†This is Chef Danny Bowien from Mission Chinese Food and the original photo appears in the book “Edible Selby“.¬† Love this so much! ūüôā


Danny Bowien_Mission Chinese Food

Luca: “This picture was from Edible Selby and I thought it looked interesting . I forgot his name so now I call him “spicy pretzel arm man”.

Coffee Crunch Cake, It’s a San Francisco Thing (Yasukochi’s Sweet Stop)

Coffee Crunch Cake SF_A Little Yumminess

Yasukochi Bakery Stop_Super Mira_Japantown_A Little Yumminess

When my kids¬†see a certain glint in my eye they know they’re in for¬†a food adventure. This look means that there’s a high likelihood that we’ll be¬†jumping in to car to trek¬†off to some obscure corner of the Bay Area to find some (hopefully)¬†tasty bite. Thank goodness they’re both good sports about it and humor this eccentricity. Our latest quest was happily close to home, in San Francisco’s Japantown as we went in¬†search of the famous coffee crunch cake. I’m not sure if coffee crunch cake is “a thing” elsewhere, but it has a history here in San Francisco. Most old-school SFers will remember Blum’s coffee crunch cake with a special fondness: pillowy whipped cream sandwiched between light layers of chiffon cake, the whole thing ¬†encrusted in crunched up pieces of coffee-flavored honeycomb toffee. This was the signature item at Blum’s (sadly gone) which was in¬†the also now defunct ritzy department store I. Magnin’s. If I could travel back in time, some shoe shopping at Magnin’s followed by a stop at Blum’s for cake would¬†most definitely be on¬†my to do list.

The happy¬†news¬†to report is that¬†while Blum’s is no longer, coffee crunch crunch cake lives on in San Francisco!¬† Continue reading

Food Find: Arizmendi’s Coconut Croissants

File this one under: “Genius Ideas”, “I love Coconut”, and “Another reason to love Arizmendi Bakery”

If you’re in the Sunset in SF, and somewhere in the vicinity of 9th Avenue and Irving Street — on a Friday (because they only make them on Friday) — get yourself on over to Arizmendi for one of these flakey, shatteringly crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, coconut-y, buttery, do-I-detect-a-hint-of-sourdough? croissants. ‘Nuff said!

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Sketchbook: The Buena Vista (& how to make BV’s Irish Coffee)

San Francisco Sketchbook_The Buena Vista

The Buena Vista, SF by Luca

The Buena Vista¬†is the¬†spot when you need a dose of old school San Francisco. It’s not really about the food because the magic of The Buena Vista ¬†is much more in¬†the ambiance, the sounds of cable cars in the distance, the bartenders in white jackets, the mix of tourists and regulars, and that impressive line up of Irish coffee glasses running the¬†length of the beautiful wooden bar.

Continue reading

Sketchbook: Afterschool Snackin at The Mill

A Little Yumminess_The Mill_San Francisco.jpgToast and Jam at the Mill SF.pngSummer’s gone and school is back in session¬†once again. As life keeps getting busier and busier and it seems like our foodie wanderings — those opportunities to just follow our tummies — are harder and harder to find. Ahhh… those lazy days of long walks with sleepy kids in strollers and copious hookey days from preschool are a thing of memory at least for my oldest. So on those precious days when we don’t have a lot going on afterschool, I find myself even more determined to keep on squeezing in little food adventures where we can. For me, those little moments of nibbling on something new and delicious with my guys are golden.

Last week, sunny weather and a random turn off onto Divisadero Street landed us at long last at The Mill. Simran and Ria are enthusiastic fans of Josey Baker Bread at The Mill (especially the cinnamon toast), but this gem of a bakery and coffee shop had somehow gotten stuck at the the top of our “to do” list and lingered there for way, way too long. It’s all about great bread made with lots of TLC here and the ambiance is pretty fun too. The room is big, open, and airy with cool art and long communal tables. We swooped into a fat slice of toasted wheat bread with a thick, glossy layer of homemade strawberry jam and refreshed ourselves with cold glass of milk (and a cup of Four Barrel coffee for me). Racks of deep brown crusty loaves are a happy sight on their own but in combination with a giant batch of strawberry jam bubbling away in a big copper pot — we were transported to toast and jam nirvana. As we fetched our snack from the pick up area we couldn’t help but pause an extra minute or two to take in deep, heavenly breaths of berry-scented air. I dare anyone not to smile and do their happy dance in the midst all that strawberry goodness. Under normal circumstances, I almost always prefer to eat my toast and jam in PJs but The Mill’s extra yummy version is definitely worth venturing out for.

The Mill, 736 Divisadero Street, San Francisco (www.themillsf.com)

 

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A few friends dropped by to join us for snack time.

A few friends dropped by to join us for snack time.

California-Style: Pauline’s Pizza

California-style | Pauline's Pizza

Some places like Pauline’s Pizza take a long time to find their way on this blog because, they’re just “no brainer” good — they’re so good it almost seems too obvious to mention them. So, if you like pizza and live in the Bay Area chances are you’ve been to Pauline’s and that you’re a fan too. We always get their signature pesto pizza as well as whatever seasonal salad is on the menu… and if we haven’t eaten ourselves silly, we go for the gold with a goblet of rich, chocolate mousse for dessert. The fam stopped in at Pauline’s for an early dinner recently and as you can see we had a great time so I’ll just let the pictures speak for themselves. Continue reading