My mom recently treated me and the bambino to an English tea service at the adorable Dartealing Lounge in San Francisco. My mom reminds me of Simran in that she has a long list of things to do, and is one of those rare and impressive people who actually get around to checking things off. Whether it’s jet setting the globe with my dad, attending the ballet or symphony, discovering a new place to hear jazz or finding a cute new place for tea, my mom’s always got the scoop and is generous with her invitations.
Don’t hate me when I tell you that I spent last Saturday afternoon wandering the streets of San Francisco sampling chocolate — exquisite, hand-crafted chocolate from around the world — with a professional chocolate enthusiast as my guide.
I knew that there was a thriving artisan chocolate scene here in the Bay Area, but what I didn’t know is that in just over a mile (the distance from the landmark Ferry Building Marketplace to Union Square) you can find a dazzling array of chocolate from every corner of the globe that traverses the most traditional styles to farthest frontiers of new wave chocolate-making. It really blew my mind to learn that the whole world of chocolate is sitting right here on my doorstep… I just needed to know where to look. As an example, one of our most unusual tour stops was Fog City News on Market Street (yes, it really is a news stand). Way back when, they started stocking a few selections of specialty chocolate alongside the usual m&m’s and snickers, and over time their collection has grown to the hundreds, comprising bars, bon bons and truffles from dozens of countries. As a bonus, you can also find tons of hard to find publications including more than 20 international editions of Vogue magazine!!
Beth, our friendly tour guide from Gourmet Walks (can you say best job in the world?), took us to seven destination-worthy shops for tastings and shared lots of history and facts along the way, vastly deepening my appreciation of the noble cocoa bean. I can’t say that the walk was rigorous enough to counteract all those velvety bites in their smoked salt-sprinkled, burnt caramel-drizzled, tea-infused glory but I can say I came home with one of the best doggie bags ever.
[If you don’t have the chance to take Gourmet Walks’ chocolate tour, try the Ferry Building Marketplace or Bi-Rite Market for a selection of some of the top chocolate being made right here in the Bay Area. Also check out our food adventure to Chocolatier Blue in Berkeley. ]
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My Gourmet Walks tour came courtesy of Cloud 9 Living which offers an impressive selection of thoughtfully curated “experience” gifts for every kind of person on your list — from chocolate lovers to adrenaline junkies. With the holidays coming up, you’ll find inspiration to make that someone special’s day (or year!) with a surfing lesson, flying trapeze class, stock car ride along or photo safari. You might even find something to add to your own holiday wish list. There’s a lot of great stuff to choose from, so go check ’em out!
Halloween is about costumes and candy of course, but it’s also about that special feeling of fall in the air, pumpkins patches and (my favorite) having some fun with spooky decorations and treats. When we lived near Belvedere street in San Francisco’s Cole Valley neighborhood we used to eagerly await the transformation of this normally quaint and quiet tree-lined street into “Hell-evdere” in the weeks leading up to Halloween. It’s a hot spot for trick or treating on Halloween night, but even more than that we loved the chance to take October afternoon strolls to look for ghosts up in the trees, admire the pumpkins decorating the beautifully preserved Victorian homes and to crunch dry leaves along the way — and of course end our walk with hot chocolate at Boulange de Cole.
We love bringing a little of that Hell-vedere spirit to our current digs, so when October 1st rolls around Luca and I waste no time getting to work. This year we put up a giant spider web in our window, invited some friendly ghosts to inhabit the tree in front of our house, and made a mini graveyard out on the sidewalk. We also made some time to do these two super fun, and super easy spooky crafts which we recommend for anyone with the craving for a little Halloween fun.
I’m filing this one under “stuff I tagged on Pinterest and actually got around to making”. Because loose and messy wrapping gives the best result (even more loose and messy than our mummies above would be good), it’s a great project that even younger kids can do from start to finish. And if you ask me and Luca, any craft that involves googly eyes gets an automatic thumbs up.
- glass jars
- first aid tape or gauze (you can also use strips cut from paper towels, tissue or toilet paper, see note below)
- glue dots, clear tape and/or white glue
- googly eyes
- votive candles or LED tealights
- Wrap first aid tape or gauze around the outside of each jar to cover it completely. Tuck in the ends or use a glue dot or clear tape to secure them. We found that that you get the best result by wrapping in an irregular pattern (zagging up and down as you wrap). For this craft, loose and messy is the way to go.
- Stick on googly eyes with glue or glue dots. If using glue you will have to allow some drying time for the glue to set before your mummy jar will be ready to use.
- Light with a votive, or better yet and much safer, an LED tea light (you can find them at Target, Bed Bath and Beyond and sometimes your local drugstore.)
We also got a nice result by wrapping one of our jars with 1 1/2″ – 2″ wide strips of paper towel (strips of toilet paper, white tissue paper would work too — but I wouldn’t use a regular sheet of paper because it will be too stiff). If using paper, paint the jar with a thin coat of white glue before wrapping it to help make everything stick. You may also need to dab on additional glue as needed as you wrap to make sure paper strips adhere well the the jar.
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These popcorn-filled monster hands are a fun little snack meets mini craft project — easy to put together, with just a touch of sugary fun. Keep it simple or make this more of a cooking project by customizing popcorn with your favorite sweet or savory spice mix, or even try our favorite white chocolate popcorn recipe with a dash of witch-ly green food coloring. What a cute goodie bag for a Halloween bash, a school carnival or just to take to friends in the neighborhood.
- Food Service Plastic Gloves (like this kind here)
- Candy Corn
- Popcorn or snack mix of your choice
- Yarn or Raffia
Making these monster hands is pretty self-explanantory. Just push a candy corn down unto each finger to make fingernails, then fill the rest of the hand with popcorn leaving enough room at the top to tie the glove closed. The two sides of the glove have a tendency of sticking together making it hard for kids to push the candy down into the fingers. Adults can help by using a chopstick to separate the layers of the glove before filling.
We haven’t made it to Flour + Water, the much hyped San Francisco pasta hot spot but we’re inching our way closer with a recent visit to Salumeria, Flour + Water’s new little brother at 20th and Florida’s Streets. Salumeria as you might guess from the name, is an artisan Italian deli where you can find a hand-picked selection of cured, meats, cheese and condiments, but it’s also a worthy eat-in or take out sandwich destination. In other words, Salumeria is our new latest excuse to drive across town to the Mission.
While my heart still belongs to SF’s old school Italian delicatessens (Molinari’s in North Beach, Lucca in Marina and Luca Ravioli in the Mission), Salumeria has plenty to drool over and the stylish surroundings and cool neighborhood are a pretty nice treat too.
- 2-3 daily sandwich specials, salads, soups, antipasti and cheese plates. We split one of the daily sandwiches featuring housemade salami, mortadella and a tasty briny-mustardy tapenade with a perfect little kick. But one look at the chicken salad made us wish we had tried that too. The sandwiches are about $10 but they are big enough to share with a friend possibly (hopefully!) leaving you enough room to try one of their other offerings.
- Salumeria’s deli counter is an antipasto platter’s dream come true. Think house made salami, antipasti and a hand-picked selection of cheeses, oils, honeys and other goodies.
- Grab and go or dine-in in style. Salumeria borrows Central Kitchen’s dining room during lunch so there’s ample seating if you decide to have a sit down lunch. The industrial, concrete fountain entertained my little squirmer while we waited for our food (happy mom!) and unlike many places we go, there was plenty of room to roll the old stroller in and stow it in a quiet corner.
- If you drop by Salumeria on Saturday, look for the Weekend Pasta Project. It’s a pasta kit created by the team at Flour + Water containing all the components and instructions to make a stellar pasta creation at home. A recent kit included tagliatelle, braised pork, summer squash, tomato confit and pinenuts. Just say yum!
Nearby places to eat, shop or play:
- Pop in for a little art at Southern Exposure is just down the street. The gallery is open noon to 6 (closed Sunday and Monday), and features the work of up and coming Bay Area artists.
- Just on the other side of the 101 freeway, The Potrero Hill Community Garden is a great place to take in views of the Mission and Twin Peaks. The kids will probably be interested to know that the garden stands on the site where the famous “Goat Lady” of Potrero Hill used to graze her herb of 18+ goats in the 50’s (there’s more about the Goat Lady on the garden’s website).
You might also like some of our other sandwich and salumi-related adventures:
- Bakesale Betty’s Fried Chicken Sandwich (Oakland)
- Duck Confit Sandwich (Borough Market, London)
- American Grilled Cheese Kitchen & Suth Park Excursion (San Francisco)
- Fatted Calf Artisan Deli (San Francisco)
A random detour down Polk Street, a serendipitous parking space right in front – it’s like destiny was telling us that it was finally time to try the gingerbread at Lotta’s Bakery. The bambino and I hastily parked, scooted in, and managed to conjure up just enough will power to hold off devouring that deep, dark gingerbread until after lunch.
This is no dainty spice cake. Inky and dense, you can almost taste the sulfur in the blackstrap molasses and I mean that in the best possible way. Truly divine with a bowl of cool applesauce.
Lotta’s Bakery – 1720 Polk Street (between Clay and Washington streets), San Francisco
In honor of Fat Tuesday next week, we finally got around to taking a family food adventure over to Queen’s Louisiana Po-Boy Cafe, a place that’s been on our list for quite some time. I’m a total sucker for gumbo, po boys and red beans and rice — don’t get me started on beignets and chicory coffee — but real deal versions are tough to find around here. And in my humble opinion, a bowl of bad gumbo is far, far worse than no gumbo at all. There are few yummy New Orleans-inspired places that come to mind, Brenda’s French Soul Food on Polk in the Tenderloin and Cajun Pacific in the Outer Sunset, but neither quite satisfies in terms of that real, authentic flavor.
Queen’s Louisiana has that certain something we’ve been missing. The ambiance is kind of basic in a good way: a few mardi gras masks here, some jazz fest posters there, and a simple, family-friendly vibe. It would be easy to go overboard with the feathers and beads, but they don’t. As far as the menu goes, they’ve got all your classics covered from fried oyster, catfish, and crawfish po boys on soft pillowy rolls, to hush puppies and red beans and rice with andouille sausage. The seafood gumbo is definitely legit and the beignets, while not as puffy as those you get at Cafe du Monde, were tasty and to my son’s delight, appropriately blanketed with powdered sugar. (If you don’t end up with powdered sugar all over yourself, then you can’t really call it a beignet, right?) You can also get other New Orleanian favorites rare in these parts: Zapp’s Potato Chips, Community Coffee (with or without chicory), and Abita beer and rootbeer.
Since Queen’s is on the other side of town from us on San Bruno Avenue in the Portola/Bayview neighborhood, we decided to make a day of it by stopping in at exquisite Flora Grubb Gardens for pre-lunch browsing and coffee, and capping off our excursion with a visit to another intriguing place we’ve been curious about for a long time, Cayuga Park, which is nestled in a funky spot right next to hwy 280 and has a large collection of topiary and carved totems.
If you ask us, Flora Grubb, about 5 minute drive from Queen’s, is one of the most gorgeous spots in our lovely city. I’m happy to trek over there at the teensiest little nudge. Just wandering through is guaranteed to inspire anyone who loves gardens or gardening and you can pick up some great plants (they have an especially nice selection of succulents and drought tolerant natives). While you’re there, treat yourself to a warming cup of Ritual Coffee, one of our favorite SF artisan roasters. Little ones seem to love Flora Grubb’s fabulous ambiance, innovative landscaping and objects d’arte just as much as us adults and if your kids are anything like my Luca, they will enjoy trying out every one of the cool patio chairs dotted around the shop. This would be near the top of my list of “places to feel like you’re on vacation without leaving home” if I actually had such a list.
I’m sorry to say that the third leg of our inspired little excursion was a bust. Cayuga Park is undergoing a total renovation and is nothing but a big mud pit surrounded by a chain link fence at the moment. But we hear that the totems are safely in storage and will be re-installed when the construction is done. If only we had thought to bring our mud gear we could have had an epic-ly, awesomely messy ending to our adventure. Luckily, I predict a trip back through these parts when the Cayuga Park is back in business to suffer the fate of more beignets, amazing gardens and outdoor art. It’s a tough life, but someone’s gotta do it.
Because everyone needs a bacon store as part of their holiday village display, right? And while we’re on the subject, here are a few others we think someone really ought to manufacture….
Last but not least, here’s our favorite gingerbread display of 2011. A trio of very San Francisco victorian row houses as seen at the California Academy of Sciences cafe in Golden Gate Park. As a fun detail, some of the aquarium’s most famous inhabitants – Claude the albino alligator, a family of African penguins, and Lemon Drop the yellow python – are featured in the display. You can’t quite see it in the picture, but the roofs of these houses are shingled in banana chips and almond slices which is a pretty cool trick.
And just for fun, a link to 3 inspired and extremely nifty gingerbread creations from a great blog called Off the (Meat) Hook. These will definitely make you smile: Jetson’s-esque “Gingerbread on the Moon“, “The Gingerbread Casbah” & “Gingerbread Christmas Cabana“. [PS: She’s a former pastry chef and she shares some excellent gingerbread-house recipes and how-tos which I’m going to bookmark for next year.]
XOXO, Simran and Stacie!
We’ve been meaning to make a trek to try the handmade mochi at Benkyo-do near San Francisco’s Japantown for ages. Based on the many accolades from mochi fans the world over, it’s a beloved favorite (family owned since 1906). So when the hunger pang for ramen hit, which it often does, I packed up Luca and the bambino and we headed for J-town. There are dozens of places to grab udon, ramen, or a bento box and lots of fun shopping for odds and ends. We especially love browsing the Nijiya Japanese supermarket, the Kinokuniya bookstore and the various Japanese dollar stores (Ichiban-Kan, Daiso), and I’m sure most kids will be all over climbing the rocks and sculptures scattered in and around Peace Plaza. (Check out more ideas for a J-Town adventure from Simran’s earlier post.)
But back to the mochi…. For the uninitiated, mochi is sweet rice steamed and pounded until it reaches a gummy, taffy-like consistency. It’s then filled with various sweet bean pastes and/or other flavors or sometimes just decorated and left plain. It’s a bit hard to describe, so my advice is to just try it and see for yourself. Just as much about the texture as flavor, the made-daily freshness of Benkyo-do’s mochi is a big part of the appeal.
Benkyo-do makes Komochi, Kinako Dango, Sekihan, Okasane varieties of mochi and many of the flavors are seasonal, so the line-up changes often. But leave the terminology for the connoisseurs because all you have to do is scan the display case and pick a few things that look tempting. At about a buck a piece, you wont break the bank but bring cash because they don’t accept credit cards (also take note that they are closed Sundays). Luca selected the strawberry mochi for us and it was much lighter, softer and delicate than other mochi I have tried and it had a fresh strawberry tucked inside along with a white bean paste and strawberry mixture. Yum! It’s the kind of thing you should enjoy right away to fully appreciate its freshness. You can also try some of Benkyo-do’s other snacks like Dorayaki which is like a pancake sandwich with a sweet red bean filling or goodies like teriyaki-flavored pretzels.
I happen to be a big, big fan of old-school lunch counters and that is another reason to stop by Benkyo-do. There seem to be only a handful left around the city these days and this is the real-deal. You’re not going to get espresso or a sustainably sourced, grass-fed burger but you can enjoy a donut and a cup of regular old coffee or maybe an egg salad sandwich or a hot dog. Sitting at the time-worn formica counter among neighborhood locals hanging out over a cup of coffee is perfectly uncomplicated and just the right antidote when you feel like “keeping it real”.
A note to parents: Benkyo-Do is tiny, so strollers are not a great option here and they only have a handful of counter seats, so you’ll have to judge whether this works for your family as a sit-down food adventure.
It was raining yesterday and we were out doing some Saturday afternoon puddle jumping in Golden Gate Park. We weren’t even thinking about food (for once) and yet, a little yumminess was just around the corner, literally. Behind the bandshell at the Music Concourse we happened upon the Annakoot food truck. Turns out a hot cup of chai and a warm, flavorful samosa were just the things to bring a little sunshine to an otherwise gray day. Too bad we had just scarfed down some dim sum, or we would have certainly sampled much more from their menu: mango lassi, vegetarian kofta, chicken paratha, naan….
But in our world there’s always room for one more samosa. That’s just how we roll.
What you can find at the Annakoot truck:
While passing through San Francisco’s Mission District the other night and feeling a collective family hunger pang, we made a very fun and very unscheduled pit stop at Mission Chinese Food, a place that’s been on our “places to try” list for a while. A case of seizing serendipity when it finds you: a few open tables inside the restaurant, no one melting down in our car, and my husband’s unbelievable ability to find creative parking spaces. And so it was… dinner out with the family in the company of tattooed strangers at the very civilized hour of 7:30.
Mission Chinese Food attracts the hipster crowd and has been the recipient of too many enthusiastic accolades to count — safe to say say, not the typical kind of dining we usually experience as a family, especially at the potentially volatile dinner hour. Normally, we reserve a healthy skepticism when it comes to food hype, but I will say it’s fun to have the chance to make up your own mind…. and to get a kid’s fresh perspective. At 3, Luca could care less about a glowing San Francisco Chronicle review by Michael Bauer (“wins the award for the best food served in the worst surroundings”) or an “Edible Selby” interactive feature in the New York Times Style Magazine. Heck he could care less about the chef’s pedigree or point of reference. It’s pretty much just “yum” or “yuck”.
The menu is a take on Americanized Chinese classics: salt cod fried rice; braised Mongolian beef cheek; Westlake rice porridge with oxtail, dungeoness crab and soft-poached egg. The night we went they were serving up kung pao corned beef and a twist on bacon and eggs (pork belly and tea smoked eggs). We’re definitely going back to try the savory egg custard (they were sold out) and Hainam Chicken Rice (we were too full).
Another part of Mission Street Food’s cult popularity has to be the unconventional formula. It’s embedded inside another restaurant, a major hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurant called Lung Shan. Two menus, two kitchens, one space. In fact when you walk to the very dive-y bathroom (only total MacGuyvers should attempt a diaper change in there), you actually pass right through the working kitchen. Prior to its current incarnation, the concept was an on going pop-up restaurant showcasing up and coming chefs and experimental menus, now it’s Mission Chinese Food all the time.
The verdict? I loved the loud 80’s music and super tender beef cheeks and exciting mingle of flavors in the Tiger Salad — not to mention seeing Luca nibble pork belly and duck egg. My husband gives two enthusiastic thumbs up to spicy corned beef on a Chinese menu and Luca says super cool to the big dragon hanging from the ceiling and kudos on the plain white rice (a three year old through and through). The bambino slept through it all which is probably the best review a not-quite-4-month old can give.
So we vote: Tasty all in all, if a tad on the greasy side and worth the hype if you don’t have to wait too long and the parking gods favor you. While a lot of the dishes are seriously spicy and may not work well for kids, we loved that every dish was its own little food adventure. We also loved that it’s a cheap and approachable way to experience some of the most “now” food trends, and to challenge yourself re-imagine dishes you’ve probably eaten many, many times before. The flavors are still familiar enough that you can probably convince your kids to dig in, too.