One recent sunny spring day, the bambino and I took in a leisurely stroll in Golden Gate Park and on a whim we stopped in at the Japanese Tea Garden. With the wisteria in full bloom and purple irises dotting the pond it was nothing short of spectacular. Of course we made a pit stop at the tea house to enjoy the view and refresh ourselves with a cup of genmaicha tea (green tea with toasty brown rice) and a few bites of mochi.
There are certain places that bring me straight back to my childhood and this is one of them. I have vivid memories of scrambling over the drum bridge, looking for koi, and pretending the miniature bonsais and replica temples were my personal dominion. And it was always a treat when my parents would stop for tea and buy me and my brother a little bowl of rice crackers to snack on. It feels like coming full circle to bring my little ones here.
The Tea Garden is just one of our favorite stops along this section of Golden Gate Park and you can easily while away the better part of the day without visiting the usual attractions (the de Young Museum and California Academy of Sciences). A “secret” stairway to the west of the Tea Garden connects it to Stow Lake. Because parking is usually better around Stow Lake, it’s a good place to start an adventure. Stow Lake is the perfect destination for little bicycle riders, stroller walks, squirrel spotting, feeding the ducks (or seagulls depending on your luck) and snacking on some delightfully dreadful Pink Popcorn.
To the east of the Tea Garden, the De Young’s sculpture garden and observation tower are totally fab freebies (no museum entrance is required for either) and the Museum Cafe is an absolute godsend when mom or dad needs a little caffine. While you’re in the neighborhood, we always make sure throw a penny or two into one of the fountains in the middle of the music concourse and make a few echoes in one of the tunnels on the east end of the concourse (one tunnel leads to the Academy of Sciences and the other leads to the “blue playground” at 8th and Fulton). And if serendipity truly favors you, you just might find the Twirl and Dip ice cream truck somewhere in the vicinity. (Try their toffee, we hear it’s to die for!)
The Japanese Tea Garden is free on Monday, Wednesday and Friday before 10am (always free for kids 4 and under). You might just see this furry ticket taker while you’re there.
For those of you who grew up in the Bay Area, you probably remember Wright’s Pink Popcorn which I recently learned has been manufactured right here in Potrero Hill since 1940. Ask anyone who has enjoyed Pink Popcorn in San Francisco and they will almost certainly mention the Zoo and Stow Lake in Golden Gate Park which are the places I remember eating it as a kid.
I have a soft spot when it comes to this very pink and very brick-like snack. (My husband, also a Bay Area native, likens it to adobe!). Although it’s lacking in the taste dept., it’s pinkness has a certain mysterious and endearing charm — and it turns out that I’m not the only one who feels this way. As the change in concession management was being hashed out for the Stow Lake boathouse amidst much heated debate earlier this year, my first thought (along with many others) was “I hope they don’t ditch the Pink Popcorn!”. A rally of public support resulted in a contract stipulating that Wright’s Pink Popcorn will continue to be offered at the boathouse.
Easy White Chocolate Pink Popcorn
All that nostalgia got me thinking about making pink popcorn at home. You could, of course, make your favorite caramel corn recipe and tint it pink, but for something different we decided to make a super easy white chocolate version. In general I’m not a white chocolate fan — it’s sweet without being chocolately (there’s no chocolate in white chocolate after all!) — but this is surprisingly tasty, festive and lots of fun to make. Luca loved watching the white chocolate melt and stirring in the food coloring. We brought this as a topping to an ice cream social shindig, but it would be fun mixed with pretzels and other snackables for a party.
- Pop popcorn in an air popper or use an unseasoned microwave version. Line a cookie sheet with waxed or parchment paper and spread popcorn out in a single layer.
- Melt white chocolate in a double boiler. You’ll need about an ounce for every cup of popped popcorn. An important rule for white chocolate: don’t let any steam/water get into it or it will seize up!
- When the white chocolate is nicely melted. Scrape the seeds from a vanilla pod and add to the white chocolate (optional). Stir in a couple of drops of red food coloring until you get the shade of pink you like.
- Drizzle pink chocolate over popcorn and toss well to coat. This part is messy, but fun. Lightly sprinkle with kosher salt if you like sweet-salty flavors.
- Refrigerate to set the white chocolate and enjoy!