a brief visit to food paradise

It was my first time in California – the very word evoking countless references to books, songs, and movies about people heading west in hopes of something better. During my first stroll in San Francisco, I felt it – there seemed to be Sirens on every street corner, glowing in a light I’ve seen nowhere else, whispering, “it’s all good here, it’s always good here, stay, stay, stay….”. I went into Whole Foods to escape them.

That was a mistake.  Maybe you all shop at Whole Foods all the time, but it was my first time, and I was duly impressed. Somehow they’ve managed to reproduce that magic California light, and the Sirens. No matter what you buy (and I limited myself to an Americano and a pecan sticky bun), you feel not only wholesome but also like you’ve contributed something great to the world.  For $4.65 I got a great coffee, a RIDICULOUSLY buttery, caramelly sticky bun, and a little hit of self-righteousness that propelled me all the way to the Gap.

As I walked around the city I mostly just observed (okay, and ate). That day, San Franciscans thought it was cold out. There were signs on the doors to shops and hotels that said, “Brrrr! It’s cold out! Please keep the door closed!”  Salespeople apologized for the frigid weather. A woman waiting to cross the street wrapped her gloved fingers cozily around her paper coffee cup and blew softly on the lid (I guess it’s the thought that counts). City folks proudly paraded their fur-ruffed winter boots and coats as I removed layers. It was 16 degrees (Celsius).

Valencia street and the Mission District captivated me, particularly Paxton Gate, this crazy shop selling taxidermy and taxidermy supplies, bones and skulls, insects and terrariums. There was a taxidermied unicorn for sale! Just one… Right next door was 826 Valencia, Dave Eggers’ writing workshop for kids. It’s also a pirate supply store. Second-hand bookstores, funky antiques, art galleries, and taquerias… definitely worth another trip, without a kid in tow.

Here’s something I noticed about the rest of the world: People need cell phones. No, smart phones. People don’t know what to do with someone who doesn’t have a mobile phone. My host’s boyfriend was aghast that I not only knew where there was a phone booth, but that I had used it, several times!! It was amazing to him that I was capable of meeting up with someone without a phone.  I felt like I had arrived from the past, not just from the east. There I was, a relic from a time before mobile phones. He started asking me about my horse-drawn buggy and how we got through the snow during the winter. I figured it’s gotta be easier than trying to walk around downtown while looking down at a tiny screen and trying to type on those pinhead-sized keys.

I didn’t cook much during my trip, save my oatmeal in the mornings and a side dish of kale with balsamic vinegar and caramelized onions one night, but I ate like a queen. I think if I go back to SF I will camp out at the Ferry Building/farmer’s market and eat my way through it day after day. Some of my faves:

Blue Bottle Coffee.  I stood in line for coffee. Then I did it again.

Fatted Calf Chacuterie. Andouille sausages. Thank god I’m no longer a vegetarian. Goes well with kale.

Pepple’s Donuts. Salted caramel donuts. Uhhh, yes please!

Cowgirl Creamery artisinal cheese.  Grilled cheese special? Very!

How I escaped the Sirens, I don’t know. Maybe it was my lack of a cell phone. They didn’t know how to get a hold of me. But anyway, now I’m back at home with better kitchen lighting and a new stand mixer. Threw myself back into the kitchen today to make pizza but that’s nothing to write home about. I’ll let you know once I’ve mastered baked beans – I fell in love with them at my mum’s (Howard the Butcher’s Soon to be Famous Baked Beans) and am determined to replicate them. First batch is tomorrow; I won’t rest until I’ve cracked the code.


2 thoughts on “a brief visit to food paradise

  1. nadine

    Holly: i’ve been thinking about this, and i wonder: can i use my smart phone to google where to FIND a pay phone?? How CAN i find a pay phone?

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