Thursday, March 27, 2008

California Dreaming

This past month I had the opportunity to travel to San Francisco for a weekend to visit two good friends I haven't seen in a long time. While seeing them was wonderful, I have a confession to make.

I don't like the Bay Area.

I know, shocking! When people find out that I don't like the Bay Area, they're usually prone to gasps of horror or incredulity. It's apparently not in vogue to dislike the Bay Area. In my case, however, this dislike might possibly be explained by the fact that I grew up in Southern California. The things I love about California - warm sunny days, palm trees, long sandy beaches - don't exist in San Francisco. When I'm in the Bay Area, more often than not its cold and foggy and thanks to all the insane hills in the city I HATE driving there (for the record, I drive a stick). I end up annoyed, and more than a little bit confused as to why so many people love this particular place when LA is only 5 warmer and sunnier hours south.

However, from the start this trip was different because I was actually excited about visiting the Bay Area. My excitement stemmed from two main reasons, foremost among them being the opportunity to see two of my favorite people after a very long separation. The second reason though, had everything to do with my relatively newfound obsession with food.

I've always liked food. Thanks largely to the influences of my mother and my good friend Jessica, I've liked cooking since high school. This like has occasionally verged on love, but I don't know that I've ever been obsessed with food. Not like now.

As though this blog were not proof enough of my newfound passion for all things food, let me take a moment and share with you a few random facts from my recent life.
-- In the past year I have read 5 food-focused memoirs and The United States of Arugula; The Sun-Dried, Cold-Pressed, Dark-Roasted, Extra Virgin Story of the American Food Revolution.
-- In the pile of books yet to be read next to my bed, I currently have 3 more books that revolve around food.
-- I have subscriptions to Cook's Country, Cook's Illustrated, Bon Appetite, and Fine Cooking.
-- My cookbook collection never fails to raise my mother's ire. Also guaranteed to raise her ire: seeing the various kitchen toys she has bought for me at Christmases and birthdays collecting dust in my pantry. They get used... just not enough, in her opinion, to justify their presence in my cooking life.

Partly due to my newfound obsession with food, I was seriously excited about my trip to San Francisco. And I can now honestly say that where food is concerned, the Bay Area does not disappoint. (Although sadly, dinner at the Chez Panisse Cafe was in fact a bit of a disappointment, but maybe that's a story best kept for another time.)

My real food fun began on Saturday morning when I hit the Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market. It was like food nirvana. I couldn't believe the selection of fresh, locally grown produce to be had for pennies! Not to mention cheeses, olive oils, beans, pastries, and imported Italian tuna packed in olive oil (not to be found in Salt Lake, which in my opinion, is a true crime). Two hours after arriving at the market I walked out with a much lighter wallet and a very very heavy, newly purchased shopping bag to hold all of my treasures.

Where does a girl go to refuel after a busy morning shopping for produce? In my case, Taylor's Refresher for a hamburger, mint-n-chip shake, and downright delicious sweet potato fries. I'm a sucker for sweet potato fries.

Sunday morning, Jessica (of "high school best friend" fame) and I be-bopped around Chinatown and its environs. While wandering we got to watch a local youth group perform a lion dance for some important looking Chinese gentlemen. Even I, with my relatively broad understanding of Chinese culture, have no idea what it was about. But it definitely made for a more interesting morning. I couldn't wait to eat lunch and will admit to initially being a little bit skeptical of the spot we picked, a place in Chinatown called House of Nanking. It always worries me when I go to a Chinese restaurant and no one eating there is Chinese. It doesn't tend to inspire a lot of confidence in the authenticity of their food. As it turns out, their food was definitely a bit on the new-agey/fusion side of Chinese cooking, but it was delicious. I loved everything we ordered and I can't even take credit for that because we just told the waiter what kinds of things we like and he did the ordering for us.

While in town, we paid a visit to City Lights Bookstore where I promptly forgot my New Year's resolution to not purchase any new books until I finish the rather large pile of unread books sitting next to my bed (and on my desk, and on my bookcases). I choose a couple of books on China, because as I told myself, I really should get a little more educated on Chinese history before traveling there in August (any excuse that works, right?). I did however steer clear of the Anarchy and Muckracking sections.

In the end, it was a wonderful weekend and I haven't even taken time to go into the best part of the trip. Although the food was fantastic (to include yummy corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick's Day), the defining moments of the trip were the ones I spent reconnecting with two old friends. It's been five years since I last traveled to the Bay Area and it was so nice to spend hours with them talking about food and life and family and friends and kids and politics.

I've now been back in Salt Lake for almost 2 weeks and I can't wait to go back again. To the Bay Area, no less! It's true. I've been doing a lot of California dreaming these past 2 weeks, but for the first time in my life, I'm dreaming of cold, foggy San Francisco, not warm sunny LA.

1 comment:

the House of Payne said...

Sweet potato fries kick ass.