Monday, 12 November 2012

Foodie party at the Frisco Bay

Before starting for real, I'll just warn you. There will be no recipe at the end of this post. This will just be word vomit all the way. So if that disgusts you, turn away now, and come back in a few days when I promise you there will be another recipe. Anyways, on to today's topic. I just came back after spending a few days in San Francisco because of work. I was really excited to see SF, as so many people have said wonderful things about it. Many have said that in addition to Boston, it's their favourite US city. And these are not just random people, but friends whose judgement I tust and value. So I was quite excited. Maybe it was a case of too high expectations, but I can't say I was particularly impressed.

Ok, to be honest, I did like the layout of the city on top of several hills. The steep hills make the city look great. As long as you don't actually want to go anywhere, at which point they are just a great annoyance. But I can't blame the city for the fact that I'm lazy and unfit. When I arrived, I was wondering why all runners looked so incredibly fit. After having walked up the same hills they seem to run up and down, it all started making sense though. I had a great walk around the city with a good friend, and as soon as I got past the crazy steep hills, it was really enjoyable and pretty. But downtown was quite depressing. Architectonically ridiculously ugly and dirty. And crowded. But many other US cities are crowded and dirty too, and it doesn't bother me too much. But the one thing which I found absolutely disgusting was the countless homeless people everywhere. I'm not a timid person, and I can't say I have been scared many times in my life. I like to explore cities on my own, and I'm not usually scared to walk around anywhere even late at night. Obviously I stay away from known dangerous neighbourhoods and use my judgement of where its safe, but I wouldn't say I have been scared many times in my life. But in SF I was scared, several times. It's not just that I think the huge number of homeless people reflect very bady on a society in general. But these people were clearly even worse off, having psychiatric problems and acting really irrationally. I ended up not wanting to walk around the city at night, even though I didn't even live anywhere close to where my guide book consideres to be the 'bad' part of town. I'm very lucky I have been out with gentlemen who have made sure I have gotten back home to my hotel safely. Well that,or I've been in bed by 6pm suffering from a severe but thankfully quick bout of food poisoning. However, even walking in the city early on Sunday morning was quite scary, not to mention all the weird people I ended up sharing a bus with early on Sunday morning. 

In general I don't consider myself to be a very compassionate person. I'm all for an individualist society, everyone making their own luck, being responsible of your own success and all that stuff. But I have also grown up in a true welfare state, where we pay a steep price in the form of taxes to take care of everyone in our society. That's what we do as human beings. And I do think in some things, the Scandinavian model goes too far. We shouldn't have to pay for some of the things we do. But for people to be able to have the tools to build their own success, we need to provide them with an equal opportunity to do that, in the form of free and equal education. And I'm happy to pay quite a bit of taxes to also make sure society will take care of people who are too sick to take care of themselves and to make sure they are not out on the street threatening law abiding taxpayers.

In general, I don't think politics should go on a food blog. But my trip to SF has really made me think about these things. Maybe partly because my first night there was election night. And looking at all those clearly mentally ill people out on the streets, I can't believe Americans were so close to *not* elect a president who wants to improve health care. Well, this is something I could write about at length and I have quite a few adjectives I would like to use about what thakfully turned out to be a minority of Americans, although only by the width of a hair or two. But I won't. Because there are food related things I want to touch upon. That might be a safer topic. And also something I consider myself to be much more knowledgeable about than politics. And endlessly more interested in.

So to be perfectly fair to SF, I think part of why my time there was so miserable was because of work. I have made it quite clear before, but I'm really unhappy with my current line of work. And I am going to start looking for something else soon enough. I was miserable sitting at the conference, listening to the talks. But there were good things as well. I got to see many of my wonderful colleagues from my old job back home, who I am lucky enough to also call my good friends. It was great to get to spend time with people I feel absolutely comfortable with and have such a great time with. And I did find a few things and places in SF that I enjoyed as well.
Some of the things I enjoyed included a walk across town with Friend, as well as my walk all through the rather extensive Golden Gate Park in my single minded attempt to get all the way out to the ocean. On our walk over the steep hills of SF, me and Friend half accidentally ran into several sights that were listed in my omnipresent Lonely Planet travel guide. Which of course means that they are worth seeing. It has actually become a tradition for me to get the Lonely Planet guide for wherever I'm going. And I like to scribble notes in the margins, adding nice restaurants and caf├ęs which I have found on my travels. Unfortunately for most places, I haven't had a chance to go back so that I could return to my favourite haunts.

Honey Honey had a line out the door on Saturday morning.
Part of the menu at Honey Honey.
Talking about favourite eateries. This one was not listed in the guide, but was recommended to Friend by the hotel concierge. It was around the corner from our hotel, and I'm glad we only discovered it the day before leaving. You know how I lovelovelove big breakfasts, and I think the Americans have the whole breakfast routine down real good. Pancakes, eggs, French toast. Heck, throw it all together. And as you can see from the picture of the menu (which filled a whole wall), I could have come here every breakfast, lunch and dinner for the whole trip and still have things left to try out next time I'm in SF. The place is called Honey Honey and is located on the corner of Post and Taylor, only a few blocks from Union Square. Thumbs up! Together, me and friend ended up trying quite a few dessert crepes, with caramel and toasted pecans, with strawberry, and my blintz which was a crepe made into a parcel containing strawberry jam, ricotta, sour cream and orange marmelade. Talk about a sugar bomb for breakfast. The freshly squeezed orange and carrot juice were also really good. I guess it's a sure sign that you are in California when even the smallest cafe has a orange juice squeezing machine thingy instead of serving horrible canned juice. Another sure fire way to know you are in CA is the avocado. I'm used to avocados being these ridiculously expensive things which usually are hard as rock even if you buy the "ready to eat" kind. But not in SF, you could always have a burger, or sandwich, or crepe with avocado. And it was always great soft ripe silky smooth avocados. At one creperie, I was mesmerised by the crepe cook carving avocado out of the shells, over and over again. It was hypnotic. I could have stood there all day. He must have thought I was out of my mind, my eyes following his every move as he scooped that green soft flesh out of the shell. Oh mine, here we go again...

The Ferry building
The Ferry building from the inside
Another food experience I would have liked to expand on was the Ferry building. It is a beautiful old building originally finished in 1898 as the port building. Nowadays it's been converted to a marketplace where local shops sell their produce. There are artesan dairies, butchers, wineries, chocolatiers. And several restaurants which I didn't get around to trying out, but which seemed to come highly recommended and looked wonderful. This would definitely be the place where I would buy all my food if I lived in SF. And if I happened to be filthy rich.

Talking about chocolatiers, SF is the home of Ghirardelli chocolate. I am not an expert on American chocolates but just had an overall feeling that I can't remember ever having had very good chocolate in America. However, many of the food bloggers I follow go on about Ghirardelli and Scharffen Berger chocolate, so obviously I had to give them a try. And as I remembered, the Ghirardelli is not anything very impressive. In fact in my opinion it is at best mediocre (the dark ones) and at worst horrible (milk and white) and absolutely ridiculously overpriced. Scharffen Berger I liked more. But a particular favourite I found was the Dagoba chocolate, they had some good flavoured chocolates. The chai one was brilliant, such a balanced mix of spices but again, the milk chocolate was a bit disappointing. I didn't know this, but perusing the Dagoba site online, it turns out it's owned by Hershey. So I might stay clear of it in the future. But there is no denying the flavour combinations were great! Looks like it might be a bit hard to get hold of in the UK though. Amazon seems to carry a few flavours, but not the chai one. However, the price is absolutely ridiculous, the 56g bars cost £3.99 which currently seems to be $6.33, whereas I paid $3.50 for the bars I bought in SF. But in general, chocolate seems to be cheaper in the US, the Madecasse chocolate I bought a while ago I think I paid £4.99 for, whereas in Wholefoods it cost $4.99, which is about £3.14. When I got to the airport and realised my bag was almost 5 kg under the allowed weight limit, I just wanted to jump right back on that shuttle and go get myself more chocolate. One local chocolatier which seemed to be highly recommended was Recchiuti confections, located in the Ferry building. I didn't buy any of their chocolates as they were priced completely out of this world. I did however bring back a jar of their extra bitter chocolate sauce and burnt caramel sauce, so I will give them a try at some point. Now I just have to decide whether to eat them with ice cream, cake, waffles, pancakes, or just with a spoon... But right now I have to admit I have overdosed on chocolate, so I will save my sauces for later. Much later. I have always said I have no upper limit to how much chocolate I can take, but I was clearly wrong. One week in SF seems to be pretty much my limit. Although I bet by tomorrow morning I'm back to my sugary cravings. 

Ok, I know I have been going on and on and on. I still have a few other things I wanted to touch upon, but I'll do it very quickly. One of my favourite touristy spots was WholeFoods. Yes I know, I'm crazy, but I do love perusing grocery stores. And this one is definitely one of the more worthy of aimless wandering from isle to isle. I bought some absolutely delicious cream cheese made from milk from non-hormone fed cows, which after enjoying it with some bagels, I just ate on it's own.. Oh, and the all American apple pie. It was so ridiculously good, that I can't reveal how much I ended having in one go. Lets just say I wish ihan only bought one piece instead of... More. And I finally got to buy myself a jar of Biscoff spread, which seemed to be all the rage in all US food blogs earlier this year. So yes, I'm a bit late with that food fad, but I just had to try it out. I find it so funny it is marketed as European, but I haven't been able to get my hands on it anywhere despite some extensive googling efforts. And I also bought myself some pumpkin. You know, the canned pureed thing, which is used for pumpkin pie. I'm trying to remember if I ever had pumpkin pie. I think I had one many years ago in Boston when I happened to be there for halloween. Now I will certainly bake myself a pumpkin pie at some point, although I realise I should have moved on from pumpkin (aka Halloween food) to cranberries (aka Thanksgiving food). But since we don't have any of those food traditions over here (at least I don't with my Finnish heritage), I think I can cook pumpkin pie any time I want. I'm still surprised there isn't any pumpkin in any of the grocery stores over here, as I would have thought the UK and US food cultures would have some things in common, but pumpkin doesn't seem to be one of those. So I'm really excited to get to try it out. Other things I dragged across the pond was pancake mix and maple syrup. Things you can get here as well, but American pancakes are better. And buying maple syrup in the UK just seems wrong. Well, not sure if it's any less wrong to buy it on the west coast. At least I had the pleasure to drag my heavy suitcase across town and up the 50 stairs to my apartment.  

Last thing I wanted to say. SF is clearly a very environmentally aware place. I love it that you have to pay for plastic bags. It's one of my pet peeves over here when people can't be bothered to take their own bags for life with them when going shopping. And then they use at least 20 plastic bags for their 10 items of shopping. I mean, first of all it's ridiculous to have those really thin plastic bags which only hold a few items. But it's even more annoying when people can't put their box of crackers and bag of crisps in the same plastic bag. I would like to strangle them with their plastic bags. So every time a salesperson very apologetically informed me about the SF $0.1 bag fee, I just smiled at them and told them I think it's a great thing. And I do. The other thing I loved was that unlike the rest of the US, there were no styrofoam plates and takeaway containers anywhere. Everything was recycled cardboard. That made me so happy. So there were definitely some things we should adopt here in the UK as well. Back home, there has been a charge on plastic bag for as long as I can remember. And not a styrofoam container as far as the eye can see.

Ok, if anyone made it this far, thanks for reading, and like I said in the start, sorry for the lack of a recipe this time. I promise I will report on my experiments with pumpkin, Biscoff and Recchiuti sauces when that time comes. Although that time won't come until I can close my jeans again, so it might be a while. Until then, it's a good thing I have some old recipes in store.

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