Saturday, March 26

Pastel de Nata - some things do change

Truffle has been very patiently waiting for me to post for the past couple of weeks. The first week we were away on Spring break in Portugal. Last week, Chocolate was very ill - high fever, vomiting etc, the in-laws landed, work has been hectic, the pond needed cleaning, the butterfly bushes needed pruning (timing is of the essence) and we still haven't unpacked. Oh, and I went in search of a Havanese puppy and think I found him!  More on him later. At this point, I want to put down some of the notes I put together in my head during our trip to Portugal. The following is the first in a series.

Did you know I lived in Portugal many years ago? It was the Fall of 1999. I went to Portugal to study Portuguese in the Universidade de Lisboa for a year. I finished the first semester but not the second as I ended up marrying Prince Charming in the Spring of 2000 in San Francisco. The five months I spent in Lisbon were wonderful, yet bittersweet, and I will always have fond memories of that city.

One of the things I loved about Lisbon was its Pastel de Nata - a flaky tart filled with egg custard and baked until the top burns unevenly. I suppose it is my Creme Brulee II (see post on Creme Brulee). Cafe life is very much part of one's day in Lisbon and we would stop to have a coffee and pastry twice a day at a minimum. Pastries are varied in Portugal, though usually with the following ingredients: milk, eggs, sugar and canela (cinnamon!). Oh my goodness, maybe that's why I called myself Cinnamon! No, it is because cinnamon is Prince Charming's favorite flavoring and it's a cross-cultural ingredient. In addition to its Western use in desserts, it is used in meat curries in the East. Anyway, I digress. 

I would usually have a Galao (tall coffee with milk) or a Meia-Leite (espresso with milk) to go with my Pastel de Nata or two Pasteis de Nata... The best place for this Pastel was, probably still is, Belem. A historical place in Lisbon by the ocean front. If you couldn't go all the way there, the second place was the Lisbon airport. I would always stop at the cafe on the way in or out. It was a little tradition of mine.

We went to Portugal for Spring break, to visit my older sister, Chili Padi, in Sagres and we had to fly via Lisbon. We had, oh 3-4 hours at the Lisbon airport (which I couldn't recognize - it was far bigger and was much flashier with shiny Lacoste stores) and I very excitedly dragged my family to a cafe to order some breakfast. I haven't spoken Portuguese in 12 years and gathered up some rusting words from a web-covered part of my brain, "Um Bolo de Arroz, dos cafes e dos Pasteis de Nata, por favor." Wait, coffee is masculine and Pastel is feminine, so it should have been duas Pasteis!  Or is it the other way around? Is it dos or is it dois? Man, I didn't think my Portuguese was this bad! My daughter, Chocolate, turned to me and said, "Don't forget my orange juice!"  The poker-faced woman behind the counter broke out in fluent English to say, "we don't have juice, we only have nectar (European pulp-juice)." "Er, that's fine. I'll have a donut too. Thanks."

Things do change. 12 years ago, no one sellling Pasteis spoke English. The pastel was much better then, too.


Thursday, March 24

Piri Piri Sausalito

This post has nothing to do with the little town across the Golden Gate from San Francisco. Sorry. I happened to pass through Sausalito on the way from Muir Woods back to San Francisco, and I really liked the sound of the name and was intrigued by the different pronunciations in American-English (sauce-a-lido) and Spanish (sow-sa-lee-to). A 'sausal' is a willow, and Sausalito therefore derives its name from little willows. So now this post does have something to do with the town after all.

Anyway, here are some pictures of our piri piri sauce-a-lido from last night. Hint, hint, Cinnamon!

Paprika, chili, red onion, lemon zest, lemon juice, white wine vinegar

Covered with basil

Sautéed red peppers awaiting addition of more peppers and chicken

Et voilá!

The recipe is Jamie's, from that fabulous new book I talked about back in January. Except that I had to use green chili instead of the real piri piri. So, in truth, what this post isn't about at all is the piri piri. Still, that doesn't mean Cinnamon's off the hook just yet...



Wednesday, March 23

So, what's with Truffle and this salt thing?

Regular readers might have heard my rant about there being too much salt in food, in restaurant food in particular. Since it's World Salt Awareness Week, I thought I'd take the opportunity to explain.

As I've said before, many restaurants over-salt their food, either because they're trying to cover up the tastelessness of poor ingredients, or because they've just gotten used to cooking that way. As restaurant-goers' palates become used to having a lot of salt in what they eat, the demand seems to be going up in an ever increasing spiral.

Just say 'no' (photo source)

Like the rest of life, there is never an up without a down (a version of Newton's Third Law), and there are health consequences to having too much of this stuff in your diet. Seriously, a list of the side effects reads like a Who's Who of undesirable health conditions: heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, stomach cancer, osteoporosis, obesity, dementia, a predisposition to diabetes and Alzheimer's... the list goes on. But in this day and age, when we're being warned of so many dangers posed by so many things (salt, cholesterol, alcohol, etc.), it can be hard to keep on top of what's at risk of causing what, and why it is exactly that too much salt isn't ideal. From reading around, here are some key facts:

Sunday, March 20

Spuntino, Soho

Spuntino is one of the newest arrivals in Soho - having opened its doors just this week - and the London foodie scene has been all abuzz about it. So, Frangelico and I thought we'd take a break from my detox and check it out.

Here in the UK, there is routinely plenty of nostalgia for days and glories past, but a new angle is a twingeing in the heart for all things Prohibition (except for, given 24-hour drinking laws, the not-actually-legal part). Speakeasy-type cocktail bars have mushroomed around the city, and it now appears that restaurants want in on the action too.

Located on Rupert Street (not far from sister restaurant, Polpo), Spuntino is very much into the subterfuge aesthetic. The restaurant's name is barely noticeable in broad daylight, with the appearance of having been thinly scratched with chalk onto tarnished metal sheets. It must be practically invisible at night.

The vibe continues inside, with jangly blues rock and a Prohibition-era-inspired cocktails list, offset by the waiter/bartenders of a heavily-tattooed rockabilly persuasion. Guests sit up high at a large counter, which curves around the main floor under a high ceiling. A wall behind the counter is covered in exposed white tiling, with blue-grey mosaic up near the ceiling. (They speculate that the building used to house a butcher's.)

The cocktails list is conveniently short and primarily one-worded, which means that the staff's knowledge thereof needs a tiny bit of improvement. Our waiter was very forthcoming and talked us through the list, but upon being asked what a couple of the cocktails contained, he had to go away and check with someone else. (I didn't mind this too much, to be honest, because he was very polite, and I wasn't in a hurry to go anywhere.) There's a mix of sweet and bitter on the list - the Negroni is a good choice if you want bitter, because the campari/vermouth/gin combo is a good prelude to the food.

To go with the drinks, we had a side of the eggplant chips with a fennel yoghurt. Very nice. The batter of the chips was appropriately thin and with a grainy texture, while the eggplant within was molten as a contrast. The yoghurt's fennel aroma came forward and filled the senses.

As with Polpo, the mains are a bit hit and miss. The truffled egg toast was a delight, with the flavours balancing artfully - a messy, yolky centre oozing over thick, wholesome toast, with truffle lifting it up, and a grated, cheesy melt keeping it grounded. This is going to be a dish everyone talks about.

The Mac & Cheese also deserves mention, for this reason: it's the closest thing I've found to real American Mac & Cheese in London. Usually, when trying to reproduce this import, the Brits will choose being true to the cheese over the authenticity of the dish, and you get a chewy brick, heavy on chewy cheese. That is what ought to be called, rightfully, a pasta bake made with macaroni-shaped pasta. A real Mac & Cheese, on the other hand, is a gentle and creamy phenomenon. This is what you get at Spuntino. I would have liked more flavour and less blandness, though, and I hope future iterations will sort that.

So, now for the misses. The baby gem salad with egg and creamed cod sauce - although fresh and given a bit of get-go by the egg and croutons - was extremely salty. It was so salty that we couldn't finish it, despite craving the contrast of the greens and vinaigrette-tang to the rest of the meal. As I've said before, London restaurants over-salt their food, and this has got to stop. (Salt Awareness Week is coming just in time.) A couple of other dishes were very plain: the calamari, chick peas and ink, which didn't feel well-conceived or executed; and the popcorn with cayenne, which didn't register at all.

The desserts list is - like the cocktails - short, but sweet. Our waiter recommended the peanut butter and jelly, and we went with it, no questions asked. It came as a pleasant surprise, therefore, that the 'toast' sandwiching the jelly was in fact peanut butter ice cream. Given that I'd had an out-of-this-world peanut butter sorbet in San Francisco recently, there was no way this ice cream was going to be able to compete. Nevertheless, peanut butter isn't something that often fails to please the taste buds, and I liked the inventiveness and attractiveness of the dish. The only thing that stopped me in my tracks was that, upon being asked, a waiter told us that the ice cream was made with Skippy peanut butter. Now, Skippy may be Skippy, but I've never seen a version of it in the UK that doesn't have hydrogenated fats (aka trans-fats) in it. Fork down, dessert unfinished.

Overall, my assessment is this: worth a try, if you're in the area and don't mind waiting with punters on a narrow Soho pavement opposite a live peep show. I won't be making Spuntino one of my favourites, and I wouldn't go out of my way to get there for just the food (and definitely no queueing), but it's a thoughtfully fitted-out place in which to feel the Soho vibe, enjoy a drink in a fun-comfy-smart setting, and try out a few tasty dishes.




Because of the natural limits on how much two people can eat, we didn't get to try the Sliders (mini burgers, named either because they're so tender they slide down your throat or because they're so small they slide off the skillet). The omission had been nagging me a little, so we went back the next day to try them. (This was also a question of doing justice to the menu offering, you understand.)

The beef and bone marrow was passable - it was tender (from the marrow) and had an alluring addition of thyme, which complemented the gruyère. The lamb with pickled cucumber, though, was awesome - very flavourful and worthy of a second order. The brioche on which the sliders are served aren't anything to write home about - a little stiff and manufactured.

The zucchini pizzetta was good - with chopped mint and chilli. (Again: go easy on the salt, guys!) Next down the line was the sliced sausage with lentils and radicchio, which was ok - nothing to offend, but nothing jumping out at you either.

For dessert, if you like cheesecake, you'll have to try the brown sugar cheesecake. This was delicious. It has all the satisfying solidity of a baked cheesecake and is superbly elevated by the brown sugar. The grappa prunes and syrup, while not exactly a complement, presented a balance, rendering the next bite of cheesecake a delightful surprise all over again.

Friday, March 18

The Pancake Day that (almost) didn't happen

You might recall that, on Shrove Tuesday (aka Pancake Day), I went in search of pancakes in San Francisco. Well, as reported previously, the café was gone, and I'd walked all the way into the heart of the Tenderloin just to find that out. You're likely to have heard of the Tenderloin district if you've been in SF - probably in a conversation with the concierge, following the word "avoid" and preceding "at any time of day or night". Seriously, it's not that bad, but it does inspire a vague feeling of discomfort. Legend has it that the policemen who walked this then-dangerous beat were paid more and were therefore able to buy better cuts of meat, earning the locale its name.

I'd decided I wasn't seeing any pancakes that day, put it down to foodie misadventure, and wandered into a nearby kitchen shop. There was plenty there to keep me entertained for a while: inventive cooking utensils, cookbooks, and low-price cookware (relative to London at any rate), with a couple of cooking demonstrations thrown in. One of these involved something called Ebelskiver, which on closer inspection turned out to be Danish pancakes.

This is how they looked as they were being made. Pancake batter was spooned into an oiled pan shaped thus, and a teaspoon was used to drop dollops of raspberry jam into the centre.

The pancakes were turned over with curvy wooden implements. I heard knitting needles can be used too.

I didn't particularly feel like eating something filled with jam at that moment (I'd have preferred just the fluffy pancake), so I didn't try any. But at least I got a visual on some pancakes on Shrove Tuesday and managed to get some photographic evidence.

I was chatting to a couple of science teachers in front of this demonstration - a Euro/American couple teaching physics and chemistry in Beijing - who were in San Francisco for a conference. While I was firing away with my camera, they then struck up a conversation with another spectator. Just before that person left, I overheard that she was Danish and that she'd just moved to San Francisco from Singapore. Oh the things I might have told you about Danish Ebelskiver and her experiences in Singapore if I'd managed to speak to her! There's another term for the lexicon: foodie missed opportunity.



Thursday, March 17

Versatile Blogger Award, or Finding a Way

The good thing about jet lag (yes, there is something) is that you're sometimes up in the early hours, in that time of day when you can still hear the universe humming to itself softly. You can still hear the Earth grinding on its axis, turning its face, seeking out the sun. And the sun slowly obliges, as the world around you welcomes it from its unceasing travels, where it's already brought day to others before you. I can hear birds emerging and singing into a space that's still theirs, and dawn's light stirring the dew from the trees. It is a drawn out moment of expectation. And in that moment, there is such clarity as does not exist at any other time of day.

My acquaintance with this started when I was at school in the Cotswolds, having flown back from holidays in Singapore. Through my time at school and then at university, I would (for a few days after travelling) wake up at around 4 or 5 o'clock and have that special time in the morning all to myself, to listen to the Earth turning. Coming back to a new term, I was always excited about the new beginnings - new things to learn, seeing friends again, hearing about their holidays and learning more about their lives, a new season to look forward to (usually Spring or Autumn), more steps to take to get closer to where I wanted to be. And during that time of humming before dawn, my mind would be clear, and I would be centred. Gradually, other sounds - the early milk round, tyres washing along the street, footsteps walking to work, the post slapping down onto a rug - would creep in, overtaking what I'd been listening to. I'd move on, shower and breakfast, walk or cycle to classes, start the day.

Monday, March 14

Time to Detox!

Yep, and if you're up to date with the blog you'll know why.  Having spent two weeks in San Francisco giving in to all that was novel and intriguing, Frangelico and I have returned to London with a little more extra luggage than just the round cast-iron casserole - with 'round' being the operative word here.  All that walking on the famously steep San Franciscan gradients could only keep on top of so much, it seems, and in the end the salads, outstanding fruit, and other healthy options that did manage to get into the field were overwhelmed by the barrage of (very tasty) refined carbs, fried food and (in some places) double-sized portions.

Some of the steep inclines in San Francisco

Those large portions are quite a challenge for me.  Like many in my generation, I was brought up in the clean plate school, where the words "don't waste it" were coming out of adults' mouths so often at mealtimes, that they may as well have been cross-stitched and framed above a door.  As a kid, I took my formal and informal education very seriously (more than most and a little too much, I realise with hindsight).  So overcoming that programming requires a huge effort, and you win some, you lose some.

Contrary to the stereotype, it's not just in the US that portion sizes are larger than the average human being can manage - I've noticed many restaurants in London piling on the pasta or noodles too.  Marginal cost to the restaurant of these ingredients: slim.  Visual impact on the customer of a larger plate and perceived value-for-money, which the restaurant can then leverage into a bigger mark-up: priceless.

Another danger that's rampant in the developed world is the proliferation of refined carbs (especially in the form of white sugar, which is added even to simple things like bread).  My experience with refined carbs has been that, in addition to the sugar roller-coaster and the surplus energy getting stored as fat, they actually make your body visibly puff up.  A friend told me that when she traveled (away from the world of refined carbs), her frame would shrink noticeably, without her actually losing any weight.  I don't know the chemistry behind this phenomenon though.

Excess salt is another challenge.  Restaurants are too heavy-handed with salt, either because they're trying to cover up poor quality and tasteless ingredients, or because they're on a slippery slope of adding more salt to satisfy customers who are used to high salt levels across the board.  At one fine restaurant in London, the amount of salt used to season the fish went up bit by bit by bit over a few months, until it eventually became inedible.

Some of the delicious (and low cal veggie) food, enjoyed with a view of the Golden Gate

Don't get me wrong - I thoroughly enjoyed the food fest in San Francisco!  I've grown to accept that it's impossible to live life on a stable plane (who wants to anyway?), and that there will be periods of indulgence and corresponding periods of rebalancing required.  So, for the next two weeks, I'm putting myself on a self-styled detox - and let's face it, diet - programme.  This will involve eliminating wheat (no bread, pasta or noodles - sob!), refined carbs (no white rice), dairy (no cheese, cream, milk or yoghurt), added sugar (hang on, does this mean no sticky toffee pudding??), and anything else I figure out along the way.  Step forward: brown rice, millet bread, quinoa, and brown rice pasta (a genius invention, which, in London, I've found only in Whole Foods); soy milk and soy yoghurt; plenty of vegetables; white fish, chicken and lean beef; and red peppers, grapefruit juice and tomato sauce (which are said to reduce hunger pangs).

As always, the theory is one thing and the practice another, so let's see how it goes.  Any support from you guys in the form of cheering on or further tips will be most welcome!  And, please, share your experiences too.  What do you do to cut back after holiday indulgences?

Here's what we had for dinner last night, Meal One of the programme.

1. Sprinkle some breadcrumbs, lemon zest, chopped parsley and minced garlic on a plate.  Season with a touch of salt and pepper.  Spray on some olive oil to bind if necessary.
2. Season white fish fillets with salt.
3. Pat breadcrumb mixture onto fish.
4. Place fish on a hot frying pan and spray on a bit of olive oil.  Ideally, I'd have put the fish in a hot oven, but I was too tired to wait for the oven to heat up.
5. Serve with brown rice and steamed broccoli.

After I made this, I realised that wheat had sneaked in via the breadcrumbs.  Oh well, incrementalism is the thing to keep in mind.  I'm not expecting my palate to switch back overnight.

And don't worry, I won't subject you to healthy recipes and photos for the next two weeks.  There is still plenty of reportage to come from San Francisco!



Thursday, March 10

Breakfast in San Francisco, Part II

One of the things that's impressed me about San Francisco is the cultural diversity.  (Hey, I'm from London, so that's saying a lot.)  Looking at the city through food lenses, that means you can feast on Mexican tacos, Peruvian ceviche, Vietnamese crêpe, Hong Kong salt and chili crab, Japanese sashimi, American cheeses ... I could go on ... and all of that of pretty high quality.

One of the facets of this diversity, that you might not find easily in London, is the range of breakfasts on offer.  On Tuesday, I went in search of a city centre café serving good old American buttermilk pancakes, but the place appeared to have vanished, along with my SF Breakfast Part I.  Next up on my list were Vietnamese pho, dosai, and bagels with smoked fish (the last one as recommended by KB).  A short journey got me to Part II this morning.  

Tuesday, March 8

Food from an Angel

Did you read my last post? Stressful time in Singapore, father undergoing heart surgery, me stuffing my face in the name of stress? Well, the hectic mania seemed to continue upon my return to NC. News of father's health possibly worsening, heavy workload at the office, nanny on vacation, Prince Charming working very long hours due to a new position at work, and the onset of a sinus infection. 

Did I mention our nanny was on vacation? That was possibly the worst part. Don't get me wrong, she is the sweetest, most gentle young lady I have ever met and she is very good with the children. She had very fairly informed us of her vacation when we hired her in early January and we knew this was coming. BUT, no nanny meant the kids laundry needed doing, dinner needed prep, the house was a mess, and I was going mad.

Prince Charming and I were taking turns picking the kids up and on one of the days that he returned with the dynamic duo, this was what was waiting for them at the front door:

Food from an Angel!

A lovely red picnic basket bursting with food!  (Confession time: Prince Charming did not take the photo with the basket bursting with food. I placed it out the next day filled with a few empty boxes for the photo. Hence the rather slumped look...).

That night, we enjoyed a feast of spaghetti with meatballs, mushroom and avocado salad, and a moist chocolatey fudge brownie for dessert. We all went to bed satisfied that night, happily singing Snuffaluffagus's theme song. 

Thank you, Brown Sugar Cookie. You are an angel to so many of us in this community. And, we love you too. 


BSC, I'll return your basket and things when I see you on Thursday!

Monday, March 7

Stress Eating?

I can write about this now that I know my father is safely back home recuperating. I have been back home in North Carolina for two weeks and my father was discharged from hospital last Wednesday. A few weeks ago, my father had open heart surgery - replacements of the aortic valve as well as the aorta and a bypass - in Singapore. I flew in on the Sunday before Valentine's Day and was joined by my baby sister, Rice Krispie from London, my Aunt Mrs Pavlova from Sydney, and a close family friend Dr Macaroon from Chennai. This international group had assembled at my parents' house to give my father support and courage for his surgery.

We spent the couple of days before the surgery laughing and talking at home, watching old Tamil movies and reminiscing about old times. It was good. I was glad I had flown in from North Carolina to spend this time with him, leaving my little brood behind with capable Prince Charming.

The day of the surgery was not so light hearted. After we saw my father wheeled into the operating theatre, not knowing if we were going to see him alive or conscious again, we turned to look for the waiting room to sit for the next 8 hours or so. It was small and completely full. There was no space for the entourage. Just then, we bumped into my old school friend, Dr. Tea Party, from my SCGS days. She was now a senior consultant at the National University Hospital and she knew to expect me at the hospital that week. Thanks to Dr. Tea Party, a beautiful, tall, well-dressed Chinese woman, a fellow foodie of course, we found our way to NUH's Kopi Tiam just in time for breakfast. No one had eaten and we suddenly realized that we needed breakfast. By the way, I need to find out when this Kopi Tiam concept started off!  Great idea. Corporate licensing done for hawker stalls and managed centrally, brilliant.

The following lists all the things I ate at the Kopi Tiam just that first day as my father underwent the long and arduous surgery -

Breakfast: Char Siew Noodles.

Dessert after Breakfast (why not?): Bean Curd with Ginger Sauce.

Lunch: Popiah (only ate one of the two rolls, promise!) and Tahu Goreng (not shown). Dr. Macaroon had the other Popiah.

Tea: Coffee and Onde Onde from Bengawan Solo.

As the afternoon rolled into evening, my father was wheeled out, still very much under anesthesia and we were thankful the surgery had been relatively successful. We were eventually kicked out by the ICU staff and we all went home after 15 straight hours at the hospital to a simple Indian meal of yogurt and rice.

Swiss Chocolate, remember you asked me recently if I stress eat and I valiantly said no? Er, I think I was wrong! I just don't have my Singaporean food to stress eat whilst in North Carolina. Thank goodness for that!

More importantly, thank goodness my father is safe and sound at home. I am truly thankful.


Sunday, March 6

Foodie San Franciscan Saturday

Well, Frangelico and I had another tiring day today, eating our way through San Francisco.  Thankfully, this city has so much more to offer than food, but the day did have to start with brunch...

Does Gott's directive absolve me of any personal responsibility?

And for said brunch we headed to an outlet in the Ferry Building that we'd missed the last time.  I had memories of excellent seafood from my last trip to San Francisco (for Cinnamon's wedding), and here was Gott's menu promising fish and chips, calamari and Ahi tuna.  So, I followed my genetic programming and headed to the waterside for some fruits de mer.

Face-off between the salad and the fried calamari

The calamari was clearly fresh and wonderfully succulent.  The fried batter was wholesome with a grainy, powdery touch.  The salad and the garnish that came with Frangelico's Ahi tuna burger were fresh and crunchy.  But the winner has to be the side of garlic fries.

Fries smothered in herby garlic butter

I absolutely love the aglio, and the powerful punch of garlic wrapped in silken butter with a foil of parsley on crunchy fries was just perfect for me.

The second highlight was that the seemingly-plastic drinks containers were actually made of compostable plant material!  Isn't this so much better than a derivative of $104 crude?

Made in the USA, like many other great, innovative ideas

After plenty of walking, we found ourselves, late afternoon, in the Castro district.  Here, we stumbled upon Marcello's.  Initially, my London instincts told me to run away from ready-made pizza being sold by the slice, but my foodie radar told me to stay.  A large, thin-crust topped with sliced mushrooms and pesto melting into each other was all it took for me to change my mind.

Marcello's magic

The Italian theme continued, as we wandered out of Marcello's and into a nearby deli, A. G. Ferrari.  Studying the deli counter all the way to the end, we came to the desserts.  A torta di mandorle was selected, given Frangelico's love for all things almondy.

Jam packed with almonds

It was too nutty for me (despite the layer of jam), but Frangelico enjoyed it.  It reminded me of two things from very different parts of the world: Spanish turrón duro (the crunchy variety) and powdery almond squares from India.

We didn't make it out of the deli before we'd somehow starting trying the Italian cheeses on display.  I was particularly intrigued by the parmigiano reggiano, which was advertised as being the best parmesan the owner had ever found (and it was right in his ancestral home town of Borgotaro all along).  I just had to try this, but the salesperson declined, because the blocks were all wrapped up and they didn't have any samples.  When I mentioned that we were from London, I think he took pity on us, and he agreed to let us try the parmesan.  It was a smart move on his part, because one tiny cube and we were sold.  It is the most stunning parmesan I can remember having tasted.

The story of the parmigiano

We went on to have a fabulous Mexican dinner with KB later in the evening, but I didn't have my camera with me to show you proof.  It was an excellent evening, catching up, talking about Singapore, London and San Francisco, hearing about Californian spiritual retreats, and exchanging stories about Cinnamon ;)  KB then very generously gave us a tour taking in Presidio Heights and Crissy Fields, from which we had a wonderful, haunting view of the Golden Gate Bridge by night.  Heading back downtown, we switched places, and she let me drive her car down Lombard Street!  The evening ended where the day had begun, and we stopped at the original Swensen's (of Plaza Singapura fame for some of us) for some vanilla and lychee ice creams.

KB, thank you for a wonderful evening, and I really appreciate you trusting me with your car!  Cinnamon, you really have some great friends - thank you for sharing them with your sisters.



Saturday, March 5

Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market

Ok, remember I talked about visiting Borough Market in London with Musical Chef Snr and Foodie Doctor, and we were really excited about the market and the finds there?  Well, I'm reminded of the scene in Crocodile Dundee when Mick Dundee is about to be mugged in New York City.  The mugger pulls out a knife and damsel-in-distress says to Mick: he's got a knife!  Mick Dundee chuckles and says: that's not a knife, that's a knife.

The Ferry Building on the Embarcadero, while serving as a ferry terminal since 1898, is now also a permanent home to artisan food purveyors and San Franciscan restaurateurs.  Three times a week, the plaza in front of the building hosts farmers and producers from around San Francisco, who set up stalls selling fresh fruit, vegetables, preserves, yoghurt, muffins and a number of other fresh, organic edibles produced with sustainability and fair labour practices in mind.

Organic and union labor

Saturday mornings are naturally the busiest, when San Franciscans (a good proportion of whom have been for an early morning run or walk along the Embarcadero) check in for breakfast and some shopping.  A few local restaurants also make a temporary appearance, selling ramen, tacos and gourmet rotisserie meats.  This is an experience you could only have in California: tanned, healthy-looking people picking out bright oranges, tomatoes and lemon plums in a clean market in bright sunshine, under a tower modelled on a 13th century Moorish structure (the Giralda in Seville, to be precise).

Lemon plums

The variety on offer was simply overwhelming, so deciding what to eat (and what pictures to share with you) wasn't easy.  The plan was to have breakfast at the market, go for a walk, and then have lunch.  What we ended up doing was just grazing on various things.  Here is a sample of what we tried.

The Rebel Within, from the Tell Tale Preserve Co.

Garlic bread, from Il Cane Rosso

Scrambled eggs with chorizo, from Mijita

Crispy Vietnamese crêpe filled with prawn and marinated pork, garnished 
with mint, from Out the Door

Miyagi and Kumamoto oysters

The fruit deserves special mention.  Cinnamon's friend, KB, told me about this market, and she had given me a heads up that the fresh fruit in California was outstanding.  I have to say, the fruit at this market was some of the best I have ever tasted.  The gold nugget mandarins were incredible, with an intense but smooth sweetness, and very much deserving of the name.

Gold nugget mandarins, from Twin Girls Farms

It's been really difficult to share just a selection, because I want to show you everything!  But Frangelico and I, feeling we didn't get enough on our first trip, will be back at the market tomorrow morning.  So, if you feel the same, watch this space for more...




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