Sunday, November 22, 2015

Walking to Nowhere in Particular and an Autumn Braise

Some years I bounce of the wall with excitement at the first whiff of autumn in the air, and other years it's a slow fugue that lets off finally in the spring.

This is an off year, I think, and I'd been feeling a bit overwhelmed. Still, I have to get out of the house these days now that I have an office to go to, and when I feel up to it I like to blow off steam walking, biking, taking busses or trolleys around San Francisco with no set course in mind or agenda.

Well, that's not true. I look at the Niantic Ingress Project "intel" maps and look for targets – swaths of green to clear away and replace with blue in a global nerdy game of capture the flag (I just hit level 11 the other week, after what seemed to be an endless trudge through acquiring the required points and achievement badges). Worse, I am starting to sound like one of "those people", you know, game fanatics.

Still, Ingress has been described as a glorified fitness app, and in this city of 48 hills with some of the game's most valuable items perched atop Grace Cathedral Hill or Potrero Hill or Bernal Heights or up Haight in Golden Gate Park, calling Ingress a fitness app is fairly accurate.

My travels on one particular Saturday had brought me in a loop where I walked up over the 101 footbridge at 18th and Utah to hit a park bench that was an in-game item, then the Slovenian Hall, then what the hell, Anchor Brewing Company has about four portals. I switched back, this time ducking under the 101 via 16th street "bumping"* a fire station on Vermont Street, "smashing"** and claiming Il Pirata – a local watering hole the caters to the folks who work at the big UPS depot on San Bruno. Then ZipCar on 17th, a famous mural, an art gallery and I was off to catch the Muni 33 route to get brunch at the Dolores Park Café (pretty good food, and far less crowded than San Francisco nouveau riche brunch mecca Tartine located at the other end of 18th Street on that same block; maybe I'll write it up soon).

We ate, we walked up Dolores because my brunch mate plays too, we "bumped" a couple churches you may or may not have seen in several famous films (including Vertigo), and walked back down 17th to the 500 Club, where I split off and found myself wandering toward Duboce Triangle (between the Lower Haight, mid-Market/Castro, SOMA and Western Addition neighbourhoods).

Golden Produce is a mid-sized grocery that is defiantly located across from Safeway on Church Street, which looms and glows and buzzes like a borg cube or some alien thing poised to obliterate us all with a phaser blast – when it is good and ready, and not a moment sooner. I wince at it, and the hum of the overhead cables that run lines N, J and K that go underground behind Safeway. If you continue up Duboce you'll reach a park, boutiques, hair salons and original pre-quake wood framed Victorians that have so far resisted the monsoon of boring "modern" luxury high-rises that punctuate mid-Market and the Mission with their monolithic sameness.

I stepped into Golden not knowing what I wanted, and I still didn't know when I got to the butcher counter. Forced to make a quick decision, I opted for braising meat: English short ribs and beef shanks.

Enough Ingress, enough fluorescent lighting, enough people and sounds and everything. I needed to take my groceries and run to ground where I would be safe. So I walked over to Lucky 13 into the nurturing arms of my surrogate bar-mom / hot rocker / unapologetic Kansas City Royals fan friend, Lotta.


I had a large container of stock that I had made days earlier that needed to be clarified or tossed in the freezer, so I bought egg whites knowing that I had some (wilting) carrots and celery at home.

I knew I had "too much" celery for the amount of stock I had so I devised a way to use up the celery hearts, those yellow-green, tender, pale stalks that are the under appreciated gem of each bunch of celery.

I chopped these up, along with some sweet pickled white onions and fennel I had laying around and tossed them with pre-packaged baby octopus and calamaris packed in oil (I reserve the oil, which is usually a light late pressing of olive oil and herbs, for salads) and gave the whole thing a squeeze from half a lemon.

Good stuff.

Also extending the celery somewhat, I blended two or three stalks, trimmed and diced, with about 1/4th of a yellow onion and 5 or 6 anchovies and a splash of red wine.

The resulting paste was rubbed into the shanks and ribs and let to marinate uncovered for a couple of hours while I ate my little Insalada di Mare and drank some wine and watched bad TV.

Pre-heat oven to 350ºF. Find a straight-sided 5-quart roasting pan with a lid.

Out of the marinade came the meat to drip dry on a rack over a small toaster oven pan.

I reserved the marinade, returning the meat to the same bowl after searing the meat for color. Then I seared several large white button mushrooms (the largest, the size of a baseball almost, halved), and that too went in with the marinade. I deglazed with a splash of wine, dumping that into the marinade, and then fried 4-5 large radishes cut and placed cut side down in butter in the cooking vessel.

...Into the marinade those went after they had nice color on the cut and rounded sides. I chopped half an onion, dumped it into my mixing bowl, drained half a bottle of cheap but drinkable red wine into the bowl then transferred all to the hot pan. A ladle or two of stock, a bay leaf, and the cover went on and the whole thing was transferred into the oven, which I had turned down to 275ºF, for at least 3 hours.

After the kitchen smells unbearably delicious, and you've finished whatever was left in the bottle of wine (and perhaps moved on, as I had, to stronger stuff), remove the lid from the pan, ladle in half a cup of stock, turn the oven back up to 375ºF and cook for a final 30 minutes.

I set the cross cut of the femur aside, and crudely sucked the marrow out of the center once they had cooled off, in the middle of my kitchen late at night like some sort of feral beast.

I served some stewed meat and vegetables with fancy organic ramen noodles ($2 a packet instead of 59¢).


* Bumping - augment a friendly "portal" with higher level inventory or portal modifications ("mods").
** Smashing - attack and destroy enemy "portals", then capture for your team.

Dolores Park Café

Golden Produce

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Radler Me This

A radler, or shandy, is defined by Wikipedia as a 1:1 concoction of beer and sparkling fruit juice, typically lemonade or some other fruity soda. While Wikipedia is sometimes not the most trustworthy source of information on the web (insert your favorite source of biased information here, be it NewsMax, Mother Jones, reddit, HuffPo, Food Babe or, I trust that they are telling me the truth this time because nearly every bottle or can of radler I have encountered says so right on the label.

I know, you are asking yourself: "beer and soda? The folks at Chowbacca must have gone quite mad indeed."

Indeed we have, for the heat of this summer has cooked my brain and robbed me of whatever sense I may have been holding on to for dear life like an inflated plastic child's toy one might use in a cool, cool swimming pool... So cool...

It is hot, friends, in San Francisco. Surely this will raise the ire of those of you who endure what is referred to in the vernacular as "real weather," especially if you have been to San Francisco in the summer – so famous for dreary, cloud covered days and chilly nights that Samuel Clemens is famously misquoted as saying something about the coldest winter, etc, etc (he didn't say it, or so Snopes tells me).

Normally it is cold in San Francisco in the summer, and that cringeworthy Mark Twain misattribution gets bandied about like other un-truisms we at Chowbacca hold in disdain ("...sear the meat the seal in the juices...", "...MSG is bad for you...", "...reed avocados are bad for guacamole..."). On the other hand it's always fun to watch Joe and Jane Blow and their gaggle of adorable younglings here on summer break from Kansas shiver in their shorts, tee-shirts and flip-flops while those of us in the know huddle in our hoodies.

But not this summer, friends. No, this summer has been atypically hot, and even now that the sun has been down for hours I sit in front of my screen typing these words with a fine layer of sweat upon my brow.

No coincidence, then, that the shandy has gained in popularity along with the noble hard cider (and please, get a good European one, not that corn-syrup dreck they advertise on TV).

Crack a can, and pour it on ice. Summer is over in San Francisco, and as we all know, that just means it's going to get hotter.