San Francisco Bread

IMG_2691It’s the weekend and I’m going to move a bit off my regular topics, but just a bit. San Francisco has been known for it’s bread, specifically sourdough bread all made possible by Lactobacillus sanfranciscensis which is found here and no where else. Sourdough bread was a pretty good marketing technique as the original bakers didn’t have nice packets of yeast sitting around like we do today [you did know that right?] They used a bit of dough from yesterday’s bread which would after awhile attract the L. sanfranciscensis bacteria which would give San Francisco bread it’s classic sourdough taste.

Now not all bread here is sourdough, but we’re best known for it. I’ve been becoming a little more cost conscious lately, especially when I noticed a loaf of bread was selling for close to $4. As my friend Al Cabal keeps reminding me, food prices are going up. This is true and I’ve been looking for ways around that which means spending more time in the kitchen or shopping outside of San Francisco.

My Mom bought a bread maker years ago which I was the only one who ever used it a few times and then it ended up sitting on a shelf. I happen to like bread and I especially like it when it’s homemade. I started doing so research since bread from a machine just doesn’t taste the same as hand made bread unless you live on white bread.

There is a function on the machine which it doesn’t bake the bread, but warms it just a little during the dough making process and then stops and lets you take over. I decided to give it a shot and I have to say that I’ve been pretty impressed with the results. You just have to add the ingredients and turn it on then pull the container out when the dough’s ready, form it and let it sit through it’s final rise then pop it in the oven.

Now here in San Francisco French bread and Italian bread are used pretty much interchangeably so I decided to do a little search to see if there really was a difference. It turns out that French bread is pretty much flour, water and yeast while Italian bread adds salt, sugar and [usually] olive oil. Me, being the good Italian boy with an Austrian last name chose to go the Italian route. It doesn’t take much work at all and in the end I end up having home made bread that costs me about 50¢ per week.

Here’s the recipe that I’m not going to put in a very web friendly way so that you have to read the entire article to find it. To start off with pour a cup and a half of hot water [not boiling] into your bread machine then add two tablespoons of  olive oil, one tablespoon of packed brown sugar [light or dark], two teaspoons of salt. Then on top of this add four cups of unbleached white flour and on top of this add two and a quarter teaspoons of yeast. Turn on the machine in the dough cycle and wait about an hour and a half. You can adjust the quantities slightly as you see fit after you’ve followed the recipe once.

After it’s done you have to form the loaf which I won’t go into because that’s where my secret to making the extra perfect loaf has come from and put it aside to rise the second time for about 45 minutes. Pop it into a 375° oven for about a half hour or so and you’ll have two loaves of really nice bread. You can add slits to the top before cooking and brush the top with a beaten egg and tablespoon of water which only makes your bread look more finished in my opinion. Don’t worry too much if your loaf doesn’t look perfect, it’ll still be very edible and it’ll get better as you keep doing it.

Now that I’ve gotten into the weekly routine I try a few things to change things up. Maybe I’ll brush olive oil on while it rises the second time or just wait and brush on a tablespoon of cornstarch and water. It all depends on what you’re trying to do and there is an odd sort of spiritual experience to taking the raw ingredients and transforming them which most people don’t have an experience with today. My daughter likes to help me form the loaves and she’s getting pretty good at it and she also approves of it because she’s run when you’re not looking and grab the loaves fresh out of the oven and start to chow down on them if I’m not looking.

If you’ve got a bread machine lying around I encourage you to pull it out and give it a try. If you don’t the salvation army has them for sale used very cheap. It’s not much of a hassle and you’ll love the end result while saving some money. My Mom always told me I needed to learn how to cook because no one will cook as good as her and when she wasn’t around anymore I’d be on my own. I think that was a mixture of an Italian and Jewish mother thrown at me just give me a double helping of gilt and work ethic. It’s done a good job for me so far and saves us lots of money.

Tosca Cafe: A Piece of San Francisco History

I read an article on SFgate today that the Tosca Cafe may be closing. While I wasn’t a frequent visitor, I’ve been there enough times that it feels like home when you walk in the door. It has quite a history that the SFgate article doesn’t cover so I’m going to give you the details today.

It turns out that Tosca opened in 1919 and it was the first place in the United States to serve espresso and cappuccino. Started by three Italians who came to San Francisco after World War I, they wanted to create a bar like they used to frequent in Italy. This made Tosca a keystone of North Beach. Their drinks that they were known for were their cappuccino [which unlike Starbucks has brandy] and the White Nun [steamed milk, brandy and kahlua]. Tosca is also known for it’s Irish Coffee which many people say is better than the Irish Coffee at the Buena Vista Cafe where it was started.

Carol Doda was known to be seen sitting in the front window sipping White Nun’s in between her acts at the Condor club. Many other celebrities from around the world have been known to stop in at Tosca’s. Jerry Brown is a regular customer as is Willie Brown. It’s the place to go in San Francisco to find celebrities and it’s a same that the strip club owner landlord wants to shut down a piece of San Francisco history.

New Face For Fort Mason?

Originally a U.S. Army post built in late 1800’s for coastal defense during the Civil War [good job guys!], Fort Mason expanded in 1912 to include docks and storage for shipping overseas soldiers and equipment for wars. It hasn’t really changed too much since then since it was finally decommission and handed over to the National Parks Service in the 1970’s.

While there have been some minor improvements, it’s still pretty much storage facilities except for the few rooms that can be rented out for events, Greens, The Blue Bear School of Music and the Italian American Museum. I’m sure there’s more there, but I just haven’t come across it other than attending a meeting of the San Francisco Aquarium Society a few months ago and attending traffic school there several years ago.

The buildings are starting to look rather worn out though and something needs to be done to bring these 13 acres of land to be more useful to the city other than a parking place for Off-The-Grid food trucks every Friday night. Now Fort Mason Revisited has asked 20 design firms to come up with designs to revamp the place and I say good for them. Yes, there’s lots of historical nature to the place having been used by the military during all the wars up to and including the Korean War, but it now needs a big change to serve the people of San Francisco.

Of the 20 firms selected, they have until June 15 to say whether or not they’re in and then three of the firms will be selected to start work this summer. There’s no telling what will come of the place, but I hoping for the best. Wouldn’t it be great if we could have a place that’s built off of modern designs with added solar and wind power to electrify the place. The city is also in the process of trying to extend the F line to Fort Mason through an unused rail tunnel in upper Fort Mason. I think that would be a good idea and I believe they should retain some of the nautical themes that have been in place so it coincides with all the boats docked next to it.

Pesto alla Genovese

While I have a Germanic last name, I grew up in an Italian household. My family traces it’s roots back to Genoa in the Ligurian provence of Italy. As a kid what we ate was considered ethnic food. For most kids my age Italian food consisted of Spaghetti-O’s. For us it was pesto. It was something no one had heard of and you never saw it on the menu’s in Italian restaurants.

I learned how to make from my Mom who learned it from her Mom, etc, etc. When my Dad lost his job and we were low on cash we had pesto with tagliarini pasta at least once a week. Tagliarini is kind of like fettucini only thinner. When basil was in season she’d go to the farmer’s market down on Alemany and get a box sometimes two boxes and then the chaos would begin. I got the job of stripping the leaves off while my Mom and Grandmother would pull out their wooden bowls and mesaluna’s and start chopping the basil. It wasn’t the real way you’re supposed to make it as it was normally ground with a mortar and pestle, but these were more modern times pre-cuisinart. I loved it and ate it up by the piles. A couple of nights as a kid I had it before going to a Boy Scout meeting and apparently all the garlic that was in there became very apparent to everyone in the auditorium.

After I got done with the leaves it was time to grind the pignoli [pine nuts] and chop the garlic…lots of garlic. I think I had the easiest jobs of all. While pulling the leaves off the stems was tedious it wasn’t anything compared to chopping the leaves with the archaic double bladed knives that probably dated back to the 20’s. When the chopping was done my Grandmother would put the chopped leaves into a large bowl and slowly pour in olive oil [not the traditional Ligurian extra virgin olive oil, but good enough] and slowly stirred the chopped basil and oil until it got a creamy texture. Then I got to add the pignoli and garlic and finish up the stirring. My Mom would then start jarring up the extra and that would go into our downstairs freezer.

We always saved the last bit for dinner that night and my Dad who used to work down in the Marina would be told to drop by Lucca’s and get some fresh tagliarini for dinner. Typically you add some parmesan cheese to the mix, but my Mom and Grandmother always liked to let us decide how much cheese we wanted on it. This tradition carried on for years until a day in the 21st century my Mom wanted some pesto, but didn’t have it in her to go through the process. I suggested we try the food processor and of course she balked.

So I bought a bunch of basil picked the leaves and threw it into the food processor we had at my house. I tossed in about 5-6 cloves of garlic and a little olive oil and turned it on. Slowly adding a little bit more and more until it looked about right, but I left out the pignoli because I was lazy and they’re kind of expensive. We found some fresh tagliarini at a local upscale grocer who I won’t mention and brought it over to her house to make dinner one night.

Where’s the pine nuts? OK, I should have expected that. How’d you make it? You don’t have all the…wait! You made it in a food processor? Yes ma, that’s what I did, so do you like it? She liked it and started doing it that way herself.

Now pesto is everywhere. It’s in mayonnaise, on pizza’s someone will probably make a pesto chocolate bar soon. I see it all the time at the supermarket, but I’ve tried it a couple of times and I still go back to making it myself. It’s cheaper, fresher and just reminds me of good times in my past. Incidentally, if you substitute Italian parsley for the basil you get a great South American steak sauce called chimichurri that I’ve written about previously.

Pacifica, CA

I had a chance to travel just a touch south of San Francisco yesterday to visit a friend who was in town and I decided to write about Pacifica for today. Pacifica is a bit of an isolated area in that you can get to it from Highway 280 or Highway 35, but the two intersect and the only way out is Highway 1 which turns into Highway 35, so I think you can see that it’s one way in and one way out.

Now Pacifica has a few little towns such as Lindamar, Vallmar and Rockaway Beach that aren’t really towns, but they kind of think they are. We met up at their hotel in Rockaway Beach which is the part of Pacifica where all the surfers go. If you’re not a surfer then you’re probably there to eat at Nick’s Restaurant. Nick’s was always a kind of getaway for people from San Francisco. It has a feel of the old school restaurants of Las Vegas without today’s prices. If you want seafood, Nick’s is the place to go. My parent’s and everyone in my family have a soft spot for Nick’s. I learned to actually enjoy a dish they have there called, scalone which is a mixture of scallops and abalone served as a sandwich. It was a treat that Nick’s started and while you can find it at other places, stick to Nick’s. They have things other than seafood, but if you want the experience of an old school Italian seafood restaurant it’s probably better than anything you’ll find on the wharf. Nick’s is less crowded, except on Sundays when they have their special brunch menu, but you’ll still be able to get a seat and have some good food while watching the waves and [hopefully not] watch the surfers change out of their wetsuits.

Just as a side note, my friend and his wife I was meeting are from way up north in California and they live in a place that’s somewhere between red and neck [any questions? Just drop Modoc County into google]. It turns out I found out that he has an elaborate set up at home for making his very own corn whiskey moonshine. I received a mason jar full of 145 proof corn whiskey that if I survive the drinking of it I will try and write about that if I can keep my eyes focused and my hand steady. He’s a good old boy and I appreciate that he brought some of his mad scientist brew for me to try.

Now back to Pacifica…Specifically Rockaway Beach is an interesting part of the area because if you look at the picture you’ll see that it has a lot of grass and rocky areas that remind me of pictures I’ve seen of Wales. This is definitely a place for hardy folk as the winds can pick up here in the afternoon and blow you over. On a calm sunny day [which is a bit rare for Pacifica] watching the sunset is one of the joys of this place.

If you go a bit north up to Sharp Park you’ll find one of the few black sand beaches in the area. I unfortunately didn’t have the time to stop and take pictures of the beach there, but the sand had a higher amount of iron oxide in it that gives it a black look and is fun to show off to your kids how cool the beach is with a magnet. Just a touch further north is Manor Drive which has the main shopping district of Pacifica. I have to say that with a bit of a wink because it’s not like any shopping mall you’ll encounter. It’s basically a grocery store with a few small shops around it. My wife and I were in Pacifica years ago looking at the possibility of buying a home there and stopped in for breakfast at Manor Drive at a coffee shop and while looking out at the early morning surfers and shore fisherman had to wonder how often the fisherman and surfers got entangled. We didn’t see any fights, so I suppose they’ve found a way to keep away from each other.

If you stop at Manor Drive, be sure to stop and look up on the hill to the southeast. You’ll see a castle up there. I don’t know if the original owner is still there, but he bought the house that looked like a castle and decided that if it looked like a castle on the outside he should make the inside look like one too. The only sad part was that aside from the occasional local TV show that would showcase him, he never offered tours. For a place like that I’d pay to walk around in.

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Rice-A-Roni, The San Francisco Treat!

C’mon, ya’ll knew I couldn’t leave this one out right? Well, I know enough about advertising that sometimes they aren’t always telling the truth so I had to do a little research to see if Rice-A-Roni really was a San Francisco Treat.

It turns out they weren’t lying. It all started in 1958 when Vince DeDomenico and his wife enjoyed an old Armenian dish consisting of rice, vermicelli pasta and chicken broth. The rice and pasta were sauteed in butter before the liquid was added, giving the dish its distinctive taste. We call it rice pilaf today, but back then they needed a catchier name that was more American sounding. This was a time when spaghetti was considered an ethnic food remember.

They made a commercial with the cable car coming up the hill and the jingle, Rice-A-Roni, the San Francisco Treat! It was an instant hit. To top that off in 1964 after a trip to Rome and tasting fettucine alfredo they came back and invented Noddle Roni. And by invented, I mean they stole a traditional Italian recipe and changed the name to Noddle Roni Parmesano [it’s now called Pasta Roni].

By 1962 it was available all over the US and was catching on big time and soon because one of the top brands of side dish in the US. Oddly the San Francisco treat didn’t get it’s start in North Beach where most of the Italian families collected, but actually the Gragnano Products Co. which later changed it’s name to Golden Grain Macaroni Company started it’s life in the Mission District in 1912. Sadly, the Golden Grain Macaroni Company that started Rice-A-Roni is no longer a San Francisco treat. They have moved to Chicago where they do business, but the cable car is still a part of the product. They even have a history of the association of cable cars with their product on their website.

The funny part about all this for me was that when I was growing up we had Armenian Neighbors and my Mom being the food snob and cheap wouldn’t make something out of the box, but she’d make her own rice pilaf. I never ate Rice-A-Roni until I was somewhere around 30 living on my own and was a bit lazy at times. I never watched my Mom make rice pilaf so I didn’t know that if you sauteed rice and vermicelli in butter before boiling it in chicken broth you could make this very easily yourself. When my wife and I got married Rice-A-Roni became a staple in our house. Back then, my wife didn’t really cook and I never thought of taking the little extra time to make it. Now things have changed and we make our own, but there are those days when it’s just easier to pull out the box.

For those of you who like the good ole days here’s their first ad which I managed to find on You Tube:


Bugia Cookies: FOUND!

I had a flashback to being a kid this week. I was down in the Mission and happened to be walking by Lucca’s Delicatessen (not to be confused with Lucca’s in the Marina) when I saw in the window a box of Bugia cookies. I had totally forgotten about these cookies of my youth and I had to buy a box.

The cookies derive their name from the Italian word, Bugia which translates to liar. They are called liar’s cookies because when Mama makes them and puts them in the cookie jar she’ll know immediately if you’ve stolen one by the trail of powdered sugar that leads up to your mouth. They make them all over Italy, but everyone does it a bit differently. These where oddly enough just like the one’s I ate as a kid. As it turns out they are made at the Liguria Bakery on Stockton Street. That would make sense since my family who came from Jackson, CA where there are a large population of Ligurian Italians (my family originally came from Genoa which is in Liguria).

These are puffy fried chips of dough covered in powdered sugar. There’s a little bit of citrus and anise in the dough that give them a wonderful taste. This isn’t like the fried dough they sell on the east coast. Nothing like zeppole which is a fried Italian doughnut, but crunchy and addictive. If some one could make a sweet potato chip it would probably taste a little bit like this.

Oddly enough they aren’t very bad for you even though they’re fried. Ten chips only have 150 calories and 1.5 grams of saturated fat. I’m not saying that you should change your diet for them, but they’re a great treat you should try.

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Durian Gelato…Interesting

Today I did something I never thought I’d do. I asked to sample Durian Gelato. The Durian is a fruit from the Phillipines that is of mythic proportions. An ex-girlfriend’s Grandmother used to tell me that it was, “The fruit that tastes like heaven, but smells like hell.” Lola, you had that one down cold. The only problem is when I put this tiny morsel of gelato into my mouth I was struck by a flavor that wouldn’t go away.

First there was a sulfurous bite followed by a somewhat grassy, well rotten grassy flavor, but never once was there anything sweet in the taste. I had the chance to try this at the local Marco Polo gelato shop on Taraval street. Don’t hold the Durian gelato against them though. They have a lot of the standard flavors you’d find in a gelato shop like rum raisin, pistachio, arcobaleno, double chocolate, but they also have mixed in Asian flavors such as sesame, taro (that’s ube in the Phillipines), green tea and of course the Durian.

This is a fruit that Andrew Zimmern who hosts Bizarre Foods on the Travel Channel can’t even get himself to try. He says it’s because he, “just can’t get past that funky, gross smell.” I figured gelato might water down the strength of the flavor, but if it did, I can see why Andrew would never eat the fruit. This is the same person who I have watched eat bugs, rotten egg omelets, but there is one fruit he just can’t eat. That tells me a lot of how bad the smell is if he can’t even eat it.

So what do you all think? Durian, yay or nay?

Water, water everywhere and now you can drink it!

Torani Syrup

Because I’ve been on this chloramine in our water kick for sometime I’ve met lots of people who also don’t like the chloramine one of my friend sent me a link to a PDF that tells you how you can remove the chloramine from your water supply and it turns out to be an easy one. Here’s the link: Removing Chloramine

I’ll give you a brief synopsis in case you’re lazy. For drinking water slicing up a citric fruit such as lemon, lime or orange and dropping it into your water will neutralize the chloramine. I have an even better way and no, I’m not sponsored by this company, but I’d love to be. Drop one shot of Torani fruit syrup into a glass then add 16 oz or so of cold water. I prefer the pomegranate or blood orange, but experiment. Torani contains citric acid [which removes the chloramine] as well as natural flavorings and no high fructose corn syrup to get you fat. When you add club soda you get San Francisco’s famed Italian sodas like you can find in North Beach.

If you want to fix your bath water you just drop 1 gram [1000 mg] of vitamin C into the water it will also neutralize the chloramine. The PDF does mention that there are some shower head filters that contain Vitamin C and it has the links to them, but also mentions that the manufactures might be overstating how long before you need to change the cartridge.

Harry O Menswear


Harry O Menswear
Harry O Menswear

When you need clothes and I’m talking clothes that give you THAT look you need to make a trip to Harry O Menswear at 124 Second Street in San Francisco.

I got my first suit from him 15 years ago and it still fits and looks brand new to this day. Harry O is the greatest guy I’ve ever met and has some of the finest Italian clothes available. Everything from classics to modern. Harry is the Godfather of fashion for men in SF.

Now here’s a little tip for you. When you go to his store tell him that Eric from sent you and he’ll give you a good discount on anything you purchase. I’ll guarantee you’ll be going back to see him again.

If you could, please click on my sponsors ad below. You don’t necessarily have to purchase anything unless you want to, but at least the click will add money to my daughter’s schooling fund, or if you like you can click on our donation link and donate even a dollar.

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