Your dream comes true, then you’re kicked in the nuts

Well it finally happened. I have had my dream come true. My dream has always been to get a job where I made enough money to shop at Andronico’s regularly. That doesn’t mean I’d only shop there, just that I had enough money in my pocket that I wouldn’t flinch when I saw he cash register ring up.

Well, now there’s a problem. Andronico’s may be going out of business.There’s a good chance they will be bought out by a company called Renovo, and I’m hoping they will. I love their meat department and deli department and the fact that it’s not always crowded and you can find products that you can’t find at other stores. I’ve written about them before and this morning we went in to pick up a few things at the deli and I happened to walk past their cheese section and actually was able to stop and look at the cheeses with the possibility of buying some. I did, and I also hit the olive bar which I love and stocked up heavily.  It felt good to now be able to eat more healthy food than the cheap packaged crap that’s out there that’s pushed my blood pressure up a few times that I could have exploded.

I’m keeping my hopes up for now that they’ll still be there next week.


Goodbye to the California Academy of Sciences

As most of you know I have had a love/hate relationship with the California Academy of Sciences. I love the fact that they have a super eco-friendly building with LEED Platinum certification, but what I have found with the new change is that they don’t have the science so much anymore. I grew up at the Academy and whenever I had a science project at school I would always do my research at the Academy because it was a treasure trove of information and because I was also a member of the Junior Academy I had access to even more.

I received my renewal notice from the Academy a few days ago and noticed that last year we paid $159 for a family membership. This year they have risen the price to $199. While that’s less than a dollar a day that kind of thinking only applies to food, not an Academy of Sciences membership which has now entered into the luxury realm. They’ve raised their prices to $29.95 to gain entrance to its hallowed halls, but once you get inside it feels empty. See the fish! See the rainforest! See the planetarium! (sorry all our shows are filled for the day) See our living roof! Oh, here’s some crap we’re using to fill in the space while you walk to our cafe to plunk down another $50 on top of the $100 you just put down to get your family of four in the door on top of the parking fee.

I’m not taking it anymore. While I grew up there and learned a lot through my activities there the Academy has been rebuilt to serve science to the rich, not the masses. This prompted me to send them the following letter:

Dear California Academy of Sciences,

It is with great regret that I will not be renewing my family membership this year. You price for membership has risen too much over the years to make it feasible for my middle class family to afford anymore.

I grew up as a part of the Academy of Sciences, attending classes at the former Junior Academy while volunteering at Steinhart Aquarium and eventually moving on to work in the Junior Academy and Planetarium. The Academy gave me great benefits at the time that gave me much more than I was learning in school and had me understanding organic chemistry at the age of 12 to the point that I was regularly pointing out errors to my teachers.

That was many years ago. Back when a $25 membership would allow your entire family and two guests walk freely about the Academy that wasn’t so incredibly packed as it is today. We also used to have free monthly meetings and a magazine delivered to us each month and I always looked forward to the free members night that gave us all behind the scenes tours of the aquarium and all the other departments at the Academy.

While the prices obviously have to rise over time, your costs less than 10 years ago prior to the rebuilding of the Academy were $65 for a family membership and came with eight guest passes and you still had the members night. Today that would cost me $1000 and on my budget that makes it unavailable. I have had the standard family membership which when I paid it last year was $159. If I were to renew it today it would cost me $199 which I still cannot afford.

There was a time when the California Academy of Sciences served the people of San Francisco. Now it would cost a family of four $100 to spend a day at the Academy and to me that is unacceptable. I regret that what the Academy once offered me it no longer offers the people of San Francisco and that my daughter will grow up without having access to what I had. I regret that there are so many people flocking to the Academy and giving up their hard earned money to view the aquarium, rainforest and planetarium with a few bits and pieces strewn about. There is no more Wattis Hall of Man, no more Hall of Birds, no more Hall of Minerals, no more North American Hall, no more Life through Science, no more Swamp and no more Entomology room. You have retained African Hall, but the only thing people seem to pay attention to is the penguin exhibit with the rest of the hall being the only quiet, open space in the Academy.

I used to be able to spend an entire day at the Academy of Sciences, but now I can take it in in under two hours. While the Academy has grown in square footage it has shrunk in what it is offering its patrons. I have friends and family who come to visit here and they would love to see the Academy of Sciences, but as soon as I tell them the price they choose to go somewhere else. I used to be able to give them my cards to use, but now you insist on members to show their ID to get in. True, you do offer the one free day a month which is by far the worse day to visit the Academy as it is so crowded it is probably coming close to passing fire code violations on occupancy.

I am not sure if I will ever return to the California Academy of Sciences again unless there is a change back to serving the people of San Francisco by not selling the sizzle instead of the steak at a high price, but by serving up science to the masses that teaches them and gives them a better understanding of the world we live in and how fragile it can be.

Sincerely with deep regret,

Eric Kauschen

The times, they are a changing. Please share this with your friends. I think it will be a long time before you hear me mention the California Academy of Sciences again.

UPDATE: After doing a little fact finding I’ve just discovered that the family membership was $60/year until 2008, A mere 3 years ago and offered the benefits of 4 free academy passes that they valued at $7 each not the $29.95 they ask today, three years later.

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Valentine’s Day: San Francisco

I am lucky that my wife never even looks at this site and couldn’t even tell me what color it is if her life depended on it, so I’ll share this with you instead.

I never liked Valentine’s Day very much because I always felt guys are on the short end of the stick. It’s all about what you’re buying for your girlfriend/wife. I suppose it’s slightly different in the gay community, but not being gay I don’t know for sure.

I never get even a card on Valentine’s day, but I’m usually expected to “put out” something along the lines of chocolate and sweets or jewelry. Well, I’m lucky. I didn’t marry that kind of girl. When we go out to dinner we don’t like to sit and languish for hours and hours. She’s a simple girl and that’s why she’s put up with me for over 14 years.

[mappress mapid=”33″]So I’m going to do something different today. Today I’m going to take my wife to a special place on Union Street called American Cupcake for lunch. This is a place that isn’t just a bakery shop, but more of a café that specializes in cupcakes. They’ve done so well that they’ve been featured on the Food Network or the Cooking Channel [I can’t keep the two straight anymore]. They have lots to offer outside of their sweet menu which is their cupcakes. They also offer a savory menu which is what you’ll want to get for lunch or dinner unless you like to eat cupcakes for those two meals.

They also have a PBJ assortment to offer as well as beer and wine based cocktails. All of their goodies are organic and sustainably farmed so the eco-geek in you will be kept very happy. I suggest you check them out and see what you think.

Cambozola: The heroin of cheeses

It was one of those days. We had some friends coming over and we wanted to have some food available because we always like to eat. I ran out to Andronico’s which is like the food porn of supermarkets to get some cheese and there sitting in front of me was a huge collection of wedges of cambozola cheese. It had been awhile since I had it and I remembered how much I liked it so I grabbed a wedge and went on my way to get some prosciutto di parma and get back home.

Well when our friends came over they decided that they wanted to go out to eat. I’m thinking we’ve got cambozola AND prosciutto di parma in the house [along with a lot of other foods, but still] why go out? Well it turns out we did venture out to the Tennessee Grill and had huge meals that left us feeling like a light dinner sounded best.

As I sat down at the table that night my wife cobbled together some of the food we were going to eat for lunch. She handed me a some toasted bread and I automatically grabbed the cambozola and spread it on to the nice warm toast and noticed it start to slowly melt into the bread as I took a bit.

Oh God. I forgot just how good this tasted, but like the title says, it’s the “heroin of cheeses”. You just can’t stop and you keep going back for more and more. I was cutting up little pieces and dropping them on my salads, crackers, bread. I think I brushed my teeth with it one morning. It is just that good a cheese. I had become obsessed so I went to look up some information on my renewed addiction via Wikipedia:

It was patented and industrially produced for the world market by large German company Champignon in the 1970s. The cheese was invented circa 1900 and is still produced by Champignon. In English-speaking countries, cambozola is often marketed as blue brie.

It is made from the same blue Penicillium roqueforti mold used to make Gorgonzola, Roquefort, and StiltonCream is added to the milk, giving Cambozola a rich consistency. Therind of the cheese is similar to the Camembert rind. Cambozola is considerably milder than Gorgonzola. It features a smooth, creamy texture with a subdued blue flavor.

The cheese’s name appears to be a portmanteau of Camembert and Gorgonzola, given that its flavor profile combines the moist, rich creaminess of Camembert with the sharpness of blue Gorgonzola. It also refers to the Roman name Cambodunum of the city Kempten, where Champignon is located.

OK, I knew it wasn’t make in the Bay Area, but this German cheese with an Italian sounding name made by a company with a French name deserves at least some shrine in whatever town Champignon is in. I started searching for more info on my new love and found that people are putting this on everything now. Hamburgers with cambozola, pizza with cambozola, cambozola cheese pastries. It’s everywhere. It’s got a somewhat strong, but smooth taste, but none of that stinky cheese smell. It’s also a semi-soft cheese so spreading it isn’t too difficult. I just finished a snack of cambozola on toast with some barnier olives from Andronico’s and the tastes went well together. It didn’t even clash with the dark chocolate I had to finish my meal. Then I found out that Michael Chiarello of NapaStyle and Food Network fame has made a sauce with cambozola that he sells through NapaStyle and he even gives a recipe for asparagus with cambozola sauce on the Food Network website. OK, I know what I’m making for dinner tonight.

There is a downside to this wonderful cheese though…it’s not cheap. A pound will run you between $15-$20 depending where you get it. We used to find the cheapest at costco, but we don’t go there as often as we rarely need a palette full of anything anymore. If you can keep the addiction in check though it is a great cheese to try. It’s pretty easy to find in San Francisco as most grocery stores have it and it seems to be made only by Champignon so you don’t have to wonder whether you’re getting the best brand or not.

The House of Shields Returns!

Way back when [1908 to be exact] the House of Shields opened its doors to customers. It was a place I last got to visit sometime in the late 80’s early 90’s. It had a feel to it like a Bogart movie. Over the years it retained some of the Victorian dusty feel with a bit of an art deco upgrade from the 20’s.

The food was old school. I remember my meal there. Pork tenderloin medallions with mashed potatoes and gravy and some sort of sauted vegetable that was probably there more for decoration than eating. When was the last time you saw that on the menu. I also remember our waiter, “Vinny” in his tuxedoed waiter’s uniform suggested them. He was right. They were great and I think that might have set me off on my now well developed love of pork.

House of Shields was classic San Francisco, Herb Caen and Charles McCabe used to write about it frequently in their columns, yet when it closed it didn’t look closed. It looked more like, “we aren’t open yet.” I haven’t been back since it opened in mid-December, but I think I might make a trip back for old times sake. While I hear a lot about their chef in the press I don’t see any menu on their website and it seems they’re mostly focused on the bar which has now been taken over by retro hipsters ordering appletini’s instead of the old days of, “Gimme something big and strong”  which meant a double scotch, no ice. You didn’t call out a brand name, you didn’t even need to call out what kind of liquor your were ordering.

During prohibition what is now their private dinning room served as a speakeasy that dinner guests could sneak off to for “something big and strong” in between bites of their meal. I have a sneaking suspicion that while the House of Shields is back in operation and the inside has been restored, the new hipster crowd might just kill off that old Bogart movie feel, but you never know.

I noticed that they feature live music on weekends and the bands get to keep 90% of the $5 cover charge at the door. Not too shabby for musicians and definitely not like the pay to play of the 80’s for bands.[mappress mapid=”8″]

Willie Brown…Herb Caen’s Successor

Willie Brown, what can I say. He is a career politician who was once our mayor that some people said of him, “You’re a crook, but you’re OUR crook.” He just laughed that off with a smile. A politician being called a crook and not getting outraged? Willie has cohones as big as his wardrobe of clothes from Wilks Bashford.

Now that he’s getting up there in years a bit, he’s not slowing down, but he’s moving away from politics and just talking about them. That’s why his “Willie’s World” in the SF Chronicle is one of the first things I go for in the Sunday paper. Willie has been around the block a few times and knows how things work. I get a kick when he says things like, “So I was having lunch with the Governator at the Palace hotel when Micky Rourke walked over and said hi.”

How many people could have the guts to make a statement like that? He is like the glitterati of politics which crosses over to the hollywood world of weirdness. His column on Sundays is true 3 dot journalism just like Herb Caen used to write. He starts off with the state of affairs in San Francisco and ends up with movie and restaurant reviews. I would love to be able to claim myself as the successor to Herb Caen, but I’m more of a bastard child. Willie has it down. This is probably because I spend most of my days living in the boring Sunset District which I love and Willie’s getting a table without a reservation at Tyler Florence’s new place because, well, he’s Willie Brown.

Willie has seen San Francisco’s soft white underbelly and he can still smile about the city. He was asked if he’d fill in as interim Mayor of SF and he proudly said no. He’s been there and done that so I can see that. He needs some sort of honorary title though like City Historian or Ambassador to San Francisco. I think Cyril Magnin had that latter title many years ago. Nevertheless, Willie is a cool guy who I would like to meet one day. I’m envisioning our meet up would be at the Tadich Grill for San Francisco sentiments sake. The Washington Street Bar and Grill or “Washbag” as Herb Caen used to call it was his place, so I think the Tadich would be a better choice.