Monday, September 28, 2009

Home again, home again

You know that sensation of dislocation you get when you are away from home and wake up in a strange bed in the middle of the night? For a few seconds your brain says: Where am I? What am I doing here? Well two days after returning from our trip I'm feeling a bit like that most of the time during waking hours!! My family now knows in advance that, while I love them and miss them when I am away, I am always in a bit of a funk when I get back.

Last time I blogged was after our excellent meal at the Yosemite Bug back on September 17th. As it happens, internet access was patchy at best for the next 9 days as we moved around California. Now I need to catch up, but rather than bore you with a blow-by-blow account of that time ( a bit like a very extended slide show) I thought I'd just share some general impressions ove the next few days. In summary: After Yosemite we headed off to Kings Canyon & Sequoia National Parks, which were unfortunately left in the shade by the spectacular sights of the previous week. We made a decision to cut our stay there short and instead worked our way back across the width of the state to spend 3 days in Pacific Grove, next door to Monterey and at the start of the famous Big Sur drive. Unfortunately the Sur was fogged in for all three days we were there, but we still had a fantastic time exploring the region in more detail than we had been able to on previous visits. We then headed down to Anaheim for a Yankees baseball game against the Anaheim Angels, which turned out to be suprisingly enjoyable. A marathon night drive up the centre of the state to San Francisco via Bakersfield gave us 3 lovely days in a beautiful Inn in the Hayes District of the city to end our trip.

General Impression Number One: I've never made it through Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma, but it is definitely on my must-complete list after driving for hours and hours through the Californian countryside seeing literally hundreds of miles of monoculture. Hundreds of miles of Pistachio trees, growing only by dint of the huge open canals siphoning water from rivers to turn deserts into orchards. Ditto the hundreds of miles of citrus growing in sand that can only possibly support them by being constantly supplemented by artificial fertilisers. Agriculture is apparently still California's top export, and it just shouldn't be - these thousands of square miles of crops are all growing in a natural desert. Most are grown by large corporations, using cheap, migrant labour; we would pass huge fields where produce was being processed on the spot - with dozens of labourers following massive harvesters, cleaning and packing as they went. Most wore makeshift face masks of t-shirts or towels to protect themselves from the dust being whipped up as they worked. Most of these workers are illegals so have very few benefits or rights and are working for tiny wages. We would sometimes stop in relatively prosperous towns where there would be a collection of trailers or small units clustered on the outskirts where these workers would live - it reminded me sadly of the situation in South Africa where I grew up: 'townships' were established which would segregate workers from the 'locals' keeping them out of sight - but still handy to work on the farms and towns.
On the way back to San Francisco from Anaheim, driving along the 5, we were also confronted by the reason everyone should become vegetarian (David would have felt smug if he hadn't been so sickened). Vast feedlots covering many hectares jammed full of cattle - nothing but dirt and their own faeces below their feet, no plants, no trees, long troughs full of grain and water in front of them. The smell weas unbelievable and stayed with us for miles after we had passed.
Recent food posioning scares in California agriculture have suggested that there is a price to be paid for this massive over-farming, but the situation is unlikely to change as long as there is a market for the produce. I will personally never buy a Californian pistachio or citrus fruit again, I would find it hard to give up meat, but like so many others I think organic and grass-fed is probably the way to go.

One more thing that struck us as we drove through these mega-orchards- there was not a bird to be seen or heard anywhere.


Sunday, September 20, 2009

September 17th - Back to the Bug

This trip has reinforced two things for me: I don't do tents or communal living. After a major meltdown last night about the accommodation and crowds at Camp Curry Village in Yosemite Valley, (see the previous post)I skyped a hostel called the Yosemite Bug in the town of Midpine, about 25 miles from the valley. Luckily they had a vacancy in a private room with a private bath so I cancelled the second night at Curry ( at 2.45am in the morning, when I couldn't get to sleep because of the refrigeration unit in the dining hall's kitchen which went on all night).

Hayley and I discovered the Bug when we did our mother-daughter, post-VCE trip to America at the end of 2003. I booked sight unseen then because it was cheap and seemed rustic and it turned out to be an absolute gem. It still is a gem, although no longer as rustic as it was 6 years ago - the rooms have been renovated (in a kind of hippy bordello chic - not as bad as it sounds) and the lovely old lounge with its' squashy couches and mismatched chairs has been updated.
What definitely hasn't changed (and thank goodness) is the outstanding food offered by the hostel's dining room. Rumour had it when Hayley and I stayed that the guy in charge had learned to cook in prison. Frankly I don't know or care where he learned, I just know that the food coming out of the kitchen was then, and still is, some of the best and freshest I have tasted in the US. Certainly I know of no other similar accommodation which offers this standard of dining. The Bug's kitchens grow or source locally as much of their produce as possible. The menu is small, (around 6 mains and a couple of salads) and changes according to what's in season. Dishes are carefully prepared with a real delicacy of flavour and presentation which comes as a complete surprise the first time you eat here. Of course knowing about the food in advance, and having tolerated an over-priced pizza at the Curry Dining Hall, this meal was what we were anticipating along with the comfortable bed and private bath.
So after another day of hiking and taking in the jaw-dropping scenery of Glacier Point and Taft Point above the valley, we headed off gratefully to the Bug and dinner.
David had the catfish po-boy sandwich ($8.95) and I had the slow-roasted pork which was served with steamed fresh beans and boiled new potatoes as well as a fresh chunky apple-sauce. ($12.95)
Serving sizes are small by American standards, but just perfect by Australian ones. You bus your own tables and get your own knives and forks etc, but I'm still not sure how they can do the food they do for the price. Unsurprisingly, there were several locals eating here as well as picking up the food 'to go'. I rounded off the day with a visit to the spa (oh that's the other difference since Hayley and I first stayed here!) feeling much more human. If you're ever in the area, do visit the bug, even if just to eat in the dining room. (Oh and breakfasts are also very good).
The bug was booked up the for the weekend, so tomorrow we're doing a long drive down to Sequoia National Park and King's Canyon.

September 15th - 17th: Exploring Yosemite and environs

Starting on Monday, our trip turned to some serious hiking and exporing the beautiful Yosemite National Park. Our tented cabins at Tuolumne Meadows Lodge were the perfect base for this. ( well perfect in location. Those who are dearest to me know I don't normally 'do' camping in any form, but accommodation options in the High Sierra area of Yosemite are limited). It turned out to be a beautiful spot though. The stars at night were amazing - so many it seemed as though every spare cm of space up there was crammed with them. We saw several satellites crossing the sky. Awesome.

Our first morning we tackled the spectacular Lembert Dome, literally across the road from the lodge. We climbed 800 feet in the 2 miles up to this amazing formation before scrambling up the granite rock face to the top. The previous evening we had seen hikers making their way across the dome, and I wasn't sure was up to it but here is the photo to prove otherwise ( I don't normally do photos either, but was so proud of myself, I made an exception). We had set off very early so were on our own up there, blown away by the views from the Dome across to the John Muir wilderness and miles and miles of peaks and forests.

Lembert Dome from the start of the hike

And at the top an hour later.

We took a burger lunch to the shores of the magnificent Tenaya Lake , and had another of those moments in this trip when the location even seemed to make the food taste better.
The afternoon was a 4 mile round trip to May Lake, also a very steep climb on a very warm afternoon (the weather has been absolutely flawless). There are several camps in the High Sierra which are established as a base for walk-in hikers. They use packhorses to transport in supplies to the camps which are a good day's walk apart. May Lake camp has an idyllic setting around the shores of this small lake, with tented cabins scattered throughout the lodge-pole pines. After the very hot climb up, it was fabulous to spend some time just sitting with my feet in the icy water, in complete silence of the lake. Magical.

Day 3 in the High Sierra, David had the chance to do some serious hiking without me, doing a 7 hour round trip to Glenaulin, another of the High Sierra camps. I made my way back down to Lee Vining to fill the car with petrol, do some laundry and catch up on internet after two days without. I also took the opportunity to just drive and found myself on the June Lake loop, a fishing, boating and (in winter) serious wintersports playground. One of the lakes on the drive, Silver Lake looked like it had stepped out of a picture postcard, and because David had the camera, that's what I had to satisfy myself with to remind me of this serendipitous discovery. Have a look at this pic from tripadvisor and you'll see what I mean.

After picking David up from his marathon walk, we made our way straight down the Tioga Pass Road to the Yosemite Valley for our next two days exploring the Park. Arriving at Camp Curry , which was established not long after the park was, I discovered there could be something worse than the very rustic tented cabins of Tuolumne Meadows Lodge, the tented cabins at Curry. While slightly more modern, our tent was tiny and one of around 700 such tent cabins squashed together in the precinct. The Camp was full, so there were people everywhere, cars everywhere, RVs everywhere, kids everywhere. I apologise if the comparison is spurious, but the image that kept coming to mind was that of a refugee camp.We had gone from the serenity of the High Sierras to my idea of hell in the Valley. The only high spot in a very miserable evening was while we sat eating tiny $8 pizzas, a family of racoons made their way out from their home under the dining hall and started sniffing around under the tables for scraps.
Just when I thought things couldn't get any worse (the internet was down in the camp as well!), when we turned in for the evening, we discovered that because our tent was positioned out the back of the dining hall we were to be inflicted with the sound of its refrigeration units all night. A very bad end to day 3.

Friday, September 18, 2009

September 14th:Secret marines business

Gunn House Hotel Motel in downtown Sonora
We woke this morning to the sound of rain, very unusual. As we travelled out of Sonora towards the eponymous Pass, the fog was thick and low, not very promising for viewing the scenery we had expected. Fortunately it began to lift the higher we got and by 8000ft we had a lovely day, blue skies with a little bit of light cloud cover. The drive was spectacular, the road a little scary at times as it hugged the curves, occasionally disappearing from sight without warning. A steeeep climb brought us to the pass at 9600ft, and promptly took a 25% downward swoop – as it happens going down can be even scarier than going up!!

An abandoned ski lodge on the Sonora pass Rd

A couple of surprising sights along the way included this abandoned ski lodge. However the most amazing sight of the day came as we dipped down towards Hwy 395. We passed a small sign saying: “Careful. Marines training in this area”. Well, we thought we might see a couple of guys in fatigues and buzz cuts running next to the road, but no. As we rounded a bend we could see a huge complex of buildings – mmm – I didn't know there was a town on this road! Next as we cam down into a valley the road suddenly went from bumpy and patched to a smooth, newly laid ribbon of bitumen. Around yet another bend we drove past an enormous parking lot of camouflaged Hummvees and trucks, loooots of young men in camouflage and buzzcuts and a sign warning “Careful low-flying helicopters may cause flying debris”. As it happened we had stumbled upon the US Marines Mountain Training Centre – very new and I suspect training marines for the tough mountainous conditions of Afghanistan. I hope you'll understand why I didn't take any photos, and I suspect if you tried to find it on Google Maps streetview, it might be blurred out.
Anyway, after that little bit of excitement the next was our planned sidetrip to the historic Ghost Town of Bodie. I had read about it many times, and knew that it had been the location for many spaghetti Westerns, and the main reason we had come over the Sonora Pass to take the back way to Yosemite was for this. It was well worth the time and miles – lots of people around, but an amazingly maintained historical site. The NPS likes to say that it is in a state of 'arrested decay', that is, they do the bare minimumto ensure the buildings survive, but this is no Sovereign Hill.

The ghost town of Bodie

We followed a back road ( the advantage of hiring an SUV) along the shores of Mono Lake, an awesome sight with it's enormous salt pillars, although its beauty is tempered by the fact that the lake is dying because of its feeder rivers being sucked dry by the water needs of Los Angeles.
Another spectacular drive up the Tioga Pass Rd (again to 9000+ feet) brought us to our destination for the next two nights – the rustic (I do not use the word lightly) Tuolumne Meadows Lodge in the High Sierra region of Yosemite National Park. Accommodation is in 'tented cabins' – essentially canvas tents with concrete floors. No electricity, a solid fuel heater and candles the only luxuries. Really dodgy showers and toilets had me swearing I wouldn't shower for the next 2 days, but the setting was spectacular – next to the Tuolumne River, with huge peaks towering sround us. After a reconaissance drive and walk along the meadows itself, we had a Corona by the river as the sun set over the peaks. Beautiful.

OK and the food stories of the day? Nothing much of significance: A typical American hotel breakast which was more like an afternoon tea, saved by freshly made waffles. Lunch was in the quaint highway town of Lee Vining at the local Frostie Diner - we stopped there because the local cops were having lunch - always a good sign. A bowl of Chilli for me and fish and chips for David suspiciously long way from the sea! The next few days we had decided to self-cater (although with no cooking facilities that wa going to mean a lot of sandwiches). The Yosemite concessioners have a monopoly on all food and accommadation in the park, meaning everything is over-priced and sometimes of dubious quality. $18 for a chicken caesar salad at the lodge dining room was enough to drive us to the 'grill' at the general store with hamburgers which were out about 2 minutes after ordering - never a good sign!

Frostie drive-in in Lee Vining

Monday, September 14, 2009

September 13th: Beautiful breakfast and gorgeous gold towns

Tonight we are in Sonora, an old gold-mining town from the 1849 gold rush era. Even better we are staying in the Gunn House Motor Hotel, built in 1850 and a hotel ever since. We started off this morning with a fantastic breakfast at the Wine Way Inn ( ) Our host Nick had prepared home-made granola served with luscious ripe strawberries, apricots and pineapples, then there were home made bakd beans with poached eggs and pork and pineapple sausage and finaly fresh home-made cherry and chocolate chip muffins. Nick is an expatriate Brit and we had a discussion about the peculiarities of the American way of eating breakfast. The tendency, rather than going back several times to at a breakfast like this in courses (granola and fruit, hot dishes, muffins and then maybe some more fruit) , is instead to pile a bit of everything on one plate. Sure enough after this conversation, a lovely American couple came in, went to the buffet and returned with Some granola, fruit, baked beans, eggs and sausage on a plate as well as a muffin. Perhaps my American readers can explain the custom to me?
Anyway breakfast was really special as you can see in the pics above (I'm sorry they're so large, I'm travelling with my son's ee book computer and have no idea how to compress pictures using his software! which also xplains the typos), It certainly set us up for our 3 hour drive across california slowly climbing as we approached the Sierra ranges. We arrived in Sonora, and as promised by myfriend dee, this little town is gorgous, with a main street retaining all it's original buildings, maany now containing antique shops!! We also made an accidntal discovery of the nearby Columbi historical State Prk, which is an original mining town in (mostly ) original state and with its buildings set up as they were originally used. We then drove on to Angel's Camp, yet another beautifully maintained gold rush town, with some 1930s deco buildings which replaced originals which burnt down. A lovely day all round, and now we are sitting on the verandah of the hotel as the sun sets, sipping a corona and contemplating our trip over the Sonora Pass tomorrow to the 'ghost town' of Bodie and hopefully some hot springs.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

September 12th: Leaving SF - off to Napa

tamales at the Farmer's Market
The Wine Way Inn - our accommodation in the Napa

This morning we started out early so that we could visit the Farmer's Market. There were thunderstorms and rain overnight, clearly an unusual event as everyone kept remarking on it. After the disappointment of Thursday morning's market, it was gear to be able to show David what a real one was like. We bought beautiful heirloom tomatoes, strawberries, natural set yoghurt in gorgeous pottery containers, fresh basil, and genuine mexican tamales, wrapped in cornhusks, to be heated up for dinner tonight. Yumm - with all our stores ready, we then headed off for a great day's meander thrugh the Napa Valley. A couple of wine-tastings, a visit to Bouchon Bakery for beautiful baquettes and their sublime lemon tart, as well as some 'yard sales', provided a great day. Tonight we are ensconced in a Victorian Arts and Craft Inn in Calistoga at the head of the valley. This little town was quite a revelation. Having encountered some sterile 'wine tourim' on the way up, Calistoga still very much has the feel of a wild west town in a way (well one with spas and inns.). Being a source of mineral springs and mud baths means it has it's fair share of day spas, but there are still a lot of the original buildings and small town feel to it. We're looking forward to a promised 5 course breakfast cooked by the owners Jll and Nck who have written a cookbook on Wine Country breakfasts. Nick has just returned from a couple days mushrooming near Yosemite and showed me some of his haul. As I write I'm sitting in the wood panelled lounge and dining area with the smell of mushrooms in the dehydrator permeating the house - scrumptious - hopefully there will be some for breakfast tomorrow!!

September 11th: Muir Woods and Berkeley

Our last day in SF we hired our car for the next fortnight's travel and took the opportunity to revisit Green Apple bookstore to pick up my puchases from an earlier visit. We also made 0ut way out to the Muir Woods, the famous redwood grove up the coast from SF. A beautiful experience, marred slightly by the presence of a table at the entrance of 9/11 conspiracy theorists. Apparently in the US there is some requirment to provide a 'first amendment" area where people can exercise their constitutional right to free speech. I have no objction to the principle, but in this case the 'in your face' aggression of these guys,particularly on the anniversary itself, was a bit much.

That was the lowlight of the day - the highlight was a tossup. The deer eating the greenery by the side of the path in Muir Woods, oblivious to the tourists, was one. Our return visit to Cheeseboard Pizza was another - no Chez Panisse I'm afaid, just a shared half-pizza of bell peppers, feta cheese and olive tapenade, accopanied by some fine live music. As well as great food, Berkeley is home to some great bookshops and I again bought too many books, still haven't worked out how I'm getting them back!

Friday, September 11, 2009

September 10th: The best laid plans...

No matter how much you plan for holidays, every day brings its own little twists and turns, and as a result its highlights and lowlights. As I mentioned in my last post, the plan today was to visit the Ferry terminal Farmer's Market. However when we arrived, rather than the acres of local farmers with mountains of produce that are there on a Saturday, we were met instead by three small stalls, with a limited selection of heirloom tomatoes and miniature vegetables. That was the lowlight, but the highlight of the day came as a direct result.

We caught my favorite cable car, the Powell-Hyde, which meanders around the streets of Russian Hill, with its laurel-lined streets and cute boutiques and restaurants. Hopping off when we saw a sandwich shop, we then made our way to the top of Lombard St where there is a small park and tennis courts overlooking the bay and the Golden Gate Bridge. What a perfect calm window in the day: a lunch of nine-grain bread with turkey and cranberry, a ripe peach and diet snapple eaten in the shade of a huge tree on a calm warm day. A Pacific breeze was blowing a low covering of fog across the bridge and into the bay and we could hear foghorns as various ships called out to each other as they plied through the waters. Reading the paper, tennis balls plopping in the background, cable car bells dinging. No wonder I love this city so much.

September 9th: Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito, Little Italy

An early start this morning to catch several buses out to the Golden Gate Bridge Car park to begin our walk over the bridge and down tot he pretty little town of Sausalito. The bridge is a very easy walk and a great spot for spectacular views of SF and the bay. Unfortunately there are tiems when SF's famous fog makes a walk across the bridge not only cold and windy but pointless as well. Luckily the fog had cleared by the time we had arrived and our walk was warm and pleasant. A couple of F18s were doing circuits above San Francisco as we walked (something that seems to happen on a regular basis, I remember them from my last trip) a really spectacular sight. It took us about 2 hours to walk the 8kms and we rewarded ourselves with brunch at the Lighthouse Coffee Shop.

After a ferry back to Fisherman's Wharf we headed back to the hotel to change for dinner down in the North Beach district - know as Little Italy for the proliferation of Italian Restaurants started by its earliest inhabitants. Hayley and Ryan had recommended we try Sidoni's - a North Beach institution, Sidoni's slogan is " No Desserts. No Rservations" The meal was excellent - stuffed gnocchi in meat sauce for me and cheese tortellini in mushroom sauce for David. A nice Zinfandel (it's growing on me) completed a great meal (and I'm glad they don't offer dessert!!).

Another great day, tomorrow we're off to the Ferry Terminal's Thursday Farmer's Market, looking forward to seeing a range of late summer produce.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

September 8th: Give me ahome where the buffalo roam

Today was set aside for bookshops, but given we had done several of them yesterday, we started off the day with just one: Green Apple in the Richmond district. Now for those of you who know my shop, I have to tell you that this bookshop has almost as many cookbooks as I have: one entire wall the length of a deep shop is all cookbooks ( about half new releases). Sadly no Mastering the Art (etc) again, except in new hard cover, but there was so many other gems I barely minded. Green Apple is not cheap however, and this was a trip to tick off some of the books on my customer's wants list - Marcella Hazan, MFK Fisher, some vegan cookbooks etc. I had such a pile I had to leave them at the shop to return when we have a car to pick them up! This was our only shopping trip today ( in case you think that's all I do on my overseas trips).

Instead we jumped on the bus that takes you through the middle of the Golden Gate Park. Contrary to it's name, there is no physical connection between the GG park and the GG bridge, and you can't even see said bridge from said park. It is however a masterpiece of 19th century landscape and social planning. The park is very long (around 5 kms) and quite narrow (around 800 metres at its widest). There is something for everyone here and after a return visit to the tranquil Japanese Tea Gardens, we passed museums and galleries, an angler's lodge, polo field, golf course, model yacht lake and frisbee golf course on our (long) walk to the Buffalo Meadows, of which I had heard, but had not yet visited. The Buffalo Meadows were introduced in 1891 at a time when the American Bison was on the verge of extinction. They do have a breeding program here, but I felt a bit sad to see these magnificent creatures penned up in their smallish enclosure.

We continued our walk to the very edge of the park which comes out on the Pacific. Here there are also two dutch windmills, one recently restored and this day among the visitors were two characters who could have stepped out of Armistead Maupin's "Tales of the city": One in boxer shorts and ugg boots under a full-length bright red fake fur jacket, his lady friend in a full length Afghan. More characters!! A circuitous bus trip via the Palace of the Legion of Honour and we returned once more to our hotel. Phew we walked around 5 or 6kms and my feet are really starting to object - and we haven't even walked he bridge or got to Yosemite!!

September 7th - Shopping, more shopping and local colour

I am always depresssed by how fast the time goes once a holiday starts - tonight David and I were trying to remember all we had done each day, and already felt like we hadn't done all the things we had planned on. Part of this is because we are taking public transport everywhere, and this does eat into your time. It's outrageously cheap ($2 buys you unlimited distance on one bus or trolley car as well as a transfer to your next connection within an hour), and regular (no more than 20 minutes apart on most routes), but you do often have to take some circuitous routes to get to your destination.

On Monday I hit the Labor Day sales: I've always enjoyed the SF Thanksgiving Sales in past years, they're usually doorbusters which start at 6am in the morning. This holiday was much more low key, with the usual 10.30 opening for all stores. After spending a couple hours buying clothes and shoes we dumped our stuff off at the hotel (the biggest advantage of being located so centrally) and headed off to the Mission district to the cluster of bookshops around Church, Mission and 6th street. My main aim has been to stock up on copies of Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child. I've completely sold out of copies of this modern masterpiece following the release of the movie Julie and Julia (of which more later). The movie comes out in Australia on October 8th and I anicipate a similar demand for copies in Australia. Sadly I had no luck: Adobe Books which last year had a pile of them was sold out too. The proprietor of SF's first cookbook shop (which opened last year) apparenty bought him out of all MTAFC as well as any Julia Child's last month - bummer. I did have a great time wondering through Adobe and Aardvark.

I bought some nice books, we had a dubious lunch at a dive on Mission and then stumbled home for a pasta meal from Uncle Vito's on the corner. Here every night an elderly female set of twins in matching outfits, including cowboyhats, sits in a window seat and has their evening meals. Just a couple of the many, many characters encountered around SF. The panhandlers here, while depressing and sometimes overwhwelming in their number, are almost uniformly polite and seldom 'in your face'. The grips and conductors on the famous cable cars keep up a patter as they work and turn a blind eye to non-paying locals who can't face one more trip up the city's infamous hills (I can relate!) . Being Australian helps break the ice. A concierge told me that Australians are the always the friendliest visitors, and there's always someone who wants to visit, has visited or knows someone there. I guess maybe they say that to all the girls (!!) but it seems pretty genuine.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

September 6th: Alameda Antique Faire (sic)

Sunday morning saw an early start as we were headed over to the other side of San Francisco Bay for the legendary Alameda Anique Faire (it must be genuinely old if they have the 'e' on the end!!) Held on the first Sunday of the month at the former Alameda airforce base, Jonathan first told us about the fair when he was studying ast Berkeley last year. So when we knew we were going to be here at the beginning of September (oh ok to be honest I scheduled it that way), this was the first of our scheduled outings. We had to catch the ferry becasue SF's Bay BRidge was closed for the Labor Day weekend for seismic retrofitting, and this turned out to be a pleasant way to catch a view of the city and not have to negotiate traffic.

The Faire is Huuuuuge: hundreds of stalls, well-set out with an enormous range of bric-a-brac, genuine antiques and generally old stuff. The goods were generally not cheap - city antique store prices mostly, some of which made me think I need to put my prices up!! Not a lot of books, lots of vintage clothing, a smattering of kitchenalia, lots of ephemera ( David bought some great old maps, bottle & can openers and an old miniature pen-knife). After starting out at 9,30 strolling up one side of an aisle and down the other, we looked up at one stage realised we'd covered 5 aisles in 2 hours and had another 10 or so to go and rapidly changed our modus operandi: walk down the middle of the aisle and only check out the stalls that looked interesting. Straight past the furniture stores, jewellery stores and clothing stalls ( my girls would have gone mad over the old clothes - some really stunning stuff). As it was we finished at about 2pm. The day was really sunny and mild, but we bth amanged to get VERY sunburnt - not a good look.

If I was shipping a container back to Australia I could really have gone wild, but I wasn;t, so here is a photo of my carefully chosen buys.

After a ferry trip back to SF and we had a lovely light lunch at a taqueria in the ferry building, of a pork soft taco for me and vege one for David and a couple of strawberry aqua fresca. I love Meixcan food, but only as it is made in the US (and in Mexico I'm sure, not that I've tried it there). So far nothing I've tried in Australia comes close to recreating the flavours. I think perhaps it' the use of Masa (or cornmeal) dough used to make the tortillas etc, and the generous use of chili and coriander. whatever it is I've resolved to try taquerias wherever we go on this trip. We walked to the Fort Mason branch of Book Bay - Sf's Friends of the SF Library bookshop which I've mentioned here before.

Before heading home we paid a visit to Whole Foods - the organic and achingly hip supermarket chain. Great produce here, (very pricey) but more importantly they have the healthy equivalent of the old Sizzler self-serve buffett, where you pay$7.99 a pound for all sorts of ready-made meals stews, chili, curries, chicken, salads which you can mix and match for a convenient, fresh meal at home.

David was in bed by 8.30 after our monster day, I stayed up plotting out the city's bookshops on my transit map. Tomorrow it's Labor Day sales and some bookshops.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

San Francisco 5th September: San Francisco, Seafood and Sourdough

The longest birthday of my life (40 hours and counting) is drawing to a close in beautiful San Francisco. My children will attest to the fact that whenever I fly overseas I vehemently declare at the end of the trip " I'm not doing that again until I can fly business class". Sadly I will never be able to afford to fly business class and fortunately flying cattle-class is a little like giving birth - it's only once all the discomfort starts that you remember how much it hurts - but by then it's too late to go back! A word here to airport authorities all over the world ( particulary Sydney and LA, which I hate going through) come visit San Francisco to see how it's done: David and I walked off our plane at 12.48 and walked out into the arrivals hall, having passed through immigration, picked up our bags and cleared customs, at 1.05. A monster queue at Budget (it's a labour day holiday here) persuaded us to abandon plans to rent a car for a couple of days and catch the BART train, although this decision saw us walking from the train station up SF's notoriously steep hills dragging 34 kgs of luggage between us instead.

We're again staying at the budget-friendly Grosvenor hotel in the middle of the city and after a quick shower it was down to the Ferry terminal for an iced tea and a gaze at the bay (sadly the farmer's market was closed by the time we got there) and then a meal of fresh seafood accompanied by awesome sourdough bread down at one of the original seafood restaurants on Fisherman's Wharf. We also had a Napa Zinfandel - a sweet, pale pink rose-style wine which is very popular in California, although relatively unknown in Australia. Early to bed tonight for tomorrow we tackle the Alameda antique faire (sic). This huge Camberwell-style market is legendary is only on the first Sunday of every month, and is held at the decommissioned (d'uh) airforce runway which often features in Mythbusters. Not sure how much blogging about food I'll be doing from there, but you can be sure I'll find something.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

An oven for fiddlers - more Aga magic

One of the joys of having the Aga has been preparing meals for friends with serious Aga-envy (or just those who enjoy good food). The first weeks saw a procession of friends and family invited over for lunches and dinners. The Aga has a magnetic attraction, people tend to gather around it, enjoying the warmth, marvelling over the completely new way of cooking ( or otherwise - I still have several friends who thing I am seriously screwy for doing this). The bread has been a universal hit, and thanks to the Aga and No-Knead Bread flours we haven't bought a loaf of bread in 6 weeks. The one thing about the Aga that I have found though is that it requires a lot of moving things around - from the roasting oven to the simmering oven, from the boiling plate to the simmering plate and back again. Keeping things warm on the stove top, lifting lids up putting lids down. All of which prompted the comment from fellow bookseller Jeremy at a dinner meeting last month: " It's a stove for fiddlers, isn't it?" I couldn't agree more - no set and forget for me. Although I will qualify this - sometimes I do set and really do forget. I've been madly cooking up casseroles and lasagnas etc to stock the freezer for my kids while I'm away. On Monday afternoon I prepared a red wine beef casserole and a massaman curry from a batch of stewing steak and popped them in the simmer oven for a long cook. Next morning I walked into the kitchen at 8am looked at my list of things to do that day, realised I hadn't ticked off the casseroles, and had a sudden dawning realisation - I'd left them in the simmer oven for 15 hours!! I can report that the meat was (literally) fall apart tender, in fact a little longer in there and I could have made good baby food. Oh *&^% and I've just remembered a loaf of bread's in the oven!

OK bread is a little dark on the top, but otherwise ok. I'm off to the US this coming Saturday and will be blogging from San Francisco, Yosemite & environs. Looking forward to buying lots of kitchenalia treasures for the shop, stocking up on copies of Mastering the Art of French Cooking in anticipation of the movie Julie and Julia coming out on October 8th, and renewing my acquaintance with the farmer's market.