Men At Work: Turkey Day LA Style

This year was the first in 28yrs that I wasn't home for Thanksgiving. (Hold off on the tissues, Mom, I kept it light). While I missed my family dearly, I finally had an excuse to partake in my friend's family's epic Thanksgiving cook-off. The tradition started 19yrs ago by her father and a few wise men, referred to as 'the Founding Fathers'. Their job is to coordinate and judge a spectacular men-only culinary competition. Starting in the wee hours of the morning with bloody mary's in hand, the men take over the kitchen (garage, backyard, and living room) and create an obscenely large feast for 40+ attendees. The competition is taken very seriously, with tons of thought and preparation beforehand, including step-by-step directions, video walk-throughs, and even the occasional diagram drawn by a well-meaning girlfriend. It should be noted however, that while the day appears to be run by a male oligarchy, there is an overriding female presence - known to some as Jan, others as Mom, but as God to me, for any woman who allows twenty men to take over her kitchen must possess some sort of divine powers.

One of the Founding Fathers:

For the past 10yrs I have heard stories about their family's unique Thanksgivings. There are tales of live turkeys butchered on premise, wild turkeys hunted pre-Thanksgiving, and most famously, baby turkeys accidentally slaughtered by their curious canine. They've had all types of turkey preparations: deep fried, turduckened, brined, roasted. Countless types of stuffings. Endless varietals of spuds. You name it, they've done it. They might be the most practiced Thanksgiving family to date. When my boyfriend and I were invited to join in the festivities and I was told that I could not dress in drag to compete, I knew it was time to get serious about his dish. I may or may not have put my boyfriend through the paces of his dish a few times the week before (I have never eaten so many brussels sprouts). It's not that I didn't trust his culinary prowess, it's just that I don't lose well. I mean we. To say he was a good sport is an enormous understatement. We're already practicing for next year (poor guy). The rules, as I now understand them, after breaking many:

  1. Each year the Founding Fathers deliberate and choose a Master Chef.
  2. The Master Chef is responsible for the main act: Turkey and Stuffing.
  3. To be considered for Master Chef, one must have a college degree OR be at least 26yrs of age.
  4. All male attendees must cook* a dish. No cook, no eat.
  5. All cooking must be on premises. This includes prep work.
  6. All chefs must leave behind a copy of their recipe, to be included in their Ultimate Thanksgiving Cookbook, which I hope to eventually earn a copy of.
  7. No help whatsoever from the women, regardless of how pushy they are.
*cook (kook) v. cookedcook·ingcooks
1. To prepare (food) for eating by applying heat.
2. To prepare or treat by heating.
3. Doing more than arranging the food on a platter.

I wouldn't call myself a trouble maker, per se. I just have difficulty following directions. I doubt I've ever completed a recipe start to finish exactly as instructed. Some call it 'making it their own'. I call it rebelling. I am so badass. When it came to the rules of the day, I struggled with Rule #7. Although it's not entirely my fault. When it comes to holidays, rest just isn't in the cards for my family - it's not in our blood. At holidays past, we've caught my 80yr old Grandmother on a ladder cleaning her gutters before company arrived. In my house you should expect to work harder on holidays than any other day of the year. You can also expect to eat, drink and sleep harder than any other day of the year (and no later than 9pm and always on the couch). It's just how we do it and I would have it no other way. We even coined a term for this particular holiday:

                        - noun 
1.    The American holiday held on the fourth Thursday of November traditionally signified by the giving of thanks, eating of Turkey and being cranky due to staying out too late the night before and being awoken too early to do chores, while feeling less than optimal.

Origin: Huntington, NY circa 1998. 

So you see, it was physically impossible for me not to help this Thanksgiving, even though I got scolded more this holiday than holidays in the past. Luckily I was able to use my rookie status as an excuse for my neurosis this year, as I was constantly shooed out of the kitchen, ordered to 'drop the spoon or else', and banned from the prep area for hovering. Eventually I was quarantined to the side of the house where I was handed bloody marys while I paced in small circles. It's genetic - just ask my brother.

The beautifully lit patio:

The Prep Kitchen:

One of three ovens in use:

Serious concentration:

The dish I didn't help with at all.

The Master Chef in his serious coat:

Caught red handed. (Though this is clearly breakfast, as I'm in my pj's, so it shouldn't really count).

Beautifully presented infused vodkas to keep the ladies at bay.

The final result:

While I haven't gotten my hands on their Ultimate Thanksgiving Cookbook just yet, I can share what we, I mean, my boyfriend cooked for the feast:

Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Figs adapted and changed (obviously) from NYT's recipe
(serves 4)
  • 2T olive oil
  • 8 ounces thick cut bacon or pancetta, chopped
  • 1lb Brussels sprouts, stems trimmed and cut in half lengthwise
  • 1 cup fresh figs, stemmed and quartered (dried can be used if out of season)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2T balsamic vinegar, more to taste
  1. Preheat oven to 375
  2. In a large baking pan, sprinkle bacon in an even layer and cook in a high heat oven until crisp, approximately 10 minutes.
  3. Remove bacon from pan and set aside on a paper towel.
  4. Add sprouts to the pan with the olive oil. Shake to coat. Salt and pepper to taste. Roast for 30 minutes until golden, but not charred.
  5. Add figs and continue cooking until slightly browned on the edges, about 10-15 minutes. 
  6. Crumble bacon on top.
I don't know how, but this cranberry chutney was made ahead of time and showed up to the Thanksgiving table. I had nothing to do with it.

And I made it past 9pm!

Happy Cranksgiving,
- The Heat


A Weekend of Aphrodisiacs: Champagne, Oysters and Glee.

It has been too beautiful out to stay inside and write, though I have been meaning to sit down and reflect on last weekend all week. So now that we're back to true San Franciscan fog and chill, I'll just come right out and say it: I spent one day in wine country, one day in oyster country and a night in an 80's bar. Top that!

By 10am on Saturday morning I was sunning myself on the balcony of the chateau Domaine Carneros with a flight of bubbly and a landscape of auburn colored grape vines. I know what my friends back East are thinking - something along the lines of 'shut-up-I-hate-you', but please allow me to brag about where I live for just a moment, as I have spent the past few posts lost somewhere between homesickness and adjustment. Let me have this

Our next stop was Cuvaison Estate Wines, where we were served crisp chardonnay and smooth pinot noirs in a tiny, yet chic modern greenhouse with a wrap around deck. Our group's favorites, besides the 20yr old sommelier who could have passed as Javier Bardem's son, was the 2008 Block Chardonnay and the 2008 F5 Block Pinot Noir. Both of which I purchased, but left at my (lucky) friend's house - ah, the perils of vineyard hopping.

Lunch was at Girl and the Fig in Sonoma Square, where we gorged ourselves on the Fromage Tower (a girl's dream come true), their famed fig and arugula salad (worth the hype), and their top sirloin burger with melted brie and grilled onions as my main course. The only thing I have to say about that is excessive. The traffic on the drive home was mitigated by a case of DCL's (known as Delicious Coors Lights in my house) and a sing along playlist that may or may not have included a number of Glee hits. The singing continued into the night with too much Whitesnake and not enough Guns n' Roses at Butter, rated San Francisco's #1 Trailer Park bar, for their Saturday Rock City Night ("a night of party rock anthemology and smash up madness!") Let me express how relieved I am that there were no video cameras around. It was not pretty.
Sunday was a touch tamer, starting with a breathtaking, albeit windy drive up Rt 1 (a therefore challenging trip for those with a stage 3 hangover). We made a few stops, sometimes for the scenery, more often for yours truly to find her stomach. Our final destination was 1.5hrs north of San Francisco in Marshall, California - otherwise known as Oyster Country. When it comes to my adoration of molluska, I am an equal opportunist. I find West Coast oysters creamier and nuttier than their East Coast cousins, who are saltier, brinier and tougher (a startlingly accurate representation of the coastal inhabitants, bivalve and homosapiens alike). It really depends what you're in the mood for. In my delicate state on Sunday, the less briny, the better. I needed those babies to go down smooth and gentle. And that they did. We washed down two dozen of the freshly shucked beasts on The Marshall Store's patio overlooking sunny and serene Tomales Bay: raw kumamoto, raw Pt Reyes, barbecued oysters, and smoked oysters served with a creamy chipotle sauce over toast points. My hangover virtually vanished - can you blame me?
 NBD, just kicked back a wheelbarrow's worth of bivalves:
In an effort to combine both experiences from my weekend in culinary glee, I recalled a dish from my Brother's engagement party: barbecued oysters with champagne butter. However, if this seems like too much work, stick to a glass of bubbly with a platter of raw oysters - a match made in Northern California heaven.

Barbecued Oysters with Champagne Butter:

For the Champagne Butter Sauce:
  • 2T. minced shallots
  • 2T. unsalted butter
  • 1C Champagne
  • 1 dozen large, fresh, live oysters in their shell (they should feel heavy and be clamped shut) 
  1. Preheat barbecue grill.
  2. Scrub oysters with brush under cold water and set aside.
  3. In a small saucepan, melt the butter and soften the shallots over med/low heat, until fragrant.
  4. Add the champagne to the saucepan and reduce by half over medium heat. 
  5. When reduced, cover and keep warm over low heat.
  6. Place oysters cup side down on grill, which should be about 4" from the hot coals. Close lid, open any vents and cook for 8-10 minutes until shells begin to open.
  7. Remove all oysters when first one is completely open. I use an oven mitt to remove the oysters, so as to not spill their juices.
  8. Pry open all oysters with a paring or oyster knife. Sever the muscle, leaving the oyster in it's half shell. Transfer onto a serving platter and drizzle with champagne butter sauce.
  9. Be blissfully happy.
My next recipe may have to be one for roast duck, as my urban, Manhattan raised, previously non-water dog practiced her duck hunting skills on an unsuspecting stick this weekend. 
The stick won.
- The Heat


Faking Fall

I like Halloween. Notice I didn't say love. For one, I'm not a sweets person - candy just ain't my thang. Secondly, I get anxiety over buying something that I will only wear once and I hate clutter. The mere thought of an attic filled with old costumes makes me twitch. I'm odd (read: OCD), what can I say? However, this year I felt differently about the holiday. I don't know what it was - new city, new attitude? But, I found myself stocking up on candy and making my own costume!

It takes a lot to shock the masses in San Francisco. On any given day I can walk into town and see the same two naked old men sitting  in the square (cross-legged, mind you), casually reading their newspapers like it's just another day. And for everyone who walks by, I guess it is just another day because I seem to be the only one who stares (and rubbernecks). It's unbelievable. I could walk out my door in nothing but a babushka and barely get a second glance. So this Halloween I decided to blend in and dress up. I thought I'd wear a costume that gave a nod to my new state, and since every third person was already dressing up as 'The Beard', I decided to take a more feminine direction. I dressed up as our generations "California Girl":
No, no, no, not THAT one. Alas, my 'cupcakes' aren't big enough. I chose her more tasteful(?) outfit from that ridiculous video, which is a dress made up of one of the worst candies to date:
And my furry friend was a dinosaur for the fifth year running. My poor future children.
I realize that not everyone shares my enthusiasm for Fall (eh, hem - above). But I just can't get enough. No, really - there's not enough Fall here in San Francisco. I say this as I sit in Dolores Park in a tank top and loads of sunscreen. Yes, it's a beautiful day out - I should really count my blessings, but I am ready to move on. I'm told Fall is on it's way and that it comes disguised as 'Winter' in San Francisco, but I simply can not wait. Fall has always been my favorite season of the year. The smell of the first day of school (I'm a huge nerd), the feel of a new soccer season (a huge jock), the taste of Fall's harvest (and a fatty at heart). Some of my favorite comfort foods coincide with my favorite season: roasted butternut squash, sugar pumpkins, earthy Brussles sprouts, warm bowls of chili, fiery buffalo wings and of course, every form and derivative of apples - cider, sauce, pie, and martini. Now that I have a big girl kitchen to play in, I have been doing a ton of cooking. Recall my former "kitchen" in the West Village and you'll understand my enthusiasm.
Despite the heat in San Francisco, I have had my oven on high, roasting and braising my Fall favorites as if Autumn were actually here. I am officially obsessed with any and all types of squash and I interchange them all fairly liberally. I used to stick loyally to butternut squash merely out of familiarity. But lately I have developed a sick obsession with sugar pumpkins, which I find have a more delicate flavor and are far less pumpkiny than I feared. Plus they look cuter on my countertops. Here are a few wonderful recipes I've stumbled upon this season. Go crazy:

However the absolute essence of Fall for me is the smell of my Mother's Apple Crisp in the oven. Cinnamony, buttery, apply goodness - served piping hot over a spoonful of real vanilla ice cream - Breyer's to be exact. So while I can't see or feel home anytime soon - I can certainly taste it:

Mamma Iss' Apple Crisp:
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/2t salt
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup oats 
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, cut into cubes
  • 3lbs of Granny Smith apples, cored, peeled and sliced.
  • 2T lemon juice
  • 1/2t. ground cinnamon
  • Real Vanilla Ice Cream
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°
  2. In a mixing bowl, combine flour, brown sugar, white sugar, oats and salt. 
  3. Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium/low heat.
  4. When melted, add oat mixture, stirring enough to combine, but maintaining a lumpy consistency.
  5. In another large mixing bowl, combine the apples with the lemon juice and cinnamon.
  6. Transfer apples to a shallow baking dish and sprinkle with oat mixture.
  7. Bake until fragrant, golden and bubbly, about 40 minutes.
  8. Allow to cool for ~10minutes. Spoon over a dollop of ice cream.
And while baseball has always signified Spring and the Yankees in my world, I must give the appropriate praise to the San Francisco Giants and their adoring fans. Though I don't quite understand how blissful celebration aligns itself with lighting mattresses on fire, you all made the walk home the other night more than interesting. My neighborhood:

"West coast represent, now put your hands up!"
- The Heat


Up and At 'em.

As you've gathered from my past two posts, there are a number of things I've had to adjust to since moving to the left coast. Most notably, casual drivers, slower sidewalks, and an entirely new climate. And they are probably net positives on my overall health and well being. Another stupendously healthy, albeit forced change of habit is getting my sleepy keister out of bed on the weekends. This city is all about jam packing their days of rest with fresh air and activities.

Our first night in San Francisco was a Saturday night. Exhausted from the drive through the wonderful state of Nevada, my boyfriend and I didn't make it out to dinner until around 10pm - a somewhat normal dinner hour back home. It took us over an hour to find a restaurant that hadn't rolled up their sidewalk - so we settled for takeout, a bottle of bubbly, and a season of Lost. Which can be terrific...don't get me wrong...on a Tuesday night. Admittedly we were in the wrong neighborhood for late night festivities, but over the coming weeks, we found the options for a late night party, paltry at best. Then again, we come from the city that never sleeps, so we tried to keep things in perspective.

And then we discovered why: everyone literally exhausts themselves during the day! Hiking, biking, surfing, sports, wine tasting, music festivals, street fairs, city events, faux holidays - oh, and an abundance of day drinking in the park, on the beach, on a roof, at a game, in a bar...it's no wonder this city is wiped out come nightfall! In efforts to assimilate with the 'friscans (they would crucify me for calling them that. Also for using 'San Fran' I learned the hard way), I have embraced this early bird culture wholeheartedly. And by embrace, I mean found an excuse to eat a gut-busting breakfast.

I have come to appreciate the versatility of the pancake. I awoke last Saturday with an uncharacteristic craving for pancakes, however I had a full day of roof partying ahead of me and I knew I needed a better base than the traditional flour, maple syrup routine. Head still on the pillow, I perused the internet and discovered that one can put pretty much anything into a pancake. The pancake is truly a blank slate. Sweet, savory, hearty, light, gluten free, vegetarian or spiked with meat (do yourself a favor and make sausage pancakes sometime) - just pick your poison. My thought process for the following recipe went a little something like this: "I want pancakes. But not too sweet. I hate when they're too sweet. Maybe I'll use yogurt instead of milk? But I need protein - can't. get. hungry. I have walnuts. What if I pureed some walnuts into the batter? I have apples too! But I love banana pancakes. Well apples and bananas go well together, right?" And voila! A highly sophisticated, scientifically formulated recipe for Apple-Walnut-Banana-Yogurt pancakes, that I like to call:

Lord-Give-Me-Strength (For-This-Hike) Pancakes:
Serves 8

  • 2 cups All-purpose flour (substitute whole wheat flour if you have it)
  • 1.5 cups Greek yogurt 
  • 2 eggs well beaten
  • 1/4 cup sugar (brown sugar is a nice alternative)
  • 1t. baking powder (not soda, which caused a second trip to the supermarket. Oops.)
  • 1/2t. salt
  • 3 apples peeled, cored and coarsely grated (I used Granny Smith - they're quite tart.)
  • 1t. Cinnamon
  • Canola oil or other cooking oil for frying
  • Confectioners sugar for dusting, maple syrup for dunking, butter for patting...to each their own.
  1. Mix the wet ingredients in a bowl (yogurt and eggs)
  2. Mix the dry ingredients in a separate bowl (flour, salt, sugar, cinnamon, baking powder)
  3. Combine your wet and dry ingredients - lumps are good, don't over stir.
  4. Heat your skillet over medium/low heat, using a thin layer of Canola oil.
  5. Drop a spoonful of batter, smoothing out to a fairly flat, round shape to provide even cooking. Top with fruit.
  6. Using a spatula, peek underneath the cake for a golden brown crust. When achieved, flip and cook other side for about 3 more minutes, until same color.
  7. Dollop butter, dust sugar, pour syrup and enjoy!
  8. Go work them off.

Tourist Club Hike: Talk about motivation - a spectacular hike through the Muir Woods that ends at a German Beer Garden?
Hiking (and getting lost) at Mt Tam:
Pheonix at Outside Lands (where they served deep fried mac 'n cheese - glorious!)
The only reason to be up at 7am on a Saturday is to start the day at Mumm Napa!
The Sunday crowd for Patti Smith at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass:
Me and my girl hiking Bernal Heights:
Roof parties for Fleet Week:
Blue Angels flying overhead:
But remember, not everyone's a morning person:

When I was a kid, I used to think the saying was "Up and Adam" and I would curse whoever that guy Adam was.

Let me sleep.
- The Heat


East Coast Love on the West Coast

Another month goes by and San Francisco is finally warming up - in both temperature and in my heart. 
I find the acclimation process extremely interesting. Everyone has their own way of coping with change. Some are abnormally adverse to it, avoiding it at all costs. Some thrive off it, fearing anything routine or consistent. But I'm willing to bet that the majority of us are somewhere in the middle. I suspect the most common path of acclimation is to be uncomfortable and resistant at first, but gradually grow into it. I am the exact opposite. After 28yrs of observation, I have finally found a behavioral pattern. I embrace change rather blindly, grasping at silver linings in an effort to convince myself I am one of those bold, adventurous people, until I eventually crack and explode into a torrent of tears and frustration. WHY DON'T I LOVE IT YET?! Then I toy with the idea of giving up and going home. And then when I've finally exhausted myself into a piling heap of ambivalence, guess what? I finally start to appreciate it.

It happened on a trip to Spain once. I spent the entire trip ooh and ahhing my way around museums, doing my best to soak up and revel in their joie de vivre - well, the Spanish version. With only three days left on our trip I had a meltdown. I had had it with the heat, the ham and holiness. I needed a break from change. A small taste of home and familiarity. And it came in the form of a gigantic plate of spaghetti and meatballs. Horrible spaghetti and meatballs at that, as I had no patience to look for a good Italian restaurant. I'm actually embarrassed to say that I spent the entire dinner in silence, proudly slurping my Progresso y pasta, but repairing my courage bite by bite. And as pouty, childish and uncouth it sounds, it worked. The rest of the trip was a blur of discovery and enjoyment. And guess who had tears in her eyes come boarding time? I'm not proud of it, but I have come to learn I am the ultimate boil-over-er - a highly technical term. It happened in London too.

Well, the pot hast boil-eth over here in San Francisco, but fortunately it was well timed with a bit of home coming to visit. I spent the past month searching for the perfect apartment, the perfect job, a sliver of sunshine. I was cold, lost, unemployed and homeless - well, not in the literal sense - lets keep things in perspective. But I was frustrated and exhausted, and ready to throw in the towel. But just in the nick of time, my weekend presented a melting pot of East coast family and friends in town. And they brought with them a little taste of home, in the form of Frankie Spuntino's Kitchen Companion and Cooking Manual. After a long day of hiking and biking, my brother and sister-in-law turned our kitchen into one of my favorite NYC restaurants. They recreated my favorite dish, Cavatelli with Sausage and Browned Sage Butter (though it's a real tossup between that and their famous meatballs). On the side we had Sweet and Sour Eggplant with Ricotta Salata and Mint - a distinctly different take on traditional eggplant parm - and a 'NYC meets Cali' salad of Avocado, Red Onion and Tomato. We topped it all off with many a bottle of wine from our trip up to Napa. And so I ate, drank and laughed my way back to being myself again, surrounded by the people and food I hold dear to my heart.

And that's when happened. While I was playing tour guide extraordinaire (and finally enjoying some beautiful weather), I started to discover the true beauty of San Francisco. My findings so far:

1. It's stunning.

Our new backyard - Dolores Park:
Sunset at Stinson Beach:
The Cataract Waterfalls:
2. It's verdant.

Hiking Dipsea Trail:
Alpine Dam Trail:

Honig Winery, Napa Valley:

3. It's quirky. 

The infamous fog, rolling on in:

The wonder that is a split bathroom (who would put the toilet separate from the sink?! Ew.) Or pink tile for that matter.
This weekend held one of the largest SBDM and leather subculture events, which made for some of THE BEST people watching ever. Don't ask, just Google it.
4) It has a GREAT sense of humor.

My local manicurist:
Neighborhood Italian restaurant:
And our local pub:

My 'East Coast Meets West Coast' Salad: (serves 4)
(otherwise known as Frankie Spuntino's Tomato, Avocado and Red Onion Salad
  • 2 large ripe tomatoes
  • 1 small red onion, thinly sliced
  • Fine sea salt
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 2T. red wine vinegar
  • 2 Hass avocados
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  1. Core the tomatoes and slice into wedges. Combine in a large bowl with the sliced onion, large pinch of sea salt, oil and vinegar. 
  2. Gently toss and divide among four bowls.
  3. Halve, pit, peel and slice the avocados and divide among the four bowls.
  4. Sprinkle the avocado with a small pinch of salt and drizzle each bowl with a little olive oil.
  5. Finish with a few grinds of black pepper just before the salad goes to the table.

Miss you already!
- The Heat