Archive | food RSS feed for this section

My paradise is your prison: a trip to The Container Store

6 Feb

“Please don’t make us go. We’ll be so good starting right now. Please. Please. Please, don’t make us go.”

Where could I have been dragging the children, that was such a nightmare? What on earth could have evoked such desperation and sheer terror?

Not prison. Not a hard labor camp. Not the dentist. It was The Container Store.

While the children begged for clemency, I tried to contain how excited I was to have a perfectly valid, legitimate reason for going to The Container Store…not even one of my usual made-up reasons. I needed a laundry drying rack…. a big industrial-sized model, because I am never not doing laundry. I had nothing but the welfare of our family in mind. My last drying rack had just collapsed in defeat, a stack of plastic knobs and metal pipes, finally done in by the weight of yet another uniform, and another pair of jeans I was trying to preserve for their human occupant who was just going to fall in mud or grow two feet the next day, anyway.

I needed a drying rack because I still haven’t figured out all of the weird sporty, wicking fabrics the males in this house wear. The material of all that gym/basketball/baseball/running stuff feels so delicate, though I could probably dry all of it by running over it with a tractor and it would be fine. I didn’t need a dorm-sized drying rack. I needed the one that professional football teams use. I’m a professional.

They pleaded their case, but it wasn’t enough. We were going to the store whether they liked it or not, which is one of the necessary realities of childhood, and of parenthood, too.

Just that morning, they had already woken up to beautiful sunshine, had been fed pancakes AND hot chocolate, and then suffered through another store where I had unsuccessfully looked for a laundry rack, yet successfully found a new lasagna pan, a pan I would soon use to make them a lasagna. Quelle horreur!

The Container Store contains more containers than I could ever use in my lifetime. They are colorful, lovely boxes and bins and bags stacked to the sky, each representing the hope of what could be…beauty and order harnessing the chaos. I don’t think that’s what my kids see.

And I guess I see something different in the stores they prefer.

Those stores represent the hope of what could be for them…zombies to be pursued, goals to be made, races won. Two months before my drying rack quest, I went into the video game store on the release day of “Some game with Zombies,” and I vowed loudly, “never again.” I’ve waited on the sidewalk when they go in ever since. I go with John to those stores that sells TVs and phone cases and wires of every shape and size, and my eyes glaze over. If I fall behind and lose him, I wonder around, saying “John?” to all the other brown haired guys in khakis and button down shirts.

“Sorry. You’re not John.”

“Yes, I am John.”

“Not my John.”

You can’t make someone love The Container Store, and you can’t make someone love the wire store or the video game store. It turns out a 41-year-old mom is – often, not always – different than a 10-year-old boy and a 15-year-old boy and a 42-year-old boy. And that’s fine, and that’s one of the reasons there are Girls Nights Out and Man Caves.

On that day in The Container Store, the boys knew what would happen, even when I didn’t. They knew I wasn’t just running in for an enormous best-drying-rack ever that would fill the car’s trunk. They knew it would be something else too. And there it was, the ultimate container…a huge plastic box designed to hold our artificial Christmas tree. The one they held on their laps without complaint as we drove the six minutes home.

 

IMG_3524

I’ve already vowed to hold the zombie game on my lap the next time we drive home from their store.

IMG_3349

 

 

 

the shrimp dumpling gang

28 Sep

Realizing we had a rare uninterrupted family day ahead of us, John hollered the magic words into the morning air to send the boys scrambling around the house for their shoes…  “DIM SUM!!”

There are just a couple of phrases that send them into such immediate action. The other is “How about a 5:00 bedtime, then, because that’s where you’re headed,” but the circumstances are usually less jovial, and my brow is likely furrowed.  But when we yell “dim sum,” they know what that means: “Today is special, we’re going to the city, find your shoes.”

Years ago, my college roommate, Liane took us to a Chinatown bakery, and bought a dozen shrimp dumplings for about $4. She doled them out when we emerged from the crowded closet sized storefront onto the bustling sidewalk.

Much as one would divide their histories into “before and after kids,” or “before and after the career change,” or “before and after I got a smart phone,” I have pre and post dim sum, marked by that first taste of shrimp dumpling on a crowded San Francisco street.  It squirted all over my awesome kid-sized Curious George T-shirt, ruining it forever – a small price to pay for dumpling shaped nirvana.  Perhaps it was also a sign that even as a pseudo hipster 20-something, it was time to stop wearing the kid-sized Curious George tee in public.

Before we knew it, our favorite San Francisco Saturdays as newlyweds were spent convincing the bakery lady that, yes we did want 42 shrimp dumplings and 2 Cokes so we could have lunch at the cold beach. Or when we were feeling fancy, we’d wait for the good stuff to be pushed by on a cart in a dim sum restaurant. There’s a tripe incident I don’t like to talk about, but if you have the opportunity to select your items from the cart, don’t put your face directly over the bamboo steamer basket when they open it. A tripe facial is not something one soon forgets.

Our Richmond District neighborhood that bordered what is considered by many to be San Francisco’s “New Chinatown,” still boasts Ton Kiang which is delicious and perfect if you can take off at 11:00 on a weekday and head that far down Geary Blvd., because then you can totally…probably… maybe get a table. For the bakery experience, we head to Good Luck Dim Sum. I don’t know how God feels when I do this, but when we venture here, I start praying for a parking space when we’re within a mile radius of the place.

But, alas, we usually end up at Hong Kong Lounge. It has pink awnings, and at some point within the last decade changed their name from the far classier Hong Kong Flower Lounge.  Now that the beautiful old theater where we saw “She’s All That,” is shuttered and forlorn, Hong Kong Lounge is that block’s reigning crown jewel. It sits between the old biker bar John ended up at when he locked himself out of the apartment, and the Ross Dress for Less where I went when it was my turn to lock myself out.

We moved away from the city years ago, but manage to find our way back on chilly days when we are feeling a little nostalgic, and a lot hungry.

We’ve dragged along dear friends like our seminary compadres, Megan & Harold and their kiddos. As we’d wait outside for our name to be called, our little children would press their faces against the glass to stare at the diners inside, or they would tuck their arms in their shirts and huddle together for warmth on the cold sidewalk.

“Stand up before someone tries to give you a dollar,” one of us would say, “Well, never mind, it’s ok, go ahead and stay there.”

Sometimes we come with our college buddy, Bouncer. When he’s there, the hurried wait staff takes a look at our order sheets, and asks us if we’re serious. We nod proudly, and take their doubt as a challenge. It’s delicious at first, then funny, then scary as we try to convince each other to “please, pretty please eat the last bun, they don’t think we can do it, and I cannot. I cannot do it, but I know you can.”

(If you go to the Hong Kong Lounge, whatever you do, don’t ask them to split the bill, because then it’s a whole thing, and every level of management gets involved, and your kids get really embarrassed.)

On this day, when our little foursome gets seated, I go all 1950’s and hand the menu/worksheet to John to make the selections on our behalf. Ordering is like a long and deliciously complicated word problem:

Two adults and two kids go for dim sum. There are three pork buns to a plate, and four shrimp dumplings. Shrimp and chive dumplings come six to a plate, as do potstickers. The 6-year old eats one half the pork buns as the 11-year old, but twice the potstickers. The mom will eat any shrimp dumpling that passes by if her fellow diners are not careful. The dad bats clean up, and assumes responsibility for the consumption of the ‘adventure plate’ if it is not liked by the rest of the group. What combination of plates should they order?”

John taps the tiny little pencil against the paper, and I can see his eyelid twitch with all that thinking.

I try to keep the boys from using their chopsticks to stab each other, poke themselves in the eye, or dig at that hole in the padding of their chair.

The waiter whisks the sheet off our table and John informs us our adventure plate will be the doughnut noodle roll, which arrives first.

Yup, there it is. Imagine you had a doughnut, then you rollllllled it up into a big rice noodle. The man poured brown stuff on it for us, and we debated whether it was syrup or soy sauce.  Three doughnut noodle rolls already cut in half. That’s six pieces. I’ll take one of those, and save room for the other stuff. (It was strangely good by the way, and the brown stuff was soy sauce.)

The shrimp goes fast & furious, and then come the potstickers and fried and  steamed pork buns.  “Darn, I meant puffs,” John mutters to himself, “I like the puffs with the shiny tops.” He notes it for next time, and we talk strategy and what we’ve learned for the future; one more order of shrimp dumplings, two fewer orders of pork buns.  John rethinks this by the time we walk out the door, “I don’t know,” he says, “I think I ate too much shrimp in my 20’s.”

The visit isn’t complete without us driving slowly by our old apartment, which looks exactly the same as it did 11 years ago, cracked glass front door and all. “There’s our old bank,” I say enthusiastically. Kids love seeing their parents’ old banks. “The hobby shop is still there! The card shop! The video café is gone, where we saw the guy lick the ketchup off the bottle, but they still have the poster up for ‘The Green Mile.'”

“Mom?”

“Yes, dear?” I look back at the boys who are blissfully staring out the window, their faces shiny from our feast.

“Can you please turn up the radio?”

If I had to be pick him being super pumped to see my old bank branch or excited to share a dim sum meal with us – I’ll take the doughnut noodle roll, thankyouverymuch.

*The restaurant above is actually yummy Ton Kiang, and I snapped that pic of Good Luck one day as we were probably looking for parking. That building there to the right is our old San Francisco apartment. That might be our former neighbor’s car. Wow, Gary & Linda – I’ll save them for another blog.

working girl

22 Jun

It’s fun to entertain the notion that I was born to relax or talk about TV because I excel at those things, but I think I’ve always known I was supposed to grow up and get to work. When I was digging through my old stuff at my parents’ house, I found this sign:

Colleen’s Fall Fashion Show

Thursday August 30, 1984

There will be 12 fashions

Tickets available in Colleen’s bedroom

25¢a ticket

I know I’m the one who wrote it, but I love it. I like to picture freckled little 10-year-old Colleen earnestly creating 12 fashions, and making this sign, and then going ahead and charging mom and dad a quarter….each (sorry, no friends and family discount). Think back to your little kid self, and the stuff you did. You were figuring it out, shaping yourself for what was to come. There we were, the kiddo versions of us, trying out all kinds of careers, just by playing. Sure, you may not have played “analyst” or “consultant” but that’s ok… you might have if you knew those jobs existed and how glamorous they would turn out to be.

I always had a different imaginary job to help support five imaginary babies, Strawberry Shortcake, and an imaginary orange cat. I also had to supplement my imaginary husband’s postal service salary so we could make the payments on the two-story RV with the indoor pool.

What did you want to be when you grew up? Obviously my first choice was Pastor’s Wife (followed by mail carrier’s wife) and Director of Connecting Ministries at a thriving and fantastic Presbyterian Church. But after that, the list was long. It went something like this chronologically:

 Nurse (that lasted until age 6 when I cut my hand and nearly passed out)

 Bank Teller

 Teacher

 Actress

 Hotelier

 Private Detective and partner to Remington Steele

 Professional Tennis Player

Drummer for The Go-Go’s

 Architect (until I found out how much math was involved)

Interior Designer

Apparently… fashion designer and entrepreneur

Novelist

Journalist

Criminologist

 Journalist again

And then…anything but journalist

And yes, in my adulthood I entertained the idea of everything else on the list again except nurse, architect, and tennis player, due only to the fact that I have two bum knees.

Watching my kids now, I can see what they’re trying on for size: professional baseball/basketball/balloon volleyball player, video game tester, archaeologist, movie director, philosopher, chef, competitive eater, and though Jake doesn’t want to hear it, cub reporter a.k.a. journalist (man, that kid asks a lot of tough questions.)

Because we are always growing and moving forward, maybe we try on stuff as adults too, in anticipation of some next step or phase. If that’s the case, I have an idea of where I might be headed, especially if you were to peek into my house this week:

 Come to my Trader Joe’s frozen entrée extravaganza

In my kitchen

There will be 12 entrees

25¢a ticket

don’t call that vintage: grub

14 Apr

There’s a new pancake house in town.

That’s not a euphemism; there really is a new pancake house in town. And it’s kinda glorious. They put bacon in the pancakes…..yes, IN the pancakes. The waitstaff talks about the hand-whippedness of the butter with such passion that you think back with disdain about every stupid meal you’ve ever had that did not come with this butter.

Jake went there with my parents, and they hung his drawing of a leprechaun eating pancakes in the front window, creating three fans for life. A mere two days later, the rest of us were back to visit the drawing, and to procure more hand-whipped butter.

Now we have a tough choice at breakfast, as the new shiny place is down the street from one of this town’s famed institutions of culinary indulgence. For being an institution, I find it curious that nobody really knows the name of it, because when it’s spoken about in hushed whispers, everybody calls it something different. The source of the confusion would the multiple signs out front – one says “The Chef Burger” and the other says “Giant Chef.” I’ve also had the experience of raving about it to more than one somebody, and they cock their heads in bewilderment, until a look of realization comes over their faces and they say, “ooooh, you mean The Burger Chef.” At our house, it’s known as Giant Chef, of course, because that is the most fun to say and to visualize. Frankly you could call it “Stinky’s” and I would eat there.

A friend at work clued me in to it. I think I said “biscuits and gravy,” which if you’re around me enough, you will inevitably hear me mumble. Apparently, it was the secret password. The way I like to remember the transaction is that she looked around stealthily then leaned in to whisper the location before disappearing back into the cover of night. Or the office. Whatever.

The waitresses have worked there only forever, and your coffee cup never even gets down to half full. The biscuits & gravy are a steal (comes in handy at a cash-only joint) and they taste exactly as they should, only better. If you know biscuits & gravy – then you know exactly what the biscuits should be like, and you know exactly what the gravy should be like. Well – these are like that. And if you aren’t intimately familiar with biscuits & gravy, then I would recommend the corned beef hash, and then after that, I don’t know what to tell you. There’s always the donut place across the street that’s nestled in between the Army and Navy recruiting centers. And the friend who slipped me the intel on this place? Well, I’ve seen her there about a dozen times, and one of us usually has a ballcap on. Zach always spots her and announces her presence, much to her delight, I’m sure.

My kids are breakfast kids and have easily embraced diner culture– I’ll say it – they’re naturals. They chat up the waitstaff, use their manners and compliment the food. They’ll pay together at the register, usually in their dirty and dusty sports uniforms, and talk about baseball with the regulars at the counter. And when they are offered a free lollipop even though the sign says $.25, they say “thank you,” look over their shoulder at us and you can practically hear the little cartoon tooth twinkle thing happen.

In high school, I would drive 20 miles for good pancakes. It may have been IHOP, but it was worth it because they had German Pancakes which were really crepes with butter, powdered sugar and lemon. Sophisticated, right? I was savvy enough to know this was a dish I would not likely learn to make anytime soon. As a friend recently reminded me, we wrote a hard-hitting article about these pancakes in the high school newspaper.

Before you start worrying about my cholesterol, I want you to know that I’m an equal opportunity breakfast lover. I don’t just partake in greasy spoon diner culture, but the brunch culture too. Yeah, I like berries and compotes, and stuff made with buckwheat. I think I’ve said “lox is my middle name” and the closest I’ve gotten to a scuffle was with the girl who cut in front of me in the hour long wait for brunch in the West Portal District of San Francisco (My brunch rival, as John called her). As a kid, I would lazily lay in the backseat of my parents gigantic Chrysler, one knobby knee crossed over the other and imagine the day I would eat brunch in San Francisco, looking at the bay and listening to Christopher Cross, and maybe drinking Riuniti on ice, whatever that was. That, I decided would be my benchmark of adulthood…when I know I’d finally made it into the utmost realm of sophistication.

I recounted this childhood dream to John early in our relationship, and he has since caught me many a time affirming my adulthood and ascendance into the utmost realm of sophistication, when a) I’m eating brunch and looking out the window or B) I’m listening to Christopher Cross, which happens more than one might guess. Now if only I could get my hands on some Riuniti.

*Up there is a photo of the one, the only, Giant chef. Over there is the pancake picture by the renowned breakfast artist, Jacob. (One of his oil pencil drawings of my morning coffee hangs in our kitchen.)

This likely wraps up my vintage series. I have a couple of other vintage topics I want to get out there, but they just haven’t come to fruition. Watch out, I may use them to pay homage to this series that pays homage to vintage stuff that we love. Blows your mind, right?

friend to foodies

23 Feb

I eat food, and sometimes I cook it. I watch TV shows and read magazines about it. I even order it when we go to restaurants.

I was an aspiring food enthusiast and home chef for a couple of months until I realized it’s hard, and kind of a lot of work. It can also be pricey if you don’t know how to do it right, and even pricier if you do.

I think I’ve read and collected a thousand recipes in an attempt to lovingly categorize them and store them in these super-cute graphic-print 3-ring-binders I found at Target. I spent hours in front of DVR’d episodes of CSI: Miami, arranging the recipes in sheet protectors and everything. For a while I thought that yes, I would absolutely make every recipe in these binders, and I would jot down little notes about whimsical on-the-fly substitutions and possible wine pairings. The pages would be dog-eared and splattered with homemade tomato sauce when I would, in my old age, hand them over to my boys. The boys would of course accept them with reverence and a touch of awe.

It did not take me long to accept that this would not likely happen. My binders, as cute as they were, were not grounded in reality. Nowhere in my binders had I lovingly clipped and mounted the instructions from the side of the macaroni & cheese box or Trader Joe’s fish nuggets. There is the strong possibility that it might actually be the binders and the sheet protectors that I love, and not the 40 recipes I have for mushroom soup. Perhaps my boys will accept the binders one day with reverence and respect for my one-time love of organizational systems.

I set about to make my collection useable. Out went all the recipes that required fish sauce, quinoa, lamb, curry, eggplant, shellfish, whole fish, or whole chickens. Also the ones where the food would need to rise, rest, or take an ice bath. The food could not at any point be required to look like pea-sized gravel, as this usually requires a food processor or a stand mixer…my great white whales of kitchen appliances. I know what my family will not eat. They’ve vetoed polenta, fresh tomatoes, and if it were up to Zach, anything that is not “noodles with butter.” There are some dark moments in my culinary past that have made me gun shy enough to disqualify even more recipes. Fried chicken is out, and I don’t want to talk about that batch of sugar cookies. If you’re interested, John will happily recount the tale of the “ham ring” from our first year of marriage.

We threw a dinner party years ago. I was at Whole Foods ordering a $100 piece of meat, I think a standing rib roast. I asked the butcher so many questions about how to prepare it, that he came out from behind the counter to give me a hug and tell me that everything was going to be ok.

Because we’ve lived in the Bay Area for so long, we’ve known and befriended our fair share of legitimate foodies and home chefs who can point over their shoulder to Berkeley and say “Alice Waters started it all over there.” They could also easily brag about how every burrito place, pizza joint, and hamburger hovel feature the freshest and ingredients…and usually with the obligatory “twist” or “kick.” “It’s a taco, but with a twist!”

Over the years, the cool ingredients spent time in everybody’s pantries. Pine nuts. Sun dried tomatoes. Feta. Endive. Leeks. Wild Boar. (No? That one didn’t make it? Shocking, the weird meat with the three-day aftertaste was sure to be a winner.) Aioli. Truffle oil. Yes, I know these are still around, but each enjoyed their 15 minutes as the darlings of California Cuisine.

But alas, foodies are indeed everywhere. And now, thanks to social media, I get to hear what all of you food enthusiasts are up to, which is like 90% cool, and 10% annoying because you make it sound so effortless, like you are lazily sipping on chardonnay, throwing together ingredients from your garden for your adoring friends and loved ones…who will clap as you plate the food. You know, without Googling, the difference between baking powder and baking soda, because apparently there is one. The fun flipside, is you get to read my diverse and revolutionary food musings:  “Football’s on! Clam dip time!” or “Basketball’s on! Where’s the clam dip?” or “I love the Giants! And I love clam dip!”

It’s a guilty pleasure, reading what you home chefs and foodies are up to, a sort of culinary voyeurism, peeking into your world as you homemake everything from pizza, bread, cakes and pie crusts to pickles, jam and chutney (whatever that is). I picture you strolling through the farmers market with a hand woven basket or a shopping tote made from reclaimed prison jumpsuits, hotel curtains, or the 8th grade graduation dresses of female freedom fighters. You could probably tell me whether or not that’s a good turnip, and if this is a good price on star fruit or kale. You might look at pomelo and say, “Fantastic! I can go home and throw together the perfect little pomelo margarita, pomelo salad, sea bass with pomelo salsa, and my signature pomelo granita for dessert. Just another typical Wednesday.”

I’ve been to many a farmer’s market, but have been known to find the experience so completely overwhelming that I will leave with nothing more than a sausage sandwich from the sausage guy.

So if I’m not a foodie, what am I? a bookie? That doesn’t sound good. A wordy? Um, I suppose that already applies, especially if you’ve made it this far into this post. I like TV – how about a showy? A winey?  Let’s see what we have so far: a showy, winey, wordy bookie. Perhaps I’ll dust off the binders and give foodie another shot.