Tag Archives: San Francisco

The Impostor at Trader Joe’s

22 May

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I think we can all admit that at some point in our lives, we’ve felt like frauds; impostors who don’t fit in, and who though surrounded by people, are totally alone. We worry that if our secret were to get out, the jig would be up and everybody would finally see that we really don’t know what we’re doing after all. We can feel like this at work, at school, at parties, in church, at book club, browsing art galleries or anywhere sports is involved. I’ve felt it in all of those places; but for sure, I’ve felt like an impostor every time I’ve stepped into Trader Joe’s.

If you’ve not been to a Trader Joe’s market, it’s a dazzling almost choreographed circus of grocery shopping. The atmosphere is festive and tropical. The employees are friendly, chatty, and seem happy to be there, wearing casual tropical tees and box cutters on their belts. It feels like everybody else, customers and employees alike, know each other, though rationally, I’m fully aware they don’t.

Trader Joe’s is not a chicly curated organic grocery experience stylized to placate the most discerning hipsters or foodies or hipster foodies. The chain has been around since the 50’s and the customers are diverse in every way, and from what I’ve seen, utterly devoted to the place. Our closest Trader Joe’s has a line of cars that stretch for a block waiting to get into the little parking lot that is overseen by a lovely lady charged with managing all those Subarus, and pointing out the parking places, and then smiling and waving goodbye to you as leave. This morning I saw a guy peddling away from the store on a bicycle modified with so many grocery holding attachments, I was worried that once he got going down a San Francisco hill, the weight of his loot would not allow him to stop.

Guys or gals, old or young, artsy or corporate or retired, every customer to me looks like they know what they are doing. I’ve been there countless times and continue to have so many questions. “What’s bulgur? Is this healthy? Or at least healthier than other stuff I buy? Is it obvious how hard I’m having to think right now? These other people don’t look like they are thinking at all. Are they on to me? I can’t stand out that much; I’m dressed casually, but not too casually; I have a well-worn Trader Joe’s disposable shopping bag. I’m here at 10:00 am with all of these other people. And by the way, how are so many of us out on a school day?”

I’ve done my fair share of grocery shopping both as an adult learning to read labels, look for bargains, and control myself in the potato chip aisle; and as a kid when already long grocery runs with my mom were inevitably lengthened by the fact that she seemed to know and chat with everyone in the store.

At Trader Joe’s, my old crutches have been stripped away – I don’t see most of the brand name items I’ve used all my life, or at least heard of all my life; or if we’re being honest, the ones for which I have seen the commercials 39,003 times. And with so few of the brands I’ve come to rely on, there I am facing all kinds of new and mysterious stuff I’ve blissfully ignored, until now.

Where I miss my Raisin Bran Crunch, there, somehow is a jar of Hearts of Palm. I can’t find a Pepsi, but I do see Kefir. What’s Kefir? Do I need this? What do I do with it? (And this is from a girl who spends A LOT of time on Pinterest.) I’m reminded aisle after aisle about just how little I really know about food. And maybe about life.

I grip my cart tightly and grab a bag of Olive Oil Popcorn (delicious) and Triple Ginger Snaps (super delicious), tomatoes, and a 10 lb. loaf of bread. I’m confident with my familiar choices, but I know they are pedestrian. I feel certain that if you asked any of my fellow shoppers about Alkaline Water or Yacon Syrup, they could tell you what it is and how to use it. I see the Cold Brew Coffee, Speculoos Cookie Butter, Chia everything, and Pomegranate Vinegar, but walk away defeated. The store’s circular, The Fearless Flyer, probably explains it all, but perhaps I’m not fearless enough of a flyer to read it.

I wrap up my trip where I feel most at ease, in the frozen foods aisle surrounded by little frozen pizzas and hot dog pastries, tiny tacos, small dumplings, adorable chicken pot pies, mini meatballs, itty bitty feta bites, and not-so-little samosas. I’ve been known to put all of these appetizers together to create one global mish mash of a meal that requires multiple oven temperatures, and wildly different cooking times, illustrating to me that these items were not meant to be prepared for the same meal, let alone as the entire meal. (The adorable little things in very similar boxes can take anywhere from 12 minutes to 55 minutes to cook, which results in a two-hour, sweaty, math heavy, “no fuss” meal.)

Recently, I left my comfort zone and bought coconut oil, which according to the folks on Pinterest, is the most amazing product of our time. While, I haven’t had the guts to smear it through my hair as a conditioner, or across my skin as a moisturizer as suggested, I have taken the leap with a Pinterest recipe and created a delightful little snack that is reminiscent of fudge. A HEALTHY (?) SNACK THAT IS LIKE PEANUT BUTTER FUDGE!

Maybe I’ll tell my fellow shoppers about my coconut oil success next time I’m at Trader Joe’s, which might score me an invite me to one of their customer club meetings.

 

For you recipe fiends out there, here’s a variation of the oft copied recipe that’s floating around Pinterest: Take 3 Tbs peanut butter, 3 Tbs coconut oil, a teensy dash of sea salt and a squeeze of honey. Mix it up. I pour it over a wax paper lined pie plate, and toss it in the freezer for 20 minutes. Then you crack it apart with a knife, throw the uneven pieces in a freezer bag, and eat it whenever you want. Although yes, it reminds me of FUDGE, just a couple of pieces of this stuff makes for a delicious, guilt free, and filling snack.

 

Find me on Twitter @FulcrumChron and on Instagram @ColleenWeems

 

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the sun is but a fickle muse. especially when there is ice cream involved.

10 Sep

ImagePeople who fancy themselves writers, or painters, or poets, or photographers are often inspired by the power of the ocean; the pulse of the city; the majesty of the mountains; the starkness of the desert; or the simple beauty of rolling fields and a golden countryside.

I like those things. Ok, I like most of those things. But a few times a year, I feel as if I can’t write about anything, until I write about the weather; yep, the very weather that is the cliché calling card for people who simply have nothing else to talk about. If you’ve been reading along with me over the last few years, you may have realized before I ever did, the seasons are my collective muse. Spring, summer, winter, fall. Or in California, sprummer, summtumn, autinter, and winspring.

There is something magical about the changing of the seasons; the marching-on of time; the promise of something exciting, yet familiar, just around the corner. The evidence of change pops up all around us. Menus change. Wardrobes change. The telltale pain in my knee emerges as the barometric pressure shifts. The knick knacks in my house get rearranged, and at some point, I remind my kids how my knee knows when it’s going to rain, while acknowledging that yes, it’s weird.

As any change of the season approaches, I declare the upcoming season to be my favorite. The best! The most wonderful time of the year! Think of the sun dresses/white pants/boots/sweaters! Think of the seasonally appropriate treats I plan to make, but probably won’t! And now, September is here, and as I now live in San Francisco, I can finally write about how much I love summer.

Not to be a show off, but it’s been sunny, for like eight days in a row. This stretch was balm to the soul after a summer marked by oppressive fog. In August, I wore the very same outfits I wore at Christmas time. On those days, I thought back to the Fourth of July sunburn that I acquired in another town, and I could not imagine what that must have felt like. Hot, maybe?

The fog-free streets have been teeming with people, happily standing in line around the block for ice cream – not just any ice cream – but a compostable cup full of honey lavender, balsamic strawberry, basil, or blueberry cheesecake ice cream. If you are my foodie son, you wait for fresh peach ice cream topped with a drizzle of olive oil; or if you are my chicken nugget, noodles-and-butter-with-nothing-green-in-sight loving son, you stand in line for “chocolate.”

Our family went to a baseball game – at night, in San Francisco – and I did not put on a sweatshirt, and even more telling, I did not make my deliriously happy 8-year-old wear a sweatshirt.

I broke a sweat the other day, and it was kinda awesome.

Fall is lurking though, like a bully, trying to usurp summer and kill my sunshine buzz. I was forced to make my annual TV watching, DVR matrix, with a detailed chart of new network shows I want to try, because as we all know, good TV waits for no one. And with three guys in the house, football is the topic du jour, every jour. The September calendar page is full, and I’ve started writing things onto those little squares in October. I try to put off thoughts of pot pie, and caramel, and cider. I know, pumpkin-flavored-everything is already on menus, but for this brief moment in time, I’m thinking about watermelon. Does anybody know where I can get some watermelon?

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*In the photo up top,  the idea was that I would capture the cool play structure at the new Exploratorium in SF with Coit Tower artistically hovering in the background; but mostly I took a picture of the blue sky. It felt like I was getting a picture of a unicorn being walked by a leprechaun. The baseball photo, is pretty much the same thing. I think my kid’s in there somewhere.

**Between when I started writing this post, and finished, the temperature dropped twenty degrees, and I broke down and made a mug of tea. Stupid hot tea.

my fortune: recycle or compost?

20 Aug

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Every once in a while I threaten to go to graduate school. Each time, my very supportive husband who’s in the midst of getting yet another graduate degree affirms, I could totally go back to school if I wanted to.

“I think I want to go to law school. Do you think I could do it?”

“You could do it. Go for it.

“An MFA?”

“ Why not?”

“An MBA?”

“Sure.”

“Accounting? I always kind of wished I was an accountant.”

“You hate math pretty much more than anything, but if you really feel like that’s what you want to do, I’m sure you could.”

“I think I heard somewhere you can get a Masters Degree in Pop Culture. What about a Ph.D? I could be Dr. Pop Culture. I’ve pretty much already done the research.”

Unfortunately, none of these forays into higher learning would help me in navigating the disposal of our lunchtime waste at one of our fine San Francisco malls.

The trash/recycling/compost complex loomed behind us as the boys and I enjoyed a leisurely lunch of room-temperature poststickers (“there are delicious potsitickers  around the corner from our house! Let’s get conrndogs!” one of us usually argues.) I noticed that since our last mall visit, the recycling powers-that-be or the mall powers-that-be had the bright idea of adding a waste disposal instructional video that was now playing on a loop on a flat screen TV right above the waste bins.

Perhaps they filmed this video after watching security camera footage of our family confused and arguing at the bins about where to put our corndog sticks.

When the potstickers were gone, and the cookies were pillaged for their fortunes, we gathered our mountain of wrappers, utensils, cups, and plates, and stood in line at the waste disposal annex that, I’m pretty sure, occupies the space where Chess King used to be. I looked back and forth from six straw wrapper halves to the examples posted in the display cases above Recycling, Compost, and Trash, or as they call it, “Landfill” to make sure you think three times before you put your cherry lemonade cup in that hole.

The panic set in when I saw the kind of plate I had was not represented on the wall of examples.

“Do I pour the sticky potsticker sauce in compost before I recycle the cup? I have a different fork than the one on the board; mine might be made of potato or corn. We do this fine at home; why is it so difficult at the mall? The mall’s supposed to be fun! What kind of paper is my cookie’s fortune written on? Is it coated?”

“You’re not keeping your fortune?”

“I’ve had enough adventure for one year, thanks. I’m not thrilled that more ‘awaits.’ Anyway, crummy fortunes aren’t covered in this video, and now there’s a line behind us.”

“Mom, I’ve had lots of practice at my new school; we have this same set-up,” said the middle schooler as he adeptly took over. “It took me forever to do this my first day, and there wasn’t a video,” he continued as he buzzed around me in a blur of recycling, “but then it got easier.”

The soon-to-be 2nd grader piped in as he composted his napkins. “My teacher gave me a garbage buddy to help me after lunch on my first day.”

Planet Earth might be happy to know our malls and schools are, at this moment, assigning garbage buddies and hosting a generation of whiz kid Reducers, Reusers, and Recyclers. Just wait until they get THEIR graduate degrees.

*I still do not know which bin the corn dog stick goes in

upheaval: deciding is half the battle

29 Jan

ImageNot one box has been packed, and no progress has been made in eating our way through the eleven cans of tomato soup in the cupboard – eleven cans I will not want to pack when the time comes. Just the deciding part of our latest venture has taken a lot of talking time, and thinking time, and meeting time, and even research time. Then there’s the TV time that is required to bring sweet relief from all of that thinking, and talking and deciding.

Even the mere decision to change your life and up heave the lives of the little ones who depend on you to not do something crazy – like up heave their lives – takes more time, and energy, and emotion than I remember. And we’re not even to the actual upheaval.

We are a pastor’s family, and the job of pastor, like many other jobs out there, usually involves a move or two, and leaving a church and a community that you love, because you get an inexplicable nudge that becomes impossible to ignore. That move can easily require thousands of miles, and new license plates. For us, it’s a few miles, a few zip code digits, and a new dentist.

But it’s still a world away.

We’re leaving our quiet cul-de-sac where we slow down for deer, squirrels, and wild turkeys, and we’re crossing the bridge back to San Francisco, the city where John and I started as fresh-faced newlyweds with bus passes and a poorly insulated apartment. We’re leaving a beautiful, wonderful, supportive church on a suburban hill, for another beautiful, wonderful, already supportive church on an urban hill.

The life-changing  jobs we’ve had for the better part of a decade come to a close this week, and the goodbyes are well under way – a not-so-easy process for a notoriously long goodbyer, who hails from an impressive line of long goodbyers. My family is a stand-on-the-porch-and-wave-until-the-car-is-out-of-sight bunch of goodbyers. We are “just one more thing before we hang up!” goodbyers. And I absolutely, positively, will not allow any air of finality when I bid someone adieu. You could tell me you are really excited to get started on your 200-year cryogenic hyper sleep project, and I will tell you that I will, for sure, talk to you soon.

I’ve probably hugged some people 45 times already. I’ve cried at inopportune moments, which stinks because I’m an ugly crier. Other moments, I’m giddy with excitement about the possibilities, and the newness, and the guaranteed proximity to dim sum. The kids’ friends think a move to the city is cool, and not really a big deal because their parents go to work there, like every… single… day.

We haven’t nailed down a new home address, and I don’t know quite yet know what I will do for a living, but I’ve been around the block, and trust that we’ll figure that part out.

So that’s where I’ve been, and where I will be for a few more weeks. And one day, some day, I’ll be sitting in my yet-to-be identified living room (too presumptuous to hope our new place in the city will fit a couch?) lazily taking iPhone pictures of the cat and tinkering with a blog post about cakes, or the bus, or bugs, having (fingers crossed!) gloriously shaken out the writing cobwebs. Maybe for a moment I’ll miss the excitement, the nervous stomach and eye twitch that accompanied months of a not-knowing limbo defined by this narrative: “should we really do this….I mean seriously, should we?” which was capped off with the answer. “Yep. We’re doing this. It feels like we’re really supposed to do this.”

Wait! One more thing….I will for sure talk to you soon.

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play it safe

4 Nov

“You’ll fall. You’ll throw up. You’ll pinch a finger. You’ll land on your head. You’ll squish a little kid. I won’t be able to find you.”

The boys prefer to leave me at home when they go to the park. For a while I had unapologetically forbidden them from visiting the playground down the street. There were no sides on the tall slide, and the bottom where kids were supposed to slow to a stop was just sheared off metal. The ground cover seemed to be equal parts tan bark, glass shards, and cat/dog/raccoon/deer/fox/mountain lion/horse poop. There’s a lake in that park; it’s practically the wilderness.

But then the city went and replaced it with brand new play equipment and that space aged spongy ground cover; I had to find some other danger to fret about.

The New York Times ran an article this summer citing a study that our new safe playgrounds may be depriving an entire generation of the adventure, risk, reward, accomplishment, and self esteem necessary for them to become healthy and well balanced adults. Worse than the potential injuries, we might be instilling more fear and more anxiety into our kids by keeping them too safe.

I don’t know…I fell out of a tree house once, and that’s likely why I boast a fairly healthy anxiety about my kids falling off of, or out of, stuff.

The rule of my childhood neighbor’s tree house was you could use the ladder going up, but you had to jump out of the tree to get down. I now know that was likely not sanctioned by their parents, but….a rule is a rule. I scooted to the edge of the five or six planks that were nailed together to create the “house” and sat there for a long time. When I’d gathered enough courage, or had succumbed to the peer pressure, I gave myself one final push, at which point my favorite lavender eyelet shorts hooked onto a wayward nail. There I dangled cartoonlike by my shorts from a tree with no way for the other little kids to get me down. Those adorable shorts finally gave way, sending me plummeting to earth. It hurt like the dickens but I miraculously didn’t break anything, other than my shorts. I limped home, blubbering, and covering my rear end with my bruised and bleeding hands.

The crowning jewel of the Sierra Gardens Elementary playground was the Eagle’s Nest that sat outside Room 5. Kids would race to scramble up the side of the rounded metal climbing structure, hoping to be the first to reach the pinnacle where they could sit and survey their kingdom, the Sir Edmund Hillary of 2nd grade. Sometimes, you would climb back down the side, or, on a dare, you would let yourself hang from the top before your sweaty hands would give out, dropping you down into the sawdust.

I spent many a lunch recess across the blacktop at the simple bar that was cemented into the ground by the swings, and designed solely for the purpose of swinging around and flying off, like Mary Lou Retton. Every trick had a dramatic name; of which I now only remember pieces: The Cherry Something, Dead Man’s Something (which should have been named the Arm Breaker), and The Such-and-Such Drop, with all of the two-handed, one-handed, backward and forward variations.  There was never ever enough sawdust to actually cushion a fall, and I’m fairly certain that’s where I said my first swear word.

Modern playgrounds still look plenty dangerous to me. There is always that one part of a play structure where, no matter how new and up to code it may seem, you can imagine a kid just falling unceremoniously over the side, bypassing the sliding pole altogether. The monkey bars are still awfully high, and don’t even get me started on blisters. What if some big kid goes bananas on the wobbly bridge, and to be funny, wobbles the little kids right off?

When we take the boys to San Francisco, they beg to go to a park that sits nestled in our old neighborhood.

There are reclining seats suspended from the mile-high slide, and a tall climbing cone sits atop a merry-go-round (climbing and spinning in the same convenient structure!). Jacob flew straight to the top of the cone and encouraged passing kids to spin it. I hollered up to him with the very necessary reminder to hold on and not jump. When he was in pre-school, our first teacher conference included this feedback, “we always have one playground teacher assigned to Jacob; he will jump off of anything.”

John and I watched our smiling eldest whose vantage point surely gave him a view of the Pacific Ocean. As I was standing there willing him to hold on, we turned to find a flurry of activity behind us.  A mother was sprinting to a child who was spinning wildly out of control on a small seemingly benign stool. Little legs were flying around in a blur. It was Zachary. The woman had saved Zachary from spinning off in the direction of the sea, while I stood inches away concentrating on the kid in the sky. We thanked the hero profusely and checked on Zach whose face reflected nothing but shock after his centrifugal episode.

“How did that happen Zach?”

He wondered off wordlessly leaning a bit to the right.

I sat down, and pushed at the ground a little with my toe. Before I knew it, it was spinning and I was yelping, incapable of displaying the same stoic demeanor as my 6-year-old.

I was at once horrified and amazed at the marvel of engineering. The unassuming little seat was simultaneously low to the ground and terrifying – the perfect combination for my peace of mind, and my child’s future emotional health and sense of accomplishment and adventure.

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.

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?