Friday, September 25, 2009

Firsts, Lasts, and favorite places

I hope my posting hiatus has not made you believe I have ceased cooking, though that would explain my absence. In truth, I spent my last few weeks in school thinking probably far too much about the next meal/snack/bite to be had, whether it be prepared by myself or by a very savvy Frenchman who opened his own bakery-café a mere ten minutes away from my place of residence.* Even if it is just pondering what would be the best possible thing to be found at noon on campus, or considering the idea of driving 15 minutes merely for a slice of very expensive quiche (see later rhapsodizing about Renaud’s), food is a daily affair, even though at times, I'll admit, I wish it were not. I mean, let’s face it: sometimes eating can just turn into a matter of survival; hunger trumps taste in the mind of a weary, sleep-deprived student with way too much to read, a girl who gnaws on Luna bars and sips lackluster smoothies until she can race home to make something, well, more substantial. As in Paris, at times all I could think of making was scrambled eggs, or sautéed kale, which as good as these are, can suffer from repetition.

All that said, I certainly didn’t intend to make such a depressing introduction. The truth is, I’ve always looked forward to late-summer’s bountiful food opportunities, immediately evident upon weekly jaunts to the Farmer’s Market. To make matters even easier, such opportunities don’t even require actual cooking, per se. Even when I am so tired I can’t even consider the prospect of preparing a reasonably balanced meal, and when it's so hot I consider trying to get by solely on tall glasses of Pelligrino with lime, I also know that a few ripe tomatoes, a bit of cheese, some fruit and crusty bread have never failed me. For as much as I love to bake, a perfect slice of fruit, unlike an essay, needs no fancy introduction, nor oven or flame. What it does need is someone to eat it, juice and all.

If I sound a bit wistful in all of this it’s because (I think) of my recent uprooting: I moved out of my place early September after finishing college; come October I’m off for more adventures in San Francisco. Certainly, I’ll go back down South to visit sometime in the future, but I felt as though I spent the month of August saying goodbye to all my favorite spots. For instance, I made sure to visit Renaud’s, my favorite French bakery, at least twice a week, and paid a visit to D’Angelo’s for their extra-strong coffee, brunch, and walnut bread once more. I rewarded myself for all the studying I had been doing with a cup of hazelnut gelato from Scoop on State Street one quite steamy afternoon downtown, and made sure to pick up a sack of those amazing raisin squares from Our Daily Bread before I left. A visit to C'est Cheese was definitely in order, for my last stop had me dreaming up a very fine spread already.

Caprese salad, to start, quickly became a summer weekend staple, with all the gorgeous heirloom tomatoes in every color imaginable available at the market. Feeling particularly fiendish one Saturday I got up early and went to get my produce, bread, then finally I walked up to C’est Cheese, which is conveniently located right next to Our Daily Bread. Being fresh out of their regular fresh mozzarella di bufala, I bought a small package of burrata, and a few slices of their best prosciutto. Feeling like a French housewife with the edible findings of the morning stuffed precariously into my basket, I drove home and assembled a platter: a drizzle of olive oil, a few leaves of basil, salt and pepper--simple and amazing. Then, just standing right there at the counter, already ravenous, I tore up my round of ciabatta and dug in. The burrata was heavenly—pillowy yet fleshy and full—like bufala but richer, sexier, equally at home nestled up to a tomato as it is spread gently on warm toast, for a BLT that’s ready for its moment on the cover of Bon Appétit.** Its surprise is that the outer layer is firm but inside it’s creamy, somewhat akin to a molten chocolate cake, when the chocolate center oozes just slightly when you slip your fork through the middle (The photos, I should divulge, are from another Saturday afternoon, when I got a baguette instead of the ciabatta, as at the time I was so focused on the food I forgot to grab my camera).

My affinity for the Italian pairing of charcuterie and the orange-fleshed cantaloupe goes back to my childhood, as does caprese salad, both of which my mother prepared many a time for summer meals—at home and during our once-annual camping trips. After years of watching her drizzle olive oil over alternating slices of tomato and mozzarella, sometimes adorned with some splashes of balsamic vinegar, I felt confident enough to make it myself, 800 miles away in a kitchen that was not mine.

Food is, I believe, the best way to say goodbye to a place; because taste is always connected with memory, visiting favorite haunts is like flipping through an imaginary photo album, some images tinged with melancholy, others with rapture, some with both triggered at the same time. Thus, before going, I had my last pain au chocolat (and my first tarte au citron) from Renaud’s, bought my last coveted jar of orange-blossom honey from Ojai, my last sack of walnuts from the nice man at the Rancho La Vina stand; I bought my last bag of fresh Medjool dates (and my first sack of honey dates), my last coconut-ginger smoothie (and first tropical “Açai bowl”) from Backyard Bowls, and left that lovely coast that was my home for the past six months. Now, I hope, I’m ready for some more firsts, and seconds, and in-between courses, reunited with my sister; surely, I’ll find something to write about during the Indian summer that fades into Autumn, along the hilly streets lined with Victorian houses of every shade, Golden Gate Park and, of course, the foodie paradise that is the Ferry Building. Wish me luck, and I promise an actual recipe next time.***

* Speaking of all things French, if you haven’t already seen Julie and Julia you must see it now!!! My mother and I saw it together and we were absolutely charmed.
** Indeed, there was such a cover in Bon Appétit history, and as of now I’m going to try and find this particular back issue in our archives.
***For more photos visit my flickr page

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