Monday, October 25, 2010

Tasting San Francisco

Some people are born with many thousands more taste buds than others!


News of this recent medical research is confirmation for what I’ve suspected since childhood. I would literally shiver and even gag in revulsion when forced to eat foods like prune whip or liver. I truly believed I might die from a disgusting taste.
If you're a foodie like I am, I'll bet you have more than your share as well. My husband Ted (he claims to be my late husband, saying Paul von Welanetz was my early husband) loves food too, thank goodness. So, next week we will be off for our favorite gourmet getaway, a long weekend trip to San Francisco where we often admire a view of the bay from a corner room at the historic Mark Hopkins Intercontinental.

We like to leave our home in Corona del Mar early on a Friday morning so we arrive before two in time for our favorite dim sum (literally, “to touch the heart,” so I find it irresistible) at Yank Sing at 49 Stevenson St between 1st and 2nd. (A second, much larger location is in One Rincon Plaza, but we prefer the intimacy of the smaller restaurant.)
The moment we are seated, a glass pot of steaming jasmine tea appears fore us to sip while we choose small plates from an unending parade of passing carts. There are steamed dumplings (shrimp, scallop, lobster, chicken and vegetable, spinach, snow pea shoot with ginger, garlic, and sesame oil), fried tidbits (stuffed crab claws, shrimp toasts, egg rolls), or steamed white buns to fill with crisp Peking duck, scallions and tangy Hoisin sauce.
After eating our fill of this succulent light fare, we share a dessert of sesame balls and mango pudding, and emerge energized for a walk and shopping in nearby Union Square.

Saturday morning the Ferry Building Marketplace is the place to be. That’s when stalls of local vendors surround the city’s historic 1898 clock-towered structure now a permanent home to 40 plus restaurants and upscale food purveyors ( Since 2003 this has been turned into the shrine where the city’s population worships the region’s culinary delights.

Ted and I sample our way through the stalls. I can’t resist joining the long line at Primavera for one of their four or so Mexican breakfast entrees. Owner Karen Taylor studied with famed cookbook author Diana Kennedy in Michoacan, Mexico, and offers a delectable menu that includes chilaquiles with scrambled eggs and several kinds of tamales and the best tortilla chips ever.

Ted can’t resist the yogurt at the Saint Benoit stall, especially the honey or fresh plum flavors. The pale pink crocks in which the yogurt is sold have plastic lids and make lovely souvenirs. We drive home with a back seat filled with treats including the sensational sesame glazed walnuts from Alfieri Farms and white cheddar from Point Reyes Cheese Company

For the first time we'll try some of Tony's Pizza Napoletana in North Beach. Tony won first prize in the World Pizza Cup in Naples for his pizza margherita.

Our tastebuds are off on a happy San Francisco adventure! We'll keep you posted!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

A Taste of Winter Romance

Autumn colors have an edge.

Shards of red and orange crackle

through the cracks and splintered ends

of summer's gentle arc.

~Pastor Steve~

Fall is in the air as I sip velvety warm cauliflower vichyssoise. Its comforting warmth and flavor bring a burst of one of my cherished memories.

Crisp autumn colors at the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite National Park.

Ted and I dined at a table for two in the huge, cathedral-like dining room, the only table at the base of an immense, twenty-foot arched window with a spectacular view of the hotel grounds, the forest with its bright autumn hues, and Yosemite Falls spilling down the dark, gray granite cliffs beyond.

I learned later the table is called the “Queen’s Table”, and I sensed the feeling of royalty being led to her throne.

We had only been dating for a few months. The setting was beyond romantic—it was a masterpiece.

During dinner Ted spoke earnestly of the depth of love he was finding in our relationship. When our desserts arrived, he took both my hands and asked, “Will you marry me?”

It has been twenty years now, and we returned a few winters ago to celebrate our wedding anniversary and to attend the legendary Bracebridge Dinner, one of the most sought after Christmas events in the world. A three-hour pageant of drama, music, and heraldry, it recreates the traditional sumptuous seven-course feast based on Washington Irving’s 1820 tale The Sketch Book about Christmas Day at Bracebridge Hall in Yorkshire, England.

This legendary tradition began shortly after the hotel was opened in 1927, and the program, re-written by famed photographer, Ansel Adams, is still being performed today by an elaborately costumed 100-plus cast featuring Christmas carols, Renaissance and Middle Age music, court jester, trumpets and revelry before Squire Bracebridge, his family, and 325 fortunate guests. It was once held only on Christmas Eve with tickets available only by lottery. Read about it and see lots of photos in this article from the San Francisco Examiner.

Our accommodations were a cozy cottage in the hotel’s surrounding woods blanketed by a light snow, and the dinner lived up to our highest expectations.

I have a special reason for telling you about the Bracebridge Dinner now. You won’t want to wait any longer to make reservations to attend this spectacular once-in-a-lifetime event. It used to be you would be placed on a waiting list for years, but with our current economy, reservations are still available. Performances and dinners are held this year on December 13, 14,16, 18, 20,24 and 25. Tickets and lodging packages are available at both the Ahwahnee and Yosemite Lodge. I promise you one of the most glorious holiday dining celebrations of your life! Click here for to make a reservation. Or, phone Yosemite Reservations at 801/559-5000, or go online at

Meanwhile, serve an autumn supper near a cozy fire of one of the best of the seven courses—this delicious and bracing winter vegetable soup! Follow it with creamy Stilton cheese and vintage port. Click here for more of the traditional Bracebridge recipes


For about 1 gallon, or 16 servings

(Freeze any extra, or share the bounty!)

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 large Spanish or white onion, peeled and coarsely chopped

2 cups celery root (celeriac), peeled and diced

2 cups parsnips, peeled and diced

1 cup chopped leeks, thoroughly rinsed

1 to 2 bay leaves

1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme

1 cup white wine or dry Vermouth

1 large head cauliflower, outer leaves and core included, coarsely chopped

3 quarts vegetable stock

2 cups (1 pint) heavy (whipping) cream

1 pound russet potatoes, peeled and coarsely diced

Salt and pepper to taste

Sauté the first seven ingredients in an 8-quart stockpot, over medium heat, partially covered, for 10 minutes. Add the white wine, cauliflower and vegetable broth; bring to a simmer and cook, covered, for about 20 minutes, until cauliflower is very tender.

Add the potatoes and heavy cream and cook about 15 minutes longer until potatoes are very tender. Remove bay leaves and let soup cool. Season the soup with salt and pepper, then puree in small batches in blender or food processor. Strain to remove any lumps and reheat to serve or transfer to storage containers. (Like most soups and sauces, the flavor is best the second day.)

The Ahwahnee serves this in tiny cups at the beginning of a meal with a drizzle of chive oil and a crouton made of cheesy polenta.