Clement Adventures

In terms of things to eat, I’m pretty lucky with where I live. I’m just a short walk away from Clement St, where you can track down a satisfying Bahn Mi, or the best red-tablecloth pizza joint in the city , or a veritable villa of tasty and impossibly cheap dumpling houses. Going down Clement can feel like going on a little adventure, a quick trip to another country where all bets are off, where you’re bound to stray from the usual because the usual is nowhere in sight. And this sense of adventure that’s triggered, it gets you to try new things, to go a little further off the map then you might be used to. Suddenly you’ve got that invincible vacation feeling and anything goes.

And it can be great. Last night dinner was at a little dumpling place I know only by sight and by sense memory. Somewhere on Clement between 5th and 6th is a little pink place with windows boasting egregiously thick Chinese donuts and trays on trays of steaming dumplings. The menu is expansive, dizzying and encourages trial. Why get mu-shu chicken when you can get wok-fried rice cakes with pork and greens (below).

That plus a platter of hand-crafted leek and shrimp dumplings plus a large-family size plate of pork with mustard greens over noodles. It was a lot of food. It was also $20.
But there are times when adventure can go a little too far. Especially when the adventure leads to Genki Crepe.

Genki Crepe always seems like a good idea at the time. “It’s so cute! It’s so fun! It’s packed full of endlessly amusing Japanese candy and packaged goods! We hardly spent anything on dinner, so let’s go be frivolous! I’m all jacked up on sodium and adventure that I could get anything! A crepe! Yes, a big crepe, the biggest one they have! Wait, they make them with ice cream? And cheesecake? Both? With whipped cream? Let’s get one! Ha ha ha this is so fun!“

And it is. It is fun. It’s fun until about five minutes after you bite into that sweet concoction that sets in a crippling stomachache coupled with a very, very intense sugar rush. All of a sudden the five blocks left to walk home seem impassable and all you’re inclined to do is giddily laugh, hold your stomach and wonder why, why , why you do this to yourself.

But it’s the adventure, the fun of it. The fact that in those five blocks you’ll discover another place to try. A little thai cafe or pho house with no legible menu in the window that just begs you to come in and explore. And to finish the adventure, you’ll wander into Genki Crepe, marvel at the candy and consider the strange sodas but, having learned your lesson, probably head out empty-handed.


not easter eggs

For the last couple of weeks, the eggs I've been getting from my CSA have been a beautiful collection of colors. A few brown, a few white and a few of a delicate blue hue. They look like spring in an egg carton, make me wonder about the origin of dying easter eggs around this time, make me feel lucky. It feels like a treat to get these really pretty eggs that taste so damn good. I like to eat the blue ones last.


something new

I think winter had finally caught up with me. My palate was downtrodden by a parade of root and leafy green vegetables that I’ve been roasting and sautéing again and again. All I could think to do to meats was roast them with garlic and herbs. Totally boring. Totally uninspired.

I wanted to taste something new. I thought bi-rite ice cream would help me out. Bring a little brightness, and it did. I picked up a pint of the oddest flavor I could find, Orange Cardamom, and for a minute or two, it was damn resplendent. But still, orange is a citrus I’m burning out on and cardamom, though I love it, I could already anticipate the taste.

Something newer. Brighter.

I turned to my fridge, and I found a bottle of sparkling red I hadn’t opened yet. I read about sparkling reds years ago as the perfect go-with for a BBQ. I figured why not bring in some brightness to another roasted dinner?

Good call, me.

The Brachetto is lovely. Kind of like a Moscato d’ Asti with a bit more fruit than flowers. Sparkly and refreshing and though it might not make sense seasonally, really cheered up a dinner of roasted lamb loins and sautéed chard.
This is a flavor combination that’ll be happening again soon. Maybe at my next dinner party, say?


The Jam Cartel

I’m not one to linger in denial. I know that I have the capacity and history to be a little obsessive about things. Food things. There’s a particular candy bar sold in Portland I’ve been pining after for awhile. I’ve been known to have the same breakfast over and over again for months on end.

And when I write months I might mean years.

An obsession is different for me than a craving. A craving can be assuaged in a few simple bites. I’ll crave pancakes or steak, but don’t need to have it day after day.

But I got in a little jam with a recent food obsession. I wrote about it a little while ago- the preserved fruits from welovejam. The kumquat marmalade was insanely good. I tried to pace myself, I knew it was in limited supply, but there was nothing I could do. I ran out.

So, being the reasonable person I am, I turned to my jam pusher. I emailed Eric at welovejam:

“Hi there

So, I'm nearing the bottom of my jar of the kumquat jam and I'm getting worried about my next fix. My breakfast has come to depend on good jam. Since I know the apricot jam is months away still, is there another product you recommend to tide me over? I'm in San Francisco, so if there's a grocery I should go to, point me there!”

Like I said, I’ll admit a problem when I have one.

So Eric wrote back, understood where I was coming from, and like a good dealer, came through. He didn’t have the apricot, but he could deliver some elephant heart jam.

And he did. Literally.

At a specified time (10:30 a.m. on a Sunday) at a specified place (my apartment building), Eric dropped by to deliver the goods. It couldn’t have been more like a drug deal if we had planned it. And it’s been good. Completes my latest breakfast kick of slow-cooked scrambled eggs, Niceragua La Union coffee and toast with butter and jam.

I’m really trying to pace myself this time. To hold out until the Blanheim apricot jam is ready. I’ve got about half a jar left of the good stuff. Wish me luck


And now, back to our regular food writing.

In an ongoing effort to resist the call of the take-out menu, I’ve been turning to the contents of my fridge and pantry for simple dinners. And they’ve been coming out really good. Plates of food with only a few ingredients that add up to a lot more than the sum of their parts. I made a broccoli pasta last week that was so good, it felt selfish not to share. In fact, two bites in, I brought it back to the kitchen so I could take a damn picture of it. Which is here:

So, I got this idea in my head that I should really start sharing this food a lot more. Have people over for dinner as much as schedules will allow. I can see my friends, share some food and enjoy food the way it should be enjoyed: with friends.

I kicked off my big plan by inviting my upstairs neighbors over for Sunday dinner But somehow, wrapped up in the idea of Entertaining, I abandoned my simple plan and ended up making something a lot more complicated. I spent all day browning, braising and simmering oxtail stew. I baked fresh bread to start and madelines to finish. It was nonstop work for most of the day and by the time I heard the knock at the door I was exhausted.

And to make it that much more unsatisfying, I wasn’t happy with the food. It was a lot of work for not a lot of payoff. I hadn’t let the liquid separate enough so the stew was too fatty and the meat didn’t get as tender as I hoped it would. And there wasn’t enough salt either.

Still, the bread was good, the cookies were fine, and it felt good to have people over. I’ve just got to go back to my initial idea. Simple, good food. Make a dinner I’d usually make for myself, just make enough to share.

I’ve got more than a few dinners lined up at my place in the next few weeks, and I will try damn hard to resist my cache of clipped recipes and scrawled ideas. I’m going to plan, but not overplan. Keep some charcuterie and cheeses on hand for snacky starters, turn to the CSA contents and basics for ideas. Let the ingredients do the impressing.

More to come on the dinner party series, for certain.


False Advertising

Fair warning, this isn’t a post about food. About a meal I ate or a restaurant I visited. This is about something else.

When I’m not shopping for food, cooking food or writing about food, there is an entire other life I have. I have a day job that keeps me in organic produce and grass-fed beef. And I’m lucky. I have a true love for what I do. As a copywriter, I get to spend my days thinking and writing and working with some of the smartest, funniest people I’ve ever come across. And even though I’m writing in the voice of Starbucks or WaMu, the real voice that comes across is still mine. It’s not uncommon for someone to see something I’ve written and come back with the comment, “That’s so Margo.”

There was a time last year when I was looking for work and I had to go to yet another headhunter to show off my book. It’s something I’d done 100 times before and I wasn’t looking forward to it. But something in that meeting, in that presentation of telling the story behind each ad, remembering the moment when the insight clicked or the perfect line came into focus I realized how much I’m really proud of what I’ve done. My work is good. My work is personal. My work is me.

Which is why what happened yesterday was so hurtful.

Yesterday it came to my attention that a (former) friend of mine had stolen my portfolio and passed it off as his own. We had never worked together. We had never collaborated on a single thing. In fact, nearly all my entire print and interactive work and my resume were swiped and re-packaged with his name on the cover. He even took a few food essays and photography pieces and threw them in too for good measure. That part stung even more.

The ad world is really small. There’s a one degree of separation at best. Someone I had worked with years ago came across the work, put two and two (and two and two) together and he was escorted out of the building by end of day. He’s tried to get in touch with me but I haven’t yet responded.

If imitation is the highest form of flattery than plagiarism would be the basest form of it. I’m not sure what the lesson is in all this for me, but I’m glad I can take away the bragging rights that my work is so damn good, someone tried to steal all of it.

To see the work, click over to www.margostern.com


CSA pressure

It's almost become too much. I pick up the produce every week and by Sunday, I've defaulted to roasting everything that can be roasted and cutting up anything else for snacks. Yesterday's lunch involved a baked Japanese sweet potato, sauteed chard with garlic and enough carrot and celery sticks to complete the lunches of a dozen 5th graders.

But I'm trying. I'm trying to be innovative when I can. To try new produce and experiment with cooking styles. And some of it is working.

For instance, kohlrabi.

It's an odd little root. Somewhere between broccoli stalk and cabbage-like, I'm pretty confounded by it. I've snacked on it raw, made it into soup and left it in the fridge to wilt to inedible. I felt bad about the last one.

So I decided to do something new with it. Kohlrabi Vinaigrette.

I peeled the little sputniks, sliced them, then blanched them for a quick 3 minutes in salted water. Then I plunged them into icy water to stop the cooking. Arranging them into disks, I then poured a simple dressing of red-wine vinegar, dijon and olive oil. A quick crackle of black pepper and done.

And you know what, they weren't half bad. A really nice, simple starter. Clean and fresh. A good stalky vehicle for dressing. Next time I'm faced with a bunch of kolhrabi, this is the way I'm going.