Sunset Celebration Weekend

Sunset - Bldg Sunset - Lawn OrnamentsSunset - Microbrew Sunset - Booths

Sunset Magazine hosts an annual “Celebration Weekend” that showcases the best of home, food and garden in the “West” (presumably California) on their grounds in Menlo Park. Although the entrance fee is a relatively steep $18, AK and I decided to attend again this year to seek some inspiration for our home. It was an extremely hot day, but the crowds were undeterred and packed the spacious venue. We first walked around to survey the lay of the land, and I came upon a booth selling succulents with Winnie the Pooh covering its entire side wall. I couldn’t believe that the entire display consists of plants!

Sunset - Pooh

After strolling around a little, we decided to eat first before the food booths got too busy. I ordered a pork belly over kimchee fried rice from the Chotto San Francisco food truck. It was delicious, if not a little fatty, though I think I am suffering from a little bit of pork belly and kimchee-anything fatigue. The Korean food truck craze that began with Koji does not seem to be flaming out…

Sunset - Pork Belly

Lunch was followed by dessert from The Creme Brulee Cart, a roaming stall on wheels in the city. It’s the reason I originally opened up my still barely used Twitter account, and I’ve always wanted to try it. My choice, the “Kentucky,” a vanilla-flavored creme brulee with candied pecans, was delicious! The crunch of the pecans paired perfectly with the smoothness of the cream underneath the delicate top shell. Reminds me of eating a slice of my favorite pecan pie at a place like Georgia Brown’s in Washington D.C., but almost better.

Sunset - Creme Brulee

Sunset - Creme Brulee (1)

AK and I then spent an inordinate amount of time checking out the Weber Grill display area, and it was a joy to play with these top-of-the-line barbeque grills. The knowledgeable representatives dispatched from headquarters were chatty and helpful, with no pressure at all! (The grills were not for sale at this event.) I made AK stand by his favorite model so we can start saving up for one.

Sunset - Alex + Grill

The day’s highlights were probably the food demonstrations from Susan Feniger, chef owner of STREET in LA and host of multiple food shows, and Fabio Viviani, the fan favorite from Top Chef Masters. Susan was an Energizer bunny who was loads of fun to be around – vivacious, generous and loose-lipped. Fabio, on the other hand, turned up his Italian chef accent to the max and charmed the crowd with this suave cooking style (“no measuring cups!”) and raunchy jokes. It was clear that both had oodles of star power.

Sunset - Susan

Sunset - Fabio

We escaped the massive crowds to go tour the magazine’s test kitchen. It was really fun to see the behind-the-scenes process of getting published recipes exactly right. I loved the little wooden chef in the kitchen that holds up a flag any time a plate of food is laid out for the staff – a green flag indicates that the recipe turned out great, a red flag means the recipe was not quite successful, and a black flag with skulls and bones marks the food as a total disaster. The test kitchen staff noted that regardless of the flag, every plate of food is always eaten! There must be something about being at work and lowering your standards for food, haha.

Sunset - Kitchen Chef

We finished the day touring the garden area and saw a beautiful model of a chicken coop! Keeping your own free range chicken for fresh eggs seems to be quite trendy these days, though I’m not sure I am at that level of eating “farm fresh” food yet. It was nice to fantasize a little.

Sunset - Chicken Coop

There were also multiple examples of outdoor living. Maybe one day our backyard can be transformed into something that is so gorgeous and fun!

Sunset - Garden Room

Sunset - Garden Chair

“The Making Of…” at SF MOMA

SFMOMA - Ticket SFMOMA - Entrance

“The Making Of…” was a recent KQED radio program featuring a collection of Bay Area makers and artists, who have produced a wide range of things ranging from the everyday (e.g., a woman making jam to remember her late French mother) to the truly unique (e.g., Filipino karaoke ice cream truck). As a follow-up to the broadcast, the producers of the show, Kitchen Sisters, staged a community event at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SF MOMA). Intrigued by the meshing of radio and real life, I decided to head up to the city and check it out (it also gave me an opportunity to have a quick workweek lunch with AK).

Even though it was a Friday, the event was packed! I realized after I arrived that this was the last weekend that SF MOMA would be open before closing for renovations until 2016, and the crowds were there because the museum’s final days were free to the public. The workshops were all interesting, covering the gamut from textiles to preserved fruits to outdoor gear (loved the camping gear from local outfit Alite Designs – got to check them out another time). I especially enjoyed observing the old Japanese lady hand sew a kimono.

SF MOMA - Textile SFMOMA - Workshop SFMOMA - Kimono SFMOMA - Hat SFMOMA - Jam SFMOMA - Tent SFMOMA - Camping

The most unique display item was probably the miniature-sized pink vintage Cadillac (I call all old cars I cannot identify Cadillacs) for a company called “Homobiles” (tagline: “Moes Gettin’ Hoes Where They Needz to Goes”). As explained in the radio show, Homobiles is a non-commercial, volunteer-run 24/7 car service created for the LGBT community and others around San Francisco who need safe, dependable rides (suggested donation is $1 per minute, though completely voluntary). According to the founder, drag queens, sex workers, transgender and other members of the queer community often have trouble hailing cabs (drivers would complain about the excess glitter, for example), so the service provides a much needed relief from harassment and dangerous situations. It feels nice to be part of such an inclusive city!

SFMOMA - Pink Cadillac

A separate wing of the museum was dedicated to food for the duration of the event, and many of the hip San Francisco eateries were there selling food for charity – participants included Bar Tartine, Mission Chinese Food, Tacolicious, Wise Sons Deli, La Cocina and Stag Dining Group. There was even a very cool pasta-making demo from Thomas McNaughton, founder of flour + water, a restaurant whose popularity has prevented even my friend Ms. Lin from nabbing a reservation. The secret weapon for making quality pasta, according to the master, is the water spray bottle (along with exact measurements). I have to try that at home next time I muster up the mental willpower to make fresh pasta from scratch.

SFMOMA - Pasta SFMOMA - Pasta Demo Water

It was wonderful to see all the creativity, innovation and diversity of the people of the San Francisco Bay Area. It certainly makes me feel connected to the greater community and appreciate where I live.

Oven Baked Chicken + Orange Avocado Salad

Made one of AK’s favorite dinners again – oven-fried chicken, thanks again to Dinner A Love Story. Although the dish is mostly baked in the oven, it really tastes like fried chicken, without all the fat and calories (just some, while rendering the fat from the skin and making it crispy in the pan). When the main dish is so delicious, any salad works. Here I threw together mixed greens and orange slices and tossed with homemade lemon mustard vinaigrette.

Oven Fried Chicken

Greens Restaurant

Several years ago, when my cousin TT was visiting from Taiwan, we combined a trip to Muir Woods with dining at Greens, a vegetarian restaurant located at the northernmost tip of San Francisco overlooking the water. I remember the outing fondly. I had taken the day off from work, and, in the middle of the workday, we sat around leisurely and watched the yachts come and go outside the floor-to-ceiling windows. It was pure luxury. After our hike at Muir Woods earlier in the day, I convinced AK to give Greens a try, and he surprised me by agreeing.

For appetizers, I started off with a cream of cauliflower soup, and AK had the grilled polenta cakes. Both were nice, but nothing spectacular.

Greens - SoupGreens - Polenta Cakes

The main dishes were much better. On my prior visit I had ordered the mesquite grilled brochette, which consisted of skewered vegetables with chimichurra sauce. It was tasty this time again. AK’s entree of wild mushroom risotto was delicious, if not memorable, as well.

Greens - Brochette

Greens - Risotto

I really respect what Greens is trying to do, sourcing and showcasing organic, local and sustainable produce from small family farms and their own garden in Marin. However, for the price – our check with tax and tip exceeded $80 (without wine!) – I expected the meal to make my taste buds dance. They were not dancing that night. It didn’t help that we got here after dark, so the scenery could not make up for the lack of exciting flavors. Maybe this is a better place to come during the day for the views.

Greens Restaurant
Fort Mason
Bldg A
San Francisco, CA 94123
(415) 771-6222
http://www.greensrestaurant.com

Muir Woods

Muir Woods - Sign

Muir Woods is one of my favorite national parks. It’s readily accessible – just on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge – and stunningly beautiful. The first mile or two into the woods consists of paved paths, which allow families and even individuals in wheelchairs to wander through the redwoods with ease, but deeper in the park there are natural trails that provide a more conventional hiking experience. AK and I took advantage of the long weekend to visit the park on this warm Sunday. What we did not count on was the massive crowds of people (long weekend in the Bay Area = packed outdoors). Even taking the shuttle up to the mountain involved an hour wait! With our late start, traffic on the bridge, wait time for the shuttle and the slow slog up the long and winding mountain roads, by the time we reached the park it was past 2 p.m. Undaunted, we made a beeline for the cafe for lunch and ordered up chef Tyler Florence’s favorite sandwich – the “Marin Melt” grilled cheese sandwich (made with Mt. Tam cheese from Cowgirl Creamery, Toma Cheese from Point Reyes Farmstead Creamery and sunflower loaf bread from Rustic Bakery in Larkspur), with a side of tomato bisque. The power combo was delicious as usual. I also love how the cafe uses locally-sourced, fresh and seasonal produce.

Muir Woods - Sandwich

The redwoods inside the park were simply awe-inspiring. How I wish I had the skills of Ansel Adams to truly capture the majesty!

Muir Woods - Trees

Even the regular forest foliage is just gorgeous.

Muir Woods

Just being close to nature was a rejuvenating experience. At the end of our day, we decided to trade in our tickets ($6 each) for an annual pass ($20 for each party) so that we can make a repeat visit soon, perhaps when the park is not so crowded. Personally, I thought $20 was a fantastic bargain for AK and I to return unlimited number of times in the next year. I know we will be back.

Leisure Saturday (Ferry Building + Spice Rack Organization)

After a long absence, we returned to the Ferry Building on this glorious Saturday morning. My original goal was to pick up some fresh produce from the farmer’s market, but the crowds were insane! We ended up just grabbing our usual items – lattes from Blue Bottle Coffee, porchetta sandwiches from the Roli Roti truck, a fruit pocket from Frog Hollow Farm and something extra (this time, instead of bread from Acme or cheese from Cowgirl Creamery, we picked up a bag of dark chocolate-covered cookies from this local place called Kika’s Treats).

Blue BottleKikas Treats

The real fun began after I got home. I had seen online that Martha Stewart has a whole line of kitchen stickers at Staples, and I couldn’t wait to check them out at the store. (I am an aspirational organizer – always dreaming about getting organized, if not actually getting there). It was even cuter than I had imagined. Not only were the labels removable, but they were dishwasher and freezer safe! It was too good to be true.

Martha Stickers

After a couple hours of hard work, I successfully transformed the spice rack. (The project took a little longer because some of the spice bottles had irregularly-shaped lids.) Finally, no more fumbling for spices! Yay!

Martha Stickers - Spices

Tommaso’s Ristorante Italiano + Martuni’s Piano Lounge

Our Memorial Weekend began with a bang. My law school roommate, Jazzgirl, invited us to Martuni’s piano lounge to celebrate her girlfriend DM’s birthday. For dinner beforehand, we visited one of our all-time favorite Italian restaurants in San Francisco – Tommaso’s (AK was really excited that I picked an Italian eatery as opposed the usual East Asian fare). Legend has it that Francis Ford Coppola, director of the Godfather trilogy, used to eat here all the time when his studio was in North Beach (although I normally don’t care about where celebrities eat, I think Mr. Coppola is actually Italian…so I’m giving his opinion some weight).

Tommaso’s is a traditional Italian restaurant with a menu that probably has not changed in decades – one would not find, say, a pizza with prosciutto, asiago, gorgonzola, balsamic reduction and fig preserve here (that would be Tony’s Pizza Napoletana, a different but equally excellent pizza place). What they have on offer, however, is amazing. AK and I shared a pasta dish, the wonderful meatball ravioli combo, and a sausage pepperoni pizza.

Tommasos - Meatball Ravioli

Tommasos - Pizza

Those brick ovens churn out such delicious crusts! My photo doesn’t do it justice. (Also, I’ve been relying on the iPhone camera exclusively recently, but have not been completely satisfied with the quality.)  We devoured our food with relish.

After dinner, we drove over to Martuni’s, located in the part of SoMa that’s closer to the Mission/Lower Haight. We parked right outside of this very cute establishment. Is it an inviting coffee shop? A cozy ethnic restaurant? A hipster vinyl record store?

Ketama

The answer is none of the above. This place is…a medical marijuana dispensary! You would never have known this from the outside. I couldn’t believe how this was just one the side of a busy road, with people just casually strolling in and out of the establishment. I suppose San Francisco doesn’t get its reputation for cannabis-friendliness for nothing!

I loved the concept of Martuni’s. Guests are invited to make song requests, and there is an open mike for people to belt out their favorite tunes (unfortunately, it was too dark and too crowded for pictures). It turned out to be great deal of fun – I had not been to a piano bar in ages! It was certainly more entertaining than just the average dive, and many of the singers sounded professional (I was told that this was a popular hangout for theater people). It was also a very friendly and chatty crowd. After a few hours, however, AK and I started to feel strangely old, even though we were by no means the oldest people there. I guess we were just not accustomed to staying out this late anymore (sadly, any place outside of the home after 10 p.m. feels “late” these days). Shortly after 11 p.m., we bid adieu to the birthday girl and headed back to the Peninsula. It was past midnight by the time we got home, and we quickly rolled into bed. What an wonderful evening it was.

Tommaso’s Ristorante Italiano
1042 Kearny Street
San Francisco, CA 94133
(415) 398-9696
http://tommasos.com

Martuni’s
4 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94103
(415) 241-0205
http://martunis.ypguides.net

My Favorite Cooking Blog: Dinner A Love Story

Miso Fish + Quinoa

As a relative novice to everyday cooking, I really appreciate recipes that are truly “easy” – many cookbooks and TV shows claim to offer this, but in reality, I often spend 2-3 hours on what was supposed to be an easy dish to make (I love the Barefoot Contessa, but Ina Garten doesn’t always make it easy for us mortals, though the worst offenders are probably those guys from America’s Test Kitchen). The other major criteria for me, of course, is that the food must taste good.  This is why I love the blog Dinner A Love Story (sometimes shortened to DALS), written by a busy working mom of two (she also used to be a food editor, so that doesn’t hurt). I love all the strategic shortcuts, the pre-planning tips, the little tricks of the trade. Most importantly, her recipes are unbelievably tasty and (relatively) simple to execute for a newbie like me.

Case in point: the miso-glazed salmon and roasted tomatoes with quinoa pictured above. The miso glaze is made in advance, and I took it out a mere 10-12 minutes before dinner to slather onto some wild Alaskan salmon for broiling. We almost always have cherry tomatoes in the house, so throwing a handful into the oven for slow roasting is also easy enough (I skipped the feta cheese and herbs because both were not on hand), especially when I have some leftover quinoa. Although I am not working right now, this meal was so easy that I feel confident that I would be able to execute it with ease as a busy working mom (keeping my fingers crossed). Both AK and I loved the meal. Thank you DALS!

Unconventional Education – “Hackschooling”?

Saw this video today, which was both impressive and inspiring (can’t believe this kid is a 13-year-old giving a TEDx talk). It really made me wonder about the traditional education system. Are we really killing creativity? On the one hand, motivated and self-guided learning is great. But on the other hand, would we be creating kids who cannot “fit in” within the predefined boundaries of society? Are parents doing their kids a disservice by not properly equipping them with the tools to survive in a conventional world?

LYFE Kitchen (Palo Alto, CA)

One of my new favorite eateries is LYFE Kitchen in Palo Alto. With the exception of Oren’s Hummus Shop (which does indeed have excellent hummus as well as tender grilled meat), the offerings on University Avenue are typically overpriced and mediocre – all show and no substance. Thus my surprise at finding LYFE Kitchen (LYFE = “Love Your Food Everyday”). I had first walked by on my way elsewhere and was intrigued by the long line out the door at 11:45 a.m. (not even really lunch time!). Being the lemming that I am, I immediately got in line and studied the place. The exterior is rather unassuming, and I probably would not have noticed without the crowd. Having inadvertently left my phone in the car that day, I hesitated outside for a moment, but decided to venture in without the benefit of any online research or Yelp reviews (gasp!).

Lyfe - Exterior

The interior is bright and welcoming, with high ceilings and beautiful (reclaimed?) wooden tables. I especially loved the floating shelves of herbs that double as a room divider. I really want one at home!

Lyfe - Herbs

I figured out eventually that this is a cafe opened by Art Smith (best known as Oprah’s one-time personal chef) since his cookbooks were on display here. Apparently he has a partner too (Tal Ronnen, author of “The Conscious Chef”). My first visit here, I had ordered the “un-fried chicken,” a healthier option for Southern comfort food lovers, and that dish got me hooked. Today, I opted for the portobello mushroom pasta, which was every bit as delicious as it smelled.

Lyfe - Pasta

The great thing about this cafe is that on each of the three menus (regular, vegan or gluten-free), calorie information for all the items – entrees, desserts, drinks – were on display. It really helps with good decision-making! I also always get the “Lyfe Water,” which is a refreshing blend of ginger, lime, strawberries and mint with chia seeds (something my friend Ms. Sunshine insists is one of those super foods). At least it tastes good (like mini tapiocas) and has barely any calories.

Lyfe Water

This has become one of my weekly indulgences when I run errands down in South Bay (since I’m not working these days, I try not to eat out too often). Not only do I support their vision of sourcing locally and sustainably, but delicious and healthy is a combination that’s hard to beat. I hope they stick around.

LYFE Kitchen
167 Hamilton Ave
Palo Alto, CA 94301
(650) 325-5933
http://www.lyfekitchen.com

Postcript: I took AK here for a late lunch this following Saturday and it was a little bit of a bust. The “unfried chicken” was tired and soggy, and even the sweet potatoes fries were unappetizing. Really hope this is just a one-time thing! (Also a bit bummed b/c I was hoping AK would like it more.)