Mission District

Our latest culinary adventure led us to San Francisco’s culturally diverse, Mission District.  Personally, I had been to the Mission many times. However, what I was unaware of was how expansive the district itself was. I had been to the part of the Mission that is close to Dolores Park and comprises all of the local “hipster” hangouts. However, this portion of the Mission was incredibly foreign to me. We got off at 24th Street BART station and I felt as though I was on an entirely different planet. The first thing that instantly caught my eye was the bright colored murals. I was overwhelmed by the incredible use of detail, color, and imagery on such a large space.

We started the tour at La Victoria Bakery, a Mission staple. Our guide, Serena, gave us an extensive background on the history of the Mission and the bakery itself. The bakery’s pastry chef, Luis, who had an incredibly impressive resume(I mean Elizabeth Falkner!) gave us a detailed explanation of how certain pastries are made. I was fascinated by Luis’ desire to incorporate modern technique into traditional Mexican pastries. I think the fusion was an incredibly delicious and successful one. From this point, we went to Mission Minis and had cupcakes. The Mexican Horchata cupcake was incredibly delicious. Incredibly moist and tasted pretty close to Horchata. We also went to La Palma had a Huarache, which was unlike anything I had ever eaten before. I loved the extra kick it had at the end of each bite.

On the tour, we also walked over to Balmy Alley and got to see an array of murals. Our guide was able to provide us an extensive background on the murals, explaining the history of each mural and the relationships between the artists and building owners. This was my favorite part of the tour. These murals were some of the best art I had ever seen.

Overall, I had a great time during my trip and can’t wait to return to the Mission.

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Food: A Family History

When I think of family and food there is one person that instantly comes to mind: my mom. I know there’s on-going competition in which everyone thinks their mom is the best cook on earth. However, I KNOW for a fact that my mom is the best. I have friends that beg me to come over for dinner at my parents’ house just so they can have a chance to eat my mom’s cooking. I decided to sit down with her and get a little more insight into the culinary mind of my mom.

What did I hate eating when I was younger?
“You absolutely hated green vegetables. I would try to think of ways to disguise them so you would eat them but you would always figure it out. I remember one time you got so mad when I tried to feed you broccoli. You didn’t speak to me for several hours after.”

What do you hope I will cook when I have my own family?
“ I hope you’ll cook healthy and good food for your family. I really want you to cook Iranian dishes for your family. Food is a good way to remember where you come from. I know you have the passion and potential to do amazing things with food.”

Is there a special dish that reminds you of me?
“Mac and Cheese. It was your favorite thing growing up and I’m pretty sure it still is now.  Whenever I had cooked something, you would eat whatever I made and then Mac and Cheese. I am honestly surprised you’re not sick of it by now.”

How did you start cooking—made you want to start?
“ It started with my mom. She would spend hours a day cooking up a storm in the kitchen. I had always wanted to be around her, so I would sit there and watch. As time passed, I started cooking with her. From then on, I always loved cooking because it was a way to stay connected to my mom.”

Do you regret cooking or feeding me anything?
“Not at all actually. I think that you should be exposed to everything to see if you like it or not. I do regret feeding you lamb brains at such a young age though. That wasn’t very nice of me. But at least you liked it!”

Do you enjoy cooking, or do you do it because you have to?
“I absolutely love cooking. It’s my way of expressing myself and sharing the love I have. There is nothing more satisfying to me than seeing the happy expressions of the people whom I cook for. It gives me a true sense of accomplishment and happiness. “
In interviewing my mom, I found a lot more about her. She has this genuine love of food and cooking that I never knew about. I just thought she cooked because she had to. (My dad is an expert at burning toast and that’s about it.) It’s good to know where my similar love has come from. Despite the huge age difference between my mom and her mother, they were able to forge this connection through cooking together in the kitchen. For as long as I can remember, I’ve done the same with my mom. I have always hoped to do the same with my children.

 

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Chinatown: Uncharted Waters

      Chinatown is an important part of San Francisco’s culture and history. A part which I constantly find myself neglecting. In the past, I have walked through Chinatown to get to North Beach. I’ve always marveled at its beauty during the night hours but that’s about it. The way the lanterns are illuminated at night has always been, in my opinion,one of the most beautiful parts of the city. When I found out that we were going here to learn about the history and the culture, I was elated. I would finally have the opportunity to learn more about this neighborhood besides the lanterns and fire crackers.

     When we started the tour in Portsmouth Square, I was amazed at all that was in happening in one little area. Children playing on the playground, adults doing Tai Chi, and playing card games. From there, our tour guide, Frank provided us with an extensive history of how the Chinese migrated from China to California during the gold rush of 1849. From there, we hit the streets. I was so surprised as to how large Chinatown actually was. I had only seen what was on Grant Street and was unaware how many blocks actually comprised Chinatown. I was fascinated by the hidden treasures that lied in the alley ways. Before this, I did not even know these alley ways existed. Although I thought our tour guide went on personal tangents quite a bit, I truly learned a lot. I was especially intrigued by the tea shop. As an Iranian, tea is a very important part of our everyday life, like the Chinese. It was interesting for me to learn how they brew tea, where the leaves come from, and how many different varieties of tea there are. 

         My favorite part of the trip? Lunch. While I had eaten most the things served before, I was introduced to two things. The bean curd and the sesame bun. I am always intrigued by new food and was eager to try these items. Although I did not like them, I am glad I had the opportunity to try them. I found the texture of both to be a bit off putting to me. I thought the bean curd almost had a rubbery consistency while the sesame bun’s center was too mushy for my taste. 

        Overall, I had a great time on my tour of Chinatown. Next time I head to North Beach, I am glad I can hit the pavement with a better sense of the history and culture of the streets that I walk. 

 

 
 
 
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Heaven on Earth? French toast!

    For as long as I can remember, breakfast has been an important part of my family’s routine.  More specifically, the ever awesome Sunday brunch. My mom would spend hours on end preparing a brunch that would make even the worlds greatest chefs go weak at the knees. Personally, I am not a big breakfast person, especially eggs. I find the taste and texture to be extremely unappetizing to my palette. My mom tried EVERYTHING to get me to enjoy eggs. She would add my favorite vegetables, cheeses, and add sauce in the hopes that the flavor would be masked and I could finally enjoy eggs. It was as if my mother was a scientist and I was her experiment. However, her many tests never yielded successful results. Except for one thing. 

      As a child, there was one dish my mom made better than anything I have ever had in my entire life: French Toast. A key ingredient involved in French Toast? The incredible, edible egg. I remember the instant I saw the Cinnamon Sugar Challah bread that we would be having French toast that morning. I was overcome with feelings of joy and excitement. While everyone else would be eating some form of a scramble, the French toast was sacred, it was all mine. She would take the eggs, crack them into a bowl, add vanilla sugar, and whisk them all together. Then she would add the bread into the mixture and let it marinade. It was almost like magic because when we were called to breakfast, this French toast appeared right before my eyes, sprinkled with powdered sugar. The second the plate hit the table, I started eating. Each bite being better than the one that preceded it. Before I knew it, the whole plate was gone. 

     Although I do not live at home anymore, I make a point to go to parents house every Sunday for brunch. And every Sunday, my mom makes her amazing French toast. 
 
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Bottega: A Night to Remember

For quite some time, I have been meaning to go to Bottega. However, I have something, as the old adage goes, “champagne taste on a beer budget”. Making my trip to Bottega a highly unlikely one. One blessed day, by some crazy miracle, an old friend suggested we go there for dinner.  On this particular day, it was a perfect Indian summer day. It was warm, the night air was slightly balmy, and the sunset was something out of a Monet painting. On the drive to Yountville, I felt like a kid on Christmas morning.  There was not a single thing that could have removed the smile from my face.  

 

Once we had arrived inside the restaurant, It was almost as though I had traveled through space and time to the Tuscan countryside.  It was dark; almost cave like on the inside. At this moment in time, I was an explorer about to explore the culinary wonder that was Bottega. Once seated, I read over the menu.  EVERYTHING sounded incredible. I knew I was in for a bit of a challenge having to decide on only a few options. We had ordered the infamous Polenta Under Glass, which as I write this I can still taste in my mouth. The polenta was smooth and creamy and the mushrooms were a great compliment to it. However, the best part of the dish was the Balsamic caviar pearls that accompanied the polenta. They had started out in gelatin form and as soon as you bit into them, they melted right into your mouth. For my entrée, I had ordered the chicken, which came with a Tuscan bread salad. The chicken was so moist and flavorful. I typically don’t order chicken dishes because they can never seem to cook the chicken the way I like it but this dish was right on point. The bread salad was made with the freshest ingredients and the right amount of vinaigrette. While this is a fine dining establishment, I found myself licking my plate clean. Holding every last drop captive as a prisoner to my palette. By the end of this meal, all of my senses and my hunger were completely satisfied.  
 
As I left the restaurant, the same smile I had when I first entered had grown a little bit bigger. Needless to say, I will never forget this amazing meal. 
 
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Apples: A Love Affair

First and foremost, I don’t eat nearly as much fruit as I probably should. With
that said, I have recently come to the realization that apples are one of my favorite
fruits. They come in many forms: some sweet, some tart, some big, and some small.
No matter what form they may come in, you can be sure that I will be consuming
them. So what causes an essentially non fruit-eating girl to declare her love of apples
for the world to see? Sit back; eat a delicious apple, while I tell my tale of my love
affair with the apple.

It all started about ten years ago. I am a first generation Iranian-American,
so the traditional Thanksgiving is something I never really experienced up until I
was about fourteen years old. My mother had taken it upon herself to “switch things
up” and serve up a standard turkey dinner with all the fixings. Sure, I had eaten
turkey, mashed potatoes, and all of the basic Thanksgiving dishes in the past. But
never in my life did I imagine that all of them together could be so good. After the
meal and a weight gain of about five pounds later, it was time for dessert. My mother
told me to take the apple pie out of the oven. I thought to myself, “Apple pie?! Is this
lady high?” My Iranian influence took over because up until this point, I had never
actually eaten apple pie. However, the second I took the pie out of the oven, it was
me who was high. I found myself completely hypnotized by the amazing smell of
this creation. As the steam of the pie rised up and into my nose, I was taken away on
a fragrant journey of cinnamon, sugar, and apples. Immediately after, I run to grab
the Haagen Dazs Vanilla ice cream to accompany my pie. I’m not sure what heaven
is like but I imagine it being something similar to the first bite I had. So many
flavors and textures were dancing around on my tongue like a ballerina. Ever so
methodically, beautifully, and refined. I think I had blacked out temporarily because
before the pie was even served, I had eaten about half of it.

From that point on, I had begun my love affair. I wanted apples in any form I
could possibly get them. Had it not been for that blessed day, I am not sure if I would
be writing this.

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