Wow. San Francisco stole my heart this time. No, not like the Tony Bennett song “I lost my heart in San Francisco.” More like the John Lee Hooker song, “Frisco Blues.”
Gritty. Heart wrenching.
With achingly blue skies and hot days. With fresh made churros sold on Mission Street and poached eggs nesting on pureed red peppers and tomatoes, then dusted with breadcrumbs and salt from Boulette’s Larder.
Steaming cups of Blue Bottle coffee and swipes of Cowgirl Creamery’s Mt Tom cheese consumed mid-day did me in. Looking back, that was just the beginning.
The tart, oh so tart, lemon squares from Tartine were worth the 365 day wait. Quesadillas de Calabaza and Papas al Horno at Gracias Madre made me want to cancel our return flight home.
A BART ride on the Richmond train brought us to downtown Berkeley and to dinner at Chez Panisse Café. A simple green salad and a glass of California White “Burgundy” Grilled polenta and chanterelle mushrooms sprawled on a bed of spinach and fava beans resting in a shallow pool of broth flecked with lemon peel. Salt teased out each ingredient, bite by bite.
It’s all so blurry, one week later. Of course, I promised to return to the city, bags packed and ready to stay. Then reality sets in. The love potion I inhaled (a blend of smog, hot coffee, and secondary medical marijuana clouds) wore off and I’m left to gather the pieces. This may take awhile so bear with me.
I didn’t go to California for the city alone. I also went for the second annual BlogHer Food conference (a social media gathering for those who live for food). Which meant two days of networking and being spot on funny and charming with people I admire after little sleep and long flights.
So on day one, I wore my kick-ass boots (the ones that make me feel like a rock star), medicated myself with Dick Dale’s Hava Nagila (meaning Let us rejoice in Hebrew) and walked a mile to the hotel all the while psyching myself up like I used to do in acting class.
I imagined checking into the conference, stashing my bag, and jumping into a riotous mosh pit of bloggers and media peeps as they may have never been seen before. Guitar surf rock pumped into the stale conference hall. Corporate sponsors dove off the breakfast tables and crowd surfed. It was one breathless dance of super-fast guitar surf rock. Or it was until I actually walked in just as breakfast ended and the keynote address began.
I’m going to skip over the conference details (Jack Honky of Eat the Love writes a terrifically hilarious post about it with even more links about BlogHer Food), the individual sessions, people I met and didn't, and say this: write or photograph or live or do whatever you do with a need to connect with others. Be honest, take risks, and do so because it feels urgent. As mentioned in the closing keynote address "We write to live twice" (Virginia Woolf).
Maybe my heart wasn’t that smashed in the end. Yes, I miss the city and the people (especially the woman talking on the banana phone at dinner and the yogi who had cosmic toddler conversations with my son at a little café in Fairfax) oh and not to leave out the "Jesus Loves Naked" note I found painted on concrete while walking on the Embarcadero.
Which brings me to this week's Fall Fest celebration of (close to) naked. Pears.
Fennel Pear Compote
Yield 1 ½ cups or 4 servings
3 medium pears (about 1 ½ pounds of ripe but firm, like Anjou)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup raw honey
1 teaspoon fennel seeds (pounded)
½ vanilla bean (split and seeds scraped)
½ cup dry white wine (like sauvignon blanc)
Peel, halve, and core the pears. Slice the fruit into thick wedges, roughly 4 slices for each half; set aside.
In a 10-inch sauté pan, heat the butter, honey, cardamom, vanilla bean pod and seeds, and wine over medium heat. Stir frequently until the butter is melted and the mixture begins to bubble. Turn the heat up to medium-high and cook for about 1 minute or just until the caramel thickens a bit.
Add the pears to the pan, arranging them in an even layer. If they don’t sizzle, turn the heat up. Allow the pears to sear in the caramel untouched for about 1 minute, this means resist the urge to shake or flip them in the pan, or they won’t color.
Serve the compote warm. Spoon over yogurt or ice cream or tucked inside gluten-free quinoa and corn flour crepes.
(This recipe is inspired by Kim Boyce's pear compote recipe found in Good to the Grain: Baking with Whole-Grain Flours).