Leaving San Francisco: A Love Letter to the Richmond

Home. It can be such a malleable thing. Within the period of several weeks, it became evident that we needed to move—something we have been emotionally and mentally preparing ourselves for quite some time to fully realize, even as our physical selves coordinate the arranging of movers, the buying of boxes. In the wake of the upcoming move, I am holed away in upstate New York where the sun warms my arms and the bees buzz past my ears. Only in this third space- at once familiar and still revealing new corridors can I really consider what I am losing and what I am moving into in six short days. And so, it seems fitting to share a piece I wrote for the now defunct, but once brilliant site, I Live Here, a collection of stories of San Franciscans and the neighborhoods they cherish. As I move out of dwelling in one City by the Bay and into another city by the Bay, I will continue to unpack this identity shift and the role that living in the Richmond has engrafted for eight excellent years—where I could “bask and purr and be at rest?” as Sarah C. Woolsey describes in her poem, “A Home.” Let us begin.

leaving san francisco

Love Letter to the Richmond

If you walk down Clement Street on any given Saturday you will find it bustling with activity. Outside famed Asian grocery store, New May Wah, bins of fresh prickly Durian fruit sit next to Hawaiian papaya with mesh bags of lychee and plastic-wrapped almonds resting in the crevices below. You will surely happen upon family businesses like Golden Gate Liquor, the only place we’ve found within 10 blocks that carries cans of Ranger beer or Stein’s with their hearty goulash and big-screen TV’s as you continue your stroll. Fantastic dim sum is yours for under two dollars whether you go to Good Luck with its dumplings or down to Lung Shan for sweet barbecue pork bao.

While I have flirted with other neighborhoods like living so deep in the Outer Sunset that the air we breathed smelled of the ocean or dwelling in NOPA before it had a hip nickname, no place has transfixed me quite like the Richmond. Perhaps it’s the proximity of Baker Beach with its crisp climes and jaw-breaking beautiful backdrop that people drive long distances to visit. Some call it “the Avenues” with either a tinge of derision or indifference in their voices, but we call it home.

It’s easy to eat your way through 15 countries without leaving Clement Street. People like me think about these things when considering where to set down roots. My interest in other cultures emanates from a father who spoke seven languages and a mother who speaks two. This cultural hodgepodge of overlap makes sense to my insatiable craving for bridging the gaps. There is so much here to learn!

Here, in the Richmond, I attempted my first Beef Rendang with little success as the pot smoked and the beef crisped beyond imagining. Here, too, I found recompense in trying Beef Rendang as it should taste from take-out at Malaysia Singapore. Here, I learned how to decipher the bulbous galangal from ginger and found kaffir lime leaves with the ease of locating ketchup or mayo in a big box grocery store.

llama and pete from green apple

It’s easy to eat your way up and down the street without ever having the same kind of food twice. People like me think about food and relish the variety found on a street like this. After working over a decade in food, I seek out creative culinary expression. My penchant for creating food poetry finds fodder during visits to Asian fusion bistro, B-Star or among the stacks at beloved Green Apple Books. We have watched two rounds of World Series play-off games with locals bedecked in black and orange at Pizza Orgasmica, or huddled around another screen, at Toy Boat while licking Double Rainbow chocolate ice cream threaded with peanut butter ribbons.

The Richmond may not offer the hipster appeal and warmer environs of the Mission, but you can warm yourself over a freshly pulled shot of Blue Bottle at Village Market and watch neighborhood residents practice tai chi in the park. With the Presidio on one side and Golden Gate Park on the other, the Richmond calls to weekend warriors who take on the back roads with their bicycles for Crissy Field or long jaunts walking through the woods just to get a whiff of Eucalyptus. All this natural beauty within the city makes this neighborhood unforgettable.

leaving san francisco

Here, I have found a friendly, family-oriented neighborhood where you can be easily known by shopkeepers and neighbors whether from slipping into Angelina’s before the morning commute or reading poetry on a Thursday night at the Bazaar Cafe’s open mic where the owner, Les, and I might commiserate on art, music and sometimes politics. Then, of course, there’s Lee Gray at Thidwick Books, whose book savvy and helpful suggestions keep my bookcase well stocked. People in our neighborhood tend to stick around. I may have continued moving, but never out of the Richmond.

Even still, it’s hard to imagine how a neighborhood can be both familiar and full of wonders yet to discover (welcome, Grindz Hawaiian). I am growing more into the person I will become as a result of living here. If you can, as the song says, leave your heart in San Francisco, you may just find mine residing in the Richmond.

leaving san francisco

Apparently, I’m also not alone in my appreciation for the Richmond, as I discovered in this piece from chef Marcus Samuelsson about his favorite place in San Francisco. Don’t miss the video of him traipsing through some of my personal haunts, strolling through the stacks at Green Apple Books or snagging an egg sandwich and coffee (Jacob makes the best lattes) at Village Market. My only beef with his article is the assertion that the Richmond is undiscovered. One of the reasons we are moving is that it is quite the hot property right now. But, we look forward to being frequent visitors.


Bulgur Salsify Salad

Over the course of one’s life you meet people with whom you find a deep camaraderie. It can come about as easily as an introduction between two people, both far from home and overly jet lagged. Mercedes had flown in from Alaska, and I, from California. Both of us had arrived in Massachusetts on red eye flights, beleaguered, and began introductions over pizza before attempting to meet our new classmates at the beginning of our stint in poetry school. Small details, shared in common began sewing a thread to bind our two swatches into a friendship that has deepened over its eight year run.

Wendell Berry and Gary Snyder’s friendship started from a mutual friend seeding them each other’s work, and then, correspondence ensued between both poets. I’ve been reading selected letters of theirs, gathered and published in the book, Distant Neighborsand thinking of my own distant neighbor, Mercedes. Where Snyder and Berry comment on each others’ work through publication and even through criticism, Mercedes and I used to set aside time to swap poems and then workshop them on the phone. This practice began shortly after school ended and even when I could still easily call myself a newlywed. We charted those workshop waters while moored or even when paddling through brackish waves. Our phone workshops always reminded me of Anne Sexton and Maxine Kumin‘s practice too.

Yesterday, we reconnected again after a year of both of us pulled by our personal lives and projects. How good it was to hear her voice and word of her progress! She has been a cheerleader of my work and I, of hers. With two small children in tow, it pleases me to no end to hear how she has been carving a writing life that aligns with her growing family. It gives me hope that it’s possible. Like Snyder and Berry, when we see each other, we resume old conversations and begin laying stonework for new paths of productivity and topics to plumb.

Some ingredients may not seem like they could be neighborly, but end up working together surprisingly well. Bulgur is most commonly associated with parsley and tomatoes for the Mediterranean salad, tabbouleh, but bulgur is so much more than a one-note actor. It makes an easy whole grain side dish that cooks in 10-20 minutes that I particularly like with sweet sultanas, crisp verjus and savory celeriac and salsify.

A good recipe is like friendship. For the whole to work, the various parts mesh together and impart what they are best at contributing. I draw comfort from seeing the date stamps on the letters between Berry and Snyder, reminded again that the writing life is a solitary one that comes together in community as possible. For now, I anticipate our full schedules and look forward to the phone calls best reserved for nap time when silence is the soundtrack to our conversation. Until then, I’m left wondering which poem to send her and awaiting the poem she sends me.

bulgur salsify sultana salad

Bulgur Salsify Salad with Sultanas and Verjus Vinaigrette

Whenever I read salsify, my eyes do a double take because at first glance it appears to read, “satisfy.” I’m beginning to think this is no coincidence. This root vegetable looks like a stick and, when peeled makes me think I’m preparing kindling for a fire. But the flavor of salsify offers an unexpected oyster-like flavor. This recipe comes together easily for a deliciously different side dish.

SERVES 6 side salad portions

SALAD 
2 teaspoons grapeseed oil
1/2 celeriac, peeled and minced
1 salsify root, peeled and minced
1 cup coarse bulgur
1 3/4 cup water
1/3 cup sultanas (golden raisins)
1/4 cup pecans, chopped and toasted
1 tablespoon basil

DRESSING 
1/3 cup Verjus
2 tablespoons shallots, chopped
1 teaspoon garlic, minced
1/4 cup grapeseed oil
1. Preheat oven to 450F.

2. Place the celeriac and salsify root pieces on a roasting pan and drizzle grapeseed oil over them. Jostle them until coated. Roast  for 30 minutes or until soft. Let cool.

3. While the celeriac and salisfy are roasting, place the water in a pot over medium high heat. Once the water is at a rolling boil, add in the bulgur and turn the heat down to medium-low. Cook for 10 minutes uncovered.

4. Whisk together the verjus, shallots, garlic, oil, and basil. In a large bowl, stir together the bulgur, celeriac, salsify, pecans, and sultanas in the dressing until coated.

 

SALSIFY SATISFACTION

Rich & Creamy Salsify Gratin on Food + Wine

Black Salsify Fritters by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

Salsify Tempura with a Spicy Dipping Sauce by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

Jerry Traunfeld’s Root Ribbons with Sage

Salsify and Roasted Garlic Soup from Eat Like a Girl

 

 

 


On the Plate in August: Books to Read

Books to Read in August

Hello and happy Monday! With only a stitch of summer left, I’m woefully behind in sharing some of my summer non-required reading because what do you need more of than more books to read, right?

Onward.

I’m obsessed with cake right now. As such, I would be sunk without this seminal book that you probably already own or have heard about. My gratitude runneth over that just as I needed to explore its wisdom, Green Apple Books had one copy in the used section. Score! If you’ve ever wondered how ingredients work in baking, Shirley Corriher brings her background in chemistry into a very insightful and well-laid out book. Bakewise will make you wiser in the kitchen.

Chasing a rabbit can lead to parts unknown. I stumbled across a Gary Snyder poem that delighted me and ended up finding out about his new book of letters to and from Wendell Berry called Distant Neighbors. Two prolific poets and writers swap details about their similar but far apart livelihoods in this new book from Counterpoint Press. While I am still poring over the introduction, it already is a beloved book of mine. Snagging an autographed copy from both authors makes me exultant.

On the topic of letters, I also picked up the Letters of Rainer Maria Rilke: 1892-1910. Rilke has long been one of my favorite poets- the spine is falling out from the translation by Stephen Mitchell of his Collected Works- it is the book that accompanied me to Paris the last time I visited that fair city. “Requiem for a Friend” haunted me as I wound my way through the Tuileries, Place Saint-Germain and on. While “Letters to a Young Poet” did not necessarily stir within me great attachment, I am keen to read more of what Rilke was thinking about, what he wrestled with and see more of a candid response than in the measured form of poetry.

As much as I have enjoyed working in restaurants and in the foodservice / hospitality business, the idea of opening my own bakery or restaurant gives me palpitations. It is hard work to keep things running smoothly and can be rough goings on the way to profitability. Molly Wizenberg’s writing has always endeared me to her, so when I learned that she had written a book, Delancey: A Man, A Woman, A Restaurant, A Marriage, about starting the pizza restaurant of the same name, with her husband, I knew I needed to read this and see how she wound her way through that labyrinth mostly unscathed, still happily married and serving what I hear are excellent pizzas. I expect her trademark humor and grace to be stamped on each page.

Call me a late bloomer (in some ways, very much), but when my friend Pam mentioned she had just finished a book she thought I would love called, An Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler, I agreed that it is a book I have long wanted to check out. Five days later, a manila package promptly arrived. This is a book that will get packed in my bicycle basket for an afternoon lolling in the park reading (is there anything better?!) with me when the sun decides to pay us a visit.

 


Cooking with Georgia O’Keeffe

Georgia OKeeffe cookbook

After a brief summer hiatus, I’m back, and so is the fog. We had actually been experiencing summer-like temperatures in San Francisco, which is completely unexpected and requires copious amounts of cold confections to withstand the 80 degree heat. My Texas self would shake its head in shame…

In our last exploration, we dug our heels into the Georgia O’Keeffe Lake George exhibit at the DeYoung museum this spring. I hope I did an adequate job conveying what an important role that museum visit played in forming questions for me about the process of art as well as seeing her own style change. As I exited the exhibit, I happened upon a small book in the gift shop and had to work hard to contain my glee as I held A Painter’s Kitchen: Recipes from the Kitchen of Georgia O’Keeffe by Margaret Wood. I clutched my new treasure and pedaled home quickly to plumb its depths. Little did I know then that O’Keeffe prized good food and did due diligence to seek out nourishing recipes!

The cookbook features a foreword from local Bay Area vegetarian chef and powerhouse, Deborah Madison of the restaurant, Greens, in Fort Mason, and author of Vegetable Literacy as well as my marked up favorite, Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone (I have the original printing of this now updated cookbook). Her description of the book is right on when she says, “No dish is encumbered with complicated embellishments; there are no intricate layerings of flavors and textures.” (p. x) This insight perplexed me a bit because when I think of O’Keeffe’s artwork, all I can envision are intricate layers, though no embellishments. Does her artistry reside solely on the canvas? The recipes enclosed in this book are brief in method and ingredients. I read the book in two days, annotating along the way.

Madison quotes biodynamic gardener, Alan Chadwick:”The cooking has been done for you in the garden; it’s merely finished in the kitchen.” (p x)  This really gets to the heart of A Painter’s Kitchen. O’Keeffe kept a ranch garden from which most of her meals derived since the alternative for fresh fruits and vegetables was 70 miles away. Margaret Wood describes meeting O’Keeffe and beginning to cook for her when she was 24 years old and O’Keeffe was 90. Her stories and details about O’Keeffe in the headnotes are the real reason to pick up your own copy of A Painter’s Kitchen. From it, I learned that Georgia O’Keeffe occasionally slept on her roof under the stars. What a way to dream! Woven throughout the headnotes are snippets of her practical wisdom, such as this comment from a dinner she held with two visiting poets: “It’s easy to talk about what you’re going to do- you can talk yourself right through without really doing anything.” (p. 44) This was not the first time poetry was mentioned in the cookbook, as Wood remarked on O’Keeffe’s appreciation for Chinese poetry.

The food being served from O’Keeffe’s Ghost Ranch kitchen focused on healthy ingredients, and centered on vegetables from her garden, organic grains and meats. I smiled visibly when I read that O’Keeffe made her own bread using a small mill to grind her own flour, while the housekeeper canned and preserved foods. Her approach to scratch cooking and concern over food sourcing parallels contemporary cooking in my neck of the woods and home (although I play the role of cook and housekeeper).Wood describes O’Keeffe’s style of eating as “simple food… with fresh and pure ingredients.” (p xxi) That neighbors would bring her food gifts of wild asparagus because it delighted her reminded me of why I appreciate her art and compositions.

You can tell from reading the cookbook that this experience working with and for O’Keeffe left an indelible mark on Margaret Wood- the kind you want to share with others. The glimpse she provides to other fans of O’Keeffe’s artwork is one that is intimate, as if inviting us to join them at the table. This cookbook lives with my others but I like to keep the cover faced out, so that when I am cooking, if I happen to glance in the direction of my cookbook collection, Georgia O’Keeffe is smiling out.

 


Painting a Portal to Another World: Notes from the Georgia O’Keeffe Lake George Exhibit

Georgia O'Keeffe Lake George Reflection Seascape

What happens in the unseen world? It is a question artists have tried answering through their media since the beginning of time. Perhaps it is one of the reasons Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings have always pulled at me. While we try to remember to “stop and smell the roses,” she is examining their inner caverns, the hidden places that other than her seeing eye, only pollinators explore. Her close cropping to focus our attention on the interior world of a flower can’t help but keep me transfixed.

O’Keeffe offers insight into her approach: “I said to myself- I’ll paint what I see- what the flower is to me, but I’ll paint it big and they will be surprised into taking time to look at it- I will make even busy New Yorkers take time to see what I see of flowers.”

My own appreciation came at a young age, probably at an art exhibit in Dallas. Overwhelmed by her vibrant use of color and lines, I sought out her work in the beginning entranced by the floral compositions. The red poppy might still be one of the most iconic works by her but recently, I found myself equally moved by Red Canna, 1919 with colors that anywhere else might clash, but here, orange, coral, burgundy, chartreuse, turquoise and purple cavort playfully.

Recently, I attended the Lake George exhibition of O’Keeffe paintings at the DeYoung museum in San Francisco. The idea had been to wake up early enough to have time to spend lingering in front of the paintings before the melée of the masses had roused from their beds.

What is it about O’Keeffe’s paint style that beckons to throngs of people?

From O’Keeffe in 1976, “Objective painting is not good painting unless it is good in the abstract sense. A hill or tree cannot make a good painting just because it is a hill or a tree. It is lines and colors put together so that they say something. For me that is the very basis of painting. The abstraction is often the most definite form of the intangible thing in myself that I can only clarify in paint.”

This quote makes me think of David Chang’s offhand remark to Anthony Bourdain about Bay Area cuisine consisting of figs on a plate, but how ingredients like figs on a plate get interpreted and assembled into a larger whole. Her assertion that in the abstract she finds the definite makes me wonder how each of us clarify the intangible? For her, she paints to get closer to the truth. For me, I write and sometimes sketch really bad poems to get closer to the Poem.

While I knew of O’Keeffe’s fascination with the natural world, the Lake George exhibition revealed her appreciation of food. She is not someone I previously associated with food as I might Cezanne with his still life paintings. Hanging from the museum walls were “alligator pears” from 1920 and 1921- in a bold vivid stripped down still life of avocados with her telltale vibrancy letting the emerald avocados pop against the more muted background in puce with grey and white, along with a basket in brown and burgundy. There, I read a note of O’Keeffe describing growing corn as “one of my special interests.”

On O’Keeffe’s pared down perspective: “Nothing is less real than realism. Details are confusing. It is only by selection, by elimination, by emphasis, that we get at the real meaning of things.”

Isn’t that the object of the artist- to figure out where to turn the attention of a by-stander, to understand that the work will become public domain as soon as it is seen but first to figure out what the work wants to say and then slice away all superfluous and extraneous detail so that there is no confusion as to where to look? It’s not as if she is averse to detail. No, one thing that makes her paintings shimmer are the illuminated edges where flowers touch leaves or one petal ends and the other begins. It hearkens a halo effect on the inside of the flower forms that creates dimensionality.

As in poetry where one thing might stand for another, this kind of indirect communication is something that makes paintings the very best kind of puzzles. At the end of the exhibit one wall bears three paintings of leaves. Without reading the description to the right of the central painting, there is one looming leaf and another that is diminished and brittle. The loneliness in these paintings made me hate them. Their lack of that infusion of color and choice of muted tones made them cold and uncaring. It didn’t take much to see that these works were important for the artist even if they were not emblematic of the whole body of her work. They seemed to me like catharsis paintings and I felt sorrow for the small leaf on the outskirts. But even in these dull colors of decay and fall, a lesson emerged of beauty displayed in the sheen of satiny leaves.

Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings take a risk. They embody an urgency to live life now – to open one’s eyes to the incredible unseen world all around us. I left the Georgia O’Keeffe Lake George exhibit charged with energy to keep my creative work progressing. I also heeded the not so subtle nudge to get outside and slow down enough to appreciate what is always changing, always growing or dying but never ceasing to impart some great truth about why we are all here.

“It takes courage to be a painter. I always felt I walked on the edge of a knife and could fall off on either side. But, so what? What if I did fall off? So what? What if you do fall? I always wanted to do something I really wanted to do.”

So, if you write, write on! If you paint, paint on! If you sing or play guitar, play on! The time is now. Like the colors outside that keep changing, so will life. I’m grateful to keep her vibrant outlook writ on the walls of my mind for the journey ahead.

 

Georgia O’Keeffe painting, “Lake George (formerly Reflection Seascape)”