Posted by: acooksca | 04/08/2014

Walking the New Bay Bridge

Bay Bridge walk/bike path

Bay Bridge walk/bike path

We drive the newly opened eastern span of the San Francisco Oakland Bay Bridge. The roadbed shoots us up the incline and our eyes follow the skyward swoop of the single 525-foot tall tower. Its simmering white color, minimalist side rails and the 10-lane wide expanse (widest bridge in the world according to the Guinness Book of Records) gives a feeling that the car is soaring. Driving the bridge at night is even more impressive. The elegant 80-year old San Francisco side wears lights like strings of pearls while the 7-month old Oakland side is crisply modern, illuminated by a dazzle of brilliant LEDs . Read More…

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Posted by: acooksca | 04/08/2014

Crab, Artichoke and Sourdough Salad

Crab Artichoke Salad

Crab Artichoke Salad

This simple and stylishly constructed salad features three typically San Franciscan products. Until about 20 years ago we dropped our crab traps off piers in the Bay. But now Dungeness crabs are collected from outside the Golden Gate. Fresh artichokes are harvested in nearby coastal fields from Half Moon Bay to Castroville, the area accounting for 95% of all commercial artichokes in the U.S. Since gold rush times, the combination of cool maritime air and wild native yeasts have provided a unique and tangy sourdough bread like nowhere else. Read More…

Ojai town center

Ojai town center

From the first gold strike on, Old California’s Spanish-influenced heritage rapidly dissolved. Ancestral rancheros were dismantled and most of the missions left to disintegrate back into the fields. In the early 1900’s a romanticized version of California’s past emerged in literature, silent movies and Spanish Colonial Revival Architecture. Think Santa Barbara, rebuilt in this style after widespread destruction by an earthquake in 1925.  But there was already a fine example of idyllic Spanish architecture in nearby Ojai. Read More…

Posted by: acooksca | 01/27/2014

Sausalito’s Storied Waterfront

Pleasure and working craft crowd the docks

Pleasure and working craft crowd the docks

Snuggled into a protected, sunny cove just over the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco lies Sausalito.  A slim fringe of waterfront businesses and walkways faces The City, shimmering Oz-like just a few miles across The Bay. Behind are steep, wooded hills speckled with a mix of prestigious mansions and unique cottages. Pleasure boats jostle for space  along busy docks. The feeling is reminiscent of many towns along the Italian Riviera. Read More…

Posted by: acooksca | 01/27/2014

Pork and Clams Alentejo Style

Pork and Clams Alentejo

Pork and Clams Alentejo

Sausalito, just 2 miles over the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco, has a sister city in Portugal. Like Sausalito, Cascais is a waterside village that historically supplied seafood, boat repairs and a quiet escape for a vibrant city (Lisbon, in this case).  Lisbon today has two bridges across its Tagus River, one an intentional replica of the Golden Gate Bridge and the 1996 Vasco da Gama Bridge which you might swear the new San Francisco Bay Bridge is patterned after. Read More…

Posted by: acooksca | 12/15/2013

Grass Valley and Cornish Pasties

Pasties offered in Sault Ste. Marie

Pasties offered in Sault Ste. Marie

“Young Lady, you need to have the gravy with that.” I am told this by Dave, a retired Coast Guard chief who sits down the bar from us. He is pointing to the pasties (pronounced pass-tees) that drew us into The American Legion Club in Sault Ste, Marie, Michigan. Since 1855, massive locks here on the St. Mary’s River have allowed freighters to negotiate the passage connecting Lake Superior and Lake Huron. Coal deposits in upper Michigan attracted Cornish miners to the area during the 1930’s and they brought hearty hand pies called pasties with them. Ask anyone in this working class town what’s special to eat and they direct you to pasties. Read More…

Posted by: acooksca | 09/23/2013

Door County Wisconsin Fish Boil

Door County Fish Boil

Door County Fish Boil

Door County, Wisconsin is a place people compare to Cape Cod…both have sweet waterfront towns, winking lighthouses and a history of warm hospitality. Actually, I wouldn’t know because I had never been to either until now. Certainly Fish Creek, an historic village of white cottages clustered around its tiny protected harbor is a charmer. Two weeks from now we expect to arrive by small plane in Cape Cod and be able to compare the two.

Door County is a finger peninsula of limestone cliffs dividing Lake Michigan on the east shore from the waters of Green Bay on the west.  In the mid-19th century steam ships stopped at Fish Creek docks bringing catches of lake fish and restocking with cord wood before pushing south. On the return they brought visitors fleeing the summer swelter of Chicago and other mid-west metropolises.  America’s oldest resident summer theater started here and continues today.  The peninsula also retains a bucolic center of orchards, farm fields and cedar forests. But this stop has made it onto our itinerary for a different and truly unique culinary offering: the Door County Fish Boil. Read More…

Italy's boat blasts over the finish line just feet from the dock.

Italy’s boat blasts over the finish line just feet from the dock.

It is a blustery summer day on beautiful San Francisco Bay. We stand on a dock with several hundred others and watch as two AC72’s, the fastest, most demanding catamarans on the planet streak by at nearly 50 miles an hour. Actually, they fly using towering solid wings (instead of sails) that can adjust to give the boat a speed of 3 times the wind. In little more than a breeze both carbon-fiber hulls raise up leaving only a thin foil touching the water. The compact race course is close to land, wedged between Crissy Field and Pier 27, with multiple turns around markers. As we watch the Italian boat slides around the final marker, points right at us and blasts forward to win the race, coming within feet of our dock. A collective whoop goes up. The boat is so close we clearly see the 11-man crew panting, catching their breath. Read More…

Posted by: acooksca | 08/23/2013

Lamb and Feta Burgers with Pepper Relish

Lamb and Feta Burger with Pepper Relish

Lamb and Feta Burger with Pepper Relish

I made my first trip to New Zealand while in college and the food never prompted a return trip. A few years ago, however, I started receiving Cuisine New Zealand magazine and wow, had that little country of only 4 million souls gone foodie! Much because of that magazine we made a trip to New Zealand and found globally trained chefs doing great things with pristine seafood, meadow-raised venison and that flavorful Merino lamb they are so famous for.

This recipe, adapted from a Cuisine New Zealand article on mid-week quick suppers, highlights a sweet and sour relish you can prepare days ahead. By adding feta cheese, breadcrumbs and lemon juice the texture of ground lamb is softened, almost like a lush meatball. And the flavors go far beyond mere ground lamb. Read More…

Posted by: acooksca | 07/31/2013

The Other South of France

Jeannie at home in St. Christol

Jeannie at home in St. Christol

It is like a scene from A Year In Provence, one of Peter Mayle’s books. Clustered at one end of the bar at The Café d’l’ Universe are the daily regulars: the affable self-proclaimed-unofficial mayor, the rotund baker, the transplanted Belgian who runs the Tabac shop, the retired teacher who drinks twenty high-proof Ricard pastis in an afternoon. Behind the bar stands the owner Raphael, 32, longing to travel the world but occupied by supporting his young family.

This is life on the square of St. Christol (population 1,700), 40 miles north of Montpelier in Southern France. We are in this village to spend time with friends Jeannie and Eric, who moved here from The Bay Area. By the end of the evening Jean-Pierre, the baker, declares he will make us the specialty of the town for our breakfast… a lattice work of flakey pastry made with lard and pork cracklings. We ask Raphael to join us back at the house for a late dinner which leads to his invitation to see his two Camargue horses in the morning. Read More…

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