Prepping at Restaurant Picco

picco1.jpgLast month, during one of those gorgeously sunny weeks, a friend visiting from China (read: escaping from Beijing’s craziness) requested a fun outing that would include a meal highlighting local foods. The perfect side trip came to mind immediately. There’s no better way to take in the Bay than on a leisurely ferry ride. And for local flavors, Restaurant Picco offers Marin Mondays, special weekly prix fixe dinners that highlight the best of Marin Country farms. I told my friend to meet me on the Larkspur Ferry.

Skimming along the water, with both bridges within view and plenty of time to catch up on the years that have passed, who wouldn’t prefer a ferry ride over stop-and-go, rush-hour traffic? Add Chef Bruce Hill’s special menu, and it’s a dinner excursion that both visitor and local will long remember.

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A Taste of Hong Kong: Kee Wah Bakery

persimmontin.jpgWith summer fast waning and the autumn fruits making their way to market, it’s time to turn to one of my favorite holidays. The Mid-Autumn Festival or, as many of us call it, the Harvest Moon Festival, celebrates the brightest and fullest moon of the year. It was once a time for families to relax and enjoy finally the fruits of their summer labor. Nowadays, in that peculiar way modernization and urbanization has of thinning out traditions, people might simply exchange moon cakes or go out to eat at their favorite Chinese restaurant. A few purists will try to hike up a hill for a midnight picnic with hot tea. Or, if you’re Andrea Nguyen, you spend days making your own moon cakes from scratch.

Store-bought moon cakes are just like store-bought fruitcakes — tasteless insults to the real thing. I can attest to the difference between one of Andrea’s moon cakes and one of those brightly decorated, impulse-buy boxes that line the checkout counters at Asian markets this time of the year. Follow closely the four-page recipe in her cookbook, and you, too, can give friends and families one of these memorable treats.

Or, like me, stop at Kee Wah Bakery and stock up on “piggy basket” buns filled with sweetened lotus seed. At a couple of bucks each, you can get one for every sweet-toothed pork lover in your full-moon circle. I can never resist their gorgeous tins to hold diminutive mango and pineapple teacakes, my favorite flavors there. This year, I snagged a long, flat persimmon tin. In past years, I fell hard for a collectors’ series of smaller tins decorated with smiling monks sipping tea and munching cookies.

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Campfire Shrimp Boil

campfire-shrimp.jpg Every Labor Day weekend, Joshua and Jineui gather 30 or so lucky friends for a four-day camping extravaganza by Manresa State Beach. This is not a hardcore outdoor experience — this year, there was a badminton game going near a very well stocked bar and a four-burner kitchen set up within snacking distance of our tents. For the price of an hour of downtown parking, some of us could even enjoy a hot shower. It’s definitely more about extreme eating and drinking that any thing resembling “camping,” but there aren’t too many things that bond people together better than wide, shaded hammocks or Scrabble marathons or jumping and screaming together in the ocean’s cold waves.

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Creativity Explored: Tasty Art Exhibit Opens

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CAKE by Camille Holvoet, 2008.

The recent opening of a gallery exhibition at Creativity Explored in the Mission District was a reminder of just how much San Franciscans love their food. The exhibit, entitled Tasty, highlighted the work of local artists who had explored the shape and color of eating in a variety of media. During the reception, both the small gallery up front and the large studio space in back were packed wall to wall with friends, donors and hungry viewers. It was the most crowded I’d ever seen their gallery. Attach the word “food” to any event here in Northern California, especially if your normal operations have nothing to do with anything edible, and you can expect to sell out.

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California Coolers

ca-cooler.jpgIf you live anywhere near the Northern California coastline in a house that was built during the first two decades of the 20th century and if you haven’t had a chance or don’t have the heart to remodel your home completely, then you probably still have a strange, little cabinet in a corner of your kitchen. Unlike the other cabinets in the room, it has open shelves of wire or slats or perforated wood. It also feels very cold and breezy, and you might even be able to glimpse sunlight through the back of it if you stand at a certain angle and tilt your head a certain way. It may have a lock or, at the least, a secure latch.

This, my friend, is a California cooler.

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