September 1, 2011 § Leave a comment

Yesterday in the late afternoon, I put on a sweatshirt and leggings and my Frye boots and walked the five minutes to Cortland Avenue, our little bustling main street in our little town of a neighborhood within the big city. It had warmed up over the course of the day, but now the fog was coming back in, descending on the valley from Twin Peaks across the way. It was a pretty simple errand: We were out of milk after I made ice cream, and I needed to return a movie to the neighborhood video store.

But as I made the turn onto the last side street, and dunked under a couple of branches of hanging vines with bright violet flowers, I noticed that the sense of adventure was gone. Nothing was exciting, majestic, romantic or exhilarating. There was just the moment when I was standing at the top of the stairs, looking out over the rooftops, with my view blurred white, when the world seemed to stand still. The smile and nod from the driver of the car just passing by. The pink peonies hiding behind an unruly tree streetside. The guy at the video embarrassing a high school girl at checkout by telling her how much she is starting to look like her older sister. The dry, crispy grass at the top of the hill, where, if you look closely at the very peak, by the fence around the radio transmitter, you’ll find opened condom packages and broken beer bottles. But if you sit up there in the dark, as we always did at least once every summer, you can see the Bay on all three sides and the light outline of Mission Street as it stretches across the city.

Why am I saying all of this? Because I read an article in the San Francisco Chronicle the other day about people living in San Francisco actually hating the city that really didn’t seem to get the city quite right. That’s not exactly an uncommon thing these days unfortunately — the Chronicle not exactly getting things right. Because in the midst of the people arguing that they had to leave the city to escape the trashiness, the odors that permeate certain alleys, and the skyrocketing housing prices, people arguing that the city has lost its soul, it’s still there. And it’s still here every time I come home. And it’s not going anywhere. What’s gone is opening up the Sunday issue of the Chronicle straight to the Food section and pouring over the photos with a mug of hot chocolate on the couch because that kind of journalism doesn’t seem to exist anymore. What’s gone is sitting at the counter of the neighborhood bakeshop and eating croissants that weren’t quite right and were just a wee bit heavy because now there’s a new bakery two blocks away with the perfect buttery flakes. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the Twitterverse of this new artisan chocolate truffle and that new farm-to-table restaurant, but it doesn’t quite compare to having sticky fingers from strawberry jam and the smell of buttermilk scones wafting through the house in the morning. It doesn’t quite compare to the tourist who craned his neck at the farmers market last weekend at the plate I was holding for my brother, demanding to know what it was. “It’s a crab cake sandwich,” I replied. “The one I’ve eaten every Saturday morning ever since I can remember.”

I followed this recipe for two (huge) loaves of challah to a tee. This is an oil-based version of the bread, I think next time I will try the milk-based version, which should give a richer, chewy crumb.

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