Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Edwards Generation

The Edwards Generation were a funky family band featuring Chuck Edwards and his four sons.  They would set up a PA and play impromptu concerts for enthusiastic crowds on the streets of San Francisco.  The freewheeling instrumental number Smokin' Tidbits was recorded in their garage for the LP "The Street Thang" which they sold during their performances.  It has great energy, you might even find yourself humming it later in the day, maybe imagining the band playing and dancing and doing cartwheels on a sunny '70s afternoon along Market Street.  The song is available on the excellent recent release "California Funk: Rare 45s from the Golden State."

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

attempting pupusas

not so good
I enjoyed a delicious plate of pupusas at Santaneca de la Mission so when I was walking down the grocery store aisle and noticed some masa flour I thought I would attempt to make some at home.  Attempt.  That's what it was.  The dough was really sticky, I couldn't get it thin enough and the beans and cheese started leaking out.  Way too heavy and not the right texture.  So I think I will just wait til I get back to the Mission to enjoy pupusas again.

yummy leftovers, even without
the cheese and avocado
But I was still craving some Mission-style food so when I was flipping through the March 2010 issue of Cook's Illustrated and saw a recipe for pork tinga on tostadas I decided to try it.  It was excellent.  Definitely a meal to make again, especially with the cold weather on the way.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Doug Sahm

The best way to describe Doug Sahm's music is simply that it is Doug Sahm music:  a mix of rock, blues, polka, country, swing, tex mex, a bit of jazz and psychedelia, lots of soul.  Sahm was from San Antonio, Texas but spent a few years in the late '60s around San Francisco.  Maybe you have heard his songs "Mendocino" or "Sunday Sunny Mill Valley Groove Day."  If you want to check out some of his music I would suggest "Best of Doug Sahm and the Sir Douglas Quintet 1968-1975", "Doug Sahm and Band" and "Groovers Paradise."

Below you can see a video clip of Sahm on Austin City Limits performing "She's About a Mover."

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

weekend in l.a.

Los Angeles is only an hour away by plane or around seven hours by Greyhound.   I've never taken the Coast Starlight train but it is supposed to be a beautiful trip, particularly when it travels along the Pacific between San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara.  Here are a few L.A. snapshots...

hollywood boulevard

walk of fame

hillhurst avenue, los feliz

farmers market, third and fairfax

muscle beach


santa monica pier

leaving l.a.

Monday, October 18, 2010


You too can be a "luchadore" in the sport of Mexican wrestling.  Or at least dress like one.  These are available for sale along 24th Street in the Mission...

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Farm City

Novella Carpenter spent the first few years of her life on an Idaho ranch with her back to the land parents, seeing what that kind of isolation can do to a relationship.  She shakes her head, mystified, when city friends muse longingly about their dream of a perfect place in the country.  But at the same time she loves the idea of growing her own food.  So when she and her boyfriend move to a gritty neighbourhood in Oakland she starts up a garden in the abandoned lot next door.  At GhostTown Farm she grows her own vegetables and expands to include honeybees, chickens, ducks, turkeys, rabbits and eventually a couple of pigs.  She gains a true and deep respect for the food she eats.  Her book Farm City is a wonderful chronicle of her urban farm experience.  She proves you can enjoy homegrown food while enjoying the city life at the same time.

When we used to live in a little ramshackle farmhouse there were lots of idyllic country moments like harvesting from the garden in the evening while a watercolour sunset spread across the western sky, a roaring fire in the woodstove on a winter night as the wind whipped through the jack pines.  But then thoughts drift to foreign films at the old rep cinema, the used bookstore open til midnight, going down to the corner for a falafel, just taking a simple neighbourhood walk where you might see old Italian guys playing bocce or a group of Chinese women doing tai chi or a cat strolling a mural-splashed alleyway; taste banh mi, an empanada, a lassi; hear snatches of five different songs in the space of one block.  Just the everyday parade of city life.  So I really enjoyed Novella's story of how she is able to thoroughly embrace the ideals of both ways of life.

Friday, October 8, 2010

city views

skyline thru the palms, duboce avenue

a bit of afternoon fog

evening light on carl street

Friday, October 1, 2010

Sugar Pie DeSanto

Sugar Pie DeSanto grew up in the Fillmore district of San Francisco, hanging out and singing with neighbourhood pal Etta James.  After many first place finishes at the Ellis Theater talent shows she moved on in her career, playing with the James Brown Revue for a couple of years and touring with the American Folk Blues Festival in Europe where she was known for her energetic performances.

Just last year the compilation Go Go Power: The Complete Chess Singles 1961-1966 was released.  It features lots of great tracks including Soulful Dress, In the Basement (with Etta James) and Mama Didn't Raise No Fools.

Here are two videos featuring Sugar Pie.  The first one is on tour in England in 1964 and the second is a performance of Hello San Francisco thirty years later.  She still does live shows today!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Ginger Cookies with Lemon Curd

Zazie in Cole Valley is a great place to have breakfast.  The food is delicious and you can order small portions too which means you aren't so stuffed and it's more affordable.  I enjoyed the gingerbread pancake with lemon curd so thought I would try and make a cookie recipe inspired by that dish.  So here it is.  The cookies have a bit of a spicy kick to them and are a good treat just on their own too.

Ginger Cookies

2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
1 Tb ground ginger
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cardamom
pinch of cayenne
1/4 cup chopped crystallized ginger
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter
1 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup molasses

Preheat oven to 325.  In a medium bowl combine flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, cayenne and salt.  In a large bowl cream together butter and sugar, and then beat in the egg.  Add molasses.  Add dry ingredients and crystallized ginger and mix until just combined.
Roll dough into golf ball size balls and place on parchment lined baking sheets.  Bake for 20 minutes and then place on rack to cool.  The recipe makes about 24 cookies.

Lemon Curd

1/2 cup lemon juice (2-3 lemons)
2 tsp lemon zest
1/2 cup sugar
3 eggs
6 Tb butter, cut in bits

Whisk juice, zest, sugar and eggs in a 2 quart saucepan.  Stir in butter and cook over moderately low heat, whisking often, until curd is thick enough to hold marks of the whisk, around 20 minutes.  Transfer curd to a bowl, cover with plastic and chill at least an hour.  The curd can be kept in the fridge up to one week.  When you are ready for a snack, spread some curd between two cookies and enjoy!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

big bay windows

An architectural feature you will notice over and over again here are the big bay windows.  They let in lots of natural light, particularly to row houses which don't have side windows or side yards.  A good place to curl up and read a book, or a cat to laze away the afternoon.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Last Waltz

Richard, Levon, Rick, Garth, Robbie

The Band played their first gig as The Band in 1969 at the Winterland in San Francisco and that is where they (or at least Robbie) chose to play their final concert and have it filmed as The Last Waltz by Martin Scorsese.  On November 25, 1976 the audience of 5000 were treated to a Thanksgiving dinner before the show.  And what a show.

I saw The Last Waltz when I was 13 in the mid '80s at a university theatre with my dad.  We got there early and there were only two old women in line ahead of us.   They assumed because of the title that it was a film about classical music.  My dad told them it was The Band's concert but they had no idea.  He went on to mention some of the other performers in the film:  Neil Young?  Ronnie Hawkins?  Joni Mitchell? were met with blank stares.  Dylan. You know Bob Dylan?  Nope.  He glanced at me like hey they sure are in for something.

I'm glad my first experience of this film was on the big screen surrounded by a passionate audience.  There are so many classic performances.  And the interviews:  Garth telling how he had to convince his parents he was actually giving music lessons so they would accept he was in the band, Richard describing how they couldn't afford food so had to go into the grocery store and come out with baloney stuffed in their coats, a bittersweet moment with Rick musing how he'll just have to keep busy now.

Here's the trailer to give you a taste.  And like it reminds you at the beginning of the film, Play it Loud.

Just an interesting note:  Last month, 34 years after The Last Waltz, The Levon Helm Band was one of the headliners at the Outside Lands Festival in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Water 'n Trees

Want to go on a San Francisco stroll where you will basically encounter water and trees?  You can walk for a long stretch along Ocean Beach skirting the waves of the chilly Pacific.  If you go in the morning you might see some people walking their dogs, someone fishing, a surfer.  Cross over the Great Highway, then you can meander along a trail in Golden Gate Park which until 1870 was just wind-blasted sand dunes and is now a bucolic park covering over a thousand acres.  While there you can go to a museum, have a Japanese tea, go to a concert, or just simply wander among the trees.  At Stanyan Street you can continue for about another mile along a path in the Panhandle, a strip of grass and trees hemmed by Victorian houses where in the 60s the Diggers used to feed the hungry hordes that descended on Haight Ashbury.  You will probably see some joggers, maybe someone strumming a guitar or crawling out of their makeshift tent to greet the day.  All in the middle of the city.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Dave Smallen

I really like this album by Dave Smallen from across the bay in Oakland. It is raw with a touch of fragility. Has lots of heart. You can listen to the title track "Everything Changes and Nothing Changes" below.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Fresh Tomatoes for Supper

You could probably go to a different farmer's market every day of the week in San Francisco. The Bay Area is well known for its local food scene and using fresh seasonal ingredients. The locavore food movement or trying to stick to a 100 mile diet is everywhere now but probably got its start or at least some of its momentum back in the '70s at restaurants such as Chez Panisse in Berkeley. Cooks here are really blessed to have a bountiful choice of fruits and vegetables available year round.

In the spring I went to the Wednesday afternoon Haight Ashbury farmer's market and bought a carton of fresh strawberries and ate them all right there on the spot. That was my first taste of the season and it would be another month or so before I could enjoy local ones here. Also got some really tasty lemon and pear marmalade from the Blue Chair fruit company stand. Sampled some spiced almonds, star thistle was pure food bliss beneath the towering trees of Golden Gate Park.

Right now the farmer's markets are at their peak here with so much available all at once for just a short time. If you pick up some tomatoes at the local market or have some growing in your backyard, this is a quick and easy meal you can tailor to your taste. It's particularly good with a variety of heirloom tomatoes but any fresh tomatoes will do. I usually make a few variations of this during the tomato season. Just dice up some tomatoes and put them in a big bowl with some fresh chopped basil. Drizzle some extra virgin olive oil and balsamic or red wine vinegar on top with some salt and pepper and gently toss. It's delicious just like that or you can add whatever else you like: olives, fresh herbs, toasted nuts, chopped anchovies, blanched chopped green beans, whatever you like. Let it sit about a half hour and then make a chunky pasta like farfalle or fusilli. Drain and toss with the tomatoes in the bowl, top with some parmesan or feta, and there's your summer supper.

(Note: I think I originally got this recipe or something close to it in a Mollie Katzen cookbook. She is from the East Coast but moved to San Francisco to go to school around 1970 and while there worked at the Shandygaff vegetarian restaurant. While visiting back east she helped open the Moosewood Restaurant in Ithaca, NY which is still in its original location today and is a great place to stop for a meal if you are driving around upstate New York.)

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Flower Power

Beautiful blooms from Buena Vista to Balmy Alley, the Panhandle to Cole Valley...

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

East Bay Soul

Here are two funky East Bay soul tunes to start your morning, get you through the afternoon or get your evening happenin. First is Foxy Girls in Oakland by Rodger Collins and next is Find Yourself by Marvin Holmes, both from volume one of Bay Area Funk (1967-1976) on the Luv N' Haight label.

Thursday, August 19, 2010


In April the street artist Banksy was in San Francisco and left some of his work behind in different neighbourhoods of the city. Here is one on a building on Haight Street...

Friday, August 13, 2010

a san francisco of the mind

Here is a short slideshow film I made about the poetry of Lawrence Ferlinghetti...

Monday, August 9, 2010

Thai Avocado Salad

Walking along Irving Street in the Sunset neighbourhood I saw a woman put a sandwich-board sign out on the sidewalk advertising the specials of the day at Marnee Thai. The appetizer Avocado Salad sounded really good so I stood there and waited for the restaurant to open. A few other people came and were milling around the door also waiting for it to open. Once inside I ordered the Avocado Salad and another appetizer- Potstickers drizzled with Green Curry Sauce- and that was enough for a filling lunch. The food was so delicious I thought I would try and re-create the Avocado Salad at home. Here's the recipe...

(this recipe makes 2 main course servings)

2 Tb grated unsweetened coconut
1/4 cup unsalted cashews
12 large raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 green mangoes
2 ripe avocados
3 Tb lime juice
2 Tb fish sauce
dash of chili flakes

In a small pan over moderately low heat lightly toast the coconut. Remove and set aside. Do the same with the cashews and set aside.
On a baking sheet toss the shrimp with a bit of olive oil and salt and pepper, and spread in a single layer. Bake at 400 for 6-8 minutes.
Peel and finely chop the mango. Peel and chop the avocado in 1/2" pieces.
Mix together lime juice, fish sauce and chili flakes.
Divide the mango and avocado among two plates. Toss with dressing. Top with shrimp, cashews and coconut.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Painted Ladies

San Francisco's painted ladies are a real joy to behold. While strolling along the streets you are greeted with bursts of colour and architectural whimsy.

Most of the Victorian houses were built in the late 1800s with redwood from nearby Mendocino and are either Italianate, Stick, Queen Anne or a combination of those styles that make them uniquely San Francisco. When they were originally built many were painted with bright colours, but when they fell into disrepair they were painted over with surplus Navy battleship gray paint. During both world wars cast iron trim was removed and melted down to use for shells. In the late 60s some people began painting the houses in eye-popping colours and it really caught on. Today many of the painted ladies have been lovingly restored and they are one of the many charms of San Francisco.