Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The ocean is the ultimate solution

I don't think I'd ever actually biked to the Sutro Baths before, and definitely never from the Western edge of Golden Gate Park.  The most direct route between these two points appeared to be a straight line up the Great Highway, but, finding it dotted with patches of sand and fastmoving cars, I instead charted a course up 47th Avenue.  I turned around and said--

"Sorry about the hills!  I figured that you must be used to mountains, since you just biked across the country."
"This is actually steeper than any other hill I encountered over the entire length of the United States."

Last week I played host to my friend Jonathan, who indeed biked the entire way from Philadelphia to Oregon this summer, and apparently found it all less taxing than the Outer Richmond.  But the hills of San Francisco are worth it for the view from the baths: fog lifting over the Pacific amid century-old ruins at the End of the World.  You get accustomed to the smell.  And if my course through the park was a little circuitous, at least it gave me the opportunity to point out the famous bison, the infamous windmill, and the spot in Speedway Meadow where Neko Case looked me right in the eyes, yes, me, and told me that she loved me (also, she's a tornado).

On our way back from the ocean, we happened to run into a recent reincarnation of Rasputin near the Eastern Orthodox basilica on Geary.  Jonathan digs food of Eastern orthodoxy, and gleaned that this man would be a good person to ask about local cuisine.  So we ended up at Katia's Russian Tea Room half an hour later, tucking into hearty borscht and a whole mess of marinated vegetables.  It was a welcome detour on a warm bike ride back from the cold ocean.

I learned from Jonathan that when you're biking across the country, all you get to eat is granola, cheeseburgers, and huckleberry pie.  While that sounds a little less monotonous than my diet of granola and lentils on the John Muir Trail--it has three things instead of two--I do think that after visiting your the twentieth or thirtieth diner, somewhere in the middle of North Dakota, you might get a little sick of cheeseburgers. Sam's Mom, feel free to disagree.

So I was happy to be able to serve Jonathan a lot of food that wasn't cheeseburgers during his visit.  We started off with a tomato tarte tatin that Jeff made, and continued with brown butter oatmeal and Jonathan's ginger-marinated salmon the following day.  I have to say, the salmon perhaps surpassed the food we were served at an impromptu visit to Dropbox earlier that afternoon, which itself surpassed perhaps any lunch I have ever eaten on a weekday in the city and/or county of San Francisco.  My ice cream maker made three appearances, churning out vanilla ice cream spiked with whiskey, plum sherbet, and cantaloupe sorbet.  And the legendary Tamale Lady also made an appearance, materializing at Toronado after Jeff and I had spent the better part of three beers recounting her legend.  Perfection.

My proudest achievement was an array of colors, shapes, and tastes that emerged from my oven on Tuesday evening, the most successful pizza night I've ever executed.  Making pizza is like hiking two hundred miles in the woods or biking across the country--you spend quite a while making all the necessary preparations, and then you just have to hunker down and commit yourself to it, one hundred percent.  All I have to do over the next twelve days is to hike toward Mt. Whitney.  All I have to do for the next twelve minutes is to use the broiler.  It's the same thing.

But, unlike the wilderness, pizza spoils quickly.  As soon as you pull the first one out of the oven, it's going to start diminishing in quality, even if it only takes you ten minutes to make three more.  So I didn't want to make Jonathan and Jeff wait around while I posed lukewarm pizzas for the Internet's sake--we started eating before the goat cheese had stopped bubbling on the last one.  Once we'd each had our fair share of the four pies, I assembled the leftover slices into an impromptu quattro stagioni, which sat around for a single picture before we devoured it, too.  Sure, the picture came out just a little blurry, but let's face it, no picture I post on my food blog is going to match being here, seeing and smelling these pies in person.  Look, I'll make you a deal--if you bike to my house from Philadelphia, I'll bake you four pizzas too.


Four pizzas

pizza dough (I used 450 g white flour, 50 g rye flour, 350 g water)
2 oz goat cheese, torn into large crumbles
about 1/2 cup grated parmesan
about 4 oz mozzarella cheese (not low-moisture)
3 fingerling potatoes, sliced thin, cooked fully in olive oil over low heat
8 cloves garlic, minced
a jalapeno pepper, seeded and diced
handful of sun gold potatoes, halved
a red tomato (early girl), sliced and salted
a green tomato (green zebra), sliced and salted
a small sweet pepper, seeded and cut into rings
a small zucchini, cut into ribbons, salted, and drained
half a sweet onion, sliced
two scallions, white and light green parts, sliced
a tablespoon of minced chives
leaves from 2 sprigs tarragon
two eggs

Cook pizzas according to the skillet-broiler method paraphrased here.  Top as directed, repeat as necessary.

Pizza 1:  Top pizza with a handful of parmesan, garlic, potatoes, 2 oz mozzarella, and jalapeno pepper.  Broil, then top with a few sun gold tomatoes as it comes out of the oven.

Pizza 2:  Top pizza with a handful of parmesan, garlic, all of the tomatoes, sweet peppers, and mozzarella.  Broil, then top with tarragon as it comes out of the oven.

Pizza 3:  Top pizza with a handful of parmesan, sweet onion, and scallions.  Broil, then top with a drizzle of fresh olive oil and chives as it comes out of the oven.

Pizza 4:  Heat a little olive oil in a small pan over low heat.  Top pizza with garlic, zucchini ribbons, and goat cheese.  Broil.  While the pizza is broiling, cook the eggs in the olive oil just until the bottoms start to set and you can handle them, but the whites on top are still uncooked.  When the pizza is just about finished cooking, tip the eggs from the pan onto the pizza.  If you drip a little olive oil too, great.  Broil the pizza just until the whites have cooked fully.  Always cook this pizza last.

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