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Sunday, October 5, 2014

San Francisco: The Town of Stepford?

We had friends from D.C. visiting with us last weekend. Both were born and bred east-coasters. Lee originally hailed from the northeast (Long Island) and Christine was born a true steel magnolia from the coast of northern Florida. Each one's sensibilities as ruggedly and practically informed as anything that has been yielded east of the Mississippi River.

They are N.Y. bagels, Jersey beefsteak tomatoes, Nova Lox, Coney Island hot dogs, Maryland crab cakes and homemade 30 minute corn grits; if you get my purport: paragons of their culture: the purest paragons of the no-nonsense, quick-witted, intellectually advanced, slightly left of center (politically, not physically), cynical breed of personage necessarily fomented by an increasingly frenetic right coast lifestyle.

They are both smart, funny and amiable. They are also extremely well-traveled (he is after all THE Geographer of the United States of America; you know, like the Surgeon General), cosmopolitan and, although both are academically inclined, they are a far cry from those dusty denizens of ivy-covered, ivory towers who lead sheltered lives and remain blissfully untutored in the ways of the world.

Which is why I was wholly unprepared, though thoroughly amused, by their joint reaction to the wonderful world that is San Francisco.

Now, I don't want to give the impression that they disliked the city or its citizens. Or that they were dissatisfied with their accommodations (The Fairmont), their meals (Kokkari Estario, Gary Danko, Acquerello) or the tourist attractions (Cable cars, Fisherman's Wharf, Giant's game, Haight Ashbury, etc.).

On the contrary, they found everything and everyone to be very pleasant. Too pleasant.
Scarily pleasant, frighteningly helpful and ridiculously agreeable. According to them, the experience was much too much like that nightmare cult B movie of the '70s: The Stepford Wives. Wherever they went they were accosted by hordes of smiling happy people giving them unsolicited directions if our friends happen to be holding a map, offering them advice en masse on the best stop to get off on Muni to see a particular sight, constantly thanking them for their custom and patronage, endlessly wishing them well as in "Have a good one!".

These and many other small examples of friendliness and civility were too much for our friends. They being good east coasters were unaccustomed to such neighborly largesse; a stomp on the foot and a dirty look being the usual mode of intercourse between strangers on a metro line back east.

One day, Christine asked me with some concern and great puzzlement, "What is wrong with these people?"

She feeling that perhaps it was some nefarious conspiracy headed by the chamber of commerce to hoodwink innocent tourists into believing that they had entered the last bastion of Norman Rockwell's America by planting out-of-work actors on the city buses and streets to behave like something in a Frank Capra movie thereby ensuring future visits by rubes who would then believe San Francisco is an earthly nirvana to be experienced again and again. (Have I mentioned that tourism is currently the number one industry in San Francisco? All of our techy young upstarts who own all those start-up companies that are gentrifying San Francisco's few gritty neighborhoods notwithstanding?).

Or worse, that the Board of Supervisors or some other governing body in cahoots with Eli Lilly had drugged the citizenry by placing large but not lethal doses of Prozac or some other anti-depressant in the drinking water in order to conduct long-term, large-scale studies of the drug's effect on the various populations of would-be users.

Try though I might to explain the purely altruistic motives of the good citizens by the bay, our friends would only shake their heads, smile sadly and say, "They're so weird!". It was said gently, without rebuke, as though San Franciscans were to be more pitied than censured.

Maybe, we are.

I say we because after several years of living here, I, too, find myself almost irresistibly drawn to people with puzzled looks who are carrying maps and wearing Bermuda shorts. God help me!! Move over Stepford, USA, make room for Baghdad by the Bay! I still despise taking pictures of tourists, however, especially whilst I am trying to hike along Crissy Field, think beautiful thoughts and enjoy the stunning bay view (so that aspect of my former NYC street cred remains untarnished).

Well, in honor of our friends' experiences as tourists in the sweet and easy-going town of San Francisco, I offer for your consumption a uniformly easy to make dessert, west-coast style:

San Francisco Treats: Double Chocolate Almond Biscotti with Dried Cherries


These biscotti evoke one of the favorite tourist spots in San Francisco: North Beach with its Italian-American heritage and its cafes/coffee shops that were once the home and work place of the famed beat generation poets.

Columbus Avenue. Washington Square Park. City Light Bookstore. Jack Kerouac Street.

All crammed with tourists in the summer and fall. These cookies are something they might enjoy as a pick-me-up to go with a foamy cappuccino in one of North Beach's sidewalk cafes after a long day's touring.

Biscotti means twice-cooked in Italian and that is exactly what we are going to do. Bake them, cut them into slices and bake them again.

As always, you can substitute the ingredients fairly freely: hazelnuts or pistachios for almonds, cranberries or raisins for cherries. Use what you like.

You can substitute canola oil for butter. You can omit the butter altogether for a more traditional, longer shelf-life style of biscotti. Just add another egg white to the recipe.
If you like your biscotti a little less crunchy, decrease the time for the second baking.

  • 1/2 cup (4 ounces) semi-sweet Ghiradelli chocolate chips (for added San Francisco cache)
  • 3/4 cup granulated white sugar
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1 egg yolk, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon high quality pure vanilla extract
  • 1 and 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon of salt
  • 1/2 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup dried cherries, chopped into raisin-sized pieces if large
  • 3/4 cup roasted unsalted almonds purchased as slivers or coarsely chopped by hand

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, make sure to place rack in center of the oven before heating.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or silpat.

  • In a large stainless steel bowl with a whisk or hand mixer, cream the butter and the sugar until light and fluffy.
  • Add the eggs and egg yolk, one at a time, mixing well after each addition.
  • Beat in the vanilla extract.
  • In a separate bowl, add the dry ingredients using a large strainer as a sift adding the flour, cocoa, salt, and baking powder into the strainer one at a time then carefully agitating the strainer over the bowl, allowing the ingredients to fall into the bowl as they sift. Once the strainer is empty and all the ingredients are in the bowl, give them a quick whisk to ensure they are uniformly distributed.
  • Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture and beat until well incorporated. Stir in the cherries, chips and nuts.

  • Transfer the dough to a floured surface and divide it in half. With well-floured hands, form each half into a 10" log by rolling the dough back and forth on the board into a cylinder shape. Don't worry if the log breaks apart while rolling just paste back on & re-form it. Make sure you have a 12" ruler handy to help you measure out the length of the log.

  • Carefully place the logs on the baking sheet, placing them well apart on the pan. Remember the logs will spread as they bake.
  • Even out the shape of the logs with your hands then bake in center rack 25-30 minutes until logs are firm to the touch. Remove from the oven, place on a wire, and let cool for 10 minutes.
  • Don't let them cool completely or they will be too difficult to cut.

  • Using a long spatula, carefully transfer the logs to a large cutting board.
  • Using a long serrated (bread) knife, cut the logs into 3/4 " slices on the diagonal. (About 24-30 slices depending on their thickness)
  • Arrange the slices on the baking sheet and bake 8-10 minutes on one side. Then turn the slices over and bake the other side 8-10 minutes until biscotti are crisp and dry. Remove from the oven and let cool completely in the pan on a wire rack.

    Serves several smiling shiny (slightly incredulous) happy people. 

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