Warning: This column will make you hungry September 29, 2012
Two weeks ago I went to San Francisco with my sister. It was a little getaway, just the two of us — no kids, no significant others, no schedule. Just two sisters in need of some girl time.
We packed a lot into two days, and we each took a few things with us everywhere we went. Jackets, because San Francisco is surprisingly chilly, no matter the season; our credit cards, which we used to pay for everything from dinner to cab rides to fabulous new heels; and our iPhones, which we relied on for walking maps of the city and for taking pictures.
And take pictures we did. We shot everything. Or at least I thought we did. When I got on the plane to fly home, I flipped through my photos. There were no photos of Alcatraz or the Golden Gate Bridge or the crookedest street in the world.
Nope, just food. Beautiful, tantalizing photos of food. I blame it on my sister.
What I imagined would be a shopping trip, and maybe a bit of a sightseeing trip, turned out to be a food trip. I guess that’s what happens when you travel with a pastry chef.
From the time we left our hotel in the city Saturday morning and began walking toward the famous Ferry Building on the Bay, my sister was clearly in foodie heaven.
She’s trained as a pastry chef, and these days she oversees 30 bakeries in five states. Part of her job is finding new products for the bakeries, so she’s always on the lookout for the trendiest and most mouthwatering temptations. The stuff most people try to stay away from, she’s hunting for like it’s treasure.
Our food fete started at the giant Ferry Building farmer’s market, where vendor after vendor was selling stuff that seemed straight out of the Garden of Eden. There were bright orange carrots with gobs of leafy fronds still attached, tiny speckled quail eggs sold by the carton and the most beautiful slices of pink smoked salmon.
The first purchase was at San Francisco’s famous La Miette, where Elyse opted for a hazelnut French macaron and I chose a palmier, a pastry in which layers of thin dough are dusted with butter and sugar and baked into a sweet and crispy heartshaped cookie.
Next we had to stop at the Della Fattoria tent, where it was hard to settle on just one sumptuous-looking treat. I chose the caramel apple bread pudding.
As we walked to our next destination, Elyse spotted La Boulange, a French bake shop famous among San Franciscans. She wanted me to try a cannelé, which is like a small cake baked in a fluted mold. It was sweet, cakey and custardy all at the same time, which put it at the top of my San Francisco treat list.
Then, it was on to shoe shopping. After some browsing at Union Square, our salesman directed us to the third floor of Macy’s where a new bakery had just opened. We sat down on modern white chairs in an all-white room to enjoy yet another treat and coffee. This time I had a tiny glass — just inches tall — filled with citrus genoise (similar to sponge cake) and vanilla mascarpone, topped with mini strawberry meringues. My sister decided to cleanse her palate with a savory bite: Gruyère and herb gougères.
And that was all before lunch.
And so it went. Sunday started with amaretti cookies and miniature biscotti over coffee, followed by a variety of breads from the famous Boudin sourdough factory.
By the time we finished our chocolate cherry levain, a small baguette with warm, melty chocolate chunks and fresh cherries, I was done eating for a few days — or so I thought.
Once we met up with my sister’s foodie coworkers, they treated us to dungeness crab, brussels sprouts chips, duck pâté, truffled French fries, goat’s milk panna cotta with boozy caramel, and coffee ice cream with figs and toffee.
The last thing I wanted to see as I flew home with a full belly were pictures of food. I put my phone away and closed my eyes. I was all foodied out.
Two weeks later, now that I’m back to my Nebraska kitchen and my regular menu of spaghetti and tacos, I like to flip through my photos and remember the tastes and smells. And right now, the Golden Gate Bridge has got nothin’ on crostini topped with prosciutto and burrata in truffle oil.
I never imagined girl time would equate to snack time. But I can’t say I didn’t enjoy every waistband-stretching minute of it. (And that, by the way, is why we bought shoes instead of clothes.)
For the rest of my life, I suppose, San Francisco will make me very hungry. I blame it on my sister.
Amy Palser writes personal stories readers can relate to: tales of family and friends, of childhood and rites of passage, of fantastic people and ordinary things. Her column appears each Saturday. She is the Tribune's managing editor.