Pacific Sardines for a Quick and Affordable Lunch

While running through the Ferry Building Farmers Market this weekend, we stopped into the San Francisco Fish Company inside the building since really have been trying to eat more fish. The issue with fish though can be that many varieties are expensive. We were happy to see that they had fresh sardines available since we’d been wanting to use them somehow for a while. The best part was that four whole sardines were only $3.20. We’ve bought cups of coffee that cost more.

Many people only know of sardines out of cans or the occasional feeling like one while jammed into a muni train. Yet fresh sardines are not only a flavorful and healthy additions to your diet (lots of omega-3s), but Pacific Sardines are considered a “Best Choice” by the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch. So you can not only eat them for your health, but also knowing you’re doing the right thing by the ocean.

fried sardines

The hardest part of preparing them is cleaning them. Unlike many fish, fresh sardines come whole with heads and innards still intact. The bodies are delicate and it requires a gentle but deliberate hand. Twist off the heads, pull out the internal organs and then push the body open and and remove the spine and any pin bones. They also need to be used the same day you buy them since they will go bad very quickly. If you can’t stomach the process, ask your fish monger if they can do it for you. Depending on how you want to cook them will depend on how you clean them. A quick grilling over hot coals means you can leave the heads on. Many chefs toss them in a light batter and deep-fry them. We’ve even seen them roasted and served on top of mixed greens.

This day though, we opted to toss the filets in cornmeal that we had seasoned with salt and old bay. We fried them off in some canola oil for about 1-2 minutes per side and then seasoned them with salt and pepper. We garnished the fried filets with Meyer lemon and dill and happily munch on them while enjoying an unseasonably warm and sunny weather outside. Not bad for a San Francisco winter Saturday afternoon.

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Perks of Persimmons

Persimmon Bread

This time of year, you’re likely to spot little orange globes at the farmers markets and vegetables stands next to the oranges like satsumas and bloods. Looking like a cross between a tomato and an orange, persimmons have lovely tannic flavor that does beautifully in some savory foods and even better in sweet preparations. Last year we made a ton of persimmon curd that we spread on everything from cookies to toast to eating greedily out of the jar while standing in front of the fridge. This year, we picked up a few at the Heart of the City farmers market between Christmas and New Years intending to use them up in holiday gifts. We never quite got around to doing that so this week we really needed to use them up. We made more curd but still had a few persimmons left over.

So we started researching recipes and settled on a persimmon bread recipe from Epicurious that pulled out the stops in terms of comforting foods. As is often the case, we made the recipe ours a little bit by swapping meyer lemon zest for the orange zest in the recipe, using five spice powder in place of just cinnamon, and we also added a ½ teaspoon of vanilla extract on a whim. We were very pleased with the dense and moist cake like bread that was the result. It was delicious right out of the oven with butter but it made us dizzy with pleasure with the curd. We even sprinkled some left over ground hazelnuts on top for a really satisfying crunch before it dawned on us that we had intended to share this with others and needed to stop eating it all.

Make sure your persimmons are ripe here. They should be so soft that they feel like they’ll explode if you squeeze too hard. If yours are under ripe, place them in a plastic bag with an apple on a sunny windowsill for a few days and they’ll ripen faster.

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Laundromat Diaries

A quiet night at the laundromat, as I type away on my iPad standing up because some irksome young girl is sitting on the bench. Normally I have no qualms about sitting next to 20-something females, but it’s hard to type away a commentary about them on your iPad while sitting two inches away from them. I have to admit there’s a vicarious thrill of doing that, but not tonight. Tonight I just want to get my darks and lights out of here and go home to make dinner.

Lately I have been lucky enough that I can afford to drop my laundry off with the very nice Chinese couple at the end of my block. They say hello to me on the street and asked about my job prospects when I was unemployed. Hearing “Yoo fine job ye?” from a four foot tall Asian woman was somehow heart warming despite the bitter part of my brain that said she was just worried a bout her bottom line. These days though when I go into their storefront, they’re happy and polite as always and know exactly where my shirts are. It’s a tiny thing in the grand order of life, but for one that I am grateful.

Tonight though I’m doing my undies and sheets and towels myself because I blew my budget over the holidays and need to be frugal before I’m forced to dip into my savings just to eat. That giant jar of quarters of my dresser thumbs its nose at me and screeches “ONEPERCENTER!!!! Do you own damn laundry!” in a voice that is oddly just like my mothers forcing me to admit that the one of the many reason I hate doing laundry at a landromat is out of laziness.

Normally there is an epic cast of characters streaming through here. Tonight it’s just the one girl (who’s wearing amazing shoes, by the way). There’s also the one guy who has dragged his clothes in here in an Ikea bag. Headphones almost surgically inserted into his ear canals, he shoves all of it in one of the super machines. His laundry soap is Dawn… and his shoes are appalling.

I know that a lot of students live in my area. The same students who will push up the cost of living in this neighborhood if they stay and become young professionals demanding more high end services for them and their inevitable stroller bound offspring. It’s already happened in the 6 years I’ve lived here. There’s a young family in my building that I have overheard going through the joys of potty training (also known as begging and pleading). The crack den…ooops, I mean the low end laundromat on Haight and Pierce closed and a couple of other low end stores have shut up shop. Buildings are getting painted and remade. My favorite building, known as the Pink Palace, sat empty for years. Yet a couple of months ago, construction started on the interior and I can assume that condos will be going in there. I think it’s a good thing over all, but I just really hope they keep it pink.

A cute guy in his late 20’s comes in talking into an ear bud and pulls his laundry out of a dryer. He wants an order of sesame chicken, an egg roll, mushu pork and two diet cokes. I now know where he lives as he gives the person on the other end of the phone his address. He’s cute and I feel like a dirty old man as I watch his tight butt leave with his clothes. This leaves the girl with good taste in shoes and me alone, together, ignoring each other, again.

She eventually gets up and wanders over to transfer her clothes out of a machine and into a dryer while another girl in a violet hoodie comes with an empty backpack and begins to dump her clothes into that with out folding them. Maybe she has mushu pork waiting for her at home.

The thing that has gotten to me lately about doing my laundry here is that I’m easily 20 years older than most of them. There is part of me that always questions where I went wrong in my life that I don’t live in an apartment or house with a washer/dryer in it. On the surface it’s a litany of errors and mistakes and judgments and bad choices. In reality, it’s probably not that unusual. I at least have the option, most of the time, to drop mine off with nice Asian immigrants less that 100 yards from my front door.

The girl with the violet backpack heaves it onto her shoulders with a huff and waddles out like a sherpa on her way to Everest for the summer. Outside I hear some woman laughing in such a way that she sounds a little deranged.

But then a fire truck blasts by and destroys the quiet of the evening. It’s an unusually warm and dry one for this time of year in San Francisco. So I take my iPad outside and sit on the bench under the tree that still has holiday lights in it. This is the kind of weather I love to gloat about to friends on the east coast as they bundle and shiver their way through the winter. Usually though we’re in the middle of rainy season and most everyone is wondering if we’re back in a drought. Others worry about fires in the hills. Given California’s history with wild fires, they have reason to be nervous. But tonight, I’m outside enjoying the relative peace of my gentrifying neighborhood.

The girl with nice shoes comes out and crosses the street and walks away, leaving me alone to silently type away about her behind her back. My mind suddenly goes blank while watching a woman walk her tiny dog up the block. There’s nothing significant about them, but they capture my attention anyway. Something about the way the dog walks isn’t right. As they come under the light of the tree I notice the dog has only three legs. She’s walking slowly to let it go at its own pace. We give each other a quick smile before she turns around and takes the dog back the way she came. The dogs tail is whipping ferociously in happiness as he hops down the street behind her. “Come on you…” I hear her say but by then they have wandered back into the dark and I tell myself the same thing because its time to go inside and fold my underwear and sheets and socks.

Another woman comes in with a large yellow comforter shoved under her arm. She’s waifishly thin and boyish. She tries to stuff it into a top loader before realizing it won’t fit. She looks around and sees one of the bigger machines is empty. She bends over and peers inside it carefully before shoving the yellow monstrosity inside it. She slams the door closed and mutters “damnit” before running out, leaving her comforter in the machine. I keep folding. She comes back a few minutes later with soap and quarters. Apparently not enough quarters because she goes and fights with the change machine for a minute before getting enough to set her machine off.

While dumping soap into her machine, the boy with the ear buds surgically implanted in his ears comes in and takes his stuff out of the washer next to hers. She leaves and her belt clanks and chinks as she walks.

As I’m folding, I discover my favorite merino wool sweater has gotten mixed up in the rest of my clothes. The body is fine but I can see that the sleeves have diminished considerably in the heat of the dryer. I love this sweater. I got it at the Barneys Basement Sale in New York for $25 many years ago and it’s one of those pieces that never went out of style. I’m mildly heartbroken about it. I fold it gently and plow through the rest of it. It’s only a sweater but it was one I liked wearing and it made me feel a little elegant.

As I fold, I look at the condition of everything. These sheets are old and while they used to be white, there are places that haven’t been fully white in a while. This t-shirt is too small for me and I really only wear it under other things. These socks lost their elastic a while ago. This red flannel shirt is only in the laundry because I discovered it shoved under my bed, forgotten. This pair of underwear is being held together by a force of nature not understood by modern physics. They all need to go. I try to donate what I can to the Good Will on South Van Ness because they have a fabric recycling program without having an overtly homophobic gospel on their lips. It may be time to take a big load of stuff to them.

The t-shirt holds memories though. I bought it on my first trip to San Francisco and a week later wore it on my first trip to Provincetown over ten years ago. As I leaned up against a pillar in a bar, trying to look like the kind of guy who didn’t care about getting cruised, all while desperate to get cruised, a man walked up a looked at the logo on the t-shirt and said “So who’s the big bear?” I looked him in the eye and coldly said “I am.” In my head I was jubilant that I managed to come up with such cool answer. He gave me the once over before stifling a short laugh and said “Good answer” as he walked away. I was rather crushed. But that was a long time ago and I was a different person then. Today I’d work harder to be nicer… while having the same response. As for the t-shirt, it barely fits over my middle-aged tummy these days and I’m not exactly comfortable calling myself “Big Bear” lately because of the size of that tummy.

I finish folding and once again break the laws of physics by getting everything the bag at once. As I leave I almost slam into the man with the ear buds as he is walking in with his Ikea bags. I say excuse me as pleasantly as I can as he coldly and harshly says “Sorry”. I sling the bag over my shoulder like my own Sherpa and head out in the night under the stars in the tree to go home and make dinner…which I promptly spill all over my shirt requiring more laundry.