Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Lunch With Beth–Crab Splurge

Beth and I were at Garden Restaurant at Kearny and Merchant (between Clay and Washington), where we usually order the Roast Duck and Barbecue Pork plate and an order of Duck Chow Fun, but when we learned that the Salt and Pepper Crab was only $28, we decided to splurge. Our waiter gave us a hard sell on a bowl of rice, but we opted for Deluxe Mixed Vegetables instead.

The vegetables arrived first, which gave us a change to appreciate them, and also kept us from being too hungry to truly appreciate the crab, which was amazing. And gorgeous. The vegetables were so inviting, and so good, that we almost forgot to take a picture before they were gone.


We expect to be splurging on more crab before the season is done. What's your favorite place to eat crab?

Monday, December 15, 2014

Beth's Excellent Adventure—Part 14: O'Neill's Irish Pub, Kings Cross, London

Heya, Adventurers!  This is J.K.’s friend Beth, reporting from England, where I had many culinary adventures and remembered to take pictures of some of them.

My last outing in England was an inside-the-stone-circle tour of Stonehenge.  September, it turns out, is the high season for Stonehenge, so if you have a hankering to do more than walk up a path and stare from a distance, plan ahead.  Inner circle tours are limited; be prepared for an extremely early morning departure from London if you can’t get the late afternoon tour.

And yes, one of the quotes about Stonehenge on a wall in the new visitors center is from guitarist Nigel Tufnel.  You know the one.

My late afternoon in London was comprised of tourist highlights but for one thing.  Another new friend and I bailed at Earls Court (her stop) rather than sit in that day’s bad traffic, and she made me pose for the obligatory shot of pretending to enter the police box there (the original for Dr. Who’s TARDIS).  I got across town on the Underground and a walk just in time before the Temple Church closed to get photos of the effigy of William Marshal (the 1st Earl of Pembroke one).  Best.  Medieval knight.  Evah.  As regent for young Henry III, he reissued the Magna Carta, twice, after John got the Pope to excommunicate the Barons who engineered it.  He saved England from falling to the French at the Battle of Lincoln, when he was 70 years old (Richard the Lionheart had chewed him out once for climbing a siege ladder when he was in his 50s).  The US Naval Academy site has a lengthy essay on him.  Fascinating dude, on that Sandford maternal line family tree (him and two daughters).

The Temple Church is the church of the Templars, and they do play trippy music and sell Da Vinci Code stuff.  From there, the original Temple Bar is a short walk; it was the end of the day and I saw a couple of barristers walking down the street with their perukes in hand or a bad, looking as though they’d had long days before the courts.  Then to Trafalgar Square, and on to hear Big Ben peal, passing tourists taking selfies with a long-suffering decked-out guard at Downing Street.

Then back to Kings Cross, and supper at O'Neill's Irish Pub.  Wild boar and chorizo burger, with Irish cheese.  And a Guinness.  The burger was fabulous, flavorful with dense texture.  The chorizo was a thin slice, Spanish style, not the Mexican sausage type.  The Guinness, alas, wasn’t the original and it wasn’t room temperature.  Great way to finish a special day, though.

Beth's Excellent Adventure—Part 13: Brough Castle Tea Room and Ice Cream Parlour

Heya, Adventurers!  This is J.K.’s friend Beth, reporting from England, where I had many culinary adventures and remembered to take pictures of some of them.

So my Wednesday in Cumbria was going to be a big day:  Setting foot in the actual ancestral village of Sandford, where Sandfords had been documented back to 1186 and were probably there earlier.  There’s a B&B and pub, the Sandford Arms, said to be on the spot of the long-vanished Sandford Manor.  Unfortunately, it was closed for lunch on Wednesdays, so I missed an opportunity to drink in the footsteps of my ancestors and have an ancestral village Tea Time Adventure.

The plaque I’d seen on Google maps street view that had looked like a marker for the original Manor was about local public footpaths and bike paths.  A gentleman unloading yardwork tools out of his car saw me photographing it, and struck up a conversation.  He grew up there, on his grandmother’s farm, and had never known any actual Sandfords.  (This related to a joke the cousins have passed around, regarding the “Sandford pate” on the pub’s menu, that we hoped it didn’t contain any actual Sandfords).  He did suggest that I continue walking that road over the hill and down to the River Eden.  I did, and got my glam shots of the ancestral countryside.

Meanwhile, I had gone back there, and there was no there there.  However, on a return look at the plaque (they call them “boards” in England), next to the “You are here” (you bet I was!) was a notation that said Sandford Manor.  That was just off the fork in the road, and I investigated.  There was one old barn, etc., but it didn’t look as though it could be original with an updated façade.  I took pix anyway.

Walking back toward the bus stop, I saw a suspiciously old-looking building and snapped that.  It had a typical stone garden wall, but at the corner of it was the ruin if something much, much taller.  It was “cob” (stones in a binding material), it looked ancient, and it could only have been the remnant of a Sandford Manor wall.  I’d gotten on the ground, and had actually found a little bit of there there!  This made the trip a little more than “Well, I set foot there!”  It had still been mostly an academic exercise, but our Sanford family in the States had touched the earliest known Sandford dwelling.

With no lunch (or WC stop) to be had in the village of Sandford, I walked down the road to Warcop.  There, where the local is now closed, a gentleman responded to my inquiries by inviting me in for a pit stop and then a cup of tea.  This was the delightful Joseph Richardson, wildlife photographer and campaigner to save the native red squirrel (article but not the promised photo at; see and I have to see if there's a US region version of the DVDs or hope he still has VHS tapes).

Since Joseph had some shopping to do in nearby Brough, he dropped me off at my destination there, after we exchanged contact info so we can be pen pals.  I am truly my grandfather’s daughter; Samuel Elliott Sanford traveled the world and made friends wherever he went.  I presume he had the same good taste in new friends.

At my final destination for the day, I had my Tea Time Adventure:  a burger made from local beef, the beef shorthorn (as opposed to the dairy shorthorn).  It was, as happened in the afternoons, clouded up, so I ate this and the green salad (with grapes!) inside amidst the livestock and ranch gear posters.  However, I could have eaten at the picnic tables outside the Brough Castle Farm Ice Cream Parlour & Tearoom.  Forget the stereotypes of Wimpy burgers you may have of England; this was another that had a dense texture and a full, beefy flavour.

And they promise their sundaes can make you more likely to get pregnant, if you're aiming at that.

As for the backdrop:  Whereas Brougham Castle, with only two more letters, is pronounced “Broom,” Brough Castle is pronounced “Bruff.”  Go figure.  It’s another Vieuxpont/Clifford castle restored by Lady Ann Clifford that fell into ruin anyway.  That may sound blasé but it’s not; I will be “digesting” my exposure to this big batch o’ family history in the Border Country for some time to come.

And remembering the burgers already digested.

Beth's Excellent Adventure—Part 12: Indian Plaza, Penrith

Heya, Adventurers!  This is J.K.'s friend Beth on location in England and remembering from time to time to photograph meals.
On my last night in Penrith, I was ready for a sit-down meal that might include a taste of English roast beef. What I turned to instead, out of tiredness and deciding against a full European restaurant experience, was Indian Plaza.
I like saag. In the States it's a dish of creamed spinach with some chunks of lamb. At Indian Plaza, it was a lamb dish with spinach. Big difference. And it was very tasty. I started out with pakoras, which were a little chewy rather than crisp. I liked them.
I had garlic naan with the lamb, which here is called saagwalla.
The restaurant is next door to the cinema, and looks as though it used to be a movie theatre big lobby. There were interesting colored lights, the colors subtly changing one into another, shining from under a lip under the ceiling. The place was partitioned into a couple of squares, so there was more than one light show going on at any one time. The cinema next door had a poster for a broadcast to theatres live production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof with Gillian Anderson. Hope a film gets to the States some time, but I fear the drawls will be bad, or, worse yet, they'll do Southern characters speaking with English accents.
Overall ... I had a tasty meal, and know I will be nostalgic for saag, walla or not, that actually contains a more than decent amount of lamb. There's an Indian restaurant off I-80 in Dixon; I'll have to try that some time. Lamb capital of the USA, can you compete with the sheep country of Cumbria?

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Beth's Excellent Adventure—Part 11: Askham Hall

Heya, Adventurers!  This is J.K.’s friend Beth, reporting from England, where I had many culinary adventures and remembered to take pictures of some of them.

Wednesday in Cumbria meant my long-anticipated visit to Askham Hall.  This involved taking a bus to the Lowther Estate Office stop and walking a mile through beautiful English countryside studded with grazing sheep.

Askham Hall is a major Sandford site.  A Sandford and a Lowther show up as witnesses to a grant of a priory in 1186.  Before that, who knows?  William the Conqueror never conquered this far north, so no Domesday Book references.  My Sandfords lived in Askham Hall for one generation, when it was basically a pele (“peel”) tower that kept them safe from raiders.  Given that animals lived on the ground floor, Sir Edmund and Idonea L’Englys Sandford had about as much living space as I do today in my house in Oakland.  They had more “housemates,” too.

Edmund and Idonea bought the “starter” Askham Hall from the Swinburnes in 1373, and Sandfords lived there into the early 18th century, when the line “daughtered out” and the Lowthers came into possession of it.  My Edmund Jr. set up in Yorkshire with wife Katherine Ughtred (and that powerhouse castle-owning family tree).  A Sandford down the line built it out into the size and shape it is today.

The Lowthers have a family history in this valley of literally a thousand years.  They are the last major family left standing, and in addition to sheep and cattle they own attractions.  Nearby, they are rebuilding Lowther Castle and the gardens trampled by military training in World War II, as a tourist attraction.  The brother and sister team of Charles and Louisa opened Askham Hall as a hotel a year ago, and it’s become a major wedding destination.

And good for them!  Charles was gracious enough to meet me and give me a private tour.  There aren’t Sandfords around there anymore, and he was happy to meet one of the rare migratory ones returned to the nest.  He’s happy to be able to share a lovely place with the public, and he and Louisa have replaced great-grandfather’s portrait gallery in the main staircase with one of Louisa’s paintings and modern light fixtures to make the visuals more comfortable for a new generation.

One of the original (narrow stone) staircases is just off the room that was the first floor of the pele tower.  The chapel room has some of the original early 15th century paneling, which has been matched.  It’s now a dining hall in which Prince Phillip has eaten annually for 30 years (kathunk!  … sound of a dropped name).  Two degrees of separation now?

Charles is a cattle breeder who likes to run the fells, and, after a chat on genealogy, he left me in the café’s capable hands to head off for lunch and a run.  I said if he ever gets to Northern California, he might want to time the trip to do the Dipsea Race.  I wandered the gardens after enjoying this lovely ham and cheese toasty in the garden.  A raptor (looked like a redtail hawk without the red color) soared overhead, possibly from the nearby birds of prey centre.  It was a really happy family history day.

So, the 8th Earl of Lonsdale’s family (kathunk!) is well represented by a gracious and visionary modern man who didn’t even know he was in the California cuisine groove:  locally grown and sourced organic food and seasonal menus.  I’m glad I could not only hang, but represent my family well.

Beth's Excellent Adventure—Part 9: Angel Lane Chippie, Penrith

Heya, Adventurers!  This is J.K.’s friend Beth, reporting from England, where I had many culinary adventures and remembered to take pictures of some of them.

After my Teatime Adventure at Brougham Castle, I continued my circle with a stroll to the Mayburgh Henge, south of Penrith near Eamont Bridge.  It’s an earthen henge with a standing stone in the middle (apparently one of an original four), set in a cow pasture.  Wow, did it feel like being in church in there.  Stonehenge may be the glam spot, but this was a power spot.

After walking back into town and stowing my backpack in my room, I went to the town centre and found the Angel Lane Chippie.  Apparently it’s won awards consistently, and I can see why.

Basically, I discovered just how badly we Americans suck at fish and chips.  J.K. and I used to hit the Irish Bank regularly when I worked close enough to pop 'round for lunch, and their fish and chips always got high marks.  Here at the Angel Lane Chippie, though, I got an eight ounce piece of cod and chips that were simply delightful.  It was a Sunday evening, and there was no oil fatigue.  Everything tasted light and fresh, with perhaps a little bit of malty flavor to the breading.

Look at the picture:  the container was as deep as a Big Mac container but a bit over twice as wide.  This and a ten ounce Coke (because caffeine) for £6.35, maybe $10 US.  Of course, this isn’t in a big city, but if fish and chips is going to be one of your country’s signature dishes, you want it to be this good.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Beth's Excellent Adventure—Part 8: Smoked in the Lakes, Penrith

Heya, Adventurers!  This is J.K.’s friend Beth, reporting from England, where I had many culinary adventures and remembered to take pictures of some of them.

Having come across the storefront of Smoked, where the sandwiches looked tempting, after hours, I crossed my fingers that it just might be open the next day, which was a Sunday.  After all, I had a picnic lunch to score before setting off on a six-mile stroll around the lovely English countryside.

Well, this time I lucked out.  The door was open Sunday morning, but I wasn’t sure the shop was.  The owner hailed me, and said he was going to open today just so he could take Monday off. However, the trade laws said he had to wait till 10 in the morning, could I come back?  Indeed I could.  I wandered a bit, listening to the church bells.

I went back at 10, and had a lovely chat with Greg Forbes, the proprietor of this fine establishment.  He’s a former caterer who got the bug while smoking fish he’d caught on an outing.  He says he smokes with beech, so it’s a light smoke.  I told him about my kin in Texas, where smoke and barbecue means beef.  Greg said he once got a custom order for a brisket, on which he put a rub and vacuum sealed the cut for two days.  Another satisfied customer.  In his shop, he smokes about anything.  In addition to meats, fish and cheeses, there are olives (and olive oil) and the like.  He’s a nice guy, too!

So, for my picnic lunch, I bought a smoked duck breast sandwich with Cumberland relish and a packet of crisps.  For any of you reading this on a mobile device while in line at the Bi-Rite Market take-out, hold it tight so you don’t drop it when I tell you the sandwich was £2.95.  $4.75, tops.  Ah, the wailing and the gnashing of teeth! The smoked duck breast sandwich? Sho 'nuff boss chow.
And where did I savour this delight?  Here, at Brougham Castle, a mile and change outside Penrith.  This is up in the Border Country, now Scotland, now England, with each side raiding the other on a fairly regular basis.  Brougham (“Broom”) Castle was a Vieuxpont/Veteripont (and even spelled Vipont in places) stronghold.  Some of the men died young.  Robert rebelled against Henry III and died of wounds in a 1164 battle, leaving daughters Isabel and Idonea.  They came out smelling like roses, marrying into the families of their guardians.  For Isabel, it was Roger de Clifford, a marriage that really created a powerhouse family.  Roger was the Sheriff of Westmorland, and when he died, Isabel took over as Sheriffess (yee haw!).  She shared the financial proceeds that came along with her sister.  And, yes, they’re on a Sandford maternal line.

The big kahuna of the Clifford castles, though, was Lady Anne Clifford.  She had trouble inheriting because she was a woman, and fought uncles and brothers for a long time, in the mid-17th century.  Fortunately, she was successful, restored her castles, and moved about from one to the other.  She was stylin’ while my Sanfords were in considerably more Spartan accommodations in colonial Virginia.  Unfortunately, a grandson moved elsewhere and salvaged the roofing materials for his own new pad, and Brougham Castle became a ruin.  English Heritage keeps it a splendid ruin, though, and I got to eat my smoked duck sandwich where ancestors may have eaten smoked duck, too.  With something other than crisps.

Alice Medrich at Dandelion Chocolate's 12 Nights of Christmas

Dandelion Chocolate is repeating its successful 12 Nights of Chocolate, a benefit for the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank. I went to Night 3, which featured Alice Medrich and recipes from her new cookbook, Flavor Flours, which focuses on matching the flavors of the non-wheat, gluten-free flours with complimentary ingredients, instead of trying to force them into substituting for wheat in existing recipes.


As soon as I arrived, I grabbed a seat with a good view, then purchased a cookbook and requested a cup of Dandelion's House Hot Chocolate, which I garnished with several of their house-made marshmallows. I'd make it the way Calvin does, but they (wisely) don't let me pour my own.
 Two views of my cup of hot chocolate
 We started with a trio of treats: Nibby Buckwheat Sablé, Chocolate Coconut Tartlet and a Peanut Crunch Brownie.
 Our second course was Camino Verde Soufflé with Cocoa Bean Cream. The Cream was infused with Dandelion's chocolate nibs, which were then strained out.

Last, but definitely not least, the Chocolate Tweed Torte, accompanied by Alice's House Truffle, and a slice of Dark and Spicy Pumpkin Loaf.
Adding to the bounty of the evening, we were given a bag of House Truffles to take home.
Check out the rest of the line-up, and let us know in the comments if you attend any of them!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Beth's Excellent Adventure—Part 7: Breakfast at the Brandelhow Guest House, Penrith

Heya, Adventurers!  This is JK’s friend Beth, reporting from England, where I had many culinary adventures and remembered to take pictures of some of them.

Lanie and Mel at the Brandelhow Guest House have four breakfast specials (in addition to Continental buffet).  I had a proper English breakfast on my last morning there (eggs, bacon, tomatoes, sauteed mushrooms, toast, baked beans), but I fortified myself for a significant outing with kidneys.  Stewed in tomatoes with potato cakes and an egg.  They are one of the gentle organ meats, and this version was indeed tasty.  And, I got points for going beyond any imagined American comfort zone.