Saturday, May 19, 2012

Fig Bars, Jelly Bellys and Samuel Beckett

Whole-wheat fig bars, anyone?

We’ve got plain fig, blueberry, raspberry and a combination of peach and apricot. I have a modest three packages; Judy bought out the farm stand. She had to – Judy only has access to these amazing fig bars once a year, when she visits San Francisco.

In addition to copious amounts of fig bars, we bought just-picked strawberries, three of the first juicy white peaches of the season, ruby-like cherries, a jar of strawberry-rhubarb  jam (that was for me) and a stash of hearty, homemade oatmeal-raisin cookies. The stand – called Ceceila’s -- is in the North Bay, where Highway 1 meets the road that leads to the Tennessee Valley Trailhead.

When she left for St. Louis this morning after an action-packed four-day visit, Judy also was toting numerous bags of Jelly Bellys, purchased under the influence of bright primary colors and sugary treats at the Jelly Belly Factory in Fairfield, about an hour north of my place. We drove there Thursday to take the tour and find out why it takes one week to make a single jellybean. (I’m not telling.)

I will tell that even though I am no longer a food writer, our tour guide said so many amazing things that I had to whip out my tiny always-with-me notebook and write some of it down. Did you know the world has Jelly Bellys because of the Goelitz family, which opened their first candy factory in 1869 in Belleville, Ill.?

Here’s more: The factory, which makes 150 different kinds of candy, goes through 10,000 pounds of cornstarch and 60,000 pounds of sugar every single day. There are 50 flavors of Jelly Bellys, including chili mango, baby wipes (ugh) and chocolate-covered cherry. Judy and I were certain we would not like that flavor, but after a taste, we each bought a big bag of Belly Flops, irregularly shaped beans that didn’t make the cut for the retail market.     

We also bought small bags of several other flavors, and I felt compelled to buy infant-size Jelly Belly socks for that baby I keep talking about. And why not?

Still, candy was not the main theme of Judy’s visit. We indulged in truffle fries, shrimp beignets and a cheeseburger at Cliff House, samosas and Chennai chicken at Dosa, the amazing Il Sol pizza and chopped Italian salad at Bambino’s, sangria at Colibri and shrimp salad and Dungeness crab quesadillas at Scoma’s in Sausalito. Oh, and kosher hot dogs at AT&T Park, where we sat in red (Judy) and orange and black (me) at Wednesday night’s game between the Cardinals and the Giants.

On Wednesday, a cold and windy day, we went to see "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," a delightful movie full of the sights and sounds of India  -- plus Maggie Smith, Judi Dench and Bill Nighy. Great fun! On Thursday night, we saw two Beckett plays at the American Conservatory Theatre: the riveting “Play” and the remarkable “Endgame,” with the supremely gifted Bill Irwin. Both were provocative and intense – and that makes for an excellent night of theater.

We shopped a bit, meandering in and out of stores in Sausalito one sunny afternoon. We also drove to Novato to buy the soundtrack for “Smash” at Target. Because there are no Target stores in San Francisco and I can never think of any good reason to drive to the suburbs (shopping is not a good reason), I have not been in Target for more than two years. Still, it was fun to be in the store, and I bought a $10 lime green trashcan for the bathroom.

During Judy’s visit, we also accidentally took a trivia quiz at the Disney Store. The night we were going to the theater, we got to Union Square early, so we popped into the store, where we meandered around calling out the names of the plush versions of characters we have loved in the Disney movies for our entire lives. A young woman with a clipboard approached us and invited us to take a quiz about Disney characters. We sat right down and got to it – and we did well, too.

No prizes were offered for our efforts. No tiny plush Pooh or Thumper or Sorcerer’s Apprentice, no tiara or magic wand or other princess attire, no miniature Buzz Lightyear or Kermie or Simba. Worse, the store no longer carries any “Pirates of the Caribbean” merchandise. Good thing I got my Captain Jack Sparrow tote bag when I did.

That said, waiting at home we had a terrific treat – whole-wheat fig bars in many flavors.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Of Mother's Day, Mark Rothko and Jelly Beans

Happy Mother's Day!

Breaking News: Though we’ve only known each other for four months, our relationship is serious. How can that happen so quickly? How can it not, when the object of my unconditional love is my four-month-old grandson? He now smiles when he sees me. I smile all the time, just because he exists.

This Mother’s Day, I salute that baby’s wonderful mother, my dear daughter-in-law Patricia. A shout-out also goes to Gerry and Susan, the baby’s other grandmas; his aunt Martia; his great aunt Betty; and all my dear friends who are moms and grandmas. I also honor my own grandmothers, Lil and Annie, on this day.

And of course I remember with love my mom, Bonnie.

She never got to meet Joel, which is so sad. Because of that, I am serving as grandmother for both of us, soaking up every moment I am with the baby. I sing made-up songs to him. Among our favorites are “It’s Fun to Be Naked,” the “Nana” song and the one where I sing the names of all the people (and the cat) who love him.

Living in San Francisco, being in the middle of family, still feels surprising after almost two years. I remain startled that I did it -- packed up after 61 years and left St. Louis, set out for new territory, moved to this world-class city. Driving up the hill to the grocery, I still gaze in wonder when the skyline and the sparkling waters of the Bay come into view and I still exult: “I LIVE HERE!”

And I am still learning. For instance, did you know that Mother’s Day in Mexico is May 10 every year? I learned this Thursday on the bus when I complimented a young woman on the huge bouquet she carried. “I kept telling my mama that Mother’s Day in this country isn't until Sunday but she wanted to celebrate today, so I’m heading to her house,” she said. Then she kindly wished me a happy Mother’s Day.

It's a Trip: Riding the bus, I’ve also learned that pigeons like to hang out on the small second-story porches of some Victorian houses. Some homeowners place large plastic owls on the porches to discourage pigeons. Riding along, I noticed two porches with owls and next door, a second-story porch full of pigeons, cautiously observing the owls. So it works!

I’ve sung the praises before of riding the bus here. There’s something invigorating about being in the middle of so many different people. One day last week, a German couple sat talking next to a turbaned Sikh. Across from them was an Hispanic family, who stopped to help a Russian woman reposition her bulging grocery bags. Get on a bus in San Francisco, and you will see the world.

You also will see the passion people here have for sports. On the bus, I have seen people toting surfboards, golf clubs, tennis rackets and footballs. Musicians ride the bus too. One guy got on juggling a yard-long keyboard, a guitar, a backpack and a cup of coffee. Those of us on the bench shifted to make room.   

In Other News, as the anchorpeople say on TV, a couple of weeks ago, I went to see “Red,” John Logan’s provocative play about Mark Rothko, at the Berkeley Rep. I’ve admired Rothko’s work at the St. Louis Art Museum and the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts, but after learning more about the man from the play and the program notes, I wanted to spend time again with one of his paintings.

Rothko didn’t want people to stand across the room from his famous floating blocks of color. He wanted people to move in close, stand just 18 inches away, to better absorb the art and hear – or feel -- what Rothko had to say. I headed to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and got up close to No. 14 (1960). As I moved into position, a young girl, maybe 11 or 12, standing nearby turned to her mother and said, “I get it.” I willed myself to stop thinking, and after awhile, I think I got it, too.

Good News: More theater is on the schedule. The gifted Bill Irwin is now at A.C.T. in Beckett’s “Endgame” and “Play,” which I’ll see this week when Judy visits. We also will attend a Giants v. Cardinals game – with me all in orange and black and Judy in red. We may also visit the Jelly Belly Factory in Fairfield, about an hour north of San Francisco. Apparently it takes a week to make a single jellybean.

I don’t know about you, but I want to know why!