[Dinner the other night, May 2009.]
I’ve noticed a few things about myself since moving to San Francisco: I really can go on at great length about my farmers’ market and beautiful vegetables (tell me you love roasted cauliflower as much as I do and you’ll pretty much have my heart forever); I actually care about coffee now, and can taste the difference between different roasters, roasts, how strong it’s brewed, etc. (on the fence about whether this is a good thing or not); I have become the wee-est bit obsessed with the weather.
Well, maybe that sounds slightly odd — and it’s not that so much that I’m obsessed with the weather as in it plays a real role in my life. I certainly notice it more, anyway. People always say California doesn’t have its seasons but I have (and will) argue you this point into the ground: Northern California, San Francisco in particular, seems to be a in constant state of seasonal flux. Unlike Washington DC, which sinks into its true summer from about mid-to-late May until October, when the heavy humidity breaks for a month or so of beautiful fall and except for a few days here and there of cool breezes it’s an anomaly to experience a day free of that summer weight, San Francisco is an inconsistent creature. Yesterday’s sun can turn into today’s fog, so thick it almost feels like rain, and tomorrow’s clouds may give way to an afternoon of bright sun entirely unexpectedly.
There was a week last January that felt like summer. Except for the dark falling at 5 it could’ve been what I always imagine July should be like: bright, clear, sun-filled and hot. I ate a lot of ice cream and drank cranberry juice, iced, with a wedge of lime and enjoyed every bit of it and marveled at my good fortune. (Of course, the rains came a few days later but we needed it.) So perhaps we can agree that this place has seasons, and lots of them, just maybe they don’t always line up with the time of year you’d expect to experience them.
I’ve learned not to question these things but to simply go with them, because when summer comes it might turn every idea you had about it upside-down. The markets may be filled with tomatoes, fat and bursting, but you have to wear a scarf on your walk home. A fourth of July barbecue might send you, shivering, inside and cursing the infernal fog because you won’t be able to see the fireworks. Times like those, however, I try to remember that when my brother in Maine is safely inside on a below-zero winter evening I might be toasting my toes on the roof and, well, it is what it is
As it’s now the ‘official’ unofficial start to summer, the fog has rather predictably socked itself in and down along the coast and San Francisco has been in a state of perpetual gray the last few days. When I left work the other night the wind smacked me full-force as I pushed past it to walk to the bus, and I thought a bit woefully about how chilly my run would be when I got home (note: it was chilly but sometimes I think that makes you go faster to compensate, which is not a bad thing at all).
So I wanted to eat something warm and comforting for dinner — wintery, if you will, even though it’s nearly June. To bridge the gap — and because it’s spring on the calendar, darn it, if nowhere else — I mixed myself my first homemade gin and tonic of the year. While I sipped I cooked: whole wheat penne cooked until just al dente, with a very quick and garlicky tomato sauce spiked with red wine, thinly sliced and sauteed mushrooms, and a handful of chopped vegan sausage. I threw on good deal of parmesan before I dug in, as I tend to do, and it was hearty, spicy, filling and so good — just what a blowy Thursday night demanded.
Then I made muffins because my apartment still needed a little something more to warm it up (baking often does nicely in a pinch, or when that wool blanket isn’t enough). I had one over-ripe banana, some coconut from a cake I had baked the week before, and exactly the right amount of butter. An epicurious search yielded the right recipe, too, for a banana-coconut muffin I amended a bit with a sprinkle of cinnamon and some crumbled walnuts and almonds. And this was just fine: my apartment was warm and filled with the scent of caramelizing banana with an undercurrent of toasted coconut. I pulled on my thick socks and snuggled down onto my couch with an old New Yorker and thought about tea and ate a muffin before bed.
Summer, take all the time you need.
Banana-coconut Muffins, adapted from epicurious.com
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 very ripe bananas, mashed (3/4 cup)
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, melted
2/3 cup sugar
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup sweetened flaked coconut