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The Other Night

[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


  1. Catching up with my favorite blogs today…You are amazing! I love this line: “Summer, take all the time you need.” Today the air has a slight chill…just enough to warrent socks but not a jacket. I love days like this, and homebaked goodness…like muffins…or your banana bread, which I devoured thankyouverymuch!

  2. Just wait til you come to London! We get 4 seasons in 1 day sometimes!

  3. Being a Seattle-ite, I totally understand. The weather does become an obsession and NOTHING to take for granted. And, just to let you know, I am OBSESSED with roasted cauliflower:)

  4. i’m in a mood today and i need your muffins. they look perfect. thank you for sharing your thoughts and your recipe.

    on a lighter note, i just spent a lovely overcast and foggy weekend in west marin and everyone kept apologizing for the weather. i could not understand how they couldn’t appreciate such wonderful weather. i adored the calm white sky and the chill in the air…no wind…no rain. it was beautiful. yesterday, the first day of june, while sitting outside at the marshall store, wrapped up in two jackets + scarf, i spooned warm clam chowder from a paper cup and watched the gulls. what a lovely way to begin a new month.

  5. I love the fact that while some people are peeling off humidity soaked tees tonight… I’m making lentil soup and grilled cheese on sourdough for dinner tonight. I love the fog.

  6. Summer can start whenever, but more importantly, end whenever (as long as whenever equals never). Just this morning I was driving around with my nephew, windows down, radio way up and together we were shouting “woohoo, summer!” After that, I’m thinking that I’ll have to greet every summer day just like that.

    Also, I love roasted cauliflower, but we already knew that!

  7. when you live in northern california, you become obssessed about the weather! but that’s only because us californians prefer to spend as much time outside as possible! and the weather dictates our plans for the day and what we eat. it’s no wonder that during summer, you walk down the street and find people smiling more. sacramento right now is PERFECT with 80 degrees every day. but once it hits 100, i’m running away to SF.

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