Quin's Progress


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Quinderella, You Shall Go To The Balls!

I was walking home from BART one day last week, and I saw this hilarious announcement in the window of Mr. Pollo on Mission Street:Mr Pollo

Of course, because I am irretrievably juvenile, I immediately thought of this:

But, after that, I remembered the sage words of Carrie Bradshaw in that episode of Sex and the City, where Carrie is trying to convince Samantha to go to Connecticut to crazy Laney Berlin’s baby shower:  “If  you’re driving down the road, and you see a sign that says ‘Two-Headed Snake,’ you pull over!”  I figure, a four course testicle tasting menu pretty much qualifies as the culinary equivalent of a two-headed snake, so I got my phone out right then and made a reservation.  (This mindset is also how I ended up taking fire-eating/breathing lessons, but that’s a story for another post.)

Chef Jonny Becklund and his fabulous gay cowboy apron. I couldn't get the sassy fringe on the bottom hem in the shot, but trust me, it really made the ensemble.

Chef Jonny Becklund and his fabulous cowboy apron.
I couldn’t get the sassy fringe on the bottom hem in the shot, but trust me, it really made the ensemble.

Best seat in the house

Best seat in the house

So, on the day after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down DOMA and Prop 8, when Mr. Pollo’s rock star chef, Jonny Becklund, busted out his teste-centric celebratory menu, I had a VIP seat, front and center.  I can’t say I’d ever eaten Rocky Mountain oysters, Prairie Oysters, Bull Berries, or whatever you want to call them, before.  I’ve eaten grasshoppers, ant larvae, all manner of organ meats, and something unidentifiable that was dug out of a hole in the ground with a stick in India, but never testicles.  It wasn’t really on my bucket list, either, I must say.  But, I went with an open mind, and Becklund’s sense of humor, as much as his cooking, really won me over.  Gentle friends, I can honestly report, Becklund’s balls were delicious!

Yes, that's a tea bag in the soup.   Not just for comic effect, either; it really gave the broth a lovely, lemony touch

Yes, that’s a tea bag in the soup.
Not just for comic effect, either; it really gave the broth a lovely, lemony touch

The first course–and my introduction to testicle cuisine–was what Becklund called a “Ball Matzo Ball Soup,” with ground bull teste meat in the matzo ball and a lemon tea bag steeping in the broth.  That’s right.  Tea baggin‘ broth with testicle meat balls.  I could tell this was going to be a humor-filled menu.  I had a seat at the counter, and got to chat with the chef as he prepared each course.  When I laughed at the tea bag flourish, he explained, with an impish smile, that it wasn’t just for comic effect; the lemony tea bag also gave the perfectly seasoned, light broth a sort of pho-like quality that was really surprising.

The ever-so-helpful server, Will, giving advice on what wines go best with balls.  Turns out, it's dry white wine. Now you know.

The ever-so-helpful server, Will, giving advice on what wines go best with balls.  Turns out, it’s dry white wine.
Now you know.

As for the Ball-Ball, well…it wasn’t bad.  I was worried about what the texture of testes might be like (I’m big on textures), but the meat was ground up in the matzo mix, so I couldn’t really tell.  The ball was dense, like you would expect from a matzo ball, and had a vague sort of organ meaty note that might have bothered me if I didn’t know what it was.  But, since I did, I was able to process it just fine.  You know what I mean?  Like, if you think you’re about to drink milk, but you actually take a swig of Diet Coke, it tastes ghastly, but if you know it’s Diet Coke before it goes in, it’s fine.  Kind of like that.  But really, the broth was what made the dish.  Very nice.

This, gentle friends, is a testicle pizza

This, gentle friends, is a testicle pizza

To follow the soup, Becklund made a love child between an arepa (which Mr. Pollo is known for) and a pizzetta–a pizzepa?  I dunno.  But it was good.  I watched him hand press out the little arepa crusts and cook them on the griddle; he’s an arepa makin’ machine.  Then he topped them with sautéed chopped testicle meat, mushrooms, some cheese, threw them under the broiler, and then served them garnished with sam-ball (har har, get it?) oelek chili aioli and arugula (an inside joke, Becklund said, between him and Will, the server, because suddenly, in SF, every chef in town is topping pizza with arugula).  So, this super-fragrant dish had the testicle meat in pretty much it original state, but for the chopping.  I didn’t hate it.  Kinda reminded me of Vienna Sausages.  The combination of flavors and the spices on this one made it my favorite of the four courses.

I could hardly stop laughing long enough to eat it!

I could hardly stop laughing long enough to eat it!

The humor of the main course was less subtle than that of the soup.  Foreplay was over by that point, and Becklund was gettin’ down!  Crispy fried balls, unapologetically perched atop grilled zucchini, resting on a bed of arguably the most perfectly executed grits west of N’awlins, and garnished with alfalfa sprout pubes.  I know…gross, but funny!

Oh, that Chef Jonny is cheeky monkey

Oh, that Chef Jonny is cheeky monkey!

I was a little disturbed by the angry red sauce drizzle.  Not sure what kind of nightmare inspired that.  I would have gone with a buttermilk sauce, I think.  When asked, Becklund told me he was trying to put a Buffalo hot sauce flavor in there, so it wasn’t an aesthetically chosen ingredient.  And the flavor was a nice addition.

The Happy Ending

The Happy Ending

What would a family jewel themed menu be without a phallic happy ending?  Well, fortunately, I’ll never know, because dessert came in the form of a semi-frozen chocolate banana.  Why only semi-frozen?  Because Chef Becklund likes them that way.  The fully frozen ones hurt his teeth, he said.  I have to agree, I have to gum the frozen solid ones to a pulp before I can bite through them, so I was pleased these were still sort of soft.  The chocolate mantle was lovely and dark and bittersweet, with a delicate whisper of an orange blossom infusion that lightly hit you right in the back of the throat, just like a surprise of that kind should.  (Dad, if you’re reading this, please don’t infer too much from that last statement.)  The whole kaboodle was then rolled in cracked malt balls (“because, ya gotta get balls in there somewhere,” Chef Becklund said), and treated to a drizzle of a perfect caramel sauce and a pixie dust sprinkling of espresso salt.  (He let me smell the jar of espresso salt, and it was really deliciously smoky and…um…espresso-y.)  All in all, the perfect way to finish off this truly memorable fertility rite of a meal.

Blink, and you might miss it

Blink, and you might miss it.  It’s right across from 24th Street & Mission BART Station.

I asked Chef Becklund how many balls he had to buy to make this special, two-seating, event.  Seventeen pounds worth, was the answer.  All beef, because he had a hard time locating any other kind from local purveyors.  If you want testicles from other species, you have to have them shipped up from L.A., apparently.  So, given Mr. Pollo’s diminutive size–three seats at the counter, and four dinky tables–and only two sold out seatings, that calculates to a half pound of testes per person, or, about one full-sized bull ball each.  I think that’s enough, don’t you?  I just hope it doesn’t cause me to grow chest hair or give me road rage or something.  I’ll keep you posted.

Mr. Pollo's interior is bedecked with the work of local artists, friends of Chef Becklund

Mr. Pollo’s tiny interior is bedecked with the work of local artist friends of Chef Becklund

In the meantime, if you are in the neighborhood, Becklund does a different, non-testicle-based four course menu at Mr. Pollo every day for only $20.  You can’t beat that.  But get there early, or you won’t get in.  I’m telling you, this boy can cook.  I know there has been some dreary Mission District hipster drama about the changing of the guard at Mr. Pollo, when Becklund took the helm at the beginning of this year, but I can’t be bothered with all of that.  All I care about is the food, and Becklund really turns it out.  Plus, he’s a hoot and a half to chat with while he’s working.  He has “foie gras” tattooed across his knuckles (as well as a neck tattoo of someone I think might be Edward R. Murrow), and literally threw a guy out of the restaurant one night for asking him to make him a vegan arepa.  (No disrespect to the vegans out there, but come on, you don’t ask a chef with “foie gras” tattooed on his knuckles to make you a vegan anything.)  He pairs a wicked sense of humor and a white trash sensibility with a truly sophisticated palate and an artist’s creativity, and he really seems to have fun with his work.  It’s a beautiful thing.  I’ll definitely be back.


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Korean Soap Operas Will Change Your Life

This is Chilwu

This is Chilwu

I have been addicted to Korean soap operas for years, since long before K-Pop mania started sweeping the world.  Ask anyone.  It all started one day when I was sitting on the floor folding laundry, and my TiVo went to change the channel to record something, but the receiver misread the signal and changed the channel to KBS, the Korean Broadcasting Something-or-other.  There was this weird show on that kind of looked like a Korean version of Xena: Warrior Princess.  I was too lazy to get off the floor to find the remote to change the channel, so I just watched it as I folded the laundry.  It was called “Chilwu the Mighty” or “Strongest Chilwu” depending on who’s translating, and it was…hilarious.  It was set in the 1600s, and Chilwu was this lowly civil servant guy who was a masked mercenary ninja dude by night.

Screen Shot 2013-06-23 at 1.05.21 PMScreen Shot 2013-06-23 at 1.05.35 PMIn that episode, three little girls paid him in rice cakes to kill a “monster”–that turned out to be an elephant–who had supposedly killed their father.  None of them, including Chilwu, had ever seen an elephant before, so they didn’t know what it was.  Turns out, some emperor in China had given the noble of this region the elephant as a gift, and because the nobleman didn’t know what to do with it, he gave the elephant a government job as a magistrate in this little town where the little girls were from.  (I know, right!?)Screen Shot 2013-06-23 at 1.06.17 PM

Screen Shot 2013-06-23 at 1.04.24 PMThe evil magistrate who got demoted to make room for the elephant was using the elephant to trick the townspeople into paying super high taxes–which they paid in bags of rice–because he said the elephant ate so much rice that everyone had to pay more to support it.  So, the poor townspeople were starving, having to give up all their rice to this elephant.  But, in actuality, the evil magistrate was taking the rice and selling it on at a profit that he pocketed, of course, unbeknownst to the townspeople.Screen Shot 2013-06-23 at 1.07.16 PMScreen Shot 2013-06-23 at 1.07.25 PM

The beleaguered townspeople were, one by one, trying to kill the elephant to ease their tax burden, and allegedly getting killed by the elephant in the process.  Screen Shot 2013-06-23 at 1.09.18 PMBut, it was the evil magistrate’s henchmen who were killing them with a big mallet made to look like an elephant foot, and blaming the poor innocent elephant in order to scare people into compliance.  Right.  So, fast forward to Chilwu’s entrance on the scene, and they discover that the elephant eats grass, not rice, and the scam was revealed.  Screen Shot 2013-06-23 at 1.17.01 PMIn the ensuing ninja fight between Chilwu and the evil magistrate’s henchmen, Chilwu vanquished them, and the elephant broke loose and trampled the evil magistrate in a moment of perfect cinematic justice.

The Evil Magistrate, about to get it from the elephant

The Evil Magistrate, about to get it from the elephant

It was cheesy and silly and absolutely awesome.  I had to have more.  But KBS and TiVo had different schedule information, so I ended up having to record three to five hour blocks of KBS in order to capture an episode of Chilwu, and scanning through the recordings to find it.  Of course, this got me hooked on the shows that came on before and after Chilwu….and an addiction was born.

Smoosh!  Die evil magistrate!

Smoosh! Die evil magistrate!

KBS was just a gateway drug to dramafever.com, crunchyroll.com, dramacrazy.net….oh yes, the sources are many.  At any given time, I’m watching between three and five Korean serials.  I usually have at least one modern drama, a romance or romantic comedy, and a historical going, you know, so depending on my mood, there’s always something.  The production values are usually very high, the plot twists oh-so twisted, and the people are very pretty.  Plus, it’s low commitment, as most of them have only 20 or so episodes.  Some have a lot more, but most are around 20 or 30, so it’s not like American soaps, where, once you start watching, you’re on the hook for a lifetime.

One of the most fascinating things to me about watching Korean soaps, especially the ones set in modern times, is the background stuff that is just understood by the Korean audience, but is so odd and new to me.  I am constantly pestering my Korean friends with questions like: “why do Korean women eat rice in ice water for breakfast?” and “what’s with the Princess Leia towel hats Koreans wear at the sauna?”  It’s fascinating.  Some folks have no furniture in their bedrooms, and sleep on the floor; dainty, beautiful women talk unabashedly about how they poop and fart; single straight guys sleep in the same bed together without awkwardness; you always eat seaweed soup on your birthday; there are these red canvas tents on the sidewalk where people go to get drunk on soju; “side dishes” are more important in meals than the entree…oh, and the sauna!  Ahhhh…the sauna.  This is big.

The awesome Korean sauna towel hat

The awesome Korean sauna towel hat

Koreans love the “jimjilbang,” a.k.a. the sauna.  In almost every show I watch, if it’s set in modern times, people are always going to the sauna.  They go there to hang out with friends, to nap, to eat, to get massages, to sweat out a cold, to get their dead skin scrubbed off…it’s an integral part of their culture.  There’s even a talk show set in a sauna, and the hosts and all the guests wear “spa clothes,” i.e., shorts and t-shirts provided by the sauna, and the ubiquitous Korean sauna towel hat.  My friend Yvette is from Seoul, and her daughter showed me how to make the sauna hat.  It goes something like this:

Not one to be left out of the fun, I did my research and found a few Korean saunas here in the Bay Area.  Oh yes, we have them!  There’s one in San Francisco, one in San Leandro, and a couple in Santa Clara.  I personally don’t like the one in San Francisco, so I usually go to the one in San Leandro or, if I’m going with Yvette, we go to one in Santa Clara, which is probably the best one up here.  That one has a bunch of special sauna rooms, like a clay room, an ice room, and a salt room, where you dig yourself in to a thick layer of salt on the floor and bake like a salt-baked sea bass until your pores open up and gush sweat like faucets.  Oh, so good!  It’s pretty no-frills, but oooohhh, do you feel good when you leave.  Although, I have to say, after my first time having a traditional Korean sauna scrub treatment, I practically needed crisis counseling.  It’s not for the faint of heart or the modest.  Leave your body issues at home.  Seriously.

The "treatment area" at the Korean sauna

The “treatment area” at the Korean sauna

After I got naked and got all pruney in the various steam rooms and hot and cold pools, a paunchy, middle-aged Korean woman in leopard print bra and panties came and hooked her claw-like fingers around my wrist, and dragged me to the “treatment area,” and threw me on what looked like a morgue table.  She then proceeded to douse me with a bucket of water, and start vigorously scrubbing me all over with a mitten that I swear to Madonna must have been made of sandpaper.  But that wasn’t the traumatic part, that actually felt pretty good.  What I wasn’t prepared for was how they get all up in your business with this scrub.  I’m not kidding, people, they go EVERYWHERE.  That little scrub lady threw my leg over her shoulder and scrubbed my bikini zone, practically sanded my nipples off, and flipped me over and scrubbed my ass (even between the cheeks)!  I was so shocked that I just started laughing, and she threw a towel over my face to quiet me down and kept scrubbing.  She scrubbed my earlobes, the tips of my toes, my armpits…basically, every centimeter of my body.  She then doused me with another bucket of water, and started over with a mitten of a finer gauge sandpaper.

These are the scrubber mitts they use at the sauna

These are the scrubber mitts they use at the sauna

Dead skin was flying off of me like sawdust off of a piece of timber being sent through a band saw.  It was gross and viscerally satisfying all at the same time.  Once she had given me the full Karen Silkwood treatment, she  grated up a cucumber and patted the pulp all over my face, and then yanked my head up to the top edge of the table and washed my hair like she was pounding laundry on a washboard in a creek.  Then she squirted hot soy milk all over me from a condiment bottle, and sent me to the shower to rinse off, before she slathered me with Kirkland brand baby oil, climbed on top of me and gave me a bone crushing massage with her elbows and knees.  When it was over, I was all red like I had a sunburn, a bit shaky from the violation/embarrassment, noodley from the massage/beating, and missing a weird mole that had been growing for a while on my collarbone.  I was also soft as a Swedish baby bunny’s bottom.  All over.  I couldn’t keep my hands off myself!  And the softness lasted for, like, three weeks!  Needless to say, I was hooked, and I’m a regular customer now.  I go every four weeks, without fail, to keep the barnacles away.  Oh, it feels so good!  I don’t even care about the Korean scrub ladies cackling away in Korean over my big ass; I know they’re talking about me, but I figure it’s their right.  If my job was to scrub dead skin off of people’s behinds, I bet I’d want to crack jokes about it, too, just to make it more bearable.

I didn't take this picture, but you get the idea

I didn’t take this picture, but you get the idea

Ooh, I almost forgot!  Some of the Korean saunas are open 24 hours, and you can even spend the night at those.  I noticed in a few of the Korean soaps I watch that people would sleep at the sauna when they went out of town, instead of getting a hotel.  You put your stuff in a locker, enjoy the sauna, have a meal in the cafe, watch tv in the common area, and then toss a mat on the heated floor in the sleeping area and sack out.  All for the regular price of admission to the sauna, which is nothing compared to even a cheap motel.  I asked Yvette if this really was common in Korea, and she said it is, and that there are a few Korean saunas in Los Angeles’ Koreatown that allow it.  “Shut up!” I said, “we are so going.”  So, last week, Yvette was going to L.A. to pick up her daughter from college anyway, so we drove down together and had ourselves a full blown Korean sauna slumber party.  We spent the first night at the Wi Spa, which is the one everyone knows and writes about–you see it mentioned in the L.A. Times on occasion.  It’s new and fancy and huge.  I didn’t like it.  The hot pools didn’t look that clean, and most of the people there were non-Asian, and didn’t seem to get the whole “peace and quiet and relaxation” concept, and were yapping away and on their cell phones and generally being obnoxious and inconsiderate to everyone around them.  Plus, the heated floor in the sleeping area was so hot that I was sweating buckets, and had to get up and go sleep on the floor in the ladies’ locker room.  It was not restful.  But the next night, we stayed at the smaller, less well known Grand Spa, which I liked a lot.  Super clean, nice facilities, comfy rest area, and they had little separate sleeping rooms that could accommodate only about five sleeping mats at the most, so we commandeered one for ourselves, and had more peace and quiet.  Although, this woman wandered into the room in the middle of the night and dragged off the extra mats in there, and yelled at us for bogarting them.  I guess we deserved that.  They had a little cafe, and a tv room, and I think I was the only non-Asian there, so it was really quiet and orderly.  It was nice.  I had a scrub and a massage, so they waived the entry fee, meaning my overnight stay cost nothing!  But, even if I had paid the entry fee, it would have only been $20 for the night.  You really can’t beat it.  The next morning, I was so excited when I woke up and heard this little old Korean lady talking on her cell phone, and I could understand what she was saying!  I thought “oh, my years of watching Korean soap operas have paid off, the language is finally sinking in!”  But, then I realized, she was speaking Spanish with a very heavy Korean accent.  That’s why I could understand her!  Oh well.

Blow-Your-Mind Dumplings at Myung In in K-Town L.A.

Blow-Your-Mind Dumplings at Myung In in K-Town L.A.

In between sauna sleepovers, we ate and shopped our way through Koreatown.  There are tons of little malls, with all sorts of shops and restaurants.  We had the most badass dumplings I’ve ever put in my mouth at Myung In Man Du, which I knew about from a recent episode of Anthony Bourdain’s show.  The artist David Choe took Bourdain to this “man du” shop for dumplings, and now I know why.  Big and pillowy and fresh and perfectly seasoned, we ate shrimp dumplings and chicken dumplings and pork dumplings and red bean dumplings until we were stuffed like dumplings and about to pop.  (Choe also took Bourdain to Sizzler and made him meatball tacos from the buffet, which I thought was hilarious, but we didn’t do that.)

These should be sold as a set, don't you think?

These should be sold as a set, don’t you think?

IMG_2818

We went to the beauty supply and bought face masks, and the music store for karaoke practice music and K-Pop socks, and had our feet reflexologied, and went to the bakery and had fresh Korean red bean donuts, which are way better than they sound.

Patbingsu

Patbingsu

"Miss Coffee" in K-Town L.A.

“Miss Coffee” in K-Town L.A.

We ended the day at “Miss Coffee,” where we did not have coffee, but “patbingsu,” a Korean shaved ice dessert.  The house classic came with berries, bananas, chocolate sauce and the ever-present red bean paste over green tea flavored shaved ice, all served in an 8-cup Pyrex measuring cup.   No individual bowls, everyone just dug right in.  I must say, it was delicious!  Lighter than ice cream, but not as crystalline as a sno-cone.  I’m a fan.

I’ve had Korean friends for a long time, but until I expressed interest in their culture, they didn’t think to include me in all of the wacky, wonderful Korean rituals that are part of their daily world.  I never would have known to express any specific curiosity or interest had I not gotten addicted to Korean soap operas, as a result of being too lazy to get off my butt to get the remote that day I was folding laundry on the floor, and Chilwu ninja-chopped his way into my life.  So, thank you, Chilwu.  I am forever changed, and eternally grateful for it!  Kamsahamnida!


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Bathtime Drama

I shoulda stayed in bed yesterday

I shoulda stayed in bed yesterday

Yesterday, I had a senior moment and accidentally overflowed my bathtub and flooded the bathroom, and caused a Niagara Falls of delicious lemony bubble bath foam to cascade down into the downstairs neighbor’s unit.  It wasn’t a shining moment.  By the time I got everything cleaned up, and made sure everything was okay downstairs, I seriously needed that bubble bath–for olfactory as well as nerve-related reasons–but alas, I didn’t have a dry towel left in the house.  So, I threw a load of soaked towels in the wash, poured myself a drink, and watched Bridget Jones’ Diary while I waited for the towels to be done.  When I finally was able to get in the tub, I couldn’t bear the sight of any more bubbles, so I opted for this vivid blue-green jasmine scented stuff, and a mystery face mask, both of which I found at the Nijiya Market in Japantown.

From the picture on the package, I figured the item on the left was a face mask, but the one on the right could be a closet dehumidifier, for all I know.

From the picture on the package, I figured the item on the left was a face mask, but the one on the right could be a closet dehumidifier, for all I know.

I love going there and buying something that I have no idea what it is, and bringing it home and figuring it out; is it food or furniture polish?  You never know until you try!  I have had some interesting trials and errors on these expeditions.  But, I figured this one was probably not food, given the color and scent, but you can’t ever be sure in that place, particularly since they tend to stock cleaning products, cat food and marmalade right next to each other on the same shelf.  Anyhoo, I’m pretty confident this one is actually a bath soak, but it could be carpet freshener, I don’t really know for sure.  But doesn’t it make pretty bath water?  So far, it hasn’t given me a rash, so I’m going with bath salt.  We shall see.  Cross your fingers.


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Update: Cheese Thingy Located!

Tamarindo's chicharrón de queso

Tamarindo’s chicharrón de queso

Thanks to Frances Y. for hunting down a place here in the Bay Area that serves an honest to goodness chicharrón de queso! Yes, gentle friends, the glorious, crispy column of cheese can be had without traveling all the way to Mexico City — you just have to pop over the bridge to Oakland, to Tamarindo Antojeria Mexicana on 8th Street in Old Oakland. As soon as Frances told me she spotted the chicharrón de queso mentioned on Urbanspoon.com’s entry for Tamarindo, I ran right over there.  And lo…it was the real thing.  A little bit thicker than the one I had in Mexico City, so somewhat chewier by the time you get to the middle part, but just as crispy at the edges, and oh so very tasty!

Cactus-Kiwi Margarita

Cactus-Kiwi Margarita

It has a sprinkle of something spicy in it, which was really nice, and is served with some really yummy house-made salsas, which complemented it nicely.  Paired with a cactus-kiwi margarita, it made for the perfect snack for la hora feliz!  But it’s only on the dinner menu, so don’t plan on having it for lunch.

Love and corndogs to you, Frances, and to everyone else, like my girl Nora, who was on the case to find this delicacy here in the ‘hood!  ¡Salud!


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Customer Service Is Not Dead a.k.a. My Lifelong Obsession with the Tom Collins

Chena Hot Springs Lodge

Chena Hot Springs Lodge

This past St. Patrick’s Day, I was sitting with my dad in the bar at the Chena Hot Springs Lodge, about 60 miles outside of Fairbanks, Alaska.  We had been together for a week already, and had kind of run out of small talk, so we were just kind of sitting there quietly, sipping our hot toddies, checking out the various taxidermied animals on the walls, and enjoying our post-hot springs soak state of relaxation.

I was wrong, it wasn't Schweppes, it was Canada Dry (Image courtesy of the bottlecapman.com)

I was wrong, it wasn’t Schweppes, it was Canada Dry
(Image courtesy of the bottlecapman.com)

I don’t really know why this occurred to me at that particular moment, but out of the blue, I said to my dad: “Hey Dad, remember that phase I went through when I was about eight or nine years old, when all I would drink was Tom Collins Mixer?”

My dad furrowed his brow and looked askance at me.  “Tom Collins Mixer?” he said, like he’d never heard of it.

“Yeah, the mixer for a Tom Collins cocktail.  It came in a green bottle, like tonic water.  I think Schweppes made it.  Remember, I used to ask for cases of it for my birthday?”

Then, he started to laugh, and said, yeah, he remembered something about that, and we proceeded to try to remember how I had been introduced to it in the first place (we think it was probably Uncle Frank’s doing), what a peculiar kid I was to get addicted to Tom Collins Mixer at age eight, and pondered if one could still buy the stuff, or if the Tom Collins had gone totally out of style.  It was really good, tasted kind of like carbonated SweeTarts.

That's the stuff!! (Image from Ebay.com)

That’s the stuff!!
(Image from Ebay.com)

As we were talking, the cute young bartendress (who didn’t look old enough to drink legally) went and sat in the corner with a tattered old bartender’s guide.  We didn’t pay that much attention to her, really.  But after a bit, she came over and set a tall glass of something fizzy and vaguely lemony-looking down in front of me and said “Let me know if this is it.”

The girl had gone and looked up the recipe for a Tom Collins in her book, and made me a glass of the mixer from scratch!  How sweet is that?  I was so touched, that I kept to myself that she had missed the mark entirely, and told her she had made it just right.  We have to reward effort, right?  That’s customer service — give your people what they want before they even ask for it.

See?  The vintage ads for Collins Mixer show a maraschino cherry in the glass (Image from Ebay.com)

See? The vintage ads for Collins Mixer show a maraschino cherry in the glass
(Image from Ebay.com)

Since then, I’ve been thinking I should lead a one-woman campaign to bring back the Tom Collins in time for Summer.  So, I hereby officially declare it the QP Cocktail of the Summer for 2013!  You’re going to love it.  It’s really quite light, zesty and refreshing.  I prefer the vodka variety to the classic with gin, but you do what you want.

As it appears that neither Schweppes nor Canada Dry makes Collins Mixer anymore, here’s a poncey British video on how to make a proper Tom Collins from scratch, which I chose mostly because I think the bartender demonstrating for the camera is super adorable — check out that sizzlin’ look at 2:14 when he pours the gin in the shaker!  I have to take issue with the lack of a maraschino cherry as garnish–that is an absolute requirement for a Tom Collins.  But, otherwise, this looks delicious, as does “Mauro”:

Sexy Latin Guy Makes a Tom Collins

Who’s with me?!


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Temple of the Corndog

the BarryI am notorious for my love of the corndog.  They just make me happy.  I’m carrying a corndog scepter in the masthead artwork for this site.  Corndogs are listed as my religion on my Facebook page.  You know how some royal crests feature a screaming eagle with two swords or olive branches clutched in its talons?  My crest would have a yodeling penguin clutching two corndogs by the sticks. (Can someone make that happen?  Seriously.)

Although I will, on extremely rare occasion, make my own corndogs from something approximating scratch, the effort of it really kind of cancels out the low-maintenance perfection of the whole corndog concept.  Not to mention, I am profoundly lazy.  Plus, my homemade ones never come out as good as the kind purveyed by carnies and primary-color-polyesther-clad maidens in malls the world over.  I know most of the corndog sources in San Francisco, so I don’t have to wait for a county fair or a carnival to roll through town.  There are even one or two that deliver, in case of a corndog-related emergency. (Don’t judge…it could happen.)

SF GiantsAccordingly, I’ve been seriously remiss in failing before now to check out Batter Up, an establishment entirely devoted to corndog worship, right here in San Francisco!  I’ve actually known it was out there for a while, but for some reason, I didn’t make a beeline straight for it when I heard of it.  I don’t know why.  Maybe I thought it was too good to be true, or it would be like Hotel California — I would never be able to leave.  Who knows.

windowTo be fair, it is way the heck out in the Excelsior District, at the corner of Geneva and Mission, which isn’t exactly on my way anywhere, and, you know, isn’t the prettiest neighborhood San Francisco has to offer.  But, I happened to be over in that neck of the woods the other day, running an errand, and so I decided to stop by. I drove past it twice before I realized it was just a window with a little ledge, and not a storefront.

wallBut don’t let the diminutive space mislead you; the menu is quite ambitious.  Now, I’m a purist at heart.  I don’t really get into high concept corndogs that much.  Fancy organic bison basil sausage in herbed tempura batter with a trio of artisinal dipping aiolis?  Meh.  I prefer the classic.  So, when I saw that Batter Up has a kind of “build your own” menu, featuring an impressive selection of sausages and cheeses, I was initially resistant.

A fellow corndog lover

A fellow corndog lover

I softened up when I realized they do offer the classic, though.  And what a classic it is!  The dog alone is an eight incher!  It’s the kind of magnificent, corny baton that the paparazzi kept photographing Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry deep-throating during the 2011 Republican primaries.  Now, that’s worth driving out to Excelsior for, am I right?

special boardAs much as I prefer the classic corndog, I do have to tip my hat to Batter Up for their innovations.  Not only do they offer the mythical, rarely seen in captivity, “cornbrat” (a corn-battered bratwurst), but they cater to the decisionally challenged.  This is a big plus, in my book.  If you just can’t make up your mind about whether to order your corndog with, say, a Louisiana hot link or a chicken apple or any of the many other tempting snausages on their daily list, well, you just don’t have to.  You can get the Double Play, and have them make it half and half!  Half bratwurst, half turkey and sundried tomato.  Half garlic herb, half chicken Linguisa.  Or, if there’s something seriously wrong with you, half beef, half tofu.  Or, go crazy and do half cheese!  Half sausage and half cheddar or pepper jack!  And if you still can’t decide, order the Triple Play, and put three options on there!  Oh….I got so excited, I forgot to turn my nose up at the non-traditional corndogs, and made myself dizzy pondering the possible combinations.

Gooey, cheesey goodness

Gooey, cheesey goodness

I ended up ordering the “Big Barry”–part bratwurst, part hot link, with a block of cheese in between to keep the sausage halves from fighting.  From the San Francisco Giants graphics on the exterior wall, I’m assuming that this corndog creation is named after Barry Bonds and his giant bat, but I confess I did not verify that.  For purposes of this post, we’ll just say that it is, and go with it.  Anyway, I swapped out the Barry’s suggested cheddar for pepper jack, I guess, because I thought the Louisiana hot link wouldn’t cauterize my tonsils enough all by itself.

The hot link end of the Big Barry

The hot link end of the Big Barry

I must say, it was pretty darned awesome.  The batter was perfectly crispy on the outside, just the right thickness, the sausages were juicy and perfectly seasoned, and the cheese in the center was just gooey enough, without running all over the place.  In short, I approve.  My arteries were not on speaking terms with me after I polished off Big Barry, for sure, but what the heck, I don’t do this every day.

I made quick work of that!

I made quick work of that!

The one suggestion I would make to the owner would be to split the sausage skins lengthwise before dipping the link in batter.  The skin on those gourmet sausages can be a bit harder to bite through, and that is fine if you’re eating it on a plate with a fork and knife, but on a stick, not so much.  But, it wasn’t a big deal, and would be an easy fix.  You could probably just ask the kid at the window to do it for you.  I bet he would, he was nice.

Seriously, who charges corndogs? That's just wrong

Seriously, who charges corndogs?

There's a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup in there

There’s a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup in there

They have a dessert selection, too, for those who like their confections skewered and deep fried.  This fad cracks me up.  I always eagerly await the news of what manner of treat is being battered and fried at the county fairs each year, although I seldom indulge.  I don’t have a big sweet tooth, really, I just find it entertaining to hear what people will spear and deep fry.  Wasn’t last year’s invention deep fried Oreos? Or was that the year before?  I can’t recall.  I remember deep fried Snickers bars and Twinkies, and what-have-you.  Well, such are the offerings of Batter Up’s dessert menu.  They do all of the above, plus Kit-Kats, Twix, and…..Gasp!….Reese’s!

Deep fried Reese's

Deep fried Reese’s

Okay, I admit it, I tried the deep fried Reese’s.  I had to.  It’s just so wrong, I figured it had to either be genius or a crime, one or the other.  Well, I was wrong, it’s neither.  It’s just really good.  And it’s small enough to be the perfect couple bites of sweetness to finish off that spicy tower of snausage and cheese, without being too much and making you want to hurl.

Remember what I said about those corndog-related emergencies?  Well, not to worry, because, turns out, Batter Up also delivers via grubhub.com.  I’m not sure how well those dogs will travel, but I’m going to find out!

UPDATE:  Batter Up now allows online ordering on their website (http://batterupsf.com/) for pick-up orders, so you don’t have to wait too long!


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Happy Fountain of Boobies

Starbucks always gets my name wrong

Starbucks always gets my name wrong

Yesterday, I went to get my underarms lasered, and if you’ve ever had that done, you know how much I suffered.  So painful!  I swear, I need to take a wooden spoon with me to bite on.  But, as they say, beauty is pain, and if you read my post about Tata the Thai Face Slapper, you know I’m not afraid of it.  Anyway, the laser doctor (who looks and sounds just like Mr. Chow from the movie “The Hangover”) has his office in Union Square.  So, afterwards, I grabbed a latte at Starbucks and went to sit in my Happy Spot to wait for my ravaged armpits to stop stinging.

Ruth Asawa's "San Francisco Fountain." The "HH" stands for Hyatt Hotel that commissioned it in 1970.

Ruth Asawa’s “San Francisco Fountain”
The “HH” stands for Hyatt Hotel

I have several Happy Spots in and around San Francisco, and the one in Union Square is at Ruth Asawa‘s “San Francisco Fountain” on the steps outside the Grand Hyatt Hotel on Stockton, between Sutter and Post, right next to the Levi’s store.  I could be in the foulest of moods, actively planning my foes’ murders, but if I “set a spell,” as my Granny would say, in this spot, invariably, my smile returns, and my foes get to live to vex me another day.

Superman flying through downtown San Francisco

Superman flying through downtown San Francisco

This fountain is whimsical, magical and thoroughly, unabashedly fun.  It’s a fun-tain.  Completely covered in kajillions of comical little figures that look like they’re fashioned out of Play-doh, it is actually a relief map, of sorts, of the City of San Francisco.  Although I think anyone would love it, it really does take a denizen of our fair City to catch and truly appreciate some of its more obscure details.

Chinatown

Chinatown

It’s built into some brick steps, with the edge facing west at the top of the stairs representing the ocean, and the edge facing east toward the street representing the bay.  Scenes and figures depicting City landmarks, history and life adorn the fountain walls and rim, in roughly geographic order.

Golden Gate

Golden Gate

The Golden Gate Bridge is complete with its ever-present traffic, and its glorious towers extend up the side of the fountain wall and over the top of the rim into the water.

Coit Tower

Coit Tower

There’s Coit Tower peeking out on top of Telegraph Hill, Ghirardelli Square, Chinatown, the old Mint, City Hall, the Conservatory of Flowers and the Filbert Steps.  I can’t fit pictures of everything in this post, but, you name it, it’s there.  It really is a full tour of San Francisco all in one place!

"Support Your Local Chicken"

“Support Your Local Chicken”

Every time I come see this fountain, I make my way around it, inspecting it closely, laughing at the little figures and scenes, and I always, without exception, find something that escaped my notice before.  Like this time, I discovered this little chicken truck.  Look, how cute!

IMG_2459IMG_2419This is kind of juvenile of me, I know, but, one of my favorite things about it is, if you look closely, there are naked boobies all over this thing.  Everywhere.  It’s fabulous!  You know my old saying, “Everyone Loves Boobs.”  Young/old, men/women, gay/straight, it doesn’t matter, we’re all united in our affection for boobs.  Boobies are the universal singularity.  You know I’m right.

boobiesIMG_2398There are lots of lounging, tangled lovers sprinkled throughout, too.  I love that.  How can that not make you smile?

A shout-out to Carol Doda, the famous stripper

A shout-out to Carol Doda, the famous stripper, and her fantastic boobs

The fountain was commissioned by the Grand Hyatt in 1970, and created by artist Ruth Asawa, known as the “fountain lady” for her works like this one, as well as the gorgeous mermaid fountain in Ghirardelli Square–another of my favorites.  She molded the figures out of bread dough, and let it dry hard before it was cast in bronze.  She also built a model of the steps that the fountain would be set into in her back yard, to store the bronze panels as they were completed, so she could visualize the map of San Francisco as it took shape.

Lombard Street

Lombard Street

Asawa enlisted the help of a bunch of school kids and other visitors to mold some of the figures, to give life to her idea to “show what many hands working together could do.”  And as the plaque on the sidewalk explains, “[p]erhaps the most remarkable aspect of the fountain is that, in the end, Ruth succeeded in proving her point; it is her work, produced by many hands, and like all great folk monuments, it belongs to everyone.”

IMG_2474Notwithstanding that lovely “this belongs to everyone” sentiment, if I ever find the owner of this tag handle, I will sit on him and pound upholstery tacks into his gums and then squeeze lemon juice over the wounds.  I mean, really.  What the Hell?  Don’t get me wrong, I live in the Mission District, I can appreciate graffiti as street art.  But don’t be tagging works of art.  Especially not one as purely joyous as this one.  It’s bad, bad karma, not to mention, disrespectful and just plain rude.

As with every other time I’ve visited this spot, though, even this crude offense faded away and gave way to laughter and levity as I explored the happy little creatures that inhabit the fountain walls.  Thanks, Ruth, you made my day — again!

The old Fleishhacker Pool--once the largest pool in the world

The old Fleishhacker Pool–once the largest pool in the world

Not just boobies, there's naked bottoms, too!

Not just boobies, there’s naked bottoms, too!

Happy creatures at the beach

Happy creatures at the beach