Thursday, July 17, 2008

Sour Dough in Frisco

It was late morning when the smell of freshly baked bread drew me to Boudin Bakery, within view of San Francisco Bay. A street musician created sonorous music as he tapped enthusiastically on a twin pair of over-sized bongos, and raucous gulls swooped across parking lots and buildings.

Inside the bakery, more than 150 years of history coalesced in dozens of fresh sourdough loaves, paying homage to a tradition that began when the Gold Rush '49ers merged traditional French baking techniques and 'sour' dough. In fact, today's loaves are still made with a portion of the original 'mother' dough, which has been divided and replenished with flour and water each day since the first batch was made.

With a crunchy crust and a chewy center, a 24-ounce loaf only cost about $4. If I hadn't been so full from breakfast I might have grabbed lunch in Bistro Boudin, the company's first full-service restaurant. And if I hadn't been so pressed for time I would have toured the company's on-site museum - full of city history and antique photos - or stopped by the demonstration bakery. But, sometimes, it's also nice to have things you can look forward to during your next visit.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Pasta Partner

My husband and I learned how to make pesto more than two decades ago, while visiting friends in Laguna Beach, California. They harvested handfuls of fresh basil from their tiny garden and turned it into the most wonderful pasta sauce we had ever tasted. And the flavor was so intense that we only needed one or two tablespoons of the brilliant green sauce per plate of pasta.

Our young daughters had never tasted another pasta sauce at home. But as they progressed through elementary school, the number of invitations they received to have dinner at friends' houses grew - and their exposure to new foods increased. "Mom, they had red sauce on their spaghetti!" said one daughter after a dinner visit with a friend, as if she'd just met a being from another planet. From that point on, we occasionally served red spaghetti sauce at home, to help demystify this 'foreign' food.

But pesto remains a family favorite, especially when made hours earlier from freshly cut basil. We cover pizza crusts with it, serve boiled shrimp or grilled chicken with it, atop pasta, and pair it with polenta. If you'd like to make your own, here's our recipe:

makes approximately two cups

2 cups basil leaves, packed
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
3 cloves garlic
3 tablespoons walnuts (may substitute pine nuts)

Combine thoroughly in food processor until garlic and walnuts are ground well. Refrigerate until ready to use. Lasts in refrigerator for 4-5 days. Or freeze in ice cube trays until ready to use and then thaw.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Gargoyle Guards

Birthplace of Amelia Earhart and known by some as the 'most haunted town in Kansas, ' Atchison, Kan. is also home to St. Benedict's Abbey, Mount St. Scholastica Convent and Benedictine College - a small, private university.

This rural town of less than 11,000 people has scores of Victorian homes lining its streets - many of which are still paved in antique brick. With exquisite attention to architectural detail, the massive homes are a feast for the eyes. My camera and I captured dozens of Victorian views on one particularly balmy and sun-drenched day last February, and these winged dragon-gargoyles stood out from all of the rest.

It seems that such gargoyles originally functioned as water spouts, to remove water from rooftops. But I prefer to think of them in their second function - as guardians of the buildings on which they sit, poised to keep bad spirits away from anyone who occupies the residence.