current affairs

I carry my grocery store around in my pocket

Nancy Silverton's farro salad at Macy's SF cooking demo
Nancy Silverton's farro salad at Macy's SF cooking demo

Earlier today, I was lucky enough to have a great seat at Chef Nancy Silverton's cooking demo at Macy's San Francisco. After having my first bite of this farro salad that she showed us how to prepare, I whipped out my phone, opened up my Instacart app, and placed a Rainbow Grocery order for all the ingredients, and scheduled it to arrive later this afternoon.

The ability to have a diverse range of high-quality food delivered to my home, at the swipe of my finger, has both seriously freed up my time, and encouraged me to be more spontaneous about trying new recipes, like this one. You see, I don't drive. So going to the grocery store in person is the farthest point from a spontaneous act for me.

Now, Instacart isn't my first foray into grocery delivery. Back in the day I'd been a heavy user of and Webvan. More recently, I'd also shopped via email at my local whole foods through the Shop Hoppers service. But those experiences pale in comparison with what I have available to me now.

My Humphry Slocombe ice cream sundae

Instacart allows me to pick from a selection of local stores, including Falleti Foods, Bi-Rite, Whole Foods, and even Safeway. I additionally use good eggs to get a midweek farmers market delivery (key to ensuring I have good stuff to make a salad to take to work for lunch), google shopping express to get Target and BevMo delivered, and Caviar whenever I want to have dinner (or a couple of pints of Humphrey Slocombe ice cream) delivered.

If I had the time, of course it would be a lot more fun to go an pick out my groceries myself. But the reality of startup life is I'm out the door before 7 a.m. to accommodate 8 a.m. meetings with our EMEA offices, and home around 7 each night. Which is why being able to use my phone to manage my pantry on-the-fly, and easily obtain the ingredients I need to make exactly what I want to eat for dinner, is pretty amazing.

I can't wait to see what folks come up with next to make this city life even more convenient...

Cocktails, Crab and Changes


The Whaler cocktail at Prospect, San Francisco.
The Whaler cocktail at Prospect, San Francisco.

That gorgeous cocktail is called The Whaler (Jamaican Rum, Sparkling Wine, Blackberry Honey
Mint, Lime, Egg White), and is obtainable at Prospect here in San Francisco. Not only is it one of my favorite fancy pants cocktails, it was also my beverage of choice for my going away party. It was a lovely gesture -- and it felt good to be surrounded with so much love and so many well-wishes.

But back to the reason for the shindig. That's right -- after 10 nonconsecutive years with my employer, in a variety of roles, I've taken the plunge and accepted a job outside the firm. But first, I have three glorious weeks off, which means I get to lounge around and enjoy the holidays and be a tourist in my own city for a bit, which I so love to do.

It got off to a somewhat comical start however. I had a few appointments booked at Burke-Williams Spa, which is housed in the Westfield San Francisco. And apparently, not too long after I arrived, the hot water went out. For the entire building. And it remained out the entire time I was there. I'm lucky I got the last of the hot water for my jacuzzi bath when I arrived! I would have been bummed to miss out on that as it is one of my favorite splurges (our bathtub was installed in the 1960s and is low to the ground, short, and has glass doors on a track taking up one side so it's not made for a luxurious soak.)

After my spa time was done, I was starving. La Boulange was mobbed, without any place to sit and eat, and I wanted a salad, so I decided to give Nordstrom Cafe another try.There was a short wait for a table, followed by a prompt taking of my order (salad nicoise) from the waitress. And then there was a 20+ minute wait, punctuated by assurances from the waitress that she was looking into what was taking so long. When my salad finally arrived, the waitress was also carrying a bowl of soup with a cheese toast perched on top. "So sorry for the wait! Here's a cup of soup on the house." she said, then ran off before I could ask what was in the soup.

Now, you are probably thinking to yourself, "don't be such a pain! just enjoy the free soup already!" But here's the thing: it's Dungeness Crab season in San Francisco. And despite not seeing a crab soup on the menu, I had a sneaking suspicion that this lovely, tempting bowl of creamy orangey pink colored soup was made from crab. Which I am deathly allergic to (it's the reason I carry an Epi Pen with me everywhere I go.) I was so tempted to just try a spoonful. But I know better than to do that if there is even a chance it might be crab. And when I finally flagged down a waitress to ask what it was? that's right-- it was crab!

Disaster and ER trip averted, I finished lunch and headed to see the Hobbit w/L. Unfortunately, our theater's 3D was the 48 frames per second super fast 3D. It took me most of the film to get used to it. It felt like a cross between HD TV and my old 3D Viewmaster slides. Next time, I'll either opt for the regular speed 3D or 2D. I enjoyed the film despite that distraction, and would like to see it again at home.

My following days have been less eventful, though still very much fun. I've had lunch at Martin Yang's new place M.Y. China, with my fabulous globe-trotting friend Xiaoming. I've also gotten my holiday cards out, and started plotting round 2 of holiday baking which will likely be this weekend, just in advance of Christmas dinner in Sonoma. It'sso  nice to have this break before jumping in to a new position in a new field in January. Lots of things to do between now and then though...

Me and My Disturbing Online Alter Ego

My disturbing online alter ego

I usually confine my talk about gaming to my other blog, Bible of Dreams. But all the mudsligning going on this election season regarding a Maine Senate candidate and her "disturbing alter-ego" got the best of me, so here we are.

I've gotten used to the level of nastiness that shows itself in our political races. I've resigned myself to the fact that candidates seem to not be able to be even vaguely civil to each  other. But I hadn't expected to see a candidate made fun of due to her totally legal, and with 10 million other players of the game world wide, pretty mainstream online gaming hobby.

Can someone explain to me exactly how someone playing an online game makes them unfit to hold office?

Give me a break!

If anything, playing World of Warcraft has connected me to a much wider cross-section of the U.S., including a much wider range of political sentiment and economic ranges than I come into contact with in my daily life. I like to think I understand a lot more about this country I ive in, and the challenges facing its people thanks to having gotten to know so many more of them through my online gaming.

Now back to your regularly scheduled programming...

WTB More Hours in the Day! (a minor lament)

stained glass detail from Glasgow

I am having a slight case of melancholy.

It's probably not fatal, mind you, but it is there all the same.

The days are getting short and colder.

My to do list is never ending -- so many letters I mean to write, friends I would like to catch up with, craft projects to start, books to finish reading, recipes to try.

So many things I want to do and so little time!

Somehow, my workday now stretches from 7:30 until 5:30 or 6:00 each day.

By the time I reach home, it is often a struggle to tackle that ever growing list. I wind down from the day playing an MMORPG, chatting with the folks who are still hanging out on twitter, and then suddenly it's time to make dinner and then POOF! another day has vanished.

How did I used to have the energy to be out at concerts until 2 a.m. on a work night? Or time to even keep up on all the amazing events that were going on (let alone to write about them!)

This is a lament, but only a small one. These are 1st world problems, to be sure.

xo e


I Have the Post-Vacation Crazy Busy's

image from

Which is clearly why I've been baking cookies all afternoon, after a nice walk up the street to get my nails done. A week away, followed by the first week back from work being significantly more challenging than these things usually are, meant that by the time the weekend rolled around, I was pooped.

And this is why although my photos from Disneyland and Los Angeles are up on flickr, as are the ones from the California Academy of Sciences yesterday, I still haven't written anything about our travels. Honestly, I haven't written anything at all outside of emails at work.

It's been THAT busy.

So consider this my poking my head up and saying "hello! I'm still here!" And as I have no hope of catching up with my blog roll, ping me if I've missed anything I should know about...

xo erika

Tea and Sympathy

SconesOver the past few days, the news has alternately made me angry and disappointed. Disappointed overall in the lack of empathy I'm seeing folks have for others who lack their privilege. And angry to see those smugly assured they will never be poor, or female and pregnant raising a child alone, and thus can not imagine why we should provide social support for those who need it.

When I've seen folks in my twitter feeds being hateful, I've unfollowed. When I've seen thoughtful posts such as the one I linked to above, I have shared them. I am only one person, but I try to do what I can.

Most of what I can truly impact is, of course, my own immediate surroundings. How I behave, my empathy for others. And of course, my baked treats. For as long as I can remember, I've used baking as a way to show those close to me that they have my love and support. (And I've contributed a fair number of treats to charity bake sales.)

This is why today I am finally getting off my butt and making my blueberry scones. I'd wanted to bake them for my team for Christmas, but I battled a nasty cold for most of Christmas, and colds and baking do not mix. So there you have it -- Christmas in February: Frog Hollow jam and scones from me. It's a small gesture, but one from the heart.

Recipe adapted from the Ritz Carlton Book of Afternoon Tea, a gift many years ago from the fabulous Miss Mitzi.

  • 3 cups flour, self-rising
  • 2 tsp cream of tartar
  • 1 tsp Baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 stick butter (8 TBSP)
  • 1 1/3 cups 2% milk
  • 1 cup dried blueberries (Substitute a cup of Guittard milk chocolate chips if you are not a blueberry fan)

Butter 2 cookie sheets or spray with cooking spray; set aside. Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees F (220 c.) Sift dry ingredients together. Add butter, cutting in or thumbing in, until butter is integrated throughout, as tiny flakey crumbs. Slowly pour in milk, stirring in with a knife until just combined. Add blueberries, and stir in. You will have a very sticky dough. You may roll out the dough on a floured board to a 1 cm (1/2 inch) thickness and cut with a 2" pastry cutter into rounds, or use a floured ice cream scoop to make the balls of dough equal sizes and drop onto your cookie sheets. Personally, I prefer the drop scones, as you get some crunchy bits on top.

Bake 12-15 minutes until they are golden on top. makes 20 drop scones, or 24 rolled scones. 3 Weight Watchers PointsPlus points per scone.

Green Apple Book Binge

I live in a dangerous neighborhood. It's dangerous because Green Apple Books is within walking distance. For over 40-years, it's been San Francisco's best used bookstore. My particular weakness is their robust selection of food lit, and aisles of new nonfiction that appeals to Harper's magazine readers such as myself. My last trip there I was good and didn't bring anything home. This time though, despite my overflowing bookcases, I brought home a few books.


The Omnivore's Dilemma
by Michael Pollan

It's almost embarrassing that I haven't read this yet. I can't count how many times this book has been name-checked in the NPR podcasts I listen to, blogs I read, etc. Although I do indulge in the occasional handful of cheetos and have a fondness for Kraft Mac n' cheese, I've made a conscious decision to try to think both locally and more healthfully about what I am eating. I've heard nothing but praise about how this book delves into the moral and social ramifications of our food choices as a nation.


The End of Overeating
by David A. Kessler, MD

Several of my coworkers have been raving about this book by a former FDA commissioner. Did you know that brand name ketchup served with your salty fast food fries has corn syrup? According to Kessler, these ubiquitous combinations of salt, fat and sugar is no accident. The book presents research and examinations of specific foods produced by giant food corporations and restaurant chains to explain  how the desire to eat—not to be confused with the act of eating—is stimulated in the brain by the unholy trio of salt, fat and sugar.

This Land is Their Land
by Barbara Ehrenreich

I've been a hug fan of Ehrenreich since I read her Harper's essay that became the book Nickel and Dimed (a firsthand account of life in low-hourly-wage America.) This book is a collection of short pieces that tackle current issues that contribute to the growing gap between the haves and have-nots (i.e. what used to be the middle class.)

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: The Classic Regency Romance - Now with Ultraviolent Zombie Mayhem!

by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith

Lewis just couldn't resist this one. I'll let you know how it turns out...

Use It or Lose It -- Local Restaurant Edition

With the economy continuing to tank, and many of us worried about the stability of our jobs -- or worse yet, recently laid off -- we're all cutting back on spending. No more facials. Buying less expensive groceries. Not splurging on a new pair of shoes or a handbag that catches our eye.

And all of that is incredibly prudent. What I have been disappointed to see, however, is how many folks are substituting dining at their neighborhood restaurants -- owned and operated by your neighbors -- in favor of eating at cheap (quality and cost) chains. And don't even get me started on the folks who are not eating out at all and buying everything at WalMart. Go read Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America and get back to me on that, k?

Personally, I am making more of an effort to eat out at moderately priced neighborhood places when I get the yen to go out. Without the ongoing support of diners, these small business owners are not able to pay their rent and their employees. And eventually, without revenue, you can see favorite places shuttered (Eater SF listed 25 places that closed this January.)

Likewise, I know many folks who have cut back on organic produce or stopped going to their local farmers markets, citing cost savings. I think you can, however, be selective about what you buy and still find some good deals while supporting your local small farmers. Diverting your grocery budget to less healthy mass-marketed prepared foods is not going to save you money in the long run, in addition to not supporting your local community.

We are all being more cautious about our spending, but is local food/restaurants the best place for folks to cut back? I don't think so. Scale back your Netflix by one DvD per month, ratchet down the cable subscription, or drink one fewer corporate owned coffee house latte per week instead! Your neighbors will thank you.

Recession Parties Anyone?

I think we should totally have Recession Parties this holiday season, rather than traditional festive spare-no-expense fancy holiday parties. Many corporate entities have already canceled holiday parties, but lack of budget shouldn't mean lack of ability to socialize with friends. In that spirit, I am bringing my WT dip to our department potluck, with pre-cut carrot and celery sticks and Ruffles.

If invited to such a party during non-work hours, if the host(ess) had heating facilities for their fellow potluckers, I would bring my tuna casserole with cheez-its topping. Who said being frugal can't be fun and tasty? And as a bonus for the ladies, instead of buying a new outfit, a recession party would be the right opportunity to wear that bridesmaid dress your childhood best friend assured you would totally be re-wearable...

Giving Back During the Holidays

My work group is spending a morning at the San Francisco Food Bank this year instead of having a holiday party. With everything going on in the economy right now, it feels like a better way to spend our time and limited resources. Our group is going to help sort donations in the warehouse, but there are multiple ways you can also help.

1.) Drop off your food in one of the SF Food Bank barrels throughout the City. There are numerous barrels in office buildings downtown, plus bins in Bay Area Whole Foods, Safeway and Lucky's market.

2.) All day today, December 9th, Whole Foods Market will hold donate five-percent of the day's gross sales from Whole Foods Market stores in the greater Bay Area to the Bay Area Food Banks.

3.) Grab some friends and do a volunteer shift at the food bank:

San Francisco Food Bank
900 Pennsylvania Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94107

Continue reading "Giving Back During the Holidays" »

Circus Animals Saved by Kelloggs!

I posted a while back that my favorite frosted cookies, Mothers Animal cookies, were about to become obsolete after the bankruptcy of Mother's Cookies. But it appears that wily Kelloggs has stepped in and bought their recipes...which means these happy confetti sprinkled treats --and the Taffy's and Iced Oatmeals -- may again make grammer school lunches everywhere a tastier place. Yeah!

Cheap Eats in Lean Times

Yesterday afternoon, I trekked to the Trader Joe's in Daily City for a little grocery shopping. The Westlake Trader Joe's has long been my favorite local Trader Joe's since it has plentiful parking, and the store itself is usually relatively uncrowded.

After parking at the far end of the lot, and trudging up the sidewalk, we saw there were no grocery carts to be found. This was the first bad sign. I waited about 5 minutes until someone came out of the store and emptied her cart, thus allowing me to grab it and head in. Inside, the aisles were packed with shoppers. It was similar to rush hour freeway traffic -- it was so crowded you couldn't get past the double parked carts in the middle of the aisles. Frozen food bins were picked clean (but luckily for me they still had some of the "French" pizzas.) Pretty much, it was my grocery shopping nightmare.

We completed our shopping and ran smack into the end of one of the checkout lines...halfway down the spirits aisle. With 12 shoppers in front of us, we spent almost a half hour waiting to pay for our groceries.

I don't think folks swarmed Trader Joe's just due to a renewed local focus on fresh fruits and veggies and organic foods. I think they are also now getting a bump up due to folks being concerned about the economy, and trying to cut back on expenses wherever they can. The shopping carts I peered into were not full of the usual alcohol and party food that I typically see people stocking up on. Rather, the carts had many of Trader Joe's good inexpensive basics (eggs, milk and cheese are all very good buys and made up the bulk of what others were buying.)

Personally, I've started going to Costco with more frequency. I've found that I can get good deals on meats, produce, bread, and pantry basics. Since our new refrigerator has a slightly bigger freezer than our last one, I am able to repackage the big packages of meat into dinner-for-two sizes, and thus take advantage of the low per unit prices without wasting anything.

When I make soup, chili, or any casserole, I've started putting the leftovers in Ziploc bowls and tossing them in the freezer. I slip the frozen container into my insulated lunch sack, and it's partially defrosted by lunchtime. I used to try just keeping the leftovers in the refrigerator, but inevitably found they would go to waste. Because when you are hurrying to get ready in the morning, you don't really want to wrestle the leftovers out of the refrigerator, find a container to take them to work in, etc.

Other than a few lunch dates with colleagues, I've managed to bring my lunch to work just about every day for the past 6 months. The key for me was making it easy to assemble a lunch in the morning rush:

  • I bought a really nice insulated lunch bag. I used to have to scrounge around for a leftover shopping bag of some sort, and would get to work with room temperature, squished lunches. This is a much better experience. And it's washable.
  • As noted above, I freeze leftovers in single-serving reusable bowls.
  • I make lunch for my boyfriend and myself every morning. No, this isn't a June Cleaver throwback moment on my part. Being responsible for his lunch ensures I make my own. It's easy to skip out on doing something like this for myself. And by us eating the same lunch as each other, we use up lunch items before they go bad, and dinner plans are not derailed by one or the other of us eating the main course for lunch.
  • I try to buy ready-to-package fruit and veggies to slip into our lunches. That's right -- apple slices, cups of diced peaches, baby carrots. We're eating a lot more healthily thanks to partially prepared fruits and veggies.

Lastly, I've started reading food magazines again to give me more ideas for making dinner. We'd gotten a little too used to ordering in from Waiters on Wheels, or going to the many great neighborhood restaurants within walking distance of our place. The November Everyday with Rachael Ray magazine, for instance, has a piece on $10 dinners that gave me soe good ideas. And with many publishers offering great deals on subscriptions, it's worth the $1 an issue or so just for the inspiration.

Eating well on a smaller budget can be done -- you just have to get creative.

Goodbye Mother's Cookies?

Animals My local paper reported that 92-year-old Oakland institution Mother's Cookies is shutting down operations. I've been a fan of their sugary goodness since I was small. During our weekly grocery store trips, my mom would let me pick 1 package of their cookies as my treat for the week. I'd usually alternate between the Taffys and the Iced Oatmeals. The circus animals with their garish pink and white icing and sprinkles were not on the approved eating list -- but my baby sitter would usually buy some for me. Shhhh.

Goodbye Mother's Cookies. You made many little (and not so little) children happy.

UPDATE: But you can remember the Circus Animal cookies forever via a t-shirt. Thx Joshua.

SF Cowork Spaces for Freelancers

When I was a freelancer, the only shared workspace in town was the Grotto. It seemed like a magical place and far too serious and unreachable for little old me. So I kugged my iBook to the Canvas Cafe, where I enjoyed wireless access and tolerable coffee whenever I needed to be around people.

Today's Chronicle has a great story on a whole slew of new, more accessible coworkspaces. I would have loved to have a 1- or 2-day-per-week pass to a place like that. It might have even encouraged me to stay freelance for longer rather than jumping back in to corporate work. As an aside, I think I would be a great den mother for a coworkspace. Especially if it had a kitchen...

No More "Paper or plastic?" in SF

I am sure folks across the country will start shaking their heads and talking about "those wacky San Franciscans" again tomorrow. That's when our city's ban on plastic grocery bags takes effect. Merchants can still use the biodegradable plastic bags (like the ones they use at Mixt Greens), but those actually opse a problem for many urban dwellers -- they are biodegradable, not recyclable. That means you have to put them in the green compost bins. Bins that most of us apartment dwellers don't have. Sigh. But is is a step in the right direction. Especially atfer you read the linked article which notes there is a huge disgusting mass of plastic bags floating in the ocean.

Lots to do in SF This Week

Your cup overfloweth for stuff to do in SF this week...

Oakland's Taco Trucks go National

NPR had a piece yesterday on Oakland's taco trucks, the new foodie sensation (at least according to Chowhound boards.)

I wish the city had more traveling food sellers. Yeah, we have the farmers markets and all that, but there are lots of concert/club venues that could use some love too. Like near the Fillmore and the Independent.

Personally, I'd love to create a gourmet market truck with local produce and treats. That would be right up my alley.

Wikipedia Founder at the Commonwealth Club next week

Wikipedia's founder, Jimbo Wales, is going to be the guest at the next INFORUM Commonwealth Club event on July 18. I have lots of respect for his creation -- not only has it allowed many a lazy writer such as myself the ability to avoid a trip to the library, it's also spawned one of my favorite websites -- WoW Wiki.

Personally, I'd like to create my own wiki to categorize my recipes and foodie articles, culinary website links, etc. But since I lack the time and willingness to spend the cash on setting one up, maybe I'd just better find some existing wiki and start a build-out in that area.

PowerPoint for Tots

At the end of this NPR piece on technology for kids, the reporter talks about how some 3rd graders are "already giving presentations in their classes in PowerPoint" and has obtained a laptop for his 5-year-old so he's not "left behind."

That's the scariest thing I have heard in ages.

Shouldn't we allow children time to be children? Won't they have decades upon decades of toiling away in PowerPoint® ahead of them? What's the big rush? Are our children failures if they don't start their first entrepreneurial venture by puberty?

Rules for Apartment Living, circa 1965

My apartment building was built in the mid 1960s as a retirement-oriented living place. The apartments were tricked out with the latest and greatest pastel fashion colored appliances: pink or yellow bathrooms (yes -- tub, tile, sink, and commode all in said color), and pink or blue kitchens (fridge, stove and dishwasher.)

I am thankful my apartment's baby blue appliances were yanked from the walls before I took up residence. Unfortunately, the yellow tub and sink did not meet a similar fate. One other relic from the apartment's original incarnation was found stapled inside one of my kitchen cabinets. It was a list of rules for genteel apartment living. I think my favorite rule is not to grind up anything stringy in the garbage disposal and to avoid grinding pits and bones to spare one's neighbors from the "terrible noise".

I share the list here for your pleasure. Yes, photo #2 is crooked but I am too lazy to retake the photo today.