Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Monday, September 27, 2010

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Monday, March 22, 2010

Swallows Day '92

It was Swallows Day, March 1992, and the 200th Anniversary of my family’s home – the Rios Adobe……

For a child, culture is seemingly as transparent as the color of rain. Fraternity and reciprocity are more important than those characteristics that define and sometime separate us as people. The 17 year anniversary of my first trip to San Juan Capistrano, my ancestral home, has recently passed and I am reminded of the preternatural feeling of alliance I felt when introduced to my extended family. For a seemingly Caucasian light-haired boy growing up in Seattle, participating in the San Juaneno family reunion was a unique break from modernity and present day Babylon.

Though I had never before met my cousins in the tribe, and have not seen them since, our connection was instantaneous and profound. It is common for children to split into factions, developing later into cliques and smaller societies of their own. Yet for this small group of children, fast friends for the weekend, similarities were stronger than differences. Now, all these years later, on the cusp of my adult life, I hope to one day soon return to the Rios Adobe in San Juan Capistrano, sure that the connection I felt as a child still exists.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

What is it like to work at Zazie?

When I moved from Seattle down to San Francisco last August, I didn't have a job. I had always liked the Cole Valley neighborhood, having ventured over one day, upon my release from Lone(r) Mountain. Early in my sophomore year, I made it a point to take my own adventures around the city, because if I stayed in my room too long, I would surely lose my mind (The rooms on the second floor of Lone Mountain resemble either a navy ship or a prison cell). Having transferred to USF after my spending my freshman year living in Chicago's Lincoln Park area and attending DePaul, I didn't really know San Francisco or the people living in it.

After various on-foot excursions to the Marina, the Presidio, Cole Valley and Twin Peaks I stumbled upon a quaint, small restaurant with a yellow awning.

After taking a date to Zazie, it became an instant favorite. When my parents came down to San Francisco for their annual "how are you doing on your own?" visit we went to Zazie. When I moved into my apartment this past August, my roommate, her mother and I went to Zazie. Feeling a little light on income, I had the spent the previous summer as an intern for Fox Sports Net and failed to take in much income, I badly needed a job.

After dinner with my roommate, Lindsay, and her mom, I approached our server (Later i found out his name is Colin, and he gives me a really hard time about everything, but in a good way) and asked if I could speak with the manager. He directed me to Souhail (Soo-Hale) and I swear I pronounced his name incorrectly for the first couple of times I talked to him. Feeling confident, partially a result of the ravioli and red wine, I bluntly said "Do you need a busser or anything like that?" I failed to notice that there was a yellow sign on the front window of the restaurant that read: Busser wanted, inquire inside, or something along those lines.

Souhail told me that in fact, yes they were looking for a new busser and wrote me the name of the daytime manager, Mario. I was to come back the following morning and inquire about becoming a professional plate-taker and table-resetter.

The next morning I walked back to Zazie, my apartment is only about three blocks away, wearing a sweater vest and loafers. I navigated through the sea of people standing outside waiting for a table for brunch, and sauntered to the register when some of the servers had congregated. When told that there was a wait list forming outside, I responded by saying I did not need a table for brunch, but rather I was instructed to come back this morning to talk to Mario about the open busser position. Turns out that Mario wasn't working that day, and in a few minutes I would be talking to the OWNER (!) of Zazie, Jen Piallat.

After handing over my resume (which included no previous experience in the food industry) I proceed to talk myself up and a hard worker, someone who gets along with co-workers and a quick learner. Jen responded not with a serious of challenging questions, but rather looked down at my resume quickly smiled and said "Sure, you seem like you have a great attitude, you’re hired." I must have been beaming brighter than sunshine, as I was walking away a woman at the table outside yelled "Congratulations!" as I was practically skipping down Cole Street.

My first day on the job was not nearly as easy as the application process. I found that while most retail jobs pretty much transfer from one to the next, the food industry works at a different pace. I've spent the past couple of years working at Nordstrom, both in Seattle and San Francisco. One of the main differences I’ve found between the two jobs is the way that time goes by. Working at Nordstrom, even on commission, the busier it is, the faster time goes by. I've found at Zazie, when it’s really busy and I have no time to check my watch, it seems like time is actually going by slower. I have a lot more to do (well actually not more to do, I still just give water, butter, clear plates and re-set tables) in what seems like a shorter amount of time.

The first thing I had to learn was the arrangement of the table, which are of course numbered. In the dining room, the tables are numbered from 1-16 (We sat at tables 10-16). Table number one is the window on your right hand side, and the numbers grow in a clockwise direction if one is look at the front door from the inside, that is, until you get to 7, then 8 is the other window table, 9 behind it, then 10, but 11 is right next to 16 which is against the wall, 12, next to 15, 13 is a four-top (seats four) and 14 is directly in the corner. It’s hard to visualize, which is why I had a mild heart attack the first couple times I heard, "Can i have bread to 9 and 12." So I stood there counting the tables in clockwise order, like a preschooler trying to find a letter in the alphabet. The same pattern is true out on the back patio, the tables range from numbers 1-12. When a server refers to the table outside, it is referred to with the letter P signifying the table is outside. For example, "Water to P4" confused me the first couple times. It seems easy enough, but when you have several other things running through your brain, including everybody’s names, making sure the breads don’t burn in the oven, and check which tables are close to, almost, or done with their food, it can get convoluted.

I still don’t think I’ve mastered it, which is pretty disheartening when you consider I’ve been working there in the same capacity for 10 months now. I have been given increased responsibilities however; on occasion I run the food from the window to the table. That’s a whole new strategy. You have to keep your eye on the tickets the cooks are working on. You have to keep your eyes on the next tables that need to be cleared so the entrees don’t get cold sitting in the window. A couple of times I’ve blown it with the food running, like leaving food in the window too long, but for the most part I think I’ve done a decent/adequate/good job running food.

As an employer, Zazie is great. I'm not just saying that because somebody at work will probably read this post, but as far a work "vibe" goes, Zazie is a great environment to work. It's not like my job is the most glamorous, far from it, but the people who work there are good people, and making down-time conversation is easy. I was lucky enough to have a co-worker the same age with a similar dependency on sports who works the same nights.

Not to dig too far into this idea, but I suppose I can trace all these experiences I've had working at Zazie and living in Cole Valley from taking the initiative a couple years ago and exploring the city by myself. Of course, I would have liked to have had a better room and not be subjected to prison living, but there is something to be said for battling back from adversity. I'm excited for the next struggle.

For more information on Zazie, click this link.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Tin How Temple/ Chinatown/ Chicken Feet

Before our conquest for Chinese food began, our class ventured into the Tin How Temple to fulfill our spirituality requirement for the day. Here’s a review of the temple from Fodor’s San Francisco Sights index:

Duck into the inconspicuous doorway, climb three flights of stairs—on the second floor is a mah-jongg parlor whose patrons hope the spirits above will favor them—and be assaulted by the aroma of incense in this tiny, altar-filled room. Day Ju, one of the first three Chinese to arrive in San Francisco, dedicated this temple to the Queen of the Heavens and the Goddess of the Seven Seas in 1852. In the temple's entryway, elderly ladies can often be seen preparing "money" to be burned as offerings to various Buddhist gods or as funds for ancestors to use in the afterlife. Hundreds of red-and-gold lanterns cover the ceiling; the larger the lamp, the larger its donor's contribution to the temple. Gifts of oranges, dim sum, and money left by the faithful, who kneel mumbling prayers, rest on altars to various gods. Tin How presides over the middle back of the temple, flanked by one red and one green lesser god. Take a good look around, since taking photographs is not allowed.

Initially, the heavy incense smoke was enough to make me feel worse than Tom Sizemore after a binge, I didn’t think I was going to last.* After hearing a brief history of the Tin How Temple, the oldest temple in San Francisco, my nausea subsided and the incense had permeated my soul, I think. (Photography was not allowed, but I managed to sneak a couple shots, so far there has been no spiritual retribution).

Professor Silver asked if any students would volunteer in the prayer and fortune telling ritual that a few patrons had been performing, (while quietly navigating through the crowd of students). One student mumbled that she wouldn’t partake because she didn’t believe in fortune telling, inferring that it would be disrespectful. I volunteered, partially because I kind of believe in fortune telling (A fortune teller in Philadelphia was spot on about four years ago) and I like volunteering for stuff.

The first step was to light a small bundle of incense (because they seemed to be short of their thousand stick at a time quota) and place it into of the incense holders. That sounds easy enough, but I fumbled around looking for a place to light the incense for a good 45, awkward seconds. After spending a good amount of time attempting to light each individual stick of incense, I placed them in the incense holder (is there a better word for that??) with the rubber band still holding the sticks together. After being slightly admonished for this, I carefully removed the band while slightly burning myself with the incense ashes.

I knelt before the incense holder, while holding my hands together and rocking back and forth, and asked a question which could be revealed by the fortunes.

I was then instructed to kneel in front of the shrine and shake a cup containing 100 sticks. Each stick is individually numbered, the number corresponding to a fortune. The goal is to shake the cup back and forth so that only one stick falls out onto the floor. I accomplished this more or less on the first try, and the number of the stick was 50.

After retrieving the English version of the fortune corresponding to my stick, # 50, the woman who had given us the brief history of the temple handed me the pink piece of paper vaguely describing my future. It reads:

LOT 50

“Born on a voyage on the boundless ocean.
Sails hoisted high begin to billow and strain.
With winds behind to push the ship along:
Great chests of jewels and treasure will be yours.”

This lot describes a ship sailing in a favourable wind. It signifies that everything will turn out to be favourable. You lead a life of ease and comfort. Rewards will come to you without much effort (Yes!). As such a large fortune is entirely yours, people’s gossip and envy will be aroused. Both you and your family will enjoy safety and peace. Business is better done in the later part of the year, and you should look for wealth and fortune in the west. Match-making cannot be finalized, but pregnancy will be safe. Autumn is the season most favourable for silk and grain crops, while livestock prospers in the spring. Travelers will run into difficulties, but the missing will be found. Lost things can be traced and found in the west. Lawsuits will go against you and migration is not recommended. Sickness will be cured. Fortune dwells in the southern part of your ancestral graves.

Not a bad fortune.

After the Tin How Temple, we went to eat at the New Asia restaurant. I don't normally go out for Chinese food, in fact I think this is the first time I've ever gone out for Chinese food. The extent of my trips in China town were either to:
A. Look for a place to go to the bathroom
B. Short cut to North Beach

I grew up in a small family, in which the cook/itinerary-planner/dictator/mom was not fond of Chinese Cuisine. Also being a Pescatarian (spell check doesn't even know what this is), I was limited to the tofu, which was quite good.

It's always good to try new things, so I enjoyed myself. Plus, I got to play with my food while others took some great/gross pictures.

* If you don’t understand the Tom Sizemore reference:

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Enchiladas in my pajamas

On Earth Day, I prepared Spinach Enchiladas (with a little help from my in-home chef). This was kind of a big deal for me, considering that my cooking expertise hasn't evolved past cereal and nachos. And yeah, it's not the most complicated meal ever, but it was delicious. More delicious than the box of Cheerios sitting on top of the refrigerator.

The recipe:
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees
1 tsp butter
1/2 cup sliced green onions
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 (10 ounces) spinach
1 cup ricotta cheese
1/2 cup sour cream
3 cups shredded Monterrey Jack
10 (6-inch) corn torillas
1 can green salsa

Here's a quick slide show of what the process looked like:
Sorry about the photo quality, my camera was taking a personal day.

If this meal was a person, it would have a face only a mother could love. But it's not about beauty, these enchiladas were great. I heated them up the next day, added some more green salsa, it was still a better lunch than Papalote. Oh...burn.