My trip to the Bay Area was memorable in many ways. The weather was perfect, the bay was beautiful, and there seemed to be a wifi signal around every corner. I was even able to get a Ukrainian visa without any hassle, a rarity when dealing with any branch of the Ukrainian government. But the memories I cherish the most are food-related. I don't think there has ever been a time when I ate so many delicious meals in a row. I think I gained at least three kilos, judging from the increased tightness at my waistline.One of my first meals was at The Slanted Door, a Vietnamese restaurant at the Ferry Building in San Fransisco. The shock of the experience was like getting a one-two punch: first, I was staggered by the excellent service, and then knocked out by the food. Then my beautiful and talented cousin, Christa, hosted a pot-luck party. This is the closest I've ever been to being a decadent Roman emperor. We sat outside on a terrace surrounded by fountains and lush gardens, with heaps of food and wine. There were slices of tomatoes as big as dinner plates, sweet, fresh snap peas, watermelons and strawberries. I had hummus for the first time in years. I ate so many fruits and vegetables that I had almost no space left for the grilled fish. I also went to a picnic at Tilden Park for employees of the Laurence Lab with my friend Big Dave. They're very different from the development people I'm used to, for example, they'd say things like "how's the particle world doing today?" instead of just "hello." One scientist had purple hair, a purple beard, and even purple eyebrows (but not his eyelashes – I asked). But the biggest surprise about physicists is that they know how to grill perfect burgers. And they don't skimp on ketchup or mustard or lettuce, tomatoes and onions. Other fabulous locales were the Samovar Tea Lounge, which, thankfully, has nothing to do with Russian cuisine; a Caribbean restaurant in Oakland called Hibiscus, where I had Jamaican Red Stripe beer for the first time in years; the Brown Sugar Kitchen in West Oakland, a soul-food restaurant where I got my cholesterol fix with a breakfast of sausage and eggs; and the Farley Bar at the Cavallo Point Lodge in Sausalito, a short walk from the Golden Gate Bridge. But the best meals - the very best food I ate during my trip - were those made by my aunt Janice. She uses very fresh ingredients, some from her garden (did you know that carrots actually have a taste?) and some from the farmers market. My uncle (who should be a large, spherical man but somehow isn't) complained that she analyzes every bean before she buys it. But you can't argue with results. Every breakfast, lunch and dinner was exceptional. One of my favorites was a cold beet soup, an echo of Ukrainian borscht. I don't have a photo, but I have something better – the recipe:
Chilled Beet Soup with Dill Cream
- Four cups (about one liter) of canned low salt chicken broth
- One pound (about half a kilo) of beets, peeled, chopped
- One cup (about 250 ml) of chopped onion
- 3/4 cups (about 200 ml) of peeled chopped carrot
- Two teaspoons of chopped garlic and one teaspoon of sugar
Combine broth, beets, onion, carrot and garlic in a medium saucepan. Bring to boil. Reduce heat to med-low; cover and simmer until vegetables are very tender (about 35 minutes). Cool slightly. Puree in blender in batches until smooth. Transfer to bowl. Thin with additional broth if too thick. Mix in sugar. Season with salt & pepper. Cover and chill until cold, at least four hours or overnight. Ladle soup into bowls. Sprinkle with fresh or dried dill. Top with sour cream. May also garnish with chopped fresh chives or green onions. Enjoy!