I've heard people say San Francisco is the most European city in the United States for a long time, but I don't think I really understood what they meant until I spent some time in the area around North Beach. With the Victorian houses converted into apartments, the walk ups, the bay windows and narrow alleys, the steep hills, the sidewalk cafes, bakeries and food stores, and most of all - the total lack of parking - it really does lend itself to a local community-oriented lifestyle. It has a number of the kind of independent everyday businesses - restaurants, bakeries, bookstores and shops - that have all but disappeared from many smaller cities, and I love the 40's style neon signs, the painted windows, and the retro style of the store-fronts. To me, it has a feeling of "otherness," without the big box stores, freeways, gas stations and fast food joints we suburbanites have come to accept as part of our everyday lives.
This dreamy quality figured prominently in my enjoyment of a baby shower I attended recently, at the home of a friend of the mom-to-be on Lombard Street. The mother lives in the front apartment - on the ground floor (which is still up a steep flight of stairs from the street) and the shower was held in her front parlor room, featuring a huge bay window and wood fireplace - all decorated with Moroccan pillows, flowers and textiles. The girls were doing the cooking in the daughter's apartment, across the alley in the back - and brought the food over. It felt so much like a movie that the light even had that sort of gauzy, filtered quality.
We were welcomed with a spread of figs, almonds, apricots, pistachios and pecans, bowls of homemade hummus, warm pita bread, and couscous salad, served in host Sharone's beautiful collection of Moroccan dishes. To drink, there was lemonade with mint, served on a brass carrying tray with a twisted handle.
Though we didn't all know each other, there was no need for games or activities to break the ice . The group just kept chatting and eating until the sun started going lower in the sky. At some point, the hostesses brought out bowls of a fragrant chickpea stew that we held in our laps and spooned up with more pita bread. It was as delicious to eat as it was to look at.
When the presents were opened and the cake came out, I was intrigued. When I tasted it, I asked for the name of the bakery. Turns out this cake is not only delicious, it's a little piece of San Francisco history - a "world famous" Sacripantina from Stella Pastry in North Beach. As described on their website - "served to the likes of Pavarotti, the Sacripantina is a multilayered cake made with a vanilla sponge cake, zabaglione (a delicate custard made with egg yolks, sweet butter, marsala and sherry wines.) cream, and rum." They also have lots more luscious looking choices on their website here. There's just something about these old-fashioned Italian pastries that I find incredibly appealing. They look like little girl's dresses - all lace and bows and ruffles with whipped cream and cherries - and they haven't changed at all with the times. They're just classic.
I felt so lucky to be a part of this gathering - it was one of those occasions where everything just came together perfectly. I'm convinced that you can't plan these or manufacture them, as much as you'd might like - when they happen, you just have to enjoy and remember them. I wish Moira the best as she goes forward on her journey into motherhood!
446 Columbus Ave.
San Francisco, CA 94133