Deconstruction in the culinary world is about division: a familiar dish is broken down into its discrete flavor components, which are served in an unexpected way. It’s about assembly: the separated components meld in each bite, surprising in their newfound unity. It’s about departure: the eater is asked to readjust what they know and what they think they know. It’s about coming home. It’s about the moment when all the flavors suddenly make sense as a recognizable whole — maybe as a dish you’ve had a taste memory of since childhood, but didn’t expect to meet in this new form.
During my parents’ anniversary dinner, I took the classic dishes they’d grown up with and reinterpreted them. Diner pizza became these deconstructed pizza bites, cold and salty, bold and mellow — and surprising in their transformation from discrete bits of flavor to a unified, familiar experience.
View of the Bay Bridge from Alcatraz
San Francisco was also deconstructed for me this past weekend. I attended the Foodbuzz Food Blogger Festival and after a weekend of crowds, taxis, food, lights, friends, laughter, food, cameras, trolleys, hills, and food, I’m sitting alone in Charlotte trying to process the experience.
It’s quiet here — just the sound of airplanes in the sky above my apartment, the road noise beyond the woods, the determined hum of my recently reemployed heater. When I look to the west from this vantage point, pretending my vision reaches the 3,000 miles and 96 hours back in time to my trip, I see fragmented moments: a deconstructed city, a deconstructed experience.
Maybe if I offer these bits of memory to you together — no toothpick to assemble them on, so a blog post will have to do — you’ll taste the flavor of the weekend.
A gull looks toward San Francisco
Bursting, juicy pork sandwiches with crispy pork skin. Cupcakes like coconut clouds. Adorable quail eggs. Agave-sweetened gazpacho. The burning rush of juice from a garlicky escargot pop. Sultry corn tortillas around shredded beef. A tongueful of flaming mushroom soup. Tart cranberries nestled in goat cheese. Lamb resting peacefully on a bed of butternut. Gruyère tucked inside a fat croissant.
Mini-doughnuts by the bay
I presented my Blueberry Stuffed French Toast Bowl recipe to a room filled with sweet, hungry people. Before the demonstration, my shaking hands were trying desperately to set each kitchen utensil and bowl in its rightful place, taking aimless photos, and failing to fasten my apron properly. During the demonstration, I might have been a little silly. Maybe. And after the demonstration — pure joy. What fun! What supportive friends!
Doing my Nature’s Pride demonstration at the Foodbuzz Tasting Pavilion
On Saturday night, Foodbuzz hosted a scavenger hunt around the city. I joined a group of relative strangers to romp around San Francisco being silly. I was so exhausted before we began that I wasn’t sure if I’d made the right decision — but being a part of Team Tony & the Gold Dust Gals (as we dubbed ourselves) was a highlight of my trip. Here are the tasks we had to complete (photos in this section are by the super-sweet Laura Flowers except the business card photo by my lovely roomie Diana):
1. Dance with a stranger (I totally stepped on his foot).
2. Late night exercise: 10 synchronized jumping jacks.
3. Exchange business cards with 10 people.
4. Photo with the hippest person you can find (the dude in the bowtie, OBVIOUSLY!)
5. Late night toast at the Gold Dust Lounge (I don’t drink, but water works!)
6. Late night snack (of brightly colored, flagrantly artificial drugstore sweets!)
It was beyond absurd scavenging around San Francisco with these wonderful, crazy people. I started out so tired I could barely move, but once we finished our tasks, I didn’t want the night to end.
Even as we were running around San Francisco through bouts of laughter and chatter, something was very wrong. In fact, something had been wrong throughout my trip. On my first night in the city, I walked out to the drugstore to purchase a few supplies. A homeless man stood outside and asked if I would buy him a tuna sandwich and some orange juice – something I happily did. As the weekend stretched on, though, I saw a different man or woman on every corner. Every few feet. In every other doorway.
During the scavenger hunt, we passed a man with no shoes and only a thin sweatshirt sitting in an alcove. He was unable to make eye contact, and seemingly unable to modulate his voice. In a quiet monotone, he was repeating, “Help me — somebody help me.”
San Francisco sunset through the dirty hotel window
I don’t know what to say except that I’m haunted. We have homeless in Charlotte, but I encounter them at a rate that I feel I can manage, and offer them a warm lunch or dinner. In San Francisco, I was overwhelmed. What can I do for this person? And this one? And this one? Each individual deserves a meal, deserves clothing, deserves love, deserves a kindness. But I don’t have the money to provide for them. I prayed as I passed, but was confronted with a scripture from James: “If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?”
I’m reading through the article series, Shame of the City from 2003 and still wondering, wondering, wondering: what can I do?
View of the Golden Gate Bridge from Alcatraz
Despite traumatic moments, Sunday was a balm on my nerves and heart. My beloved college roommate, Martha, drove an hour and a half to spend the day with me. We walked through the sometimes-rain and sometimes-mist in Chinatown, then took a trolley out to the water. We devoured croissants and muffins at Boudin Bakery, home of “mother sponge,” the starter of San Francisco’s famous sourdough.
The sea lions of Fisherman’s Wharf had us in stitches — especially the particularly bulbous ones. I made Martha pose like a tourist in front of random ferries and Ghirardelli square. We rounded off the night with In N Out fries and a crazy drive across the Golden Gate Bridge. Staring out at the lights of Sausalito and San Francisco with someone I truly love to pieces was one of my favorite parts of the trip.
Me and Martha
From random bites to random dances, from boisterous sea lions to giant bay bridges, San Francisco was full of magic. I’ll continue to process the experience and break it down into bright bite-size pieces. In the meantime, have a Deconstructed Pizza Bite.
Do you have suggestions for how to get involved in the plight of the homeless? Have you found a way of serving underprivileged citizens? Let me know.
Deconstructed Margherita Pizza Bites
Recipe by: Willow Bird Baking
Yield: about 12 pizza bites
2 1-inch thick slices of crusty Italian bread, toasted
12 pieces of pepperoni
1 tomato, chopped into cubes
24 mozzarella pearls (or small hunks of mozzarella)
about 4-5 large basil leaves, torn into 3 pieces each
On a toothpick, assemble the following: one hunk of bread as your base, a pearl of mozzarella, a hunk of tomato, another pearl of mozzarella, a piece of pepperoni folded into quarters, and finally, a piece of basil leaf. Refrigerate until ready to serve, and serve cold for a fresh, bright flavor.
Sea lions at Fisherman’s Wharf