The Exodus, Part 4: Victorian Artichokes in San Francisco

Fortunately, the route we left the Sequoia National Forest by was somewhat less like being thrown in a slow-moving blender. It almost made up for the terror that was trying to change lanes on a San Francisco highway at rush hour on a Friday with a bike rack and two bikes on the trunk of my car. When we finally arrived at our destination, I gratefully accepted the offer for one of the staff to park my car in the garage across the street.

Our room was on the third floor of one of those iconic San Francisco Victorian houses–this one made the more remarkable both by its survival of the great San Francisco fire post 1890 earthquake and by how all the furnishings looked like they had been around approximately that long. It is the Victorian bed and breakfast of my 10 year old self’s dreams. The air was heavily perfumed by orchids, lilies, and roses, which were dotted about the honest-to-goodness parlor. The furniture was all mahogany and walnut, lace and brocade.The walls were decorated with old maps and photographs, and at least one portrait of George Washington. Aside from the people in jeans using smart phones, it was like stepping back in time a century and change.

Our room was on the third floor, overlooking the back garden. The bathroom held a Jacuzzi tub that was deep enough to cover me to my shoulders.

We took a rickety wrought iron staircase to the roof terrace, which afforded delightful views of the Mission district. Under different weather conditions, it would be a great place for a bottle of wine, a plate of fruit and cheese, and good company. In the current wind, it was too brisk and we quickly returned to our posh digs for a bath.

The bathtub came with a little reminder not to use it between 10 pm and 8 am, out of consideration for other guests. I thought that was a little weird.

Then we turned the jets on.

It sounded like our bathtub was trying to use mechanical means to open a portal to hell. Various canons would have you believe magic is generally involved in opening portals of that nature, but this bathtub was determined to whir and grind its way straight into the underworld. I had to admire its tenacity.

It was also really fun to sit in, as long as you were careful not to let your digits get sucked into the intake valve. I am not convinced, however, that the jets are awesome enough to be worth the extra expense and maintenance costs of a jacuzzi. I suspect that a sufficiently large soaking tub would be good enough.

For dinner, Zack and I moseyed to Luna Park, a favorite of the San Francisco locals. Ilya introduced me to it last summer, while Caoimhe, Zack, and Cora went rock climbing. They serve their bloody marys with darling colored plastic charms hanging off the rim. This time around, we ordered goat cheese fondue and a grilled artichoke as appetizers. At some point in my formative years, I was told that the appropriate way to eat an artichoke was to dip a leaf in butter and scrape any flesh off the leaf with your teeth. I had assumed that this was nonsense peddled by the kind of people who only eat apples if they are peeled. In my long determination not to waste valuable phytochemicals and other nutrients, I have often taken to eating things that other people do not perceive to be edible. This list includes, but is probably not exclusive to, peanut shells, sunflower seed hulls, and shrimp tales. (We will pretend that we believe it is a sincere desire for the fullest extent of nutrition that leads me to such bizarre behaviors, as opposed to a laziness or a desire for the saltiest part of the peanut.)

Much to my dismay, however, artichoke leaves do, in fact, seem to be inedible. And not inedible the way a roasted salted peanut shell is inedible, or in the way a fried shrimp tail is inedible. An artichoke leaf is inedible in the way a boiled pine cone is inedible. Sure, it’s soft enough to chew, but it sure isn’t going to break up at all. It’s like fibrous, kind of pointy shoe leather.

Delicious, kind of pointy shoe leather, that you desperately wish you could eat all of but can’t, reducing you to endlessly chewing to squeeze out all of the deliciousness before wondering how impolite it would be to spit a hunk of chewed artichoke leaf into your napkin.

Before long, my hands were covered in artichoke juices (because no one ever explained if I was supposed to eat it with a knife and fork or not) and my jaw ached from effort. At that point, even the transcendent, entirely edible heart of the artichoke couldn’t convince me that the vegetable (which is a relative of the sunflower, incidentally) was worth the effort.

Breakfast at the San Francisco Inn was served in the parlor, with (as I have come to expect of California) fruit that would make angels cry with happiness. Particularly if those angels were monkeys, or fruit bats. We sat at the heavy mahogany table in a room awash with the smell of lilies. I read the paper–an actual, physical paper, made out of tree pulp and printed with ink, not just made of electrons on my screen–and drank tea. Zack read the internet on his phone and drank coffee. It was all very civilized.

After breakfast, Zack and I took a stroll towards the Castro district. I ogled the stands of flowers that I didn’t have space to take with me; we both noted the number of fathers out with their children. On the way back to the Inn, I stopped at Tartine Bakery, where I cared about nothing so much as the amazing marinated carrots.

These carrots are legendary, let me assure you. Yeah, yeah, I know Tartine’s a bakery and I should be raving about their bread or cake or whatever, and don’t get me wrong–their lemon tartlet is worth going quite a bit out of your way for–but it’s the carrots that are truly something to write home about. They use tiny fingerling carrots, brand new, fresh out of the ground. They are shaped like a carrot is supposed to be shaped, as opposed to weirdly cylindrical like the “baby carrots” one gets in bags at the supermarket, which have been polished clean of all their carrot-y character. The carrots are a little soft, like they have been very gently cooked, and they are spicy and salty and crunchy and snappy and a just a little bit bright, like they have been just barely kissed with citrus or vinegar or something.

They are transcendent. What was the largest quantity they would sell the carrots to me in? I asked the man serving me. He gave me a small carry-out box of them. I am not even sure if he charged me for them. I tipped him $10, just for the carrots.

Soon, with my precious cargo of carrots (and some sandwiches and a lemon tartlet) in tow, we were back on the road, this time headed for Oregon.

We were getting close to our new home.

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The Exodus, Part 4: Victorian Artichokes in San Francisco

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