OH GOOD GOD WHAT HAVE I DONE?
So last Wednesday night represented the kind of angst that made me start this newsletter. We are a few days into a four week stretch in the desert, and we’ve already hit a food wall.
This story of spending more than $100 on three different dinner options and everyone still being unhappy and possibly even poisoned shows what I’m grappling with in this new reality.
I decided to cook tacos for my kids for dinner. As I wrote last week, they mistakenly think my turkey/dorito shell tacos are the best on the planet. I was going to eat them too, because while not the best, they are pretty good!
I pulled the ground turkey out of the fridge– same brand we buy in San Francisco, because I’m picky about my ground turkey. I swear by Jennie-O Lean. Extra lean doesn’t cook well. And other ground turkey blends are either too gamey or too bland. I will go to Safeway for Jennie-O versus the fancy spots.
Earlier this week, we nudged up the temperature on our fridge because the fruit was going bad. I drank a Diet Coke earlier that day that was like a delicious icy slushy. So I was feeling good about the still perfectly pink, perfectly in date sealed package of Jennie O which even had a few ice crystals in it. (Also I just bought a brand new fridge.)
I started to cook it, and it looked perfectly fine. But as I simmered it in the sauce, it started to smell off and I started to worry. I finished it, and tasted it. I RAN to the sink and immediately started gagging. I have never had such rancid meat.
What happened? No idea but this has happened to me before here. I’ve gone to Albertsons, Ralphs, and the fancier markets like Jensen’s and Bristol Farms. I got so sick one weekend after I cooked that I spent two days vomiting.
I never vomit. I have an extraordinarily steel stomach. I eat street food all over the world, I douse my fish tacos in Mexico with unheated sauce sitting out on the table, and I’m fine. So when I vomit, something has gone horribly horribly wrong.
My kids were devastated. I went to look at Mexican food on DoorDash and GrubHub…slim pickings and not the ones that I like here. (Tac/quila and El Mirasol, in case you are wondering.)
This is another piece of the dilemma. Most of the great restaurants in Palm Springs have direct relationships with customers, which is exactly the kind of small town goodness that makes me love this place. But when you have a dinner emergency, are new in town and don’t have the time to ferret out these hot spots, it just throws another wrench in things.
(This is my problem, not theirs. I fully applaud them wanting to keep their revenues and not dole them out to Silicon Valley startups.)
Evie wanted Taco Bell– a safe haven since she’d been promised tacos. Eli hates Taco Bell. Sigh.
I talked Eli into Chinese. There again: Another dilemma. We have not found a reliable Chinese restaurant. There’s one that’s ok, but it doesn’t deliver.
I decided to find a f’ing PF CHANGS. I mean, at this point, I was going for reliable. The Starbucks of Chinese food, at least a notch up from Panda Express.
PF Chang’s also doesn’t deliver, and it was in Rancho Mirage. But I was getting desperate here.
So Evie got Taco Bell via GrubHub.
“Can I have six tacos?”
“SIX TACOS? What are you a college student?”
I ordered her four, thinking I’d probably have to eat one of them. And then I ordered $50 of PF Changs for me and Eli, and Paul kindly drove 50 minutes round trip to get it, while we cuddled on the couch and watched Moana, stomachs growling, stench of rancid turkey still in the air.
Evie’s tacos came and she devoured them with such gusto, I wish I’d recorded it on my phone. It would have made the cutest GIF. Her little waggly taco dance that she unknowingly did as she watched Moana defeat the kakamoras. She ate four and was STILL STARVING. (???)
Finally our PF Chang’s arrived. Eli was delighted because she loves sweet and sour chicken and noodles and rice, and the app allowed her to opt out of all the vegetables that come with the chicken. She hates when different types of food touches. It’s a good thing she didn’t grow up in the south because a casserole is her worst nightmare.
I make the freezer version of PF Chang’s Sweet and Sour chicken for them all the time, so I was sure this was going to be non-controversial, even if a lot of money and time and hassle for the result.
Still starving, somehow, Evie was like “Can I have some too!?”
The two of them devoured the Lo Mein. I enjoyed my spicy sweet chicken. I had to dunk it in chili sauce because my definition of spicy isn’t America’s definition of spicy. But it was perfectly spicy for Evie. (Too spicy for Eli.)
But Eli immediately gagged eating her sweet and sour chicken and spit it out. ARE YOU F’ING KIDDING ME???????
Evie– who was devouring everything in sight tonight– tried it and also gagged. I was already feeling sick from the rancid turkey, so I was not going to become a third target.
I made Eli a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. The artisanal sourdough WE JUST ORDERED was HARD, but we made the best of it.
We’ve got to figure something else out because this is not going to scale living here full time. (Again, this is the journey for me, not Palm Springs, to make. Clearly people live and eat just fine here. I just need to learn HOW I guess….)
The rest of the week’s highlight…
Lulu’s. The fact that Lulu’s was a highlight will tell you that I am not a food snob. Evie ADORES Lulu’s and you know what? I have a soft spot for it too.
Evie and I always split the lasagna, and she goes around bragging about it in a confusing but adorable way.
“My mom and I always split a lasagna there…” One day she will not think this is cool.
The lasagna is good! The martinis are decent! And then there’s the ginormo pink cotton candy which comes in a giant martini glass.
A woman at the next table got some for her birthday, and she brought it over to Eli and Evie and their friend we were eating with. So, that was our appetizer. Wow. It’s summer, huh?
Evie made various facial hair out of it. (See above.) Eli and her friend had the bright idea to dissolve it in their water, hoping for some sort of super sugary beverage. But it just tasted like water because there’s not really so much to cotton candy other than air.
Yes, it is touristy. But Lulu’s feels like Palm Springs to me, because we first came here as tourists, and I will never hate on it.
After the hardcore debacle of the PF Chang’s night, I was not taking chances. The girls had Red Baron French Bread pizzas, and frankly I would have been thrilled with it too if we’d had another one.
Another mainline of nostalgia for me: Combination Stouffer’s French Bread Pizzas. Ahhhhhhh the glorious burns on the roof of your mouth!
Throughout elementary and high school, everytime I went to my friend Meredith’s house – who lived around the corner from me– her mom would make me one, with cut up apples and milk. I got them occassionally at my house, but only two come in a box, and we had a family of seven. But Mrs. Pierce seemed to buy them by the truckfull. And she’d cook them perfectly. There was none of my dad’s “The burning just adds flavor!” BS.
But we had no third pizza, and so I made some open faced sour dough toast with pimento cheese. I caramelized a sweet onion in olive oil for 25 minutes and then tossed that on top. I chopped up a not-half-bad tomato on the side.
The best meal ever? No. But it was good. It made me wonder if the answer is being more vegetarian here. Maybe more beans? Pastas? Stuff that comes from a pantry and can’t go rancid?
I had to bring the kids back to San Francisco for custody reasons, and so we flew, because it’s summer in Palm Springs, flights are cheap and we can now. I actually like the drive, but on drop off days, flights are a nice option.
I was flying in to SF at 6:ungodly o’clock am, and flying back to PS at 8 pm. That gave me some 14 hours in San Francisco, and I was not gonna waste a meal.
We were groggy when we got in and it was hours before the girls’ sewing lesson so we group-crashed on the couch to watch “Waffles and Mochi”. I woke up at the Preeti Mistri episode and said, “Hey that’s my friend!” And the kids looked at me skeptically until I produced photos.
We all three got our sh*t together finally at 10:30 am and walked downstairs to find….we didn’t have a car. We’d left it in Palm Springs. This was somehow news to all of us.
“Um…. Lyft? I guess” Evie ventured.
Their sewing lesson was in the sunset and that is EASILY the most underrated of food districts in San Francisco.
OK, two stops.
I am so guilty of not venturing out of the Mission because THE MISSION IS SO GOOD! But in my limited time in SF, now, I’m trying to do better. I pulled up the Chronicle’s list of dream day Sunset restaurants, but the place I really wanted to try didn’t open until noon. And then I remembered there was supposed to be an amazing Jian Bing place there!!!!
The first Jian Bing I ever ate, in 2009-ish Beijing was at 3 am, my last night in town on my first trip after a night at the club with a group of Chinese-born-turned-American-turned-back-into-expats-now-in-China….. Someone handed me one from a street cart and said “This is gonna blow your mind.” And it did.
Hands down one of the top ten things I’ve ever eaten. And over a dozen trips to China, I hit up the same Hutong stand. The last time I had one was in 2011. I had just given birth to Eli six weeks earlier, and flew to Beijing for TechCrunch’s first international Disrupt— a year in the making— where I hosted the show and interviewed everyone from Instagram’s founder Kevin Systrom to Tencent’s founder Pony Ma on stage, streamed live around the world in multiple languages.
What a feat.
We had an after party and TechCrunch’s CEO Heather Harde and I were late. I had to pump and we had to wrap up some work stuff. I knew this was the end of the early dominance of TechCrunch, and we were all peeling away to other projects, but the event had been such an accomplishment, none of us wanted to face that until tomorrow.
On the way, I found my Hutong and said, “Heather, I have to make a stop first.”
In the world’s worst broken Mandarin I ordered a Jian Bing, and Heather said “TWO!” holding up two fingers with that Heather smile that you can imagine right now if you know her.
What a night. It was night also that proved that despite becoming a mother, I still had ambition. I still pulled off something pretty f*ing amazing. I’d been the first foreign journalist ever to interview Pony Ma on stage for one. That only took two years of networking in China. I was holding a Tencent penguin dressed as a rabbit he brought me for Eli who was born in the year of the rabbit.
Anyway, the place I’d heard of in the Sunset was closed permanently. D*mn you COVID! I put another spot in the Lyft app, and dropped the kids at sewing. The Yelp reviews said it was amazing… for everything EXCEPT the jian bing, which was a sad disappointment.
Reader, I DID NOT CARE. I was going to have one.
I got there, ordered it, while I was waiting tried running down to Pineapple King to hedge my bets with a Pineapple bun, but the line was too long. I ran back.
I grabbed my Jian Bing and a Diet Coke and walked two blocks to Golden Gate park to enjoy it.
Sadly, Yelp was right. It wasn’t great. It wasn’t right. Instead of the crispy thing they put in the middle, there was a chinese donut, like on shrimp toast. And the sauce was bland. So texture and taste were wrong. But it was evocative enough I still enjoyed it.
It made me think of that old Southern phrase, “A moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips.”
Nope, I thought. A moment on the lips, an indeterminate period on the hips based on your exercise regimen, but forever in your memory. That makes it worth the hips thing. The memory of that taste still nourishes me. I thought about how grateful I am for the things I’ve tasted, and wondered what taste memories I’ve missed.
I walked through Golden Gate park, the Pandhandle, and all the way back to the Mission. It was another perfect San Francisco day. After the 100-plus degree heat of Palm Springs, I felt like the fog was gently hugging me. I relished the chill.
I got home, took a long bath, and decided to go meet my friend Andrea. I went to Tartine Manufactory (why there aren’t the same lines there as on 18th street, I have no idea…) and ordered brownies, ginger cookies, country bread and butter, their always delicious slow simmered butter beans, and a pizza. Who knew Tartine was doing pizza now?
“Which is the best one?” I asked and without hestiation the guy said “pesto with ramps.”
I took it to enjoy in Andrea’s yard.
Can I describe my amazing strut four blocks with my Tartine bounty listening to Lizzo’s “Soulmate” on my earbuds to my friend’s house? YES! I am my own soul mate at this moment. I DO love me right now. I would have ordered extra fries if Tartine made them. I wanted to absorb more of that moment than existed in space and time.
I hugged my friend like I devoured the bread. I was so happy. (And obviously, it was delicious. You have to go get one of those ginger cookies if you are ever in SF. One of the best cookies I’ve ever eaten.)
I went to get my lash extensions re-filled, and then headed back to the airport.
When the plane took off I felt like I was leaving home. But when it landed in Palm Springs, I felt like it was other home. Nothing replaces San Francisco, the way nothing replaces Memphis for me.
But I walked off the plane and the atmospheric embrace was now a hair-dryer-heat of love, despite the late hour. I’d be in my pool under a gorgeous almost full moom in 10 minutes’ time. I smiled thinking of the Mr Freeze and the Heat Meister from Sid and Marty Croft, and the 50 degree temperture swing of my day. My two homes. My two city loves.
I passed under the open air “Welcome to Palm Springs” archway at the airport, now listening to “Hysteric” by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
I remember listening to this song obsessively when I was reporting in Indonesia, feeling half apart from myself and yet on some new phase of shedding a skin and emerging anew, after 40 weeks of travel in emerging markets. Nothing makes you rethink everything like traveling alone so outside all you knew.
I passed under the arch as she sang “you suddenly complete me, you suddenly complete me.”
Gorgeous lyrics that I’ve thought of in terms of my significant other, and both of my children, lyrics I sung to them when they were babies, that I now thought about Palm Springs.
I always said when I first come home to Memphis, I feel like a goldfish put back into a large water tank from those tiny little travel bags. I gulp in air over and over again until I relax. This is my air. My oxygen that I first breathed and breathed through so much of my life. The oxygen my body has always known and will always respond too. Things make sense on a cellular level the first 24 hrs I’m in Memphis.
On the other hand, San Francisco charges me. It inspires me. I CHOSE it. What an incredible day where I wanted so many more hours to soak up every single thing I’ve built and loved in my adult life. I feel so much drive, passion, intensity, love, anger, betrayal there. I feel it all. I feel like anything is possible. Hard, sometimes too hard, but possible. There’s a reason multi-billion dollar companies regularly come out of nowhere there. Why major cultural shifts in our country emmenate from there.
But I realized in that moment, passing under the arch that Palm Springs unplugs me. Allows me to exxxxxxxhaleeeeeeeeeeee. Allows my thoughts to go further, all the way out to the mountains. As Lisa Cron once told me, in New York, the tall buildings would block her thoughts. In Southern California they could expand into the horizon. Palm Springs detoxes me. It relaxes me. My shoulders release all the way down my back. My jaw unclenches.
And maybe I need that more now. Maybe this move is also right for me, in some ways. (Maybe.)
At this phase of my life, Palm Springs suddenly completes me. I don’t have to give up the others. This is additive.
I melted into the heat, hopped into my car where I’d left it some 14 hours ago, paid the paltry daily park fee and drove to my other home that suddenly completes me.
It didn’t have edible food in the fridge or the pantry, I knew this. But it didn’t have to. I had a left over can of rose in the icy fridge, and a pool. I was already nourished.