SF Ferry Building & Ultimate Chocolate Cake

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My travel challenge the past few weeks has been squeezing blog adventures into extraordinarily quick trips. When work brought me to San Francisco, for example, I had only three hours to explore. For days before I left, I perseverated over how to spend that precious free time. But as soon as the plane landed, I got out into the warm sunshine, and realized it was Thursday, I knew where I was headed!

Thursday is a Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market day at the San Francisco Ferry Building.

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Known as one of the top farmer’s markets in the country, the market is stocked with everything from flowers,

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cheese, and fruits and vegetables, to meat and eggs from small regional farmers.

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On Thursdays, the market features artisan street food

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and is packed with people who work nearby in the financial district.

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Opened in 1898, the Ferry Building Marketplace is located along the Embarcadero. Spanish for “the place to embark,” the Embarcadero is the point where the City meets the Bay. It is the largest waterfront district listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and a place traversed by boats, pedestrians, bicyclists, and joggers.

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The building is most often recognized by its 245-foot-tall clock tower, which was modeled after the 12th century bell tower in the Seville Cathedral in Spain.

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Its history is fascinating, for the opening of two San Francisco landmarks – the Bay Bridge in 1936 and the Golden Gate Bridge in 1937 – significantly impacted the use of the Ferry Building. Increased automobile traffic and the opening of the bridges greatly reduced the number of people commuting to the city by ferry. By the 1950s, the building was hardly used and was virtually out of sight by 1957 when the double-deck Embarcadero Freeway was built across the face of the building. It wasn’t until a 1989 earthquake damaged the freeway that it was torn down and the Ferry Building became a prominent site on the waterfront again. After extensive renovations, the building is now used by tens of thousands of visitors every week for ferry departures and shopping.

Located within the historic Ferry Building

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is a collection of shops and vendors, restaurants and cafes, that includes everything from meat and fish,

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to exotic mushrooms!

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The marketplace showcases small regional producers and local chefs, including confectioner Michael Recchiuti.

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This San Francisco-based chocolate maker and award-winning chocolatier makes his products locally and had his beginnings in the City by the Bay. All chocolates and confections are handmade and the Ferry Building shop even has exclusive flavors from Michael’s test kitchen.

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Visitors to Recchiuti can select their own assortment of chocolates from a menu that ranges from Cardamom Nougat and Honeycomb Malt to Tarragon Grapefruit and Spring Jasmine Tea.

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When I asked the salesperson which flavors were most popular, she said each had its own following and all were a very intense chocolate.

She was right and each bite — both milk and dark — had a deep chocolate flavor complemented by its infusion. When I think of intense chocolate, I think of this recipe for Ultimate Chocolate Cake! Perhaps unlike Recchiuti’s confections, it’s quite simple to make, though its presentation is similarly beautiful.

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Click Here to Print This Recipe.

Ingredients:

For the Cake:

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon espresso powder
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 egg, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla

For the Frosting:

  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • 2 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate
  • 1/4 cup whole milk
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Instructions:

For the Cake:

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 9-inch round cake pan; set aside.
  • In a medium bowl, combine sugar, flour, salt, baking soda, and espresso powder.
  • In a large, microwave-safe bowl, melt butter, water, and cocoa. (Microwave approximately 3 minutes, stirring halfway through.)
  • Whisk dry ingredients into melted butter, water, and cocoa.
  • Add egg, buttermilk, vanilla; stir well.
  • Pour batter into pan. Bake 25-30 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
  • Allow cake to cool for 10 minutes, then invert onto cooling rack to cool completely.

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For the Frosting:

  • In a large, microwave-safe bowl, melt butter and chocolate. Whisk until blended.
  • Add milk and vanilla. Stir well.
  • Slowly add powdered sugar, whisking until smooth.

Putting It Together:

  • Using an offset spatula, generously frost top and edges of cake to completely cover cake.
  • Allow cake to rest for 10 minutes.
  • Using a spoon, drizzle frosting across top of cake until desired thickness or decoration is achieved. (Note: If frosting gets too thick, briefly heat frosting in microwave.)

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DISTANCE BETWEEN PHILADELPHIA AND SAN FRANCISCO: 2,521 Miles

This recipe was adapted from The Cafe Sucre Farine.

Getty Center & Coconut Cake

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The passage of Labor Day inevitably invokes a debate about whether or not it’s appropriate to continue wearing white. As someone who wears far more black than she should, during these conversations I find my focus drifting to somewhere the color white is always in fashion — the Getty Center.

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Seated on 750 acres in the Santa Monica Mountains and opened in 1997, the Getty Center is one of two branches of the J. Paul Getty Museum and a campus for the J. Paul Getty Trust. Though it’s right off the 405,

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all it takes is a 5-minute ride, 3/4 of a mile up on the tram,

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and a walk through the rotunda building

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to feel far away from the hustle and bustle of the city.

Richard Meier, the Manhattan architect chosen to design the center in 1984, wanted the structure and site, Los Angeles, to be one and for the city to be always in view.

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Meier used a deceptively simple combination of squares and circles on the buildings; walls, windows, and floors are organized in a grid comprised of 30-inch squares. Each building is covered in Italian travertine, and even the feature stones

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stunningly reflect the sunlight.

The precision of the buildings is extended to grounds, always planted in such a way as to draw the visitor’s eye to another element or section of the design.

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In fact, the color

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and texture of gardens and landscaping are the perfect complement to the light-colored stone buildings.

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Nowhere on the complex is this counterpoint more striking than in the Central Garden, designed by Robert Irwin as a form of sculpture. Beginning with a reflecting pool and maze of 400 azalea plants,

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the surrounding specialty gardens have over 500 varieties of plants that change seasonally and are never repeated.

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I’m told there are art galleries inside the Getty with some pretty impressive paintings, manuscripts, and antiquities; but I was so moved by the works of art I saw in the architecture and gardens that I never went inside! And I certainly wasn’t surprised to learn that the average time spent at the Getty is 5 hours, double the average time spent at other U.S. museums.

Back on the East Coast, wearing my black, I thought of another thing that always looks good in white regardless of the season — Coconut Cake! With fresh lemon curd and shredded coconut complementing the cake with their color and texture, this cake is the perfect reminder of the Getty.

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Click Here to Print This Recipe.

Ingredients:

For the Cake

  • 2 3/4 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 3/4 cups sugar
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup canned cream of coconut
  • 4 eggs, separated
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • Pinch of salt

For the Filling

  • 3 eggs
  • 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest

For the Frosting

  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 2 egg whites
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • Shredded coconut

Instructions:

    For the Cake

    • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour two 9-inch round cake pans; set aside.
    • In a medium bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; set aside.
    • In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat sugar, butter, and cream of coconut until light and fluffy. Beat in egg yolks and vanilla. On low speed, beat in flour mixture and then buttermilk, each until just blended.

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    • In a separate large bowl, beat egg whites and pinch of salt until stiff but not dry. Fold into batter.

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    • Divide batter between prepared pans; bake until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean, approximately 35 minutes.

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    • Cool cakes in pans for 10 minutes, run a small knife around pan sides, and transfer cakes to wire racks to cool completely.

    For the Filling

    • In a saucepan over low heat, whisk eggs, sugar, and lemon juice. Stir constantly until mixture becomes thickness of sour cream, approximately 10 minutes.
    • Remove from heat and whisk in small pieces of butter. Add lemon zest. Let cool.

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    • Note: Lemon curd will continue to thicken as it cools. Cover and refrigerate until cold. Can be made several days in advance.

    For the Frosting

    • In a small saucepan over medium heat, beat sugar, cream of tartar, salt, water, and egg whites with a hand-held electric mixer on high speed for 7 minutes. Beat in vanilla.

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    Putting It Together

    • Place one cake layer on cake plate. Spread lemon curd over cake and sprinkle with shredded coconut. Top with second cake layer. Spread frosting over cake. Press shredded coconut over cake, pressing gently to adhere.

    DISTANCE TRAVELED FROM PHILADELPHIA TO LOS ANGELES: 2401 miles

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    This recipe uses Bon Apetit’s cake, Joy of Baking’s filling, and Paula Deen’s frosting.

    Stanford Theatre & Peach Cobbler

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    In the heart of Silicon Valley, a hub for technology and innovation, is a tribute to days gone by. Opened in 1925 and restored by the Packard Foundation in 1987, the Stanford Theatre on University Avenue in Palo Alto is an institution.

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    The theater, which seats close to 1200 with the balcony,

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    presents only classic Hollywood films made between 1920 and 1965. In fact, many of the films shown actually played at the theater during their original release! In an ode to tradition, each Christmas Eve the theater presents It’s a Wonderful Life. And even in our digital age, the theater exclusively shows 35 mm prints using carbon arc projectors.

    Ticket prices are something of a throwback as well. Visitors pay only $7 for a double feature, and popcorn prices start at just $1.

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    The management also graciously allows guests to bring their own snacks, candy, and beverages, giving the perfect excuse to stop in nearby Rocket Fizz: Soda Pop & Candy Shop!

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    Filled with more types of candy and soda than a person can imagine, I decided on a few retro candies to indulge in during the Audrey Hepburn double feature playing on the night of my visit.

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    You can’t help but feel excited when you hear the mighty Wurlitzer theater organ played live before and after the 7:30pm show.

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    It appears from and returns to the orchestra pit just as the curtain opens and the feature begins.

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    Not far from the Stanford Theatre is another Palo Alto institution, the Creamery Fountain and Grill.

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    Opened in 1923, the ever-crowded and popular restaurant is known for its milkshakes. With more than two dozen flavors, I faced a difficult choice, until I saw that they offered a seasonal flavor. Ever one to opt for something I won’t be able to have later, I went seasonal and was rewarded with a peach cobbler milkshake, complete with bits of crust!

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    I loved my nostalgic experiences in Palo Alto, slurping up every last bit of my milkshake and laughing out loud during Roman Holiday. The sole disappointment was that I only made it through half of Sabrina before jet lag and a long day of meetings got the best of me. And while I knew that streaming the rest of the movie in my condo wouldn’t come close to recreating the theater experience, I was certain I could make a peach cobbler to rival the Creamery’s!

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    Click Here to Print This Recipe.

    Ingredients:

    For the Crust

    • 1 1/2 cups flour
    • 1 cup shredded coconut
    • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
    • 1/2 teaspoon salt
    • 1/2 cup + 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature

    For the Peaches

    • 6 large peaches, peeled and sliced
    • 1/4 cup sugar
    • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
    • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
    • 3/4 teaspoon vanilla
    • 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg

    For the Biscuit Topping

    • 1 cup flour
    • 1/4 cup sugar
    • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
    • 1 teaspoon baking powder
    • 1/2 teaspoon salt
    • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
    • 1/4 cup boiling water

    For the Cinnamon Sugar

    • 3 tablespoons sugar
    • 1 teaspoon cinnamon

    Instructions:

      Prepare the Crust

      • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter 13×9 baking dish.
      • Using an electric mixer, blend flour, coconut, powdered sugar, and salt. Add butter; beat on low speed until moist clumps form.
      • Press dough onto bottom of baking dish.
      • Bake until golden brown (edges will be darker), about 25 minutes. Set aside to cool and prepare peaches.

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      Prepare the Peaches

      • Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
      • In a large bowl, toss peaches with sugar, lemon juice, cornstarch, vanilla, and nutmeg.
      • Transfer to a baking dish and bake for 10 minutes.

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      Prepare the Biscuit Topping

      • While peaches bake, stir together flour, sugars, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl. Cut in butter until mixture is blended and coarse in texture.
      • Stir in water until just combined.

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      Putting It Together

      • Pour peaches over crust. Drop spoonfuls of biscuit topping over peaches. Sprinkle entire cobbler with cinnamon sugar mixture.
      • Bake until topping is golden brown (it will spread as it bakes), about 25 minutes.

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      DISTANCE TRAVELED FROM PHILADELPHIA TO PALO ALTO: 2,549 miles

      [This recipe uses the coconut shortbread crust from my lemongrass bars and adapts the peach cobbler recipe from Epicurious.]

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