Weird when you sit down to watch a cartoon from your childhood and notice what you either didn’t see or filtered out as a child.  But does it make sense that Santa would promise Professor Hinkle a gift in his stocking after Hinkle tried to murder Frosty?  After having watched and commented on Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer some time ago, I’m afraid to watch Charlie Brown’s Christmas!

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Earlier in the week I was in SF as my kids saw the Nutcracker (see my prior obnoxious adult-cynical snark on that magical production as well) with the grandparents.  Jana and I took one of our rare opportunities for a romantic dinner.  I had seen an ad for the Firefly Restaurant in Zyzzyva (SF’s best literary magazine).  The ad is minimalist in form, with the simple slogan “food people eat,” which intrigued me.  It’s located in Noe Valley on 24th Street, near Diamond, which is one of that last businesses on the climb towards Twin Peaks.  Nice atmosphere, warm service, yummy food, and a decor which wouldn’t look out of place in the pages of an esoteric literary mag like Zyzzyva.  It was packed, so definitely call for a reservation.

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On the subject of food, my family and I enjoyed a great cioppino tonight, made by the steady culinary hands of yours truly.  I think I’ve settled on my favorite recipe, with a few tweaks.  Start with this recipe I found at the L.A. Times.

The problem I have with many restaurant cioppino’s is that they just don’t get that it’s supposed to be kind of a tomato-based bouillabaisse.  They cook up a nice tomato stew and for some reason decide to cook the seafood separately and throw it in without any sea food base for the body of the broth – completely defeating the concept.  Okay, unless you want to cook the crab live in your stew (which just seems nasty somehow), you have to precook it.  But everything else should go in uncooked.  I honestly don’t understand the recipes to the contrary.  The stew was developed by the wives of SF North Beach fishermen, with pretty much everything coming out of the water thrown into the broth.  It’s about the seafood, not your sauce.

So this recipe does the right thing, but I found that it still lacked body, so I throw in a small bottle of clam juice at the wine – cook down phase, which does the trick.

And don’t make my first mistake and use a Chianti for the wine.  When they say “fruity,” you need something with body.  Preferably a Merlot, but at minimum in body a Cabernet.  The sharp wine flavor tends to linger if it’s a Chianti.

The only tweaks I suggest besides the clam juice are the addition of a little bit of fresh basil at the end.  I also double the onions, as I often do with stew or sauce recipes, and I throw in a little extra garlic.  And I suggest that instead of a pound of clams or mussels, a pound of each.  Again, it’s about the seafood.

The photo comes from the LA Times recipe page.

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This morning, while my wife and son were on other errands, my daughter and I walked the Eureka Waterfront.  It was a beautiful morning with an extremely high tide bearing lots of animal life in the Bay.  The economic carnage is apparent in Old Town, with Hurricane Kate’s, Greystone Jewelers, the discount clothing place up on H and 4th, and even the candy store on the waterfront closing down.  But walking hand-in-hand with my daughter was a welcome distraction, as were the festivities in Old Town as some businesses seem to be weathering the storm for the time being and drawing in some last minute Christmas business.

We walked into Ramone’s where I could buy Lilith a cup of chocolate.  After placing the order I could see the woman busy behind the steamer and she was pouring out syrups.  I just assumed that she was working on an Italian soda order which had preceded ours, but what came out was a gorgeous presentation of green and red syrups over the whipped cream, and topped off with a candy cane.  The delighted look on Lilith’s face will be one of the more pleasant Christmas memories I carry until I’m ready for the grave, and perhaps even beyond.

As we headed to the table the music coming over the speakers brought me back.  It took me a few minutes, but I realized it was a piece which I haven’t heard since I was a teenager.  It was a simple electronic sans lyrics song off of one of Brian Eno’s old albums, either Here Come the Warm Jets or Taking Tiger Mountain.  Can’t remember the name, but it triggered some old coming-of-age feeling I had as I was moving from Pink Floyd and Tom Petty to what I considered to be the more esoteric musical offerings.  My daughter finished her hot chocolate and walked around the room looking at the artwork on the wall.  She feels things very deeply, my daughter, which means she’ll feel more pain than most, but she’ll also get more out of her life.  And I wonder if the song, when she hears it again in 30 years, will trigger a memory in her.

It was a moment.

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All the usual hand-wringing about how commercial Christmas has “become” seems like just part of the tradition now, as it predates my birth.  Miracle on 34th Street.  The Twilight Zone episode about Santa Clause.

By the way, what many people believe to be the “original” version of Miracle on 34th Street?  Not so.  It was actually the first remake.  Here’s a clip from the original – all about the early version of the “link economy.”  The voices are out of sync, but it’s still fun.

(I have been duly informed and have confirmed that the Natalie Wood version is indeed the original.  This clip is from a 1950s made-for-television remake.  Only and hour long and no drunken Santa.

And on a legal technical note, the Judge could have dismissed the case against Kris Kringle, without political repercussions, when the prosecution rested.  While they had established that he believed he was Santa Claus, they forgot to establish that he was a danger to himself or others.

Is Gimbel’s still in business?

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Well, it’s past midnight, and all the animals are talking in English.

Merry Christmas.

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