Neighbor Darcy Shares Her Gluten-Free “Shiksa Hamantashen” Recipe

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Neighbor Darcy Lee, the domestic doyenne of the fabulous Heartfelt on Cortland, has been making trouble in the kitchen again. Just in time for the festive Jewish Purim holiday, she passes along this fun new recipe. Neighbor Darcy calls it “Shiksa Hamantashen,” and it’s a new take on an Old Country classic:

I lived in New York City for many years and I loved trying different foods.  The Indian food on 6th Street, Italian semolina bread and cannoli in Little Italy, spicy Szechuan dishes in Chinatown, and New York style pizza, greasy and so cheap by the slice.  I remember in February, filled-triangular-cookies would start showing up next to the black & whites.  “What are they filled with?” I would ask.  Poppy seed, prune or apricot usually. I had no idea why they appeared only at this time of year but I grew very fond of them.

Here is what Jewish Food expert Gora Shimoni has to say, ” The tradition to eat hamantashen on Purim began in Europe. The word hamantashen derived from two German words: mohn (poppy seed) and taschen (pockets). Mohntaschen is German for ‘poppy seed pockets’ and was a popular German pastry. Hamantaschen means ‘Haman’s pockets’ and became a popular Purim pastry. It was rumored that the evil Haman’s pockets were filled with bribe money. The most popular explantion of why Jews eat this three cornered pastry on Purim is that Haman wore a three-cornered hat. Eating an image of Haman’s hat is a way to symbolically destroy his memory.”

A few years ago I came across a recipe in Elana Amsterdam’s Gluten-Free Almond Flour Cookbook for hamantaschen. Her picture of them brought back sweet memories. Gluten-free! I gave them a whirl and played with the recipe and this what I settled upon.

I like to experiment with the filling. This year I had a couple of big bags of Costco dried figs and apricots, so I threw them in a pot and covered them with hot water and let them simmer with ½ cup of coconut sugar. Let them cook down for an hour. Then pour the cooled cooked fruit mixture in the food processor and process until you have a thick filling. Raw apple, currants or raisins can be added to the mixture before cooking. She recommends cooking it down with a vanilla bean.

Here is my gluten-free “shiksa hamantaschen” dough recipe:

3 cups blanched almond flour (I also sometimes use the ground almonds from Trader Joe’s, it gives the cookie a grainer, heartier, hippy feel)
½ teaspoon sea salt
½ cup butter (Shiksa confession: Dunno –is dairy ok at Purim? Ms. Amsterdam uses grapeseed oil)
1 egg
2 tbsp. agave nectar or honey (often I boil coconut sugar with water to make a yummy syrup that I use for everything)
I tablespoon vanilla extract

  1. In a large bowl, combine almond flour and salt.
  2. In a smaller bowl, mix together melted butter, honey or agave or my coconut sugar syrup and vanilla.
  3. Mix wet ingredients into dry.
  4. Roll dough into 1 inch balls; place them on a parchment paper lined baking sheet, then press flat into small circles
  5. Scoop one teaspoon of filling into each circle of dough
  6. Fold the dough in from three sides and pinch the corners to form a triangle shaped cookie
  7. Bake at 350° for 10-12 minutes until dough is golden brown
  8. Serve!

Enjoy your small three cornered hats!

PHOTO: Neighbor Darcy

SURPRISE RAINBOW INCURSION DROPS EUPHORIA ON BERNAL HEIGHTS

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The Bernalwood Rainbow Situation Control Facility has confirmed a dramatic Rainbow Event that startled Bernal Heights this morning.

Reports are still streaming in, but as of 09:44 this morning, this is what we have been able to learn thus far from our correspondents in the field:

Of course, we now face a severe risk of unicorn swarms, so all Citizens of Bernalwood are advised to remain alert. If you see unicorn glitter, please call 311 so the City can send over a Unicorn Control Officer.

Bernal Architect Designs Affordable Housing That’s Beautiful

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San Francisco needs more affordable housing. Much more.

But affordable architecture gets a bad rap. It’s ugly. It’s too institutional. It’s too homogeneous. It’s visual blight.

Often, those generalizations are true… which has the very unfortunate effect of making San Franciscans (even more) resistant to new affordable housing projects. That’s super extra-bad, because San Francisco really needs more affordable housing. Much more.

Architect Owen Kennerly is a resident of Cortlandia, and he was the co-designer of a new affordable housing project in Mission Bay that’s so gorgeous it makes San Francisco Chronicle architecture critic John King swoon.

The building is 1180 Fourth Street, and here’s as taste of what The John King has to say about it:

Architecturally, the six-story wedge of 150 apartments adds an assertive spark in a young district with too many boilerplate buildings. At ground level it’s engaging, a pleasure even before the generous retail spaces are filled. There’s a social payoff as well: The units are reserved for low-income families, adding youth to the neighborhood scene.

None of this is by chance, and it shows how planning priorities can translate to good city building — especially when determination and creativity are added to the mix.

The first step was the decision long ago to reserve the site for affordable housing. It’s a prime location fronting a park where Mission Creek is crossed by Fourth Street, the entryway to the 200-acre-plus southern part of the Mission Bay redevelopment district established in 1998. Setting it aside for lower-income residents was a symbolic reminder that economic integration should be pursued when and where it makes sense. But a well-meaning gesture isn’t the same as a well-done piece of architecture. That’s where smart design comes in.

The architectural effort was led by Daniel Solomon and Owen Kennerly, whose relationship goes back to the 1990s when the latter was a UC Berkeley student and an employee of the former. Kennerly now has one of the most visually inventive small firms in the city.

This is not Neighbor Owen’s first rodeo. He’s created several cool buildings around San Francisco, including a gorgeous house that got the sexy treatment from The New York Times. Neighbor Owen’s design for the affordable housing at 1180 Fourth takes his work in a wonderful new direction, and it shows that his architectural kung-fu is extremely versatile.

Great work, Neighbor Owen, and thank you. Oh, if you have some spare time, could you please pull together some sketches for a mixed-use housing and supermarket retail project to go on the site of our managerially blighted Bernal Safeway? Mmmkay? That’d be great.

PHOTO: San Francisco Chronicle

Bernal Contractor Explains How to Remodel Your Home Without Going Broke or Insane

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Bernal neighbor Brian Streiffer is a former general contractor (and current construction supervisor) who lives on Winfield.

FULL DISCLOSURE: Neighbor Brian and your Bernalwood editor are old friends, and we played a lot of hacky-sack together during the 1980s.

Anyway, fast-forward three decades and several economic cycles, and Neighbor Brian now has many moons of experience building and remodeling homes in San Francisco under his belt. His talent and professionalism has been affirmed for us by his former clients, several of whom also now consider him a friend.

So when Neighbor Brian said he wanted to write something for Bernalwood, we suggested he share some precious wisdom on how to work with a contractor to do a home remodel without going broke, or insane, or both. Herewith are Neighbor Brian’s Pro Tips for would-be Bernal home improvers:

I’ve been remodeling homes since the early 1990’s. One of the things I love most about residential work is the unique insight it offers me into how people relate to their homes and the people who work on them.

Every client is unique in some way. Some people hate the mess and inconvenience. One of my clients was so distraught when demolition began that her partner forbade her from visiting the house until the drywall went back in. Other people think construction is cool, and can anticipate the finished product long before the work takes shape  My favorite client ever — when forced to live in half of her house with her husband and 2 small kids while we worked on the other half — said, “camping on a futon in the living room reminds me of being back in college. So cool!” What a client! She never uttered a sour word to me or my crew and we ultimately became good friends.

I’ve always found it fascinating to see how people react to construction, and how the Contractor/Owner relationship plays out. Working in people’s homes is very personal stuff. Some people cope well, and other people don’t really understand what they are getting into.

Amid all of the current real estate hubbub, I thought it might be interesting to share some remodeling advice for homeowners, from a contractor’s perspective. Here  are a few observations to keep in mind when planning a construction project.

The Golden Rule of Construction
There is a saying in construction that really rings true: “There are three types of construction: Fast, High Quality, and Inexpensive. You can pick any two.”

The point here is that you have to understand the fundamental trade-offs between quality, speed, and price. Remember this, always, and if you know which is most important to you, you can more easily select a contractor who fits best with your needs. I cannot count the number of times clients have asked me if I would consider an incentive to expedite their project. I always defer, explaining that fair payment is motivation enough. If they push the issue, I explain further that it typically doesn’t make financial sense to trade money for speed on a construction project. Construction is simple in many ways, but it is not easily done in less time than normal without risking quality or significant cost increases.Unless money is no object — and I have yet to find a client for whom that was true — it is ALWAYS cheaper to rent an apartment or take a vacation to get away from the mess, rather than to pay the contractor to knock a few weeks off of the schedule.

What to Look for When Looking for a Contractor
In slower economic periods ( such as from 2008 to 2013), homeowners can expect to get multiple bids and cherrypick the best deal from multiple contractors. But in hotter markets like we see today, you have to court your contractor as much as they need to sell you.

If you are at the beginning of the planning process for a larger project, defer to professionals for how and when to seek bids. It is fine to ask contractors for their impressions of a project early in the planning phase – contractors are generally happy to suggest potential budget ranges for you – but don’t ask seven companies to provide proper bids on a set of preliminary plans if the project is six months or more down the road. Preliminary numbers are not generally useful when making hiring decisions, so tread lightly when asking people to provide estimates. The point of early preliminary interviews should be to glean information about what lies ahead, and to begin to develop a rapport with people you might want to work with. But don’t ask too much of contractors too soon. Contractors don’t like putting bids together for no reason.

Indeed, anything you can do to save the contractor time and hassle while preparing your bid will be repaid tenfold when it comes time to work collaboratively during the project. If you don’t have a set of plans you can provide, write up a bullet-point list of everything you think the project entails. If you know what fixtures you want to have installed, don’t ask contractors to go through the trouble of estimating the same thing on their own. Contractors really appreciate simple steps like that, and they can pave the way for a more successful working relationship.

It’s About the Relationship
Just showing you are motivated and organized can be quite appealing to potential bidders. The flip-side, however, is that you don’t want to look compulsive about your project, or you will likely scare good people away.

Ultimately, you have to decide who to hire. I cannot say enough about the importance of getting along with your contractor. Construction is an inherently messy, invasive process that often takes longer than you or your contractor would prefer. So you might as well like the people you are working with! If you get a bad vibe from someone, heading in another direction might be wise. If someone seems a little too busy to you, hiring someone with more availability could be better. Signing a contract to remodel your kitchen or build out your basement might seem like a business or financial decision, but residential construction is ultimately a very personal process. Working with someone you like can make all the difference. Keep this in mind and don’t focus on costs alone when comparing bids.

Expect the Unexpected
“Life is Change” they say, and construction is no different. Residential remodeling projects of almost any size can change for any number of reasons. And they will. Termites, code changes, horrors hidden inside walls, neighbor complaints, even simple human error can send your project off in unforeseen directions. You can’t always know what to expect in the way of surprises, but you can prepare for them financially by including a contingency for additional costs in your personal budget. Especially when you need to stay within a specific overall cost, setting extra money aside is a wise thing to do. How much is right? Read on.

The Truth About “Change Orders”
Much has been said about the dreaded Change Order, those bills for additional work that goes beyond the scope of the original project bid. But Change Orders are a part of construction that you have to be prepared for, and they go hand in hand with remodeling.  In my years as a contractor, I never once had a project of more than $20,000 that didn’t involve a cost increase of one kind or another. Stuff happens. I think most contractors price Change Orders fairly.  Yes, they can be costly. And yes, there are unscrupulous souls among our lot who generate too many of them. (I have no doubt that there is probably is a contractor out there somewhere with a boat named Change Order and a dingy named Contract.)  But as a rule, contractors don’t get rich off changes in the scope of work.

If you can’t avoid extra costs, what can be done to avoid the stress associated with them? First, ask your contractor or architect to estimate a reasonable contingency budget  for your project. A kitchen might require a 5% contingency, but a lateral addition might merit 10% or more.  Whatever the case, budget this amount and consider the money spent.  You’ll sleep better. Much better.

Second, look beyond the construction contract cost and develop an overall project budget. What costs are excluded from the contractor’s scope of work? Will you have landscaping to do when the contractor leaves? Engineering or Special Inspection costs to incur during the project? And don’t forget about owner-supplied fixtures or furniture. Those things can really add up, and you need to be thorough and realistic about your project budget.

A Caution on Contractor References
If you think that checking your contractor’s references is a form of due diligence, think again. References are cherrypicked by the person you are checking up on, so take what you hear from them with a grain of salt. I don’t believe checking reference is particularly helpful, unless you want someone to help nudge you in a particular direction. If your decision comes down to two bidders, it might be more helpful to ask which contractor can start (or finish) sooner, or consider who has more experience with projects similar to yours, or which contractor might be willing to shave a few thousand dollars off the cost in order to win your business. (OMG, did I just say that!?!) Out-of-the-box questions along those lines might be more insightful than what you hear from references.

To Permit or Not to Permit… Is That Your Question?
I generally advise homeowners to get permits for as much work as possible, as it tends to pay off in terms of market value when it comes time to sell your house. Especially if you are plan to do work outside of your four walls, where just about anyone could call you in for doing work without a permit, paying permit fees makes good sense. However, it’s also worth noting that the SF Building Department has changed its policy concerning unpermitted work. Long gone are the days when inspectors were paid to snoop around on Saturdays looking for unpermitted work. If your budget is tight, and you trust your neighbors, and the work is all inside of the house, you have options.

Beware of the Lowball
If you receive bids which are vastly different, be careful before accepting the low bidder. If you know what you are doing and follow some of the advice I have given here, you should end up with an apples-to-apples set of bids where one bid stands out as a clear value. This IS possible! However, it’s also possible to get into trouble by hiring based on numbers alone. Carefully review bids to understand WHY the numbers are different. Talk to your contractor before signing on the dotted line as to his/her expectations for how changes to the price might unfold. No matter what the contract says, what’s not stated can be equally important. So understand where the low bidder is coming from by generating such a tantalizing price. One of the absolute worst things that can happen is for your contractor to get in hot water because of an under-pricing mistake made when bidding the project. What can seem like a great deal when work begins can easily unravel if your contractor gets into financial trouble because of it. (EDITOR’S NOTE. This is exactly what happened to me. See the photo notes below.)

Little Guys vs. Bigger Guys
Another thing to be wary of is very small contracting firms. Whether an unlicensed “Jack of All Trades” or a licensed contractor who performs many trades by him/herself, going with a very small company comes with very real risks you should understand. Yes, there are diamonds in the rough who do great work time and time again, but they are the exception to the rule when it comes to small construction companies. Most people who excel in construction tend to gravitate toward larger operations, where efficiencies of scale come into play and specialization can be leveraged. People who work alone have fewer resources to bring to bear on your project, which can be especially frustrating toward the end of the project, when you just want them to be done and gone. That said, the prices of smaller firms are sometimes unbeatable, so just make sure you understand exactly what is being promised in terms of time and cost before signing up with a smaller independent. Even if they come highly recommended from someone you know, they have to be the right person for YOUR job.

PHOTO: Your Bernalwood editor’s home on July 24, 2004, a few days after our lowball contractor announced that he planned to abandon our remodeling project to instead divorce his wife and begin a new career in marijuana cultivation. Photo by Telstar Logistics.

History Reveals Checkout Lines at Bernal Safeway Have Been Ridiculously Long Since 1972

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Remember how the Citizens of Bernalwood recently took up cyber-pitchforks and -torches to complain about the ridiculously long lines at the Bernal Heights Safeway on Mission Street at 29th?  And remember how we hoped — naively, perhaps — that perhaps maybe someone at Safeway corporate might hear our gnashing of teeth, and take pity upon our sad souls, and remedy the situation?

Well, don’t count on it.

Recently, while browsing through a back issue of the Bernal Journal from 1972, your Bernalwood editor was darkly entertained to find an impassioned article complaining about… the ridiculously long lines at the Bernal Heights Safeway!

I wish I was kidding about this, but I am not. Behold, a time capsule from 43 years ago, written by Bernal Journal reporter “Vera Disgruntla” (click to embiggen):

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The similarities between this Bernal Journal article from 1972 and the comments section of Bernalwood’s recent post about the Bernal Safeway are comical in their utter sameness.  Here’s a depressing excerpt pulled from the 1972 article shown above:

One man has vowed never to shop there — he gets his meat at the Pioneer Market dry good at 30th and Mission Market, and fresh fruits and vegetables at the Farmers Market at the foot of Bernal Hill. Another man goes once a week to the Marina Safeway. A woman told me she and her husband always drive the five minutes further to get to the Diamond Heights Safeway, where, because they never have to wait to check out there, they actually save time! These may be the only real alternatives.

But I am still mad – for me, and everyone around here who continually has this frustrating time waste wait at our store. The faces in the lines seem to say, “it’s always been like this; we’ve ALWAYS had to wait.”

So there you have it. Long lines have been a fixture at our local Safeway since even before 1972, and after 40+ years, it would seem that Safeway management still does not give a flying Fig Newton about the problem. But hey, at least they’re consistent.

In light of these facts, Bernalwood would now like to officially propse the following:

1) Let’s bulldoze this Safeway, since it so obviously suffers from intergenerational corporate indifference.

2) Let’s save that cool Taoist Safeway mosaic, for posterity, or for use in a replacement structure (see below).

3) Let’s build a few hundred units of much-needed housing on this long-neglected site, with the new ground-floor space dedicated to a more modern supermarket (something kind of like that new mixed-use building that was recently erected on Ocean).

4) While we’re at it, let’s get serious about asking BART to build that 30th Street infill station they’re thinking about again. Hurry up, please.

… because really, after banging our Bernalese heads against the walls at this Safeway for five decades, it may just be time to give up and try something else.

And in the meantime, you can read the rest of that 1972 issue of the Bernal Journal (PDF). Here’s another blast from the past from that same issue, featuring a shout-out to all the party people on Mullen and a handy guide to your Precita Park merchants of yesteryear:

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IMAGE: Bernal Heights Safeway, via Google Earth

 

Gigaom Visits Bernal Hill and Lots of People Enjoyed the 36 Questions

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Celebrity blogger (and Olde Bernalwood Friend) Om Malik visited Bernal Hill recently, at an early morning hour which we rarely experience because of its horrific earliness. But with that said, Om’s photo makes a strong case for early-rising, because the light and colors he captured are so beautiful. Bravo, Om, and thanks!

At the same time, Om also created a cool photo essay that steered us toward a special #36Bernal hashtag that was used by visitors to the 36 Questions installation that sat atop Bernal Hill last week. Here’s a sample:

#36bernal #36questionToTrueLove

A photo posted by Robert Spies (@robertwspies) on

These two Bernalese really got into it:

#36Bernal

A photo posted by Harrison The Beagle (@bernalbeagle) on

Folks even seemed to enjoy it in all sorts of weather:

Stumbled on #36bernal with JeremyG

A photo posted by @peretz on

PHOTO: Top, by Om Malik

Parked Unicycle Is Metaphor for Everything Bernal Heights.

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Over the weekend, Todd Berman spotted this unicycle parked on Cortland right outside Wild Side West. In a way, this photo is a perfect metaphor for everything Bernal Heights represents. For example:

It’s a unicycle, which is an idiosyncratic way to roll.

It’s an all-terrain unicycle, because we are an all-terrain people.

It is parked outside a bar, because that’s how we party.

It has pink pedals, because we have just a touch of flair.

It is tethered to a tree, because we take security seriously.

See anything else metaphorically Bernalese in this remarkably revealing photo? Do tell.

PHOTO: Todd Berman