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eG Foodblog: eje - A Week of Porridge


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Good afternoon.

I'm Erik Ellestad.

I apologize for the late start to this blog.

You may know me as the guy who posts a whole lot in "Fine Spirits and Cocktails" and occasionally elsewhere.

I'm also one of the Specialists who digests the San Francisco Chronicle Wine section.

I've recently started acting as a host in the "Fine Spirits..." and "Food Media and News" forums here at eGullet; but, am relatively new to those duties.

My wife and I live in San Francisco, CA in a neighborhood called Bernal Heights. You'll see more of that shortly.

The short version of my bio, is, I grew up in a small town in Wisconsin. Went to school at UW-Madison. While at school, I started working in restaurants.

My first job was at a place called Brat und Brau, where they initially decided to put me on the Cash register. Unfortunately, I did not handle the simultaneous pressure of social interaction and money handling well, (plus I'm fairly certain the manager was using my incompetence to steal from the till,) and they moved me to the early morning setup. Filling salt and pepper shakers, setting up the salad bar, that sort of thing. Doing dishes later in the afternoon after the customers started coming in.

After that job, I made the transition to a catering company, where I first started actually cooking and doing prep work. Nothing like doing prep for really large functions to force you to learn how to use a knife.

Eventually, I graduated from college, and not being particularly keen on pursuing further studies in my major (BA-English), I continued working full time in restaurants.

---

Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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After a few years I discovered I was pretty good at the whole cooking thing, and did well. I guess the best memory I have is being part of the team that opened dinner service at a new Italian restaurant in Madison that was called "Botticelli's". Certainly one of the best working environments and best team I have ever worked with.

But, these things never last, and the chef they hired to open dinner service left, a series of loser cooking school graduates were hired, and I got burned out, and eventually shifted to daytime service. Brunch and lunch, which burned me out further.

Fortunately, at about this time, my wife (then girlfriend) was offered a job in California.

We made the decision to move to California together, and thus started a new chapter in my life.

I worked for about a year doing lunchy-brunchy stuff in Berkeley, CA, before I bonded with a co-worker of my wife's over computer games.

When he got a job as a game tester for a well known company, he kept me in mind, and eventually, I also started testing computer games for a living.

---

Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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Just so this doesn't get too boring, I'll post a picture of our house and a couple angles of our kitchen.

We have what is called a typical "Mediterranean" style San Francisco House.

gallery_27569_3867_5976.jpg

Our kitchen is pretty decently sized, compared to many other houses in the same style.

gallery_27569_3867_156.jpg

gallery_27569_3867_5654.jpg

And we have a nice breakfast nook, which as you can see serves also as a handy periodical storage area.

gallery_27569_3867_8656.jpg

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Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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Welcome, Ellestad, to the foodblogs and hosting both!

More info, if you please.

The initial chef of the restaurant was an incredible Italian American woman who had worked at L'Etoile in Madison. She valued team work, hard work, honesty, and well made food. Everything was from scratch, she put a premium on training and educating her staff, and brought in many other talented workers from previous jobs.

When she left, they hired a guy away from another then-trendy restaurant in Madison. He was a cooking school grad who had recently moved up from Chicago. He brought his best friend in from Chicago to be sous chef. They were both just typical boozing, drugging, asshole cooks. The sort of guys who held a grudge if you were a better cook than them or beat them at ping pong. Which would have been OK; but, they started getting more prepped food in, the menu got worse, most of the other talented cooks and bakers left.

So I switched to the day shift, which was run by another chef.

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Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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...Somehow I managed to work my way from testing computer games to working in the Computer Support department of the game company I was working for.

They sent me off to many classes, and it turned out I could be pretty good at System Administration, as well.

Unfortunately, they did not pay very well, so during the so called "dotcom boom" I went to work for a couple other companies, gaining experience as I went.

After a bad experience with one of the firms going under during the "dotcom bust", on the encouragement of friends, I started looking for jobs at Universities in the Bay Area.

Eventually, I landed a job doing computer support and system administration for research labs at the University of Califonia, San Francisco. I've since changed jobs but still work at UCSF doing System Administration.

UCSF (not to be confused with USF) is a Medical/Professional school. We have no undergrads, just post-graduate students working on PHDs in health related fields, Medical Doctors in training, Dentists, Nurses, and other related fields.

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Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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The San Francisco neighborhoods I live, work, and play in are Bernal Heights, the Outer Mission, Cole Valley, The Inner Sunset, and the Upper Haight.

I'm planning to document as much as I can of my weekly travels through those neighborhoods.

We'll visit some restaurants, bars, parks, and markets.

Tonight is just leftovers, though, which I must go prepare now.

More pictures soon!

Erik

---

Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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Looking forward to a return visit to the Bay, Erik. Computer game tester sounds like my sons' dream job!

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Looking forward to a return visit to the Bay, Erik. Computer game tester sounds like my sons' dream job!

Believe me, it sounds a lot better than it is.

While it did get me out of the day to day hard work of being a line cook, it's actually not a dissimilar environment from most kitchens.

Free food (pizza usually), long hours, mind numbingly repetitive tasks, and a real guy-centric camaraderie. As far as I can tell, the only differences are the temperature, the type of repetitive stress you incur, and the fact that the hard deadlines occur after months (or years) of work, instead of days. Well, plus, you sit all day, instead of stand.

Once you find a problem in a game, you not only have to be able to repeat it consistently; but, you must be able to document how you caused the problem so someone else can recreate it, and then test the same thing again, once the programmers claim they have fixed it.

---

Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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I took two water polo vacations in the Bay area 20 years ago, so I look forward to seeing what it is like to live and eat in The City.

Despite your disclaimer, testing computer games is our sons’ ultimate fantasy job. Can I tell them that you had to study very hard and get very good grades? You understand that I’ll tell them that anyway, right?

Your avatar is beautiful, but I have no idea what it is. Would you enlighten, please?

Your kitchen feels light and open. Is the curved, open cupboard in the second picture your bar? Is your range next to the refrigerator? If so, how does that work when you are cooking?

Thanks!

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If you follow the eGullet Recipe Cook-Offs, you'll know that last Friday I took a stab at a Daube. Or well, a Daube inspired Bean, Pork, and Lamb Stew.

Daube Pt. 1

Daube Pt. 2

One of the tastiest stews I've ever made. We've been looking forward to leftovers for 2 days!

gallery_27569_3867_3489.jpg

Salad is just a simple vinaigrette made with garden tomatoes and Bariani Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegar.

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Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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I took two water polo vacations in the Bay area 20 years ago, so I look forward to seeing what it is like to live and eat in The City.

Despite your disclaimer, testing computer games is our sons’ ultimate fantasy job. Can I tell them that you had to study very hard and get very good grades? You understand that I’ll tell them that anyway, right?

Your avatar is beautiful, but I have no idea what it is. Would you enlighten, please?

Your kitchen feels light and open. Is the curved, open cupboard in the second picture your bar? Is your range next to the refrigerator? If so, how does that work when you are cooking?

Thanks!

Bruce,

Every year there is a Chinese New Year in San Francisco. The biggest dragon in the parade is usually the Chronicle Dragon. That picture is a closeup of the eye of a particularly impressive Dragon from a few years ago. I've adopted it as my avatar because my Chinese Astrological sign is the Dragon.

The range is next to the refrigerator, which I don't really like. Especially since the big burner is always in the lower right kind of close to the fridge. It was there when we moved in, and unfortunately, there is nowhere else to put either. One day we will save enough to remodel!

The range is a bit of a story. The other night we were using it to heat some bread and then turned it off. We were later eating our pasta and realized something smelled really hot. We discovered that the oven no longer turned off, even when turned to off. We began to get very nervous. Fortunately, it is a newer stove, so when unplugged from electricity, it cuts off the gas.

We were mulling new stoves for a while. Cooking on the range top. Lots of braises and Asian food. Then, when they asked me to do this Foodblog, we ran to the nearest Sears and checked on our stove of choice. Unfortunately, it was back ordered, and won't be delivered until the 24th of November.

There will be no baking in this Foodblog!

I don't have a proper bar, I just have my supplies stashed in a kitchen cupboard and in the garage. I usually just set up on one of the ends of our stainless kitchen table. I've been thinking of setting up some sort of bar in the garage or spare room in the basement, for when we have parties. I think we have room, and it would be fun to have.

I worked with all sorts of people who were game testers. It is safe to say the most successful ones, who went on to other careers within the company, like programmers, producers, or artists, were incredibly bright individuals. I can't really generalize; but, I can't think of any who didn't at least have a least a 2 year Community College degree. Most had finished 4 year programs.

Does that help?

---

Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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Erik, I've definitely learned a lot from your posts in the cocktail threads, so I'm really looking forward to this blog. Will we get a peek at your alcohol collection?

I guarantee there will be cocktails!

The, ahem, liquor collection (and various infusion and liqueur projects,) sort of over-ran its original space, is now spread in various cabinets in the garage. I try not to think about how much there is and periodically remind myself I really need to get earthquake locks for those cabinets!

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Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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Erik, do you often venture over The Bridge to Berkeley? Strike a UW/M guy might like it over there...

Back to the stove. At least you have one. Certain I could get a range delivered the next day, we yanked ours, and got rid of it on a Sunday night. So, I went to The Store the next day, and it was a two week wait for what would fit in the space I have (very limited). Feeding a family with no burners or oven, just a toaster oven, in the early spring, was quite the challenge.

But, do tell more about your teaser photo!

Susan Fahning aka "snowangel"
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Erik, do you often venture over The Bridge to Berkeley?  Strike a UW/M guy might like it over there...

Back to the stove.  At least you have one.  Certain I could get a range delivered the next day, we yanked ours, and got rid of it on a Sunday night.  So, I went to The Store the next day, and it was a two week wait for what would fit in the space I have (very limited).  Feeding a family with no burners or oven, just a toaster oven, in the early spring, was quite the challenge.

But, do tell more about your teaser photo!

Teaser photo will become clear tomorrow, (or "Taco Tuesday" as we call it in our house).

:wink:

We have friends who live in Berkeley and Oakland, so we do get over to the East Bay from time to time. I doubt I will this week, though. There is some chance of a visit to the Dominican Sisters of Mission San Jose in Fremont, however.

Ouch on the oven, you have my condolences. Hopefully no lasting resentments were formed.

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Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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Taco Tuesday. It often happens here, and since I'm smoking bacon, I just might foray to the deep freeze and pick out a piece of butt so we can join in.

No ouch on the oven or stove. What we discovered when we removed the electric piece of crap was that there was a gas line, capped off, right under the stove, so we were able to go gas (and installed it ourselves :-) ).

Let's talk bread. Do you do Acme?

Susan Fahning aka "snowangel"
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I lived, ate and drank in SF for six years and often miss it so. Was back this Summer and did Swann Oyster Depot, Delfina, Puerto Allegre, La Taqueria, Shalimar, Tartine and Tu Lan, all the favorites... Perhaps you'll outline the special places for you?

I also fondly remember drinks at Zodiac and Orbit, but I fear things have changed...

Edited by raxelita (log)

Drink maker, heart taker!

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I lived, ate and drank in SF  for six years and often miss it so. Was back this Summer and did Swann Oyster Depot, Delfina, Puerto Allegre, La Taqueria, Shalimar, Tartine and Tu Lan, all the favorites... Perhaps you'll outline the special places for you? 

I also fondly remember drinks at Zodiac and Orbit, but I fear things have changed...

I didn't know you lived here, raxelita. Did you tend bar?

Zodiac Room closed. The new restaurant or club there was/is named to Amber. Not sure if it is still open. I went by the other night and it looked closed.

If you read Imbibe magazine, the new issue (Nov-Dec) has a multi-page feature on Alberta Straub and the Orbit Room.

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Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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[...]

Let's talk bread.  Do you do Acme?

Our local market (look for a pictorial soon) stocks ACME; but, I usually get sourdough from the nice folks at Arizmendi Bakery. It's very close to my workplace, so I just walk there at lunch. They will also get their day in the sun!

I also really like the Noe Valley Bakery.

---

Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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Hi Erik,

It's great to see you blogging!

Also, congratulations on becoming a forum host.

Looking forward to seeing your choices for the week. I know that this will give eGullet a fresh look at what San Francisco and the neighborhoods have to offer.

Pamela Fanstill aka "PamelaF"
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WOW Tag you're it...

Funny how the blog connects.

I followed close behind Judith From Umbria.. who I have met and then did mine...and now back to SF.. I lived and worked there for 7 years ( Stanford Court Hotel) before moving to Florence in 1984.

Love the nieghborhoods, lived in Cole Valley, then the Avenues, Nob Hill, Russian Hill and finally my favorite.. Potrero Hill!

My mom is going down to the nuns to get her oil.. you too?

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Hi Erik,

It's great to see you blogging!

Also, congratulations on becoming a forum host.

Looking forward to seeing your choices for the week. I know that this will give eGullet a fresh look at what San Francisco and the neighborhoods have to offer.

Thanks Pam!

---

Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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