It was a Mid-October evening in San Francisco, the best time of the year in my beloved foggy city. My girlfriend Kiki and I were trudging the mile plus walk out of Golden Gate park where we’d been blissfully nibbling on picnic food and guzzling champagne amidst soft sounds and good people at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, the legendary annual bluegrass festival in SF. Kiki wanted to grab a drink on the town. I agreed, but mentioned that first I had to stop by Whole Foods to buy some chestnut flour for some pancakes I was making for a brunch potluck the next morning. During our walk out of the park, a man in a pilot’s cap attached himself to Kiki, offering to carry her picnic basket and chatting her up all the while. His incessant chattering was like nails on a chalkboard to me and I questioned whether Kiki was just a better person than I, or if it was simply that he was as annoying as he seemed. Finally, Kiki gracefully detached herself from him. picnic basket in hand, and we made our way to Whole Foods.
We arrived to find the tables outside full of young people having just left the festival. I spied an empty spot and led Kiki over. We dropped our myriad bags and belongings on the bench and sat down. Across from us sat three handsome smiling young men. One was nearyl face down in an apple pie he was gobbling down, while the other two were waiting patiently for him to finish so they could hit the town. Tired, and also curious, I got comfortable in my seat as they started chatting with us. They were traveling, they told us in their Aussie accents. Funny, charming, and good-natured, our conversation rolled on through the night. Jake had finished his pie and joined the conversation, and I found completely adorable. He was dressed like a tennis player in white shorts and a sweater, with a bandana wrapped around his wavy brown hair almost like a sweat band. The outfit would have been silly on anyone else, but with his earnest demeanor, charming dimpled-smile and witty sense of humor, he wore it well.
The conversation turned to dating, and the different ways that men and women react to being pursued. Jake and I did much of the talking, and I couldn’t stop laughing at almost every comment that left his lips. At one point, he spoke about his tendency to fall for women who laughed at his jokes, as he looked at me across the table. I spoke about how it often took awhile for me to feel ready to sleep with someone, sometimes a few months. “Months?” Jake asked, amazed. “Yeah, sometimes!” I shrugged.
Relevant question to the dating conversation, “how old are you?” I asked. “25” I heard Jake say, 22, said his companions. Leave it to me to find the 25 and under table, not a surprise, given my recent inability to cross paths with any men over the age of 26. “You?” Jake asked. “29,” I said. “32”, said Kiki.
I finally had to tear myself away to go buy my chestnut flour (the whole purpose of our visit) and some food for our dinner. When I returned, we continued talking. The boys told us how they’d nicknamed friends they’d met in the states and themselves (Phantom, Highrise, and Baywatch were their names), and decided to christen us with nicknames as well. After some discussion, Kiki was crowned with the name Champagne, and Jake gave me the name Chestnut. He made sure to tell me that it was the cutest name he had yet given out, and to tell me that this gift was great, because, after tonight, the name Chestnut was forever taken. “No girlfriend or friend will ever be able to use that nickname for me.”
They asked us to continue to hang out, but we declined for reasons of an early morning, so they walked us home. Jake asked for my phone number to get together the next day, and his friend Brad asked for Kiki’s. I made my Chestnut pancakes the next morning, but the recipe fell short of expectations (unlike my night). I still had chestnut flour left over, so I made an Italian Chestnut cake (Castagnaccio) with the rest of the Chestnut flour. It’s earthy and strong Chestnut flavor with the nutty crunch of pine nuts and walnuts, the springy taste of rosemary, and the sweetness of raisins, reminds me of the nourishing earthy sweetness of that magical San Francisco Whole Foods meet cute.
Castagnaccio Recipe (Adapted from Crazy About Tuscany)
Castagnaccio (Italian Chestnut Cake)
1 c water
2 c chestnut flour
1/2 c raisins
1/3 c pinenuts
1/3 c walnut (coarsely groud)
3 tbs of olive oil
2 pinches of salt
Sift chestnut flour into a bowl. Mix the water and olive oil and add a pinch of salt.
Add the water and olive oil mix to the flour slowly, while mixing until batter is soft and not too liquidy (you may use a little less or more than 1 cup, just pay attention to the consistency.)
Add pinenuts, walnuts and raisins and mix well. Oil a pan large enough so the castagnaccio will be about 3/4-1 inch thick.
Pour the batter in the pan and sprinkle rosemary on top. Bake at 400 Fahrenheit for 40 minutes.