One of the pleasures of renting an apartment in San Francisco is that, should friends or family be in the vicinity, they can call in – just like at home. However, on the first occasion that we “entertained” another couple from the UK, things did not quite go as smoothly as planned.
We were renting an apartment in the increasingly hip neighbourhood of Hayes Valley. Our friends had been based at a hotel on the Wharf for four nights before moving on to Las Vegas for the remainder of their two week vacation. We had hired a car for the week to enable us to chauffeur them around many of the unashamedly tourist sights they had not been able to enjoy on their only previous visit, on shore leave from a cruise ship.
We had already crammed in brunch at the Cliff House, driving over the Golden Gate Bridge to the Marin Headlands and Sausalito, taking Highway 1 to Monterey and Carmel, Golden Gate Park and a typically uproarious performance of Beach Blanket Babylon. We had also eaten at the Crab House at Pier 39 and the Stinking Rose - I did say it was touristy didn’t I?
On Sunday, their final full day, we had arranged that they would come to the apartment in the evening for a traditional English roast dinner.
We had prepared this meal dozens of times at home without any mishaps. However, there was a new dimension which had potential to derail the event.
We were cooking it in an American oven.
Many readers will now be thinking – “so what was the problem”?
The problem was that we didn’t have a great track record when navigating our way around an American oven. Despite half a dozen holidays spent at my cousin’s house near Orlando, we had never quite been able to master it. I would not recommend a pizza “cooked” in the microwave – that’s about the level of expertise we had acquired over the years.
It all boils down – no pun intended – to the difference between broiling and baking food, the timing mechanism and our inability to read the cooking instructions on the packaging properly. It seems (fairly) simple now (broiling cooks from the top and baking from the bottom), but we got ourselves into terrible difficulties in the past with this. It would have been sensible, of course, to have researched it beforehand or just asked somebody.
But we didn’t.
The upshot was that this particular chicken resisted our attempts to cook it at the required speed and consistency. The prospects for crisp roast potatoes later on were looking equally bleak.
Meanwhile, back at the Sheraton Hotel in Fisherman’s Wharf, our friends were anticipating a culinary treat a few miles to the south west. Little did they know that they were likely to be feasting on a plate of boiled carrots, broccoli and potatoes – or a pizza (delivered, not microwaved).
But we set aside our embarrassment and sought help from our landlord, who had the good sense to live in the apartment above with his partner and two adorable labradoodles, Taylor and Cooper (named after two all-American movie stars). Taking the back steps, with a passing nod (and perhaps prayer) to the Buddha sat among the bushes, I found the whole family in the kitchen preparing their own dinner.
Not at all. They were only too happy to explain the workings of the oven to us.
And the dogs saw it as a great opportunity to hoover up any scraps from previous meals.
There followed ten minutes of frantic switch turning, knob pressing, opening and shutting of doors and perusal of instructions, accompanied by a series of exasperated but elegant expletives, before they concluded that:
a) they had no more idea of how the oven worked than we did; but
b) it was, in fact, broken.
Huge relief on our part in one sense, but………
Our friends’ taxi would be calling at the hotel reception shortly and the odds on them eating this meal before being served lunch on the plane were shortening by the minute.
Our landlord promised to call their handyman immediately, and it was duly fixed whilst we were out the next day, but tonight’s plans were looking shattered.
In a gesture of generosity beyond his landlord responsibilities, especially with his own evening meal in an advanced state of preparedness, he offered to cook the chicken and potatoes for us in his own oven. He was anxious too to prepare it exactly as we would have done it. This included parboiling the potatoes which we managed triumphantly on the hob of our own cooker – before handing them over for roasting along with the chicken.
There would be an inevitable delay in dishing up, but the Beringer White Zinfandel softened the blow whilst we waited.
Eventually, about an hour later than originally planned, the back door swung open to reveal our heroes, wearing aprons that left little to the imagination, striding across the floor as if waiting on a banquet with, respectively, a gloriously cooked chicken on a silver platter, surrounded by a generous mound of crisp, steaming roast potatoes.
They had been cooked to perfection, which is more than could be said for the carrots and broccoli that we had vainly striven not to overcook whilst awaiting the main event.
Sensibly, Taylor and Cooper had been confined to quarters for this ceremony.
The evening passed off well, nobody was poisoned, and despite the inconvenience to which we had put our landlord, we still got our deposit back!