Oh Northern California, I’ve been unfaithful, but you take me back every time. You meet me at the airport with Laurent Garnier on the stereo, and you give me fresh white towels and a bedful of down pillows. You roll out the brown hills of your early fall, and I speed along them, through streets and names I’d almost forgotten, to smelly cheese and good bread and bad classic rock on the staticky radio. You know me so well.

My very petite cousin Katie and her new man Andrew picked me up at the airport late Wednesday night and whisked me across the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge to Corte Madera. There we found Tina, my mother’s identical twin sister and Katie’s mom, and stayed up too late talking and giggling and carrying on. Teens’ house is my second home, with its barely slanting floor and red front door and too-short showerhead and ceramic duck head with fake eyelashes peering down over the kitchen. “My” bedroom was ready and waiting, fluffy with four(!) down pillows, and I sank into it and slept as I always do there, as though dead, deliciously. Waking in that bed is like climbing out of a hole, a warm cottony womb.

On Thursday morning the sun shone in freckles through the magnolia tree, and Katie, Andrew, and I sped into San Francisco a little after eight. Dropping Katie and Andrew at their respective places of work, I dredged up my faded mental map of the City and made my way to the Boulange de Cole Valley. I settled in with a foamy-capped latte and the now-ancient New Yorker food issue, happily distracted by dogs and babies and almond croissants and the general joy of people who (for whatever reason) don’t have to work on a Thursday morning. Around 10:30 a platter of cannelés de Bordeaux, one of my favorite French sweets, appeared on the counter. I was powerless in its midst. And happily, the cannelés didn’t disappoint: encased in a caramelized-sugary crust, their centers were moist and milky sweet, almost custardy.

It was warm and sunny, and after a bit I headed to the rose garden in Golden Gate Park, where I spied on an old man sunning in a fedora and rolled-up dress pants. I recovered Katie from work around one, and, on a bench outside the Castro’s Harvest Ranch Market, we lunched on tomato-corn salad with balsamic, a wedge of marinated tofu, some delicious curried potatoes inexplicably labeled “Karma d’Amour,” and a perfectly ripe banana. We attempted some thrift-shopping on Haight but soon abandoned our lackluster mission, instead settling for a few CDs at Amoeba. And then we zipped over to the AIDS Memorial Grove, the site for Katie’s thesis in architecture, where we took photos for a conceptual model she’s constructing and bungled our now-ritual self-portrait:

Our day came to a close with Teens and Andrew at Potrero Hill’s Universal Café, long one of my favorite neighborhood spots. Teens and I each started with warm porcini mushroom salads with arugula, leeks, chopped egg, and mustard vinaigrette, and then we split fresh tagliatelle with chicken-liver bolognaise, Bloomsdale spinach, and Pecorino. Katie had heirloom romaine lettuces with avocado, beets, and citrus vinaigrette, followed by charcoal-grilled sea scallops with Serrano ham and romesco sauce. Andrew began with grilled flatbread with roasted Knoll Farm figs, radicchio, and Tallegio (insanely delicious, stinky with ripe cheese and musky-sweet with ripe figs; what a lovely boy for sharing) and rounded things out with a risotto with delicata squash, thyme, white truffle oil, and Parmigiano-Reggiano. The whole was washed down with Navarro Pinot Noir, carefully selected by Teens. For dessert, we ordered a peach and huckleberry cobbler with vanilla gelato and four spoons. Much moaning and whimpering and sighing ensued.

Tired and chilly from the fall evening air, we wound our home across the fog-swaddled Golden Gate Bridge to bed.

[To be continued…]