When I was twelve, my parents called a family meeting – the first we had ever had. I was so excited at the prospect of doing something that came so normally to sitcom families that I didn’t even pause to wonder what exactly we would be talking about. I only remember the strange thrill I got when I learned we would be moving cross-country – from New York to California: my first brush with wanderlust.
At the end of August, a storm quite literally blew us off Long Island, sending the taxi bringing us to the airport careening into the center ditch of the Long Island Expressway. Arriving in San Francisco, then, even with its characteristically cloudy late summer afternoons, was a breath of fresh air.
Soon, though, I grew to miss the sudden changes in temperature and precipitation of home. “If you don’t like the weather, wait a minute,” was the mantra back East – here, it was nonsensical. I understand sometimes, in the middle of a true East Coast winter, the draw to the West, but December in a light sweater never seemed natural to me when I was living it.
Nevertheless, I loved San Francisco. If, at twelve, I’d had the decision-making power to make it my permanent home, I would have. I loved the look of the hills, the rush I got from riding my scooter down one and wondering if I’d be able to stop, the view from our house in Pacific Heights over the bay. I loved how quaint the cable cars were, though I didn’t really understand the meaning of the word quaint quite yet. I looked at Ghirardelli Square, the Disney-esque appearance of the little village, and the giant sundaes that could be purchased there. I licked gobs of butterscotch off a long, slender spoon, and marinated in my new reality.
We only lived in San Francisco nine months, but it felt like home when I had to say goodbye. I didn’t return until five years later, when I considered coming back for college, and it was only then that I realized how many secrets San Francisco was still keeping from me. I steered clear of Ghirardelli – I had lost my taste for the sickly sweet – and instead made my way to Fisherman’s Wharf, where fishermen were unloading their boats onto the docks, and where one could purchase a bowl of hot soup that perfectly matched the cloudy disposition of the city, complete with crusty sourdough bread for dipping.
I never moved to San Francisco; I ended up even further north, in Canada, and then even further away, in Europe. But there’s a part of me that still loves the city, like I love all the places I’ve lived. I remember watching the fishermen joking and laughing with one another as I perched on Fisherman’s Wharf at seventeen. I felt decidedly like an outsider, but for once, I didn’t mind: San Francisco was for them what I had once wanted it to be for me: home, pure and simple.
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 large onions, sliced
- ½ fennel bulb, sliced
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- Kosher salt
- 1 glass white wine
- 1 can tomato paste
- 1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
- 1 quart fish stock
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 dozen little neck clams
- 1 dozen mussels
- 1 dozen large shrimp, deveined
- 1 dozen bay scallops
- ½ pound halibut, cut into 1-2 inch cubes
- ½ bunch flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
- freshly squeezed lemon juice
- sourdough bread
- Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions and fennel with a hefty pinch of salt. Sauté, stirring occasionally, until translucent and slightly browned, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and stir until fragrant, about a minute. Deglaze the pan with white wine.
- Reduce the heat to low, and add the tomato paste, tomatoes, fish stock and bay leaf. Simmer for about half an hour. Taste for seasoning. You can prepare up to this step and refrigerate for up to three days.
- When ready to serve, bring the soup base to a simmer and add the clams. After two minutes, add the mussels, shrimp and scallops. Cook until the shrimp are pink and the shellfish are opened, about 3-5 minutes.
- Serve with parsley, lemon juice and sourdough bread.