It was the most expensive funnel cake I ever had.
But man, it was good!
We'd had all kinds of reasons why we shouldn’t go to the Mid-State Fair that day. We already had a bunch of errands at the other end of the county, previously deferred stops that would more than fill up the day. Most urgent was bailing out the van from its $2,400 outpatient visit to the repair-and-maintenance shop.
There were other have places we should have gone and other things that should have beem done that day. Face it, we were overbooked.
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But there was that yen for a funnel cake to deal with.
We love the fair, of course, but had no undeniable reason to go that day. The shows sounded interesting, but they weren’t compelling enough for us to plunk down big bucks or sit in the sun and heat with a gazillion other hot, sweaty folks. We didn’t know anybody showing an animal that day, so wouldn’t have that someone special for whom to cheer.
In the end, the traditions of my footloose family won. We wound up driving an extra 60 miles (two vehicles, remember) at nearly $4 a gallon, paying $10 for parking, $12 to get into the fair and $5 for the funnel cake that was the reason why we went.
It was worth every cholesterol-and-fat-laden, expensive bite. It was super crisp outside and softly sweet inside. The cinnamon sugar had mostly melted into a gooey sauce when it hit the piping-hot pastry, but a few crystals were left to crunch between our teeth.
Nothing ever tastes as good as forbidden-food nirvana, something you know you’re not supposed to have and had to put a lot of effort into getting.
We took advantage of the visit, of course. We wandered around the fair, doing the requisite fair stuff for non-ag, soft-drinking senior citizens who wouldn’t climb on the Tilt-a-Wheel on a bet.
We disagreed with some photography prizes, chuckled at the barkers and the gadgets they were selling, cooed at the animals and little kids, people-watched like crazy and had our funnel cake.
It was so worth it.
Going to extremes to indulge in a specific food is part of my family heritage, after all, as are funnel cakes. For the latter, I was raised in New York, and my mother loved to run away to other areas whenever possible. Our closest escape hatch, and therefore the one we used most often, was to the Pennsylvania Dutch Country, home of funnel cakes.
For other special meals, we often took the train to New York City, or went to Coney Island or Atlantic Beach, or headed north into the Adirondacks during apple season. Our trips to see summer-theater shows in Connecticut were always timed so we could dine on some legendary fried chicken. And we’d been known to drive the 30-or-so miles just to get a real frozen custard, which is the epitome of high-fat, soft-serve ice cream.
For the family extreme, my stepfather once drove from Los Angeles to New Orleans for a soft-shell crab dinner. Then he turned around and drove home.
That’s more than I’d do, but then, too, soft-shell crabs aren’t my favorites.
The Tanners often drive into San Luis Obispo for sushi at Goshi's or barbecue at Mo's. But that’s almost in the neighborhood, these days.
Now, for a seafood quesadilla or dim sum...
In true family tradition, we’ve been known to reroute a trip through Moss Landing to stop at Phil’s for the former, or schedule a visit to San Francisco to visit our favorite dim sum restaurant, Yank Sing, on Spear just off Mission.
For those unfamiliar with the original “small plates” concept, dim sum are Chinese dumplings, usually sold individually and piping hot from stacks of bamboo steamers that servers wheel around the room on carts. The dumplings are filled with innumerable goodies: Ground chicken or seafood seasoned with soy or ginger. Chunks of pork or whole shrimp or scallops. Finely shredded bok choy or spinach. Shitake mushrooms. Spicy Chinese sausage.
The filling must be properly seasoned and cooked, and stuffed lightly into the shell. Otherwise, it’s like chewing on a hot, spicy eraser.
In the dim sum world, the dough is king. It has to be absolutely perfect, whether the dumpling is surrounded by a lightly sweetened bread (as in the classical barbecued-pork dumplings), or a pasta-like substance that resembles but is far better than won-ton skin, or a sheet of rice pasta.
Dough thickness is key, with most of them supposed to be thin enough so, once cooked, you can see though them ... for instance, so you can easily identify the plump pink shrimp topped with a single cilantro leaf.
In less than able hands, dim sum can be truly dreadful. If the dough’s too thick, under- or overcooked, too slimy or greasy, the meal is ruined. And we’ve had that happen at many highly touted restaurants.
But Yank Sing is worthy of the drive.
Yum! But our current schedule is such that we can't just jump in the car and head for San Francisco right now. Drat.
Hmmm . I wonder if we can brave the fair crowd again this weekend. Another funnel cake just might take away that new yen for some dim sum.
This column ran first in The Cambrian on Aug. 3, 2006.