Chicken Satay: BBQ, Singapore Style

Among the things I miss the most about my native Singapore is one simple activity: Sitting by the beach on a steamy summer evening and looking out at the water as I reach for stick after greasy stick of freshly grilled satay.

The satay expeditions of my girlhood were frequent — few things beat the smoky smells of chicken, beef and mutton marinated in a potent cocktail of lemongrass, garlic, galangal, and turmeric getting barbecued in open-air food stalls, after all.

And my family, being hyper competitive as it is, always made a sport of it. Dad would order satay by the dozens and the race would begin to see whose pile of sticks, stripped of meat, would be the largest at the end. (You would think my father, being the oldest and the only male, would always win. Well, not in this cutthroat family, he didn’t.)

So when my Let’s Lunch crew decided on BBQ for our monthly virtual lunch date, satay seemed a must. I’ve only made it a few times in New York — never in Singapore, where it’s so easy to find and cheap (30 to 50 cents Singapore per stick, or 23 to 40 cents U.S.) that it makes little sense to go to the trouble of making it.

But I had just made it recently — at a little dinner one night at the Djerassi Resident Artists Program

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Djerassi Resident Artists Program: A Man Named Dan

It’s not often that I am so taken with a person that I find myself immediately professing my adoration at every turn.

Recently, however, I met one such someone — a man named Dan, a chef who fed me well for a month in the mountains of California and who wowed me each day with the meals he set on the table.

For those who don’t follow me on Twitter, I just spent a month in Northern California at the Djerassi Resident Artists Program, an artists colony that offers the gift of time and space to create. The program invites artists from various disciplines (musical composition, fiction, poetry, choreography, visual arts) to spend a month on the property — close to 600 acres of some of the most beautiful hills and forests I’ve seen — with nothing to do except wake up every morning, have a cup of coffee and start working.

Such colonies have been a lifesaver for me — I wrote the bulk of “A Tiger in the Kitchen” over seven weeks at Yaddo in 2010. (My book never would have made it out on time had it not been for my time there.) As many artists will testify, you can often accomplish in weeks at a colony what would likely take you months or more at home.

And this certainly was true for me at Djerassi …

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Pier 23 Cafe (San Francisco): Bacon, Oysters and A Beer

If you, like me, head to the Ferry Building each time you come to San Francisco, you’ll know the problem that lies ahead.

After all the honey sniffing, cheese poking and book browsing¬†you’ve done, a question inevitably arises: Where to get a lovely drink and nibble with a sweeping view of the water and Bay Bridge?

If it’s anytime after 4:30 p.m. or so and you’d like a comfy spot in the Ferry Building — good luck. Some of the places there have such terrific happy hours that you’ll be battling swarms of commuters and tourists all looking to belly up.

On a recent visit, however, my friend Matt had a better plan. Outside, on the Embarcadero, he started going north, pushing head-on into thick gales determined to blow us back. After a few minutes, our struggles were over when we came upon a little shack of a building.

From the palm trees plastered on its side and the kitschy neon sign that said “Pier 23,” I knew this would be the perfect spot …

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Mama's (San Francisco): Eggs Worth The Odyssey

I have been called “the world’s most easily bored person.” By someone who knows me well, too. (And yes, despite such insensitive name-calling, we remain married.)

And so there are very few meals for which I would happily line up more than an hour — if I’m going to subject myself to all that boredom, the food had better be nothing short of earth-shattering.

In San Francisco, the one place that commands a wait of at least 90 minutes on most days and still has my devotion is a little corner restaurant on Washington Square Park called Mama’s …

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Alpine Inn (Portola Valley): A Place Called Zott's

On a recent lazy spring afternoon, the sous chef and I went on a meandering drive along the winding mountain roads of Northern California.

After quite a few miles of sun-dappled trees and fetching vistas, as lovely as everything was, we realized something else had begun to occupy us. “Are you hungry?” he said, not really needing to know the answer. “I have a little something in mind …”

As he pulled into the small town of Portola Valley, the sous chef began to slow down. Amid the greenery, an empty parking lot emerged, anchored by a small wooden building that would not have looked out of place in an old Western movie.

“We’re here,” he said, stopping the car. “Zott’s!”

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