The Presidio Brat

Friday, December 13, 2013

A Historic Christmas Dinner - Presidio Style

arguello and rezanov
Concepcion and Rezanov as depicted on the Presidio chapel (Interfaith Center)
Few know the tragic story of Baron Nikolai Rezanov, a Russian statesman who came to the Spanish Presidio in 1806. Hoping to set up a trade treaty with New Spain, he was welcomed to the Presidio by Don Luis Arguello, not the commandante after whom our lovely street is named, but his son.
Don Luis hosted Rezanov at the Arguello home - in what is now the defunct Officer's Club - which may explain why Rezanov fell madly in love with Arguello's daughter, Concepcion.
Николай Петрович Резанов
Tell me that's a hat
Born on the Presidio, military brat extraordinaire, Concepcion was 15 when she met Rezanov. Thank god her father was out of town - she and Rezanov spent all their time exploring the Presidio and planning a future together. Unfortunately, this was 1806, which meant that they couldn't get married -- he was Russian Orthodox, she was Catholic. In order to make such a cross-bred affair legit, Rezanov had to go back to Russia to ask the tsar's permission. While traveling home to do this, he fell off his horse and died. In Siberia. In winter. Concepcion didn't find out for another two years, at which point she swore off men forever and joined a nunnery. Which may explain how she went from this:
To this:
old concepcion
Another explanation could be her family's amazing cooking. In the heyday of their love, Concepcion and Rezanov would have shared the bounty of a lush California. The Arguello household could serve up the most festive boda in town, and an early California banquet of that caliber would have had to include an Aves Relleñas - a stuffed fowl drenched with red chile sauce.
I first discovered this recipe in the Presidio of San Francisco Cookbook, published in 1976 by the Presidio Officer's Wives Club. Their version of the recipe was taken from Early California Hospitality (1938) by Ana Packman. So if you feel like indulging in a bit of historic Presidio cookery, here is an updated recipe.
Aves Relleñas -- Adobadas y Asadas
(Stuffed Fowl Roasted and Drenched with Red Chile Sauce)
1 large brined turkey or goose or suckling pig
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
For the relleño (stuffing):
2 lbs. shoulder beef (neck) and giblets
1 quart boiling water
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
2 Tbsp. fat
4 green onions
1 ripe onion
1 Tbsp. vinegar
1 tsp. sugar
2 Tbsp. toasted breadcrumbs
2 eggs
1/2 cup pitted ripe black olives
1/4 cup raisins
Wash turkey. Rub salt and pepper inside and out. Cook beef and giblets in one quart boiling water. When giblet meat is tender, cool and chop into small pieces. Set broth aside.
Heat fat in skillet and fry minced onions until wilted. Add the chopped meat, vinegar,  black olives and raisins. Season with salt, pepper and sugar. Add in toasted breadcrumbs. Pour in one cup of the meat broth, a little at a time - this should be crumbly and not watery. Remove from heat and let cool. Stir in the eggs. Add salt to taste. Stuff dressing into fowl and bake the bird at 325 degrees.
For adobo (basting sauce):
6 dry red chiles
2 cloves garlic
1/4 tsp. crushed oregano
1 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. vinegar
1 cup boiling water
2 Tbsp. toasted breadcrumbs
Wipe chiles clean and remove seed veins and seeds. Cut into pieces and steam them over one cup boiling water for about half an hour. Rub chiles through sieve - or spin briefly in a food processor - adding in vinegar, salt, pepper, mashed garlic and oregano. Add the remainder of the meat stock. The result should be a rich, red puree.
When the skin of the bird is browned, begin basting with the the chile puree every 15 minutes until the bird is done.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Presidio Old and New

Before we moved here in the early 80s, my father wanted to see what kind of post we were being assigned to, so he drove up from Fort Irwin to do some recon. On that trip, he took a bunch of photos.  I thought it might be interesting to compare the Presidio from 1981 to the Presidio today:

Crissy Field 

Wow, right? The old army office buildings and the parking lot are gone, in favor of a grassy field. It's also a lot sunnier (on average, I think). Today, the beach looks and feels like a real beach. Interestingly, the trees are sparser in the modern shot....

The Coast Guard Station:

Again, the parking lot and office buildings are gone, but those palm trees are still there!

The Officer's Club:

Like a soldier, this building shaved its mustaches and beard for the modern look. Most of the trees are no longer growing in front. One tree still remains, but the area beneath it is sort of a no-man's-land of dirt and excavation. The old photo shows a greener scene, with grass on the side of the building. (Today, it's a sidewalk.) They've also taken down the street light and added a crosswalk.

It's also interesting what the Officer's Club looked like in the early 20th Century:

Washington Blvd:

Unlike a lot of the other photos, this one shows MORE trees in the modern shot - so much that you can hardly see the buildings anymore. And those shrubs by the roadside weren't there either. The buildings are no longer white, which makes them blend even more.

The Golf Course from Washington Blvd:

We couldn't quite get the same angle on this one.... However, it's remarkable how much greener and denser it was back in the 80s. The trees and shrubs have thinned out - some of them are just gone - and the fence is no longer overgrown with ivy.

General's Home on Funston

So many of the trees surrounding this house have been taken down (replaced by a parking restriction sign - how appropriate). The once-grassy yard is now some kind of ground cover. While I like that the home shows itself better now, I think the trees gave it homey-er feel.

Infantry Terrace

The first thing I notice here is how the modern windows are offset in a darker color, which makes them stand out more. And again, grass is gone in favor of a ground-cover of some kind. The trees and shrubs around the house have been scaled back or taken down. And I don't see a fire hydrant on the street anymore. :-)

And finally, Letterman

Just look at the old Letterman! (shiver of horror) Thank God for Lucasfilm. This landscape has changed so much that I had trouble figuring out where the old photo was taken. I'm still not sure. So in taking the new one, we just went looking for a palm tree.... I think these two speak for themselves.