Not Martha

anniversary cake

chocolate cake with white icing

The other weekend I wanted to make cake. So I did. Two, in fact, but neither was good enough for me to offer a recipe for. I’ll just have to keep working on that.

chocolate cake with white icing

And on Saturday Scott reminded me that it was the 10 year anniversary of us packing our stuff into a truck and driving from Cleveland to San Francisco. We didn’t have an apartment ready to move into, it was the year 2000, dot coms ruled the world and everything was crazy and exciting. So we put ten candles on the cake to mark the anniversary.

chocolate cake with white icing

A few months after we arrived the dot com bust happened and suddenly nobody had jobs.

chocolate cake with white icing

I never liked living in San Francisco.

chocolate cake with white icing

Nobody ever seemed happy. Muni left us stranded far too many times. The city had a way of feeling too crowded and creepily deserted on the same day. A trip to the grocery store shouldn’t have been as challenging as it was.

chocolate cake with white icing

Ages ago Megnut put a story on her old site about finding a parking spot for her car that she didn’t need to move out of for a while. She went back to check on her car every few days but didn’t drive it. One day she found a nasty note left on her windshield accusing her of parking too close to another car, a car that the person leaving the note had actually parked near her car. I nodded my head when I read it. San Francisco was like that.

chocolate cake with white icing

Of course there were circumstances that made our time there gloomy. The dot com party was over. September 11th happened while we were there. The Ferry Building was under construction and all I ever knew it as was of a boarded up, deserted seeming place on the water. (It was two blocks from the office I used to work in and when I think of all the glorious lunches I didn’t have there I cry a little inside.) We were subletting our apartment and needed to keep off the radar of the building managers, which made doing laundry a covert operation*. The retail area of the city I walked through each day on my way home was rapidly closing up and I watched it decline bit by bit. Once we tried to take a visiting friend to lunch and couldn’t find a place that didn’t have a two hour wait, we drove around the city hungry and embarrassed. Nothing seemed good or easy, nothing ever clicked, I never experienced any moments where things simply went right.

chocolate cake with white icing

I feel like San Francisco didn’t want me to stay, and I’m glad we didn’t try. I love Seattle.

All this said, San Francisco is an awful lot of fun to visit these days. The Ferry Building is filled with yum, that block of deserted building I used to walk past every day on my way home from work is now a very nice mall with a Bloomingdale’s and a Beard Papa’s. Miette has two charming shops that I wish I could visit daily. There is more and more good coffee, fabric and yarn. It’s like the city was sleeping while we were there but has since woken up and found itself having a really good hair day.

* (I did run into one of the building managers once and couldn’t escape a little chat. I ended up having to tell her I was the apartment renter’s girlfriend, something he had requested I do. It was awkward because the building manager knew that he had recently gotten married. I’m nearly ready to recategorize this as one of those memories that is funny.)

· comments [49] · 06-11-2010 · categories:mumbling ·

49 responses so far ↓

  • 1 kellee // Jun 11, 2010 at 3:14 am

    Wow Megan, I found this is such a moving and poignant post, and made especially lovely by fact it was illustrated with sumptuous photos of the beautiful cake you made. A really touchig, bittersweet essay.

    I’ve been an avid reader of your blog for around 4 years now, and this is now possibly my favourite (of many) posts you’ve made.

    (Sorry for the blatant sycophantism, but when a blog is this good, you really have to say so :))

  • 2 Elle Sees // Jun 11, 2010 at 5:29 am

    I visited it, but don’t feel the need to journey there again.

  • 3 dan // Jun 11, 2010 at 6:38 am

    This was a great read. And as a veteran of some sketchy sublet circumstances, I can sympathize. (Although, yes, those situations end up making some good stories…)

  • 4 Tony // Jun 11, 2010 at 6:52 am

    I love your blog and read it every day. I’m sorry you had such a bad time in San Francisco. I have lived my whole life in San Francisco and remember those dot com days as being a little much too. I’m glad you still like to visit. It really can be a magic place.

  • 5 Lori // Jun 11, 2010 at 6:58 am

    Loved this post… it hit home with me today as I’m living someplace that doesn’t want me, either.

    Can I be so bold as to offer a bit of cake advice? I’ve made thousands of cakes and tinkered with recipes for years… I’ve found the trick to yellow/butter cakes is method… mix your butter with the dry ingredients… you’re essentially waterproofing your flour so the gluten doesn’t develop, add wet ingredients last (Cake Bible is a good reference)… tender perfect cake every time. For chocolate cakes, there’s no substitute for dutch cocoa brought to life with boiling water — using chocolate in any other form falls flat in a cake, IMO. Last but not least, pull the cake out of the oven just as it pulls away from the sides of the pan… much past that and it’ll be overdone. I can also tell you how to make a ridiculously easy meringue buttercream, if you’re interested (no streaming boiling syrup involved).

  • 6 Dr Alice // Jun 11, 2010 at 7:13 am

    The bit about the nasty note on the windshield? That EXACT thing happened to me the morning I left SF for good. It felt like the city was flipping me the bird for the final time (and this was in 1994 before the crash!). I live in Los Angeles now and am much, much happier.

    But congratulations on your site (which I love) and your anniversary.

  • 7 sizzle // Jun 11, 2010 at 7:21 am

    I love San Francisco. To visit. Seattle is definitely more home to me than SF could ever be for many of the reasons you stated.

  • 8 Seanna Lea // Jun 11, 2010 at 7:33 am

    I don’t remember much of anything about the different parts of California I lived in growing up, but it is stories like this that make me love living in Massachusetts even though sometimes I feel exactly the same way when the grocery stores all feel a million miles away!

  • 9 auryndancer // Jun 11, 2010 at 7:35 am

    What a great post! So validating and inspiring…I live in the SF area now (I moved here for grad school). I’ve almost graduated, and my husband and I are starting to feel the itch to get outta town (for a lot of the reasons you list). We visited Seattle last year and loved it. LOVED it! Seattle is our #1 choice, but we fear it costing as much as SF. I’m super curious to know more about the Seattle vs. SF shift, and if there are safe & happy areas in Seattle (or the surrounding area) that are cheaper then SF.

  • 10 Tess // Jun 11, 2010 at 8:07 am

    Funny, I had the opposite experience. I never really felt “at home” in Seattle but when I moved to San Francisco 5 years ago it was instant love. (I think the neighborhood you choose can make a big difference in both cities.) Anyway, I’m glad we both could make the swap!

  • 11 Jess // Jun 11, 2010 at 9:45 am

    Wow, this post was really a great read. Beautiful use of photos! I’ve never lived in SF, but Seattle was the place that didn’t want me, at first. I’ve been here two years, and I think it’s finally starting to warm up to me :)

    Thank you for posting!

  • 12 Jessi B. // Jun 11, 2010 at 9:54 am

    My sister moved to SF for college, and I just helped her move back a few months ago due to many of the same reasons you stated in this post. I think SF may be a much better place to visit, than to live in. I think it is such a beautiful city, with so much character, but at the same time, people aren’t very friendly there, and it is crazy crowded! I’m glad you love living in Seattle, and your cakes are beautiful :)

  • 13 JennyM // Jun 11, 2010 at 12:52 pm

    “I’m nearly ready to recategorize this as one of those memories that is funny.”

    That? Is a wonderful turn of phrase.

  • 14 Lia // Jun 11, 2010 at 2:34 pm

    Why do you like Seattle? What makes it so great? I’m considering a move from the east coast (VT) – I’ve been pondering it for weeks and trying to figure out if I should. Any advice?

  • 15 Jillian // Jun 11, 2010 at 2:55 pm

    This post was so interesting for me to read. I lived in SF in ’02-’03 and fled the city when our rent was spontaneously raised by $600. I had similar issues with the city. One thing that always irked me was that it seemed full of people who lived well beyond their means. For us, with good salaries, just being normal was a struggle, let alone living extravagantly. Now I look back and fondly remember my morning walks along Sacramento street before the city woke up, the delicious sushi, the stunning views, and the friends I made. I haven’t been back since, but I would love to visit because I’ve discovered so many cool things about the city I didn’t know via blogland.

    PS. I think my downtown office must have been extremely close to where you worked.

  • 16 Bee // Jun 11, 2010 at 3:47 pm

    San Francisco IS having a good hair day! Everyone there has GREAT hair, especially in the Mission and Castro.

  • 17 Kay // Jun 11, 2010 at 4:14 pm

    I feel the same way about SF. We made many good friends, but god I hated living in that city. I love to visit SF.

  • 18 Rebekah // Jun 11, 2010 at 4:50 pm

    That cake looks great. I can’t imagine it not being good. Also, really great post. It makes me hopeful about my upcoming Seattle move.

  • 19 Celia // Jun 11, 2010 at 5:58 pm

    I lived in SF from 1999-2002 and I agree with every sentiment here. My friends, who’d been there years, could never understand how difficult I found every single task there.

    I also lived in Seattle from 91-93; find it too big and intense in recent years, for me.

    I am now back in Buffalo, NY, which I consider a poet’s paradise.

    (Been reading for years; first comment. Love the blog!)

  • 20 Carol // Jun 11, 2010 at 6:17 pm

    I am a longtime reader of not martha, and this post made me so sad! I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy your time here, and I’m glad you like to visit at least. I’ve lived in sf for over ten years, and while it certainly is not perfect, I still love it.

  • 21 WanderChow // Jun 11, 2010 at 7:04 pm

    The opposite happened with me and SF vs. Seattle. I met SF first, fresh out of high school, in a unique position to explore it nearly by myself. A far cry from eastern Tenn. I loved it so very much so instantly! And I never forgot it. I visited it again and again and wanted to live there so badly. I settled on Seattle, and was never satisfied. I still am not. When I moved to SF for part of 2005 I finally got my dream of living there, but could not stay. I’ve been back to visit. It’s hard not to think of it. Some day I will try to go back. I lived in a great ‘hood, with the Park at my back door, had fabulous neighbors, and exquisite food. It was dreamland.

  • 22 Jackie // Jun 11, 2010 at 8:28 pm

    I’ve never been to San Francisco, but Seattle is one of my favorite cities.

    That said, this is one of my favorite entries ever. Such a lovely way with words. It was as nice to read as I bet that cake was to eat.

  • 23 Jen // Jun 11, 2010 at 8:34 pm

    I made a bunch of layer cakes and learned to make buttercream frosting this spring because my friend asked me to make her wedding cake, even though I have no experience in that type of cake and had never made frosting. I did, however, have a long standing reputation for making really good chocolate cake, which I made a page for because people asked for the recipe so much: http://jenschocolatecake.blogspot.com/

    ironically, it’s no good as a wedding cake because it needs to have a hole in the middle (it will have a severe dip in the middle if you don’t use a bundt or angel cake pan) and is too light textured to support layers. It is, however, completely delicious, chocolatey, moist and fluffy without any adornment. it’s also really forgiving, and I don’t think you can over bake it.

    That being said, I learned to make swiss meringue buttercream and added some firmer more even rising cakes to my repertoire in preparation for my friend’s wedding. I used the buttercream recipe from smittenkitchen’s efforts at making her friend a wedding cake, which she conveniently gives scaled for a few different cake sizes. I would, however, add a few things to her instructions: if you’re using fresh eggs, not cartoned, it’s a good idea to heat them until 160F to pasteurize. Also, her instruction to beat the whites until they’re white and doubled in volume wasn’t descriptive enough for me. You want them quite stiff. Really, the stiffer they are, the more easily the butter incorporates. With fresh eggs, I whip them so thick, my whisk pushes back at me when I try to shove it in. It takes a fair bit of time for them to whip that stiff, so I don’t think there’s much danger of ended up with dry peaks, which would probably be too far. Cartoned whites don’t seem to want to get quite that stiff, and it’s a little scarier when you add the butter, but they still work. Also, don’t ever add the flavouring before it’s done. I’d made a test batch with cocoa powder that was kind of streaky, so I thought I’d try adding the cocoa earlier the next time so it would have longer to mix, and added it before the butter, and the meringue totally collapsed and couldn’t be rescued.

  • 24 Rebecca // Jun 11, 2010 at 11:47 pm

    You summed up how my husband and I felt about SF so much more precisely than we ever could! We lived there for two years, from 2007 – 2009.

    We live in Seattle now as well, as of last year. When people ask me how we like it, I tell them it’s so much more “accessible” than SF – friendlier people, better parking, more spacious, lower rent prices :)

  • 25 Nora@LifeLifeEatRight // Jun 12, 2010 at 7:38 am

    WOW!!!! That’s my kind of cake….looks FANTASTIC :)!

  • 26 southern hostess // Jun 12, 2010 at 10:20 am

    What a beautiful post! Thanks for the slice of life and the slices of cake.

  • 27 betty // Jun 12, 2010 at 10:43 am

    I’m sorry you didn’t have a good experience living in my fair city, but at least you’ve come back and given her another chance and she’s beguiled you with her charms… She can be challenging, but worth it. Especially to visit.

  • 28 Clearly Composed // Jun 12, 2010 at 7:42 pm

    From a girl born in SF…thanks for visiting and come back often and soon! :0

  • 29 Amanda // Jun 12, 2010 at 7:45 pm

    Ina Garten’s recipe for Beatty’s chocolate cake
    is simple and really great. Also wonderful use for morning coffee in the afternoon. You can’t taste the coffee in the cake, but it gives the chocolate a really nice depth of flavor.

    Thank you for sharing these memories and things you share. People are paying attention. As a Southerner who has never ventured west much, you inspire me to look for places to belong in my own suburbs.

  • 30 Laura // Jun 13, 2010 at 2:42 pm

    I live in the East Bay, and had really planned to go to SF regularly, get to know the city. I have wonderful memories of doing the same with NYC when I lived nearby. But, I have never really clicked with SF. Much as I try to love it, it does not seem to love me back, and I feel sad that.

  • 31 Marilyn // Jun 13, 2010 at 3:31 pm

    Wow. This post and its following comments are an unexpected refuge. I’ve been living here for three years and I am very, very ready to leave. SF and the bay area have much to offer, but I just don’t fit. There is no acceptable medium within which to criticize the city, either. That said, great post!

  • 32 Cinnamon // Jun 13, 2010 at 11:26 pm

    People seem to either love or hate SF, or just about anywhere. Some places just can’t click as a place to live. I like visiting SF, love the friends I have there, but I just can’t imagine living there. I’m not sure what all it is that keeps it from feeling like a possible home, but it doesn’t feel possible. All that, I’m glad that Seattle has made you happier, and I look forward to your cake-making experiences. :)

  • 33 Michelle // Jun 14, 2010 at 10:37 am

    I moved out to SF full-time (after several summer internships) in 2000 as well. Started a job at a tech company in August, and by November they were laying people off. Dark times.

    Still, my partner and I managed to stay for six more years, and loved it. But then an opportunity came up in LA, and we realized we were making ridiculous amounts of money — what would be filthy rich in other parts of the country — and still sharing a two-flat building with The Least Considerate People on This Planet, parking our car on the street, and hauling our laundry to a laundromat up the hill. It seemed like the right time to leave.

    Every time I go back I am pierced with homesickness, but I have to admit that living day-to-day, on half the salary we used to make, is so much easier in LA.

  • 34 barrie // Jun 14, 2010 at 11:36 am

    this is exactly how i felt when i lived in LA for a short while. my whole life revolved around traffic, and for some reason i kept getting sick (and i never get sick – in fact, i just got sick again after 2 years and wouldn’t you know it – it happened while i was in LA again). it seemed almost like me and LA were like a bad relationship (or maybe I’m just allergic to the whole town or maybe the timing wasn’t right). i did have my fun moments (working out with richard simmons was a major highlight in my life, as was all the hikes and getting a tan in November) but i was grateful that my contract was just for 3 months and that i could return the car, say goodbye to the snotty tissues and return to my 4 seasons that is seattle.

  • 35 tara // Jun 14, 2010 at 4:51 pm

    I’m glad you love Seattle. I didn’t. I felt the same way you did about SF. I felt that everyone was cooler-than-thou on the surface but that they were nasty otherwise — on the bus, behind the wheel of a car. I was living in a rented apartment in Queen Anne that was strictly a one-person apartment, and my landlords almost evicted me because my next door neighbor called them to report that my boyfriend was staying over every night.
    LIA: Stay in VT. Seriously. Seattle aspires to be Vermont, and fails.

    Okay, enough Seattle bashing now. I know it’s rude. There are many things about your blog that do indeed make me miss some of the great things about Seattle — and there are definitely some!

  • 36 kathy b // Jun 14, 2010 at 6:52 pm

    A very timely story for me about following your heart. Glad Seattle called you and it worked out so well.

  • 37 Crayon Eater // Jun 15, 2010 at 12:46 pm

    I love this post.

    I live in a major city which is mostly hated by its inhabitants and visitors alike. I LOVE it.

    Everytime I go to another place, there is something that makes me love my city more. In SF it was sitting at the bus stop headed out only to realize that the ‘homeless’ people around me were checking their stocks on their PDAs.

    I really believe happiness comes from within, but if you ever live in a hole like Reno or Wichita, you learn to keep that shit to yourself ;)

  • 38 Meg // Jun 17, 2010 at 9:36 am

    I will now and forever associate San Francisco with chocolate layer cake. :-)

  • 39 jennifer in sf // Jun 17, 2010 at 3:33 pm

    Wait. If no one likes living here why isn’t rent cheaper??

    I feel like deciding if you want to/can actually live in a city is a weird, very personal choice.

  • 40 brookeb // Jun 17, 2010 at 4:10 pm

    My husband and I are in the place (albeit not geographically) now that you seem to be describing — it’s nice to think that one day we’ll be able to look back and know things are better than they used to be.

  • 41 GS // Jun 17, 2010 at 5:08 pm

    Another SF former resident (1997-2002). I visited multiple times in the early 90′s and fell in love. Was completely miserable when I moved there – for all the reasons stated by others above. Now back in Texas and love visiting old friends there. The place is just more magical (and unstressful) when you’re a visitor somehow.

  • 42 Alison // Jun 18, 2010 at 10:01 am

    I really enjoyed this post! I am a native of Northern California, not SF, but quite close to it. I have never lived there, but visit often. I really love visiting, but I totally get what you mean about it can feel crowded and empty on the same day. I have really loved staying there with friends, and I think these days it has gotten a whole lot more fun. I would love to live there someday, but my husband likes our smaller city.

  • 43 Sylvia Zygalo // Jun 20, 2010 at 11:08 am

    I just moved to Munich from Vancouver, Canada, and can relate to your post. Sometimes some places are just not meant for you at the time that you’re there. But sometimes they are. I’m hoping for the latter for myself!

  • 44 m // Jun 22, 2010 at 7:08 am

    I haven’t been to San Francisco in years but I would like to go to the silent film festival. I think that would be fun.

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  • 45 mw // Jun 22, 2010 at 6:37 pm

    I felt this way about Seattle. I moved there for work, and I think that had a lot to do with my unhappiness when living there. I was in a very stressful job and everyone I knew in Seattle (mostly people from work) needed to go-go-go. There was no relaxing. I also thought the Seattle Freeze was a myth, but both my boyfriend and I are extremely friendly people and we could not find friends. Perhaps it was the people we were trying to connect with, but even the people in our neighborhood would look at us strangely when we told them hi on the sidewalk. But the final straw for me was the cold weather in June and needed to wear my coat until June. June made me depressed. (and my job made me depressed).

    Seattle wasn’t right for me. It is for a lot of people. Do I miss it and the gorgeous houses in my neighborhood and being able to walk to Trader Joes and see Puget Sound from my living room window? YES. Maybe in another point in my life I would have liked it better. But I don’t think I could ever move back. I like the warmth too much. And thunderstorms. And friendly strangers.

  • 46 e // Jun 24, 2010 at 12:23 pm

    I lived in the East Bay for 6 years between ’03 and ’09 and took many day trips to SF. I loved (almost) every one of them. It’s a wonderful city to visit. But yes, I definitely understand how it could be difficult to live there.

  • 47 Michelle // Jun 29, 2010 at 10:15 am

    Whoa, talk about not liking SF! I’m a nearly life-long Bay Area resident myself. While I could never live in San Francisco proper, I do love the city. I could see why you hated it, especially if you had trekked to SF for the boom. The days following the dot-bomb weren’t kind to anyone.

  • 48 Scott Andrew - DIY acoustic pop superhero! - Weekend reading IV // Jul 5, 2010 at 12:26 pm

    [...] not martha — anniversary cake. Megan recounts our California experience on the 10th anniversary of us leaving Ohio. I didn’t much care for California livin’ either. [...]

  • 49 Erik // Sep 14, 2010 at 11:16 pm

    I remember when you were in California! I really liked this post.

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