Stephanie's stuffed bell peppers

For our first weekend in the new place, we explored our new neighborhood, and quickly felt at home. There was another location of El Castilito, the fabulous burrito place, just a few blocks from our apartment, where the food was just as good as the El Castilito in the old hood. For the first of many hundreds of times, we wandered into Naked Eye, which sounds like a porn palace but instead was a superb newsstand and video store. We found a comfortable coffee shop, and then we found another coffee shop and café that we liked even better — Café International. The Mission, where I'd lived for years, had been an interesting neighborhood too, but it could be dangerous, especially at night. Our new neighborhood seemed friendlier, less drunk and disorderly.
We also went Muni joy-riding as part of our explorations — taking the streetcar to nowhere in particular. Outbound, after stopping across the street from our apartment, the N train went into a tunnel that climbs a hill, and emerged at Carl & Cole Streets, where there was (and for all I know, still is) a great Mom & Pop hamburger place. Haight/Ashbury was within easy walking distance, as well as an Asian bodega, and an Italian restaurant that Steph wanted to try. Further west was UCSF (the University of California at San Francisco), and the city's best sandwich shop, and Golden Gate Park, and a place that soon became our favorite Thai restaurant, and countless cool shops and neighborhoods, and eventually, the Pacific Ocean. Then the train turned around and brought us home again, or we could ride inbound past our apartment, as the train entered the other, bigger tunnel, taking riders downtown via Van Ness Station, Civic Center, Powell Street, Montgomery, and finally Embarcadero Station.
San Francisco is a beautiful place, and what better way to see it than from a streetcar? No worries about parking, or traffic, or dents to the door or bumps to the bumper. On the streetcar, it was ten minutes to the heart of downtown, or half an hour to the Ocean.
We went shopping, and stocked the shelves in our new albeit insane kitchen. Cooking made Stephanie happy, and she could cook so much more and better with an actual burner instead of a plug-in hotspot, and a genuine oven and fridge and freezer. For her first dinner prepared in the new kitchen, Steph made us stuffed green peppers. They were fantastic, and became one of her most often reprised recipes, a cheap but delicious dinner we must've eaten a few hundred times.
I'm not going to turn this website into a cookbook, but since I have all of her recipe cards, typing a few of them seems like a workable way to share more of Stephanie here. Want to have Stephanie's stuffed green peppers, same as we had for our first home-cooked meal in San Francisco? Today's entry will end with the recipe.
* * * * * * * * * *
Steph's career was office work, same as mine. In Madison she had worked for the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, and she'd had a few other office jobs, and in San Francisco she was looking for similar office-type work. For her first few weeks in the city, she was usually dropping her résumé someplace in the morning, and interviewing someplace else in the afternoon. But there had been no offers, and she had taken a few days off job-hunting as we moved into our new apartment.
On the Monday after we'd moved in, Stephanie told me she'd filled out an application at the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF). She didn't know much about the job, and she'd filled out a lot of applications, so we didn't build up our hopes. This must've been the three- or four-dozenth place where she'd left her résumé and an application.
But the very next day, someone from UCSF called and asked Steph to come in for an interview on Thursday. They told her a little more about the job, and it sounded downright prestigious. If hired, she'd be the junior secretary to the Chief of Cardiology at UCSF Hospital. Imagine an MD so successful he needs more than one secretary.
Well, Stephanie thought this job sounded substantially better than clipping recipes for the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, so she wanted to make the best impression she could at the interview. She spent most of the day Wednesday at San Francisco's downtown public library, researching UCSF, the UCSF Hospital, the Cardiology Department, and specifically researching the doctor who was hiring a junior secretary.
By Thursday, she knew some things. I gave her a pep talk before leaving for work, but she didn't need it. She was pumped up, overflowing with confidence, and wearing her best business-class outfit. Heck, even if I'd never met her before, I would've hired her on the spot.
At the interview, Stephanie asked a few questions about the doctor's work, but they were knowledgeable questions, subtly letting them know that she'd done her homework. She dropped a little bit of medical lingo, using and pronouncing complicated terms correctly. She mentioned the medical textbook that this doctor was editing, and said that she'd seen the previous edition (which she had — at the library the day before). She made it clear that she was clever and competent, responsible and resourceful. The next day, they called and offered her the job. Her starting pay was a bit more than double what I was making.
"Wow," I said. "That's a paycheck. So now can I take you to dinner someplace nice?"
"Yeah, now I think we can celebrate. We deserve it."
"We, my left buttcheek. You deserve it. Tell me where you want to go, and that's where we're having dinner." I don't remember where we went for dinner, but I remember that Steph was excited about not being unemployed. She started her new job on Monday, four days after the interview, and four weeks plus a few days after she'd arrived in San Francisco.
She had the weekend to worry about work, though, so she spent Saturday at the library, further researching UCSF. On Sunday we made a practice commute, on the N Judah again, which whisked us from our street to a block from Stephanie's office, in ten minutes. Still, on Monday morning she was at the station waiting for the train an hour before she was supposed to start.
Steph never had any serious complaints about that job. Her co-workers were nice, the work was challenging but not impossible, and their expectations were reasonable. She had a paycheck, medical coverage, regular breaks, regular raises, and they treated her with respect.
Twice, I met the doctor who was Stephanie's boss. He carried himself as "impressive" — one of those high-power people, a natural-born executive in a three-piece suit. By all accounts he was an outstanding doctor, but he was in the sunset of his career, and his day-to-day work was more as a manager than a doctor. He only saw a handful of patients, and the few medical appointments on his calendar were often celebrities — movie stars and millionaires, but Steph wasn't supposed to drop names outside of the office.
Stephanie said that he was generally a fair boss and honestly a nice man, but his demeanor was gruff — he sometimes barked commands to his underlings, as if the unspoken last word of every sentence was, buster. He'd say, "Get me that file," but his tone of voice said, "Get me that file, buster." Hence, when Steph told me about her work days, she nicknamed him 'Dr Buster'. To me, he'll always be Dr Buster, so that's how I'll refer to him here, if he comes up again.
* * * * * * * * * *
STEPHANIE'S STUFFED BELL PEPPERS:
3-4 bell peppers
1 pound of hamburger
2 cups of real rice (not instant)
2 teaspoons of chicken goop [our term for Better Than Bouillon brand chicken base —Doug]
2 teaspoons lemon juice
2 cans (8 oz) tomato sauce
2 ounces of cheddar cheese (optional)
1 teaspoon chili powpow [that's chili powder —Doug]
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon garlic salt
1 teaspoon oregano
½ onion, finely chopped
double-dash of salt
dash of pepper
Cut tops off the peppers and remove the innards. Boil the peppers for three minutes. Lightly salt the insides. In a separate pan, brown the hamburger, adding the onions about halfway through so they get lightly browned; stir in the spices and chicken goop and first can of tomato sauce (save the second can); add the rice and 2 cups of water; bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer with lid on the pot for 15 minutes or so. Back to the bell peppers: lightly salt the insides. Scoop the hamburger/rice mix into the peppers, and pour the second can of tomato sauce over the top. Bake at 350° for 45 minutes. (Or, bake 30 minutes, then top with cheese, then bake 15 more minutes.)