Last weekend, I took the plunge and bought a road bike to ease my transportation woes in San Francisco. Don't get me wrong - I appreciate the Muni/BART train systems in this city but often I crave a faster, sunnier way to get around. I want to feel the wind in my hair, not someone else's sneezes.
So my friend Lizzy and I got outfitted at Valencia Cyclery (a locally-owned San Francisco institution). They had us try multiple styles and sizes based on our needs and ultimately led us to the right bike within our price range. We test-rode half a dozen bikes around the Mission and I finally decided on a Specialized bike, which is light enough to carry up the stairs to my apartment with one hand. We also got hooked up with helmets, locks (a must in this city) and the requisite bike bell.
Later in the week, a friend passed along a flier for the Disposable Film Festival - the perfect opportunity for our inaugural ride. The Disposable Film Festival is a "bike-in" movie screening of up-and-coming artists sponsored by a few local Bay Area companies, including ZipCar and Bear Naked Granola. We departed Noe Valley at sunset and rode down the hill, through the Mission and over to Civic Center, where we coasted into the parking lot that held the screening. Much to my delight, my food cart guys were there (AmouseBouche, Curry Cart and Creme Brulet Cart) with a new addition -- the Popcorn Princess. Upon arrival, we checked our bikes at the free "bike valet" and headed into the Custom Lounge for drinks sponsored by SF Guardian. Coincidentally, May is "Bike Month" in San Francisco and the SF Guardian was releasing their annual bike issue that very night.
All in all, the films were short but moving and the food was incredible. I savored a full, 3-course meal from my cart guys, mingled with my new "biker friends" and then pedaled home to Noe Valley, tired, full and content.
I did it. I planted my rooftop "urban garden." I ripped out the two dozen dead (and scary!) jade plants that have haunted the deck for the last two years. They seriously looked like the fallen mermaids in the Little Mermaid who sold their souls to Ursula. They gave me a very funny feeling inside.
Anyway, they're gone now, replaced with electric pink dahlias, soft lavender bushes, creamy gardenia, jasmine and hydrangea. On the low shelves, protected by the wind, are tiny pots full of oregano, sage, thyme and basil. Young tomato plants line the back wall and will hopefully stay warm enough this summer to bear fruit.
Regardless of how it all turns out and what lives or dies, it felt so good to dig my nails into the potting spoil, to gently coax the seedlings out of their plastic containers and into the dirt. And it continues to feel good to look out back each morning and see their little faces looking up at me, wondering when the water's coming, the summer, the sun. I don't know, I tell them, but I'll do my best.
Here's exactly how it went down. I started noticing this guy hanging around Dolores Park, the 24th Street BART station and the varying outdoor hangouts in the Mission. He's a distinctive looking guy -- tall and lanky, usually wears a cool beret-ish looking hat that is clearly European. But what caught my eye, is that this guy walks around with pans of muffins. Beautiful, just-baked pans of muffins. I dubbed him The Muffin Man, although his real business name is Amuse Bouche (something that "excites the taste buds"). For a long time, I assumed he was selling "magic" muffins, as so many park vendors seem to be doing these days. That's just part of the culture here.
But then I thought, if this guy is selling these muffins each morning at the top of the BART (train) station, surely they can't be "magic". Otherwise, hundreds of corporate hipsters would be high every single morning on their way to work. Something else is going on here. So without further a-do, I decided to investigate the Muffin Man for myself.
Turns out The Muffin Man is a soft-spoken French guy named Murat. And he loves baking. Loves. He gets up every morning at 5am to bake the day's muffins and places himself strategically around the city to catch people on their commute in/out of work. His goal is to make a little cash and to brighten people's lives by providing a delicious treat to start or end the day. Turns out there are other indy-owned cart vendors and they're all pals. Each week, they will stage spontaneous gatherings, usually on Thursday nights in the Mission at a location disclosed on their Twitter pages. In one fell swoop, you can catch Amuse Bouche, the Creme Brulee Cart (yes!) and the Kurry Kart.
If you're lucky enough to catch Murat in the morning, you can count on getting a delicious, made-with-love mini muffin and a hot cup of chai for just $1. Upgrade to a full-size muffin or tarte for $2 more. Your little morning surprise will come nestled in part of an egg carton, whose egg-slots are just big enough to hold a mini muffin and tiny cup of tea. If starting your day with a Nutella banana muffin isn't enticing enough, you'll have the added pleasure of a lovely chat with Murat and get to savor his French accent for awhile before you hustle off to work, life and the doldrums of store-bought snackfood.
It's been a dark, rainy day in San Francisco, a bit atypical for May in this city. I love the change of weather though because we so rarely see rain here, especially rain that is heavy and dark enough to satisfy my East Coast longing.
Rain still makes me tenderly nostalgic for the spring afternoons in Buffalo I used to love as a kid...coming home from school to my mom leaning over the hot oven...the sharp realization that the windows were open for the first time. The open screen door would let in the distinct smell of wet grass and worms, a smell that had been buried under the snow for 6 months.
Since I'm now a city gal now without a personal cookie baker at my discretion (mom), I was overjoyed to discover the new Warm Cookie Alert feature on Specialty Bakery's website. Just as it sounds, the Warm Cookie Alert will inform you of the closest bakery location near you that has pulled cookies out of the oven most recently. They update it to the minute. "Third and Mission: White chocolate macadamia nut...23 minutes ago." I kept an eye on the Specialy's at Sansome and Clay all afternoon, waiting for the right moment to dash out into the rain and scoop up a bag of melty chocolate chip cookies for the perfect Friday indulgence.
Yes, there's an economic meltdown and wide-spread pandemic going on, I know. But the truth is, I can't fix those things. What I can do is sign up for my Warm Cookie Alerts, run through the rain with them cradled in my arms and share them with friends and coworkers. Who knows, that alone just might transform some of this darkness into light.
I can list about 200 reasons why I live in San Francisco, but one that comes to mind as of late is the organization I recently discovered -- 18 Reasons. 18 Reasons, which is based out of its small art/community space in the Mission, is associated with my absolute favorite independent grocery store in the city -- BiRite. I'll get more into the magic of BiRite a bit later...
18 Reasons mission is "to promote a dialogue between our neighborhood and people who create food and art; to provide a space where ideas are exchanged and relationships are forged and to encourage people to communicate this shared passion with each other."
Basically, this group gets folks together once a week to share food, wine and art. Let me tell you what - I'm. Down. With. That.
Last night's event was a wine tasting from French wineries in the Loire Valley in France (can you tell I'm still on a French kick?). The wineries that were showcased were incredibly small and had been family-run and operated for generations. These wines were graceful, elegant and full of life. Unlike their mass-market peers, these wine makers are in it for the wine, not for the wealth and fame. They're the winemakers who fly in from France and show up to a hipster event in San Francisco with dirt under their nails. You could taste their sincerity in every sip. And what inspired me even more was how packed the place got within the first 30 minutes. There must have been 100 people crammed into a 400 square foot room, all notably excited, talkative and thrilled to be there. I was both amazed and relieved to see that people my age care about this stuff.
During the event, I bumped into a bunch of the nice folks I see every day at BiRite and had an amazing "this-is-my-community-and-I-am-a-part-of-it" feeling. It takes awhile to cultivate that feeling, but I think daily and weekly rituals help.
I love BiRite because, like 18 Reasons, its focus on food goes back to the hand-made, organic and artisan food that we have deviated from here in the U.S. Their slogan is "building community through food" and they sell everything from my favorite Italian olive oil (Cappezzana Estate, if you ever want to splurge) to hand-made cheese curds from Wisconsin. Since I've been back from France, I've been trying to keep the French mentality of buying fresh food (especially produce) daily and turning a trip to the market into a social, fun and relaxing event that I look forward to. I'm lucky because BiRite's warm staff and amazing community events make this easy.
And if I have anything to do with it, 18 Reasons is going to need to get a bigger space. Like the strawberry bushes along Highway 1 that are yielding the first fruit of summer, they're going to grow and grow and grow.
I don't have an Urban Miracles story to tell today...but I'm missing Paris at the moment and came across this lovely commercial that made me smile very wide. It's directed by Sophia Coppola - you can feel her magical touch on it.
This is really sums up how my days felt in the City of Light... **And incidentally, I've been wearing this perfume since France and loooving loving loving it**