Friday, May 22, 2009

love. this.

What a beautiful pairing - Grizzly Bear and the Red Balloon. I hope you find magic like this today.

Friday, May 15, 2009

The New Drive-In

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 (Amouse Bouche, 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.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Green Means Go

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.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Do You Know The Muffin Man?

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.

Follow my Muffin Man on Twitter: twitter @amusebouchesf
Or check out his Yelp page

Friday, May 1, 2009

Warm Cookie Alert

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.

Rain also makes me crave soft chocolate chip cookies. There's nothing quite like a plate full of just-baked chocolate chip cookies and a glass of milk to unwind the day. I love that my mom has used the same Tollhouse cookie recipe since I was 5 (you can also find it on the back of every bag of Tollhouse chocolate chips). In my opinion, it is the best recipe out there. Tollhouse cookies are the perfect combination of squishy and warm but crisp along the edges.

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.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

18 Reasons

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 Rea
sons 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 show
cased 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 t
o 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.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Cherie, Cherie

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**

Sunday, April 19, 2009

A Homemade Life

Just before I left for Paris, I came across Molly Wizenberg's new book, "A Homemade Life". As if they all coordinated the intervention, 3 unrelated people recommended I take it with me on my trip. I love when that happens -- when just the right book or album is placed in your hands before a pivotal experience.

So I lugged her beautiful hardback book around France with me (even though I finished it on the third day if the trip). I couldn't bare the thought of leaving it behind and there was something comforting about seeing the book each night on my bedside table. I'd re-read whatever story I opened to just before I fell asleep. The stories in Molly's book are so funny, sweet and real that I felt that old familiar tug on my heartstrings each time I picked it up. The recipes that followed each of the stories were equally lovely and for a novice cook, seemed within my reach. I savored every tasty minute of that book.

Fast forward to 2 weeks later -- I arrive safely back at home, a battered copy of "A Homemade Life" in hand. One evening, during my routine walk around the neighborhood, I noticed a piece of paper in a store window advertising the new cookbook store in the neighborhood (Omnivore Books) and amazingly, advertising a book-signing and talk given by none other than Molly Wizenberg. I love life's synchronicity.

First of all, I just want to say that I LOVE Omnivore Books. I adore it. It is this magical house-turned-bookstore that is spilling over the edges with amazing books on food, cooking and agriculture. They sell lots of vintage titles too (think of the version of Betty Crocker's Cookbook that your grandma used). They also keep multi-colored, freshly-laid/gathered eggs at the counter for purchase. I just love that.

Anyway. Back to the story. So I arrived at Omnivore and to my pleasant surprise, it was packed! I wasn't the only one who was inspired by Molly's touching stories and recipes. Molly was just as I imagined -- a petite and graceful gal with a big smile and an eloquence I just knew I'd admire. She told us the story of how her writing, and ultimately this book, unfolded. She let us peek into her heart and told us the story of how she met her husband, Brandon, and how their love of food evolved as did their relationship with each other. I found myself grinning ear-to-ear the entire time. Later, she signed copies of our books and we each got a few minutes to chat with her. I brought her some fresh eucalyptus honey from the Noe Farmer's Market (my all-time favorite mixed with yogurt), and we had a lively debate about the best place for pain au chocolate in Paris. Molly and her hubby are opening a restaurant in Seattle (Delancey) in June so I hope that our paths will cross again someday soon (next time over pizza).

Later on Saturday, I took a stab at her "pickled carrots" recipe using the fresh spring carrots I picked up at the Farmer's Market that morning. I also tried her "stewed prunes and citrus" recipe, which has been a welcomed addition to my morning yogurt and honey.

So all that being said -- go buy and read her book! You can also check out her lovely blog - Orangette (which is truly the seed of all of this). And if your life and travels bring you to Seattle, go eat at Delancey. Sit and savor a wood-fired pizza and be grateful for that (and every) moment life delivers, right on time.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Bike About Paris

CIMG0797, originally uploaded by sarahmroos.

After over 10 hours on a plane, I landed in Paris at the bright hour of 11am (2am according to my body, but they say you'll never get over jetlag if you think that way). Knowing that I would need to stay awake and simutaneously get my bearings in the City of Light, I booked a bike tour for the afternoon I arrived. A friend in Provence had recommended the Bike About Paris tour group as a great way to see the city in just a few hours and to discover some really magical places.

Bike About Paris was founded a few years ago and initially, their tours focused on covering all of the major Paris landmarks during a ride around town -- the Louvre, Eiffel Tower, Sacre Couer, etc. Eventually the leaders realized that there were a good number of bike tour companies popping up, all doing the same thing -- leading tourists into deeper tourist traps. So Bike About decided to switch gears a bit (forgive the pun) and they moved their focus to "hidden Paris" in order to give riders a view into the Paris that only locals typically know. Their 3.5 hour tour covers most of the major arrondisements and focuses more on the magic and uniqueness of each neighborhood.

Our guide, Christian, led us to some of our favorite boulangeries, cafes and wine bars in the city. Among other things, he snuck us into secret courtyard gardens, helped us discover the best pain au chocolate in Paris and showed us how to spot the work of one of France's most famous (anonymous) graffiti artists.

Throughout the 16 days I spent in France, this bike tour (and Christian's amazing recommendations) came up multiple times each day. It was the best 30 euro I spent on this trip.

And I have to say - as I pedaled my little bike along the Seine as the sun set behind Notre Dame, I was the most awake I'd been in months.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Paris, Je T'Aime

I'm off to the City of Light and la belle France for 2 weeks of picture-taking, wine-drinking and miracle-seeking. Stay tuned for a few posts from across the big blue sea....

Cuoretourismo in San Francisco

During my trip to Tuscany last spring, I was inspired by the idea of "cuoretourismo" or "heart tourism." Heart tourism is meaningful tourism -- it's getting as close as you can to the authentic heart of the land and people where you are traveling. During my week in Tuscany, we met with a local fisherman who was integral in protecting the wildlife of the Ligurian Coast; we broke bread with a family that has been making olive oil for 200 years; we cooked dinner in the wood-fire brick oven of a Tuscan neighbor. Since I got back from that trip, I've been seeking more and more local experiences like those I shared in Italy.

One group of heart tours that have been on my radar lately are the Local Taste of the City tours here in San Francisco. The company was founded by Tom Madin who has been leading tours of the Bay Area for over a decade. There are 3 tour options: North Beach (Little Italy) Chinatown or the Night Tour. Each 3-hour guided walking tour will take you to local restaurants, bars, coffee shops and bakeries that are long-standing institutions of the city. My brother's visit this weekend was the perfect excuse to try one of the tours. We opted for the North Beach Tour on Sunday morning.

The 3-hour adventure through my favorite neighborhood completely exceeded my expectations. We started the morning at Cafe Roma, where we learned how coffee is roasted and what prompted Italians to flock to Northern California at the beginning of the century. Later we moved on to a Ligurian bakery, we were snacked on fresh foccacia bread right out of a 135 year-old oven. We nibbled on homemade macaroons, dipped sour dough bread in local olive oils and savored salty mortadella at a family-run deli. In total, we went to over 10 local businesses, from truffle/chocolate shops to the cafe where Francis Ford Coppola wrote "The Godfather".

Almost all of the businesses we visited were family-owned and had been run by the same folks for decades. It was truly an honor to be allowed behind the scenes and get a glimpse into their world -- a world where food, drink and family are the priorities in life. This tour showed me a side of San Francisco I hadn't seen before - a side I'm going to seek out and cherish in the days ahead.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Home-Grown Goodness

If you live in the heart of San Francisco, or in most other larger cities in the U.S., you know what it means to be pressed for space. So much of city living is compact - from Smart cars to Murphy beds. It's hard to imagine what it might be like to have a yard that needs mowing or shrubs that need trimming. Even more so, it's hard to imagine keeping a garden, nurturing fruit trees and growing actual food.

One of the many things I love about the foodie culture in San Francisco is that it's creative. Sure, we boast some of the best restaurants in the nation and some of the most innovative chefs. But a lot of that has to do with the fact that we are a culture that values food and wine as much as art, our sports teams or museums. We're committed to this "food thing," no matter how challenging.

One organization that truly fosters this love affair is
CUESA (Center for Urban Education about Sustainable
Agriculture. Among many other things, CUESA is famous for its role in the Ferry Building Farmer's Market, a bi-weekly mecca of local produce and delicacies. In addition to many of the monthly events at the Farmer's Market, CUESA also offers weekly public lectures centered around (you guessed it) sustainable eating choices.

Two weeks ago I attended R.J.
Ruppenthal's talk about growing your own food in urban environments. His new book, "Fresh Food From Small Spaces" proves how easy it is to grow some of your own produce at home, even if you live in a studio apartment without any outdoor space. He presented a number of different urban environments and explained how one could plant fruit trees, vegetable plants and even keep chickens in this densley-packed city.

I learned so much and left completely empowered to take a stab at this whole "growing thing" this spring. I'm going to start easy with bean sprouts &
wheatgrass, both of which can be grown with almost zero sunlight above your refridgerator. I would ideally like graduate to string beans, tomatoes and a potted strawberry bush on the back steps. Ruppenthal claims that you can grow up to 15% of your food intake within the confines of your own home if you put the effort into it.

Whether we're ready to truly
acknowledge it now or not, our country is on the brink of an incredible food crisis (read any of Michael Pollen's stuff and you'll commit to growing 100% of your food). I'm not saying we should all abandon our huge chain supermarkets or give up the salty boxed snack products. But I think that if we can each grow something (as small as sprouts above the 'fridge!), we're increasing our conscious eating habits. We're spreading the awareness that our food comes from somewhere and we need to care where that "somewhere" is.

Plus, aside from eating delicious fresh veggies, there are few things more satisfying the digging into a big pot of soil and getting your hands dirty with the earth. When was the last time you felt mud under your nails?

Dig in!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

TED Talks

Wow, 2 posts from me in 1 day.

This post is a very brief follow-up to my morning of quiet and listening, where I discovered the amazing TED Talks -- 20 minute presentations by creative thinkers and artists about their work, the world we live in and what it means to be human in these times. In particular, I am enamored by Elizabeth Gilbert's talk (of Eat Pray Love) and her thoughts on the ever-elusive creative process. I highly recommend listening to it -- click here to go directly to her TED segment.

I was also fascinated by Helen Fisher's talk on the physiological study of the brain in love, and again, in loss. It's no wonder break-ups are so incredibly hard and the general experience of loving so profound.



I spent most of yesterday trying to fill the day with "doing things" - some of which I authentically wanted to do, like go to the Noe Farmer's Market and my favorite yoga class. Other things were just space-fillers - activities I invented for myself to not feel bored or lonely. I am very good at entertaining myself in this way - I could probably spend 2 weeks alone in the woods and feel very busy with my own random adventures.

What I'm trying to learn is how to identify those activities that bring me genuine enjoyment and inspiration and weed them out from those that just kill time. I'm trying to learn the art of just sitting with myself, of putting the computer away and the camera down. To sit with the sometimes-awkwardness of being alone in the world and just letting it happen. Just being, observing, slowing down, getting quiet. It is in those moments that the random acts of kindness and spontaneous miracles find me (or at least I'm pay enough attention to finally see them).

Sunday mornings have always been my favorite time of the entire week for that exact reason. They are sacred to me. They feel like the only time in the week that I can allow myself a few hours of "not doing" and sit and listen to music or read.

I want more of this calm. Don't we all? And I have no idea what lifestyle changes I need to make in order to create it.

Until then, I'm savoring this rain against my window on this Sunday morning, a kitty on my lap and KFOG's beautiful "Acoustic Sunrise" radio show that is hitting just the right heart spots. If you're not a Bay-Area resident, you can listen for free online :)

I invite you to put the kettle on, keep your pajamas on and join me.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Change I Can Believe In

Obama is officially president. Finally. After the hum of last Tuesday quieted, I found time for a little reflection. And honestly, despite how much I believe in this new administration and the change it has the power to bring, I found myself still a bit depressed, still struggling to pull out some hope for the time ahead. I think a lot of this darkness, for me, is the fact that it's going to be a long time before things truly improve in this country, and this world. Obama's leadership isn't an antibiotic that will cure a sinus infection in 2 days. It's going to be a slow dose of radiation over a period of years, coupled with therapy, acupuncture, diet change & yoga. It's going to take time to heal these wounds. That is probably what's hardest for me personally, because I'm impatient and like so many of us, am always looking for the quick-fix.

I think the other part that's hard to swallow about this new "change" is that it's not directly affecting my own life. Sure, I feel the recession in my own way, the global crisis, the war. I do. But when I think about change in my life, I think about finding a partner, a home I can afford, a way to contribute to society in a meaningful way and a lifestyle that inspires me. These are selfish things, I know, but they're changes I want for my own life that haven't happened. Yet. And as much as I want to believe this can all happen simultaneously, it just seems that God/Obama/the rest of us have a hell of a lot on our plates.

And so despite all that doom gloom talk I wrapped myself up in, I decided to stop moping and force myself into some art. A trip to the SFMOMA almost always shakes me out of a lull and this time was no different. The thing I most appreciate about art is that it allows us to both escape and embrace the time we're in & the emotions we face. It honors the pain & the joy and also supersedes them and allows us to escape them.

Aside from the many great photography exhibits I saw, the thing that moved me most was a book I stumbled upon in the bookstore on my way out the door. The book is called "A Year of Mornings" by Maria Alexandra Vettese and Stephanie Congdon Barnes. These two women, who met through their online blog/website presence, collaborated to document 365 mornings last year and share them with each other. They live 3191 miles apart (one in Portland, Oregon and one in Portland, Maine). The images in this book are beautiful glimpses into the mundane intimacies each woman faced each day. They pay homage to routine, to ritual and to taking the time to notice the quieter moments.

I feel a bit guilty that a book on morning photographs has allowed me to forget the current world crisis and my own loneliness in it, but at the same time, I think it's a true example of how I want to handle the next few years. It's going to be messy. It's going to take time to heal. And in the process of that recovery, it's all we can do but to find joy in the lives we're trying to lead, the love that we are building and the morning moments we receive each day that bring about a fresh start, the change we are seeking.