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.