Thursday, July 28, 2005

Organic For the People

I often tell people that letting me loose in a farmer's market is like giving a gambling addict a ticket to Vegas. I spend all the money I have, and then head to the ATM for more. That was certainly true at the Ferry Plaza Market down on the Embarcadero. Just thinking about it, with its myriad temptations and delights, makes me sigh.

That said, I am very happy about the Farmer's Market situation up here. There are numerous markets in Marin, offered at different times throughout the week, so that if you miss one, you can hit another. Here is the list I've compiled thus far:


Sunday - 8am to 1pm - San Rafael Civic Center (year around)
Sunday - 10am-1:30pm - Sebastopol Downtown Plaza (May through October)
Tuesday - 4pm to 8pm - DeLong Avenue in Novato (May through October)
Wednesday 12-5pm - Tamalpais Drive @ Hwy 101 in Corte Madera
Thursday - 8am to 1pm - San Rafael Civic Center (year around)
Thursday - 6pm-9pm - Downtown San Rafael @ 4th Street (April through September)
Saturday - 2pm-5pm - Walnut Park & Petaluma Boulevard
Saturday - 9am-1pm - Point Reyes Station (June through October)

It makes me happy to know that all that wonderful produce is so accessible. I do have pangs of sadness over the fact that I can't slip into Recchiuti for the Rose-Caramel truffle that I adore, and that if I want a hunk of my favorite cheese from the Cowgirl Creamery, I have to drive up to Point Reyes to get it. But these are minor quibbles - and not having those places so handy has saved me quite a chunk of change.

I've put myself on a Market budget, in fact. I did it for a couple of weeks as a lark, and now it has become a game. Before I go, I stop by the bank and withdraw 2 twenties. That's it! You simply cannot imagine how much stuff 40 bucks will buy. When I recall that ridiculous article by Julie Powell in the NYT last week, proclaiming that buying local and organic is out of the price range of most people, I scoff.

Each week, I literally have to take a trip to the car halfway through to unload, and then go back for more. This morning, at the San Rafael Civic Center, I got a dozen large brown eggs, fresh flowers (including the artichoke flowers pictured to the left), baby beets, swiss chard, pluots, grapes, herbs, pink chard (gorgeous!), enough basil and garlic for a bowl of pesto, baby squash (look at those blossoms! How adorable are those?!), sweet white corn, arugula...

AND a croissant to get me started. 40 bucks, people. That's awesome.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Strip Mall Sushi

It was hotter than Hades here today. I feel sticky and limp. Tried to take a nap in the late afternoon, but just ended up tossing around, the exact opposite of a refreshing snooze. The sun finally went down, but the breeze is sadly absent. Not that it matters much; I can't open up the doors and windows for more than a few minutes at a time, because we don't have screens on them yet, and the bugs here are monstrous. I've spent hours in the pest repellent section of the local Target. Call me paranoid, but my love is out of town, and I don't fancy waking up in the middle of the night all by my lonesome self to find an enormous spider marching across my leg.

Heat. Bugs. An almost-empty house. I fear this will be a long week.

So I had a hankering for sushi tonight. To be entirely clear, this hankering is a regular occurence - I could eat raw fish every night of the week, but as I work at a restaurant most nights, I don't go out for sushi as often as I would like to.

I'm a huge fan of Hiro's in Petaluma - beautiful art, wonderful sushi chefs, lithe young waitresses in sexy black outfits - but tonight I thought: there must be sushi in Novato. And I shall find it, by golly. So I hopped on Google and found a listing for one not far away - Taki on Ignacio Boulevard. I hopped in my car and drove down there to find... a low-slung strip mall, anchored by a tired old Safeway, like some relic from 1976 that should have been razed to the ground long, long ago. But I was undaunted; there is nothing I like better than discovering a gem hidden inside an otherwise dismal setting.

I marched inside and headed straight for the sushi bar. There were two chefs behind the counter, both bent over their work. A polite young man took my order for a cold Asahi, which I sipped while I watched and waited. And waited. After about 10 minutes, one of the chefs looked up and told me that it would be "a while" before he would be able to take my order. No problem there. The problem was that the longer I waited, the more I noticed things that made me uneasy.

The sushi bar was cluttered with bleachy-smelling hand towels and discarded chopsticks. Orange flecks of tobiko were scattered like sand, the remnants of meals long finished. To my right was an empty room with rice-paper doors and floor cushions; the low-slung table in the center was a mess of bottles and rice. Worse yet, the fish in the case in front of me had a lackluster quality; much of it was in small, pathetic bits, as opposed to large, firm pieces.

I wanted to leave. I felt fidgety and sad, wishing I could bolt, but I had a beer in front of me, and I know what it feels like to be on the other side, when people sit down and look around and head for the door. And so, while I waited for the sushi chef to get back to me, I decided to order only two things, two entirely safe things, and for that to be the extent of my meal. He finally did get back to me, nearly a half hour after I sat down, and took my order for a spicy tuna roll and a salmon skin hand roll. Ah, me.

They were served alongside a mound of bright pink ginger, the awful dyed stuff that makes me cringe. I cringed. Then I ate my spicy tuna, gulped my beer, chowed the hand roll, and left.

There may not be sushi in Novato after all.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Culture Shock

When I lived in San Francisco (past tense! sob!), my relatives at home would wonder if I was safe. "Are you really happy living in such a big city?" my grandfather would ask. "When are you going to move back home?" I assured him that I was happy, and that the chances of me moving back were slim indeed.

The thing is: San Francisco never felt like a big, scary city to me. Each neighborhood had it's own quaint charm; I could walk the streets at night and only run into a person here or there. If I ran out of half-and-half for my tea, I could dash out the door (in my pajamas, no less) to the little store half a block away and be back before my tea got cold. If I needed screws or paint or duct tape, I went half a block in the other direction to get them. There was rarely a wait. People recognized me. I waved and said hi to people all day long.

Moving to the suburbs, the experience is quite different. Everyone lives in their own separate world here. You have to drive everywhere; there will be no dashing about in my pajamas here, I'm sad to say. The stores are enormous. I can't imagine ever seeing the same person behind the checkout counter, as there are so many counters and so many employees that it would be impossible to actually get to know anyone.

I feel more afraid and alone here than I ever did in the city.

What is this nonsense I've heard about small-town America?

A flawed perception, that. The "small town" is inside the big city.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Of Friendship and Dinner

My friend Adam is wonderful for more reasons than I can count. When I told him that I was moving, he not only offered to help, he insisted upon it. "I'm great at moving," he said. "You absolutely must let me help."

Considering the fact that 1) I'm NOT great at moving, and 2) Adam has an SUV, how could I refuse?! And so it was that we ferried countless bags and boxes across the Golden Gate Bridge in his aforementioned vehicle, which seemed to mysteriously expand each time to hold far more than I expected.

One afternoon, hot and exhausted from the loading and unloading, we went on a mission to find some food in downtown Novato. It was about 4:30, and we were famished. We walked up and down Grant Avenue, past antique stores and coffee shops, hoping to find
something interesting. Keep in mind that Adam and I are both in the restaurant biz, and both of us are OCD about food. One of my greatest worries about living here is the apparent dearth of good restaurants.

And then: we spotted a little place that looked promising. The word "Kitchen" was scrolled across the front in red letters, and the menu, posted outside, looked like something one might find in my old 'hood in the City. *sniff*

Alas, it wasn't open until 5:00, and so we decided to get a beer while we waited. Across the street and up one block, we found a bar with darkened windows and an unlit neon sign. "Go on in," drawled the man smoking on the front step. "It's allll-right."

We took deep breaths and stepped inside, darting worried glances at each other, as the smell of old beer assaulted our nostrils. Be brave, I mouthed to Adam. We each grabbed a stool and waited for our eyes to adjust to the dim light. On tap: Budweiser and Bud Lite. When Adam ordered a Guinness from the girl behind the counter, she looked confused. "It's my first day," she explained. He pointed to the cooler, where beer in bottles hung out. I chose an Anchor Steam.

To our left, a threesome was playing dice. Every few seconds, a terrifying cracking sound announced the slam of the dice cup against the wooden bar top. The stools to our right remained empty until two men strolled in and sat down. One ordered a Kahlua and cream. The bartender looked dismayed. "There, honey," the man coached, pointing at the display of liquor bottles behind the counter. "Over one and down. That's right. Now pour some of that into a glass with ice and add some cream." She looked relieved.

We gulped, rather than sipped, and were delighted to exit back into the natural light once again.

We strolled into Kitchen at 5:02pm. We were a pathetic sight: crumpled and limp, our skin coated with moving grime. I could tell that the nice man who approached us felt a bit apprehensive. He might have pegged us for the type who sit down and whine to each other about the prices and leave. "Time to show him that we know a thing or two," I whispered to Adam. And so we deliberated over the wine list, secretly gratified to see his expression change ever-so-slightly when we chose a nice bottle.

Disclaimer: given the fact that it has been a couple of weeks since this meal, during which time my head has been abuzz with moving boxes and organizational systems, my descriptions will be far more vague than is my custom.

We began with an appetizer of warm almost-melted cheese - a type of brie? perhaps a camenbert? - I don't remember exactly. It was warm, it was soft, it was delicious. There were some nice olives with it. I felt myself start to relax.

A spring risotto was next, a palette of white studded with the vibrant green of freshly shelled peas. The rice grains were soft and tender; unlike heavier risottos that are rich and creamy, this one was brothy and light.

We shared a pork chop entree. I'm not a huge fan of pork for the reason that good pork - raised by Niman Ranch, for instance - is generally so lean that it tastes dry and muscle-y. While Adam polished it off, I attended to the enormous pile of crispy-fried onions that we had ordered as a side. Mmmm. For desert, we clashed our spoons into a butterscotch pot-de-creme. It was just enough; light and caramel-y, not overly sweet. We walked out pleasantly sated, with enough energy to remove the rest of the boxes out of the vehicle.

A few days later, I did some browsing online and found that Kitchen got a review from Michael Bauer! Who knew that his royal highness would venture up here to dine and dish?!

Now I have hope. A thin strand at best, but better than none at all.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Cry, my beloved city

I am leaving my beautiful Presidio Heights apartment for a 3-bedroom ranch style home in a quiet neighborhood 29 miles north of San Francisco.

I am moving to Novato.

I might have never known that Novato existed if it were not for the fact that the love of my life purchased a home here, and we have decided to set up house together. And so here we are, two people who love cities and everything about them, moving to a place where the vehicle of choice is a double cab pickup truck. One of our neighbors has plastic gnomes on the lawn. Really and truly.

The local chamber of commerce tells me that the city of Novato is the second largest city in the county, but to my mind it is more of a geographic region than a city.
Novato is a part of Marin County, which means that it must have at least a few interesting things going on. This loosely drawn saddle of land encloses a population of roughly 50,000.

Make that 50,0002.

At a certain point on Highway 101, a large green signs says: Novato, Next 7 Exits. Seven exits?! This is what you can see from the freeway: McDonalds, Burger King, assorted gas stations, and the faint outlines of strip malls. I fight back the rising sense of panic in my chest.

I sobbed through a box of extra-soft tissue as I waved goodbye to the City by the Bay. Now I must compose myself and figure out logistics.

Like: where do people eat around here?