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Biking and Biting by the Bay

That’s what we called our rolling, 4-stop, 4-course picnic last Wednesday. We were only 13 folks since we held it at 3 pm on a Wednesday, but we figured it was a trial-run of a (hopefully) good idea, and that it will be easier to replicate with more people later.

LisaRuth cuts her ever-more famous and always astonishingly delicious bread!

LisaRuth cuts her ever-more famous and always astonishingly delicious bread!

Carin McKay, my erstwhile flatmate, and former collaborator on our Slow Food Feasts at CounterPULSE, was my co-conspirator in setting this one in motion. We started from home, our bicycles laden with good food and drink, utensils, tablecloths, etc., and rode to the bayshore at 24th, known to the City’s Rec and Park Dept. as “Warm Water Cove” but to many locals as “Toxic Beach” or “Toxic Golf course” (back in the day, people went there to get drunk, bbq, play music, and yes, hit golf balls into the bay). It’s next to the Mirant power plant which will be shut down next year, ending a decades-long history of heavy polluting power plants along the southeastern bayshore of San Francisco.

Oh, the bread, the bread!

Oh, the bread, the bread!

After scrumptious gazpacho, along with the bread and a great olive tapenade, fresh sweet butter, and a couple of bottles of red wine to get us going, we headed north along Illinois Street, past the stump of Irish Hill, and through the bizarre suburban landscape of the new UCSF Campus at Mission Bay. On the north side of that blight on the city we stopped at the edge of Mission Creek under a tree filled with defecating birds (one of our friends was nailed as we pulled up). Once we settled in, the second course proceeded with several bottles of Prosecco, Tuna Carpaccio, and a vegetarian analogue, a zucchini marinade with mint and cilantro, lemon and peppers.

Picnic at Mission Creek!

Picnic at Mission Creek!

The fog rolled while we drank and ate and by the time we left Mission Creek we were combatting strong wind and falling temperatures. Our 3rd stop was the Pier 7, where we enjoyed two salads, one a kale-based wonder, and the other a distant cousin of Caesar Salad, but both delicious. By the time we left here it was nearing 7 pm and we were worried about being too cold. Luckily the last stop took us along the waterfront all the way to Fort Mason, where we climbed up the slope behind the Hostel to loop back into the semi-secret picnic area at Black Point Battery. There we finished off the remaining wine, had two lovely pasta salads (no grill at any stop, so we’ll have to consider that next time) and a veritable orgy of dessert: handmade truffles, brownies, and chocolate chip cookies. It was great!

The food theme is this year’s obsession, obviously. Another friend was arguing last night that ten years ago it was sex, and now it’s food. I’m not sure if that’s true, but clearly something has shifted during the past few years to make food and Foodie-ism an easy culture to join. On Saturday, just a half block from home on Folsom there was a spectacular Street Food Festival, hosted by La Cocina, one of my favorite local organizations. La Cocina provides services to mostly women, giving them a chance to incubate a new food business by giving access to a fantastic industrial kitchen (we used it to prepare our last Feast), classes in small business management, and a whole range of practical skills. The Street Food Festival far exceeded everyone’s expectations. There must’ve been 10,000 people squeezed in to the block-long event over the course of the 8 hours it was open. Our street has never seen anything like it, and it’s especially interesting to remember that the block on which it was held is caddy corner from the Bernal Dwellings Public Housing Projects (rebuilt a few years go), making a curious juxtaposition of classes all mixed up in a celebration of street food.

The Chinese Elms along Folsom made a natural canopy for the Streetfood Festival.

The Chinese Elms along Folsom made a natural canopy for the Streetfood Festival.

Some of the long-time residents of the block had asked La Cocina if they could provide music for the event, to which they agreed, but when it came time for the big sound system to begin blasting tunes over the crowded block, the police weren’t having any of it. They shut them down twice. Not an auspicious occurrence in a neighborhood where there are already rising tensions about the changing demographics. This event probably exacerbated those tensions, though it may have been lessened by a more cooperative openness to the musical aspirations of the neighbors.

The food vendors capped their wares at $8, and a number of participants were well-known, upscale restaurants, from Absinthe and Slanted Door to Delfina.

The food vendors capped their wares at $8, and a number of participants were well-known, upscale restaurants, from Absinthe and Slanted Door to Delfina.

There were plenty of newly incubated businesses too, like Las Estrellitas with their big Salvadoran flag over the booth.

There were plenty of newly incubated businesses too, like Las Estrellitas with their big Salvadoran flag over the booth.

Some Indian chicken cooking... the booths filled the middle of the street, so you could walk behind the "kitchens" along the western sidewalk and get a great show!

Some Indian chicken cooking... the booths filled the middle of the street, so you could walk behind the "kitchens" along the western sidewalk and get a great show!

There were some pretty fancy foods too, like these next two shots of folks preparing bacon-wrapped oysters…

Last time I watched oysters being cracked up close was on the beach in Mexico!

Last time I watched oysters being cracked up close was on the beach in Mexico!

streetfood_bacon_1387

I had a fun time wandering around and talking to people, enjoying the astonishment of the organizers at how huge the turnout was. I think food is an an automatic draw these days. Everyone enjoys tasting new foods, especially if they’re presented as supportive of local businesses and farmers, etc.  But what tends to go unnoticed or at least unmentioned is the equal HUNGER people have for a public life. The beauty of this event, beyond all the good food, was the dense crowds who enjoyed sharing public space, meeting new people, sharing conversations and ideas. Like our small bicycling picnic earlier this week, mixing food and public space and conviviality is a great contribution to the overall quality of life for everyone!

The Food Declaration folks were out signing people up, getting the word out about the effort started a couple of years ago by Michael Pollan, Alice Waters, and others, to reorganize U.S. food and agriculture policies.

The Food Declaration folks were out signing people up, getting the word out about the effort started a couple of years ago by Michael Pollan, Alice Waters, and others, to reorganize U.S. food and agriculture policies.

The sign at the front of the event.

The sign at the front of the event.

If you missed this one, there’s an even better one scheduled for next week at Oakland’s Jack London Square from Friday Aug 28 through Sunday Aug 30, the Eat Real Festival. My pal Susan has been organizing it for some months, and it’s sure to be fantastic. On Saturday evening there’s a butchery contest that I plan to attend, and the chance to sample wares from around the Bay Area will be even more extensive than the Streetfood Festival down the block. Maybe I’ll see you there?

Adriana was in a festive mood after visiting the Streetfood Festival.

Adriana was in a festive mood after visiting the Streetfood Festival.

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