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Fresh Fare and Oxygen 

A salad, a pastry, a perfect plum, consumed in the open air: Sometimes it doesn't take much to make us happy.

Wednesday, Sep 6 2006
Minor epiphany: I was at home, trying to talk myself out of going to the farmers' market. I had a million things to do, including the long-delayed project I was working on, that I'd be unlikely to continue in quite the same spirit after a break. If I did leave the house, there was a list of tedious errands I should do, instead. There were already lots of good things to eat, including plenty of fresh produce, in the kitchen. And I always spent too much money at any farmers' market, making the same mistake I do at a buffet: sampling things at every stand, with the intention of figuring out what I liked best for my next trip.

What finally moved me away from my desk and out the door beyond the always-enticing allure of procrastination was the tantalizing promise of education. There was a tomato tasting on offer and I couldn't resist the lure of what a flier promised was an amazing range of tomato varieties (about 35), including: Great White, Black Prince, Marvel Stripe, Purple Cherokee, Brandywine, Sun Gold, Sweet One Hundred, Green Zebra, Yellow Pear, Sweet Gold, Early Girl, Lemon Boy, Black Plum, Celebrity, Ace, Golden Jubilee, Red Pear, Royal Flush, Golden Pear, Roma, Evergreen, Shady Lady, Beefsteak, Sweet Millions, Sausage, Thesalonika, Supertasty, Miracle Sweet, Ivory Pear, Black Krim, Persimmon Orange, Arkansas Traveler, Delicious, and Mister Stripey. Sheer poetry.

The tasting table was covered with paper plates laden with brilliantly colored chunks of tomato — warm from the sun, ready to be speared with toothpicks — and was reminiscent of a famous Impressionist market painting by Gustave Caillebotte. Although I didn't see any Sausage, Black Krim, or Arkansas Travelers among them, I discovered a new favorite tomato, the Purple Cherokee. And, in trying a couple of that variety grown at different farms, I was reminded that terroir is important in other foodstuffs besides grapes: The sweetest were from Catalan Farms.

I did return home with too much fruit, but also newly energized, refreshed from my foray into the outside world. Less than an hour in sunlight and fresh air had cheered me up immensely. And, besides an assortment of heirloom tomatoes (eventually shared with my father, who said they were the best he'd had all season), I brought home great stone fruit, including some astonishing pluots, and succulent elephant heart plums as fragrant as the small, juicy Santa Rosa plums of childhood memory.

It was a reminder that sometimes a few bites can be as satisfying as a multicourse feast, especially when consumed in the open air. Inspired, I called Joyce and proposed a picnic, centered around three newish San Francisco eateries mostly designed for takeout.

Our first stop was at the stylish Mixt Greens, a mostly salad emporium in the Financial District whose all-organic philosophy extends to its green-building, woody interior and compostable packaging that looks like plastic but is made from biodegradable corn. I grabbed one of the pre-made salads, the Mixt Cobb, from a refrigerator case that had been pretty well emptied out by the lunch rush. Mixt offers a list of about a dozen set salads (including the enticing Cowboy, with grilled chicken or steak, adding red peppers, black beans, corn, cheddar cheese, red onions, and blue cheese dressing with a chipotle-honey drizzle to hearts of romaine) that they'll mix up fresh for you. Or you can design your own, with a choice of greens, vegetables, seeds, nuts, fruits, cheeses, bacon, hard-boiled egg, dressings, and, for a supplemental charge, grilled chicken, filet mignon, ahi tuna, and poached shrimp. Whew.

Joyce chose butter lettuce with jicama, red bell pepper, balsamic onion marmalade, chickpeas, and filet mignon, with a mango citrus vinaigrette.

We swung by Beard Papa to pick up a few of their amazingly popular filled-when-you-order cream puffs. Don't get me wrong, I find them pleasant, but it astounds me that there are still lines out the door whenever I pass by. If people will stand in line for a medium-sized crisp puff filled with a mixture of whipped cream and custard (and if glazed with chocolate, here called an éclair), I think they ought to be camped out overnight at Dianda's or Tartine.

And we headed out to Crissy Field, lured not only by the many picnic tables angled toward the matchless view — Golden Gate Bridge looming overhead, Alcatraz in front, the skyline to your right — but also the proximity of the Warming Hut for good coffee and hot chocolate and the possibility of trying a 100-percent grass-fed beef hot dog from the Let's Be Frank stand stationed near it. We'd heard they were on-site Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, but we'd been misinformed: weekends only, now, we were told.

No matter. Our salads were astonishingly good. Joyce exclaimed over the deep flavor of the rosy steak strips, and we both liked the tangy vinaigrette. Next time, I thought, I'd have them mix up the Cobb fresh (it was hard to get all the ingredients, applewood bacon chunks, egg, avocado, cucumbers, and lovely big slices of moist chicken, evenly coated with the dressing), or author my own combination of ingredients. We'd also tried one of Mixt's four sandwiches, the heirloom, named for its tomatoes (layered with prosciutto di parma, fresh mozzarella, and arugula basil pesto), but it didn't shine like the salads. Seasoned, of course, with all the pleasures of Outside.

It was a home-game evening at AT&T Park, so, some time later, I parked about a mile away and hiked in to try the free-from-hormones, -antibiotics, and -chemicals wiener at Let's Be Frank. I felt foolish in the crowd of black-and-orange-attired fans, even more so after I paid my $5 and got in exchange a dun-colored (no artificial coloring, of course) long, thin dog in a bun, which I squirted with yellow organic fair-trade mustard and adorned with a few measly limp onion rings, all I could beg from the vendor. (Diced onions work much better.)

My first dog bite was disappointing: sweet, soft, with not much snap from the casing nor the spicing. More garlic! my Hebrew Nationalized palate cried. My second bite was no more inspiring. I preferred grass-fed beef, I decided, in its unadulterated form, as served at the Acme Chophouse (whose co-owner, Larry Bain, is one of the creators of Let's Be Frank).

But it might hit somebody else's sweet spot. Every dog has its day. Especially if allowed outside.

About The Author

Meredith Brody

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