I had a roommate back in college whose style motto was "Always dress like you're going somewhere better later." She had perfect shiny black hair, bright red lipstick, and a carefully or semi-ironically cultivated cut-glass accent (her parents were Brits, and she'd spent her high school years divided between Rodean and Spence). She was fond of black stretchy skirts and lacy black stockings, all of which made her an exotic anomoly among the jovial preppy types. Having a fondness for black garments and red lipstick myself, I was immediately charmed, and took her advice to heart, which meant, for me, wearing silver heels, black sweaters, Tres Tres Dior lipstick and Cinnabar perfume. She really did dress up like she was heading to a Soho cocktail party instead of a kegger in the courtyard, and it was fun--often more fun than the parties themselves, with their "Come on Eileen" and Everclear punch in trash cans.
I'm reminded of this every time I wander out of the house to do just a few errands, flanneled and bedheaded, only to end up, several hours later, in an art gallery, then a bar, still sans makeup and avec tennies. You can never predict when San Francisco will scoop you up into something better, and as a result you should always dress for what you want to happen, not just for the bank-and-post-office errands on your docket.
Like today, for example. Mostly it was writing, dropping off books at the library, buying Grape-Nuts and yarn. I knew I had to pick up 20 lbs of potatoes for the upcoming latke party chez PQ, and then meet Bucky at 18 Reasons for the Chanukkah Spin n' Fry. Which meant, of course, that I assumed I could nip over to Dogpatch, grab the potatoes from Julia's Mystery Box* truck, and get home again in time to change for my descent into hipster jewery.
But then, when I arrived at the truck, Julia was just finishing up selling her vegetable mystery boxes, about to sit down to dinner at Piccino with her son and his pal, all of whom had been moving enormous boxes of parsnips, carrots, greens, potatoes, radishes, radicchio, turnips and more from the corner of 20th and Tennessee. As she was kind enough to invite me to join her, what could I do but tuck my bags of potatoes behind me and sample her nettle-and-rice soup and amazing, super herby-garlicky roasted Dungeness crab, cracked and heaped over cannellini beans, and share a simple margarita pizza? By the time the boys were discussing the various merits of lemon tart vs. flourless chocolate cake, it was past 8 and I was late for the Spin n' Fry, still in my only-for-errands clothes and, since I hadn't bothered to bring a purse, woefully unequipped with lipsticks, comb, or other purse-stashed accouterments. And Julia, with true farm wife's generosity, had gifted me with a mystery box of my own, out of the small stack of no-shows. Which meant I was now underdressed and loaded down with some 40 or 50 pounds of rambunctious organic vegetables.
Nothing to do for it but find a cab and head over the Mish, even as scruffy as I was. Who could miss a roomful of Jews, brunette, bespectacled, and smiling over the brisket and latkes, the gelt and the dreidels? Bucky was there, with a coterie of Bike Coalition chicas, and we talked food, bike repair, Christmas Eve appetizers, and somehow, the Infamous Pirate Party of 1996. And then it was on to Anchor Steam's Christmas ale at the 500 Club, where I ran into a small posse of past and present Bay Guardian writer/editors, one of whom grew up in the same part of Buffalo as Bucky did. Yet again, small city, long life.
On the way out, various knots of people were puzzled but fascinated by my enormous plastic bag of vegetables, which I clutched in my arms like a huge basket of laundry. Not quite as cool as the conversation-starting Slinky I used to wear as a bracelet back in college, but definitely more edible.
*What is the Mystery Box, you ask? Well, Julia's husband, Andy, is an organic farmer in Watsonville and Hollister. Their farm, Mariquita Farm, was a longstanding part of the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. Until they decided that the tourist-dominated crowds were in the market to snack, wander, and maybe buy some lavender salt, not to pack their bags with kale and carrots for dinner. However, after quitting the market, they still wanted contact with their regular city customers, even though they already had a lot of restaurant clients and a large CSA.
So the Mystery Box was born: twice a month, the Mariquita truck would pull up outside a local restaurant, and customers who'd pre-ordered through an email list would show up and hand over $25 cash. In return, they'd get an amazingly abundant pile of dirt-fresh veggies, whatever was striking Andy and Julia's fancy on the farm. It worked like a charm, and now they often bring a few items from other farming or ranching friends--eggs from pasture-raised hens, organic apricots, fresh lamb, handmade sheep's milk ricotta--or large quantities of particular items, like 25lb boxes of tomatoes or 10-bunch bundles of basil.
If you loved tomatoes but felt daunted by the amount, you would be encouraged to share the bounty with friends, on your own time. The price is similar to your average CSA box, but the quantity is much, much more generous, and the stuff inside is always intriguing. You have to be a cook, though--the mystery box doesn't pander. Parsnips, daikon radish, radicchio in all sizes and colors, turnips, arugula, enormous cauliflower and radishes fill the boxes in winter; this isn't about broccoli and lettuce. Anyone can sign up and get on the list; the only caveat is that if you confirm for a box that week, you MUST show up to pay and take it home. Miss your pickup, and you'll have to pay for the box you skipped in order to get another box in the future.