As I’ve bitched about in the past I’ve been getting pretty cranky about the collateral damage which occurs when I buy food staples. While I may talk a good game the progress on liberating myself from the acquisition of plastic containers and bags has not been fought as aggressively as your standard Marxist guerrilla war. Okay, I make salsa and I reuse produce bags but, really, is that all there is?
Tortillas drive me nuts but the process of grinding cornmeal into pancakes and then cooking them so they maintain a good shape, width and texture seems daunting. Potato chips? I thought I could use a vegetable peeler for slices and fry them in oil but someone said that was a recipe for a charred mess so I’m compelled to investigate the matter further. Bread was especially aggravating because I’ve always been a miserable baker even under the best of conditions. My parents have a proper house with a proper oven that heats evenly, they have stairs that collect heat where dough can rise unmolested except for the occasional acting up of one or more pets, they have a butcher’s block where the dough can be rolled out and kneaded. My excuses are plenty but the alternatives seemed few; I can only bake extremely dense bread that dries out very quickly and tastes like nothing. I like a lot of the local bakeries but they don’t have stores, at least not in town, so I rely on their daily deliveries to stores where you’re forced to purchase their loaves in paper bags printed with the bakery name and brief descriptions. It’s not plastic but paper waste is still waste, and the bags aren’t even worth reusing.
One of my longstanding complaints about San Francisco has been a real lack of small bakeries where you can buy bread. Growing up I lived near a doughnut factory and they had a small storefront that was only open from 6am til’ noon or so with really shitty coffee and a wonderful array of arterial lining snacks. Doughnut shops abound here, many of them 24 hour operations which have offered refuge over the years, but none of them offer anything resembling bread to take home and use. You could wake up early and trek down to the farmer’s market but many of the vendors have their wares already bagged in the appropriate bag before you arrive, and I do need to sleep. When I had friends living in Olympia I would make a twenty minute walk every morning to the San Francisco Street Bakery. They made their own savories and sweets, had a small lunch counter for sandwiches and a small assortment of tables inside and out. It was a great place to go, and they provided bread to many of the Olympia stores, but I’ve never seemed to find anything remotely similar here regardless of how trivial the concept.
Then I remembered a place in Cole Valley, a fancy little yuppie spot where I met a group of friends some time back. They had an impressive display of sugary delights as well as a limited lunch menu but I couldn’t remember any loaves of bread. Risking embarrassment I returned, a mere five minute walk from my job, to investigate. They did indeed have a small selection of breads for sale, and while most are baguettes there are a couple round loaves. I couldn’t read the name tags so I pointed at the sourdough and asked if it was sourdough. The girl behind the counter didn’t even crack a smile, just bagged it and sent me to the register. Good sized loaf of fresh sourdough? $2.50. A couple days later I returned amidst the Saturday crowd and they were out of sourdough but had a huge wheel of bread leaning against the wall– seriously, bigger than my fucking head. Didn’t catch the name but I suspect it’s the Pain variety which is to say, bread bread. They sell them by the half but I was feeling like trying to communicate any further would only cause havoc so I went full bore and it set me back $8.50. It lasted over a week and fed multiple people which is a pretty solid investment in my world.
So I have two sizes of paper bags and leftover plastic bags from years of inappropriate shopping habits. The big test was to see what would happen were I to interrupt their casual bagging of the purchase and insist they use my own rig instead. This took some adjusting for people at other places I frequent and if I wasn’t hyper-vigilant my attempts to hug trees would be routed. The girl behind the counter took my order for a loaf of sourdough and as she reached for hers I reached for mine, cutting her off at the pass. She didn’t say a word, didn’t raise an eyebrow, just took my bag and dropped the bread inside before walking me over to the register to pay. My only real complaint with the place is that I feel compelled to tip them because there’s a little collection cup right next to the register and it’s always full of change and bills. That and the wholesome looking family units of latte liberal middle-class vamps lazying about their day. But as my friend Nancy always says, “Yuppies have nice stuff”, and sometimes you have to make sacrifices for the greater good.
La Boulange de Cole is on the corner of Cole and Parnassus, a block up from the N Judah and 43 Masonic stops. They have given me no compensation for singing their praises, tho they might have given me weird looks when I started taking pictures of their bread.