A visiting friend and I spent much of today in food-related activities. We started at the Old Oakland Farmers' market, where we sampled a wide variety of fruits and other goodies. At ScreamSorbet we got the Charentais melon and the cucumber mint, which is different and surprisingly delicious. I was happy to learn that the guy who makes the half-sour pickles and other Eastern European goodies was there, as I'd only seen him before at Mountain View. Finally, we bought a selection of berries from Rodriguez farms -- golden raspberries, blackberries and raspberries at $2 a basket or 3-for-$5.
Then we walked over to Chinatown and bought buns a Ruby King -- it's sort of reverse sticker shock to transition from booths selling $2 samosas and $3.50 cupcakes to spending 55-85 cents on buns (chicken and BBQ pork) and tarts (egg custard and coconut).
Finally, we walked back to the car and stopped into the two African/Caribbean markets on 8th -- one of which featured about eight different kinds of yams.
Then we headed over to Marin to meet with Lisa Hamilton, a woman who has written books and articles on the subject of sustainable farming, farmers markets, etc. It was interesting talking with her -- she's familiar with chowhound but didn't know about the discussions that rage on the not about food board on various topics in her field. www.lisahamilton.com.
On the way, since we were running early, we stopped at the Mill Valley farmers' market (Fridays, 9-2, on E Blithedale where what looks like and old Albertson's is being converted to a Whole Foods). It's such a contrast to Old Oakland, which has less organic vendors but a much wider variety of Asian produce. Even more interesting, Rodriguez was there, with the same selection of berries, but they were exactly twice as expensive ($4 basket 3-for$10)! Know your audience, I guess! There was a raw chocolate maker from Emeryville I hadn't seen before, and Cowgirl was there, but it's a pretty small market.
After our meeting we browsed around Mill Valley a little, checking out but not buying at the gelateria and the cupcake place. Then, since I rarely get over to Marin, I decided we needed to check out some of the premium ice cream in the area. I was headed for Three Twins, but when I called Melanie for directions she suggested we head to Fairfax Scoop instead. As usual, Melanie was right: it's amazing ice cream, possibly the best I've ever had. I had the brown sugar pecan and the Latin Jazz (bittersweet chocolate with chile) and they were both fabulous. My friend had the honey vanilla lavender and the Mudpie and they were all perfectly balanced: the flavors were smooth and well-rounded and the ice cream was rich but not so much that the butterfat overwhelmed the flavorings. To cap the experience, it was relatively cheap: $2.60 for a "single" with two small scoops of different flavors, in a house-made waffle bowl -- half what we paid for two slightly smaller scoops at ScreamSorbet. Highly recommended!
Finally, we came back by 80 and stopped at Berkeley Bowl West. My friend wanted to pick up some locally made chocolate (Charles Chocolates and Tcho) to take back home, and I wanted to buy some more bulk Valrhona -- in the cheese section. The Valrhona 40 percent cocoa solids Jivara has a lovely smoky finish, and at $16.99/lb it's a lot cheaper than buying a 75 gram bar for $5.95 at my local chocolate pusher.