ELIN HAWKINSON finds more than just fresh produce in Union Square

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That freak snowstorm at the end of October had me worried I wouldn't be able to make my weekly trip to the Union Square Greenmarket for fresh veggies and fruit. I have a soft spot for this particular market; it not only keeps me in greens, but a little over a year ago it brought me true love. Who knew the way to man's heart was through organic produce?

I was 26, freshly single and lonely, when a girlfriend suggested I try an online dating site called Plenty of Fish. Without much hope, I logged on and created a profile. The questions were simple, but the last one me stumped me: What is your idea of a great first date?

Had I ever been on a great first date? Not recently. I shrugged and started to type that my perfect first date would be the beach, sunset, champagne, roses and serenading, invisible violins. Then I caught myself. What the heck was I thinking? I lived in Manhattan.

Goodbye, champagne and roses. In their place I wrote: My idea of a great first date would be to meet up in Union Square and walk around the greenmarket. We could get some nice bread and cheese and fruit, and have a little picnic. I held my breath and pressed send.

My phone woke me the next morning. Sixty-six unread messages. All from Plenty of Fish.

I spent the day reading posts from wannabe suitors. They had only two things in common: They were male and they loved my idea for a first date.

"When I saw you like the Union Square Farmers Market, I knew we were soul mates," wrote Blade33blue. DRKUTS said, "Thank you for being the only woman on this site who doesn't think a first date should be on a beach. Want to go to the market this weekend?" And Yankeeman02 paid me the highest compliment he could when he wrote, "You are the only pretty girl who doesn't sound like a total nutjob. Meet me at the Farmers Market tomorrow? I'll be the one in blaze orange."

Two days into my search, I came across one promising guy. He was from Israel. Exotic past? Check. He coached water polo at Queens College. Steady job? Check! He was hot. Check. Not long afterward, he called me up and asked me out. I asked him where he wanted to go and he replied, "How about the Union Square Farmers Market? When I read your profile that's what first caught my eye."

There was just one glitch: It was December, not ideal picnic weather. "Let's start with coffee," I suggested. "Meet me at the Union Square Starbucks."

The morning of our date dawned bitter and rainy. I tied a black-and-white checked scarf around my neck and arrived early. We were supposed to meet at noon, but at a quarter past there was no one answering his description. What if he didn't show up? Worse, what if he'd shown up, looked through the window and bolted for the nearest subway?

Two minutes later my phone buzzed. "Where r u?" I glanced around, but it was the same crowd of stroller pushers, hipsters and writers crafting intense sci-fi novels in the corner. I frantically texted back: "Here! I'm the one in the black-and-white scarf."

Torturous silence, then a new message. "I'm at the wrong Starbucks."

Five minutes later he arrived, soaking wet, after a jog through the rain from the Starbucks across the Square. We warmed up over hot chocolate. The rain stopped and we strolled around the Union Square Christmas stalls before heading north. We passed the skating rink at Rockefeller Center and glimpsed a hundred tubas gathered on the ice playing "Silent Night." His arm slipped around my waist and I rested my head on his shoulder. Who needed violins?

We made plans to go ice-skating the following Tuesday, his birthday. He kissed me goodnight on my doorstep while I did a little tap dance of joy.

On Tuesday, I headed back to the Union Square Christmas stalls. I was searching for the perfect belated birthday gift. Finally I found it: a wooden Christmas ornament shaped like three little fish dangling from a hook with a hand-painted message: Catch of the Day.

We're still together. Thinking of this during the snowstorm, I decided to pull on my boots and brave the weather. When I got to the market, I paused to say a little prayer of thanks to the gods of Union Square for helping me hook a live one.

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