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October 2010

Farmers' Market Find: Fruit Cheese

Fruit-cheese

I haven't been getting down to the Saturday Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market as often as I'd like. Too often when the choice is between sleeping in versus getting up and heading down there early enough to actually peruse the market, the sleeping in wins. And with the market's popularity, you really do need to get there early before the sightseeing crowds overtake it.

I usually squeeze in a power walk to the Tuesday or Thursday markets (it's a nice mile walk round-trip from my office, with the way back a mild workout from carrying a sack or two of produce.) But both are mini-markets as compared to the hundred or so stalls on Saturdays.

Last weekend, I was determined to make it happen. We reserved a City Carshare and set the alarm, and thus the plan was set.

In addition to stuffing our expandable reusable bags with avocadoes from Brokaw, goat cheese from Redwood Hills Farm, and artichokes from Iacoppi, I had to stop by June Taylor's table to replenish my jam supply. I'd just finished up a jar of her amazing Santa Rosa Plum conserve. I went with a Gravenstein apple butter instead of a jam. My SO's mom had given me a jar she'd made last year, so I was already a convert.

While at June's table, these little baby bundt cake jelly mods caught my eye. On closer inspection I saw they were fruit cheeses. June saw my inquisitive looks at them, and offered me a taste. In short, they taste like a grown-up's fruit roll-up. And I immediately decided to grab one of the Santa Rosa Plum fruit cheeses to take to Thanksgiving dinner, to pair with some local cheeses.

This was my first encounter with fruit cheese as far as I know, which is osmewhat surprising given how much fruit and vegetable preservation my grandmothers on both sides used to get into. They are a great way to preserve an overabundance of summer fruits, as an alternative to jams and marmalades. And best of all -- you can store them in a dark, cool cupboard until you need them.

I think I'd ike to try my hand at making some next year. They seem like they'd be great hostess gifts for the holidays. And they don't seem to be any more difficult to make than jam, other than the unmolding part. In this age wherein we can do so much quickly and efficiently virtually, including ordering our groceries online, it's little discoveries like this that make taking the time to go out and shop and talk with the artisans and growers at the market such a good expenditure of time.


SF Zoo Outing

IMG_0716

I've been remiss in not posting about this sooner. Especially since we have such great photos from this excursion.

I invited my childhood BFF and her two fabulous youngsters to come spend the day in the City, to go visit the San Francisco Zoo. I hadn't been there since I was about 6 years old, to the best of my memory.

Since it was lunchtime and we were all starving, our first stop was the Beach Chalet restaurant. Since they don't often get into the City, we thought it would be cool to have lunch with an Ocean Beach view. I was pleased that I was able to get the little ones to try the hummus.

"What's that," asked Spencer.

"It's dip," I replied.

"What kid of dip?" he asked.

"Bean dip. Garbanzo beans. You'll like it," I assured him.

I should note here we ate every last crostini and polished off the bread plate as well, leaving no speck of hummus uneaten.

After that, we headed to the zoo, and spent the remainder of the day checking out all of the exhibits, which ended up being quite a bit of walking for the kids. Once everyone was tired out, we sought out the only open snack bar (Only 1 snack bar open on a Summer day? Really?) Unfortunately, only 1 open snack bar means one thing: Seagull mayhem.

If multiple snack bars are open, you don't have the entire flock of seagulls (no, not *that* Flock of Seagulls) concentrated in one place, with their beady little eyes trained on your hot dog or churros or ice cream. But I was prepared for those sneaky little bandits, and kept them chased off from the teeny tiny toddler level table we sat at.

I was impressed with the improvements to the living conditions of the animals. On the whole, they had so much more room to spread out and run, play, and enjoy the day's limited sunshine. They don't have the luxury of all of San Diego Zoo's space to spread out, but it is still a major improvement over the concrete enclosures I remembered from my childhood.

The only bummer of the day was most of the big cats were hiding or sleeping. We nearly missed out on the lion that graces this page, as he was lazing about in the far back of the enclosure. But once he decided there was a large enough audience awaiting his presence, he slowly sashayed out towards midfield, and gave us all a good pose.

At closing time, we packed up and took Erika and her family back to BART and vowed to have another outing soon. I think a visit to the California Academy of Science might be a good next visit. I wish they lived closer so these wouldn't de such rare events.

A few favorite photos:

image from farm5.static.flickr.com

image from farm5.static.flickr.com

image from farm5.static.flickr.com


If the Customer is Always Right, Why do so Many Salespeople Act Like They are Doing You a Favor?

Dr-marten's-Mary-Janes-Oxblood
These glorious shoes were my birthday present to myself. I saw them on display at the Dr. Marten's shop on Haight Street. I needed a half size up from my usual size, which they didn't have on hand, but the salesclerk promised to call me in a few days when they got in a new shipment. Two days passed, and the clerk called me with bad news: they didn't get in any more of the mary janes, and it looked like they wouldn't be getting any more of them period.

"OK, thanks, what a bummer," I said, about to hang up.

"Wait!" said the clerk. "You should check Zappo's for them. I'm pretty sure they should have them."

And you know what? They DID have them. And now I have a fond place in my heart for the Dr. Marten's store and that awesome salesclerk. She took what would have been a customer disappointment and turned it into an example of going above and beyond.

I've been on a bit of a roll lately, with a few truly outstanding customer experiences coming my way. Like the salesclerk at Cost Plus World Market in Daly City who looked through the depths of their backroom to see if the chair I wanted had gotten in any of its out of stock powder blue versions (it had.) And the Apple Genius Bar team member who, after my iMac was brought back less than 24 hours after they'd had it for a week and a half to fix a problem it had also been brought in for 6 weeks previously (for which they'd had it about 2 weeks) got my computer replaced.

But this small flurry doesn't make up for the many customer service misses that I've had this year.

  • I've walked out of Macy's Union Square due to an inability to get any assistance with obtaining assistance in the dressing room with obtaining alternate sizes of clothing.
  • Also at Macy's, I had a saleswoman so self-involved with her colleague and when her lunchbreak was going to be that she sent me home with a garment that had its security tag still left on, another garment that needed dry cleaning before being worn (without an offer to knock anything off its price), and folded everything so poorly and shoved it into a bag that it was all wrinkled by the time I got home.
  • I'm done with pre-ordering anything from Office Depot, after having two back-to-back experiences where I show up to find that my order has not been filled, and that the store manager, of all people, can't find it in the system, and doesn't know what to make of my request that they just pull the item off the shelf then. I seriously watched a clerk walk around with my ID in his hand for 10 minutes, wandering around, as though it might somehow lead him to my items...At least they weren't rude to me and didn't try to send me hoe with someone else's much smaller order, like the folks at the Beverages and More on Geary when they did the same thing. So I will still shop with them, just not online.
  • At Andronico's, a local gourmet supermarket chain, the checker was in such a hurry that she started ringing up the guy behind me before my groceries were bagged or I'd had a chance to put away my wallet. Prompting the impatient customer behind me to tell me to hurry up and get out of the way. All while the checker pretended I was invisible, not the customer who'd just bought a shopping cart full of food from her less than 15 seconds earlier. This customer also drove around the parking lot to flip me off, incensed by my reply of "Actually, my groceries aren't even bagged yet, so I don't have anywhere to go."

But these were small potatoes compared to my worst recent customer service experience, which was at Nordstrom of all places. For our anniversary, I wanted to buy my significant other something practical that I knew he wouldn't splurge on for himself: a nice pair of shoes he could wear to work that wouldn't bother his feet. Wanting a good selection, and to have a salesperson take some time with us, we went to Nordstrom. The clerk who'd been helping us was moderately patronizing to my boyfriend, which should have been a warning sign, but I thought I was possibly being oversensitive. So I ignored the annoying comments here and there, we picked a great pair of shoes, and took them up to the counter to be rang up.

"I'm paying for these," I said, as the clerk told my boyfriend the total.

"Oh, of course you are," he replied.

Huh? I gave him a look that I thought conveyed, "what's that supposed to mean?" but apparently it did not. He continued, "Are you his sister? His sister, or his mother?"

EXCUSE ME???

Please note: I am a few years older than my boyfriend. I am not, however, old enough to have given birth to a 20-something, nor do I look as though I am 50-years-old and actually old enough to be his mother.

I was mortified. Embarrassed in front of a crowded counter full of people in a busy shopping center.

"I'm buying them as an anniversary gift," I replied. "He's my boyfriend."

I am pretty sure he had something else to say about that. But I was so upset by this point that, frankly, I couldn't hear anything.

I cut short our shopping trip, no longer in the mood to shop.

I was upset about this interaction for a few days, and thought about complaining. But to whom? And about what? "Dear Nordstrom Director of Customer Service-- I was embarrassed by your clerk calling me either a cradle robber or an old bag at your store this weekend..." Instead, I just haven't been back.

Can physical stores afford to lose customers to bad service in this economy? If I can just as easily go buy my items from your website, or from Amazon's (which has some of the best customer service I've encountered, not that I've needed it much despite my many purchases.)

The smart stores try hard to make sure your experience is a good one -- even if it's correcting their error after the fact. Take Macy's for example. I'm guessing that they are proponents of the Client Promoter Score methodology. After that bad experience with the security tag etc., I got a customer survey request from them in my email inbox. They knew who I was because I'd used my same credit card for online purchases previously. I filled out the survey, and gave some specific feedback on the issues I'd had with my visit, and hit submit.

Less than 6 hours later, at the phone number and at the time I'd noted I would be available should someone wish to follow up on my survey, one of the assistant manager's called me to apologize for my experience, and to offer to do what they could to make it right. It took a little while and some email back-and-forth with her to ID my transaction, but in the end, she refunded me for a nice percentage of my entire purchases -- not just for the ones that had issues. I felt done right by. No, I won't shop with that sales associate ever again, but I will go back, because once they knew there was a problem, they handled it with me.

Here's hoping more companies stop and think about empowering their customers to give them feedback about the good -- and the bad-- experiences they have with them. Of course, we can always just blog and tweet about the bad experiences regardless of if the company joins the conversation. But if they're smart, they'll *want* to hear what their customers are saying about them, and will understand what an unprecedented opportunity that is to improve their client experience, and win us over as raving fans for life.


A Shared Group Experience That Wasn't

Last night, we went out to see "The American", the new film from Anton Corbijn, starring George Clooney. I was excited to go see it, having been a big fan of his photography for decades (yes, seriously), and his iconic video work for Depeche Mode. I'd really enjoyed his first full length film, Control, based on the tragically short life of Joy Division lead singer Ian Curtis.

The film opened with a gorgeous snowy landscape, in Sweden, and immediately conjured up Depeche Mode's "Enjoy the Silence" in my head. We were drawn in to the dangerous day-to-day life of Jack, a weapons expert and assassin by trade. Having seen the trailer, and being well-versed in Corbijn's work, I knew this wouldn't be some run-of-the-mill "assassin pulls one last job" movie.

As the movie progresses, you see it's really more of a statement regarding figuring out what gives your life meaning. Having an exciting job with lots of money isn't it. All you really have in life are your relationships with other people. The rest is filler, not what's important. Jack comes to this realization by the end of the film. But as the film ends, you fear he figured this out a tiny bit too late. And that after executing all the elements of his plan perfectly throughout the film, when he most needed perfection, he fucked up. The final scene leaves you with a jack who is angry. Angry at himself for messing up. Angry for not realizing what mattered sooner. Finally, the assassin's mask is lifted and he shows this final emotion.

Corbijn fades out to the trees in the Tuscan countryside, leaving you, the viewer, to decide how this film ultimately ends. Personally, I love ambuguity in films, especially in the endings. (I loved that about Inception, for instance, and know that was the element most likely to vex many of the folks I know who saw it.)

As the screen faded to black, I'd started to tear up a ittle. I'd really enjoyed the film. And at that point, a group of 6 or so people sitting near me, started hissing.

That's right. They hated the movie. But they decided that was not enough of a statement. And thus, I had to listen to these self-appointed arbiters of culture complain loudly about how "this was a terrible movie." The "worst movie I've ever seen."

WTF?

I know we all have our own expreience of films, and pieces of music, and books, and of art. But, frankly, the last time i saw this kind of righteous indignation was when I saw Lost Highway. Someone walked out of that midway through, possibly during the S&M scene with Marilyn Manson's "Apple of Sodom" playing. It didn't surprise me during that film because quite honestly, I love David Lynch but I have seen numerous people lose it while watching his movies in the theater.

But I was shocked at all the noise these folks felt compelled to make on their way out of the theater, thus imposing their opinions over the experience of the rest of us -- the majority of the audience -- who'd sat there wanting to soak up the ending of the movie as the credits played out. To be fair, they weren't the only people who hadn't liked the film. A couple in front of us had stalked out of the theater after a scene with Clooney and a lady of the evening.

After a few minutes of their hubbub I really couldn't listen to more of it. And thus I said in a stage whisper to my SO, "I guess they were expecting a Hollywood action film where the guy gets the girl and they all live happily ever after." Happily, their obnoxious commentary stopped after that, as they packed up and left.

I'm not proud of stooping to their level, mind you. But I couldn't stand another minute of listening to their boorish commentary. Save it for your post-movie dinner chat with your friends. The strangers in the audience with you are not interested in your opinion. Really. We're not.

I wonder what had compelled these folks to trek out to the Sundance Kabuki (that's right, they're affiliated with that Sundance, the one that puts on the independent film festival) and pay a premium to watch this film. All I can think of is one of the ladies in the group was a big George Clooney fan and convinced everyone to go along with it.

 I'll never know what their issue was with the film that caused them to raise their voices to ensure everyone in the audience could hear how much they hated it. But it was a good reminder that these shared experiences we have in a large group of people...they're not the same experience for all of us, even though we all take part. And hopefully next time I encounter folks acting in this manner, I'll be able to just shush them.