Retail Therapy

Alternatives to Everyday Grocery Shopping: the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market

donut muffins and other sweet treats from the Downtown Healdsburg Bakery stand at the Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market in San Francisco.

I hate grocery shopping.

No, really. I hate going to grocery stores, pushing a cart around under the fluorescent lights. Going to smaller markets like Bryan's or the Haight Street Whole Foods is a nice compromise, but it is still going to the grocery store. Which is firmly planted on my no fun list.

Which is why today we did our shopping for the food we'll cook and eat this week at the Ferry Plaza Farmers' Saturday market.

We started out with brunch at the underrated Market Bar, where I had a friend egg, cheese and pork sandwich (with chipotle aioli, avocado tomatillo salsa and plantain chips) that was simply amazing. When it arrived I thought to myself there was no possible way I could eat it all. But I was wrong. I only left a crunchy bit of crust on my plate!

Sufficiently fueled up, we spent an hour scouring the market for ingredient's for the week's dinners. Highlights of what we brought home:

There is just something so inspiring about buying food in the fresh foggy air, often from the people who are growing it. I can't wait to put all our produce and assorted treats to use this week.

Hello Kitty Ruled the NorCal Cherry Blossom Festival

hello kitty bouncy castle

Hello Kitty was everywhere at this year's Cherry Blossom Festival in San Francisco's Japantown. On the official t-shirt, towering over the car show, and all over the place indoors too. I'm a big fan of hers, so this was a good thing.

The festival was, as always, a good excuse to wander around the Japantown shops. And thanks to the festivities, there were more goth lolitas than usual in New People and its vicinity, which made for fun people watching.

I always love seeing all the handmade items at the festival. This year was heavy on the kawaii t-shirts, which is no surprise given the saturation of silkscreen apparel in general right now. I loved the soap booth with sumo wrestlers, sushi, and even a soap taco. Totally fun and creative. I did come home with some pretty earrings (teeny blue rice paper circles covered in resin.)

Tokidoki Hello Kitty bag
...and I couldn't resist this awesome, over-the-top, Tokidoki Hello Kitty bag. I tried. I really did. OK, maybe not *too* hard. I'm actually starting to get a nice little Tokidoki collection going.

 I suppose it is a little bit much for every day use. But sometimes, isn't it nice to be just a little too much?

I also picked up some gorgeous letterpress cards at Kinokinoya stationary shop, plus some supplies for future crafty projects. And at the bookstore, looking at all the kooky cat picture books, I plotted some craft projects to keep my furry little monsters occupied with some handmade kitty toys.

Just another fabulous weekend day in San Francisco.


Getting Comfy

most adorable slippers ever

I found these super awesome slippers in my Christmas stocking this year. I'd been ogling them in the Garnet Hill catalog for a few months. Santa is pretty observant! Or Santa was tired of seeing a barefoot me walking around all winter complaining about how cold our apartment is. *cough*

I hadn't seen any slippers I'd liked in months of idly looking around while we were out and about. Then in one issue of this catalog, I saw several that I would happily wear. The ability to find something fun and different is exactly why I don't automatically trash all the fun catalogs that hit my mailbox during the holiday season. Typically, I flip through the paper catalog, then order online. I like avoiding the mobs of shoppers downtown, and the ability to more readily surprise someone with something they haven't seen before.

As I sit here typing this post, I've been doing a quick tally in my head. And I can say that I purchased almost all my holiday gifts -- except for a few foodie items from the Ferry plaza Farmers market -- online. With the bulk of those purchases, from folks who put out catalogs.

I blame my catalog shopping impulses on J. Crew. I am pretty sure they're the ones who got me hooked on it, back in high school. Now, if I can order it online or via a toll free # instead of traipsing out to purchase it, I do.

Here's a short list of my favorite places for procuring unexpected presents:

  • Boden. Girly clothes that are casual, but nice enough to wear to work.
  • Giant Robot. Pop culture toys and t-shirts.
  • Anthropologie. More girlie clothes and interesting housewares. Pretty much all of my favorite pieces I wear to work are from here.
  • CB2. Crate & Barrel's hipper and more affordable sibling. Lots of great housewares.
  • MoMA Store. The Museum of Modern Art in NYC is a great source for all sorts of fun accessories, housewears and prints.
  • DeYoung Museum shop. This is our local museum, and one of my favorite places for looking at (and taking home) jewelry.
  • Dean and Deluca. I don't think I've ever made a trip to NYC -- no matter how quick -- without stopping by one of their shops. I use the catalog and online store to get my fix of their coffee and treats.
  • Muji. I seek out these shops whenever I travel in Europe. Love their plain, non-branded housewares and stationary items.
  • Think Geek. T-shirts, desk accessories, and technonerd items all in one place.

This is how I got all my holiday shopping done well before the holidays, and without leaving my comfy chair. RAWR!

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

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?"


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.

FOUND: Kinder Hippos in SF!

Whenever I travel to the EU, I make a point of bringing home a dozen Kinder Hippos so I can instantly transport myself back into vacation brain. And yes, whenever I hear a friend is traveling to a City where I know a place to buy them, I make sure to beg for candy.

But I shall no longer have to bribe travelers to make room in their bags for these hazelnut and chocolate wafer treats: Royal Market and Bakery (the awesome Russian grocery up the street) had them today!

I bought myself a box of five, and one for Lewis as well. But I'm putting my name on my box to make sure he doesn't think he can sneak an extra one when I'm not looking...


Grocery List 101

Menu_pad_3 Typically, I am a haphazard grocery list creator. I may jot down a few items on a random piece of paper, but I don't always leave the store with everything I need. Resolved to do a better job (and avoid revisting the store twice in one week) I snapped up one of these handy menu planner pads at Stacey's Books a while back, and slapped it onto the refrigerator.

Now, if I am planning my week's shopping and have some new recipes to try out, I start with one of these sheets instead of a random sticky pad. It helps me keep track of all the special items I'll need, while prodding me to check my cupboards for staples I tend to just assume I have on hand.

Now if only I could find a way to avoid the long checkout lines...

keeping track of time

Ladybug_timerLast weekend, one batch of cookies turned out perfect while the other was overbrowned thanks to my timing the cookies by smell. Because yet again, my timer was kaput.

You see, I had a classic old timer but it would sometimes get stuck and not ring.

Then I had an electronic timer, but it was too heavy for its magnet and would fall of the fridge and lose its battery and the plastic cover. Plus, since it was white, flat and nondescript, if it was not on the fridge... I could never find it.

Then we got a super fancy egg shaped timer from Brookstone from Santa. But it started beeping for no reason in the evening, and its window became impossible to read except at a funny angle.

Which is why I bought this little ladybug at Sur La Table today. I am sure she won't go missing.

The Joys of Food Shopping in Italy

On both my trips to Italy, I've primarily stayed in apartments. For me, that decision was made first and foremost to enable me to snatch up the delicious foods I come across over the course of my day. My boyfriend still has fond memories of the white bean pasta dish I threw together one night in Venice. That's why this Serious Eats post on the top things the writer loves about shopping in Italy caught my eye. Reading this post brought back many great memories, and left me smiling, and looking forward to my next trip...

Supermarkets as "Lifestyle Stores"

A few months ago, Whole Foods opened a swankier incarnation of itself in San Francisco. With its wine bar, bistro, expanded gourmet takeout etc., it's part of the new "lifestyle store" trend that has now been expanded to...Safeway.

That's right, the former workhorse of grocery stores opened its own "lifestyle store" in Livermore of all places.

I loathe going to your typical fluorescent lit, poorly stocked, supermarket. That's why I frequent the Ferry Plaza Farmers market, Andronico's and my local natural food store, Thom's. And I get deliveries from Whole Foods when I can't make it to any of those places, thanks to the Shophoppers delivery service.

I don't know that a pottery barn makeover would make me spend more time and money at Safeway. I am either in the market for processed foods, or I'm not. Unless this makeover is complete with upgraded produce quality, it may not fly with other flks either.

Miss Dior Cherie

I have a confession to make...despite being the go-to person at work and amongst friends for purchasing just about anything in this fine city, I have an area of purchasing that has been sorely neglected: fragrance.

I've been wearing Chanel's Coco perfume since high school. My then boyfriend bought me a bottle for Christmas or my birthday, which I traded off for Calvin Klein's Eternity,for a year or so, but the Coco eventually won out, and became my signature fragrance.

But about a year or so ago, I realized I was no longer in love with my Coco. Its scent no longer made me smile. But laziness and fear of running the gauntlet of the fragrance tester sprayers caused me to do nothing about it, other than wistfully wish a new fragrance would plop itself into my lap. But no such luck.

But last Friday, while running errands at the San Francisco Shopping Centre, I stopped in at Nordstrom to have a pass through by the shoes and accessories. As I was headed to the elevators, I passed by an intimate little salon off to the side of the cosmetics, and distinctly away from its hustle and bustle. A multitude of shelves held perfume tester bottles and paper strips.A friendly saleswoman watched from the back of the room but let my fellow shoppers and myself slowly peruse the shelves, spraying and smelling and daydreaming.

The scent that caught my attention was the newish Miss Dior Cherie. Like Coco, it'smoreofa"nightime scent" but I don't personally differentiate. People who know more than me about these things say its primary notes include strawberry leaf, patchouli, violet, mandarin, musk, and jasmine. I'm surprised because patchouli is not something I usually like. But it's subtle enough that I don't really notice it. It's just a happy, light fragrance.

There weren't any samples of the fragrance, so the Nordstrom saleswoman MADE one for me. That level of service, combined with the great atmosphere for browsing the fragrances is why I'll be headed back there to buy my own bottle later this week.

Royal Blend Tea

Whenever friends are headed to the UK, I inevitably pester them about procuring some of Fortnum & Mason's Royal Blend tea for me. I fell in love with this tea over the holidays, in London, in 2001. It was in a sampler I'd bought for my friend and hostess, Leah. After perhaps a day, we'd already gone through its selection in the tea box and set out to the F&M food hall to procure ourselves some more.

This morning, after securing an incoming fix of more of this tea, I stumbled across the Fortnum & Mason US website, through which you can actually order this glorious tea. Happy days.


Le Sanctuaire

Like everyone, I have a few places at which I simply do not allow myself to just "stop in." This includes Sephora, where a girl can easily drop a few hundred dollars on lip gloss and skin care products, and Anthropologie with all its cute dresses and sweaters that can easily blow a month's discretionary spending.

And that's why you won't see me traipsing up the stairs to go to 's SF outpost of Le Sanctuaire. It's hard enough for me to leave Sur La Table without coming home with some kitchen tool I can barely stuff into my overflowing utensils drawer. It would be dangerous for me to enter a place that supplies the tools and raw materials for all sorts of kitchen science projects. Just reading Amanda Gold's Chronicle article this morning made me fear for my wallet. Like I could leave a place like that without trying to procure some of my favorite supplies from Italy and France.

I run away in the face of such temptation.

Le Sanctuaire
315 Sutter St., fifth floor, San Francisco
(415) 986-4216

Bristol Farms at Westfield SF Shopping Center

Until recently, my only real option for healthy snacks for during my work day was hitting up the Tuesday lunchtime Farmers Market at the Ferry Building. And although I truly adore that market, most of what I want from there needs to be brought home and prepared, rather than being a great afternoon no hassle snack.

When I'd feel especially motivated, I'd walk to the SOMA location of Whole Foods, but it is such a trek from the Financial District that it would leave me hot and sweaty from power walking carrying a heavy grocery sack full of treats, and out of time to actually enjoy some lunch.

When I got my first glimpse of the Bristol Farms in the new Westfield San Francisco shopping mall at Union Square, I was thrilled that I'd finally have the ability to buy the same great breakfast foods and snacks I had at home to eat at work. (In case you are wondering why I didn't just bring in food from home, I ride MUNI buses to and from work -- it's a pain to have a big heavy bag on a standing room only bus and leaving things unrefrigerated for 30-45 minutes is not such a great idea.) On a nice day, it's a 15 minute walk, otherwise BART and MUNI metro underground all stop at the Powell station that is adjacent to the subterranean market.

The store is gorgeous, and they stock most of the same brands I buy at Andronico's. Plus they have a big selection of hot food, and a great panini bar. Here's what made it back to work with me:

  • Turkey cheddar panini for lunch
  • Baby carrots in individual bags
  • Boursin garlic herb cheese spread
  • Republic of Tea vanilla almond tea (bags)
  • Fage Greek honey yogurt
  • Nature Valley oats and honey granola bars
  • Bristol Farms chili peanuts

I plan to make a weekly trek to the store to stock oup the work fridge with food I not only like to eat, but that is better for me than the prepared options in the vicinity. Yeah for making buying god food easier!

Gourmet Beverages

Since I am no longer fond of our local beverage super store, after receiving bad service and worse attitude, I have been sad that it's meant a lack of Boylans specialty sodas in my life (particularly the Sugar Kane Cola my SO loves). My other beverage woe is the scarcity of Santa Lucia water retailers. I can buy it when someone hasn't gotten to it first during my rare trips to Whole Foods, or can buy tiny bottles of it at LuLu Petite at the Ferry Building, but I don't have any way to maintain a regular supply.

But this morning, thanks to the joy of googling, I found a site that sells BOTH of these beverages -- Soda King. This website has the Boylans Sugar Kane Cola AND Santa Lucia sparkling water!!! I am going to have to wait to place my case order, however, until I can talk to a human. The online form calculated $44 in UPS Ground shipping charges (estimating 2 44 lb boxes!) for my $36 order of a case of soda and a case of water.

Shop Hoppers

As a non-driver city dweller who loves to cook, I have to admit I was a big fan of Webvan. They never let me try to buy anything they didn't have in stock. The fruit and vegetables they brought me were as gorgeous as if I'd picked them up from the farmers market. Their selection was on a par with Andronico's or even Whole Foods. And their substitutions didn't suck. I truly wish they had started out charging us all delivery fees so that there would be a chance they'd still be around today.

Continue reading "Shop Hoppers" »

NYC Holiday Whirlwind

Two layers of cashmere sweaters, boots, fuzzy scarf and gloves, topped off with a three-quarters length leather jacket barely took the edge off the 20-something degree early morning temperature, as I briskly walked down Fifth Avenue last December, against the flow of the humming Midtown Manhattan morning commuters, sliding onto the sidewalks from the streets on the patches of ice which, still in the skyscrapers' shadows, had not yet thawed.

I ignored the cold, even though my cheeks were a garish shade of pink. I was a California girl on a unique mission: I was in search of a television-perfect Manhattan Holiday weekend, complete with extravagant holiday windows, gourmet delicacies flown in from Paris, and ice skating at Rockefeller Center.

I’d come into the city on a red eye flight, and dropped my bags at my Grand Central area hotel, grabbed a vanilla latte, and set out on my quest. The gleaming art deco Rockefeller Center was my first stop on my whirlwind holiday tour. Metal barriers kept tourists from cutting through the plaza, as the television crewmembers rushed around what would be the set for that evening’s Christmas tree lighting ceremony. I was lucky to still able to get in a few tranquil minutes of watching those more graceful than myself skate on the festively decorated, below-street level Rockefeller Center Skating Rink.

First opened on Christmas Day, 1936, the Rink has attracted over a quarter million people each year, and has been featured in countless movies, making it a must-see on my quest to take in NYC holiday traditions. The skaters, gliding around the rink in circles or figure eights, appeared to be blissfully unaware of the screech of the electrical tape and the sound checks going on amongst the crowd above them.

Rockefeller Center was a good launching point for my holiday windows tour. The holiday windows of Barney’s, Bergdorf Goodman, and Saks Fifth Avenue, noted by multiple friends as the most imaginative in years past, were my key stops. Simon Doonan’s “Sex in the City” inspired windows at Barney’s, were funny (comedy is always a key aspect of his window designs). But it was Linda Fargo’s "A Holiday Dream" window, with its opulent nighttime landscape of black and white swans, Swarovski chandelier, and huge baroque mirror at Bergdorf Goodman that really grabbed me.

A morning of window-shopping in windy cold conditions called for a lunchtime respite at Fauchon’s tea salon. After a short wait in the doorway, I was rewarded with perhaps the best table for people watching. While I waited for my my pot of Earl Grey with flowers tea and petite yet perfectly filling foie gras sandwich ($27 with tip), I leaned back in the reclining gilt-covered chair, with the signature Fauchon pink-and –white striped upholstery, to enjoy my unobstructed view of Madison Avenue’s lunchtime shoppers.

The narrow salon was packed with couples enjoying a romantic interlude in the middle of the workday or after some serious site seeing, plus several independent women enjoying pots of tea and an array of pastries. While I was halfway through my tea, an older woman was seated at a table in the corner, with her back to the storefront wall, facing my table. It became clear after her conversations with the waiter that she was a regular, and that I was seated at her regular table. Full of holiday spirit, and anxious to start my holiday shopping in the attached shop, I chose not to linger at the table, and flagged down the waiter for my check.

This Fauchon storefront had a comprehensive selection of the products the company markets in the United States. Contrary to what the store manager tried to convince me of, it does not, however, include the same range of products as the Paris shops. Most notably, the “potted duck” (duck rillettes in a pantry-ready glass jar) was absent. I snatched up a dozen small jars of unusual condiments (such as the mustard with cocoa), and the milk jams (vanilla, caramel, coffee), plus several pink tin canisters of individually wrapped madeleines (a treat I’d fallen in love with the previous Spring in Paris), and decided this year’s presents would have a culinary theme.

A nap back at the hotel was a necessary luxury before hopping on the Metro at Grand Central and heading to SoHo for additional window-shopping and dinner at Slow Food favorite Savoy. After a failed attempt at a meet-up with a local friend, I decided to still try for dinner at Savoy.

Savoy is a cozy, two-story jewel box of a restaurant on Prince at Crosby. Despite my lack of reservations, I was allowed to sit at a tiny round table next to the picture windows in the front of the downstairs bar. I ordered a glass of house red wine and the charcuterie plate ($12) to start, which featured a few paper-thin slices of Serrano ham, their own house cured sopressata, which was good, and their house cured mortadella, which was amazing. These treats were accompanied by house-made condiments (pickles and a scarlet colored mustard made with figs that was as attractive as it was delicious), and a tiny taste of a house-made pork rillette, and little toasted bread slices. They had also brought me a breadbasket with three presumably house-made breads) but it was mostly neglected due to the temptations provided by the charcuterie.

My entree decision was easy to make -- as soon as my affable waiter started to say that the night's special entree was venison ($28). Venison is one of my all-time favorite treats, and exemplifies the holidays to me. I was pleased he didn't ask me how I wanted it cooked; that small detail, on the heels of the impressive starter, gave me a certain level of certainty it was going to be marvelous, as well as instilling my faith in the chef and the restaurant.

The venison came out with dark edges and the requisite/desired non-bloody but still vibrant red-pink middle, surrounded by a light sauce of its own drippings, on a bed of roasted brussels sprouts and roasted chestnuts (for that perfect winter touch), and a big fluffy bed of pureed and whipped parsnips that looked exactly like a mound of mashed potatoes but had all the rich earthy taste I'd expect from parsnips. I savored the bites of this meal.

My final holiday “to do” was to meet up with a friend from home, Greg, who happened to be in town, so we could see the Christmas tree at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. To beat the crowds, we met right as the museum opened, and made a beeline for the tree. For the past 35 years, the museum has decorated an immense tree with a unique and growing collection of eighteenth-century Neapolitan angels and cherubs scattered across its branches, and a colorful array of crèche figures flanking a Nativity scene at its base.

Standing in the Medieval Hall, looking up at the 50 large, individually decorated angels suspended from the tree, surrounded by the smiling faces of the tourists and locals alike who had made the pilgrimage to this shrine to the spirit of the holidays, I received my first gift of the season: Greg escorted me to the café overlooking the Central Park, where we enjoyed a cup of coffee, and a lively conversation about our childhood holiday traditions, which was an ideal way to wrap-up my holiday whirlwind tour of New York.

The Ice Skating Rink at Rockefeller Center is open October to April. See or call (212) 332-7654 for hours of operation and cost.

Holiday Windows. The major concentration of holiday windows with the most lavish decorations tends to be on Fifth from 53rd to E. 59th, and Madison from 57th to E 81st. For an armchair tour of NYC holiday windows past, visit the Fashion Planet website ( and choose the 2003/4 holiday windows link.

Fauchon, The Madison Avenue outpost has closed, but the Park Avenue location (442 Park Avenue at 56th Street, is still open.

Savoy, 70 Prince St. (Between Crosby and Lafayette Sts.) (212) 219-8570.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Avenue at 82nd Street. (212) 535-7710. Annual Christmas Tree and Neapolitan Baroque Crèche, November 23, 2004–January 7, 2005, Medieval Art, 1st floor .