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…