My pasta must be made of gold

December 31, 2010 at 12:46 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Today at Pike Place Market I bought the most expensive pasta ever. At least, the most expensive pasta I’ve ever purchased. And although I haven’t eaten the pasta yet, I regret it already.

Pasta price tag


It was really just an unfortunate series of circumstances. I had to take Nano to the vet at noon, and so at 11 a.m. I headed towards King Street Station to catch the free tunnel bus to Pike. It was going to be tight, but I can typically get to the market and back in about 40 minutes if I hurry, so it should have been no problem. When I arrived, the market seemed about normal, but once I got inside it became clear that everybody in Seattle was also at Pike — no doubt to stock up on food for New Year’s events and the long weekend. Adding to the crowds, it was our first perfectly clear sunny day in a little while — bright sunshine and not a cloud in the sky. The sidewalks were full of tourists and shoppers and people taking photos and families who’d carelessly stop and block entire thoroughfares while they discussed some knick knack in a store window. In fact, the crowds were so unpleasant that I caught myself hypocritically saying “I hate tourists!” to myself as a dodged between the multitudes of slow walkers.

In addition to several items for Blake, I was searching for ingredients for this pesto shrimp pasta recipe. I haven’t had pasta in a long time since Blake doesn’t like it, but when I saw this recipe I decided to just make a batch up for me alone. (I was getting authentic Mexican tamales for Blake, so he was taken care of.)

Pasta in the bagIn case you haven’t been to Pike, it’s an old-fashioned market that takes up several city blocks and is full of little storefronts that specialize in one thing or another. On a typical trip I usually stop at the butcher or fishmarket, the spice shop, one of the many produce shops, the sausage counter, the Mexican grocery, and maybe one of the bakeries or cheese shops. When I first started shopping there and didn’t know my way around, I’d just ask each proprietor where I should go for the next item on my shopping list. Now, however, I know where to find most of what I need.  Consequently, this trip should have been very easy and quick — I could just pop in and out at each place and be back home by 11:55 to put the groceries away and get Nano to the vet.

On this trip, however, everything took forever. The innumerable crowds slowed down every mini-trek between two points, and they created lines at every store. And as I was searching for the ingredients not already in my cabinet, things just kept taking longer and longer and longer. I hadn’t purchased pesto at the market before, so I had to hunt down a new store and then hunt down the pesto within that store. Then the first fish market I passed was prohibitively crowded — surrounded by people on all sides. I walked several painstakingly slow steps to the next fish market, but they only had super-expensive shrimp that was the wrong kind anyway. The third fish market had exactly what I needed, but the extremely slow fish guy took about seven minutes to process my simple one-product transaction. While I was waiting for him, I kept pulling off my glove-mittens to check the time on my phone, and it just kept getting later and later.

It was at this point that I passed the pasta place.

I’d been past it a million times. They have all sorts of exotic and interesting kinds of pasta, and 100% of the many, many times that I’ve walked by them I’ve been offered a bite of their famous chocolate pasta. (Yes, really. It tastes weird.) So, in a hurry, I decided that this was the time to try their pasta since it was right close to me and I needed to get a move on. So over I went and spent a luxurious thirty seconds choosing from their many options. (Each flavor was in a bin requiring scooping and pricing by one of the employees.) I chose the Italian Pesto Pasta Blend, decided to get enough for several meals, and asked one of the guys to get it for me. Here’s how it went:

Me: Hello, could I please have three cups of this one? (pointing)

Him: How many people will be eating this?

Me: Well, just me, but over several meals.

Him: Um.. okay. So how much do you want?

Me: About three cups.

Him: Well, usually recipes have like a number of ounces of pasta that they need.

Me: Well, I don’t have a recipe, I just wanted to get some to have on hand. So I’d like about three cups.

Him: Well, so… how much do you need?

Me: Three cups.

It just kept going. I just wanted to get my pasta and the rest of my shopping list and get the heck out of there! So while he (eventually) scooped and packed up my pasta, I juggled my gloves and moved my various shopping bags from one hand to the other and dug in my purse for my wallet and then balanced everything while I handed him my card. And then, as if from far away, I heard him say, “That’ll be $9.10.” I only barely noticed it because it was crowded and loud and I was in a hurry and we’d just had this long discussion about three cups of pasta, and it wasn’t until later that I thought… “$9.10? Wait, is that what he said? I must have heard that wrong.” But I didn’t have time to dwell on it and off I went to the Mexican grocery to get Blake’s tamales.

Pasta closeup

When I poured some of the pasta out to take this photo, I dropped one little piece on the ground. That was like $0.50!

As it turned out, I was several minutes late to the vet. I ran in from the market, dropped the groceries on the counter, stuffed the shrimp and tamales in the fridge,  scooped Nano up, and raced down to the car. (Vet report: she’s fine.) It wasn’t until much later in the afternoon when I put the groceries away that I picked up the bag and saw “$9.10” printed clearly on the sticker. Can you imagine paying $3.03 for one cup of pasta?! Good grief.

But I haven’t had it yet. Maybe it’s spectacular. (It’d better be!) This evening we were kind of tired and so I just heated up tamales for both of us and will save the pasta for later in the weekend.

So, dear readers, I will keep you posted on what must be the most stupendous pasta in all of Seattle. Or the Pacific Northwest, even. I mean, what else could possibly justify a cost like that?

…Perhaps the answer is women like me who buy expensive pasta and don’t notice the price before or after they sign the receipt. That could be it. =(

Catering: A new hope

March 4, 2010 at 11:39 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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In the last week I’ve spent some time talking on the phone to caterers. Quite a lot of time, actually; selecting a caterer has been far more difficult than I expected. Here are some of the various pitfalls I’ve encountered:

  • Finding prices. 80% of the time, caterers’ websites are suspiciously devoid of pricing. I’m sure they’re flexible, everybody’s wedding needs are different, and they try to cater (no pun intended) their menus to individual needs. However, when you can’t find prices on the page it’s extremely frustrating. If you try, sometimes you can infer it from the website, though — Pink Avocado Catering, for example, mentions in passing that one of their clients was the government of Spain. Spain! They only mention it in the answer to some FAQ way down at the bottom of the page, but it did enable me to knock them off my list. Anybody who caters for Spain is probably not going to  be able to handle my little wedding at the sort of price I want to pay. Now Latvia or Kazakhstan’s caterer would be fine, I’m sure. But Spain? I don’t think so.

    Some delicious food

    We're not having this

  • Useless emails. So there I am looking at some pretty catering site and not finding prices. So what’s the natural thing to do next? Send them an email. So I type it up and tell them every relevant fact I can think of. Estimated number of guests, time of day, the sort of meal I have in mind, location, the sort of service (buffet or table), etc. And then I wait, of course, and after a day or so here’s what I get back: “Hi Sarah. I received your request for information, and I do think it would be great if we could chat a little over the phone first.   Please feel free to give me a call at your convenience.  Thanks!” (This quote is an actual example.) So I call. And guess what happens?
  • Looong phone calls. All of them are nice and friendly and congratulate me on my engagement (which still makes me really happy!), but they all have many, many questions. The initial phone call is often more than a half an hour, and at the end of it I still don’t know if their meals are $12 or $19 or $60 per person. “I’ll email you,” they say. (More on their emails in a moment.) Again, I understand that they need to know a great deal of information to know exactly what’s needed, and I would be perfectly happy to spend a very long time on the phone with my top three choices to help narrow it down and make a decision. But spending 30+ minutes with every Austin caterer Google shows me? It’s time consuming and frustrating and makes it very difficult to comparison shop. (Hmm, perhaps I’ve found a motive in all this…) So anyway, after I tell them all the details they say that they’ll process all the info and send me an email with some sample menus and prices. Sounds reasonable, no? It certainly would be. Except…

    Some sushi

    Also not having sushi

  • They don’t send me the email with the menus. They say they will and it took me several different caterers before I stopped getting my hopes up. But with each new caterer I’d say to myself, “Okay, this girl sounds sharp and nice and organized and on top of things. She said she was busy and would send it tomorrow night instead of tonight, and I believe her.” But then she wouldn’t send it. The first time this happened I called the girl back and she said she must have gotten my email address wrong and would send it a couple of days later. So I waited several more days to no avail. At one point I expressed my frustration to Blake and said I’d call her tomorrow, but he made an excellent point: “Don’t call her. It’s your wedding and you need a caterer that you can reach. And who will get back in touch with you. You don’t want a caterer like this.” And he was absolutely right. So I called a second caterer who had a slightly different problem:
  • Too flexible. She can make anything… what would we like? She was very nice and seemed pretty sharp, but she wouldn’t give me any meal choices! I asked for specialties or recommendations for side dishes, and she’d tell me how flexible they were and not give me a single suggestion besides one-word “dishes” like “broccoli” or “green beans.” Try though I might, I just couldn’t get a menu/meal/sugggestion out of her! After we got off the phone, I spent some time searching online for sample wedding menus, but all of them were for the really expensive caterers — “tuna tartare with a maple-caviar demi-glace and crab bisque.” So then I got all comfortable on my bed with a stack of cookbooks and looked for recipes that I guessed might not be too expensive but would be appropriate for a wedding reception… and I couldn’t find much. I have the Betty Crocker Cookbook and Where’s Mom Now That I Need Her? (which is a great book), but I just don’t buy cookbooks that have recipes suitable for fancy wedding food, I guess. A couple days later I told Dad with mild frustration how I was looking for more recipes, and he said, “You shouldn’t have to be doing that! That’s the caterer’s job!” And he, too, was right.

So the next day I sent about ten emails to different caterers around Austin and asked for info. Most of them responded with emails inviting me to call, but a very small number did something really great: they sent me menus! One in particular, An Affair to Remember Catering, sent me the following perfect email:

Hi Sarah,
I received a request from you for your event at Buescher State Park in Smithville, Texas. I just tried to reach you by phone to get a few questions answered but for now, I’ve taken the liberty to guess at a few things (see attached proposal). I would be happy to make suggestions to address  your budget concerns when we talk. Feel free to shoot me an email or use any of the numbers listed below. Thank you so much for your consideration and I look forward to working with you on your event.

Warmest regards,
Matthew Atchison
Event Planner
An Affair To Remember Catering
512-443-3422 ext. 226

A bunch of plates of food

Not this either, whatever it is

Bravo, Matthew Atchison and An Affair to Remember Catering! (Normally I wouldn’t post someone’s email and contact info up here, but I’d like to give them good PR. And I did remove the cell number which was originally included in the email.) The proposal included about twenty menus in assorted price ranges — and an itemized total cost which allowed me to see what was included and determine for myself whether this price range was acceptable. How wonderfully refreshing that Matthew was able to say, “I don’t have all the information, but I have some. Let’s see what I can provide based on that.” Furthermore, I looked over the proposal and had several questions which I sent via email, and Matthew answered them all thoroughly and promptly. I haven’t signed anything with Matthew (or decided on a menu yet, even), but I have been impressed with his professionalism so far and I plan to set up a meeting with him. I’m optimistic. :-)

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