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October 05, 2009

How I recuperated two missing marshmallows

A few weeks ago, I went to Eclipse Chocolat and imbibed an excellent lavender-caramel hot chocolate. Their drinks come in very thin porcelain cups, and best of all, alongside two fluffy homemade marshmallows. Some diners chomp, some nibble, but most, including me, plop them into the frothy chocolate and slurp them as they turn to foam.

That afternoon, they were out of marshmallows. So I drank the chocolate on its own. Still phenomenal.

A preface you need to know to understand:

How I recuperated two missing marshmallows

This weekend I returned to Eclipse with a drunken band of ruffians. We were coming from a blind wine tasting and desperately craving something, anything, to dilute the alcohol before the drive home. Not to mention prolong the good times.

So we stumbled into Eclipse and ordered a bunch of hot chocolates, which came with marshmallows this time.

At one point, someone made this remark: "I think this place is all about the marshmallows. That is their thing. The chocolate is good, but what sets them apart is the marshmallows."

We agreed.

Everyone was loving the marshmallows.

And then they were gone.

I mentioned that we were lucky to get some so late; last time, they were sold out by the afternoon.

Someone else spoke up.

"Aren't you the Daily Asker?"


"So ask! Go get back your marshmallows!"


I approached the counter, caught the barista's eye as she was preparing another drink, and when she had a break I made my request.

"I was here a few weeks ago and got a hot chocolate, but you had run out of marshmallows. Can I get those now? I promise I'm not lying." (Not sure why I added that sentence, but I know they don't part with their marshmallows easily: extras cost 50 cents.)

Result: Two more marshmallows for the table.

Sometimes I wonder if I should start calling this blog "The Daily Food Asker" (catchy, I know), since half of what I request somehow relates to food.

To buck that trend, here are two links you should definitely check out:

1) New accountability in the blogosphere.

2) A project I'd love to try, if I were a stay-at-home mommy, or had had a stay at home hubby! Slate's Freaky Fortnight.

October 03, 2009

La Roxy versus the TSA

I can't believe I forgot to include this in the previous list.

On the Santa Fe trip, I spent one afternoon in Albuquerque. My friend, who really deserves a pseudonym at this point -- but it hasn't come to me yet, so let's call her Pseudonym until something better comes up -- yes, Pseudonym suggested we explore a grocery store called Talin.

This place is an eater's paradise. Every aisle has food from a different part of the world. There's a whole section of teas, half an aisle of sake, and more spices than you'd find in a Byzantine trading ship.

Pseudonym filled an entire shopping cart, and I a measlie baggie. I opted for restraint, since I like to travel light.

Thus I bought some Balsen cookies I can't find in San Diego, some banana chips from Puerto Rico that looked yummy, a tin of peach black tea from England, a creamy base for making Thai coconut soup, and the piece de resistance, a tarragon mustard from France.

Not just any mustard -- a flavor that I've been searching for years, since one exquisite nibble back in 2001.

As Pseudonym dropped me off, she wisely checked: "Anything you want to leave with me, which I can bring you when I check a bag to San Diego?" I told her I was good to go. "Are you sure?" I said yes.

Of course as soon as I walked through the x-ray machine, a TSA agent stopped me and asked:

"Is this your bag?"


"Would you please come with me? I'm going to have to take a look."

"Of course. Please go ahead."

"Do you have any liquids, gels or creams?" she asked as she tested it for explosives with tweezers and a swab.

"Yes, I have a deodorant which might be a problem, and a little sunscreen..."

"I'm talking about your jars."


With the tactical precision of a bomb diffuser she burrowed deeper and deeper into my luggage until, with one swift gesture, she removed both of the offending jars: the Thai soup base and the tarragon mustard!!!

[image from this skidmore blog]

"These can't come with you. They're creams."

"Really?" I asked meekly. "I thought they were solids. I mean, if you look at them, they don't move. They're kind of sludgy."

"No, those are creams. You'll have to leave them here."

"You can have the Thai soup. It costs $1. Enjoy it. But, it's just that that's a really special mustard, from France, and it was expensive, and I've been looking for it for years. What is the volume limit, again?"

"3 ounces."

"So I could get rid of half and it would be fine?"

"Yes, but it also needs to be in a container that's labeled less than 3 ounces."

I started rifling through my bag. "This deodorant container says 2.4 ounces. So could I dump some in there?"

"I'm not sure you'd want to do that, but sure."

[via sodahead]

"You're right, it could be toxic. I also have a ziplock bag. Could I spoon some in there? I'm sorry, but it's sooo goooood! And so hard to find!!!"

She read the ingredients and turned the jar in her hand. I sensed she wanted to help. Or at least, she didn't think I was as deranged as I really am.

"I'm sorry, but it has to be labeled with a number that's less than 3 ounces. Do you have any other containers?" she tried. "Or you could check it."

"My flight is in 20 minutes. Do you think I can make it?"

"Probably not."

I looked in my bag again.

"Look at this!" I showed her the tea tin. It said 2 ounces. It was much larger than the mustard container, since tea leaves take up more room than the dense mustard, but if the label was all that mattered...

"That won't work either. It's obvious the container is larger than 3 ounces."

"I'm sorry, but I'm confused. Is what's important the label or the volume? Because I could put less than 3 ounces in the ziplock, or in this container that says 2 ounces. Whatever you think would work!"

"Hold on a second."

She returned with her supervisor and told me to state my case. I explained that it was a mustard I couldn't find in San Diego, really really delicious, and I'd be happy to dump out half or do whatever was necessary to comply with the rules, but please don't make me throw it all away.

They exchanged a few words in private and turned back to me.

"We're going to test it. Please open the container."

I twisted it open with a pop and was about to scoop up a sample to prove it was edible when they stopped me.

"I'll use this machine."

"Oh!! Okay."

It passed.

Result: Kept the damn mustard. It's sitting in front of me now, a reminder of the crazy things I'll do for tarragon.

I'm back: Basking in asking

I have been absent. I have been writing. Other things. Like a dissertation. And resumes.

I have not forsaken this blog, or you, gentle reader.

And I am back now. With a vengeance.

Selected askings from the past two weeks.

1. TODAY: Is this actually a single shot of espresso?

As I type these words I am sitting at Monica's, a cute cafe not far from my house, and I just ordered a single shot of espresso. What I got was a squirt of dark liquid that barely coated the bottom of the cup.

The offensive brew.

The barista was about to hand it to me, when I spoke up.

"Isn't that kind of small to be a shot?"

"I'm not sure."

"Becuase usually it takes me two or three gulps to finish a shot, and that's probably half a gulp," I joked.

"Yeah, you're right, let me check."

She asked her colleague, who said the machine has been "acting funny."

So she prepared a few more mini shots, to equal a full shot.

Result: Got a full portion of espresso. For nothing. I just took a sip of what she worked so hard to produce, and it's nasty. Tastes like goat milk whey seasoned with essence of genocide.

2. Delete my library fines?

I have about 20 library books with me in California. They're from my university's library, which is located near Boston. The majority I checked out two years ago and have been renewing online.

When I registered this term, I tried to renew them again but the computer said I hadn't paid my tuition. That's an error: I don't pay tuition. That took a few days to sort out; meanwhile, the fines were piling on. So I called the library's billing department and asked for a break.

"I tried to renew these before they expired, and there should be a record in your servers. The website didn't let me renew them since they thought I hadn't registered. But that was actually a mistake in the registrar's records. So is there any way you can forgive the fines?"

"Let me take a look at your record... So you're saying there was a lag between when you were eligible to register and when the computer actually let you register?"

"Yes. Basically."

"No problem. I'll cancel all your fines."


"No problem! Good luck with your studies!"


Result: FINALLY!!! A really nice library employee from my university. (See here and here for the ugly precedent.)

3. Airport access?

Last week I went to visit a friend in Santa Fe. She's an artist who was having an opening, and I wanted to see her latest paintings -- not to mention her. Plus, I've never been before and I've heard nice things about Santa Fe.

I headed to the airport on Saturday morning, got there the customary hour before my flight, checked in, headed to the security line, and then my heart stopped. The security line. It was around 400 people long. And I had about 20 minutes to boarding.

The security screening process was being run by Southwest Airlines employees rather than airport employees. That is, Southewest was directing people to the TSA agents, who took it from there.

There was one Southewest agent checking people's IDs, and another sitting here, doing nothing. Waiting. Dreaming. Wondering. Thinking, perhaps, about how her little niece spilled grape juice on the berber carpet, or whether to reallocate her 401k now that the market was looking up. Or are we in for a double dip?

Anything but helping the line move faster.

I asked a woman who seemed to be directing things if I could go to the available agent, since my flight was leaving soon.


Mr. A asked a different agent the same thing.


A bunch of people in front of me also asked the in-charge agent I had talked to if we could all move up, since we were all on the same flight.


Finally she deigned to explain that the empty checkpoint was only for people with elite mile status.

While I understand it's standard business practice, not to mention an airline's prerogative, to reward loyal customers, it seemed illogical to do so when there were no elite mile customers using that service. Why risk having all the other passengers miss their flights when Southwest had the manpower to avoid it? Seemed like a lot of complaints and free vouchers in the making.

I could have gotten pissed. I could have tweeted and facebooked my way into the spotlight. I could have cajoled, demanded and threatened. Instead, I thought about it: From the ruckus people were making, most of the passengers on my flight were in the security line. It was unlikely they'd leave without half the plane. It was a nonstop flight, and if we were 10 minutes late departing, who cared?

So I did something rather uncharacteristic for La Roxy.

I chilled out!!

Results: Didn't get what I wanted. Didn't rush. Was forced to wait. Didn't really mind. And still made the flight.

4. Skip sales tax?

On that trip to Santa Fe, I found myself spending an afternoon in Madrid ("MA-drid"), a one-street two-diner former mining town. We were there on a mission: to look for my friend's kidnapped cat. Before we started the hunt, a store caught our eye and we went in. And there, I saw an awesome pair of earrings. Seashells, with a mother of pearl and turquoise mosaic affixed to the top half. Like nothing I've seen before. They were $48, and just as the cashier rang them up, I asked, "Can you skip the sales tax? Make it an even $48?" She agreed.

Result: Paid no sales tax. Only to discover later that in New Mexico, they don't charge sales tax!! D'oh.

5. Are you sure you're sure?

I recently had to return some clothes to a local department store. The cashier processed the pants, no problem, and then said the shirt wasn't on the receipt I brought in and I could only get store credit.

That was strange. I had bought both together, in the same transaction, at the same store.

I told her exactly that.

"That may be, but there's no record of the shirt on your receipt," she replied.

"What about this?" I said, pointing to the only item with exactly the same price as the tag on the shirt, and which was listed from the same department.

"But the item number doesn't match up. That's what I have to go by. So I can give you credit, if you'd like."

"First I'd like to explore some other options. Can you run my credit card and look for the transaction that way? Can you scan the item and see if there's any info there, which could match up with the receipt?"

"I can't."

"I see. Well, let's imagine two possibilities for a moment. It's possible that I'm a thief, and I'm trying to somehow cheat you out of this money. In that case, I'm a bad person and you're right to refuse the refund. But let's pretend that what I'm saying is true. That I did buy the shirt on the same day, that they're the item that matches that dollar amount and clothing department, and maybe, maybe, your store made a mistake ringing them up, or there's an error in your records. Is that possible? Is there any chance I'm telling the truth?"

"Yes, that's possible."

"So assuming I am an honest person, just trying to return a pair of pants I bought in with a receipt, can you help me solve my problem?

"I'm going to call a manager."

The manager came, took one look at the receipt and approved the transaction.

Result: Money back.