Deja Vu

I love Instacart. (My wife probably loves it more.) You build a list, somebody picks out your stuff, it arrives. It is a great service, pandemic or not. They are always adding stores, so they bring her groceries, they bring me booze. You can get delivery within two hours during the day. Peace in the neighborhood.

However, there is a $35 minimum before the free delivery kicks in, and sometimes you really don’t need $35 worth of stuff – you need one specific thing, but you need it in a hurry.

It’s almost Thanksgiving. My wife ordered all of the ingredients for Thanksgiving from Kroger which is really just InstaCart with additional Kroger fees. She got almost everything she wanted, plus a really large turkey. The only thing they didn’t have was pepperoni.

She tried every store around, and everyone was out. Apparently, there’s a pepperoni shortage. So, while we were on our weekly Zoom Happy Hour, I started looking at Instacart. I found Market Street – a store I had never seen around here. They had Boar’s Head pepperoni sticks. Actually, it was a featured product. The sticks were the right format and Boar’s Head was the right brand. Jackpot! (If it was in stock.)

I ordered forty-five dollars worth of pepperoni. To most people, that seems like an insane amount, but it really just proves I’ve been married to an Italian too long. How much pepperoni do you need for four people, when three only like pepperoni a little? Ten sticks. Hey, it’s not like it goes bad. Then, I through in some Heath bars, so I would have something to eat while the others enjoyed the pepperoni.

They had the pepperoni. Everything got delivered before the Zoom call ended. So, either delivery was blinding fast, or we talk a lot.

One holiday crisis averted.

Back to the turkey. It was larger than she asked to get. It was free, so I’m not complaining, and I didn’t really understand why larger was a problem.

I found out why larger was a problem about 1:00 AM this morning, when as I was trying to go to sleep, my wife told me she needed a new roasting pan. The turkey was too large to fit in any of the pans we had in the house. This is not the type of problem I am used to solving at 1:00 AM.

She found one she wanted on Amazon that would be delivered December 30th. Oops. I was impressed that they had a delivery date of an essential item that would miss both Thanksgiving and Christmas.

As she was desperate, she said an aluminum disposable pan would do. We can get those from Whole Foods Amazon Prime Now. So, I ordered two different sizes for delivery between 7:00 AM and 9:00 AM, and just paid the nine dollar delivery charge to have four dollars of aluminum delivered.

Then, I thought “Big Lots would have pans.” Off to Instacart. Nothing, or at least nothing acceptable. Then, my wife said, “Bed Bath and Beyond.” Bingo. A roasting pan (called a “roaster” which is why we didn’t see it on the first search) is available for $27. So, now I just need something to make up the balance.

I started looking at kitchen gadgets. I love gadgets. I don’t use them half the time, but they’re fun. While I was doing that, my wife said, “I need a strainer.” (It was late, or I would have said, “If you want a strainer, skip the fiber.”)

So, we looked at strainers. The photos were misleading, but she found one she thought would do, and I added it to the cart. That put us close to the minimum order.

However, before the strainer distraction, I noticed they have a mini-waffle maker for $10. What could be better than mini waffles? After a lot of discussion, the wife said I could get one. Then, she thought about Keto waffles, and said “Get two.”

So, order placed. Whole Foods Prime Now order canceled successfully. Peace in the neighborhood.

This morning, I was looking at online reviews, and it turns out the Keto community loves not only the waffle maker but its siblings as well – the pie maker and the Bundt cake maker. Why? Because they make small servings quickly and you can make Keto versions of many desserts (some of which may actually taste like desserts.)

So, into the cart they went.

The fun part of the Instacart process is watching the shopping. The shopper found the Bundt cake maker. Then, the pie maker.

Uh, the waffle maker? The roasting pan which was the whole reason for the shop?

She messaged me about the roasting pan and said that was the old version, and the new version was the only one available. I told her the dimensions we needed for our jumbo turkey and she sent a photo showing the size. It will do. In fact, it was the same as the old one. Whew.

Then, the waffle maker. Last night, I noticed they had the waffle maker and a “gift set” where you paid an extra $10 to get a cookbook. Who would do that? The person who was in the bathroom when the message came in that only the gift set was available. Dammit.

Hmm. The order just arrived and we got the cheap waffle makers. All is good.

So, we got exactly everything we ordered (almost) and what we got will work. Actually, the strainer hasn’t been blessed yet, but it looks like the old one.

My only fear now is that at 1:00 AM tomorrow, I am going to be told, “I need a new oven. Before Thursday. The pan won’t fit in ours.” Pray for me.

Now, to the deja vu part.

The fun part of Instacart is you never know what you will get until the shopper checks out – and sometimes not until the order arrives. You will get substitution notices, but sometimes they’re inaccurate, and they’re almost always too late to cancel them. (Things like tomato paste instead of tomato sauce.) One way to prevent this is to set all items to “No substitutes” on the order. This will guarantee you get the brand you want and the quantity you want. This is what I did with the pepperoni and the roasting pan.

There’s only one issue with “No substitutes” – you won’t get anything as a replacement. It’s all or nothing.

So, as I watched the order Saturday, I was thinking – “If these guys are out of pepperoni, somebody is driving thirty miles to bring me some Heath bars.” I love Heath bars, but even I think that is excessive.

So, as I watched the order this morning, and all the excess items were found, and only the roasting pan was missing, I remembered an IT project long ago.

The team desperately needed a $3000 projector for doing presentations. Back in the day before you could get a mini projector at Amazon for under $100, these were really expensive items.

The only way to hide three grand in a budget that was going to have something cut was to add something more ridiculous as an obvious target.

The team added a ten thousand dollar server to the budget. This was insanely expensive even then, and they already had a number of servers, so it was obviously a waste of money.

They got the server. The projector was cut as an extravagance.

So with Instacart. “I really need three dollars worth of collard greens, so I’ll add thirty-two dollars worth of other stuff to make up the order.” The shopper brings the other stuff.

Some things never change.

How much is it worth?

Everyone has food memories from their childhood. Some even have happy food memories.
If you’re like me, and you’re living in the city where you grew up, you may still be able to relive your childhood memories. The only time you can’t is when the place closes. (I really miss Kip’s Big Boy, but I have Frisch’s Big Boy when I visit my grandkids in Ohio.)
I think food memories are hardest on people exiled from their childhood homes (sometimes by choice) where the food is still available, you just can’t get there from here. This is especially true if you are from a cultural background that reveres food.
The Spousal Unit is from Brooklyn and she is Brooklyn Italian. She is … opinionated about food. If you want to get her going, just call “pasta” “noodles” or tell her if she needs pizza, Dominos can be here in a half-hour, and if she really needs an Italian food fix, there’s always the Olive Garden.
Never mention Olive Garden – except to her sisters, who inexplicably like it.
This week, in earth-shaking news, DaVinci Pizzeria, the Spousal Unit’s favorite pizzeria in Brooklyn (and therefore in the world) started shipping their pizza. Shipping, as in having FedEx deliver pizza to anywhere they can reach in two days that is willing to pay the rather pricey shipping charges. (Frozen food requires two-day shipping, which is not cheap.) You can order online, which takes some of the fun out of calling for pizza, but it works. 
DaVinci has Sicilian pizza, which is not pizza. It’s a very thick crust, and you don’t get slices, you get squares. It reminds me of Chicago deep-dish pizza, but I don’t say that out loud, because I want to live.
So, while my wife was reveling in the pizza of her childhood arriving on her doorstep, a lot of other people are complaining directly to the pizzeria on their Facebook page about how much it costs.
These were my (slightly-edited) thoughts which I posted, but their page is wisely moderated, so we’ll see if they think it’s worth posting – it’s a defense of small business and a plea to just mind your own beeswax if you think someone has their priorities out of whack:
To everyone complaining about shipping costs, I feel your pain. As the husband of a Brooklyn expatriate, I have had 19+ years of “You don’t understand! You can’t get that here! I NEED IT.”
 
I’ve only been to DaVinci Pizza once – we were visiting my wife’s family and friends in the area, so we went for lunch. My wife was taking photos of all the food with her cell phone. One of the staff asked if she wanted a picture of the two of us. She said, “Why would I want that? I just need photos of the food.”
 
Any food shipped to Texas from New York is insanely expensive – but it’s mostly the shipping costs, with the possible exception of Junior’s Cheesecake – and they’re relatively famous, so they have volume in their favor. Pastosa Ravioli will ship, but the shipping costs more than the pasta. We tried to order cookies for my wife’s Aunt in Florida once, and decided we just didn’t love her that much. 
 
My only salvation is Jimmy’s Food Store  in East Dallas who has owners that import some critical Italian necessities (as in the aforementioned Pastosa Ravioli.) So, if you’re in Dallas, go to Jimmy’s. Tell them Kevin sent you. 
 
Here’s the issue that Mom and Pop businesses run into – the stores don’t set the shipping rates. They either absorb them which kills their profit or pass them on which annoys their potential customers. Sure, you can ship more slowly, but the food won’t arrive edible. I did think $80+ shipping to get $100 of pizza to Dallas was a bit insane, but it’s cheaper than us flying to Brooklyn and having my wife discover all the other stuff she needs to take home. (It’s also cheaper than a two-day UberEats delivery with the pie in the back of a random driver’s car.) 
 
So, I had really, really good Sicilian pizza last night and a calzone for lunch today, and my wife is happy (Happy wife, well, happy wife.) However, I know my late mom-in-law will put in a good word for me on Judgement Day because I got her favorite child (well, except for her Shih-Tzu) a real Brooklyn Sicilian pizza and I ate a proper calzone.
I didn’t really have much of a choice – I saw the announcement that they were shipping, and I told my wife, so it’s my fault, anyway. My only fear was adding up the costs, and wondering what would happen if it arrived and it sucked.
It didn’t suck.
It may be too expensive for some. However, if it brings someone’s childhood back, even for a moment, that’s worth it.