Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Ethics of Halloween

From Zero Hedge, an interesting slant on the ethics of the evening from a free-market economy perspective.  Guess I'd never pondered it from this angle!

Enjoy and Happy Halloween!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Big Girl Halloween

Who says kids get to have all the fun? This year we had Big Girl Halloween! How? well, here's how.

First we planned the get-together for the gals and Dad can have a few hours with the kids. We gals  dressed up and brought munchies. We also had a home-made big-girl pinata. Yup, the funny thing filled with stuff that you get blind-folded and swing at with a bat.  Of course, because with alcohol on the menu, we did the pinata early in the evening.
So what makes it a big-girl pinata? The stuff inside, of course! But I'm getting ahead of myself! First, how to make your own pinata.  We looked at several YOU TUBE videos and selected an easy one.  Blow up a large enough balloon (12 inch diameter minimum, I'd suggest), mix up some flour and water, add strips of newspaper to cover most of the balloon, let dry, repeat. You need to plan at least a few days ahead (you still have time to do yours!) because the wheat paste takes a while to dry.

Some tips not in the video: wear disposable gloves, don't make the wheat paste too runny because it will take forever to dry, and don't hang your drying pinata by the balloon stem.  The drying paper forms points and will pop the balloon!

 Once the undecorated base was dry, I used holiday napkins, separated down to one ply to add the color. Because these are rather delicate, I used a mix of Elmer's glue thinned with water, a pastry ( or 1.5 inch paint) brush and the 'gold leaf' technique. This technique involves painting the center of the Target area, centering the piece of napkin on the painted area, putting it on and then painting it down gently with the glue from the outside.  Once the napkin is first placed, moving it will rip it, so use forgiving designs.
Leave a hole in the top large enough to fill the pinata. After the final drying, a simple hole-punch can be used to make the holes for ribbon or string to hang it. What makes it a big-girl pinata is the FILLING! Several of us got together and donated unused free-bee items.
 You know, buy a cosmetic and get a 'free' pouch of trial-sized blush, lipstick and mascara items.  Because those are meant to have something for everyone, no one uses all of it.  Fortunately, our neighborhood  ladies are diverse enough that some items will go with some one's complexion or eye color! The Bath and Body Works coupons for a free sample of their new offering is another good source of big-girl pinata filling.  Penzey's spices usually sends a free sample with your order, so those went in the B-G Pinata too. A few token candies are a nice touch. If you have a 'donation' that is too big or heavy for the pinata, put a surrogate in.  For example (from the picture), when everything is sorted out, whoever got the little cosmetic brush (small, light, non-breakable) gets the bronzer compact (large, heavy, does not bounce well) to go with it.

From here. it's like a normal pinata event. Blind fold, stick, turning the batter, waiting for the crack and going through the loot!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Revisiting Past Posts

Lately I've seen several blog posts that reminded me of some of my older ones.  I thought I'd revisit two and provide any insights gained in the intervening years.  The first one is from my other blog and was about that superfood, bacon. Several things have changed since then, especially the price of that 3 lb package of ends and pieces.  It's now about 40% more that in May 2011. Ouch.   I've stopped segregating into three piles, unless there are some really beautiful bacon-like strips that beg to be cooked and eaten immediately. I just chop the whole collection into bits and start cooking. I still do not can the resulting bits for several reasons that include my reluctance to try out my pressure canner. I do pack most of the bits in clean bacon fat and either freeze or store in the fridge. We use them fast enough that they don't show their age, and I'll occasionally add a teaspoon of bacon fat from the bit-storage to the olive oil when cooking for flavor in some recipes.

The second post was about the bread I make for our breakfast. The recipe is more simple now to reduce the cost and because DH likes it that way. Local pecans are in when available, some of the spices are out and he prefers just raisins for the dried fruit. The flours now include rye, wheat and oat.

Local mesquite flour is available now-- the harvest is just being ground, but you need a strong mill for that. This winter when the acorns are ripe, I'll start adding some of that flour as well. I hand crack the little devils, then grind them twice, first to crack the nut meat into pieces about the size of a normal grain and then in a different mill to make flour.  I thought I'd written a post on how to make acorn flour, but I can't find it. The first step is to locate one of the two species of US oaks that don't have the high tanin levels that require soaking and washing. I'm fortunate to have one of those, an Emory oak, in my front yard and right now it is LOADED with nuts. Guess I know what post to write once they are ready to harvest!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Ahhhh Autumn!

A couple of weeks ago, I took a solo trip to one of my favorite spots in the high desert of the southwest US.  Normally, we leave early, but on this rare solo journey I took my time and covered the last few miles of the trip several hours later than usual. The clouds and light were especially nice on the hills.

I noticed the little pinnacle to the right of this peak-- the light really made it pop!
A little rain and cooler weather brought out the green along the way.

There seemed to be a small difference of opinion in the ranks about weaning.
Autumn here isn't characterized by bright red and orange leaves.  It's more like palpable relief from the heat, with rest from the blazing sun.  Deciduous trees drop their yellowing leaves and hardy plants flower because they have survived with enough to spare.

A friend has a small orchard in a flood plain. His harvest was so abundant he invited locals to pick. Unlike other places you may have read about, we were respectful and appreciated the opportunity. Several tons of sweet apples found their way to nourish the community. Plenty were left for the birds and bears.

The pears were small this year, but the plums were the size of baseballs!
The evenings cooled down enough to enjoy 'grill for one' on the porch. 
A great ending to a southwest autumn day!


Thursday, October 11, 2012

How not to satisfy your customers

I had a really lovely posting planned. Really. The bounty and beauty of autumn, complete with photos, but it will have to wait. Right now I need to rant.

I've done a lot of business via the Internet. I live in the sticks and am really particular about what I own, so do my research and go to the best sources.  I've had wonderful service from businesses like LL Bean, Sierra Trading Post and the giant Amazon.  I've been treated like royalty by small businesses, like Doug at Spruce Haven Farm/Meaford Wool (probably the only Internet seller of socks made of musk ox wool -- I told you I'm particular).

My recent experience with Sportsman's Guide (SG) has to have been one of the most needlessly frustrating I can recall. It may end my relationship with them because it really hasn't been 'made right,' the process by which you save an otherwise loyal customer ( especially one who forked over a $29 annual membership).  Though I retired from a government job, I spent 10 years in a real business, half of that in marketing.  It costs a lot to gain a new customer, so a good business can afford to do a little to save a customer with a track record of buying.  Not so much here.

If you aren't already tired of this, let me share the story. I wanted a sleeping pad for a specific purpose. It needed to be less than 23 inches wide and preferably 2 inches or more thick, but compressible and light weight. I searched far and wide and found one at SG. I ordered it in time for a trip which included an opportunity to test it before the event for which I need the darn thing.  The pad was a Red Canyon DELUXE Sleeping pad. SG also carried the next size up, the OUTFITTER, which was several inches wider and twice the weight of the deluxe.

The box arrived 3 days before my trip.  I could tell by looking that it was the larger pad.  I measured and weighed it, silly me. I then looked at the tag which confirmed my suspicion. The manufacturer had clearly marked the bubble next to OUTFITTER, but the SG label on the back stated DELUXE. A simple warehouse error. I called the company and explained the problem.  I suggested that when the replacement was sent, they have a note instructing the order-filler to confirm that the right item was being sent. They even agreed to send the item by 2-day air to an alternate address so I could keep to my original schedule and sent me a postage paid return label. So far, OK.

Two day air turned out to be 7 day air by the time it was delivered.  I could tell before I opened the box that they sent the wrong item AGAIN.  Sure enough, same item, same labeling error. I called again. They would have 'Linda' the product manager check it out at the warehouse and give me a call tomorrow.  No call. No chance to dry run the product. No satisfaction.

I called them back today. I informed the rep that I wanted to talk to a supervisor and she asked to let me give her a chance. She verified that Linda had discovered the warehouse error, that there were no DELUXE pads, all were the outfitter size and that I should return the one that was too big. I would receive a $10 off coupon for my inconvenience and the pad would be removed from the website (which has not yet happened).  Seems I was the only malcontent and the other recipients were happy to have the larger, more expensive pad at the special discount. 

On to the box.  I didn't have a 30 X 8 X 8 box, or any other large enough for the rolled pad, and the one that had been battered for an extra few days by UPS was in poor condition. Would they pay for a new box?  The rep suggested I check with grocery and liquor stores for a replacement. I went ballistic. I had already spent several hours making up for their mistake -- twice-- and she wants me to box hunt??? Helpful but insane. I ended the call.

After regaining my composure, I called back and insisted on a supervisor. I explained the situation and she was less than helpful. After some extended discussion, she reluctantly agreed to credit me the extra shipping I paid to receive the initial wrong item and suggested I just use some extra tape on the pitiful box. I understood why the rep tried to save me from a chat with the supervisor.

You can tell a lot about how a business is run by how they react to their own mistake, and whether they self-correct, listen to customers, and make it right. Sportsman's Guide flunked the test on all three counts.