Monday, December 21, 2009

Cheap Bastids Holiday Green Bean Casserole (without cream of anything soup)

Green bean casserole is a tradition at Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. It seems as though this is another of those dishes that only get made for these holiday feasts.

We all remember those limp green beans in a pyrex dish topped with canned fried onion rings and swimming in some mysterious beige/grey mystery sauce—usually cream of mushroom soup. So I thought I’d try to come up with something with a bit more freshness, flavor and color. Something that hasn’t had all the taste baked out of it. Something with a hint of both spice and texture.

At Thanksgiving, I looked up a bunch of recipes and synthesized several into what follows. I’m going to make it again for Christmas, so I’m going to share it now in case anyone else out there wants to give it a try. Sorry, but there aren’t any photos. (If you make this, take some and send them to me along with what you think of the dish).

Cheap Bastid’s Holiday Green Bean Casserole
4 tbsp butter or margarine
3 tbsp flour
1 ½ tbsp mustard (yellow, Dijon, brown whatever you’ve got on hand)
Salt (a couple of healthy pinches or shakes to taste)
tabasco or hot pepper sauce (to taste put a little kick in it)
1 lb fresh green beans (or fresh frozen)
1 cup milk
1 cup broth (chicken or vegetable or some of the liquid from blanching the beans)
1 cup diced onion
1 small can fried onion rings

This is pretty simple to make but it takes a medium skillet, cooking pot and 1 to 1 ½ quart casserole dish so get them out first. (Grease the casserole dish with butter or margarine).

Put about ½ gallon of water into the pot and put it on the stove, burner set to medium-high. Prep the beans while the water is heating. Pinch off the stem end and snap them so that each piece is about 2 inches long. Put in a colander and when done, rinse them off.

By now, the water on the stove should be starting to boil. Dump the beans into the pot, let the pot come back to a boil and then let them cook for about 5 more minutes. Put the colander in the sink and pour the beans into it. Then, using the rinse hose, rinse the beans with cold water to “shock” them and stop the cooking process. (If you’re going to use “bean water” rather than broth, make sure to keep a cup of it before you dump the beans into the colander). Note: if you’re using frozen beans, just dump them into the colander for a few minutes, and rinse them with cold water to let them thaw just a bit.

Now put the skillet on the stove and turn the burner to medium high. You’re going to make a roux. Start by putting the butter or margarine into the skillet and letting it melt. Then add the flour—shaking it around the pan into the melted butter/margarine. Start stirring or whisking this mixture and turn the heat down just a skosh. Keep stirring until the 2 ingredients are blended together and golden yellow in color. Turn heat to medium (6 o’clock on the clock for the dial on an electric stove). Now, add the mustard, salt and Tabasco and stir into the roux. Then it’s time to add the milk and the broth. Stir all this together and let it heat until it just starts to bubble a bit.

Now it’s time to add the diced onions and the beans. Turn the heat off. Then mix everything together. Pour the contents of the skillet into the casserole dish. Taste it! You might want to add a bit of salt or pepper or even more Tabasco or some garlic. Season it to YOUR taste! Open your can of fried onion rings and sprinkle them on top in one thin layer. Cover either with a lid or foil. Put into the oven, preheated to 375 for about 40 minutes. Enjoy!

That’s it. Several steps, but they’re pretty straight-forward, easy steps. This is really tasty! It’s creamy, yet has just a bit of kick thanks to the mustard and Tabasco. And, no cream of whatever soup.

Feel free to play with this a bit. If it looks like the diced onion is more than you’d like, don’t put it all in. I sweated the onions in the melted margarine and then remove them before adding the flour for the roux. You can also add some finely chopped fresh mushrooms. Or try adding some almond slivers or cashews.

What you’ll like is that this has color and flavor rather than blandness and drabness. There’s still some “tooth” left in the beans rather than the usual squishy, school lunch texture. As I mentioned before, I tried this on family at Thanksgiving and they loved it—especially when compared to the “traditional” green bean casserole I made last year using cream of barf soup.

Cheap Bastid Test: How’d this dish do? Well, I got the beans for $.49/lb, the butter was a half-stick for a quarter, a nickel’s worth each of flour and mustard, $.50 for broth (free if you use bean juice), $.20 for onion, a quarter’s worth of milk and $1 for the canned fried onions (at the dollar store! They’re $1 and ounce at the grocery store). Total cost for this casserole that will feed 6 was $2.79 or about $.47 per serving. I love it when food tastes good, is made with just a bit of love and is CHEAP!

And that’s the Cheap Bastid way: Eat Good, Eat Cheap, Be Grateful!

Merry Christmas to All!

Of Christmas, Fred Waring, Ralphie and NORAD

Oh Boy! It’s Christmas week and I can hardly wait! I’m 58 years old and still get excited. Now, I’m not going to get silly and wait all night for Santa to arrive. I spent too many years myself as Santa to do that. But we are going to have fun.

One of the ways I have fun is to remember. I’ll remember Christmas with my own children. To me, the meaning of Christmas became evident when I became a father. When I could watch the magic that is Christmas by watching my children’s eyes and expressions of awe and wonder, surprise and delight as they encountered a tree filled underneath with presents. When they were little, Christmas Eve was a combination of lasagna dinner followed by church followed by getting them to bed and then followed by several hours of assembling the toys that “Santa” was giving them (all toys had to be assembled and functioning).

I confess to evenings spent grumbling and growling at balky parts. I also confess to falling asleep on the living room floor in “mid-elf mode”, waking at 2 a.m. and finishing the task before stumbling off to bed only to be awakened by the laughter of small people at the “butt crack of dawn”. (Just let Santa/Dad get a cup of coffee first, pleassssssseeee!).

But before I let this go on and on and on, I really wanted to touch base with a couple of songs that by today’s standards are dated but which were delightful and fun-filled when I was just a boy and when Mike and Susan were little. We played Fred Waring’s “Twas the Night Before Christmas” and “Rudolph the Rednose Reindeer” incessantly. It’s a wonder my Mom wasn’t totally loopy before Christmas arrived having to listen to those 2 songs on the stereo over and over and over each day. Mom recorded the album onto a cassette when my kids were young but I doubt that these children of the ‘80s ever got the same joy that I did back in the ‘50s.

So here they are. I hope you enjoy them as much as I still do:

One of the things that Carolyn and I look forward to is the “24 Hours of Ralphie” on TBS that will start at 8 p.m. Christmas Eve and run through 8 p.m. Christmas Day. We love this movie and overdose on it each year. It’ll be on in the bedroom all night too and we’ll each wake up several times during the night, watch a few minutes and then drift off back to sleep (I in my kerchief and Ma in her cap….settled down for a long winter’s nap). Have you ever noticed though that you seem to wake up or tune in at the same point in the movie when you’re watching a “marathon”?

And last but not least. We came across a wonderful website last Christmas. It’s perfect for every single kid—from 4 to 84! It’s the NORAD website which tracks Santa’s trip around the world. Even better, using NORAD personnel and volunteers, there are brief vignette’s about Santa’s journey and about the various locations he is visiting on his journey. It’s fun. It’s educational. It’s magic. And it’s an obvious labor of love for the people of NORAD. Check it out!

The website is

Have a wonderful Christmas.

Friday, December 18, 2009

We Need a Little Christmas (Music) Now!

All day, every day I sit in a cubbyhole that’s 15 feet from a compact stereo which is tuned to a radio station which is playing Christmas music 24/7.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against Christmas music. I love Christmas music. I love to listen to Christmas music and I love to sing Christmas music. But it gets kind of like sharp fingernails scraping across a blackboard the 8th time each day when I have to hear Karen Carpenter sing “Logs on the fire, fill me with desire” (that just sounds so “wrong”—kinky—even though I know there’s another innocent line about wanting to be with a loved one). And if I have to hear “We Need a Little Christmas” one more time, I swear I’ll go postal on the first friggin’ elf I see.

I’ve performed Christmas music ever since Junior Hi although much more sporadically since I’ve been an adult. Christmas cantatas in a church choir are, I think, much more enjoyable for those singing than those who have to dress up and silently suffer through them. (By the way my wife just asked me what a Christmas cantata is and I told her that it’s when a choir performs this “hoity toity” classical-type Christmas music that has a lot of notes and that nobody particularly likes to hear because it doesn’t have a real good beat or snappy lyrics or a toe-tapping melody—although I still consider Handel’s “Messiah” to be kick ass even though most people don’t really seem to get that at Christmas the song is “For Unto Us A Child is Born and at Easter it’s the “Hallelujah Chorus”).

But I digress. In the cause of brevity, I offer up for your listening enjoyment a “medley” of Christmas music. It starts with one of my all time favorites, Gene Autry’s “Here Comes Santa Claus”. It’s included because it reminds me of my father who would wander through the house all Christmas season singing snatches of this delightful song in a Kentucky hills tenor twang. Every time I hear it, it reminds me of Dad and makes me smile.

The rest of the “medley” is some goofy stuff that I hope will make you smile just a bit. Enjoy.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Cheap Bastid's Scrumptious Apple Crisp

OK folks, Cheap Bastid hasn’t been around in a couple of weeks. That’s because I am now employed again as a bastion of the automotive industry fleecing people of their hard-earned dollars by selling cars.

Anyhow, before I have to hit the shower and get my game face on, I thought I’d post a recipe. It’s one I’ve “developed”, “synthesized”, “plagiarized” or created this past year and made enough times to finally start getting it “right”.

If you’re looking for a tasty dessert that’s quick and easy to prep and which meets the Cheap Bastid budget criteria (in a word—cheap!), give this Apple Crisp recipe a try. Have some vanilla it ice cream on hand to plop on it while it’s still warm too.

Cheap Bastid’s Scrumptious Apple Crisp
6 or so apples (Granny Smith, Gala, or Fuji)
1 cup water (or ½ cup water and ½ cup apple juice or cider)
1 ½ cups brown sugar
1 ½ sticks butter or equivalent amount (12 tbsp) margarine
1 ½ cups flour
1 ½ cups oatmeal or multi-grain raw cereal

Take out a 9x9 baking dish and 2 medium mixing bowls. Lightly grease the baking dish. Core and cut the apples into wedges and put into the baking dish.

In one bowl you’re going to make the “juice” for the apples and in the other you’re going to make the “crisp” topping. So for the “juice” combine the water or water/juice, ¾ cup brown sugar, ½ sick butter or margarine (melted), 2 tablespoons flour, salt (about ½ tsp), cinnamon (1 tsp or so—I use more because I like the flavor and aroma) and ½ tsp nutmeg (I use more). Whisk it all together in the bowl and pour it over the apples.

Then in the other bowl add the rest of the brown sugar (3/4 cup), ½ tsp cinnamon, ¼ tsp nutmeg (both of those more or less depending on taste), 1 ½ cups flour, oatmeal and 1 stick butter at room temp (or equivalent amount of margarine). Mix all this together really, really well with a spoon or with your fingers until it resembles a coarse, crumb-like mixture. Make sure to incorporate the dry stuff really well with the butter/margarine. Dig deep to the bottom of the bowl to make sure you get everything mixed.

Cover the apples with this mixture. You can use your fingers or glop it on with a spoon and use the back of the spoon to spread it out.

Bake at 350 in a pre-heated oven for 1 hour or until the apples are tender and crust is golden. I like to put the broiler on for 2-3 minutes at the very end to get the “crisp” topping crispy/crunchy but that’s up to you. One hint, put the baking dish on a cookie sheet in the oven just in case there’s a spill-over of the filling. That can help you avoid a gooey, messy clean-up in the oven. It’s easier to scrub a pan than the oven!

Serve this with some vanilla ice cream or by itself. You’ll love it. Like anything you bake, it may take a couple of times to get it “down” and you may find yourself fine-tuning the amount of apples and amount of “juice” you use. But this is old-fashioned, tasty-good stuff!

The Cheap Bastid Test: Here we go on the budget thing again. The apples were on special for $.77 per pound and I bought 2 lbs. So that’s a buck and a half. The next priciest thing was the butter/margarine. Margarine is cheaper/healthier and get it for $1 for 16 oz and used about 1/3 of a container. I get butter at the dollar store for a buck for a half pound. So using margarine, I spend about $.35 and about $.75 for butter. The cup and a half of oats costs about $.50. The rest of the ingredients will set you back about $.50. Total budget for this adds up to about $3! And, it makes 8 servings sized like the picture.

Give it a try. It’s tasty. It’s homemade. It’s “old fashioned Christmassy”. It’ll make your house smell good.

That's the Cheap Bastid Way: Eat Good, Eat Cheap, Be Grateful!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Cheap Bastid's Carnitas With Salsa Verde

Cheap Bastid hasn’t been around for a couple of weeks. I started a new job and it’s been taking all my energy and attention getting settled in. Plus, I haven’t been cooking as much because more than half the time I work until 8:30 and don’t feel like cooking when I get home.

Plus, last week’s Thanksgiving kind of took all my cooking attention. I developed a couple of new recipes that I’ll share soon. (I created a new Green Bean Casserole recipe that does not require “cream of anything” soup and it’s both easy and good tasting). And, I experimented and came up with a “new for me” pie crust recipe that I hope to try again at Christmas and “perfect” (it’s a “no shortening” recipe because Cheap Bastid won’t spend 3 and a half bucks on a small can of shortening). Here’s a picture of the pie when it came out of the oven.

Last week, I tried a new recipe that I concocted for Carnitas—basically burritos made from shredded pork—with Salsa Verde (green sauce). Now, the first thing you have to do to make Carnitas is to make shredded pork and that’s really simple. Just get a pork shoulder or butt roast at the grocery store when it’s on special (about $1 a pound). Take out your crock pot/slow cooker/dutch oven.

If you want, sear the roast on the grill or in a pan on the stove (I like the grill because the smoke from the high heat searing stays where it belongs—outside). You should be heating up your cooker while doing this and have about 3 cups of water in it. For a little extra flavor, add some beef or chicken stock along with a half cup of chopped onion and some chopped celery.

(I use boxed chicken stock or beef stock cubes that I make by pouring left over liquids from slow cooking a beef roast into ice cube trays and freezing then dropping 2 or 3 cubes into the cooker to get better flavor).

Now add some salt, black pepper and garlic, put the pork roast in the cooker and leave it alone for 4 or 5 hours on medium (just hot enough for the liquid to “roll” a bit). When it’s done, take the roast out of the pot, let it cool for a few minutes and then shred it with 2 forks or with a fork and knife—that’s the “hardest” part of this whole thing.

We used half the shredded pork to make pulled BBQ pork sandwiches and the other half to make the carnitas a couple of nights later. NOW you’re ready for the Carnitas with Salsa Verde recipe and here it is:

Carnitas with Salsa Verde
1-1 ½ lb shredded pork
1 pkg small burrito sized flour tortillas
1 can green enchilada sauce
1 can green chilies
8 oz shredded cheese (cheddar, jack or a mix)
Diced tomato
Shredded lettuce
Sour cream if you want

Put the shredded pork in a medium skillet over medium heat. You shouldn’t need to add oil to it due to the fat in the pork. Bring to heat and check bottom for just a bit of browning (about the same way you’d do hash browns). Then stir and flip for a bit more heating and browning. This will give just a hint of “crust” and “dry” the meat a bit more. Add the enchilada sauce and chilies. This is going to look “wet and mushy” and that’s OK. Turn heat down a bit and let everything simmer together and the sauce reduce down until it’s “dry” enough to spoon on a burrito without saturating the burrito. Taste test while simmering and if more flavor is needed add a bit of salt or garlic and/or some cayenne or chipotle or habanero for a bit more kick.
Have the other ingredients (tomatoes, lettuce, cheese, sour cream) ready. Spoon some of the meat mixture into a burrito, add some tomato and lettuce and cheese and sour cream and enjoy.

This smells fantastic when it’s simmering. It doesn’t look that pretty cooking but that’s the meat with light green stuff simmering in it. There’s a great marriage of the meat and chilies and enchilada sauce that will have your nose happy and your mouth watering. Then, when you’re eating, you’ll really be enjoying the flavor of this simple dish.

So, now for the Cheap Bastid Test. The cost of the meat for this meal is about $1.50 and the chilies and sauce cost about $1.60 at the Dollar Store. The most expensive thing is the cheese which costs about $2.50 for an 8 oz. bag and you’ll use about half a bag. Lettuce and tomato cost about 50 cents. So, the total for this meal is $5.20 and it’ll feed 3 easily. That comes out to $1.70 each. Try getting 2 or 3 Carnitas Verde burritos anywhere for that! Can’t be done.
And that’s the Cheap Bastid Way: Eat Good, Eat Cheap, Be Grateful!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Kapowee! God I Wish it Were That Damn Easy

It’s been a little over a week since I went to work at a car dealership in Carlsbad, CA selling new vehicles. An interesting week.

First, the schedule can be a little bit brutal. Today from 2 to 8:30 I’ll be on my 6th consecutive scheduled day. A 6 ½ hour shift is easy. Tomorrow is what’s known as a “bell day”—from opening bell to closing bell, 12 hours. It’ll mostly be spent hanging out, on my feet. I’ll spend time working on certification for the new car line—product knowledge so I know what I’m talking about. I’ll spend more time working on product presentation skills. Still more time on follow-up of prospects and very little time actually talking to customers out on the lot or demo-ing or doing write-ups.
After a week and a half, I have yet to sell a car. That means that so far my income is a big fat goose-egg.

I haven’t worked in car sales in nearly 7 years. I spent 6 of those years training people how to sell cars and consulting with managers and dealers on how to optimize their operations. It ain’t easy putting the “skills” back into practice.

There’s product knowledge but more fundamental is the technique by which the product knowledge becomes useful to a customer—especially since many customers come to a dealership with a tremendous amount of information. The sales guy’s job is to make it relevant and valuable. Plus, customers know a lot about pricing—too much, in fact, to the extent that often they’re dangerous in their misinformation and perception. A new $25,000 car might have $1500-2000 in available profit which the customer wants to have discounted. And, the salesperson might make $200 on it if he or she is lucky. It ain’t no picnic.
And then there’s the Neanderthal way most sales floors are managed. We use a software system called “Advent”. Advent does not provide any sort of tutorial so you’re on your own. This is what is used to input a customer’s information on which follow-up is based or on which a credit report will be generated. So you fumble through it.

It’s kind of interesting when you have a customer in front of you and you’re trying to be professional all while you’re mucking through an unfamiliar piece of software. It doesn’t inspire any confidence that you know what you’re doing and are trying to work together with a customer.
So you do your best, port it to the “desk” (the manager) who tells you that you’ve done it wrong and that you’re a nincompoop. The “desk” generates a “proposal” (that’s my term because I hate using terms like “first pencil”) and then sends in someone else to work the customer and try to close her. Without knowing what her “agenda” is and without really caring. This proposal is “packed”. “Full pop” on price. “Back packed” with a warranty. Reserve on the interest rate and a term that’s longer than standard. But all structured so that the payment the customer wants is achieved.

And she walked. Why? Because she was smarter than that and we didn’t spend the time to work with her, justify the value of our product and create a situation where we were making money but she was also getting a reasonable deal.

So, I’ve got to adjust my style. I have to figure out how to “work the desk” and get proposals I can work with. It’s like gathering intelligence. I’ve done it hundreds of times and just need to get into the right patterns of questions to the customer and how I present the information to the desk (my manager only wants the briefest of bullet points—anything more and you get chewed).

This management style of providing only cursory guidance and then ripping into you when you don’t get it right is both “old school” and incredibly inefficient. I spent years trying to work with dealerships to embrace different approaches—and was paid quite well to do it. But that’s no longer my role.

It’s nearly 11. I have to be at work at 2. My legs feel OK today but my hips are still a bit achy. The good news is that I’ve got Friday, Saturday and Sunday off. That’s an every other week thing. But I’ll probably work Saturday to get more prospects and have something to work on the following week for follow-up. The way the retail side of this business is structured, you really don’t get every other weekend off. You need to work at least one day on either Saturday or Sunday. Especially since, as the new guy, I won’t really be seeing any “spoonies” (easy deals given by the manager) for a while.

I’m a grown-up. The older I get the more I resent when management treats anybody with condescension or disrespect. Especially when you have to approach customers with confidence and just the right amount of enthusiasm to be successful. But those are things you have to do by yourself with some occasional help from your co-workers who are also suffering from the same insecurities and frustrations.

But, I'm working. Doing something productive. It's something honorable if done with integrity. And that's what I bring to it. I can't do it any other way. It's not an easy job. Few jobs are.

(Now check out the Muppets doing a Jim Croce classic).

Monday, November 9, 2009

Cheap Bastids Thanksgiving Cornbread Stuffing

Hey everybody! Thanksgiving is just around the corner—although it’s kind of hard to tell with all the Christmas advertising that’s going on. That means we’re going to be getting ready to make our annual Thanksgiving feast for our family and friends. So, I thought that I’d share my Cornbread Stuffing recipe with you now just in case anyone wants to give it a try. But first, a little story about Thanksgiving.

The first Thanksgiving dinner I cooked was 26 years ago this year. Since then, I’ve tried to cook it each year or to cook at least a portion of this celebratory feast. The reason is simple, it’s my way to celebrate my daughter’s birth.

Susan was born on the Sunday before Thanksgiving in 1983. The funny part is that my wife went into labor on Saturday and we spent the entire evening timing contractions while I peeled 50 pounds of potatoes for a holiday lunch the next day at church (I was too stubborn to rely on “fake” instant potatoes and insisted on “real” mashed potatoes).

1st Day of School

Anyway, Susan was born on Sunday morning and came home from the hospital Wednesday afternoon in the middle of an Iowa snowstorm. Our house was heated by fuel oil and as fate would have it, we ran out and the house was without heat. I called the oil company and was promised a quick delivery. In the meantime, I started a fire in the fireplace and put Susan’s bassinette in front of it.

She snoozed the afternoon away, snug and warm oblivious to the weather or to the lack of heat. A couple hours later, I called the fuel oil company back and inquired when they might be arriving. I also told them that we were out of oil and had just brought Susan home from the hospital. The response was, “Well why didn’t you say so, I’ll make sure that you’re next.” We had a full tank within the hour. That’s the blessing of living in a town of 6,000.

We were planning on not doing a Thanksgiving dinner that year but I got to thinking. “If there were ever a time to truly give thanks wouldn’t it be in celebration of the birth of a child?”

So I called my Mom for advice. Mom’s not the world’s greatest cook but she gave me a couple of tips for putting together a makeshift Thanksgiving dinner. The turkey was a boned and pressed one which didn’t take much effort to slap into the oven. Stuffing was packaged as were the sweet potatoes and cranberry relish. The gravy was jarred but the potatoes were real, peeled and boiled. Lastly, the pie was frozen.

Over the years, my cooking of this feast has gotten a lot more involved and sophisticated. But, each year, I take time to not only be thankful for all that life has provided but also for that special little girl in my life who, even at age 26 and now engaged to a great guy named Nathan, is still “Dad’s girl”.

Susan & Nathan, Oct. 2009

Cheap Bastid’s Incredibly Fantastic and Simple Corn Bread & Sausage Stuffing

2 boxes Jiffy corn bread mix
1 lb breakfast sausage (regular or spicy—I like spicy)
1 cup diced celery
1 cup golden raisins (or chopped dried apricots)
1 large chopped granny smith apple
2/3 cup diced green onion
2 cans reduced sodium turkey/chicken broth

Make the corn bread according to directions in a 9 x 9 pan (you can do this the night before too). Brown the sausage in a medium skillet. Drain and set aside.

Chop all the vegetables. Now, dump everything but the corn bread in a big bowl and stir it up. Add some black pepper (plus I like some chipotle too). Crumble up the corn bread and add to the bowl and mix in. Then slowly add one can of the broth and stir everything together. (You’re looking for the right consistency here—not too dry and not too moist). If you pick up a handful, it should clump and feel damp but not feel wet. If it’s not moist enough, add about 1/3 of the 2nd can then test again. You shouldn’t have to add all of the 2nd can—maybe half at the most.

When you’ve got it the right consistency, test for flavor. You should get some spice, some meatiness, some sweet and just a little kick on your tongue. Adjust your seasoning if needed.

Put into a baking/casserole dish and either use a glass cover or a foil cover.

Put into the oven at 350 for an hour covered. Then uncover it and let it go another half hour. Check it then and remove if done or give it a bit more time. Enjoy it with your Thanksgiving bird!!

I’m not going to go through all the Cheap Bastid budget stuff with this recipe other than to say that it’s really quite reasonable in its ingredients and simplicity. Plus, this is really, really tasty. Enjoy it as you’re giving thanks.

And that’s the Cheap Bastid Way: Eat Good, Eat Cheap, Be Grateful!

I Gotta Go to Work Today or Selling Azteks for Fun and Profit

Today’s the day. After 9 months of being unemployed, I’m going back to a “sales line” at a local car dealership.

I haven’t sold cars since May, 2003. Until January of this year I was a consultant and trainer to car dealers. I represented the manufacturer and worked with the dealership on practices that would help them be more profitable (inventory management, etc.) and did sales training.

Lest you think I’m some sort of ogre teaching people how to be sleazy, how to bluster their way through a sale or how to manipulate a customer into a corner which guarantees that they get the shaft and the sales person gets the money, let me just say here and now that my number one message was always “never, ever lie to a customer”.

Let’s do just a bit of math, OK. A car salesperson averages about 10 sales a month. That’s 120 a year. If those sales average $20,000 then the sales volume for that person is $2.4 million for the year. How much commission do you think he/she makes from that? !0%? 5%? Either one of those would provide an incredible living. It’s more like 1.5 to 2%, a very modest amount. On average, an automotive sales person makes 25% of gross profit per unit—after “pack”, the amount added to dealer cost for things like administration, etc. That alone should tell you how little profit there is in the average new vehicle transaction (profit margins are substantially higher on used vehicles).

The rest of that story is that these people work a goofy schedule that typically includes at least one 12 hour “bell day” a week and half to two-thirds of weekends. Many dealers are also open 362 days a year closing only on Christmas Day, News Years Day and Thanksgiving.

Here’s a story I’ve told many times in sales training classes:
I was the top Pontiac Aztek salesman in the California Region for 2 years in 2001-2002. Remember the Aztek? It’s widely considered one of the ugliest vehicles ever made—right up there with the old AMC Pacer. And it was. (The interior fabric was even uglier than the outside too!) But it was also a really good vehicle.

When I first started selling Pontiacs, a customer would tell me they were interested either in SUVs or wanted to see this “all new” Aztek. I would take them to our selection—we’d have several on hand. Invariably the customer would say something about how ugly the Aztek was. Something like, “that’s sure butt-ugly”.

And I’d dispute that. I’d tell them things like, “It’s just the edgy styling of it that you’re not used to,” or “It really grows on you,” or “Naw, look at these lines. This thing is really cool.” The customer would look at me like I was just the “typical” car salesguy—you know a big BS’er. A lot of them would leave then because I had been arguing with them or blowing smoke at them about the car.

So, I needed to do something to slow them down. What I came up with was to agree with them and do it with humor.

“Well, sir,” I’d say, “I can’t say that I disagree with that but…you know, my sister was pretty homely too, but we loved her anyway. Let me show you some of the reasons why you’ll fall in love with the Aztek.” And they’d laugh. And they would get interested in the vehicle rather than shutting down their interest. I now had an opportunity to build value. And I sold a bunch of them. They were roomy, versatile, powerful, economical and u-g-l-y. But people would buy them.

As Zig Ziglar always said, “Buying occurs when value exceeds price.” That’s the only time when any of us buy anything—ever.

And here’s the rest it: We build value when we communicate with our customer about ourself, our product and our company in terms of what we do more, better and differently than anyone else. Those are the dimensions of value. And it doesn’t matter what anyone sells—clothes, insurance, vehicles or groceries—the only time a customer parts with their money is when value exceeds price.

It seems like I've spent a great deal of my life working my way "down" the ladder of success. Or, as I'm somewhat fond of saying, "I can take my Masters degree and $2.50 and buy a cup of coffee at any Denny's".

I didn’t want to have to go back to work selling cars. And yet, I should have done it several months ago to earn some money and to be doing something productive. I was never any “superstar” salesguy but I worked hard and was totally honest. In this industry, like any other, it comes down to integrity, honesty and ethics. Those may sound like an oxymoron when used in a context of automobile sales but they’re vital.

So, I gotta go to work today. Let’s hope it all works out.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Big Kid Toys & Little Kid Toys--Toy Hall of Fame Enshrines "the Ball"

A short article in today’s newspaper with the Strong National Museum of Play’s new “inductees” into the National Toy Hall of Fame is a welcome diversion from other more pressing and urgent news events.
I don’t know about you but I was not waiting with bated breath for the list of honorees. Maybe it’s because, unlike the Academy Awards or Emmy Awards, there was never mention of this year’s nominees to build interest and drama.

But, there are three newly enshrined toys to announce today. The Big Wheel. The Game Boy. And, hold your breath on this folks, the BALL! They join 41 other toys which have previously been enshrined.
What amazes me is that it took so long for the ball to find its rightful place. It probably should have been the second thing enshrined. That would be after “the stick” which is already in the Toy Hall of Fame. I mean are you trying to tell me that the Easy Bake Oven, View-Master, hula-hoop or even the cardboard box (all of which are enshrined) are more worthy that the Ball? Seems to me that there’s got to be some “payola” in there somewhere.

The stick! Sure, it’s been a toy since humanoids figured out that they could whomp critters and each other with sticks. That’s got to be the king of toys except for one small problem. Kids don’t play outside anymore. They have virtually no access to sticks. They have no conception of “sticks and stones may break my bones”.
And speaking of which, shouldn’t stones be in there ahead of balls? They were the early prototypes of balls until people evolved enough to figure out that soccer with an inflated animal innard was more fun than kicking the hell out of a rock.
But it still seems to me that there are some gaps to this Hall of Fame. What about “Pick-Up Sitcks”? And, as a child of the 50’s who grew up on such shows as “Davy Crocket” and “The Rifleman” and “Wagon Train” and “Rawhide”, what about the toy pistol? There are no toys like that in the Hall of Fame—except for the stick. Man, I was the happiest kid alive when I got my Mattel “Fanner 50” cap pistol with spring loaded plastic bullets for Christmas. Until then, I had always had to use a stick. (Kind of sounds like Ralphie with his Red Ryder BB Gun doesn’t it?) We'd use the Fanner 50 to shoot our Army Men from across the room (and Hey! How come Army Men aren't in the Hall of Fame?).

And you know, life might be more fun if Big Wheels had stuck around longer. I used to love the sound of them as the little hooligans we called our kids would roar up and down the alley behind the house on their Big Wheels for hours on end. It’s just too bad that there were never adult sized Big Wheels—just imagine a 40 year old riding a Big Wheel down the street, or a whole gang of them (take that Sons of Anarchy).
But let’s return to the ball. Think of all the balls in the world. My brother and I would use a baseball until the cover came off and then keep on using it until all the thread eventually unwound. Growing up there were footballs, basketballs, soccer balls, volleyballs, tennis balls, etc.
OK, so now I’m going to make known my official “nominee” for the 2010 class at the Strong National Toy Hall of Fame. It’s a toy the is used by fully 50% of the population of the world from birth to death. Each of that 50% of us checks it multiple times each day to make sure that it’s still there. It’s as comforting to us as a stuffed toy is to a toddler.

Here’s a picture of Al Bundy checking his on national TV (something for which he became famous). Its name, to quote JD on “Scrubs” is “Mr. Peeps”.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Cheap Bastid's Beans (aka Bean Soup or Ham & Bean Soup or Hock Soup)

It’s November. And in some parts of the country that means that it’s getting cooler, the leaves have turned, nights are longer and there’s even been some snow. That makes it time for “comfort food”. Well, here’s a one pot meal that will warm you up and fill you up. Plus, it’s really economical.

I grew up eating Beans. My Mom would make it several times a year and I developed my recipe based on watching her. A lot of people call it Bean Soup or Navy Bean Soup. But for those who grew up in the South or with families who started out on a farm, it’s just Beans. Or sometimes I’ll call it Hock Soup because the meat is smoked ham hock or shank.
This always tastes best when accompanied by corn bread. I’ve always used that blue box of Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix that you can get for about half a buck. It’s November. And in some parts of the country that means that it’s getting cooler, the leaves have turned, nights are longer and there’s even been some snow. That makes it time for “comfort food”. Well, here’s a one pot meal that will warm you up and fill you up. Plus, it’s really economical.

So, here’s the recipe. Make it in a big dutch oven or in a crock pot. Let it cook all day and fill your kitchen and home with its incredible aroma.

Smoked Pork Hock or Shank (you can usually get these at the grocery store)
2 bags (16 oz ea) northern or navy beans
1 medium onion diced
1 cup diced celery
3-4 gloves garlic, minced
Salt, pepper, cumin
Soak beans overnight according to directions (put ‘em in a big bowl and cover ‘em up with water). The next morning, drain the water from the bowl.

Saute onion, celery & garlic just until softened in the bottom of your soup pot or in a skillet if using a crock pot. (Or if you feel like me, lazy, just dice it up and toss it into the pot. You’re going to be cooking it for at least 4 or 5 hours anyway). Set heat to medium (stove) or high (crock pot) & drop in the hock/shank.

Cover the hock, onions & garlic with water (about 4 cups). Add salt, pepper & cumin.
Allow to cook/simmer for about 3 hours or until the meat is loosened from the bone.

Remove the hock/shank and all loosened meat from the water with a slotted spoon and put on a cutting board—it should be loose to the point of falling off. Chop up the meat. Then add it back to the pot. Add beans—start with about half then about half again (I don’t use all of both bags—about a bag and a half). Make sure beans are fully covered with water.

Add more salt, pepper and cumin, to taste. (Why cumin? Simple. I like cumin). If you want some bite add more pepper or some cayenne.

Simmer for 2-3 hours until beans are tender. Check liquid level every half hour or so and add water as needed so that it’s soup not paste!

Make up a 9x9 pan of “Jiffy” corn bread and enjoy! (I use the mix because it’s cheap—about 50 cents—and a lot of “big shot” chefs use a mix too rather than doing it from scratch.)

This smells incredibly good cooking. Your mouth will be watering all day in anticipation, but wait. Just wait until it’s ready. You’ll have some great eating for 2 or 3 days on this.

Now, some people will use a portable blender or will scoop this into a processer to “puree” the soup. You can do that if you want (in fact some recipes for Cuban bean soup do just that and it can be delicious—especially if you use garbanzos).

But, neither my Mom nor Mamaw would be caught dead pureeing this classic, traditional soup. It just isn’t done. This is comfort food; more fundamentally it’s country food—the kind of soup that country people spend all day cooking. I wouldn’t want to mess with it by “foo-fooing” it up that way because I don’t think that it would be respectful.

The Cheap Bastid Test: How’d we do for budget on this? Well, the smoked shank cost $3.00 ($1.69/lb). The beans cost $2 and the veggies were $1. The Jiffy Mix was $1 for 2 boxes and 2 eggs cost a quarter. Total for this farm-style feast was: $7.25. It’ll feed 4 people for at least 2 days with enough left for lunch. So this is reasonably priced eating.

That's the Cheap Bastid Way: Eat Good! Eat Cheap! Be Grateful

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Panda's Wuss-Name Will Get His Lil' Butt Kicked

OK, so today I’ve got more than a little bone to pick with the San Diego Zoo. Yep, those guys who used to love getting on the Johnny Carson show with Joan Embry and baby critters from all over the world.

You see, 3 months ago or so there was a new baby panda born at the zoo. For some reason this has been big deal stuff ever since the Chinese “loaned” (it’s really a lease, but who’s quibbling) a boy and girl panda to the Washington Zoo back when Nixon was President and Mao was still in charge of China.

Anyway, whenever pandas get together to make a baby panda there’s always some sort of contest to name it. And they’re not named until they’re 104 days old—and it’s invariably some wussy name that if it were a people cub would guarantee a daily butt-kicking on the playground.

When Pandas do this:

You get this: And it will need a name.

Maybe we should do that to our own kids—wait until they’re 104 days old to name them. Maybe that would result in cooler, more normal names that would keep our kids from getting beat up on the playground and assure that they would get picked earlier for kick-ball teams.

Anyway, I digress.

The San Diego Zoo has a website and a “pandacam” which is also where you could nominate names for the new panda. They had to be in Pinyin—which is the phonetic form of Mandarin.

OK, before I go any further, let me just say that yes, we entered the naming contest and no, our suggested name didn’t get picked as one of the 5 finalists even though it was, without any doubt at all, the single best name all of which will be explained if you’ll just be patient enough to keep reading this rant. So I’m just a bit ticked.

Why is it that these little defenseless critters always get such wussy, sissified names? I mean, for crying out loud they’ve got names like Ling Ling, and Ping Ping, and Ming Ming and Ding Ding. Bleeeeeech!

And the finalists for this contest are no better (bear with me a little more, I WILL reveal the best name which although it didn’t make the finalists, shall hereinafter be the name by which we will call this panda). The top 5 are: Fu Sheng which means “blissful San Diego” (WTF?), Xiao Long or “little dragon” (he’s going to weigh 300 lbs or more), Xiong Wei or “extraordinary bear” (sounds a bit like Yogi Bear who was “smarter than your average bear”), Yong Xiang or “eternally blessed” (by whom? And for what?) and finally, Yun Zi or “son of cloud” (what? clouds have kids?).

Now this male cub has 2 sisters. Their names aren’t too bad (for girls!). One is Su Lin which means “a little bit of something cute” and the other is Zhen Zhen which means “precious”. But they’re girls! This is the only boy. He needs something special.

He needs a name with just a bit of attitude (better yet, with ‘tude). He needs something unmistakably masculine. We can’t make the mistake made with Rudolph who had the handicap of both that name AND a goofy looking nose. This little guy begs for something that sounds tough like he can both protect his sisters and put a little “whup-ass” on them if they get out of line. He needs to sound like he’s from “the hood”.

Now my wife thinks that every living, pet-like creature should have pretty much the same name. If it’s a goldfish or a kitten or a puppy or gerbil or even a panda they should all have the same name. And she’s got a point.

(OK, you’ve been a patient reader so now I’m going to tell you the name that beats all other names).

It’s Spike. Spike the Panda. Just plain Spike. In Pinyin that translates to Chang Ding.

Chang Ding. It’s got a certain “j’ne sais quois”, doesn’t it? OK, that was hoity toity. It’s got ‘tude! It’s so right.

Chang Ding. Spike. I even think they’d like that in Beijng. Beats the hell out of “Blissful San Diego”.

Anyway, if you want to see the panda cub, go to Tell ‘em Chang Ding sent you!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Real Men! He-Men! Pictures! Who's the Manliest of Men?

I decided to do a post on real men. There's all kinds of stuff out there about manly-men, real men, sexiest men, etc. And we can go all the way back to the 40's and the "original" "He Man Woman Hater's Club" founded by Spanky and Alfalfa.

So, let's take a look, OK? Don't just skip to the end of this to see the winner, scroll through and check out the beefcake. You might come across someone who you think is more deserving than my choice.

So is it Brad Pitt or Daniel Craig? What do you think? Scroll on.

No. They're just too pretty.

Or maybe it's Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson or George Clooney?

Nope? Scroll on.

How about those bastions of "the American Way" Glenn Beck or Dick Cheney?

Naw, I don't think so either.

So, how about Hugh Jackman or Johnny Depp? Both good looking, kind of mysterious guys.

OK, so keep scrolling.

Maybe you think it's Will Smith? Or how about Matthew McConaughy? Both great looking, popular actors.

But they're still not quite "it".

But hey, it's the World Series, so how about Derek Jeter or Ryan Howard?

Naw, I'd just be jealous of these guys.

Or staying with athletes--maybe one of my favorites, Brett Favre?

Close, but still no cigar--even though he's crying in this picture.

Nope, here's my candidate. A real man. A guy who does what he loves.

......almost there

You see, he's my son Michael and he's with my granddaughter Raegan. This is a picture of a real man. A manly man. Doing manly man things. Scroll down and see.

We need more men like this. Or as they say sometimes "You da man!"

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Totally Honest Car Salesman--Honest!

Selling cars for a living is one of the hardest, most stress filled things I’ve ever done. Straight commission. Monthly minimum quotas. Oh yeah, if you don’t earn enough in a given month to cover your time, you get paid “hours” which means minimum wage for your efforts (at least here in California). At many dealers that’s also when they “blow you out”, which is a euphemism for getting fired.

When I first moved to California, I went to work for a Ford dealership almost, but not quite, on the border of Mexico. It was an interesting environment for a middle aged white guy who had just moved from Iowa.
But enough of the “background” In the late 90’s SUVs and pick-ups were all the rage and Ford was a good brand to sell because of the popularity of the Explorer (also known as the “Exploder”), Expedition and F-150. And, we were eagerly awaiting the arrival of the new mega-SUV, the Excursion.

People wanted big, bigger, biggest and the Excursion was the biggest and baddest. Customers were interested in the most massive SUV they could get. They equated it with safety (kind of like the idea of an M1 tank rolling over and crushing lesser vehicles).

I was one of the first to sell an Excursion (late 1999 for the launch of the 2000 Excursion). A customer came on the lot interested in the vehicle and wanted to order one to fit his exact specifications. It was a 4x4, XLT, 5.4 liter V-8, all the whistles and bells and leather interior. It was the first $40,000 vehicle I ever sold. And I would make a whopping $200 commission on the deal. Wow!
As I was discussing the process with the buyer he told me, “I want one with zero miles on it, that’s why I’m ordering it.”

“Well sir, that’s not going to be possible,” I replied.

“Why not?” was his question, just a little bit miffed.

“Well, they all have a couple of miles on them. They drive them off the line, and then for a couple of miles to make sure everything works, then load them on the transporter.”

“So, how many miles will it have?” he asked.

“Well, no more than 5 or 6”, was my response.

“OK,” he said, “just make sure that it’s no more than 5 or the deal is off.”

Well, I was just a bit nervous because I had seen new vehicles come in with more miles than that but I was still excited over the prospect of the “status” of selling one of the first of these big SUVs that none of us had even seen yet.

It took about a month and one day I got word that the vehicle would be coming in on the transporter the next day and I should get hold of my customer. When the transporter arrived, I had already made an appointment for the final paperwork and delivery of the vehicle.

I watched the transporter pull onto the dealership and saw the brand new, olive green with tan trim, special factory order Excursion perched on it. I had already tipped off the guys in the back that this vehicle was for a special order, was being delivered that evening and that I needed it PDI’d right away. (PDI means Pre-Delivery Inspection where all the fluids are checked, etc. to make sure the vehicle is ready to be driven. Then it’s detailed.) I went back and checked the odometer reading and breathed a sigh of relief. Four miles on it. Good.
The customer arrived at 6 p.m. and I grabbed the keys and went to “fetch” his new Excursion. He was excited and so was I. I came cruising around the side of the building sitting up high in this huge SUV, window down, elbow out, grinning. The buyer was grinning too. I parked it and climbed out.

“How many miles are on it?” he asked.

I handed him the key, and said “Take a look. It’s got 4 ½ miles on it.”

He checked the odometer, and poked around for a bit inside obviously liking what he was experiencing for the first time. His very own “testosterone-mobile”.

I got just a bit brave. “So, why was it so important to have virtually no miles on it?” I asked.

“Well, I wanted to make sure that I was the first one to fart in it,” he responded still smiling.

My smile disappeared, replaced by a look of surprise. “Man, I wish you had told me that before,” I managed to stammer.

“Why’s that?” he asked.

And with total honesty, I responded, “Because, it’s too late.”

He bought it anyway. And that’s what happens when an “old fart” sells a new car.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Cheap Bastid's Lazy Dad Lasagna (Baked Ziti)

Now that fall is here and it’s getting cooler in a lot of the nation, it’s time for some dishes that warm you up as well as fill you up. That’s what we’re cooking today. Lazy Dad Lasagna or Baked Ziti.

Back when my kids were in elementary school in Iowa, one of my favorite places to take them out to dinner was a new restaurant on the South side of Des Moines called Fazoli’s. This is a franchise chain that is growing with restaurants across the country. It’s a “fast food” kind of Italian place. The kids loved it because it was eating out and eating some of their favorite foods and I liked it because it cost maybe a dollar more than going to a fast-food burger joint.

Their favorite dish at Fazoli’s was Baked Ziti. After we had it a couple of times I thought to myself that I could cook it at home for even less money. And, surprisingly it’s easy, inexpensive and really good. Plus, it’s a casserole dish that can be made the evening before and then popped in the oven to cook after a day’s work and provide a terrific family meal—just add a small salad and maybe some garlic toast and you’re good to go.

A couple of Cheap Bastid thoughts first:
If you’re ever kicked yourself over not having garlic toast try this: Use hot dog buns! We keep a package frozen in the freezer all the time. You pop them in the microwave to thaw (about 40 seconds on medium covered with a damp paper towel), plop a bit of margarine on top, sprinkle a bit of salt and garlic powder and maybe even some parmesan cheese, stick ‘em in the oven for about 8-10 minutes and you’ve got garlic toast!

One other thing before the recipe. You’ll notice by the picture that I use Hunt’s canned spaghetti sauce. I sure do and I’ve done it for a few years now. There’s a couple of good reasons. The first is cost. I can get it for 99 cents at the grocery or dollar store (actually my grocer had it for 79 cents last week). Ragu, Prego, etc. are all going to be $2-3 or more.

Second, Ragu and Prego run about 220 calories per 1 cup serving versus 190 for Hunts because Hunt’s has 1 gram of sugar to 26 grams for Ragu and 24 grams for Prego. Hunt's doesn't taste sweet like other sauces (spaghetti sauce isn't supposed to taste "sweet) and so it's easier to build more flavor in it. Besides, if I want to sweeten it, I can add honey. I’m going to take any sauce and “doctor it up” with spices like oregano, cumin, crushed pepper and garlic to make it taste better.

OK, here’s the recipe:
Lazy Dad Lasagna (Baked Ziti)

1 lb ground beef OR Italian sausage (or you could use a half lb of each)
1 28 oz—(can not jar) Hunt’s spaghetti sauce
1 bag “ziti” or penne pasta
12 oz shredded mozzarella cheese
Parmesan cheese
Garlic, oregano, cumin, basil, salt & pepper

Cook pasta according to directions BUT for this recipe it should be al dente (fancy word for a bit underdone) because you’re going to bake it.

Brown the ground beef/Italian sausage and drain. (If using ground beef season it while browning—garlic, salt, pepper, oregano and cumin. It makes a big difference in taste.) For this recipe, I used ground beef and put some fennel seed and crushed red pepper in it to give it a bit more of the Italian sausage flavor.

Put the cooked pasta in a big bowl. Then add the meat and sauce. Add more salt, pepper, oregano, basil and garlic. How much? ENOUGH! Taste it! Plus, I like a little kick too—add a bit of chipotle, cayenne or crushed red pepper flakes (only 1, not all!)

Add the mozzarella and stir, stir, stir to mix everything together. Taste test it again & add spices if needed.

Dump all this into a big baking/casserole dish. Put a light layer of parmesan on top, cover and put in the oven for 45 minutes hour at 375. Everything should be hot and the cheese “melty”. (I like to uncover it for about the last 10-15 minutes to make the tope “crusty” like lasagna). Put back in for another 10-15 minutes if needed.

Serve it on plates, let it cool just a couple of minutes, then really, really enjoy. This is a family meal that everyone’s going to like.

The Cheap Bastid Test: So how did this do on budget? Well a pound of ground beef was $1.95 (although I used ¾ lb.). Figure about $2.50 if you use Italian sausage. The pasta cost $1. I threw in about 20 cents worth of onion with the meat. The sauce was $1 and the cheese was the priciest part of the meal at $2.49. So we spent $6.64.

This dish provided 7 meals (meals not servings), dinner for 3 one night, dinner for 2 the next night and lunch for 2 the 3rd day. So that’s less than $1 per meal. Not bad. Add salad and garlic bread at dinner and you add about another $.50 per serving. That’s economical eating and, quite frankly is about $.75-$1 a serving less than lasagna.

That’s the Cheap Bastid Way: Eat Well! Eat Cheap! Be Grateful!