Friday, July 31, 2009

Whatcha Watchin'? "Stuff" Boom de ah da, Boom de ah da!

OK, so I’m neither cool nor sophisticated enough to appreciate the reviews of the fine TV shows that some people like to write for about on their blogs. Maybe that’s because I’m not a fan of Lost and I’d rather watch Top Chef Masters than read a blow-by-blow description of it.

Plus, my wife and I have rather proletarian tastes. We like Dirty Jobs. And Deadliest Catch. We’re huge Mike Rowe fans. And we’re not too proud to confess that we also like Ben Bailey on Cash Cab.

We also like “triple D” (Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives) on Food. And we like Monk, Burn Notice, In Plain Sight and Royal Pains. Yep, we go for the “trailer park” of TV--Discovery Channel and USA. (By the way, according to Newsweek, USA is the main profit generator for NBC). We’re fans of My Name is Earl (well, the 1st year anyway) and we really like the new show on ABC Better off Ted.
The cast of "Better Off Ted"

Where else but on Discovery would guys like Sig Hansen, Phil Harris, Keith Coburn and Jonathan Hillstrand go from grubby, profane, cussing fishing boat captains to TV personalities with their own websites, merchandise and fan clubs? I love it! One of these days I’m going to put together some sort of post about the “management styles” of the captains and their relevance to business. Maybe it’ll be the next “One Minute Manager”, who knows.

The Captains of Deadliest Catch

Maybe this has something to do with the fact that I’ve been unemployed for 6 months now. But when I was working and traveling 80% of the time and staying in hotels 4 nights a week, I would watch these shows from the comfort of my Hampton Inn room at night.

Before I lose you from this diatribe, let me mess with your mind this week. Here’s a YouTube video I came across last week. It’s another of those that will get in your head like a broken record and drive you nuts. And, it’s about the Discovery Channel. Here goes and I hope you hum it and hum it and finally have to give it away to someone else in order to clear it from your brain:

Thursday, July 30, 2009

CAR BUYING 101: Going to the Dealer or "Hello Herb Tarlek"

You remember Herb Tarlek don’t you? You might if you’re over 40. He was the advertising salesguy on the TV show “WKRP Cincinnati” back in the 70’s. An obnoxious wheeler-dealer who epitomized “over-promise/under-deliver”.

That’s the kind of guy everyone assumes they’re going to encounter as a salesperson when they go to a car dealership. And all too often it’s true in one shape, form or fashion. You know, the guy who smells vaguely of bad cologne, breath-mints and cigarette smoke. He’s approaching you with an overbroad smile, hand outstretched and a standard greeting, “Hi there, welcome to ABC Motors, my name’s Herb and you are? Are you here for our big sale?”

Do you know why car salespeople greet customers like that? Well, there’s 2 main reasons. One, they don’t know any other way to do it. And two, their managers train them to do it that way because it’s the “best way” to “make friends with the customer and take control of them.” Horsecrap!

And dealers wonder why, even though customers are looking forward to buying a bright, shiny new car they dread having to go to a dealership.

Look, in order to buy that new car you’re going to have to go to a dealership to get it. It’s that simple. You can’t get it on Amazon and have it delivered. There are definitely some things you can do to help yourself and the salesperson. First and foremost is to realize that you’re going to have to collaborate with a salesperson in order to find the car you want and to get it for the price and “deal structure” that you want.

First, select the dealership you think you want to do business with. They have to carry the make you’d like obviously. Use whatever criteria you want. One of the best is if you know someone who had a good experience there. I have a prejudice against dealers who get on the tube and “yell and scream” about how great their deals are—especially if you’ve got “bad credit, no credit, bankruptcy, divorce or military”. As I said earlier—horsecrap! The dealer which focuses on “subprime credit” or “spi-fi” (special finance) tends to drive away good credit customers.

I remember the “spi-fi” director at one of the first dealerships where I worked telling a customer, “Sir, divorce doesn’t cause bad credit. Not paying your bills causes bad credit!” And also telling a customer, “There are 2nd chance banks. There are no 3rd chance banks!”

So, like every other aspect of this process, be prepared. The best thing would be if you have a friend or relative who had a great experience and provides you with that person’s name. Then you can contact him or her and set up an appointment (assuming that they sell the make/model that you’re most interested in).

Or do this: Call a dealership you think you want to do business with. Talk to the receptionist. Tell him or her “I’m interested in buying a car but don’t know anything about your dealership. If you were buying a car at your store, who would you trust the most to take care of you best?”

The receptionist will give you a name and then ask to speak to that person and set up an appointment to get together if your conversation convinces you that this is a person you’d like to do business with (i.e. one you can trust to work with you).

Remember something else when you get there and start working with the salesperson. He or she works for commission and, especially on new cars, there is precious little commission. You may buy a $20 to $40 thousand car and this person might make $100 for his efforts. Seriously! This guy is a “working stiff” trying his best 50 to 60 hours a week to make a living in a challenging environment where he is often verbally abused by managers equally desperate to “sell a car”. Most car sales people make $30,000-40,000 a year and spend a lot of their time with a sinking feeling in the pit of their stomach about how they’re going to sell a car and pay their rent or mortgage this month.

So, bearing in mind that your best bet is to show up with an appointment with a specific person, make sure and ask for that person when you get there by name and say you have an appointment. That way whoever just “upped” you when you got out of your vehicle will find or summon the person with whom you have an appointment. If he tries to tell you that the person isn’t there, ask (insist) to be taken to the sales manager. It’s your call. If the person blew you off, you may just want to leave and try another dealer. Or if the guy who “upped” you is trying to “skate” the person with whom you have an appointment (skating is trying to cheat someone out of a deal by falsely claiming they are unavailable) that’s why you go to the manager.

When you’re with your salesperson, he or she will try to source or qualify you as to what you need or want. You should have already covered some of this in your initial phone conversation. Now is a good time to reiterate it. If the salesperson does not offer to go inside and talk, suggest it to him. Then you can go through your specifications as to model, equipment, options, etc. And, have a couple of different colors in mind not just one! When I sold cars I asked my customers “are there any colors which are totally objectionable to you”.

If you do it this way, you’re communicating clearly with the salesperson. You’re making their job easier.

So, let’s go back to how salespeople are trained—which at the vast majority of dealers is little more than a joke. At most dealers, managers tell sales people repeatedly to “make friends with the customer” and “take control of the sale”. Most managers don’t have any more of an idea of what these 2 things mean than their sales staff does and that’s why the training at so many dealerships is lacking.

I always trained sales staff that making friends is not as important as being friendly (and they’re 2 different things). You’re not going to go out to a sportsbar for a beer with the salesperson after work—in other words odds are you’re not going to be friends. The most important thing is trust—that the customer trust the salesperson. If I don’t trust a salesperson I’m not spending $20,000 to $30,000 on a car with them!

As far as “controlling the sale” is concerned, most managers and sales staff construe this to mean that the salesperson is in charge. You can’t earn trust that way! You can’t get someone to part with their money that way either. Most dealerships have anywhere from an 8 to 12 step sales process (it’s all pretty much the same). This includes: meet & greet, sell yourself & the dealership, needs assessment, land the customer on a car, demo the car, write-up, negotiation, closing, delivery and follow-up. What I always trained is that the salesperson has to be so intimately familiar with the process that he/she is leading and guiding the customer through the steps—up to and including taking some “out of order” to facilitate the smooth flow of the process.

Understand that. Don’t allow yourself to be manipulated by it. And, don’t allow yourself to be rushed through it. Bottom line: It’s YOUR money! YOU earned it! YOU’RE the customer.

And, when it doubt—leave. “Be Backs” are great although most managers try to tell sales staff that “the “be-back” bus don’t run”. Yes it does—somewhere! And you can make it run back to that dealer or you can go someplace else.

Bear these things in mind when you’re going to the dealership. It is a process—both for you and for the sales staff. You DON’T have to “buy and drive today”. Start with that premise and if necessary remind the salesperson AND his/her manager of it. But you are serious about buying a new car either today or tomorrow or as soon as you get the “deal” that you want.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Cheap Bastid Sausage, Pasta & 10 Minute Sauce

If you ever get a chance to watch a cooking show on TV called “Sam the Cooking Guy”, it’s well worth it. Sam Zien is an amateur cook in San Diego who has generated a following over the last several years. He has his own local show, has had one on Discovery Health and has had numerous appearances on the Today show as well.

Sam specializes in cooking simple, minimalist dishes which provide incredible, gourmet flavor but which use common ingredients that you can find in most pantries or fridges. I’ve got a copy of his cookbook, “Just a Bunch of Recipes” and enjoy it. You can also find his stuff on

Today’s Cheap Bastid offering is a variation on something from Sam. He has a simple dish, Italian sausage with peppers and onions which I have taken to the next step. I add some tomato, garlic and spices and then serve it over either spaghetti or cheese grits. Today I’m going to do it with spaghetti.

What I really like about it is that this is a great, 10 minutes spaghetti sauce that has great flavor but without the heaviness of traditional sauce which makes it terrific during the summer. So here goes:

Cheap Bastid’s Sausage, Pasta & 10 Minute Sauce

4 Italian sausages (sweet or spicy—most “spicy” ones aren’t that hot so I add chili flakes to the mix)
3-4 Roma tomatoes
2 cups1 bell pepper--red, green, yellow (cut into 1 ½” strips)
1 cup of onion in strips (cut in strips)
1-2 cloves garlic (to taste)
¼ cup wine or sherry
Chili flakes
1 lb spaghetti or fettucine

Prep: Cut sausages into 2 inch hunks (note: I like to cut in half lengthwise too—it makes for more “bites” of sausage). Cut peppers & onion into strips and chop the tomatoes. Garlic too if you’re using whole (Cheap Bastid uses chopped garlic in the jar from Gilroy).

Cooking: Get out large skillet and pot for pasta. Heat skillet over medium high and toss in the sausage. Turn heat down just a skosh. Brown the sausage. Put about a half gallon of water in your spaghetti pot and put it on to boil. When cooked remove sausage with slotted spoon reserving the fat.

Salt the spaghetti water and add the pasta. Turn that down just a skosh too. Reheat skillet over medium and put in peppers, onion and garlic. If needed add a tablespoon of cooking oil (canola or olive).

Saute the veggies for 2-3 minutes just until they start to soften then add the tomatoes, salt & pepper, chili flakes and basil. When tomatoes soften put the sausage back in and taste the concoction. Adjust seasonings if needed. Turn heat down to low.

As soon as the pasta is al dente remove it from the heat and drain. Add about a tablespoon of oil to the finished pasta and then put the pasta in the skillet with the sausage and sauce. Mix everything together and serve. (Or you can keep the pasta and sauce separate for individual servings if you want).

This is a nice, tasty, light summery pasta dish. The sauce doesn’t get “heavy”, that’s what I really like about it. It’s all fresh and can be cooked in just a few minutes.

Cheap Bastid Test: How’d this do with a budget? Well, 4 Italian sausages are about a pound and I buy it for $2.29 a pound. The tomatoes are about a pound and they’re $.77 a pound. The peppers cost about $1 and the onion about $.25. Barilla pasta was on special for $1. So, the total for a dinner for 4 or dinner for 2 and lunch for 3 was $5.24. Add a nice salad to this and maybe some garlic toast and you’ve got a feast for about another buck. That’s pretty good! How much would this be at Romano’s Macaroni Grill, Olive Garden or Bucca de Beppa? About $12 to $15 per person?

That’s the Cheap Bastid way! Eat good. Eat cheap. Be grateful.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

And the Beat Goes On--California's Smoke & Mirror Budget

(Note: You might like scrolling to the bottom and clicking on the YouTube video then reading this post while you listen)

Remember “Cheers”? I’ve always been more Cliff Claven than anyone else, but I’m thinking about Woody. There were times when stuff would happen to Woody, either with a girlfriend or some other personal disaster.

Sam or Diane or Norm would ask him something like, “Aren’t you really mad about that?”

To which Woody would respond, in that flat, monotone, Midwestern way, “I’m a little ticked.”

Well, I’m more than a little ticked and it’s been bugging me all morning. You see, I have the misfortune to live in California. The State of California just announced yesterday that the Legislature and Governor’s office have agreed to a balanced budget for the fiscal year that started 3 weeks ago. And we’re all supposed to rejoice.

Except that it’s a crock. It’s a sham. It’s a subterfuge. It’s fraud.

Our grand-glorious Governor and Legislature have put together a budget which does not contain tax increases and yet manages to close a $26 billion deficit. Sure, and I’m going to wake up tomorrow with a full head of hair.

Granted, as AP reported, “the plan cuts $15 billion from government programs by slashing spending on schools, universities, health care, welfare and in-home support for the disabled and frail.

They just don’t get it. The time for “smoke and mirrors” and sleight of hand are over. But that’s exactly the kind of budget that has been created. The most egregious example of that is a proposal to “save”$1.2 billion by paying state employees on July 1, 2010 rather than on June 30, 2010 (in other words pushing their paycheck one day into the following fiscal year).

The state is also going to take $4 billion worth of payments to local governments and use it to balance the budget—repaying it with interest over 3 years.

But the good news is that legislative Republicans prevailed. There are no new taxes or tax increases. No, that will be left to the municipalities who will have to increase fees and taxes in order to balance their own precarious budgets.

Unfortunately, the Republicans are thinking like so many failed businesses who focus on cost cutting rather than on revenue increase. You’ve got to think on both sides of the ledgerbook in order to make a budget work. That’s basic and fundamental.

And without belaboring it there are ways to increase revenues. California is a major oil producing state yet has no severance tax. Put an increased tax on alcoholic beverage purchases (I smoke but don’t drink so I prefer a booze tax!).

No, what the state wants to do is accelerate the collection of 2010 personal income and corporate taxes to bring in revenue earlier. This would give the state an “interest free loan” until taxpayers claim the money on tax returns. More hocus-pocus.

Public employee unions have far too much influence in California. They forget that their jobs exist to serve the public. It’s that basic. And yet their complaints about schools and prisons are thinly veiled blackmail attempts primarily motivated by a desire to keep their jobs.

This kind of legerdemain will prevail until California fundamentally addresses its system of governance. And this state cannot wait much longer. Proposition 13 and 98 must be revisited. The State’s basic “operating structure” must be scrutinized, streamlined and made to work better. And the State must take a fundamental look at how it ought to be serving its citizens and reflect that in its organizational and fiscal structure. Until that happens, this state and especially its citizens are screwed. And maybe that’s why all morning I have had a song from the late Congressman Sonny Bono going through my head: “The Beat Goes On”. And it does. But it doesn’t get us anywhere.

This rant won’t make any kind of difference but at least I “officially” got it off my chest. I’m still more than a little ticked.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Cheap Bastid's Homemade Enchiladas & Sauce!

I love enchiladas, especially New Mexico style. But I haven’t really tried making them very often because I just don’t like the taste of the “enchilada sauce” that you buy in a can. It always has a faintly metallic taste that I don’t care for.

So, I took off on a quest to come up with a recipe for enchiladas and a homemade sauce that fit “Cheap Bastid’s” criteria: inexpensive (OK, cheap), tasty and easy to make. And, I think that I was able to get that done reasonably well. I searched the web for recipes and came up with several which I kind of cobbled together to come up with the one I’m using here. There’s 2 recipes—one for enchilada sauce and one for enchiladas. Both are easy although the enchiladas get just a bit messy when you’re assembling them.

Enchilada Sauce
2 tbsp flour
¼ cup good chili powder (New Mexico or Cali)
½ tsp chipotle or cayenne
8 oz can tomato sauce
Ground cumin
Garlic powder
Onion powder
1 ½ cups water
¼ cup vegetable oil

Mix flour, chili powder & chipotle/cayenne in a small bowl. Put skillet on medium heat and add oil. You’re going to make a simple roux. Add the flour blend and immediately start to whisk it. (My first effort to do this burned the flour blend because I was using too much heat so stay with medium). Whisk until smooth which will only take a couple of minutes.
Add tomato sauce, water and the remaining spices and turn the heat down to medium low—a simmer. You want a consistency that is thicker than water but not “gloppy”. How much spice to add? Enough! We like cumin so I go a bit “heavy” on it. But remember, add spices—then taste it! You can always add more and the longer the sauce simmers, the more the spices will blend in.

If needed, add another quarter cup of water. Bear in mind that when you use the sauce on the enchiladas that it will thicken up a bit more in the oven. This made just enough to make the enchiladas. If you want to have some to pour over the finished enchiladas you may wish to double the recipe. Taste the sauce as it simmers and adjust the spices to your taste (in other words if you want it spicier add some more chipotle or cayenne). I added a couple of good squirts of habanero sauce because we like things spicier than most people.

Now you’re ready to get making the enchiladas.

Cheap Bastid’s Easy EnchiladasEnchilada sauce
2 cups (8 oz. jack or mozzarella cheese) shredded
1 lb shredded meat (chicken, beef or pork)
12 corn tortillas
9x13 inch glass baking dish
Green onions (for garnish)
Chopped tomato (for garnish)
Sour Cream

Some recipes call for a quick frying or baking of the tortillas and some don’t. Tyler Florence from Food Network said to just microwave them for about 30 seconds. I did some microwaved and some with no heating and I think just a bit of microwaving works best. It makes the tortilla just a bit more pliable as you load it and fold it into the dish. So put a short stack of 4 on a microwave dish and zap them for about 30 seconds on high. Load those, then do 4 more.

Whatever meat you use—chicken, pork shoulder or beef (chuck/bottom round/ground) is best shredded. Use 2 forks or your hands and put it in a bowl. Shred the cheese and put it in a bowl. Pour enough sauce in the baking dish to just cover the bottom when you spread it out with the back of a spoon. Put the rest of the sauce in a wide opening bowl.

Use your hands. Get messy—you’ll want to wear an apron! Dip the tortilla into the sauce to coat it (actually what worked best for me was to hold the tortilla over the bowl and dip sauce out with my fingers and then “fingerpaint” the tortilla—it coats the tortilla and “saves” sauce.

Hold the coated tortilla in your hand, put a couple tablespoon’s worth of meat in the middle then about a tablespoon of cheese (again I used my fingers). Roll the edges of the tortilla over the meat and cheese then lay it in the baking dish, folded side down. Do this for each tortilla. Then pour sauce over the top and sprinkle the rest of the cheese over that and your ready to bake. Cover with foil.

Put the baking dish in an 375 degree oven for about 15 minutes and you’re ready to go. Plate with 2 enchiladas topped with extra sauce, sour cream and garnished with green onion and tomato.

(I cook. I'm not a food stylist!)

Cheap Bastid’s budget:
So did this meet the “cheap” requirement. Pretty much. I figured that it cost $7.50 for the ingredients using boneless, skinless chicken breast, block cheese shredded, tomato sauce, tortillas, and spices. That fed 3 people generous dinner portions and was enough for lunch for 2 the next day. Three dinners and 2 lunches in a Mexican restaurant would set you back about $45.

The other thing to remember is that if you do this with roast pork or roast beef, that the meat can do “double duty.” Plan your meat purchase so that you can have a roast beef or pork dinner with enough left-over for enchiladas. You can cook the roast beef or pork, shred it and then freeze it for when you want to make enchiladas or BBQ sandwiches, etc. That stretches your food budget farther, reduces waste and increases taste!

If you use ground beef, remember I trick myself by using 12 oz. as a pound. It works! I also buy “London Broil” (bottom round) or boneless chuck when it’s on special (usually about $1.60-$1.75/lb.) and the grocery store grinds it for free. Ground London Broil is about 90-95% lean and ground chuck is 80-85% lean).

Plus, I discovered a couple of other things. Two 8 oz. cans of Hunts tomato sauce costs $1 at my grocery store. One 16 oz can of Hunts tomato sauce costs $1.39. An 8 oz. container of sour cream was $1.35 while a 16 oz. was $1.69. So we did baked potatoes last night with sour cream.

I hope you enjoy this recipe. It’s a work in progress and I’ll be tinkering with it the next time I cook it. That’s the fun of cooking! Getting creative in making stuff that tastes good and saves you money. That’s the “Cheap Bastid” way.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Jack In the Box takes on Costco--So Does Cheap Bastid

You’ve just got to love Costco. They seem to have taken over a great big chunk of retail business. I’m a member and have been for about 10 years now.

We typically hit Costco once a week for some of our basics and like to take a look around while we’re there. Costco is this huge repository of merchandise. You can get “mass quantities” (with apologies to the Cone Heads of SNL fame) of just about anything.Our buying as slowed way down because of my employment situation but it’s all about saving money which we can do on some things at Costco.

If I time it right I can go to Costco and get enough "free samples" of food for a pretty good lunch. It really helps if you go there when your blood sugar is low. It took me a while to convince my wife that there can be an advantage for me to make a mad dash back to the grocery & meat department to get some blood sugar from the samples of pulled tri-tip and gorgonzola cheese. (She'll indulge it now as an antidote to Cheap Bastid crankiness).

Jack in the Box just took a trip to “Costco” for it’s newest commercial. If you haven’t seen it, take a peek. It’s a hoot:

Not that I’m anal retentive or anything (I’d say no, but my wife would definitely disagree with that—rightfully so) but I check stuff out. A few months ago, while the weather was still cool, I was thinking about buying a new pair of jeans. Now, Cheap Bastid that I am, I was checking out the Kirkland brand jeans at Costco for $12.99. I can do that math and I don’t need high fashion, expensive denim to cover my fanny.

But I could never find my size. I’m a 34 x 30. A pretty common size especially in Southern California. You’d think that Costco would be aware of the fact that there’s a lot of guys my size here—old white guys like me plus Hispanic and Asian men who are also a bit on the height challenged side.

So, Costco would get some in. And I’d take a pass. I just wanted to see how long they’d last. They always have every size imaginable—except 34 x 30. There’s 32 x 30, 36 x 30, 38 x 30, 40 x 30, etc. And all other longer inseams. A few weeks ago there were a dozen pairs. The next week none. Last Friday, I stopped for my weekly inventory and they had a whopping 24 pairs of 34 x 30. I bet there aren’t any this week!

And then last week we needed coffee. I drink Kirkland because it’s a richer and finer grind. It used to be cheaper by about a dollar than Folger’s. But Costco raised the price so that it’s now more expensive than Folger’s. I’m drinking Folger’s now.

But our favorite thing of all to do at Costco is check out the cute little kids. Ooh-ing and aah-ing like a couple of frustrated grandparent wannabes.

Maybe what I need to do is either get a life or get a job at Costco.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

A Turd in the Sandbox From the EPA

Summer. Days of sun and fun. Just like Sly and the Family Stone sang in “Hot Fun in the Summertime”. Makes you want to go to the beach and just kick back.

Joy Hickey (Jaime Pressly) "Don't be a turd in the sandbox"

Now comes a report that promises to spoil that image. Joy Hickey from “My Name Is Earl” says it best. “Don’t be a turd in the sandbox.” We’ve all seen ‘em, literally and figuratively. The kid is in the sandbox playing with his toy truck, a load of logs on the back. But wait. Those aren’t logs. They’re cat turds!

Well, the Environmental Protection Agency just laid a huge turd in the sandbox of every beach. “A new study says that you risk getting an upset stomach and diarrhea if you dig into the granular stuff to fill toy pails, build sand castles or bury yourself.”

You know there are just some things that are best left unsaid. You don’t need a government study to know that birds crap on the beach. Beach sand comes from under the sea. Fish poop sinks to the bottom and if the sand is dredged to renew a beach, the poop comes up with it. Birds crap in backyards where kids play too. And backyard dirt has worm castings (that’s a polite way of saying worm turds). Does that mean people shouldn’t garden?

But, according to the EPA, they just think it’s important to caution people about the bird droppings, urban runoff, sewage and other contaminants that pollute sand. So what’s next? Tyvek haz-mat suits for everyone going to the beach? Definitely not good for tanning or for mobility during that beach volleyball game.

Awwwww man. Are the beaches going to be deserted? No more young girls in skimpy bikinis? No more beef-cake guys with bigger pecs than the young girls in the skimpy bikinis? No more Frisbee throwing to dogs on the beach?

According to the study less than 10 percent of people who played with sand came down with diarrhea and/or gastrointestinal illness. But, that’s 24 percent higher than for people who didn’t.

Chris Heaney, lead author of the study and a post-doc student at the University of North Carolina said, “The beach…is not a sterile environment.” (And the government spent money to find that out!)

This weekend will see huge crowds at the beach in Imperial Beach, the southernmost city in San Diego County, for its annual U.S. Open Sandcastle competition. Nearly 300,000 people are expected to attend. That’s all the competition needs is for people to come down with diarrhea and pollute sand sculptures which took hours for artists to create.

And additional thousands will be in attendance at the annual Over the Line tournament which is a version of beach softball that attracts huge crowds. There’s lots of face diving into the sand for fly balls and line drives. Is the Monday diarrhea from bratwurst, beer or gull poop?
Kids, go to the beach. Play, have fun. Way too many of you have anal retentive Moms who are paranoid about germs. It’s playing and stuff where you get resistant to germs. Just wash or use hand sanitizer at the beach. But geez, if you worry about every little thing that might possibly have a germ, you’ll never do anything.

And that would be the biggest turd in the sandbox of all.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

California's Budget Solved!! Welcome to CalDakota

(Note: This, of course, is totally "tongue in cheek" and is purely from the demented mind of the author. With quasi-apologies to Reps. Pelosi and Pomeroy, Sens. Feinstein and Dorgan and Gov. Schwarzenegger)

Like Cinderella’s coach turning back into a pumpkin, California’s budget woes went from bad to worse at the stroke of midnight July 1 as the new fiscal year for the state began without solution for a budget which is $25 billion out of whack.

Frustrated by the state’s dismal attempts at alleviating the debacle, two of California’s congressional leaders hosted a press conference this morning in Washington, D. C. to announce that they have taken the initiative to broker a resolution to the morass.

Speaker of the U. S. House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, D-CA and U. S. Senator Diane Feinstein, D-CA met with the media in a press conference which was also carried live at the California State Capital in Sacramento to announce the plan. Pelosi and Feinstein opened the conference and then introduced their key partners in this unprecedented plan. Following is a transcript of the press conference:

Gov. Schwarzenegger

Pelosi: Good morning and thank you for coming on such short notice. Diane and I have been up all night finishing the agreements and we just got done informing Gov. Schwarzenegger of the plan.

Feinstein: We’ve worked hard to get to our positions of leadership in the Congress and we’ve gotten tired of being embarrassed by our state’s fiscal woes. So we decided to take the initiative and get something done—which the legislature and governor in our home state apparently don’t have the balls to do.
Speaker Pelosi and Rep. Pomeroy

Pelosi: What we’ve done is brokered a deal that makes GM and Chrysler look mild. Let me introduce two gentlemen who have become our partners in assuring the rejuvenation of California. Ladies and gentlemen, Rep. Earl Pomeroy and Senator Byron Dorgan of the great state of North Dakota.
Sen. Feinstein and Sen. Dorgan

Dorgan: Good morning, good morning to you all. I’m sure you have a lot of questions but let us outline the agreement before you start. OK? Good, you betcha.

Pomeroy: Thanks for coming. Let me start out by saying that this is quite the opportunity. Right up there with Seward’s Folly and the Louisiana Purchase. Except we’re calling this a short-term annexation.

Dorgan: That’s right. For the next 50 years, North Dakota will be annexing the state of California. During that time, it will be known as CalDakota. Government will be transferred from Sacramento to Bismarck with the statehouse in Sacramento being the seat of the region known as NorCalDakota. There will be a similar seat in Los Angeles with that region to be called SoCalDakota.

North Dakota and CalDakota Capital, Bismarck, ND

Pomeroy: So why did we agree to do this? Because it makes sense and it’s time for North Dakota to take its rightful position of leadership which, quite frankly California; oops I mean CalDakota; has squandered. We know how to be frugal with our money in North Dakota and yet still take care of our people. We’re going to show California how to do it. I mean, right now North Dakota is running a surplus of about $2000 per person while California has a deficit of about $750 per person. We’re going to leverage funds, kind of like a kindly uncle co-signing for a car loan. But that means we’re in charge until the loans get paid off.

Pelosi: OK, that’s the short version. What we’re looking forward to is being able to get things back on track for California with the least amount of pain possible.

Dorgan: That’s right Nancy. And we know that things will get a bit tense for a while but that’s why we’re also starting an “Adopt a CalDakotan Program” which will be co-headquartered in Fargo and Fresno so that citizens of North Dakota can adopt kids or families in CalDakota and provide them with a break from life in the west. Participating North Dakotans will exchange places with CalDakotans in January and February. It’ll give North Dakotans a chance to be somewhere warm and will show CalDakotans what the term “a cold day in hell” means.

Pomeroy: What about Tijuana?

Feinstein: That’s in Mexico, nitwit. Jeez, it’s like you guys think you own us or something.
Dorgan: Don’t call my colleague from the House names. Who do you think you are, Cher? By the way, did you know that Angie Dickinson lived in North Dakota.

Pelosi: I don’t care where Angie Dickinson lived. It’s not like she’s Peggy Lee or something.

Pomeroy: She was from Jamestown! Look, let’s settle down. We’re talking about making Lawrence Welk Resort and Village between San Diego and Temecula as big as Disney. North Dakotans won’t be able to wait to get there and spend money. They’ll even buy all the leisure suits you can make.
Feinstein: OK, OK, OK. This isn’t getting us anywhere. What next?

Dorgan: I have a check here in my hand in the amount of $26 billion, enough to take care of the deficit. It’s in North Dakota dollars though and I just need to get Gov. Schwarzenegger to endorse it and everything will be set.
Pomeroy: Yeah, let’s get it done. I can’t wait to get out to Napa Valley, CalDakota and go to some place that sells lutefske tacos.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Is This the Demise of the Weiner?

I started my baseball career in the Palma Ceia Little League in Tampa in 1959, graduating from the Minors to the Majors as a 10 year old in 1961 when I was drafted early with the “brother rule” (same team as my older brother). The team was the Hot Dogs, a team sponsored by Herman’s Hot Dogs. My last year in Little League was with a new sponsor—Swift & Co. which made Sizzlers, a hot dog. The team was called the Sizzlers. Hot dogs and baseball: what a combination!

Now, all that may be crashing to an end because a non-profit organization called The Cancer Project ( wants Major League Baseball to warn people about the cancer risk posed by hot dogs and other processed meats. As part of its efforts it is sponsoring a 48-foot wide digital billboard for the All-Star Game.

To quote Dave Barry, “I’m not making this up!” Apparently this group wants us to quit eating hot dogs, brats, Italian sausage, kielbasa, bologna and even pickle-pimento loaf. And they want to use the All-Star game as a forum.

Imagine all the fans deprived of the sausage races in Milwaukee when hot dogs are banned.

Weinerschnitzel will go out of business. (And I love their coney dogs!—cheap little tubes of turkey and chicken meat in a steamed bun slathered with something resembling chili).

The Oscar Mayer Weinermobile will be put up on blocks in an abandoned barn on a hog farm somewhere in Wisconsin. The Weinermobile is an American tradition like, well like baseball!

And, Joey Chestnut! What will happen to him? After eating 20,000 calories worth on July 4th, he’s doomed. The Cancer Project is warning of the risk of colon cancer. I bet that the morning after downing more than 60 hot dogs, Chestnut’s colon got a pretty good cleansing.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Colon cancer is serious. But come on already! “UnLucky Strikes”? The issue isn’t eating hot dogs at a ballgame. The issue is the outrageous prices charged for a hot dog at a major league baseball game. If I had my 2 kids at a game and bought hot dogs, my budget would allow only 2 bites each.

“Baseball stadiums need to be frank about the cancer risk posed by hot dogs and other processed meats,” says Krista Haynes, RR, a Cancer Project dietician. “Just as tobacco causes lung cancer, processed meats are linked to colon cancer.”

So, is this a spoof? I’m not entirely sure. If it isn’t, the Cancer Project needs someone else writing their press releases. “Baseball stadiums need to be frank”? I hope that’s an unintended pun. “Just as tobacco causes lung cancer…” No, smoking tobacco causes lung cancer.

“Oh, I wish I were an Oscar Meyer weiner….”
“Hot dogs. Armor hot dogs. What kind of kids eat Armor hot dogs?...”
“Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet…”

Somehow this should be comical. But, there’s no humor in cancer just as there’s no humor in this effort to scare kids out of eating hot dogs. Is this the demise of the weiner?

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Cheap Bastid's Foodie Tuesday: Wok's Cookin? Fried Rice

I’m the Cheap Bastid. I like to write about cooking on a budget. There are a lot of us right now who are watching every single penny. That doesn’t mean that we have to eat crap though.

For years I’ve enjoyed cooking the “ultimate leftover”—fried rice. Usually I do it as a one dish main course meal. It’s easy and tasty, is a great use for leftovers (it keeps them from turning into “penicillin” in the fridge) and it’s nutritious.

Quite frankly, if I could only have one cooking utensil it would be a wok. You can fry in it, steam in it, sear, stew, make soup—just about any cooking can be done in a wok. You can get them in different sizes and different materials. My suggestion is to use a good carbon steel and conventional wisdom has been a round bottom if you cook with gas and a flat bottom if you cook with electricity. Generally, it shouldn’t really cost more than $20 or so to get a decent wok.
Fried rice is usually a “leftovers” dish although I typically don’t have any left over rice. If you have a rice cooker, great. If you’re like me and don’t (remember, I’m the Cheap Bastid), it’s pretty easy to make. I have been using the same recipe out of “Madam Wong’s Long Life Chinese Cookbook” for 25 years and it works every time.

Madam Wong’s Rice Recipe:
Put 2 cups long grained white rice into a sauce pan. Cover with water, swirl rice through water and drain. Do this 4 or 5 times. Have stove burner heating on medium high while you’re doing this. After rinsing rice, cover the rice with enough water to reach the first knuckle of your index finger when the tip is just touching the rice through the water.
Put pan of rice on burner and let the water boil almost off (until there’s just bubbles coming out of the “craters” in the rice). This will take about 5 minutes. Turn heat down as far as possible, cover the pan and let it steam for 20 minutes. That’s it! It’s that simple!

For fried rice, you want to cook your rice early enough so that it can cool down in the fridge. This has something to do with food chemistry and gluten (thank you Alton Brown). But, I’ve found out over the years that there is a definite difference between cooling off the rice before using it in fried rice and not.

Fried Rice Recipe:
If you’re looking for exact quantities and ingredients, that’s not going to happen with this recipe. This is leftovers! Last night I made pork fried rice.
I had about a half pound leftover pork chop and some leftover ribs (I pulled the meat from the ribs and diced it). I’ve made fried rice from leftover steak, chicken breast, chicken thigh, shrimp, taco meat, meat balls—even bratwurst!

Prep: Like most oriental cooking, prepping takes the most time and is the most important because everything has to be ready to go when you start the actual cooking. For fried rice, you want to cut everything small—consistent with the idea that the most plentiful ingredient is going to be rice and for a reduced cooking time. You don’t want big hunks of anything in with it.

So what are you going to put in the fried rice with the meat? What have you got? Onion, bell pepper, carrot, celery, jalapeno. Last night I used onion, red bell and carrot. Why? Because it’s what I had in the produce drawer in the fridge. I like to chop up from a cup and a half to 2 cups worth of veggies. Put your chopped meat in a bowl and your chopped veggies in another. They go in at different times.

In another bowl, crack and stir 2 eggs.

Sauces—Last night I made a quick sweet & sour sauce from white vinegar, brown sugar, ketchup, soy sauce, Tabasco and a cornstarch slurry then micro waved for about 3 minutes on high.
Other sauces you might have on hand are soy sauce, Worcestershire, steak sauce, teriyaki, balsamic, left over wine, taco sauce, etc. As you can see, I don’t keep much in the way of “specialized oriental sauces like hoisin or oyster sauce).

Cooking--Put the wok on the stove with the burner set to high. When the wok gets hot, add 2 good glugs of cooking oil (a glug is about a tablespoon). Dump in the veggies and start stir frying (you need a wooden/bamboo spatula and spoon for this). At about 1 ½ minutes add the meat and heat through. After another minute or so push the meat and veggies up the sides of the wok creating an empty area on the bottom about 4-5 inches across. Add the egg mixture; let it sit for about 3 seconds then start working it into the meat and veggie mix. Stir everything together.

Now add your cooked rice. Just reach in the pan and grab a handful, breaking it up in your fingers. When you’ve put in the rice, mix everything together. Then add your sauce and mix, mix, mix for a minute or two.

Turn off then heat. Plate up or put in bowls and enjoy. (This took longer to write and read than the actual cooking).

You’re limited only by what you have on hand and your imagination. Now, let’s look at how much we spent. I used about 12 oz. of meat which cost about $1.50. I used about $.30 of rice (I buy it in bulk at $.79 a pound). The veggies cost maybe $.50 and the sauce quite frankly was maybe $.25 worth of ingredients. Grand Total: $2.55 for dinner for 2 with leftovers for lunch today. That’s the Cheap Bastid way!

Monday, July 6, 2009

For It's Money they Have and Peace They Lack (Yep, Baseball)

Major League Baseball announced the National and American League All-Star Teams this morning. Whoopdeedoo. Two Padres made it as “Player’s Picks”. HoHum. Overpaid “stars” who we’re supposed to revere. I can’t get excited about it anymore.

I like Everth Cabrera though. He’s the Padres new shortstop. A rookie. Never played higher than Class A until this year. The Padres have to keep him on their roster all year because of “Rule 5”. Now he’s the starting shortstop. He plays with joy and abandonment; hustle and pluck. That’s the way the game is supposed to be played.
“Field of Dreams” was on the tube last night. I only watched a few minutes of it after my wife went to bed and then changed it. I watched the “people will come speech” by James Earl Jones. It’s a cool speech. I didn’t want to see the scene which makes us 50-plus guys cry when Costner says “Hey Dad, do you want to have a catch.” I wasn’t in the mood for late Sunday melancholy—life’s enough of a bummer right now.

We need more baseball—real baseball. Played for fun. We need more vacant lots too where “sandlot” games can crop up; where kids can gather with gloves and old bats and balls and bases made of pieces of cardboard. Sandlots where the games last all day until Moms holler for dinner, the sun gets low and kids troop off until tomorrow’s game. That doesn’t happen anymore. The world’s not safe enough.

Like James Earl Jones said in the “people will come speech”: “And the memories will be so thick they’ll have to brush them away from their faces.” That’s what I’m doing right now. The 4th of July is over. As a kid and teen, the 4th of July usually meant I was playing baseball somewhere—Little League, Babe Ruth or American Legion. In small town North Dakota, Legion ballgames usually encouraged cars to park around the perimeter of the field, headlights on to supplement the dim lights on the poles. It was tough at times when they would flash high beams at visiting players in the batters box.

I think I was 20 the last time I played catch with my Dad. And, I think I was about 45 the last time I played catch with my daughter. You can’t believe how often I’d just like to go out and throw the ball around.

Loosen up my stiff muscles and joints with the muscle memory of the throwing motion. Hear the smack of a ball in a glove; feel the sting when the ball finds too much of the pocket and not enough of the web. Feel the easy exertion, the slight shoulder twinge and the pressure in my fingertips as the ball leaves on a straight and true flight to my throwing partner. As a kid, when we weren’t playing baseball at a practice or game, we’d be throwing in the back yard. Pitching in our mythical World Series.

But the only time I ever see anything like that anymore is down at the field a block from my house. It’s a baseball field on a school property which is used by the high school JV and by Babe Ruth Leaguers—and which is locked up at all other times. The school is afraid of vandalism. Only occasionally, and rarely, will I see a Dad and kids out there throwing, hitting a bit, having fun and learning the game.

“For it’s money they have, and peace they lack.” I don’t have much money right now and certainly not much peace. And oh but I wish I still had just a little bit of baseball. That would bring just a bit more peace. I bet Everth Cabrera slept like a baby last night dreaming of chasing a grounder into the hole, stabbing it, wheeling and throwing out the batter at first. Lucky guy!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Fourth of July--The Alley Cats Picnic

Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin is a terrific place to raise a family. It’s a small city of 9,000 people about 35 miles North East of Green Bay right in the middle of the Door Peninsula.

Green Bay is on one side, Lake Michigan on the other and the city is divided by Sturgeon Bay which because of a ship canal at its south end, connects the 2 bodies of water.

We lived just 3 blocks from downtown in a quiet neighborhood with mature trees, older homes and full of families and kids. This is a story of the “Alley Cats”. I came up with the term Alley Cats because our block featured a paved one-lane alley which ran the length of the block. In our “half” of the block there were 4 families with a total of 8 kids all the same ages.

Four of these plus another “little urchin” who hung out with this bunch all the time were in the same kindergarten class together (something which the school thereafter “banned” because they were such a little group of “hoodlums” who knew how to press one another’s buttons and drive the teacher crazy).

We went from big wheels to training wheels to 2-wheels with this unholy tribe. There’s something about the cacophony of a half dozen big-wheels rumbling down asphalt simultaneously! Our back yard had the biggest open space on it and I could never get grass to grow in major areas of it because of the permanent kick-ball game which seemed to go on pretty much every day.

But I digress. The Fourth of July dawns. A nice, sunny, cool morning. I’m the first up because Michael and Susan sleep in late during summer vacation. It’s a great time for sipping coffee and reading the newspaper. Then it’s time to make sure that everything is ready for the Annual Alley Cats Picnic. This is an annual event where all the families get together in a back yard for a pot-luck cookout on the 4th of July. I’m whistling as I go out the back door through the basement to smell the clean air, listen to the birds and scratch our cat Petey behind the ears.

We’ll have burgers and brats, beans and chips, soda and kool-aid, pie and cake, watermelon. The kids can run around and eat what they want, when they want. The adults will talk and laugh and joke watching the kids.

Earlier in the week, I had coordinated with the Dads—each household chipping in a bit of money. Because this morning the Dads are going shopping. For fireworks! Illegal fireworks. The fireworks that will precede the World Championship of AfterDark Kick the Can.

Three of us hop in one car—Craig Ostrand, Jeff Harding and I—and we head across the bridge to the other side of the bay (about 5 minutes) to Carl’s Baitshop. Now Carl’s has been there a long time. The owner sells minnows and crawlers and leeches along with some fishing tackle and, in the backroom for a couple of weeks every year, illicit fireworks. The good kind that go way up in the air with lots of color and more than enough noise.

Carl won’t just sell fireworks to just anybody. He has to know you and know that you’re responsible. After all, he was the Assistant Chief of the city’s volunteer fire department. You would be amazed at how much you can get with the $80 you’ve collected from the neighbors—including the female couple next door who run a bed and breakfast and Ted and Katie on the other side of us who both work in social services.

We’ve got a gross of bottle rockets, roman candles (big ones), pop-ups, self-contained star shells, a few strings of small firecrackers and sparklers (enough actually for a couple of nights worth). The kids get to stay up late—after 10 which is late for 5 & 7 year olds. And the adults will do all the shooting to make sure the kids are safe. We’re giggling just a bit as we head back to our block—amazed and tickled by the “stash”, by our “haul” of Independence Day goodies.

The day progresses to the time for the Alley Cats to start gathering. We’ve dragged picnic tables to our yard along with 2 extra grills—one for cooking and one to light a wood fire in. The food comes out and the cooking begins.

To fast forward this whole event—it’s now getting dark. Dessert has been devoured and all the detritus from the picnic has been cleaned up. We’ve had a great time talking and joking. The kids are running around having a good time without the usual squabbling. The can gets tossed in the middle of the yard. Dads take off with their kids to hide and the countdown begins as the Dad/kid “it” gets ready.

This after-dark game of family “tag”—Kick the Can--gets off and rolling full of laughing and running around in the dark like a bunch of banshees. And then “kerplunk” someone manages to “kick the can” and the last group in is the new “it”. Another round of this Alley Cats World Kick the Can Championship begins! It lasts until the Dads are tired or someone cries, whichever occurs first. But it’s the laughing and enjoying the end of the day that counts.

Now it’s time for fireworks! Dads gather the incendiaries. The kids gather around with their Moms, most sitting on the ground a safe distance back. It starts when a string of firecrackers is tossed—pop, pop, popping making the youngest kids cover their ears. Then on to sparklers! Everybody gets one and starts writing in the air, kids supervised to avoid burns. Burnt out sparklers are dropped in a bucket.

Sizzle, pop—ahhhhhhh. A Roman candle starts to let loose its colored balls up in the sky. The kids watch in awe thoroughly amused at this ritual of the Alley Cats. Then pop-bottle rockets followed by bigger rockets shooting up in the air, trailing sparks to crack out a loud report at their highest point. The kids really like these. Who’s having more fun? The kids watching the fireworks? The dads lighting them off, giggling like kids ourselves? The Moms, relegated to spectator status, supervising both the Dads and kids?

But it’s like one, large extended family. You love all the kids, even the ones who are pains in the butt because we’re all Alley Cats! We live together, wandering up and down the alley, visiting, sharing, helping with various projects.

Living just doesn’t get better than that. And that’s what the Alley Cats are all about!