Thursday, October 21, 2010

Dear Mrs. Freshley, You Are So Busted. Love Cheap Bastid

Dear Mrs. Freshley and Dollar Tree,

We were in your store recently to buy one of my favorite work treats—Mrs. Freshley’s Buddy Bars. They’re a real deal at $1 a box.

(For those who are not aficionados, Buddy Bars are delectable chocolate covered wafers with a peanut butter center. They’re tasty, and cheap—or they were).

So anyway Mrs. Freshley and Dollar Tree, I took my new box of Buddy Bars to work. Later on I grabbed the box to open it. The contents were sliding around inside the box. Hmmmpf, I harrumphed to myself, “What’s up with that?” I opened the box and looked inside. It wasn’t full. It’s always been full before. I checked the outside of the box. It said 8 Buddy Bars. I counted up—4 packages, 2 per package. Yep, that’s 8. But the box has always been full. And I didn’t really think anymore of it. Until I got home.

Sitting in the pantry was an old box of Buddy Bars, with only one package remaining. Well, Mrs. Freshley and Dollar Tree, you’d be amazed at what it said on the package. Or maybe you won’t be amazed because you guys did it. It said 12 Buddy Bars. That’s 12 as in a dozen! As in 6 packages of 2.

Well, smack me upside the head. Mrs. Freshley and Dollar Tree pulled a fast one. The box of 8 was still a dollar. But the simple math I learned in 4th grade tells me that the price has actually gone up 50%! (For those of you who say it’s only 33% let me just tell you the simple fact that I used to be able to get a dozen for a buck now a dozen would cost me $1.50. That’s 50%.)

What do you have to say for yourself? Or are you trying to save me from myself and make me eat less? No you’re not. You want me to eat the same amount but spend 50% more. So is Dollar Tree going to become the Dollar and a Half Tree? Or will it be Dollar Tree—Get Less?

A while back, I wrote about how Mrs. Freshley seems to like getting people hooked on Buddy Bars only to make them disappear from the shelves causing acute withdrawal. So is this the rest of the story? Bring ‘em back and then do a quick about face and reduce the quantity in the box so you have to buy more boxes and spend half again as much money?

Ohhhhhhh Mrs. Freshley, that’s low-down mean and underhanded. And Dollar Tree—you’re the pusher. You push the product and then sneak a box in that has less product.

Now, in the world of what passes for food, this is no big deal. But, how many times have we seen this happen over the last few years? More and more grocery items now come with less for the same money as before. Ice cream is a good example. When they changed to liters, you got 2 liters for about $2. Now you get 1 ½ liters for about $3.50. Soda bottlers have done the same thing with their individual sized containers and going from 12 packs and 24 pack cases to 18 packs at the price that used to be charged for 24 packs.

Of course what the Cheap Bastid does is to compute the price per ounce. My threshold for buying bottled ice tea is 2 cents an ounce. If it ain’t at that price, I don’t buy! And when I buy, I stock up. Drives Mrs. CB nuts but that’s the price of love.

So anyway, Mrs. Freshley and Dollar Tree, I think I got hosed. I think you hosed all your customers and I’m more than just a bit ticked off.

Not going to do anything about it are you? You’re like the cigarette companies—you know you’ve got me hooked. I can quit anytime I like. And I will, just as soon as I wipe the chocolate off my fingers and the wafer crumbs out of my beard.

Very Truly Yours,
Cheap Bastid
Eat Good. Eat Cheap. Be Grateful.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

"Sons of Anarchy" has Become a Pain in the Ass

This comes in the form of confession. A year ago I wrote a piece titled “Wuss Shows Beware, “Sons of Anarchy” will Kick Your Ass. I am here to retract all those words.

We eagerly awaited the premier of the new season of “Sons of Anarchy”. Last season they seemed to make a transition from bad-ass motorcycle club to “the gang who couldn’t shoot straight”. We were hoping they’d get back on track this year. But that hasn’t happened.

Ron Perlman continues to play the aging patriarch still able to get vicious when the mood or opportunity strikes but with more than a bit of resignation and with less finesse (if finesse is ever a part of a motorcycle club). And Katy Sagal has essentially turned into a mean bitch who wants to be protective of her “brood” and be a matriarch to her son and his cronies who follow Perlman.

And Jax (Charlie Nunnam) just comes across as a punk. OK, so he’s somewhat justified at being pissed about the kidnapping of his son by the Irish “chapter” of “Sons of Anarchy” but he weeps and wails and screams and shouts and really doesn’t accomplish much. But he now seems to be the lead character. Maybe that’s because he’s young and Perlman and Sagal are “old” and the show wants to skew to a younger, grittier image.

One line in last night’s show that I liked was at the end of a stand-off in a house turned drug lab. A group of local no-good-nicks were trying to force their way in, shooting the house up. Members of the Sons of Anarchy were barricaded inside with the woman running the lab and holed up in the actual lab. A cell phone call summoned the rest of the club who arrived like an old style posse except on their bikes all pointing weapons on the now badly outnumbered “locals rednecks” who were marching the club members out of the house at gunpoint (in reality wouldn’t they have just killed everyone and then made off with the drugs?). The locals give up and drop their weapons.

One of the bad guy locals asks one of the Sons of Anarchy something like, “Hey, how come you care so much?” The club member butt strokes him with his sawed off shotgun and then says, “Because we’re the good guys”. Kind of an interesting perspective.

So, this morning Carolyn and I set about to try to come up with some scenarios which might help this show set in the mythical city of Charming, California.

How about if Perlman (whose Sons of Anarchy owns an automotive repair garage) ends up a member of the Board of Directors of the local Chamber of Commerce. That could be interesting. Going legit; having to occasionally revert to the “old ways” on behalf of the city’s business community.

Or what if Perlman and Sagal had a kid (Jax is Gemma’s son and Perlman’s step son in the show) who was an 8 year old girl into “girly girl” stuff who Daddy has to play tea party with or read books to at night and work to insulate his daughter from the less savory elements of his life/career.

How about normal life? Go grocery shopping and cold-cock a guy trying to rob the store. Have the new pastor of the local church come calling and get surprised and end up as the unofficial “chaplain”.

And one episode I'd really like too see--the "Sons of Anarchy" kicking the crap out of Paul, Sr.; Paul, Jr.; and Mikey of "American Chopper" or vice-versa.

Okay, so I’m not a motorcycle rider. But, one thing I’ve observed is that the bikes the “Club” rides seem to be decidedly “un-hoggish”, even kind of wussy for a group like “Sons of Anarchy”. Where did they get those sissy looking mini-fairings on the front? Not intimidating at all unless you’re a 40-something dude with the money for a “hog” but not the brass to really ride one.

Well let’s put it this way, “Sons of Anarchy” has gone lame. The good news is that it’s on at 10 at night, a time when I normally want to go to sleep. And I don’t even try to make myself stay awake for the whole show anymore. I’ll stay awake for originality and go right to sleep for lame.

Cheap Bastid's Brat Burgers

We’ve just about quit eating bacon at our place. Have you noticed how damned expensive it’s gotten this year? Our favorite brand (best quality and best price) at the grocery store has gone from $1.99 a pound about 6 months ago to $3.49.

Maybe I ought to check out pork futures on the Chicago Exchange or something but that increase is just ridiculous. I’ll just about guarantee that farmer’s aren't getting 75% more for their pork or that the cost of producing bacon at processing facilities hasn’t gone up 75%. Does the price increase have something to do with “foodies” watching every second of “Top Chef” and emulating everything those contestants do? It seems like on the cooking shows that everything is now accompanied by bacon. Or that bacon fat is considered the best flavor in the Western World and used in everything up to and including liquid nitrogen frozen ice cream.

The last bacon we bought was $1.69 a pound. I bought a pound and a half tray of “ends and pieces”. There was about a pound of good slices and about a half pound of trimmings including some almost pure fat and some almost pure ham. But that half pound translated into an incredible Spaghetti Carbonara. These guys are sure making it hard for a Cheap Bastid like me to stay cheap.

So, recently I came across a quickie recipe from one of the websites that send me stuff on food. It’s something I haven’t done in 25 or more years and we liked it so much that we did it again over the weekend this time taking a few requisite pictures for my occasional Cheap Bastid “Show and Tells”.

I’ve loved bratwurst for decades in all its forms and variations. And while this is almost the epitome of the kind of “proletarian” food I’m most fond of, bratwurst takes more than a bit of technique to cook so that it’s tasty and not some tube of charred plumbing pipe slathered with mustard on a bun. To me the “trick” has always been to parboil the brat first and then just to brown them on the grill—keeping the flavor and juiciness of the sausage.

Back in the time when I lived in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin and other parts of the upper Midwest, I’d come across brat patties occasionally—essentially bratwurst without the casing—and from time to time I’d buy some and cook it on the grill. Not too bad, but the “pre-made” patty often got over cooked and dried out just like it’s cased-cousin.

So I recently stumbled on an incredible solution. Make your own patties! Those looser, less precisely shaped patties that you make by rolling the meat into a ball and then pressing it into a patty with your hands. It’s looser and, like ground beef, makes for a better, tastier patty.

Here’s the “recipe”.

Cheap Bastid’s Brat Burgers
1 lb bratwurst or ground pork
1 can sauerkraut
Your favorite burger buns

If using brats, slit the casings, remove the meat and throw out the casing. If using ground pork dump it in a bowl and then add salt, pepper and garlic powder to taste (or look up bratwurst seasoning online—spice recipes I found used salt, white pepper, mace, marjoram, caraway seed and onion powder). Form patties (I like a 5 to 6 oz. patty).

Dump the sauerkraut into a pan you use on the grill (or you can heat it on the stove or in the microwave). When grill is hot, put the patties on it & flip after about 3 minutes. Put the pan of kraut on at the same time. Two flips (a total of 6-8 minutes) should be enough.

You’re looking for a nice crust on the outside with a middle that’s hot and juicy.

Put the patty on the bun, squirt with mustard, slather a good thick layer of kraut on top and add some onion. Now, enjoy! We like to accompany this with a can of cheap beans doctored up with spices and some heat.

It’s that simple. And this is surprisingly good. Really flavorful. The crust creates a great texture to go with the juicy meatiness inside. The kraut mixes in with the meat a lot better than when the meat is still in a casing. It’s an instant Octoberfest in your mouth! I’m salivating just thinking and writing about it.

The Cheap Bastid Test: Well, the best brat prices I can typically find at the grocer are $2.50 a lb. on sale. Ground pork is $2.99 a lb. I’ve done them both ways. For us, a total of 3 brats made into 2 patties is about right as is about 2/3 lb. of ground pork. So, we spent about $2 for meat and a whopping $.89 for sauerkraut and about $.25 for the buns and a buck for the beans. So, all total, the price was $4.14. That’s not bad.

That’s the Cheap Bastid Way: Eat Good. Eat Cheap. Be Grateful.

Friday, October 1, 2010

California Dreamin'--What a Freakin' Nightmare

Not that anyone else on the North American continent cares but that bastion of culture in which I live, California, continues to remind me more of a break-away former Soviet Republic or what used to be called a Banana Republic in Central America than the “Bear Republic” which joined the union in 1850.

It’s going on 100 days now that the State has been without a budget. OK, so let’s take a pause here to consider how the rest of this is going to go: Do I degenerate it into the profanity laced rant, which those wonderful guys and gals elected to the Legislature in Sacramento so thoroughly deserve? Or do I remain somewhat academic and philosophical, staying above the putrid political parsimony? I’m not sure yet.

Oh, to hell with it. Here’s the bottom line: The State of California is without a budget. It’s been 100 days. The amount of budget deficit the Legislature and Governor have to close is $19 billion. No progress has been made. The longer it goes the worse it gets. And no one seems to care in Sacramento. There is absolutely no thought or consideration given to the citizens and taxpayers of this state. Elected officials apparently couldn’t care less about the needs of the citizens and taxpayers of this state.

And the media devotes scant attention. There was a story in the paper today (San Diego Union Tribune) which was one column wide and maybe 8 inches long on about page 6. Of course the amount of attention given to Meg Whitman’s “scandal” of having employed a domestic worker who may be an illegal immigrant garnered plenty of front page attention.

You know, California has a long tradition of referred measures showing up on the ballot on all manner of different issues. I can think of 2 which might be more than welcome.

The first would be the “None of the Above” Amendment to the State’s Constitution. All State and local elections would require an additional option and box for each position on the ballot. That would be an option to vote for “None of the Above”. If “None of the Above” wins, then that contest would have to start over again from scratch. None of the candidates who were on the ballot could run for the office again in that election. Just a thought. When I think of choosing between Jerry Brown and Meg Whitman, I crave and yearn for a “None of the Above” option.

The other is a throwback to something that was a legislative tradition for decades in both the 19th and 20th centuries in many states. It would be the “Cover the Clock” law. If the Constitutionally mandated date for a balanced budget is not achieved the clock in the chambers of the legislature will be covered at 11:59 p.m. on the deadline date. That way the clock, officially, does not move.

Date and time are legally frozen until the members of the Legislature perform their duty. Oh, by the way, that also means that the budget for the Legislative branch stops at that point in time too. Legislators do not get paid. They do not get their car allowance. Their staffs do not get paid. And so forth. Let the Legislature be the first to sacrifice for its own intransigence and incompetence.

The bottom line, quite frankly, is that these people just really, flat out, don’t care. It’s all about power and the trappings of the office rather than safeguarding “the people’s” money and providing the best public service at public expense possible. By the way, I’m totally OK with the idea that you might think that na├»ve. And, finally it seems that lameduck Governor Arnold Swartzenegger has pretty much given up. He ran for the office to clean up Sacramento and bring fiscal responsibility back to California’s government and has dismally failed. He’s neither brokering nor leading an effort to solve an impasse or to create the prudent fiscal policy that California’s dire economic straits require.
I just can’t wait to see the TV commercial next year of some scruffy guy opening up a box delivered by FedEX and taking out the Deed to the State of California and then proudly proclaiming, “I got it on E-Bay”. Hmmm, problem solved.