Friday, January 21, 2011

Cougars at Costco

Costco is a place where it helps to go early in the day. It opens at 10 a.m. and it’s usually best to be there just about 5 after. Today was my day off and Carolyn and I decided to head on out to Costco to pick up some stuff and use a couple of coupons.

All the close in parking spots were taken and no one was leaving because it was only ten twenty and no one was coming out of the store shoving overflowing carts yet. But that’s OK. Sometimes you have to be patient.

One of our favorite meat items is boneless loin chops which just happen to have a $4.50 off coupon. That gets the price pretty reasonable so we were going to pick up a package. We moseyed through the store stopping at the display of toddler Easter dresses—just the thing to get a Grandpa’s attention and then we made a stop at the book section. Every once in a while I score a new paperback at the $5.59 Costco price instead of the $9.99 Barnes and Noble price.

We wandered toward the back. We needed eggs today and wanted to score the chops—especially since I had already promised a dinner of grilled chops in an orange/chipotle sauce with sweet potatoes. We got to the meat counter. I took a peak at the sirloin pork chops at $1.99 a pound. A lady stepped up next to me also looking at the sirloin chops.

I heard Carolyn call to me that she had found the loin chops and I turned to go to that cooler case and started rummaging through the plastic wrapped packages looking for just the perfect one. A few seconds went by and I heard, “Excuse me.” It was the lady who had been looking at the sirloin chops. She was holding the coupon in her hand. “Is this the right meat?” she asked.

“Sure it is,” I replied.

“Oh,” she said, “I was wondering because of the label.” She pointed to the Armour logo on the coupon.

“These are the right ones,” I repeated. “They’re really good. I’d rather have one of these than a steak.”

Another lady had stepped up to the other side of me. I was looking around a bit to try to spot my wife who had moved out of the way.

“You’re so right,” she quipped, trying to catch my eye, letting her arm brush against mine. “I used to fix these for my late husband all the time.”

By now there’s a third lady sticking her head and arm over my right shoulder brushing up against me ostensibly to get at the chops.

I looked side to side and slowly started to extricate myself from the now crowded case of loin chops. It wasn’t until I was back to my wife, who was laughing that I found out how oblivious I still am even at the advanced age of 59. It appears as though these ladies were more interested in my loins than in the chops.

“Didn’t you notice what those women were up to,” she asked.

“Well, no,” was my typically dunderheaded response.

“They were hitting on you like a bunch of groupies,” she informed me.

“Nawwww,” said I, ever Mr. Gallant, always the naïve innocent.

“Oh yeah. She knew about those chops and followed you over there,” Carolyn retorted.

“You mean they’re Cougars,” I asked? “And they think I’m a ‘Cub’?” I mentally and physically shivered and started to skulk out of the meat section, carrying my package of chops.

“But, they’re close to my Mom’s age,” I commented as we walked towards the eggs. I stopped to score a mini sample of pizza and looked back over my shoulder to see if any of my “groupies” were still around and following. A blob of sausage and sauce tumbled from the slice and onto my shirt. How’s that for debonair?

Hey, maybe Costco should hire me to do Cheap Bastid cooking demonstrations in their meat department? It could be Cheap Bastid cooking for one—or two if you get lucky.

But we managed to wend our way through the checkout, back to the car and head home. Wow, no one’s tried to pick me up in a long, long time. I mean, look at my picture. I’m nearly 60. I’m bald. I have gray hair and a white beard.

But apparently I’ve still got “it”. Whatever “it” is.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Baseball is a Simple Game...But it's too damned Expensive

I think Crash Davis would agree with me. Baseball is, indeed, a simple game.

“You throw the ball, you catch the ball, you hit the ball. Sometimes you win; sometimes you lose; sometimes it rains.”

I was all set to write something humorous about baseball and kids and the equipment you need to play the game. But everything came out sarcastic, whiney and trite. So what I thought I’d do is just revert to umbrage.

Last spring a high school pitcher in Northern California got hit in the head by a batted ball coming off the barrel of an exotic material bat designed to create a “trampoline effect” of acceleration. He nearly died. A bill was introduced in the legislature to ban all but wooden bats until the California Interscholastic Federation agreed to a rule requiring non-wood bats to meet the “Batted Ball Coefficient of Restitution” standard which measures the “liveliness of the ball off the bat”.

New bats that meet these specifications cost between $200 and $400. Each. Teams are trying to figure out how to afford this equipment.

An article last week in the San Diego Union Tribune discussed the new bat rules

One coach at an upscale high school here in the San Diego area said, “obviously it was passed for safety reasons…but the new bats are so bad that it’s going to take away from the game of baseball at our level. There’s just no pop. The offense of high school baseball is going to totally change.”

Awwwww, gee that’s just too bad. What do you mean, coach? That you’re going to have to teach your kids how to bunt and how to put the ball in play and make contact? How to hit and run? How to be aggressive and stretch a single into a double? You mean—let the kids have the enjoyment of baseball beyond just hitting “dingers” or “taters”?

Another coach said, “It’s going to allow for a better game. It’s going to bring a little more balance back into the game instead of just everybody sitting back and trying to hit a three-run jack.”

And, a player for a high school nearby said “I don’t think it’s that bad. The only main difference is the ball really doesn’t get into that second gear and just take off,” he said. “It’s just going to be more true baseball. People are going to have to play the game right.”

These 2 seem to have the right attitude. For years, high school and college players who have realistic expectations of playing baseball professionally have played in summer leagues to learn how to hit with wooden bats. Their whole approach to batting has to change. They can no longer hit a double off the handle of the bat. The ball doesn’t leap off the bat and go into orbit. Their mechanics have to improve dramatically and for many, so does their approach to hitting.

OK, so I’m jealous. In 5 years of playing American Legion and some college ball I hit all of 1 home run. It felt good. But not as good as all the at bats I had where I got a single or double, ran the bases aggressively and made something happen. That was a lot more fun.

But what’s bugging my butt the most is that baseball is now an incredibly expensive sport. It’s rarely, if ever played just for fun. You seldom see kids out throwing the ball around (or kids and dads) or out playing some version of baseball just for fun and something to do on a sunny day.

High school players don’t need $400 bats and Little Leaguers don’t need $200 bats.

That’s the joy of the game. Yeah, I played organized ball from the time I was about 9 years old. But I played a lot more baseball in the backyard and on vacant lots as a kid than I ever did at the practice field or Little League field.

You can still get a wooden baseball bat for $25. And yeah, you can get them for over $100 too. Take the game back to wood. Otherwise it’s all about the money. The only good thing about the “BBCOR” bats is that the “ping” sound is replaced by something closer to the old fashioned “crack” of a wooden bat. If schools and coaches and leagues are concerned about breaking wooden bats, well then teach the kids to bat properly and breakage will be diminished. In my American Legion days, I saved my money and spend about $10 to buy a pro-model Louisville Slugger, Nellie Fox bat and it never broke. I took care of it. And by the way, I was a .300 plus hitter.

This sport is pricing itself out of the range for way too many kids—just like football has done. It’s gotten away from being a game and is purely an “organized” sport anymore.

And that’s too bad. Because baseball is a simple game…

quotes from San Diego Union Tribune article 1/10/2011 by P.K. Daniel

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Cheap Bastid Way--My "Philosophy" on Food and Cooking

I have Open Salon to thank for Cheap Bastid. Shortly after joining the site I discovered this thing called “Foodie Tuesday”. So I posted a couple of recipes. Now, my recipes aren’t fancy. They are neither as complex nor elegant nor photogenic as many of the “Foodie Tuesday” posts. But I liked them. I think my first one was titled “They Call Me Mr. Gravy”.

At the time I was unemployed and we were living out of our meager savings. So, frugality was a necessity. My wife and I shared some laughs over this. We’d see recipes by “foodies” and talk about how it wasn’t really something that someone on a limited budget could or would do. My own cooking was changing to reflect our more modest lifestyle. And as it changed Carolyn would tease me for being such a “Cheap Bastid”—of course oftentimes the teasing would come while eating something delicious, but inexpensive.

My first “inspiration” was from “Sam the Cooking Guy”, Sam Zien here in San Diego. He would take limited ordinary ingredients and make quick and tasty dishes. But I had 2 differences with Sam—one, he would use too many “convenience” ingredients such as pre-cooked bacon that raised the cost of the meal and two, he became all about his “quirky” personality and less about the food.

So with her encouragement, I started to think and write as the “Cheap Bastid”. And what I discovered that it was fun to adapt dishes for absolute frugality. It was fun to resurrect some of the meals from my childhood and from when I was cooking for my kids every evening and show how they could be used to stretch a dollar into gossamer threads of taffy.

Here’s a few rules or “philosophical” tidbits that I follow as the “Cheap Bastid”:

• It’s a lot cheaper to cook and eat at home than to go out, drive thru or get carry-out.

• It’s a lot healthier to cook and eat at home than to go out, drive thru or get carry-out.

• Eating at home is all about the food AND all about family

• 15 minutes of planning before shopping will save you a lot of money. Make a list. Stick to it.

• Buy fresh produce and use it!

• When stuff is on sale—stock up!

• Buy your meat in quantity and then “break it down” into smaller packages for the freezer.

• Use your slow cooker and your grill. Make a big enough roast for a couple of different meals—not just reheated dried-out left-overs.

• Have a pantry well stocked with “staples” and a spice cupboard well stocked with spices.

• Don’t buy pre-mixed spice blends. They’re too pricey and have way too much salt.

• Get creative. Research various recipes and come up with your own versions.

• Teach yourself to do some baking. Cake mixes are cheap but pre-made pie crust and filling is expensive. Homemade bisquits are cheap and good.

• Prep first, then cook. Always! That’s what Tom Colicchio calls “mis en place”.

• A corollary to prep first, then cook is—clean as you go! Don’t turn the kitchen into a disaster area.

• Food is for eating not for looking at so you don’t have to make it “foo-foo” pretty. “Foo-foo” foodie food isn’t supposed to go up onto the side of the plate. Cheap Bastid food does.

• Be like “Gunny Highway”—Improvise, Adapt, Overcome

• Being frugal—a Cheap Bastid—becomes addictive and fun! Or is that obsessive? I’m not sure.

• And, last but not least—don’t forget the most important ingredient of all—a little pinch of love.

That’s it. This can help you save money and enjoy cooking as much as you enjoy eating. Now, some of you will be able to be like “the Neeley’s” and make cooking together a seductive, sensuous adventure. Carolyn and I have a hard time sharing the kitchen together—we’re both too territorial. We’ll pitch-in if the other needs an extra hand for something but then we kind of back out and cede the territory back to the one in the kitchen. It keeps the peace.

And of course there’s one last thing to say:

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

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Cheap Bastid Stripe--How the City Out-Cheap Bastided Me

OK, it’s been a year or so since the City of Vista, California did this service “just for me”. You see, I have my very own stripe. It was given to me by the City.

Of course, I asked the City for a street light at the corner of Citrus and Eucalyptus a couple of blocks South of where I live. That intersection is dark at night. Pitch dark. And dangerous. It’s especially dangerous if you’re heading east and turning onto Citrus. The right hand turn is downhill and blind. It’s blind during the day and you have to know what you’re doing and it’s worse at night when the fall away is pitch black—even if you know that it’s there.

So I sent a letter to the City—the Mayor and City Manager specifically. I got an e-mail from the City’s traffic engineer. In it I was informed that there was no budget for a streetlight but that if I wanted to I could have one installed by SDG&E (San Diego Gas and Electric) and pay for it myself. “Say, what?” I don’t have that kind of money and I was referring to a matter of public safety.

So I sent that message back to the guy. His response was that they would paint a stripe along the side of the street so that it would be more visible in the dark. Now, I didn’t think that this was much of a solution. But it was better than nothing. And about 3 weeks later, the stripe magically appeared. It’s still dangerous. Eucalyptus street is still built up with a minimum of 6 inches of asphalt higher than the gravel shoulder with full grown 3 foot diameter eucalyptus trees within 3 or 4 feet of the pavement but, hey there’s a budget crisis! The City just finished a new $55 million Taj Mahal city hall 2 blocks from that spot and it’s being paid for by a half cent sales tax over the next 40 years that’s not generating enough revenue to retire the bonds. Go figure.

But, I’ve got a stripe. Perhaps it’s just as good because now Vista is proposing turning off half the streetlights in the city in order to save money. Too bad they didn’t spring for “reflective paint” on my stripe.

And, as further proof that no good deed goes unpunished, I also managed to get the fences repaired at the charter junior high school that’s right next to “my” stripe. The junior high has got a huge field of about 4 or 5 acres that has a football field and track plus a baseball field and practice back stop.

It’s also home to both the city’s “Pop Warner” football league and to a local “Babe Ruth” baseball league. That’s good. Both of those organizations pay money to the school district for use of the property.

Now, before I go any further, let me just say that my goal wasn’t for the fence to be fixed. Rather it was that the gates be left open.

Weeknight evenings and weekends would often find people walking or running around the track. Mothers would push strollers in a gaggle, exercising and visiting. Joggers of all ages, genders and ethnicities would run. And, especially on weekends, there would typically be a constant “pick-up” soccer game going on. Young Hispanic men from our neighborhood would be running, kicking and enjoying themselves.

Never, ever did we ever see any tempers flare or gang activity or anything else. Just people enjoying themselves, the outdoors and being active.

We used to go down to the track fairly often for a different kind of workout. Carolyn and I would start out together running a warm-up half mile or mile then she would keep on chugging while I would do a series of “ladders”—pushing my heartrate from resting, to aerobic to anaerobic, recuperating and then starting over again.

Then, we started to encounter the gates being locked more often. One Sunday we were looking for an open gate and came across a young guy just on the other side of the fence. “How’d you get in,” we asked? “We crawled under the fence over there,” the young man pointed. We went to where he pointed and proceeded to pull the bottom of the fence up from where it was curled and leaving a gap and easily got through the fence in a crouch.

Later we discovered a 3 foot tall hole in the fence which was even easier to use although it required climbing over another shorter fence. But it was actually easier.

This was also kind of tough for some of the little kids, strollers and Moms who would come down to the field to enjoy being outdoors.

So, “good citizen” that I am, I sent an e-mail to the Vista Superintendent of Schools requesting that they find a way to leave the fields accessible and that this was a terrific asset to the community.

My response came from the Assistant Superintendent for Facilities (quite a title, huh?) who told me in true PHD’ese that there were concerns about vandalism and gang activity and trespassing and littering.

Our observation had been that there was never any graffiti sprayed on buildings, etc. We never saw any gang colors or anything remotely close. But this is a level of government and they’ve got their bureaucracy.

To make a long story short(er), the school district sent maintenance people on a jaunt around the fence of the school to anchor the bottom of the cyclone fencing firmly to the ground and they found the hole in the fence (which had been there for at least 6 months) and fixed that.

The end result, my attempt to do something good resulted in a totally abandoned field of dreams except for those who “pay to play”. Too bad. I always thought that recreation was supposed to be free. I always thought that large fields like this were meant to be enjoyed by all, and respected by all. I always thought that in a community where there is a lot of poverty, where there is a plurality of Hispanic citizens, where there is crime, etc. that having a field like this available for casual use was a good thing.

Now the football field, track and ball field look lonely and forlorn. Nobody’s there using it for the joy of use. Pop Warner and Babe Ruth are just too “organized” and too expensive for most of the people in this neighborhood.

It’s a shame. One of these days though…I’m going to win the lottery and buy the fields then tear down the fence and open it up to everybody—not just those who pay. I have been sorely tempted to sneak to the fence some dark night with wire cutters and open it up but have this fantasy of calling my wife from jail late at night to come bail me out.

I thought I was doing a “good deed” and ended up getting fenced out.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Cheap Bastid's BATV and Food Porn

So, I went out and did it. After 4 or more years of dutifully checking each week’s ad flyers from Best Buy, Fry’s, Target, WalMart, etc. I finally got myself a BATV for Christmas.

In case you’re wondering, BATV is a Big Ass TV, also known as an HDTV. I like BATV better for my 42”, 1080p, 120hz Sanyo now occupying most of the living room wall space. Over the years I have patiently waited for the prices to drop. They really haven’t. The only thing that has changed is the technology. There have been multiple incarnations of these TVs and each time it seems as though the price is ready to plummet, new technology comes out. Regular old HDTV to plasma to LCD to LED, etc. Mine is LCD. They’ve never gotten to my magic, secret, inner price point where I can both afford and am willing to pay the price though.

Of course, it doesn’t help that my expectations steadily progressed from 32 inch to 37 inch to 40 inch. Maybe that has something to do with my eyesight but I’m not sure. All these past 6 years I have been content with my 20” set that weighs a ton and requires a 6 foot “wingspread” to be able to pick up that I bought at Target on sale for $88 in 2004.

And in true Cheap Bastid fashion. I managed to get this 42” behemoth at a price that might charitably be considered the same price as the 20-incher plus reasonable inflation. Total out of pocket: $120.

You see, I sell cars for a “living”. (Living is in quotes because it’s not much of one either economically or in the sense that you’re making the world a better place for peace, love and rock and roll). The first of December, our dealer principal (that’s the guy whose name is over the door and who owns the place) announced at our monthly sales meeting that we would be doing a “Letter to Santa” contest. Fill out the letter at the bottom with a Santa gift that we wanted up to $500 and if we sold 8 cars by the 21st of the month we would get that prize. I asked for a 40”, 1080 p, 120hz HDTV.

The good news is that I was both motivated and just a bit lucky and put out a total of 9 ½ units in that time period. So, now I’ve got this BATV for only $120 out of pocket (it cost more than $500)—although it’ll be more than that because Uncle Sam and the State of California is going to hit me up for income tax.

I sat down to watch my new BATV after getting it set up and quickly popped it over to FoodTV. WOW! First thing I saw was a close up of food. Delectable, delicious food in 42” of hi-def glory. Food porn! It was glorious and had me drooling. Suddenly I was starving. I kept watching as more food was shown in a sauté pan juices flowing, caramelizing, steam wafting making me want to leap into the fridge and satiate my craving for protein.

And then the camera cut to a close up of Giada Delaurentis. Her enormous head filled the drive-in movie sized screen—rather like when your parents first took you to see “Attack of the 50 Foot Woman”. I don’t watch Giada because it just seems to me that she works too hard to make sure that her meager, push-up bra enhanced cleavage is the star of the show rather than the food. But my BATV put these attributes into their proper comedic perspective.

So now, I’m going to go over and watch the masters of food porn—the Neeley’s—as they wilt collard greens and turn it into an true exercise in epicurean erotica.