Wednesday, August 27, 2008

I Love Fall

Fall has always been my favorite time of the year . . . relief from the oppressive heat and humidity of summer, the fragrance of aging fallen leaves, visits to local cider mills for fresh Michigan apples, my favorite holiday Halloween and of course football.

See the tree here in the picture? It's my "Go Blue!" tree in honor of my University of Michigan Wolverines beginning another fall campaign soon. This tree sits on a file cabinet at my place of work. Last year I won this little Christmas tree at our employee Christmas party so I've been re-decorating it each season. Now it's decorated for football season.

My tree doesn't go over too well with my boss (he's already moved it once). He's a Michigan State fan. His tackboard here at work has clippings from an early season upset that my Wolverines suffered almost a year ago. And the clippings are still there a year later as you can see in the picture below.

Since I'm a building fire marshal, I declared his tackboard to be in violation of the fire code--the old newspaper having become tinder dry to the point that it's an obvious incendiary hazard. He ignores my order to take it down. I've complained that I no longer feel safe working here. Still he refuses to take it down. My next step is OSHA, I guess.

Maybe if his Michigan State team does better this year he might at least replace some of these clippings with articles reporting on the success of the MSU Spartans. But I honestly don't see that happening.

Tonight is my family's fantasy football draft. Last season ended in controversy. I was in first place in our ten-team league at the end of the season, but my brother (he occasionally posts here as "the enforcer") who finished in last place and out of the play-offs, traded his top fantasy running back Ladainian Tomlinson to my youngest brother who then won first place in the play-offs. Always ganging up on me they are.

This year our family league commissioner has changed the trade rules to avoid a repeat of that. It helps that the commissioner is Scott, my youngest son. Heh, heh.

Yep, I just love fall.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Life Has (Many) Choices

Life always has choices. But has anyone noticed lately the choices you get when you go out for a quick sandwich? Ordering at our local Subway restaurant gets more complicated each time we go there.

Wendy and I visited a local Subways this past week. First time in a while. The young lady behind the counter asked me if I wanted a combo meal. No. Six inch or footlong sandwich? Footlong. (Those were easy questions). I wanted a "subway melt."

Double stacked?

I'm not sure what that means exactly but it sounds rather suggestive in any context. No, thanks. But now it gets tricky. What kind of bread did I want? If you check the Subway menu on-line, you'll not see "white" listed under bread types. Guess that would make it too easy for guys who like it simple, like me.

You WILL see listed among the breads "honey oat" and "Italian herbs and cheese." Honey oat? Maybe if I were a cross between a bear and a horse. Sounds more like cereal to me. And Italian herbs just sounds too mysterious. Who wants a sandwich on mystery bread? I took wheat.

Did I want it toasted? Well, yeah, I guess. It's a melt, right? So she took out a small stack of meats and stuck it with the bread together on a grill to toast.

I'll admit to being a little distracted at the time. I'm more easily distracted every year older I get. This lady ahead of me was ordering her sandwich toppings. "I want lots of vegetables," she said. The man behind the counter obliged, putting handfuls of lettuce, green peppers, hot peppers, tomatoes, etc. on her sandwich. He added more when she said it wasn't enough. This wasn't a sandwich. It was salad on a bun!

So my own sandwich was now screwed up. Why? There was no cheese on it. I had assumed that a "Subway melt" by definition included cheese. So why no cheese?

"You didn't ask for cheese," the counter lady said.

Gee, I thought she was asking ME the questions. So now what. If they put cheese on my already toasted bun with meat, it wouldn't be a true melt in my mind. Yet I didn't want it all toasted again as my bun would be too dark. My wife rescued me, suggesting they microwave it all, with my cheese.

So now what vegetable toppings went with this? *sigh* I don't like too many choices with my meal. I believe I inherited some of my father's genes in that regard. I remember going out to restaurants with him and when the waitress asked how he liked his eggs cooked or what kind of salad dressing he wanted, he would get this look as if he'd never been asked that before. Sometimes my mother would have to help him out. "He hates making decisions," she'd say.

So for my melt I picked out pickles and lettuce. Then some lite mayonnaise. You have to be careful here too with condiments. My son Scott asked us to pick up a sub for him and was very specific about what he wanted on it, even had it written down I think. But he asked for honey mustard as his condiment and the preparer drowned the sub with honey mustard. He essentially got a honey mustard sandwich. Wendy saw this and asked for just one pass with the lite mayo. Smart thinking. That lady with the salad sandwich asked for her condiments on the side. Also smart.

For all this, I wish I could say I enjoyed heartily my Subway Melt. But it wasn't that good. That's what I get for not ordering my usual cold cut combo. Now see that tomato at the bottom here? I took a picture of one of the tomatoes from our "garden." Here's what I'd do with it. Slice it up, put it on toast with a little mayonnaise, and that's it. I don't need any more choices than that.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Rewards Cards

As inflation nears a 17-year high, the high cost of everything we buy is forcing shoppers to find ways to cut their bottom line. One method I've seen touted is those "rewards cards" offered by stores as a way to offer discounts to their most loyal customers. Anybody have these out there?

I have a "Speedy" rewards card for the Speedy gas station chain. Makes sense as it's the station closest to my home. In the three years that I've had the card I've earned $30 in free gas. I would estimate I've bought $3,000 in gas at that station in three years, figuring $20 spent a week (we probably spend as much or more buying gas elsewhere, since it's often cheaper). So a one per cent reward. Sounds about right.

Now I should add that you get MORE reward points by purchasing snacks and other non-fuel products. You don't get that many points for buying gas at Speedy. It's a gimmick to get you to buy junk food which you usually can get cheaper at the grocer down the road.

Recently, they sent a mailer offering 7,000 bonus points on my rewards card. All I had to do was shop there ten times during the month of August. That sounds like a lot of points but I think you need close to 20,000 points to get $20 in free gas. I thought about buying a gallon a gas a day for ten days. But there's probably something in the fine print that disallows stuff like that.

That's one of my reward cards. I just got another recently--a Border's Bookstore Rewards card. They were offering a big one-time discount on any one item for new rewards customers. I'll take that discount, even if I never use their card again. But getting the card was just the first part, I had to sign up on-line to get the discount.

Tricky. I had to set up an account and give them my e-mail address. I made a big mistake. Gave them my work e-mail address. Then I saw a check mark next to "receive e-mail announcements of sales, special events, new products . . ." No way. I unchecked that box REAL quick. Has anyone noticed an increase in spam lately? I have. Don't need any more.

When I clicked 'finished', an error page popped up. I had to change or add something. That was highlighted in red. The rest of what I filled in was okay. Then I noticed something. That checkmark was BACK, next to "receive e-mail announcements . . . " Those dirty dogs. They thought they could change it back and I wouldn't notice. Can't pull the wool over Big Dave's eyes. I unchecked that box again. Made the other changes and clicked 'finished.'

Still, something else was wrong. And AGAIN they re-checked the box that would send spam to my e-mail account. I unchecked it, made the other corrections, and clicked 'finished.' Success! And I got my discount coupon.

And . . . yes, I get regular e-mail announcements from Borders on their specials of the week, discounts, sales, special events, new products, etc.

Rewards cards. The reward is more trouble than it's worth.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

And I Did It My Way

My blogging buddy Vicki, who is formerly of Ann Arbor here, had a shopping challenge on her blog recently: see what $20 can buy you at the local grocery store or farmer's market. Vicki and her other blogging buddies have long since shopped and gone. But better late than never--the shopping mantra of men in America--I thought I would give it a try.

Pictured above is my haul. I visited Plum Market, a local chain of large shopping venues that specializes in fresh organically grown produce and unique specialty foods. Not cheap and we don't normally shop there. Anytime your local grocer uses paper bags with double twine carrying handles you know you're not paying bargain prices. That's part of the challenge though. Right?

But I did have an advantage in that I had a $5 coupon, good if you spent $25 or more. So I really got $25 worth of groceries, but only spent $20. Bend the rules but don't break them I always say.

I felt my haul was successful on a number of levels here. Check it out. First, I have all the major food groups covered: meats, fruits, vegetables, grains and dairy. Peanut butter qualifies for dairy, doesn't it? My wife Wendy asked, "Where the vegetable?" Sauerkraut, of course.

Then I grocery shopped according to a rule from bachelorhood long ago . . . buy foods that avoid dirtying cookware and can be easily prepared. Why spend a lot of time in the kitchen when other rooms in the house provide more relaxation and entertainment? The sausage--I have two different kinds for variety--are even pre-cooked though I could always throw them in the microwave to heat them up, or better yet, on the grill.

Also, find foods that are fun, noteworthy, or beneficial.

Honoring my ethnic heritage, I bought Polish sausage. Arena-style, so they must be fun to eat too. The kraut goes good with that as well. I never ate andoiulle sausage that I can recall, but some lady shopping nearby raved when she spotted this particular brand, saying that she had bought it before and it was delicious. She had visited Whole Foods, Trader Joe's and Hiller's before finally discovering where that she had bought it previously here at Plum Market. Since I'm always a sucker for a food shopping tip from a stranger, I bought it also.

Note my sausage buns are from Zingerman's, a deli-restaurant-bakery that is synonymous with gourmet cuisine in Ann Arbor. Zingerman's is nationally known for their foods, their sandwiches in particular. I believe they're one of only a couple area restaurants mentioned in the Road Food best selling tome on travel eats. Vickie will certainly be familiar with Zingermans.

I also bought something that I can't remember even having before. Freshly ground peanut butter. I'm a big fan of peanut butter too. Wendy did wonder whether it had to be refrigerated since it didn't contain any preservatives. If anyone out there knows, let us know. Quickly, I guess.

Finally, I found a package of liver sausage flavored with smoked onion. Hmmmm. Ironically, I absolutely hate liver, and macaroni and cheese. Those are two foods I cannot eat going back to childhood. Yet, I love liver sausage, as well as macaroni and cheese separately. One of life's imponderables.

Thought the liver sausage with smoked onions could evolve into a good sandwich, one that could be beneficial on the days where I don't want to be bothered at work:

Boss: Dave, can you come here a second?

Dave: I'm HERE. HOW can I HELP you?

Boss: Never mind. I'll handle it myself.

So was I successful on my shopping expedition? By the way, as I told Wendy, what I bought could last me almost a week in my bachelor days. And would! Every meal is covered. Peanut butter in itself is an anytime meal.

Rachel Ray, eat your heart out.