Archive for the ‘Shopping’ Category

Big Box Bourbon

August 14th, 2013


Oh my, late to the game again. I discovered that Costo private brands a small-batch bourbon. Today I was in the Avon, MA, store, which has a company liquor department and vot!

Turns out that everyone, his brother, cousin and niece already bought and tasted it. A net search gets lots of hits. For both flip and savvy comments, I point to a few:

I’m not a bourbon snob, but I do like like it. I started drinking in the South, where the choice was bourbon or beer. Also a mixed drink meant with ice cubes or maybe if you really had to a splash of ginger ale.

Now living in Yankeeland — a decade in Manhattan and three in Boston — I’m delighted that bourbon has come into its own. There are fascinating bars, like the 5 Horses (Somerville and soon the South End), and Beacon Hill’s Tip Tap Room for example, that have a good selection and knowledgeable barkeeps. Liquor stores too have a wide selection at many price points and even the most ignorant bartender doesn’t think Jack Daniel’s is bourbon.

I figured I’d try it. Costco’s bourbon also fit another criterion my chums and I often use, is it a good value? We like to find superior wines for $9 that blow away $39 ones, for example.

Turns out that I paid $19.99 for a full liter of the 103-proof stuff. (There’s no state tax on booze here.) Some of the net comments carped that for only $3 or $4 or $6 more, they could buy Knob Creek or some other familiar bourbon, but they don’t think that that is a third less booze for the price, making the Kirkland bottle that much more of a bargain.

A few things I did learn from the mash heads and blowhards commenting (sometimes without tasting the distillate in question) was that this definitely comes from Jim Beam. Also it is aged for 7 years instead of Beam’s Knob Creek version, which is 9 years in barrel. It is also that 103 proof (51.5% alcohol) instead of the more common small-batch bourbon release of 90 or 100 proof, or Wild Turkey’s 101 variety.

Some went though serious research, badgering Costco employees for all our benefit. The best finding was that this is not an open item. That suggests that for whatever reason, Jim Beam did a one-off for Costco, who like Job Lots or Building 19, bought something the distiller didn’t want to sell itself. Likely when this batch is sold out, it’s gone. Following this evening’s tasting, I’ll likely go back to Avon and buy a couple more bottles.

costcotasteHere, three of us tried it two ways. I set out six bourbon low ball glasses (actually made for Woodford Reserve, a fine sipping bourbon), three nude and neat, with three holding a single ice cube. Each glass got a half ounce or so. Who knows what the demons did to me in pouring?

Uxorial Unit, Son #2 (great to have children of drinking age), and I went at it. We certainly did not keep pace with the florid, hyperbolic, pretentious posts pointed to above. Yet, we tried to judge.

The punchline is that this is good stuff, worth more in market terms than competitors. There are other bourbons I like more, but this is a fair entry.

If you extrapolate the local price for Knob Creek ($26.99 for 750ml) and weigh it against Costco’s very own bargain bourbon ($19.99 for 1000ml), the differential is 1.8. That is Kirkland small-batch bourbon is 1.8 times cheaper per liter. So you ask, is KC worth almost two times more? Of course, in the larger scheme, Knob Creek at effectively $35.99 per liter is a relative small differential over Kirkland. As we learned many years ago, a $200 retail bottle of Chablis is not 20 times better than a $10 bottle. It’s a judgment call.

So, this evening, without hyperbole or poetry, we found the neat glass pleasant, powerful, a little too alcohol nosed. That was no surprise for over half alcohol. Certainly there was the predictable vanilla scent, but we didn’t the myriad herbs, spices and fruits the other online commenters strained to ID. We liked the look, smell and taste of the neat bourbon.

I like to sit with a snifter of great Scotch or bourbon neat and dwell on it. None of us thought this was worthy of that. However, with a single ice cube, it was a fine, fine drink. My wife thought it would be good with ginger ale, but to me that means heading to a lower grade of bourbon, like the serviceable JB Black or Evan Williams. Yet, we all liked it cut with a single ice cube, which I suppose would mean two for a full shot or three for a pony.

I already confess to being late to this party. We found Costco’s bourbon to be good but not great stuff. I’ll lay in a couple more bottles.


Clogs that Fit

May 31st, 2012

The best of shoes for the worst of weeks…by coincidence…

Lands’ End seems sure it can’t sell red-by-God shoes to men, at least not to men who aren’t comfortable in their character and confident in their sexuality. Thus, these clearly red clogs, which I wear as I type, are in their catalog as Orange Brick.

I just recently ordered these to replace two pairs of no-longer-waterproof/resistant Hummer and Lands’ End slip-ons. I’d gone to the sizable Dedham Sears, a major LE store to hear whiny jive from the saleswoman. It was size — my 13, or as she put it when I sent her to the storeroom for slip-ons in 13, “We normally don’t carry any shoes in that size.”

Well, I happen to know that LE makes and sells virtually all their men’s shoes in 13. That the managers at the Dedham store choose not to stock the range speaks to marketing and customer satisfaction skills and attitudes of those managers.

As it turns out, the online LE store had black all-weather mocs at $10 off. I wanted a second slip-ons pair and appealing to my frugality, a $50 total meant free shipping. There weren’t many choices for the fill-in second pair to make the minimum, but for my size (ahem, Dedham managers, most of the 13s were sold out) they did have the red clog, Sasquatch size.

I never had a pair of clogs, preferring the feel of a higher rise at the heel. A few days later, I was happy to own them.

Come the bike wreck — broken clavicle, cracked or broken ribs, agony bending, shifting or rising — shoes I step into and kick off are perfect…and all I’ve worn.



Phat and Fat: Call It Lifestyle

May 4th, 2012

I’m steeling for the next doctor visit. He’s sure to ask how I have been losing weight, without adding that following his and the nutritionist’s advice did not work. I’m sure he can’t begin to accept that the super-simpleminded just-eat-fewer-calories-than-you-burn-up cliché might be flawed. He’s like most medical professionals, totally invested in that conceit.

It’s likely that when he hears low-carb, he’ll react with the litany of provably false slams. It’s water weight that will come right back on, it’ll clog your vessels with fat and plaque, and you can’t sustain that loss, no one does. My case has been continual week-to-week loss of fat and pounds; if there were water loss/regain, it disappeared into the non-stop and net.

I did my research and continue to tweak and added knowledge that he doesn’t have though. The trick of course is no trick at all. It requires that overworked phrase lifestyle change.

I snort severally. That term lifestyle does terrific work. The anti-LGBT folk love to call homosexuality a lifestyle, so they can pretend that disdain and discrimination are not those at all. However, food choices certainly can be.

Fortunately, as the main cook and shopper around here, I have more than a one-man vote. I stock the pantry, fridge and food bowls.

My research has resulted in a new mini-library in that process. My low-carb books, printouts and PDF files almost all come with recipes as well.

Unfortunately for us low-carb converts, many of those dish and meal maps don’t excite us. Many of the docs and nutritionists who developed them tried sincerely, but seem to have been more concerned with paralleling their guidelines rather than pleasing the mouths, eyes and noses of the new lifestyle followers. I can project what these recipes’ output will be like from reading their ingredients and preparation steps. Many lack sensuality and attention to savor (a.k.a. sapidity).

I’m  confident that I can augment those to please me and my family and guests. I cook to please.

Meanwhile, I’m fine-tuning my planned food lifestyle as I add more carbs from the base level. I’ll report on both what I try in carb/fat/protein percentages/grams, and how I tweak those from the scale and body-fat analysis as I get into it. There are bound to be changes.

This series includes:

Call it Lifestyle on the intellectual and emotional commitment to low-carb
Watching the Struggle on my grandmothers diet woes
Wrestling with Fat on overcoming fear of dietary fats
Hunger? do you starve on a low-carb diet?
Low-Carb Eats on what’s on the menu in the regimen
How Much of What Food on calories-in/calories-out cliché
Dr. Cadaver on mindless trust in group averages
Who’s Counting on body fast v. weight
Part 1 on pants don’t lie


Cold, Lonely New England Nights

April 8th, 2012

The old cliché of chilly Northern nights was of a Mainer or Vermonter bored in the long, cold winters, making friends with a bottle of booze. Sure enough, like another cold clime, Russia, up here folk, particularly menfolk, are prone to alcoholism.

I got a new one tonight as I shopped the dowdy, plaid-favoring Vermont Country Store. We’d been there. My late mother-in-law, herself an Indiana hick, really enjoyed it and fell into nostalgic paroxysms there. Among the old timey treasures we bought and used regularly was its seemingly unique over-the-headboard lamp. We consider that the best in-bed reading choice and have been dismayed that after many years, its plastic shade lining is shedding chunks of off-white.

Well, they still have them and I ordered a replacement.

While I was at it, I checked the sale items (yawn). Then I looked at their left menu and top tabs. Nothing much there, but I checked Health & Beauty to see if there are country cures of amusement. On that pull-down is — What?! — Sexual Wellness.

Well, topple my stone fence. That’s a page of dildos.

Actually, it’s a page of almost entirely powered vibrators. There’s a yeast-infection soap and quite literally a douche bag. The page features 10 highly colorful sex toys for women.

Here’s one example. This is a WordPress blog. I hesitated for a moment before clicking on the Upload choice to Insert Into Post. Insert, indeed.

The various aids include the tiny and brown BonBon Massager (“Better than chocolate…Petite and Discreet…”), the one shown promising “Pinpoint Accuracy,” another “Serves Two Pleasure Points at Once,” and another anatomically realistic except for the lavender color “Feels Lifelike for Greater Pleasure.”

This clearly is my problem. Sudden images of villages of country women thrashing in pastel joy doesn’t jibe with butter churns and flannel nightgowns.

Of course, there’s no reason the Vermont Country Store shouldn’t include sex aids along with its home furnishings and horehound drops. I had just never run across this page. I had a pretty staid image of the store’s inventory.

Have at it. Nights are long, dark and cold up there.

Ubiquitous Obsolescence and Ephemera

March 21st, 2012

A lot of years ago when I was the editor of a grocery magazine, I wrote a feature about throwaway products. By today’s standards, it would surely fall into a rant.

The point was that our readers made a lot of money on items like disposable razors. These non-foods or HABA (health and beauty aids) as supermarket and convenience store folk call them are where the margins are. Overall, a grocery may average a profit margin of under 5%. Contrast that to, say, software companies that may have margins of 45% to 95%. Profits on toiletries are among the highest in the stores.

So when use-and-toss products like razors, condoms and such sell, store owners do little capitalist dances.

My concentration at the time, convenience stores, even measure inventory turn differently. They think in terms of square inches and not square feet. Turns per inch per month determine what they stock, which is why you likely won’t find your favorite brand of this or that unless it’s among the most popular.

This is also one of the reasons they put certain small, high-margin movers on the counter by the cash register. For those, they get paid twice. As impulse purchases at POS (point of sale), these items give great returns. Moreover, manufacturers want that space and turn level as well. For that, they pay an RDA (retail display allowance), which to many not in the biz would seem like a bribe to have the best position.

By the bye, when I was covering grocery, the best seller and highest turn per inch per month in convenience stores was rolling papers. When you gotta have ‘em…

As so many posts here, this circles back to bicycles.

In my article decades ago, I waxed richly on my grandfather’s straight razor, as well as his long marriage. He was not into disposable anything if he could help it. Years later, I had a huge shock in the early days of PCs when my $1,300 24-pin dot-matrix printer malfunctioned. A Toshiba repair shop guy said sure he could fix it, but he noted that it was the chip welded into the motherboard. That would cost $900 to $1,000 to replace. A newer, much quieter, more capable and reliable model sold for about $500. It was the old almost-working-paperweight cliché. With regret at being wasteful and trapped, I handed it to a tech training school to fix or cannibalize for parts.

So this week, I found myself locked into the more fragile, higher tech replacement routine, this time for bike pedals and cleats.

I’ve used Shimano SPD cleats and pedals for eight or nine years on my road bike. The cleats were small, ugly, steel and damned tough.

A week and a half ago, one of my pedals came apart, irreparably, on a ride. The spindle and pedal separated. I managed to keep squeezing my shoe toward the crank to keep putting the pedal in play for the 10 miles home. Going up the steep hills was, shall I write, exciting.

Those pedals are so 20th Century. Shimano, among the others, has moved on. The bike shop didn’t have the old style, but I was able to order the newer version from the cycling cyclops Nashbar/Performance/Bikes Direct. (Pic note: I claim fair use from a cropped image from the box to show non-cyclists what a pedal looks like today.)

Modernity brings:

  • Easier clip into the pedal
  • Quick kick out as needed
  • Slightly lighter pedals and cleats
  • More comfortable, less noisy walking on the cleats (I tend to bring light mocs and swap out for beer bars)
  • Plastic pedal body covers
  • Plastic cleats

The instructions make it plain that I’ll be replacing the cleats and covers. It may only be once a year or two for the cleats, but like any good disposable product, new, improved, better means also costlier.

I bought spare cleats when I got a new pair of road-bike shoes that did not come with SPD ones. Those cost me $11. The list on the SL style models is around $30. A discount is about to $25, plus shipping or full price at a bike shop.  At every two years, replacement amortizes at about 4¢ a day, ride or not. In contrast, the much longer lasting old metal style might be in the range of 0.3¢ a day.

Those are still small beer in the world where people routinely buy a coffee for $2 or $3. On top of that, I estimate that I’ve put between 50,000 and 60,000 miles on that bike and that original set of Ultegra pedals. I don’t think anyone should say Shimano made a poor-quality product. I sure got my money out of the pedal that finally broke.

There is no metal equivalent of the new cleats. Were there to be one, it would surely damage the pedals with use — much more expensive replace than plastic cleats.

Here I am, again an alter kaker in a new world. Life in fact insists on going on, bringing me with it.

Backroom P.O. Treats

January 25th, 2012


My splendid yellow glasses continue to reward me. Sure, folk young/old, all shades call out praise. Just yesterday in a supermarket, a large woman with a laden cart leaving the checkout blew by several other customers, brushing them back into their chutes. She saw me, stopped and waved me through, saying, “Man with the yellow glasses. You go.”

Objects can be fun.

Also yesterday at the Cleary Square Post Office in Boston’s Hyde Park, I got preference in another mundane task, buying stamps. Asking for 40, I got a big smile from the clerk, who said, “I think I know what you’ll like.”

She turned on her heel and headed to the back. She returned with six varieties. All were graphically strong and perhaps most important colorful.

She said when she saw the glasses, she knew I’d want visually powerful ones. She was right.

I’m not an attention hound. I don’t make loud noises to keep folk looking at me. I set my cell to vibrate. I grew up hearing that making a spectacle of yourself shows poor breeding.

Yet getting positive attention without intruding strikes a fine balance between drabness and shouting.

Hardware and Footwear Mysteries

September 29th, 2011

mystery…and then there were four.

The sock-eating washer or dryer may be the most common imp befuddling us, but not the only one. This week a stranger, rarer variety of gremlin visited us.

Our range has five dials, one for each burner. That is the way the appliance gods designed, built and delivered it. Then suddenly, the far left dial disappeared.

While not in the stranger-than-fiction class, this played to several of my small neuroses. As the primary cook in this family, I am likely too involved in things culinary. I want to know what’s in the fridge, pantry and fruit bowls. I plan the week’s meals as I shop the Haymarket and groceries (always plural). I am emotionally involved in the kitchen.

Yet, there suddenly was one fewer range dials then there had been when I was away for two days and one night to NYC.

Our two younger sons manned the crenellations in our family fort. At 18 and 21, and OK cooks in their own right, they were in charge. Moreover, a friend was visiting from the wilds of Western Connecticut to accompany her daughter on a college-scouting trip. She’d stay while hers bunked with a girlfriend. So, there was cooking and hosting to occur in that same kitchen.

Neither son had any idea where the dial had gone. Neither had reason to remove one. As they became available, each in turn furrowed his brow and checked where I had — under the kitchen table, bookshelf, cabinet overhangs, and moved every object on the counters. We expanded into the pantry, living room and dining room. Nada.

Then we come back to my neuroses. I strongly prefer matching sets and things where (I believe) they belong. I remember various of my three sons using subs for efficacy, think a quarter for a missing rook.

For me, I’d have to find the dial or track down the source for either a matching one or a set of five that fit. That’s not a cliff-climb challenge, but an annoyance.

Our visiting chum was back home and running about, so I emailed her. She responded the next morning that she had cleaned off the range top after making a meal, but had not removed any dials.

But there were four instead of five, and a bronze finger presenting blatantly against the black control panel.

Ever methodical, I turned to the very unlikely. I prepared to move the stove on the off chance that someone had mindlessly removed a dial by accident or while cleaning and flipped or knocked it unnoticed behind the panel. Yeah, yeah, why would that happen?

I pressed my big old head next to the wall before moving the stove. Mirabile dictu! The dial not only was visible, it was reachable. It was just big enough that it has caught on a panel bulge and not plunged four and a half feet to the floor (and quite likely out of sight).

So, we know and yet shall never know. We know where the dial landed but not how or who propelled it there. My foibles do not extend to blame and stop at what and where.

Now, upstairs in a bedroom drawer with my bike shorts and socks, I keep three single anklets. I expect them to present themselves at some point.

Switching Legacies

September 2nd, 2011

For most of us, we realize somewhere in our teens or early 20s that the reality of gift giving was after all ephemeral. Why didn’t someone belabor this obviousness?

Grandparents and aunts retire or die or both in turn. Parents move from full employment. Suddenly there’s a lot less under the Christmas tree and far fewer massive boxes sent by distant relatives.

At the same time, brothers and sisters, friends and other near contemporaries make drastic changes. They marry and many have kids. Suddenly we are the uncles and such. The scales of giving and receiving weigh quickly and dramatically to the other side. We look at decades of giving more than we get.

It doesn’t take long to accept it. The reality of presents is indisputable, immutable and long-term.

What’s Mine?

As the hubby and dad around here, I have come to accept that what is mine is everyone else’s as well. Even before there were kids, my clothes, particularly both tee and dress shirts served as nightclothes, drag, garden garb, and cool weather gear. My wife is much smaller and that was one way.

As our three sons grew, that multiplied. Missing shirts, jackets and sweaters were often in someone else’s room or on their shoulders. Such as it is.

The only objections I had were for the likes of tools and bike gear. I am positively anal about putting my tools in the (labeled of course) drawers of the big tool chest. Over the years, everyone else purloined my high-end screwdrivers, wrenches, hammers, cycle tools and such. Sometimes those just disappeared. Sometimes they were left out to rust. Sometimes they too ended up in a different room or even permanently lent to one of their friends.

Now on the plus side, the guys have gotten big enough that I can filch shirts or trousers should I want. That is a surprisingly sweet turnabout. I can understand my wife’s pleasure at yet more clothing options.

A Pot to Plant In

I thought of this again and anew this morning unpacking the vestiges in the van. The oldest son has a new job in California, he and his wife took off recently, leaving bric-a-brac in the Davis Square condo. My (I’ll do anything for my children) wife agreed to liaise with a realtor for rental and took the other two sons to clear out the place as part of enabling that.


So we ended up with a fair amount of junk, but also some nice leavings from the next generation on our family continuum. That was pleasantly obvious as I hoisted three 18-inch ceramic plant pots from the van. Those are useful, modestly valuable, and we didn’t give them to “the kids,” rather they to us. That’s a wonderful symmetry.

I am not exactly sure when in my 20s the seesaw tipped. It likely was gradual. I somehow began planning for, shopping for, and forking over a lot more than people gave me. There were grandparents and a mother and a sister, brother-in-law, niece and nephew, and on and on. I never resented it. Rather I was daft enough not to project that this would the natural order of things. It just happened.

So, we have variations coming up. Sizable services and dollars for weddings, colleges and presents, maybe followed with all manner of boons for as-yet-unborn grandkids, and then? Amusingly, we oldsters care less and less for possessions, dumping vast amounts in the move of two years ago. I’m more like my grandparents and mother years ago who chanted sincerely not to get them more stuff. In practice, what I ended up doing was tailoring presents to just what they’d want, need and ideally eat or drink (think high-end chocolates, booze and coffees). It was a consumer version of leaving no footprints in the forest.

Hey, Foodie, Let’s Get Special

July 16th, 2011

snootyAs it has for centuries, the same answer fits both questions of what to give someone who has everything and what do the privileged need emotionally. That would be obvious and public confirmation that they are special and superior.

A sort, brilliant Simon Kuper piece in today’s FT comes at it from the food-and-status angle, leaving no snot without disdain. He notes how the high-disposable income types have lately been out-peasanting the peasants for ego thrills.

While the richest don’t bother, the social strivers and educated middle-class see peasant food as a status marker. As he writes:

By the 1970s, (Verlinvest’ direcyor Eric) Melloul said, food-processing had liberated the working woman. “Now the same working woman is finding time to go to the farmers’ market, and do the cooking herself – what her grandmother used to do. I go to dinners where probably 50 per cent of conversation centres around food.”

However, Kuper knows this is just another expression of the need to feel special, in control and trendy by choice. He adds, “But eventually strivers must abandon it too. When missionaries like Jamie Oliver and Michelle Obama succeed in spreading peasant food to the masses, it will lose its status.”

For us boomers, this comes and comes and comes like weak lake tides forever lapping societal shores. It has ranged from lower middle to upper middle classes, with each group seeking alimentary, culinary distinction and pride. In my childhood, the women’s service magazines had the new recipe and new food item, which erupted like pimples before the prom everywhere. It seemed the entire nation ate the same damn thing as soon as Redbook or Ladies Home Journal published it.

As human  foibles go, this food-as-status one is largely harmless. No matter how unthinking the herd behavior, at least it broadens the tastes, smells and colors served up on our tables. When you notice, don’t snort, you likely have your own food pretensions you assume are merely more signs of your superiority.

Expounding on a Pound

July 10th, 2011

MHcanI suspect two forces worked on the adults keeping Cub and Boy Scouts crafty and busy. First, the cultural and religious idea that idle hands are the devils tools was one of seemingly countless clichés the WWII generation loved. Second, we were to imitate what our parents thought was manly.

Honestly, the second had good side-effects. Those included having to understand how things work to make stuff. In turn, as adults that leads to being able to fix, make do, and make multiple applications for objects. I fear we boomers have slacked off on that, parents and teachers alike. Far too many Gen-X and Y sorts live in a Mac-fantasy world where things are just supposed to work. When they don’t, as is often the case, even with Apple products, they are at a loss — the curse of the gentle Eloi.

When I open a can of coffee, I sometimes transport to the church basements where we Cubs made pinhole cameras. Those worked most easily using the classic 1-pound low can (like the one in the screen capture of a 50s commercial). For reasons inspiring the following rant, that’s no longer true.

Kodak still puts out instructions for such cameras, as here. That dulls my point. You can still do it. Of course, with digital cameras per se as well as in most cell phones, and next to no photo labs accessible to most of us, that may be moot. Although, I bet boomers acting as Scoutmasters and Den Mothers may crawl into the WABAC machine to get their lads involved. At least the adults will think the project worthwhile.

The modern instructions, however, require a 2-pound can. That’s not to use bigger film, but because short of an antique store or online auction, you can’t find a low 1-pounder. While not all of the WWII era coffee cans were the squat ones, I think about half were. Nowadays, coffee is in bags or the tall cans, neither at all suited to the cameras.

Moreover, coffee is a devils tool in itself, one of deceit. The incredible, shrinking foodstuff would not have made a good horror movie, even in the 50s and 60s where we churned out hundreds (Mole People, Giant Claw, It and They Came from Outer Space, Killer Shrews and such, of course including the Incredible Shrinking Man). Yet, it is a weekly horror at the grocery, one so commonly visited on us that we are inured.

Each of us likely has particular issues here. There is less cereal in each box and fewer chips in the bag, even when the package stays the same size — contents may settle, snort! It is not as obvious when the package is in ounces and fractions.

However, when you grew up with a pound, in the pre-metric world, the miniaturization is all the plainer.

We tend to buy Latino or Italian espresso coffees. They reflect the downsizing along with the WASPy U.S. cans of watery, lighter brews. Cans are tall and increasingly thin. Vacuum bricks seem to have been left out in the rain to shrink. Typical cans have gone from a pound to 14 ounces to 12 to 10, and bricks are now typically 8 or 8.5 ounces.

For awhile, whether it was cereals or coffee, the companies maintained the package price…while the contents shrank, shrank and shrank. Now with global economic pressures, growing demands and production problems, they are pumping up the prices for their deflated goods.

That’s likely to continue. Perhaps it would be the single trend that could finally stop the supersizing of everything caloric that we ingest. We might be priced out of obesity.

The majority of Americans likely never made a pinhole camera. They likely have never seen a low 1-pound can of coffee either. So the makers and vendors don’t constantly remind them of what they’re not getting — they never had it. There’s another opening for another cliché of how you can’t miss what you never had.