Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Dollar General and Trickling Pork

I'm pleased to announce the Federal stimulus package is officially working. How do I know this? Because Garden City, Missouri (pop. 1,500) just welcomed the arrival of its first national retailer--Dollar General Stores.

I live in the Kansas City hinterlands, in "the country" so to speak, some fifteen minutes from the closest Wal-Mart and almost an hour from a regional mall. So imagine our joy when Dollar General arrived, just four miles away in Garden City, to give us another outlet for the purchase of Spam, potted meat and other products which were once part of a pig. But seriously, heretofore our trips to Garden City have only involved excursions to C-Store Casey's to purchase staples like pizza and essential items like vegetable pizza. Now that we have DG, an entire 9,014 square feet of shopping paradise awaits.

If you live in a slightly larger metropolitan area, say, Tokyo, you may at this point be somewhat envious to hear of our new Dollar General since you can't shop like we do. My only advice to you is to be patient, "sit tight" and hope market forces (Economic Stimulus Money) visit a yen near you. In the meantime, try not to salivate as I give you a "virtual tour" of DG's "merchandise mix" (a complicated formula which measures the ratio of Mossy Oak to Hormel products). Perhaps you can begin developing your own personal shopping list for the day Economic Stimulus monies "trickle up" and a Dollar General finally comes to your town.

Dollar General's website says the company stands for convenience, quality brands and low prices. The company also boasts that it carries "items you just can't live without, you know, things like detergent, soap, socks, underwear…" and as I observed personally, ladies French purses and "Exfoliating Moisturizing Ointment."

As my initial stroll through the store revealed, Dollar General's most popular aisles are dedicated to health and beauty products. These products include well known brands like Crest, Sauve, and Tylenol. But if one digs deeper, an entire cosmos of store-branded merchandise unfolds before you. Men will recognize Old Spice as a manly fragrance worn primarily by reeking fishermen at sea. Old Spice is a very popular brand among "men of a certain age," but juxtaposed at eye level with Old Spice Body Wash was Dollar General's brand—"BodySense." I was impressed by the deep discount offered by BodySense over the Old Spice brand—so impressed that I purchased some BodySense Invigorating Sport Body Wash for $2.50 (compared to the Old Spice version at $3.75). I am happy report that I was not disappointed in my purchase and the BodySense brand body wash is definitely thicker than water.

Sense is not limited to one's body at Dollar General, however. Consider the chain's health brand "HealthSense." HealthSense produces an array of products for the cost-conscious consumer. Because HealthSense does not have to spend costly fees on advertising and brand development strategies, it doesn't have to come up with catchy names for its products. Consider this product's name instead: "Maximum Strength Heartburn Prevention." That product does the consumer a favor by not wasting his or her valuable time trying to figure out what's inside the box. No confusion with pesky brand names like Tums or Pepacid

HealthSense shines most when considering its baby products. Some of my favorites are "Infants' Gas Relief" and "Creamy (as opposed, presumably, to Chunky) Diaper Rash Ointment." Where were these products when my wife and I were new parents? Perhaps receiving my greatest admiration was what must be HealthSense's flagship product—the venerable "Freezer Pop Electrolyte Solution Variety Pack." That's good news for you parents who still have barfing infants. Back when my children were babies and had lost valuable and helpful electrolytes, they demanded variety. Sadly no variety was available and we only had orange pops to stick in the freezer. Now DG's pops are delivered in a host of flavors and colors, allowing you to now sport a kaleidoscope of vomit stains on your pajamas.

Now for my favorite section—Food. In the DG freezer case you'll find Tombstone Pizzas and TGI Fridays Wings. But DG stays true to its Southern roots by offering a customer favorite—Curly's Pulled Pork Sandwiches. The store's menu also sports a variety of packaged cookies, crackers, and cereals for your pre-diabetic pleasure. Here Dollar General also offers a value brand—Clover Valley. Clover Valley offers a veritable smorgasbord of popular food stuffs like peanut butter ($2.50 compared to JIF at $3.50) and soy sauce. I can go along with Clover Valley on many items, but I draw the line on the soy sauce. I'm neither buying nor eating any Chinese condiment that doesn't have some sort of authentic name. Can you imagine going to P.F. Chang's, ordering Moo Goo Gai Pan, then asking your server for some Clover Valley soy sauce? No Sir.

Men are not forgotten at DG. In fact, at least one-half aisle is dedicated to hardware and automotive products. A respectable assortment of motor oils and shop towels are available, and, for the adventuresome male with a sensitive side, Dollar General carries Bahama Bag Company's "Tahitian Vanilla Scent Pouch" for placement under the seat of your car. From the looks of the pickups and SUVs in our DG's parking lot, I'd say they should've conducted a little better market research before putting that product in our store.

If you don't yet have a Dollar General near your billfold, don't lose heart. The Federal Stimulus Monies are just kicking in, and soon you'll be able to catch the rising tide we've experienced here in Garden City.

Ben Bernanke and the United States Congress will get their way, and when they do there'll be Curly's Pulled Pork in every pot.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Does Anyone Care What I Had For Dinner Last Night?

There's a book out there about blogging that's called No One Cares What You Had for Lunch. I haven't read it, but presumably it gives the aspiring blogger some ideas to spice up his posts so he's not reduced to torturing his readers with excruciating details about the contents of his lunch bucket.Today you are in for a treat because no one has written a book called No One Cares What You Had for Dinner Last Night. If such a book existed, I would refrain from telling you that last night I ate what I believe to have been the best meal of my life.

In fact, this meal was so satisfying that I told my wife that if for some reason I had a lapse in judgment or character and became a serial killer at some point in the future and that my serial-killing activities resulting in my arrest, trial, conviction, failed appeals to the Governor, and no stay of execution, that this meal would be my last requested meal. Sort of like, "what do you want on your Tombstone (Pizza) sort of meal." Although I don't intend to go down that path, at least my Death Row Last Meal Menu has been established so that my wife doesn't have to fret over that part of my dying process and she can instead be consumed with other minor details pertaining to the location of the checkbook, the existence or not of college savings plans and ask me questions like "Babe, just wondering--does your life insurance policy cover death by lethal injection?"

My wife and I actually celebrated Valentine's Day early because we were saving the rest of the weekend for more romantic activities like attending sports meetings and games and visiting prospective colleges for our son. And if those activities don’t end up being romantic enough, we'll try to clean the house. Or at least I may provide a romantic type of moral support (watching a college basketball game) as she cleans the house.

So our Valentine's Day was celebrated early at our favorite restaurant--J. Gilbert's in Overland Park, Kansas. J. Gilbert's prides itself in "Wood Fired Steaks" and has become our default or "go to" restaurant of choice. We've always enjoyed the food at J. Gilbert's, but last night it attained another level of excellence. It could have been the ambiance, or our seat by the fireplace or even the near starvation state we found ourselves in because of our entanglement with the South Beach Diet.

Sticking to the South Beach Diet might have been the key to success, as it guided our every selection. The appetizer of Beef Carpaccio was outstanding, although I had to avoid the accompanying bleu cheese cracker. Then we got down to business with the bleu cheese wedge salad and the surprise of the evening—butternut squash soup. As I ate this puree derived from fruit that’s part of the gourd family, I wondered why squash can’t just be squash. You’ve got your butternut squash and your acorn squash and your spaghetti squash. Squash seems to always have to have an adjective accompanying it. But then I started thinking about “summer squash” and the probability that I might receive about 27 loaves of zucchini bread next summer and thought I’d best get back to enjoying the soup.

We both ordered the same main course—a 4 oz. petite filet with four George’s Banks Scallops. I have to admit I’d never just had a steak that was only four ounces, but maybe that added to my appreciation of it. It was the best I’d ever had, period. It was even better than the ribeye I remembered having at Ponderosa as a kid. The scallops were joined by a double portion of sautéed spinach with an extra kick of garlic. This completed my high protein perfect storm.

Speaking of Perfect Storms, I stared admirably at my George’s Banks Scallops and thought of the dangerous fishing region from which these tasty morsels came. Then as my eyes glazed over two of the scallops turned into George Clooney’s eyes—and they were staring back at me. Creepy.

Fortunately my wife couldn’t eat all of her dinner. Usually she sends what she can’t finish my way, but last night I abstained. It was worth it when she gave them to me for today’s lunch (see above photo).

I would like to conclude by thanking you for allowing me to tell you about last night’s dinner. If this has really bored you, I encourage you to contact a literary agent and begin working on publishing that book called No One Cares What You Had for Dinner Last Night. Even though you had to read this column and thus haven’t escaped unscathed, it’s not too late for you to help your fellow man.

Now let’s see if I can find a mozzarella stick.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

I am privy to information which could change the course of human events, or at least what you think about the next time you eat salmon. I've been harboring this dark secret for at least five days now, and it's got me rattled. I need to come clean with it, you know, get it "off my chest," because if I don't I'm liable to forget about it and then when I remember it again it will be too late to write a humor column about it.

Before I divulge this information though, I need to ask you to promise me you'll not let my wife know you've read this column/blog/whatever you call this venue for posting really irrelevant, meaningless, and self-promoting information. It will be our secret. Oh, she knows about this information—you know, the human-events-course-changing-information. She knows about that information. She just doesn't know that I'm going to tell you about it. That's what needs to be our little secret. She would be mortified if she knew I disclosed this information. And besides being mortified, she'd be "caused to experience shame, humiliation, or wounded pride; humiliated." (i.e., mortified) But that happens all the time around here. The real issue is she'd be mad at me. And let's face it; life is way too short to have your wife mad at you more often than she's mortified.

You might be asking yourself at this juncture: "But won't she be reading this blog?" To which, I would answer: "Don't rightly think so." To which you might respond: "Please get on with the story." To which I might then ask: "Why don't you want to know why she doesn't read the blog?" To which you would then say: "Isn't that self-evident?" To which I would most surely say: "That's hitting below the Mendoza Line!" At which point you might wonder what having a baseball batting average of less than .200 has to do with the above reference to salmon...and that, my friends, is how I draw you back into my story.

I'd like to utilize a few more words and paragraphs to weave a gluten-free web of mystery, intrigue, and boredom, but it'd be pretty light on the mystery and intrigue. Thus, I'll just come out and say it: There has been, and likely remains, a rodent in our refrigerator…. (allowing for ample time to gasp)

If you're at this point exhaling and wondering what's with people who live in the country eating squirrel and porcupine and the like, you need to understand that this rodent is alive. Yes, ALIVE! This rodent, the one of which I'm speaking, is neither filleted nor field dressed. It has not been prepared in any fashion for consumption of people who live in Cass County, Missouri, or for that matter any other county that reluctantly gave up cock fighting.

Now to fully understand this predicament you need to trace its roots to the South Beach Diet. That's where our woes began. My wife and I decided to start the South Beach Diet because my doctor told me I had acquired something called "metabolic syndrome." Now I'm all for syndromes if you can handle them. They're better than diseases and usually don't require medical "procedures." But I told him I'd never taken steroids in my life. Sure, I could hit a baseball at least to the third baseman "back in the day," but that was during the dead ball era. The closest I'd ever gotten to steroids was when I grabbed a couple of Omega 3 chews at GNC.

Anyway, the South Beach Diet is big on protein and down on carbs. So, we went to the grocery store and bought a variety of meats, cheeses, and ricotta cheese. We asked our children to put these items out in our extra refrigerator in our garage. We need an extra refrigerator in the garage because the one in our kitchen contains approximately 473 different types of condiments. These condiments are designed to be spread, slathered, and squirted on various meats, cheeses, and lesser proteins, but since there is no room for these in the inside fridge—because of the condiments—they are placed in the fridge in the garage. One would think the "inside refrigerator" would be utilized to hold staples like milk, orange juice, and leftover pizza. But if these "staples" were placed in the inside fridge, there'd be no room for important condiments like cranberry horseradish sauce and pepper jelly and jalapeno slaw—items that are used at least once a month and need to be handy for just the right sandwich.

I should note here that if you ask your children to place food in any refrigerator, but especially one outside of your general viewing paradigm, you must ask them to actually close the refrigerator door upon placing the items inside the fridge. This isn't really important for keeping items cold, because if your fridge is in the garage and it's winter it is likely to be warmer inside the fridge than in the general vicinity of the garage. However, the bigger picture suggests the door be closed so that unwanted pets, neighbors, or even rodents, are kept out. But if you want your refrigerator to say to all area rats and mice: "allee allee income free," then by all means teach your children not to close the door. Or teach them, like we did, to close the door after the critters have made their way inside.

How do I know that a rodent is in our refrigerator? Well, I don't for sure. But last Wednesday when I opened a package of salmon I noticed the cellophane had a hole in it. I didn't think this was too big of a deal until I opened the cellophane and discovered that little black pieces of Styrofoam were underneath the cellophane—"shavings" if you will. Upon further investigation, I noticed that a piece of the salmon's flesh was missing and that the missing flesh was eerily shaped like the Strait of Gibraltar. Thus, I deduced that a live rodent had gotten into our refrigerator and had been treating himself to fresh seafood and miscellaneous cholesterol. What did I do with the salmon? I did what any red-blooded American man with a knife in his hand would do—I trimmed the Strait of Gibraltar off of it. Then I got to cookin' it.

Well, I guess once this story is out in the open it's not as bad as it sounds (unless you're my wife, then it's worse). But there's more. Most people would rummage through their fridge if this happened to them. They'd go out to the freezing garage in a haz-mat suit and quarantine all of the food then scrub it down with Clorox. But I'm way ahead of them. I figure the rodent will get cold at some point and head for the door. Then he'll play into my hand. He'll undoubtedly find the large rat-strength glue trap I placed inside the refrigerator. That'll get him. I just hope he's not staring up at me the next time I open the door. By the way, does anyone really release the rodent "gently" out of these glue traps while they're still alive? That's a good one... like he couldn't find his way back to my Ro-Tel dip.

But seriously, a growing fear, after doing some forensic study on the bite mark, is that it may be one of the larger rodents. Larger than a mouse, rat or porcupine, it may be the Mother of All Rodents—the Capybara. The Capybara is the largest rodent known to men like me who visit Zoo World in Panama City, Florida. If there were a Capybara in our refrigerator, however, there'd be no room left for much else, as they grow to over 4' tall and weigh in at 140 lbs. That's a big ol' rodent!

So if I go out to the garage tomorrow morning and find a Capybara in my refrigerator, I'll first "release him gently" from the glue trap. Then I'm going to encourage him to build on that meal of salmon and join me on the South Beach Diet.