Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Take A Trip Down Memory Lane

Need a specialty item? A shampoo long gone from drugstore shelves, or a no gizmo wind-up watch not carried by department stores, or perhaps you have a taste for original cream hazelnuts no longer stocked in candy stores? You can get these long lost products and so much more at The Vermont Country Store. It first opened its doors sixty-three years ago in 1946. Now owned by Lyman Orton and his three sons, this family run general store sells practical and hard-to-find goods. The Ortons are 3rd and 4th generation shopkeepers, whose business motto is to find items that make a difference in people’s lives. If you’re dying to locate a treat from your childhood – spicy Lebkuchen cookies from Germany, plum pudding made in England from an authentic recipe, or homemade chocolate almond butter crunch candy, still prepared the old fashion way – all you need to do is visit their stores, check their catalog, or shop online at vermontcountrystore. Are you looking for an old turntable record player, or a simple-to-use Smith Corona electric typewriter? They have them. And during the holidays, why not bite into a mince pie from an 1897 Scottish recipe, or sample Victorian Peppermint Pig Candies from Saratoga Springs, New York? The peppermint pigs come with a little steel hammer, and in the tradition of the times, smashing and eating the pieces bring good luck and happiness to you and your guests.

Many items offered are customers' requests. During Christmas look for German Chocolate Brandy Santas and traditional Swedish Filled Chocolate Dala Horses – sweets brought to America by immigrants. So if you remember something from the past that you'd love to buy again, like Gee Your Hair Smells Terrific Shampoo, or a classic paint-by-the numbers craft set, you can drop customer service a line, (or call) and chances are they will track it down for you – at modest prices. Also, a portion of the profits generated by the Vermont Country Store is set aside to help rural communities.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Turning To The Web For Eyeglasses

It stemmed from my desire to leave stuff out of my backpack, the afternoon a Canadian friend came to town for a trade show. During a fun, "let's catch up" lunch at the show, I heard THE CRUNCH. I'd broken the frames of my eyeglasses, which if truth be told, I shouldn’t have tucked away in my vest pocket, instead of storing them in their protective case. Certainly I knew better, and now I had to shell out another $450 - $500 – that is, unless I could think of something else. Sometimes necessity, and making a dumb mistake, is the mother of invention. What if I replaced my frames without paying retail again? Could I get the same quality and pay less? For me the answer came through the power of the internet by exploring

Eyeglasses are sold in optical stores, but now with a little ingenuity, you can save 55% like I did by direct ordering. With a click of a mouse, you can search for the best style, brand and price.
Eyeglasses.com offers over 200,000 frames, and it’s easy using the browser function to narrow down and choose the frames and lenses that are right for you. You name it; the specs range from round, rimless, and flexible, to retro, funky and the hard-to-find. They carry Donna Karen, Baby Phat, Prada, Ralph Lauren and a myriad of other designer brands. You can find most shapes and all sizes and search by categories, or characteristics.

After you select your frames, the next step is to make your prescription lenses. You can read all about lenses online, or ask the staff, either by email or calling, to walk you through the process. I wanted to order everything I needed for my lens without paying for extras I didn’t need. By calling, a live person answers all your questions thoroughly. You can buy bifocals, or progressive prescription lenses, or order custom lenses with polarization, polycarbonate protection and other treatments. After placing my order, I faxed my prescription and received my beautiful, frameless glasses a week later. I saved $250, and nowadays my new glasses stay in their case or on my face.
Nerd smile

Monday, March 16, 2009

A Black And White-Speckled Classic

Do you recognize this roaster? It's been around for six generations, manufactured since 1871 by Columbian House Products, a company based in Indiana. There's a good chance your mother, grandmother and great-grandmother baked their Thanksgiving turkeys, holiday hams and Sunday roast beef dinners in one.

The pan, a Granite Ware roaster, is made of porcelain over steel. It comes in several sizes and lasts a lifetime. My mother cooked delicious meals in hers for over 40 years, and I don't remember a time when her main course wasn't savory, tender and browned to perfection.

When it was time for me to buy a roaster of my own, I shopped around. While some pans were shockingly expensive, costing hundreds of dollars, others were too heavy to lift out of a flaming hot oven. Eventually, my search for the perfect roaster lead me back to a Granite Ware ... and with good reason.

The pan is light, but due to its steel core, a 3 to 7 pound chicken, or roast beef, or butterball turkey cooks fast and evenly every time.

There is a distinct tree design embossed on the bottom of the pan, which lets the food cook elevated and allows the juices to collect. The meat stays moist until tender. Another wonderful feature is after you remove the meat, you can put the roasting pan on the burner of your stovetop and cook your gravy without using a separate pot. When you are done, the Granite Ware cleans easily also, with hot soapy water by hand, or loaded in your dishwasher. And, the lid stores inverted inside the bottom, saving space. A 19’’ Oval Roaster costs $24.95. What a deal for a pan that stands the test of time.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

When The Price Is Right

Like a lot of woman I love browsing cosmetic counters in high fashion department stores. Chanel and Bobbi Brown are two of my absolute favorites. However, I’ve discovered that good quality makeup doesn’t always have to be expensive. My discovery started with nail polish. One day while shopping in a chain store I spotted the perfect summer shade, incandescent "Seashell,” on a huge rack with at least 50 other bright, glossy and classy colors. I had never heard of the brand – Nicka K – but it sold for only 99 cents. Certainly an amazingly low price and one that gave me pause. Was this too good to be true? Would the nail enamel chip off in a day? Did the formula contain bad ingredients like toluene, formaldehyde and dibutul phthalate (DBP)? Well no, it didn’t. The formula was free of these harmful chemicals, plus it was infused with good ingredients like vitamin E. There were no negatives in spending less than the usual $4 and up for the better known brands. My new nail polish glided on smoothly, dried in minutes, had staying power and looked beautiful. So, I’ve been buying and wearing it ever since. After my FIND, I learned that Nicka K, an American company, started in the heart of New York City. It produces other equally fabulous cosmetics – everything from eye shadows, pencils and liners to blush, crayons, and shimmers – at very affordable prices. You can check out the array of products for yourself at: nicka.com.

And recently, I've stumbled onto yet another beauty-for-less cosmetic company –
e.l.f – where you can buy good quality makeup for your eyes, lips, face and nails. e.l.f focuses on both beauty and wellness, offering every woman an expansive line of products at very attractive prices. Much of it sells for just $1.00. If you log onto their website: eyeslipsface.com you can see all of their offerings, plus have fun like I did reading beauty tips and creating a beauty profile of your own.
Red lips

Friday, March 6, 2009

What Do You Stock In Your Freezer?

Down in New Orleans, they’re called the Holy Trinity – onions, celery, and bell peppers. They are staples in many of the dishes I prepare at home, and to the Holy Trinity I often add diced tomatoes. That’s why when there's a sale on any of the four ingredients* at the supermarket, I buy extra. Onions keep for a long time, so I usually just store them in a cool, dry place. The rest, I cut up and freeze in Ziploc bags. Later I use what I’ve put away in my freezer to whip up quick and easy stews and vegetable medleys –- all cooked in one pot -- making cleaning up a breeze too.

On nights when I arrive home at 7:30 -- starving-to-death -- I can throw together diced potatoes, carrots, green beans, tomatoes and a protein of my choice in a pot to simmer on top of my stove. I add the Holy Trinity, a bay leaf, beef bouillon, seasonings, a cup of water and whatever else I have on hand. Sometimes it’s cauliflower, corn, or lima beans. At other times I may cut up a hot, spicy Oscar Meyer hotdog, or use pinto, pink, or red beans. And, I’ve also used firm, diced tofu as the protein.

The possibilities of what goes into the pot are endless … determined by what you’re in the mood for and have in your cupboards. After you simmer your vegetable medley for approximately 10 minutes … voilà … you have a hot, nutritious meal resting in a delicious red sauce that you’ve prepared and cooked in 20 minutes flat. Add some crusty bread and a decent wine, and bon appetit!

*Blanch the tomatoes before freezing.  Green & red peppers and celery can be frozen without blanching.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

A Wonderland Of Odds And Ends

Once a month I like to pay a visit to my local dollar store to pick up inexpensive little things I need. It always adds up to big savings. I buy shower curtain liners, microwave plate covers, dried spices, paper napkins, fancy bows and coffee filters. Why pay so much more elsewhere when you can get the same stuff for 99 cents? My local dollar store stocks a wide assortment of party and holiday items. And, you never know what you will find. I was happy with a 16 oz jar of Nathan's Deli Style Mustard I took a chance on, as well as, the capsicum thermal-rub creme I bought for my mother. It usually sells for $14, but listed on its label the same ingredients in the same proportions as the brand she buys. What a steal!

To be honest, there are some cleaning supplies and personal care products I wouldn't buy, but the blue liquid glass cleaner, with ammonia, is streak free and works as well as Windex. Likewise, I can't tell the difference between the baby powder and baby oil and their name brand counterparts.

So browse the aisles of a dollar store with an open mind, read the labels, and you're sure to leave with a few essentials – at 99 cents each – and still have some dollars left in your pockets.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

For Skin Care Try Bath & Body Works

Products that moisturize, protect and keep your skin healthy and young usually cost a fortune. Bath & Body Works is a favorite store to buy skin serums and anti-aging creams at reasonable prices. I use many of Dr. Patricia Wexler's line, which is carried there. If you get on their mailing list, you receive $10 coupons to use at the register. Last night I bought Dr. Patricia Wexler's Universal Anti-Aging Cleanser, which sells for $16. After using my $10 coupon, I paid $6 for 5.1 fluid oz. Now that's a bargain. To find other deals visit: bathandbodyworks.com.