Friday, March 30, 2012

R.I.P. Earl Scruggs (1924 - 2012)

Earl Scruggs and Friends* play "Foggy Mountain Breakdown"

None of us will live forever;  and yet the loss of a great musician and human being is still very sad.  Earl Scruggs was a legend who helped define bluegrass music.  He died Wednesday of natural causes; he was 88 years old.  As fellow musician, Bela Fleck, said: “When Earl Scruggs joined Bill Monroe's [band] his playing propelled bluegrass to the level that we're still talking about it today. … His soulful quality came though.  It transcended the music.”
As Fleck explained, Earl Scruggs had great taste and technique.  He became known for “playing the banjo, using three fingers in a rotating fashion to create a fast rippling sound that had never been heard before.”  By alternating two finger picks and a thumb pick, "he could play as fast as he wanted.  This was an incredible leap.”

In addition to being a music pioneer and virtuoso “Banjoman,” Scruggs had great personal integrity, becoming one of the few bluegrass, or country artists to give public support to end the Vietnam War by playing his Grammy Award winning composition, “Foggy Mountain Breakdown" at a 1969 anti-war rally in Washington, D.C.  There is footage of the trip, as well as, his thoughts about the demonstration here.

He leaves behind three musician sons, Randy, Gary and Stevie, who held their own, while frequently sharing the stage with their famous father.  R.I.P. Mr. Earl Scruggs.

Playing in the top video are:
*Earl Scruggs-banjo, Glen Duncan-fiddle, Randy Scruggs-acoustic guitar, Steve Martin-2nd banjo solo,  Vince Gill-1st electric guitar solo, Marty Stuart-mandolin, Gary Scruggs-harmonica, Albert Lee-2nd electric guitar solo, Paul Shaffer-piano, Jerry Douglas-dobro, Leon Russell-organ, Glenn Worf-bass, Harry Stinson-drums

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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Savor The Salt Of The Earth

Have you ever received a gift you love, but one you wouldn't have thought to buy yourself?  That in my opinion is a perfect gift, when a friend expands your horizons by introducing you to something special you paid little attention to before, or perhaps never knew existed.

My palate likes savory, but until a friend gave me a gourmet sea salt sampler, I never gave much thought as to how finishing salts can enhance the flavors of food.  As many five star restaurants know, the characteristics of salt go far beyond table (refined), sea (unrefined) and Kosher (coarse, no iodine).  Often salt -- a compound of sodium and chloride -- is a chef's best tool in creating mouthwatering dishes.

Williams-Somona has a delicious collection of exodic salts to try.  They include:

1. Haleakala red sea salt - Origin: Hawaii; has a nutty, sweet flavor. Use it on pork and fish. Great in Mexican cuisine, tomato soup and Bloody Marys too.
2. Kilauea black sea salt - Origin: Hawaii; has a smoky, sweet flavor. Gives seafood, baked potatoes and corn a charcoal grilled taste.
3. Australian pink salt - Origin: The Murray River, Australia; has a rich, delicate flavor. Use it on meat, seafood, vegetables and salads.
4. Cyrus flake sea salt - Origin: The Mediterranean; has a mild flavor. Complements salads, omlets and seafood.
5. Grey Flur de Sel French Sea SaltOrigin: Ile de Re, France; rich with minerals, has a clean, bold flavor. Great on steak and chicken.

Saltworks is another good place to order gourmet salt, as well as, to learn about the many varieties, textures and uses. (You can google them, if you like.)

Salt is essential in a diet.  Without salt you would die.  Too little results in an electrolyte imbalance in the body; and too much leads to health problems, such as high blood pressure and strokes.  According to many studies, the major source of sodium in Western diets is processed foods and snacks, not home cooked meals.  Just something to keep in mind.

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Friday, March 23, 2012

The Secret Sisters: Tomorrow Will Be Kinder

Without a doubt, Laura and Lydia Rogers, The Secret Sisters, of Muscle Shoals, Alabama will collect some major awards and honors in their music careers.  Here they sing their latest, “Tomorrow Will Be Kinder, a haunting song they wrote while on tour in Australia, after watching television coverage of the damage caused when tornadoes struck Alabama last April.  Locals lost everything and are still recovering.  This original song is included on the Hunger Games Soundtrack.  

Just in time for the Easter season, the song is about hope and optimism and human perseverance.Note

Black clouds are behind me
I now can see ahead
Often I wonder why I try
Hoping for an end

Sorrow weighs my shoulders down
And trouble haunts my mind
But I know the present will not last
And tomorrow will be kinder

Tomorrow will be kinder
It’s true, I’ve seen it before
A brighter day is coming my way
Yes, tomorrow will be kinder

Today I’ve cried a many tear
And pain is in my heart
Around me lies a somber scene
I don’t know where to start
But I feel warmth on my skin
The stars have all aligned
The wind has blown but now I know
That tomorrow will be kinder

Tomorrow will be kinder
I know I’ve seen it before
A brighter day is coming my way
Yes, tomorrow will be kinder

A brighter day is coming my way
Yes, tomorrow will be kinder

This footage is the sole property of NBC.  It will stay up until/unless I'm asked to take it down.  If you don't love the performance, be sure to check your pulse.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Today Show Finds Trench Coats For $100 or Less

A trench coat is a wardrobe essential.  When I see people replacing their heavy winter coats with a lighter trench coat, it starts to feel like Spring.  It's outerwear that travels well and looks smart.  Waterproof and layered enough to protect you from the chill of a strong wind, trench coats come in many styles including loose, belted and double-breasted.  They can be buttoned, zipped or snapped closed.  Understated or patterned, there is also an array of colors and embellishments.

I must give a shout out to the The Today Show for featuring 9 selections all $100 or less.  I will add two more retailers to their list, Lands' End – for unbeatable quality, style and prices for men, women and children.  Outerwear from LE is durable, multi-pocketed and usually machine washable too.  And London Fog, a company which has been making polished, affordable, well-made raincoats for over 60 years.

Treach coat, $100
BKE doubled coat, $90
Old Navy twill coat, $43
Black Rivet army coat, $90
Wallis cotton coat, $70
Bubble coat, $50
Black Rivet trench coat, $50
Chiffon trench coat, $70
Gap coat, $80

Thank you to the Today Show.  Wilsons Leather is a nice discovery.  Trench coats are so practical, you can wear them nearly all year around.

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Friday, March 16, 2012

Cupcakes For A Party Of Two

Photo by What's Up Cupcake
I have many friends and relatives born in the month of March.  So to save time, as well as, our waistlines, I only bake 2 cupcakes at a time.  Not only is it fast and easy, but if you don't have a big family to feed, who needs 12 cupcakes?  Sometimes all you want is a serving.  And by making them from scratch, you can use premium ingredients: real vanilla, butter and whole grains.  Here is my recipe:

2 Vanilla Cupcakes

¼ cup whole wheat flour 
tablespoons sugar
1 egg white [save the yolk for an omelet]
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ teaspoon baking powder
A pinch of salt
2 tablespoons milk
[Add a tiny punch of baking soda if you use buttermilk or honey instead of milk or sugar, or if you use lemon juice/zest to make lemon cupcakes]

1) In a mixing bowl whisk the ingredients together, one at a time until smooth.
2) Line a muffin pan with 2 cupcake liners, filling each one with the batter.
3) Bake at 350 F for 10 – 12 minutes until golden brown and the centers bounce back. 

Vanilla Icing

1 tablespoon butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons milk
½ cup powdered sugar, plus extra

(1) Put the butter into a mixing bowl; melt in the microwave.
(2) Whisk in the vanilla and milk.
(3) Add the powered sugar a little at a time, as much as necessary, until the icing is stiff and creamy.  Note: I usually use milk, but cream in this recipe is divine.

For chocolate cupcakes, add 2 teapoons of real cocoa powder, or melted bittersweet chocolate to both the batter and icing.  Plus, cut the vanilla in half and add a pinch of baking soda to the batter.  [Baking soda helps cakes rise when combined with an acidic ingredient like buttermilk, honey, lemon, chocolate, vinegar or yogurt.]  You can make a vanilla and chocolate cupcake to satisfy tastes.  Decorate with colored sprinkles, chocolate shavings or shredded nuts, if you wish.

Making one cupcake is simple too: Follow the directions above, cutting the ingredients in half.  But with cupcakes, much like drinking, do you really want to indulge alone?  C'mon, invite a friend over.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

KNO Clothing Is Fashioned To End Homelessness

The models are students from The University of Pennsylvania 
KNO Clothing is not your typical fashion house, but an online retailer on a mission to end homelessness.  Co-founders and college friends, Stephen Caldwell and Anthony Thomas, first noticed the plight of homelessness in Pennsylvania, where they lived and saw that not enough was being done to restore the lives of people experiencing it.  So in November, 2010 they launched KNO Clothing, which uses 50% of its profits to fight homelessness and poverty in America through fashion.
Customers can feel good about a purchase.  For every article of clothing sold, the company donates an item to a homeless person.  Working closely with non-profits to determine needs, KNO also funds local agencies who provide shelter and services for the homeless.  So far the company has helped cloth over 500 people and house over 11,000 people in 102 communities.

KNO began selling t-shirts and expanded to tanks, polo shirts, hoodies and dresses.  The garments are soft and casual.

It is clothing produced with workers in mind.  KNO uses fairly traded and organic cotton, or a sustainable blend of organic cotton, recycled polyester and natural rayon fibers.  The company supports eco-friendly growing methods and is concerned about fair wages, the safety of the people who make the clothing, plus giving back to local communities.

A video on the website says it best: "KNO Clothing is more than the threads on your back. … [It's] fashioned to end homelessness."
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Thursday, March 8, 2012

A Mobile Computer Cart Instead Of A Desk?

The Z Mobile Cart is perfect for small spaces.
Trust me.  Living in New York City forces you to think about every piece of furniture you bring into your home. In an apartment, space is as valuable as your property.  Whenever I think about buying furniture, I always ask myself if I mind losing the space it will occupy.  Personally, I like a bit of sparseness and would rather not fill-up every nook and cranny in a room.

For several years I have wanted a desk for my laptop.  But I value my space more.  I'm happy I waited, because as it turns out, I really don't need a desk.  The reason: Computers keep shrinking.  They have gotten so compact, and just when you think they can't get any smaller, they do.  With constant innovations, in a few short years most of us may be able to replace our present computers with one the size of an ipad, or something so tiny we can't imagine it now.  So why invest in an expensive desk that soon may become obsolete?

But right now I still want my computer off my dinner table and my notebooks and pens off my living room couch.  With this in mind, I bought a Mobile Computer Cart.  Ideal for small spaces, it has a sturdy steel "Z" frame, a lower shelf for storage and wheels for mobility.  The cart is versitile and looks good against a wall.  I can pull a chair up, and the cart becomes a desk; or pull the cart over to the couch to work.  It also has a center ledge, where I keep a calculator, extra note paper, pens, a TV remote control, a cordless phone, hand cream and lip balm.  So everything I need in order to work is organized and at my fingertips. [I made a pouch out of a cotton placemat (on sale for 98 cents), so the stuff doesn't fall off when the cart moves.]

I bought the cart at Walmart even though there isn't one in Manhattan.  If you don't have a store in your town, Walmart will ship goods to a local FedEx office free of charge, where you can pick them up.  A variety of carts and workstations are available for desktop and laptop computers.  The Z Mobile Cart costs: $35, plus you can usually find a coupon to save more.  It's a steal! 

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Friday, March 2, 2012

The Savvy Shopper Is Three Years Old

You know the old saying about how time flies?  It's true!  THE SAVVY SHOPPER celebrates another year {tomorrow, 3/3 - to be exact}.  Who knew?  

Thank you, Readers, for stopping by ... and contributing.  I love reading your emails and hope you find some wisdom, practical tips and entertainment here.
Going forward, let's attempt another spectacular year of writing.  Now for the presents!

***** Party smileGift with a bowRed rose*****

Companies offering birthday gifts to you ... free, if you sign up:

Retail:Gift 2
1. Aveda – Get a free Personal Blends Pure-Fume, or body care product custom blended with the aroma of your choice, worth up to $24.
2. Sign up for The Body Shop's Rewards Card to receive a free birthday gift, plus 10% off on all purchases and other promotions.
3. Old Navy – Subscribe to Old Navy's emails and get a $10 gift card on your birthday.Money
4. Sephora – Join their birthday club to get free beauty products.
5. Victoria Secret – Receive a free $10 gift card in your birthday month, plus free products throughout the year, for carrying an Angel card.
FoodBirthday cake
6. Baskin-Robbins – Get a free scoop of ice cream on your birthday.
7. Ben & Jerry's –  Eat free ice cream on your birthday.  In April, there is always a free cone day: It's April 3, 2012 this year!
8. Benihana – Receive a free $30.00 gift certificate on your birthday.
9. Captain D's –  Spoil yourself with a free fish or shrimp birthday dinner.
10. Cold Stone Creamery – Get a free birthday creation for joining the Cold Stone Club.
11. Denny's – Receive a free grand slam on your birthday.
12. Dunkin Donuts – Get a free medium beverage.Coffee cup
13. Godiva – Sign up for Godiva Rewards Club and receive a free chocolate truffle/candy each month, including the month of your birthday.
14. Gold Star Chili – Receive a free 3-way chili.
15. Hard Rock Cafe – Celebrate your birthday with a free sundae, along with a shout out from the staff.  No need to sign up for this one!
16. Hooters – Get a free menu item on your birthday by joining the Hooters eClub.
17. iHop – Offers a free birthday meal for joining the Pancake Revolution
18. Johnny Rockets – Join their e-club to receive a free birthday burger.Balloons
19. Ponderosa – Sign up to get a free steak dinner.
20. Starbucks – Get a birthday beverage of your choice.  Starbucks provides employee benefits that are not typical in the food industry, which is another incentive for me to buy their coffee, occasionally.

If you apply yourself, you can drive around on your birthday redeeming all your free gifts.  The perfect comedy sketch for Ellen Degeneres, no? 
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