Monday, June 28, 2010

Moving Experience

My furniture has arrived from France and I, for one, am very happy to see it. Except for the part I can't see, like the missing antique bamboo table (valuable) and the missing mattress that is part of my guest room set-- two boxsprings, but only one mattress. Mon dieu!

For the Consumer Gotcha report on what can go wrong (and right) on an international move, I will soon post the saga.

Dog Days of Summer

Toffee, my five year old, loves ice cubes. Junior, my senior doxie, does not. So it is for Toffee that I tell you now about one of the most outrageous products I have found for this summer-- doggy popsicles!

Wormy Shoes

Scene / seen at my local WalMart: it's the wormy shoes for cleaning, in green or in hot pink -- i wonder if the pink ones are left over from Breast Cancer Awareness Month? It's the Slipper Genie!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

I'll Bring Dessert

Some day, I vow, I will write a cookbook called 'I'll Bring Dessert' since that seems to be my specialty in the world of revolving dinner parties and hostess contributions. Until then, I will have to keep up my repetoire by coming up with interesting desserts to take along.

Tomorrow night I am going to a picnic in the park to listen to an outdoor concert and enjoy our dinner before bugs arrive. I'm bringing dessert, natch.

My first thought was to create something yummy from the chocolate angel food cake I found at the Safeway. I had never eaten -- or even seen-- a chocolate angel food cake, so I thought this could be the basis for something with fresh fruit and cream or custard or something gooey.

This morning, I watched Martha Stewart whip up a fresh caramel sauce and knew that would be my choice -- chocolate cake with custard and caramel sauce. I decided I better taste the cake before I moved forward with the individualized plastic containers I would need to prepare. Yuck! A very chemically chocolate taste. Not a serious yuck, but not a yum either.

I decided the ingredients in caramel sauce were too precious to risk them on an iffy project and began to look elsewhere for inspiration. That's when I realized that Sarah had brought enormous bags of fresh cherries from the farm stands in Gilroy and I still had enough for a calfoutis. That was the good news. The bad news was the realization that a clafoutis, as delish as it can be and as perfect a summer dish as ever existed, is not the right kind of thing to eat on a picnic, especially a picnic on the grass. Clafoutis is usually of pudding consistency and I felt that I wanted something in attractive, individual serving sizes.

That's when I remembered my stash of Shopping Detective finds.

I had recently purchased a few different packs of something called a Cupcake Creations TM mold -- described as 'elegant bakery quality baking cups' on the colorful package.

They are made in Sweden, which means you have a genuine Swedish dish on your hands!

The basic concept is that these wraps or cooking containers are a cross between the kind of paper we are used to baking with and the new resin molds, strong enough to stand on their own in the oven and in servings so that you do not need a muffin tin or separate pastry pan.

Part of the appeal is the wide range of shapes, sizes and colors available.

I bought some blue and white cupcake molds and some fluted white and gold tubs that would be right for a lemon square or a small eclair. You place the liners on a cookie sheet and bake. They do not affect the taste of your foods and they are made of natural paper, so you aren't cooking with odd chemicals.

You can toss the container after eating the pastry inside. Then you have to buy more. Both of my packs had 32 units in each;

I have decided to make my clafoutis recipe with an extra dash of flour to make it a little more cake-y and to bake up a few dozen in these beautiful papers. They will be the perfect picnic accessory and a good excuse to go wild with the butter and brown sugar.

It's Not About the Hole: Bagel News

Every person who has ever thought about the word DIET knows that a bagel and a smear are not particularly non-fattening, especially if the smear is more like a few tablespoons of Philly cream cheese.

Over the years, I've seen several smart souls cut out the middle, bready, part of their bagels in order to cut out some of the bulk and cut down on the calories. I have other friends who insist on reduced calorie cream cheese, for an extra edge.

Imagine my surprise when last week's trip to the supermarket revealed a new product called Bagel Thins by none other than Thomas', the same people we rely on for English muffins. And therein lies the rub-- although a line extension can be a brilliant idea, Thomas's is not the firm you'd expect to make a yummy bagel, let alone a yummy 110 calorie bagel.

Indeed, the extra skinny bagel comes in two parts, one of which is even thinner than the other. They taste somewhat like cardboard and aren't made that much better with a healthy (or non-healthy as the case may be) dollop of cream cheese.

There are assorted flavors available; I tested the 'everything' bagel; six in a bag, $4.49. There are coupons online for discounts.

Card Me

I discovered this product in the heart of the California Wine combines the ingenuity of a doorknob hanger (such as DO NOT DISTURB) with a gift card for a wine bottle and therefore fits over the neck of the bottle.

Bottlenecks, a registered trade name, come with or without pre-printed messages. The one I bought says ' congratulations!' on the front and opens to the slogan 'may this bottle of wine add to your celebration'. You can choose from a variety of pre-printed messages or buy a blank tag to write your own.

If you have the time, energy and skills, you can probably make your own version of such a tag. This would work on the small scale for a few bottles, but in the long run, you'll go insane for the intricate cutting and clipping and will be happy to buy these cards by the dozen.


Not to date myself too terribly, but I remember when skewed was a verb only used in advertising and media trades referring to content and its age target for viewers. A skewer, had only to do with barbeque.

About two years ago, I discovered and wrote about some flavored wooden barbeque skewers that I found in stores and online. (Seasoned Skewers;

This summer, I have found the FireWire -- which costs a whopping $12.99 but is made of stainless steel and should last forever. ..or until you attempt to barbeque krypton. The product ( is brilliant because it takes simple technology to the 'why-didn't-I'think-of-that?' position-- the wire is that...a long wire, much like a circular knitting needle, the kind used for sweaters.

Each end of this wire has a four inch stainless steel pointed poker skewer. Bascially, you thread your cubed foods onto the knitting needle and wrap it in circles on top of the grill -- you maximize the space and the heat from the grill and you clean the item, thus saving the world from disposables. This looks like what David Yurman would have designed if he was into barbequeing.

You can, of course, marinate foods before you grill 'em. You string the wire, then soak in marinade, then transfer to the grill. Dishwasher safe. Stainless steel doe snot react with marinade or raw foods. The packages set includes two skewers.

Shopping Detective Runs Wild

I'm not sure if it's because my leg injury has me in bed and looking for work on the computer, or because I am researching crazy Japanese inventions for our Born to Shop Asia trip -- whatever the reason, I've suddenly realized that I have been stock-piling a small arsenal of great (read: weird) products, many of which are perfect for summer.

I will do each as a separate listing so I can input the fotos-- even though the format of this blog will reverse this explanatory paragraph to the end of the parade.

If you don't know I'm 'laid-up' due to a boo-boo, I will explain what happened and lead into how I could have prevented the problem with a new product. I am healing a broken metatarsal, pinched nerve and strained muscle all upset when i took a tumble on hardwood floors. I was wearing felt slippers, moved from carpet to floor and went kabam.

The most interesting thing about the fall is that one of my two doggies ran into the bed and hid under the covers; the other sat down alongside me and sat guard while I was down. So much for dog sociology. None of this would have happened if I had been wearing Slipper Genie, microfiber cleaning slippers.

I found a pair of these slippers in my local grocery store in the cleaning supplies department. (Could I make this up?) They cost $5.99, are labeled in three languages (English, French & Spanish) and come in one size, a range for women's size 6-9. I wont even go into the chauvinism of the fact that the product is specifically marked for women's feet.

The idea of the product is simple, while you're running around the house, you might as well be cleaning the floors with these hot green, wormy, microfiber treads on the soles of the slippers. It's silly...but brilliant. Oh yes, in the small print on the back it says 'exercise care'... maybe I couldnt have prevented my fall after all.; 800/975-0335

Friday, June 11, 2010

Born to Shop Editorial Director Sarah Lahey took off for Israel and sent back this report:

Suze - I can't believe you tumbled and broke a toe! If you were here in Israel with me, a dip in the Dead Sea could make it all better. At least that's what I was told by the folks in charge at Mineral Beach.

They also claimed a mud and sea treatment could take ten years off my middle-aged face. Ha!

"Sign me up" I quipped, " I'll cancel my Botox appointment."

With a reputation for working medical miracles, the Dead Sea really isn't a sea at all; it's a big lake loaded with lotsa minerals including potassium, calcium, iron and salt; the salt content alone is more than 30%. It's rumored that the sea was a favorite of Cleopatra, who supposedly claimed it as her own personal health spa. I figured that if it worked for Cleo, who was I to refuse to soak my asp?

After paying 20 shekels, about US$5, to rent a locker (half of that was refunded when I returned the key) I made my way into the crowded changing room. The conversations I heard as I stripped and changed came from ladies who were seeking relief from psoriasis, arthritis, high blood pressure, respiratory and other chronic ailments.

Most of these gals were very, very old, and the communal locker room was very very small; it made Loehmann's look like a five-star spa. One lady warned me not to drink the sea water, as my blood and potassium levels would go berserk and I could go into shock and die within a few minutes. No problem, ma'am.

It was a quick walk down the path to the water. I threw my towel on a chair and slowly waded into the sea. The bottom was rough with sharp shells and rocks, so I immediately lifted my feet, stretched out, laid back and uh, floated. It was a strange feeling, sort of like being on an air mattress, only there was no mattress, just me and the sea!

Half the fun was checking out my fellow floaters. Some brought props for "Kodak moments'' while others appeared to be snoozing. One couple was stretched out on the water, hand in hand, smoking cigarettes; one man was snoring, I think. Unless he was one of the respiratory ailment surfer sufferers... It was quite a scene, and a sedate one. Splashing in the Dead Sea is considered bad behavior.

I'd been warned to stay in the water only 20 minutes, but after about five, I was ready to move on to the next ritual. It was time for mud.

I stood up, reached down, grabbed a handful of the rich black stuff, and slathered it on my arms, legs, face... basically any place not covered by my swimsuit.

Once out of the water, I baked in the sun until crusty, giving the black goo plenty of time to work its magic. As I sat there, I remembered soaking in a mud bath in Calistoga (California) and hating every minute of being buried in mud. This was much more fun! And much less expensive!

About fifteen minutes later, it was time to rinse. The mud dissolved easily in the salt water, but I hurried back to the dreaded locker room to secure a spot in line for a proper shower.

Was this goop and grunge worth the effort? Absolutely! I don't think it erased ten years from my face, but my skin felt great for several days afterward.

Hoping to maintain my healthy glow, I made a quick stop at the Ahava factory store, just across the road from Mineral Beach. Ahava is an Israeli cosmetics company that manufactures skin-care products made from the Dead Sea's mud and mineral-based compounds. It's an internationally known brand, well distributed in the U.S. and online, but a little less $$$ in Israel, especially at the factory store.

I loaded up on skin creams, bath salts and hair products, most of which were on sale. Hopefully, Suze, these gifts will ease your toe woes. Otherwise, you'll have to come here in person, Suze in the ooze.

Oh Dad Poor Dad Mom's Gone and the Dryer's Dead

My new rental house did not come with a washer and dryer.

Since it does have a fridge, I decided this lack could be overcome and that I would be able to find an inexpensive pair with relative ease. I am a Shopping Goddess, right?

The most recent Craigslist Murder made me leery of trying that source, so I decided to price new equipment first, so I could make a smart decision. My girlfriend Jancey , who has lived in Paso for five years and whispers in my ear whenever I have need, sent me to Idler’s Outlet Store (9330 Camino Real, Atascadero, 805/466-6020).

Invariably, a small store is only as good as the help …and I got a dud. Let’s call him Steve. We’ll call all the salesmen I worked with Steve to be non-discriminatory; or Stephanie.

I explained to Steve at Idler’s Outlet Store what I wanted – low-cost pair; dinged or scratched was OK. He took me to a damaged goods side of the store and showed off a variety on non-matching pieces – each part of the set costing around $400 without tax, delivery or installation.

On my own browse, I found a brand new and matching set, branded Estate and made by Whirlpool, for $339 an item. Steve said he didn’t know I wanted an un-damaged set.

Next stop: Big Kmart (3980 El Camino Real, Atascadero; 805/466-7700) a whole new world! The Steve there could not have been more friendly, more helpful, more willing to help me and welcome me to town. He had the same new set for $339, delivery and installation would be an extra flat fee of $65, meaning that if I also wanted that freezer unit over yonder, there was no additional delivery charge. (The freezer looked mighty fine.)

Steve #2 gave me his phone; explained to me that if any one item cost $399 or more I could earn free delivery and suggested I call him as needed.

I called the next morning, because I was so pleased with this Steve and his attitude (and the freezer) that I decided a new set of machinery was a great idea. Steve was out and the store manager would not take a telephone order.

Rather than jump in the car and drive to Atascadero, I decided on more local research right here in Paso Robles, my new hometown. Three different sets of strangers told me to try Dutch Maytag (1501 Riverside, 805/239-4552; Their ad in Paso Robles Magazine had the same set I had been considering, but at lower prices. I called to order them on the phone, chatted with a very nice lady who explained that she needed to call me back. When she did not do so, I called her because she was so friendly. She explained that she had tried to call me but must have taken down my number wrong; she was ready with the total price including tax, delivery and installation and it was not pretty in my sight—almost $800. There was a $45 delivery fee on each of the two pieces, washer and dryer. We did not discuss freezers.

At Sears Hometown Store (944 Spring Street; 805/239-1255;, the Stephanie there was helpful, explaining that while her prices were the same as everyone else’s, if I could wait a week and get a Sears Card, I could buy the pair for $699 plus $65 for delivery and installation.

For a little comparison shopping, I looked at eBay and Craigslist. And that’s where I found it. If I did not get murdered along the way, Craigslist was functioning the very way it was created -- to form a community. The washer and dryer for sale were already second hand and the seller wanted what he paid for them, even though he had owned them for a year and a half (what has its full value after a year and a half?) BUT he was willing to deliver and install and throw in some of the hoses.

The plot got murky when we discovered that his dryer had a three prong plug and my house has a four prong outlet. An Internet search revealed that the code was changed ten years ago but that a re-wiring job was legal and parts could be found at any major home or appliance store. Lowe’s said yup, c’mon on down…and so I paid the $300 cash and waved adieu to the stranger with the beard and his Toyota pickup truck.

My son had come to visit with his laundry, so we needed the washer and dryer. Otherwise I might have waited until the end of June when I understand people in Paso put out old furniture, washers and dryers on their curb for disposal or neighborly sharing. Meanwhile, Aaron was motivated and capable and literally took apart the 'new' dryer and rebuilt it with the proper electrical outlets. It was Frankenstein's Monster and we couldn't have been prouder.

The dryer was used about six times in the last three weeks. Now it's dead. Aaron has tried to bring it back from the dead but says he thinks it's the motor. I must now decide if I will call a repairman or simply buy a brand new machine, as I probably should have in the very beginning.

Of course, it's only two weeks now until the Paso Robles Disposal Day, so maybe I can trawl around looking for someone else's castoff. On the other hand, if its true that you get what you pay for, the Craigslist seller got the deal and I got what we all know can happen to us in these situations.

Next time, I buy new.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Auction Fever

Due to circumstances beyond my control (crippling fall, lotsa pain) I did not get to the rodeo or the beach or even the grocery store today. Nonetheless, a friend drove me to Santa Margarita, which is not a pizza (as I had assumed) but a funky little California town south of Paso Robles.

We went to the viewing at the Santa Margarita Auction Barn; tomorrow is the auction. The barn is just that-- a barn, with several additions that are accessed through a small ramp or step (this great fun with a cane). The collection seemed to come from two specific estates: one with cowboys and Indians (the American Native kind) and one with more Victoriana than Queen Victoria and all nine of her children ever accumulated in her sixty year reign.

A few pieces could have passed for Burgundian, but there was nothing in fruitwood, which most of my French furniture is created from. The majority of the pieces were so old-fashioned I could only remember back to the late sixties when I thought a roll-top desk was a classic. Aside from the stuffed full sized black bear outside, there were sofas in pony skin, curio cabinets galore and my personal favorite, a Gentleman's Shaving Stand. I actually left an absentee ballot on this item, even though a Gentleman does not come included.

The stand has four bow legs that funnel into a central column, then reaches up to a height of four foot something where there is a square cabinet with shelves for shaving items, as well as a hidden drawer for jewelry. The stand continues upward another six- ten inches to balance a round mirror. The stand is walnut and would be the most perfect accessory for my guest room, which at this time only features an air mattress and two magazines.

There is no published catalogue or estimate at the SMAB, so a salesman made the rounds with me and mentioned some possible prices for a few of the items I was interested in. He said the Gentleman's Stand would go for $250-400. I low-balled it with a bid of $150 and left my chit. Tomorrow they will call me...or not.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Tokyo Mon Amour

We've just put together the basics of our next Born to Shop Asia trip, so wrap up in your favorite kimono and c'mon down. As usual, the trip is co-ordinated by InterContinental Hotels...although there is no InterConti in Kyoto, so you'll just have to trust me that you will not be sleeping in the shrines in Kyoto and that Sarah and I have found a totally suitable Japanese, luxury, 5-star hotel.

Like all Born to Shop tours, this one includes breakfast in the club lounge and a Shop & Show lecture (with the usual giveaways) daily. The first night of the tour is November 4, so you will have to leave the US either November 2 or 3 depending on flight times and date line crossings. You may also want to go in a little early, just to get over jetlag.

November 4-11 (7 nights) Japan, 2010
November 11-14 (3 nights) Hong Kong, 2010

Having jetlag wont be a problem since we'll all get up at dawn on our first day to go to the famous fish market and auctions and then have sushi for breakfast in the stalls alongside the market. During the first three days in Tokyo we will roll pearls til your wrists grow weak, have a kimono wrapping lesson, go to the paper and wrapping district, visit a temple sale, shop at the shrines and still take in Harajuku and Ginza.

Meals will be casual-- whether at the Muji Cafe or at a yakatori stand under the main railroad tracks. And speaking of trains, how else would we get to Kyoto but on the famed bullet train?

Roundtrip tickets are included in the tour price; we spend three nights in Kyoto before returning to Tokyo for our final night at the InterConti Akasaka. You will be able to leave the bulk of your luggage in Tokyo and travel more lightly to Kyoto. Our farewell shopping spree will be at the Akasaka Shrine.

If you want to continue shopping after seven nights in Japan, you can add on a three night Hong Kong package at, of course, the Hong Kong InterContinental Hotel (formerly The Regent Hotel).

The tour does not include airfare to Asia, or travel between Japan and Hong Kong, but includes seven nights deluxe hotel with lounge amenities, breakfast, internet, Shop & Show lecture and r/t bullet train to Kyoto. Airport transfers are not included.

The per person price for the Japan portion of the trip is $2800 (USD). For single occupancy, the price is $4300 USD. The three night add-on to HKG, with harbour view room and lounge amenities, is $1500 per person or $2500 single occupancy.

The tour group is limited to 12 guests. A deposit of $250 is required by September of this year (2010)...if you want to use your credit card, you may pay by Pay Pal. Contact Sarah at The balance of the payment will be due on October 1,2010.

Sayanora for now, my cherry blossoms.

I Am a Fat Cat

I always wanted to write a book named Fat Cat. I got the idea about a million years ago when Larry Gelbart told me that sometimes he felt like a fat cat sitting in the sun. Alas, Larry has now gone to the great catnip in the sky but over the weekend, I was able to visit Fat Cat Farm in Paso Robles, California.

Fat Cat Farm is part of what, for lack of a better word, I must call a total destination. You head west on Highway 46 west (from Highway 101 and Paso Robles) and look for the big red mail box on the right hand side of the road, right near the new and totally swank vineyard Niner Wine Estates.

By all means, go to Niner (try the sangiovese rosata), but turn left at the red mailbox and park at a jungle of garden and farm houses that represents the newly opened wineries and gardens and nurseries that have replaced the old Sycamore Gardens, which burned down a few years ago.

Anyone who plants hollyhocks and dill next to each other has to be an interesting person, so it's a pleasure to wander behind the tasting rooms to the rows of nursery tables laid out with herbs and flowers. It feels neverlandish here (not in the Micahel Jackson sense) with an ethereal piece of Provence, Tuscany and the California countryside. There are four or five different kinds of lavendar, as well as gift items and garden tools. Classes and a petting zoo for kids are going to begin by fall. Next year you will be able to buy myriad tomato plants in spring (tomato planting season is just about over here). And yes, numeorus cats roam the property so you can sit and pet...or just purr.

THe vineyard tasting room is Lone Madrone,2485 Highway 46 West (805-238-0845; which is the private label owned by the winemaker who aslo blends for Tablas Creek, one of the most highly rated wines in the area, if you look at point systems. The tasting room (open daily, 10:30AM- 5PM)is a cozy bungalow that sells crafts, foodstuffs, apple cider and wine, fine rhone reds are the specialty.

To round out the experience, there's a small tasting room devoted to Kenneth Volk's wines. Volk is one of the pioneer vinters of the area with a property in Santa Maris, south of Paso Robles. Just don't drink and drive.