Thursday, January 27, 2011

Oh Yeah, I do love to be right....

Charming Suitor and I have a big weekend ahead, which includes a visit from NYC Penny, and a small dinner party with Hostess with the Mostest and Big John.  We were also out of LaCroix Pamplemousse, which is like being out of air.

So I set an order with Peapod, the local grocery delivery service, to stock up on everything we needed.  I love Peapod, especially for staples and heavy stuff.  It frees me up to do small targeted shopping for great produce and meat without having to schlep cases of delicious grapefruit sparkling water.  I logged in, filled my cart, set my delivery time for Tuesday, perfect since the fridge was full of slightly wobbly celery and condiments, and we were going to need dinner as well.

Tuesday I waited.  And waited.  The weather was icky, so I even waited a FULL HOUR after the set delivery time.  And then I called.  I was polite, but the teensiest bit righteously indignant.  I appreciated the weather issue, and that it might be a busy day, but I was disappointed that no one had called to say they would be so late.

The woman was very patient with me as she explained that her people would absolutely call if they were going to be late.  On Wednesday.  Which is when I had scheduled delivery.

I checked back at my confirmation e-mail.  Which clearly showed that I had placed my order for delivery on Wednesday.

Not only did they show up on time the next day, they showed up in the first 15 minutes of my two-hour delivery window.  Because that is how they roll.

I? Just felt like a complete dumbass. 

And we?  Had Thai take out for dinner.

What are your latest wanna-crawl-in-a-hole moments?

Yours in Embarassed Taste,
The Polymath

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Contest Winner!

Fisrt off, CONGRATS to JulesTX for winning the Nordicware Ebelskiver Pan!  E-mail me your shipping addy at staceyballisinfo (at) gmail (dot) com and I will get it out to you.

And thank you to all for such great tips, tricks, and products. I love finding out about new stuff!  If you missed the post, check out my favorite things and all the advice from all the Chickens who shared theirs!  Just CLICK HERE.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

More about Me Meme

I realized that while I usually focus on my favorite kitchen gear or ingredients, I love reading those "About Me" memos in the front of women's mags...what the celeb on the cover can't live without, whats in her purse.

So I thought for a quick Friday post, I would share some of that about me, not a kichen tip among them, and to encourage others, we have a little giveaway!

This is a Nordicware Ebelskiver Pan.  Otherwise known as a pan in which to make delicous filled pancakes.  People are making easy ebelskiver mixes.  Its really just pancake batter, you fill the little divots, wait till they set up a bit, put in some kind of filling, and then top with a little more batter.  Then you flip them over, and end up with a sort of spherical pancake full of delicious.  And I have one to give away, so comment with at your top three or more products by 11:59PM on Monday January 24, and I will announce the randomly chosen winner on Tuesday!

Here are mine:

Marvis Toothpaste: I love the way this Italian toothpaste tastes, they have five flavors, and the caps never get stuck or gunked up.  And my teeth feel squeaky clean, with no weird film.  Plus they are pretty.  Charming Suitor is a total convert.

Bucket of white washcloths in the bathroom:  I buy these at Costco, $9 for two dozen, and keep them rolled up in a container on the back of the toilet, with a small basket next to the sink for the used ones.  I use them to wash my face (feels so spa-like to always have a fresh clean white cloth).  My guests use them as hand towels when using my powder room, and always comment on what a nice touch it is.  I think it is the single most "borrowed" bit of decorating in my house...many of my best buds have adopted it at their houses.

CO Bigelow Mentha Lip Tints Lip Gloss:  Light shimmer, sheer color, sweet minty taste, non-goopy, utterly kissable lip glosses.  Bare Mint and Pink Mint are my faves. 

Green Glass pump bottles from Target:  I first saw these at Jen Lancaster's house, and ran right out to buy them.  I love the clean styling, they work well, especially for dispensing controlled amounts and are easy to refill.  I keep a set next to every sink, one of hand soap and one of hand lotion. But I also keep one filled with my moisturizer (more on that later) and one with my hair gel (more on that too).  I have one filled with Almond Oil, which I use for problem areas like feet and elbows, and one with a scented body oil for after the shower.  Okay, so I am a little addicted.  But they are so useful!

Cetaphil face moisturizer:  I love this lightweight cream, it goes on smooth and greaseless, absorbs completely, and which is best, I can get it at Walgreens and don't have to shell out half a kidney to keep my skin supple.

Ouidad Hair Products:  I have very thick very naturally curly hair.  And until I found this product line, I was frequently a sufferer of frizzy shrubbery head.  But this stuff is designed for us curly girls, and it has changed my hair, and not insignificantly, my life.  I use the Curl Quencher line, as I need as much moisture as I can get, but they have products for every type of curly hair, and even a line for kids.  LOVE.

Aquaphor:  This stuff I use in our brutal Chicago winters, especially for hands and feet.  Industrial strength, odor free, and it really works.

And finally, Pylones card cases:  I first found this store in Paris, and bought one to use as a wallet.  They now have outlets all over, as well as online sales, and I think their stuff is fun and affordable.  I am one of those people who fills whatever space she is given, making large purses and enormous wallets a danger zone.  So I keep my essentials in one of these cases, cards on one side, cash and ID on the other, no extraneous stuff.  They have tons of cute patterns. 

Your turn!  What are your fave products, comment with your top three (or more) and maybe you'll win that Nordicware Ebelskiver Pan!

Yours in Good Taste,
The Polymath

Friday, January 14, 2011

She's Back!

Apparently if one sends a long rant-y e-mail to the CEO of Comcast, they can get some WICKED customer service.

I am proud to report that after receiving no fewer than four phone calls from different departments, (not to mention one very helpful Twitter guy and my own personal Comcast Diva, Madame Dre)and a visit from my new best buds, Supervisors Michael and Ricardo, I am back in business.  Shiny new modem working swimmingly, and my phone and internet working all uninterrupted and stuff.  Whoo hoo!

I am so excited I thought I would share a couple of very happy new recipes that I came up with last night....

I mentioned the other day our new organic produce boxes, and the fact that I had two beautiful bunches of Swiss Chard this week.  And it was Roasted Chicken night, making the chard a natural side dish.

But as much as I love our standard Roasted Chicken, I wanted to do something a little punchier.  Charming Suitor loves cumin, as do I, and I know I don't use it often enough.  I remembered a Peruvian grilled chicken breast I had somewhere a few months back, and that I loved the lemony spicyness of it.  So I headed to the kitchen to wing a marinade for the chicken, full of the warmth of cumin, garlic, lemon zest and juice, some vinegar for punch.  

While it was roasting, filling the house with wonderful heady aromas, I grabbed the chard.

I've most commonly done a quick and simple saute with chard, or the occasional creamy gratin.  But I wanted something more toothsome.  Charming Suitor is passionate about the chick pea, loves them in salads, so I always have a couple cans around.  I love white beans with kale, so why not chard and chickpeas?  Turns out, it was a match made in heaven.

A simple batch of caramelized cauliflower florets, toasted to crispy goodness in a cast iron skillet, a bottle of Nebbiolo, and dinner was perfect. 

And even better?  Totally healthy and good for us.  Delicious and virtuous.  My favorite combo.

Hope you enjoy!

Peruvian Style Roasted Chicken

3 tablespoons ground cumin
1 1/2 tablespoons garlic powder
2 tablespoons paprika
Zest and juice of one lemon
1 small shallot, grated
Pinch red pepper flakes
½ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons white vinegar
3 tablespoons white wine
3 tablespoons canola oil

1 (3 to 4 pound) roasting chicken

Mix together the spices, zest, vinegar, wine, lemon juice and oil in a small bowl to form a marinade.

Wash the chicken thoroughly. Rub the marinade all over the inside and outside of the chicken, including under the skin if you can manage. Place the chicken in a large zip top bag and let marinate in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours, but up to overnight.

Remove the chicken from the refrigerator and let come to room temperature while you preheat the oven to 350. Roast breast side down for 30 minutes. Flip breast side up and roast until a thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh registers 160 degrees. Remove from oven, tent with foil and let rest for at least 12-15 minutes.

This is a great marinade for turkey legs or thighs, pork tenderloin, or skirt steaks. If you want, you can cook this on the grill, and if you have a rotisserie, have at it!

Chard and Chickpeas

2 bunches Swiss Chard
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 T olive oil, plus more to finish
1 t Worcestershire sauce
1 T white balsamic vinegar (or white wine vinegar)
½ c chicken stock
Salt and pepper to taste

Separate the stems from the leaves of the chard, and chop the stems into ½ inch slices, and tear the leaves in 1 ½ inch pieces. Heat a skillet over medium high heat and add the oil. When the oil begins to shimmer, add the chickpeas and sauté until they begin to get a little golden and crispy on the outside. Add the chard stems and cook for a minute, then sprinkle the Worcestershire sauce and vinegar over the top and cook until nearly evaporated. Add the chard leaves and toss to combine, and pour the chicken stock over. Continue to sauté until the leaves are cooked, and the stock is mostly gone. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and finish with a drizzle of olive oil.

Anyone have any spontaenous flashes of genius for easy weeknight dishes to share?

Yours in Good Taste,
The Polymath

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Comcast: They're Dumbtastic

Its me, your favorite snarky wheel, with yet another customer service bit of venting.

Here is the text of the e-mail I sent today to Brian Roberts, CEO of Comcast, my current cable/internet/phone service provider.  My patience with them officially at an end.

Mr. Roberts:

I have been a Comcast customer for years. And let me be clear, I am a Comcast Customer because of all the overpriced and underdelivered services available in my area, Comcast is the lesser of all the evils.

I work from home. I write, I blog, I copywrite for businesses, I consult. As a self-employed person with a home office, nothing is as important as my phone and internet service. NOTHING. I cannot post to my blog without the internet. I cannot speak with clients without a phone. I cannot receive e-mail inquiries or communications from potential clients unless my service works. I cannot research possible freelance jobs, or e-mail companies seeking services.

To say that every day I am without service has a direct negative impact on my livelihood is not an exaggeration.

My service on both phone and internet went out on January 1. After over 35 minutes on hold with your customer service line, I was able to report the problem and schedule a technician.

For the record, could you do SOMETHING about the flipping horrific-turn-my-brain-to-jelly-make-me-all-stabby muzak on that line? Since it is never less than 15-20 minutes of my life I’m losing, it would be preferable to not also want to stick a fork in my ear to make it stop. Also? I know that many questions can be answered online. BUT I CANNOT GET ONLINE BECAUSE YOUR SERVICE IS NOT WORKING, so perhaps you might not want to tell me about it every forty-two seconds.

But I digress.

Tech Number One, we shall call him Lazy, arrived on time, did a cursory check of my equipment inside, went outside for 20 minutes, came back in to tell me that all of my equipment was fine, but that the aerial was having a problem and that he would need to schedule a Line Call, which is a different set of technicians. Once that work was completed in my area, he said, my current equipment set up would be fine and everything would work great, and that it usually took about 48 hours to get the Line Tech out for something like this.

When he left, my modem was flashing weird lights and my phone and internet continued to be kaput.

I called later that afternoon to confirm that the Line Call had been requested, and get an ETA on service restoration. The customer service person asked what my modem was doing, and when I told him, he asked if I would push the standby button on the front. I did. Phone and internet came back. Genius Tech Boy Lazy had neglected to try PUSHING THE BUTTON ON THE FRONT OF THE BOX before he left.

The customer service fellow also told me that I had a bad modem history, and that the modem should have been replaced, especially since I am paying for the fastest possible internet service, and they appear to have installed a modem that DOES NOT ACCOMMODATE THAT SPEED. Awesome. Have been paying for services for over 2 years, with equipment that cannot give me the service I am paying for. Nice.

He proceeded to set up a second tech appt, so that my modem could get replaced. Also? Confirmed that no Line Call had in fact been scheduled.

I had service for nearly 4 hours before it went out again. On advice of the customer service guy, I tried a hard reset of the modem, and was able to restore service, except it still would shut down anywhere from 15 minutes later, to as much as two hours. That’s always fantastic. Nothing to inspire confidence in a client like your phone call getting dropped in the middle of a meeting because the equipment is cranky.

Tech Number Two, we shall call him World Weary, arrived the next day. He replaced the faulty splitter on the inside, went outside and replaced nearly everything, including the place where there were clear animal bites on the wires, and came back in to inform me that Lazy had very obviously not really bothered to look at anything or really do any work, including not placing the Line Call request. World Weary appeared very much to have frequently been to houses where other techs had, to put it loosely, not really done anything. He asked if I had been offered any free services or an inconvenience credit. I had not. WW rolled his eyes and said he would take care of a $20 credit to my account for my troubles. He also said he did agree that a Line Call for the area was necessary, the whole neighborhood was being affected, and that he would put it through as urgent, and that hopefully it would fix everything. He attempted to replace my modem, but was unable to keep it online to speak to the service so he did a hard reset on my current model and left it in place.

My service worked for exactly twelve minutes after he left.

He had given me the direct number for his supervisor so that I could attempt to prevent the brain damage being caused by my having to spend so much time listening to the On Hold music over at 1-800-Comcast.

I called and left a message asking if the Line Call had been scheduled, and if I could get an ETA on when the service would be done.

I never got a call back.

I continued to hard reset my modem every hour or so to try and knock out small chunks of work.

I called and left Supervisor another message. And another. And one on his cell phone. And two on the number of his colleague. Apparently their phones are currently out of service as well.

I called the main number again, tried to ignore the music (really? With the screechy saxophone, REALLY?) and got yet another patient customer service rep. She understands my pain. She sees that it is supposed to be fixed by the next day. She will credit my account for the lost days of service.

Will she credit my account for the LOST INCOME? Not so much.

I am assured that everything will be fine by 1pm the next day. That evening I call back (do not kill self/others while listening to hold music) to find out what happened to my 1pm service will be back. I am told that they are working on it, and will credit me another day of lost service. Will they credit me the lost brain cells? Not possible.

The next day I receive an automated courtesy call saying that they have fixed a problem in my area. I find this hilarious, as I receive this call ON MY CELL PHONE, since my land line IS STILL NOT FUNCTIONAL. I call back. I reiterate, for the millionth time, what my problem is, that I have been without service for 11 days, and that despite the courtesy call about the area problem getting fixed, my problem still exists.

You need a new modem, she says. And then she pauses. That’s funny….you shouldn’t have this modem anyway.

Everyone on the PHONE knows that I have been paying for service I could not receive for 2 years and that no one should have installed this modem on my service, the tech team, they know nothing about this.

I set up a third tech visit so that they can come replace my modem with the right type, and preferably one which functions.

The next night I receive an automated message that they have fixed a problem in my area, and any service calls I have scheduled have conveniently been automatically cancelled on my behalf. Sadly, the problem in my area (mainly my HOUSE) is not at all fixed. I call back. I am starting to mentally write lyrics to the ridiculous music. “weeee are the Comcasts…. Weeeee have elbows and asses….but weeeee don’t know which could be which…..ain’t your life a bitch? Weeeee cannot get you working…..our techs their jobs are shirking….but weeeee don’t really care...if your clients go elsewhere…cause whatever we may be….we’re not as bad as ATT….so you cannot leave us….and you cannot peeve us….la di da di da. Tra la la la la.

Needless to say my original tech appointment? No longer available. But they are happy to credit my account for two more days of non-service.

Tech Number Three, we shall call him Least Useful, arrives at the end of yet another useless work day for me. He arrives, comes inside, informs me that I have the wrong modem (GENIUS) and tells me that he doesn’t have one with him. Because why would the tech bring a new modem to the tech call set up for the specific purpose of REPLACING MY MODEM? He leaves to call around to see where the right modem is. He returns. Apparently NO ONE in the greater Chicagoland area has this precious special modem of which I have need. Someone, he says, will call me to let me know when they can come back to install the right modem.

Tomorrow will be 14 days of no service. I have had to reset my modem twice while writing this note, and hope that it stays working long enough to get this missive out to you.

I would wait eagerly for a response, but at the moment, it’s really hard to reach me.

Stacey Ballis

Apparently I'm not the only one having some issues....

Bruce Wagner designed them a new logo...

Michael Pellegrini posted this:

These people had a rally:

And my personal fave...

Yours in Temporarily Online Good Taste,
The Polymath

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Just a Quickie

I know, its been a while.  But I'm back.  And I have cake.

Some of you may be asking...really?  After 31 days in a row, you just leave us stranded for almost two weeks?  To which I say, um, YES.  A whole month of daily posting left my brain a little bit barren, and frankly, you wouldn't have much wanted to read anything I would have wanted to say.

Plus, when one decides to get married in four months, while it eliminates the long waiting to say I do, it amps up the wedding planning significantly!  We have been very fortunate, and have managed in the past week and a half to identify a date (SOON!), a guest list (TINY!), a location for the ceremony (HISTORIC!), a place to have dinner after (DELICIOUS!), someone to design a dress for me and others to make a chuppah for the ceremony (THANK GOD FOR TALENTED FRIENDS!), and of course, very important for us, the cake (GORGEOUS AND DECADENT!).  Working on photogs and flowers this week, and have set a personal goal of having this puppy wrapped up by the end of the month so I can focus on work and the new book and saying hi to you all with regularity.

But despite a solid eleven days of sharklike constant forward movement in what Charming Suitor calls my "Planning Mode", I am actually somewhat refreshed, and thought I would say hello and give you a little quickie.

Not like THAT, a quickie CAKE.

Since both Charming Suitor and I are trying to eat healthier generally, especially now that wedding photos are less than four months away, I recently signed us up for an organic produce service, which drops off a box of goodies once a week.  It is sort of like a CSA, but since they aren't limited to what grows on one single farm, the boxes have wide variety in them.  I've been finding them very inspiring, since often they contain something I wouldn't have necessarily purchased at the store.  Last week we got Kombucha squash, which I turned into a yummy squash risotto.  Yesterday's box contained two large bundles of red chard, which I am looking forward to playing with. 

It is also very nice to have fresh fruit in the house all the time for snacking, much better options than the holiday cookies or cheese and sausage that were tempting us during our vacation.

But sometimes abundance is problematic, and earlier this week I found myself with five pears on the verge of going over the edge.  I also had a friend coming over for tea.  Lightning bolt, quick pear cake.

For me, a quick cake is one that uses oil instead of butter, eliminating the creaming aspect of cake baking, and creating a batter that comes together in a flash, usually with just a wooden spoon, less fuss, less muss, more cake.

I hope you'll give this one a try, it is great with pears, but swap out any fruit you like...apples, mangos, stonefruit,  I think it is a really versatile recipe.

Pear Cake

2 c flour
2 c sugar
4 eggs
4 c cubed ripe pears (4 large or 5 small)
1 t baking soda
Pinch salt
1 T vanilla
1 t almond extract (opt)
1 c vegetable oil
2 t cinnamon

Preheat oven to 325.

Combine flour, sugar, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl and whisk to lighten and combine.   Mix wet ingredients in a seperate bowl, and then add to the dry, blending well.  Fold in pear chunks. 

Spread into greased 9X13 pan. It wiill look like  there is not enough batter. Do not worry. Bake 325 for 40 minutes till skewer comes out clean. Cool before cutting.

Let me know what you think, it is a lovely afternoon snack, and with a scoop of ice cream, a dessert worthy of company.

Yours in Good Taste,
The Polymath