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There's...just...so...much...to...do....
Nov 23rd, 2012 by Nancy

wreath

I hope you managed to push away from your Thanksgiving table in a pleasantly overfed state, and that you shared that table with loved ones old and new.  It’s a crazy time of year, and every minute of respite is that much more appreciated.

Now that today, the Friday after Thanksgiving, has become the de facto opening bell for the Holiday Rush, I’ve come to appreciate yesterday, and it’s message of “take time to drop everything, recognize and gratefully acknowledge the blessings in your life, and share a long, relaxing meal with friends and family” even more.

It’s especially ironic since Thankgsiving in my household, which we have shared with another couple families for 10+ years now, involves cooking not one but two 15+ pound turkeys, as well as stuffing, gravy, cranberry sauce (thank you Mama Stamberg), eight loaves of french bread, and at least two pies, all from scratch, for a gathering of 20+ people, most of whom are under 15 years of age.  It’s not, but anyone’s measure, a peaceful, restful day (or week, for that matter).  But it is a tradition, and one of the few to which my family holds firmly.

Now that Thanksgiving 2012 is under our belts, so to speak, I’m ready to face the next month with a little more energy.

Don’t look now, but it’s time for...

BlackFridaySmallBusinessSaturdayFinishtheThanksgivingDishesSunday
CyberMondayMobileTuesdayHideStuffWednesdayChoirConcertThursdayHolidayPartyFriday
ShopMoreSaturdayEndofSoccerSeasonPizzaPartySundayFinishtheReportatWorkMonday
FluShotTuesdayHaircutsforEveryoneWednesdayGetthatFunnySoundintheCarLookedAtThursday
AnotherHolidayPartyFridayBakeCookiesAndGetTreeSaturday
HolidayBazaaratChurchandDecorateTreeSundaySweartoEatNothingButSaladUntilChristmasMonday
BandConcertTuesdayNoPleaseNotaColdThisYearWednesdayDrugstoreRunThursday
NoPleaseNotAnotherHolidayPartyFridayCan’tBreatheWhileLyingDownSaturday
ReturnStuffandShopSomeMoreSunday
WhoeverDecidedToPutEmployeeEvaluationsThisTimeofYearShouldBeFiredMonday
MoreShoppingTuesdayTryandRememberWhereHiddenStuffIsWednesday
ChristmasisSeriouslyInFiveDays?ThursdayKidsOutofSchoolNowWhatDoIDoFriday
NoThankYouIDon’tWantToGoToaCookieExchangeTomorrowMomSaturday
FindHiddenStuffbutMisplaceWrappingPaperSunday
BuyWrappingPaperandStayUpAllNightMonday
…And then it’s Christmas.

Feeling the stress? Don’t worry, We like to make things easy around here – after all, that’s what brought Lunchsense into being in the first place – so don’t let the frantic rush of the holiday season get to you.  Sit back, relax, help yourself to your favorite beverage, and get a great new lunchbox for everyone on your list. It’s absolutely clever, immensely practical, looks great on anyone, and best of all it’s just a few clicks away.

Good news: All U.S. orders get FREE SHIPPING November 23-26.

Even after the weekend has come and gone, however, do note that all U.S. orders over $80 get free shipping all the time, and everyone who signs up for the mailing list get an additional 10% off, not to mention yet more great deals just for them.  Other sweet deals will come ’round over the next month, so check in again.

And don’t forget to share a long, relaxing meal with friends and family, at every opportunity!

LunchSense10-30-09-047295

Thanks...Giving us something to think about
Nov 21st, 2012 by Nancy

May your day be full of food, friends and family!

In keeping with tradition I’m re-posting a wonderful bit Chris wrote a few years back, but I’ll precede it with a quick “message from our sponsor”:

FREE SHIPPING ON ALL ORDERS FRIDAY NOVEMBER 23 THROUGH MONDAY NOVEMBER 26!

‘Thought you’d want to know.  No code required, free shipping will apply to all domestic U.S. orders.  More deals to follow in the next couple weeks, so stay tuned.  Thanks.

Now, back to our regular programming….

Bucket of Coal

In response to a perceived discourtesy, November’s holiday-spirit, simply referred to as “Thanks,” is sending December’s patron saint, Santa Claus, a bucket of coal for Christmas this year.

Disturbed by Santa’s increasing intrusion on the month of November, Thanks feels forgotten and rudely ignored.  “It’s just so inconsiderate,” she said.  “We used to share the parade with him, but now he’s coming with the full-color newspaper inserts, direct-mailings and television ads before the turkeys even reach the stores.”

Public concern over Santa’s expansion appears to be mixed.  “I wish it was Christmas every day,” one seven-year-old boy confided.

Thanks, however, is convinced “St. Nicholas” has committed an egregious mistake.  “That fat, old elf is finally going senile,” she said.  “He doesn’t know what he’s doing and he’s confusing the kids.”

The facts suggest Claus did start the Christmas campaign earlier than usual this year.  Toy catalogs began trickling into mailboxes almost as soon as the trees surrendered their leaves, and electronic solicitors began flooding email accounts just after the recent elections.

When questioned, Claus admitted to a misunderstanding, though he blamed it on the complexities of varying international customs.  “I might have gotten a little mixed-up,” he confessed.  “The Canadians have their thankful thingy in October, and the missus is always nagging me about needing to ‘check the list twice’ and everything, so I didn’t want to dawdle this year.”

Is it merely an accident, or instead, a growing trend?  Ever since Kris Kringle endorsed “Black Friday” as the unofficial start to the Christmas season, retailers have been utilizing his likeness earlier and earlier to promote their sales.

“Santa is good business,” one store-manager concluded succinctly.

Statistical analysis indicates consumers, in turn, are beginning to shift their attentions to the Christmas season sooner than ever before.

“Thanksgiving?” one mother of four shrugged, “I’m thankful when my shopping’s done and all the presents are wrapped.”

In the U.S., Thanksgiving has legally controlled the fourth Thursday in November since December 26, 1941 (the day after Christmas).  Traditionally, the holiday has occurred on this date since 1863, however a source close to the Ministry of Christmas contends, “Nobody has ever said anything about the following Friday, or any of the weeks prior, for that matter.”

This same source, in an exclusive interview, revealed that Santa is no longer solely in charge of the Ministry, and that he is most likely not the one responsible for the increased promotional effort.  Tech-hungry consumer demands have allowed corporate retailers and manufacturers to muscle in on the North Pole’s operation.

“Kids don’t just want dollies, tin soldiers or BB guns anymore,” the source instructed, “they want an iTouch, an X-Box or a Nintendo DS.  Who do you think makes those, the elves?”

For her part, Thanks is unwilling to let Kringle off the hook.  Interviewed in a grocery store parking-lot, next to a row of leaning fir trees, she confirmed that she had heard the rumors but added, “Santa not in charge anymore?  I simply won’t believe it.”

Regardless of who’s to blame, Thanksgiving has clearly been slighted, and the effects of this negligence have yet to be fully realized.

“I don’t mean to seem ungrateful,” Thanks explained.  “Everybody loves Santa, especially the children, but I just think we need to stop and appreciate what we already have, before we begin asking for something new.”

When asked what she hoped to accomplish by her symbolic gesture, Thanks replied, “Gratitude should precede bounty in action and acknowledgment; it is the parent of all other virtues.  Santa should understand.”

Full disclosure, 2012 version: summer deals
Jul 25th, 2012 by Nancy

What's that? You say you'd like to customize your lunchbox?

As I said about this time last summer, I like running a business.

I especially enjoy letting you know about the upcoming deals.  Here’s what’s coming to a Lunchsense website near you:

You want the best possible deal and you want to get this off your back-to-school “to-do” list? BUY NOW. From today through August 6, everything on the Lunchsense website will be discounted 20% .  All you need is the code, which you can receive one of two ways:

1. Sign up on our mailing list*.  The code will come right back to you.

2. If you’re already on the mailing list, read the email we sent out earlier today!  You’ll find the code in it.

You’re not quite ready to buy? COME BACK IN AUGUST (don’t worry, we’ll remind you). From August 7 through August 26, everything on the Lunchsense website will be 10% off.  Again, to get that discount code you’ll have to see steps 1 & 2, above.

Wondering why you’d buy when the discount is at 10% rather than 20%? Here’s why: two days – August 10 & 11, 2012 - of FREE PERSONALIZATION, and two days – August 16 & 17, 2012 – of FREE SHIPPING.  Neither of these deals needs a code, they’ll just magically apply to everyone on those days.

Either of these deals MIGHT meet or beat 20% off, depending on your location and whether you want a name on that lunchbox.  Which one is better for you?  It all depends on where you live and what you want to order.  I’d suggest you go to the website, figure out what you’d like, then figure out when it makes the most sense for you to place your order.

Note well:

  • Saturday August 18 is the last day you can order a personalized lunchbox and guarantee delivery of it by Saturday September 1, so don’t put that off until the last minute!
  • Friday August 24th is your last day to order not-personalized lunchboxes using regular delivery to receive it by Saturday September 1st, and
  • Tuesday August 28th is your last day to order not-personalized lunchboxes using 2-day delivery to receive it by Saturday September 1st.
  • Yes, you can order a personalized lunchbox on the free shipping days (August 16th or 17th), and it will be delivered, for free, by the 1st.

Why am I telling you this? Check out this post from way back for my opinions about discounts, but in a nutshell:

1. I prefer transparency and forthrightness over obfuscation and sneakiness any day.

2. Offering the best deal early helps smooth out an otherwise chaotic month of back-to-school selling, and ensures that everyone will get their order with plenty of time to spare.

3. Because I can.  It’s my business.

*If you hesitate to sign up for mailing lists, I hear ya. Don’t worry, we here at Lunchsense dislike spam as much as the other guy, so I only send out a very small handful of emails a year.  If you don’t think you – or your coworker, or niece, or the really sweet kid next door – will be needing a great new lunchbox when we write to you, please understand that we believe that if we can’t be useful, we should at least to be entertaining, so please read the email anyway.

Lunchsense unveils new design TODAY!
Apr 1st, 2012 by Nancy

I’ve been waiting months to do this.

Are you forced to work with people who persist in swiping your fabulous Lunchsense lunchbox from the office fridge?

Worry no more! We’ve fixed that irksome problem once and for all!

Here it is:

lunchbox win

We’ve had hundred – nay, thousands - of requests from our loyal customers asking us to apply our razor-sharp design minds to their daily struggle with marginally ethical coworkers, and once again we’ve come through with a winner of a lunchbox.

Don’t delay! This is a limited time offer!

As if we needed another reason to ban BPA
Feb 17th, 2012 by Nancy

Most cans have BPAA new study about BPA hit the presses recently, indicating links between it and the obesity and diabetes epidemic. It’s very worthy of a read, but if you’re pressed for time, I’ll cut to the chase: researchers in Spain believe they have shown that BPA, by mimicking estrogen, compels the body to release almost double the insulin needed to break down food.  Previous research by others indicates that increased insulin production may lead to weight gain and the onset of type II diabetes.

I’m glad to see such a finding making its way into the popular press, I’m a bit disappointed to report that the rest of the article is more editorial than scientific by mentioning implications and suggesting some thinly supported conclusions.  It’s conjecture, not science.

I struggle, furthermore, with some of the comments, mainly those that do more to reveal ignorance than shed light on the topic.   Should we just just eliminate plastic from our lives because of this report?  Well, notwithstanding that the bulk of our BPA exposure comes not from plastic, but through canned foods and cash register receipts, I’m afraid eliminating plastic would be an overreaction to this research.  Yes, this is further evidence that BPA has some very serious issues that warrant a cold hard look at whether any benefit that BPA might offer is outweighed by its cost.

To wit: recall that canned foods are a major culprit for BPA in our diets.  Would you rather have home-grown tomatoes that are canned in glass jars (but the only lids available to seal the jars have BPA), or organic tomatoes packaged in tetrapaks that are BPA-free BUT aren’t recyclable?

In all honesty, I do not have an answer for that – not for myself, not for you.  maybe the only answer is “don’t eat tomatoes out of season.”  Sigh.

Not all plastics have, or are produced using, BPA.  Polycarbonate is the resin of concern, and even then many polycarbonate items have removed BPA from its production.  Polyethyene (#2 and #4) and polypropylene (#5, the plastic used for the food containers in Lunchsense) do not contain BPA.  What’s more, the alternatives to plastics have their own issues that should not be ignored.

Returning to BPA and this most recent finding, you may ask, “Just how much research do we need to convince everybody that this is nasty stuff and it shouldn’t be used?”  Great question, and one that scientists grapple with all the time.  Here’s a recent interview with a researcher who has strong opinions (supported with research) about the dangers of BPA; others draw different conclusions from similar research.

It begs the bigger question still:  ”Can the scientific method, in light of the extraordinarily complex network of causes and effects we have created in our modern life, even adequately examine these relationships and draw meaningful conclusions?”

I’m just chock full of questions.  No answers here today, I’m sorry to say.  Whether we’ve chosen to do so or not, we all have to live with uncertainty brought about by our modern living.

So NOW what do we do?

Avoid BPA whenever possible: Personally, I feel that there’s enough evidence to steer clear of it whenever possible.  I strongly encourage you to read this excellent summary of BPA sources (part one and part two).

Be informed: Just like our food intake should be varied, so also should be our information intake.  Please don’t allow one report dictate your every move, but do give several reports undertaken by independent facilities that reach similar conclusions a measure of credibility.  Furthermore, give yourself permission to think long and hard about these topics.  If there were simple answers we might have found them already.

Help inform others: Share the links.  Discuss, civilly.

p.s.  I chose to title the post as I have because it does indeed reflect my stance on this chemical.  However, I also have another opinion which I feel passionately about, but it makes a really lousy post title: “Living with Ambiguity.”  It’s what we do, so we should learn to abide with it.  Embrace it, even.

Foodie Tuesday: Lavender Tuiles
Feb 10th, 2012 by Nancy

7-LavenderTuiles_400

I know, it’s not Tuesday, it’s Friday.  ‘Sorry ’bout that, I got busy.

As promised, here’s my favorite cookie from the Advent Cookie Calendar I wrote about last week.

Tuiles (’tweeluhs’, French for ’tile’) are thin, crisp wafer cookies.  Popular and versatile, this version is a complete sensory experience: delicate and curved like a roof tile, pale in the center and flecked with brown and green, then golden around the perimeter; scented like a garden in summer; crisp and crumbly at first bite and tenderly chewy  towards the center, with a heavenly, buttery, herbal flavor.

Thankfully, they are not only easy to create, they convert to gluten-free with ease.  Here’s the recipe:

Lavender Tuiles, as offered by Saveur.com

3/4 C sugar

1/4 t salt (Saveur specifies kosher; I used table salt)

4 egg whites, lightly beaten

1/4 C dried lavender (I used fresh, and about half that much, and straight out of the garden, and I chopped it finely. It worked well.)

4 T unsalted butter, melted

3 T flour (converted: I used a gluten-free flour mix, and added 1/4 t xanthan gum.)

Heat oven to 350 degrees.  In a large bowl whisk together sugar, salt and egg whites until smooth. Add lavender, butter and flour and mix until evenly combined.  If using GF flour, allow the batter to rest a few minutes to allow the xanthan gum to absorb some of the moisture and do its stretchy thing.

Drop tablespoonfuls of batter onto a silicon mat-lined baking sheet, and using the back of the spoon spread batter into very thin 4″ rounds.  Bake until golden brown at the edges, about 10 minutes.  Remove the pan from the oven, and using an offset spatula or butter knife, gently lift the hot cookies off the baking sheet and drape them over a rolling pin or other curved surface and allow them to cool there.

A few more tips of my own:

- I don’t have a silicone baking mat, so I used parchment paper which worked reasonably well – I had to peel the cookies off very carefully, but they didn’t disintegrate (which is noteworthy for GF cookies).

- It’s slow going, but I suggest cooking only one tray of cookies at a time unless you have an abundance of surfaces onto which you can drape cooling cookies. The upside to this batter is that without a leavening agent it will hold well for quite awhile.

- I hear tell you can also drape the cookies into muffin tins and create bowls that would be heavenly filled with custard, fruit, whipped cream, or other filling.

- They’re wonderful in a lunchbox!

Give them a try, and let me know how they turn out for you!

American Giant and Small Business
Feb 3rd, 2012 by Nancy

This came across my sights the other day:

How American Giant Hacked the Supply Chain

For years, it was cheaper to produce goods overseas. But Bayard Winthrop believes that’s changing, in part because of one big culprit: The Internet.

“There’s a general growing comfort level with not only consuming online but buying things like shoes and apparel online,” says Winthrop. “I think one of the reasons we’re so excited about what we’re doing is that we’re in a new time now in that for the first time you can begin to really assess the non-manufacturing related costs. Even two years ago you couldn’t do that.”

American GiantIn a nutshell, start-up clothing manufacturer American Giant, which opened its ‘doors’ this week, is doing the improbable – high quality, reasonably priced, American made clothing – by only having them available online, thereby short-circuiting the overhead of retail space, distribution, and everything else that goes into getting products into traditional brick & mortar retail.

Market forces and cultural forces have conspired against US garment manufacturing for decades.  However, with that loss has been the unfortunate loss of quality and durability.  Sociologist Julie Schor has verified what many of us have assumed for some time: garment prices have flatlined or dropped in the last 20 years, in large part due to cheap overseas labor but also because of cheaply made, low quality materials and deferred environmental costs. We therefore buy many more garments now than we did in the early 90’s, partly in response to the lower (real) prices, but also in part because of diminished quality and durability – the old saw “they just don’t make ‘em like they used to” is quantifiably, verifiably true in the garment and other soft goods industries.

Thanks to the reach of the internet and the comfort level we have achieved with online shopping and financial transactions, however, it’s very possible to do an end-around the biggest costs of bringing a new item to market – namely, renting retail space, hiring and training staff, or hiring sales reps to shlep your shiny new thing to stores in hopes they will add it to their inventory.

I’m really delighted to see this hit the big time, and I strongly encourage you to take a look at the link in the title of the quote above – there’s a succinct video demonstrating the plight of, and the hopefully bright future for, American manufacturing.  The U.S. is full of the hand skills, the machinery, and most of all the people who can, simply put, manufacture great stuff.

I’m also compelled to say, “It’s about time somebody else caught on to what we at Lunchsense have been doing all along, and why.”

After the design for Lunchsense lunchboxes came into being and I realized I wasn’t the only person on the planet who needed a better way to pack lunches, I started scouting around for local manufacturing.  I hit paydirt with Oregon Sewn Products – they are the right size in the right place and the right price, and wonderful, entertaining individuals to boot.

It’s noteworthy to temper my enthusiasm with a shot of reality, though.   If everyone were to do what American Giant is doing, it would be at the expense of American retailers.

I do manufacture a fair number of my lunchboxes in Vietnam, at a factory I visited (trip of a lifetime!) and vetted for its labor standards, working conditions, and environmental initiatives.  I’m pleased to say the factory not only passed muster but holds SA8000 certification.  Yes, the lunchboxes I manufacture overseas cost me far less than the US made lunchboxes.  They do allow me, however, to sell lunchboxes to stores, which then can sell them to you, which allows us both to make an appropriate profit in the endeavor. In other words,

I manufacture in the U.S. (and support a local manufacturer) —–> I sell to you, directly, on the internet

I manufacture overseas —–> I sell these lower cost (but identical quality) items to stores (and support a local retailer) —–> they sell to you.

Doing it this way allows me to support both U.S. manufacturing AND U.S. retailing.  I wouldn’t want to cut either business type out of my model. There are plenty of folks who just want to buy a lunchbox off a store shelf, and I am happy to meet their needs.  There are plenty of others who are fine with buying things online, and I’m here for them too.

Lastly, note that if you want a lunchbox assembled in the U.S., just say so in the comments field when you place your online order, and I promise you will get exactly that.

I wish American Giant all the best, and I really hope they succeed beyond their wildest dreams, because their success is my success, and ultimately, yours as well.       

Foodie Tuesday: 24 Days, 24 Cookie recipes
Jan 31st, 2012 by Nancy

1, 2, 3...23, 24 different Christmas cookies

I was looking for something different for the Christmas season last year.

Inspiration struck in the form of the Cookie Advent Calendar provided to me by Saveur magazine. Yes, it really was just that: 24 days and 24 cookie recipes.  And we made every single recipe.*

As if baking a new batch of cookies every day for 3 1/2 weeks (or just HAVING that many cookies in harm’s way) wasn’t foolish enough, I also converted them to gluten-free versions (my husband is gluten intolerant).  If you’re thinking what I think you’re thinking, no, I don’t have too much time on my hands.  I DO have a splendid assistant in the person of my 13 year old daughter-with-aspirations-to-be-a-chef, so between the two of us:

  • she filled in on the days I was just tapped out;
  • I admit that we both bailed out on a couple of days, which we made up on the weekend;
  • we often cut recipes in half or even in thirds, with the goal being no more than 24 cookies in a day (or no more than two trays, so we could get them all in and out of the oven in one pass).

And the effort, while significant, was manageable.

Without a doubt best part – really truly even better than eating them – was the immense pleasure I found in knowing that at some point in the day, every day, we’d be dropping everything…and baking cookies.

Another treat:  Each recipe would be posted at midnight, but as the mag is in Eastern Standard Time my girl and I would check every evening at 9 pm here on the West Coast and find our next day’s offering ready and waiting.

All the cookies were good, but there was indeed a range of results that traveled from, “hmm, tasty sand, that one,” to “wow! oh wow! greatgreatgreat!”  Many (though not all) were of a European lineage, and they were the most interesting.  We all agreed that traditionally American cookies, while good, are by comparison pretty bland, generally being dominated by one flavor: peanut butter, or cinnamon, or chocolate, for example.

The down sides:

We did our best to be true to the original recipe (gluten-free conversions notwithstanding), but at times the ingredients were challenging.  Among other things I now have all but a few ounces of a rather expensive, very strong, very weird liqeuer which as far as I can tell will only go for future batches of those specific cookies they’re used in…which is, thankfully, a pretty darn good cookie.  If you’re in the Eugene area and want to give them a try, call me.  I’ll share.  I also bailed out when the recipe called for a cookie mold that I could only find on eBay for $40.  THAT crossed deep into “well this is just silly” territory.

There were too dang many versions of shortbread cookies.  How may riffs on a theme can there be for butter, sugar, flour, eggs, vanilla? Quite a few, we found.  On that note, and on the upside…

Converting all the recipes to gluten free might be considered ‘above and beyond the call’ but it wasn’t impossible, and I’d been on the hunt for a really great shortbread cookie that worked in GF flour.  I’m pleased to report that I found one!  Mention in the comments if you’d like to know how I converted it. It turned out crisp, tasty, and didn’t spread a whit, which had been the recurring issue with all the other GF cookie-cutter cookies I’d tried.

After the best part, above, the next best part was that we always had something to bring to friends’ houses all month long: “What’s that you say? Laura’s having a few people over tonight? Hey, we’ll bring cookies!!”  In fact, I think that’s where most of them went, in the final tally.

The last best part: We still have a freezer full of cookies.  Only a few remain of each of maybe half the cookie recipes, but it’s enough to know that a sweet treat – not much, but just enough – is only a few steps away.

Stay tuned: Next Tuesday I’ll post the hands-down favorite cookie of the whole season.

*Disclaimer: Okay, fine.  There were actually 25 recipes.  We didn’t make the last one.  It was yet another shortbread cookie, and we didn’t have the right ingredients, and it was CHRISTMAS DAY, for cryin’ out loud.  We all agreed that all the Advent Calendars we knew had 24 days, not 25, so we called it a wrap at 9:15pm on Christmas Eve.  Mea culpa.

Did I mention free shipping?
Jan 27th, 2012 by Nancy

Our Postal service logoOh, my United States Postal Service. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

I seriously do love the USPS, and although it’s a little embarrassing, and I occasionally feel a bit coy about this affection, it’s high time I step forth and proclaim it.

I run an internet-based business, which means I spend (as do all the rest of the internet businesses, from me up to Amazon.com) a very large chunk of my time and attention into the logistics of getting your order from my warehouse to your doorstep.  After we select and fill the appropriate carton with the ordered items, we all have to consider the need for packing materials; the size; the weight; the distance to travel; the desired speed of travel; whether the recipient will be present when the order arrives, and what to do if he/she is not; whether to insure the shipment; how to track the shipment; what to do if it doesn’t arrive.  It’s really pretty breathtaking, when you think about it, what goes on between that “click here to complete your order” and finding a box on your doorstep.

The USPS has been going through a rough patch lately, I know, and if it’s been difficult to understand why, I’ll try to summarize the issues, which were also mentioned here.  You might have heard that the PO is looking squarely at an almost $10 billion deficit.  It has come about in part because of the drop in First Class mail service thanks to the increasing popularity of online bill-paying services, the weakened economy, and competition among package delivery services.  However, some of that deficit is the result of a 2006 law that required the Postal Service to prepay retiree health benefits.  It is the only agency, public or private, that has been required to do so at this level – the Postal Service was required to prepay 75 years of health care coverage in 10 years’ time.  Further, the USPS overpaid the pension obligations from 1972 to 2009 and has requested (but not received) a refund on their overpayment.  Their deficit would become a $1.5 billion surplus if these issues would corrected; Congress is looking at bills to address them.  In the meantime we face the prospect of slower service, shuttered facilities, and thousands of layoffs.

I find this heartbreaking.

So: why do I love them?

First and foremost, they are the green team of shipping.

Think about it – the postal carrier comes to your address just about every day anyway, yes? Remember that the other services have to make a special trip to deliver your package. Besides that obvious green advantage, here are a few more:

  • A third of all postal deliveries are made on foot
  • The USPS delivery fleet includes electric, hybrid, and biodiesel vehicles
  • The USPS uses water-based inks for its stamps
  • Priority and Express envelopes and boxes have been Cradle-to-Cradle certified for meeting high environmental standards from manufacture to disposal
  • The USPS has been working to reduce energy use and incorporate green design elements in its buildings
  • Postal workers are unionized

As if that’s not enough, some other things you may not have known about them:

They hire more veterans than any other civilian employer:  135,800 of their 570,000+ person workforce, according the the American Postal Workers Union.

It is one of the few government agencies explicitly authorized by the US Constitution, and does not receive a cent of tax money – all its operations are funded by the revenues it generates.  It is also obligated to deliver to every single U.S. Postal address, and in many rural areas the post office is the de facto community center.

Only the items shipped via the US Postal Service have federal law enforcement protection. If you are leery of  online monetary transactions and banking, there’s no safer way to deliver your personal checks.

Their annual food drive, “Stamp Out Hunger,” surpassed 1 billion lbs. of food collected in 2010 after 18 years of this annual event. Held every year on the second Saturday in May (May 12 this year) it has become a major source of non-perishables for food banks across the country.

Personally, I like the US Postal Service because I like their website better than the website of those guys in brown shorts.

And the postal carriers are the underrated masters of navigation in your neighborhood. If I’m ever in a new part of town and I’m lost, or I’m unable to find a business or a house, or if I want to find the homes for sale in a particular neighborhood, or I want to know where I can get a cup of coffee, or my gas tank is about to hit empty, I KNOW that I can ask the postal carrier and he or she will set me straight, every single time.

How can you help remedy the sorry situation the Postal Service finds itself?

First of all, use the postal service to ship packages when you can.  For cross-country shipping they may be a day or two slower than the other guys for the standard, every day, ground shipping option (parcel post in USPS parlance) but you’ll probably find they are cheaper in many cases.  If you’re shipping within about a 500 mile radius, you might even find the faster service (Priority Mail) is cheaper, not to mention faster than the other ground services, and their flat-rate cartons are free!

Second, buy your postage online.  Besides the fact that you’ll avoid the lines at the P.O., you’ll get a bit of a discount.  What’s more, it’s really easy, and even kind of thrilling to see postage come out of the printer.  Even though you’ve paid for it, it feels a bit like printing money, or at least what I think printing money would feel like if I did that.  The down side of printing your postage is that you may get cold stares from the unfortunates that are waiting in line at the P.O. when you breeze past them to the counter and drop off your packages.

Third, contact your congressional representative and let them know that you do care to keep the Postal Service operating at its current level of service.

So, in honor of the mighty men and women in blue stripey shirts and black socks with shorts and whatnot, I’m offering free shipping all the time to orders of $80.00 or more. That’s two lunchboxes, in most cases (for two smalls you’d have to throw in a couple extra food containers, which is usually a good idea anyway – have one at work, have one in the dishwasher). It’s the least I can do to keep those fine men and women going!

Foodie Tuesday: Turkey stock
Jan 24th, 2012 by Nancy

Turkey soup made from homemade stock.  Mm good.Some days I just can’t do much.

‘Worked all weekend at the Good Earth Show (it was wonderful!) but I’m still trying to get my energy back.

Could it be that my achy, snuffly, feverish daughter has passed her bug over to me? ‘Hope not…time will tell.  In the meantime, I need to power down, take it easy, recoup for a few days. But I’ve got the van to unload, inventory to check in, receipts to tally…and a turkey carcass in my fridge to deal with.

The turkey will be the easy part.  While I tackle the rest of the post-show chores, I’ll make stock.

If you haven’t tried it before, I’d like to nudge you – gently – to try making your own stock.  Really, it’s about as difficult as sorting, washing, drying and folding a load of laundry – you’ve pulled that off a few times, yes? – and the results are so very worth it.  It’s the gastronomic equivalent of throwing a blanket over your shoulders, and given the season and our precarious health conditions this week it’s exactly what we all need.

You may ask, “what are you doing with a turkey in the fridge in January?” A fair question.  Turkey is a cheap, healthy protein source, and if you have a large enough freezer I highly recommend buying a couple turkeys in November and cooking them up over the winter.

TURKEY STOCK

When you cook a turkey, toss the parts that you might not use – neck and giblets – in a container, and freeze them.  When you have finished enjoying all the cooked parts of the bird, throw all the remaining stuff – bones, skin, whatever – in the container as well.  NOTE WELL that you have raw and cooked pieces in this container.  They will all eventually be cooked together, but until they land in the stockpot treat them as raw meat.

I usually wait to make stock until I have at least five or six pounds of parts and pieces.  A single big turkey will provide this; if you’d like to make chicken stock this recipe will work nicely, but you may have to collect two or three chickens’ worth of goods to have enough to go to the trouble of making stock.  However, if you don’t have a really big stock pot, this will all work fine with just a couple pounds of bird.

1. Weigh the frozen turkey pieces to the nearest pound or so, and put them (still frozen is fine) into the biggest pot in the house. Place the pot on the stove now; once everything is in the pot it will be pretty heavy!

2. For every POUND of parts and pieces, add:

  • 1/2 a carrot, broken in half (no need to peel it)
  • 1/2 a celery stalk, broken in half (leaves are fine, in fact preferred; old-ish stalks are fine, and stock is a great way to make use of the inner parts of the celery bunch)
  • 1/2 an onion, cut in half again
  • a peeled garlic clove (no need to cut it)
  • 2-3 whole peppercorns
  • 2-3 whole cloves
  • 1/2 t oregano & thyme, dried (double or triple that if using fresh)
  • 1 quart of water

3. Turn on the heat, bring to a boil, lower to a simmer, partially cover the pot with a lid, and leave it alone for an hour or two. If you are nosy you can give it a stir occasionally.  Your house will smell heavenly.

4. If you wish to add parsley or basil, they are wonderful in stock but only need to be added in the last half hour or so.

5. I usually leave mine to simmer for about 3 hours, but there’s no rocket science to stock.  The only guideline I’d offer is that it will need at least an hour.

6. When you think you’re ready to deal with the next step (after 1 to 3 hours of simmering), turn off the heat.  Set a colander over the next-largest pot in the house, and place it next to the stockpot.  Start moving everything solid – meat, bones, vegetables – with tongs or a large slotted spoon into the colander and let drain for a minute.  The stuff in the colander, once it’s drained, can be pitched – I double bag these leftovers before they go in the garbage.  It will be hot, messy work, but will make the stock pot a little easier to handle.  Keep doing this until you have removed and drained a significant portion of the solids.

7. Now you’re ready to salt the stock.  Starting by adding about a 1/2 t salt for every quart of water, stir, and taste the results.  Keep going until you’re satisfied, but don’t overdo it – it’s easier to under-salt now and add more when you’re ready to use the stock.

8. Finally, drain the rest of the stock through the colander to remove the last of the solids, working in batches if necessary.

What you will now have is pot full of liquid gold.  Divide it into freezer containers, label it, and stash it in the freezer, where it will last for at least 6 months.  That which you refrigerate should be used within a week.   I freeze pints and quarts, mostly, though some recommend freezing small quantities in ice cube trays to have them handy to chuck into sauces as needed.  I’ve just never had occasion to use less than a half a cup at a time, and even then I don’t mind having extra stock in the fridge for a couple days.  It makes a perfect rainy-day, low-energy light snack on days…just like today.

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