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Consumer Tips 2017
 

 
 
 
Here are some handy consumer tips
from SIR Jim Quon
that you might find useful.
Items on this page
cover 2017!
 
 
Tip Posting Date Details
New Vehicle Safety Features Update Dec, 2017
The U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) today announced that beginning with model year 2018, the agency will update its 5-Star Rating System to include automatic emergency braking (AEB) as a recommended safety technology, providing consumers with new information on technology with the potential to prevent rear-end crashes or reduce the impact speed of those crashes by automatically applying the brakes.  This means this will become a standard feature on almost all 2018 brands, even the least expensive, base models.  This is a bigger deal than the introduction and inclusion of ABS brakes on all cars in the U.S., today.  Note – this is the feature you see so much currently on TV car ads.  But, it is not Adaptive/Active Cruise Control.  That may be an optional feature at extra cost or part of an upgrade on models above the base model.
Beware of Hanging Things on Rearview Mirror Dec, 2017 Two good reasons not to hang things on your rearview mirror while driving are: 1. Can block the sensors for high-tech features of your vehicle.  The sensors for Forward Emergency Braking, Adaptive/Active Cruise Control and Auto High Beam are often placed in and around the mount for this mirror.  A Handicap Placard, Parking Permit or other item hung there can block the sensors rendering them inoperative.  2. Items hung there will partially block your vision and can ‘hide’ a pedestrian, kids on bikes and other safety hazards.
Tipping Tips Dec, 2017 The ‘standard’ restaurant tip, in most cases, is now 18% and higher in “gourmet or 4-star Michelin” restaurants.  It’s also recommended to leave a small tip at ‘self-service’ places as well if they deliver your food and provide some other basic or limited services.  Also, on some restaurant checks there is a calculated amount for a suggested tip amount.  This is usually shown as 15%, 18% or 20%.  Beware, these may be calculated on the total amount when it should only be based on the pre-tax amount!  It’s a devious way to inflate the tip for unsuspecting customers.
Perfect Waffle Cooking Temp Dec, 2017 Per America’s Test Kitchen, your waffle iron should be between 400° F. – 435° F. for best results.  Cook for 3.5 to 4.5 minutes.  Use an infra-red, non-contact thermometer to determine the temperature of your waffle iron.
Recycled Paper Cups/Containers Microwave Warning  Dec, 2017

Do not assume that all paper cups and cartons are microwavable!  Recycled paper products can be made of up to 10% Post Consumer recycled waste.  This CAN INCLUDE METAL FRAGMENTS which can result in sparking/arcing in a microwave oven and cause a fire within the MW device.  Check for warnings on the container.  Starbucks and other chain operators using recycled paper coffee cups now carry this warning. Thanks to Calvin Wong!

Cooking Bacon Dec, 2017 Bacon is always packaged in long, narrow strips.  Cut the package in half to yield shorter strips that will fit more easily in a round skillet.  The shortened, unused, raw bacon can now be easily stored in smaller Ziploc bags in the refrigerator.
Revive Old Dried Out Bread Dec, 2017 Simply spritz with fresh, clean tap water and place in microwave for about 15 – 20 seconds on high.  It should return to a nice, soft, spongy, moist state.  If you don’t have a spritzer bottle around, soak a paper towel with water and wring it out and wrap the bread slice in it and microwave it.
Starbucks Reserve Coffee Dec, 2017 Some Starbucks locations are now offering Starbucks Reserve Coffees.  This is the descriptive blurb on their website: “Our rarest, small-batch coffees.  Our constant travels take us around the world in search of rare and distinctive coffees. We love sharing these discoveries with you. Each of our Starbucks Reserve® coffees was brought to life at our Starbucks Reserve® Roastery and Tasting Room in Seattle.”  The coffee was excellent the two times I tried it at the Danville location.  The cost is 50¢ to $1 up charge.  It is made only at time of order and done using hot water at 192° F through a drip, paper-cone filter.
Santorini Mediterranean Restaurant, Danville  Dec, 2017

Be advised that they have been sold.  The new owner is the former, on-site manager.  We just had a Dine Out event here this last Thursday and learned of the change.  I had made the reservation a month ago with the original owner.  When we arrived, we were told about the change of ownership.  I was disappointed.  Some folks had good meals and others not so good and the food was not hot for many folks.  Service was noticeably slower and some orders were incorrect or missing.  And it took forever to our checks. 

Livermore 13 Cinemas  Dec, 2017 This is our “go to” choice of theaters for movies on the big screen.  Their digital projector and sound systems are excellent and up-to-date.  Tuesday, all day, is only $5 for all standard format shows.  All seats are reserved!  You can reserve and purchase your seats in advance using your Smartphone or computer for just 50¢, each.  This allows you to avoid the line at the box office and guaranteed you great seats of your choice.  All seats are electric, full reclining seats or rocking chair seats with large, swing-out trays and drink cup well as standard.  Each auditorium is relatively small so there are no really bad seats.
Watch for Mail/I.D. Theft Dec, 2017 Did you know that anyone can go to the post office and fill out a Change of Address form and submit it without any supporting documentation or personal I.D.?  This means bad folks could easily divert your mail, complete with all kinds of monetary instruments, financial data and personal I.D. information to their location.  The only defense is to monitor your daily, incoming mail.  Anytime your mail suddenly ceases to arrive at your home, immediately check with your local USPS center.
Plastic Snack Bag Closure Dec, 2017 There are all kinds/types of bag clips, fold-over devices commercially available.  But, for us, a plain, common wooden or plastic clothes pin (with or without spring) works really well on all kinds of bags and is cheap and readily available.
Special Text Characters Dec, 2017

When using Microsoft Word or other text writing/editing software programs, sometimes special characters would nice to insert.  Signs and symbols like “cents, degree, copyright mark, registered trademark symbol, plus/minus sign, footnote denotations, etc. can easily be inserted in two ways: 1. Go to an online site where the symbols are displayed, such as: https://text-symbols.com/, find the symbol/character you want and simply do a ‘cut and paste’ of that item into your text document.  2. Go to an online site such as https://support.office.com/en-us/article/Insert-ASCII-or-Unicode-Latin-based-symbols-and-characters-d13f58d3-7bcb-44a7-a4d5-972ee12e50e0/, and find your symbol/character and the code for it and note it.  Go to your document where you want to make the insertion, press and hold “Alt” key while typing the ‘code.’  Release the “Alt” key and the symbol/character should appear.  Note – your keyboard must be in Number Lock (numeric mode) for this to work.

Get to know your microwave oven more fully.  Nov, 2017 Try the various preprogrammed features.  Try using specific programs for other uses.  For instance, I’ve found that the “Reheat Beverage” on ours works really well for thawing frozen pastries and one serving of frozen berries or frozen vegetables.
Adhesive Tape Width Nov, 2017 Adhesive tape of various types typically come in ½”, ¾”, 1” and 1½” widths.  These can be medical tape of all types, black Electrician’s Tape, masking tape, Scotch Blue Painter’s Tape, etc.  If you have a wider width than what you need for a specific job, simply cut it down to the proper width for the job.  But, don’t use scissors.  That’s more difficult and often produces a rough cut edge.   Instead, unroll the length desired and stick down onto a clean, smooth surface like a clean cutting board or a piece of plastic.  Marble or Quartz counter tops also work well.  Position a metal or other hard material ruler to use as a cutting guide.  Use a really sharp knife (razor or utility knife) to make the cut at the desired width.  Voila, you now have a custom size piece of tape for your special job.
Small kitchen tools recommendation Nov, 2017 Looking for a good Mandolin, Ice Cream Scoop, French Press Coffee Maker, Can Opener, Corn Cobb Cutter, Measuring Cups, Spatulas, etc?  Try the Oxo Good Grips Brand.  I’ve found all their products to be well constructed, beautifully designed and all work well at their designed tasks.  If you watch America’s Test Kitchen for their kitchen equipment reviews, Oxo tools are often the winners in comparison to other brands.  Consumer Reports also has recommended this brand.  I will vouch for their excellent design and how well they work in the kitchen!
Good Sleep Regimen Nov, 2017 All the sleep experts and doctors say to avoid TV, computer screen, Smartphone/Tablet screens and all other devices that emit “blue light.”  This spectrum of light waves present in the imaging of the above instruments/devices is thought to interfere in getting to sleep.  Blue Light affects levels of the sleep-inducing hormone Melatonin more than any other wavelength.  ● Note: Amazon’s Paper White Kindle series are backlit for night reading and do not emit ‘Blue Light.’  They should not hinder getting to sleep
Use YouTube or Google search  Nov, 2017
A friend of mine recently bought a new car but he didn’t know how to ‘pair’ his Smartphone or the Wireless Garage Door Opener Remote to his new vehicle.  He tried to read his Owner’s Manual but gave up as it was too difficult.  I suggested that he use his Smartphone and search YouTube for ‘how to’ videos.  He was successful within a few minutes of viewing these illuminating video clips.  So, remember to give that a try instead of reading the Owner’s Manual for any car, small appliance, major appliance, electronic device, portable equipment, etc.  It’s also excellent for replacement or repair of things around the house.  It can save you significant charges for a repair technician to come out to your home.  I’ve used this method  successfully to replace the light bulb in our microwave oven, replaced the drive chain on the garage door opener mechanism and adjusted the amount of travel on the opening of the garage door.  I’ve used it to properly aim the conventional headlights on our Toyota Camry some years ago and how to replace the burned out taillight bulb on a Toyota Avalon and helped a neighbor change the windshield wiper blades on her car.
Avoid Slow Gas Pumps Nov, 2017 When refueling your vehicle, avoid gas stations that seem to have very slow pumping rates.  Slow pumping is a sign of filters being clogged and that is an indicator of poor maintenance routines at that station.  Poor pump maintenance may allow water to accumulate in the tank.  That’s not good for modern, high-tech engines of today.
Lemon Meringue Pie Nov, 2017 If you make homemade pies at home, the next time you make a Lemon Meringue Pie, add a thin layer of melted dark chocolate to the pie crust as a ‘liner.’  This can easily be done by simply sprinkling chocolate chips onto the hot-out-of-the-oven pie crust and spreading them out evenly with a silicone brush or offset spatula as they melt from the heat of the hot pie crust.  When cool, the chocolate will firm up, forming a moisture barrier from the wet pie filling that helps to keep your bottom pie crust from getting soggy.  And, it adds another element of flavor and surprise when served to your guests or family members.
Cut The Tags Off Store Bought Cushions and Pillows Nov, 2017 The were placed there by the manufacturer as a legal requirement for consumer notice purposes.  These are often large, unsightly tags/labels.  It is perfectly legal for you as the owner/consumer to remove them for home use.  Cutting them off is the simplest method.
Humming Bird Feeders  Nov, 2017 The yellow plastic ‘blossom’ that the bird drinks the nectar through is a real pain to properly clean.  The access hole and the mounting plastic piece with a slit in it often become contaminated with accumulated bacteria sludge.  Remove this yellow plastic ‘blossom’ and it will be much easier to keep your feeder clean and safe for the birds.  It’s a ‘press-fit’ plastic part and is easy to remove using pliers to pull them out of the mounting holes.  The birds will still come to feed.  They won’t miss the fake flower!
Speeding Violation Tickets Nov, 2017 In most states police will not ticket you for going just 5 miles over the speed limit.  Some are even more ‘relaxed’ and allow up to 10+ MPH over the limit.  However, be forewarned – Utah and Wyoming are ‘zero tolerance’ states.  Do not set your Cruise Control or drive over the posted speed limit or risk the possibility of getting a speeding ticket.  Violations will go on your California DMV record and your insurance rates will likely go up.  That is, of course, in addition to having to pay the fine for the violation!
Experian Credit Info Breach Nov, 2017
As successful Seniors we surely have credit reports on file at Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion built up over the years past.  There’s a very good chance that we are among the 143 million American consumers whose sensitive personal information was exposed in a data breach at Equifax.  Consumer advocates recommend the following:
  • Check your credit reports from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion — for free — by visiting annualcreditreport.com. Accounts or activity that you don’t recognize could indicate identity theft. Visit IdentityTheft.gov to find out what to do.
  • Consider placing a credit freeze on your files. A credit freeze makes it harder for someone to open a new account in your name. Keep in mind that a credit freeze won’t prevent a thief from making charges to your existing accounts.
  • Monitor your existing credit card and bank accounts closely for charges you don’t recognize.
  • If you decide against a credit freeze, consider placing a fraud alert on your files. A fraud alert warns creditors that you may be an identity theft victim and that they should verify that anyone seeking credit in your name really is you.
  • File your taxes early — as soon as you have the tax information you need, before a scammer can. Tax identity theft happens when someone uses your Social Security number to get a tax refund or a job. Respond right away to letters from the IRS.
New Vehicle Safety Features Clarification Nov, 2017
I’ve received a lot of emails and calls asking about the benefits and any downsides, if any, to the host of new safety features introduced in recent years.  Let me summarize it on a general basis by stating that there are no negatives accompanied by tremendous advantages in preventing injury, loss of life and avoiding property damages.  In fact, if you purchase a vehicle today without these suites of advanced safety features, your vehicle will be worth considerably less in coming years for resale or trade-in.  That’s because within a year or two, most of them will become standard equipment on even the base models of all brands.  This is a D.O.T. mandate.  Some brands (Toyota Corolla, Nissan Altima) already offer these packages as standard equipment.  This will reduce the value of your vehicle regardless of mileage, condition or age.  Safety is just one factor – a big one at that.  But, in my experience, the luxury of driving in bumper-to-bumper, gridlock traffic and arriving at your destination relaxed and rested is also a tremendous advantage and a good thing that the Adaptive/Active Cruise Control affords the driver of such equipped vehicles.  That state of mind and rested also can add significantly to your mental acuity and alertness that can further helps reduce chances for accidents.  To me, it’s a “win - win” for those folks that have and use this feature!

● Note: The prominent TV ads you see today featuring Acura, Toyota, Nissan and other brands showing the vehicle coming to an emergency stop to avoid injuring a pedestrian – that is not the Adaptive/Active Cruise Control feature in action.  That is the Forward Collision Avoidance System.  This feature and Rear Cross Traffic Warning and Lane Warning are now standard on many cars, just as Rear View Cameras became standard last year.  The Adaptive/Active Cruise Control is extra on most non-luxury vehicles but will likely soon become standard equipment in the near future.  But, if you’re going to purchase a car in the near future, get it.  You won’t regret it unless you ignore it or neglect to learn how to use it!

Microwave Method of Cooking/Shucking Fresh Corn
UPDATE OF PREVIOUS NOTES
Oct, 2017 Microwave Method of Cooking/Shucking Fresh Corn - Some of you have tried this method that I described last month.  I’ve received some emails and phone calls about this idea stating that the freshly cooked corn ear did not ‘fall out’ of the husk when held by the husk/silk end and shaken.  I’ve done some additional testing on my own as a follow up to these complaints.  What I believe has happened is that the original method described in the Consumer Tips and demonstrated at the Cooking Class does work using FRESH CORN AT THE PRIME OF THE SEASON when the kernels are large, uniform and the husk is relatively loose.  As the season progresses, the later harvest corn appear to be smaller ears with smaller kernels and TIGHTER, MORE COMPACTED HUSK AND SILK.  It also appears that there is less moisture in this late-harvest product.  This results in more resistance to husk removal.  It’s almost as if the husk/silk has become vacuum-sealed to the fresh cob!  But, the good news is, the method still works in making it much easier and faster to remove the husk and silk than the conventional cooking method of steaming or boiling the corn.  It just won’t ‘fall out’ and you will have to manually strip the husk/silk but with much less effort or care.
Adaptive Cruise Control:
UPDATE OF PREVIOUS NOTES
Oct, 2017 In the past, I’ve been posting about this vehicle option as being both a safety feature as well as making driving so much more easy and enjoyable in light or heavy traffic.  The Total Eclipse event has made believers out of some folks that had this feature in their vehicles but never bothered to learn how to use it.  One friend called me while caught up in a 40+ mile bumper-to-bumper traffic jam for hours on I-5 in Oregon.  He asked me how to use it on his new Subaru Crosstrek.  I managed to coach him enough on the phone that he got a lot of time to try and get used to this great feature.  After he returned, he was so happy that he has it and is now a confirmed user of this feature.  Another friend in his newer Volvo also told me how happy he was to use the system in that same stop/go traffic mess.  He saw a few other cars where the drivers were not all angry and upset or resigned to their situation.  Those were the vehicles equipped with Adaptive Cruise Control.  They can tell by looking at the windshield and see the twin stereoscopic cameras or the radar or laser device mounted just in front of the interior rear view mirror.  So, if you have it, learn how to use it, now.  It will make your driving life a lot more enjoyable.  And, I think you will agree that a happy, relaxed driver is a safer driver!  Both swear they will never own another car without the feature.  A couple of other friends coming back from Oregon lamented the lack of the feature in their cars.
Free knife sharpening at Nob Hill/Raley’s Markets –
UPDATE OF PREVIOUS NOTES
 
 
Oct, 2017 This complimentary service noted last month does not include Ceramic Knives or Serrated Blade Knives.
NEW DINING TIPS TRI-VALLEY AREA Oct, 2017
Bao Tea Café, Pleasanton – This is a new café offering Fried Chicken, Beef/Pork/Chicken Bao (steamed buns), a couple of soups, a salad and lots of Tapioca Teas, Gourmet Coffees, etc.  The fried Chicken is outstanding and a bargain at just $8.  They are located across the parking lot from Mexico Lindo, Kolb Center, across the street from the Safeway Gas Station.
Cook’s Seafood Restaurant & Seafood Market – coming soon to Pleasanton a few doors down from the above mentioned Bao Tea Café.  It occupies the space vacated by the former Kane Ramen (before that, it was Ring’s Hamburger).  This will be a combination of a real, fresh, seafood market and restaurant.  It’s a small independent with the ‘mother ship’ located for about 10+ years in Menlo Park.  It’s clear if this will be the first of more satellite locations for this seafood purveyor.  Opening is said to be “Fall 2017.”  Stay tuned!
Red Smoke Grill, Pleasanton – now owned by Rigatoni’s has merged their Italian menu into the operation.  Unfortunately, I feel the quality of the tri-tip beef dishes has suffered.  So, forewarned is forearmed.
Whole Foods - San Ramon, Walnut Creek and Dublin has offered fresh, hot food for a very long time.  I have recently had some of their hot items and soups and was very impressed.  Their purchase by Amazon should not change or interfere with their deli and hot food operation.  Their pastries, bread and cakes are also quite good.
New Places – Ike’s Sandwiches, Poke Roll, Wendy’s, Canyon Lakes Brewery – all in San Ramon, are now open for business. Curry Kona, Prime Poke are new to Pleasanton.  It’s obvious that Poke (originally Hawaiian small pieces of raw, marinated seafood) is a hot new food trend.  Try Ike’s Sandwiches, Crow Canyon.  If you’ve never had an Ike’s Sandwich, you are in for a real treat.  They are creative, good, huge and well worth the higher price.
Closings – Unfortunately, Lark Creek Café, Walnut Creek and Giuseppe’s, San Ramon, have closed.  La Finestra, Lafayette, closed due to fire.
Toyota Car Model Names: Oct, 2017 Ever wonder how/what manufacturers name their models?  Avalon – meant to conjure “images of comfort, spaciousness and sophistication.”  Highlander – think images of off-roading in the Scottish Highlands.  Mirai – the Japanese word for “the future” is fitting for it’s futuristic fuel cell vehicle.  Prius – world’s first mass produced hybrid vehicle, named for the Latin word “prior” or “previous.”  RAV 4 – “Recreational Active Vehicle.”  Venza – a combination of “venture” and “Monza,” a Northern Italian Race Course.  Yaris – from the Greek word “charis,” the mythological symbol of beauty.
A Sincere and Serious Request: Oct, 2017 If you know you are hard of hearing, please please please do something about it.  It is exceedingly hard to communicate quickly and effectively with someone that doesn’t hear well.  It’s hard on your friends, family and the people you interact with.  Most people are too nice to say this but – I think it is exceedingly inconsiderate, perhaps even arrogant for these hearing impaired folks to make people around them work so hard to communicate with them.  It is really tiring and mentally draining to have to continually shout and repeat things.  And if you don’t realize that you are hard of hearing, maybe you’re missing too much, already.  “You don’t know what you don’t know!” Check with your friends and relatives.  They can tell you about their frustration if they are honest.  Why do I say this?  Because I believe it applies to about ¼ of our Chapter.  And your wives and friends have asked me about what to do about it.  Answer – go see Vicki at the Livermore Costco Hearing Center (or your healthcare provider).  She’s a great Audiologist and the testing is free and she won’t sell you anything you don’t/won’t need.  She’s already helped almost a dozen of our Chapter #128 members. People around you will really appreciate your consideration!  One more thing – some of you have hearing aids but don’t/won’t use them.  PUT ‘EM ON IN THE MORNING AND DON’T TAKE ‘EM OFF UNTIL BEDTIME!  Isn’t it stupid to pay that much money and stick them in a drawer to be forgotten??  And the frequent excuse I hear about that is that “they don’t help” or “I hear better without them.”  If that is true, you got screwed!  Go back and get them adjusted!  It typically takes several trips back to the Audiologist to fine tune them for best results.  I use mine every day, without fail.  Mine are the least expensive model and I have 4 ‘programs’ – normal, noisy environment, TV/radio/PA use and outdoor use (wind noise suppression during golf).  Mine are the BTE (behind the ear) type and are so invisible that people often do not believe I have them on and ask me to show them.  And, they really do help in noisy environments like restaurants, bars, parties, etc.  Batteries last 2 weeks and take 30 seconds to change and are exceedingly inexpensive.  You have no really good excuse not to do something about your hearing loss!
Replacing or repairing something around the house?  Oct, 2017 Before you embark on such a seemingly easy/simple task, you might want to search YouTube for whatever task you are about to undertake.  You might benefit greatly as you can easily see how others more knowledgeable and skilled have done the same or similar job.  It can save you a lot of grief and even save you some money and time.
Instruments/Devices damaged by leaking batteries:  Oct, 2017 How many times in your life have you gone to use your flashlight in the drawer or glove compartment of your vehicle only to find that it doesn’t work?  Upon further inspection, you find that the batteries have corroded inside the device damaging it beyond repair?  This is caused when a battery operated device is not used for a long period but even with the switch in the “off” position, there is a ‘micro-circuit’ that, over time, induces the batteries to leak internal acid.  To avoid this, remove the batteries between long intervals of non-use.  But, that’s a nuisance.  Instead, insert a small piece of plastic between the battery contacts to form a physical barrier to truly break this ‘micro-circuit leak.’  When you want to use the instrument/device, simply remove the plastic barrier.  When you purchase a new device where the batteries are included, note that the batteries are packed separately or they are inserted into use but with a piece of plastic that you must remove to put the instrument/device into service.
Easy road tar or tree sap/pitch removal: Oct, 2017 If you park under a tree or drive on a newly oiled or paved street, you may find spots of tar or pitch on your vehicle.  If left for long periods, they can permanently damage the paint.  To remove these kinds of spots, spray some WD-40 lubricant on a clean rag and use it as a solvent.  You can remove the spots without harming the paint.
Eliminate the odor from your kitchen trash can: Oct, 2017 Tired of the smell of your trash bin? Toss a dryer sheet on the bottom next time before you add your next bag, and you should get a fresher smell.
Use Amazon, Google, Walmart, Target, Zappos and other online reviews when shopping for anything: Oct, 2017 When shopping for shoes, tools, appliances and most hard goods, check the item against the posted reviews on various store websites to get an idea of how good or how durable they are as reported by others that have purchased them.  You can easily do this using your Smartphone while shopping in a Brick & Mortar Store.
Dining choices in an unfamiliar area Sep, 2017 We’re frequently asked how we select restaurants for local dining and while traveling to new or unfamiliar towns or areas.  We use Yelp.com, supplemented by Open Table, Chowhound and Google reviews.  The main thing is to make sure there are plenty of reviews.  On Yelp, 150+ reviews of 4+ stars should indicate a pretty good place.  But, do read some of the reviews to get info and ‘feel’ of the place.  You’ll find that many people can have a very different idea of what is good or bad about a place.
New Dining Tips for the Tri-Valley Area Sep, 2017
Try the new April 8 Café, San Ramon, located in the same complex as the Crow Canyon Safeway store.  They feature Asian fast food.  Try the Spicy Beef Noodles, the Pork Belly Bao, the Steamed Dumplings, and more. 
 
Inc 82, is a new micro-brewery in Dublin on San Ramon Valley Blvd. that appears to have pretty good ‘bar food.’
 
Homegrown, Danville, is a new location for this modern, organic, sustainable foods café good for breakfast, lunch and light dinner.  All ingredients are fresh, locally sourced with the name and location of all their vendors.  These are soups, sandwiches and salads.  The Pastrami Sandwich is excellent!
 
Paris Baguette, Dublin, in the space formerly occupied by Payless Shoes is doing a brisk business.  The food, pastry and cake items are excellent!
 
You may want to avoid Inchin’s Bamboo Garden, San Ramon, until they solve their service issues.  The reports and reviews have mentioned rude, careless and untrained staff at this location.  This appears to be an isolated situation within a fairly successful and popular chain operation.
 
Poke Don, San Ramon is a new location for this chain operation featuring Hawaiian Poke Bowl.  It’s not all raw fish chunks but most items on the menu are fresh, raw fish.  Try it.  You might like it!
Shucking Corn Sep, 2017 I realize that Summer is almost over but there still seems to be an abundance of fresh, local corn in the stores.  The easiest way to cook and shuck corn is this:  Place raw, untrimmed corn ears in a microwave unit on high.  Microwave for 2 to 2.5 minutes per ear (power varies by MW unit).  Remove from the MW and let cool a bit.  Use a sharp Chef’s Knife placed about ¼” – ½” up from the bottom of the ear where the husk leaves join together and cut all the way through the corn husk and cob.  Grab the top end silk and husk leaves and simply give it a good shake and the entire corn ear should drop out from the husk free of husk leaves and the pesky silk.  This was demonstrated at the last Cooking Class and people were shocked at how well it worked.  Some were sure there was some kind of trickery at work.  Nope, it really does work.  It will be the best, easiest and fastest way to prep fresh corn straight from the store.  Also, if you want to strip the fresh corn off the cob, do not use a large knife like a Chef’s Knife.  The kernels will fly all over the counter.  Instead, hold the ear vertically and use a sharp paring knife with a thin blade.  The kernels will fall vertically onto your cutting board with much less scatter.
Vietnam Veterans of America's "Recycling" Program, Debunked!  Sep, 2017
Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) reports reasonable overhead and program spending in its annual financial documents, but a closer analysis by CharityWatch reveals a different picture of how efficiently this charity operates. Vietnam Veterans of America reported spending 67% of its expenses on programs in fiscal 2015. CharityWatch's analysis of VVA's tax form and audited financial statements for that year shows the charity spent only 16% of its expenses on programs. They also operate under two other names: Veterans Health Council and Vietnam Veterans of America Car Donation Program
Chicken Wings No Longer Cheap Sep, 2017
The humble wing, an unwanted poultry byproduct back in the 1980s, when the American dining public was certain that animal fats would kill them, demanded only boneless, skinless chicken breasts for mainstream use.  But the lowly wing moved out the shadows to become a super popular consumer item. As a result, wings are now more expensive than breast meat!  The reason behind the skyrocketing wing prices is simple, says Erik Oosterwijk, president and founder of Fells Point Wholesale Meats. The demand has increased. Just think about all the chains that, more or less, specialize in wings: not just Buffalo Wild Wings, but BonChon, Wingstop, Wing Zone and Hooters, among others. Then there are the pizza chains, such as Domino’s and Papa John’s, that have adopted wings, as well as sports bars, dive bars and BonChon imitators where the snack is a staple.
Remove Gum Sep, 2017
For gum in or on fabric, use ice cubes to make the gum cold or place the garment/cloth in the freezer. Then hit it with a hammer or mallet
Brain Mental Health Sep, 2017 Studies have proven that learning how to dance is a great way to ward off dementia and Alzheimer’s. They create new neural pathways in learning new steps and then have the motor neurons fire at a faster than usual rate. Concurrently, memory for steps and possibly execution with a partner is very helpful. Clearly, this is a new chapter of an old subject – ‘Use it or lose it!’
Your Vehicle Cup Holder Sep, 2017 Drink cup holders too big?  Your fancy, tall, skinny, thermal drink tumbler or bottle tips/flops all over the place within the hole?  Shim it with a piece of material.  A piece of old leather belt works well.  Cut a piece about the depth of the cup holder well and attach it vertically inside the well with double sided tape.  It should only take one strip per hole.
Vehicle Remote Key Fob Sep, 2017 Extend the range of your key fob remote by putting it up against your head or bare arm before pressing the button.  The fluid in your body will act like an antenna for the RF signal to your car, thus extending the distance in which you can lock/unlock your car.
Passing Through Airport TSA Checkpoint Sep, 2017
Put a pre-stamped, self-addressed envelope with padded liner in your carry-on bag when traveling.  This way, you can send something that doesn’t pass security standards back to you.  Use enough postage to cover the weight of a pocket knife.
Glucose Meter Battery Replacement Sep, 2017
For those diabetics that are using a blood and glucose meter, change the battery before the low battery indicator comes on.  In my case, I began to get erratic readings 2 months before the low battery signal flashed on the display.  Changing the battery immediately corrected the problem.
Reusable Plastic Bags for Grocery Shopping Sep, 2017
When shopping at non-grocery stores (department, clothing, hardware, electronics stores) save the plastic bag for use as grocery shopping bags.  Also save the bags used by restaurants from take-out orders and leftovers.  All these bags are heavier gauge and will withstand the rigors of grocery shopping and these are free with your purchase.  The bags from Kohl’s, Bed Bath & Beyond and Habit Hamburger Grill seem to be extra heavy gauge plastic!  They also fold up next to nothing and you can easily slip 2 or 3 of them into a pocket or purse.  We keep some in the side pockets of the doors on both cars so they are handy and accessible.
Sharp Knife? Sep, 2017 During the last Cooking Class, I observed that some folks were unable to tell whether their knife blade was sharp or dull.  There are plenty of ways to tell.  If you can slice a sheet of newspaper or 20# bond paper against the grain by simply slashing it while holding it vertically with one hand and cutting with the other – that’s a sharp knife.  A more practical sign – cut slices of fresh tomato.  If you can simply draw the blade across the skin without any downward pressure to make the cuts - that’s a sharp knife.  If you must add pressure or use a ‘sawing’ motion, you will squeeze out juice and seeds onto your cutting board.  That’s a dull knife.  TIP: If you don’t feel comfortable about sharpening your own knives, take them to your local Nob Hill/Raley’s Market.  They will sharpen up to 3 knives at a time, free of charge.  Take them to the Meat Department.
Shingles Vaccine? Aug, 2017
This vaccine was originally introduced in 2006 but there is a general misconception that it will totally eliminate the risk of getting Shingles. That’s not true. It is only 51% effective. But, if you do get it after receiving your shot, it will lessen both the severity and the duration of the affliction. Another misnomer – it is not a permanent vaccine. Its effectiveness begins to wane after 5 years. Currently, there is no booster shot available. Talk to your doctor if you are well past the 5-year mark since your last Shingles vaccine shot
Power Steering - Newer Cars Aug, 2017
Find yourself wandering a bit in your lane in your new car? A possible simple explanation – the power steering in newer vehicles are no longer hydraulic assisted. Now the heavy work is done by electric motors and is much more sensitive than before to your hand movement on the steering wheel. To avoid any twitchy tracking at freeway speeds, stop driving with one hand. Grip wheel with 2 hands firmly and the wandering will likely stabilize.  When driving one-handed, small/minute movement of your hand/arm is detected by the sensors that trigger the electrical-assist system and that small movement becomes amplified. It's not much different than the old hydraulic setup except switches replaced control valves, and wires replaced hoses. But, the electrical activation switches are far more sensitive than the older technology of hydraulic valves and hoses. 
 
For decades, the standard instruction was for drivers to hold the steering wheel at the 10 and 2 o’clock positions, as envisioned on a clock. This, it turns out, is no longer the case. In fact, driving that way could cost you your arms or hands in particularly gruesome ways if your airbag deploys in an accident. Instead, AAA, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and many driving instructors now say you should grip the wheel at 9 and 3 o'clock. A few go even further, suggesting 8 and 4 o’clock to avoid the airbag mechanism as much as possible, but what formal research has been published on the varieties of hand positions suggests that this may lessen your control of the car. Stay at least 18” away from steering wheel hub to give room for airbag deployment to avoid facial, neck and spinal injury!
Soft tissue injuries and bruising Aug, 2017
Wonder why you feel much worse after suffering a body injury a day or two later? Tissue damage results in the release of body chemicals by the brain, which in turn cause the body to undergo a series of physiologic reactions at the injury site. These include increased tissue permeability, vascular dilation, and the mobilizing of white blood cells to remove tissue damage and debris. As a result, the pain an accident victim incurs may be quite minimal for hours or even days after the incident. Of course, in more severe injuries the pain can be immediate and quite intense. In fact, the speed of the onset of pain is often, although not always, an indicator of injury severity. However, in general any injury is worse by the second day simply because the chemical reaction process takes a certain amount of time to occur.
Open Table reservations Aug, 2017
When making reservations using the Open Table website, follow up and call the restaurant to confirm that it is accurate.  I’ve used them for a number of years but they have resulted in errors.  Restaurants also have warned me that they have experienced errors several times a month. Most errors involve the number of guests in the reservation party. Dates and times are usually correct.
Pizza Makers Aug, 2017
Do you make pizzas from scratch or buy “Take n Bake” pies? If so, you might consider a Cuisinart CPO- 600 Alfrescamore Portable Outdoor Pizza Oven.  It’s a modified version of their portable propane outdoor grill. It comes with a pizza stone and works very well. I received mine as a Father’s Day gift! It’s available from Amazon for $180. It does a very good job – more like a real, high-heat, brick oven! The size and portability make it a natural for tailgate parties or outdoor picnics and backyard or beach barbecues. It uses a standard disposable propane cylinder (same as propane torches) available at any hardware store. It can also be used with a 20 lb. propane tank just like the large, outdoor propane grills. But, you’ll need to purchase another accessory – a hose/adapter.
Protecting Your Electronics Aug, 2017
PROTECT YOUR SMARTPHONE, TABLET OR LAPTOP FROM OIL, GREASE AND OTHER GRIME: Previously, I suggested going to Internet to find solutions to problems or questions while trying to fix things in your garage or workshop or cooking in the kitchen. Google and YouTube are fantastic for this type of activity. But, cover your touch-screen and keyboard with plastic stretch-wrap.  This protects your instrument but your normal operation of the device will still work.
Universal Cord Aug, 2017
USE ONE ‘UNIVERSAL’ CORD FOR APPLE AND DROID DEVICES: To make a ‘universal’ cable to use on both Apple and USB – powered devices, purchase from Amazon - Lightning Adapters (5 pack), Roopower Micro USB to 8-Pin Charge and Sync Adapter ($9). Use with any USB to Micro USB Cable to charge or sync your data on your iPhone, iPad, iPod with std. This will allow you to carry just one charger and cord for all our Apple, Amazon and most Smartphone devices.  For additional carrying convenience, purchase the eTech (3 pack) Retractable USB to Micro USB Charge/Data Sync Cable. This is available from Amazon for just $5. This will simplify packing and carrying on trips.
Modern Knife Geometry Aug, 2017 Traditionally, the fine German cutlery was a heavier/thicker blade with the edge ground to the coarser angle of 18° - 22°. But now, the finer angle of the Japanese blades has caught on so that even the famed German knives have begun to be produced to the 14° - 17° angle. Slicing is easier and more accurate with the finer/thinner angle and the lighter blades (even the forged blades) are easier to handle and result in easier/faster working in slicing and light chopping with less hand fatigue. This means that with these newer blade angles, you should adapt to the new angles when using a sharpening steel or stone
A Better Band-Aid Aug, 2017
Recently, I suffered a deep cut on my leg and I thought I would have to have stitches to close the wound to stop the bleeding. Fortunately, I avoided having to go to the ER by heavy applied pressure for 45 minutes to stop the blood flow. Once we got the bleeding stopped, I wanted to keep the wound tightly covered to avoid contamination and protected to promote healing. A fabric Band-Aid did not work very well. So, I tried a 3M Nexcare™ Waterproof Bandage. It worked really well. It has an aggressive adhesive that surrounds the gauze pad to truly isolate the wound area. There is no gapping of the bandage so the cut is fully covered/protected. The material is a breathable plastic that keeps water/moisture out but allows the wound to ‘breathe’ for faster healing. It is also removed from the skin more easily even though the adhesive is very strong. I was very happy with the results and can heartily recommend this product.  Try them.  I think you’ll like ‘em!
More on age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD)
July, 2017
Last month, I had mentioned the need for us Seniors to be vigilant about AMD and a way to check for it on a weekly or even daily basis.  Here is more information regarding the possible  prevention of the disease.  This is from the National Eye Institute website:   “What the Age-Related Eye Disease Studies Mean for You". Researchers with the Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) reported in 2001 that a nutritional supplement called the AREDS formulation can reduce the risk of developing advanced age-related macular degeneration (AMD). The original AREDS formulation contains vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, zinc and copper.
 
In 2006, the same research group, which is based at NIH’s National Eye Institute, began a second study called AREDS2 to determine if they could improve the AREDS formulation. They tested....
  • Adding the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin
  • Adding omega-3 fatty acids
  • Removing beta-carotene
  • Lowering the dose of zinc
This page provides information about the results and implications of AREDS2. If you are at risk for advanced AMD or have a family member who is at risk, you may want to discuss using AREDS and related nutritional supplements with a health care professional” 
To make it really easy to understand, this is all you need to know - this is from my Biology PhD friend, Steve Benson:  I thought your item on AMD was important for all seniors and your test is fine. however, I was surprised that you did not mention/recommend the AREDS2 formula of vitamins recommended by NIH National Eye Institute. In extensive studies consumption of this vitamin combination  can significantly reduce the occurrence/progression of AMD. Its available OTC, even at Costco. I think your members would benefit from this information.
 
So, you may want to consider picking up some AREDS2 formulation vitamin at Costco.  Remember to look for that “blind/black spot” in the middle of your vision by concentrating on a fixed object or scene and checking each eye, one at a time.  If you catch AMD in its early stages, there is medical treatment to halt the progression or even reverse it to prevent this type of blindness.
Need extensive dental work? July, 2017
You may want to consider travel to South America for inexpensive but excellent dental work.  The following is from Dave Hoffa, an old friend and former workmate of mine (and Don Holmes, too):
 
“Had an interesting trip to Costa Rica in April. Needed some extensive dental work, implants and crown restorations, root canal, etc.. My regular dentist surgery the work and gave me an estimate of $ 28,000. To say I was stunned is to put it mildly. Did a lot of research online and found that Costa Rica had an excellent reputation for dental work at reasonable prices. Spoke with some people in Costa Rica and made arrangements for a trip down in April. To say it was a great experience, is an understatement. I had a driver (complementary) meet me at the airport and provided me with the needed transportation for the entire week. The work was outstanding, 3 implants, 6 crowns, 3 root canals and six fillings, price included hotel, airfare and dentist — less than $8,000! I need to go back in October for 5 more crowns (implants). The total bill, everything included (April plus October) should be less than $13,000!!! The reason I went to so much detail is that from what I hear these kinds of numbers are not unusual in the USA. If anyone has any interest please do not hesitate to get in touch with me.”
 
A quick check of Trip Advisor website verifies this kind of info as being legitimate and reputable.
Automobile safety features update: July, 2017
You’re probably getting tired of me talking about this but I believe it to be really important to us Senior drivers.  Per the current issue of Consumer Reports, the suite of safety features now offered on new cars can and do significantly improve your chances of avoiding and/or reducing damages/personal injury in the event of an accident.  The features listed as truly important and relied upon on by new vehicle owners are: Forward Collision Warning (FCW) rated best in Tesla, Subaru – lowest in Honda, Chevrolet and Acura.  Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB) best in Infiniti, Tesla and Subaru – lowest in Mazda and Acura.  Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) Best in Tesla and Subaru – lower in BMW, Chevrolet and Acura.  Blind-Spot Warning (BSW) Almost all brands worked well but Lexus, Subaru and Toyota had the least amount of ‘false alarms’ and Volvo had the most.  Lane Warning (LDW) and Lane Keeping Assist (LKA) Works best in Cadillac, Hyundai and Tesla – worst in Honda.  Rear Cross Traffic Warning (RCT) and Rearview Cameras Best in Tesla, Lincoln, Ram, Kia, Subaru and Hyundai – worst in Toyota and Volkswagen.  See the current issue of CR for details and more info on testing procedures.
 
You’ve heard me tell how much I like our 2015 Subaru with the above safety features.  Again, I engage the Adaptive Cruise Control about 85% to 90% of the time – especially in bumper-to-bumper commute traffic on the freeway and around town.  I love it at 5 mph to 35 mph!  Per a quote in CR: “Owner of a Tesla Model S said ACC makes driving much easier.  It is highly reliable and keeps me at a consistent, safe distance from the car in front of me.  This makes the driving experience safer, less fatiguing, and more relaxing.”  That is the exact same experience I’ve had and that’s why I use it so much!
 
And, I get comments, emails, and messages almost weekly reporting other folks praising these safety features or lamenting the lack of them on their cars.  Most recently, a friend of ours, Cindy, totaled her Mercedes sedan on the freeway.  She was trying to change into the left lane and was watching for an opening using her side view mirror.  She did not notice the cars in front of her were stopped until it was too late.  She said that features like FCW and ACC would have prevented the accident.  She’ll be looking for the above safety features on her next new car, for sure!
Miscellaneous Automotive Tips July, 2017
This isn’t really a tip as much it is just something to consider in the purchase any four-wheel or all-wheel drive vehicle.  If you need to replace one tire due to a tire failure that is not repairable, you may have to replace all four!  Why?  These drive systems much have all four wheels the same diameter.  If you have worn your tread to, perhaps 50%, a new tire among the three remaining, used tires will be a larger diameter and extended driving in this configuration can damage your drive-train, a very expensive repair job!  But, 4 new tires will not be cheap either!
 
Last month, I had noted that CR had done extensive testing of the High Intensity Discharge headlights as being better for night vision on some models over standard Halogen lights.  It now turns out that preliminary testing indicates that newer L.E.D. headlight systems can also offer improved performance without the resulting glare that some drivers complain about in the H.I.D. light systems. And the high expense of repair/replacement of parts in the H.I.D.light system might be avoided.  These L.E.D. lights are usually an option.  You might want to consider them but do a test drive at night with both L.E.D. and conventional Halogen before committing to that optional feature. 
A unique dining experience in Walnut Creek July, 2017 We had an exceptional dining experience recently at Teleferic Barcelona, Walnut Creek.  This is a relatively new Spanish Tapas restaurant near downtown, across the street from Tiffany’s Jewelers and Crate & Barrel.  They feature real, genuine, Spanish tapas (Pintxos) that are really good and similar to what you would get in Barcelona.  The owners are from Barcelona and operated a restaurant by the same name before migrating to the Bay Area.  BTW, “Teleferic” is a high-wire tram, the Teleferico del Puerto, that operates above Barcelona and offers beautiful panorama views of the city and harbor.  But, for the best experience, go on a Monday night.  They feature live Flamenco Dancers at 6 PM every Monday night.  It can be a bit pricy.  I would expect dinner to be run about $35 per person without drinks.  Small plates can accumulate very quickly but it’s a great way to experience a lot of different foods and flavors.  They come around with cart loaded with 8 to 12 different Pintxos (tapas) and you simply point to the ones you want to try – a bit like doing Dim Sum.  And while you’re there, note the miniature, electric model Telerifico moving across the dining room above your head
Grease spot removal tip July, 2017
We all get a oil-based spots on our clothing when spilling or dripping something during a meal.  Typically, the best way to remove it is to spray or use a gel that is specifically designed to remove such stains and throw the garment in the laundry basket to be washed in the next load. However, if you don’t have time and need to ‘spot clean’ it right away, try this.  Take a vibrating or spinning electric toothbrush and an old, worn-out brush and use it to spot clean the spot using liquid laundry detergent, dishwashing detergent or shampoo.  Let the brush head do the work and allow the suds penetrate into the fabric for a few minutes before rinsing with clear water.  That just might do the trick.  You can repeat the treatment if there is a noticeable improvement after  the first cycle.
Vision health for seniors June, 2017
AMD (Age-related Macular Degeneration) is a very serious eye disease that can result in severe vision loss unless caught early.  If detected early enough, there are effective medications that can halt and even reverse the progression of the disease.  Catching this malady early is an absolute necessity.  You can, however, easily test your own vision on a weekly or daily basis to detect the early onset of this condition.  Simply cover one eye and view a TV image, wall poster or other relatively large image with the uncovered eye.  Concentrate on the image and check to see if you have any dark spots in the center of the images.  Then cover the other eye and check for dark any spots in this eye.  If you see no dark spots, you are good and clear for now.  The viewing of a dark spot indicates the presence of AMD.  The size of the dark spot is an indicator of the progression of the disease.  Continue this practice on a frequent and regular basis.  Upon any signs of a dark spot in either eye, make an appointment with an Ophthalmologist IMMEDIATELY.  Speed is of the essence in seeking care by an eye specialist!  (This health tip is courtesy of Dr. Woon Chung)
• The risk of AMD becomes elevated after age 60.                     
•  Smokers are two to three times more likely to develop AMD. The more you smoke, the higher the risk.
•  Women are more likely to develop AMD than men.
•  AMD is more common in Caucasians than in African descent.
•  Obesity increases the progression of early and intermediate stage AMD to advanced AMD.
•  Uncontrolled high blood pressure increases the risk of developing AMD.
•  Eat plenty of avocado and dark, leafy greens for better eye health through nutrition. 
More info on Adaptive Cruise Control June, 2017 Adaptive or Smart Cruise Control feature in newer vehicle can and have prevented accidents.  Recently, in the news, there was a fatality on 580 where an Eastbound bus ran into a stopped VW Beatle in the early morning resulting in a fatality.  This accident could have been avoided or mitigated if the bus had been equipped with this valuable feature.  The bus driver said he was blinded by the early rising morning sun!  The laser/camera/radar systems used to control this feature would not have been affected and could have stopped or slowed the bus before impact.  In another instance, we almost hit a Corvette that suddenly decided to cut in front of us from an adjacent lane.  The feature braked our car before imminent impact, thus saving us from a serious accident at 70 MPH.  I LOVE THE ADAPTIVE CRUISE CONTROL.  I use it in stop-n-go traffic, not just at freeway or highway speeds.  It is engaged about 80% of the time, even around town.  It makes hectic conditions so much more stress free since the system does all the driving (automatic gas/brake) for me.  All I do is steer.  Note:  Not all Adaptive Cruise Control systems are the same.  On ours, it is fully automatic.  If the vehicle in front of me slows or stops, we slow or stop as well.  Our vehicle resumes speed or forward motion unless we come to a complete stop for more than a full second.  When that happens, to restart forward motion, I simply flick a convenient switch on the steering wheel.  When purchasing a new vehicle, have this feature demonstrated to you to be sure you are getting the fully automated type.  Otherwise you might be required to restart the vehicle manually and re-engage the Cruise Control system!  That , in my mind, defeats the convenience and safety of the feature.
Are HID (high-intensity discharge) lights better than halogen lamps?  June, 2017 Per Consumer Reports, it depends on the individual vehicle model.  They can produce brighter light but many factors besides light intensity contribute to good headlight performance.  CR recommends test driving the same model/brand of vehicle with and without the optional light system to judge whether there is an improvement for the HID option.  BTW, halogen bulbs are inexpensive to replace.  HID bulbs run $70 to $150 each and the ballast required for each bulb to operate them can cost $200 - $400, each!
Tire replacement on your 4-wheel drive vehicle. June, 2017 More and more car models now offer 4-wheel or all-wheel drive systems as an option.  There are definite benefits in bad weather or where good traction is an issue.  What you should also know is that all four tires must be matching and of the same wear level.  These drive systems cannot tolerate mismatched tires as the tire diameters must all be the same for good, reliable wear and operation.  This means if you have worn down your tires to, say the halfway point and you suffer a bad cut in one tire, you can’t just replace that one wheel with a new tire.  It’s diameter will be larger than the other 3 worn tires and that will damage the drive system if allowed to remain that way for very long.   It is recommended by the manufacturers and the tire companies to replace all 4 tires at the same time, a costly exercise!
Check that battery before driving your new/used car off the lot. June, 2017 When buying a new or used vehicle, check to see how long the vehicle has sat on the lot or in storage.  In the case of a new vehicle, the manufacture date is easy to establish.  Why bother?  Because the vehicle battery may not have been maintained (trickle charged or engine run on regular basis to keep the battery fully charged) properly.  If the battery has been compromised over time, it will fail prematurely.  There are reports of new OEM batteries failing within a year.  Cars now come loaded with electronic features, computers, devices and are much less tolerant of a marginal battery than before.  You should be able to expect 4 to 5 years service from a new OEM battery.  Premature failure (2 years or under) even has a nickname in the industry – used car lots call it “lot rot.”
Check out this backup charging system June, 2017 Red Fuel Portable Jump Starter and Battery Charger, available from Walmart.com for just $39.22, will jump start cars, can charge two cellphones, tablets or GPS units at once or operate lights and other portable accessories from two USB ports (1 amp/ 2.1 amp).  Two-day Shipping is free to your nearest Walmart store for pickup.  It’s small/light enough to stow in the glove compartment.   Because it is a Lithium Ion unit, it will hold a charge for a very long time.  This works great.  I saw it used recently to jump start a 6-cyl Chrysler van.  I immediately ordered one for myself to keep on hand.
Another charging option for your smartphone June, 2017 Slim/compact Power Bank for Smartphones and similar devices using a USB charging cable – GETIHU Portable 10000 mAh Charger External Power Bank is an ultra-slim design and is the same size and thickness as my Samsung Galaxy Note 4 Smartphone.  It has 2 USB charging ports (1.9 & 2.1 amp) and a switchable L.E.D. light for use as a flashlight.  Get this from Amazon Prime (free 2nd day shipping) for just $15.99.  This will charge Joyce’s iPhone SE 3 times or my larger Galaxy Note 4 twice on one charge.  In addition to using this Power Bank as charger for other portable devices, I can also use it with my L.E.D. light with flexible gooseneck for a portable reading or trouble light.  Similarly, I have a USB powered fan that is designed to be plugged into a laptop for personal cooling on hot, muggy days.  This power bank turns it into my own personal, portable fan.
Three great buys at most Dollar Stores for just one dollar June, 2017 1. Pregnancy Test. Yes, they do work.  Staff from halfway houses for teens and women use them and vouch for their accuracy!  2. Reading glasses in all powers. (2x or 2.5x works best for me).  If you lose/miss place them, you haven’t lost anything of real value.  3. Retractable charging/sync cord with USB/micro USB fittings for charging/connecting portable electronics.  These make carrying/storing these cords much easier than coiling them up and securing them with rubber bands or flexible ties.
Have you tried Groupon yet? June, 2017 Groupon.com is a site that you can buy vouchers for services, food and products for up to 50% off.  There are considerable savings if you have need or a use for the service or product.  However, I advise using the voucher quickly.  Several times, the store/business went out of business before I could use the voucher.  Groupon will give a refund for the purchase price of the voucher so there is no actual monetary loss but you lose the promotional value of the item/service and you have to go through extra steps to get a refund.
Need to remove an oil based stain on clothing June, 2017 Try a bit of detergent dribbled onto an electric, rotary toothbrush and ‘treat’ the small stain area with the powered brush head for several minutes.  Rinse and see if it did any good.  Continue until removed if there is a sign of improvement after the initial try.
When converting measurements for salt... June, 2017 remember that table salt can be substituted for Kosher Salt in the ratio of ½ to 1.  Table salt is finer and smaller grained and is more compacted in your measuring device making it more concentrated.  Kosher salt is lighter/fluffier and takes up more space.  Hence, you need more of it to equal the same real volume of table salt.
Buying Portable/Cordless Devices/Tools:  May, 2017 During your shopping process, check to see what kind of rechargeable batteries are used to power the device/tool.  Avoid the older NiCad technology.  These are prone to early battery failure unless used in a very disciplined regimen for use and recharging.  Look for Lithium Ion, Lithium Polymer or Nickel-Metal Hydride (NiMH) battery packs for power.
Portable Jump Start Battery:  May, 2017 In previous times when you needed a jump-start for a dead or weak battery in your car, you would use jumper cables and another vehicle to help you get started.  Now you can buy a small portable Li Ion battery pack that is powerful enough to do the job but is small and lightweight enough to keep it in your glove compartment.  These are available at Costco or online (Costco) for $50 - $60.  This is timely info because battery failures (per J.D. Power survey) are up 44% in just the last year.  They attribute this jump not in defective batteries but in the new, power-hungry electronic accessories in new cars.  Never leave a door or the rear hatch open or any accessory (lights, radio, etc.) on for long periods.  These all drain the battery and many people run short errands in their vehicles that don’t really allow a good, full charge of the battery. TIP: If you have a keyless entry and or Push-Button-Start, do not leave your key fob in or near the car when parked for the day or night!  The car and the RF transmitter in the key fob continue to ‘communicate’ with each.  This is additional parasitic drain on the vehicle battery.  These battery packs are also known as “Power Banks” and can be very handy in emergencies.  You can use them to recharge cell phone batteries, operate portable pumps and tire inflators, operate various kinds of lights, operate your radio or other electronic devices that can be accessed via USB ports for power. 
Among Current Food Trends:  May, 2017 Home delivered meal service has recently begun to heat up (no pun intended).  A number of companies now can supply you with recipes and all the food and ingredients that will easily and quickly help you to prepare a tasty and nutritious meal in your own home.  Blue Apron, Home Chef, Hello Fresh are just a sample few of such enterprises. They will send you a box every week unless you unsubscribe or change the schedule.  It will come in an insulated box to keep all the ingredients cold.  Sir Bob Colbourn has used Blue Apron and Home Chef with good results.  He also reports that other companies send either completely cooked meals you simply heat up or partially cooked meals that need a few last-minute additions.  Our youngest son has tried Freshly, a fully cooked meal and reported that it was a very good, tasty meal that was completely cooked and refrigerated (not frozen) and delivered in an insulated box and all he had to do was reheat it in the microwave, conventional or convection oven.  Discounts are readily available for trial orders at just $10 for a single meal as a home-delivered meal.  This item was suggested by Sir Bob Colbourn.
Hotel Ice Bucket:  May, 2017 When traveling and staying in hotels and motels, save yourself some extra trips to the ice machine (usually located near the elevator or some other central area).  Housekeeping leaves a plastic bag as a liner.  Put this empty plastic bag in your pocket or purse and you can fill the bag with ice when you come back to your room anytime you return.  Otherwise, you would return to your room and then take the ice bucket with the plastic bag liner to get it filled if you wanted ice.
Something Needs Repair or Replacement:  May, 2017 If you come across a problem with an instrument, appliance or something around the house and need some help in understanding how to fix it or get it running again, the first thing you should do is get online and ‘Google’ it.  You can and will find almost every kind of help on the Internet for any kind of a repair or replacement job around the house, office or your vehicle.  I just recently used this idea to determine how to replace the internal battery on my Smartphone.  It was very informative and with good video of the actual actions.  Further inquiry also found the proper replacement battery at a much lower cost than the O.E.M. supplier.
Use The Internet Before Making Any Significant Purchase:  May, 2017 Always ‘Google’ an item before buying it – online or at a local brick& mortar store.  Simply use the brand name, model number or a part number and you will immediately find all kinds of info and data to help you understand all about your proposed purchase item.  You’ll find ratings and reviews and tips by others.  You may even learn of any recalls on the item.  Reliability and longevity of the specific item will be a hot topic with lots of anecdotes and experience reports.  And, you will see where it can be purchased and for how much!  People are happy to tell you all about their experience with almost everything available on the Internet.  It could save you from making a bad buying choice.
Inexpensive Sous Vide Immersion Circulator: April, 2017
Have you heard of Sous Vide cooking method?  Lately, it has been an upcoming food trend.  It is a food cooked in a plastic vacuum bag or Zip Lock bag in a hot water bath (think hot water oven) at an extremely constant and precise temperature.  The time and temperature can be varied to fit the food item for best results. The beauty is that meats, fowl and other proteins and foods can be cooked for long periods of time without overcooking them and can provide for consistent success each and every time it is used.  Formerly, it was only available as a commercial method of food prep due to the high expense.  Currently, however, the method is now available to us regular folks.  I bought mine (Anova from Amazon) 2 years ago and was just $200 (previously lowest cost home unit was $425 and quite small).  Today, you can buy the Nutrichef Sous Vide Immersion Circulator from Amazon for a mere $75. These are designed for use with your own pot or other container.  I use a hard-plastic, insulated, round, 2-Gallon Coleman Party Stacker drink Cooler for smaller tasks.  For larger jobs, I use a Coleman 48-Quart hard-sided rectangular cooler.  This is large enough to easily do 3 to 4 racks of pork ribs!   The immersion heater mounts to any side and will automatically heat and circulate the hot water for cooking for as long you program it for.  I’ve made 72-hr. beef short ribs this way.  A real luxury is that the cooking process requires no monitoring.  You can simply ‘set it and forget it,’ and there is no danger of fire, overcooking or other potential problems with most other conventional cooking methods.  The water never gets hot enough to do any damage and cannot ‘boil over’ or go dry!
If you’re into cooking or want perfect steaks, ribs and other meats, vegetables and proteins, I recommend you try this method of cooking.  BTW, restaurants use this because they can pre-cook steaks, chops, shanks, roasts, eggs,  etc. and simply sear (caramelize the exterior) your food at time of order for a perfect dish each and every time, not to mention being more juicy, tender and tasty.  I invite anyone interested in or curious about Sous Vide cooking to call me.  I would be happy to clarify anything you want to know, further.
Roundhouse Market & Convention Center: April, 2017
Folks, there is a truly hidden gem of place for breakfast and lunch in our local Tri Valley area. The Roundhouse Market and Convention Center is a new facility located in the former AT&T building at 2600 Camino Ramon, San Ramon, in the Bishop Ranch complex.  It’s just a couple of blocks North and East from Whole Foods and Target Stores.  There are three different food stations, Pinto (Mexican themed), Quarterly (Pizza/Panini themed) and Bishop Ranch (plates, sandwiches, salads and other foods) that share a stunningly beautiful, large dining room with grand views of the lake and plenty of room for patrons to relax and enjoy their breakfast, lunch or break.  There is indoor and outdoor seating.  The food is very good, varied and moderate for the quality and ambiance.  This is like lounging at a 4-star resort!  Joyce and I went for lunch one day and it was so nice we spent almost an hour just relaxing and drinking in the view.  We wished that we had brought a book or our Kindles!
Nasal Spray for Allergies: April, 2017
Spring has ‘just ‘sprung’ and is now full-bore into the allergy season.  Many of the medications to treat airborne allergies is in the form of a nasal spray.  These are typically dispensed in small, manual, plastic squeeze bottles or aerosol cans charged with an inert gas propellant.  The problem is almost everyone uses them improperly.  Do not tilt your head back and stick in your nostril and breathe in the medication! Instead, the proper method is to tilt your head forward while aiming the nozzle slightly outward toward your ears while administering the fine spray without inhaling in through the nostrils.  The objective is for the medication to reach your Sinus Cavities!  Tilting your head back and inhaling will carry the spray to the back of your throat and do nothing for your allergens that are mainly located in your Sinus Cavities.
Another good treatment regimen recommended by doctors is the use of a “Neti-Pot” using a saline solution or other commercial solutions to rinse the sinus cavities.  For availability, price and proper use, Google Neti-Pot on the Internet.  Prices on Amazon start at under $10.
City of San Ramon:  April, 2017 We just received a “City Report” mail notice that states that “Residents can have used electronics and household hazardous waste collected from their doorsteps at no additional charge.  Items collected include computers, televisions, cell phones, microwaves, electronics, batteries, fluorescent lights, paint, motor oil, needles and household chemicals.  To schedule a pick-up, call 1-800-449-7567, or visit At Your Door Special Collection online:www.wmatyourdoor.com.  Unwanted medicine can be dropped off at the Sun Ramon Police Dept., 2401 Crow Canyon Road, Monday through Friday from 08:00 AM to 5:00 PM. Needles and other medical sharps – enclosed in safe, sealed container can be disposed of at the drop-off kiosk in front of the San Ramon Valley Fire Protection District office , 1500 Bollinger Canyon Road.  Residents can also recycle household batteries by putting them in a sealed plastic bag and placing the bag of batteries on top of the recycle cart on their regular collection day.  For information of this nature for other local cities, please check their official website for reference.
Car Buying:  April, 2017 In previous columns I had recommended buying your new vehicle equipped with the latest ‘suite of safety features’ including “Smart” or “Automatic/Adaptive” Cruise Control and Frontal Collision Avoidance systems.  I found this from Associated Press:  “The average vehicle on U.S. roads is 11 years old; that means many people last went car shopping before iPhones were invented!  Car buyers should make sure they can pair their Smartphones, make a hands-free call and use the navigation system before they leave the dealer’s lot.  They also should make sure volume knobs, climate controls and other technology is intuitive and displayed the way they like.  Some drivers want the volume controls on the steering wheel while others prefer a knob on the dashboard.  Safety technology is also changing rapidly, and buyers should familiarize themselves with what the car can and can’t do.  Some cars will brake automatically to avoid a collision, while others flash a warning and help the driver pump the brakes but won’t bring the car to a full stop.  Spend time in the parking lot sitting in the car and just “messing with it.”  And, per Consumer Reports, Adaptive/Smart/Automatic Cruise Control systems are already proving their worth by avoiding rear-end collisions while drivers adjust radio controls, make hands-free calls, enter GPS information, look for traffic or street signs, search for address or specific storefronts, etc.
Café Attila Update:  April, 2017 In previous columns and messages after our last Dine Out at this good place, I had mentioned that quality and consistency may be negatively impacted by the partial absence of the owner/chef, Attila.  Joyce and I had dinner there tonight and feel that with the helpful input from you folks after the last Dine Out session, changes were made in the kitchen to help improve things.  Attila has just undergone his 2nd surgery and will be going through rehab for the next several weeks.  All should be back to their excellent ‘normal’ quality level in about a month from now.  This info is not for public discussion, even with the staff.  This is FYI.  Please treat as confidential.
Reheating Foods Without a Microwave:  April, 2017
Microwave units are great for reheating liquids, foods with a high moisture content, popping corn and some other specific food items.  But what about baked and deep-fried items like pizza, doughnuts, onion rings, French fries, meat pies, pastries, hot sandwiches, etc.?  Counter-top Convection Toaster Ovens are excellent for those kinds of foods.  Many toaster ovens have special programs for specific foods.  Most deep fried items can simply put on a rack with a pan under the rack to catch any dripping excess oils.  Using the convection mode at 325° F until the food is hot in the middle and crisp on the outside works very well.  For baked items like rolls, pastry, meat pies, etc. – anything with a crispy flaky, tender crust, use the same settings as above but you may be able to eliminate the drip tray if the items are no highly saturated with fat.  For bread items, hot sandwiches, wrap the item in aluminum foil before placing in the toaster oven using the same settings as above should yield quite good results. 
What if you don’t have a Toaster Oven?  You’re not totally out of luck.  Simply place items like leftover pizza in a skillet on low heat and cover with a tight-fitting lid and reheat for about 7 to 10 minutes for a nice crispy bottom.  However, all stove settings are different so until you become familiar with these specific foods and time/heat settings, check the food frequently.  For meat pies, pastries and sandwiches, wrap them in aluminum foil to keep them from drying out while in the low-heat frying pan.  Use a non-stick or cast iron pan with tight lid.
Li-on or Lithium Ion batteries:  April, 2017
These types of high-tech/high performance batteries have been in the news lately due to the negative press about battery firs and/or explosions.  These are marvelous example of wonderful engineering but care must be used in the use and charging of these types rechargeable batteries since they are now so commonly in use in everyday life – cell phones, tablets, GPS units, speakers, blue tooth devices and other small, portable electronic items.  To avoid excess heat that shortens their life cycle span, avoid Rapid or Express Charging at higher charging rates unless really necessary.  Many chargers have to outlets – 1.0 amp and 2.0 amp ports.  Use the 1.0 amp port unless time is of the essence.  At the lower charge rate, less heat is produced during charging and will help to extend the service life of your battery pack.  OEM and branded replacement Li-Ion battery packs are readily available from Amazon and other online eTailers.
 Also, Batteries Plus, Dublin, carries a very large inventory of all kinds of batteries and lights.  Give them a try.  They’re nice people and know their business.  And, of course, the battery for most cameras, cell phones, Smart phones, GPS units, watches and other portable devices. are on-hand in their local store inventory.  Prices for immediate, local purchase are only a bit higher than online pricing without the wait for delivery.  Best of all, they will gladly check your old battery pack to verify its condition and can tell you if replacement is warranted.
Alkaline and Conventional Carbon Batteries – Use and Care:  April, 2017 Have you had the unfortunate experience of pulling a flashlight out of a drawer or the glove compartment of your car only to find that it won’t work because of battery corrosion inside the instrument?  Alkaline and Carbon Dry Cells have a tendency to ‘leak’ acid out of their cases that renders great damage to the instrument – very often making the instrument a total loss.  This happens because even with the master on/off switch in the “off” position, there is still a micro circuit connection going on that still allows a minute current flow.  This tiny flow promotes batteries to leak by swelling the case and the internal chemicals start to leak.  These chemicals are highly acidic and will corrode all metal parts that are not made of stainless steels. To avoid this, remove the batteries from the instrument if the instrument or tool is not meant for frequent use.  Keep them handy for quick insertion when needed.  Or, unscrew/undo the battery compartment and place a dielectric (non conductive) barrier between the last battery end and the contact springs within the battery compartment and leave the batteries in the instrument.  This physical barrier will truly break the electrical circuit and should prevent battery leakage even after extended storage.  Another way to prevent leaking batteries in a handheld, general use flashlight is to purchase a “Coleman Divide Battery Lock Flashlight.”  These flashlights feature an internal mechanism that physically separates the end of the last battery.  These Coleman units are readily available from Amazon.com in various sizes and brightness ratings using AA batteries.  They start at $10 and go up to about $50.
Your Smartphone Camera: March, 2017
The next time you have to submit or write down the serial number of an appliance, VIN (Vehicle Identification Number), voltage/wattage limits on electrical item UL labels, etc. and it is difficult to see the information due to close quarters or lack of lighting, etc., think about taking a picture to record the information using your Smartphone camera.  A halogen bulb went out on a built-in, indirect, lighting system on a piece of furniture.  The bulb had no info on it.  The UL label was tucked away on the underside of table top.  Even lying down on my back on the floor to stick my head into the dark cavity with a flashlight wasn’t feasible.  Taking multiple pictures of the label using my Smartphone and the Macro-focus feature turned out to be the most practical way to get the info.  Try copying down the VIN number of a vehicle in the dark.  It’s easier and more accurate to simply take an image of the info.
 
Also learn to use the different modes available on most Smartphones.  Panorama - allows you take ultra-wide views into a single frame.  Macro Zoom – provides for taking photos up to an inch or two from the lens. Self Timer – allows you to set the camera up to snap the photo after a designated delay.  This can be used to take self-images, reduce blur due to movement.  Portrait Mode – enhances pictures of people and ‘selfies.’
 
Learn and practice these different modes so you become both familiar and proficient in the various features.  If you wait until you need them, you will fumble and bumble around and lose the photo opportunity.
 
If you don’t have a Smartphone, I suggest getting an inexpensive WiFi tablet to more easily learn how most Smartphones work.  If you can use a tablet, Droid or Apple, you can operate a Smartphone.  Smartphones are merely miniaturized tablets with the ability to make/take calls and send/receive text messages. An easy, reliable tablet to use for a stepping stone to a Smartphone,  I recommend the Amazon Fire Tablet for learning and use.  Then, later, graduate to a Samsung Note 4 Smartphone.  That’s how I did it.
Cooking Tips: March, 2017
1. When blending sauces or dressing using EVOO, do not blend too long.  Too much agitation will make the olive oil bitter. 2. When working with hot peppers, trim out the seeds and ribs from the interior.  They are the hottest part of the pepper.  3. Table salt is twice as strong as kosher salt.  They are both sodium chloride but Kosher Salt grains are larger and take twice the space of the equivalent in the more fine-grained table salt.  4. Save the rind from hard cheeses.  Use them for flavoring of soups and stews.*  5. Add a dollop of Pesto Sauce to Minestrone and other tomato-based soups just before serving to give a more robust, complex flavor.*  6. The Kirkland Brand (Costco) Pesto Sauce is a very good, inexpensive sauce.*
*Note: These 3 tips come from John Noll’s Cooking Class
Automotive Items: March, 2017
Do you need/want another reason not to tailgate?  When following closely behind another vehicle, you will have much less warning of potholes and other roadway obstacles.  Staying further back will allow you to take emergency evasive action to avoid hitting something that will harm you and your vehicle.
If you want the security of being able to easily jump start your vehicle because of a drained battery, consider the new breed of Lithium Jump Starter And Power Bank from Costco.  It is small and light enough to be stored in your glove box.  Once charged, they will hold the power for several years!  Cost is about $50 and includes the jumper cables  These are rechargeable for repeated uses over a span of years. 
Do not keep your vehicle registration in the glove box.  Leave it at home.  Instead, take a photo of it using your Smartphone and it will still be secure information if someone breaks into your vehicle.  Police will accept the photo image for identification and vehicle registration purposes.
Do not program the real/actual address for your “home” location on your vehicle GPS.  Use an address near your home but will avoid having your GPS lead crooks right to your home while you are away.
More I.D. Security Tips:  March, 2017 1. Protect your identity!  Shred all documents, mail and other printed matter that shows personal data, including your address. 2. Use a dense, black, permanent marker to obliterate your address and other personal data on items before discarding.  3.  Use a self-inking, rubber stamp unit with a “Scrambled Indicia” pattern to block out sensitive data on paper documents.  These are very handy and are available at Bed Bath & Beyond
Home Entertainment Bargains:  March, 2017 It’s If you’re looking for a medium-sized HDTV, look at the 43” Toshiba 1080P HDTV Model #43L420U at Best Buy listing at $249.  It can often be found on sale for less. They won’t it have hooked-up on display because it performs very close to much higher priced units and they fear losing sales to it over their more profitable models. To improve the sound of any TV, a sound bar is a good, inexpensive, simple way to go.  Best Buy has their Insignia brand NX-SB316 at just $99 and sometimes on sale for just $79 - $49.  Use the $3.99 Dynex, 4-ft. Optical Cable to hook them up.
Opening Stubborn Jar Lids: February, 2017 As we get older and arthritic, this can become more of an issue.  If you can’t twist off the lid easily, try this, first –use a non-slip, silicone sheet to improve the grip on the lid or use several double wraps of rubber bands for improved frictional quality.  If that doesn’t work, use an assistive manual tool like the Oxo Good Grips Jar Opener ($9.99 on Amazon Prime).  If all else fails, your last resort might be the Black & Decker JW200 Lids Off Jar Opener, White, for $27 and a little less on eBay.
Scotch Blue Tape Uses: February, 2017 I previously had mentioned that they can be used as labels especially for frozen food packages and or dating items. Another use is to hold pieces together in position/alignment when repairing small items, or even larger items as the glue sets.  The tape and the adhesive are strong enough to hold components together but will still release from these surfaces after the bond on the repaired object has developed.
Extending the Life of Your Lithium-ion Batteries: February, 2017
These types of batteries are used in almost everything today including cell phones, smart phones, computers, Fitbits, GPS units, all kinds of portable monitors, etc. But as all things physical, these will wear out. The repeated recharging cycles is not unlimited. Heat generated during the charging is the biggest enemy of battery life.  Therefore, avoid fast charging when possible. Use the charger that is rated for the instrument and came with it. Use the fast charge feature, if available, only when you really need it.
Best Rotisserie Chicken: February, 2017 Tired Which store chain has the best rotisserie chicken?  A survey by the Valley Times Newsgroup finds them ranked as: 1. Whole Foods, 4-stars, $9.99; 2. Raley’s/Nob Hill, 3½ stars, $7.99; 3. Costco, 3 stars, $4.99.  The worst rated (no stars) rotisserie chicken was from Sprouts.
Lithium-ion Dustbuster: February, 2017 Tired of replacing the old style, inexpensive, Ni-cd rechargeable batteries found in older Dust Buster machines? The instrument never wears out but the batteries have a short life cycle. Black & Decker now has a complete line of lithium ion powered Dust Busters. They range and price from about $40 to $120. The extra money buys better suction via a more powerful, higher voltage DC motor.  The benefit is longer running time and longer extended battery life.
Individual Servings Of Ice Cream: February, 2017 When bringing home a new carton of ice cream from the store, sometimes there's no room in the freezer for it. Simply cut the outer carton off and place the whole block on a cutting board and use a chef's knife to cut it in halves and then and quarters. Then cut those quarter logs into single serving sizes. Then wrap them individually in plastic, stretch wrap and place them in the freezer for future use. This is handy and avoids wasting space in the freezer as well as preventing the gummy consistency when the top surface of an opened ice cream carton as it gets old. This idea comes from a Jacques Pepin TV show.
Buttering toast: February, 2017 Ever wonder how restaurants can butter their toast so nice and evenly and yet not damage the fragile crust? This is done with melted butter applied with a brush. You can do the same by keeping a little surplus butter in a small dish in the refrigerator. Whenever you want to butter some bread or toast, melt it briefly in the  the microwave and use a silicon, perforated, 'paddle' device with holes in it that will carry the melted butter to your food article and you can use it to spread from there.
Avoid Stockpiling: February, 2017 Don’t buy groceries and household things like you used to do as a formerly larger family.  Why?  Because our memories are so bad that we lose track of them and end up with food items that go past their “Best used by date.”  And, you will find many duplicates from previous purchases.  On canned goods with acidic contents, the plastic interior film that protects the contents from the metal can breaks down and can corrode the can from the inside out.  This happens a lot on tomato products.
Toaster Oven Uses: February, 2017 I am surprise at how many folks do not have a toaster oven in their kitchen!  In our home, we use this appliance multiple times a day and may be second in use only to the microwave.  Here are just some of the uses: toast bread (more evenly); reheat pizza (crispy); bake small items like refrigerated rolls, biscuits, etc.; freshen day-old baked goods, reheat baked and deep fried items like donuts, croissants (sometimes tastes and feels better than new); bake small meat or fruit and berry pies; bake meatloaf, baked potatoes; roast vegetable; dehydrate veggies, fruits and nuts; make jerky; make croutons; cook bacon crisply without spatter; use as a ‘warming oven;’ defrost frozen foods; etc.  The Oster 6-Slice Convection Countertop Oven at Costco for just $50 is a good buy.  It works well, is durable and simple and easy to use.  A digital control version of this same appliance is even more versatile but adds about $30 to the cost.
Restaurant Trend: February, 2017 Have you noticed the number of newer restaurant chains that now require you to order and pay for your food at the counter and are given an identifying number so the food runner can delivery your order to your table.  Older, established chains like Panera and Chick-fil-A have used this format successfully for years.  Now there is increased emphasis on this format.  Sultan’s Kabob, Urban Plates, Yalla Mediterranean, Basque Bakery, Pieology Pizzeria, etc.  What’s driving this format?  Lower labor cost.  The recent hikes in Minimum Wage, fees like the Health Care Sir Charge in San Francisco and Federally mandated healthcare/retirement plans continue to apply price pressure so business owners look for more efficient ways to serve their customers.  We can continue to see less table service places as other costs escalate.
When Dining Out.... January, 2017
■  Germiest thing on the table: You probably don’t even think of this but the nicely bound menu encased in plastic sheet protectors is the most contaminated item diners normally touch, aside from the bathrooms.  If you carry Purel or other personal sanitizer, it would be a good idea to cleanse our hands after you give up your menu.  Menus printed on bare, individual, paper sheets for their menu of the day are cleaner as they are disposable after use for just that specific day.  The only restaurant chain I know that incorporates sanitary practices in their daily operation is P.F. Chang.  Their procedures training manual includes wiping down the menus with anti-bacterial disposable wipes.  They also finish cleaning the table tops after clearing in preparation for the next customer group with these same cleaning wipes.  Highchairs for children get the same treatment.  They also check under the table for gum wads left behind by other inconsiderate diners.
 
■  Lunch Menu vs Dinner Menu: Check the fine print on your menu when dining at a place that offers lunch specials.  Frequently, the prices for these lunch items are valid only on weekdays and may not be available on weekends.  I’ve seen places that are somewhat devious and specify the lower, special prices are only available Monday through Thursday!  The up-charge for weekends for the same item (and portion size) can be substantial.
 
■  New Danville Dining Scene:  The following are some of the new, recent eating establishments to open in Danville:
  1. Basque Boulangerie, in the renovated Danville Hotel grounds great bakery items, salads and sandwiches for breakfast, lunch and light dinners. Danvile Brewery, across the street from Danville Museum - a great place for a beer and ‘pub food.’  Excellent for lunch or dinner. Try the Buttermilk Fried Chicken or Pastrami Sandwich.  This is a vibrant, fun place to relax and dine with friends.
  2. Danville Farmer’s Almanac, formerly Amber Bistro – excellent food, enlarged and updated interior.  A very nice but noisy place for lunch or dinner.
  3. Pizza Antica, next door to Danville Brewery – a revamped (pricier) menu from their Lafayette and other locations.  We’re not as happy with this new rendition of the chain. 
  4. Sultan’s Kabob, across the street from Burger King – this is a second location for them.  The first is highly successful in Pleasanton in the Koll Center.  The food is excellent.  Try the Adana Kabab or Lamb Shawarma.  Their Basmatic Rice is outstanding – light, fluffy and flavorful!. 
  5. Zalla Kabob House, next door to Piatti’s – a no frills place but the food is really good and very modest prices – order and pay at the counter and sit down.  Their Lamb Shank is superb.  Try their traditional Afghan pumpkin dish, Kaddo Bourani, roasted sugar pumpkin with yogurt sauce – but ask for it with ground beef topping.  You’ll thank me for that last tip!  The husband/wife duo will do anything they can to please you, within reason!
■  Well Done Steaks: I strongly recommend that you order your steaks “Medium” or “Medium Rare.”  Why?  All kitchens have a meat bin of older cuts that have slipped past their prime.  These are used for those orders that come in for “Well Done.”  The extra searing and cooking tends to hide the off-flavors of old meat.  Some places will ‘wash’ old beef or lamb with a salt solution to ‘kill’ the off- flavors before grilling.  If the meat is unsold, it will go into dishes with heavy sauces like Shepherd’s Pie, Beef Stew, Chili, etc. that will hide the old taste.
 
General Rules: 
1. Avoid newly opened establishments for the first couple of months.  It usually takes a while for them to hit their stride in cooking and serving.  If you go too soon after opening, you become their ‘beta test’ group! 
2. Beware of restaurants that offer a huge menu.  It’s much harder to do a lot of dishes well than a few dishes done extremely well. 
3. Beware of ‘Seafood Specials’ on Monday menus.  These are often made with the leftover seafood that did not sell over the weekend and they have to be used due to the highly perishable nature of seafood.   
Active and Passive Driving Features of New Vehicles January, 2017
It’s really surprising and frustrating that many new car owners/buyers are unfamiliar with the host of safety features now offered or included in to their vehicles the last couple of years.  There are many owners of these vehicles that don’t even know it is already a part of their vehicle!  Safety experts estimate that if they were more widely used on a regular basis, rear-end collisions could be reduced by more than 40%.  The problem is that most people simply do not understand these features and their benefits and, as a result, avoid buying them as an option.  But, like ABS brakes (anti-locking system) becoming standard on all vehicles, by about 2020, all new cars will have them included in the base vehicle and will not be offered as an option.  This demonstrates how important this suite of active and passive safety features can be for the general public. 
Passive (driver does nothing – always on) features include Lane Departure Warning, Rear Cross Traffic Warning, Rear Camera and Frontal Collision Avoidance/Mitigation.  The most misunderstood feature, however, is the active (driver turns it on) Adaptive Cruise Control.  That’s a bad title for a very important feature.  It should be renamed something like “Automatic Safe Interval Driving” feature.  When engaged, it will maintain a safe interval between you and the vehicle in front of you.  The interval is driver adjustable and is speed sensitive.  This provides a longer interval at high speeds than at lower speeds.  Unlike the old, conventional Cruise Control, these are designed for use in heavy traffic conditions as well as at freeway speeds.  I use it about 85% - 90% of the time on our 2015 Subaru Outback .  It is at its best in bumper-to-bumper/stop and go commute traffic.  It’s terrific when creeping along at 5 MPH!  It will control both gas and brake totally automatically without any intervention by me unless I choose to.  When engaged, I simply sit back and enjoy the scenery, listen to the radio or other audio and phone operations.  All I have to do is steer!  It is very close to self-driving!  We have driven from downtown L.A. to home during commute traffic without ever touching the brake or gas pedal.  And, in doing so, I’m able to relax and not get all tensed up from having to do the ‘brake/gas dance’ with my right foot!  I love it and it’s one of the best features of our newer vehicle.  If you have a new vehicle, check to see if you have these safety features.  The dealer should have demonstrated them to you when you picked your car up but they are often lax about it.  And be sure to include them on your new vehicle purchase.  Your future resale value will be poor without them and your lower insurance cost will eventually pay for these safety options.  And, soon, all new vehicles will be equipped with them.
Gift Card Scam January, 2017 Buy ‘loaded’ credit/gift cards only when they are stored behind the counter and not readily available to the public on display racks.  A common scam is for someone to discreetly scrape the opaque ‘scratcher’ film covering the validation code to activate the card for use.  They re-cover the validation code with a new strip of opaque tape so it looks like new and un-tampered and return it to the display rack.  They can then use this card number and validation code online, leaving the buyer of that same physical (tampered) card useless with a zero balance.
Avoid Crying When Chopping Onions January, 2017 Are you bothered with tearing when cutting/chopping white or yellow onions?  You can avoid this simply by placing a fan to blow air across the cutting board.  An inexpensive, small, battery-powered will work nicely.  This prevents the fumes from rising up into your face as you cut/chop.  Onion Goggles are available from kitchen stores but expensive and impractical.
Blood Glucose Measurement January, 2017
If you diabetic and use a Blood Glucose meter to monitor your blood sugar levels, always wash and dry your hands before using the Lancing Device to prick your finger for the blood drop.  Contaminants such as fruit juice, candy residue can contaminate the blood sample and result in a higher blood glucose reading.  And, salt or acid residue on your skin can compromise the conductivity of the blood sample that leads to an incorrect reading.
Pickleball Paddles: January, 2017
The first and only place that I have seen Pickleball Paddles stocked locally for retail sale is at Dick’s Sporting Goods.  Most local Pickleballers bought their paddles online.  All they had to go on was the picture and descriptive material on the web pages.  Now, you can go to any Dick’s Sporting Goods.  They have a fairly good selection of aluminum, Kevlar and carbon-fiber, honey-comb paddles.  Wooden paddles start at $20 and their high-tech paddles top out at $99. Their prices seem competitive to online prices.  But, here, you can see, touch and feel the paddle before you make that purchase commitment.  If you carefully remove the packaging without tearing or cutting anything, you could try a paddle out and return it in new condition if you didn’t like it.  But, you’ll have to leave the plastic shrink wrap on the handle in place.  Taking that off would not allow you to return it in “new” condition.  BTW, online ordering/pickup at the local DSG store works really well.  You get the advantage of the online price but no shipping and no waiting for the merchandise.  It’s very easy to do.
Vehicle Smog Scam:  January, 2017 We all need to have our cars ‘smogged’ on a regular basis as dictated by DMV.  Be aware of ads by smog stations that advertise $40 off their ‘regular’ prices!  The problem is they post an inflated price on their shop schedule of services.  Always ask what their full charge will be before taking your car in.  The best places charge about $30 + $8.25 CA smog certificate charge.  Simply Google “smog testing near me.”
Prime Rib Bone:  January, 2017 Some of you had a Standing Rib Roast for Christmas dinner.  What did you do with the bone?  Most folks will trim the bones off before cutting the whole roast into slices for easy serving.  Here’s what I recommend for dealing with the bones.  When trimming them from the roast, leave some meat on them.  Cut them into individual rib bones.  Then, brown/char them on all four sides on the BBQ grill or use a hot skillet with some Canola oil to brown all four sides.  A hot, cast iron, Dutch Oven will also work well, too.  The high sides have the advantage of containing most of the spattering.  The rib is fully cooked so you’re only browning the surface to caramelize the surfaces for fantastic flavor.  So, don’t overcook them!
Hearing Aid Maintenance:  January, 2017 If you own and wear hearing aids, it’s important to go in for service every six months.  Your provider will clean and vacuum your devices and replace the plastic earpieces without charge.  Best of all, they will inspect your instruments and check them for proper operation.  If factory service is required, all manufactures will support their devices only for 5 years.  If you are nearing that 5 year mark, get yours checked and if needed, sent in for service before support for them expires!