Christine Park

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Mother's Day Edition

Breakfast in bed. I don't know how this developed into a Mother's Day fantasy. Because I, for one, think it's overrated. Have you ever tried to cut something on a wobbly tray? Have you ever laid down in a bed of crumbs? This is not to say I don't appreciate the effort and the thought. I would love if my husband cooked breakfast or brunch for me. I just wouldn't eat it in bed. To inspire him and other husbands, I found this free downloadable cookbook of Mother's Day recipes to try. From classic quiche lorraine to strawberry stuffed french toast... the dishes sound delish! Just don't leave behind an enormous mess for mom to clean up.

Does your mom or wife love sweets? Today's Fresno Groupon is for some Hungry Bear cookies. $7 for six (worth $14.34) or $13 for a dozen (normally $28.68) for fresh-baked, melt-in-your-mouth cookies decorated in a Mother's Day design.

A great gift idea with a personal touch, is to turn your favorite photo of the kids or family into a work of art with another Groupon, with Canvas on Demand. $45 for a 16x20 sized gallery wrapped canvas ($126.95 value). This one is an online redemption, so it doesn't matter where you live, you can take advantage of this incredible offer. I've used this service in the past, and the quality is AMAZING. Another similar option is today's Mampedia deal from Image Canvas. For $26 you can choose from 8x10, 11x14, 16x20 collage canvas prints ($60 value). So this is a better deal if you want multiple images on one canvas.

For the dancing queen, the Living Social deal is for the Ballroom Dance Academy in Clovis. One Month of Unlimited Pole Fitness Classes ($25); Any Three Dance and/or Fitness Classes ($15); or One Month of Unlimited Dance Classes ($50). Husbands, even better, would be to offer to be her partner and take the ballroom dancing classes WITH her. Mine did that once, years ago, before kids. And I can't speak for him, but I had a blast! has a lot of customizable and unique gifts. One that I thought was just adorable was the mother and daughter matching pajama set on sale for $24.99

If she is a wine lover, how about a wine tasting set from for $19.99? You get Six 50ml tasting bottles of Palmeri Wines including Syrah, Cab, and Gewürztraminer. Or if she is a red lover, the same price $19.99 gets you four 50ml tasting bottles of La Follette pinot noirs. Promo code GCFS gets you free shipping.

If she's all about utility, get this mongrammed waterproof nylon L.L. Bean Adventure Tote for $19.95, free shipping. She can haul anything from garden tools, diapers, to gym clothes.

The iPhone addict will appreciate this fully fabulous Michael Kors python print clutch. For $79.95 and free shipping, she gets THE most fashionable iPhone case with a premium leather designer clutch wallet. It also comes in black or gold leather.

A manicure/pedicure is a perennial favorite of moms and isn't too pricey as long as you don't send mom to a high-end salon. Expect to pay $35-$50. As my friend says, "It's something I enjoy so much and I find so relaxing but it's hard for me to find the time to do something nice for myself. If my husband and kids bought one for me and pushed me out the door to go get pampered, that would be a great gift!"

As for flowers, the latest Consumer Reports tests showed was best at sending what was ordered, followed by and The flowers most likely to look the way they did on websites were tulips, roses, and orchids. Mixed bouquets had more substitutions than the rest. If you want to make sure your flowers prompt a smile, pick a color scheme that matches your Mom's favorites, then steer away from mixed bouquets. If you're unhappy with what gets delivered, call customer service, they're usually very eager to make it right.

Mother's Day is only a week away. So don't forgot your mom or wife. Trust, it's much less of an effort to do something nice... than it is to try to make up for not doing anything at all.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Tricks of the Restaurant Trade: How Menus Make you Spend

Have you heard of menu engineering? Apparently it's the bread and butter of the restaurant industry, pun intended.

The other day, TV News Mom did not feel like cooking. A week of going to work by 3am just tore me up, and I was dragging after a two-hour nap that just made me feel worse. So the fam drove around the corner to Mother Mary's, our favorite neighborhood Italian joint. I had a Living Social coupon ($10 for $20 worth of food), so I was anticipating a delicious and CHEAP dinner. Well, the bill still came out to 40 bucks after the coupon! Which means we ordered $60 worth of food between my husband and I and two kids under the age of 5 who barely eat. Looking back, I guess we didn't need to order the happy hour beer AND pasta AND the large pizza AND the garlic knots AND the salad. But we showed up starving and the menu was so enticing.

Which brings me to this great article by CBS MoneyWatch reporter Marlys Harris after a conversation with her son Ezra, who just graduated from culinary school. I thought I was already savvy. That's why I try not to order pasta or chicken dishes... because they cost SO much more than they do to make. But this article gives a great insider perspective... and might make you think twice before going with "the special."

"A menu is a sales vehicle," she writes, "and many restaurants — smart ones — use it to get you to eat right. And, we’re not talking about your health, but about their profits."

Here's the rest of the article:

"Restaurant dishes generally divide up four groups. First come stars — popular items for which diners are willing to pay much more than the dishes cost to make. Example: penne with vodka sauce. Plowhorses, are popular but less profitable items, like steak. Puzzlers are high-profit items that are tough to sell, say, sweetbreads. Finally, there are dogs that not many people like and aren’t profitable. Why they are on anybody’s menu, I’m not sure. Clever menu engineering exists to steer you to stars and puzzlers, to spend as much as possible and to enjoy doing it. After all, restaurateurs want repeat business.

There’s nothing wrong with any of that. Nevertheless, before you order your next Lasagna Classico at Olive Garden, Crunchy Rabbit at Jean Georges in Manhattan or Egg McMuffin at You-Know-Where, you might want to be aware of these seven common menu ploys.

1. First in Show. Many restaurants group their offerings under the obvious headings: pasta, beef, seafood, entrees, appetizers and so on. Testing has shown that if you decide on chicken, you are more likely to order the first item on the chicken list. That’s where a savvy restaurant will place its most profitable chicken dish. A really sharp chef might put a puzzler like sweetbreads first in a grouping. “They only cost about $3, so the margin is huge,” says Ez. Of course, you’ve got to hope that enough people relish eating sweetbreads.

2. Menu Siberia. Unprofitable dishes, like a seafood combo plate that require expensive ingredients, and lots of work, are usually banished to a corner that’s less noticeable or in a multi-page menu stashed on page five.

3. Visual aids. If you draw a line around it, people will order. That’s why many menus box off something they want to promote. Chicken wings are a prime example. They’re “garbage,” says my son of one of my favorite noshes. “They cost pennies so they’re huge profit items.” Photos also sell dishes. An album of what look like ten-inch-high pies set on each table at Bakers Square make it hard to resist ordering a slice. However, fancy restaurants consider photos déclassé; from them the most you’ll get is a sketch or two.

4. Package deals. So you stop by McDonald’s for a mid-afternoon burger. When you get to the counter, however, what’s really in your face are photos of Extra Value Meals. You figure, says Ez, “Hey, I could eat two patties, I could use some fries, and now I’ll get a soft drink too.” The single burger you intended to buy is off in menu Siberia, on the board far to the right, but you’ve already spent more than you intended. A small percentage of the chain’s 47 million customers dropping a few extra bucks each day translates to millions in additional revenue. Another example: Olive Garden’s Bottomless Pasta Bowl ($8.95). “It’s very unlikely you’re going to eat more than two bowls,” says Ez. And, as one whiny diner
noted, you’ll probably scarf so many free breadsticks first that you won’t have room for all those noodles.

5. Dollar-Sign Avoidance. Focus groups who’ve been asked to opine on menus display an acute discomfort with dollar signs and decimals. Keeping money as abstract as possible makes spending less threatening. Many high-tone foodie establishments that charge an arm and a leg for, say, a bowl of lentils and groats now omit such crass symbols from their menus — like
Spoonriver, a place I like in Minneapolis. I almost don’t notice that I’ve paid $12.50 for a rather small chicken quesadilla. Once upon a time, menus used leader dots (….) to connect the entrée with the price. You won’t find them much anymore either.

6. The Small Plate-Large Plate Conundrum. A restaurant may offer two chicken Caesar salads, one for $9 and one for $12. You may think that you’re getting a break ordering the small one, but, says Ez, that’s really the size the restaurant wants to sell. And if a diner decides, hmmm, I may as well get the larger one because I’ll never get rich saving three bucks, the restaurant will throw on some extra lettuce, making the price differential almost pure profit.

7. Ingredient Embroidery. Foodie-centric restaurants practically list the recipe for each dish making each ingredient sound ultra-special. (An item is more likely to sell if it dwells on the fact that, say, the cheese came from cows at the Brunschwagergrunt Farm in western Wisconsin or that the organic mushrooms were raised by a former duchess with an advanced degree in microbiology.) Even at a humble eatery, however, a dish labeled Mom’s Special Mac and Cheese or “The BeeBop Bar’s Mac and Four Cheese casserole” sells better than just plain old mac and cheese. “It may not be any more special than what you get somewhere else, but you’ll start to think you can only get it there,” says Ez. And that will keep you coming back again and again.

You won’t find these gambits at every eatery. Not all restaurant owners plan their menus as carefully as they should. If they did, contends my kid, maybe they would stop placing entrées in the middle of the right hand page, prime menu real estate, because ”Most people who go to a restaurant are going to order an entrée anyway,” he says. “That’s where I’d put desserts.” "

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Earth Day Freebies

  • Free Starbucks Coffee or Tea – Participating Starbucks locations in Canada and across the United States are giving away free coffee on Earth Day. Just bring in your reusable mug and get a free cup of coffee or tea - brewed, hot or iced. And just in case you don’t happen to own a reusable mug, you can still get a deal - your beverage will be 20 percent off. Last year, more than 1 million people stopped by the popular coffee shop on Earth Day, saving more than 1 million paper cups from ending up in the landfill!
  • Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market: Spend $20 and receive a free reusable tote. Get more information under their Facebook page under the offers tab.
  • Earth Day Freebies at Whole Foods – Whole Foods is offering several giveaways in honor of Earth Day and Easter. Check out the Whole Foods store nearest you to find out what specific goodies or workshops are available in your neck of the woods. Be sure to check out the earth-friendly activities for children too.
  • Free Totes and Organic Caps at Disney Stores – Just bring in 5 plastic shopping bags at participating Disney Store locations in both the U.S. and Canada, and receive a free reusable tote. This offer is valid for U.S. consumers on April 22, and on Saturday, April 23 in Canada. Limit one bag per customer - while supplies last. Children can also receive a free cap by bringing in 6 plastic bottles or aluminum cans. 70,000 eco-friendly caps, made from organic materials valued at $15 each, will be given away, while supplies last.
  • Free Admission to National Parks - National Parks across America will offer free admission during National Park Week from April 16th – April 24th.
  • Free Food Finder Phone App – Find your nearest farmers market and what locally grown fruits and veggies are available in your area with the Locavore phone app for iPhones and Androids. The app is regurlarly $2.99 but is free on Earth Day.
  • Free Earth Day Workshops at Home Depot - Home Depot is offering several workshops in honor of Earth Day. On Saturday, April 23, Home Depot is offering an Earth Day/Easter Planter Basket workshop from 9 – 12:00 for kids between the ages of 5 and 12. At 1:00, an Eco-Friendly Gardening Workshop will take place.
  • Lowe's Earth Day Million Tree Giveaway – Lowe’s has been gearing up for Earth Day all week long. In honor of Earth Day, the Home Improvement giant is giving away one million trees. Visit your local Lowe’s on April 23 to get your free tree sapling, while supplies last. Lowe’s is also offering a free Kid’s Build and Grow Workshop for the youngsters on Saturday, beginning at 10:00 A.M. Each child will build a Window Birdhouse and receive a free apron, pair of goggles and certificate of merit too. But hurry - registration is required and supplies are limited!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Tax Day Freebies

I love how these businesses are trying to take the bite out of tax day... making what could be a bitter day a little bit sweeter. My apologies, but this is a straight up re-post from Office Depot is currently offering free copies of your 2010 tax return (up to 25 pages) at nationwide retail locations good every day until April 18th. If you're hungry after all that paperwork, Cinnabon is giving away Cinnabon Bites on Monday between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. And if you're looking to shed some weight, Bally Total Fitness is offering free workouts on Monday. HydroMassage Centers is giving free 10 minute massages from Thursday until Monday. And for all single filers, is offering free three-day memberships to its dating website starting Monday. MaggieMoo's: Issues Customers a "Sundae Stimulus" On Tax Day, April 18. Starbucks: Bring in your own travel mug and get it filled with free coffee on Friday 4/15. P.F. Chang's: Receive 15% off your bill (select items) on Monday 4/18. Hooter's: Buy 10 wings and Get 10 Free at participating Hooter's stores on Monday 4/18. McCormick & Schmicks: Get a $10.40 Tax Relief Certificate to spend on Entrees & Drink Specials in the Bar on 4/15 and 4/18.

Friday, April 8, 2011

How About a "To Be" List Instead of "To Do" List?

It's Friday, but my "To Do" list is endless. I don't actually have a physical list, even though my husband tells me I should. He's the ultimate list maker and crosser-offer. But I tell my husband it's all in my head. Like an ongoing nagging in my brain, when I'm driving, when I'm about to fall asleep, even when I'm blogging. LOL
1. Order Isaiah's birthday cake
2. Make dentist appointments for me and Syd
3. Iron or steam the new curtains
4. Enroll the kids for the next school year
5. Grocery shopping (living on condiments!)
6. Book family vacay
7. Plant flowers
(it goes on. and this is just the list at home, not to mention work)
Obviously your list will differ, but undoubtedly you can relate to the overwhelming and never ending sense of unfinished business hanging over your head.
So I thought wouldn't it be a fun (albeit meaningless) distraction to have a "To Be" list instead? Something to look forward to, to keep trying for, not just to cross off and be done with it.
So here's what I came up with.
1. Be spontaneous
2. Be sexy
3. Be silly
4. Be adventurous
5. Be drama-free
6. Be relaxed
7. Be kind
8. Be passionate
9. Be creative
10. Be more of me!
Go on, try it! What would your "to be" list be?