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December 3, 2013 |

Archive for » December 3rd, 2013«

Holidays come early for Winchester business owners

Shopping bags in hand, Barbara Rogers triumphantly walked away from Town Center about 9:30 Monday night. She had found what she was looking for.

Far from the rush of Black Friday or the glowing screens of Cyber Monday, Rogers was among the droves of shoppers who came out for Midnight Madness, the town’s annual downtown shopping holiday.

“It’s the way you’re greeted casually, with no hard sells,” Rogers said of the event’s appeal. Behind her, Midnight Madness was in full swing, with dozens of shoppers darting from one store to the next.

The door at An Elegant Affair on Mount Vernon Street swung open as customers entered the crowded space, browsing stationary, gift baskets and kitchen accessories. Employees Erin DiGuardia and Magda Ferrari switched off helping customers and wrapping gifts.

“Usually we have two people here and now we have six,” Ferrari said. “It’s all hands on deck.”

Dawn Hodge, who owns the store with her mother, Julia Devlin, said they had a steady flow of customers all evening long. Hot items included custom calendars, candles and wine bottle stoppers.

Outside the store, Mary Sue Stevens of Winchester had her husband John in tow.

“We came down late to get some presents for grandchildren,” she said, noting the best convenience is that the stores are in easy walking distance. “I just love supporting local businesses, but they close before I get home.”

Inside nearby Kids Footstop, Santa had come and gone, according to employee Natasha DeJesus.

“We’ve been doing that for two years,” DeJesus said. “He knew every child.”

Up the block at BookEnds, owner Judith Manzo called Midnight Madness her best sales day of the year. She said it is never a disappointing event, and that has to do with community.

“People come out in droves every year to say, ‘Winchester Center, you’re important to us,’” Manzo said.

Mixed in with browsing shoppers were Chip Dale – Chip Sloan and Dale Sherburn – playing bluegrass music. Authors Howie Carr and Hank Phillippi Ryan sat at tables signing books.

“It is incredibly rewarding because people are walking around the store with armloads of books,” Ryan said.

Victoria Zakarian, owner of Monet Company on Church Street, put out a spread with crackers, grape leaves and wine. While Zakarian said although this is not her biggest shopping day – her customers tend to wait until the last two weeks before Christmas – she was doing good business.

It was a similar case at Catch a Falling Star, where owner Deran Muckjian said he has been involved with Midnight Madness since the beginning 13 years ago. On Monday night, the toy store was packed and items like GoldieBlox and Rainbow Loom were flying off the shelves, along with classics like Legos.

“I’ll be here until 1 a.m. probably,” Muckjian said. “This could be the best one yet.”

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Is it safe to eat food from a nonstick pan?

Q: Some of my family members won’t eat food cooked in nonstick or Teflon-coated cookware. They believe it poses some kind of danger. Are they right?

A: Most nonstick cookware is coated with synthetic polymers, called perfluorinated chemicals or PFCs. If the pans are overheated, the polymers release toxic fumes that can harm or even kill small animals, particularly pet birds, and may affect human health, causing flu-like symptoms.

That’s why the manufacturers suggest you shouldn’t use the pans on very high heat or preheat them before adding food or oil, as you would with a steel or iron skillet.

However, the issue with fumes regards the cook, not the eater. The PFC coating is inert. If you ingested flakes from the coating, it would pass through your system without being absorbed. The FDA has not suggested getting rid of nonstick cookware because there’s no proof of long-term harm.

The greater question about how dangerous PFCs are to human health in the long term is still being studied. Tests have shown that we are all exposed to them, and there is concern that the exposure causes smaller birth-weight babies, elevated cholesterol, effects on the thyroid and liver and weakened immune systems.

Where our exposure comes from hasn’t been proven. PFCs are present in a lot of things, including plastic wrap, microwave popcorn bags, water-resistant clothing and stain-resistant carpeting. The pans aren’t proven to be culprits. However, the Environmental Protection Agency has an agreement with eight companies, including DuPont, maker of Teflon, to stop using PFOA in nonstick coating by 2015.

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Experts serve up tips for keeping dinnerware company-ready

Company’s coming. Is your dinnerware ready?

With Thanksgiving in sight and the Christmas season hot on its heels, now is a good time to take stock of your fine dinnerware and make sure it’s looking its best for the entertaining opportunities ahead.

China, crystal and silver deserve careful handling, so we turned to the experts at Replacements Ltd. for advice on cleaning and caring for them. The North Carolina company is known for selling individual pieces to replace missing or damaged dinnerware, and it also restores and repairs precious pieces.

Here’s what its experts advised.

China

Scratches, heat and harsh detergents can damage fine china, especially antique pieces. That’s why Sara Vestal, the company’s lead supervisor of china and crystal restoration, recommends always hand washing china, regardless of whether it’s considered dishwasher safe.

Line the bottom of your sink with a dish towel or rubber mat for cushioning, and use a mild dishwashing liquid. Avoid anything with lemon, orange or any other type of acid, as well as dishwashing liquid that contains chlorine bleach. Acids wear the finish, and chlorine leaves behind a residue that breaks down china at a molecular level, Vestal said.

“You might not see the damage that day. You might not see it for a while,” she said. But eventually — and unfortunately — you will.

Wash china in water that’s tepid or warm. Vestal said water that’s too hot or cold can cause small cracks.

If you still insist on using a dishwasher to clean dishwasher-safe china, use the gentle cycle and turn off the heated drying cycle, she said. Use a mild detergent (no lemon-scented products), and load the dishwasher carefully so the pieces won’t touch during the wash cycle. Let the china cool to room temperature before removing it to avoid damaging metallic trim, which is more fragile when it’s heated.

Store china in an area that has the same temperature and humidity conditions as the living areas of your home, not in an attic or basement. Extreme changes in heat and humidity can cause crazing, or fine cracks in the glaze.

If you stack pieces, add cushioning in between. You can buy china cushions, or use pieces of flannel, coffee filters or napkins. Be careful not to slide pieces on top of one another.

Avoid stacking pieces that have handles. Hang cups on a rack, or stack them no more than two high. Stacking cups weakens the rim, causing cracking or chipping.

Silverware

Most of us store away our silver and silver-plated flatware for most of the year and take it out only for the most special of occasions.

Rory Richmond has a different idea.

Use your silver, said Richmond, who manages silver fulfillment operations at Replacements Ltd. Silver develops a patina with handling and use, which improves its appearance and gives it character, he said. That patina actually comes from tiny scratches in the surface that create a soft finish.

In addition, exposure to air causes oxidation, which produces a desirable darkening in the little crevices of the pattern. That darkening makes the design stand out more, Richmond said.

When you do use your silver, wash it immediately after use, and wash it well, he said. It’s particularly important to remove salt and citrus, which can damage silverware — especially silver plate, because it has just a thin layer of silver over a metal base. Mayonnaise, vinegar and eggs can also be problematic.

Don’t let silver soak in water for a long time, he cautioned. The water is corrosive and can also loosen the glue used to attach handles.

He recommended hand washing, because the heat of a dishwasher can damage the silver over time and loosen glue. And as with china, avoid detergents with citrus. The invisible residue they leave can cause rust, he said.

Use a soft cloth to wash the silver and dry it immediately with another soft cloth to prevent water spots.

If you’re storing silver long-term, use felt bags or a silver chest with a tarnish-resistant lining. Don’t store silver in airtight containers.

To polish silver, the company recommends starting by dusting with a lint-free cloth or soft toothbrush, and then washing. Dry each piece thoroughly, and use a blow dryer on a low setting to dry hard-to-reach places.

Apply a top-quality silver polish in a gentle, circular motion, and let the pieces sit according to the polish instructions before removing the polish with a lint-free cloth. Wash and dry each piece thoroughly to remove any excess polish.

Glassware

Cloudiness is the enemy of glassware. Sometimes it’s caused by mineral deposits from water and can be removed. But sometimes it’s caused by the heat of the dishwasher baking those minerals into the pores of the glass, and that may be permanent.

To guard against etching your crystal, wash it by hand in lukewarm water using a mild, nonabrasive detergent — the less the better, since excess detergent can leave a film. Don’t use abrasive pads.

Add a cup of distilled white vinegar to the rinse water to reduce spots, Vestal suggested. Dry immediately with a paper towel or a lint-free cloth. And while you’re drying, avoid twisting the glass as you hold the base. That could break the delicate stem.

Vestal said you can try cleaning cloudy crystal by filling the glass or container with distilled white vinegar and a little bit of rice and shaking. Or, if you want to treat the cloudiness a little more aggressively, you can use the cleaner CLR, she said. Don’t use the cleaner on crystal with metallic trim, however.

Store crystal right side up to avoid chipping the delicate rims. Give it plenty of space to allow the glass to expand in the heat without touching other pieces.

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Is it possible to covet a KitchenAid Mixer? Now it is.

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Testing Wal-Mart’s Made in the USA campaign

5 hours ago

With all the buzz about Wal-Mart’s new “Made in the USA” campaign, we were intrigued. Is this just a marketing ploy, or is Wal-Mart now carrying more American-made products to help revive domestic manufacturing and create more jobs, as it claims? 

We also wondered how locally sourced products compare in price and quality to the imports.

We sent a researcher into a local Walmart to scope out the goods. She bought and tested several items made in the U.S. against the closest imported match she could find. Here is what we learned.

Prices

The items sampled included socks, towels, skillets, light bulbs and kitchen mats. The total cost of the American-made merchandise hit $57.50 compared with $55.46 for the imports, a difference of $2.04. The socks, skillet and light bulbs produced in America were cheaper than the imported versions.

Marketing In-Store and Online

The marketing for Wal-mart’s “Made in the USA” inventory was confusing. Walmart.com features a special section for goods produced in America. Of the 402 items listed, however, only 196 are sold in stores, with the remainder available online. From this vantage point the campaign seemed like a marketing scheme, as much of the highlighted merchandise includes products like common household cleaners, toiletries, crayons and other goods that Wal-Mart has probably been selling all along. We noted some “Made in the USA” toys and home goods that we thought worth comparing, but further research revealed that many of these items were sold only at select locations, none of which were in driving distance of our researcher’s home.

Once arriving at the nearest Wal-Mart Supercenter, we found an array of products made in the USA. The retailer has mounted displays of some of these items on end caps, where they stand out. But there is no signage calling to attention to their sourcing, nor did we see “Made in the USA” signs affixed to the relevant items in the aisles, on shelves or atop racks.

Moreover, “Made in the USA” labeling was not always shopper-friendly. We had to carefully inspect the tags on some merchandise to determine the country of origin. For example, the packaging for a skillet contained a small symbol with “USA” printed across the front, so we picked it up thinking it was made here. Wrong. The fine print said engineered in the U.S., while deeper digging uncovered a smaller tag saying “Made in China.” Does the skillet count for Wal-Mart’s “Made in the USA” campaign? Well, no. As Gregory Karp points out in the Chicago Tribune, products may display USA-associated imagery without actually being manufactured in the United States. The Federal Trade Commission upholds strict “Made in the USA” laws, but there are ways to fool shoppers. Consumers keen to buy American should read labels carefully.  

The Products

Although we’re happy to get on board the USA-made train, we also pay homage to value pricing and quality performance. At the end of the day we found no clear-cut association among country of origin, price and quality.

Skillets: We tested the American-made Lodge cast iron skillet ($15.92) against the China-made (but USA-engineered) WearEver Cast Lite skillet ($24.97). The result was a draw. We seasoned both as directed and cooked fried eggs in each at the same temperature for the same length of time. There was a considerable amount of sticking with the Lodge skillet, perhaps due to the highly pitted surface. The WearEver skillet required little seasoning and the eggs didn’t stick to its smooth surface. Our tasters declared the eggs better cooked in the WearEver skillet than in the Lodge. One downside of the WearEver is that the handle got very hot, very fast (the Lodge handle stayed much cooler), plus, it seemed less durable. The Lodge weighs more, however, and could be harder for some users to maneuver. It garners five-star reviews at the Wal-Mart site from more than four out of five purchasers, many of whom praise its durability and build quality even as several grumble about sticking food. We did not find reviews for the WearEver skillet.

Socks: In our comparison of the USA-made No Nonsense ($4.97/six pairs) and the China-made Danskin Now ($6.97/six pairs), we initially found the No Nonsense to be thicker, softer and seemingly more durable. After wearing each for a few days, though, we developed a preference for the Danskin Now socks. With neither brand could we slide into our shoes, but Danskin Now seemed to fit more snugly and it beat the competition in terms of staying up and staying put. The imported socks didn’t stretch as much with wear, seemed more breathable, and overall proved to be more comfortable.

Towels: At first glance we preferred the (American) Made Here bath towel ($14.97), an impression that carried through to the end. This exemplar is bigger, thicker and more absorbent than the Better Homes and Gardens bath towel ($5.88), which comes from India. The American product is very soft; it washed and dried well; and it generally seemed more durable and of higher quality than its Indian counterpart. Reviews posted at Wal-Mart rave about the Made Here towel and award it a solid five stars for the same qualities we identified. One reviewer says she is replacing all the towels in her home with this brand and others report ordering more after an initial tryout. Reviews of the Better Homes and Gardens bath towels often complain that they shed lots of lint, although that was not our experience. For less than $6, this isn’t a bad towel — it just doesn’t compare.  

Light bulbs: Light bulbs are hard to evaluate one against another in the short run because they should last a very long time. That said, we quickly noticed that the USA-made Sylvania 60-watt bulb ($1.68) wasn’t as bright as the China-made Great Value 60-watt equivalent (43 actual wattage), which sells for $3.68. We can’t predict longevity, but we decided that brighter light wins out despite the substantially higher price.   

Kitchen mats: There was no competition here. The China-made Mainstays Chef Mat ($13.96) clearly bested the U.S.-made Better Homes and Garden Chef Mat ($19.96). It’s soft, bounces back into shape regardless how long you stand on it and feels more comfortable for long periods. The Better Homes and Garden mat is somewhat hard and we noticed that the grooves created from our feet didn’t go away, even overnight. For longer cooking spells, the comfort level just didn’t hold up. It did stay in place better than the Mainstays mat, however, and lay flatter against the floor, making it less of a tripping hazard. But overall we preferred the imported Mainstays Chef Mat.

More from Cheapism:

Battle of the giants: Amazon vs. Wal-Mart

Ultra cheap cell phone plans comparison

Wal-Mart vs. Target vs. Kmart showdown

Defensive shopping tactics and strategies

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Laser-Guided Tactical Pizza Cutter Is Obviously Completely Necessary (PHOTO)

There are certain tasks in life that require tactical precision — dismantling an explosive, discharging a firearm, slicing a wedding cake. You know what we probably wouldn’t count among those things? Cutting a pizza.

Good people of the internet, are your hands so shaky that you are mangling a pizza as you try to slice it? Are your loved ones so aggressively dissatisfied with your pizza cutting ability that they’re revolting? Have you been disproportionally divvying up pepperoni slices? THE HUMANITY. Let’s all thank heavens that someone invented a laser-guided pizza cutter. No, really.

This apparatus includes both a laser sight and a flashlight in its design, just in case you are cutting a pizza inside a tank. You can pick one up for yourself, or your favorite shaky-handed pizza lover on ThinkGeek for $14.99.

[via Foodbeast]

Also on HuffPost:

Loading Slideshow

  • Quirky Slice

    This pizza wheel has “crust-cutting blades” on either side. A spinning knife with two other knives sticking out of it. Awesome idea!

    em$12.99 on a href=”http://www.amazon.com/Quirky-Slice-Pizza-Cutting-Blades/dp/B008BVRXYQ/ref=sr_1_123?s=home-gardenie=UTF8qid=1352306977sr=1-123keywords=pizza+cutter”Amazon/a/em

  • Double Wheel Pizza Cutter

    Because one wheel is so efficient, you might as well have two.

    em$33.90 on a href=”http://www.amazon.com/WMF-Profi-Stainless-Double-Cutter/dp/B00005O65Y/ref=sr_1_55?s=home-gardenie=UTF8qid=1352306905sr=1-55keywords=pizza+cutter”Amazon/a/em

  • Pizza Cutter

    This hand-forged steel behemoth is simply labeled “Pizza Cutter.” We think we probably would have gone with something a little more Medieval-sounding?

    em$38.00 on a href=”http://www.uncommongoods.com/product/pizza-cutter”UncommonGoods/a/em

  • Equalizer Multi-Blade Rocker

    The inventor of this pizza cutter probably needs to calm down about equally-sized slices. Just a guess.

    em$210 – $275 on a href=”http://www.akitchen.com/store/pizza-rocker.html”ABestKitchen.com/a/em

  • Folding Pizza Wheel

    Uh, yeah. Shouldn’t be any problems with people slicing their knuckles open here.

    em$6.99 on a href=”http://www.amazon.com/Progressive-Folding-Pizza-Wheel/dp/B000QA2GDS/?ref=sr_1_1?s=home-gardenie=UTF8qid=1346174760sr=1-1keywords=Progressive+Folding+Pizza+Wheeltag=gmgamzn-20″Amazon/a/em

  • Il Motorino

    Mario Batali is definitely clicking the link to order this one.

    em$10 on a href=”http://www.amazon.com/Kikkerland-II-Motorino-Pizza-Cutter/dp/B0096643J8/?tag=theawes-20″Amazon/a/em

  • Ny’Fork

    For the love of all that is holy, just pick up the slice of pizza.

    em$6 on a href=”http://www.stupidiotic.com/product_info.php?cPath=9_14products_id=27″StupidIdiotic/a/em

  • Park Tool Pizza Tool

    Get it? Because bikes have wheels and it’s a pizza wheel? Seriously, we hate this so much.

    em$13.70 on a href=”http://www.amazon.com/Park-Tool-PZT-2-Pizza/dp/B001B6LNB2/ref=sr_1_43?s=home-gardenie=UTF8qid=1352306876sr=1-43keywords=pizza+cutter”Amazon/a/em

  • PI Pizza Cutter

    Get it? Because it’s Pi and — oh, forget it.

    em$22.95 on a href=”http://www.amazon.com/NUOP-PI-Pizza-Cutter-Red/dp/B005LVZOCM/ref=sr_1_110?s=home-gardenie=UTF8qid=1352306950sr=1-110keywords=pizza+cutter”Amazon/a/em

  • Pizza Pal

    This electric pizza cutter is one of our favorite “a href=”http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/04/electric-pizza-cutter_n_1937340.html”What Could Possibly Go Wrong?/a” jokes.

    em$9.99 – $30 on a href=”http://www.ebay.com/sch/i.html?_trksid=p4069.m570.l1313_nkw=regal+pizza+pal_sacat=0″eBay/a/em

  • Pizza Boss

    For the “handyman” in your life who really just eats too much pizza.

    em$14.99 on a href=”http://www.thinkgeek.com/product/eaba/?rkgid=275668648cpg=ogplasource=google_plagclid=CPmF25GivbMCFYKK4AodH2cATA”ThinkGeek/a/em

  • Pizza Cutter With Stand

    The designers of this pizza wheel were apparently so inspired by their design, that they took the time to think up the name “Pizza Cutter with Stand” for their masterpiece. Also, kids, never sit on the edge of a blade that rotates!

    em$40 on a href=”http://www.amazon.com/Pizza-Cutter-Stand-Kitchen-Accessories/dp/B009DLJ3OG/ref=sr_1_218?s=home-gardenie=UTF8qid=1352307062sr=1-218keywords=pizza+cutter”Amazon/a/em

  • Pizza Peddler

    “His legs move as you cut!” Yes, because he’s probably trying to get away from the BLADE UNDERNEATH HIM.

    em$19.99 on a href=”http://www.perpetualkid.com/pizza-peddler-rolling-cutter.aspx”Perpetual Kid/a/em

  • Pizza Scissors Spatula

    Sadly, a href=”http://www.amazon.com/dp/B003TXB8WO/?tag=047-20″Amazon does not know when this item will be back in stock/a. We literally have no idea what you’ll do in the meantime.

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