September 21, 2017

Le Creuset Soup Pot: A Must Have If You Love To Cook!

I love to cook and bake.  Le Creuset is one of my favorite brands, across their entire line.  Not cheap, but their quality is unsurpassed and their pieces are both gorgeous and charming, as well a superbly designed.   Truly pieces that will last a lifetime.

One must have Le Creuset cookware item (hint hint, it is on sale here at Le Creuset's website!) is their 3 1/2 quart Soup Pot.  It's called a Soup Pot, but it is a very versatile cookware pot and not just for soup.  I love the even heat distribution from the enameled cast iron.  The sloped sides allow for efficient stirring.  The pot transports easily from stove top to table.  Plus it's down right gorgeous.  And clean up is a breeze.

Here's a photo from the Le Creuset website.  I have this exact Soup Pot in the cerise (red) color.  Plus the Shrimp Pasta dish shown in the Soup Pot is on my "to make" list.  You can get the recipe on the Le Creuset website.

Photo credit:  lecreuset.com

Happy cooking!
 
Mary Rae Fouts

September 20, 2017

Toys 'R' Us Bankruptcy: Once again, history repeats itself with private equity firm ownership.

Did competition in the toy industry drive Toys 'R' Us into Chapter 11 bankruptcy, or was the main culprit something else?

Sure, toy industry competition play a part.  But I think the main culprit was something else.

And that something else is private equity firm ownership.

Contrary to some people's belief that Toys 'R' Us is a publicly-traded company, it is privately held by an investment group consisting of private equity firms.  Toy 'R' Us was a publicly traded company from 1978 through 2005, when an investment group (Bain Capital Partners LLC, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co., and real estate investment firm Vornado Realty Trust) took the company private by purchasing it for $6.6 billion.

Notice the purchase participation of a real estate investment firm?  Much of Toys 'R' Us' acquisition was based not on the chain's store operations and sales, but rather on the value of the company's real estate.

What has happened to Toys 'R' Us since then?  Not a lot of good.

Since Monday's Chapter 11 (reorganization) bankruptcy, the company has been very careful with its selection of words to explain its actions.  It has stated it "expects" to continue honoring warranties, return policies, and gift cards.  Expects?  Expects is not a very comforting word for those on the other end of a bankruptcy proceeding, including the company's 60,000 plus employees.

And about those employees, they have previously been given the middle finger by Toys 'R' Us' private equity owners.  Heck, 2 years ago, 67 New Jersey based Toys 'R' Us employees, skilled employees who worked primarily in the company's accounting division, were fired and replaced by imported workers from India using H-1B Visas.  To add to the indignity of being fired, the New Jersey based Toys 'R' Us accountants  were forced to train their Indian replacements before being shown the door.  Read about this crass stick-it-to-loyal-employees move in this New York Times article.

And I concur with analysts who have deep concerns about the future viability of Toys 'R' Us.  The company is drowning in a whopping $5 billion in acquisition-related debt.  Much of this debt obligation was due payable this year, which likely helped triggered the Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing.  Then, of course, there is the hyper online and brick and mortar competition in the toy industry.  With that combination of factors, I just don't see Toys 'R' us staying away from a future Chapter 7 liquidation bankruptcy.

Toy manufactures seem to concur, too.  They are demanding cash payment up front ... cash, baby, cash ... before shipping any toys to Toys 'R' Us.  This demand recently required Toys 'R' Us to secure $1 billion in financing for pre-payment of toy orders.  And with the upcoming holiday season, this prepayment demand debt is only going to get worse.

Is the Toys 'R' Us situation unique?  Nope.  Similar situation happened to the former San Francisco Bay Area based clothing chain Mervyn's.  Mervyn's was taken private when it was acquired by a group of private investment firms including Sun Capital Partners, Cerberus Capital Management, and real estate investment firm Lubert-Adler Management.  But you see, the investment group didn't purchase Mervyn's based on the company's store operations and sales, but rather for the value of Mervyn's real estate portfolio.

Yep, for the value of the Mervyn's buildings.  Notice the similarity to the Toys 'R' Us privatization?

And what happened?  You guessed it.  A mere 4 years later, Mervyn's filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, followed by full liquidation through a Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

Mervyn's.  Toys 'R' Us.  Equity firm ownership.  Value of company's real estate.  Sounding familiar?

Ah, history.  Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

Mary Rae Fouts

September 19, 2017

Cats Ring Bells for Treats Video - Hilarious!

Photo Credit:
John Thompson on youtube.com
Ok, admittedly I am a dog person.  But ... my good friend Gina sent me this hilarious video (posted below) I just have to share.  Are these hat wearing, bell ringing cats adorable - and hilarious - or what?!

I mentioned to my husband that perhaps I should try training our food obsessed Husky-Malamute mix Sid this ring-a-bell-get-a-treat trick.  Jim laughed and said Sid would never stop ringing the bell!  🔔

Enjoy for a smile and a laugh.



Mary Rae Fouts

September 18, 2017

Gambell, Alaska: A Boxed Cake Mix = Love to Remote Alaskan Villagers

Read for some love?  Food love, that is.

Wonderful heartwarming story in today's New York Times highlighting the importance of both homemade food and local traditions.   More precisely, now a boxed cake mix brings happiness to Alaska's remote villages.  Read the article and its many insightful comments here.

Photo credit:  newyorktimes.com

Take a moment to think of some of your fondest life memories.  Many of them will evoke food, whether it be Grandmother's apple pie or Aunt Mae's hamburger and noodle casserole. 

I love to cook and bake.  Always have.  Always will.  I am an avid sourdough baker, and frequently share my sourdough bread and cinnamon rolls.  Weeks after sharing, I continue to receive thankful comments of appreciation; of how much the bread or rolls meant to the recipient.

A recent sourdough bread bake.
All sourdough starter, no active or dried yeast.
This is my Regular Sourdough Bread.
I also bake Cinnamon Swirl Sourdough Bread and Sourdough Cheese Bread.

Slice of my Regular Sourdough Bread.
Just the right amount of holes for great sandwiches and toast.
Made with 89% unbleached bread flour and 11% whole wheat flour.
Also raw unfiltered honey and other good stuff.
So good!

And remember the slower times in life when families actually ate together at the dinner table, with no smart phones in sight?  (Secret:  that is exactly what happens at my home!)  And dinner was home cooked and not picked up fast food?  (Secret #2:  once again, that is exactly what happens at my home!)

Oh, and the highly-demanded Rum Cake made by Tanana, Alaska resident and grocery store owner Cynthia Erickson?  You can get the recipe in the article above.  And boy, does it sound delish!

Food = Love.  💖

Mary Rae Fouts

September 15, 2017

BART: Six Robbery Victims Sue BART Alleging Inadequate Precautions to Prevent Crime

BART, the San Francisco Bay Area's rail-based public transportation system.   It's no secret that crime has increased throughout the BART system, and that BART management is, to put it mildly, FUBAR.  Heck, following a fatal shooting on a BART train in last year, it was revealed that most of the security camera on the BART trains were nothing more than fake, non-working cameras with blinking lights.

And just how much has crime increased on BART? Lots.  As in mega lots.  The San Jose Mercury News reported in July (read the article here) that there was a 41% increase in violent crimes for the first five months of 2017 compared with the same time period in 2016. Property crimes are also up 14 percent.

Makes you feel all safe and snugly on BART, doesn't it?

But, while I sympathize with the robbery victims and feel that BART management and its Board of Directors are the definition of incompetent, I don't see this lawsuit going anywhere.   Why?
The Supreme Court has already ruled that police do not have a constitutional duty to protect someone (Castle Rock v. Gonzales, 2005).  How is the plantiffs' attorney going to argue away that pesky little fact?
On a side note, don't people bear personal responsibility for being aware of their surroundings, and keeping valuables safe?  One of the items stolen during one of the robberies was a duffel bag that, according to one of the plaintiffs, contained a 6-generation family heirloom.  Which begs the question:
Where's the wisdom of someone transporting a precious 6-generation family heirloom inside a duffel bag, while taking public transportation at night?
Read about the lawsuit (and readers' numerous comments) in this East Bay Times article.

Mary Rae Fouts