fall dinner….mmmmm

Fall cooking. The humidity is finally gone and the temperatures have cooled enough that I don’t feel like my kitchen is a sweatshop.

I have thawed one lonely beef shank we found in the freezer, but it’s not enough for dinner, but I decided it was going to be dinner and decided to get it a companion. So off to Worrell’s Butcher Shop in Malvern Borough I went. They had beautiful fresh beef shanks!

I continued along King Street to Kimberton Whole Foods in Malvern. There I picked up the produce I wanted to add to this recipe plus a few other things. (I would’ve gotten adorable little pumpkins there to except they were $2.99 a piece and I thought that was a bit expensive for pumpkins that were literally very small, but I digress.)

So the ingredients – 2 to 3 beef shanks, Crimini mushrooms, Shitake mushrooms, leeks, shallots, celery, carrots, 2 red hatch chilies from my garden , red wine, two 8 oz. containers of Pacific vegetable broth, one 14.5 oz. can of Muir Glenn fire roasted diced tomatoes, sweet paprika , smoked paprika, 4 cloves of garlic diced, dash of cumin, salt and pepper, fresh rosemary, two bay leaves, fresh thyme.

First I start by dredging the beef shanks in a little flour and kosher salt. I toss into a Dutch oven on the stove with olive oil heating. I brown each of the beef shanks ( I ended up with three for this recipe.)

Then I add about a third of a bottle of wine and let that simmer as I am slicing up my vegetables.

As I am adding my vegetables beginning with the garlic, shallots, and leeks I also add one of the 8 oz. containers of vegetable broth.

After I add the garlic, shallots, and leeks I add diced up Hatch chilies, followed by carrots, celery, and the mushrooms.

Next I add the fresh herbs and a little more kosher salt. (I don’t start with a lot of salt I can adjust it later so I really am being judicious with it.)

Then I add a dash of cumin, smoked paprika, sweet paprika, black pepper, the can of tomatoes, and finally another third of a bottle of wine.

Now my beef shanks are ready for the oven. They will cook in a low oven for 3 to 4 hours.

People like to serve these over mashed potatoes, I also like to serve them over rice. And I like brown basmati rice, or a wild rice mixture.

My apologies that this recipe is it more exact, but it just isn’t. I think people need to judge for themselves the amount of herbs and spices and salt and pepper they want in a recipe.

Anyway beef shanks and mushrooms are a wonderful and hearty fall meal. Slow cooking it means the meet will be fork tender.

Bon Appétit!

as seen at kimberton whole foods malvern

…He had me at “spiritual gangsta” !

Haven’t seen a VW like this in forever.

I hope my blog critics don’t find this to be overly liberal propaganda… it’s just enjoying what you see in the world.

And this guy’s VW made me smile.

corporate america and the lost art of customer service

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So while breaking news out of Washington the other day was Pat Toomey is now in charge of the candy drawer in the United States Senate, life goes on. My only comment on Senator Toomey is I hope he will be paying for candy out of his own pocket and is not expensing it to United States taxpayers. He was already sending out junk mail news updates about it this morning, and somehow I doubt he paid for that personally, right? Fair is fair, he wants to live his conservative values, he should be paying for the candy.

Meanwhile, let’s focus on what we, as every day people “pay for”. I would like to particularly zoom in on customer service. Now there’s a loaded topic, right?

Customer service. I think it is a lost art form. 2015/01/img_2768.gif

Let’s begin with Pennsylvania based banking giant, PNC Bank. Headquartered in Pittsburgh, they used to offer terrific service. Today, I’ve discovered not so much once you get past a friendly local teller and lots and lots of fees and service charges…..but not customer service one would expect. It seems like they want your money, but they don’t really care about the customer.

In November, I walked into a local PNC branch during their posted business hours to open another account. I was told I couldn’t open it that day, but I would have to make an appointment to come back another day.

HUH?????

Yes it sounds like the opening lines to a very bad standup comedy routine but it was true. A woman walked into a bank to open an account check in hand and was told to come back another time. Yup, it happened.

But no worries, the gentleman I spoke to on the phone from the branch when they told me as an existing customer with check in hand it was not possible to open a new bank account in a bank branch during business hours has been having a swell time checking out my LinkedIn profile. (Yes dear, peek a boo, I can see your profile too!)

I wrote to PNC Bank about this, and basically, they don’t care. They sent me a brief note in response to my feedback and said they would notify the branch and regional managers. Can you hear the crickets chirping?

My better half and a lot of people I know asked me why I still deal with PNC. Having been an account holder there in good standing for so many years (errr decades actually) , it’s probably habit as much as anything else. After my year-end negative experiences with PNC Bank, I’m thinking a New Year’s resolution might be to shop for a new bank. I opened the new account PNC couldn’t be bothered opening that day at Citizens Bank. So far they have been amazing as far as service. But this wasn’t my only customer service issue with PNC before the end of 2014.

2015/01/img_2764.gifAt the end of December, I paid off a credit card balance in full. I don’t like carrying balances, so I chose from their menu the painful option of pay the full balance off. It wasn’t the largest balance on the face of the earth, but I honored my obligation and paid it off. The credit card was with PNC.

A few days later, even though I paid off the balance in full, they added on one last finance charge. So instead of pulling up my account and finding a zero balance, what I found was what amounts to a nuisance charge. One would think with computer software being what it was that if you choose the option of paying off your entire balance that they would include all charges right?

It was just a few dollars, but at this point I have decided it is the principle of the thing. So I decided to contact customer service. I could not contact customer service on this topic from my account online and conveniently send a message that way, I had to physically call them. That happened to be New Year’s Eve day. I sat on hold for 40 minutes two different times without getting through. That’s 80 Minutes total of the inanity of hold music and the occasional syrupy voice saying how valued you are as a customer without reaching a real person.

My time is worth something I think, so I gave up and contacted them through their social media customer service. On Monday, as in this most recent Monday, January 5th, I received a form letter dated December 31 from a retail escalation specialist at PNC Bank telling me they were unable to reach me by telephone. The letter wasn’t even on letterhead, and my contact information is always updated. I spent many years working in the financial services industry, I know how important that is.

I called the woman Monday who was listed in the letter and left a message with my phone number. I will admit it wasn’t the most pleasant message because I’m pretty hot about this at this point. But it’s Friday, and no one has been able to return a phone call, and that is even after I contacted them again this morning asking why their escalations specialist hadn’t contacted me yet even though I responded promptly to the form letter not on letterhead. How is that customer service? But they thanked me for following up…..

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Of course because I contacted back their social media customer service and told them I hadn’t heard from anyone and that I was going to blog about it, I expect now the phone will ring eventually. I have come to the conclusion that as PNC has grown, customers aren’t really valued any longer unless they are giant mega millions depositors. That’s sad.

But moving along let’s talk about another Pennsylvania corporate giant, Comcast. Comcast is based in Philadelphia. If you live in the city of Philadelphia depending on where you live even in Center City you have very little in the way of choice for cable. Where my mother lives it’s Comcast or Comcast.

So my mother is a senior citizen, she wasn’t weaned on computers or fancy cable and digital television equipment. But she’s not an idiot. She’s been calling Comcast for a couple months at this point with problems with her service. Service she continues to pay for even though she isn’t getting all of the service she is paying for which includes basic customer service.

I wish I could switch her to Verizon FiOs but she’s like prisoner of Zenda because they don’t offer it where she lives. She has lost hours and days off for life waiting for Comcast to come and fix the problem. She is incredibly frustrated by the fact that they outsource their customer service offshore to foreign countries at this point. She said she would have no problem speaking with someone from any country if she could simply understand them, and they her.
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My mother is very clear spoken as well as well spoken, and there’s nothing wrong with her hearing. But when you call Comcast customer service and you go to one of their call centers offshore, the accents are pretty heavy, and they also don’t get apparently a lot of the nuances of every day colloquial American English. And they seem unable to deviate from an inane script for the most part, and frustrate her by not addressing the questions she’s asking.

In the good old days of the not-too-distant past, you used to be able to call Comcast and get call centers in Delaware or Northeast Philadelphia, if not other areas of the United States.

So in addition to the frustration of my mother dealing with Comcast offshore “customer service”, there is the frustration of they are now worse than Time Warner apparently in timeliness of keeping appointments. My mother has been blown off completely for some appointments, and kept waiting hours after the “appointment window” without a phone call on others. And let’s discuss the technicians.

They arrive, and no one seems to know what to do. It’s always someone else’s responsibility to fix it I guess for lack of a better description. Finally they decided that they would have to rerun part of the wiring in her home that they had run in the first place, and not too many years ago. So my mother said okay fine, just have to put the carpet back the way it is supposed to be. Apparently that was a big huge to do and in the end what happened is some technician stapled my mother’s expensive drapes to the floor when they stapled the cabling all around the apartment again. She takes pride in her home, personally I would have been apoplectic when I discovered my curtains stapled to the floor. What kind of slob does that kind of work anyway?

I guess I don’t understand how they could be that sloppy and if the cable was originally run under carpets and such so as not to be obtrusive or a trip hazard or visually ugly why they couldn’t do that again? I get that they don’t want to do extra work, no one does, but if they had installed it in a certain way using their Comcast technicians in the first place, why couldn’t they just put it back that way??

Comcast has a lot of expensive real estate around the greater Philadelphia area, including their monster buildings in the city of Philadelphia. But what they have sacrificed as they have become giants is customer service.

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I’m beginning to think in corporate America, customer service is a lost art because so many companies don’t want to really offer actual customer service. It almost seems as if they feel customer service is counterintuitive to their best practices and bottom lines, as some of these giant corporations have so many more people that they should be able to service so many more people. But they don’t. You spent forever on hold losing your mind to that hold music and a syrupy automated voice thanking you for your patience as you mentally throw darts at a dart board trying not to scream. If you do tough it out and get an actual “customer service representative”, you might get someone who will listen to you but in the end will they actually do anything that is “customer service”?

It used to be American-made and American corporate customer service meant something. But today everything is outsourced or automated in addition to the customer service shortfalls. So when you call for the most American of companies, like American Express for example, you don’t know where your call center is, and that is if you can stand going through all of the call menus, the prompts, the autolady computer voices, and so on.

I remember once years ago having to call American Express on behalf of my then boss who was traveling in Europe. I got a call center in India, and I couldn’t understand them and they couldn’t understand me.

A recent call to my health insurance company Aetna, landed me in a call center in the Philippines. The customer service rep I got on the phone was incredibly pleasant, but she totally didn’t understand what I was trying to do. All I was trying to do was find out where my ID cards were and to verify my binding premium on my new policy was correctly credited.

The only thing this girl got out of our conversation (and was somewhat unable to process or think outside of her script) was she kept trying to sign me up for automatic debiting every month. As a matter fact I had to call back and say I want to be transferred to a United States on-shore call center to make sure I wasn’t signed up for things I didn’t request. And I had been signed up for the automatic debiting I did not want. In this case the language barrier was incredibly frustrating, but there was a true attempt at customer service.

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When I get a good customer service person on the phone these days, I am so complementary I’m sure they think I must’ve lost my mind. But, it is so seldom you actually get really good customer service any longer on the phone that I feel compelled to praise those who actually take the time to do their customer service jobs.

And I tire of the outsourcing, it’s all about the corporate dollar bottom line and what does it do besides line the pockets of executives of that company with a little extra jingle? What does it actually do for the customer who is frustrated by language barriers and hold times?

What about the person to person customer service in bank branches or with your cable service guy comes to fix a problem? Where has it gone? Why has it disappeared? Why is it inconsistent? I spent years in the financial services industry and even when a customer was driving me crazy I didn’t want them to get off the phone feeling less than 100% satisfied. So basically, I treated them the way I wish to be treated.

To me, good customer service should be part of the work ethic. I don’t think you can just do the job, I think you need to do it well. And if people are paying for customer service no matter how small or how large a customer they are, how old, how ordinary, how important, it shouldn’t matter. The customer is a customer is a customer.

This is why I like supporting small businesses so much. Of course, there are exceptions to that rule too. A local Chester County exception would be Athena Pizza in West Chester.

When they are “on”, their food and customer service is excellent, but their largest downfall is their inconsistency. And when you have a problem with an order, it all depends which member of the family owned business you get on the phone. There is literally the nice brother and the horrible brother. When you get the horrible brother, you understand how comedian Jerry Seinfeld got inspiration for one of his most famous characters the soup Nazi.

For 2015 it would be really nice if corporate America, or any business actually practiced what they preached as far as customer service goes. It doesn’t take much to be nice and helpful to customer. Not every customer is going to get the precise resolution they seek, but at the end of the day it’s all about how you treat the customer. And sometimes it would be nice if the company actually admit it when the customer is actually right. And yes the flipside of this argument is we is customers should try to be nice to the companies and their employees.

However if you want corporate customer service anywhere to pay attention to you these days you have to take your complaint to social media it seems. It’s like dog shaming for business. Why can’t the simple phone call take care of things anymore?

One final note is a couple of places where customer service is awesome on a local level is the Wegman’s in Malvern and Kimberton Whole Foods in Malvern. Wegmans is a big chain and Kimberton Whole Foods is a small chain, but somehow they managed not to forget the core values of customer service. Also the Verizon Wireless independent non corporate store in Frazer next to the Giant in the Lincoln Court Shopping Center should be mentioned as they are terrific.

Thanks for stopping by today.

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a little visit to kimberton whole foods malvern

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Yes….I had been avoiding it. I love the original Kimberton Whole Foods and I knew I would get myself into trouble once I walked through the doors!

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Yes….in no time at all my cart was filled with things I could not possibly live without today.

The new Malvern store took a long time getting here and it is a jewel of a store. It is on the small side, but given how overwhelming I find Wegmans, I am good with the size. The staff of the store is incredibly nice and helpful. The only thing I couldn’t find that I wanted today was Bulgur Wheat for Tabouli.

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I spent a ridiculous amount of time going through the store but it is just so clean and lovely. Every shelf is gleaming, and the produce is spectacularly beautiful. The prices are not for the faint of heart, so it is easy to rack up a high dollar check out without much effort —-but you know what you are paying for here. I am really glad they are open and look forward to warmer weather and local produce.

If you haven’t been to the Malvern store, go check it out. It is on the end of the Eastside Flats development on King St. in Malvern in a stand alone building. There is ample parking too.

Thanks for stopping by!

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east goshen farmers market light coming to malvern in 2013

File under taking the farmers market show on the road.

I love the East Goshen Farmers Market .  It is far better run than the Farm to City Markets I used to patronize because although not inexpensive, the price points at East Goshen’s market are a lot more attractive than the pricing I see some of the same vendors do in Bryn Mawr.  And there is a far greater variety of farms to choose from.  Also, the vibe is so awesome each week.  As someone settling into a new community after 30 plus years in another community, this is one of the little things that has helped my transition because although I do not know a lot of people out here yet, going to the market has helped be become comfortable with my new community.

East Goshen Farmers Market has so many terrific farmers, and I patronize all but one farm – the farming folk known as the Millers and Birchrun Hills Farm. Given the treatment people I know in West Vincent receive from Farmer-Supervisor Miller and the other supervisors in West Vincent, it is so unfortunate, but I just can’t patronize them.  To me it would be morally wrong to put jingle in their pockets. And that pains me, because no matter what I like to support local farmers whenever I can.

Mind you that opinion cost this blog being linked to the East Goshen Farmers Market site  (at their original request, not mine) and for the market manager Lisa O’Neill to treat me like I had a disease any time I tried to say hello.  She and her co-market manager Donna Levitsky are trying to be politically correct and  face it, I am not your average PTA mom…. and I am a blogger who doesn’t just blog about recipes and homemaking projects, so I get that, it’s cool.  I just don’t bother to say hi any longer. It is easier and makes them more comfortable – they are so busy on market days, I wouldn’t want to detract from what they have to do by saying hi, you know?

Anyway, Lisa has in all honesty produced a most fabulous market for East Goshen (I featured it in an article I wrote about farm markets and community gardens for Philly.com this summer) , and she is apparently taking her show on the road for 2013.  Malvern Patch is reporting that East Goshen’s market will be giving birth in the spring of 2013 to a mini version of itself in Malvern on Saturday mornings.  That is awesome, even if it is the exact same time and day I believe as the West Chester Growers Market which is quite simply amazing, as well as the market that is the original of all these local farm markets.

I am glad local farmers will be getting more exposure – this will be another producers only market.  That means to be there and sell, you grow it/you raise it.

One question, however.  East Goshen Farmers Market is sponsored by East Goshen Township and The Friends of East Goshen – and part of the money they say in their mission statement goes back to East Goshen Park.  So will part of the monies here go back to Burke Park in Malvern Borough where this will be held?  Who is sponsoring this market? Is the borough or is there another non-profit sponsor?  Or maybe they will start their own company or non-profit at this point? And what do Lisa O’Neill and her co-manager Donna Levitsky (one of the owners of Shellbark Hollow Farm which is a participating farm at East Goshen Farmers market) get out of this monetarily?  Not being mean, just being realistic.   A former neighbor is the market manager of the Bryn Mawr Farmers Market and I know the lady who manages the Collegeville Farmers Market. I know the incredible amount of time they put into running just one market.  Will they receive a salary for this Malvern market?  A profit-sharing slice of market profits?  Or is this all done in a volunteer capacity?  Either scenario is fine with me, I am not judging – I am merely curious how it all works.  Most markets I have come across, pay their market managers something for all their efforts. And running a Saturday morning market will sure mean more effort as they will be up with the roosters to ensure the market is set up by 9 a.m.

Here’s the update from Patch and I am looking forward to this market and Kimberton Whole Foods coming to Malvern!  I am still not a fan of the development occurring on East King Street, however, outside of Kimberton Whole Foods coming to town.  I think the development in the end will prove to be too dense and too much for the borough of Malvern to handle.

New Malvern Farmers Market Begins in Spring 2013

About 25 growers and vendors will set up shop in Burke Park on Saturdays.

ByPete Kennedy  Email the author  5:30 am

Malvern Borough will have a new, weekly farmers market in Burke Park starting Saturday, May 4, 2013.

The Malvern Farmers Market will be held Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. in Burke Park. It will feature about 25 farmers and food artisans in its first year, some of whom will appear on a rotating basis.

“It will start as a producers-only market,” co-manager Lisa O’Neill said. “There will definitely be a meat vendor in there, farm fresh eggs, local cheeses, local bakeries.”

What about cupcakes, dog treats and other less typical items for sale?

“The, what I call, value-added products will be there, but we’ll introduce them to the market after we get a solid farmers market up and going,” she said.

O’Neill, who currently runs the East Goshen Farmers Market with co-manager Donna Levitski, presented the plan for a Malvern market at the Sept. 18 Borough Council meeting. She credits Borough manager Sandy Kelley with helping her see the potential in Malvern….

In an email, O’Neill said the market will boost the local economy:

 

 Malvern is the perfect community for a farmers market – a  walking town, with plenty of parking on a weekend morning, and just the perfect distance from existing Saturday markets. We think this will benefit the entire Malvern community – every Saturday shoppers will head to Malvern for the market – while they’re in Malvern they can visit with all of the other Malvern merchants – giving local businesses a big weekend boost – everybody wins.

 

Many farmers markets have popped up in and around Malvern in recent years, but few have demonstrated staying power. The fate of the East Goshen Farmers Market for 2013 is in the hands of township officials, and two other nearby farmers markets—Great Valley and Rushton Farm—did not return in 2012.

 

Lisa O’Neill is right – local communities do indeed benefit HUGELY from things like farmers markets.  It brings people to town who might never otherwise visit.  And Malvern is cute.  The Bryn Mawr Farmers Market (albeit expensive) has greatly benefited Bryn Mawr by giving it foot traffic on Saturdays, and things like First Friday Main Line and Clover Market have also similarly benefited main street Ardmore.  (and if you have never been to either First Friday Main Line or Clover Market, you should check them out!)

Final note – today’s photos are of the veggies from Balsam Farms in Amagansett, NY…a little slice of heaven much like Sugartown Strawberries around here.

Hey, it is the end of September so what farms are doing the best corn mazes and hay rides and pumpkin things this year?  Let me know!  You know how I love pumpkins!!!