Thursday, January 06, 2011

Things To Avoid: Guardsman Furniture Insurance

We bought a bunch of furniture from Domain 3 years ago.  Though I normally avoid extended warranties and insurance - especially for stuff like this - one of the pieces was a light-colored upholstered sofa.  We didn't want to have some type of protective chemical applied to any of the furniture so we were going to decline the protection plan.  But the beauty of the Guardsman plan, or so we thought, was that it insured the furniture for 5 years against accidental breakage and even damage inflicted by youngers without applying any products to the furniture.  It's just a financial protection plan.  We paid $99 to insure the 4 pieces of furniture we bought.

We had a feeling the kids might mar the sofa in some way - and they did.  A red marker stain now stretches about 4 feet across the sofa.  It took a few days to track down the policy information and figure out the procedure for filing a claim with Guardsman.

I called them to report the damage about a week or two after it occurred.  While I was going through the hassle, I thought I'd get them to repair the back of an upholstered leather chair that was coming loose.  When I called they took down all my information and then E-mailed me claim forms.

One of the requirements spelled out on the claim forms was to submit a copy of the sales receipt showing we purchased the Guardsman protection.  I was hoping they'd have our information on file already but no such luck.  If we couldn't produce the sales receipt we'd be denied coverage.

Fortunately after much searching I was able to track down the sales receipt.  I filled out the forms, faxed them in, and waited.  A couple weeks later they left a message saying they needed some additional information.  I called back and they told me they were denying the claim because I took too long after the damage occurred before filing the claim.  They said their policy is that claims need to be filed within 5 days of when the damage occurs.

When I filled out the forms they asked when the damage occurred.  I arbitrarily said December 1st, not realizing it would be the information they'd use as justification for denying my claim.  The thing is - the loose back on the upholstered chair was a gradually occurring condition that didn't have a definitive date.  I told the claim agent I thought it was a ridiculously tight time frame to report a claim.  She said it was important to have a tight time frame because they didn't want stains to set before they sent a repair technician out to the house.  If that's true - why does it take 3 weeks to go through a claims process?  And what sense does that make in the context of damaged furniture having nothing to do with stain removal?

I think it's just one of many ways they deny claims based on technicalities.

The only thing that annoys me more than the aggressive sale of extended warranties and insurance plans is when the companies behind them make it difficult to file a claim then deny claims for minor technicalities.

I spoke to two agents, the second being Kristen, employee ID number 7001.  She seemed entirely too comfortable rejecting a claim outright for such a minor technicality, as if she did it all day.  I've filed a complaint with the Massachusetts Consumer Affairs Division of Insurance, and I wrote this blog.

With that, Guardsman, you're dead to me.  It's not the end of the world that our stupid furniture has some damage, but we paid you money to insure it and you failed to live up to your end of the bargain.  You know your operation is a sham.  I hope you go out of business soon.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

If you're not Dutch, you're not much

A friend of mine once uttered this phrase, and it makes me laugh now just as it did then. As long as I’m going to pay homage to my mother’s side of the family, I should also show a little love to my dad’s. He was born and raised in Altoona, Pennsylvania and as a result, he carries with him a bit of Pennsylvania Dutch heritage. One of his family traditions was for the first dinner of the year to be Pork Roast and Sauerkraut. He insists that the meal brings good luck. Although I haven't seen any compelling evidence to that effect, I'm a sucker for the tradition. For many years, my mother made this dish for the family and although I didn’t love it growing up, I’ve come to appreciate it. Now my family loves it and it's an easy way to get my Dad to come and visit. (Now if only I could make him a Shoofly pie.)

This one is super simple and the perfect meal to throw in the oven on a cold Winter day. The ratio of pork to sauerkraut is very forgiving so whatever size roast is used, the finished product should turn out well. Serve with applesauce, mashed potatoes and pan roasted brussels sprouts and you’re good to go.

Good Luck Pork Dinner

1 onion, roughly chopped
2 apples, roughly chopped
Boneless pork loin roast, I used a 3 ½ pound roast
2 large jars of sauerkraut, I used 64 ounces total

For the dumplings:
2 cups of all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon of baking powder
¾ teaspoon of salt
1 cup milk
3 tablespoons butter, melted
finely chopped herbs to taste, I used about a tablespoon of Herbes de Provence

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Layer a large covered casserole dish with apples and onions and then sauerkraut. Rinse and then season the pork with salt and pepper and place in the middle of the dish atop the sauerkraut. Cover and bake until pork registers 150 degrees.

Next, make the dumplings by combining the wet ingredients and then adding the dry ingredients. Stir with a fork until the mixture just comes together. Drop dumpling mixture in balls onto the surface of the sauerkraut, cover and return to oven. Cook until the dumplings have a brownish tinge and the pork registers 160 degrees.

Enjoy with a German Riesling or your wine of choice. Here’s to a great year!

The Feast of the Seven Fishes, Casa Dwyer style

As a little girl, I remember Christmas Eve as more than just the night Santa came to visit. I remember my mother and Grandma cooking fish; the only suitable Italian dinner for that special evening. There wasn’t much discussion about the whys of having fish, it was more a tradition than anything else. My mother would make Shrimp Scampi; some years there would be fried flounder and on good years, there would be panzerotti. In Grandma’s northern Italian interpretation these were deep fried, hand rolled balls of potato. She pronounced them as if there was an “a” at the end of the word – "panzarotta." This recipe was the closest approximation I could find.

I couldn’t bring myself to make the time consuming panzarotti but I did want to honor Nonna and my Italian heritage by making fish on Christmas Eve. While my Grandma isn’t cooking anymore, I wanted to make a dinner she might enjoy. My other goal was to accomplish this without spending an inordinate amount of time on the meal – there were still presents to wrap! I did all my grocery shopping on Christmas Eve morning, which ensured that it was all as fresh as possible.

Here was the menu for the small crowd who joined us:

Lobster spread with crudite and crackers
Bacon wrapped scallops
Maryland crabcakes
Baked, stuffed clams
Caesar salad
Lobster ravioli with herbed brown butter sauce
Roasted salmon

A very busy life has made me more than once want to throw in the culinary towel entirely but the truth is that I enjoy the tradition of food and the memories they bring up. So even though I'm not trying to recreate the original meal exactly, I hope to recreate the experience of everyone gathering in the kitchen and enjoying food and conversation that is celebratory, symbolic and delicious.
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