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Sunday, November 29, 2009

Frugality 101: Keep your Eyes Open

This afternoon, Mr. FS and I took our dear daughter to a fried chicken place for a parking lot rendezvous. She met up with a friend for a ride back to college.

Moments before we left, Mr. FS noticed that he had left his cell phone in his cycling gear, which was floating in a bucket awaiting a wash. OOPS!!!

Since the fried chicken place was across the street from Wal-mart, we decided to get a replacement cell phone there. And pick up some tortillas.

I am usually not allowed to go to Wal-mart, since my trips there used to be followed by a lengthy comatose state and depression. No kidding. But we decided to take the chance. Of course, the cheap cell phone we wanted was out of stock. On to the tortillas.

To get to the bread area, we passed through produce. I stopped short: sweet potatoes at 15 cents/pound! I assigned Mr. FS the task of picking out some sweet potatoes. Then, after picking up the tortillas, I remembered another rule of Frugality 101: if one thing is marked down, so is another. Hence we discovered celery, string beans, and broccoli crowns, all for ridiculously low prices.

Total price for two packs of tortillas and assorted vegetables: $5.00. Mostly for the tortillas.

I asked Mr. FS if he would have noticed the sweet potatoes, since he goes to Wal-mart solo, on rare occasions. He said that he didn't bother looking when I was around, since he knew I would notice anything of interest.

So the third rule of Frugality 101: let the experts be experts.

That's the report on my post-Thanksgiving shopping. What could be better than vegetables?

Friday, November 27, 2009

Ghosts of Black Fridays Past

I just finished consuming my traditional post-Thanksgiving breakfast: mashed potatoes and gravy. Sheer bliss. I added some braised greens to the bowl also. These were from the garden. More bliss.

Miss Em was lamenting that this was her very first Thanksgiving without her older brother, aka Frugal Son. I said, "For me too." To which she replied: "You had 34 Thanksgivings without him." So true.

To distract her from her sorrow, I said, "Remember our after-Thanksgiving tradition? When we went to the toy sale at the Junior League Thrift Store in New Orleans followed by a trip to the zoo?"

She drew a blank at first, but then she remembered. "They always had Santa and big cookies."

Right. What I remember: Whizzing by Lakeside Shopping Mall, with its full parking lot. Then, on to Freret Street for the thrift store, which opened a small annex full of toys just for the season. It was always packed, and probably as competitive as any Black Friday sale at a big box store.

I was serene and guilt-free. I was looking for wood toys and art supplies; these were usually kind of beat-up looking and the art materials were not complete sets. Since I was not going for the most-desired new-in-box items, I did not feel that I was stealing from the poor, who were there for gifts for their little ones. Meanwhile, the kids were talking to Santa and eating cookies. Mr. FS was--as is his wont--standing in a corner looking bored or irritated.

Then on to the wonderful Audubon Zoo, where we had a membership for many, many years. On the biggest shopping day of the year, the parking lot was usually almost empty. Since the weather was usually nice, we would have a picnic lunch. Then home.

And now I will commence my favorite part of Thanksgiving: turning my turkey carcass into stock!

What's cooking at your house?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

More College Cooking in Nantes

And more mooching from Frugal Son's writing. It's good, non?

Anyway, the 28th was going to be the grand opening of a three-day convention and the main thing of the night was going to be the premier of a stage production of Jules Verne’s, Nantes’ most famous native son, “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.” I told Baptiste I would love to go and, since I had a wealth of ingredients from the market, I invited him over for dinner.

On the menu that night was a starter of pasta with a tomato and vegetable sauce, boiled and butter-grilled salsify, and seared bavette de boeuf. I discovered salsify, as I have already mentioned, in the Restau. U one day when I mistook it for potatoes. It is a long white cylindrically shaped vegetable that comes from the root of a plant, which, I believe, is in the thistle family. The flavor of the salsify itself is mild and the texture is a cross between boiled potatoes and asparagus. I happened to find some at Talensac for 3.90€ / kilo so I bought some and was going to attempt to make it for the first time.

Bavette is a cut of beef that is known in English as the “flank steak.” I wish I knew more about meat so I could tell you where it is from but, alas, all I can say is that it is a relatively unknown cut in America but in Europe it is prized for its flavor and tenderness. Actually, there are three cuts of beef that I’ve heard many culinary figures I respect talk about but that are hard to find in the USA. They are the bavette, flank steak, onglet, hanger steak, and hampe, skirt steak. All are supposed to be very flavorful (especially the onglet, which is a piece of muscle from the diaphragm, near the kidneys) and very tender provided you cook them quickly.

Anyway, I started cooking a bit before Baptiste and I were supposed to eat because I was making a rather complicated meal, i.e. something that involves more than one pot or pan, which is always a juggling act. First I boiled some water for the pasta and chopped up bell peppers, onions, garlic, and mushrooms for the sauce. I began to sauté them in the pan and while they were cooking, I began to prepare the salsify. Salsify is a root so you have to peel it before you can use it. Since I didn’t have a peeler, I borrowed a sharp knife from Jessica W., who was cooking alongside me that night, and got to work. It actually wasn’t that hard, though I did worry about peeling off too much of the flesh along with the skin, and there is something satisfying about seeing a smooth white stalk emerge from what was once a knobby and dirt encrusted black tuber. As soon as I peeled the salsify, I washed it, cut it into pieces about five or six centimeters long and then placed them in a bowl of water so that it wouldn’t start to discolor. An interesting thing about salsify is that when it is raw, the juice has a very dry and sticky feel on your hands; almost like how your hands feel after you’ve touched sap or resin. By the time I finished with the salsify, I only peeled two stalks out of about twelve, the pasta water was boiling and my veggies were properly cooked. I added pasta to the pot and poured tomato sauce into the pan along with some herbes de provence. A few minutes later, when the pasta was cooked, I scooped out the pasta using a slotted spoon and placed it onto a plate. Using the reserved, and still hot, pasta water, I cooked the salsify. The pasta sauce was finished by this point as well so I poured it into the little plastic container that my pork cheeks had been in (washed of course), which serves as my only “Tupperware.” I quickly rinsed out the pan and put it back on a hot burner to heat up for the next part of the meal.

Baptiste had arrived and had brought a bottle of Breizh-Cola (Bretagne Cola) and half a loaf of bread. Jessica W., Baptiste and I chatted while I finished up the first part of the meal. In the hot pan, I put a few chunks of butter and let it foam and subside. The salsify had been boiling for quite a while now so I drained them, rinsed them and then immediately transferred them to the pan with butter. To this, I added a clove of roughly chopped garlic and then let everything cook unmolested for a few minutes. Once the salsify began to char and pick up some nice black grill marks, I rotated them and let them cook some more. Meanwhile, I plated the pasta with some sauce and as soon as the salsify was finished, I put it directly on the plate next to the pasta. This was our first course and it was very good. I may have cooked the salsify a bit too long; it had lost some of the firmness that gives it such a great texture, but it was still very good and the garlic and butter really went well with the delicate sweetness of the root. The pasta was, of course, good and by now I’ve pretty much perfected my sauce.

After we finished the first part of the meal, I hopped up to prepare the “main course:” the bavette. I had started marinating the bavette a few hours before I started cooking in a mixture of red wine, soy sauce, and one clove of chopped garlic. I had read that bavette requires either really fast cooking or really slow cooking to keep it from being tough so I decided to go with a sort of “sear,” which is hard to do when using the anemic electric burners at the dorm. I turned the knob all the way up the fearsome power of six and let the dry pan sit on the burner for five or so minutes before adding the meat.

That morning at the market, the butcher asked me if I wanted a piece for one person and, even though I said yes, he gave me a giant piece of probably about 250g (about 9oz). Fortunately, Baptiste was eating with me so I cut the steak in half to make the portion a more reasonable size. Baptiste taught me the varying levels of doneness, of which there are only three in French: saignant (lit. bleeding but equivalent to rare), mi-cuit (lit. semi-cooked = medium), and cuit (cooked = well-done). Jokingly he added that you could also order it carbonizer, which basically means burnt. I explained to him that in English, there are five levels of doneness: rare, medium rare, medium, medium well-done, and well-done. He told me that he likes his steaks mi-cuit and I, of course, like any real food aficionado, like my steaks rare. I joke a little, but Anthony Bourdain emphatically insists that rare is the only way to order a steak and that chefs save the worst pieces of meat for people who order steaks well-done since cooking it that much destroys most of the flavor anyway. Anyway, with the pan hot, I plopped the two pieces of meat down onto the pan and let them cook away. After a few minutes on one side, I poured some of the remaining marinating juices (though minus the garlic because I didn’t want it to burn and contaminate the flavor) over the steak and then flipped them. A few more minutes on the other side and I poured the rest of the juice over the steaks and then removed mine to rest before eating. I cooked Baptiste’s for a little bit longer since he wanted his mi-cuit.

I brought the steaks to the table and, before they got cold, we ate. The steak was AMAZING. Tender, juicy, and the marinating flavors weren’t so powerful and salty that they overwhelmed the meat. My steak was cooked to perfection, or should I say not cooked to perfection since the center was a beautiful crimson red fading to a rosy grey until reaching the seared-brown outside. Baptiste’s, being the thicker of the steak halves, was at the same level of doneness as mine even though I had let it sit on the stove for a few extra minutes; however, he didn’t complain and said that because my cooking was so good he actually liked it rare.

Above all, I was proud of the efficiency with which I cooked and the fact that in spite of limited utensils (one small pot, one skillet, one bowl, one plate, and one Tupperware tub) I was able to assemble everything and get it onto the plate in good time and before it got cold. I think the key was that I never let the skillet get cold. I didn’t really ever wash it in between uses, just wiped it with a nearly dry sponge until it was clean and then put it straight back onto the hot burner. With Baptiste’s help, I did the dishes and brought everything back up to my room and then we headed out to go to Utopiales.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Pork Cheeks in Nantes

In a recent internet chat, Frugal Son averred that he liked the Korean custom, whereby each child gives a certain percentage of income to support aging parents! So to mooch off my child in advance, here is another installment of his adventures cooking in France.

****Note: Will be "Gone Fishing" for a few days. Back Monday.

Outside the skating rink, Farah and I agreed to meet back up at her house to cook dinner. I had bought joue de porc (pork cheeks) and I was itching to make an apple-pork stew. At Farah’s house, I started off by searing and browning the cheeks in a dry pot, removing the cheeks, and then adding some onion and garlic to the pot. Once the onions had gently browned, I put the cheeks back in the pot and added enough chicken broth—reconstituted from bouillon cubes of course—to nearly cover the cheeks. I added some cidre doux, which is only 2.5% alcohol by volume, a few pinches from my bag of ever-useful herbes de provence, and a sliced carrot. The rest of the cooking was just letting the mixture simmer and occasionally adding a little more cidre doux to keep the cheeks mostly under-liquid.

I don’t know if I ever wrote about my first oyster mushroom experience but in any case, while the soup was simmering away, I cooked up the remaining half of the oyster mushrooms. Raw, they have a mild mushroom taste differentiated from your typical white button mushroom only by a slight, peppery aftertaste. Quickly and lightly sautéed in a pan, however, with some salt and butter until they soften just a little bit and the flesh begins to glisten, they transmogrify (thank you “Calvin & Hobbes" for teaching me that word) into something completely different. Suddenly, they are bursting with a flavor at once meaty and buttery but also with an intensely concentrated earthiness that other mushrooms can only dream of achieving. One mustn’t cook them too long—lest they turn into slimy, flaccid, and pathetic slivers of mush—because the texture is one of the key parts of the experience. In spite of their name, oyster mushrooms, called pleurotes in French (something to do with tear-drop shaped?), taste nothing like their namesake shellfish to my palate. The pleurotes, which take only five minutes to cook and only slightly longer to devour, were a nice distraction from one of the hardest things about cooking: waiting.

And wait we did. Pork cheeks are a tough piece of meat and to ensure that the hog cheeks wouldn’t damage ours, you have to cook them for a long time to tenderize them. While we waited, Farah made some pomme de terres à la vapeur, that is to say, she chopped them and then microwaved them in a bowl with some water. After about an hour, I sliced open a pork cheek and took a sample bite. The meat was tender, but not mushy, so, to finish off the dish, I added two cubed apples to the broth and let the whole thing rest for a few minutes so that the apples would soften.

We brought everything to the table, nothing more than a coffee table, and began our meal. The pork cheeks were really good: succulent, flavorful and tender, but with enough integrity left in them that they didn’t just fall to shreds. The cheeks don’t have your typical bold porky flavor; I’m having trouble finding the words to explain it, but rather than having just the intense “pork” flavor on the tongue, which crescendos intensely and then quickly dissipates, the cheeks had a muted and more rounded flavor that lingered longer. The broth had thickened significantly and the savory sauce, with just a tinge of sweetness from the apples, was good when mixed with the potatoes. The richness of the pork was complemented so well by the sweetness of the apples, though I do wish there would have been a bit more acidity to add some depth to the flavor. Also, the texture of the apples was not great; they had been a bit mealy when raw and cooking did little to improve them. On the whole, however, the meal was very good and the flavors of the various components—meaty pork, light vegetables, and sweet apples—made each bite interesting.

To finish off the meal, I made a very simple dessert using two leftover apples, which I had sliced thinly. First, I put some butter in a pan and let it foam and subside before liberally tossing in sugar. I spread the sugar around, trying to distribute it evenly, and then immediately added the apple slices. I let them cook until they had browned and then flipped them. Once finished, they were a pale golden-brown and covered in a sticky caramel like sauce. Absolutely heavenly! Warm and soft, the slices were rich and sweet with a ring of chewy amber colored sugar around the edges. These were so easy and satisfying that I think they’re going to become my go-to dessert!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Wet Suit: The Ultimate in Prophylactic Shopping

Both Duchesse and Funny have questioned the purchase of a men's large brand new wet suit. Only $3.49, minus my senior discount of 15%.

What can I say? Well, prophylactic shopping is partly psychological: OMG! I am succumbing to the onslaught of tempting ads that come in my mailbox, both actual and virtual. We never watch television, so those ads don't come my way.

Or even, I'm so depressed. I need a retail pick-me-up.

But prophylactic shopping (should I copyright or trademark that term? I wonder....) is also totally pragmatic. It involves getting something that would cost a lot of money or bother ONE DAY if you will need it.

That's why I picked up copies of books like A Separate Peace, figuring that my children would need to read this high school classic.

That's why I bought not one but two tuxedoes for under $5.00 each, figuring that Frugal Son would need one for a prom. The back-up was for just in case, plus it was a lot better quality than the first I got.

The upshot of these ventures? Neither of my children needed A Separate Peace, but I gave a copy or two to other teens who needed it. Eventually, these wended their way to the used bookstore or My 20 cent investment was no biggie, anyway.

As for the tuxedoes. Frugal Son got two uses out of one of them. He lent the other to his friend Michael. So my $10.00 investment saved Frugal Son about $100.00 and his friend $50.00. Lending to a friend releases frugal karma into the atmosphere and benefits the universe, as far as I'm concerned.

Lest this sounds as though I have an unerring sense of what to purchase in my shopping ventures, let me assure you, I do not. Many of my just-in-case items have languished unused. Eventually, these go to Goodwill. But that releases some karma too. If I buy something for $3.00 and don't use it, it can then sell again for $3.00. So my $3.00 investment yields $6.00 for a charity. 100% appreciation. There must be something wrong with my math here.

OK. Back to the wet suit. It is a size that would fit the two men in my life. We did go to Hawaii once, where the brother of Mr. FS indeed wore a wet suit for snorkeling. We snorkeled sans wet suit.

We also go to Florida each winter. So we are around the water now and again.

If we ever want a wet suit, it would take time and money to get one. This one was acquired for little time and the investment was not much. It is now in the box where we store our snorkeling equipment, which we purchased for our trip to Hawaii because it was as cheap to buy as to rent. We've used it several times since.

That explains my wet suit logic. The down side of buying it is less than the down side of NOT buying it in the event we need one.

And perhaps I can take it to Buffalo Exchange as a Halloween costume.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Need for Prophylactic Shopping: ALERT and RESULTS

Even though i unsubscribed to email announcements, I continue to get offers. 20-30% off at Bnana Republic, Lands End, Gap, Chicos, and so on.

At school on Friday, two students handed me Banana Republic Friends and Family coupons. These used to be hard to come by. A few years ago, I was offered one by a student, and my Department Head said that it could be perceived as a bribe, so I couldn't use it. But I guess with business so bad, shops need all the friends they can get. So I got one of my very own in my inbox.

My mantra ("it will be more on sale in 6 short weeks--40 days") wasn't working too well. So on to my next step, writing down all my desired items. The list was short(comforter set, 2 pairs of pants, all from Lands End, my new favorite store now that they are offering free shipping), the total was about $140.00 (not that bad) and I started to succumb.

I know! On to Goodwill for some prophylactic shopping (shopping to prevent shopping, naturally). What should I find?

A Peacock Alley comforter with mtching shams.
A Garnet Hill colorful quilt.
A couple of books.

Then universe has spoken! But then I added some questionable items.

A new with tags wetsuit in a size that would fit Mr. FS and Frugal Son.
A new underarmour underarmour.

Total: about $18.00.

Weighing need, desire, danger, finances, clutter: I'm not sure if the trip was a victory or a defeat.

What do you think?

What do you think?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Moments of Panic: Budget Shortfalls for Education

I had a day of panic on Friday. Mr. FS and I have been cruising through the recession, secure in our tenured--albeit low-paying--positions. Then I woke out of my stupor. My state is facing a continued budget shortfall, and since the only areas not protected are (you guessed it) education and health, well.....

So, of course, I jumped to the worst case scenario: what if they close our school? Our students are the lowest "completers." What if--at age 56 and 58--we are cast to the wind, with our still-decimated retirement accounts.

Well, Mr. FS said, "It's too much trouble to shut down a school. This is a short-term problem. BlahBlahBlah."

My mind started racing nonetheless. Can't be an on-line bookseller, because there are at least 20 in my area. The other day, I saw a guy with one of those phone pricers that TALKED. He must have had it set to a floor price, because the gadget said, "No." No. No."

So we decided that we could rent out our house and stay in the little back house behind my father-in-law's house in beautiful Northern California. We could-probably for a low rent-help in his care. OR we could go to Costa Rica or Mexico for a while, as per my previous fantasy.

As Funny About Money--who has been living a real-life version of this scenario--has shown in her blog, planning ahead of the dire event helps reduce stress. DOESN'T IT????"

Friday, November 13, 2009

Frugal Mom, Frugal Son: Report from France

Frugal Son turns out to be more pathological than his pathological mom. Perhaps the paternal genes exacerbated the pathology factor. He does spread sheets. In fact, he offered to send a spread sheet that is even more detailed, separating cash from credit card etc. Here's his email.

Just to shock you and keep you updated on the massive amounts of your 401(k) I've been blowing through here are the latest stats up to and including Nov. 13th.

Including pre-Nantes expenses (plane tickets, visa cost, hostel in Paris etc.): 3,900.32 euros (~$6,240.51)
Excluding rent, flights, week in Paris, health insurance: 1,468.32 euros (~$2,349.32)
Total cost minus my stipend (so I guess this is the "actual cost"): 1,820.32 euros (~$2,912.51)
Average cost per day (including everything): 45.89 euros / day (~$73.42 / day)
Average cost per day including stipend: 21.42 euros / day (~$34.26 / day)

My average cost per day has fallen from 73.63 euros / day (~$117.81 / day) on Sept. 15th (day 26) to 45.89 euros / day (~$73.42 / day) as of today (day 85).

These recent figures are a little bit inflated because my Amsterdam trip happened so recently (347.84 euros over the course of five days).

At least I'm not paying $25,000 a year in tuition somewhere!

So, Readers, is this TOOOOOO frugal for a 20 year old?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Frugal Fatigue vs Abundance

I was reading something in the New York Times a few days ago. Evidently, though sales of many things remain DOWNDOWNDOWN, sales of shoes remain unaffected by the exonomic down turn. The author opined that many are experiencing frugal fatigue.

I love being frugal, but I have succumbed to a few items of late: the tote bag I wanted from Lands End, which was on sale for $12.00 as a St Nick's Pick (!); while I was at it, I also got some jeans that seem to fit from the same place (Audrey skinny jeans). Thanks Lands End for offering free shipping to frugal girls like me.

The offers keep coming in to my inbox: 20-30% off at Garnet Hill, Chico's, Banana Republic (and others under the Gap umbrella), Talbots, and on and on.

Having long experience of frugality, I still intone to myself: WAIT. Everything will be on sale in about 6 weeks, by which time you probably won't want it anyway.

And just to remind us of all the abundance out there in the universe, here's a passage from Paradise Lost, which is about abundance in nature.

# in all thir vast survey
# Useless besides, reasoning I oft admire,
# How Nature wise and frugal could commit
# Such disproportions, with superfluous hand
# So many nobler Bodies to create,
# Greater so manifold to this one use,
# For aught appeers, and on thir Orbs impose
# Such restless revolution day by day
# Repeated, while the sedentarie Earth,
# That better might with farr less compass move,
# Serv'd by more noble then her self, attaines
# Her end without least motion, and receaves,
# As Tribute such a sumless journey brought
# Of incorporeal speed, her warmth and light;
# Speed, to describe whose swiftness Number failes.

Love when authors contemplate frugality.

How are you dealing with temptation and abundance? Are you experiencing frugal fatigue?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Who will speak for me? Banking and Finance Regulation.

From the New York Times:

Mr. Dodd and his staff had held regular meetings with Senator Richard C. Shelby of Alabama, the ranking Republican on the banking committee, but those talks recently broke down. Mr. Shelby is said to be opposed to major provisions of Mr. Dodd’s bill, most notably the creation of an agency to protect consumers from abusive and deceptive mortgages and credit cards. Mr. Dodd has yet to produce a Republican who supports his plan. Moreover, several provisions will probably be opposed by moderate and conservative Democrats with ties to various industry groups that have raised objections to the measure.

OK: I have been called out on being naive more than once. But can someone explain what is wrong with an agency to protect consumers from abusive and deceptive mortgages and credit cards?

Monday, November 9, 2009

For Fashionistas Only: Yes, I am a Label Whore

I try not to be, because sometimes the label is the best thing about the item. In such cases, I wander around the thrift store with the item in my cart. Then I put it back. Never do I have any regrets. That Carlisle jacket I tried on a while back is still there, for instance.

Today, I found a Dries Van Noten sweater! Black, cashmere, V-neck. If the truth be told, the cashmere isn't any better than that of the Lands End turtleneck I got (at Goodwill!) last year. I succumbed anyway.

My question is: how did this sweater wend its way to my little town? I could see if my town were, say, Wellesley MA or the like. Such is not the case.

What's the most unlikely item you've ever found?

P.S. Miss Em, If you read this, do not heap too much scorn upon me.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Holiday Gifts for Children: The Invention of Tradition

Since I come from a family that was--to put it mildly--lackadaisical about gifts and gift-giving occasions, it is hard for me to understand the pressure many people feel. There's a famous book called Unplug the Christmas Machine that deals with these issues. Evidently the book alone does not suffice: there is also a workbook to use in support groups. One of my friends used to clutch a heavily annotated and dog-eared copy of this tome to her bosom year-round. No wonder: between her and her husband, the siblings numbered 10. Her husband's family of seven children each produced--on average--five a piece.

So here is the first of my modest proposals: little traditions are more important than gifts, large or small. I'm not talking about your family traditions necessarily. I'm talking about traditions you invent. If this seems like a paradox, let me defend myself by pointing to a famous academic book called precisely The Invention of Tradition.

One tradition we invented--by accident--was the little poem attached to the gift. Even though we are English teachers who love poetry, WRITING poetry is not one of our strong--or even weak--suits. Here is an example. One year, we gave Frugal Son a can of sardines and Miss Em Swedish Fish. (I know these gifts seem ludicrous, but they were much appreciated! No, this was not all they got!)

Noticing the fish theme, we wrapped them together with this poem: "Here are two gifts that come from the sea/One's sweet, one's not: what can they be?"

Well, of course, the little poem was recited with great excitement to friends and family. And thus began a "tradition" (now we HAVE to do it) whereby we must attach a poem to every gift.

Do you have any little traditions that are valued as much as fancy gifts?

Saturday, November 7, 2009

At St Paul's Cathedral: Bankers Speak!

When I visited St Paul's Cathedral in London, I headed for the basement, where I could see the famous statue of poet John Donne. This statue survived a fire at the original St Paul's.

Reading the financial news is causing me a lot of stress these days. And I really shouldn't do it. But I can't resist this tidbit from a brief article in The New York Times. Apparently a bunch of bankers were speaking at (??) the cathedral. I wonder if this was open to all worshipers or only for other bankers.

While not exactly Gordon Gekko’s “greed is good” speech from the movie “Wall Street,” Brian Griffiths, an adviser to Goldman Sachs International, said during a recent panel discussion at St. Paul’s Cathedral on “the place of morality in the marketplace,” that bonuses would encourage charity and lift the economy.

“We have to tolerate the inequality as a way to achieve greater prosperity and opportunity for all,” Mr. Griffiths said.

What would John Donne say? Well, he was the one who said "No man is an island."

Friday, November 6, 2009

Potato Leek Soup: Even better in Nantes

Frugal Son is in France. Though he occasionally mentions his language classes, he mostly talks about his adventures in cooking. He's bought such expensive treats as chanterelles and fancy shellfish. Today, he wrote ecstatically about his cooking of the iconic French soup, potato-leek. I've made the soup a number of times; I don't remember the ecstasy.

Below is our on-line chat, slightly edited, with a frugal ending.

8:36 PM me: hi mon fils
8:37 PM FS: holy sh**
me: what
FS: leek soup is so good
me: did you make the easy or the super-easy?
8:38 PM it's also amazingly cheap--called soupe bonne femme-housewife soup
FS: holy god it's just perfect in every way
first I gently cooked the leeks in butter (without browning)
me: Americans goop it up w/ chicken stock, bacon, sour cream, etc
FS: and I added a little bit of garlic
8:39 PM then I put in potatoes, water
and at the end, milk
salt, and pepper
I will admit I put in a tiny tiny tiny bit of chicken bouillion
but seriously
just a tiny tiny bit
don't hate me!
me: only a tiny bit
8:40 PM FS: ok :(
but still
it was super super good
8:41 PM I would estimate a meal for 2 - 3 "MOIs" would cost about 4 euros to make
maybe less
no no definitely less
maybe 2.50 euros

It's soooooo good. And, with the money you save on dinner, you can start your Paris fund.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Overheard at Target and Pumpkin Shortage

I had an early appointment with the oral surgeon (see earlier post about ethical dilemma; I will NOT return to this guy) and, on my way home, I decided to go to Target. I seldom go there, but I wanted to check out the window panel selection. It was right on my way.

Well, window coverings were a dud, but I meandered over to the candy section where the signs said "75% off Halloween." I always scan the items before checkout to prevent problems. I picked up a big box of Snickers for my beloved chocoholic daughter and three boxes of granola bars. The Snickers scanned at the sale price; the granola bars did not. I inquired of the manager, who said they were not on sale, even though they were under the sign! She said "Just this once you can have them."

All the women within earshot converged on the granola bars in ecstasy! One said to me, "Yesterday the sign said 50% off, but they wouldn't let anyone have them at the sale price." The others agreed.

This exchange made me realize that some people go to Target EVERY DAY in order to hunt for bargains. Some had entire carts filled with the cheap candy.

I made for the check out, where the front manager called the back manager to check out the veracity of my claim. I guess lots of people lie.

So perhaps I am not as pathologically frugal as I thought, since I am horrified by the idea of daily Target visits. Even weekly ones. Plus I only bought one box of Snickers and three boxes of granola bars.

Speaking of Halloween: I hope I did not entice anyone with my pumpkin soup. I was itching to use up the 5 or so cans of pumpkin that have been languishing in my cupboard. I bought them last year, probably for a quarter. Unlike my other investments, the pumpkin proved to be a good one, since there is evidently a PUMPKIN SHORTAGE this year. Who knew?

By the way, don't try to cook your Halloween pumpkin; it is not the right variety. Instead, substitute acorn squash, which tastes about the same as pumpkin (i.e. not much taste). Because of the shortage, I will not tempt you with tales of the delicious pumpkin strata I have made or the pumpkin pasta sauce I am thinking of making.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Cheap, Easy, Quick, Healthy Pumpkin Soup

Note: I did not say "delicious." I'm not sure about the flavor.

This soup, from Ronald Johnson's Simple Fare, is based on an Elizabeth David recipe. The ingredients are: onion, canned pumpkin, cabbage, white beans. I've been meaning to make this for years, but the planets did not align till today. I had all the ingredients, plus we were still recuperating from an overnight trip to Alabama to see our dear daughter.

Here's how to do it: saute an onion in butter (or lard!), add some garlic, shredded cabbage, and water (or stock). Add the pumpkin too. You're supposed to cook dried beans with this, but I had some already cooked, with only about a day left of their lifespan.

This took a ton of salt. And I added some butter in at the end to try to coax out more flavor. We had it with salad (also near the end of its lifespan) and good bread.

I'm not sure if I love this, or even like it, but I'm sure the combination of superfoods has added at least a little to my lifespan.

While I'm not sure if I like the soup apart from its intrinsic virtues, I LOVE the cookbook, which is too little known, I'm sure. I will have more to say about the book apace.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Holiday Freebies and Invitations: I'm So Popular

It all started last week when I went to Banana Republic to use my about-to-expire $10.00 gift card.

There, I was invited to a special holiday sale on November 5, featuring live music, catered food, and 30% off. Should I go? It might be worth it if we could get dinner out of it.

Then, in my email box, I received an invitation to Talbots this week. No mention of food or entertainment, just 20% off. It is unlikely that I will go just for a little discount.

A postcard arrived announcing that Fresh Market (kind of like Whole Foods, only smaller) is having their holiday tasting, which amounts to a whole meal. This Friday and Saturday.

Also this Saturday, my local grocery--Rouses--is having a Thanksgiving tasting.

I only avail myself of these opportunities if I can accomplish another errand or two en route.

I have never recovered from graduate student poverty. Free food opportunities are nirvana to the impoverished student. Somehow, even after more than 25 years post-school, my antennae are still on constant alert.

Basking in my new-found popularity....