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Monday, May 31, 2010

Frugal College Cooking: How to Spoil Your Child and Add to the Pantry

Thinking about how my precious little one will cook in the dorm next year is interesting. It is a problem-solving activity, which I hope will delay the onset of memory-loss. So many limitations. Her suite contains a kitchen area with a decent sized fridge, a microwave, and a sink. Additional equipment so far includes a rice cooker, a stick blender, and a knife.

I asked Lucy M., who is home from her 3-week service project in the Black Belt of Alabama, if she would be inclined to mosey to the dorm kitchen, which does have a stove, to make something. She said, "You have no idea how lazy and tired I can be." That's my girl.

One can still read the ubiquitous articles about helicopter parents, who competitively oversee (or over-oversee) every aspect of their child's life, from school, to sports, to artistic activities, to the Holy Grail, "getting into a good college." No, that's wrong: getting into a TOP college.

I was a mediocre helicopter, partly because competition makes me retreat, partly because I am scornful of such activities, and partly because I am somewhat countercultural and will rebel at the drop of a conventional hat. To that mix of good and bad qualities, add some basic laziness.

But I love reading cookbooks and figuring out how to do things the frugal way. And here is where the helicopter parents can join the frugal parents. Now that the parent does not have to quiz junior on SAT words, or chauffeur junior to community service activities that look good on an application, he or she will have a lot of free time.

What can we do for our scholars to ease the arduous task of dorm cooking? Figure out the road blocks to health, economy, even EATING, and get around them.

For our dear scholar: When Lucy M comes home, she says "Where are the burritos?" These are black bean and cheese burritos, which we make assembly line fashion, wrap up and freeze. We all love them. So instead of telling Lucy how to make them (she already knows how, anyway), we will bring some to her--frozen--in a cooler. Think how little room 60 burritos take up. Think how that is at least 30 meals. Think how your scholar will not have to chop onions, deal with messy and smelly beans, or grate cheese. Think how much time your scholar will have to cram for that test. And, finally, think how popular your scholar will be with suite mates and friends, when said scholar magnanimously offers to share part of her cache?

Or how about helping out with the ingredients that are a pain? I hate chopping onions. Even if you like this task, it is messy and smelly. But how wonderful onions are and there is seldom a recipe that doesn't begin: chop an onion. One of my OLD Joys of Cooking has a gem of a comment, along the lines of "If onions were rare, they would be as expensive and treasured as truffles." So when you get to the college town, treat your little one to a bag or three of frozen chopped onions!

Wait! Even better would be to saute a bunch of onions for your scholar, put them in zip-lock freezer bags, and put them in the cooler next to the burritos. Then your scholar won't have to even use the stove--or wash a pot.

Two nights ago, I made Lucy's favorite shrimp and corn soup, the best version of which starts with a gumbo base of roux with onions, celery, and peppers. I had made a whole bunch of gumbo base when I had an overabundance of onions and company; it was stored in a ziplock in the freezer. With that base ready, the soup took 10 minutes to put together.

Tomorrow, my Frugal Son will be returning from France. To spoil him, I will make gumbo. It just so happens, I will use more of that gumbo base. Another almost instant soup.

One problem with cookbooks is that everyone likes different things. So you may have to modify my ideas to your own tastes and situation.

A freezer is a pantry too.

So in addition to the pantry list of canned and boxed foods I've begun, let's start the freezer pantry and spoil our children.

My list so far for Lucy M: burritos, sauteed onions, roux with vegetables. All in zip-freezer bags.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Frugal College Cooking: Rice Cooker Cookbooks

As usual, I am in a weird position vis a vis the zeitgeist. I am always a little too early or a little too late. Now it is the zeitgeist of rice cooker cookbooks.

There are two decent extant rice cooker cookbooks. I've gotten both at the library, which purchased them at my request. (Thank you, bookbuyer!). Decent, but not quite what I'm looking for. What I'm looking for: first, decent recipes that don't overuse oversalted convenience foods for the harried scholar. Second, recipes that use the RICE COOKER as it was meant to be used and don't tell you to try to saute an onion in the rice cooker (or brown meat in there). Others present recipes that depend on first sauteing something on the stove and so on, and if you can do that, why bother with the rice cooker. Perhaps what I'm looking for does not exist?

The first, which sounded very promising, is by the person who writes those excellent slow cooker cookbooks: This book is great for the grainhead: it tells you how to make almost every kind of rice imaginable (wehani, anyone?), plus every other grain from the common to the obscure. There are not all that many recipes that meet criterion #2 above.

The second sounded even more promising: This is a little book from a local small publisher. In fact, the author IS the publisher.

The Louisiana origin is, of course, a good sign. Some people here say they don't like to travel outside the state because "the food is bad." (I am not making that up.) But Louisiana cooking has a kind of split personality. There are lots of good local raw ingredients, especially seafood (sadly, thanks to BP, this may not be the case much longer). Still, if you look at the classic Louisiana homecooking books, you see many recipes that rely on canned soups, velveeta, and the like. So you'll see a recipe for shrimp or crawfish fettuccine--made with velveeta. Or crawfish enchiladas--made with cream of mushroom soup.

This book allows for searching, so I suggest you take a spin. Some recipes have you brown in the cooker. Another--for shrimp fettuccine--tempted me, but it called for pasta, water, shrimp, and a pound of Mexican salsa cheese (that weird orange stuff that comes in a jar). I decided not to subject my poor shrimp to that cheese.

I also discovered two books on the horizon. Like anything on the horizon, these may prove disappointing when met in reality. Still, I have put in a request to the agreeable bookbuyer at my library. Both are scheduled for publication in the next few months.

The first is guaranteed to be a good read, since the writer is a writer, Roger Ebert: I discovered Ebert's blog on rice cooker cooking last year, when I first started on my quest. He seems to have the right idea. For instance, he says he sometimes starts with a can of fairly healthy canned soup and then doctors it up--adding beans, veggies, rice, and so on, all of which would reduce the vile canned food quotient. Second sounds great, but who knows?

Check out Ebert's blog if you have the chance. It is a pleasure to read, but there are hundreds of comments.Actually, the comments are great and Ebert's responses to the comments even greater. (I have recently learned about Ebert's medical problems, which are such that he can no longer eat. Yet he still writes and is even putting out a cookbook. He must truly be an amazing person.)

The second book on the horizon is an "Everything" book. . Again, very promising; again, the proof will be in the pudding.

I've noticed that for newer books, Amazon no longer includes the SEARCH inside the book I mentioned in a previous post, but LOOK inside. The latter is much more limited, obviously, since Amazon controls what you see. Sadly, I will be able to do much less testing of cookbooks before purchase.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Frugal College Cooking: Pantry in the Dorm

i just noticed that some of my traffic is due to the search "college cooking" or "dorm cooking." Better get on with this. My sense of urgency comes from not only Lucy M's needs next year, but also a glance at what else comes up with the search. Martha Stewart recommending that you buy a set of her cookware at Kmart for your dorm. Or recipes like ramen stroganoff (ramen, cream of mushroom soup, hamburger) or Tex-Mex macaroni (box macaroni and cheese, salsa, hamburger). That's not how I want my girl to eat.

Before I start providing recipes, I will fill--both virtually and in reality--a pantry. It is a truth universally acknowledged that cooking from a well-stocked pantry is a time, money, and stress saver.

Remember, the college student doesn't need to cook everything in the dorm. A penchant for sushi can be satisfied at a restaurant, as can the urge for eggplant parmesan. I still remember cooking the latter for a bunch of people in a dorm kitchen and watching as they all left with thanks, on to a party, leaving me, the world's worst housekeeper, with a room full of dirty dishes and pans, including egg soaked breadcrumbs, tons of grease, and you know the rest.

boxed soymilk
boxed milk
evaporated milk
hot chocolate mix*
powdered milk**
instant coffee (Nescafe Clasico is the only acceptable brand. I am not kidding.)

*It's as cheap in the envelopes as in bulk cans. Frugal Son gives me grief about excess packaging, but I say that we will use the envelopes as a way to the greater good.
**I will give Lucy some in a container. This is good for cooking.

peanut butter
I would buy these in the foil packages, which don't need draining. Draining tuna is a pain at any time, but in a dorm it becomes a major production.

instant oatmeal*
Again, a compromise. We prefer steel-cut oat groats! But this is acceptable for convenience. See above on hot cocoa mix for Frugal Son's likely objection and my riposte. There are recipes online for make-your-own instant oatmeal. but I've found that if you keep an eye out for sales, you can get it for between 8 and 10 cents a packet, which is as cheap as the homemade.

beans (black, kidney,whatever you like)*
refried beans**
rotel-type tomatoes***
canned tomatoes, preferably crushed or diced, so you won't have to chop. Also get stewed with onions, to save a step and an ingredient.

*If your scholar doesn't like beans, he or she should learn. It is a good thing economically and environmentally. Not to mention good for you.
**Ugh, hate these, but Lucy likes 'em. You can buy instant refried beans, which are great, but they are ridiculously expensive these days.
***If you have rotel-type tomatoes, you also have salsa for a lot cheaper than salsa. OK, it's chunky salsa. Live with it.

A category unto itself.

See peanut butter. In a plastic container. See below for rodents. The rice is for the rice cooker i mentioned a few posts ago.

All these things can be stored in a bin under the scholar's bed. Note that all are rodent-proof. Since we got a note not to have crackers and such in our offices because mice can chew through the cardboard box, imagine in a dorm!!

Friday, May 28, 2010

For the Middle-Aged Only: Clics

We interrupt this blog on frugality for a product endorsement. Read on only if you wear reading glasses. I have recommended this product to many in real life. And this product has saved me scads of money, so it is related to frugality.

When I was in my late-thirties, I was on a panel on "Women and Tenure" put together by the great Emily Toth aka Ms. Mentor. As I recall. there were two other English teachers and one Spanish teacher. As each began to speak, she put on her reading glasses. And I thought, That is my future.

Indeed, several years later, right on schedule. I needed reading glasses. I can't read at all without them. Readers are cheap in and of themselves, especially when compared to the cost of prescription glasses. For the horrifying cost of those, see Funny About Money's post on her stylish new specs.

Even cheap readers can get expensive when you keep losing them. Sometimes they slip out of those around the neck things. Or fall off your head. Honestly, I was going through about 3 pairs a month. When I traveled, I would pack numerous extras in the event of loss or breakage.

Then I got Clics. I know this sounds like an infomercial. Honestly, I would DO an infomercial. I've worn one pair for 3 years. My back-up pair is still in its plastic.

These are featured on several tv shows, my students tell me. If you don't know what they are, here is the Amazon pic.

They go around the neck and click together with a magnetic front. The only downside is that I have to remember to tell my students about them the first day of class or they shriek in horror when I click them together.

These are a huge money saver if you wear readers. And if you don't wear readers: YOU WILL. OR WORSE. They sell them here and there, usually in boutiques, and they even come in red.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

OT or not OT: That is the Question

The other day, one of my fave bloggers, Funny About Money, took up the question of a blogging glass ceiling, since generally, the guys make the big bucks and the gals do not. She wondered if part of the reason lay in the tendency of the female personal finance bloggers to go off-topic. She did a compare/contrast and discovered that the guys stayed on topic, while the women did not.

Yours truly was one of the test blogs under examination. Funny listed my topics--pantry organization, children's books, other stuff--most of which seem to be OT, especially compared to the fellows who were taking up such classic personal finance topics as buying gold or ye olde Roth vs. Traditional IRA. First I confessed: guilty as charged. After all, women have long been thought to be blabbermouths who cannot stay on topic. Example: Chaucer's Wife of Bath.

Part of the humor of Chaucer's Wife of Bath's Prologue (oops--there I go into the literature AGAIN) is that Chaucer really is spot on in presenting a woman who (in modern paraphrase) "wanders by the way" and frequently says (again in modern paraphrase) "Oh, where was I. Oh yeah. I was talking about my fourth husband."

Oh yeah, personal finance. After my confession of off-topicness, I thought for a bit. First, I don't profess to be a personal finance blogger: I write about frugality. My supposedly OT post on children's books was about how many of the most beloved children's books are about frugality. The pantry post was related to the idea of stockpiling or "investing" in your pantry--a frugal habit endorsed by many, including Funny's very own SDXB. That post was also about using up stuff that was getting old--also a frugal principle.

So, IMHO not OT at all. There is some overlap between personal finance and frugality. In fact, frugality has allowed me to participate in the personal finance world--in real life. Even aside from that, I would guess that learning to stockpile sale items in your pantry is of more immediate use to many of the debt-ridden and unemployed than any meditation on whether or not one should invest in gold. In fact, you can't invest in gold unless you have quite a wad of excess cash. If I had only $1200.00 to my name, I wouldn't buy an ounce of gold.

It would be better to practice frugality and get an immediate 20-100% return on your $1200. Everyone has heard--via Dave Ramsey--of the debt snowball with its variation the debt snowflake. Well, it works the other way with frugality. Not as rapidly--because your return on savings and frugal practice generally is not as big as the drag of debt.

So here's a double assertion. I was not OT because I write on frugality, not personal finance. And I was not OT because frugality is a branch of personal finance.

The rest is silence.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Reversal of the Reversal: Adventures with Virgin Mobile's Egregious Customer Service

Reversing the reversal. Is that like "Begin the beguine"? Mr. FS said we needed to resolve the issue with Virgin Mobile. I said I was afraid to even try, since talks with three reps yielded three sets of instructions, each of which was declared incorrect by the subsequent representative.

I decided to call Amex first. I wrote a narrative to help with my phone call.
1. FS noticed two charges for $20.60 on May 1.
2. FS called Virgin to see if one charge was a duplicate.
3. Virgin said they could not help since it was Lucy M's phone and I did not know PIN 4. The rep suggested that I call Amex instead.
5. Lucy's phone service was suspended.
6. Called Virgin and supervisor said we should never have called Amex because it set certain irrevocable things into motion. We said rep had instructed us to do that. Supervisor said rep was mistaken. Rep said she would solve problem if we "reversed the reversal" ion a 3-way call with Amex and Virgin. Mr. FS did so.
7. Daughter's phone service not reinstated.
8. Called Virgin again and the supervisor said there was no record of the 3-way call set up by the other supervisor and that, in any case, that was against regulations. She told us to call Amex and have the reversal reversed.
9. Couldn't deal with this and waited....gave our phone to Lucy since we never use it anyway.
10. Girded our loins and called Amex. I got mixed up and told Mr. FS to get on. Apparently the reversal will be reversed. We are supposed to call Virgin and tell them to be on the lookout for a LETTER from Amex, since that is how reversals are reversed.
11. Next step....who knows?

Meanwhile, we got a letter from Amex saying that our query had been resolved in our favor and that we were getting $30.90 back (wrong amount). One Virgin rep insisted that Lucy had bought $20.60 in minutes twice in one day. Lucy M. denied this. Second rep said that it was indeed Virgin's mistake.

I have a feeling that we will end up being out the money and that poor Lucy will never get her service back. In any case, even if she gets the service back, we will be going elsewhere once she uses up her minutes.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Children's Books: A Sentimental Journey

Sometimes I think that I loved children's books more than my children did. My two are now away at college and aged 19 and 21. I guess it's time to put the children's books away. Interestingly, if my children don't wait till they are in their mid 30s to have children of their own, I might get to take the books out within the next 10 years.

Like Mr. FS who received a bad evaluation for his job reshelving books at the Lilly Library (he was seen reading more than a time or two), my progress of boxing is slowed by some lengthy glances. We have given away many books over the years. Nobody, however, ever really appreciates these (to me) precious gifts.

My sister-in-law asked us for some books in the hopes that her kids would like to read. We sent a huge box and heard nary a word back. Eventually, I asked if they had received the box of books. "What box?" they said. A few days later, my sister-in-law said, "Oh, thank you for the box of books. We loved them." I got the feeling that none had been read.

So many books are about frugality and order. I've already packed A Chair for My Mother. The mother works sooooo hard. The family saves coins in a jar and, at the end, they get the mother a comfy chair.

Then there's Something from Nothing. This is one of those Grandpa makes the little boy a jacket, then a vest, eventually a button, and at the end, a wonderful story! What a wonderful message. And the pictures show the growing family upstairs, while, below the stairs, the mouse family is garbed in bits of the same fabric. The family upstairs is Eastern European Jewish and so is the mouse family: the little mice even go to Hebrew School.

Right now, I'm looking at Sailor Dog by Margaret Wise Brown, who is best known for Good-Night Moon.

Scuppers went to sea. And he went down below to his little room, and he hung his new hat on the hook for his hat, and he hung his spyglass on the hook for his spyglass, and he hung his new coat on the hook for his coat, and his new handkerchief on the hook for his handkerchief, and his pants on the hook for his pants, and his new rope on the hook for his rope, and his new shoes he put under his bunk, and himself he put on his bunk.

And here he is where he wants to be--a sailor sailing the deep green sea.

How's that for simplicity and order? Not a single book is about going to the mall, opening scads of presents on birthdays and holidays, whipping out the credit card, or getting your first cell phone.

I can't resist another favorite: Roxaboxen. This is a true story about a bunch of kids perhaps 80 years ago in Funny's state of Arizona, making a whole world (with rules, even a jail) in the desert.

I am getting a distinct sense of deja vu. I think that I wrote an almost identical post in the early days of my blog. Well, probably no one read it then. Plus, it's recycling.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Eating from the Pantry: Potato Soup

Now that Mr. FS has put new shelves in the pantry, I have to bring it to order. I must admit that this caused a bit of friction in our generally harmonious union. Mr. FS likes to store things in the "some here, some there" manner: canned tomatoes, of which we have many, are in several places, including some that are impossible for me to reach or even know about (boxed in an unmarked container in a shed). Problem: I buy MORE tomatoes, because I don't know how many I have.

OK. So we had a fight. I have now wrested control of the pantry AND the canned tomatoes. See, I've read all these organizing books (more honored in the breach than the observance**, I'm afraid). They ALL say store like things together. I haven't done that yet. I have put on the easiest-to-see shelf all the things that must be used ASAP. When these things are gone, I will do the pantry.

It is a motley assortment. Last night, I used some canned pineapple to make a sweet and sour Asian chicken, which was a blast from my childhood Chinese restaurant past. Two days ago, I FINALLY used some of the arborio rice I have and made the wonderful Italian soup/risotto risi e bisi. Tonight I am going to use some almost-too-old potatoes and some canned green chiles to make a wondrous and very easy soup.

Remember how I told you that when you linked to a cookbook on Amazon you could often do a search?

The recipe is from The Feast of Santa Fe.

It is called Potato Soup with Green Chilis on page 189. It is so good and now I don't have to reproduce the recipe here! Potato soups are often more than the sum of their seemingly meager parts, I've noticed.

**the allusion is to Hamlet 1.4. However, note that I am using it in the modern sense of the phrase rather than in the sense that Hamlet meant.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Cookbooks in the Pantry


The pantry clean out was--and is--dispiriting. I don't even want to tell you what I threw out (not that much, but still). The second- and third-tier cookbooks are giving me trouble too.

But what do I do with a copy of Anna Thomas's The Vegetarian Epicure, that staple of the student kitchen circa 1975? Everything in that book tasted good, no doubt because of the pounds of cream, butter, and cheese that nearly every recipe contained. And how's this for a blast from her past: The two-hours-later course is especially recommended if grass is smoked socially at your house. If you have passed a joint around before dinner to sharpen gustatory perceptions, you will most likely pass another one after dinner, and everyone knows what that will do...

I do sometimes make her Russian vegetable pie, which is filled with mushrooms, cabbage, cream cheese, and hard boiled eggs.

Then there is another veggie fave: The Vegetarian Feast by Martha Shulman. There you will find a recipe for Oeufs Poches en Souffle a la Florentine. This dish consists of poached eggs placed on croutons, covered with creamed spinach, topped with cheese souffle. These pages are unmarked, except perhaps with my sighs.

Anna Thomas, who sold millions of copies of the book she wrote at 22, has resumed writing cookbooks. I am sorry to say the new ones are terrible. Martha Shulman has veered from the vegetarian path and is now writing a Recipes for Health column in the New York Times. She has wonderful recipes and is particularly known for her Tex-Mex.

I recently bought one of Shulman's books, though I haven't used it yet:

One neat thing you may not know about: if you link to a book on Amazon, often you can "search inside the book." Click on it, enter a search term, et voila. That way you can look at and even try a recipe--to see if you want to purchase the book. Not all pages are available, but I test-drive cookbooks all the time.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

In the Pantry with Mr. FS: The Dark Forest

Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita
mi ritrovai per una selva oscura,
ché la diritta via era smarrita.

Oh, those beautiful first lines of Dante's Inferno.

Now in the middle of our life
I awoke in a dark forest
For the straight path had been lost

To go from the mountain that is Dante to the molehill that is my life (OUR life, which we are in the middle of) is to go from the lofty thoughts with which I should be occupying myself to the selva oscura that is my pantry.

Mr. FS has taken it upon himself to reorganize what is a medium-sized, misshapen closet. When we moved into our house, the pantry was empty, and truly we had hardly anything to put in it. Fast forward to now and there is food of all sorts, cookbooks of the second rank, and Mr. FS's household tools. Oh yeah, and brooms. And work clothes (not for me, for Mr. FS).

I'm trying to avert my gaze. I did notice some Crosse and Blackwell mincemeat that I bought for a quarter several years ago. And some tea that a student gave me. And some English pudding given to me by--this is true--a cross-dressed attendee at a library program on Queen Elizabeth I that I led with a colleague. (This is funny because Queen Elizabeth herself was noted for her genderbending strategies.) Easy enough to throw the expired mincemeat in the trash. Not so easy to trash the sundried tomato relish that MUST be outdated because I can't even remember where I got it. Mr. FS said he threw several things out. He won't tell me what, however.

Mr. FS made some new shelves that will hold dishpans--the kind you get for $1.00. These are the cheapest organizing equipment. They will be labeled by cuisine, type of cooking, type of food: Mexican, Asian, tuna, baking needs, and so on. We had done this earlier, but with the passage of time, the tuna ended up under something else, and the old, should-be-thrown-out food was hidden behind the newer stuff.

Don't I sound reasonable? Like Dante, who travelled for a while with his beloved Virgil, reason is what you need for your journey through the dark places--like pantries.

But then I come to my cookbooks. Reason wavers. To turn to another mountain, John Donne, we learn

Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captived, and proves weak or untrue.

Donne is talking about admitting God into his life; I, in the molehill version, am trying to restore (let's be honest, initiate) order in a pantry.

Has everyone else finished spring cleaning? I will post updates on my journey through the pantry.

Friday, May 21, 2010

How A Garden Saves You Money: Not the Way You Think, I Don't Think

Last night we had a bi-partite dinner: Mr. FS ate the remains of black bean and pumpkin soup, while I had roasted vegetables and feta with bread. Mr. FS's dinner consisted of the leftovers of a soup by Rachael Ray and others that I had long been wanting to try. It is so healthy and sounded so good. Readers, we hated it. So if you want to try it, you can search for it on the internet yourself.

The soup was an example of how pantry cooking can save you money: its main ingredients were a can of pumpkin (25 cents!) and a can of black beans (40 cents!). Both came from my overstuffed pantry.

My dinner came from the overstuffed freezer. Mr. FS has mixed success with gardening and we usually have an oversupply of two vegetables and the tragic deaths of many others. For the last two years, our summer oversupply has been of eggplant and peppers midway between mild and hot. Mr. FS--braving the heat of the oven in our oven-like climate--bakes the eggplant and peppers with some onions and--sometimes--canned tomatoes (our tomatoes are long gone by late summer). He freezes this concoction in ziplock bags and we eat it through the winter.

That's what I ate last night. My entire meal took no time to put together and it was delicious, especially since I sprinkled the bread with olive oil.

That meal was an example of how a garden can save you money. What did I mean when I added "Not the Way You Think"? Well, most efforts to deal with the gardening and frugality issue eventually come down to ascertaining the value of the vegetables you produce. Some bloggers painstakingly weigh their produce and assign it a value, based on market prices. Then they have to sadly admit that gardening does not save much money, because all that work, not to mention money for seeds and other stuff, doesn't really pay a decent "hourly wage."

I measure the value in another way. In addition to the frozen concoction, we have lots of greens in the winter. Right now, we have chard and kale. I seldom buy vegetables in the grocery store. I plan my meals around what I have.

The concoction lends itself to many cuisines. Plain, it is a ratatouille; with feta, it becomes Greek; with coconut milk and curry paste it becomes Thai; with soy sauce, sesame oil, etc, it becomes Asian. For the Thai and Asian versions, you can add shrimp or chicken or whatever. You can add sausage and make a pasta sauce. You can make it Indian and serve with dal (NOT cooked in your rice cooker).

As for the greens: eat braised with whatever; eat braised at room temp with lemon (from our tree!); add to soups of all nations; put in stir-fry, and so forth.

Need I say that we don't get tired of our vegetables: how could we?

As for saving money, I have long spent only around $50.00 a week on food. Now that my children are elsewhere, I have to admit the amount is too high. My cupboards are overstuffed, as is my freezer. A while back I decided to limit myself to around $25.00/week for food to force me to use up my oversupply. I'm at around 10 weeks and I still have a lot left.

People marvel at my grocery budget. The "secret" is three-fold: stock up on staples when prices are low; eat what you have; and learn how to cook.

I think, then, that my garden saves money, not because we end up with $XX.XX worth of kale, but because we use the kale and don't buy other produce. The proof is in what we spend, not in what we save.

And, of course, not driving to the store very much saves on gas. More green(s)!

Leaving you, dear Readers, with some famous lines from a famous poem about "that happy garden state":

Meanwhile the mind, from pleasure less,
Withdraws into its happiness :
The mind, that ocean where each kind
Does straight its own resemblance find ;
Yet it creates, transcending these,
Far other worlds, and other seas ;
Annihilating all that's made
To a green thought in a green shade.

For the rest of the poem, check out the wonderful Luminarium.

For Chance: Deborah Madison's Quinoa Soup

I was going to type this out for Chance, but I am a lazy girl, so I found it on the internet.

This blogger tries all sorts of interesting things. Here is her take on Madison's quinoa chowder. Note that she uses chicken stock while Madison uses water.

3/4 cup quinoa, rinsed well in a sieve
2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 jalapeno chile, diced and seeded (or use a teaspoon of crushed red pepper like I did)
1 teaspoon ground cumin (Or season to taste. I used more because I love cumin)
salt and pepper
1/2 lb. boiling potatoes, cut into 1/4" cubes
7 cups chicken stock
3 cups finely shredded spinach
1 bunch scallions, thinly sliced, including about 1 inch of the green part
1/3 cup chopped cilantro leaves
1/4 lb. feta cheese, diced
1 hard boiled egg, chopped

Put the quinoa in 2 quarts stock, bring to a boil and then simmer for 10 minutes. While the quinoa is cooking, chop your vegetables and cheese. Drain the quinoa when it's done and reserve the liquid. You should have about 7 cups of liquid, add more stock if necessary..

Heat the oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the garlic and chile (or chile flakes). Cook for about 30 seconds, then add the cumin, 1 teaspoon salt, and potatoes. Cook for a few minutes but don't let the garlic brown. Add the quinoa stock and simmer until the potatoes are tender, about 12 minutes. Add the quinoa, spinach and remaining scallions and simmer for 2 minutes. Turn off the heat and add the feta and cilantro. Season with pepper and garnish with chopped egg.

Madison has a variation of this recipe in her soup cookbook in which she adds corn to the soup.

Deborah Madison is one of the best cookbook authors out there. Everyone knows that, right? She has a wonderful palate and her recipes are well-tested, which is not always the case. Her masterwork is Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. The only problem with this tome is with the index, which is useless. If you find something you like or want to try, put it on a sticky note; otherwise, you may never find it again. My copy was a gift from my in-laws many years ago.

The corn variation is in this book:

I take out a library copy of that one every now and again. It's good, but not indispensable as the other one is.

And, sorry Chance: I wouldn't make it in a rice cooker, though you probably could.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

One More for College Cooking: Kuhn-Rikon Knife

Today, I have a recommendation for a wonderful piece of equipment for the College Cooking enthusiast: the Kuhn-Rikon paring knife. I first heard of these via Frugal Son, who read about them somewhere. He asked for one for his birthday. Well! He is a Frugal Son: these knives cost around $10.00.

Needless to say, we fulfilled his desire. Then I tried the knife: I love it. And since I have very small hands, I use a paring knife for almost everything, including chopping onions. Then Lucy Marmalade asked for one. We even bought one for my mother, who refuses to cook, but we can use it when we visit.

We had a good deal of discussion over who got which color. Then we bought Lucy a utility knife too.

So far, the equipment closet consists of Kuhn-Rikon knife, stick blender, and rice cooker. The total is about $40.00. Not bad.

The knives come in great colors. This is no time to choose basic black.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Frugal College Cooking: Meet Your New BFF; It's Aseptic Packaging

I just added 18 quarts of soy milk to Lucy Marmalade's pantry for next year. It's good till February 2011. That's because it is in aseptic packaging.

Lucy will be using this in her cereal. Plus she likes to drink the stuff--even plain.

For a carless scholar, running out of milk is a pain. It's a pain to carry milk or to pack it in a bicycle basket. And you don't want your friends to think you are over-mooching rides, do you?

If you live in Europe, you know all about aseptic packaging, because that's how most milk is sold. More and more is available in the USA. I love it! It makes things so easy to store: just line up your goodies on a shelf.

I've been picking up soy milk at Dollar Tree, where--as might be expected--it's $1.00. It's a lot more at the regular grocery or on Amazon, but it may be worth the expense for the convenience.

In fact, it might be worth the extra cost to order from Amazon, which now has a grocery section. There you can find soy milk, milk, soups, and so on. Whole Foods also sells a lot of soup in aseptic packaging.

If you don't know what aseptic packaging looks like, here is a snap from Amazon:

I'll let you know when I find more of these treasures at Big Lots or Dollar Tree.

As a final comment, let me say this stuff is great to have in your emergency food cache for disasters. Those of us in the Katrina-area, now also known as the BP area, were happy to have aseptic milk and soup in days after the storm.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Frugal College Cooking: Immersion Blender

I am having so much fun conceptualizing Lucy Marmalade's en suite cooking next year. Some people define creativity as problem-solving. I agree, which is why frugality also is a creative activity.

Like many people, I have a Robot Coupe processor gathering dust. I use it now and then, but it is a pain and I hate to clean it. My most-used appliance is an el cheapo immersion or stick blender. I love it! Even if you are not in a dorm, you should get one. i love making soup, but always hated pureeing in a blender: it was messy even if all went well. If all didn't go well, you would have pureed carrot soup all over your kitchen and a few burns to boot.

With the immersion blender, you just stick it in the soup pot and push the button. It is also excellent for smoothies (warning: you need a tall container for this. I use something meant to hold utensils on a counter).

To clean your immersion blender, just rinse it off. Seldom do I really need to wash it.

Now I don't know how much soup Lucy M. will be cooking. But the blenders are so cheap that it doesn't matter. I scoff at suggestions to buy a Cuisinart version or a Braun. I'm still using one I got at Walmart for $11.00 many years ago.

I just looked on Amazon and here is the cheapie I will get Lucy. From the comments, I learned that this was recommended by Cook's Illustrated magazine:

Monday, May 17, 2010

Anticipate Your Needs: Frugal College Cooking

You may wonder, dear readers, why I am writing on this topic when college students are on their way home. Frugal types know why: because a cornerstone of frugal living is to anticipate your needs. A while back I wrote about getting my son an entire prom outfit for less than $20.00. That is because I started a year in advance and picked up elements of the ensemble as I saw them. Low stress.

I like this kind of planning and amassing anyway. Lucy Marmalade is in Alabama participating in a 3 week service project. And I am doing a service project here--for dear Lucy and, I hope, her suite mates.

Yesterday, I wrote about acquiring a cheap rice cooker as a key piece of equipment.

Today, I will reveal what's in Lucy's pantry (aka her closet). All will be used before the expiration dates, by the way.

15 cans of black-eyed peas. Oh, how Lucy loves beans. I got these last New Year's when they were on sale for 3/$1.00. Make some rice in your rice cooker. Drain the beans and mix 'em in. Add a can of spicy tomatoes. Top with cheese.

To that end, I also acquired 15 cans of rotel-type tomatoes when they were on sale for 50 cents a can.

Why the magic number of 15? Because there are 14-16 weeks in a semester.

So, with these two items, Lucy has the base for 15 meals of several servings each. She can either eat it all by herself or share with her suite mates.

The practice outlined above--stockpiling when on sale--is a classic frugal technique. Interestingly, The Grocery Game--a coupon/sale business--now has replaced the term stockpiling with the term investing.

Any other ideas for the stockpile, errrr, I mean the investment portfolio?

Sunday, May 16, 2010

My Newest Frugal Project: College Cooking

Every now and then, I check my stats and discover that people got to my blog via a search for "College Cooking." What they found, no doubt, were some of Frugal Son's gourmet cooking extravaganzas. This is not true College Cooking.

The various cookbooks that purport to be on College Cooking are not--from what I've seen so far--all that helpful to someone in a true College Cooking situation. The cookbooks are beginner cookbooks, for someone in a first apartment and hence don't differ markedly from plain old beginner cookbooks. Some of these present recipes so dependent on convenience foods that they make the famous "Mystery Meat" of my college days look like a dish by Escoffier.

So: what do I mean by College Cooking? Well, first of all, it is dorm cooking. Second, it is marked by a lack of appliances--such as a stove--and many of the utensils and gadgets we take for granted. Third, of course, it is marked by a cook with deficiencies in time, money, and know-how.

Here is why I am doing this. Lucy Marmalade, Dear Daughter of Mine, received, among other goodies, a ROOM SCHOLARSHIP. On top of this she gets $2000 in cash. Last year, we purchased the required freshman meal plan. This consisted of 160 meals per semester, plus $300 in Bamacash or something. Total--about $3200 for the year. Note that this doesn't even cover all meals. And it is only for around 8 months. Frugal Son--in horror (he has a board scholarship)--did the math: each meal costs around $8.00. Even if all you get is a bowl of cheerios. One of Lucy's friends had 60 meals left on her card! That is almost $500.00!

So for Lucy's sophomore year, we have a plan. We will buy her the smallest meal plan--50 meals per semester--so she can have lunch or dinner. Then, she will try to cook some other meals in her suite, which has a mini-kitchen sans stove. Any money she saves can go to restaurant meals or whatever the heck she wants, including, of course, meals purchased at the cafeteria.

I have been amassing supplies in Lucy's closet. More on that later.

And what is the secret to College Cooking if you don't have a stove? No--not a hotplate or similar: those are rightly forbidden as fire hazards. The key I realized is a safe way to cook your starch, which is a base for so many meals. What is safe, cheap, and starch-friendly? YES. A rice cooker.

As it happens, my blog-friend Chance wrote an ecstatic post on her thrift store purchase of the Mercedes of rice cookers. I'm not even jealous; I realize Chance needed that find more than I do.

No, Lucy will have to content herself with the cheapest of rice cookers, the Aroma. We got it from Amazon a while back: Aroma ARC-733G 3-Cup Pot-Style Rice Cooker and Food Steamer">

Or you could get the fancy one lucky Chance got: Zojirushi NS-ZCC10 5-1/2-Cup Neuro Fuzzy Rice Cooker and Warmer, Premium White">

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Frugal Fun in France: Huitres/Oysters

Like Funny About Money, I am still the the realm of grade inflation. Unlike Funny: she is done.

I am also in the land of MAJOR ENVIRONMENTAL DISASTER. Everyone is stocking up on seafood and freezing it against the future shortages. I can't participate: my freezer is full and I don't think seafood benefits very much from freezing. The one thing I wish I had--and would find a way to freeze--is shrimp shells, which make a great stock, more shrimpy tasting than shrimp, believe it or not.

As it happens, Frugal Son, during the waning days of his year in Nantes, reported on some frugal fun with his friends:

Frugal Son: went to this little town on the ocean (a bit past the famous Guerande) and collected...
me (Mr. FS): Cool!!!
Do it there, because the oyster beds are being closed here.
FS: I know :(
me: Was it an oyster farm?
FS: we collected about 25 dozen
me: did you dig them up?
FS: it was near an oyster farm
so these were the "strays
30 - 35kg or so!
me: Did you oyster-knife them open?
FS: yeah we used an oyster knife
they were soooooooo good
much brinier than our gulf oysters
me: Never had any that fresh, though I suppose it doesn't matter.
FS: but I still have about 30 left in the fridge
so I'm about to go to the store to get ingredients for an oyster stew
I ate about a dozen and a half raw
and then another dozen bbqed in their juice on the half shell
the next day I went with a friend's boyfriend to his cousin's house and I brought oysters as a gift

And I know some of you are thinking it, so I have to put it in: a bit from Lewis Carroll's The Walrus and the Carpenter

"But wait a bit," the Oysters cried,
"Before we have our chat;
For some of us are out of breath,
And all of us are fat!"
"No hurry!" said the Carpenter.
They thanked him much for that.

"A loaf of bread," the Walrus said,
"Is what we chiefly need:
Pepper and vinegar besides
Are very good indeed--
Now if you're ready, Oysters dear,
We can begin to feed."

"But not on us!" the Oysters cried,
Turning a little blue.
"After such kindness, that would be
A dismal thing to do!"
"The night is fine," the Walrus said.
"Do you admire the view?

Oh, this used to give me the creeps when I was little. Still does, come to think of it. OK, must return to grading exams. I will leave you with a famous line from Shakespeare: Once more unto the breach, dear friends.

How I love literature!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Perfect Graduation Gift :Male Edition

Oh, it's so easy to buy things for the females on your list. I have been getting lots of junk mail suggesting gifts for the male grad. As it happens, I know the perfect gift. Try it and you'll see. I learned about it from a hip colleague.

It is: a Lamy safari fountain pen! These only cost about $30.00. I got Frugal Son one in yellow, but there are other cool colors.

Check it out: Lamy safari fountain pen yellow fine

My gift to you.
Any other good gifts for the guys?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Good Advice: Stand strong against Discounts

Two of my favorite bloggers wrote on the same subject recently: Budgeting in the Fun Stuff wrote on succumbing to a "special." This was in response to a post over at Gai Shan Life on being similarly suckered by discounts. Erghhhh. If these two frugal role models succumb to such sales tactics, what hope is there for the rest of us?

Oh, make that three frugal role models. I received a 30% off coupon for Banana Republic. Good May 18. Oh, be still my heart! Luckily, Banana is in the next town, which has become a miserable drive owing to the population increase over the years--with a spike post-Katrina.

Then there is my mother and Chico's. Chico's always has $25.00 of $100.00 or $20.00 off $80.00 coupons. Even my mother, who loves to shop (and return--it's a disease) noticed that your total always comes to JUST UNDER the threshold, so you actually need to spend more. I used to get these coupons from Chico's. I seem to have been removed from the mailing list after I complained about bad customer service. That's OK. Chico's is in the next town too.

Then there is Mr. FS. His only weak spot is Bike Nashbar, which frequently has free shipping if you buy X. Of course, this necessitates much figuring and computing to achieve the optimal purchase.

You have to figure: if the discount is sent to you, it must be good for the company, right? They're not doing you a favor.

Thanks fellow bloggers for the good advice. I am throwing away my 30% off coupon. RIGHT NOW.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A Cast of Characters at the Thrift Shop: Me, Myself, and I

A few days ago, Duchesse, a Blogger of precise elegance, wrote a post about the cast of characters that inhabits her closet. She's trying to eliminate some of the characters (e.g. I'm with the Band) and stick to two (e.g. yogini). The characters mentioned in the comments are great: my favorite is probably deconstructed dramatic.

I, of course, can't figure out what my character should be. If I said deconstructed dramatic, everyone would laugh, as everyone laughed when I said my role model was Dorothea Brooke of Middlemarch.

One thing about thrift shopping is that you can experiment with various characters and, if you make a mistake, it's no big deal. It's fun to try on characters. It's even--shades of Dorothea Brooke--virtuous, because the thrift store makes money both when you buy something and then when someone else buys your donation.

My thrift store foray of today exemplifies the contradictory character mix. First, the new red headed cashier showed me a pair of capris by Vineyard Vines, with an attached price tag of $125.00. I'm not really preppy, but I loved the little whales on the inside of the waistband.

Then I found some other things. I believe this was an instance of thrift store karma because I couldn't think of anything to write about today and because I've been meaning to comment on Duchesse's post. I just couldn't think of my character: disheveled professor? crabby teacher? sarcastic scruffy?

So here are my characters to experiment with, courtesy of today's therapeutic visit (more therapeutic than my visit to the physical therapist for my back and leg pain).

1. Preppy capris
2. Athleta yoga pants (for the upscale exerciser)
3. Carlisle silk anorak with a print midway between leopard and camouflage (for the rich lady)

Do you--shades of Walt Whitman--contradict yourself?

Monday, May 10, 2010

Hanging Laundry with Funny and Lillian

Funny About Money wrote a paean to hanging laundry. She correctly realized that the practice is valuable not for the tiny amount of money it saves, but for the priceless stress-relief it provides. I hang laundry now and again, but, living in a high humidity environment means that sometimes items NEVER get dry. When I visit in-laws in California, I delight in hanging laundry. Even wool sweaters dry as if by magic. My in-laws, not fully appreciating the low humidity, do not engage in the practice.

I recall a description of hanging laundry in an even higher humidity place: the Hebrides. There is a wonderful series of books by Lillian Beckwith about her life in the Hebrides, where she went to rest on doctor's orders. I can't locate the exact part I remember, which is about hanging laundry in an environment of almost constant rains, resulting in continual re-rinsing and sun-bleaching of linens until the blessed moment when one can take in the laundry.

The following passage is from Bruach Blend, not the one I am thinking of, but pretty close:

The earth dykes around my croft were draped with sheets bleaching in the sun; newly washed blankets hung from the clothes rope where they responded to the caress of the breeze which, as it dried them, teased their fibres into downy softness and filled them with the good fresh smell of pure Highland air.

Perhaps because sunshine is scarcer in the Hebrides we tended to assess its qualities seriously. Thus May was traditionally the best month for bleaching and blanket washing. The hot summer sun, if and when it came, was welcome for drying the peats, but it turned woollen blankets yellow and hurried the drying of linen. To bleach successfully one needed the slow-drying, spring sunshine. A sheet put out to bleach in June or July would need to be sluiced frequently with clean water to ensure it did not dry too quickly, and as clean water had to be carried from the well it was far too precious a commodity for such ministrations. So we made the most of any good May weather, leaving the spread sheets out over several days and nights to be soaked repeatedly by the abundant May dew and subsequently dried by its benign sunshine. When the time came to gather them in, even the most obstinate stains had disappeared and the sheets were almost eye-dazzling in their whiteness.

Such knowledge I had of course acquired since living and working with the Bruach crofters, for once they realized I was in earnest they were eager enough to teach me not just the essentials I needed to know and practise to survive the crofting life but the simpler more esoteric crofting lore

I highly recommend Beckwith's books, which are in the genre of city-lady-goes-to-country-and-falls in love with place-and writes about it. Is there a better name for the genre?

What are your small stress relievers of the frugal variety?

P.S. I just checked Amazon and the Beckwith books are in print once more: Try Hills Is Lonely">.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Virgin Mobile: Worst Customer Service Ever: Move over Chico's

So far. I've written about my bad experience with Chico's. A high up person got in touch with me, but never responded to my email. I also seem to have been taken off the mailing list, since I no longer receive catalogs. Retaliatory?

That's OK.

As I write, Mr. FS is on with Virgin Mobile. It is my fault. I noticed two charges for $20.60 for the same day on my Amex bill. I called Virgin to see if it was a mistake. They said I had to take it up with the credit card company. So I did. Amex said it seemed to be a mistake and removed the charge.

Virgin suspended daughter's phone service. After hours on the phone, including a 3-way call with us,Virgin, and Amex, we are ...nowhere. one rep says the charges were not an error; another rep said they were. Miss Em says they are. Virgin said that calling Amex set in motion a chain of events that will be hard to undo. When I said that the first rep told me to call Amex, Virgin said that it was a mistake to tell us that.

There is apparently no record of our chat with the supervisor. I can hear the annoyance in Mr. FS's voice. I think we will have to eat the loss of the minutes remaining on Miss Em's phone.

Roll of Companies I will no longer deal with:

DELL COMPUTER (don't ask)
CHICO'S (annoying)
Hamilton Books (this was a long time ago, so I may return)
VIRGIN MOBILE (winner of the worst contest or perhaps a tie with Dell)

Wonderful Companies that are famous for good service, and rightfully so:
Lands End
LL Bean
Sierra Trading Post

VIRGIN UPSHOT: We have to contact the credit card company and file a reversal of chargeback, pay the contested bill, file a fraud something-or-other, and THEN contest the charges with Virgin. Should we bother?

Friday, May 7, 2010

Can Iconic Design Be Frugal?

My blogroll is--to put it mildly--somewhat schizoid. In addition to faves who are living life in the frugal lane (Funny About Money, Revanche,Budgeting in the Fun Stuff, Simple in France, Cubicle Wall, Shelley, Roomfarm), I also feature Duchesse of Passage des Perles, Deja Pseu of Une Femme d'un Certain Age, Hostess and, most recently metscan. The latter three write about style and design. They are the aesthetes of the blogroll. That Duchesse and Deja Pseu are francophiles is only a positive.

My most recent addition is metscan. Why is she on the blogroll? Today's post featured her Cartier tank watch, certainly an icon of design and style. But very very expensive, out of reach for many. You could argue, however, that such an item IS frugal, in that it will provide many years of use, and, in the event of financial disaster, could be sold for most of its purchase price.

Metscan is also from Finland (or Suomi). It happens that I went to Finland as an 18 year old. A friend from childhood mentioned that she was going on a trip for youth put together by Finnair: for $200.00, you got your plane fare, lived with a host family for a week, and then spent a week in Helsinki at a hotel. Even at the time (1976), this was a ridiculously low price. I got a rush passport (oh, those halcyon pre-terrorist days) and off I went.

My romance with Finland predated the trip. I loved art and design. In high school I had my student membership to the Museum of Modern Art, and spent many Saturdays moseying around their collections (And inevitably had to fend off the advances of older men. I did not realize at the time that museums were high-end pick-up spots). I just loved the Design Collection, many of whose items were of Finnish origin.

Recently, Metscan posted on her blog pictures of her daughter's Helsinki apartment. It was filled with iconic pieces of design: to wit, an Eileen Gray table. Now all these pieces are expensive. But I believe that they are also frugal, because they will last forever. In fact, some of the pieces in Metscan's daughter's apartment belonged to her great-grandparents.

The Eileen Gray table is $550.00 at Design Within Reach. You can buy a knock-off for much, much less. In this instance, however, I would probably go for the original. Over twenty years, the price difference diminishes.

I wrote a while back about how my parents pined for the iconic Eames lounge chairs. After 20 years of marriage, they bought two, for, I think $1000.00 each. That was 35 years ago, and the chairs are still in service.

I've already promised my son a Noguchi coffee table once he is settled. My daughter wants two of the Kartell Eros chairs.

So thanks to aesthetic bloggers on my blogroll, for all the inspiration. And to the frugality bloggers. Truly, if you take a look, many of the aesthetes are writing about frugality, even if not directly. Similarly, many of the frugal bloggers are writing about beauty in its various guises. Truly, beauty is frugal, just as frugality is beautiful.

I think John Keats would agree. Do you?

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Advice and Cereal: Frugal Friends

I have one extremely frugal colleague, and my life took a definite upward turn when I moved to the office opposite his. (The window also helped). We chat about trivial things, which is relaxing, and fairly important things, which is not. Last week he brought me a frugal gift: a twin pack of Kashi cereal. "Why are you giving this to me? Don't you like it?"

Frugal Colleague explained that the twin pack was marked down to $1.25 at Walmart and that he had bought all 7 packs. And I was to be the recipient of one of the packs. There was also a sticky coupon for a free pack of cereal bars. Wow! thanks, Frugal Colleague.

This morning, Frugal Colleague explained that his new dental crown broke off when he was eating part of a chocolate Easter bunny that was reduced to 25 cents. Since we share the same dentist (and I swear that, between our families, we contribute about 90% of her income) I could tell him that her phone # is listed and that she takes emergency calls.

After he came back from the dentist's office, we continued out chat. As it happened, he had many issues to discuss. As it also happened, I had advice on all of them. So, just in case you have any of the same questions, here is the advice.

1. Frugal Colleague said he and his wife had not made any funeral arrangements.

Advice: Look into a burial society, like the Neptune Society. These are prepaid and no-frills. My in-laws did this and, when my mother-in-law died, it was a great simplifier.

2.Frugal Colleague said he had to buy some quick-drying pants for a 10-day trip to Turkey.

Advice: Pack about 3 pairs of old pants and discard as you go along. That way, you'll have room for souvenirs. Not that frugal people buy many souvenirs.

3. Frugal Colleague's wife just turned 66 and thinks she should wait till 70 to take Social Security.

Advice: Take it now, and repay at 70 if you want to reset the payments. This is a little-known feature of social security.

And here is a little poem from the days of autograph books. It is sent out to students and teachers during finals.

Can't think, brain numb,
Inspiration won't come.
Can't write, bad pen,
Best wishes , Amen.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

My Aching Back: Frugality and American Medicine

Funny About Money asked how I damaged my sciatic nerve. Well, about a month ago, my very neat mother was coming to visit messy me. I was attempting to get something off a high shelf so I could neaten things up, and I stretched, and I stretched, and I stretched. Finally, a taller person came to my aid. But the damage was done.

Since I am doctor-phobic, I just waited for the pain to go away. I took ibuprofin and availed myself of small quantities of Mr. FS's painkillers (which he takes for a back problem).

Finally, I could stand it no more. I burst into tears and Mr. FS said, "That's it! I am making you an appointment." So he did.

The doctor to whom I was assigned had white hair, a crinkly face, a grandfatherly mien. I told him that I was taking painkillers, but that they weren't working. "Oh," he said, "That's because you're not taking enough." He prescribed various pills. If I had taken the full regimen, I would have been taking more than 20 pills a day!

He said that if the pills didn't work, I could get physical therapy.

Mr. FS did an on-line search and found a bunch of recommended exercises that I can do at home. So I did.

The pain has returned and is now on the OTHER side. My drug-loving doctor has an appointment available tomorrow; Mr. FS's doctor is booked up for three weeks. Does this suggest that drug-lover isn't very good? It may.

Anyway, the point of all this is that the doctor never mentioned the remedy that could be done at home and is absolutely free: a series of exercises. Even though my expensive health insurance allows me to fill the prescriptions and go to physical therapy, frugal me would have appreciated a mention of the frugal choice: exercise.

Do you think I'm being too hard on the crinkly faced doctor?

Monday, May 3, 2010


I've started a few posts on various topics, but all reflect one thing: I have damaged my sciatic nerve. This happened about a month ago. Now it is worse. You may detect some crabbiness in prior posts: if so, that is the true me emerging from the nice blog person.

Instead of a testament to crab, I will once more steal a post from my daughter. Check out the outfits for the mod party.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Book P-review: Possum Living

****UPDATE: Re comment below that refers to another blogger talking about the book. It seems that the book was discussed on Oprah! Well. Truly it must be the zeitgeist, because I don't watch Oprah nor do I read the blogger. I saw the book mentioned on Amazon, under "People who are interested in X book, might also be interested in Possum Living." Isn't it strange? Harmonic convergence.

I love reading books about frugality, not so much because I learn many frugal tips (since I know many already), but because I sometimes need a bit of affirmation from the universe. I have exhausted all the books in my local library on the topic. I just requested Possum Living, which is a reprint of a book published around 30 years ago, written by "Dolly Freed" (took me a while to realize that is a pseudonym).

Why a p-review? I don't know. Perhaps because I read a bit on-line. Also, it sometimes takes a while for the library to order the books I request, especially in the present budget crisis.

The gist is that Dolly and her Dad lived on a biggish piece of rural property 40 miles from Philadelphia. She was (illegally) removed from school and spent her teen years in the library, eventually becoming a NASA engineer. They lived a life of fishing, gardening, swapping, napping, and so on. They lived on around $1400/year.

Now many of us can't be possums. We are locked into high property taxes and other "necessary" expenses. Dolly and her Dad lived a version of extreme frugality. But her point was that she and her Dad looked perfectly middle-class.

Dolly shows that IT CAN BE DONE. How about if you don't want to be a possum? What about a semi-possum life? I think that would be available to many of us.

I started thinking about fun family activities. How about possum weekend? That could consist of eating the food in your pantry, cooking up some soup, going for a walk, whatever. How I wish my children were little; we could have had a lot of fun.

Many of my fave bloggers are already living a semi- or occasional possum life. I wrote about Simple in France a few days ago. And Revanche, a city girl, newly re-employed after a lay-off, and with heavy family responsibilities (financial and emotional), shows that even in expensive California, you can practice frugality by making chicken soup.

Have you read Possum Living? Are you ever a possum?

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Lucy Marmalade's Pink Pearls and Other Gifts

How can I resist? I just dote on Lucy Marmalade PLUS she's wearing some beautiful pink pearls PLUS her ensemble illustrates the magpie approach to fashion: here and there, high and low. Also, she's learning about gifts--both receiving and giving.

Hmmmm. Is part of the bliss of having a daughter that I have another person on whom to bestow thrift store finds? A rather disquieting thought. But check out this post: Lucy is wearing a Missoni sweater I thrifted a while back (yes, the famous Goodwill). Orange is not my color, so I couldn't wear it. I even tried to sell it on Ebay; would you believe that no one was interested? It has the label and all...

Perhaps there is an element of karma in the fact that Lucy and I have different coloring. Maybe that Missoni sweater was just waiting for her to appreciate it (she turned it down the first few times).

And Lucy's posts are early Mother's Day gifts to me. Thanks Lucy M.