Custom Search

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Give Away: College Cooking Crash Course ebook

Do you know a clueless student who would like the little ebook Frugal Son and I put together last summer? Or would you like one for yourself? You don't need to be a college student to benefit from our 20 ingredient/2 weeks of meals/cheap/easy/low mess system. Oh yeah: no stove. But it's good even if you have a stove. You do need a rice cooker for some of the recipes.

Anyway, I will give away one copy on each blog: see College Cooking Crash Course.

Entry is easy: just leave a comment below. You can double your chances of winning if you leave a comment on both blogs. I'd love it if you'd tell all your friends, but that is not required. The winner will be chosen on Friday.

If you don't win this time, don't despair. I'll be doing this now and again.

Friday, July 29, 2011

A Simple Meal in France

A few days ago, I wrote about an elegant meal to which we were invited while we were in France. We also received an invitation to stay with Claire and Gerard in Brittany. It was a wonderful visit where we were once again treated to incredible hospitality.

While our first hosts, Francoise and Herve, were somewhat bourgeois, our second hosts exuded a more countercultural vibe. When we arrived, we met the hosts, their daughter, and her two children. Then it turned out that their son, his girlfriend, and two more people were set to arrive, making 11 people; 9 of us slept upstairs.

Claire was unfazed by all this. We arrived back from a day of exploring to find dinner already in process. We are having ratatouille, said Claire. In French, of course. I realized that the huge vat of ratatouille--which consisted of zucchini, onion, and tomato--no eggplant or peppers--had been made from the giant zucchini we saw Gerard cut from the plant earlier that morning. With that we had basmati rice. Bread, of course.

This was followed by some goat cheese from the area where Claire's mother lives.

For dessert we had small bowls of ice cream festooned with a half a peach and a dollop of home-made jam. It seems everyone makes jam in France.

This meal was extremely easy to produce and also quite inexpensive, proving that labor and expense are not necessary for wonderful dining and interesting conversation.

Unfortunately, my French was in a decline (though I did try), so I relaxed by talking to the grandchildren, who thought my French was just fine. The grumpy friend of our hosts' son who was silent for virtually the entire time surprised us by uttering a sentence in excellent English.

Mr FS was explaining that he first learned French when his father had a Fulbright in Paris in 1968. His family witnessed the famous student strike that spring--and lots of other strikes as well. When Mr. FS paused for a bit, Grumpy Friend said "Did you smoke weed in 1968?" That was the only sentence she said in our presence.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Julia Child was Frugal

In the waning days of my summer break, I'm reading As Always, Julia, a selection of letters between the great Julia Child and the also great Avis DeVoto, who was instrumental in the publication of Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

If you saw the film Julie and Julia--I fastforwarded through Julie and only saw Julia--you might recall a rather scandalous comment Julia made about a quenelle (I think it was). That comment was supposedly drawn from her letters to Avis DeVoto (who is represented in the film); however, it may not be included in the book.

I am always searching for Frugal Sisters, so I was delighted to discover that Julia, from an affluent Pasadena family, who brought to her marriage income from a trust fund, shares my sense of frugality. Note: I don't have a trust fund.

Here she is trying to talk Avis into accepting a plane ticket for a visit to Julia and Paul in Europe. I think Avis was widowed by this time.

Our finances are in a particularly lush state this year. We live on Paul's salary, and anything from my income is used for pure squandering. We have set aside a more than comfortable lump for our home leave next year, and for a new car . . . and the rest is gravy. The point of money, we think, after you have taken care of the minimum living essentials, is to spend it. We always live on a strict budget, and pile up as much as we can for squanderings. Please think it over and say yes . . What fun!

Aren't we lucky to have enough for the minimum and to have enough to save for a future squandering? And isn't Julia's generosity just incredible?

Naturally, my next squandering will be another trip to Europe. What is yours?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Gifts for the College Bound: NO to extra-long sheets and quarters

Everywhere you look in the blogosphere, you see lengthy lists for the college bound: lamps, garbage cans, fans, fridges, even ironing boards! When we brought our scholars to college, we would see huge SUVs unloading masses of stuff--including cases of bottled water. Almost every scholar brought a dorm fridge and microwave--even though the dorms at my daughter's school had fridges and microwaves in EACH ROOM. So the tiny rooms were outfitted with 3 fridges and 3 microwaves. UGH.

Miss Em always brings too much; still she is restrained compared to most others.

Anyway, a cornerstone of frugality is WAITING. You can buy stuff at the college town, if necessary. And I am here to say NO to two commonly suggested necessities.

--Extra-long twin sheets. If you can get a good deal on these, go right ahead. I am kind of picky about sheets and only buy combed cotton. I found some combed cotton stretchy sheets at Ross for my dear child. What the scholar REALLY needs is a FOAM or FEATHER MATTRESS PAD. Dorm mattresses are thin. Once you put the pad on, you will discover that you can put your regular twin sheets ON THE MATTRESS PAD. Unless your kid is on the basketball team, a regular twin mattress pad will suffice and then you can use your regular twin sheets.

--Quarters for laundry. A lot of kids will NEVER do the laundry. And before you start saving quarters, find out if the machines even take them. At some schools, students have plastic cards that are loaded with cash. These can be used at vending machines, laundry rooms, coffee shops, and so on.

One expense from which there is no escape is textbooks. UGH. A gift card from the college bookstore or even good old Amazon would be much appreciated, I am sure.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Frugal in France: Return Trip

It's always good to leave a bit undone, so you have a reason to go back. Aside from the more than fifty chateaux in the Loire valley that remain unseen by us, we need to make a few purchases of items both consumable and not.

1. It turns out that French macarons are, indeed, divine. Thanks to Duchesse for spelling correction, and also to Marcela and Deja Pseu for endorsements. Really, I only had a few days in Paris and I didn't want to contend with the lines at the most famous spot. All the bakeries have them, including those out in the boonies, so I really have no excuse.

2. There are two cheeses that we didn't get to try (one was confiscated as we left France). Bon appetit to someone, I hope.

3. OOPS! Forgot to go back to Petit Bateau for a few tees.

4. Mr. FS wanted to cook some mussels, but we just ran out of time.

5. We forgot to buy the buckwheat flour for the galettes we learned how to make.

6. Gotta eat more fromage blanc.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Frugal in France: Contrarianism and Macaroons

I am generally of a contrarian bent. Sometimes I think that is just a nice way to say hostile to forms of authority. I do think that contrarianism is conducive to frugality: every time someone says You must do/have this, the Contrarian says Why? or even No.

It is, as you might expect, often hard to be contrarian because people think you are weird. It can save a ton of money, however, as in, You must send your kids to private school because the public schools are terrible, You must send your kids on all of the overpriced Disney trips offered each year, and so on.

However, the Contrarian can miss out on things just because it becomes a habit to be contrary. I was thinking these thoughts recently as Mr. FS and I took a mercifully quick stroll down the Champs-Elysées. The street was still decorated for Bastille Day, very cool. It was fun (for a short while) to watch the hordes of people.

Two observations. There was a LINE OF PEOPLE AROUND THE BLOCK to get into the Louis Vuitton store. Almost everyone was carrying a small green bag from the Laduree Macaroon shop.

Needless to say, contrarian me would not stand on line to get into an LV shop. But I really should get over my contrarian ways and try at least one of those famous macaroons, which have become something of a cult item.

So the contrarianism that fuels my frugality--and enabled us to have a longish sojourn in France--may have kept us from braving the crowds (even at the other locations, I'm sure) and trying an iconic macaroon.

Here is a book I remember reading in my childhood. My father called me Contrary Woodrow for years. I'm sure he changed his ways by the end of the story.

So, readers, are you contrarian? Have you tried one of the famous macaroons?

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Frugal in France: Is French Cooking Time-Consuming? Fancy Dinner

I would have to say:non. If you cook a la Julia Child, who was writing for American cooks remember, it IS time-consuming. That is because you have to make all the stuff French people buy: bread, pate, and the like.

Our fanciest dinner was at the home of Francoise and Herve. Here is the menu:
--melon, baked prunes and prosciutto
--lamb chops and zucchini tian
--cheese plate
--apricot crumble

Oh, bliss in the recollection of this beautifully composed meal. Note, however, the no-work elements in this fancy menu.

Then there are the dishes that require some labor. The prunes take almost no time. Lamb chops take no work, just timing. The zucchini for the tian were probably sliced on a mandoline, and then layered with cream and cheese, and then baked. The crumble consisted of sliced apricots topped with an easy mix of crumbs and sugar.

This did involve a goodly amount of work. But much less than I used to spend on my over-complex dinner parties in the days when I did such things.

We ate in a beautiful garden with our hosts and their nice teenaged sons, Julien and Vincent.

Thanks to our hosts for a lovely meal, good conversation, and an example of graceful and seemingly stress-free entertaining.

Any tips for simple, elegant cooking?

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Frugal in France: Rags

If you're trying to save up for your trip to France--or wherever--try this French tip: use rags. I have been in 3 French homes and have seen not a single paper towel or napkin. Chez Daniele and Jacques, there are at least 10 piles of neatly folded rags. Well, some are napkins. Others are dishtowels. The most threadbare are bonafide rags.

As a connoisseur of dishtowels, I love the assortment. My favorites are the old raggedy linen towels.

Wait! In our clean-up before leaving, we spot a roll of paper towels. It was under stuff in the kitchen drawer. We dare not use it. I wonder what Daniele and Jacques use it for.

How much money could you save using rags I wonder.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Frugal in France: Bank of France and Monoprix

Are you dying to know what I got at Monoprix? It's not very exciting. Mr. FS and I nipped into the one in Nantes to get a bakery item, when I noticed that they were having FINAL MARKDOWNS. I had been in earlier and looked around and walked out empty-handed, with my head held high.

Final Markdowns: I am not that strong. I tried on a ton of stuff and put most everything back, even though the prices were ridiculous. To wit: a tank top for 2 euros. Anyway, I bought a cotton jersey cardigan, black leggings, 2 crinkly scarves (one for a gift), and--the budget buster--9 pairs of men's sport socks.Budget buster is tongue in cheek: total bill was 23 euros.

Meanwhile, Mr FS was at the Bank of France, a scary place where he had to go through severla layers of security, show ID, be photographed, and more. His mission? To change an obsolete 100 franc note for euros. He did it in the nick of time: the window closes in 2012. His "take"? 15 euros.

Almost even. Any recent successes in avoiding the temptations all around us?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Frugal in France: No Shopping

Now that I am in France, I realize how much time one can spend shopping in the USA. I'm not just talking about shopping in stores. Or even about my therapeutic thrift store jaunts (which I must cut down on).

First of all, there are no thrift stores here that I can see. Second of all, since going into stores here can be a bit pressure-filled, I confine myself to window shopping--if I am walking anyway. I love the French law that mandates prices in the windows.

In the US, I can't escape. Today I received an email announcing 20% off at Big Lots. OHHHH noooooo. I also received an email from Garnet Hill about their summer clearance. And Nordstrom sent me an email about their upcoming Anniversary Sale. It is so tempting to click on the email and see the offerings. i have been deleting though. And taking myself off of most email lists.

It has been head clearing to get away from all the shopping. I was going to end this triumphantly by reporting that I had bought nothing in my month here that was not consumable. I am sad to say that I stepped into Monoprix while Mr FS was negotiating the Bank of France.

Still, I've had almost a stuff-free month here.

How do you get away from shopping?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Frugal in France: Best Food Memory

Not the cheese, not the butter.

No: prunes wrapped in prosciutto, secured with toothpick, and baked. We had this twice. Where has it been all my life?

Butter, as expected, is the runner up.

What is your best recent food memory?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Frugal in France: Grocery Shopping

In Your Money or Your Life--a foundational text for frugalites--the authors ask of vacations: If you are content in your life, why do you need to vacate?

Good question. I have noticed that since I have been in France, the frugal buzz in my head is quieting down. Something is being vacated.

There are so many ways to be frugal in the USA: coupons (which I don't use), deals at the grocery, Big Lots, Dollar Stores, freebates at Walgreens, Rite Aid, and CVS, and on and on.

Here, while there's an occasional "Buy one, get second half off" (yawn), one is frugal in traditional ways: buy what is in season; buy the amount you need. So I knew cherries were on sale when a gaggle of women surrounded them in the store. I knew those skinny green beans were cheeeep when only a few remained in the bin. Ditto for peaches, pineapple, and those wonderful melons.

Also, dairy products are much cheaper than in the USA. I have been blissing out on fromage blanc, creme fraiche, camembert, and so on.

Frugality at the grocery is simpler here. I'm on vacation from my usual frugal ways. Who knows if I will ever return to them when I am back home.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Frugal in France: Choc! Part Deux

After giving the French a culture shock about the absence of a mandated 5 week vacation, I was the recipient of a shock. Our hosts were retired. One daughter had two young children and was, as she said, paid not to work.

I turned to the three well-educated 30-somethings at the table (Emile, son of our hosts, Elodie, his amie, and their friend ?? who was so sullen that we never asked her name). "Are you on vacation now?" I asked. Much laughter. "We're not on vacation because we don't work."

I was a little embarrassed and said something about how that was too bad, the economy was bad, blahblahblah.

One said, "Not too bad for us! We don't want the stress of a job." Then they explained that they live on government benefits.

More shock when they asked about such benefits in the USA.

Well, dear readers. You need to know that I am way to the left of most Americans. Perhaps my latent Puritan work ethic emerged.

Are you shocked? If so, at me, at them, or what?

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Frugal in France: Choc!

At the grocery store, various items are emblazoned PRIX CHOC! You don't need a dictionary to translate: shockingly low price. Needless to say, Mr FS and I have been on the giving and receiving end of various culture shocks. Some are trivial: French people are shocked to know that one cannot buy fromage blanc in the USA.

I thought that health care costs and issues would be the biggest shock to the French. And truly, they are shocked by unequal access to healthcare. But they are most shocked by the vacation issue. When we told an assembled table of 11 people of all ages that the 5 week vacation was unknown in the USA, all jaws dropped (except those of the two children).

Isn't it a law, one finally said. The word for law is droit, which also means right, which is how I translated it to myself.

Do you think the USA could ever institute such a thing? Do you think it would be great?

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Frugal in France: Carrot Lady and Community

There is a famous book--A Pattern Language--that proposes ways to structure environments for comfort and utility. I haven't read it in a while, but I remember that the authors suggested that elders be housed in small cottages in areas with foot traffic. Each cottage would have a bench outside, so the elders could watch the world go by and chat with people.

Could such a dream be realized in the USA? I have been observing both my parents and parents-in-law and am trying to figure out what kind of old age I hope to have. The little French town in which I have been residing offers elders plenty of opportunity to remain part of the community. First, a bakery and small grocery are within walking distance of most places. I see many elders with canes going to get their daily--or twice-daily--baguette.

The carrot lady whose grocery purchases I wrote about a few days ago is a case in point. She was quite vivacious and used the slowdown at the register to initiate a discussion of what shops would be open on Bastille Day. We saw her talk to several people on her way home--just a few steps from the grocery.

I think her total purchases came to under 3 euros. Mr FS and I surmised that she goes to the grocery every day in order to have some social interaction. Since houses are close together here--many sharing walls--it is easy to interact with neighbors of all ages.

My dream is to live in a walkable city with public transport. Is there any place in the USA that offers that?

Friday, July 15, 2011

Frugal in France: Last Dinner, Waste Not

I hope you don't think this is too prideful on my part, but I believe that i am extremely good at figuring out what to do with odds and ends of food. I hate wasting stuff. This talent is a huge money-saver too--not to mention time-saver, since it eliminates many grocery trips.

Interestingly, a news show here discussed how much food is wasted in France. The numbers were high. I can't remember exactly--perhaps 60 kilograms/person/year? The report also claimed that 50% of fresh fruit and vegetables were discarded. I can see why: food, both fresh and prepared, is displayed here. The food is beautiful but vulnerable. I wonder if the sellers make a supper of what remains unsold. I wonder what happens to all the dried bread. The news report was accompanied by visuals of mountains of beautiful produce being dumped into oblivion.

So, what should I cook? This is what we have: some eggs (left by our hosts, but hidden behind the jam), some mushrooms, some shallots, cheese of various sorts. Of course, we have some milk.

Easy! A mushroom strata, which will also use all the bread ends lying around. A strata is a savory bread pudding.

I first learned about this dish from one of Martha Shulman's cookbooks: Fast Vegetarian Feasts.

This cookbook has imho been superseded by her more recent work, such as her Recipes for Health.

One thing about Martha Rose: her recipes are always tested and so they always come out. You will not be wasting your precious ingredients if you use one of her books.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Frugal in France: Carrot Lady

I can't help it. I am observant of consumer behavior. Perhaps this is because my father studied that behavior through focus groups and the like--similar to a character in Madmen last season. Anyway, I enjoy watching for fellow-frugalites.

I also can't help noticing frugal opportunities, even if I cannot take advantage. Yesterday, I spotted 2 kilo bags of carrots for 1 euro! Think of all the grated carrots (so beloved by the French) you could make. Well, Mr FS and I could not make use of so many carrots, since very few days remain for us.

As usual, there was a hold-up on the line. French people don't get annoyed by this, so I stifled my eye-rolling tendencies. The tiny old woman behind us, dressed in a country housedress, had a small package of meat, a tiny half baguette, and that giant bag of carrots. A frugal soulmate.

I asked Mr FS in a whisper to check out the cut of meat she had selected: it was labelled pet food. I squinted and noted that the package consisted of bony ends and bits of what seemed to be beef. I wonder if she will be cooking up some broth for herself in addition to some for her pet.

I hope she enjoys those carrots too.

Have you witnessed any frugal behavior of late?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Frugal in France: Roadfood and the Tour de France

One of the things that gets me labelled CHEAP in the USA is my habit of brown bagging. At work, Mr FS and I have been enjoying our peanut butter sandwiches for more than 20 years. Brown bagging on the road has elicited even more raised eyebrows. I used to explain that it was FRUGAL not CHEAP to eat something packed at home or picked up at a grocery instead of fast food en route. I have given up and accept the criticism.

Not here though! At every parking lot for a major attraction or view--St Malo, a beautiful port city, Mont St Michel, that famous monastery in the sky--one has a vista not only of the sight one has come for, but of zillions of families opening their trunks and producing bountiful meals. We are not cheap here! We are mainstream!

My favorite moment came a few days ago. We were staying with friends of our hosts and talk turned to the Tour de France, whose route was nearby. They helped us figure out where/when to go. We parked ourselves by the side of the road in a tiny town. The crowds were only one or two deep. After an hour ("part of the experience" says Mr. FS), the riders whizzed by. It was thrilling, even though it lasted only a few seconds.

Not quite as thrilling, but still satisfying. As we left town, we passed a small park area with tables. There we spotted many of our fellow spectators, mostly French families with children, eating their pique-niques.

Do you pack your road food? Plain or fancy?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Frugal in France: French Lessons

Bonjour encore. We had intended our vacation to be a foray into relaxation, with lots of reading, writing, and walking. It turned into a much more intense time, owing partly to our generous hosts, who set up several meetings with REAL FRENCH people for us, and partly due to the fact that it was cheaper to rent a car for a week than for two days. So we added a trip to the Loire Valley.

A lot of the wonderfulness of our trip is thanks to Mr FS (aka Mr French Speaker) for his excellent French. All I have to say is STUDY YOUR LANGUAGES. Contrary to popular belief, not many French people outside of tourist centers know English very well. One French person told us that the French have an "orgeuil" about their language. And so consequently, my efforts at French have been met with patience and appreciation. Really, everyone has been cheering me on, as I struggle to get to the end--or even to the middle--of my sentence. Usually, I turn to Mr. FS for aid.

Because of Mr. FS's French, we had an invite to a family dinner with friends of our hosts. We also spent two days in Brittany with other friends of our hosts. While that invitation pre-dated anyone's knowledge of Mr. FS's proficiency, we had several meals en famille, one of which included a discussion of France's connection with the slave trade. Very intellectual.

Mr FS meets with admiration everywhere he goes. Apparently, his accent is hard to place and several French people have asked if he is Spanish! Every word you can attempt in the language of your country of choice will increase your experiences exponentially.

Even though I have been a tag along on this trip, I did manage to come out with a pretty good sentence in week 2. In fact, my jaw dropped when I got to the end. Hope this is correct. Speaking of Miss Em, my organized daughter, I said, "Elle fait ce qu'on doit faire." Even if there are mistakes, I think that's pretty good after almost 40 years since my last French lesson.

OOPS! I detect a bit of orgueil there!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Here We Are: How Much Has It Cost?

OK: I will brave the nasty keyboard. Thanks to all for the suggestions for gifts. We will be bringing a simple bouquet to our dinner tonight; the same if we visit the big house in the country (they have had a death in the family); and leave a bottle of cognac for our hosts, who return from their adventures a few weeks after we leave.

(Nasty Keyboard: It is all too easy to accidentally highlight and delete. Such has happened a few times.)

Since I believe that with frugality, more things are possible than without, I thought some might be interested in knowing our costs so far. We are frugal now by choice. More difficult than the money for most would be the time: because we are frugal, we can say NO to summer teaching. Because we are teachers, we have a chunk of time off in the summer.

Cost so far:
Flights: $2400.00 These include a stop in Massachusetts to visit my mother, which we do every summer anyway.
Paris: $250.00 for hotels, about $60.00 for transportation, about $$40.00 for rather make-shift eating.
Nantes/Reze: lodging FREE(!!), about $7.00 each time we take public transport to the city; about $10.00-15.00 for simple meals every day, including a few walks to the bakery and some visits to markets.

Next week, we shall rent a car ($250.00) and spend a week in the countryside. Reze is a rather rustic suburb and we spend a lot of time walking on the river. There is much to see and do in Nantes as well.

I have dreamed of a vacation like this for many years. Truly, I feel as though we are in paradise.