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Sunday, February 26, 2012

Dinner for the Omnivorous, Vegetarian, and Vegan Masses: Couscous

Mr FS and I just returned from a very pleasant visit to Alabama. We went to an awards ceremony, saw a play, and visited a big student project. We also served dinner to a bunch of Miss Em's friends. We did this last time we visited and I think it is a tradition.

We wanted to use some lamb gifted to us by one of Miss Em's friends. So we decided on couscous. This turned out to be a good choice because dinner was on Friday during Lent (oops! not an observer) and a few guests had given up meat and one had given up all animal products. Since we were running around and cooking in a strange and ill-equipped kitchen, we wanted to make a dinner that could pretty much be assembled quickly.

The Lamb: I braised some lamb shoulder at home and froze some meat and drippings.
The Veggie Stew: I brought frozen roasted onions. I flung these into a pan nonchalantly. Then I added a bag of the mixed veggies on sale at Publix. I stirred this around for a bit (wishing the wok had a lid; it did not) then added a large can of tomatoes and some drained chickpeas. I threw in some raisins and dried apricots.

I borrowed some cinnamon, cumin, and honey from the host kitchen and sprinkled them in.

Mr FS did the couscous (couscous plus water).

Can you find the single screw up? According to the vegan, honey counts as an animal product. He ate the stew anyway, but I did feel bad.

Except for the lamb--a priceless gift--this was an inexpensive dinner. There were at least 9 people there. How wonderful to provide a FREE FOOD OPPORTUNITY for starving college students.

Any ideas for the next visit?

Couscous is very expensive where we live, so we buy it from Amazon. You may have better sources. It is so cheap in Canada and France. Why????

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Frugal Mom, Frugal Child: Publix Bonding

Every Wednesday, I engage in an enjoyable activity: looking over the Publix ad on-line, isolating the good deals, and sending a shopping list to my very own College Cook, Miss Em. Sadly, I don't have a Publix here, so my own shopping experience must remain a vicarious one.

She already has a pantry of pasta, rice, oatmeal, and the like, so I focus on fruits, vegetables, and dairy appropriate for the College Cook (no time, no money, no space, no stove). So this morning, I sent her a short list: tangerines, shredded parmesan cheese (BOGO* aka BUY ONE GET ONE FREE), strawberries, and prepackaged vegetables.

The prepackaged veggies are especially good: in 10-12 oz packages, they are trimmed, chopped, and ready to go, whether raw or for cooking. They are only $1 at Publix!

Check over at my other site if you want to see what you can do with the sale items.

By the way, Miss Em recently confessed that she enjoys her weekly trip to the Publix that is within walking distance of her dorm (no car!). She said, "I love to look at the ad and see what's on sale."

To which: "Oh, you don't need to do that. I send you the list."

To which: "Oh, I don't need you to do that. I already know how. But I still like that you do it"

Oh, the poignant moments of parenthood.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Which Credit Card Should I Get? Asks a Recent Graduate

Which credit card? Well, you can spend hours searching and weighing various options. You can chase down 0% financing and then transfer your money when the rate goes up. You will drive yourself crazy and may mess up.

OR you can follow my advice. If you are SURE you can pay off each month, you should get a free card with a rebate.

If you might EVER be late in payment or carry a balance, then you should get a card from your credit union. They offer consistently lower rates and are more apt to negotiate with a cardholder than the big scary companies with the arcane rules.

Not eligible for a credit union? Guess again. I became a member of the Postal Employees Credit Union by asking if non-workers could join.

Now you can spend your time appreciating the universe.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Worn Worlds and Worn Scarves: An Appreciation

Unlike most people, I prefer the old to the new. And here I'm not talking only about antiquities and art and the like, but clothing and everyday items. That must be one of the reasons (among a zillion) that I love thrift stores.

I've been thinking about this predilection in part because we were invited to a wedding--the first of Frugal Son's childhood friends is getting married. I perused the registry and found myself wishing I could give them a giant box of slightly used items: I could get half the items on the registry for the cost of the single item I will end up buying. Of course, they would be appalled by the gesture.

The other reason is that I found an essay I thought I had thrown away: Worn Worlds by Peter Stallybrass. This was in the Yale Review many years ago and eventually morphed into a lengthy academic book Renaissance Clothing and the Materials of Memory, which seems sadly to be out of print.

I love the impressive tome, of course, but I also really love the earlier essay, which is a meditation on clothing and memory, centered on a jacket that was given to Stallybrass by a friend's wife after the friend died. The jacket itself was purchased at a vintage shop in London.

Interestingly, when I found the essay (in Frugal Son's closet--don't ask, my fault), I also found a box with a few linens in it and a scarf. The scarf is one of the few things I have that belonged to my grandmother who died almost 30 years ago. It is wool challis and made by Ralph Lauren. It used to smell like my grandmother's cream, a long discontinued Elizabeth Arden potion that I used to sniff at cosmetics counters.

I unfolded the scarf rather apprehensively owing to the fabric content and discovered--a miracle--that no moth or other creature had gotten to it. I aired it out and wore it to school.

I've also been wearing another scarf--a gift from a blogger who may not want me to reveal her identity. Like my grandmother's scarf, it is even more appreciated because it comes from another wearer.

My scarf is a beautiful and pristine gift, beautifully folded. My grandmother's scarf was pristine too, when I got it, save for the smell of the cream.

So many thanks to my benefactress for the beautiful gift and also to the gods of the closet, who kept my grandmother's scarf safe from the moths.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Buy Local?

As we all know, it is good to support local businesses, even if, at times, they are a bit more expensive. So I began my quest for a new piece of furniture in my little downtown, which has a number of specialty shops.

Store 1: Run by a nice, but crazy lady who used to live down the street from me. I would be afraid to give her my credit card number!
Store 2: I didn't really like the quality of the piece, even though the store is rather high end. The owner was very nice to me, however.
Store 3: A definite possibilty! But the owner was rather short with me. He seemed so bored by my questions. That's how he was a few months ago when I went on a different mission.

Just to check, I looked up the prices on-line. The piece carried by Store 3 is also carried by a fancy on-line company, at several hundred dollars higher.

It's also carried by another on-line retailer and would come to about 10-15% less than the local store.

This isn't a pressing issue. I start my shopping AT LEAST a year in advance. By the time the year is up, I often decide that I don't really want whatever it was I thought I wanted.

But my question is this. Would you buy local even though the owner was curt and indifferent?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Frugality and Poetry: Shakespeare Sonnet 29

Today I was teaching Shakespeare's Sonnet 29. Even now, I can hardly believe that a big chunk of my job consists of helping students learn to read poetry. It was slow-going. The class is at 8 in the morning, plus my dear students had an assignment due today.

We got to line 10 and--unaided by the poor notes in the venerable Norton Anthology of English Literature--I tried to explain why the word Haply is important. What do you think it means, said I. Eventually, someone ventured Happily??? YESSSS. Then I said, The word has another meaning.

This possibility was outside the knowledge of my sleepy non-majors taking a required course. So, dear Readers, I told them: It's like happenstance; it means by chance. We talked about why that was important.

Then I said, Do you know why a writer might use a word with two meanings? No idea. I pointed out that a sonnet has only 14 lines, each with 10 syllables: the writer doesn't get a lot of words! So, it makes sense to use a word with two meanings. Kind of like a buy-one-get-one-free at the grocery, said I.

This perked some of the students right up: Oh, I LOVE when you buy-one-get-one-free, one exclaimed. At least they were paying attention.

And now I know why I like all those double meanings in poetry: frugality.

When, in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries
And look upon myself and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possess'd,
Desiring this man's art and that man's scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven's gate;
For thy sweet love remember'd such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Greek Macaroni and Cheese

I just happened to have all the important ingredients for this. Below is the recipe, which is from Nora Poullon, a Washington DC restaurateur. I simplified by cooking greens and macaroni together, then mixing in the rest of the ingredients. So only 1 dirty pot. I used a lot less feta than called for also. And I did not have the herbs. It made a lot, which is good, since I leave the house tomorrow at 7 and get home at about 6.

I did have the cherry tomatoes, but I would sub some chopped canned tomatoes if I did not. Hope it sounds good to you.

Greek Macaroni and Cheese


1 lb macaroni
½ lb spinach, washed and stemmed
1 ½ lbs crumbled feta cheese ( about 6 cups)
2 ½ cups whole milk
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2⁄3; cup olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons fresh ground black pepper
¾ teaspoon minced fresh rosemary
2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme
1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
½ cup pitted black olives, coarsely chopped (optional)
½ lb cherry tomatoes, halved
½ cup grated parmesan cheese
¼ cup mixed chopped fresh herbs ( such as parsley, thyme, and rosemary)


Preheat oven to 350°; bring 6 quarts of salted water to a boil; add in macaroni and cook, stirring occasionally, 8-10 minutes until al dente; drain and place in a large bowl.
To blanch the spinach: bring 4 quarts salted water to a simmer over med-high heat; have ready a large bowl of ice water and a slotted spoon; add spinach to simmering water (in three or 4 batches) and submerge it.
Let cook about 15 seconds, remove with the slotted spoon, and plunge into the ice water; let spinach cool completely, drain it, and squeeze out the excess water; if the leaves are large, chop them into bite-sized pieces; set aside.
In a blender or food processor, puree the feta cheese with the milk, lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper (blend in two batches, if needed); this will not be completely smooth; there will be very small chunks of cheese remaining.
Stir the cheese mixture into the cooked macaroni; then add the minced rosemary and thyme, garlic, red pepper flakes, olives, cherry tomatoes, and blanched spinach.
Transfer mixture to a 13x9 inch baking dish; sprinkle with parmesan cheese and the mixed herbs.
Bake on the middle shelf 25-30 minutes until the pasta is heated through and the top is slightly browned.

I found the recipe in this wonderful cookbook.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Frugal Travel with the Recent Graduate: It's Cold!

Frugal Son is en route to yet another vacation spot. A few friends will meet up with him later, but he started out solo and had to spend a night in the airport, owing to his lack of funds.


In Vienna and alles gut! Free wifi here! I really think all airports should have free wifi, at least for 15, 30 minutes. Small price, but it really placates crotchety travelers like me. Sleeping in Charles de Gaulle was...interesting. I couldn't go through security (because there were no more flights out of my terminal, although I don't know if they would've let me through anyway) so I had to stay in the outer airport / check-in area. Since it's a public area all the rows of chairs have arm dividers between them. Now I'm sure that in part this is for people's comfort, but mostly I think it's to keep homeless people from sleeping there. As a matter of fact as soon as I did go through security this morning I noticed beautiful, plush (at least compared to where I had slept), leather covered benches that would've easily accommodated me!

Instead I started by sleeping sitting up and leaning to the side to rest my head on a bag. After a little more than an hour, I woke up (at 1.40am) and was too uncomfortable to go back to sleep so I went to a little secluded area behind some airport shops and went to sleep on the floor, again using my bag as a pillow. Again, after an hour I woke up, although this time it was because I was cold. The floors are made of stone and the airport is basically not at all heated! I put on another sweater (I am now wearing a long sleeve shirt, two sweaters, and my wool coat + long johns and jeans and wool socks) and spread my towel down on the floor, which didn't do much in terms of softness, but was incredibly effective at insulating me from the frigid floor! As a final touch I put some socks on my hands. I slept again for a little more than an hour and this time I was so cold I went back to the front of the airport, which was more lit, but significantly warmer. I fell asleep in a chair again, although this time instead of leaning to the side I just put my bags in my lap and leaned forward. I woke up for good at around 5.20am and walked to my terminal. I had stayed in 2F even though I knew my flight was from 2D because, based on my explorations, 2F seemed warmer and like a nicer place to stay.

The walk to the other terminal was freezing even though I never had to go outside. They forced me to check my Rick Steves bag (I think they've shrunk the allowance) so all I have is my backpack, which has everything valuable I brought. Security was a breeze. While waiting I ate some breakfast (a cheese sandwich) and soon we began boarding. As soon as they opened the jetway doors a blast of icy cold air came in to the already cold terminal. The whole terminal is basically single paned glass and rather than central heating they have piddley little radiators near the windows, which are totally ineffective. On the walk down the jetway I could literally see my breath! Fortunately, the plane was warmer and I was fast asleep well before take-off. I didn't really wake up until we touched down in Vienna, though I did wake up briefly to look out the window and see the beautiful snow covered mountains of Austria. It's supposed to be cold in Vienna, but fortunately they've heard of insulation so the airport is a comfortable temperature (though I'm still wearing all my layers...). Guess I'll just kind of wander around til my flight at 13.10 yipee! Typed all this on the iPhone (didn't bring my computer) phew!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Nigella Lawson Cooks Onions!

Newsflash. I do the same thing as the beautiful Nigella: cook loads of onions in advance and freeze. And for the same reason.

And the one thing I feel utterly beaten by when I'm really tired is the idea of peeling and chopping onions. I don't actually find it difficult, but the thought is a daunting one. So, when I have time to spare (usually when I'm avoiding something I should be doing), I peel, chop, and fry onions slowly and gently to a gorgeous mush that can be frozen in cubes and thawed to form the basis for a stew or sauce as needed.

Let me add that I am even lazier than Nigella: I freeze en masse (rather than in cubes)and break off chunks when needed. Just this morning, I made a soup that began with me breaking off a chunk of onions and blithely tossing it into a pot.

Oh yeah, even lazier part 2: I usually do this in the slow cooker (mush) or oven (roasted).

Oh yeah, and it's frugal too if you buy onions when they are cheap (like last week when they were a dollar for three pounds).

Since at least 75% of all recipes (scientific study conducted by moi) begin: saute a chopped onion, this little tip will save you hours and hours each year.

And, since I'm only me and who cares what I do: I present Nigella as your role model. Do what she does.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Friends and Artists and Thrift Stores

An artist friend from the past, Joyce Koskenmaki, once defined a true friend as "someone you could go to thrift stores with." So true, dear Joyce, though I haven't seen you in almost twenty years--or even heard from you in nearly ten.

In fact, it is with a twinge of sadness that I realize that I don't currently have a thrift store friend, though Miss Em and I have become a great team on the too-seldom occasions when we are in the same place.

Still, thrift stores are the sites of relationships, albeit usually superficial ones. For years, I had seen an extremely tall woman at the thrifts. She was usually accompanied by a very short older woman. A few years ago, we broke the silence. I mentioned that my daughter liked her handbag, avery beat-up funky leather one.Then last year, we met at the linens and she showed me some nice things she didn't have a use for. Some of which I bought--with thanks.

After that, the boundaries came down. We exchanged first names (though it took me a while to remember hers). I learned that she and her husband owned a horse farm. I learned that the short woman was her 90 year old mother, who is in splendid shape, both mental and physical. We would show each other things we thought the other might like.

We haven't met for a while, since Goodwill moved to a new location. Yesterday, I ran into her (and called her by the wrong name!!! Shameful!!!). She was so happy to see me: I'm trying to get rid of stuff and I've been carrying that purse your daughter admired in my car. Wow!

I asked for her address so Miss Em could send a thank you note. She gave me her card and divulged that she had a website where she sold jewelry made from bits and pieces of things she finds. She also revealed that she is a jewelry expert of sorts: good stuff just falls into my hands, which is the exact thing I say about clothing. I would rather have magnetism for vintage silver pieces than for cashmere sweaters, but I suppose one has to accept the gifts one is given.

So she gave me her card so I could see her website. Check it out! Shades of Joseph Cornell.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

A Haircut in France

You may recall that Frugal Son was motivated to change the obsolete 100 franc note for euros because he was running short of money. The euros he got almost exactly paid for a much needed haircut.

Tuesday January 17, 2012: Bref. Je me suis fait coupé les cheveux.
As I’m sure you know, it has probably been about six years since anyone besides Emma has cut my hair (except for once in Nantes, but even so it was a friend who cut my hair) and even longer since I’ve been to a hair-cutting salon. Even when Emma cuts my hair it is normally a traumatic experience for me, although not so much the experience itself as the dread and worrying that leads up to it. It really is silly, since my hair is kind of unruly anyway, and, since I dread changing my hair drastically, I tend to wait too long, which, of course, makes it even worse because it makes the hair-cut even more drastic!

Anyway, I haven’t had my haircut since the last time Emma did it back in August (or possibly September), which means that I’ve gone basically five months without a haircut! Needless to say, I was in dire need of one, and, needless to say, I was dreading it! Especially now that I had to go in front of students who might possibly make fun of me and snigger about me behind my back if I got a bad one! The horror! I finally decided to bite the bullet, and I was hoping to get my hair cut on Friday or Saturday to give me the full weekend (plus Monday) to acclimatize to my new coiffure before going in front of my students.

Laine had recently gotten her hair cut and was very pleased with the results and the guy who cut it; plus, if I went and said she recommended me I would get a 20% discount! On Saturday I was planning to go, but Laine called ahead for me and they were totally booked for the day! Devastated (not really, but maybe a little upset) I went over in the afternoon to check the place out and book an appointment. The salon is near Laine’s, in Vieux Mans, and though the salon was rather spacious, there is only one guy who cuts hair (the owner) and occasionally an assistant who makes reservations, handles the desk, and washes hair. Plus, it was a very swank looking joint, complete with halves of classic cars jutting out of the walls for décor, posters advertising fancy hair products, and lots of style magazines strewn about. The guy was also wearing tight pants, shiny shoes, a vest over a short-sleeved tight black shirt, and very stylish hair! I was very overwhelmed and felt very out of place, but I decided to go ahead with it and just try to be a little more daring than I normally am. Unfortunately they are closed on Sunday AND Monday, so I had to settle for making an appointment on Tuesday afternoon, after work.

Tuesday rolled around and immediately after class I washed my hair in preparation for my haircut. When I got to the salon the guy took my coat, led me to the waiting room (more fancy décor and couches to recline on and stuff!) and handed me a GQ to peruse while I waited. Since even in English I don’t know how to describe what I want my hair to look like I had brought some photos of me from shortly after Emma cut my hair, just so he could have an idea of what I wanted it to look like. I only had to wait for a few minutes while he finished up the customer he was working on (who was also getting a very stylish haircut) and then it was my turn. I was afraid he was going to ask me if I wanted to look like someone in GQ, but fortunately he just asked me if I had any ideas for my haircut. I explained to him that Emma normally cuts my hair, and that I had no idea what I wanted. He asked if I had come because I “wanted a real haircut from a stylist” and I explained that it was actually just because it was a bit impractical for Emma to come all the way from the USA to cut my hair. I showed him the photos, to which he responded, “she cuts hair very well!” I told him that I felt like I was a person who wasn’t very stylish or daring, and that although I wasn’t ready for a really stylish haircut I would be open to trying something a bit more exciting than what I usually got. The guy was really nice and said that he had some ideas that would be too drastic, but would still be an upgrade to my look. Even though he hadn’t done anything yet he was already putting me at ease about the whole haircutting situation; I felt very taken care of, which I guess is what most people like and expect about getting a haircut (or doing anything where you spend money).

We started with the hair washing, my second of the day, which was very relaxing, and then I got into the chair. He asked if I styled my hair at all or if I used a blow dryer. I said no and he didn’t seem surprised since, as he said, a blow dryer would puff it up. He asked me if I wanted to read a magazine while he cut, so I took the GQ and just sat there as he snipped away. I don’t know if he was just fast or if I was distracted by the magazine, but it wasn’t long before he was cleaning up the back of my neck with clippers and doing some final trimming snips. He then blow dried my hair (with a diffuser, which would “puff it up, but not as much”), put some product in and styled it very lightly before showing me the final product. I was very happy! It had the same basic shape as Emma’s, but the back was a little more stylish (he left some length but cut more around the ears to give more definition) and he also did a good job with the sideburns (don’t worry Emma, I’m not insulting your haircuts! These are just tips you can use in the future! Plus, he has been cutting hair professionally for 20 years!). I paid, which, with my 20% discount, was only 16.80€, which, though easily the most expensive haircut I’ve ever had, was a lot cheaper than I was anticipating! Plus, if I recommend someone and they mention me I’ll get a 20% discount the next time I go (and MK is planning on getting her hair cut soon)! As I left the salon I felt way more stylish, and I had a new jaunt in my step. I went immediately to this bar on Place de la Republique to meet up with MK and Laine to show them my new haircut, which was met with universal acclaim (that is to say they both liked it a lot). So, the haircut that I had been dreading for so long was actually a great success. Now I just need to get some clothes to match my new stylish coiffe!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Who's Your Daddy?: Romney Trust for Sons

Full disclosure: yes, I am a flaky liberal. But still. Did you see this? In addition to Mr and Mrs Romney's 250 million, the sons have 100 million, all funded through gifts under the IRS threshold (now $13,000 per person, so mom and dad can give each child up to $26,000/year).

What I find interesting (and envy-provoking) is that in a period when my own retirement investments have not done so well, these guys made more than 20%/year. That's more than Madoff was promising! Can someone explain this to me?

Here's the article.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

WSJ Breaks Down Cost of Garment

In case you missed this: the Wall Street Journal presents an anatomy of a high-end polo shirt. With a retail price of over $150.00, the most expensive piece of its production is US labor at $11.00.

Sadly, I think that many similarly priced items are made abroad for pennies in labor, with more going to the manufacturers. So the polo people are fighting the good fight.

What do you think of the polo shirt?

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Thrift Store Karma Again

Every time I think that I should just buy whatever and be done with it (within reason, of course0, my efforts are thwarted. I recently posted about all the little bargains i missed while I was away from home and the internet. Duchesse suggested I get a smartphone. Honestly, I think a smartphone would feed my obsessive ways and also cost MORE than whatever money I was saving!

Once I was home, I, of course, headed to the two local thrift shops. Amazingly, at Goodwill, I found a pair of floor lamps from Home Depot. These were in the box. They are not my FAVORITE lamps of all--those would be from some fancy shop that features items from MOMA's Design Collection--but they were about as nice as the ones from Ballard Designs that I had been looking at. The lamps were $20 each, a lot for Goodwill, but, hey, they were new.

Then, I found a small wool rug. Not bad. Someone had removed the price tag, so the harried manager marked it at $1.99.

So I managed to cross three items off my list of desired items after all. It seems to be my destiny to shop at thrift stores. I rather like it. Not for the prices only, but for the absence of choices. There are zillions of lamps as nice as mine at Home Depot and similar; I got the only PAIR of floor lamps I've seen at a thrift in a long, long while.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Making a List

In my latest effort not to OVERBUY, I made a list of what I needed. This is not a new method, of course, but once I have a list, I find I can wait for a good price or free shipping. The list calms the impulse to buy RIGHT NOW.

On my list:
2 floor lamps. Really, I still have lamps from graduate school and cheapies from Walmart. I was looking at some on slight sale from Ballard sent me a 15% off coupon for my birthday and I was thinking of buying some pillows too. Total cost: under $200. Within the budget.

Some wool rugs for my bathrooms. I hate bathroom rugs because they get disgusting. Then I had the brilliant idea of getting some reasonable wool rugs. I discovered that lots of stylish types do this. So I picked out this rug from Garnet Hill and decided to wait for free shipping. Hate going to stores. Love mail order. Hate shipping charges. Cost: around $35.

My backup wool rug was from LL Bean. It looked something like this. Cost: around $35.

Mirroru from Big Lots. I was hoping for a 20% off coupon.

Soooooooo. Mr FS and I want to California to see his aged P or Parent, as Mr. Wemmick says in Great Expectations. We left on January 25. We knew we would have no internet---unless we made the trek to the public library in the next town.

The day before we left, I got an email from my pals at Big Lots announcing a 20% off coupon FOR a DAY WE WERE IN CALIFORNIA. OK.

Then I learned after the fact that Garnet Hill had a one-day 20% off PLUS FREE SHIPPING SALE. On the 25th.

Then LLBean had a sale on the rug I liked and it sold out before I could order it.

Oh yeah, I let my Ballard coupon lapse. Don't know why.

Total spent: 0. Items remaining on list: all.

Is this karma or what? The price difference isn't huge, but I decided to remain mellow and trust to karma.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Frugal Son Weighs Price, Quality, Value

Another interesting post via Frugal Son, on his own, on a budget for the first time. I loved this one (the sausage post!) because it embodies the kind of process Aristotle discusses in Nichomachean Ethics: when you are searching for the right level of anything, you may overshoot. So, if you are toooooo cheap, you might try to get to "normal," but go too far and be wasteful. Then you have to retract a bit. And so on. So read on to see what Frugal Son thinks about a very expensive sausage he tested.

Sunday January 22, 2012: Bref. J’avais decidé de depenser plus en achetant moins.
Unfortunately it is the month that I have the least money that I have decided to implement a new plan, in which I buy less stuff (mainly to eat, although this really applies to everything) while spending more money. “What’s that?”, you say, “Surely that is a typo! You must mean buy more while spending less, or, at the very least, buy less while spending less, but buying less while spending more?! That doesn’t make any sense!” No, no, you’re eyes haven’t deceived you; I’m trying to buy less but spend more. Take for example the humble saucisse sec. Normally, I buy the cheapest saucisse sec at the Carrefour market, which works out to about 6€/kg. But what do I spend the saved money on? More low quality stuff! What I’m trying to do now is have less stuff, but buy higher quality when I do get it.
I started this plan a few weeks ago when I went to the market in search of an artisanal sausage and ended up spending 11€ (that’s right, 11€, or $14) on 300g of saucisse sec de sanglier from a Corsican charcuter at the market. Admittedly, this may have been a bit over-board (although the saucisse sec de sanglier was very good, much better than my normal Carrefour crap), but it was a step in the right direction. The next week I toned down my sausage expenditures and instead bought a higher quality of saucisse sec at Carrefour (10€/kg), which is noticeably better than the cheapest stuff, but not notably worse than the very expensive saucisse sec de sanglier. That’s my goal: to find an equilibrium between price and quality so that I am eating better things that are still “worth it.”
Next on my list of things to improve was instant coffee. I know many might say that instant coffee is inherently low quality and that if I want to improve what I need to do is buy ground coffee, but I challenge those people to try some of the new instant coffees out there, especially ones made for the European market. My instant coffee of choice since my Nantes’ days was Nescafé’s noir et corsé instant coffee (5.20€ for 200g, 26€/kg), but, since I was running low, I decided to replace it with the deluxe Carte Noire instant coffee (5.40€ for 100g, 54€/kg, made by a Kraft subsidiary). After extensive testing—that is to say two to three cups per day for over a week now—I’ve come to the conclusion that the Carte Noire also isn’t worth the price boost since in terms of taste I find it equal to, or even a bit less pleasant, than my old Nescafé. Lesson learned, and I don’t even feel bad about paying so much more since it still works out to about 11¢ per cup.
I’ve also started to spend more on my butter and daily cheese. Paying more for butter is definitely worth it since the taste is noticeably better. As for cheese, I used to get the cheapest camembert, but now I’ve started spending about 1€ extra so that I can get camembert made with lait cru, as it’s meant to be made. Again, the taste is noticeably better.
The last thing that I’ve “upgraded” so far is cured ham. I don’t usually eat sandwiches, but when I do I like to make them with jambon cru, or cured ham. At Carrefour it can be had for 1€ for 100g (10€/kg) whereas the cured hams at the market run upwards of 36€/kg. Two weeks ago I got 100g of jambon de parme, prosciutto, and boy was it good! This week I got some jambon de Serrano and, imagine, it was even better! First off, 100g of jambon de parme is more than twice as many slices of the jambon cru from Carrefour because the butcher actually slices it for you and he can slice it incredibly thin on his big scary machine. Jambon de Serrano can be sliced even thinner so it works out to three times as many slices! Secondly, the flavor of the Serrano and Parma ham can’t even be compared to the Carrefour stuff. Serrano is, for now, my favorite, though next weekend I’m going to try the top notch stuff, some jambon iberico at 76€/kg! The Serrano is, of course, salty, but it’s more than that, extending into the range of umami savoriness, with notes of butter and even dried apricots! I might sound like I’m giving a facetious, mocking wine review, but that’s really what I taste when I have a little piece of jambon de Serrano; and trust me, a little piece is all you need!
Once I have more money I’m going to start applying this new philosophy to all aspects of my life.